Beginning a new production of any play is fraught with anxiety. One of the ways I deal with that is to shop for a notebook. I look for a notebook that feels intuitively right for the piece. The shopping occurs very early in the process before I have done any research or made any decisions about how to approach the play and yet choosing a notebook for a production is one of the first creative decisions I make. Many artists favour the famous Moleskin sketchbooks. They signify an artistic type. For me they always seem too serious. Picasso sketched in them and Hemingway used them for musing and that is too much artistic baggage. I need a notebook with less expectation attached.
When I went shopping for a notebook
for A Woman of No Importance, or
“WoNoPo” for short, I was rushing to
my first design meeting with Michael
Gianfrancesco. We had a date to have
high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel in
Niagara-on-the-Lake to launch our
creative process in as Wildean a world
as possible. My only option for notebook
shopping was The Shawp at the Festival
Theatre. There was a variety of options,
including those lofty Moleskins, but the
one that caught my eye was something
that captured my early notions of Oscar
Wilde’s world. It was a blank book bound
in yellow leather embossed with a paisley pattern in gold. There were little gold bells on the binding and the blank pages were of a luxurious texture and an elegant cream colour. It was WAY fancier than a Moleskin but longed to be filled with gossip and aesthetic critique. It captured Oscar Wilde’s notion that Art is Life and not the other way round.
But WoNoPo is not my only show this
season – Mrs Warren’s Profession or
“MWP” needed a notebook as well.
Despite the fact that Shaw wrote his
examination of the social circumstances
that drive women to prostitution in the
same year that WoNoPo premiered in
London, and despite the fact that both
plays deal with the story of a woman
who has had a child out of wedlock,
the notebook I needed for MWP was
completely different. Again, I considered
a Moleskin, and again the potential
artistic pretension put me off. So I went
to Muji, my favorite pen store in Toronto,
to see if there might be a notebook that could capture the Shavian pragmatism while acknowledging the elegant aesthetic that orders Shaw’s recalcitrant voice. I found something. It was part of a package of four blank books with covers in various shades of grey. Shaw’s refusal to take a side in “MWP” seemed to be manifest by the mid-range rainbow of the books. I bought the package and opted for the darkest grey of the bunch as the repository for thoughts about the play. I chose it not because the play is dark but because the play is substantial and challenges assumptions.
In the end I am very happy with my contrasting notebooks – each beckons with a different voice as I work my way through the distinct worlds of these Edwardian plays. For me, that is the miracle of the mandate – the plays of Shaw’s era ask deep questions of what it means to be a truly conscious human being. They never preach or insist that we take a side. Instead they offer us a variety of notebooks where we can examine our world views – some have yellow paisley bindings and some are of the richest of greys.