Resources: Maquette, set and production imagery
Setting the Scene
Play by Marianne Ackerman and Robert Lepage
Alanienouidet is the name given to the great English Shakespearean actor Edmond Kean by the Wyandot (Huron) nation. In 1826 Kean fled London for Canada in the messy aftermath of an adulterous scandal. In this play, he joins forces with a group of actors in Quebec City – a world where colonial England imposes its rigid social restrictions on a culture that is a mix of French Canadian and Aboriginals. The overlay of the world of theatre, especially the theatre of Shakespeare, on this rich, fraught mélange offers another layer. Within this heady environment, we have a scene that involves a circus and a knife-thrower; the lady who stands in front of the target is the actress with whom Kean becomes romantically involved.
Dramatic use: the knife-throwing/circus scene is less about plot and more about atmosphere. It should feel exciting, dangerous, and a bit shady. Kean says that he learned about acting from a knife-thrower with ferocious concentration. The Lady standing in front of the target needs to appear to be in danger (while the actress cannot be.)
As students brainstorm this props challenge they should be aware of and thinking about the following things:
- In this scene a performer throws knives at an assistant who is standing in front of a table made of planks. He aims to hit the table as close to her body as he can without hitting her. After he has thrown the knives, he goes to the table and pulls them out by the handle.
- The audience is in “alley” formation, sitting on both sides of the stage, and fairly close.
- How do the actors, with the aid of props, pull off this challenge?
Elements to consider:
- 1 circus performer/knife thrower
- Assistant standing in front of wooden planks/an upright table
- 5 knives wrapped in cloth
- cloth used as blindfold
- old tabletop used as knife target
- thickness of knife table should be minimal
- knife thrower picks knives up from crate
- knives thrown should appear to surround around the assistant
- knife thrower removes knives from table
- the “trick” must be actor operated
- audience and actor safety must be assured
- action happens on top of longhouse set (see maquette)
- audience is situated on both sides
- knife table is portable
As a class or in groups discuss ways that this challenge, of a knife thrower throwing knives at an assistant standing against an upright table/planks, could be undertaken as safely and effectively as possible.
Share all ideas as a class.