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!