Aging is a bummer. However, this gradual fadeout is what intrigued Trevor Schmidt, artistic director of Northern Light Theatre, to mount an online production of The Look.
Written by Australian playwright/filmmaker Alexa Wyatt, the 75-minute production pokes a sharp stick at the glamorous façade maintained by the fashion and beauty industry.
The play’s lone character is Marilyn MIles, a former photographic model for the Estelle cosmetic range. Once the “Estelle Girl”, she commanded power through beauty and fame.
Gone is the smooth skin that propelled her to supermodel status, replaced by wrinkles that diminish her social status. As the curtain rises, Marilyn has been downgraded to teaching a cosmetics class to eager Estelle girls.
She must confront the beauty industry’s most fearful taboo. For an outsized personality that finds it difficult to abdicate the spotlight, Marilyn gradually gets lost in a fantasy world and reveals a lost identity buried in makeup.
Schmidt was intrigued by the play’s premise and how a woman’s status decreases with age. The only actor he envisioned as Marilyn was the statuesque Linda Grass, a formidable player equally adept at delivering tragedy and comedy.
“I wanted someone visually striking that has a commanding presence. Linda is also a gifted comedienne. She’s not afraid to be awkward and gangly as well as graceful. And she has the right spirit,” said Schmidt.
“And she’s a great team player. She’s so quick with quips and keeps everyone entertained. When you are working with so few people, you want to make sure you work with the right people.”
Grass, who has worked more than seven productions with NLT including Contractions, The Beard and MIss Margarita’s Way, was flattered by Schmidt’s offer.
She initially found the play's "grotesqueness" attractive. The actor explains that Marilyn’s identity is wrapped up in makeup. When the play starts, the character is impeccably groomed.
As the story progresses, Marilyn departs from the training script and begins to mentally unspool. While drifting into a fantasy world, Marilyn applies makeup, turning herself into a monstrosity.
“She’s basically a creation of the CEO. She’s lost her identity and he’s basically abandoned her at the end. She has a moment at the end. She’s going to stand up to him and then falls right back into the pattern.”
With live theatrical productions shut down due to pandemic restrictions, Schmidt envisioned online filming as a Ted Talk. In addition to a large makeup table, the set’s backdrop features posters of sixties models such as Twiggy and several of Marilyn’s campaigns.
Ian Jackson, the company’s long-time photographer, was tapped as lead videographer.
“Fortunately, the play lends itself to film. Luckily, it’s quite simple. We don’t change location or set. It’s been a good test project for putting theatre on film. This is meant to be theatre on film. We don’t have the capacity or resources to shoot a film. We want the experience of theatre.”
For Schmidt, a die-hard theatre artist, the shift to directing film has been both exhilarating and exhausting.
“You block a show differently for a theatre audience than you block a show for camera. The idea for stage is that you focus the audience’s attention where you want it to be. On film, you can force a zoom or a closeup. But you have to be careful how you use it. You can’t just flip an angle. It confuses the audience. To tell you the truth, I’m nervous. It’s something new.”
Grass is full of confidence audiences will appreciate her message.
“If you’re looking for something visually spectacular and has a lot of heart, this will be beautiful to watch.”