Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hirsch at Stratford: Theatre as public service...

I brought Ahley and Julia, my two SCLA MA students to this show on Friday evening, and had drinks afterwards with Sonia N, Doug L, and Doug's friend Livia (?), all of whom worked on the show.

A truly enjoyable piece. I initially felt Alon N's depiction of the Jewish Hungarian immigrant theatre practitioner extraordinaire to be somewhat fuzzied by some verbal delivery issues, as well as an apparently restricted 360 degree awareness, but these tendencies either subsided or became less consequential (both I think) as the collaboratively created piece with Paul Thompson progressed over the 90 minute length of its last performance of the season. The work was done essentially on an empty stage, with certain sustained elements such as the mother courage cart of an early production serving variously as a platform, puppet theatre, bed, and so forth, subtly inviting the audience to remember the constant of Hirsh's political orientations and mode of creation. Indeed, the piece itself employed a variety of alienation devices including of course multiple character transitions in one actor -- challenging the audience to recognize the contructedness of the actor's iconicity and inherently identitarian tendencies of theatrical representation in our tradition -- as well as songs, stage technicians who were incorporated into the conceit (interesting discussion with Doug there about the labour implications of this); and other approaches to keep the fictional status of the world provisional.

The piece served as a useful ethnography of Canadian theatre and its occasional discontents viewed through the biographical explorations about Hirsch, jumping back and forth through time (date and location projected on the wall), and was exceptionally candid about the back stabbing political culture of Stratford itself, even to this day, for actors and others working there. Indeed, Sonia's own experience there is a reminder of this, and her tales of the poignancy and relevance of the lines in the play about Stratford's cruelty 'to the outsider and to the exotic' to Paul and Alon's own experience there, making statements as they were about an individual whom many people at Stratford would have worked with before his death of AIDS in 1989.

The poetry of the piece was strong, the creative use of object and space and body varied and stimulating, the direct address personal cries of Alon/Paul in the text to Hirsch about how difficult and conspiracy oriented he was (there is one drama on stage and five in your office), presented a complex portrait of an ardent and difficult spirit who clearly made a significant contribution to the theatre culture of the country. That this show excavates, exhumes and generates new shoots to bring this important story to the country (it's off out west next?) serves as a significant affirmation of Hirsch's own belief in the absolute essential need for story.

1812 Themed Zombie Flashmob: History Never Dies!

Well, we all pulled it off. I believe this was the eight of our 'spontaneous moments of culture' for the Cultural Capitals Campaign, and Daniel and Karrie and I, working with Julianna C and Jo P on zombie wrangling and wardrobe/make up respectively, provided wounds, a roadmap and narrative (involving the conversion of an 'American Tourist' into a Canadian zombie at the hands of a decaying General Brock and the legion -- well., ... 35 -- of dreadfuls we had at our disposal). Highlights included the make-up session -- all 3 hours of it -- in the apparently haunted basement of Fulton Fitness in the old Coy building; the zombies in clusters in the fading light of day; the stopped car surrounded on the streets; the surprisingly empty streets that I think will actually read quite well on camera; the zombie's enthusiasm at the sight of their developing woundscapes; the police being repelled by the zombie and fleeing the scene and closing their car windows; and of course the surprisingly anarchic moment when the staged group of taggers and grafitti artists in the alley by Fulton Fitness were raided by the 40 zombies, responded by lighting their spray-paint cans to make impromptu flame throwers, and tempted the zombies into a cage with calypso music before the dreadfuls broke out and chased the now actually somewhat scared taggers and friends back down the alley.

Part of the discourse and thinking around the event was the extent to which this kind of re-enactment of a (granted) heightened charaterization of General Brock and (most likely less immediately recognized) Tecumseh parading in the streets with their wounds would in some fashion potentially comment on the ongoing kinds of performance of military celebration and memorialization occurring in the context of the 1812 celebrations. Were we successful at all in this? Not sure. It will depend in part on the video and the way in which the text on and surrounding that document will serve to frame the viewers experience of it; to help differentiate the piece from a lot of the seamless, smooth, s'pit-polished with a bit of dust' type of clean cut re-enactment occurring locally. I'll post again about this when the video is out...