Clockwise, from bottom left: Brenda Robins, Clare Coulter, Maria Vacratsis & Kyra Harper. Set & costume design by Teresa Przybylski. Lighting design by Jennifer Lennon. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Soulpepper and Necessary Angel, with an all-female cast and production team, take us to the edge of calamity—in a suburban backyard where four 70-something neighbours chat over tea before the impending apocalypse—with the Canadian premiere of Caryl Churchill’s surreal, intimate and unsettling Escaped Alone, directed by Jennifer Tarver and running at the Young Centre.
Gathered in a backyard, Mrs. Jarrett (Clare Coulter), Vi (Brenda Robins), Lena (Kyra Harper) and Sally (Maria Vacratsis) share gossip, memories and catch up. There are children and grandchildren to update about, and changes to the landscape of local shops to recall and relay—especially for Vi, who’s been away for six years. And amidst the candid and intimate conversation, where one can finish another’s sentence and the short-hand is such that sentences sometimes don’t even need to be finished, each woman breaks out to share her inner world. Her fears, her regrets, her reminiscences.
It is in these moments that we see another side of these otherwise sociable, animated women. Mrs. Jarrett is a walking, talking 21st century Book of Revelations, in which the everyday and the terrifying combine in an absurd, horrific and dark-humoured alchemy. Vi, a hairdresser by trade, may or may not have killed her husband in self-defence; and, while Sally acknowledges the complexity of their situation, she has a different take on that fateful moment. Sally struggles with her own demons: her efficacy in her career as a health care professional and her fear of cats. And the sensitive Lena looks back on her life as an office worker with mixed feelings of vague, wistful regret and amazement at time flown by.
Told through a collage of conversation, memory, musings and peaks into these women’s interior lives, the mundanity and complexity of everyday life—juxtaposed with the absurdity of meeting over tea in the face of impending catastrophe—is both darkly funny and chilling. The uncertainty of what comes next—whether it’s impending calamity threatening the world at large or the aging mind in a life of transition—while these four women are gathered together in friendship, each faces her mortality alone.
Compelling, sharply drawn work from the ensemble, from Coulter’s grouchy, pragmatic Mrs. Jarrett; to Robins’ edgy, irreverent Vi; Harper’s nervous, child-like Lena; and Vacratsis’ earnest, uneasy Sally. Teresa Przybylski’s minimalist set combines four ordinary, but different, chairs with hundreds of white paper birds, frozen in murmuration, suspended above; and is nicely complemented by Verne Good’s understated, haunting sound design. The effect is magical, disturbing and ultimately theatrical.
Escaped Alone continues at the Young Centre until November 25. Get advance tickets online or call the box office: 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.
“There are a great deal of opportunities within the Toronto theatre community for mentorship and the development of artists but The RISER Project is unique in that it creates a rare opportunity for companies and artists to be mentored through production …this model empowers artists to find their voice and not rely on curation or abstract training.” – Ravi Jain, Artistic Director at Why Not Theatre
In 2014, Why Not Theatre created an exciting new theatre production model, aimed at providing support to small companies, and provide greater access and opportunity for artists. In partnership with senior theatre companies, and the support of the Toronto Arts Council and Canadian Heritage, the RISER Project provides mentorship, space and technical tools – this year, culminating in the performances of four Canadian productions at the Theatre Centre in April and May. I had the opportunity to ask Why Not Theatre A.D. Ravi Jain about the RISER Project and the 2015 program:
LWMC: Hi, Ravi. Thanks for taking some time from what I’m sure is a very busy and exciting schedule to talk about the RISER Project. During the two years leading up to the creation of the RISER Project, Why Not Theatre had been exploring and searching for a model to support and mentor independent theatre productions. What can you tell us about the genesis of this particular (RISER Project) model?
RJ: The genesis of the model came out of my time as the Artistic Director in Residence at the Theatre Centre. It was a position that Franco Boni created at the theatre to allow me the experience of running an arts institution in Toronto. There we had many discussions about the Theatre Centre’s residency program, which offers 2-3 years of support for artists to develop a new show from the first moments of the idea all the way through to production. My feeling was that there were many opportunities for long-term development, but not many opportunities to put on work. As an artist, it is difficult to have people see your work, as opportunities are limited, so the question was: How can someone see my work, in order to get the reputation to be offered a long term residency? I am also a resident artist at Soulpepper, and one of the brilliant things that they do is run shows in rep. The rep system saves a great deal of money by using space very efficiently. So in our first year, we created a model where three companies shared a space for six weeks and ran their shows in rep… and then the Riser was born.
RJ: In our first year, we partnered with Theatre Smith Gilmour, who played an important role in the development of the model. We brought them on board for two key reasons: mentorship and investment. Being a senior company, they have over 40 years of experience in creating and devising work – their expertise was ideal for the shows we were presenting at the time. Also, because of funding structures, senior companies receive the most amounts of operating funds at all the council levels. A main focus of the model is encouraging these senior companies with the funds to invest the money to companies with no structure or funds, thus creating an interdependent community (moving away from independent). So, for this year, we wanted to try and expand the partnerships and encourage other companies to get on board. The added bonus for the artists involved, and our hope is, that these senior companies may pick up the shows in order to give them future life in an upcoming season.
LWMC: The 2015 RISER Project production series includes four theatre companies, including three world premieres: Quote Unquote Collective’s Mouthpiece, The Little Death Collective’s Little Death, Pandemic Theatre’s Mahmoud and Bad New Days Performing Arts’ Paolozzapedia – An auto-fictional-biography. How did these companies/productions come to be a part of the RISER Project?
RJ: These companies were selected because of their needs and their ability to be flexible within the model we are creating. We are in our second year, so there are still kinks we are trying to sort out – so these are people who are able to help us figure out how this all works and more importantly, roll with the punches. In the future, next year, we will be putting out an open call in order to open up this opportunity to more artists.
LWMC: What do you hope the participating partners and theatre companies will take away from the 2015 RISER Project?
RJ: I want people to understand that we can be even bolder as a community and work in a more collaborative way. Resources are scarce and there are A LOT of inefficiencies in spending, so we have to be diligent and more critical of ourselves as to how we are spending that money. This model really is designed in such a way that everyone wins, and the winning happens because of strategic, smart investments. It’s a model that is seen in many other sectors and one with a proven track record. It’s about building a supportive community.
LWMC: And what about the audience?
RJ: They will see great shows. They will see great shows at an accessible price.
LWMC: Where does the RISER Project go from here? Do you envision an annual production event, several throughout the year …?
RJ: We will be doing another next year, fingers crossed, with six or seven companies/artists’ projects… stay tuned for our open call.
All RISER Project performances will take place at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St W) and will feature two performances in succession every night. The 2015 program includes four Canadian plays, with three premieres:
Mouthpiece(April 17 – May 3)
Company: Quote Unquote Collective
Created and performed by: Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava
Music composed by: Amy Nostbakken
A world premiere, Mouthpiece takes us on a one-day journey of a woman trying to find her voice – using a combination of “a cappella harmony, dissonance, text and a range of physicality including dance and physical storytelling.”
Little Death (April 17 – May 3)
Company: The Little Death Collective
Written by: Daniel Karasik
Directed by: Zachary Florence
Performed by: Shauna Black, Sarah Dodd, Kate Hennig, Christopher Stanton, Nicole Underhay and Elizabeth Tanner
In another world premiere, a man who might be dying goes in search of sex and connection in hotel bars – this with the permission of his conflicted wife. Little Death “asks fundamental questions about marriage, fidelity, and the intimate needs of men and women.”
Mahmoud (May 14 – 24 with preview May 13)
Company: Pandemic Theatre
Co-written and performed by: Tara Grammy
Co-written and directed by: Tom Arthur Davis and Tara Grammy
The lives of an Iranian engineer turned taxi driver, a gay Spanish perfume salesman and an Iranian Canadian pre-teen converge in this one-woman show. “…Their experiences with racism, sexism, homophobia, political structures and everything in between become intertwined in unexpected ways, taking an exacting look at the ways diasporic populations deal with instability in their country of origin and the personhood they have in their new homes.”
Paolozzapedia – An auto-fictional-biography (May 14 – 24 with preview May 13)
Company: Bad New Days Performing Arts
Written and directed by: Adam Paolozza and Daniele Bartolini Featuring: Adam Paolozza
A world premiere of a one-man autobiography experiment finds Paolozza mining his Italian family history to present his journey with storytelling, imagery, music and memories. “How is it that one feels homesick for a place that was never one’s home?”