Theatre troupe headed by York instructor finishes European tour

From left: Cast members Jennifer Stewart, Parris Greaves, Colin Doyle, Milosh Rodic and David Dodsley perform The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan in Moscow

The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan, adapted from a novella by Nikolai Gogol and directed by York English and theatre instructor Aleksandar Lukac, made a triumphant tour of London, Moscow and Serbia this fall. The show was produced by Barrie’s Talk Is Free Theater (TiFT), which was founded by former Glendon student Arkady Spivak

Originally produced in 2009, the show received rave reviews from both local critics and audiences. This led to invitations from several European theatres interested in both a fresh approach to Gogol’s work as well as the creative process behind the team at TiFT – whose previous international outing was in 2008 with a production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Molière at the Bulgakov International Art Festival in Kiev, Ukraine. The Canada Council for the Arts awarded TiFT a travel grant; the rest of the financial support came from fundraising and the generous help of Serbian theatres which took care of their leg of the tour.

TIFT tour 2010Left: York grad Colin Doyle (left)
with fellow cast members Milosh Rodic and Parris Greaves at the National Theatre in Belgrade

The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan (1835) is an early absurdist novella describing a feud between two best friends in the tiny Russian town of Mirgorod.  Gogol has enjoyed great success with his short stories and is considered the father of Russian drama with plays like The Marriage and The Inspector General, both classics and both, incidentally, previously directed by Lukac for TiFT. In fact, the overwhelmingly positive response of the Barrie audiences to the Russian classic led Spivak to offer Lukac the project of adapting and directing the novella.

Aleksandar LukacLukac (right), who is a course director in both the Department of English in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and Glendon’s Drama Studies Program, has worked with TiFT since its inception in 2002 – directing their first production of Aleksandr Vvedensky’s Christmas at the Ivanovs, which garnered a Dora Mavor Moor Award nomination for Outstanding Production in the independent theatre category.

“My work at TiFT is precious to me as I have a rare opportunity to combine my experiences with Commedia dell’arte style as it is practised in my native Serbia with a very firm tradition of Canadian improvisational comedy,” says Lukac. “The big challenge of the tour was the fact that there were no translations – honouring the Commedia tradition. The show was performed in English, regardless of whether in front of the London, Moscow or Serbian audiences.”

Arkady SpivakLeft: Arkady Spivak

TiFT also had an added privilege of representing Canada on this tour. In Sabac, Serbia, the Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan was the central event of Canada Days – a cultural exhibition organized by the Canadian Embassy that included presentations of works by Margaret Atwood and several other exhibitions of photography and visual arts. In addition, Canadian embassies in both Belgrade and Moscow came out to support the performances in full number, headed by the ambassadors and their cultural attachés.

The company included David Dodsley, Milosh Rodic, Colin Doyle (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01) and Jennifer Stewart, who had all worked previously with Lukac and Spivak, as well as newcomers Alicia Toner and Parris Greaves along with the designers Carleigh Aikins and Katherine Salnek.

TiFT is now remounting its 2007 Dora award-winning production of Assassins, while Lukac is looking forward to a production of Martin Crimp’s The Treatment – a student production at Theatre Glendon – as well as the major challenge of staging Calderon’s Life Is a Dream in his native Serbia.

For more information on Talk is Free Theatre, visit their website.