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A view from the groundlings’ seats

By Janine Marley

When you first walk into the historic Winter Garden Theatre in downtown Toronto, with the house lights and lanterns illuminated, it takes your breath away; especially if those first steps are onto the stage itself with the house spread out in front of you.


This is how I got to begin my week working with the Groundling Theatre Company: seeing the space for the first time with the acting company, everyone entranced by the enchanting forest-scape spread out before us. It was a magical beginning to what would be a week of hard work and impressive performances, an experience I shan’t soon forget.


Graham Abbey, founder Groundling Theatre Co.

I was asked to assist Artistic Director Graham Abbey with some details for their remounting of “The Winter’s Tale” and with launching their new production of “Measure for Measure.” Having been absolutely inspired by Groundling’s inaugural production at The Coal Mine Theatre, I was honoured.

I Ran Lines with the Cast

I ran lines with the cast, researched historical facts, and completed other tasks that came up during the busy rehearsal process. It’s difficult to explain what a thrill it was to come in every day to the theatre, surrounded by seasoned professionals, work with them and learn from them. Many of the actors involved I have admired from a young age and they greatly influenced my love for theatre; having the opportunity to aid them in my own way with these productions was a humbling honour beyond words.

Groundling once again assembled an incredible ensemble to breathe life into these two celebrated Shakespearean pieces. Many of the cast were able to return from last year’s production, with the wonderful addition of Karen Robinson and Steven Sutcliffe.


I found it fascinating to watch how they all worked together: it truly becomes a collaborative process for everyone involved. They discuss everything from blocking to the text to character backgrounds, and correcting moments that don’t feel quite right when they finally got to try them on the new stage space.

The Groundling seats Provide a One-of-a-Kind View

Part of my responsibility was to make sure that the sight lines for the performances were as unobstructed as possible. Given the unique nature of the playing space, this meant that I got to sit in several seats throughout the theatre for the various rehearsals, dress rehearsals and preview performances.


The main seating is on the stage itself, with a small raised playing space at the front of the stage. There is also a special row of stools at the front of the stage which are the groundling seats, just like the Shakespearean namesake of the company, these provide a one-of-a-kind view of the production and puts you right in the action. In Shakespeare’s time the groundling seats cost about 10% of a days wages. This provided me with several opportunities to watch and really think about the nuances of the works being presented, how they inform one another and just generally muse on the themes and elements of the plays.

“The Winter’s Tale” is a whimsical adventure and truly makes amazing use of the stunning Winter Garden house as the backdrop for the mystical Bohemia. The focus on memory for the play sincerely changes the tenor of it for me, making me pity Leontes and believe him to be penitent by the end of the play.

“Measure for Measure” is an intense journey, navigating political and religious tumults only to arrive at a slightly vexing ending for some of the characters. The unsettling moments of this play are so expertly performed that it makes the justice dealt by the Duchess all the more satisfying.

Both performances are punctuated with moments of strength and passion juxtaposed with tenderness or hilarity, showcasing the marvelous range of humanity which Shakespeare continually puts on display only to be intensified by the expertise of the actors living in these roles.

A beautiful moment sticks out in my mind: it was Opening Night, and a few hours before the show we had a brief rehearsal. The whole cast and crew sat in a circle running lines, telling the story of “The Winter’s Tale” to each other.

To see how much life is merely in the words and looks that the actors conjured was dazzling, and kept me just as rapt as seeing it performed. At the beginning of the play the characters play a game to the rhyme “There was a man of Thessaly,” so when we came to that part we all sang and clapped while Graham and Brad and George took turns doing a little jig with each reprise of the song. There was such laughter and merriment, a true sense of camaraderie, it took us a while to catch our breaths again.

It’s moments like those that make the rehearsal experience as special as it is, and form the bonds that keep the company strong throughout the run of the show. I am honoured to have been a part of that experience, to have learned from the best and continue with these fond memories locked in my heart.

Details, Details
Groundling Theatre Company
Measure for Measure
The Winter’s Tale
Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto
On now until February 19, 2017
Only 149 seats per night!
Visit the Goundling’s website
Box office: 1-855-599-9090

Janine Marley, kingsvilleJanine Marley
Janine Marley is an actor, director, and reviewer from Kingsville. Her lifelong passion for theatre and its studies took her through her Masters Degree in English Literature and taken her on many exciting theatrical adventures. When she’s not making theatre, she’s watching it and can be found in the audience at the Stratford Festival any given weekend during the summer.
Follow Janine on Twitter: @thetheatregirl

The best dressed stars on the red carpet at the Stratford Festival Opening Night
Grey Click for red carpet photos fom opening night (1)
McCammus _ichrie

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A view from the groundlings’ seats

Keith Tomasek
1 February 2017
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