Theatre

Lone wolf of Canadian theatre brings show home

Ann-Marie Kerr talks life and art ahead of play opening

Director Ann-Marie Kerr stopped by the King’s radio lab for an interview.   Lara Lewis

Childhood. Loves are magnified, loss is intensified and insecurities arise.

These are themes explored in I, Claudia, a one-woman play written by Kristen Thomson, which is on its way to Halifax this month.

Directed by award-winning Canadian theatre practitioner Ann-Marie Kerr, this version of the play is remounted from a production she directed in Saskatchewan. It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl named Claudia, who retreats to her school’s basement to explore her feelings about her parent’s divorce. She spoke in a radio interview about it Wednesday.

“A lot of people think it’s related to I, Claudius, but it’s actually not,” she says. “It’s a heart-breaking and hilarious one-woman show.”

Kerr, who is based in Halifax, is no stranger to the theatre. She has made her career as a teacher, director and actor.

She credits her upbringing for her creativity. Kerr was put up for adoption at three weeks old, and found a home in a large family in Northern Ontario.

“I got to feel like I had space to be weird and with that came with feelings of abandonment and feelings of liberty and freedom,” she says of her childhood. “When I feel like I can’t do something, I can call on that.”

Kerr went on to study theatre at York University in the ’80s, and was later trained at École Jacques LeCoq in Paris.

“Out of theatre school — I was trained as a straight Stanislavsky actor — and immediately discovered there was no work,” she says of her career prior to her LeCoq training. Her solution? Make her own work. Kerr would form small collectives of other female theatre artists in Toronto and create art as a group. 

“We would never really conceive of directors at all; we would just make stuff and put it on,” she says.

LeCoq is famous for its emphasis on collective creation. Kerr is not fluent in French, which is the language the program is taught in. She credits the attention she had to pay to everything that was said that set her up to be a successful director.

“I was in a state of falling for two years as I tried to figure out what the hell was being asked of me,” she says. “I improvised in life and class all the time.”

Kerr has worked as a freelancer and independent artist all her career. Her spouse, Anthony Black, is one half of indie group 2b theatre company, but that hasn’t shaken her desire to stay solo. They have a child together, and motherhood has certainly influenced her approach to I, Claudia.

There’s a vulnerability in the show that I don’t think I could bring without having a kid that age,” she says. 

I, Claudia also doesn’t pretend it’s not a play. Artificial masks are intentionally used throughout and it features on-stage costume changes. Kerr relishes in this aspect.

She says that using masks, a technique called “masque,” is “often used as a training tool in schools, but you never get to see using it in a sort of serious storytelling way. It’s blatantly theatrical and full of magic, so that’s exciting.”

As for her personal tastes? Kerr finds value in all the theatre she sees.

“I’m basically such a slut for theatre,” she says with a laugh. “Honest to God, I want it all, all the time.”

Lara Lewis spoke to Kerr for her CKDU 88.1 FM show, “Backstage Banter.” Check out the full interview on Soundcloud to learn more. 

I, Claudia runs Feb. 7-19 at Neptune’s Scotiabank Studio.