Workbook: Arms and the Man

Is the romanticization of war and xenophobia cuckoo? Just a little. In our production of Arms and the Man at Shaw Festival we are taking it literally, constructing a giant clock for the actors to play in and around

If you want to whip up hysterical patriotism just whip out a flag. Heres just a couple that will stir the hearts of a nation, the flags of Serbia and Bulgaria.

Apparently even chocolate goes to war, in this case darks and lights united against the foe. Left, as only fitting, enemy of the people himself Bernard Shaw, peace advocate, socialist, playwright and namesake of the Festival

Medal from Serbo Bulgarian War of 1886, the conflict satirized by Shaw in the play. It was probably safer for him to mock these zealots than his own patriots at home

Images of slaughter once filled textbooks and novels, necessary propaganda tools in making war not only feasible and inevitable, but adventurous and romantic

Laurie Paton, Norman Browning, together in life, together on stage. Norm and Laurie have done many shows at Shaw before this one but its always nice to see the real life couple pretend to be a couple, say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Petkoff, Rainas doting parents. Raina, below, played by the talented and gorgeous Kate Besworth

We often take inspiration from our immediate surroundings, and Arms is no exception, left, stags heads about our fireplace are replicated on the clock face

The rustic romantic ideal combines with Swiss precision in our imagistic approach to Shaws dialectic

Shaw builders and technicians bring Kens renderings to life at the Virgil shop

Sure Ken can find a couple of pine cones and paint them but can the shop build them? With enough rubber and styrofoam, yes. Left, drawings for the garden swing set and gate

The decorative bird, left, part of the massive face of the cuckoo clock, is much larger than life, and requires careful and precise carving. Right, the gears are built in small scale, initial, to work out their action

The gears, as well as the back of the clock face, near completion, one month before rehearsals even begin. Above, the wooden gears are painted to look like slightly rusted metal.

Martin Happer, pictured right, will play the hapless Sergius, the worlds most useless military man. Martin last worked with us in The Admirable Crichton

Claire Julien, left, plays Luka, the saucy maid who doesnt quite know her place. Claire played the lead in our production of Our Betters, but Peter Krantz, right, has never before worked with us, although he has threatened to many times, Peter plays Nikola, the other servant, a shady character whose purpose, it would seem, is to undermine the romantic notion of the servant class as unquestioning and, well, serving, a theme too familiar with us, today, but revolutionary in Shaws time. Servants, now, can and are portrayed in more realistic terms because we have taken Shaws lead and de-romanticized the notion of servants, among other types, but it was Shaw and his contemporaries who showed the way.

Despite Shaws heroic efforts, we seem to romanticize as much as ever, especially when it comes to real factual history. Servants were most likely a lot more miserable and a lot less likely to chatter happily in the kitchen as they seem to now. Have we entered a new romantic age in which the misery and hardship of ages past is now a soap opera? Well, yes, but a good soap opera.

War, too, was a filthy and unappealing business, more about dirty and disease than about guns and glory. But history has often tried to tell us otherwise.

Now, of course, the soldier is computerized for our entertainment so that we can enjoy and experience warfare, without the nasty bloodshed.

In 2000, Jake and Dinos Chapman unleashed their vision of hell at the Saatchi Gallery in London, left and lower right, using toy soldiers, or at least the remnants of them. Right, children, boys in particular, have often been fascinated with images of warfare and the toy industry has been quick to respond, making a game of war.

The truth being slightly more gruesome than the fantasy

Our fascination with guns and other weapons of war is no less deep-rooted now than it was a hundred years ago. And war can be marketed just like anything else.


In modern mythology, all soldiers are heroes, and damned if you think otherwise

War, any war, can be made into a game, and any game can become a war. We learn, from an early age, about enemies, and vilification of a group can seem as natural as any  team sport. Our emotions are easily manipulated when it comes to tribalism

With rehearsals not yet begun, Ken goes down to Niagara on the Lake to inspect the set, as it is installed in the George Theatre. Any changes or adjustments, now, will be minor, and theory will be put into practice in the rehearsal room. Minor changes to the props, additions, etc, will happen as the process continues, but the set is complete

Two new members of the Shaw acting ensemble will play soldiers and servants, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, left and Edmund Stapleton, right. Welcome to Shaw Festival!

Charlotte Dean, left, surrounded by her designs sketches and fabric swatches for the show. Once we have settled on designs, she begins the arduous task of making it all happen. Fittings begin, below, with Kate and Stephen

Above left, Graeme Somerville plays Swiss mercenary Bluntschli, the soldier who prefers to chocolate to guns. Graeme last worked with us in Noel Cowards Design for Living, Norman and Morris first worked together as actors playing Jack and Algernon in a 1980s Arts Club production of the Importance of Being Earnest

Before Charlotte and the awesome Shaw costume crew begin stitching together new clothes, they carefully root through existing wardrobe to see what can be recut, altered, to work with her designs. Sometimes it means rethinking designs in order to save money. Somebody who has worked in the shop for as long as Charlotte has a pretty good idea whats in there and what is not

Different looks are tried out for servants, soldiers, and Raina, above. Depending on whats in stock, Charlotte can often cut some corners with existing inventory. You may not see these looks on stage, but theyre worth having a look at in fittings, which begin well before rehearsals with whoever happens to be in Niagara on the Lake in January.

Rehearsals begin in Room 2, but just for two days until a move to the lobby (now a rehearsal space). The first day is always very exciting when actors get to meet each other, the production team, the rest of the Shaw company, and where the play is read; a first real taste of what the production might be like without the guesswork, but there is a long road ahead, as actors know well. Lower left Graeme, left, looks to the camera while newcomer Edmund sticks to the script

Above, Charlotte, together with the costume department, start to put pieces together. Upper right, Martin and Kate are fitted into Act Two costumes while, below, left, Laurie get fitted for a wig and hat and her Act One dressing gown. Below, Arm and the Man, Ken MacDonald has a total shoulder replacement in the middle of rehearsal, returning just in time to see his set for Arms being installed into the Royal George. Thanks to great team at St Mikes for new body part and Morris for his awesome at home care

Therapy and a little rest continue for the next six or seven weeks. But the waiting list is long and when the doctor calls, the doctor calls. All the same, after only two and a half weeks Ken is already drawing with his right hand and returning to the shop to oversee not one but two productions, as this year he is designer not just for Arms but also for the Joe Zeigler production of When We Are Married.

Meanwhile, Gordon Lawson from props photographs Martin Happer, left, in full regalia. The photo will be treated and painted over to look like a portrait of our hero much as we treated photos of actors for portraits in The Doctors Dilemma

And speaking of Doctors Dilemma, right, Kens new shoulder, socket and ball, conveniently installed between design deadlines

At tech dress actors prepare to navigate their way through the show for the first time in their costumes, some of which take up a lot of room. Far left, Norman poses with the director, left, Stephen and Edmund dressed to kill and, right, joined by Norman, and Kate in her evening fur

Our first preview audience, left, was treated to a very long intermission courtesy of a small problem with turning the set around, soon rectified but not before Morris had to make a speech explaining the situation. The rest of the show went a little better

Some excellent production shots from David and Emily Cooper. Upper right, The chocolate soldier deals with unruly Bulgarians. Right, Raina and Blunschli discuss modern warfare. Above left, Catherine admires Sergius while her husband rests his weary head. Left, Louka discusses her future with or without Nikola, and right, Raina admits to being overly dramatic while her chocolate soldiers listens with intense admiration. Below, the soldier defends himself

Its one of our last rehearsals, this one following six previews, and a chance to gather the cast and some of the crew to the stage for a photograph. At the very back is Suzanne, ASM, as with all good ASMs. trying her best not to be seen. To her right Martin and Graeme, to her left Edmund and Claire, centre, seated, Norman, to his right Peter and stage hand Laura, to his left Kate, Laurie, Stephen and awesome stage manager Allison. Not in the picture sound man Julian, lighting man Paul and backstage hand Kevin, and of course the creative team, Jason, Ken, Morris, Charlotte and Ryan de Souza who created the sound for the show. Its always a little bittersweet to leave a production just when it finds its feet. But Ken moves on to another show at Shaw, When We Are Married, and Morris is off to Quebec City for the Victoria Opera revival of Macbeth. The cast and crew will go on to present nearly a hundred performances!