When performing plays, actors use props, costumes and set pieces to immerse themselves in the world of the story. Spinning Dot Theatre repertory company members Aya Aziz and Forrest Hejkal, who star in the North American premiere of Chelsea Woolley’s two-hander, The Mountain, had extra help preparing to portray children on a playground; they did some of their rehearsing on a playground, and on playground equipment in Spinning Dot’s artistic director Jenny Koppera’s backyard. But despite the playful setting, The Mountain explores fraught situations.
“The Mountain deals with anti-immigrant feelings from the lens of two eight-year-olds, a quiet Canadian boy and a feisty Arab girl, on a Canadian playground,” says the play’s director Koppera. “Through these beautiful and unique characters, Woolley is able to touch upon the universals of childhood, the need for home, friendship, otherness, and trust.”
“This play combines realism, two children on a playground talking, and magic, by using spectacle to enhance the moments of play between these two characters”, says assistant director Tyler Calhoun. “It’s like how a child can have a conversation with a friend, and then be completely consumed by an epic battle with a dragon.”
Aziz identifies strongly with The Mountain’s themes. “Aside from the character and I sharing a name – what are the odds, right? – we also share similar backgrounds”, she says. “I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, and emigrated to America at the age of twelve. My character Aya was born and raised in Syria, and migrated to Canada at the age of nine. We both endured the aftermath of war, and the difficulties of making friends while bearing the language barriers.”
Spinning Dot Theatre produces global theatre for and with young people. The three tiers of the company (youth, teen and adult repertory) interact often, with all the teaching artists for the youth and teen companies coming from the adult company. The plays they produce are not what US audiences often expect of theatre for youth, and their commitment to a gestational type of preparation is remarkable; they usually rehearse for several months, allowing for exploration, improvisation and bonding.
This dedication pays off: Spinning Dot was recently nominated for a Wilde Award for their 2017 production of Suzanne Lebeau’s The Ogreling, and have been honored by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education with the 2018 Zeta Phi Eta – Winifred Ward Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company Award.
The Mountain isn’t the first Spinning Dot play with heavy themes; previous plays have dealt with death, gun violence, and xenophobia.
“Theatre for young audiences (TYA) in the US is primarily seen as pure entertainment,” Koppera says. “To introduce young people to plays with difficult topics means that the work of the play necessitates dialogue and unpacking after the play. It can be seen as risky for the adults taking their young people to the theatre. These plays fill out the spectrum of what TYA can be – fun and silly, but also deep and potent. Our young people deserve all those options in their art.”
For more information visit spinningdot.org. The production will run August 16-19, 25-26.