I don’t want to bore you any longer with how awesome I think the Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival is. You can read my preview of the first weekend of the 2015 festival here, and my reviews of past festivals here, here, and here. Instead, I’m going to throw these five, brand-new, twenty-minute theatre fillets straight on the grill and see what’s cooking.
Bee/see/together written and performed by Karen Balcome and Kara Nolte
This show tried some incredibly interesting things by playing with stagecraft and questioning how we traditionally watch and receive performance. To be quite frank, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this show until I sat down to write this review and really contemplated about what the performers might be trying to do to me as a spectator. First, I started at the end of the piece or, rather, my frustration at the lack of ending, as it were.
My immediate, and very selfish, thought was, “why would these performers rob me of my opportunity to applaud?”. I went back further in the performance to search for more links: to the lone dance sequence accompanied by a shallow story about a nail salon in Alberta; even further to the mid-show talk-back with the performers providing no straight answers (or even answers at all); and finally back to the beginning of the show that kicks off with, what we are lead to believe (and this is important) is, an unplanned ringing cell phone. The ways in which the performers try to thwart the spectator’s attempt at creating any kind of meaning throughout the twenty minutes are admirable, though I am not certain that their choices (i.e. using handheld lighting devices around the audience or encouraging a steadily drinking audience to chat amongst themselves then revert focus back to the stage) always work in their favour.
Train Compartment presented by Disposable Theatre; written and performed by Mike Kosowan and Joel Garrow, directed by Adam Zimmerman
Any time the fellows at Grimprov get on stage to do something other than showcase their stellar improvisational skills, I get excited. In this case Train Compartment revolves around “two clowns attached as a chain gang” as they “struggle to keep their silliness a secret while riding a train”. Kosowan and Garrow have good chemistry and natural comedic instincts on stage, however, this show is still a bit rough around the edges.
The pre-recorded sound clips are well done and certainly add to the scene but the clowning itself is a little messy which ultimately causes the narrative to drop on a few occasions. Director Adam Zimmerman’s staging could use some cleaning up as the piece sometimes feels like a loose cannon ball in that it traverses from one extreme to the next (e.g. a dual suicide to biting off one’s own foot) and is never sure of where it’s supposed to end up. While it definitely drew some laughs from the audience, I think Train Compartment could sorely benefit from some more rehearsal time.
Stephen and Me presented by Egodeath; created and performed by Norah Paton in collaboration with Cory Thibert
Can we do something about getting Norah Paton a YouTube channel where she just explains political matters to us plebeians because I have never been more interested in hearing more about the Liberal sponsorship scandal of ’96 until I saw Stephen and Me. To be honest, the best part about this piece is that its political nature is only the surface. Underneath there is a rich exploration of how female sexuality develops and how your very first sexual awakening imprints itself in the human psyche as one continues to grow. The projections and video are equally impressive and hilarious as they present us with different clips from famous romance films juxtaposed with footage of Paton touring around (and by ‘touring around’ I mean ‘frolicking around and fondling’) the Parliament grounds with a most rapturous look on her face.
Stephen and Me, however, comes as a bit of a double edged sword. While its timeliness gives the piece an added and much more heightened significance just days before the big vote (“Vote for love! Vote for Stephen and me!”), come Tuesday morning the piece stands to lose all relevance. That being said, when I posed this conundrum to Paton she agreed but stated that it was not her express intention to remount this show post-#elxn42; though, depending on Monday’s results, it is not unreasonable (albeit terrifying) to think that we might see Stephen and Me pop up again next election.
Joseph and Amarise presented by Resounding Scream Theatre; Adapted and Directed by Catherine Ballachey; Performed by Chandel Gambles, Jake William Smith, Alain Chauvin and Danielle Savoie
Based on the real life chat transcripts of Jessica Dunfield, Joseph and Amarise is a play that delves briefly into the lives of two teenagers who explore their budding sexualities and raging hormones in a digital chatroom of sorts. The advent of the internet and subsequently chatrooms presented teens growing up in the late 90s to early 00s with a relatively non-threating way to really start digging into what it means to be a sexual being and a means to learn how to interact with others in a romantic and/or intimate manner without having to suffer the potential extreme social awkwardness of courting someone face to face. It opened up so many doors for experimentation in this sense but, admittedly, also lead to some pretty nefarious incidences that, in turn, became responsible for the concept we now call “internet safety”. All this being said, however, I think there are still a lot of people who look back on their chatroom experiences with humour if not with a little chagrin.
The staging of this piece is particularly clever and Ballachey uses the four person ensemble to her advantage. The young lovers (played by Chauvin and Savoie) are the co-authors of a fantasy (see: Vampire) role-playing story that is then acted out by Smith and Gambles, who play the title characters Amarise and Joseph (respectively). The teens take turns moving and moulding “their characters” on stage arguing about what direction the story should take next, and in a few moments we see them become the very backdrop of the scene itself, holding props and set pieces, suggesting that the two are not only interested in creating figures but a whole fictional universe. We watch as Joseph and Amarise become less and less important as the relationship between the adolescents continues to grow until the vampire story is all but forgotten about.
What is most enjoyable about this show, I think, is that despite the fact that both characters are only fourteen years old, Chauvin and Savoie both embody and portray them with a maturity that maintains the figures’ relatability in the sense that spectators who are not fourteen (see: most of, if not all of, the FM demographic) can still identify with both the feelings and the experience that these two young individuals are undergoing throughout the piece. Further, I don’t think you could have cast two better actors than Gambles and Smith to dramatize the romantic imaginings of youngsters. This show is equal parts hilarious, well-acted, and thoughtfully staged and its contemporaneity makes Joseph and Amarise a real winner.
Mr. Eff created and performed by Jesse Buck with dramaturgy by Allen Michael Brunet
Reading Mr. Buck’s bio in the festival program is a little overwhelming: What is a Philippe Gaulier trained perfomer, who’s toured almost five years with Cirque du Soliel’s Alegria as a principal Clown, doing at the Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival? Does his inclusion in the festival perhaps take a platform away from a local theatre company/artist who may not have been so lucky yet to have “almost twenty-five years of performing experience in more than twenty-five countries”? These are important questions to ask a steadily growing curated festival (with a mandate to support local and independent theatre artists) that is garnering more and more notice each year.
I will still argue that having Buck in Fresh Meat 4 lends the festival more legitimacy than ever. Given his extensive experience working with other professional companies (such as Cirque, A Company of Fools and Odyssey Theatre etc) and the artistic and Equity structures that come along with working at a professional level, it is easy to understand a desire to want to create and experiment in a more underground and independent scene. To top it all off, Mr. Eff is a fantastically grotesque piece of work that gives the audience a little taste of Buck’s bouffon style.
Although the playing space could benefit from having some more depth, Buck manages to fill the stage completely with a number of cartoonish props and set pieces that serve to colour Mr. Eff’s hysterical delusions. Each piece that’s utilized has something exciting about it (whether it is transformed or how it’s used on stage) which generates a certain anticipation within the audience. The video projections-despite a few small technical difficulties- are also very good and it is amusing, to say the least, to watch Buck interact with the animations on the screen during his “absurdist interlude” (“Damn you, Josh Brolin!!”).
Overall, this show is fun and exciting. Buck as an experienced performer adds yet another flavour to the Fresh Meat Festival that looks to support local independent artists in their experimental creative ventures. As an independent working artist, Jesse Buck’s Mr. Eff fits in just fine.
What can you expect from Weekend 2?
Overall, I was incredibly pleased leaving the Arts Court Studio Lobby Friday night. Whereas, in past years, I have only been able to pick out two or three works out of the entire programming that really turned my crank, it was a great surprise to have three solid pieces come out of the first weekend with much anticipation leading into the second weekend. That being said, the other two pieces in this particular roster are still so chock-full of potential that with some more rehearsing they have the ability to develop into something special.
So, what does that mean for weekend two? Well, I can tell you already that my excitement and enthusiasm is running on high and my expectations have certainly been set by the artists in this first weekend. Again, the programming for the second weekend appears to be just as strong and just as varied stylistically. You should expect to see some more familiar faces from past festivals.
THUNK! Theatre is back again with a new piece entitled Tolerance or THUNK!theatre Explains why It Is Important to be Kind to Every Fucking Thing on This Planet, which makes me wonder if there has ever been a Fresh Meat Festival without this company? The description in the program states that this piece will be performed by “everyone, and [they] me [sic] everyone in the goddamn audience!” and so I am interested to see how people in the audience react to this when traditionally most theatre goers are split down the middle when it comes to audience participation. How will the piece work if people decide not to participate and, conversely, how will they deal with individuals who might immerse themselves too fully?
Chris Hannay and Leslie Cserepy are looking to change your preconceptions about what improv is supposed to look like with their show Slow Burn. As it is a piece that is “written and directed as it is performed”, Hannay and Cserepy will be attempting a sort of improvisational realism that endeavours to hook the spectator’s emotional faculties rather than playing for laughs. The challenge will be in maintaining tensions and stakes while at the same time creating substantial character development.
Festival Media and Marketing Manager, Madeleine Hall, makes her second appearance at a Fresh Meat only this time without the red nose or co-star. Ethel is described as being a solo show about the “peculiarities of life, death, and time” and is also Hall’s “first foray into creating with words”. Hall was absolutely delightful in Fresh Meat 3’s Hannah & George (presented in co-creation with Strange Visitations) that eventually expanded into a relatively successful Fringe show this past summer. I look forward to seeing Hall taking on some heavier material.
Yet another familiar face takes the stage at Fresh Meat 4 in the form of Megan Carty and Cart Before the Horse with Mise-en-Abyme. I first took notice of Carty during Fresh Meat 3 with her piece Me and My Monster and how she moves on stage. Carty has great physicality as a performer (I believe she has some formal dance training under her belt if I recall correctly) and I am hoping that this newest piece will emphasize this aspect. It also features a live musical score- something we have not yet seen at a Fresh Meat Festival.
Last but certainly not least, two of the few newcomers to the Festival, Elise Gauthier and Alex Zabloski of Filament Theatre present Pan-dora. You may have seen these two performers towering over you as part of the Ottawa Stilt Union, but this coming weekend they will be trying to “discover what lurks inside Pandora’s box”. As a former classics major, I am a bit of a sucker for Greek mythology but having missed Gauthier’s sold out L’Ariagnee at the 2014 Ottawa Fringe has peaked my interest in this performance even more so.
If you are still (for some reason) on the fence about attending the fourth annual Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival, I’m not sure what else to tell you. You, as the spectator, are given a rare opportunity to view and analyse brand new work from local emerging/independent artists. The intimate and socially driven nature of how the nights are structured allows you to approach the artists directly and encourages meaningful dialogue about the work being presented on stage. Since the artists are showcasing pieces that are still in development there is a demand (or a hunger) for discourse. You could play a crucial role in the creation processes of these pieces that have historically gone on to find success in larger arenas such as Ottawa Fringe, Undercurrents and NAC’s Fourth Stage. What other theatre festival in Ottawa gives the spectator that same power?
The Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival Weekend #2 runs October 22nd-24th
Ticket and scheduling info can be found here.