Monday, December 9, 2013

The Question... Jon Lachlan Stewart on Big Shot (WildSide)

The Gun. The Bullet. The Target. The Eyes.
by Estelle Rosen

Jon Lachlan Stewart is a playwright, performer and director originally from Edmonton Alberta, a graduate of Studio 58 in Vancouver, and an upcoming graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. He seeks to address dark contemporary issues that continue to wound society through history: issues of race, sex politics, urban violence, violence among youth. Mr. Stewart is committed as a bilingual artist in Canada, and creates physical work in the Lecoq tradition of mime. Selected playwriting credits include The Genius Code (Catalyst Theatre creator-in residence), Big Shot (four municipal theatre awards, still on tour), Dog: a 1950’s Homelife Nightmare (best independent production award), Le Portrait Gooble (French tour, four Vancouver Jessie awards), and Little Room (two Edmonton Sterling nominations). He is currently developing two projects: a textless mix of breakdance and clown addressing gun violence in youth called Kids With Guns, and an examination of post-war PTSD from a child’s perspective, in the Greek structure, called Edith Rex, commissioned by Shadow Theatre.

CHARPO: When bystanders are asked to describe the perpetrator witnessed in a violent occurrence, there are often wild variations in descriptions.  In Big Shot, you're taking this a step further by six different perspectives on a split second of time between the bullet leaving a gun and hitting the target. What was your motivation to write this play; what are the challenges of being both writer and performer and combining dramatic text with dance? And just what is meant by 'slow motion theatre to pry the wide eyes open'?

LACHLAN-STEWART: After touring Big Shot to over 11 cities, one thing that audiences are really enjoying is how the show imitates the motions and sequences in famous Hollywood action movies (a la John Woo / Quentin Tarantino) in a theatrical way. We're like a live action movie on stage. It just so happens that all of these sequences move the story forward, all culminating towards a shocking finish. From our experiences, we decided to coin the phrase "slow motion theatre".

Big Shot was created over five years. It started as a graduating piece at my theatre school Studio 58, where myself and my fantastic director Georgina Beaty made a 20 minute version of the play that just grew from there. The first image that inspired the play was seeing an old Japanese man downtown, and wanting to play him onstage. It grew into a play that seeks to express the larger cultural 'quilt' of Vancouver, and how this community responds to violence within the city. 

There are some challenges that come along with writing and performing one's own piece, but honestly, when it's in the context of a solo show, it's just plain fun. I've done it before where I'd write a play with multiple characters that I found another director for, but I'd be acting in it. In that kind of process, it's hard to just let go and be the actor. For Big Shot though, Georgina the director would probably agree that writing and performing just lends itself to a healthy creative process. The show's text and performance literally changes city to city depending on how we feel and depending on the space. One challenge to the play is that me and Gina got so deep in it over the years that we were worried there might be structural issues that could be improved that we never questioned. We finally decided to bring in a couple of trusted colleagues to be blunt with us and talk about how to improve…anything…in the play. And sure enough we made some big changes.

Some people have called Big Shot a mix of text with dance, but I really see the body onstage as a major tool in any work I do. I love it. There are sequences in Big Shot told completely visually, for example a character named Odosung recounts a very personal story entirely in Japanese, but English audiences still comprehend the story. When I work, I adore that shift into moments that are only recounted through the body. I believe we live in a very visual generation. The real challenges for me tapping into this visual part of audience's imaginations in precision; whatever the body does, we see and analyze on a subconscious level. To build movement onstage, you repeat and repeat and analyze and evaluate, and sometimes it can be a major brain workout!

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