Drama outside of the bubble

Queen’s students perform Swedish playwright’s bizarre Miss Julie

Keith Bennie and Mandy Doherty after the performance of Miss Julie.
Keith Bennie and Mandy Doherty after the performance of Miss Julie.

Theatre Review: Miss Julie @ The Wellington Street Theatre, Aug. 31-Sept. 2

How does a drama student escape from the “Queen’s bubble” to make forays into the Kingston theatre community and beyond?

After their performance in a production by Open Minds, a community theatre group, Queen’s students Mandy Doherty, ArtSci ’06, and Keith Bennie, ArtSci ’07, said it isn’t as hard as it seems.

Doherty and Bennie just finished a three-show run of Swedish playwright August Steinberg’s bizarre and passionate Miss Julie, in a new translation.

The play itself was a performance of a challenging piece. Set in the late 19th century on a Swedish estate, Miss Julie deals with complex issues of class and attraction.

Though somewhat lacking in nuance, the actors conveyed their characters’ complex emotions clearly to a packed audience in the Wellington Street Theatre. While frequent power shifts between the play’s three characters were hard to follow and occasionally made it difficult to clearly discern their motivations, the actors’ performances were nevertheless moving.

This wasn’t the first foray into theatre outside the University for either Doherty or Bennie.

Doherty said she has been involved in community productions since she came to Kingston, and made sure not to limit herself solely to University productions.

“If I see an audition for a show that I like, I go for it, no matter if it’s Queen’s or the community,” she said, adding that there isn’t a very big difference between performing on or off campus.

“[It’s] taking your craft and what you’ve learned and applying it to different shows and different characters,” she said.

“As long as you have an audience and people are coming out to see the show and enjoying themselves and taking things away.”

Doherty said her philosophy on acting is to continually try new things.

“If you’re going to be an actor, you can’t limit yourself to just one area,” she said.

“It’s important to look at every single style you can, to learn as much as possible about the art and your craft, to continue studying it.”

Having completed her degree last year, Doherty is going to New York in December to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

As a conservatory, the academy allows for much more intensive training than a liberal arts program.

“With a conservatory program, you’re going in and you’re doing it every day,” she said. “I had a voice class that was just on singing, then we had movement classes where you’re just doing movement and dance ... it’s more hands-on.” Doherty said she still enjoyed the theoretical experience she gained from Queen’s.

“I’m really glad I came to a liberal arts university first—there are so many things that I’ve learned.”

Bennie said he’s previously performed with Theatre Kingston, another community group. He first became involved with the company through a drama professor who was running Theatre Kingston.

“I think it’s all about just getting experience under your belt,” he said. “Getting into shows and getting contacts ... getting experience in any form.”

Bennie said that while the calibre of work is high both within the University and in the greater community, acting outside of Queen’s allows for involvement in more facets of the theatrical process.

“It demands a little more of your time in a lot of different aspects ... because the resources are a little more limited in community theatre, you feel a little more well-rounded, a team player.”

In terms of preference, however, Bennie said he feels more comfortable with the audience usually present at on-campus performances.

“I just feel more at home doing Queen’s shows, because it’s a more student population,” he said, adding that the University’s greater resources allow it to take on bigger or more challenging productions.

Now entering his fourth and final year, Bennie said he still hasn’t decided where he’s headed after graduation.

“I’m going to blitz a whole bunch of programs,” he said. “I’m really torn now whether to go the academic route ... or continue with the acting.”

Bennie said working on Miss Julie was a challenge.

“There is a lot of mystery as to why the characters behave the way they do,” he said. “For me, this usually begins with the given circumstances of the character.”

Figuring out where his character is coming from also means avoiding making a judgment as to the character’s morality.

“As an actor, I can’t judge him—I have to step into his shoes,” he said. “As an actor, if you’re judging the character, you get into a dangerous area of playing the judgment.”

Despite the short run, Bennie said he was “extremely happy” with it.

“The good thing about a three-show run is that each of the houses was fantastic.”

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