Speaking in Tongues

Two couples contemplate infidelity. One follows through, the other does not. Each choice creates ripples outward, like a stone dropping in a pond. Lives overlap and intertwine. A lost love reappears. A pair of shoes abandoned on the beach. A woman vanishes without a trace. Contracts broken between lovers and powerful bonds forged between strangers. What happens when intimacy breaks down? When do we recognize the danger of our inaction? How far will we go to feel something? 

Find out this week when DMV Theatre presents Speaking in Tongues at Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage in Halifax. Recently we spoke with director Matthew Thomas Walker about what audiences can expect.

What are your own roots?
I’m Halifax born and raised, as was my Mother.  My father grew up on the South Shore in a small town called Milton.

How long have you been involved in theater, and in what capacity?
I got hooked into theatre during my undergrad at Dal by an Intro to Acting class co-taught by Sue Leblanc and Jennifer Overton. Their unique perspectives and approaches completely shifted my perception of what theater is. I’d been enrolled in Engineering and hadn’t realized how much I needed art in my life. Soon I was switching my major and auditioning for the Acting program, which I graduated from in 2005.  After gigging as an actor and producing independent work with the DMV team for a few years I moved to Toronto to complete my MFA at York.  In Toronto, I formed another independent theatre company with a few fellow grads called Litmus Theatre. We adapt classic works for site-specific venues in Toronto. Litmus has allowed me to begin testing my hand at directing and creating new work, which has become the focus of my career in recent years.

How did you get involved with this particular production?
Since helping to found the company in 2006, I had often been involved as an actor in the shows that Pamela Halstead would direct.  Since I started getting some directing experience under my belt, Pam and I had frequently discussed the possibility of swapping spots.  With some last-minute cast shuffling on this project, she gave me a call and we decided that this was the one!

What are the challenges involved?
The show is full of great challenges for the entire team, most of which stem from the fact that the playwright shifts the world of the play at the intermission:  the four actors take on new characters, broadening the play’s scope; the storytelling shifts styles, requiring the designers and myself to change the game.  The narrative begins to jump around in time giving us seemingly disjointed pieces of the puzzle, until the larger picture begins to emerge in the final scenes. It’s like no other piece I’ve worked on as an actor or director. It has stretched the whole team in new directions.

What are the rewards?
The reward is that as artists we love taking on these challenges. We want the opportunity to work on a piece that stretches both our skills and our humanity.  Speaking in Tongues does this.  Aside from the technical demands, the writing also asks big questions of us as humans.  It has always been my favourite part about being a theatre artist. We get to gather in the same room with smart, big-hearted people and talk about the hard stuff.

What can audiences expect during the run?
They can expect delight, mystery, and a narrative structure that is anything but conventional.  A story that begins with clever mirroring of two couples as they contemplate infidelity. Then, just when you feel a simple moral may reveal itself, the story will crack open on you adding greater complexity to the discussion.  As the playwright puts it, “that’s life”.  Bring your brains and hearts with you.  

What are your thoughts on the state of theater in Halifax & Atlantic Canada?
There’s no shortage of talent and ingenuity out here. What I believe is a positive trend is that there seems to be (some) more attention from the mid and large level companies towards the risk-taking happening in the indie community. I’ve noticed that a few of these companies are offering their greater platforms to showcase independent shows that have struck a chord at the Bus Stop Theatre, the Fringe Festival or other indie spaces.  I believe that building these channels between the indie and the established theatres can be mutually beneficial for all. 

What's next on your creative agenda?
I’m entering into development with my other company, Litmus, on a new project based on JM Barrie’s Peter Pan stories.  It’s being adapted by playwright Jordi Mand and focuses on Wendy’s life years later when she has a daughter of her own. I’m also really excited to be directing the graduating class at Dal in the fall.  We’ll be staging Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando for the first show of their season.  It’s a beautiful script, and will be really great to work on with the students.

Speaking in Tongues
January 26 – 29, 2017
Neptune Theatre Scotiabank Stage, Halifax

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