When the teenaged cast of act OUT’s The Three Musketeers began rehearsing, director Amy Neufeld noticed a rise in spirit.
“One of my actors after rehearsal turned to me and said, ‘This is actually going to be a good show!’” laughs Neufeld. “And I said, ‘Actually?’ He said, ‘Yeah – with all the fights!’”
Suffice to say, all was going according to plan for the youth drama program’s latest production. “The action/adventure was the part that I really wanted to bring forward for our production. In the original script, there were swordfights, but it didn’t really jump out at me. I thought it really needed to pop.”
When Neufeld was approached to direct the adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ classic tale, she realized she had never cracked open the book. While various film and TV adaptations have made d’Artagnan and the Musketeers of the Guard familiar to family audiences, the actual 170-year-old novel proved different than her expectations.
“It somehow gets associated with kids, although I have no idea how that happened,” she says. “At first it was a bit of a slog for me to get through, just setting the stage. There are a lot of historical bits that come in there, which if you were reading it when it was written would have been the equivalent of Rob Ford references, but for me were, ‘I don’t know what this battle is that they’re talking about.’
“But I found as I moved further and further into it that it really grabbed me. But I said, ‘This is not for kids. What are we going to do?’”
Help came in the form of that perennial boon to the scholar – the ‘Great Illustrated Classics’ abridged edition.
“With the illustrated nature of it, it really brought the action/adventure out. The novel itself is hugely long, and for me it got a bit bogged down in the history and some of the language. But that graphic novel really helped, so that’s actually what I referred to a fair bit when I was adapting.”
Bringing down the 786-page book became a matter of keeping the action coming, with an eye towards a young audience. “When you direct plays for kids, you’re really mindful of that level of activity of action, of keeping the excitement up,” says Neufeld. “A four-year-old’s attention span is really not going to stay with you if you decided to do ten minutes of just talking.”
However, she added, “After having read the novel, there were all these moments that I loved – ‘Oh, it’s such a shame we don’t get to meet that character.’ But it’s like turning a book into a movie – you can’t keep everything.”
But don’t worry, parents – it’s not all violence for violence’s sake. With the help of Toronto-based fight choreographer Matt Richardson, Neufeld says it will be a well-balanced evening of literary theatre.
“It’s like how in a good musical, the musical numbers aren’t just stop-and-sing, and then get back to the story – the musical numbers move you along in the story. That’s the same thing with the swordfights – they help tell the story.”
She continues, “It’s not just, ‘Now we’re going to see some really cool sword-fighting.’ It furthers the story along, and tells us a lot about the characters in how they fight. [In rehearsal], it’s not just a question of getting the actual move down: Athos is going to fight a lot differently than Porthos.”
Much of the credit, she says, is due to the young cast, with ages ranging from 10 to 17 and featuring many veterans of previous act OUT shows.
“They come in already at a certain level,” she says. “They’re really receptive to the direction. When you talk about character, they know how to integrate that.
What you want with kids this age is to build those skills, so that when they go out with a more adult cast, they’re not coming in as a rookie.”
The Three Musketeers will be all for one and one for all at the Registry Theatre, May 16 (6:30 p.m.) and 17 (1:30, 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are $5-18, and can be purchased at ticketscene.ca, or by calling 519-568-1425. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.