Written and Directed by Adam Seelig
Presented by One Little Goat
Featuring: Richard Harte, Jane Miller, Andrew Moodie, and Cathy Murphy
November 13th-28th, 8pm
Last February Norman and I saw Adam Selig’s production of Someone’s Going to Come by the mysterious Norwegian Jon Fosse. It was the best thing that either of us had seen in the city in a long, long time, and the reception afterward was really, really fun (cheese platter). We still talk about it, but as we’ve exhausted all of our superlative adjectives all that’s left is:
Norman: Someone’s Going to Come.
Aurora: I know, I know.
Norman: They really nailed that.
Aurora: They really did.
So we’ve been looking and looking forward to Adam Seelig’s next show with One Little Goat, and finally it came.
Talking Masks is about history’s monumentally troubled sons; Oedipus, Isaac and Ishmael. There are certainly more, and certainly other contemporaries, so I gently wonder why this combination of people was chosen by Seelig. Mostly, I don’t care. Make it about whoever you want, this piece was really interesting.
This production was built by a dream team of collaborators. Seelig himself is unfailingly innovative with text (“…Towards a Poetic Theatre…” is One Little Goat’s motto), so the dialogue, at times not dialogue at all but a rapid fire series of words and sounds with tenuous connections, is front and centre. This abandoning the I-Talk-She-Talks model serves the subject: it’s Oedipus, so we all know what’s going on. The narrative experimentation is welcome, and it allows the mind to walk down fascinating, previously unexplored paths.
Jackie Chau is the set designer, and the most unique, specific, beautiful and intelligent things fall from her brain on to the stage. It is always a pleasure to see what she’ll come up with. Her sets could sit onstage by themselves, there is so much to look at, and the negative space is just as interesting as the positive space.
Christopher Stanton’s sound design is an organized mess of crackles, static and echo. It is fortunate because Selig’s complicated picnic of words and sounds may have risked atonality without the layers laid by the loop pedals and amplifiers.
This work is based on stories so universally known they’ve become part of our language, just the very lightest hints of plot are all that is required. Just a touch of Aeschylus in Francis Bacon. Talking Masks, with all of its unconventional components, might seem incomprehensible to some. I think that’s fine. We don’t need to understand everything we see, and we don’t need to hear from the artist about how we should be interpreting what they’ve given us. It’s not interesting. It defeats the purpose of having a brain. In Seelig’s play, some participation is required on the part of the audience. Innovators like this are exactly what we need in Toronto. Read more!
At a recent meeting in Montreal, Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore told arts groups that they need to diversify their sources of funding in order to continue to exist. “It can't be just private sector, it can't be just government. We have to have a multi-pillared approach [so] that we have more economic shock absorbers to help organizations as they plan for the future,” he said.
Although I don’t know that much about the internal financial workings of different arts organizations, I know a lot about the lives of individual artists and every artist I know already diversifies their sources of income. They get some money from government grants, some from exhibition and performance fees, and if they are lucky maybe they win the occasional award that comes with a cash prize. There is also an excellent means of diversifying your income that most artists already use that I think the Honourable Minister may be unaware of. It’s called “having a job”.
Every single artist I know works either full-time, part-time, or on a contract basis in order to support their artistic practice. We do this normally, not because we love slinging drinks or answering phones, but because without this extra income it would be impossible to do what we do. In many cases this extra money isn’t just about making ends meet. It is directly invested back into the artist’s work in the form of space and equipment rentals, supplies, self-promotion, fees for other artists and technical people, and artist development. All of it goes back into the economy and when you factor all of that in it’s responsible for a pretty sizable chunk of our GDP.
I would be curious to know if the Honourable Minister would be inclined to suggest that other industries that receive government subsidies should “diversify”. Should the manufacturing sector “diversify” its sources of revenue in order to stay afloat? What fisheries? How about farmers? Better yet, all of these industries could simply cut the wages of their workers and they could keep doing the same amount of work for less money and pick up part-time jobs so that they could afford to live. They government could cut the subsidies that they give to those industries and give the money saved back to taxpayers. Would that be a good idea Honourable Minister?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Minister’s words are about giving the cultural sector guidance on how to survive challenging economic times. I find it impossible to believe that a government that is so focused on saving every penny possible has no idea of the amount of money that the cultural sector is responsible for contributing to the economy or its massive potential for growth. This is about the fact that Conservatives (that’s members of the Conservative Party as well as citizens who subscribe to a Conservative ideology) do not generally like the arts because they are often critical of Conservative values and ideas. Cutting money to arts groups is not about saving cash. It’s about restricting freedom of speech, or more specifically restricting freedom of speech that goes against Conservative values.
Nobody has ever told me that it’s be easy to be an artist or that it’s a good way to make money. I took on this career with full knowledge of all of its challenges and complications and despite having periodic fantasies of giving it up and getting a “real job” as my grandfather is inclined to advise me to do, I believe in the importance of what I do and I want to keep doing it as long as I can. To have a Cabinet Minister imply that those working in my profession are somehow not working hard enough to ensure our financial futures as a guise for telling us that he doesn’t share our politics and therefore doesn’t want to give us money to support those politics is beyond insulting. It goes against everything that Canadians, both Liberals and Conservatives stand for.
Chris Dupuis is a Toronto-based artist and writer. Learn more at www.chrisdupuis.com
The Silicone Diaries
Written by Nina Arsenault
Directed by Brendan Healy
Presented by Buddies in Bad Times at Talullah's Cabaret
November 14-22, 8pm
Photo by David Hawe
Nina Arsenault, I think, is 6 foot 2. She has tumbling red hair that tangles above her shoulders, a perfect waspy ski-jump nose and too-green green eyes. The roundest hips, the longest legs, the smallest waist, the thinnest wrists, the fullest breasts. She has had over 60 cosmetic surgeries.
She looks like Jessica Rabbit and I am a little bit afraid of her.
She discusses, in The Silicone Diaries, how she came to be this way; the passion that drove her to create this perfect, surreal, intimidating woman.
This is not necessarily a piece about making the transition from man to woman. Arsenault did make that transition, but this is nothing so elementary. She instead reveals through her impeccably performed monologues that as long as she has known what she thought was beautiful she has sped toward achieving it with athletic focus. It is her obsession.
Of course I'm obsessed with beauty, too. I'm a woman and I live in North America, and in the darkest parts of my heart where I keep the fear that I may be a bad person and all of the vicious things I've ever thought is the belief that my value is equal to my looks, be they good or bad. My brain and my politics would argue, but I have so many nightmares about disfigurement that it's ridiculous to pretend these things don't matter to me.
A sexist society created the idea that though beauty was a requirement for a woman's success, it was a shallow and frivolous thing to pursue. This is a particularly Western shame, and throughout the course of the show Arsenault compares herself to a Geisha, a type of woman she believes is respected for her dedication to beauty at all costs. Here, the men in charge feel a deep guilt for being aroused by beauty in all of its arresting power and not by puritan-valued wifely qualities like compassion, sweetness or warmth.
If this idea is changing, and I believe it is, Arsenault is at the front line. It was wonderful to discover, throughout the course of this remarkable show, that the woman so initially intimidating to me is open, honest, funny and brilliant.
The Silicone Diaries, based on a series of columns Arsenault wrote in Fab Magazine, contains stories that may seem grotesque or frightening to those uninitiated to the pursuit of beauty through plastic. Though I am an enthusiastic visitor to web sites like awfulplasticsurgery.com, I was shocked to learn that silicone would try to seep out through the injection holes by which it found its way in, or that it remained malleable under the flesh for days. There are clinics in Mexico and San Francisco, there is a lover in the shape of Mr. Burns, there is a living anime doll, and there is Nina at the centre of it all in a see-through dress with nothing to hide. The storytelling is vivid and unique. It makes a community of surgery devotees accessible, and though the feeling of the show is intimate (Talullah's Cabaret is small, packed, and there are drinks being served) it is the opposite of confidential. Arsenault is proud of her surgeries, proud of who she is and how she got there.
I had seen a shorter version of the show some years ago at a revue called Avant Vardeville at the Theatre Centre. It was then a frank discussion of the mechanics of her surgeries. I thought it was fascinating, but Arsenault herself is the real attraction. This new version, with its extreme emotional connect, gives the viewer the gift of the performer's humanity. This gift is why we go to the theatre. Read more!
I try really hard not to hate Mormons. But with events in the US over the last few years it’s pretty hard not to. I was in California for the Proposition 8 decision this past spring and knowing that the Church of Latter Day Saints donated more money than anyone else to the cause of reversing marriage equality in that state got me pretty riled up. The LDS was also responsible for quashing marriage equality in Hawaii back in 1994 and is currently hard at work trying to overturn laws in Maine and Vermont by placing constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2010.
Their religious view is best summed up in a sign that I saw during the demonstration at the San Francisco courthouse: ‘“Gay Marriage” is not a Civil Right. Religious Freedom is’, the inherent statement being that gay marriage is not in fact real marriage (as suggested by the quotation marks around it) and that “Religious Freedom” equals forcing other people who do not share your religious views to follow the teachings of your church. While I understand the fundamentalist nature of their faith, it’s perplexing to me that a group of people who have been persecuted so much throughout their history would take such an active role in denying another group of people their rights.
I spent about three years living in the Bloor and Ossington neighbourhood of Toronto. Anyone who frequents this area will know that it is a hotbed of Mormon activity. I think it may have something to do with the number of churches close to that intersection (more churches equal more potential converts from other faiths!), but every day year round rain or shine, those freshly scrubbed boys and girls in their white shirts and long skirts were out on a mission to save souls for their cause. Since I had to cross this intersection on a virtually daily basis I had a lot of interactions with them, and I have to admit that I had a grudging amount of respect for these kids. Not for the fact that they stand by their beliefs, but for the fact that they were possibly some of the best salespeople I’ve ever met in my life.
I used all measure of tactics to dissuade their advances in the hopes that they would allow me on my way to buy tofu and rent porn. I tried telling them flat out that I’m gay which, for anyone pondering a similar response when dealing with religious fundamentalists, I can say is definitely the wrong answer. When you tell them you’re queer, you go from being a random soul who needs to be saved, to a tarnished soul doomed to eternal hellfire that needs desperately to be saved. A couple of times I told them I was an atheist, which I think is almost as bad in their books, and did nothing to curb their advances. A few times I lied and said I was Jewish, hoping they might have some respect for a faith about 6,000 years older than theirs. No dice. Apparently Jews need the love of Jesus Christ in their lives as much as anyone else.
On one particular day I’m walking briskly along Bloor and this freakishly cute blonde boy steps directly into my path, forcing me to stop. “Do you have a minute to talk?” he asks. “I’m in a rush to get somewhere,” I reply and continue past him. He immediately follows me in lockstep. “So where are you rushing off to today?” he asks. “I’m going to meet my boyfriend and we’re going to get high on drugs and have sex,” I say, hoping this statement would shock him into a catatonic state and leave him paralysed on the sidewalk, like that time on Star Trek: The Next Generation when Commander Data tried to disable The Borg by sending them a paradoxical computer program that they would be unable to process and would lead to their ultimate destruction. To my dismay, Mormon boy is completely unfazed. “Do you have any plans for this evening?” he says. “Um… no. I guess not. Why?” “My friends and I are showing a film about “family” at a house around the corner,” he says. “Can my boyfriend come?” I ask, trying a meeker version of the shock tactic. “Of course!” he says, flashing his flawlessly white teeth in a smile. “Everyone who cares about family is welcome.” He hands me a flyer with the address on it and shakes my hand. Oh God, he’s so fucking cute! I have a brief vision of ejaculating on his face and then I shake myself out of it. “Okay thanks,” I say. “I’ll try to make it out.” I walk past him and toss the flyer in a garbage can half a block away.
I thought about that Mormon boy again on when the B.C. Supreme Court threw out charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two residents of the Mormon community of Bountiful who were charged with polygamy for each having multiple wives. I wondered what he would think of the whole situation. Would he be in favour of the “one man, many women, and a whole pile of children” vision of what a family should be or would he oppose it the same way he would opposes my idea of what a family is?
I’ve been following this story since the two men were arrested earlier this year and it’s been interesting how often gay marriage has come up in discussions on the subject. At the time marriage equality was being debated here in Canada back in 2003, opponents said that it would pave the way to allowing polygamy, incest, and bestiality. Based on the comments sections of various news websites, it seems that a large number of Canadians believe just that. Yes indeed, gays are the ones to blame for polygamy being legal in Canada. While I have serious issue with the notion of underage girls being forced into sexual relationships with older men, as long as the parties entering a polygamous relationship are above the age of consent I have no problem with it.
I doubt there are any members of the Mormon community reading this website, but if there are, let me say this; I will happily support your right to have the kind of relationship you want if you’ll stop trying to prevent me from having the kind of relationship I want. How’s that for a deal?
Chris Dupuis is a Toronto-based artist and writer. For more information about his work go to www.chrisdupuis.com
The Crossing Guard
Written by Daniel Karasik
Directed by Anthony Furrey
Presented by Tango Co. and Peanut Butter People at the Tarragon Studio Space
Playing: October 13-17 8pm, Saturday 2:30pm
Tickets: 416-531-1827 or www.tickets.tarragontheatre.com
The Walworth Farce
Written by Enda Walsh
Directed by Mikel Murfi
Presented by Harbourfront Centre
Featuring: Michael Glenn Murphy, Tadhg Murphy, Mercy Ojelade, and Raymond Scannell.
The Fleck Dance Theatre is hard to find. It’s kind of hidden in a mall on the second floor of Queen’s Quay Terminal. It is also completely blue inside, which I really like. It is both comforting and fancy. The Walworth Farce written by Enda Walsh and directed by Mikel Murfi opened there last Tuesday and it drew lots and lots of people to its blue box office.
The play begins gently, with the Irish Toura-loora-loora song playing on a tape deck in an awful apartment. Three men, Dinny (Michael Glenn Murphy), Sean (Tadhg Murphy), and Blake (Raymond Scannell), sporting varying degrees of baldness tend to an acrylic wig, attempt to cook a large sausage, and massage thick creams into their scalps. Very abruptly the music stops with the click of a tape deck. Then things get very hectic. The men are, I gather, acting out the story of their departure from Ireland. There are two cardboard coffins on either side of the stage. Everybody is yelling for a very long time. If I sound fuzzy on the details, it's because I am fuzzy on the details. For almost the entire first act, the three men frantically tell and retell the same story at a very high pitch presumably led by Dinny with the other boys in his frightening command.
I don't have the enviable ability to force myself to focus when things get atonal. This is why all of math is mysterious to me. Audience members sharper than I found the activities on stage hilarious. I saw that they were doing funny things, but the consistent ultra fast pace and high volume lulled me into a sort of trance. It's not an entirely unfortunate place to be and I think it was completely intentional.
Helpless repetition is also at the heart of Daniel Karasik's new play The Crossing Guard, directed by Anthony Furey. In it, seventeen-year-old Timothy (Karasik) makes a daily routine of showing up at the crosswalk where his sister went missing seven years ago. The play is staged in the Tarragon studio space which is neither blue nor fancy. I liked this space just as much as the Fleck. I like places that are small. Karasik's crosswalk is and has always been governed an elderly crossing guard named Jim (Gary Reineke) and he guides Timothy back and forth across the same street with his stop sign, whistle, and fluorescent orange vest. The two have light conversation and it becomes clear quickly that neither party is especially happy with Timothy's continued visits; it is a compulsion rather than a decision.
The Walworth men's frenzied routine comes to a halt rather abruptly with the appearance of Hayley (Mercy Ojelade), a young female supermarket employee. She is helpfully (flirtatiously?) bringing a bag of groceries Sean had forgotten at her checkout. She is so normal, so much a part of the outside world that she brings to the attention of the characters the strangeness of their actions. It is clear that she might love Sean a little bit, and in this lays hope for his escape from Dinny.
Similarly, Timothy's routine comes to a halt rather abruptly with the appearance of Miriam (Monica Dottor), a young female crossing guard filling in for Jim. She is so normal, so much a part of the outside world that she forces Timothy to question the health of his street-crossing, sister-seeking practice. It's unclear whether her interest in him might bring hearts to his eyes, but it seems like a possibility. Women can be so refreshing.
Initially, both Walworth's Hayley and The Crossing Guard's Miriam could be taken for a sort of “Vestal Virgin” in their respective stories; the young woman who through her vitality and sensuality awakens and renews the tired soldier/statesman/lost guy. This is still a consistent theme in Western story telling and I remember seeing trailers for a treacherous looking Jennifer Aniston movie called Along Came Polly in which she plays a free spirited bohemian who convinces a downtrodden businessman to do a bunch of dumb stuff that includes him climbing to the roof of a skyscraper and screaming at the top of his lungs. I think the conclusion of the movie shows that he has some kind of break through that leads him to become an artist. Aniston’s character dies of cancer, but the businessman learns his lesson and doesn't need her anymore, having grown as a person. There are so many billions of movies and plays and books like this, I know the story so well that I could watch it in my head.
Fortunately, in neither of these plays do the women have the redemptive qualities that we think they will. In fact they contradict the Vestal Virgin paradigm. Though they both show up with hope written all over their faces, neither Hayley nor Miriam can affect any kind of positive change. Hayley becomes a captive of Dinny; forced through her tears to participate at knifepoint in the reenactments. Rather than waving flag of redemption, her helplessness reinforces for Sean his own captivity, and though she finally escapes (after Dinny and Blake kill each other and lie dead on the floor), Sean is unable to follow her, feeling instead more destroyed than free.
The Crossing Guard's Miriam manages to convince Timothy that he should break his back and forth across the street habits, move on with his life, go to college, and possibly meet a girl. On the day he decides to quit, Jim the original crossing guard shows up and practically wrestles the young protagonist into a fluorescent orange vest, passing the ceremonial stop sign into his hand. Before Timothy can argue, Jim crosses the street and gets hit by a car leaving Timothy in crosswalk purgatory.
At the heart of both of these plays is the fear that we are powerless to change our own fortunes. If we are stuck in a routine, we probably deserve to be stuck. It's no co-incidence that two different plays in different styles by different theatre companies on opposite sides of the world opt for the choice of no escape. Neither Karasik's Timothy nor Walsh's Sean is bound to repetition for any reason other than their own misplaced sense of duty. Both have a clear way out and a willing helper, but feel utterly beaten and helpless by circumstances larger than themselves. It's surprising, because now that “God is Dead”, it would seem as though there are no circumstances larger than ourselves. We should be free to walk but it seems as though what all of these characters need is someone to save them. We still (as Jennifer Aniston movies would indicate) believe in the redemptive powers of love. It's just that we haven't seen any proof. Theatre, not having the spectacular funding that Hollywood does, feels free to point a finger at this. There are no Vestal Virgins anymore so we're all on our own. We have to change our own circumstances, though sometimes we can't.
BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera
Written & Performed by Chris Craddock & Nathan Cuckow
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Music by Aaron Macri
Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille
Playing October 15th to 31st
Tickets and Information: 416-504-7529 or www.passemuraille.on.ca
I can’t remember when I first met Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow – as a theatre artist in Alberta, you pretty much know everyone else. In January of 2008, I had the pleasure of performing in the Toronto Fringe’s inaugural Next Stage Festival and had a chance to watch fellow Albertans Craddock & Cuckow at work in their smash hit, BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera. Now, fresh from a successful off-Broadway production, the show is back in Toronto for a three week run at Theatre Passe Muraille. I caught up with Chris Craddock to talk about gay rights, climate change, tar sands, and pretty much every other hot button issue. Oh, and theatre.
How did your creative partnership with Nathan Cuckow evolve and how did you come to collaborate on this project?
Nathan and I met back in 1997 and became fast friends. Nathan appeared as an actor in a few of my plays and I got to see his work as a writer in a solo show: StandUpHomo. I knew that we could write together, and we did, in a queer head-banger piece called 3...2...1, which remains one of my favourites. It was while we were rehearsing 3...2..1 that we started joking about gay rap, which Nathan was already doing. He had a performance coming up at the Loud and Queer Cabaret. I joined him and with composer Aaron Macri, we dropped a track that sort of blew everybody away. We were flushed with pop-star pride and eager to do more. We started talking about a full piece.
As a straight man, what is your relationship to this material and what motivates you to address it in your work?
Well, there's straight and then there's straight. But leave that aside. I was awarded my honourary wings long ago. And even if I wasn't, I like to think that human rights are something we're all concerned with. Gay rights in my mind is ground zero for humanism, and humanism is what we need right now. It’s like the human rights canary in the coalmine. It elucidates the question: are you allowed to love who you love or would your government prefer you love someone else? I was raised in a very religious home, and in that home and many other places, like lots of artists, I felt different from other people. From a young age I felt that making people suffer for being different was very wrong. Denying gay people the right to marry is the adult version of pushing the fat kid down in the schoolyard. It’s plain wrong and we should be beyond it. For Prime Minister Harper, the head of our whole country, to say that gay relationships are invalid and that therefore gay people are inferior should be horrifying to all in this modern time. Leaders should be more mature than the rank and file, not less. And people are dying. Gay teens kill themselves 1500% more then their straight counterparts.
Was there anything about the political climate of Alberta that motivated you to create BASH'd? Have you had any negative feedback from political groups or right-wing people in Alberta or elsewhere?
We haven't had much backlash, I think because theatre is just not mainstream enough. We're all freaks anyway, so why dignify us with a response? Maybe now that we're the Albertan contribution to the Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver, we'll rate some picket signs, but probably not.
That said, the cultural climate of Alberta was most certainly an inspiration for this play. We wrote it during the equal marriage debate, when then-Premier Ralph Klein was threatening to use the not-withstanding clause, for the second time in an anti-gay stance. This is an easy formula for stoking up a rural base, and is popular amongst politicians hoping to be elected by the ignorant. During this period, we saw a statistical jump in anti-gay street violence, commonly known as bashing. Some, Murray Billet for example, who was the Edmonton police department’s liaison for the gay community to the hate crime division, was encouraged by Ralph’s language, as he finally capitulated to federal authority in this matter. He said things like, "We used every weapon in our arsenal." He acted like a righteous general, laying down his official arms, almost hinting that perhaps people out in the street could do better. They took him at his hint. As artists and fans of basic human rights we were angered by this.
I saw your interview on Fox News, which is posted on your website. Watching this guy who was interviewing you, it almost made me cringe – your show was clearly not subject matter he was comfortable with. What was it like doing an interview with people who don't understand you and don't really want to?
Being in the Fox News headquarters was like being black at a KKK rally. We couldn't help but think, “Bill O’Reilly spews hate right from that chair!” I regret deeply that I didn't say anything more YouTube worthy.
What was the off-Broadway run like? The musical is such a revered theatrical form in New York City. Did people judge you more critically there as musical theatre artists?
We had a good time in New York. We were blessed with some very good reviews. Some locals told us we were one of the best reviewed off-Broadway shows in ten years. Obviously we were thrilled and flattered by this. As Canadian artists, who often feel inferior to our Yankee counterparts (and worse, Edmonton artists who often feel inferior to say Toronto or Montréal artists) it was a nice to feel that we were as good as anybody. Recently we made the Village Voice Top Ten list for NYC theatre that whole year. People responded to our politics as well. We were honored with a GLAAD Award and a Courage Award from the anti-violence project. New Yorkers thought we had something important to say.
As a performer I've done a few long runs of shows and I've found that it's difficult when you've grown as a person and an artist to continue performing old material. Has your research and writing in the last couple of months given you a different perspective on this show?
Being one of the playwrights, if a portion feels old to me or feels different then how I feel now, I look at changing it. I am grateful to have my work reach a large audience. Many new Canadian plays run for ten days in their home cities and disappear forever. I am glad BASH'd is not one of those.
I recently read a note you wrote on Facebook about the state of the world and your depression surrounding climate change and the refusal of big corporations to change the way they operate. What do you think we as artists can do to combat our own feelings of helplessness?
That was what I was asking everybody and I am still not sure. I don't think individuals are going to fix this anymore. We need government and industry to do so. And industry is not going to spend money on greening up when it's cheaper to spend money on pretending to green up. Therefore, government regulation is our only hope. With Harper in charge, how do you like our chances?
Beyond personal conservation, the most vital thing is to add strength, time and talent to put pressure on our government and all the other ones too. We could eliminate a hundred mega-tonnes of carbon emissions a year, simply by making the oil companies operating in the tar sands of Alberta fix the leaks in their pipelines (see “Tar Sands,” by Andrew Nikiforuk). This does cost a little something, but it needs to be done. Solar and wind power can be improved, undoubtedly, if only anyone tried.
I call for the founding of a crown corporation that builds and supplies green energy to Canadians. What a job builder! People scoff, but in my lifetime I remember when there was no internet. All the people who now work on the internet would not have had jobs, except for the dawning of a new industry. I understand that the market may not be ready to make such a corporation profitable at this time. That is why the government needs to fund and run it until it does. I suggest we could do this with a fraction of the money currently set aside for the fantasy technology of carbon capture and sequestration, which is at about the same level of readiness as light-sabers.
I read that you're researching a play on the tar sands in Alberta. Do you feel that as artists we have a responsibility to address those things in our work? And do you think it will make a difference?
Nothing I do as an artist makes enough of a difference for me. But what else can I do? I march, I sign the petitions, and I vote with my dollars and in elections. I try to get young people to vote. I wish I was godlike, and could make sweeping changes but I am just one man. It seems appropriate to do what I do well for the struggle, rather then what I do poorly. Everyone has a responsibility to try to make the world better, and shame on those who instead spend their time making the world worse.
Written and Directed by Bobby Del Rio
Presented by Del Rio and Jason Morneau
Featuring: Ryan Moleiro, Jessica Salgueiro, Jonathan Shatzky, Julie Tesolin, Bahia Watson, and K Trevor Wilson.
Playing September 17 through Oct 4, Tuesday to Saturday, 8pm. Sundays, 2:30pm.
Tickets $10, Sundays PWYC
Playing at 970 Queen St W, Unit 7
Ticket reservations: email@example.com
Nobody does self-promotion quite like Bobby Del Rio. Back in 2004 I ended up on his email list and would get messages about every single page he wrote every other day or so. During the height of the Facebook / Myspace crossover I was getting up to four emails a day to inform me of his up-comings. If, some morning in the future, I get six emails, a tweet and an independent Sirius radio broadcast about his recently completed word jumble, I will think “Yes. This is the natural progression of things. Morning will turn to afternoon. Spring will turn to summer. I will grow old and stare fondly at grandchildren. All is as it should be."
Despite all of this dedicated self-promotion, I had never been to see a Bobby Del Rio play. This wasn't his fault. Before writing for this website, I mostly went to things done by people I knew or things my friend Norman got free tickets for. Everyone is always giving Norman tickets.
Del Rio has been keeping a blog detailing the process of Three Plays about Toronto Theatre. It was his goal to do the entire thing for no money. When I spoke to him on the phone he said he thought he might have been able to get some money for the production, but that it was a challenge that he wanted to rise to meet. Part of it was because his producer had said that he had always wanted to do a play in his apartment. Part of it was just to see if he could do it.
The space where the show is presented is pretty small, and you are no doubt about it, in somebody's kitchen. I like that. I'd like to see more of this kind of thing in general. Theatre creators are burdened with the idea that nothing is possible without lots and lots of money to make it good, so many potentially great things never see a stage. I think putting on plays in your kitchen is an accessible solution. Del Rio seems a bit self-conscious about it, though.
Three Plays about Toronto Theatre is not Toronto specific. If it were, I might think that Del Rio himself would be a character. It was so named, the author said, to give it a bit of a "hook". It is a series of three short comedies, about the world of performing, creating performance and the people who feel compelled to do the aforementioned. The dialogue is quick and witty and the actors are sincere and energetic.
That said, I'm unsure of why this had to be a play. Though Del Rio uses his apartment/theatre to effect, employing the open refrigerator as light source and the bathroom as a dressing room, it seems to me that this might have made a happier television show, despite the fact that it's about theatre. The actors are directed to be naturalistic, almost casual, and when they are big as is Ryan Moleiro, they have the heightened exuberance of Kramer sliding into Jerry's apartment. There are witty non sequiturs, and nothing gets overly physical. It is safe to say that Del Rio is a product of the Seinfeld generation.
This brings to murky light the idea that many young theatre creators are not particularly influenced by theatre. Often, we can't blame them. There is a lot of bad, expensive theatre to be seen. It also takes forever to write a play, and then when you're finished you frequently find yourself in the uncomfortable boat of having a completed script that stopped being relevant to you 3 years ago. We are used to aggressively contemporary media that reflects us back at ourselves only seconds after we've walked away from the mirror. Theatre can't be that. It moves too slowly. That is why so much lasting theatre, the plays we want to do over and over again, exist in a timeless vacuum, exploring the universal themes of humanity. But that can get awfully exhausting; sometimes you just want to sit down and watch something.
If we live in a generation that wants bountiful, relevant media, does that exclude theatre for all but the very patient? Maybe. Each new form of entertainment claims to be a replacement for the old one. Movies replaced theatre, television replaced movies, the internet replaced blah blah blah. That's how we are in North America. We want to think we're on a constant incline of innovation, disposing with the old and wholeheartedly consuming the new. That is not actually what we do. We just keep adding to what we already have, momentarily losing interest in the old thing, but eventually remembering how great it was and shuffling back, seeing how it can grow to suit our glossy modern needs.
While Del Rio's play/television hybrid is an expression of how theatre can grow, it doesn't strike me as particularly theatrical. But frequently it’s the overly theatrical that alienates an uninitiated audience. The conventions of performance, to which we cling in all of their antiquity because they’re indications of quality, seem strange in a society where staying calm and not getting overly emotional is valued above passion and fury. We love film in part because of its ability to capture all of the small and subtle moments, emotional indicators that we miss between each other. Actors in the theatre can imitate the style of actors in film, but without the close-ups, long shots and whatever else a film director uses to establish a feeling scape, all of the intimacy is lost.
People will like Three Plays about Toronto Theatre. It's funny. People will go and it will sell out. It is certainly entertaining, and Lord knows Del Rio will keep us abreast of how it all goes down ("you've got to pimp it" he said, when I asked him about his vigorous electronic promotion).
But should theatre, in an attempt to stay relevant, venture into the world of live television? Del Rio seems poised to walk the line. Read more!
Written by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Ravi Jain
Presented by The Greenland Collective
Featuring Claire Calnan, Andrew Musselman
Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
August 14th 10:00pm
August 15th 4:00pm
Looking to dramatize what is universal means wandering into ground that’s as treacherous as it is well-trodden. And here we find Greenland, Nicolas Billon’s suite for three. I like people telling stories, but the linked monologues-which-slowly-reveals-familial-tragedy form is, to put it mildly, well-known. Here, perhaps as on the famously mis-named island, we can see what is on the horizon long before it arrives. Under Ravi Jain’s subduing direction the actors spare us most of the treacly moments and do their best to charm and deflect. There is a pleasing sense of pause in the performances, and nice quiet. A supporting credit might go to a pair of ice-cubes tinkling in a rocks glass.
Billon, or his characters, are well-aware of the clichéd scientist-finding-god story. Instead his glaciologist character veers toward the more contemporary version – scientist-finding-gloom, and everything follows: things are melting, thawing, breaking up. And so, says Greenland, are we.
Using the language of scientific observation to forge airtight and immovable metaphors about the nature of humanity says nothing about science or people. It only makes a claim about the play itself, which is that because it links science and lived experience it must therefor be both rational and poetically true. For me this is an extremely problematic position; metaphor is an attempt to draw connections in the world that illuminate and affect both subjects, and lead to transformations in thought and in the world. Despite its obvious intentions, the connections Greenland makes are a static disservice. Read more!
Written by Liz Peterson
Directed by Alex Wolfson
Presented by Ammo Factory
Featuring: Amy Bowles, Chad Dembski and Liz Peterson
Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
August 14th 4:30pm
August 15th 8:30pm
Ammo Factory works on staging depictions of what goes on in the mind, and the company wears its late-century New York experimental theatre influences on its sleeve as it does so. Here - as, reputedly, there - there’s much showy bigness, and much slowness, and an overwhelming sense of the not-quite conscious calculation behind human actions. At their heyday Richard Foreman and Robert Wilson et al were (still are, I imagine) ruthless in their determination to look only inside their own skulls, and famously dominated every element of their productions. Despite the family resemblance, Ammo Factory doesn’t work like this. I can't prove that they don’t share a mind, but writer, director and designer at least inhabit different bodies; here there are a bunch of heads being drilled open and examined. Vast gulfs of subjectivity spill out of each and split the earth and the network of spindly or stately bridges that get erected is what might be called the consensual reality the performance represents. Windows might be read as a parable of this bridge-building – a group, a family, arriving, not without struggle, at a unified vision of reality – and after watching the play, their vision seems disturbingly, improbably, sane.
This would surely make Windows very interesting, yes, but the family’s struggle also has improbable dramatic weight, and is funny and sad and understandable, which means it is pleasurable to watch. On that note, Passe Muraille’s droopy masking is a poor frame for the precisely flimsy set and costumes, which, like everything else here, refer to totalizing impulses with a healthy mixture of respect and mocking humour – a combination, incidentally, very much like familial love.
On the subject of familiarity (or, over-familiarity): possibly the best, and least understood, lesson of the old avant-garde autocrats concerns the use of boredom: boredom, like flash-paper, is a special effect, and like most special effects, the instructions might be summarized “go big or go home”. Sometimes we get hung out in between with long spools of text that merely muddy the event, instead of creating the big space for the the mental fireworks the weird, heady show has lit the fuse on. My complaint is the fact that we’re not allowed to be bored enough. We have things to consider. Read more!
Say Nothing, Saw Wood
Written and Performed by Joel Thomas Hynes
Directed by Lois Brown
Presented by Resource Centre for the Arts Company
Presented at Factory Studio Theatre Studio
Thursday August 13 8pm
Friday August 14 10pm
Sunday August 16 4pm
In researching this review, I googled Joel Thomas Hynes and found an interview on YouTube about one of his other works, the novel Right Away Monday. In the interview Hynes refers to drug and alcohol addiction, saying, “When you’re in it you can’t see where you are… you can’t get perspective on who you are.” Say Nothing Saw Wood is another story about a character who loses that perspective for one brief but fateful moment. Hynes makes no secret about having been there himself, in fact the program notes describe an incident in his youth which could have altered his future drastically. Hynes clearly has empathy for his characters, whom he describes in the YouTube interview as often having a deep but subconscious feeling of emptiness.
In Say Nothing, Saw Wood, Hynes plays the character Jude Traynor. He enters the theatre in the dark, with slow deliberate footsteps. The lights come up on a man who looks like he’s at the gallows. His hair hangs in strings over his glaring red eyes. His hands fixed at his belt loops, he stands and delivers. His expression rarely changes as he peels back the layers, recounting the story of how he came to brutally murder an old woman when he was 17. His relationship to the woman he killed and the circumstances around the crime I will leave for the reader to find out, suffice to say all will be revealed with impeccable timing.
The director is Lois Brown (who was shortlisted for the Siminovitch prize in 2004). In her program notes she describes her goal of winnowing everything out from the original 2007 production, directed by Charlie Tomlinson. She certainly achieves the simplicity and restraint she is going for with this remount. Hynes, as I say, stands in the same position throughout the show, hands in pockets or belt loops, using minimal gesture and only occasionally changes position on the stage. A large rectangle of white light is the main design element, and Hynes moves slowly from one corner to another as he illuminates different parts of the story. He never moves through the middle of the rectangle, but paces the outside, which mirrors the development of the story, in which he is always skirting around the grotesque act. You know if you’ve read the program that it’s about a murder, but he takes his time getting to it. When he does address the subject, the white rectangle vanishes to be replaced by a golden yellow spot in the dead centre of the stage and he stands dead in the centre of that. There are two parts of the show where this happens. Once in the middle, once at the end.
The creepy violence of this story washed over me in waves until at the end of the hour I was immersed. And that’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to spoil for anyone the subtle potency of this expertly developed monologue. Read more!
SUMMERWORKS: The Epic of Gilgamesh (up until the part when Enkidu dies), Review by Katherine Sanders
The Epic of Gilgamesh (up until the part when Enkidu dies)
Written by Erin Shields
Directed by Gideon Arthurs
Presented by Groundwater Productions
Featuring Frank Cox-O'Connell, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Ieva Lucs, Richard Lee, Lindsey Clark, and Lisa Karen Cox
Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
Thursday August 13 6:30pm
Saturday August 15 12:30pm
Sunday August 16 8:30pm
I know nothing about the story of Gilgamesh. It’s one of those pieces of literature like Beowulf that I recognize as being important, but have never taken the time to read myself. So I had no idea what to expect from this show, except for being somewhat familiar with the work of Erin Shields, Gideon Arthurs, and Frank Cox-O’Connell. I have to say that I was part of a privileged audience that saw this show under the coolest circumstances possible. Waiting to enter the theatre in a line-up that wrapped around the corner of the Theatre Passe Muraille building, while to the south the last of the days light was filling the sky. To the north, as we rounded the corner and entered the theatre, was the most ominous black cloud I’ve ever seen. We got inside just before the rain came, and then were treated to a performance of this play as it was meant to be seen – with a raging thunderstorm pounding the ceiling above us. Some of Gilgamesh’s lines were underscored by massive thunder-cracks. It was intense.
Thankfully, this is a production that holds its own against a raging storm. The design is simple, effective eye candy. The representation of the demon Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven are two examples where the designers (especially Lindsay Anne Black on costumes and set) did a lot with a little. The sound design, (this night collaborating with the sound of rain and thunder), was effective and unobtrusive. The lighting also made use of some basic but on-target techniques, such as headlamps for the chorus.
It’s appropriate that this show was presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, the birthplace of Toronto’s collective creation movement in the 70’s. The style of this piece very much reminded me of those times, even though I didn’t live through them. Although this is not a collective creation, the script is skillfully crafted by Erin Shields to resemble a play of the people, by the people, for the people. The use of Greek-style chorus and the eclectic updates in vocabulary and cultural references (at one point the characters share a bucket of KFC), combine to make this an earthy post-modern adaptation of an ancient text. A related side note: Paul Thompson, the founder of TPM, was in the audience the night I saw it, and I happened to notice him guffaw heartily at the line, “The Bull of Heaven is not a toy!”
Gideon Arthurs’ attentive direction keeps the action constantly roving around the space, and the pace urging forwards like a heartbeat. The performances are all of the calibre you would expect from such accomplished actors, whose commitment and energy drive the piece forward relentlessly towards its inevitable conclusion. The title spoiler, “(up until the part when Enkidu dies)” provides a framework for the audience to grasp the significance of the unfolding events, so that the play’s ending is timely and satisfying.
A masterfully crafted piece of theatre all around. Read more!
SUMMERWORKS: Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry and The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight, Review by Evan Webber
Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry
Written and Performed by Daniel Barrow
Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, Main Space
August 9th 6:30pm
August 11th 8:30pm
August 14th 8:30pm
August 15th 2:30pm
The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight
Written and Directed by Jordan Tannhill
Presented by Suburban Beast at Rolly's Garage, 124 Ossington Avenue
Featuring: Amelia Sargisson, Marika Schwandt, Tawiah M’carthy, and others.
August 9th 8:00pm
August 10th 6:00pm
August 11th 8:00pm
August 12th 8:00pm
August 13th 8:00pm
August 14th 8:00pm
August 15th 10:00pm
August 16th 8:00pm
In Daniel Barrow’s projection show Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, the Winnipeg-based artist “animates” his performance by manipulating skilfully wrought images on an overhead projector, while he softly intones the chilly story of an solitary garbage thief into the microphone. Barrow’s transparency illustrations are soft, the colours pillowy, and everything is cut with a shock of nausea. They have the stillness of a crime scene photo. Alone, they’re dead, but the overhead projector is the right medium for them; on the screen they vibrate slightly as if about to blast off into space; they get charged by what good puppeteers use to make puppets come to life. Watching them is worth the price of admission, even if the story they tell is a little confusing.
Weird, beautiful pictures notwithstanding, I’ve mostly loved Barrow’s work in the past for the way he situates himself in the audience, for the workmanlike quality with which he approaches performance, which gently acknowledges the pleasurable discipline of both making and seeing live art. But Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry departs from this relational position in a surprising way. Barrow is invisible to us, and we sit in the dark, and gone is the complex picture of a human storyteller, playing among his listeners with his modest but magically sufficient medium. Instead we get an authoritative voice in our heads. This weird, Wagnerian power-play highlights the rich detail of Barrow’s world, and it may offer the artist some measure of – what, control? Or maybe it’s just a move towards higher production values? But by removing the relational obstacle, and dispelling the charm of what is actually happening in the room (which is often a lot of scrambling for lose transparencies), what’s left is actually a rather typical story of tragic alienation and bloody doom. It’s thoughtful, cleverly written, beautifully aestheticized and cold as the clay. Absent the creator, render unseen the breathing, visible idiosyncrasy of the task imposed by the medium, and Barrow’s voice seems merely to say that communication is a lost cause, or an act of violence – and that art is just an attempt to gild the skull. Nestled in the dark of the theatre, I thought it possible that the voice I was hearing was just speaking to itself. Believe it, this is a cautionary tale.
Differently gilded is The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight by Jordan Tannahill’s company Suburban Beast. Tannahill et al are doing something that isn’t easy: looking for a way to combine casual delivery (which is definitely the new normal) with the precision of verbatim text. The former remains elusive here, but under his direction, the company has nailed the latter in a series of precisely detailed character portraits. The subjects are people who work, or go about their business, at night. Simple as that. The portrayals are surprising and generous (and a touch old-fashioned) and the stories the company’s research has generated are compelling. But the production’s mixture of kitsch and studied coolness doesn’t sustain (the theatre is a blanket-fort; the “real” costumes over-composed) and by the end it washes out to reveal an uncritical sentimentality. This tacked-on emotionalism mostly neutralizes the proposal the work is making: that freedom of a kind exists in a conditional truce with the quotidian. More demonstrably: when people feel free, they say beautiful and interesting things. This is a good thing to remember, and thankfully, it still shines through in places. And if you can still believe ts while walking out of a blanket-fort onto Ossington Avenue on a Friday night, it must be at least a little bit true. Read more!
under the parrot/over tennessee
Written and Performed by Val Campbell and Gail Hanrahan
Directed by James Fagan Tait
Presented by Theatre in Exile, Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
Sunday August 9 6pm
Tuesday August 11 8pm
Thursday August 13 6pm
Saturday August 15 2pm
Sunday August 16 6pm
The moment I started to enjoy under the parrot/over tennessee was about halfway through, when suddenly the two performers broke out of the Tennessee Williams characters that their clown characters were portraying and turned into themselves, the actors, the people - for one brief moment. It also elicited the most genuine laugh of the whole show.
From that point on, I allowed myself to go with them on this weird ride they were on. Two clown-type characters (they are not red-nose clowns), Ol’ Man (Gail Hanrahan) and L’il Boy (Val Campbell) find themselves sharing quarters, and as a way to pass the time Ol’ Man decides that they will act out scenes from Tennessee Williams plays. Simple premise – but why? That’s what I found myself asking most of the way through. Why did they decide to present Tennessee Williams in this way? Why are the clowns obsessed with Williams? Why are they there together? What is this place? So many unanswered questions. My cynical self was starting to think, “These are just a couple of middle-aged women who wanted to play some Tennessee Williams heroines.” And that’s fine – lots of people do vanity projects. But then why the clowns? Why not just do the plays?
That weird little moment in the middle when they both broke character (intentionally), was the one glimmer of truth that allowed me access to the show. I wish they would have done the whole show that way. And from then on, I let myself stop asking questions, and just listened. The passages from Williams were actually performed quite beautifully. Particularly by Hanrahan, who held the audience spell-bound by the end of the show.
Companies from out of town often have a difficult time getting an audience at Summerworks and I think that’s a shame. There are only four shows from outside of Toronto – four chances for us to prove that we’re not as insular and self-absorbed as the rest of the country seems to think. So please, at this year’s Summerworks, see a show from out of town. See a show that doesn’t have any of your friends in it. Let’s expand our horizons, shall we? Read more!
Chris: I’m intrigued by the fact that you make musicals, which is a form we associate with things like “The Lion King” and countless annual pop-culture centred Fringe productions. What is it that draws you to this form? Is it just because musicals are so damn gay?
Alistair: Mother Teresa is fond of equating suffering with a transcendent experience and I suppose I feel the same way about music. I always strive to marry the intellectual to the physical and emotional in my work and I've found music to be the most effective vehicle for such a nuptial. On the gay point (generally one of my very favourite points...) it always annoys me when "camp" gets confused with "kitsch" (I would, albeit somewhat clumsily, state the difference between the two as being that "camp" involves the good taste of bad taste, while kitsch is simply a celebration of bad taste). I find something condescending and slightly smug about the enjoyment of kitsch; it seems to exist solely to make us feel better about our own more advanced sense of good taste. Camp is self-effacing, self-aware, and revels in it's own tastelessness. For me, John Waters is a good representative of "camp" taste because he truly loves so-called "bad taste" and "low culture" in a profound and genuinely moving way. Musicals, and especially cabaret, has a fantastic way of combining "high art" with "low art" for me. High art, low art, good taste, bad taste, the intellectual and the physical, the body and the mind, I guess I'm fascinated by juxtaposition, paradox, and contradiction.
Chris: This is the first show you’ve made where you’ve written a part for yourself. Any particular reason why you decided to walk the boards for this specific piece?
Alistair: I performed in a few projects in University so the idea isn't totally foreign for me. I suppose the main reason I decided to perform in the piece was to show a sense of personal accountability and some kind of immediate solidarity to the politics I'm exploring (and specifically the statements I speak in the show). While I do think it's important for the ensemble to be able to morally stand behind the politics they are presenting, I would never expect any performer to have "blind faith" in all of my socio-political views; I also would never want anyone to compromise their own morals or personal ethic in performing in one of my shows. I love working with people who represent divergent religious, political, and cultural backgrounds to ensure a healthy discussion and thorough interrogation of the subject matter at hand as well. All this, and I wanted to impress a boy...
Chris: There’s a fairly heavy critique of organized religion in this piece, specifically the Catholic Church. What is your personal history with religion and why do you feel its something that should be discussed/lampooned on stage?
Alistair: I would describe my family background as something like "very, VERY lapsed Church of England" (essential whenever I asked my mum "What religion are we?" she would invariably reply "Your Grandma is Anglican" prefaced with a drawn-out "well..."). I grew up entirely without religion but encountered it in a quite fundamentalist form in high school: I had three friend who were devote Mormons. I became interested in learning more about their beliefs (one particular friend converted on her own, independent of her parents) and when I got a hold of the Book of Mormon and learned the fatuous story of Joseph Smith (with all the scurrilously racist underpinnings) a growing atheism began taking hold. More specifically, I'm mistrustful of any religion that proselytises and especially when it takes the form of Missionary work. There is something deeply problematic for me in the idea of polluting highly commendable and life saving charitable work with the taint of colonialism (and sometimes out-and-out imperialism). Offering impoverished people aid with a chaser of Jesus leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There's also the little matter of organized religion's long history of subjugating women, repressing all forms of sexuality, and oppressing homosexuals. Add to this the concept of Catholic guilt and a belief in the glories of suffering and you have a toxic cocktail of masochism. I should say though that I am more a Christopher Hitchens atheist then a Richard Dawkins atheist (the latter seeks to eradicate religion while the former only wishes that people would keep it to themselves).
Chris: I understand that this show is part of a sort of trilogy, along with The Pastor Phelps Project and Leni Riefenstahl VS The 20th Century. Why did you decide to take on Mother Teresa as a cultural figure to examine alongside Phelps (an anti-gay pastor whose church protests the funerals of AIDS victims) and Riefenstahl (a filmmaker who made propaganda films for the Hitler)?
Alistair: The trilogy all relate to various figures from the 20th Century who exist in a world with no sense of irony. Pastor Fred taught his children that all men are created equal and that we are all of the same blood...and he also taught them to believe in two rights for fags: AIDS and hell. Leni Riefenstahl had no problem with absolving herself of her role in the creation of the Hitler personality cult by constantly asserting the fact that she had no personal politics. With no trace of irony she could say things like, "If I had lived in Russia, I would have been making films for Stalin" (the 20 million people murdered by the Stalin regime apparently notwithstanding...). Mother Teresa is a bit different in that outwardly, she seems to exist in a similar state (the only thing most people seem to know about her is that she was some kind of living Saint, indefatigably pious and charitable; however she actually believed that poverty is good for mankind because it brings us closer to Jesus. So, in an important sense, she loved "poverty" as much "the poor" themselves) but inwardly, she was having an intense crisis of faith that shook her to her core; this shows quite a heroic sense of self-reflection. The most interesting question to me, is how could she personally reconcile being so conflicted and doubtful about her faith, while at the same time preaching a constant stream of fanatical Catholic fundamentalist dogma condemning contraception as murder and campaigning for laws against divorce?
Chris: I understand a portion of your research on Mother Teresa came from author Christopher Hitchens. His documentary Hell’s Angel in particular contains many of the quotes that you use in the show and also follows a similar trajectory in how the events are laid out. Hitchens himself is a bit of a controversial figure having written articles about why women aren’t funny unless they are “hefty or dykey or Jewish” and that Barak Obama is not black because he’s not from “the plantation”. There are a plethora of other examples online of Hitchens writing misogynist, racist, and homophobic things. Given these tendencies do you see him as a credible source for information on Mother Teresa and why?
Alistair: I think it is very important not confuse political correctness with correct politics. Hitchens has reported from dozens of war-torn countries and continually risks his own life in order to produce heroic defences of oppressed minorities and victims of tyranny. I would describe Hitchens as one of the great contemporary champions of human dignity and freedoms on the international scene. I had the privilege of sharing a drink with The Hitch when he was in town speaking at the ROM (he drinks double Johnnie Walker Blacks at a much quicker pace than I was able to keep up with...) and I found him to be a man of rigorous morals, a staunch personal ethic committed to overturning of political, social, and religious despotism, a muscular intellect, and wicked (and deeply politically incorrect) sense of humour. Does he have an occasionally troubling demeanour which makes one think of the stuffy smoking room of a particular form of British old-boys-club? Maybe. I appreciate your question because I know there are many people (especially on the left) who find Hitchens to be boorish and mount the same kinds of attacks on him. The claim that he is either a misogynist, a racist, or a homophobe is, for me who has extensively studied his literary output, is simply not so. I would encourage anyone unconvinced to pick up a copy of Hitchens' collected essays "Love Poverty and War" or "For the Sake of Argument" or follow his columns in Vanity Fair and Free Inquiry. As for why Hitchens ought to be trusted as a source on Mother T (and I have to take issue to the idea that my show follows the trajectory of Tariq Ali's documentary too closely...though it's certainly an important influence) I think his greatest strength as a thinker is his ability to, as his friend Salman Rushdie once said when asked for his thoughts on the job of the poet, "name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep". My ex-boyfriend had an issue with my crush on Hitchens though too (and he was extensively lovely as well as being a genius) so I'm always up for a debate on the subject...especially if you happen to be an extensively lovely genius...
Chris: What responsibilities do you think writers have when dealing with historical facts? There are a number of small details about the history of the Catholic Church in this show that were incorrect based on my research. For example, you state that Pope John Paul II canonized more saints than “all other popes combined”, when in fact he canonized more saints than all his predecessors in the five centuries before him, not since the beginning of the Catholic church. You also say that “JP gave us Rocco: patron Saint of Bird Flu”. Saint Rocco (or Saint Roch as he is normally known) was actually canonized in the 17th century not by Pope John Paul II. While these are small details, their presence could lead people to question other information that you present as facts in the show. How do you respond to this?
Alistair: What a delightfully Christopher Hitchens-ish questions...(I live for the dialectic!). Firstly, I take your point, and I appreciate the question. I do value the truth claims I make in all of my work very highly because it is important for the audience to trust the veracity of my arguments and the rigour of my honesty. So, I should point out that when I say that Pope JP made "more Saints then all other Pope's put together" I am excluding the first 800 years of the Catholic Church's history wherein Saints were simply martyrs around whom a personality cult had naturally arisen. According to my research, The Vatican established an official system of Canonization at a later date (though, I take your point that it is surely a bit specious to ignore eight centuries of history...). As for Saint Rocco, as far as I could find, JP declared him the Patron of bird flu in the same way that St Theresa de Lisieux is recognized as the patron Saint of AIDS despite being canonized in the 20s by Pius XI (and, come on be fair now, it's cute line...). I'm not trying to take the Michael Moore position that says if something doesn't fit the argument, cut it, or tweak it, or simply ignore it altogether...that smacks of demagoguery to me (and my number one personal rule is "don't be a demagogue". In truth, I may slip every now and then...). In fact, just the other day I had a vigorous debate about ways to make my shows more emotionally satisfying by slightly altering the facts to make the dialectics more complex and dramatically satisfying. It's likely true that it would make my shows more theatrically successful, but I do care about attempting to get at the truth of any situation I'm investigating. Of course, I am nothing more or less than a flawed, doubtful artist myself with my own personal/perpetual crises of intellect and ethics trying my best to constantly challenge myself to look deeper; at myself and my world. I think it's a worthy endeavour but I'm always open to a dissenting voice...any takers?
The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar
Written and Directed by Alistair Newton
Presented by Ecce Homo
Featuring: Kaitlyn Regehr, Nisha Ahuja, Andrew Bathory, Matthew Boden, Matt Eger, Jason Gaignard, Andrea Kwan, Michelle Langille, Chy Ryan Spain
Presented at The Theatre Centre,
August 6th 4:00pm
August 8th 12:00pm
August 9th 6:00pm
August 11th 8:00pm
August 13th 8:00pm
August 14th 6:00pm
Chris: This show is based on true events. Why was it personally important for you to tell this story in a theatrical form?
Dave: When I first encountered the details of the Larry King murder I was floored. Unable to even think or more or speak. It affected me in such an unexpectedly profound way that I spent all of 2008 constantly wanting to grapple with it in my writing, but unable to because it was so raw and emotional. Ultimately I think my biggest frustration as I continued to look into the case was that no one knew about it. Though it's been called the biggest act of gay-bias hatred since Matthew Shepard's murder in 1998, people gave me blank stares when I talk about it. That reason alone was fuel for a theatrical piece. I've never been an overtly political writer, but this because different - something I simply had to acknowledge and delve into.
Chris: Though there are obviously some imagined details in the script as well, much of it (at least from my cursory Googling) is true to what happened in real life. What do you think are the responsibilities of a writer taking on a subject in this way?
Dave: I've been very cognisant about looking at the realities of the case and have based it all in real time-lines and, people who are directly related to the case, who are referred to, if not ever publicly acknowledged within the press. It's a complicated balance - these are peoples' lives and I really have no business putting words in their mouth, and for the most part have avoided in in the angles I've chosen to examine, but at the same time, when something becomes part of the public discourse, people are going to examine it and dissect it. I think as artists we are responsible to delve into these stories, and be as truthful as we can.
Chris: In addition to the various characters in the piece, you play the central character named “Dave”. How literally is this character you? If it is you, how have you theatricalised yourself in the version you present on stage?
There's a level of theatricality, but only in the sense that it's a heightened version of myself. My own fascination and obsession with Larry King becomes manifest in a more physical way on stage. But every thought and frustration that the character Dave goes through is an absolute reflection of my own in researching this material. Thankfully we don't dive into the often unbearable process of trying to actually shape this piece - no audience needs to see that.
Chris: You play two female characters in this piece: Helen--a school teacher, and Rhonda, a teen-aged girl. Can you talk about performing gender in this piece? How did you approach it? What is the relationship between that and the performance of gender that Larry engaged in at school?
Dave: One thing my director Cameron Mackenzie has been very clear about from the get go is that in the context of the frame of the piece, Dave, the narrator for lack of a better term, is conjuring these characters - we're well aware that Dave is playing all of them, but we're overlaying a shade of each of these people. As far as performing gender, it wasn't much of a consideration, but rather finding the humanity of each character. The difference between Rhonda or Helen and Larry is that Larry's performativity stemmed from a hostile environment that he was responding to. There can be that natural instinct, in an atmosphere that feels unwelcoming, to heighten our "otherness" in order to challenge peoples' discomfort. Helen, too, has a performavity: she's addressing a group of parents/educators, and thus she needs to breathe a lot of her emotion down in order to keep a certain professional demeanour. So to really get to the crux of the question, gender and performance correlate within many of the characters in the piece, but haven't been the overall focus.
Chris: Let’s talk about the form of one-person shows with multiple characters. There’s been so much work produced in this genre. Besides the relative ease and cheapness of producing a show with only one actor, why make this kind of show today? What are you doing with the form that’s new?
Dave: When I first applied to the SummerWorks festival with this show, it wasn't written. I had a few samples and an idea - I, as playwright, wanted to have a conversation with an audience - to talk to them about something I'm passionate about and that I think they will be moved, incensed, provoked by. Though, yes, I do perform a few characters, it's a stark piece that's ultimately about shared experience as human beings. I specifically wanted to be the Passe Muraille backspace, a cupboard of a space, where sixty audience members can breathe and sweat with me. It's an intimate, confined space, which reflects the nature of the show. I've written a solo show before, a number of years ago, and never thought I'd come back to the genre. And in a way, I haven't. Rather, this is me, as an artist, sharing my own experience with something I'm grappling with, and theatricalizing it a bit.
Chris: As I was reading the script I kept thinking about the show travelling to high schools across the country. And plans for a national TYA tour?
Dave: Late last year I spoke with Greenthumb Theatre here in Vancouver about the possibility of writing a show about Larry King. That was long before this piece actually emerged, but I'll probably knock on their door with this to see what they think. Short of that, who knows? Tell your producer friends.
My Funny Valentine
Written by Dave Deveau
Directed by Cameron Mackenzie
Presented by Thirty Below Theatre
Featuring: Dave Deveau
Presented at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue
August 6th 6:00pm
August 8th 6:00pm
August 9th 10:00pm
August 12th 8:00pm
August 13th 10:00pm
August 15th 6:00pm
August 16th 12:00pm Read more!
Chris: Although the show is set in the 1920’s there’s something timeless about the way it addresses the experience of the artist—namely wanting to do something that you’re passionate about but not having enough time to dedicate to it because you’re working so hard to make ends meet. Can you talk a bit about your own experiences of this and how (and if) you manage to balance the two?
Maev: Luck, persevering, a generous and patient family and friends. Waitressing, getting better at writing grants, selling CD's. Diversifying talents, letting the house be messy, courage, discipline, and trying to put aside money when it's feast so that you can survive the famine.
Chris: Have you ever been an artist model before? Why did you decide to do it? or Why have you never done it?
Maev: I have not yet modelled nude, no. I think the honest reason is a combination of never having needed to (it was not a job option I explored) and being too shy/self-conscious. But I would definitely definitely consider it now. In fact, I think it's crucial for us to do at least one session before we do this play again. We have had some wonderful feedback and research from friends/colleagues who have modelled, and have incorporated their insights into the script. I have gone to several life drawing classes, which has proven to be invaluable for playing Amelia - the artist of our protagonists. I was surprised by many things: that I had a visceral, blushing, reaction to the nudity at the beginning but that it disappeared immediately and permanently, that I soon began to see the model as line and shadow and tiny little pieces and then finally I looked at my page and thought "Oh my god! there's a naked lady on my paper!" I had a deep respect for the models and their professionalism, grace and stamina.
Chris: In some of the press material the show is described as “erotic”. What does that mean, exactly? Are you expecting/encouraging people to be turned on by the work?
Maev: Short answer? Yes.
Longer answer? We are looking at the tensions/complexities of this unique profession. At this time in history - Paris was an unbelievably sexually open place. Almost freer than any place we can think of today. There was a restaurant where you could get an omelette cooked to order and then eat it off a naked woman's stomach. Not a seedy, backroom club. A restaurant, like Susur. Orgies, threesomes, trading partners, artist's balls with hundreds of naked revellers out on the streets. It was also a mecca for queer culture. For gay men certainly, but apparently it was a uniquely vibrant milieu for lesbians. A safe place.
The art model was a women who was neither wife, nor prostitute, nor showgirl, whose job it was to take her clothes off in front of men. Sometimes it was just a job, sometimes it became a romantic relationship, or led to consensual sex, sometimes it was a famous Muse/Artist team, sometimes it led to harassment and rape. One of our profound inspirations is Anais Nin's erotic accounts of art models in Delta of Venus. Have you read them? HOT.
We're playing with/looking at nakedness vs sexiness vs aesthetic artiness vs seduction vs nudity. In one scene of seduction I am fully clothed, another scene about boredom and the frustration of a "Joe-job" I am completely naked.
There have been times in the greatest galleries of the world (Tate, Louvre) where I have stood in a room with many people looking very serious and academically at a whole bunch of naked women and it makes me laugh. Yes, the paintings are gorgeous, important, glorious - but are we all pretending it's fruit-bowls and landscapes? There are naked women everywhere! Bushes! Boobs! It's wonderful. But who are these women? Their names? We, and thousands of others, can call her naked body to mind in a Modigliani or a Picasso, but few know her name.
Chris: As I was reading the script I kept thinking about the poster campaign created by the Guerilla Girls art collective in 1989 that addressed the Metropolitan Museum’s simultaneous over-representation of female nudes and under-representation of female artists. Let’s talk about the experience of being a female artist in the world today. What has improved and what concerns still need to be addressed?
Maev: It's funny you mention that Chris, because someone brought in one of those postcards to show us while we were workshopping at Tarragon. (I think it was Waneta Storms?) It was definitely an inspiration for Amelia's journey. I was at the AGO last week with my mother and had a particular eye to the representation of the woman artist. There is one room in particular on the first floor that is themed around 'women as muse, model and artist'. I really wanted to leave a couple of postcards for our show in there, but my mom wouldn't let me. I would be lying if I said I have done enough research about the contemporary plight of the woman artist. But I have noticed an effort made in my travels to Paris, London and here too. My mother and I had an interesting talk, in fact. There is a room at the AGO dedicated to "feminism in art". It's a small room with some really neat work in it. There are several pieces that are obviously addressing issues to do with being a woman specifically. But there are also a few that, as my mother pointed out, deal with violence and war in a non-gendered context. Why, she asked, are these pieces in a room about feminism? They are political, yes, but universal and perhaps should be in a room where they are seen in a universal context (ha - I just realized I said they are universal but they both use text - in English - to get their point across. So how universal is that? Not very). So - this makes me ask - are female artists still being seen as "female" artists? With their own rooms and subject heading? I don't know. But speaking of female artists - there is an really fabulous exhibition at the AGO right now that everyone should go enjoy:
Sarah Anne Johnson: House on Fire
Angelika Hoerle: The Comet of Cologne Dada
Written by Maev Beaty and Erin Shields
Director/Dramaturg: Andrea Donaldson
Presented by Sheep No Wool Theatre Company
Featuring: Maev Beaty, Erin Shields
Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace,
August 6th 10:30pm
August 8th 6:30pm
August 9th 4:30pm
August 12th 8:30pm
August 14th 6:30pm
August 16th 2:30pm Read more!
36 Little Plays About Hopeless Girls
Written and Directed by Aurora Stewart de Peña
Presented by Birdtown and Swanville
Featuring: Rebecca Applebaum, Lauren Bride, Jolene De Voe, Sochi Fried, Cara Gee, Julia Lederer, Donna Maloney, Laura McCoy, Nika Mistruzzi, Monique Moses, Liz Peterson, Aurora Stewart de Peña, and Nicole Stamp.
Presented at Bread and Circus. 299 August Avenue
Wednesday July 15th midnight
Friday July 17th at 6:30pm
Writer/director Aurora Stewart de Peña's 36 Little Plays About Hopeless Girls is about additive sadness and small choices that appear hardly to be choices at all. If you’re a person, you’ll probably like it. Instead of landing on the planet of sadness, 36 Little Plays stays in orbit above its thematic centre. It keeps lightly to the clouds, but its endless flight, while not exposing the interior, surveys much of the dark territory below.
At times the writing is biting and familiar, at other times it sounds like bad TV and in rare (quite rare) moments it actually is really, really bad. Like most popular satire, it only ever fails when it betrays how it secretly endorses or even craves the power it means to ridicule. Stewart de Peña deserves real credit for both noticing and trying to resolve this problem. Her solution: applying the principle of excess. Like most principles it would work better if it were more rigorously upheld in the quality of the performance – the changing state of the performer’s bodies, for instance – but it’s still a sound conceptual solution.
So the show is piled on methodically: a voice-over is followed by a scene, followed by a dance which is followed by another voice-over and in every situation the performers (almost too many to keep track of) seem to have been left to determine the style of the show entirely on their own. The clash of their idiomatic verdicts, which range from the melodramatic to the fearful, the trembling, the all-to-real, and the awkward, are what deliver the essential conflict of the show: not only do the people in this play not know how to solve their problems, they don’t even know how to be in their problems.
In the final moments, the hopeless girls are sleeping like abused domestics in some Dickensian hell, and one dreams of a creature entirely unlike her who comes from another world. It just so happens to be the same person as the only multi-cast performer in the show who’s also played the singing orphan, the bisexual, the pretentious artist, the one who smells bad, the one who is perpetually abused and excluded from the world the rest of the characters inhabit . It’s a gesture towards a possible reconciliation of difference, maybe even the emergence of self-awareness. It seems unlikely though, that the girls will be able to escape the crushing gravity of their own girlhood.
Is it worth mentioning the many similarities between this play and the text of Rainer Fassbinder’s 1971 play Blood On The Cat’s Neck in which a beautiful extraterrestrial woman-creature, (a blonde model look-alike) appears in the midst of a group of grimy, post-war West Germans? (I wasn’t born in time to see Blood On The Cat’s Neck, but this only makes the similarities even more eerie.) Needless to say, when Fassbinder’s hopeless girls and boys end their evening together, they really end it. His English translator Denis Calandra paraphrases Fassbinder’s preliminary notes from a film of the same period thus: ‘Fassbinder said he wanted to allow his audience, without any help from him, to make the choice between a short, fulfilled life, or a longer existence, which would for the most part be “alienated” and “lived outside a fully conscious state.’
Given the rest of the work, the sudden, ambiguous optimism at the end of 36 Little Plays rings uncomfortably like something written as if reassure the people whose lives it’s just been so methodically dissecting, namely: us; the performers; the playwright. This can be diagnosed as a structural problem: the play trades on a classical form but it cuts off at the climax. True to itself, the play offers anything but an obvious ending. But for ourselves, and of the creator, we can’t help wonder: if not a classical conclusion, what, exactly, happens next? Read more!