We took some time with Valley Song director David Snider, (who most recently appeared on the Rosebud stage as the Magnificent Toad in 'Wind in the Willows') to talk about his experience.
Directors, apparently, have a ‘process’. What’s yours?
Listen closely to the play; trusting [that] all that is needed to tell the story clearly, is in the text.
And in addition to the play text, I discovered the play was dedicated to Barney Simon, an iconic South African director and close colleague of Fugard, who was lauded for multi-racial casting during the violent period of apartheid. I’ve been reading a book about Simon called The World in an Orange, a collection of interviews with artists who describe his deep commitment to theatre as a sacred expression of being human, regardless of differences in background. That reading set the tone for my approach to the rehearsal process.
Do you, as a professional actor, approach scripts differently as a director?
The approach is quite similar, in that I put a lot of focus on identifying actions of consequence as direction to the actors. Playing the action, rather than aiming for effect, is the best way I know to help actors surprise themselves with honest discoveries and unexpected impulses. Surprising myself is one of my favourite parts of exploring a role.
What jumped out when you read ‘Valley Song’ for the first time?
The similarities to life in Rosebud, both as a farming-based rural village, and as a place where young artists cultivate their voices.
Is there a particular image or metaphor you associate with the story?
The play has many monologues, and whether addressed to another person or the Almighty, they all feel like psalms. Author Walter Bruggemann writes that the book of Psalms are songs that reflect three seasons of life that are universal: times of clarity and order where life makes sense and our purpose clear; times where we are displaced, even lost in the valley of the shadow of death; and times of re-orientation, where we experience the wonder of new green pastures. The play contains all three seasons of life, lived out over the course of a year.
There’s quite a bit of music in this play. How does music function differently in a “dramatic play WITH music” vs. a musical? What does music accomplish that dialogue doesn’t?
The songs in this play are Veronica’s heart. Some move action forward like in a musical, but mostly you hear her gift, and her longing to be heard through music. The play has set lyrics for the songs, but we had the option to either rent the melodies from a publisher, or create them ourselves. One of my greatest joys in this process is that Lennette composed the melodies and styles of the songs herself. She created such entertaining and heartfelt songs, that her connection to her character is seamless.
What’s a moment in rehearsal / production that has stuck with you?
First thing one morning we were prepping to shoot a short segment of a scene for promotion. As a warm-up, I invited Lennette [Randall] and David [LeReaney] to include the whole stage as they went through the scene. Right out of the gate, they found deep freedom, passion and clarity. It was a moment of discovering both the power of permission, and of just how connected these actors could be to living in the moment.
Why does a play set in South Africa still speak to audiences in Rosebud, Alberta?
The feedback I have received from patrons so far is how moving they find the relationship between the grandfather and granddaughter, witnessing them work through accepting change, both in loss and growth in their relationship and in their world.
The story is fitting for the Rosebud river valley, both with its legacy of the land, and in a growing legacy of cultivating new artists and their dreams. Both farming and art-making are uncertain but purposeful life paths that are central to both places.