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.

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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.)

“Or Be Eaten” on a Sunday morning

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This is what it looks like when three people wearing rat/goblin puppets rehearse book-in-hand at a hellaciously early hour on a Sunday. I took these earlier today; left to right, it’s Graeme Black Robinson, Scott T. Garland, & Amy Marie Wallace, the cast of Silent Protagonist’s Or Be Eaten. I’m directing the thing for the Fringe this summer – we’re in St. Vlad’s theatre, which is a thoroughly sucky & disappointing venue (though it has better air-conditioning than the Factory, which makes up for a lot).

Or Be Eaten‘s a sort of urban-fairy tale, told with puppets & half-masks. I’m also incorporating a lot of le Coq-ish physical work into the piece. Basically it’s about a homeless youth named Ash who goes on a Neil Gaiman-esque odyssey into the bowels of the Torontonian subway system, on a quest to find some Edenic west-side neighborhood where “rent is affordable even after utilities, getting a job is easy, even without a reference.”

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Graeme (Silent Protagonist’s AD) apparently has a production blog going, I’ll link to it when it’s live. Rehearsals for Or Be Eaten have a very different vibe than the rehearsals for my other show, The Hystericon (fewer tears, for one). It’s both refreshing & exciting to be able to work simultaneously on two pieces that differ so significantly in both tone & style. Amy’s got a bunch of gorgeous concept art that I might post, & Graeme’s puppets are consistently spectacular – more on that to come. In the meantime, enjoy the view.

And please please please please please please please read this.

 

 

Rehearsing “The Hystericon”

My stage manager Nadia took this photo today:

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She claims she was looking for inspiration for poster design &c., but in truth I think there’s a bit of the voyeur in her (she’s also a filmmaker, I think it comes with the territory). We’ve got an extremely rough & underdeveloped “blocking” to the piece (i.e., the actors know where they’re standing on stage), but now we move into a much more detailed kind of physical work. My stuff tends to be highly choreographed & stylized; I’m a bit of a Robert Wilsonian, I guess, a Meyerholdian, maybe. The trick will be to see whether an avant-garde aesthetic can be used tell what is essentiall a very human & honest & I hope capital T-True story. The Hystericon is a tricky beast.

But the actors – Renée Haché, Nicholas Porteous, Lesley Robertson, & Nicole Wilson – are all really taking to the work & the piece is already feeling “alive.” The key to success is to always surround yourself with people more talented than you are.

Also had the first read-through of Or Be Eaten…, the second (gulp) show I’m directing for the Fringe this year, produced by Silent Protagonist. It’s got a different vibe entirely; a puppet show, for one thing, urban fairy tale, a lot of fun. Graeme Black Robinson wrote the story & is also designing & building all the puppets – they already look gorgeous.

Moving into the new place at the end of the week. At some point I’ll manage to calm my pulse.

Stick in it the fridge, kiddos.

 

This is the Hystericon!

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I am thrilled to officially announce my latest project – The Hystericon, debuting this summer in the Toronto Fringe Festival. We have just begun rehearsals with my theatre company, Good Old Neon.

In late 19th century Paris, Augustine, Blanche, & Geneviève are the most famous patients of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière insane asylum for women. They are his personal lab rats & performance artists, models & test subjects, as he conducts his experiments in “hysteria,” that dark recess of psychiatric medicine. Through the nascent technologies of photography & the black arts of hypnotism & psychopharmacology, Charcot turns them from troubled women into Hysterics, celebrities of the Belle Epoque: Augustine the Photogenic, whose pictures adorn Charcot’s publications; Blanche, “The Queen of Hysterics,” star performer in his public lectures; & Geneviève la Pucelle, who talks to God & believes she is possessed by demons – tonight they perform for their audience an hysterical revue, a cabaret, en Comédie en vaudeville, demonstrating the history & pathology of hysteria – but something seems to be going wrong. As lines are dropped & cues missed, the show starts to crumble, & the odyssey takes turn for the strange…

The Hystericon was inspired by the true life-stories of Augustine, Blanche, & Geneviève, & by the hundreds of black-&-white photographs taken of them by Dr. Charcot & his associates, found in the infamous Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, the asylum’s annual photo album. Long a subject of fascination for art critics, historians, psychologists, feminists, & the darkly curious, now the first time a stage play is devoted not to the doctors & their experiments, but to the women themselves; their hopes, desires, loves, & fears.

Check out the Good Old Neon production blog at www.goodoldneon.ca! & follow us on Twitter @goodoldneonTO.