Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

McGill’s Department of English Drama & Theatre gears up for ‘Pomona’

For the first time in two years, McGill’s Department of English Drama & Theatre will be welcoming a full house back into Moyse Hall when its production of Pomona by Alistair McDowall opens on Nov. 23. Originally commissioned for The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2014, the play follows a young woman named Ollie as she desperately searches for her missing sister. A thrilling, surreal quest unfolds as she makes her way into a dark criminal underworld where nothing is as it appears. 

Director Sean Carney, an associate professor in the English Department’s Drama & Theatre and Cultural Studies streams, was drawn to the play for its intriguing plot and contemporary appeal. Notably, this is not the first time that McGill has produced Pomona. In March of 2020, Carney and Moyse Hall’s production team were amidst rehearsals for the play when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shuttering theatres around the world. While memories of that lost production are bittersweet, Carney insisted on making this year’s Pomona a fresh start.

“I felt that it was important not to just revive that production,” Carney said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “So it was all working pretty much from scratch.” 

This iteration of Pomona took on a whole new cast, crew, production concept, and design. Rehearsals began in September 2022 with a cast of five undergraduate students, whose majors range from physics and mathematics to economics and theatre. 

In rehearsing the show, Carney was excited by the learning opportunities that //Pomona// presents to its student cast. The majority of the play’s scenes include only two or three characters of its small ensemble, allowing the actors to focus on detailed character work and the complex dynamics between them and their scene partners. Given the play’s dark subject matter, Carney also felt strongly about equipping the cast with methods to preserve both their physical and psychological safety while performing. 

“I don’t ascribe to the idea that you have to put yourself at risk when you’re acting in a play,” Carney said.

 Instead, he encourages the actors to pursue a more distanced approach: Each performer is instructed to look for an “as if” experience that is emotionally close to a real experience they may have, allowing them to access the intended emotions without feeling overwhelmed or unsafe during a difficult scene.

Outside the rehearsal hall, students from ENGL 368: Stage Scenery and Lighting were tasked with developing the world of Pomona through its design elements. Students expressed which areas of technical theatre interested them at the class’ outset. Led by Corinne Deeley and Keith Roche, Moyse Hall’s Production Manager and Technical Director, respectively, students were assigned specific roles and duties. This included everything from creating sound effects for the show’s final production to designing graffiti, painted across the show’s set. For U3 Arts student Magalie Goyette, this meant learning a whole new set of skills to become the production’s stage manager.

“I really wanted to get involved in the backstage [elements], so I knew I wanted to be a stage manager,” Goyette professed. “But I didn’t realize just how much there was to keep track of!”

As the stage manager, Goyette is responsible for attending rehearsals with the other assistant stage managers and taking note of the entrances, exits, and movements of actors and props onstage. During performances, she will call the show’s cues, signalling to the lighting and sound board operators when they should trigger the production’s spectacular effects. Despite the weighty responsibility that comes with this role, Goyette has been thrilled with her experience working on the show so far. 

“It’s so much fun. Seeing everything come together—cast, sound going up, everything—it’s such a great environment [….] It’s so impressive to see the evolution of the work throughout the semester. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Pomona runs Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance at https://moysehall.tuxedobillet.com/main/pomona

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