Sunday, September 26, 2010

Empty Chairs

So, it's been just over a week since Objecthood closed, and I guess I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that it's over.

The post-show melancholy remains, reinforced this past Friday when I was at SFU Woodward's for Contemporary Arts' Open House (continuing today, though without performances; details here) and took a visiting friend to see Studio T, the space in which our piece ran. The lights and set (such as it was) had been struck, of course. But what really got me was that the rather luxurious and plush chairs that had filled the risers for our audiences had been replaced by cheaper folding metal ones.

I saw later that ours had been moved into the bigger Fei and Milton Wong Theatre, which was hosting the mainstage Open House performances that night. Still, it made me feel a little sad.

Not that it wasn't a great run: enthusiastic audiences, performances by Justin and Vic that just got better and better, a crew that faced every challenge with professional aplomb, and, heck, we even made some money. It would have been nice to get a review, but the email responses from friends and colleagues have been so gratifying. And it was great to talk through the process with Don and Rob K last Wednesday in front of Henry Daniel's class, who had all seen the show, and had some really smart responses to it.

One consequence of all this is that I'm completely behind in my own theatre-going. I saw nothing at the Fringe, and have yet to get to The Electric Company's Tear the Curtain. We're going to Park: The Musical at Studio 58 next Friday. I plan to get there early so we can get a good seat.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Gondola Gossip

The rumours I had been hearing about were finally confirmed in yesterday's Vancouver Sun. Translink is indeed considering building a gondola from Production Way Skytrain Station up to SFU!

There's the little matter of the $70 million prince tag but, heck, the announcement was enough for me to begin celebrating: no more long line-ups for buses that putter up the hill; no more walking down said hill during snowstorms; better for the environment; and something else we can hold over UBC.

Our own little bit of Venice in Burnaby...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gertrude Stein and a Companion

This past Tuesday, I finally got to see our sister show, Gertrude Stein and a Companion, running just down the hall in SFU Woodward's Studio D until this Saturday.

Having only heard a very little about the show from Kugler over the past year, I was amazed to discover the parallels between our two works. Both Gertrude and Objecthood are two-handers that combine presentational/lecture-style address to the audience with more intimate moments of dialogue between their respective acting couples. Both also combine movement, projections, music/sound, and lighting/design as part of a larger interdisciplinary aesthetic, while also still reveling in the pleasures of language (though I'm hardly a match for the words by Stein quoted in Wells' play). Both pieces also, I would say, have at their core a theory of objecthood; in Gertrude this takes at least two forms, with the character of Stein ruminating at length, and lovingly, on Alice B. Toklas as the "object of her affections," and with both women in turn discoursing on their paintings as objects. Finally, both plays are in some fundamental sense about grieving the end of a relationship, and the atemporality that necessarily goes along with that process. The future anteriority that underscores the conversation between Vic and Justin throughout much of my play (how they met always already shadowed by how they will part) is transformed in Gertrude into a kind of past perfect, with the play's conceit taking the form of a beyond-the-grave Stein watching over and simultaneously longing to be reunited with her beloved Alice.

As Stein, the formidable Gina Stockdale is in full command, effortlessly engaging her audience in intimate confidences not just about Alice's manifold loveliness, but also Stein's own de facto genius. SFU Contemporary Arts Events Manager Heather Blakemore, who also serves as costume designer on Gertrude, told me last week that the Alice Toklas in this show is very much a "fantasy" Alice, Alice seen through Stein's besotted rose-coloured glasses. And, indeed, Kathryn Ricketts plays her as much more gossamer and ethereal than one might at first suspect from having formed an impression of the woman via grainy historical photos or literary gossip. Taller and thinner than the real-life Toklas, and displaying in the simplest of movements (languishing on a divan, for example) her dancer's training, Ricketts conveys not just why it was so easy for Stein to fall in love with Alice, but Pablo Picasso as well. Ditto Stockdale confiding the other great love of her life--Ernest Hemingway (much to Alice's dismay).

This is a witty, moving, and intellectually stimulating play about the complex lines of affection and affiliation in a relationship, deftly directed by Penelope Stella, who has a sure sense of how the head and the heart interact in this work (not to mention language and the body). All of which makes for great dramatic synergies with Objecthood.

Both plays continue tonight through Saturday at SFU Woodward's; call 778-782-3514 for tickets.


Monday, September 13, 2010

A Post-Olympic Ghost Town

First we learn that more than 65% of market housing units in the False Creek South Athletes' Village development now known as Millennium Water remain unsold.

The cost overruns on the controversial development are admittedly severe, a situation the current Vision Vancouver-led municipal government inherited from its predecessor. However, this isn't the way to go about remedying things. Even folks at BC Housing remain perplexed.

Empty luxury condos, vacant produce aisles at Urban Fare, and rows of gleaming new exercise equipment waiting to be used at the city's newest--and most under-accessed--community centre are one thing. To abet the shortage of affordable housing in the city through such shenanigans is just plain scandalous.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Opening Night

It's been a while since my last post. I've been preoccupied with the start of term (which has entailed learning a new admin job) and, even more so, with the lead up to the opening of The Objecthood of Chairs, which happened last night.

It was, I guess, what one might call a "soft" opening. A small but, I like to think, appreciative audience joined us at SFU Woodward's Studio T for what the front of house manager rather grandiosely introduced as the "world premiere" of my play.

Even following nearly a year of workshops, three weeks of intensive rehearsal, two dress runs, and Tuesday night's invited preview performance, I still get goose bumps when Milena calls for the house lights to dim and then, courtesy Jay, we hear the first beats of Martin's opening music, "Les Chaises," followed by Jordan's fade in of the two upstage specials designed by James to showcase the bentwoods first brought on stage by Justin and Vic, who shimmer gorgeously in Flo's costumes. Then there's that long, expectant pause as J and V position themselves with their backs to the audience before beginning the opening "Stand and Release" movement sequence choreographed by Rob K, supplemented by Kugler's direction regarding the bringing on of the other four chairs. Finally, Sammy and Shang-Han call up the opening film projections by Rob G, only at the end of which do we hear my words. And, as an added insider bonus, I know that Lain and Caroline linger behind the upstage legs, waiting to bring out crucial props later on in the performance.

The slow accumulation of these different component parts at the start of our show sums up the whole process of this collaboration for me--the performance is at a place now where I can no longer imagine it without any of these elements. Nor without the incredibly talented and generous contributions of all the individuals (and more) mentioned above. I had a vision--crazy perhaps--of what might be possible by putting two performers and six chairs on stage, and then seeing what happens when text, movement, video, music, dramaturgy, and design are added into the mix. These folks have helped me realize that vision, and I'm in awe of what they all can do. Especially Justin and Vic, who've been with this project from the beginning, and who've learned each other's disciplines expressly for it. This piece places impossible demands on them, and they nail it each time.

So, I'd like to think a soft opening portends a slow build. We are competing with a lot of other offerings in the city, including the Fringe, the Playhouse's much-praised mounting of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre (with PuSh Festival Associate Curator Dani Fecko doing an amazing job--onstage and off--as stage manager), and the premiere of the much anticipated new show by The Electric Company, Tear the Curtain, at the Stanley. And, although by no means our competition, there is our excellent sister show next door in SFU Woodward's Studio D, Gertrude Stein and a Companion. It hasn't helped that The Georgia Straight seems to have screwed up our listings info, meaning we're without any print media publicity for both weeks of our run.

That screw-up has hopefully been mitigated somewhat by the on-air interview I did yesterday with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition (you can listen to what I had to say by following the links from here.) Despite being barely awake, and despite Rick getting the name of our show wrong to begin with, I think the conversation went well, and hopefully some listeners will be curious enough to check out the show. I've been asked to do a similar interview next week with Radio-Canada, which means brushing up on my French.

At any rate, even if audiences don't come out in droves, this has already been an amazingly rewarding process--again, for the opportunity to work with this great bunch of people; and for the generous feedback that has already come in. As one audience member communicated her response to last night's show to Kugler, her connection to the play began more in her mind and ended more in her heart.

That's satisfaction enough for me.