Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
There isn’t as much about Amy Keating on the internet as you might expect. Consider that she is a founding member of Outside the March Theatre and The Serial Collective, a troupe based in her hometown of Edmonton. Consider also that she is a Dora-Award winning actor with a steadily-expanding repertoire, including a stint at the Stratford Festival last season. Given the opportunity to chat with her about her current role as Rose in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Flick (2014), I am hoping – at least partially – to fill that void.
The Flick is co-produced by Outside The March and Crow’s Theatre. It forms one half of a double bill that opens Crow’s theatre season (Dave Malloy’s supernatural song cycle Ghost Quartet is the other half). The plot follows three underpaid employees of a suburban movie theatre who sweep, mop and attend to the film projector for $8.25/hour. Long-time employee Sam (Colin Doyle) is a 30-something man who still lives at home with his parents. Rose (Keating) is a 24-year-old woman striving to be cool. And college student Avery (Durae McFarlane) is a new hire with a knack for film trivia. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett rounds out the cast as Skylar and The Dreaming Man.
A comedy, The Flick explores the ordinary interactions of these seemingly unexceptional characters. The play is punctuated by large swaths of silence that reflect the unhurried pace of their lives – their uneventful mundanity contrasting the sweeping movie plots projected on the theatre’s big screen. Through the small milestones of their lives, the plot explores themes of class, race, discontent, and the universal need for belonging, intimacy and authenticity in a world that is inexorably changing . . . even when time seems to stand stubbornly still.
Since its premiere in 2013 at Playwrights Horizons in 2013, The Flick has been a critical and audience darling, and continues to be produced around the world. This Toronto production, however, is a unique immersive experience. Director Mitchell Cushman and his creative team have transformed the Streetcar Crowsnest venue to resemble a classic cinema by incorporating artifacts from the final days of 35-mm analogue culture. These include banks of seats from Toronto’s historic Humber Theatre, which was one of the original five Odeon picture houses built in 1948, and screened its final film just this past May.
With all this going for it, it comes as no surprise that the run has just been extended for a week until November 2. For those (like me) curious about Amy Keating, The Flick offers a welcome opportunity to see her work. And shortly before The Flick’s opening, she chatted with us about playwright Annie Baker, the relevance of The Flick, and what it’s like to work with “hero castmates” on this play.
SesayArts: Speak to us about your character, Rose, and your approach to playing her, especially for those who might not be familiar with The Flick or playwright Annie Baker.
AK: Okay. Let’s start with Annie Baker. For those who know Annie Baker, you know. For those who don’t, you’re welcome for telling you, because she is amazing. She is writing realism for the 21st century: necessary art for all of humanity. She has such an intimate and deep understanding of her characters – their complexities, vulnerabilities, and everything that comes with that. It’s rare that I have seen a playwright capture humans just existing and speaking so accurately.
Next. Rose. Okay. Yeah. Rose is a beautiful beast of a human. Rose is a Leo, so: passionate, candid, ambitious, demanding, and confident. Also she is 24 years old and still trying to figure all of her sh- out.
More than anything, Rose is a creature of impulse, and does what she wants whenever she wants, and she often gets it. So, I might have been a bit of a brat during rehearsal….
She is also going to make a hell of a lawyer when she grows up. Rose litigates a convo like a pro, and takes no prisoners. Come watch her strut her stuff.
SesayArts: What was your reaction when you first read the script of The Flick? Have your ideas changed over the course of rehearsals?
AK: Honestly, when I first read The Flick, I was a little on the fence. Because Annie Baker writes with such nuance and subtlety, I found it hard to find my way into the text and the lives of these people just by reading it. I have always found it difficult to read plays, because plays are meant to be acted, not read, and it is in the action of theatre that one truly experiences it, I believe.
Once we started rehearsals I was floored by how well Annie Baker knows her characters, and how they go about getting what they want. It is not always obvious, but it is always intuitive. About halfway into rehearsals, you hit a point where you are questioning everything. I went back to the script – and sure enough, the script had all the answers: a sigh here, a pause there, everything I needed to clarify a moment or moments.
SesayArts: Who should see The Flick, and what would you like audiences to know about the play and the cast bringing it to life?
AK: This play is for anyone who has ever thought their life would turn out different than they had imagined. So all of us?
The Flick speaks to a millennial experience, as well: trying to find yourself in a changing world. Really, all of humanity, I think.
SesayArts: What has been your favourite part of the rehearsal process so far? Has anything surprised or challenged you?
AK: Working with my hero castmates has been the best: Durae MacFarlane, Colin Doyle, and Brendan McMurtry-Howlett. All three of them are incredible acting powerhouses. We have all been quite rigorous and demanding with the work and with each other. It has made for a challenging (in a good way) and rewarding process.
Also the dance I get to do mid-way through the play is pretty fun, too.
SesayArts: The final word is yours. What would you like to add that I haven’t asked?
AK: In the play, the movie theatre The Flick is in the process of switching from film projection to digital; the artful and human process of film projection is denigrated to pressing play and having a computer do the rest.
I feel like the same thing is happening in the world today – we are getting more and more consumed with technology and our busy lives, and as such, we have lost the patience and compassion needed for a more human interaction.
The play itself demands patience and compassion as we spend a good amount of our time watching these beautiful lost souls struggle.
Come sit in the silence(s) with us! And eat some popcorn, too.
News You Can Use
What: The Flick by Annie Baker | Directed by Mitchell Cushman | Assistant Directors: Katherine Cullen / Rebecca Ballarin | Set and Lighting Design: Nick Blais | Costume and Lobby Design: Anahita Dehbonehie | Music and Sound Design: Richard Feren | Video Design: Nick Bottomley | An Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre production
Performed by Colin Doyle (Sam), Amy Keating (Rose), Durae McFarlane (Avery), Brendan McMurtry-Howlett (Skylar/The Dreaming Man)
Who: Audiences 16 years of age and older
When: On stage until November 2, 2019; running time: 190 minutes (including one intermission)
Where: Streetcar Crowsnest, Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: crowstheatre.ca
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / Sesayarts Magazine, 2019