Interview: Erika Downie talks directing Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile"

I was lucky enough to have the chance to recently interview Erika Downie. She's a co-founder of Seven Siblings Theatre, and is also directing the company's production of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile. I also got to enjoy the opening performance last night at Round Venue - a fully functional bar - and I was quite delighted with the unusual and interesting setting.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile, on stage until February 28, 2016 at Round Venue

Here's what Erika had to say:

1. What – in general – can audiences expect at this mounting of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, if anything?

Audiences can expect to become part of the action of the play, to feel like they are a character within the Lapin Agile who are at the moment of great change in science and art. They can expect to be thoroughly entertained by the extraordinary comic rhythm of Steve Martin’s writing as well as question their own unique genius and how they may change the world.

2. This particular production is being held at Round Venue – a bar – which (to me, at least) is a very interesting choice of spaces for theatre, even though the play is set in a bar. I’m extremely curious as to how you’re going to utilize the space. Without giving too much away, can you talk about:

a) Why you chose this space?

We chose this space because it offers a unique intimacy for actor and audience. Round Venue has such a lovely bohemian atmosphere and offers us a chance to challenge both actor and audience to break down the fourth wall and live in the moment with each other, working with each other to create a fantastic piece of theatre.

b) What – if any – type or amount of audience participation are you hoping for?

I expect the audience to become part of the action, become another character at the bar, to be a living, breathing member of the play.

c) The stage, or lack thereof?

The stage is the entire space. Like any found theatre space it is simply a matter of how you use your imagination and how far you can push the boundaries of what a “stage” really is, for us it is simply a playing space, a blank canvas, a vast universe, and our company encourages artists to play anywhere and everywhere that is conducive to the creative process. “All the world’s a stage.”

d) Any special challenges or benefits you’ve found working in this space?

It’s always a challenge to work in a found space, but that is part of the excitement of independent theatre. Challenges arise sometimes on the spot, sometimes in advance but it’s always exciting coming up against these challenges and finding creative ways to move beyond them. The support of Round Venue has been phenomenal and with any challenge that arose they assisted us and we are grateful.

3. Why did you choose to direct Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”? Does it have any significance to you, personally or otherwise?

We chose Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” because it lives in the realm of the fantastic on a very essential level, the level of human relationships. Seven Siblings Theatre is dedicated to producing works that extend beyond the everyday life and into the fantastic. This particular play highlights a meeting that never took place between Picasso and Einstein and this is where the fantastic movement of the play lives. We chose "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" because of the fantastic and imagined relationship between Picasso and Einstein and how these two men changed the course of art and science.

4. In terms of the Seven Siblings – the name of the company you share with Will King and Madryn McCabe – can you talk a bit about the Chekhov Technique? Can you also talk about what “Seven Siblings” means?

The Michael Chekhov Technique is a psychophysical process that allows actors to organically form character, relationships between characters, and other elements of a well-formed play. Our company works to train actors through rehearsals, giving actors the opportunity to learn, take risks and develop this technique with the knowledge that at the end of the rehearsal process there is a foundation of the technique and a production. Seven Siblings comes from the foundational structure of the technique known as the Four Brothers (ease, form, beauty and the whole) in combination with an exercise known as the Three Sisters (rising, balancing and falling); together they form Seven Siblings.

5. What is it like directing your fellow “Siblings” (both of whom have roles in this production)? Can you also speak about how you approach directing generally?

Directing anyone you are closely associated with is always a challenge, especially within the independent theatre scene, but my two partners and I are professionals and we recognize that there is a time and place for business and art. We are challenged by different roles we have to fulfil within the company, roles other than actor or director, and support each other as best we can within all of our roles.

As a director I approach each production with the foundation of “freedom through structure.” I ask a lot of my actors and I chose to let them play with the technique and within the realm of the play. I try to give them as much as I can, give them a space where they can risk and develop their vision of the character within the play.


Picasso at the Lapin Agile is playing at Round Venue
February 18 - 28, 2016
For more information, or tickets, please the Seven Siblings Theatre website

Photo of Dylan Evans and Will King provided by the company


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