Theatre students bring a taste of Vienna to the stage

Third-year theatre students are upping the ante for their annual winter production, bringing more sex, violence and Nazis than ever before.

Set in Austria during the depression, Tales from the Vienna Woods follows a young woman as she falls in love with another man in the midst of her engagement party, and the aftermath that follows as her life and relationships crumble beneath her.

Directed by Cynthia Ashperger, the play is a faithful adaptation of the original 1931 version written by Ödön von Horváth.

Ryerson theatregoers haven’t seen as much psychological violence and sexuality as they will this year, according to a cast member. Chelsea Muirhead, one of three actresses portraying main character Marianne, says plays from previous years have featured  showy production styles.

This year’s show relies on raw, natural emotions, intense storytelling and shocking imagery — something the actress thinks raises the stakes.

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

“We have (semi)-naked women dancing around on stage… all the way down to their bras and underwear,” she says. “There’s very explicit sexual imagery like people getting very close on stage kissing and manhandling each other. There are weapons in the show and violent throwing around of women. It’s very much a patriarchal society so men take the upper hand with women and use women as they please.”

The play is set before the Second World War. In-script references to Nazism and waving gestures similar to those used by Adolf Hitler were touchy elements of the play. Hannah Galway, plays Valerie, a strong, independent woman ahead of her time.

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

“It’s been a matter of ‘how do we deal with this in the way that it’s written in the script – which is sometimes humorous — without being extremely offensive,’ ” Galway says. “It’s something we hope translates to the audience so people understand we aren’t promoting this.”

The performers say they hope the references  doesn’t stop people from coming out to the show. Muirhead says it’s all about real people dealing with real issues.

“It’s us dealing with family, and money, and sex, and horror, and laughter and all the aspects of life you could ever imagine,” she says. “It’s the good, and it’s the bad.”

Actor Nicholas Uffen, who plays a double role as a priest and a teenager named Erich, says the rehearsal process was much different from anything he had ever done in the past.

“We start out recording all of our dialogue and then playing it back and improvising our movements to the dialogue,” Uffen says. “We have that freedom to create the physical life of the show separate from the emotional life and then bringing them together which was really liberating. It took a weight off of all the actors and allowed us to really create a great physical life for the show really efficiently.”

The play takes place on one of the theatre’s more intimate stages. With seating for less than 100 people, Muirhead says it’s a great way to connect with the audience.

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

Third-year students rehearse in the Ryerson theatre. (Jordan Sprague/Ryersonian Staff)

“To have that close of a relationship and feel them breathing helps bring up the energy of the show. There’s an intimacy because you can see people eye-to-eye and they can feel your breath. I think it makes for a more electric show,” she says.

This year more than 65 people are involved in the production including hair and makeup, wardrobe, props, the acting ensemble and many more. Production began in mid-October and the entire crew has been working tirelessly to put on their best show.

Tales from the Vienna Woods runs from Feb. 5-7 and 9-12 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be reserved by calling the Ryerson Theatre School Box Office at 416-979-5118.

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