Kristen Thomson's hit play I, Claudia didn't arrive on the scene fully formed. It evolved through months of hard work, financial and emotional encouragement and a bit of chance. Before its remount at the Tarragon -- opening January 12 (see listings, page 51) -- and a tour to Victoria's Belfry Theatre, here's a look at the development of the award-winning play.
-- 1992 The National Theatre School (NTS) At a mask workshop at NTS, Thomson is drawn to one mask she calls Claudia. She imagines Claudia has divorced parents and is president of the preteen caucus.
-- March 1999 NTS students travel to Toronto, and Thomson, now a Dora-winning actor, excitedly spots the Claudia mask; Theatre Columbus's Leah Cherniak and Martha Ross invite Thomson to participate in Mayhem, a festival of works in progress. When Thomson asks what she should do, Cherniak suggests working with the mask.
-- April 1999, Mayhem Festival At Mayhem, Thomson's set to improvise on Claudia for 12 minutes -- she brings an egg timer ready to go off -- but before the tech rehearsal she announces she's dropping out, believing her script "is pure shit" and shouldn't be seen. Cherniak and Ross encourage her to go on. She does. Audience response is good. Present is the Tarragon's Andy McKim, who asks if she's got a title ("Yeah, I, Claudia") and invites her to show the work at the...
-- May 1999, Tarragon Spring Arts Fair Thomson takes out the egg timer again, improvises, learns more about the play's humour and discovers "a particular way of speaking that resonates." The Tarragon's Urjo Kareda tells her he'd like to help her develop it.
-- Fall-winter 1999-2000 Touring to Montreal in Soulpepper's A Streetcar Named Desire, Thomson revisits the NTS, rents a studio on her own and improvises with the set of 26 masks. She gets copies of five masks made. Accepted into the Tarragon 2000-01 season, she holes up in a studio during the remount of The Memory Of Water and transcribes hours of improvisation material, totalling 150 pages. Kareda wins a Toronto Arts Mentorship Award and makes Thomson his protégé, which means money to take time off to develop the script. Director Chris Abraham comes on board.
-- May 2000, Tarragon Spring Arts Fair Performing four characters, each with his or her own mask, Thomson feels the audience respond excitedly to the transformations of the characters. She realizes she doesn't have to hide when switching characters.
-- Fall 2000, Tarragon (3 workshops) In the first workshop, Cherniak helps Thomson get the characters moving in space, brings in the idea of music and dance; in workshop two, Thomson, Abraham and designer Julie Fox begin working on staging, and a workshop reading convinces Thomson to cut her last monologue -- a crucial fable -- from five pages to one; the final workshop is dominated by the design team (Fox and lighting designer Rebecca Picherack), and Fox introduces the idea of a red curtain, which turns the space into a hybrid basement boiler room/theatre.
-- Winter 2000-01, Tarragon Thomson is still cutting like crazy, but when rehearsals come she's now the actor, not the writer, and lets herself experience "the joy and playfulness" of acting.
-- April 2001, Tarragon I, Claudia opens to universal raves, nearly selling out its entire run after the first week. Thomson goes on to win Doras for writing and acting.