Photo by Susan Benoit. Gabi Epstein & Jonathan Logan in DANI GIRL.
DANI GIRL, a musical about a young girl battling a potentially fatal disease, opens today at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Although not a show for children, the production does remind us "adults", that the hope and optimism of a child is often the best medicine, and that child-like determination to persevere is nothing to be scoffed at.
Director of DANI GIRL, and theatre critic to The Star, Richard Ouzounian sheds some light on why he chose this show and why he continues to choose theatre, full-stop.
1. Why this play? I'm assuming you have a busy schedule of events and writing, so what was it about this particular piece that caught your attention?
I was brought down to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh over 5 years ago to work with the two young authors of this piece when they were still in school. I loved the work and their talent and have been anxious ever since to bring it to a wider audience. We did it in Barrie last year and Arkady Spivak of Talk Is Free Theatre and Svetlana Dvoretskaia of Show One Productions decided to bring it to Toronto, which was great.
2. How do you think your role as a Toronto theatre critic affects your directorial work, for better and for worse?
I worked as a full-time director for 20 years before switching to primarily media work in 1991. I chose to make it a secondary profession ever since and I don't regret it. I loved directing and still do, but when you have to do it for a living, you can't pick and choose your projects and you wind up doing things you don't like to pay the rent.
I think continuing to work in the business makes me both sharper and more sympathetic. I can spot bad work more easily and I appreciate good work with more enthusiasm.
3. As an add-on to Question 2: Since you do have quite a robust and diverse full-time job, what motivates you to continue to participate in theatre beyond the role of audience member and professional critic?
I love theatre, period. I don't just go to it because I have to. When I'm on vacation, I always check to see what's playing in any country around the world. And if you love something, you want to enjoy it in a variety of ways.
4. Given your outspoken criticism of Matthew Jocelyn and CanadianStage, how would you feel if he came to review your show?
Well that wouldn't make any sense, would it? He's not a critic and never has been. I ran many of the major theatres in this country and directed hundreds of shows before becoming a critic. I'm qualified to do both. Your question also raises the idea of reviewing as "payback". Anyone who uses reviews to take revenge on someone or something is in the wrong profession.
5. Given the breadth of Canadian theatre you see, what you do feel is missing in the national theatre landscape? By the same token, what do you feel Canadian theatre does really well?
I think this country is filled with tremendous actors and designers. We have lots of good playwrights as well. I know it sounds self-serving, but I think we are short of good directors. And if you talk to the people who run our theatres always looking for good people to hire, or to the actors who have to deal with a lot of the people who call themselves directors, you'd find that they agree.
6. Any more directorial work in the near future? Any projects you're excited about, and at liberty to discuss?
I return to Barrie in just a month to do a new adaptation (for four people!) of Great Expectations, that I've prepared. Next year I also hope to be directing a show with the graduating class at Sheridan, but I can't reveal it yet. And I'm also talking to the people at Hart House where I had an awesome time directing their record-breaking production of JERRY SPRINGER, THE OPERA a few years ago about returning to shake things up again.
It's never dull!
DANI GIRL is on now until March 4 at the Theatre Passe Muraille's Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave).
For tickets click here or call 416-504-7529.