Comedic commentary

The drama department brings humour to important social messages

The Threepenny Opera production aims to explore the idea of interaction through the use of Twitter and Instagram projections around the stage.
The Threepenny Opera production aims to explore the idea of interaction through the use of Twitter and Instagram projections around the stage.
Credit: 
Supplied by Michelle Lau

A socialist commentary on capitalism, The Threepenny Opera, put on by the Queen’s drama department, aims to capture the essence of human interaction.

Tim Fort, a drama professor and the musical’s director, has dabbled in just about everything — from lighting production to set design, to acting himself.

Since being an undergraduate he’s seen a variety of adaptations of the famous 17th century play, once named The Beggar’s Opera as adapted by Bertolt Brecht.

The play, Fort said, isn’t too plot-heavy but a variety of messages can be taken from it, such as real-life lessons about the corruption of capitalism.

For Fort, it’s very important to get the audience as close as possible to the actor. His first experience seeing The Threepenny Opera brought just that.

“[The Threepenny Opera] really stuck with me at the time because the director had … the beggars crawling on our legs. It was very environmental and I really liked that production,” Fort said, “but ever since, I haven’t liked the productions I’ve seen and I think they’ve either got too grand, or too mean-spirited, or a little bit of both.”

Directing this decades-old play required Fort to focus on what could interest a contemporary audience.

“First was to set out to find out what the enduring pleasures of The Threepenny Opera were, and I think I have found [that] with the right cast and the right attitude,” he said.

“There’s a lot of social satire and parody underneath what appears to be an oppressive middle-of-the-root story, and I think a lot of people who produce Brecht just go for the easy messages.”

It was finding the perfect cast, who brought out the comedic essence, which put the musical in the right direction.

“Being able to with this cast find the humour in it and find the light in the music and so forth was a big thing that made me want to do it and actually discover some stuff,” Fort said, “and when I direct anything now I think I have to have a piece that I’m curious about.”

Part of what attracted him to the Opera is the question: how do we interact with one another?

“I was looking for a piece to help me solve a larger problem that I’ve identified for at least the last decade, but it’s really come to the head in the last four years,” he said.

“What is the relationship of an audience to live events? Not just theatre, but even a lecture, a concert, whatever.”

Fort attended a showing of the musical Spring Awakening in New York City and noticecd a lot of people using smartphones during the show.

“I really embarked on this show to try and understand what connects people to what’s happening in front of them,” he said. “And how do we connect as a group and how do we deal with social media and just media in general … but also, [we want to] engage the audience, ask them to participate, so ask them to interact with the screens.”

The play will have screens set up around the stage, displaying tweets and Instagram posts related to the show. They also have a few people who will be answering text messages.

“Instead of messaging a friend that you’re bored, you might as well message [drama student Chris Blackwell] and he’ll come back at you, or you can interact with the screens,” Fort said.

“I thought ‘I don’t know whether this will be a disaster and I don’t know what people will watch,’ so it’s kind of an experiment in how people connect and also what theatre etiquette means, if it means anything anymore.”

The set is made primarily of burlap and raw lumber, painted by a variety of students involved in the production. Student involvement, Fort said, is crucial to the success of any Queen’s production.

“Probably 65 to 70 students work on the piece, and a lot of times it gets confusing because 15 of them are up front as actors, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many people are engaged in this piece,” he said. “Everybody who’s working on it has a really important part and has made what I think is a fairly rich environment out of this.”

The Threepenny Opera will be presented in Theological Hall until Nov. 16.

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