André Sills discusses Gloria and dealing with collective trauma – NOW Toronto

The superb actor makes his directorial debut with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s satire set in the struggling publishing world


GLORIA by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by André Sills, with Deborah Drakeford, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Jonelle Gunderson, Savion Roach, Nabil Traboulsi and athena kaitlin trinh (ARC in association with Crow’s Theatre). Previews from Tuesday (March 1), opens Friday (March 4) and runs to March 20, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $39.55-$73.45. At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). crowstheatre.com


A little over two years ago, André Sills was performing at Crow’s Theatre in Julius Caesar. He recalls the front-of-house staff disinfecting battery-operated tea lights used by audiences because of this thing going around called the novel coronavirus.

“I remember laughing about that,” he says. “And then I was at Stratford less than a month later, and we shut down, and I was trying to wrap my head around what was going on. Were we cancelled? Were we delaying? Little did I know.”

Now he’s back at Crow’s again, but this time in a different position. He’s making his directorial debut with Gloria, a controversial 2015 play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the same author behind An Octoroon, which Sills starred in at the Shaw Festival in 2017. It’s being produced by ARC, where he is a resident artist, in association with Crow’s.

Set in 2010 in the Manhattan offices of an unnamed national magazine (Jacobs-Jenkins worked at the New Yorker for several years) the satiric Gloria looks at a crumbling industry and how the characters within it respond to a traumatic event.

I’m being careful not to reveal spoilers. When the play’s casting was announced earlier this year, Sills commented in the press release that we were all weighed down by the collective trauma of the pandemic and that it was hard to have meaningful conversations and deal with difficult situations.

“There’s such a polarity of opinions now,” says Sills, whose acting credits include Master Harold… And The Boys, The Glass Menagerie and the famous Stratford production of Coriolanus, directed by Robert Lepage.

“People are having conversations, but there’s a lot of screaming and yelling and not much listening happening. Or if they are listening, are they going to apply what they hear or are they just going to shut something down? You need to deal with trauma. But often after experiencing something traumatic, people just find ways to capitalize on it rather than properly deal with it.”

Sills says the play’s setting speaks to us at this particular moment.

“As we’re trying to come out of COVID and maybe starting to get back to offices, how we treat each other and how we talk to each other is going to be very important,” he says. “Triggers can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And we can either figure out how to deal with them or actively ignore things – and ultimately what does ignoring them do to us down the line?”

The night before our interview, Sills chatted with Jacobs-Jenkins, who described the reaction to the play when it premiered off-Broadway.

“Apparently the people who really didn’t like it were from magazines,” says Sills. “There was an arrogance about them believing that they would be okay while the internet was making the whole structure of their industry crumble. So you’ve got people ignoring things, thinking, ‘We’ll be okay’ while the building around them is literally falling apart.”

Having worked with some of the country’s best directors – including An Octoroon’s Peter Hinton and Master Harold’s Philip Akin – Sills has a lot of models to draw on for directing. He particularly likes Akin’s comparison of a production to a tapestry in which the actors and the characters are threaded in.

For most of Gloria’s rehearsal period, the actors have been masked, which has been hard to work with.

“The show moves at quite a pace, and trying to get the actors to jump on the train at the right time is difficult because they’re trying to breathe and their breath is being inhibited by the masks,” he says. “I’m looking forward to when we can take the masks off and see what it’s like to breathe and speak the text without being inhibited. It’s been a challenge, but we’re finding our way. And everybody’s really excited to just be back doing live theatre and chewing on this text that has something to say.”

@glennsumi

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Glenn Sumi

Glenn Sumi

Glenn started writing for NOW’s theatre section in 1997. Currently, he edits and contributes to the film and stage sections. He sees approximately 280 live stage shows and 150 movies a year. His mother once described his job as “Seeing The Lion King”