undercurrents festival promises “urgent” theatre

A collection of provocative and political theatre productions are set to take the stage at this year’s undercurrents festival. The shows will run out of Arts Court Theatre, Arts Court Studio, and the National Arts Centre (NAC) from Feb. 7-17.

The festival’s tagline is “theatre below the mainstream.” Patrick Gauthier, the festival curator, is attempting to achieve this by programming work that he refers to as “urgent.”

“We try to break through the stereotype that theatre is stuffy activity,” he said.

Productions at undercurrents range in scale from one-person shows to a team of 100 people. The Twilight Parade, is a grassroots production company put together by the community of Wakefield, Que.

“It’s like herding cats,” said Nadia Ross, director of The Twilight Parade.

The show is a non-traditional approach to theatre, and includes elements of puppetry, film, and live voice-over. This allowed  for a large number of people to be involved with the project that took two years to complete.

Ross added that a  movie is projected with two large tables on either side of the screen, where the actors do all the voices for every character in the movie. There are nine actors performing the voices for 45 characters in the film.

The show focuses on income inequality, and how that tension affects the social fabric of the community. It is easier to see the effects of inequality take its toll in a small town, like Wakefield, according to Ross.

undercurrents will also feature up-and-coming work that has been part of Ottawa Fringe’s under development program, and provides local artists with access to rehearsal and creation spaces.

Luna Allison has been working on The Shit Show as part of the under development program. She said she has benefitted from this long-term form of residency.

“Rather than just doing binge writing for two weeks, somewhere in the mountains or by the seaside, you’re in your life and you’re getting support to create this work,” she said.

At the festival next week, she will perform a 25-minute excerpt of The Shit Show, which is currently a work-in-progress.

Allison, who is a recovering germaphobe, said “the research has been a completely disgusting experience.” The project was inspired by the tremendous fear people feel towards the natural process of pooping, and she said the process has taught her about the underpinnings of shame in our society.

A highlight of undercurrents will be the sole performance of Daughter on Feb. 10 at the NAC.

“Doing Daughter now couldn’t be more relevant, which is sad in a way,” Gauthier said.

The show focuses on the fragility of men, according to co-creator Adam Lazarus.

“People are really rattled by it,” he said. “People really love it, or really hate it, and the two of them talk to each other, and that’s been amazing,”

To encourage a conversation, the NAC will be hosting a talk-back after the performance. Past performances of the show have provided access to women’s shelter and trauma recovery resources, engaging thinkers about how to end violence against women, according to Lazarus.

“Theatre starts the conversation,” he said. “We’re in a challenging moment in history, but hopefully the tide is turning, and I believe that happens through conversation.”

Photo provided