October 1, 2013

Spotlight on Alumni: Litmus Theatre

Litmus Theatre Litmus Theatre: Matt Walker, Claire Wynveen & Adriano Sobretodo Jr.

Litmus Theatre was formed in 2009 by York Acting MFA graduates Adriano Sobretodo Jr., Matt Walker and Claire Wynveen. Since its inception, LitmusTheatre has become known for engaging and innovative site specific theatre. In 2010 and 2011, Litmus staged Matchbox Macbeth: an eerie retelling of Macbeth in a backyard shed. The show sold out both of its runs and garnered critical acclaim.

Up next, Litmus Theatre is working on the premiere of a new work: Birth of Frankenstein, which runs Oct 22 – Nov 3, 2013. 

Birth of Frankenstein is a site specific play that fuses Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking gothic novel with the dramatic personal circumstances that inspired her to write it. It will be staged in the Parlour Room of St. Luke's United Church. Litmus will breathe new life into the myths and monsters that haunt the pages of Frankenstein while exploring the tale of author Mary Shelley. The intimate gothic venue will offer viewers a fresh perspective on this chilling story of science and creation. Inches away from an audience of forty, actors will portray infamous characters from the novel and historical figures from Mary Shelley’s own life.

For more information about Litmus Theatre, or to buy tickets to Birth of Frankenstein, please visit www.litmustheatre.com (Student tickets are $20!)

Abbreviations in this article: MW – Matt Walker, CW – Claire Wynveen, AS – Adriano Sobretodo, Jr.

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

MW – Oh, there's many fond memories.  Usually what makes me fuzzy with nostalgia, though, is when I remember one of my classmates breaking down into tears of laughter during voice exercises with Smukler.  He was remarkable at working with us in all states of ridiculousness and exhaustion.

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate?

AS – This is a tough business, so figure out who you can turn to when the going gets rough.  Who are the positive people in your life that will give you a boost of encouragement when you need it most?  It sounds really basic, but you may find yourself wanting to cut yourself off from people when things aren’t going well.  Do the opposite. Figure out who’s got your back and seek them out when you run in to turbulence. 

Did connections, friendships, relationships you made at York help you afterward?

CW – The most lasting impact of the connections I made at York is this theatre company. Because the training is so intensive, you really feel like you've gone to war with a group of people. That collaborative mentality has served us so well as a company – we are able to share in many decisions, from the very small to the very large, and stay grounded in the fact that all of our voices matter. It was so special to find 2 other collaborators with the same kooky passionate vision as myself. And we all bring so much to the table: where one person lacks experience, another makes up for it tenfold. And to know that this incredibly difficult job that we all do (indie producing) is built on a foundation of trust and risk-taking is really special.

Can you tell us a story of a moment where your training at York was clearly useful?

CW – Grant writing. The most amazing thing about the York MFA program is you get such a spectrum of experience. You can go from teaching an undergraduate acting class, to being in a movement class, to working on your 70-page thesis in one day! This holistic training has been so useful in grant writing: at York my artist muscle was trained, which helped me refine my artistic vision. But my writing muscle was also given tons of practice, which makes it so much easier to articulate our creative thoughts on our grant applications. Plus: when you teach you have to get really good at putting thought and impulse into words.

MW – A year or so after graduating I played a character that was mute through most of the first act, but never left the stage.  At first glance I found this a bit daunting as I'd previously relied too heavily on text to uncover the life of my character.  My York training gave me multiple ways to attack this, and ultimately served me greatly. The detailed study of character body in our movement classes and Mask work gave me a way to look at how to tell my characters story through rhythm and spatial relationships, while grounding it in authentic experience.  

AS – I just finished doing a show at SummerWorks where I played 8 or 9 different characters including one of the Beach Boy, a Cuban ex-patriate, and a 17th Century foul-mouthed Dutch adjudicator.  My York Theatre training in Mask and Character Body gives me a foundation and clear framework on how to approach character creation, step by step, from the ground up.

What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value?

CW – To take risks. To challenge yourself and your collaborators. With collective creation, you never know where you're going until you get there – so you have to remain open to the possibilities that may come your way. Whether it's a pop song you hear on the radio that radically transforms the way you think of the piece, or a movement workshop that opens up your own actor's instrument – you need to experiment and listen to what the world has in store for the piece. Don't be precious. Throw stuff in the garbage if it's isn't working. Have fun in the studio with people who make you laugh.

AS – The idea of oscillating back and forth between seemingly opposite ideas.   At York it's often referred to as “a swing.”  For example, I can be madly in love with someone one second, and then want to rip out her heart the next.  It's interesting to see a person struggle with competing ideas.  And there's a sense of uneasiness not knowing which direction someone is headed.  I apply this idea of “a swing” to every audition I go out for, every monologue I recite, every movement piece I choreograph.

MW –  Most valuable to our site-specific work with Litmus has been the Viewpoints exercises we did with Michael Greyeyes.  From the moment Claire, Adriano and I walk into a space we have a very clear way of breaking down its creative potential, assessing what stories it is trying to tell us.  It's how we begin every project.

Birth of Frankenstein from Justin_Cutler on Vimeo.