Writer, Director - "Underneath It All"
Catriona Grozier is a Scottish-Canadian actor, writer and director, bringing her first play to the 2010 Ottawa Fringe Festival

Catriona Grozier – Underneath It All

by Andrew Alexander

With a week to go before the Ottawa Fringe opens, most of the local companies are in rehearsal overdrive. In the Séraphin Marion building at the University of Ottawa, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a group of actors, who rehearse in the classrooms, the studio, and the stairway. I meet with Catriona Grozier, a Scottish actress with Canadian roots, who will be unveiling her first play in this year’s Fringe, Underneath It All.

As I ask Catriona about her show, her Scottish brogue fills the rehearsal room. One of her actors has yet to arrive, and the other has gone to take a look around. “The show is set in a closet during an office party, and Kate goes in to hide herself from an embarrasing situation that she’s gotten herself into, and Ed is running away from a colleague who is giving himself a bit of attention he doesn’t want,” Catriona describes. She reveals that the first ten minutes is set in complete darkness, so it make sense that the claustrophobic two-hander is programmed in the Arts Court Library. “They’re teasing each other, there’s a sexual tension, and the audience won’t see anything, they just hear it. I kind of like that because when your mind has to make up the images, rather than seeing them, it can be more of a thrilling experience.”

Unfortunately for Ed and Kate, the flirtation comes to an abrupt halt when Ed’s jacket gets caught on a lightswitch, the lights come on, and they see each other for the first time: it turns out that the two, in the light of day, hate each other. It’s only now that they try to get out of the cupboard, they realize that they’re locked in, and they end up being locked in overnight.

“I like the idea of confined spaces and how characters then have to deal with that,” Catriona continues, “especially if they’re forced into a situation with a person that they don’t particularly like. The premise is it’s only when you’re forced into someone else’s space that you really take the time to find what is underneath it all. What really makes that person tick.”

While the show has its sexual undertones, Catriona tells me that the piece is largely about office politics. Like many actors, she works other jobs between shows, including temporary work in offices. “I’ve got to see a lot of offices, I’ve got to see the way that people behave towards one another. It’s strange, you have these very mature people, but they immediately resort back to very childish behaviour. It fascinated me, so that’s where Underneath It All was born from.”

The cast and crew of Underneath It All
Catriona with her cast members, Marika Lapointe and Dean Adema.

Catriona’s accent may make her nationality immediately obvious, but in fact she’s half-Canadian, on her mother’s side. She’s travelled back and forth between Scotland and Canada extensively. Her first fringe experience was the Edinburgh Fringe, where she found there were far too many shows to stand out. “We were flyering our asses off, but because there are so many people, how can you choose anything? Everyone gets thrown into the shadows.” Her show found it difficult to pull audiences – in a festival where thousands of people attend, it was heartbreaking to perform for five people. “You’ve got a hundred shows flyering at the same time – everybody’s trying to grab the attention of the tourists. You get handed fifty flyers, and you end up just having to throw them away, so all that money you spent on marketting doesn’t even get utilized properly.”

Catriona has been acting for ten years, but Underneath It All is the first show she’s ever written – and directed, and produced. She has been writing for five years, but this is the first piece with which she’s decided to do anything. As a first-time director, she found the experience both daunting and enlightening: “It’s a really interesting process not being told what to do,” she says of directing, “but telling other people how you see something in your head, and being able to discuss that with other actors… I suppose I’ve never understood what it’s like to be a director and it’s only now that I’m in that position that I’ll have a newfound respect for directors. When I see them telling me something to do and I don’t quite understand it, I know I’ve given very bad direction to somebody because I can’t find the words to express what it is I’m looking for. I’ll understand it more.”

As her actors Marika Lapointe and Dean Adema assemble, it’s time for her to put on the director’s cap, one more production in a building of theatre putting the finishing touches on its performance.

Underneath It All can be seen at the Arts Court Library.