Published on January 31st, 2017 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Nicola Lipman and Colleen Winton
The dynamic team at Classic Chic Productions is back to ask the question – what if Shakespeare had written The Godfather?
Nicola Lipman and Colleen Winton are two talented members of the all-female cast that will be mashing up Francis Cord Coppola and William Shakespeare in Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, which plays at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver from February 3rd to February 25th.
Born at Vancouver General Hospital many years ago, Nicola Lipman then attended and graduated from UBC, and the National Theatre School in Montreal, since which time she’s been fortunate to work regularly in theatres across Canada. Recent favourites include: Other Desert Cities (Citadel Theatre), Grey Gardens (Acting Up Stage), Domesticated (Company Theatre), No Great Mischief and Scorched (Tarragon Theatre), Driving Miss Daisy (WCTC/1000 Islands Playhouse), Les Miserables (Arts Club). Upcoming… King Arthur’s Night (New World, Refuge), Birds and the Bees (1000 Islands)…. She is the grateful recipient of four Jessie Awards and she is daunted by, and delighted to be part of this unique and challenging play.
Colleen Winton is honoured to be performing with the “Chics” for the third year. She appeared as Old Shepherd in their inaugural production of Winter’s Tale, as Shelley Levene in the acclaimed Glengarry Glen Ross and now as a collection of gangsters in the inventive Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather. She is extremely grateful to have gone on these journeys with the brilliant and insightful directors: Lisa Wolpe, Rachel Peake and Mindy Parfitt, respectively. Colleen’s varied career includes the Stratford, Shaw and Charlottetown Festivals, the companies of CATS and Show Boat, plus extensive film/TV credits. Recent performances include: Driving Miss Daisy (RuBarb Prod), Hedda Gabler (Persephone), Anne of Green Gables (Theatre Calgary), Hello, Dolly! (RCMT), Three Musketeers, Little Women (Citadel), Fiddler on the Roof (Chemainus), Sound of Music (Gateway), Calendar Girls (Arts Club). She has directed Waiting for the Parade (Chemainus), Merry Wives of Windsor (Graffiti Theatre), Taming of the Shrew (Showcase Festival), Queen Lear (Western Gold) and Little Shop of Horrors (TUTS).
Here’s what they had to say about their participation in Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather.
What is your involvement with Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather and how did that get started?
Nicola Lipman: I was contacted by the Classic Chic collective and asked if I would read the play.
Colleen Winton: I am an actor in this production, playing Mafia family heads and various murderers (no suprise there). I haven’t counted but I think there are upwards of 10 characters. I will be busy. I was asked to do a readthrough of the script around a kitchen table about a year ago to see if this might be a good fit for Classic Chic and then I auditioned like everyone else.
What drew you to be a part of this production?
Nicola Lipman: I’d seen an earlier production and was affected and inspired by their work.
Colleen Winton: I have done both Winter’s Tale and Glengarry Glen Ross with Classic Chic. This piece seemed a perfect marriage of classic Shakespearean theatre with classic American testosterone driven theatre. Not only do I admire what Classic Chic are striving to do in theatre in this community, and adore the 3 women (Christina Wells Campbell, Michelle Martin and Corina Acheson) as individuals, but also the previous productions were 2 of the most personally rewarding experiences I have had as an actor. I mean, how many women do you know who have had the opportunity to play Shelley Levene – as a man! The challenge of playing male characters is an element of this work but is not the only thing that makes it intriguing. Working in a group made entirely of women, from director and designers to stage carpenters, is very satisfying and freeing. The dynamic in the room is both relaxed and electric. I just had to throw my hat back in the ring. And I wanted to work with director Mindy Parfitt. Through Classic Chic, I have now worked with 3 different directors with whom I had not previously worked.
Can you share some of your creative process in preparing for the role – from the initial planning all the way to opening night? Do you do anything different than usual preparing to play male roles?
Nicola Lipman: Regardless of experience or technique, I find each character one plays presents a different path to unravelling its core. I try not to plan or make too many choices in advance so I can bet see to listen and absorb what others – actors, directors, designers, are bringing to the story. There is so much information that emerges during the rehearsal process, which informs your own character’s DNS. Insofar as playing a man, Vito in particular, I’m trying to grasp and comprehend the man contained in THIS particular story. I went back to the original book by Mario Puzo, which seems to be the bedrock of our play, and I found a highly moral man, a practical, successful Italian-American businessman, small and strong in stature, concerned primarily with the responsibilities his family, his business, and his community have conferred up on him. That’s the person I am trying to understand and represent.
Colleen Winton: I have to say that those of us who were fortunate enough to work with Lisa Wolpe, the director of Winter’s Tale, were blessed with a really good head start to the challenge of performing a male character. She opened my eyes to such things as taking up space and the right to speak; walking and speaking in direct path. And then of course there are the physical adjustments – lowering your centre of gravity, widening your stance (both walking and sitting), not using your hands so much when speaking. There are ways to help with that and we have used them all, from weights on ankles (to see how that feels) to stuffing your crotch with socks. I know it sounds silly, but it really makes a difference. There is no way you can sit with your legs together or crossed with a stuffed crotch. Oh, and binders. Get rid of “the girls”. Such a difference. My vocal warmup with involve a slightly lower register, and my makeup will be different. The overall effect of watching one’s “sisters” transform in the dressing room is stunning.
What should audiences expect from this show?
Nicola Lipman: A new look at an old story.
Colleen Winton: From experience, audiences will find that they spend the first 5 – 7 minutes thinking “Oh, look, yes, she’s playing a man. Oh, she’s convincing, isn’t she?” After that point, they stop noticing and just engage with the story. That will happen here. The language in this play is very well done – clever and funny and moving. It will delight both fans of Shakespeare and of the Godfather. An epic story told in the intimacy of Pacific Theatre.
What are the three most important ingredients for a successful stage production?
Colleen Winton: Oh, wow. Ask me tomorrow and I might say something different but I would say Storytelling, Audience Engagement and Humanity. I had a conversation with a politician the other day who asked what IS performing arts (as opposed to other arts – visual, etc) and, though to me it seemed a stunning question to which the answer is obvious, it made me stop and distill what makes what we do different. It comes down to the fact that performance – theatre – requires a relationship in real time between artist and audience.
Are there any books or authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Nicola Lipman: I read all the time… non-fiction, fiction, science, mystery, history, biography, and arts. I think the most passionate and informative writer about theatre and acting today is Patsy Rotenburg.
Colleen Winton: Oh, in my youth, I read all the great theatre teachers – Uta Hagen, Stanislavski, Meisner, Shurtleff – now I find more inspiration from people like Brené Brown who has so much to say about courage, vulnerability, imperfection. And I am always inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke. And Shakespeare.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
Colleen Winton: Be open. Wonderful things, more wonderful than you can imagine, will happen, if you let the opportunities come. And keep learning.
What other projects do you have coming up and where can people find out more about you online?
Nicola Lipman: Mary Vingoes’ play Refuge at Firehall, King Arthur’s Night with Neworld Theatre, and Birds and the Bees at 1000 Islands Playhouse and Western Canada Theatre.
Colleen Winton: In April, I go to Saskatoon to do a crazy little piece called Shear Madness at Persephone Theatre. A murder mystery set in a hair salon where all of Act II is improvised, with the audience asking all the questions. I had the pleasure of doing it a few years ago with the same director and am sure this one will be just as much fun. It couldn’t be more different from Corleone. And online? Who knows what a search would reveal.
Thanks to Nicola Lipman and Colleen Winton for speaking with us!
Directed by Mindy Parfitt and written by David Mann, Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfother also features Stefania Indelicato, Christina Wells Campbell, Kaitlin Williams, Elizabeth Kirkland, Corina Akeson, Evelyn Chew, Michelle Martin, Paige Louter, Danielle Klaudt, and Lindsay Curl.
You can see Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather at Pacific Theatre between February 3rd and February 25th. Visit PacificTheatre.org for ticket information.