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Outside the National Arts Centre. Photo by Trevor (Apt613 Flickr Pool).

Preview: In The Room at the NAC

By Jacquie Surges on May 17, 2017

What’s in a room? Or, more specifically, what’s in THE room?

The Room. Photo courtesy of the Cellar Door Project.

The Room. Photo courtesy of the Cellar Door Project.

On May 18, The Cellar Door Project will explore this question with In the Room, a site specific play written about the NAC’s rehearsal hall A. Presented by Ottawa StoryTellers, In the Room marks Cellar Door’s first major show in Ottawa – and their biggest one to date.

The collective of artists gathered testimonials about the rehearsal hall from artists who have used the space over the years.

Among others, they spoke to teenaged actors from last year’s production of Concord Floral; they spoke to cast and crew from the 2012 all Indigenous production of King Lear; they spoke to performers who used the space in the 1970’s; and they spoke to Sarah Garton Stanley, the NAC’s associate assistant director of the English theatre.

“Not only is it diverse in perspective, but it’s diverse in age and diverse in experience,” says Mariah Horner, one of Cellar Door’s co-founders. “And even though we’re a little bit more of a homogenous group of white emerging artists, we really tried to put our ears to the walls of the room and see who else had been in there and who else could offer their perspectives on it.”

The writers of In The Room L to R Caterina Fiorindi, Nick Leno and Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha

The writers of In The Room L to R Caterina Fiorindi, Nick Leno and Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha. Photo courtesy of the Cellar Door Project.

The group heard a variety of stories, from across a wide range of emotions. “I think people are naturally nostalgic. Especially in a room like a rehearsal hall, which is so much for artists,” says Horner. While performers can spend weeks in a rehearsal space, all that time culminates in the few nights of the show. “But for the artist, what you probably really remember is the work in rehearsing it. You remember less about the performance itself.”

One woman recounted the story of her baby learning to crawl on the floor of the rehearsal hall.

In putting together In the Room, the group was aware that they couldn’t simply write a show for artists. “We didn’t want it to be a circle jerk of us just telling our own stories to people who were there,” explains Horner. “But there is something a little bit sexy to people, to know what happens backstage.”

Months of research and work has come together into what the collective describes as a story arc composed of vignettes that show the joy and the pain experienced in the space. As Nick Leno, one of the members of the collective, describes it, In the Room explores the initial “magic perception” of the space and then questions it as the play progresses. A recurring sentiment they found was the question of, “Do we really belong here?”


Mariah Horner. Photo courtesy of the Cellar Door Project.

Horner explains that this mirrors how they felt as young, emerging artists upon entering the rehearsal hall at the NAC. To them, it felt like “the centre of the universe.” After learning more about other people’s stories, their own perceptions started to shift.

The Cellar Door Project was co-founded in 2012 by Horner while in a history class at Queen’s University. Her class was assigned a long, thorough research paper to be written about an inmate from a local jail. “It was kind of a bummer, that we felt we had done all this work and really learned these people and then we wrote a paper and then our prof recycled the papers.”

Their first show, The Lockup, told stories of some of the prisoners of Kingston’s nineteenth century city lockup cells. Since then, the sight-specific theatre company has produced 12 shows in (and about) an array of spaces in both Kingston and Ottawa: a cemetery, a record store, an observatory, a park, a tavern. The list goes on.

In the Room runs for one night only, Thursday May 18, 2017, in the NAC’s rehearsal hall A. Tickets can be purchased through the NAC box office online, in person and over the phone. Student Rush is available.