BWW Interview: Helena Levitt of LATE COMPANY at Segal Centre Studio
Helena Levitt was born and raised in Montreal. She graduated from Dawson College's Professional Theatre Program, where she says she fell in love with her craft. Upon graduation, she moved to Toronto to seek out more opportunities. After two years in Toronto, and missing her family, she returned to Montreal where stepped away from acting and went back to school, obtaining a BFA in Drama and Education. She dabbled in Drama Therapy, which she found fascinating. She knew there was a strong connection between Drama and therapeutic practices, so she continued her studies, obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work from McGill University. She married and raised a family before realizing how much she missed performing. She began taking classes, which feels every actor should continue to do throughout their career. She started auditioning and is now a critically acclaimed, well respected member of the Montreal theatre community. I had the immense pleasure to chat with Levitt about her career and d² productions upcoming remount of the award winning play, LATE COMPANY, which opens December 10, 2019 at The Segal Centre Studio.
HANNIBAL: This is your 4th show with d² productions. Tell me a little bit about your experience working with them and what keeps bringing you back.
LEVITT: It's really a very supportive environment. Our director, Dale Hayes, is very actor centred, so she allows things to happen organically, which I love. She's very open to collaborating, having experienced acting herself. She understands that every actor has their own process. She'll make suggestions and say, "this is where I want to get to in the scene. You don't have to tell me how you're getting there. Just get there." There's less of a dictatorship and more of a collaboration. I'm so happy to get an opportunity each time she sees a role for me. I feel very lucky. I feel like there's a kinship and a real sense of working towards the same goal of creating something meaningful.
HANNIBAL: Tell me a little bit about the importance, to you, of LATE COMPANY.
LEVITT: This show is an emotional mind field. It's filled with such important stuff that I can relate to, as a mother. It's filled with stuff we can all relate to: being bullied, watching bullying, watching people suffer through the behaviour of others. It means so much to me because it has such an opportunity, as a piece of work, to touch people in such a way that they are definitely going to talk about this when they leave the theatre. This is what we found the first time around. We saw firsthand how it was resonating with people and how they were able to connect or relate or remember or share or wonder about how it might be as a parent, or as someone that they love that might be going through this. It's very powerful and it does start conversations. I have friends who will come to anything I do. I've been a tomato and they've come! To this day they tell me how long the play stayed with them and how they can't wait to see it again. Every once in a while you get a show like this that just gets under your skin. For me, it's still under my skin and I can't believe I get to do it again.
HANNIBAL: In moving from the MainLine Theatre's MiniMain to The Segal Centre Studio, you have a lot more space to work with. What are some of the differences in moving it to the larger space?
LEVITT: The thing about the Segal Studio is that even though it's much bigger, it still has that feeling of intimacy. Because the show centres around the dining room table, it is very dynamic, but also very intimate. We are still maintaining the same sense of space. Because of the composition of what's going on in the play, you automatically feel that you are in that room. At least, that's what we're hoping to create.
HANNIBAL: Since you mentioned being a tomato, you have to elaborate on that!
LEVITT: (laughs) When I lived in Toronto, this was how I became a member of the Canadian Actor's Equity Association. I was in a children's show called THE HEALTH SPELL at the CNE. It was all about healthy eating. We did a little cabaret story about fruits and vegetables and I was the tomato.
HANNIBAL: Did you have to wear a big tomato costume?
LEVITT: I did! There was another scene about junk food and we were detectives in big trench coats. When we opened up the trench coats we had chocolate bars and chips sewn into the lining. It was really fun. It was a pivotal show for me because I became a member of the union. I was a dancing tomato and I'm proud of it!
HANNIBAL: Of all of the roles you have played over your career, do you have a favourite?
LEVITT: I have to say that this particular character is my favourite. I also loved playing Andrea Dworkin in the one woman show AFTERMATH with Waterworks Productions, That was the most challenging as far as a full transformation of who I am. This role, Deborah, in LATE COMPANY, lives under my skin. When we first opened the show, my son was the exact age as the son I lose in the play. There is a very direct, connected personal, emotional thing to draw from for me. Part of my pre-show preparation is the lullaby that I played for my son when he was in utero and used to sing to him when he was a baby. It's the Kenny Loggins song, Cody's Song. That song is a pivotal part of my pre-show prep, while looking at pictures of my son growing up. It's probably the most important piece of theatre I've done. The message is so important and there's a huge sense of responsibility playing this character. I feel I have something so important that if I'm not authentic or honest, then I'm not doing it right. Jordan Tannahill and this play deserve full integrity. That's how I feel. It should be like that will any play, but there's something extra for me with this one.
HANNIBAL: Do you have a dream role?
LEVITT: I can't say that I do. I did fall in love with AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY when I saw it on Broadway. I'd love to play any of those sisters. Is that a play I'd love to do, yes. I am drawn to roles that are meaningful. But a dream role, no. I know it when I read it, though. We were in the process of finishing another show when I heard that LATE COMPANY was going to be the next show. I quietly ordered the script and when I read it, I thought, 'I want to play this. I want to play this so badly!' I auditioned and I was so happy when Dale cast me!
HANNIBAL: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
LEVITT: Jordan Tannhill wrote LATE COMPANY when he was 23! The writing is so brilliant and I can't believe how young he was! The play is based on a true event that happened in Ottawa. To have the perspective he had to write this...the writing is superb. I hope this show gets people to talk and that maybe it can change something for someone. We have a full audience of schools coming to one of our matinees. To me, this is the audience I am most excited to share this with. This is the age group of Curtis, in the play and of Joel, who took his life. I hope they listen. I hope they hear how what they think is innocent behaviour is doing to someone. This is a show that makes parents question how well we know our kids. What are they doing on that computer when they go to their room? We assume they are just doing homework, but what's really happening? It's so scary.
LATE COMPANY runs December 10-15, 2019 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine. Several performances are already sold out, but there is still some availability. Performances run December 10-12 and 14 at 8PM, December 12 at 2PM and December 15 at 4PM.
d² productions is an independent production company rooted in Montreal's English theatre community. We are driven by our commitment to exclusively produce Canadian playwrights, with an emphasis on emerging artists, and to create opportunities for local artists while producing high quality, accessible theatre for audiences from all walks of life. For more information, visit http://www.d2productionsmtl.com
Production Photos by: James Douglas