Our very own Suzie Miller, playwright extraordinaire and member of Griffin Studio, is taking some time out to visit Ex Machina in Canada. She’ll be updating us on theatre, Canadian style, in a weekly blog post.

My friend Tim Roseman, Artistic Director of London’s Theatre 503, told me he had heard Ex Machina described as ‘Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory’, and as soon as I lay eyes on the images projected on the side of the amazing building and watched the digital flame flicker from its tower, it was clear that this space was a magical, playful and creative space. A gift to Robert Lepage and his company by the Ville De Quebec, it is a magnificent old and enormous building, once an old fire station, now home to a company as rich in resources as it is in soul.

After being met by Veronique and Marie-Pierre the production managers of the 25 production staff, I was lead through a series of brightly painted iron stair cases, complete with pockets of intriguing areas and the machinations of a company in full flight, through to the two studio areas, coat and shoe changing area (it is knee high snow outside) and green rooms.

Introduced to Monsieur Lepage, the most delightful and charming man one could meet, who oscillates between moods of intense creative concentration and a definite joie de la vie, his leadership is able to focus on a team of 22 techies, and a creative team of:  6 cast members (who play over 40 characters in all), designers, costume designers, lighting designers, music, sound effects, props, production team and more.

At the first meeting we were all lined up at a long long table where he sat at the head like Jesus at the last supper. The room operates in 3 languages  – French, English and Spanish; and while at first the switching between was somewhat confusing as the first week progressed, it became quite astonishingly seamless. The cast consist of: 2 actors from Madrid, 1 from Columbia, 1 Quebecois, 1 German and 1 from London, and so there are many languages in the room on top of the 3 that are used. Some of these actors I have seen in previous Ex Machina productions, others are actors that have never acted before – Robert has a habit of plucking people in a magical way from the tech team and placing them on stage, after which they tour the world as actors!

The working days were at first something I found astonishing in their timetable – the first shift of the day which includes all creatives and technical teams begins at 9.30 am and runs until 1.00 sharp. The next session begins at 7.30pm and runs until 10.30 pm – strangely like having 2 days in one as everyone retires in the middle of the day and rests, learns scenes or rewrites parts, then upon the return it is like the day begins again – and because we are in the studio there is a timeless quality to the days. 

 I might add the enormous respect I have for the tech teams who also have the a daily shift on top of these two from 2pm to 6pm where often they transform the set so that upon arrival of the creatives at 7 there is something new to play with. In general the technical team are true artists, quietly and cooperatively working and making such beauty possible, I have nothing but completely admiration for them all.

 More next week…