BAD ACTING TEACHERS written and directed by Sky Gilbert, with Jason Cadieux, Gavin Crawford, Jefferson Guzman and Ann Holloway. Presented by Cabaret Company at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 27) and runs to May 7, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $12-$15, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
We've all had them - those controlling educators who turn students into victims. Determined that they know what's right, these teachers see their charges as insignificant novices who can only learn by being subjugated to their will.
Sky Gilbert has assembled a trio of these instructors from hell in Bad Acting Teachers, in which a fresh-faced young actor reels from one horrific, abusive experience to another. One would-be mentor's a macho Canadian TV actor, another's a flirtatious gay who's also an agent and therefore holds even more power.
The third, seemingly the nicest of them, is a New Age woman, Ismene Popoff, who initially talks about emotions and relaxation and delivers hugs and massage.
Ismene? Maybe she's named for Electra's sister and looks back to classical Greek theatre.
"I think Popoff is more revealing of her character," laughs Ann Holloway, who plays the part. "It's true that she sees herself as an oracle about acting, and she talks about erasing the body as much as possible to get to the spirit, which is what performing is about.
"She's an earth mother, a maternal figure, but also a disciplinarian who's not as trustworthy as she first seems. As she says, she's cruel but fair, cruel to be kind."
Holloway will have a field day with the character, bringing her own sensual presence and powerful energy to the stage.
"Thankfully," she admits, "I've never had any formal acting training myself, because a lot of it sounds horrifying.
"But I've had experiences with directors who like to control as Ismene does, and I sense that they believe there's a certain value to a degree of intimidation. Somehow they think that stripping actors naked emotionally, making them vulnerable, will lead to the truth of a character."
In her fourth year of a PhD program at the U of T, Holloway is working on a thesis about the comedy of resistance in Canadian women's drama. She's also in residence at Nightwood Theatre, writing a script called Mummy, about the related power of laughter and sexuality in the hands of women.
"We usually trust women more than men," she offers, "but of course women can be just as monstrous. What's insidious about Ismene is that she believes she's helping the actor, getting him to a place where he can be a real success.
"I have trouble with people in control, like directors or teachers who undermine your sense of security to get you to open up. Sky's not that kind of director; we all feel trusted and secure and aren't afraid to go to extreme places."
Holloway's been in a number of Gilbert's plays, including Play Murder, Jim Dandy and The Bewitching Of Max Gunter, and received a Dora nomination for the last.
"But with other directors, I know that sometimes I might not have come up with the huge emotions that the part requires without a push.
"Still, there's a difference between a nudge and a boot up the ass."