In an attempt to give local independent theatre companies an opportunity to create and perform original work, the first (of hopefully many) Fresh Meat Weekend Inventive took place this past Saturday evening at Arts Court theatre. Both Bad Hats Theatre Co. and duo Karina Milech and Patrick Kelly were given three days and a shared rehearsal space in which to devise their respective pieces. In the spirit of the Inventive, I approached festival producers Madeleine Hall and Tony Adams about the possibility of experimenting with some embedded criticism- where a critic becomes a spectator of the rehearsal process and consequently documents their experience of it. Luckily, both the producers and the artists agreed to become the first proverbial guinea pigs and over those three days I got to try a new(ish), totally viable, style of theatre journalism that’s certainly worth further development, much like the art it’s responding to.

Walking into the Studio Lobby, I was a bit nervous; it was fifteen minutes until show-time and the turn-out was humble to say the least. However, my anxiety proved to be needless as within ten minutes the audience filled out considerably. Good thing too-the organizers had done up “First Impressions” cards to be filled out for each show allowing the spectators to respond anonymously and directly to the newly created pieces. As per the Weekend Inventive’s mandate, the focus is on the process not necessarily a finished product and so, in knowing that the work is in development, the audience feels like their input is of value and import.

Karina Milech and Patrick Kelly are the first to take the stage with their show entitled, Patrick and Karina Drive Across Canada. As the title states, the story focuses on Milech and Kelly’s very real trans-Canada journey this past Fall auditioning for professional theatre companies in all of the major cities despite knowing that the professional houses had already cast their ensembles. It is interesting to see them finally play in front of a reasonably sized audience as you can see and feel the moments that worked and didn’t work.

Most notably, there are some incredibly awkward moments that happen due to either forgotten text or unnecessary staging that takes place out in the audience.  Milech’s demeanor towards the audience when trying to engage one or two members in a scene is curt and slightly intimidating, although it has the potential to be very humorous given the audience member’s attitude. Their strongest moments on stage, albeit not explored thoroughly enough in the allotted 20 minutes, resonate from when the characters’ are asking themselves why they continue after being refused so many times; and further, when the piece touches on the strains this literal and figurative journey puts on their friendship.

Following a ten minute intermission, Bad Hats Theatre Co. took to the stage to perform The Gold Project. The piece features different vignettes performed by Fiona Sauder linked together by imagery associated with gold. It begins with a story of how the metal was first formed through the collision of two dying stars; then we are transported to San Fransisco during the madness of the Gold Rush and then quickly on to a fantasy about being a king sitting on a  throne and the kind of power and greed that royal gold inspires; finally the piece culminates when we come to rest uneasily on feelings of envy and, as it were, gold sickness.

The concept of this piece is very strong though, of course, it still needs some more time to percolate.  I am a little surprised to see that a lot of the movement I saw develop in rehearsal did not end up in the final product, however, I am happy to report that the choreography with the hula-hoop did make the cut and remains one of the stronger visuals in my mind.  It seems to me that the lack of movement makes it more difficult for an audience to create links between the vignettes having to rely solely on the sometimes poetic, the sometimes historical, and the sometimes farcical text- all of which do not make it obvious how all the scenes are connected (other than mentioning the world ‘gold’). Understandably, it is incredibly hard to create and then polish and perfect choreography with text in three days, so I hardly fault these ladies for not wanting to put up messy movement on stage. Now they have an arsenal from which to draw upon when continuing to develop The Gold Project.

After both shows a talk-back was held in order to divulge some of the artists’ experiences in working with the Inventive and allowing the audience to ask their own questions. Being up there myself, I remember being asked by Paul Griffin of Bad Hats Theatre the question as to how being a witness to the rehearsal process would affect the outcome of my final review of the shows. My response, basically, is that I don’t feel as though I am traditionally reviewing a show, because I’m not.

I was privy to a rehearsal process that allowed me to document some of the particular and varying choices and tactics I noticed the companies using in order to tell their stories on stage. In this sense then, I am only reporting on whether or not those choices and tactics were successful in my own experience of the event at hand. Of course the critic becomes more subjective, but this is fully disclosed at the start of the process, and really only grants them a deeper understanding of the underlying structures that make up any given performance. How do you prescribe a final judgement to something that is only beginning to grow? In this case we can say that it is, in fact, more similar to a progress report in that, as a critic, you are constantly asking the piece: where could it go from here?

Though I have mentioned it multiple times already, I can’t stress enough how great it is to have an event like the Fresh Meat Weekend Inventive trying to run on a regular basis. It is an excellent platform for emerging independent companies to get together for three straight days and create a live performance. You are given space, time, and an audience which are three things that are absolutely crucial when developing work. Conversely, as spectators this is a rare opportunity where you are encouraged to submit your input directly to the artists and where the atmosphere doesn’t feel so formal that discussion about creation is open and honest. All in all, it is a very generous event that allows theatre companies to collaborate not only with other companies, but with producers, the audience, and, heck, even critics.

A big shout out to Bad Hats Theatre Co., Karina Milech and Patrick Kelly, and the producers at Fresh Meat Theatre Festival for allowing me to experiment during their own experiments.

By: Brianna McFarlane

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