It’s always encouraging to see young independent theatre creators come up in the community and make a name for themselves through bold creative choices. Second Step theatre looks to be one of those companies where we will be able to see exactly that. Though Light(less) only had the briefest of runs (April 17th & 18th), this was a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with this company and their creative aesthetic. With a bit more polishing this piece has the potential to be a true diamond in the rough, but for now it gives audiences a tiny sparkle of good things to come in the future.
If you’re a Fresh Meat fan, you may recognize this collective from the 2016 festival where they presented the “pleasantly odd” SS Lightbulb. Using that piece as a creative departure point, Second Step has created a new work titled Light(less) which explores our innate desire to want to belong somewhere with the incorporation of a heavy use of lighting instruments and puppetry to help visually illustrate this story. While the narrative may seem a little convoluted at times, at its core the piece presents us with a commentary on what it means to try and maintain the status quo and the realization that maybe what sets us apart from everyone else in this illuminated world is actually what makes us unique and special.
Light(less), directed by Nicholas Leno, has a heck of a lot going for it both conceptually and on stage, but hasn’t quite reached its full potential (yet). Story-wise, I think that the quest for acceptance in this social-media driven world is one that is still very current if not a little common. Though I appreciate that Second Step tries to be a little more abstract and metaphorical with their images and concepts on stage as opposed to presenting these issues in a very literal manner (I can only watch so many plays that conclude that millennials have bad relationships because cell phones, after all). When our protagonist (played by Franco Pang) discovers that they have not been adorned with a lighting device like every other character around them, they decide to try and steal a piece from one of the biggest lights of all- the moon. We see how this almost obsessive desire to fit in with the status-quo, ultimately, brings our protagonist no happiness and thus reflect within ourselves whether “fitting in” is really all that it’s cracked up to be.
That being said, at times the narrative is needlessly convoluted and there are moments where I certainly felt caught up in trying to make sense of what is happening on stage (eg: are the storks carrying babies or are they carrying light?). This could perhaps be alleviated by way of incorporating a clearer motivation for the protagonist; other than being socially ostracized, we are never really sure about exactly why they want to find their missing light or if a light is indeed something that’s missing. Consequently, it’s also not clear as to why the protagonist bonds so strongly with the act of fishing, an act which they return to at the culmination of the play. If we don’t know why it’s important for the character to fit in, then it’s difficult to understand why the character’s decision not to follow the crowd is so significant.
I do want to applaud this company, however, as the physical production is chock full of strong artistic choices. First, the variety of ways that the creative team incorporates different lighting elements into the production is very clever: from Christmas tree lights sewn onto costume pieces, to unique gobos, and finally shadow puppetry each component works well to establish the different locales and atmospheres our protagonist experiences. Not to mention that these lighting effects are supplemented by Rachel Lloyd’s delightfully odd sound composition, which really adds to the mood of this particular universe. Second, the performers themselves hold nothing back on stage and their commitment to each and every character is clear, even when the odd stage mishap occurs (slight problems with sound, wardrobe, and set are the inherent risks of live performance) the performers never break face.
Finally, some of the staging is beautifully done with the exaggerated physicality of the actors reflecting the various character types that inhabit this unique world. The characters of the storks (played by Monica Bradford-Lea and Even Gilchrist) are certainly memorable with their elongated gaits and forward jutting heads; not to mention the powerful moment when our protagonist finally gets their hands on the piece of light and wordlessly, yet desperately, tries to internalize it (as represented by a white sheet) by hugging it tightly to their chest in hopes that they might somehow absorb it, only to have it fall to the ground over and over again.
It’s an exciting feeling watching new theatre companies trying to create performances that falls outside of the realm of realism. It’s not to say that realism and more traditional straight-forward narratives don’t have a place in our community, but that perhaps Ottawa is a little over-saturated with this particular style of staging/performance and so companies like Second Step are a refreshing palate cleanser. Light(less) is a production that offers up a tasting flight of the theatrical goodies that this company appears to have in store.
Created and presented by Second Step
Academic Hall April 17th & 18th, 2018
Nicholas Leno- Director, Creator
Caterina Fiorindi- Stage Manager, Creator
Monica Bradford-Lea- Performer, Creator, Puppet Designer
Even Gilchrist- Performer, Creator, Costume & Props Designer
Franco Pang- Performer, Creator, Set & Lighting Designer
Rachel Lloyd- Musician, Composer, Music Director