Ottawa is just over a month away from the fourth incarnation of Undercurrents, its biggest juried independent theatre festival. What does Undercurrents have to offer theatre-goers here this year? Those questions were answered back in November at the media launch for Undercurrents 2014.
The Great Canadian Theatre Company’s Undercurrents, which subtitles itself as presenting theatre below the mainstream, is in its fourth year of presenting and celebrating shows that differ in form, content, and creation methods. Continuing its tradition of showcasing some of the best theatre artists from Ottawa, and across the country, Undercurrents 2014 will feature a line-up of six roughly one hour shows, each running five times in the GCTC Studio, including two and a half from Ottawa artists and one world premiere. Plus two bonus shows running in the GCTC lobby. Here’s your closer look, including how you can buy tickets.
Broken, by Ramshackle Theatre and coming all the way from Whitehorse, gets the first slot in the line-up, opening at 7pm on February 11th. Written and performed by Brian Fidler, and directed by Maiko Bae Yamamoto, Broken then runs every day until February 15th.
What if you forgot who you are? William has discovered a box of his late grandfather’s things: a broken camera, a pocket watch, a box of slides. Each object triggers a landslide of memories, revealing the complicated relationship between what he remembers and what he can never forget.
Drawing on Ramshackle Theatre’s puppetry of found objects, Broken is a story of 1985, lime poppe shoppe pop, and Alheimer’s Disease.
Sticking to the chronological happenings, February 11th also sees the opening of RiderGirl at 9pm. RiderGirl is the one-woman show of Ottawa’s own Colleen Sutton. It has had limited engagements in Ottawa prior to Undercurrents but this will be the first chance most Ottawans will get to see the highly acclaimed football themed show that Sutton toured around Canada last summer including stops at the Edmonton and Winnipeg Fringes and other cities where the CFL has teams and fans.
A prairie girl is seduced into sports fandom and discovers the rules don’t just apply to the game. Two-time Prix Rideau Award nominee Colleen Sutton throws herself into multiple characters as she fights for first downs and flags begin to fly. Loaded with laughs, it’s a fast-paced, physical and trash-talking march down the field that will haul your heart into the game. Come in your colours. It’s GAME TIME!
And yes local football fans, that’s the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, not the Ottawa Rough Riders.
Wednesday, February 12th sees a second run of Broken at 9pm, but also gives us the world premiere of Ciseaux, Undercurrents’ first fully French show (though it will have English surtitles), written and directed by Lisa L’Heureux.
Deux vies tissées par un lien. Chacune portant en elle le pôle opposé. L’une le nord, l’autre le sud. L’autre, son homologue inséparable, sa négation. L’autre, vers qui tout converge jusqu’à en être indissociable. Comme deux lames de ciseaux.
The plays opens in a schoolyard. A scene that appears to be familiar. A new girl, Olivia, is searching to fit in, but is pushed aside and intimidated by another girl, Phanie. But quickly this reality slides into unfamiliar territory as a civil war breaks out and both girls young girls find themselves trying to survive in this new reality. Olivia, who is mistaken for a boy, becomes a child soldier, while Phanie eventually is turned into a sex slave. Ciseaux is the story of these two girls.
Thursday’s premiere show (the 9pm slot is once again taken by Broken) at 7pm is a bit of verbatim theare in the form of The Tashme Project: The Living Archives created and performed by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa from Montreal and Ottawa respectively.
The Tashme Project is a verbatim theatre piece that traces the history and common experience of the Nisei (or 2nd Generation Japanese Canadians) through childhood, WW2 internment and post-war resettlement. Now in their 70’s and 80’s, the Nisei were children at the time of internment and their stories of adventure and play are presented in sharp relief to the more common internment narratives of hardship and injustice.
The first friday of Undercurrents gives us A Quiet Sip of Coffee (or, This is Not the Play We’ve Written) from AnimalParts in Toronto. The fast paced show created and performed by Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz opens at 7pm.
In the summer of 2004, Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz – self-proclaimed gay/straight best friends duo – wrote a prank letter to a fundamentalist “ex-gay” organization asking for funds to develop their new play: Never Cry Wolfman. To their surprise, they were invited to workshop the play at the group’s retreat in rural British Columbia – under the condition that they also spend two weeks participating in gay conversion therapy. Years later, the friends reunite to tell their story as a piece of theatre.
Then, on Saturday, you get your last chance to see Broken, a second chance at The Tashme Project and RiderGirl, and your first chance to see show number six and catch popular clowning duo, Morro and Jasp, when they open Morro and Jasp do Puberty at 9pm. Created and performed by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, the hilarious Morro and Jasp do Puberty has been touring festivals and winning awards internationally since 2009 making it a sure bet to warm up your February.
Morro and Jasp do Puberty explores clown sisters Morro and Jasp’s journey into almost adulthood. As Jasp marvels at the wonders of boys and brand new bodily functions, Morro awkwardly attempts to hide from the inevitable changes overtaking her. This show is perfect for anyone who wants to remember (or forget) the magical and terrifying journey that is growing up. A hilarious look back at the best period of your life!
You can check in with the Great Canadian Theatre Company for the full schedule of what’s playing when. The only added insight I can throw your way is that (a) Colleen Sutton is a delightful performer who is extremely passionate about her material and has been well received all across the country so unless you loathe Football, RiderGirl’s a good bet and (b) I’ve heard nothing but great things about Morro and Jasp and suspect them likely to become the hit of the festival. If I were only able to see two shows this year, those would probably be them.
Last year, in addition to the regular line-up, Undercurrents patrons also got to make Bread. Bread was an interactive bit of theatre performed by Karen Balcome and Geoff McBride, where the audience got to witness their show while making bread along with them. Continuing the tradition this year, running in the GCTC lobby in between shows most days of the festival is Can We Talk, created and performed by Ottawa’s Sarah Conn, who previously graced Undercurrents in 2012 with And Then It Happens.
The phone’s ringing and it might be for you! Emma from Victoria is on the line and she has some questions about life in Ottawa. Part storytelling, part conversation, “Can we talk” is an exploration of the impulse to leave the place where you were born, emigration by choice, and the decision to stay behind. “Can we talk” is an interactive and immersive live art piece for one audience member.
For one audience member (or ten by the time the run is finished), the 20-minute Can We Talk is going to be an interactive and immersive experience with that audience member being a part of the show. It’s unclear if you need to inquire in advance to be that one audience member or whether somebody is chosen at the beginning of every show so if you’re keen on being a part of the festival yourself, make sure to ask when booking your tickets.
The final show of Undercurrents, also running in the lobby and having only a one night engagement is Mi Casa Theatre’s REVISED From the Belly of a Whale.
REVISED From the Belly of a Whale is a response to 2012’s LIVE From the Belly of a Whale – a show that almost tore a company and friendship apart. Join Mi Casa for a live reconciliation party/concert as they examine their friendship while unpacking their flawed creative process, air the skeletons in their closet and probe the delicate and personal nature of the imagination. drinks, music, laughs and warm hearts included.
Live from the Belly of a Whale rocked Undercurrents in 2012 and remains among my top theatrical experiences to date, so barring disaster, I’ll be there for REVISED, even if it’s not entirely clear exactly what REVISED is going to be.
Tickets to all Undercurrents shows are $15 with discounts on package deals. The exceptions here are Can We Talk for which every show is pay what you can, and REVISED From the Belly of a Whale, where tickets are $10 and apparently include a free downloadable track from the show.
While the unfortunate truth of the schedule is that you will be only be able to see two shows a night one time the first week of the festival because of Broken’s uninterrupted run, don’t let that discourage you from getting out to the other shows either individually or as pairs later in the festival.
All shows take place in the Studio at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, at the intersection of Holland and Wellington. Tickets can be purchased online (where you can also find the full schedule of shows), by phone by calling 613-236-5196 or in person.
Your turn. I’ve told you what I’m most looking forward to. What are you looking forward to? What has you so excited you just can’t stand it? Did I miss something that people just need to know about any of the shows in the line-up? Tell us in the comments below.
All photos in this article provided by the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Photo credit for Broken: Ian Stewart. Photo credit for A Quiet Sip of Coffee: Lily Jamali. Photo credit for Ciseaux: Marianne Duval. Photo credit for Morro and Jasp: Alex Nirta. Photo credit for RiderGirl: Andrew Alexander.