In Guild’s The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine, Claire Ness jumps from clown to director

The Guild Hall’s latest show runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15, with a preview performance on Jan. 29

Director Claire Ness has a special connection to the Guild’s latest show, The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine.

Not only will it mark her theatrical directorial debut, but it’s also the first time her creative path has crossed with the play since she first saw it in the early ‘90s — also at the Guild, with her father playing the male lead in the then-Nakai Theatre production.

“This is the first time it came back into my life,” Ness said in an interview Jan. 27, two days before the play was set to hit the stage.

The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is a Canadian comedy that follows the trials of the titular, newly-married couple who move into a basement apartment and soon discover that their relationship isn’t as perfect as it seemed to be.

Ness, a veteran actor and clowning expert, told the News that she had actually originally planned to audition for the play, which was set to be directed by the Guild’s artistic director Brian Fidler. However, due to a scheduling issue with another director, Fidler ended up taking on the director role for another Guild production, offering Ness his role in The Anger of Ernest and Ernestine instead.

She described being a director as a “dream job.”

“I’ve been wanting to try directing for awhile and you know, it’s really fun to be in a show and as a clown and an actor … but when you’re the director you get to kind of sculpt those performances and have a hand in how it’s delivered anyway,” she said.

“Plus, you get paid.”

Thanks to her extensive performance experience, Ness said taking on the director’s role for the first time felt “pretty natural,” because she was already familiar with how the relationship works between a director and the actors.

“I’ve been on the actor’s side, so I kind of have been interested in studying what the directors do from afar,” she said, adding that it was the actual production and technical sides of the job that took a little more time to pick up on.

Ness’s background in clowning also “absolutely” helped with directing a play that relies not only on the lines the actors deliver to deliver laughs — Roy Neilson and Carman Lam Brar take on the roles of the newly-weds — but on physical comedy, timing and occasionally breaking the fourth wall.

“It’s kind of a clown-based show,” she said.

“Like, they don’t wear noses or anything but they’re very like physical and over the top, and because with (clowning) there’s sort of a tradition and convention of interaction with the audience and improvisation, there are hopefully more moments where it stays fresh and there’s room for some (improvisation).

“I think my touch is that I’m always looking for ways for it to be funnier,” she continued.

“… I did train at National Circus School in Montreal as a sort of clown director, and I guess I have a bit of the fellow that taught there, and his approach is just, ‘Be stupid. No, be stupider! No, even stupider than that!’ So yeah, it’s just to laugh at ourselves and sometimes the funniest thing is you being yourself being stupid.”

Despite having been her introduction to The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine, Ness said her father, unfortunately, won’t be in attendance for the play’s return to the Guild; Ness’s parents booked a trip to Australia and New Zealand that happened to coincide with the run before Ness got the director’s gig.

The family connection isn’t being completely severed though — Ness said she brought her three-year-old son to a dress rehearsal, and he loved it.

“(The play is) fun and funny and physical, and … (my son is) pretty energetic and you know, a three-year-old’s attention span is not very long, but his attention was kept for the two hours of the play,” she said. “ … I think that’s just because it’s so fun and physical and colourful and there’s lots of fun stuff going on.”

While Ness said she wouldn’t describe The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine as “all-ages” — there’s one “sexy scene,” some swearing and plenty of (humorous) angry outbursts — in her opinion, parents need not leave the little ones at home for this one.

“I guess (I’d suggest) parental guidance or parental discretion, but … I grew up in the theatre and I hated when I wasn’t allowed to go see shows,” she said.

“And I brought my kids, so … I’m not going to say it’s all-ages, but I would bring my kids.”

The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine runs at the Guild Hall from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15, with a preview performance on Jan. 29. Tickets are available online at yukontickets.com and at Whitehorse Motors.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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