≈ 2 hours and 15 minutes · No intermission
This is the play’s opening entreaty and an invitation to all of us: historians, actors, writers, audiences. Why. Why do people do the things they do?
Michael Frayn’s response to why finds its allegory in Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which essentially states that you cannot know with precise certainty where a particle will land until the moment it is observed, and further, that the act of observation also changes the particle you are observing. All you can predict is a range of probabilities – places where the particle is more likely to land than others. Superimposing this principle on to the realm of human behaviour, Frayn posits that people’s intentions are just as unknowable as the positions of tiny particles within an atom.
For actors, finding the intention of the character they will inhabit propels them into a thoughtful collection of evidence both before and during rehearsals – and for historical characters, this deep dive is a nearly endless pursuit. Actors want to know what triggers their characters, what inspires them to act, or what sometimes prevents them from acting when the situation demands it.
Prior to the advent of quantum mechanics, causality, the logic of cause and effect, was the central tenet of all science. But the new revelations of quantum mechanics changed the world as we know it. Suddenly it was possible for something to be in two realms at the same time. Suddenly it was possible to calculate that a particle could land within a range of imprecision. Through this lens, we can begin to understand that people will sometimes do the unpredictable without ever fully knowing why.
The uncertainty of human motivation is the great mystery theatre artists rigorously strive to unravel in bringing their characters to light. Frayn has given these brilliant actors you see before you a quantum playground to test these theories with their iconic characters. I hope this play cracks open the thrilling possibilities of uncertainty for you too.
Last updated: November 4, 2021
All songs written by Jason "Chilly Gonzales" Beck (PRS/SOCAN)
All songs from Solo Piano & Solo Piano II Published by EMI Publishing Ltd.
All songs from Solo Piano III Published by Gentle Threat Ltd.
Performed by Chilly Gonzales
Courtesy of Gentle Threat Ltd.
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The National Arts Centre is a member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and engages, under the terms of the Canadian Theatre Agreement, professional artists who are members of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.
J is a multidisciplinary theatre artist from Ottawa, Ontario. They are a graduate of the Algonquin College Theatre Arts program and wear many hats in the community with credits in stage management, performance, and design. Assistant stage management credits include Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells); Macbeth (Great Canadian Theatre Company); and The Blizzard of Oz (Ottawa Musicals). Stage Management credits include Honey Dew Me (theatre decentered: Undercurrents Festival 2020); and Fierce, A Christmas Carol (Black Sheep Theatre).