Q&A Gord Rand and Jeanie Calleja
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Gord Rand and Jeanie Calleja make it look easy. What's "it"? Having individual careers in theatre, TV and film (he won a Dora in 06 for acting in The Innocent Eye Test; she's a member of the comedy troupe the GTOs and stole some scenes in Slings And Arrows); being a smart, attractive, down-to-earth couple in a volatile business; and now raising a child. Their last summer festival collaboration was the Fringe hit Pond Life, Rand's savagely funny look at modern relationships. Now they're back with The Trial Of Thumbelina, a genre-defying work that mixes fairy tale with ecological warning, vaudeville with suspense. They talked to me last week, bringing nine-month-old son Jeremy (adorable - and I'm not just saying that) to a College Street café.
Which came first - the ecological theme or the Thumbelina story?
Rand: It was a combination of things. I'd had this idea for a Thumbelina story for a while, using forced perspective to make her look small. I wasn't sure about the content, though. Then when I was in Edinburgh last fall, I read Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, about global warming and the situation we're in. When I read a chapter about the loss of biodiversity, it coalesced there. What would Thumbelina be doing in this kind of situation?
What was it about Thumbelina that stuck in your mind?
R: She represents something delicate and rare, a figure that I thought could be a link between civilization and nature. Brownies and elves were mysterious figures that joined humans. They were always interfering with people, but they were from the woods or under a rock.
Was there an ecological theme to the Thumbelina story?
R: Not an overt one. In the story she's in a seed bought by a childless woman; it grows into a flower that opens up, and there's Thumbelina. She finds her way home, but on the way she interacts with toads and moles and bugs and so on. I think she could be seen as an ecological figure now.
Did you write it with Jeanie in mind?
R: Yeah, for sure. Let's see what kind of acrobatics she can do after having a baby! And let's see if she can swing on a trapeze. But look at her: she is Thumbelina - cute and lively.
Had you been on a trapeze before?
Calleja: No. The poor guy. He couldn't write the show and then hold auditions, now, could he?
Does having a baby affect how you see the world and the environment?
C: It's made things more poignant for me. Before, I tried to do my bit about the environment. But having Jeremy, you start thinking: things are going to change and he's going to have to deal with it. His experience of this world will be different from ours. I hope it's not going to be scary.
R: Definitely. I'm terrified. I think we may be in a massive emergency situation that nobody's recognizing. Jeremy hasn't done anything wrong, but he's going to be paying for it. So I thought: what can I, just a stupid actor/wannabe writer, do about it? Try to spread the word a little bit.
There's something poignant about juxtaposing this huge issue with a child's fairy tale figure.
R: I wanted to talk about the issue not in terms of information but in terms of our attitude toward nature. I wanted to embrace the idea that nature is something to be honoured whole-heartedly, almost in an embarrassing way. It can still be considered a flaky idea. But I wanted to go down that path of innocence and wear our naïveté as a badge or a shield.
What's life like in a two-actor family?
C: You'd think it should work out with both of our non-schedules. But we're either both at home staring at Jeremy or we're both working and scrambling. With Thumbelina, the idea was that when Gord was writing it, I'd be the main caregiver, and then when I was rehearsing it, he'd be the main caregiver. But he got a movie gig in the thick of it all. Coincidentally, he was shooting in St. Thomas, Ontario, where Jumbo [a character in the play] was killed. He was surrounded by all this Jumbo imagery - Jumbo tractors, combines, everything. How weird is that?
THE TRIAL OF THUMBELINA by Gord Rand, directed by Kerry McPherson. Presented by Grazers and Predators. Aug 10 at 4:30 pm, Aug 11 at 3 pm, Aug 12 at noon. Rating: NNN
There's lots to chew on in Gord Rand's futuristic tale about the diminuitive Thumbelina, who finds herself surrounded by insects and on trial for a crime she committed on an earth being rapidly depleted of resources and species.
Performing in Kelly Wolf's brilliant, oversized set, Jeanie Calleja looks just right as the fairy-tale figure, nervously recounting stories and delivering vaudeville shtick for her survival. But director Kerry McPherson has Calleja speak the words too quickly (perhaps to fit into the show's 55-minute time limit), preventing us from savouring Rand's language, and the events aren't ordered effectively to deliver the necessary punch.
Still, the idea, concept and much of the writing is brilliant, even if the result falls short. Would love to see this developed further, with more time and room to breathe. GS