World Theatre Day 2013

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The Gladstone Theatre team with the Rubber Chicken Award

Yesterday was World Theatre Day, and Ottawa’s Company of Fools once again organized the Ottawa Theatre Challenge to mark the occasion. I was approached by Nicholas Amott, a young actor of my acquaintance, to join him as a competitor in the challenge.

The way it works is this: each team is given 48 hours to prepare a five-minute play using three “objects of inspiration” that have been randomly assigned among the theatre companies involved. This year’s objects comprised a song, an object from someone’s house (not necessarily a household object), and a proverb. Nick and I were assigned the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent, a lucky penny, and the Russian proverb “Hope Dies Last.”

The Challenge, hosted by Teri Loretto, who has just finished directing my play False Assumptions, is great fun and gives Ottawa’s theatre community a welcome excuse to come together and celebrate our common passion to create. It’s also generally a very silly evening – which is what you might expect when it’s run by the Fools, bribes for judges Natalie Joy Quesnel, Patrick Gauthier and Eric Coates are heartily encouraged, and the prize for the winner is the coveted Rubber Chicken Award. All proceeds go to a charity chosen by the previous year’s winner – in this case, the ALS Society of Canada.

Part of the fun for me was the delight in being on stage for a change – usually I’m tucked safely away backstage somewhere – and I thought I detected a few gasps of astonishment from the audience at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage when I made my way into the spotlight. But it was also a joy to see what the other 14 companies were inspired to bring to the stage, and it was a real delight to see the Gladstone Theatre team win the rubber chicken for their inspiring Finnish homage to Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. (Their version, which I hope someone captured on video, is a truly profound complement – and compliment – to the version I saw in Ireland last year.)

So kudos to the Fools for making this happen, and congratulations to the Gladstone for their well-earned victory!

(And for those who might be wondering: Nick and I did walk away with the “Worst Presentation of Bribe” award, an achievement we are both happy to wear with pride.)

Galatea Coda

Although my reason for being in Ireland this month was to join the tour of “Galatea,” I was hoping I might also have the opportunity to see a bit of someone else’s theatre as well. So after my show closed in Derry, I made my way to the town of Enniskillen, not too far from Sligo, home to the new “Happy Days” Samuel Beckett festival. (The playwright went to school in the town.) There I saw Robert Wilson‘s production of Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” which he has been touring for the last few years; this was his only Irish appearance.

Idiosyncratic and brilliant, it draws its audience in with a stupendously loud crash of thunder and an extended rainstorm on a monochromatic set that tells you this performance will not be a brief one. Krapp appears in whiteface. He moves about the stage slowly. He eats a banana, and then another one. And then, after an eternity of moments has passed, he speaks.

This is theatre that is unabashedly theatrical, and it is remarkable to watch Wilson, who is now 70 years old – about Krapp’s age, come to think of it – carry it with such aplomb. The enthusiastic applause from the audience suggests that he hit his mark perfectly, and on emerging from his black and white world into the wildly green Irish countryside all I could do was try and process what I’d seen.

Wilson’s website offers additional images from the production. Of course, they don’t do justice to the show, but they do give a small sense of what it’s like. If it should be playing somewhere nearby, go see it!

From Enniskillen I made my way to Dublin, where I paid a visit to the Smock Alley Theatre, tucked in a tiny road on the edge of Temple Bar off the river Liffey. The Smock Alley prides itself on being one of the oldest theatres  in the English-speaking world, having been established in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II,like the Drury Lane in London.

I had seen shows there in years past, but this was my first chance to see what the place looked like since a major refurbishment that was completed earlier this year. As it happens, a young new company called Ramblinman was offering a production of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” which I thought would be fun to see. (Last year, I saw a production of “The Curse of the Starving Class” at the Abbey.)  It seems that in Dublin as in Ottawa recent graduates from acting programs find that the most opportune way to get on stage is to produce. In this instance the actors brought great enthusiasm, talent and energy to the play, and though one could quibble about certain choices they or the director made I found myself excited that they were having a go, and if I were living in Dublin I’d be very interested to see what they come up with next.

Finally, a friend suggested that I indulge in a midday excursion to the National Concert Hall – largely because the first item on the program was The Beautiful Galathea by Suppé.  The concert was delightful – a fitting coda for the tour.