Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Edward Curtis Project and The Show Must Go On Redux

I'm trying to stay on top of the shows I'm seeing at PuSh with this blog, although one consequence of that will likely be that the posts get shorter and shorter.

Yesterday afternoon it was The Edward Curtis Project at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. The talent alone brought together for this project is astounding: playwright and co-director Marie Clements; photojournalist Rita Leistner; dramaturg Paula Danckert (currently with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa); co-director Brenda Leadley; and a cast that includes Kathleen Duborg, Stephen E. Miller (also a noted novelist), Kevin Loring (himself a GG award-winning playwright for the recent Where the Blood Mixes), and Tamara Podemski (a talented singer and actress who has appeared on Broadway and film and television on both sides of the border).

However, the "project" is mostly a unique collaboration between Clements and Leistner. Leistner's recent photographs chronicling the survival of Aboriginal peoples in the Americas serve as a contrast to Curtis' photographic archive purportedly devoted to their "vanishing" in the 19th-century, featuring as slides in the play and also comprising an accompanying exhibit in the Presentation House Museum adjacent the theatre. Against this visual backdrop, Clements' play stages a transhistorical encounter between the ghost of Curtis and a contemporary Aboriginal journalist, Angeline, traumatized by a tragedy she witnessed while serving as a correspondent in the Arctic, and who is given a copy of a coffee table book containing several of Curtis' photographs by her psychiatrist sister as part of her convalescence.

The play, which still feels to me like it is evolving (though apparently a publication with Talonbooks which will also include Leistner's photographs is imminent), avoids the too-easy castigation of Curtis, who, despite his misguided sentiments and ethics, was deeply committed to his photographic project. However, I also feel that its concomitant focus on survival and on the need for "love" within and across Aboriginal communities is a way around asking some harder questions on both sides.

Nevertheless, the 90 minute production is intense and emotionally powerful, and the story of Angeline evokes definite parallels, as my student Alex notes over at Performing Vancouver, with George Ryga's Ecstasy of Rita Joe. You can read Alex's take on the play here.

After the post-show talkback at Edward Curtis it was a mad dash back to Vancouver via the seabus, as I was on promo and fundraising duty for the last performance of The Show Must Go On at SFU Woodward's last night. I'm not sure how my pre-show pitch for dollars went, but it was a treat to sit through another performance of the piece, and to observe more intently this time the reactions of the audience.

Last night's crowd seemed more muted (no singing during Imagine, one walkout that I observed), although by the time we got to Celine Dion's Titanic theme everyone seemed completely on side. And with "Every Breath You Take" and "I Want Your Sex" people were clapping and dancing in the aisles with general abandon. The thunderous applause the cast received at the end seemed more than genuine.

I'll be curious to see what my students have to say tomorrow in my Performing Vancouver class; all were required to take in this show, and I saw at least three of them at last night's performance. Alex gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up when I asked him his thoughts at Edward Curtis, and David and Shawn and Melissa have already posted initial enthusiastic reviews here and here and here.

I'm thrilled my students have embraced so enthusiastically the PuSh aesthetic, and I can't wait for tomorrow's class discussion.

Tonight we're off to the final performance of Jerk at VIVO on Main. Bobbi, our Fundraising Manager, said to make sure to watch something really funny when we got home!


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