Kristen Thomson and Anusree Roy.
With a cast of 50 Canadian actresses drawn from a wide range of theatrical backgrounds, Necessary Angel‘s production of Tout Comme Elle (Just Like Her), opening tonight, leaves a previewer spoiled for choice when it comes to interview subjects. We decided to chat with Kristen Thomson and Anusree Roy, who’ve already done shows we love, about what it was like to work with a platoon-full of fellow women on stage.
Tout Comme Elle premiered en francais in Montreal in 2006, created by director-facilitator Brigitte Haentjens along with a group of Quebecois women. “They created it together,” says Thomson, in a collective collaboration. “It’s thirty-six tableaux, that are each a meditation on mother-daughter relationships. Brigette has given each of us a stage life that supports or works in counter-point to the focus in each tableau. It’s a very poetic, lyrical work.”
Haentjens has been exacting in recreating that successful show with this much larger, expanded English cast. “It’s down to the last beat, the last breath, the last gesture—all of it,” says Roy. “We learned it going, ‘three beats, move, four beats, move…’ though I find now that I don’t count anymore—it’s become muscle memory. But when we began…” She laughs. “All the questions were about beats. We were trying to learn something that was carefully choreographed.”
For both Roy and Thomson, that’s been a source of some relief, giving themselves over completely to that collective choreography. “It’s so nice not to be pushed constantly to come up with material, to have to individually make an impact,” says Thomson, while Roy nods in agreement. “There’s 50 of us, telling subtly different stories within a larger narrative… it feels like all we have to do is be present, and curious about the gestural choreography we’ve been given. The impact is not about you—it comes from 50 women doing this together.”
The full cast of Tout Comme Elle crowd the lip of the Bluma Appel stage.
“The first day, for me, was literally walking into a room filled with people I consider legends, and thinking, ‘Okay, now I’m doing a read-through with people I’ve admired and wanted to work with my whole professional life,” says Roy (whose latest play, Brothel #9, garnered seven Dora Mavor Moore nominations last week). “It’s been such an amazing experience; even the actors who’ve been in the industry much longer than I have have been really open and generous throughout the process.”
Thomson agrees, though her motivations for participating in the large-scale experience were a little different. “I’ve been having babies, and been at home, and while I’ve done some stage work lately, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to work with a whole new crop of actors. I was excited to meet Anusree, and a number of other actors I’ve heard so much about.”
Both actresses, who’ve clearly become fond of each other during the rehearsal process, speak glowingly of the group of women they’ve been working with. “To get to know these people, and become friends, and learn from them… it’s been wonderful,” enthuses Roy. “I really want to share this show with many people, and particularly women—it’s certainly a show I want my mom to come see,” says Thomson. “It’s so rare to see so many women on stage, and rarer still to see a beautiful piece of writing, that’s not a drama per se.” They make us promise to mention the affordable rush tickets available for the show.
As we wrap up the interview, we ask how the cast has bonded outside of the theatre—after all, it isn’t easy to just pop down the street for a drink afterwards with the entire cast. There’s been one house party, Roy tell us, but Thomson has already had an idea for a post-show group outing. “We’re right next door to a Winners store, and 50 women going to Winners could be a magical experience,” she jokes. “We should have a door crasher event—the 50 of us could get a discount!” Roy agrees, laughing; “That appeals to my Indian roots—we’ll bargain it up!”
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.