Well, it’s happened. I took the plunge and embedded myself within the rehearsal room of two companies who are creating original work for the Fresh Meat Theatre Festival’s Weekend Inventive, happening this Saturday.  A new project for both artist and critic, the mild tension in the room during the first few minutes of me being there was apparent from both sides: artists wary of someone watching and documenting their creative processes, something that is traditionally intimate and personal to the psyche of a production; and, on the other side of the coin, myself as critic feeling a bit like a peeping Tom, watching something that I am not supposed to. However, the uneasiness of the initial moments quickly melted away as I parked myself on the floor, in the middle (but out of the way) of the two companies, and tried as much as possible to become the proverbial fly on the wall. For the first time, for all of us I think, we experienced what it feels like to open up and become partial to the development of a theatrical event.

The two companies in question are creating very different pieces. Bad Hats Theatre Co. (featuring Megan Carty, Fiona Sauder, and Nicola Atkinson) is sticking to its mandate and creating a piece that incorporates a fusion of physical vocabulary, text, and music. Karina Milech and Patrick Kelly are looking to integrate their journey across Canada auditioning for various theatre companies in what I am going to term here as a ‘docu-comedy’. As you might imagine then, both companies have adopted completely different creative processes in order to realize and edit their many ideas.

The atmosphere of Thursday’s rehearsal, the first time being in the actual performance space, is buzzing. The artists are clearly very excited to be in the space and there is a lot of laughter and playing around happening, an obvious sort of attempt to deflect the pressure of Saturday night’s performance. Both companies are rehearsing and creating in the same space, which makes me wonder how the artists find working in this sort of environment: does it help or hinder their creative processes? A question, I’m sure, that will be addressed during Saturday night’s talk-back.

For myself, I found it a bit overwhelming at first, not really sure where to watch and a little terrified that I was going to miss things. That being said, the companies seem to settle naturally into this weird rhythm where if one company was up on their feet the other (without really realizing it) was doing table work or quietly discussing things amongst themselves. Thus I was able to distribute my perspective accordingly.

It is interesting to note that both companies are working through the text and the physicality at the same time, adjusting one or the other as they go along. Nothing is set in stone and both pieces are displaying an incredible fluidity that makes it very hard to determine at this point what the final product will look like. All I can say is that being privy to the rehearsal process has made me very excited to see what these companies end up with. Watching the artists create and destroy, never knowing what’s coming next has created an interest and an engagement within me that no preview, interview, or other traditional publicity material have been able to inspire.

It was fascinating to see the artists working on movement and gestures but from completely different avenues. Milech and Kelly focused on movements that would characterize the people that they met along their journey, looking for ways to create humour as well as how to make clear and concise character changes. Milech says at one point that the audience has to know for sure that, “this is not Patrick.” While it sounds obvious and maybe a little basic, because Milech and Kelly are acting not only as themselves in their scenes but sometimes with one or two other characters, it is important that the character changes are explicit in order to not confuse the audience.

Further, the two are constantly questioning whether or not the movement motivates their text: “Something has to stop me from speaking otherwise it doesn’t make sense”; and even more so trying to find creative ways to get them to and from their car (a literal and figurative vehicle for the journey) knowing that they don’t have the luxury of having lights or sound to potentially play with.  Their biggest challenge at this moment is working through all their material while tightening up the various bits and pieces and a few times today I heard mentioned that this isn’t supposed to be a show (strictly) about auditioning. I imagine tomorrow their plan is to go below the surface and flesh out their staging and story.

On the other side of the studio Bad Hats Theatre Co. was also working on movement and gestures, but much more abstractly. I was taken by the way the three women collaborated on movements and choreography. There didn’t seem to be too much talk of story or plot, instead what I saw was the company coming up with various words and accompanying movements. They did this by first working individually, not looking at one another, and creating their own choreography that they felt represented the words: spin, shine, collide, and clean. It was incredible to see the variation in movements from the three women. For example, Carty’s ‘clean’ was a relatively simple movement where she brushes off her hands against her sides and thighs and completes it with a knap against her hips whereas Atkinson took on more of a Lady MacBeth vibe and with a pained expression, tries to clean her forearm desperately.

They work almost in a way that is very reminiscent of Eugenio Barba, in that they each go off and create their own individual movements (which are recorded on camera) and then gather collectively and show each other what they’ve come up with. From there they decide what works and what might not, and then work on tightening up the choreography they have (at this point) decided to keep. Each movement has its own accompanying sound, whether that’s the use of breathing, utterances, or knaps. It’s clear that the ladies are very concerned with their lines, extensions, and shapes that they are creating with their bodies and making sure that everyone is on the same page with the choreography. Again, similarly to Milech and Kelly, I would think that tomorrow’s rehearsal will be dedicated to cohesion and unifying their story. I also heard that there might be some singing incorporated as well!

The last hour of rehearsal had both companies up on their feet working through all the material they had at that given moment. While Milech and Kelly chose to run their whole piece adding and subtracting as they went, it seemed to me that Bad Hats Theatre Co. chose to focus on making a “physical score” where they created series of movements and worked towards tightening up the movements of the ensemble. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to be here tomorrow, to document the progress made in only 24 hours, and the growing excitement of these two companies as they edge closer and closer to show time. Until tomorrow!

The Fresh Meat Weekend Inventive will be taking place Saturday February 28th at 8pm at Arts Court Studio. Ticket info can be found on the Facebook event found here.

Written by Brianna McFarlane

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