Fresh Meat 4
I’ve been trying to get to a Fresh Meat festival for years now, and this weekend, I finally managed it. I was not disappointed. The second (and final) weekend of this year’s fest features a quintet of shows, one each by local artists THUNK!theatre, Chris Hanney & Leslie Cserepy, Madeleine Hall, Cart Before The Horse, and Filament Theatre.
The first show on the docket Thursday night was THUNK!theatre’s production, Tolerance. This piece consists of an extended bit of audience participation that is designed to help us let go of hatreds big and small, and practice tolerance. The trio of performers do an admirable job directing and managing the audience, despite our inherently unruly nature. I had fun during this piece, but it didn’t strike me as a particularly interesting manifestation of audience participation. Moreover, the context for us all participating in this activity is somewhat unclear, a fact exacerbated by the three lab-coated actors – I felt they could have been dressed in nearly anything and had the same effect on us. The conclusion of the piece was rather powerful, and the symbolic content in our path to arriving there was strong as well; our disparate hatreds unified and dismissed from language and care. Unfortunately, this piece felt like a manifestation of an exercise you might encounter at a conference or retreat, with little evident coherence in the motivations behind design choices.
Next, Chris Hanney and Leslie Cserepy presented a long-form improv piece called Slow Burn. True to form, the piece begins with the audience being asked to provide a bit of motivation or a theme for the piece. Thursday night, the theme was robots. What follows is two improv performers striving to create characters with depth and tell a story that is more than the quest for laughs that most improv would be content with. This is really hard to do. It’s difficult enough to create characters and narrative with depth given unlimited time, solitude, and practice – these performers attempt it live before us. The performances as improvisation were indeed strong, and there is evident chemistry between Cserepy and Hall, but the piece never moved beyond its witty humour to deal with larger themes. I wished the miming was crisper (it was hard to tell what part of the omnipresent coffee cups were being held, how exactly the coffee wasn’t spilling at certain moments, etc), and I also spent the whole time wondering when the audience-solicited robots were going to figure into the piece, which turned out to be as a passing reference towards the show’s conclusion. A bit disappointing.
Madeleine Hall’s Ethel deals with themes of aging and loss, and features Hall herself. The piece is in need of refinement, but serves as a strong starting point moving forward in the future. The language and movement oscillate together between moments of controlled chaos and precise finesse, which has a lot of potential for being powerful. I thought that this piece was missing a bit of heart that might be filled with just a touch more context about the relationship at the centre of the piece. For example, it is clear that tea is important to this relationship, and this importance becomes an interesting motif throughout the staging of the piece, but the clearly deep significance of this tea-making remains inadequately explained. This motif seems to get an undue amount of visual and textual weight for the amount we learn about it.
MISE-EN-ABYME, from Cart Before the Horse, is an interesting exploration of identity and the feelings of imprisonment inherent in our individual paths through the world. The live audioscape conjured by Martin Dawagne throughout this piece and its interactions with the speaking/acting/moving performance of Megan Carty stand as its strongest feature. Dawagne’s central position on stage is justified by the thematic centrality of the sounds he creates with an array of pedals and loops, and its central role linked to the action/emotion of Carty’s character. The physical interplay of these two is crucial throughout the piece, and the prominence of the interplay works to the production’s great advantage. There are two other choices in this production that I think work less well. The first is the use of the marker to create human shaped boxes on the blank canvas. Metaphorically, it is clear the Carty’s character is making these boxes for herself to occupy. The problem is that there is already a sort of manifestation of her character’s interiority on stage in the form of Dawagne, so the use of the marker doesn’t fit with the conflict/tension between these two as the driving force of the piece’s movement. It might be more unified to remove the box-creation from the hands of Carty, and link it instead to a switch operated by Dawagne and a projector. Second, the end of the piece feels a bit too pat. Life rarely (never) resolves itself so neatly as demonstrated by the conclusion of the play, so I was left feeling like there was something forced in the happy full-circle finish.
The final piece of the evening was Pan-dora, from the always impressive Filament Théâtre. It is a bilingual production that draws on the rich backdrop of the story of Pandora’s box and reprises it in the modern context of our own society’s outcast figures. Élise Gauthier and Alex Gabloski occupy the whole space principally by the sinuous blending of languages and words. The text of this piece is definitely its strongest asset; poetic and evocative, it draws the audience under its spell and keeps them ensnared until they are released at the close. The show carries a lot of potential for further development of the physicality of the performers, particularly Gobloski. As it stood Thursday, this element felt simple and straightforward in comparison with the text. That is not to say there was anything wrong; Gauthier and Gabloski drew our attention and tossed it between them seemingly without effort, but I think this had more to do with the power of the words and our desire to pull every scrap of meaning from each utterance than from their physical presence.
There is one more performance of these shows at Fresh Meat 4, and if you miss them here, be sure to keep an eye out for future versions, which are sure to benefit from the proving ground of the live audience at FM4 when they appear again on stage.