Andre Sills

Looking Ahead

David Cooper

Joe Szekeres

It was a couple of months before the pandemic hit where I first saw André Sills’ work in what I felt was a daring production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre in 2020.

I wanted to learn more about his work and was grateful when André participated in a profile series I was compiling at that time on how Equity artists were faring. You can read his profile here: https://bit.ly/3GTG7Dp.

During a recent Zoom conversation, I asked him what he would like to say to the Covid/Omicron variant as we approach Year 3 of the pandemic:

“Oh, God, I think we’ve had enough. I think we’ve all been traumatized enough. The big ol’ dream of trying to get back to normal? I’m just done with it.”

Hopefully, according to the recent news reports, it looks as if the provincial government is done especially with premier Doug Ford reiterating what Sills said.

Covid has not destroyed what Andre loves about the live performing arts. Although family time was very important to him as he helped his kids during homeschooling, Sills is glad they are back in school because kids being in person to learn makes all the difference.

For Sills, the same thing exists for theatre. Audiences need to be in the seats and seeing the actors on stage with the artists feeling the audience there. It’s part of the experience.

A resident artist of ARC (Actors Repertory Company), André is currently in rehearsals as Director with his cast preparing for a March 1 Canadian premiere opening of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s ‘Gloria’, an ARC production in association with Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre. Sills has always wanted to direct and had an interest in it for years, but the ‘actor-beast’ in him is always first.

For Andre to direct a play, there would have to be something that inspires him so much that doesn’t have something for him in it. That play would have to give him the drive and challenge as if he was in it because that’s the type of theatre he likes to do. Plays that cost something of the actors and something to investigate within themselves is that challenge Sills craves.

Sills then backtracks a bit to speak about ‘An Octaroon’ a play written by Jacobs-Jenkins at Shaw Festival. Feeling that experience to be on the inside of ‘An Octaroon’ was of prime importance and then trying to get a hold of the playwrights’ plays wasn’t an easy task. He finally got a copy of ‘Gloria’ but hadn’t read it until ARC was putting together a list of plays to produce.

When he finally picked ‘Gloria’ up to read it, Andre felt there wasn’t necessarily anything for him in it, but he could direct it. He pitched it to ARC where everybody read it and loved it. Andre believes ‘Gloria’ is a good fit for ARC because it’s an ensemble piece that requires a strong cast to help tell the story together.

The ARC website describes the plot of ‘Gloria’:
An ambitious group of editorial assistants at a notorious Manhattan magazine office vie for a starry life of feature articles and book deals, all while the internet is completely upending their industry. When an ordinary humdrum workday becomes anything but, these aspiring journalists recognize an opportunity to seize a career-defining moment.

Sills is fine with this play description, but he’s extremely careful about spoiling the plot for all audiences.
‘Gloria’ has been labelled as a satire. It’s the writing, the ‘echoes’, the questions, and the wit that drew Sills to this play and Jacobs-Jenkins’s dialogue is amazing especially from a recall of ‘An Octaroon’. Sills feels that we’re all living in a kind of satire right now. For him he compares ‘Gloria’ to putting up a mirror for ourselves and seeing ourselves through that mirror.

Since we all want to get back to theatre, the one thing Andre is encountering right now is a lot of fear in how we take on theatre. He explains how we might be afraid of our audience and of offending them through Shakespeare and up to modern day stories. At the same time, the world isn’t afraid to offend us. So, putting the mirror up is showing ourselves on stage.

There’s a line from ‘Gloria’ Sills remembers: “People don’t read magazines for the truth.” Hearing this from a playwright, Sills also hears that people don’t attend the theatre for the truth. It’s time to get back to the truth and stop beating around the bush so much.

Jacobs-Jenkins isn’t writing anything to be grotesque in ‘Gloria’ or any of his plays. He has an intent. By working on ‘An Octaroon’ at Shaw and helping with ‘Everybody’ (by Jacobs-Jenkins) at Montréal’s National Theatre School, and then with the satire of ‘Gloria’, the intent has stayed the same in all three plays. There should be no fear in showing the world as it really is while challenging us to be better.

I’ll list the cast at the end of this profile, but André continues to tell the artists to continue being bold and brave, and anything that the characters do that the artists might be afraid of, the acting partner needs it for their part to continue. André continues to tell the actors to trust the play as opposed to us judging it. For the journey of ‘Gloria’, the actors have to step into it and do it for their acting partner in order to see where the journey ends.

Did the cast have to undergo any preparation before rehearsals began? Andre spoke about something he believes in when he prepares for a role himself. He calls it the building of a foundation. He added that ARC likes to have an ‘open room’ meaning it is a workshop week in November where there is a read through of the play where community collaborators and design team come in regarding themes of whatever the play is about. With reference to ‘Gloria’, a woman from Macleans and Chatelaine came in to explain and share what office life is like, and how people either take care of each other or they don’t within the office. Having this particular reference of what the office climate life was like was valuable to the cast.

What’s next for André Sills once ‘Gloria’ is done?

I’m hoping there is a Season 2 of ‘Private Idiots’ and was imploring there to be one. If you haven’t seen it, do a You Tube selection. For now ‘Private Idiots’ is on hold, but the aim is to find a way to take these two cops a step further by getting them out of their cars.

After ‘Gloria’ opens, André heads to Stratford to step into rehearsals for ‘Richard III’ and ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’ this summer at the Festival where he looks forward to continuing telling the truth on stage.

DETAILS:

‘Gloria’ an ARC production in association with Crow’s Theatre runs March 1 – 20 in the Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For further information and to purchase tickets online, visit www.crowstheatre.com.

The Cast: Deborah Drakeford, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Jonelle Gunderson, Savion Roach, athena kaitlin trinh, Nabil Traboulsi.

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