Dead Unicorn…the name suggests the demise of magic, the extinction of the unique and the spirited. In fact, it’s completely the opposite.
Dead Unicorn Ink is one of the most original and inspired companies around.
The original trio that made up Dead Unicorn Ink were all graduates of Ottawa U, whose MFA company is called Unicorn Theatre. “So Dead Unicorn was a way to show that we were taking what we learned and moving on with it,” explains Patrice-Ann Forbes who, along with husband Ted Forbes, remains a Dead Unicorn fixture.
Both have a background in design, even if Patrice-Ann’s original ambitions were on the acting side – hence, their large-scale shows, populated with sock puppet zombies, talking furniture and giant lizard heads. It’s these high, innovative production values, in fact, that have made the troupe repeat favourites at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, first in 2011 with Playing Dead, then in 2013 with Space Mystery from Outer Space. They’re back again this year – even if some past company members aren’t – with a new show, Kavalier’s Kuriosities.
“Kavalier’s Kuriosities is very different than anything we’ve done before,” explains Patrice-Ann. “It’s dark and it’s loaded with personal struggles and very uncomfortable situations” – a stark (and we mean stark) contrast to the company’s early catalogue, campy takes on B horror movies, of which then members were all fans “Not to say that there aren’t a few laughs in this one,” Patrice-Ann is quick to add, “but the end will leave you feeling sad.”
This daring departure was written (hence Ink, not Inc.,) as are all of the outfit’s efforts, in a highly collaborative manner. The story was brought to them by two Algonquin College theatre grads, Aaron Lajeunesse and Jeremy Piamonte. Much jawing later, this funny show originally about ducks became the bleak tale of a travelling freak show. “I think the audience can really identify with that,” says an unafraid Patrice-Ann. “Who hasn’t felt out of place like a freak?”
And pleasing the audience is what Dead Unicorn Ink is all about:”Our goal when we first started the company was to get our non-theatre friends out to see shows. Pinter, Chekov and Walker are all intimidating names for people who don’t live in this world. Modern audiences don’t have a lot of tolerance for that – especially when an awesome film like Godzilla is playing at the cinema for half the ticket price! So we wanted to take Godzilla and put him on stage, breathing fire and eating people, and hoping that he would bring his audience with him and that the audience would get addicted to seeing live shows.”
It’s a plan, much to Patrice-Ann and co.’s credit, that’s working. Playing Dead and Space Mystery were unqualified Fringe successes, because, as Patrice-Ann explains, the company wasn’t daunted by the unwritten Fringe rule of limited set and tech. The company makes it a habit to pull out all of the stops, regardless of venue, budget or Ted’s temperament, which, wife Patrice-Ann confesses can sometimes be Godzilla-like itself. “We will come to him with crazy design ideas and always the immediate answer is ‘No, can’t do that, impossible!’ Then, a couple of days later, he will come back all excited with a way to make it work” (and keep the marriage working, as a result, too.)
While Ottawa audiences will have a chance to once again see Dead Unicorn Ink at work, Patrice-Ann is proud to announce that, right after the Ottawa Fringe, other Canadians will too. The Unicorn will be galloping to Halifax for the Atlantic Fringe Festival at the end of the summer and are hoping to play the fresh Meat Festival a second time. After that, they’ll be back at home, wowing them at TACTICS, a truncated theatre season at downtown’s Arts Court.
Dead Unicorn Ink? Sounds like this Unicorn is alive and riding high!