‘Agnes of God’ brings home accolades from Theatre Ontario

Kayla Greenman (Agnes), Tara Bernatchez and Shannon McMullan ponder the mysteries explored by the Gore Bay Theatre production of John Peilmeier’s ‘Agnes of God.’

OSHAWA—The Gore Bay Theatre company took the Theatre Ontario Festival stage by storm with their production of John Pielmeier’s ‘Agnes of God’ this past week, and despite some very stiff competition, brought home three awards, including Outstanding Visual Presentation for directors Walter Maskel and Andrea Emmerton, as well as the special adjudicator award for Ensemble Acting for the cast (Kayla Greenman, Tara Bernatchez and Shannon McMullan) and a special adjudicator award that singled out the youngest member of the cast, Kayla Greenman, “who will be making her mark in Theatre Ontario for decades to come.”

Most of the members of the ‘Agnes of God’ company are well-seasoned members of Ontario’s live theatre scene. Ms. Beratchez, Ms. McMullan along with the directors would need to move to larger homes to display the awards they have garnered over the years, but each expressed their deep satisfaction with the recognition given to Ms. Greenman by adjudicator Ron Cameron-Lewis. It was an impressive accomplishment.

Mr. Cameron-Lewis is a well known teacher, adjudicator and workshop leader who has adjudicated more than 2,000 productions throughout Ontario for community and educational theatre festivals, as well as in the US at state, regional, national and international levels.

The audience at the Theatre Ontario Festival is also largely made up of highly seasoned veterans of the theatre scene and not so easily moved from their seats, but when the announcement of Ms. Greenman’s award came, they leapt to their feet.

“When they announced the ensemble award, I thought to myself ‘Oh my God’,” said Ms. Emmerton, who thought that the group award was the recognition Ms. Greenman would take home. “When they announced the special award, the whole house stood up.”

Ms. Emmerton noted that a number of her friends in the theatre came to her with the same remark. “They made us cry,” she said. “These are seasoned people. The image of that will stay with me for a long time.”

“She (Ms. Greenman) was definitely the darling of the festival,” agreed Mr. Maskel.

Mr. Maskel said that he was very pleased that the cast received the ensemble award. “To me, other than Outstanding Production, the Ensemble Award is the best recognition a production can attain. “It is about the overall effect, the teamwork, the whole cast working together as a unified whole. It is what all cast members and directors strive to achieve.”

Ms. Greenman, who at 15 might have had a bit of an advantage in playing the innocent role of Agnes, admitted to being “a bit overwhelmed” of her first experience on the Theatre Ontario stage, but that it was “amazing.”

“It really was a great learning experience,” she said. “I haven’t seen much live theatre, other than the Gore Bay Theatre.” The high school rite of passage to Stratford is reserved for the older students.

Playing in a serious stage production is not for the faint of heart, or the lame of effort either. “We began rehersals last November,” said Ms. Greenman. “We rehearsed every Sunday for six hours.” Then the schedule moved to twice a week in January, one three-hour and one six-hour. “By February we were up to three times a week and in March we fit in every chance we could.” Since the role called for the singing of Latin hymns, Ms. Greenman also had voice lessons from vocal coach Alex Baran before her rehearsals. “So my day was often nine hours,” she admitted. Did that quench her taste for the stage? Not a bit. She is already looking forward to a possible monologue production with the Gore Bay Theatre this fall and high school theatre also beckons.

“Even if we are not going to Theatre Ontario in North Bay next year, I hope to go,” said Ms. Greenman. Her hard work and dedication has certainly paid off.

“Kayla Greenman gave a haunting, memorable portrayal of Sister Agnes,” wrote stage and theatre blogger Ken Stephen. “This naïve young nun had an extraordinarily expressive face: twisted with fear and terror one moment and transfused with wonder and joy the next. Her voice, too, projected all the varied emotions which flooded through her.”

“Shannon McMullan drew more facets out of the character of Mother Miriam Ruth than any other actor I have seen in the role,” wrote Mr. Stephen. “In some ways she is the most likable character of the three, showing a most believable mixture of emotions and feelings, all tempered with a warm sense of humour. Then, as her anger is roused, the humour takes on a cutting edge and the warmth freezes into ice, until we heard the icicles forming on her every word. The great challenge of playing this part is the difficulty of projecting emotional response from inside the enveloping shield of the nun’s habit. (Ms.) McMullan developed a whole range of characteristic stances, tilts of the head, and stage positions to work along with her varied facial expressions. Her great range of vocal tones was a huge asset too.”

“Tara Bernatchez, as Dr. Martha Livingstone, faced up strongly to the challenges of a huge role,” wrote Mr. Stephen rounding out the cast assessments. “She too made broad use of a range of vocal tones, while still remaining consistently audible.”

“The level of mutual support during the show among this trio of actresses was very inspiring and memorable,” said Mr. Stephen in concurring with the adjudicator on the ensemble award. Mr. Stephen’s complete assessment of the production may be found at largestagelive.blogspot.ca.

The Outstanding Visual Presentation Award was also particularly satisfying to the directors, given that some of the competition included two-story sets rendering hotel interiors and requiring massive stage crews and budgets.

“Some of them had 25 people putting it together,” marvelled Ms. Emmerton.

The Gore Bay Theatre has always strived for originality and creativity across their productions, noted Ms. Emmerton. “We always want to do what nobody else has done.”

Island theatregoers will have a reprise opportunity to take in the ‘Agnes of God’ production as it will be part of the Gore Bay Summer Theatre offerings this season, along with the youth production of Robert Munch’s ‘Murmel, Murmel Munsch’ and the romantic comedy ‘The Last Romance.’ “Or they can take in all three,” quipped Mr. Maskel.