Pure Research Report - December 2007:

The Choral Revolution
by Rececca Singh and Nick Carpenter


Can the twenty person show be the new one person show?

That question still burns in our minds after a blisteringly intense three day research period with a chorus of twenty of Canada’s finest and most generous actors.

Rebecca Singh is a performer and Canadian independant theatre practitioner and founded a company called The Montreal All Star Cheerleaders. From 2002-6 she experimented with cheerleading as a theatrical form and wrote and interdisciplinary Kabarett-inspired political-satire driven plays and sketches for a growing legion of devoted fans. In collaboration with the company and playwright/musician Nick Carpenter, a new theatrical form, The Cheer Theatre was born.

In 2007, Rebecca and Nick joined forces with Nightswimming to conduct a research experiment on the broader choral form. Inspired by the sucess of Cheer Theatre, we wanted to examine the role a chorus could play in non-classical theatre.
But before we guide you through our results, some background. Why?, why choruses? and why now?

In creating works of Cheer Theatre we often used music and choreography and employed new and existing text that alternated between solo and choral speech. This got us thinking about the origins of theatre, choral speech, and and it’s effect on audience and story.

Rebecca turned a keen investigative eye onto Dithyramb, a form of Greek choral lyric poetry, from which some say tragedy sprang. In her investigations she discovered that in the western theatre tradition, choral speech originated with groups of mourners at funerals who would ritualistically sing in chorus. Over time this tradition moved into theatres and colosseums , and the lyrics, spoken by a 50 man chorus, became storied celebrations of the popular culture of the day. In fact, presenting these poems got so popular it was regarded as a competitive sport; poets competing fiercely for the popular vote; a sort of Ancient Greek YouTube or Choral Idol, as it were.

So having marinated in Cheerleading and the Greeks, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to further explore Choral Performance theories with a group of twenty actors.

We found it invaluable to approach this research from a practical standpoint. The following scenario, a director’s nightmare, was presented to the participants on Day One:

Twenty people have auditioned for a one person show that you are going to direct. The play is a personal, inherently political oeuvre requiring an agile accomplished storyteller. You make your selection, choose one actor you are convinced will carry the part. But instead of calling this actor yourself, you delegate to your Stage Manager. Your Stage Manager delegates to the Assistant Stage Manager who is still in high school and pretty green and missed the production meetings because of exams. The hapless ASM misunderstands and instead of calling the one actor who got the part, calls all twenty on the audition list...and tells them all they got the part!

So on the first day of rehearsal, they all show up. You are confronted with 20 actors raring to go. At first you are at a loss, furious, overwhelmed. But then after some deep breathing, you have a thought. the thought turns into a question...a good question: Can a one person show be pulled off, indeed enhanced, by 20 actors working as a chorus?

This is the question upon which most of our exercises and experiments were founded. This is the story that gave us a point of departure as we planned our three day lab with Nightswimming.

We imagined being in the shoes of the director of the little fiction above. And we wondered what we would need to know about choruses to effectively tell the story. Furthermore, what type of theatre magic could be created with this chorus to tell the story- what possibilities lie in the choral form? We wondered what methods, vocabulary and choral effects might we hit upon (on purpose and by mistake) over the next few days that would help us streamline the rehearsal process? And finally what effect would this have on our audience- what would happen to the spectators experience of watching this intensely personal text delivered by a forty legged twenty headed actor? We embraced all of these questions with open minds, decided a solo show can be performed successfully by 20 people and set about getting ourselves and the chorus into shape for "The Choral Revolution".


We hired twenty Toronto based professional actors. We selected a diverse and dynamic group of mixed gender (half men, half women), vocal quality and age.
We had people come in to fulfill the audience role. Our volunteer listeners included MFA students of the U of T Centre for Study in Drama, theatre practitioners, academics and the theatre going public.

The chorus members were: Anousha Alamian, Sarah Bezansen, Jay Bowen, Leanna Brodie, Anna Chatterton Jayne Collins, Diana Donnelly, Megan Dunlop, Megan Flynn, Shawn Hitchins, Elva Mai Hoover, Noah Keneally, Earl Pastko, Freya Ravensbergen, Julian Richings, Katherine Sanders, Derek Scott, Jonathan Seinen, Seife Tesfaye, and Norman Yeung.


Texts used in this research included:
Excepts from Come Good Rain, a play by George Seremba
Except from Cadence, a performance poem by Jem Rolls
Except from, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Song of a Citizen, a poem by Czeslaw Milosz
Come Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as arranged by Nick Carpenter
and various short rhymes and jokes.

Our full report on the research conducted during the Pure Research sessions can be downloaded at the following site, complete with images: Choral Revolution Report

Sound clips from came the archival recordings are on the Pure Research section on Rebecca's website which you can find here. The intention in posting the archival sound clips (a discussion about jokes, and a small sampling of the sounds we made) is to better illustrate the experiment and report and get others excited about choral theatre - so tell your friends!

Also: see Canadian Theatre Review CTR 135 for Rebecca's related article.

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