2020/21 Season

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OSLO Behind the Scenes: Ready to Rehearse

This is the first in a series of posts taking a look behind the scenes of our winter Off-Mirvish production, Oslo, from the perspective of our RBC Emerging Director—and one of Oslo’s two Assistant Directors—Kerry Ann Doherty

The role of Assistant Director changes from show to show. I love that. It keeps me open and ready for anything. When you’re working on a show based on real events and real people, like Oslo by J.T. Rogers, it’s important to know everything you can about those events. So the director, Joel Greenberg, and I talked about what I could do to provide background information for the rehearsal hall.

The Oslo Accord was signed on the lawn of the White House in 1993, by Yasser Arafat on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yitzhak Rabin on behalf of Israel. Some of you may remember the photo taken with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

It was a moment of huge significance and brought hope to many that peace was possible in the Middle East. That moment gave me many clues about where to start my research.

The fun stuff was remembering what else was going on around the world in 1993. (Yes, I was old enough in 1993 to remember things, but not without being reminded.) So I looked at current events of the time as well as cultural events. What music were people hearing on the radio, in stores, at airports? What were the top movies? Who were the celebrities on the cover of every magazine? What was happening in the news? Bill Clinton was sworn in as President; there was a deadly standoff in Waco, Texas; the World Health Organization declared tuberculosis a global emergency; Brian Mulroney stepped down as Canadian Prime Minister and was replaced by Kim Campbell, who then lost the next election to Jean Chrétien. The North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified in Canada, Mexico and the United States; there was the first World Trade Center Bombing; it goes on and on.

US President Bill Clinton stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin as they shake hands 13 September 1993 at the White House in Washington DC. J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)

This is the stuff that will help our actors to remember, or in some cases, get to know, the time their characters live in.

Joel and I also went through the play to figure out the internal timeline. The Oslo talks were secret, so these clues are in the play itself. We know the first scene takes place in March of 1993, and the last scene takes place on the 13th of September 1993, but what about the others? It is always good to know the time of year a scene takes place so we know how hot or cold it is, but even more importantly, the amount of time that elapses between scenes can give us a lot of information. How difficult was it to organize these meetings? What kind of pressure were they under?

The more serious work involves getting to know why the Oslo Accord was needed in the first place. At Joel’s suggestion, I went back to the 1870s, when the region was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to the Toronto Library, I was able to access a number of books on the subject. One book in particular had a very good timeline; it will be enlarged and reprinted with some additional information for the wall of the rehearsal hall, so that we can refer back to it easily. We will also be displaying six different maps of the area covering what we now call Turkey, Syria and Egypt. The maps represent the Ottoman Administration Divisions, through the Palestinian Mandate, 1937 Peel Commission Partition Plan, 1949 U.N. armistice lines, 1967 war, and finally the Oslo Accord. It is fascinating research, and I have learned so much more about the complexity of it all. My readings do not make me an expert by any means, but now I have the tools to be of assistance to everyone in the rehearsal hall.

Rehearsals start on Monday, and while there is still a lot more to read and learn, I feel excited and ready to start.

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