Elizabeth Munz sits down with KWLT’s East of Berlin Director, Ryan Bassett, to talk with him about the challenges of directing a Western Ontario Drama League In-Festival production.
Hello all! Welcome back!
As many of you might know, East of Berlin is KWLT’s in-festival entry in the WODL Festival this year. What is WODL, you ask? WODL (Western Ontario Drama League) is an annual drama festival that delivers various plays from the community theatre groups in Western Ontario. For more information about this, please check out this article: https://kwlt.org/news/468/did-you-know%E2%80%A6east-berlin-our-western-ontario-drama-league-festival-entry
I was very fortunate to talk to fellow University of Waterloo alumn and director of East of Berlin, Ryan Bassett, about what it’s like to be involved in a WODL entry play.
(Director Ryan Bassett)
Ryan is no stranger to being involved in WODL plays. His first was as an actor in KWLT’s production of Lion in the Streets in 2017 and then as a first-time KWLT director in 2018 with Venus in Fur. The fact that his shows were in the WODL slot for each of the KWLT seasons wasn’t much of an issue because he states they are not that different from other shows
“It was kind of the same as doing any other show; [just] with something else in the back of your mind. The goal, first and foremost, was to do a good show, and anything else was secondary. I wanted us to make the best show we possibly could...I wanted to succeed at the festival; I wanted to represent the theatre. But [ultimately] I wanted to make a show I was proud of.”
The only real difference, according to Ryan, is just having the knowledge that the show will be judged on a competitive scale and could potentially go on to the next level or levels, and what to do when that happens.
When a theatre company enters their show to be considered for WODL, it means it must go through an adjudication before being selected for the festival. For Venus in Fur, the cast and crew discovered two weeks before opening that the show was definitely going on to the festival. The reason that happened was due to the number of theatre companies that wanted to participate. The limit each year is five shows from five theatre companies, and that year, only five entered.
“... There was no suspense… When we knew we [would continue] on [it became] ‘where do we go from here? [how do we grow from here?]’ because at that point I knew I was going to get my show back after the KWLT run.”
The adjudication takes a look at all the aspects of the show: the acting, the set, costumes, props, lighting design, sound design and, of course, directing. Having now been adjudicated as an actor and a director, Ryan looks back on when he was adjudicated as an actor:
“It’s different, because when you’re acting the eyes are on you, literally… It can be an enormous amount of pressure, if you let it be. And I [did], just knowing [that] there is no hiding from what you are doing… The adjudication itself, as an actor was a little easier for me, because the focus was not on me… I answered the questions [that were] directed to me or the cast… I could separate a little bit because anything that came up in the adjudication was, for me, about what I had done; about my contribution to the production.”
As the director, there was a little more weight on Ryan’s shoulders. This was now his show, his creative piece being judged. Everything that happens on-stage is a representation of his work, but he knows it's not just his show; it’s everyones:
“There’s a separation because [as an actor], it’s based on the work that I’m contributing; whereas as a director, all paths can lead back to you. And it’s not to say that everything is my responsibility because [for both shows, I had] a fantastic group. I have been very fortunate [with the people] in this company.”
The adjudication for Venus in Fur was surprisingly still a little nerve wracking for Ryan. He knew when the adjudication was, he had gone through it before the previous year, and was guaranteed a spot at the festival, but despite all that, Ryan found himself in an uneasy state:
“I found myself feeling far more vulnerable on adjudication night for Venus in Fur. Keep in mind that this is a night I knew about, had done before, and I knew there was no real pressure because we were going on to festival. But I was a wreck, because, yes although the eyes weren’t literally on me, it [was still] something I had poured a lot of time in to [and] a lot of work [as well] as had everyone else involved in that production. The pressure got far worse when they weren’t looking directly at me.”
This year there are a total of 10 entries for WODL, and you would think that this would put added pressure on Ryan, but he says that there isn’t any: “[There is] zero pressure… We go or we don’t.”
Are you interested in directing a WODL entry play? Are you secretly the chosen director for next season’s WODL slot and you have no idea what’s in store? Here are some tips from our WODL veteran:
Tips and advice when preparing for WODL:
It’s important to remember that WODL takes place in a different theatre every year, and some of them are a lot bigger than our black box. The main thing you should consider is “How easy is it to move?” The logistics have to be on your mind when considering a play or how to stage it.
How big are the set pieces and the set itself (risers etc)?
What kind of lighting does the other theatre have compared to ours?
How much bigger/smaller is the space?
Are you hanging anything from the lighting grid that needs to be set up in the other theatre
And so many other important questions and concerns to consider.
Finding a piece that speaks to you, and that you have a strong connection to. It’s important to do something that feels right to you, and not just because it’s an acclaimed script.
The adjudicated performance for East of Berlin was Saturday, February 8th.
Coming soon: I have a different kind of chat with Ryan about his vision for the show and what he hopes his audience takes away from the show.