Long overdue, an interview, &c.

Well folks, I know this post is long overdue. The brisance of Toronto Fringe Festival has given way to a kind of post-apocalyptic scrambling for resources, which has enjoined me in spending vast numbers of consecutive hours either writing stuff up for clients (including a children’s educational book on communication inventions for Crabtree Publishing, more on that to come), or trying, desperately trying, to get a play written for the Tarragon Theatre’s RBC Emerging Playwright Contest. Attaching a $3000.00 price tag to any contest is ipso facto motivation for donating the sum of one’s creative energies, but beyond that, I’m just using it as a deadline, an anchor, something which will force me to do the actual physical labour of writing. As Dorothy Parker once put it, “I hate writing; I love having written.”

The new script (the name of which I can’t mention, lest I poison the integrity of the contest’s “blind panelist”) is almost finished (it should be, it’s due on Monday) & I have just begun to phase myself into my next creative project: directing Wesley J. Colford’s play Mature Young Adults for its upcoming run at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. Produced by the wonderful Aim for the Tangent, whose previous productions The Wakwoski Brothers (Best of Fringe 2012), & Genesis and Other Stories have earned them considerable critical acclaim & sold-out runs, MYA is a bit of an experiment in that I’ve never done the Atlantic Fringe (which is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia) before. Indeed, seemingly no one has. Aside from the fairly tortuous time we’ve had extracting information from the AF people w/r/t the actual dimensions & character of our venue, the publicity apparatus of the Halifax theatre community leaves much to be desired. Well, praise the Lord & pass the ammunition.

The production stars the playwright himself, as well as the lovely & talented Renée Haché, who performed in my play The Hystericon last month. A kind of contemporary response to David French’s Salt-Water Moon, the play explores the evolution (or devolution) of a young teenage couple in small-town Nova Scotia, as they struggle with sexual awakening, gossip, & the rigours of finding love in a thoroughly cynical world. At the behest of the Aim for the Tangent, I did a little Q &A, which should give you a nice idea of what the thing’s about:

Aim for the Tangent: What interests you about Mature Young Adults and what drew you to the project?
Alexander Offord: If you're any kind of consumer of culture at all, there are certain trends or evolutions in form that you've necessarily been saturated with, particularly in the last twenty years or so. Almost of all of these trends or forms reduce to what we might call "irony," which is to say the kind of  self-conscious, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-ing that one sees in TV programs like HBO's Girls, where day-to-day tragedy & self-reproach & inner turmoil are removed from the characters' experience & replaced with a carapace of dramatic self-awareness that is both a) the inevitable consequence of a generation of hyper-educated, internet-fed young people suddenly being driven to create art, & b) dangerously seductive in terms of being accessible& entertaining to watch. It also happens, at least in my opinion, to be at times seriously abrasive to the soul. The American critic Lewish Hyde once wrote, in an essay called Alcohol and Poetry: "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."
Mature Young Adults appealed to me because it is about unhip, uncool, unsexy subject matter. It is about the day-to-day experience of human beings who, above all else, feel. It is about two young people who are in love, old-school love, before whole notion was reduced to eye rolling and a misting of A10 cells with dopamine in the ventral tegmental area of the brain. If there is going to be another major aesthetic movement in the coming years, I suspect it might be a return to themes or characters that are easily written off as "sentimental." It will be a second-coming of characters who don't need to be admired, only loved.
To Wesley's credit, it's also one of a very small minority of plays which I read & didn't just see the playwright trying to convince the audience how smart he is.
Were there any challenges that come to mind (either working with a new script or working on a show about Nova Scotia or not getting to go to Halifax to see the end result...)?
AO: This depends on what is meant by "challenges." I try to excise difficulty from my creative process by working with people more talented than I. Yes, there were serious cuts made to the script; yes, there are always sticky points in rehearsal, but in truth, the biggest challenge in working with Wes & Renee is resisting the temptation to dick around too much. 
That being said, the venue itelf is causing me a certain amount of psychic pain, but to an extent that's the nature of Fringe. My kingdom for @#$%ing gobo... 
What's the best and worst thing about working in Fringe?
 AO: I have a whole rant I could do about this but I don't know of how much interest it would be to your readers. My only experiences thus far have been with the Toronto Fringe, so I can really only speak to that. I guess I would say that conceptually the Fringe is possibly the most important theatre festival in the country, in that it provides basically the only venue for emerging artists to not only a) produce their work on a budget, but b) actually get people to see the stuff. The Canadian theatre scene is so hellaciously underfunded that there is a real hostility to young artists from a lot (though not all) of the establishment. Fringe to certain extent obviates some of this restriction. 
The worst thing about Fringe really doesn't come from either its patrons or staff/volunteers, but from the reviewers. A sad reality is that far too many people decide to see shows based solely on the arbitrary tastes of a particular journalist. Which, whatever, critics are just doing their job & everyone has to eat & live. But the notion that the worth or existential merit of a work can be reduced to how many fucking "N's" it gets is pretty dispiriting. 
What's something you learned from your first relationship?
AO: That all grievances, no matter how small, must be aired. Fighting, or at least bickering, is very healthy in a relationship.
If you could ask a past girlfriend one thing, what would it be
AO: I have nothing whatsoever to say to any past girlfriend. Which should tell you a great deal. 
Why should people see MYA over other options in the Fringe?
AO: Because in ten years when Wesley's Artistic Director of the Tarragon Theatre, and Renee's been forced to hire servants just for the task of polishing her Doras, you'll want to be able to say that you saw them act in a shitty art gallery in Halifax for ten bucks. If you remember my name at all, it'll most likely be in some formulation of, "Oh yes, I saw his production of 'Aladdin' at the Norfolk County Theatre. It was a little slow, I thought.'"

 

 

Undergrad Franco

My friend Luke Kuplowksy has started a new website called “Undergrad Franco.” The premise is great because of its simplicity – take James Franco’s characteristically feeble Vice essays & grade them as if they were the essays of an undergraduate film student. (N.B.: Luke, in addition to being a professional musician, is also getting his Master’s in film studies from U of T.)

For the full shebang, go to undergradfranco.tumblr.com. Here’s a little taster:

gatsb

The reviews are in for “The Hystericon”

From Mooney On Theatre:

 “…the ladies who inhabit The Hystericon blew my mind. They’ve taken a genre positively filled with hoary old tropes and predictable dullness, and they’ve somehow cobbled together a fresh, innovative, interesting and utterly worthwhile play.”

 

“…an outstanding script, well-researched without being encyclopedic; funny without being comic; serious without being melodramatic. Everything in this writing is just so: aimed, balanced and spun perfectly.”

Thanks to everyone who came to opening night – and to those of you who are coming within the next week!

And a special thanks to Mike Anderson, for his amazing review.

 

Necessary Angel Theatre Company recommends “The Hystericon”

In act of almost unbelievable kindness & grace, the Necessary Angel Theatre Company (who are easily one of the best companies in the country, & certainly the only meaningful one doing work that might be called avant-garde) has recommended The Hystericon as a show-to-see this year at the Fringe.

From their Facebook page:

Here’s an interesting-looking piece at the Fringe Festival. Love the name of the company. Nice shout out to DFW. Very important themes being explored in what looks to be a highly theatrical production. Break legs!

NATC is headed by Jennifer Tarver (Artistic Director), who directed what’s now become the benchmark Canadian production of Waiting for Godot. Alumni include Daniel Brooks & Richard Rose, previous productions include Howard Barker’s The Europeans. ’nuff said.

Moving into the theatre to light the thing tomorrow. Then opening.  Gulp. Gimme a drink, quick…

Notes taken while backstage at the tech rehearsal for “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic”

2:10PM – Arrived at the stage door of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts (late, of course, because the TTC is run by a deranged clutch of syphilitic orang-utans). I’ve signed on to be lightwalker/stand-in for Antony and the Johnsons front-man Antony Hegarty, despite the fact that I’m about three inches shorter than his 6’5″ & about a 100lbs, lighter. It being a Robert Wilson show (Wilson being the theatrical father whom I must someday Oedipally kill), I am terrified of fucking up even in the slightest, so my lateness causes me a particularly acute degree of psychic pain. I am greeted by the assistant director, Yevgeniya Falkovich (alias Yev) who sweetly informs me that what I thought was going to be lighting levels is in fact a tech work-through, & it is in fact going almost excruciatingly slowly & so the actors are themselves doing it. She tells me that I should get into the whiteface makeup & stick around anyway, just in case.

2:45PM – A thick membranous coat of white face-paint is applied by a kindly & chipper middle-aged man who looks more like the kind of guy you’d see double-fisting bottles of Labatt at a “family diner” on the outskirts of Hornepayne, Ontario at 1:00 in the morning. I’m sent upstairs to a waiting Yev who warns me that Robert Wilson (or “Bob” as everyone & soon myself begins to call him) runs his rehearsal hall with an almost proto-fascistic seriousness & that any ambient noise or distraction is cause for immediate removal from the premises. I’m told to sit, watch, & shut the hell up, basically.

3:00PM – Brought into the theatre. On stage is a phenomenally gorgeous set comprised of three stylized coffins arrayed in a line with geishaesque women in masks reclining on them with folded hands. They are identical in almost every way except for those particular ways that seem noticeable only to Robert Wilson, who remains unseen but whose disembodied voice booms across the microphone system as he directs hapless stagehands to lift the hems of dresses up fractions of inches to conceal white-powdered neck-flesh.

3:30PM – On the floor next to the coffins are what look like weird, red dinosaur bones. Wilson has spent the past half-hour or so rearranging them, telling the aforementioned hapless stagehands to shift them single-digit degrees until he gives a kind of satisfied “That looks better.” The guy’s sheer attention to detail is sort of humbling; that these changes are noticeable to no one else in the room is clearly of no importance to him whatsoever, what matters is that his vision pleases himself. I admire this.

4:25PM – Hapless stagehands spread dog treats all over the stage. Three big, black Dobermans are released on stage & begin wending between the coffins to lick them from the floor. Yev tells me that Wilson had the dogs dyed black.

4:29PM – One of the dogs takes a shit on stage. The afternoon’s surreality is matched only by its wonder.

4:45PM – Willem Dafoe (a.k.a. the Green Goblin, a.k.a. Grace’s father in Manderlay, a.k.a. the guy from Boondock Saints) is now on stage. He is the only actor in the piece who actually speaks lines, basically, & he has an almost obscene amount of text. Yev tells me that apparently Dafoe, who did the part a year ago when The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic first premiered, has since that time rented out room & gone through the entire play every Sunday of every week until now, & comes to rehearsal fully an hour-&-a-half early to go through a pretzelish yoga routine before then doing the casts’ group warm-up & then doing a full day’s work. The guy’s devotion to his craft is almost monk-like. I admire this, also, & make a note to myself to emulate it. Dafoe is in whiteface too & sports a huge red sheaf of hair (wig) & army suit. He looks awesome.

5:00PM – Dinner. I join the rest of the cast & crew in the greenroom where I awkwardly help myself to some coffee & hummus. I look stupidly around the room for a place to sit & decide to stick near my friend Graeme, who’s “lightwalking” with me, for safety. Although I did not think I was the type of person to get star-struck, being in a room eating finger-foods with Robert Wilson, Willem Dafoe, & Marina Abramovic is really too much. I try chatting up one of the other performers about Wilson’s process. She’s a Belgian expat living in New York & has very little affect when she speaks, which makes me think that I just bore her tremendously with my amateurish questions (e.g., me: “So is your background as an actor?” She: “Performer” [which difference means what, exactly?]). She tells me that basically Wilson draws a “scene book” from which he works, & shows the cast the choreography himself, then asks that they imitate it. The room left for input from the actor is nil, which is very good for Robert Wilson & his audience, but not much fun for the actors themselves, it seems to me.

5:33PM – Now there is a man with a giant albino python in the hallway. This snake is apparently used in the show, & her name is Medusa. (This is getting very weird). The man drapes Medusa around my shoulders & suddenly I’m in love. The snake’s weight has the sensation of the hug, & the curl of the tail around my thigh is comforting in ways that are difficult to convey. I’ve never considered keeping a big-ass snake for a pet, but now I want one.

DSC02191 DSC02192 DSC02195 DSC02208

6:00PM – Back in the theatre, where we left off. One of the performers is clearly not living up to Wilson’s standards, & Wilson kind of gives him shit for it. Yev tells me that all of the music is performed live by an invisible orchestra in the pit, which is kind of incredible considering how weird & avant-garde the music in the thing is, & how sudden the cues come.

6:30PM – Willem Dafoe is the man.

6:34PM – Willem Dafoe just bit a blood capsule while doing a bit of choreography & is bleeding from the mouth. I’ve never cared for his films, but man, the guy has just become like my favourite actor ever.

(End of notes because apparently my scribbling stuff was irritating to Robert Wilson. Am I moron? Perhaps. Do I regret note-taking? Perhaps.)