Saturday, June 8, 2013

Theatre For Thought, June 8, 2013 (Fringe: Montreal)

joel fishbane

Fringe Festivals, like death and taxes, have a way of sneaking up on you. While theatre companies spit out the final shows of their seasons and both Shaw and Stratford settle in for their long hot summer, hundreds of artists have been quietly toiling away to create yet another Canadian Fringe. The fruits of their labour can be seen starting in Montreal on June 13th when the festival launches its 23rd edition, featuring over 200 artists hawking their skills in a broad variety of formats, from traditional theatre to the vastly experimental.

Take The Elephant in the Room. Produced by the musical duo Faster (Kayla Milmine and Brian Abbott), the show is a modern day fairy-tale told through the lens of a solo dance performance. If the press release is any indication, it’s a tough show to explain. Dancer / choreographer Allison Burns will interpret the story as Faster provides a soundtrack that promises to involve “nihilistic cabaret music mixed with abrasive punk rock, off kilter drunken lounge jazz, demented circus music and a bit of 20th century atonal improvisation”.

Smaller shows like Elephant naturally abound – they’re cheap and easy to tour – but they also allow for a blending of genres that allows artists to mix traditional storytelling with other, less rigid styles. Former UN lawyer turned stand up comic Jess Salomon is trying this with Obsession, a mix of story-telling and comedy in which Salomon takes material honed from her time on the comedy circuit and mixes it with a “personal meditation on the idea of living obsessively.” Like any comedy show, it also promises surprises, with different opening acts setting the mood at every performance.

Then there’s the Canadian premiere of The Knocking Within by Anikai Dance, a dance-theatre duet. Using Shakespeare’s texts as a launching pad, they re-interpret the stories in a wide variety of ways, from Hindi to American Sign Language to “a dizzying array of movement vocabulary.” Developed by Wendy Jehlen and Pradhuman Nayak, the piece was performed in India just as the public was beginning to protest violence against women; drawing from works such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus, Anikai Dance hopes to use the piece to continue this awakening to the problem of violence in the rest of the world.

Equally experimental is Elvis is Water, a new music / narrative hybrid that celebrates Elvis Presley’s music even as it explores the dawning days of his career. Created by husband and wife duo Katherine Sandford and John Burns, the piece promises to be “an Elvis show for people who don’t like Elvis”, according to director Jackson Andrews. Burns will appear with his band, who will double as Elvis’ back up band as they recreate the infamous Sun Sessions - famous recordings Elvis made in the 1950s, back when he was in his prime. 

But over on the more traditional front, I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to Angel’s Share (Composite Theatre Co), a show that “distils single-malt whisky, grief and memory” to tell a “distorted love story”. Grieving widower Robert (Chip Chuipka) shares a dusty bottle of scotch with his estranged cousin (Stefanie Buxton), opening up a can of memories that spill onto the stage. 

There isn’t a bad apple in the bunch of talents behind this one. Playwright Alexis Diamond, director Amanda Kellock and actors Buxton and Chuipka are all seasoned veterans of the Canadian arts scene and their new company is devoted to turning the most basic elements of theatre into a theatrical whirlwind. 

In a sense these five shows are a microcosm of the Fringe as a whole – a medley of newcomers and veterans producing a hybrid of styles that experiment with the limits of performance. You can check out all of these shows for only $55 – that’s the price of the Fringe’s Gold Pass, which gives you six shows for the price of five. So what do you do for the sixth show? Pick a show at random and go. Whether it’s a horror or a hidden gem, it’s all part of the spirit of the Fringe.

The Elephant in the Room runs at Fuschia; The Knocking Within runs at the Mai; Jess Saloman’s Obsession runs at Montreal Improv; Elvis is Water runs at the Cabaret Mile-End; Angel’s Share runs at the Freestanding Room. For show times and more details visit [ED: Elvis is Water will also be playing at the Toronto Fringe]

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