When A Camera Is Not A Phone But Theatre Is TheatreThursday, September 16, 2010
Last night Rosemary and I attended the opening night performance of Tear the Curtain! at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. It is an Arts Club Theatre Company production presented in association with Electric Company Theatre. By Electric Company’s Jonathon Young (in fourth photo below with Jonathon Young) & Kevin Kerr (third photo from top) Created with and directed by Kim Collier (first photo, top left).
The credits are almost ambiguous to those who might not know of the tight and extraordinary relationship of the trio involved.
By the very fact that I am not a bona fide theatre critic and this is but by humble blog I do not have to stick to the parameters of normality that surely, to some extent, the three theatre critics that I spotted in the audience, Peter Birnie, Jerry Wasserman, and Jo Ledingham must follow. If it is a theatre review you seek then stick to reading the Vancouver Sun, The Vancouver Courier, Jerry Wasserman’s theatre blog and Colin Thomas at the Straight (I did not see him in the audience but surely he must have been in attendance).
My journey into the kind of challenging theatre that I witnessed last night began when my parents took me to a theatre-in-the-round production (and in Spanish) of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo Galilei in Buenos Aires when I was 8 or 9. Perhaps they could not find a baby sitter!
A further challenge to my senses occurred in 1968 when Rosemary and I attended a Mexican Cultural Olympics event called La Linterna Mágica (Laterna Magika) which was brought from Prague. Most of it is a blur but I do remember a roller skater skating through the projected streets of Prague behind him. La Linterna Mágica was a favourite of the Mexican audience. Whenever I see that crazy film featuring Lauren and Hardy driving through traffic and avoiding crashing into trams I realize that the magic lantern technique has been with us since candle light was harnessed to efficient projectors.
The blending of film (projected onto the sets or to a screen), the mixing, with live action, last night was as perfect as I have ever seen. A live action wide-scene might, as an example become a tight projecion. The quality of the film part of the play was first rate. Kudos to the Arts Club and Bill Millerd for taking the chance and perhaps helping fund what must be an incredibly expensive joint venture.
The play itself was so Borgesian in its serpentine flow that the only fact I can assert I saw, heard, felt and agreed with is when actor Jonathon Young, the house lights were turned on, spotlights disappeared, projections were squelched, said to us, “We are here. We are all here.”
The play could have happily ended there for me. But it didn’t. The resolution was as complex as everything else. As I left, exhausted, I realized that the most troubling event in the play was not the play itself.
There were three men and one woman sitting in front of me. Two of them had ties with the island of Malta. All four were thumbing at their iPhones. The otherwise grotesque (in past years) was not commonplace, almost funny. My ability to absorb the confusion, the constant challenging of my senses on what was real and what was not, was easy in comparison to my amazement in watching the choreography of thumbs. They reminded me of the dancing showers (in harmony to schmaltzy music ever changing colours) that used to flow to the left and to the right before some film productions in big cinemas of yore.
My blog yesterday was about a phone not being a phone but that a camera, in spite of all the digital advancements is still a camera. This was all reinforced by a cheeky Nikon ad I saw in the cheesy journal, Galerie (the official publication of Professional Photographers of Canada/Photographes Professionnels du Canada of which I am not a member).
As I left the Stanley I wondered if what I had just experienced was theatre. By all the definitions that I have been able to find, Tear the Curtain is fine theatre. It is demanding theatre. It is complex theatre. It is theatre.
As I left the Stanley I thought of my first exposure to the Electric Company Theatre trio of Jonathon Young, Kim Collier and Kevin Kerr. It was in 2001.
With the help of David Hudgins and actor/playwright/director Carmen Aguirre they brought to the stage an adaptation of Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and her Two Husbands.
My Argentine artist friends, Juan Manuel Sanchez, Nora Patrich and I were approached to produce photographs and illustrations that would hang on opening night (but could and would be used to promote the play with the media) that would feature the cast of three. They posed for me clothed and unclothed. This play (at the Cultch) began an era (pioneered if you think about it by the Cultch) that featured not a glimpse or a blur but a continuous, dangling and swinging male sexual appendage throughout the length of the play. It led to such Cultch productions as the 120 Songs of the Marquis de Sade where such an appendage flashed by my face a mere foot away when I sat in the front row back in November of 2002.
I see in the Electric Company Theatre a trend in complexity that follows the similar trends in phones that are no longer phones, monitors that are TVs and inversely TVs that become monitors. I do not think that there is any fear that the Electric Company Theatre will ever produce such equivalent duds as the toaster/FM-Am radio combination I once saw at London Drugs.
Further plays by the Electric Company Theatre included experimental plays inside industrial warehouses or plays that began to include projected film such as Sartre’s No Exit and the wonderful Studies in Motion – The Hauntings of Eadward Muybridge. The latter production (which I saw three times) featured choreographed movement (even the curtain going up and down) by choreographer/dancer Crystal Pite.
My friend Christopher Dafoe the former arts writer for the Globe & Mail wrote to me this morning:
Looks like I guessed right when I suggested that EC's would scale back to the bare bones for their next piece, just as Springsteen did with Nebraska. If you look in the square flyer they gave out last night you'll find the following description of All The Way Home, a show that is described as being "in development":
Electric Company goes "unplugged" with an immersive, low-fi interpretation of a Pulitzer prize-winning story...All the Way Home is built with so many universal truths that there is little room for anything else, without any definition between stage and audience, the performances in this intimate venue are constantly close up.
This might suggest that the Electric Company Theatre, as Vancouver’s premier theatre of the avant-garde will keep unbalancing and challenging (all for the better of the theatrical health of our city) other theatre companies. The possibility that Vancouver will ever see a new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest is slim.
I had a look at the program for Dona Flor and her Two Husbands in my photo files and I spotted a name:
Workshop Dramaturge: Bill Dow
Judging by the production of the Little Mountain Studio of David Mamet’s play Glengary Glenn Ross which I saw in November 2008 and which featured Bill Dow as Shelley “The Machine” Levene I can understand that as good as Tear the Curtain is and how its multiple elements seduced me last night I can look forward to more good theatre in Vancouver and for a change, theatre that will be plain theatre.
If it involves the Electric Company Theatre you can be sure that that trio will find some way of making the immersive, the unplugged and the low-fi especially so.
I was especially charmed that in Tear the Curtain there was a connection with Lillian Gish. There is a connection between Lillian Gish that has especially charmed me as it involves my granddaughter Rebecca.