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Challenging conventional theatre

Back Story makes me wish I had a brother /Image: Landon Walliser
Back Story makes me wish I had a brother /Image: Landon Walliser

It’s what the U of R does best

Article: Laura Billet – Contributor

With 18 playwrights, 19 scenes, and anywhere from two to 22 actors, Back Story is not your usual production. It tells the story of Ainsley and her younger brother, Ethan, and the strong relationship they maintain as they experience life’s challenges.

With a cast potentially as large as 22, Ainsley and Ethan are surprisingly the only speaking roles. So while the play only explores the lives of the brother and sister, the audience sees the characters’ portrayal done by many different actors, all in one show. It is like getting to see multiple casts in one night.

In the University’s production of Back Story, there is a cast of nine: five women cast as Ainsley, and three men and one woman cast as Ethan. Hayley Taylor and Robyn Sanderson are two of the five women cast as Ainsley. When asked how it was to share a role within a play, they both described it as a very interesting experience.

“It is very helpful, and very confusing,” says Taylor.

The actors were encouraged to watch and adopt each other’s nuances.

“It’s interesting working with … the Ainsley’s, trying to have your interpretation, but also picking up what the other Ainsley’s are doing,” says Sanderson.

The work is far tougher than you’d imagine. These actors aren’t just running speech drills and reading from a script; they are really delving into the characters’ personalities, thoughts, and even inner energies. They begin reading the script as a cast, and then slowly bring it alive through exercises that draw out the nuances and energies of both characters, and how they interact.

“It’s interesting working with … the Ainsley’s, trying to have your interpretation, but also picking up what the other Ainsley’s are doing.” 

“We worked a bit on how [we can] express our characters within our different inner energies,” Sanderson says.

Ethan has “lots of energy, he’s very extroverted. Whereas Ainsley is very introverted. She is very graceful. She is very smooth in almost everything she does,” Taylor says.

Ainsley and Ethan’s relationship is quite normal in some respects; they have their disagreements like all siblings. However, there is something extraordinary in the strength and closeness of their bond.

“She absolutely adores her brother … her life is about her family and her love for her brother, and protecting him and the bond that they have,” Sanderson says.

Ainsley has been the one holding the family together since their Father left them when she was seven.

“She is more of a mother than their Mother is … Ainsley is the one who takes care of everything,” says Taylor. She even turns down her dream of attending the Boston Conservatory of Music in order to take care of Ethan. Their relationship is extraordinary.

“These two siblings … are always there for each other … She is always looking out for him, and he is always looking out for her,” says Taylor.

Back Story runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, then again from Nov. 6-9 in the Shu-Box Theatre. Admission is free for students, so there is no excuse not to experience this inventive story.

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