Committed to an asylum by her husband in 1790 after she became pregnant by another man, Mary Girard is strapped down with leather in a wooden chair. Her mind dances around and impersonates people from her past as her line between dream and reality is blurred while growing into her diagnosis.
This is the focal point of Liane Robertson’s 1996 The Insanity of Mary Girard, an engrossing fictional interpretation of a real event centred around the abuse of the mentally ill and the plight of women in the eighteenth century. It will come to life this March through Carlton Comprehensive High School’s Mad Hatter Theatre Company.
Drama teacher and artistic director David Zulkoskey is handing the reigns over to the students for the production, guiding them on how to craft nearly every aspect of the play from scratch.
"My goal is to inspire students,” Zulkoskey said. “We have an amazingly complex script to interpret here and a wonderful body of students that have initiative.”
This is not the first time Zulkoskey has given carte blanche to students when it comes to music, set design and costume work for a production. He said it is a way to provide a platform for student's “creative efforts to expand the production.”
“Theatre is about working as a collaborative group and we are literally making that happen,” he said. “There are so many levels of creativity happening here and … if they can work as a creative team, and be independent and be self-assured with self-confidence, that is the hidden curriculum here.”
Each Tuesday department heads gather for creative production meetings. They include six students who have taken the task at hand in stride, eager to navigate the complexities of theatre production and ultimately see the pieces fall into place.
For set designer Cody Brayshaw, while he relished the opportunity to delve into the world of sets, his highlights have actually stemmed from his mistakes.
“I can’t speed through everything like I want to,” the young man said. “Learning that we can't rush and we have to take our time with everything has really been fun to try to do that but make the deadline.”
Others, like historical researcher CJ Ashworth, who has spent hours scrolling through web pages researching and teaching the cast historical accuracy, said the wide-ranging freedom has forced heightened communication among her peers.
“We need to be talking,” she said with a laugh. “As long as the communication stays, it can be stress-free.”
Wardrobe designer Shannan Spadenan agreed, adding how "everyone is willing to compromise to get the best possible result they need.”
Though only one month into preparation, Jordyn Pillar, the director and stage manager, has already seen immense growth in all involved. She said the project has allowed the group to gain self-confidence — a key aspect of success.
Musical composers Kirk Graupe and Nykola Oleksyn said crafting ambient melodic tracks was a positive learning experience, and agreed all were eager to see the final product when “all of our ideas are put together into one big show.”
And what to expect from it all? Oleksyn urged audiences to come with an open mind and prepare for "something very unconventional but definitely very interesting.”
As an educator, Zulkoskey said seeing the students slowly piece the production together, overcome barriers and grow as a group, brought him an “incredible sense of confidence in the future.”
“That is the goal of education, to give kids the confidence to be who they are.”
The theatre troupe plans to take the act to competition this spring after the mid-March show at the high school.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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