Red One Theatre Collective has spent the past five years dedicating themselves to site-specific theatre all over Toronto. From art galleries to parks to abandoned buildings, Red One produces shows that attempt to break down the fourth wall even further by mounting theatre in less-than-conventional spaces. Oh, and they're shows are typically pretty f*cking good too.
Amos Crawley, the director for Red One's latest show PVT WARS answers a few questions about their latest show and how the heck site-specific theatre is created.
1. Tell us about the play. Why this play? Why now?
PVT WARS is a one act comedy about three soldiers recuperating from their injuries, physical and mental, that they've sustained at war. When the play was originally produced, it was very much a product of the then-recent Vietnam war. It's not exactly a stretch to see the parallels between that conflict and the wars the U.S. is engaged in today. With minimal changes to the text, I think we've managed to not so much update the play, but highlight how timeless the experience of having wasted yourself in the favour of an abstract concept like "God & Country" really is.
I think that James McLure is adamant that it's our inner conflicts that warrant our energies, hence the title of the play. However, that makes it all sound rather high-minded, when the fact is that despite the fact that the 3 men in the play are figuratively paralysed (making them the lucky ones I guess), they are also all very funny and the play reflects that; it's quick paced and with any luck, full of laughs.
2. Red One Theatre's mandate is to use unique, unconventional venues in Toronto; how did you find directing/rehearsing in a non-traditional theatre space? How did it affect the blocking? The LX design The acoustics?
Red One's mandate is to bring the theatre to the people, not the other way around. The guys feel like there are a dearth of performance spaces in our city so they just go ahead and make them. In our case, we've certainly lucked out as far as location is concerned-- we're right at Bathurst & Bloor, TTC accessible, near all kinds of cool stuff. The Red One team had actually been sitting on this space, waiting to find the right play to put up there-- it had to be something funny, quick and punchy. It certainly limits you as far as design is concerned, however sometimes being out in a small box is the best way to come up with cool ideas. The whole show is lit with 100 watt household bulbs in clip lights and I think that what Melissa Joakim was able to do will surprise you; it really is a full lighting design. Likewise, Matt Dash was able to make sure that all his sound cues were recorded and mixed in such a way that we're getting minimal bounce, especially considering we're in a small, concrete box.
Jason Pooley, who has designed several shows for Red One, was in his element, he knows how the company works and came up with some clean, simple and efficient ways for us to turn the room at Gallery 561 into a theatre. As far as blocking, the unique challenge for me was the decision (to a large degree necessitated by the space) to do the show in the round. I've never done that before, and I found the experience to be humbling and exciting.
3. What's something that we might not know about this play?
As I mentioned before, Ben and Joe and the other Red One'ers had found this space and wanted to do something with it-- they had recently come off a production of David Auburn's PROOF and wanted to do something funny and fast. It seemed like a good fit. There are actually 2 versions of the play, the one act that we're doing, as well as a longer script. One of the interesting bits for me is that the while McLure (who died this time last year I think) dealt with his war experience in more than one play, this one really mines his Jesuit upbringing to some pretty funny results. He puts a lot of his strange and hilarious religious memories into the mouth of Silvio, an Italian-American sort of dirtbag kind of guy. Between Silvo and Gately who, like McLure himself, is a product of the South and the tightassed Natwick from Long Island, the plays shows a pretty great cross section of who goes to war, rich man, poor man-- everything in between.
4. Your last directorial foray (RATON LAVEUR at the Toronto Fringe) was a smash; how did this experience measure up?
Awfully nice of you to refer to Raton as a smash, I'm hoping more people get to see it in the not to distant future. As a side note you can see it right now, if you happen to be in Melbourne, Australia where a local company has produced it.... Working with Red One is a totally different beast in that with Raton, we had the support of a great festival (Toronto Fringe) and all the amenities that come along with that. These guys are straight up Indie Theatre. They are consistently producing work that looks like it cost more than it did and giving everything over to it-- I think that it's great that they are doing so without the aid of grants or any corporate support (not that I'm necessarily ideologically opposed to either of those things) and I really hope people can make the effort to support this company and other companies at this level. I think it's a really great and important strata for theatre in this city to exist in.
5. What's coming down the pipe for you next; what can T.O. look forward to?
I am hoping there will be another life for RATON LAVEUR, and I have one or two other projects kicking around the recesses of my brain that I'd like to see come to fruition in the next year. Otherwise if anyone's hiring, I'm available come opening night...
PVT WARS is on now at 561 Studios (@ 561 Bathurst St., Bathurst & Bloor) until Feb. 19.
For tickets click here.
I had a light schedule yesterday; only 3 shows in one day (amidst, work, drinks, and a dinner party, but other events don't seem to count when you're discussing your tally of Fringe shows seen amongst a crowd.)
First up: FINALLY: AN EPIC CYCLE
Mixed in with monologues from a bike courier, this play focuses on an insecure late-20-something reluctance to face her own strengths and shortcomings. We've all been there - trying to hold on to the security blanket we all crave but actually know that it's the worst thing for us - while simultaneously screwing everything else up because we're so focussed on keeping JUST that thing and nothing else. It's a universal situation so it's easy to empathize with the main character. I like that.
Where we haven't all been, and what I found to be the most interesting thing about the show, is life from a bike courier's perspective.
I used to be a receptionist at a high-rise in the city and I dealt with couriers on a regular basis. They were mostly socially-inept creepsters who yelled at me for circumstances beyond my control, hit on me, or just overstayed their visit by chatting up a storm for AGES.
But there were a few bike courier regulars who I got to know, and like, and who made me rethink my uber-judgement against the whole species. But even with these decent couriers, I always wondered why the ef anyone would want to be a bike courier. The pay is lousy, there is a constant war between motorists and cyclists, they're inhaling exhaust fumes all day and the trekking around must be exhausting, not to MENTION doing all of it in February at minus 20 degrees. Really; WTF.
Moon, played by Cassie Muise, is a cynical Toronto bike courier who gives the audience a window into what that life would be like. She's philosophical, introspective and endearing in a cool-chick-with-a-chip-on-her-shoulder kinda way. She's got the most interesting things to say and when both her and fellow bike courier Jaques, (played by a spot-on Derek Perks), are on stage, I wanted the play to be about them, and what they go through, and WHY the ef they actually ARE bike couriers. Shout-out to writer (and actor) Sarah Cody for peaking my bike courier interest. Can you write a show about them next? I think you're onto something.
For showtimes, click here; Facebook, Twitter (Handle: finallyfringe)
Next up: RATON LAVEUR
I knew almost nothing going into this show; a raccoon is be involved, it's a dark comedy, and the poster had a really nice, clean layout that appealed to me. Pretty good start. (I'm a sucker for a great poster design).
The show started and it was almost instantly hilarious. I was engaged and laughing and couldn't help but adore the two actors, David Patrick Flemming and Caitlin Stewart. Their timing is amazing.
Then, just as I'm riding along in my adoration and humour, BLAMMO!; major plot twist that I did not seeing coming from anywhere. ANYWHERE. Suddenly I was riveted, adored the actors (and co-writers, along with Director Amos Crawley) even more, and was truly excited to see how the story would play out.
I don't know how to summarize the plot without spoiling the twist and subsequent climax, so I'm not going to try, but PLEASE do yourself a favour and go and see this show. Don't ask too many questions before - just watch and enjoy the ride. You won't be disappointed.
For showtimes, click here; Facebook.
Finally: VIRGINIA ALDRIDGE, BSc
One woman/man shows are risky. If you, as an audience member, don't connect with the actor on stage, you're doomed for that agonizing disengaged boredom for the duration of the show. Elise Newman, writer/director of VIRGINIA ALDRIDGE BSc, did an excellent job writing the script, but outdid herself in the casting of Janelle Hanna as the title character. As soon as she opened her mouth, I fell in love with Virginia. Everything was endearing: her oddball attitudes, her love of insects and her insanely comic fantasies about what she'd rather her life be like.
Virginia goes to Cameroon, Africa to follow in the footsteps of her explorer hero, Mary Kingsley...and to impress a boy. As you do. The play is a mixture of Mary's fears, fantasies and the actual hilarious happenings in her hotel room in Douala, Cameroon. (If you've been to Africa solo, and not part of a tour group, the sequence with the cold shower and the lack of drainage will resonate BIG TIME). The show was excellent storytelling, with a character arc and plot closure not usually done so gracefully in a 50 minute run time. Theatre is about connection and character empathy, and I rooted for Virginia from the get-go. I wanted to be her friend, take her under my wing, and have her talk to me about her neurotic but charming theories. I could learn a lot about challenging myself from Virginia Aldridge. You probably could too; so go and see her! In her words, she's "awesome"!
For showtimes, click here. Facebook, Twitter handle (quoiquoiquoi).