Theatre Notes

Pause for effect

Pause • Azimuth Theatre • Oct 15-31
• preVUE
Despite the title of their new one-man play Pause, the
Etcetera Theatre Collective has been labouring on it pretty much
nonstop—in fact, the version of Pause that kicks off Azimuth
Theatre’s 2004/2005 season this Friday is the fourth incarnation the
play has been through since January.

“We’ve done a 20-minute version of the play three times before this
one,” explains actor Aaron Talbot, who created the show along with director
Barbra French and dramaturg Heather Fitzsimmons Frey. “We did it once as part
of ‘Solo Snippets’ at the Mutton Busting Festival in Calgary,
which is part of the Solocentric Festival, which I think is an offshoot of
the High Performance Rodeo—they’ve got about four of five
festivals running at once there, so I’m actually not exactly sure how
it all fits together. Anyway, we did it again at our own Threshold event.
That version was much goofier and much more audience-friendly. [NextFest
artistic director] Steve Pirot saw that version and invited us to do it as
part of ‘Sololiloquies’ at NextFest, and then [Azimuth artistic
director] Chris Craddock saw that version and asked us to open the Azimuth
season with it. So it’s been an unusual opportunity to develop a work
in progress in front of people, in front of a whole series of

The script has now nearly tripled in length to 70 minutes, but Talbot thinks
that at the same time, they’ve been able to bring the play’s
themes into sharper focus. “It’s always been about redemption,” he
says. “But in the original version, it was about a man killing the audience
in order for them to change how they perceived the society we’ve built
and the world we’ve created around us. The current version is more
about a man’s personal redemption; he’s not trying to force
people to change their views this time. He used to be just a madman, but
we’ve changed him into a chemist who believes he’s discovered a
new chemical that will change how we deal with stress and how we’ll
continue to evolve as a race. But you soon realize that the character is
locked inside a dream, and so as the play goes on and he falls into different
dreams, you understand more and more about who this person is and what
he’s trying to redeem about himself.”

Talbot received a conventional actor’s training at the U of A’s
B.F.A. acting program, but since graduating, he’s been drawn to shows
that blended acting, dance and physical theatre—shows like Amber
Borotsik’s Porchclimber or Tanya Marquardt’s Nocturne, a
prismatic look at composer Frédéric Chopin. It ought to tell
you something about Talbot’s fondness for experimentation when the
oddball 2001 Fringe hit IncoheRANT is the most conventional show on his
résumé. And with Etcetera, he seems to have found an ideal set
of collaborators. “I love the idea of doing my own work,” he says, “but
I’m not a playwright. My best work happens in the moment, onstage, and
I need someone like Barbra to say, ‘There’s something there;
let’s explore it.’ It’s very much based in what you could
call ‘prepared improv.’

“With this style of theatre,” he continues, “I think a lot of people get
really involved in what the meaning of it is. And meaning is important, but
I’ve always thought the true litmus test of whether theatre is
effective is whether it’s meaningful to you. Do you know what I mean?
If you feel something, if there’s an emotional pull, even if you
don’t understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling,
then I think it’s worthwhile.”


Medieval feast

Die-Nasty! • Varscona Theatre • Monday nights from Oct 18-May
30 (8pm) • preVUE
There was no shortage of ideas as some of
Edmonton’s most venerable improvisers assembled in the basement of the
Varscona Theatre last month to figure out where the upcoming season of
Die-Nasty! would be set. Past seasons have taken place everywhere from the
Old West to the Dark Ages to Jane Austen-era England; last year’s
storylines played out against the Sirkian backdrop of 1950s suburbia, and the
year before that, everything happened in outer space. “We covered a whole
chalkboard with ideas this time,” says Sheri Somerville, the honey-voiced
jazz and classical singer who’s carved out an unexpected part-time
career for herself as an improviser. “Someone suggested the circus, or a
traveling freakshow, someone said a biker family, someone said 1920s/1930s
Berlin, someone else suggested cavemen, sort of a Flintstones kind of thing.
But it was the idea of setting everything in a medieval castle that really
got people jumping around with excitement.”

Actually, I’m kind of sad they didn’t go with the freakshow idea,
but Somerville patiently explains to me why a medieval royal family is a
better Die-Nasty! milieu. “First of all,” she says, “it gives us such a
different look from last season, with the ’50s setting. And we find
that Die-Nasty! just tends to work best when it deals with everyday dilemmas.
So the idea of a family in a castle just gives us the right dynamics for
drama—the sniping, the family wanting to subdue gossip, the marriages
not quite working out. A season seems to give us just the right amount of
time to resolve those kinds of storylines—to watch a marriage fall
apart or a long-simmering relationship to be consummated.”

Somerville’s most important task is already completed: going to Value
Village and picking out her costume. “All I knew,” she says, “was that after
the last couple of seasons, I wanted to wear nice clothes for a change, so I
asked [director] Dana Andersen to make me a lady or a duchess or something
like that. I haven’t picked out a name yet, though—I’ll
probably leave that up to Dana. Or maybe I’ll ask Leona
Brausen—she’s good at thinking up names. She’s already
decided to call herself ‘Lady Remington.’” V

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