Creative collaboration stages Summer and Smoke

Phoenix Theatres play a directorial debut

and retirement showcase

Lighting designer and now MFA directing candidate, Alan Brodie (right) stages the Tennessee Williams classic Summer and Smoke, which marks theatre professor Allan Stichbury’s (left) final set design for the Phoenix Theatres before his retirement. Brodie brings his vision of Summer and Smoke to the stage March 10 to 19.

Christine van Reeuwyk

Oak Bay News

Alan the director and Allan the set designer embark on a spring of Summer and Smoke; Alan Brodie in his first full-length directorial debut and theatre professor Allan Stichbury in his final production before retirement.

Brodie learned quickly that directing was a full-time job, leaving little space to micromanage lighting anyway.

“No question it’s a massive challenge, but it’s been a thrill to serve from the inside out. Coming up with what’s important in the characters and the story, that’s given me a new perspective,” Brodie said.

Brodie spent nearly three decades as an award-winning lighting designer – “That’s been the lens that I’ve looked at this through for the last 27 years,” he says – before returning to seek his masters in directing in UVic’s Department of Theatre. Brodie brings his vision of Summer and Smoke to the stage for the Phoenix Theatre, March 10 to 19.

The entire production could have fast become a battle for light.

“He will have things to say, because he has such a strong visual background,” said Stichbury who also has had a lengthy career in design, including both light and set design, and serves as set designer for the Tennessee Williams play.

Instead they developed as a collaborative visual team. Last fall Stichbury presented a set design so near Brodie’s vision that it remains largely unchanged as the curtains come up this week.

“It’s a fluid design that gives me a lot of space,” Brodie said.

Stichbury’s set design intentionally veers from the instructions outlined in the playbook dating back to the original performances decades ago.

“We did not want to do that,” Brodie said.

“And we can’t. It doesn’t fit in our room and it doesn’t fit in 2016,” Stichbury added. “It wasn’t going to be valuable to Al as a director in his learning. It needed to be more fluid.”

Brodie holds a similar depth of trust and faith in lighting designer, and fellow masters student, Eryn Griffith.

“What I’ve discovered with my graduate studies is my ego is very much removed from the process,” Brodie said. “The trick will be to say ‘that doesn’t feel right’ and allow her to do the job of fixing it.”

Coming in with a confidence and certainty about his work – he’s won multiple awards – Brodie sought the MFA as much for a transformation of practice as anything.

“You’re doing something which will either open an absolutely new door or open cracks in what you’re doing,” Stichbury advised. “It will enliven your practice. It gives you many more years of engaged work.”

Tennessee Williams’ classic Summer and Smoke is set in the fictional small town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi, where carnal instincts and social propriety are at odds in Miss Alma, the daughter of a minister and an eccentric mother. She harbours a life-long infatuation with her restless and self-indulgent neighbour, John. Their bittersweet relationship – a quintessential struggle between body and spirit – circles them around a moral compass that leads to profound changes in both their lives.

“We’re in the hands of a master playwright,” Brodie said. “We know it’s well written.”

Brodie explores the American master’s play with a cast of 14 theatre students and a talented creative team: graduating student and costume designer Tim Matthews; sound designer Laura-Jane Wallace in her final spring at the department; composer and UVic’s School of Music student Michael Chambers; and stage manager Barbara Clerihue.

“Pedagogy really is the No. 1 thing,” Brodie said. “When you’re 20 it’s life and death. (As a returning student) it’s liberating.”

Summer and Smoke runs March 10 to 19 at 8 p.m. with a matinee Saturday, March 19 at 2 p.m that includes sign language interpretation. Join a preshow lecture with Brodie March 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets $15 to $25 are available at the Phoenix box office in person or by phone 250-721-8000.

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