If you’re interested in boundary-pushing multi-media theater, Toronto is the place to be this October. Why? Because Vancouver’s Electric Company has pitched up to open Canadian Stage’s 2012-2013 season with their multi-media extravaganza, Tear the Curtain.
I’m looking forward to seeing the production later this month, and was able to interview Artistic Director and co-creator Kevin Kerr in advance of their opening.
From the show’s press release:
“…the production follows Alex Braithwaite (played by [Jonathon] Young), a jaded theatre critic in a gritty film noir rendition of Vancouver in the 1930s, as the advent and popularity of the “Talkies” threatens the existence of theatre. When Alex falls for the screen siren Mila, he’s caught dangerously between two warring mob families: one controlling the city’s playhouses, the other, its cinemas. Alex tries to tear through the artifice and war between these art forms without selling his soul – or losing his mind. Devised as a detective story, the plot unravels on stage in a seamless blend of filmed and live performance, leaving the audience to decipher which medium they are seeing.”
Below, Kevin Kerr discusses the changes the show will undergo as it moves to Toronto, how social media has affected the marketing of productions like Tear the Curtain, the play as a site-specific piece, and more.
RLBrody.com: How is the show changing as it moves to Toronto?
Kerr: We love the opportunity to revisit, tune, and improve upon a work when we have a chance like this, so started by going back to the script and revised, tweak, found cuts, and in some cases entirely re-wrote scenes we weren’t satisfied with. There were then some adjustments to the film with some new edits and trimming. And that meant some changes in sound and the score. The new venue also required some adjustments in the set design to deal with different dimensions. And because the precision required in the relationship between the film projection and the set there was some strategizing around the technical aspects of the projection in the Bluma. The result, we feel is a tighter, stronger piece overall.
RLB: How well do you feel the video trailers communicate the feelings, moods and experiences your audiences undergo during a performance of Tear the Curtain? Do you feel there’s a risk in trying to communicate the feeling of a live performance through the 2D medium of a computer monitor?
Kerr: I think the trailer communicates fairly well the tone and style of the piece. Of course the filmic component of the piece is particularly well represented and the trailer feels a lot like a contemporary feature film trailer and it showcases nicely the quality and success of the film-making and Brian Johnson’s beautiful cinematography and Kim’s brilliant direction.
But it’s really impossible to authentically capture the effect of the show in performance — video is never satisfying in the its representation of theatre, and in this case I feel it’s even harder to understand the exact nature of what you’ll see and its effect on you. But I think because the trailer draws exclusively from the film, but watching it you know it’s for a piece of theatre, I hope that it teases at least with a promise of something really exciting and perhaps prompts the viewer to question, “how exactly are they going to do this? What will it look like in performance?”
RLB: Can you talk a little about the social media outreach that’s gone into producing and then touring Tear the Curtain? How did the rise of social media (Twitter, Vimeo, etc) change the process of marketing the play from what it might have been if the production was taking place ten years ago?
Kerr: For starters, it allows a more active dialogue between audience and the company, with our audience being able to follow and share and inject their enthusiasm into our process. It makes promoting or marketing a show much more personal, even with something as simple as the act of commenting on our facebook wall, or twitter account, not to mention the capacity for audience members to engage each other in a dialogue around the work this way.
And visually oriented platforms like vimeo, youtube, flickr, etc. are ideal arenas to share this project (and our other works) as the play is so visually spectacular. The film component of the piece makes for great footage to share on video hosting sites (as seen with the trailer) and production stills are easy to share this way as well on our website and via facebook and twitter, etc. And we’ve worked hard collaborating with our partners at Actors Equity to rethink some of the old models and restrictions around use of imagery or video footage from a work, as the developments in social media have really provided a great way to promote not only the show, but the artists who are literally irreplaceable in the piece.
RLB: From what I’ve read, there’s an interesting relationship about duality between the space and the content of Tear The Curtain in Vancouver. GayVancouver.net talks about how “Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre was transformed into its dual historical personality, as both a venue for film and theatre.” Can you talk about the piece as a site-specific production?
Kerr: The play began with a commission from the Arts Club Theatre, which has a few venues including the Stanley. When we were imagining what we might pitch as a project, we started talking about the Stanley as favourite venue of ours and as we chatted about its interesting dual identity in the city as a once grand old cinema from the golden age of movies, and now this beautifully restored live theatre, with all of that vintage charm, the spark ignited. It felt like a perfect opportunity to take our ongoing exploration of a tension between mediated and immediate performance to a new level with a pitch to create a true film/theatre hybrid where both mediums shared equally the weight of telling the story.
So the Stanley became a sort of character in its own right as we started with the space in our early explorations of possible content. And research into its history and certain specific details (like that it was supposedly originally envisaged as a vaudeville theatre, but quickly rethought as a movie theatre before construction began; or that its first movie was Lillian Gish’s first “talkie” called “One Romantic Night” adapted from a stage play called The Swan; etc.) began to give us clues or touchstones as we started to develop the story.
So the dual identity of the building was a departure point to the dual identity of the form of the piece (film/theatre), which itself reflects the content: a character who is faced with a crisis of a fractured sense of self and caught between the forces of the avant garde and the mainstream — each one dangerously seductive in their own way.
RLB: When someone talks about “pushing the boundaries of conventional theatre”, what do you think those boundaries are? In what ways is pushing those boundaries a conscious choice, and in what ways is it something that happens because of the subject matter? (Particularly in relation to immersive theater experiences, such as Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More.)
Kerr: I suppose conventional theatre (as we understand it in Canada) assumes such things as the primacy of the text (or the spoken word or the playwright); the separation of the audience from the aesthetic of the production; the narrative neutrality of the venue; the adherence to a unified genre, form, or style; the notion of a packaged “season of plays”; the actor as some sort of shape shifter, channeler, or avatar that becomes the character; the design as embellishment or illustration; the director as interpreter (over creator) among other conventions.
None of these conventions is inherently wrong, and we’ve exemplified them all at various times in our works. But I think we’ve also deliberately challenged them all regularly. Often it is primarily because the piece demands a break from convention, but it also conscious choice — a recognition that theatre is a living changing organism that suffers when stuck looking back; that many of those conventions can exclude the audience, or maybe worse pacify, and they can also oppress the creative process and limit the artistic conversation which wants to keep up with an accelerating world. Most importantly, we want theatre to be something that celebrates and manifests our connection between each other, that excites and provokes our active imagination, that recognizes our the beauty of our living and temporary physical forms, and that acknowledges us all as the constant inventors of the world we live in, moment to moment.
Thank you to Kevin Kerr for an interview that sheds a lot of light on the process and product associated with Tear the Curtain’s Toronto production. The show runs from October 7-20th, opening the 2012-2013 season at Canadian Stage; the production will take place at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E). Tickets range from $24 to $99 and are available by phone at 416.368.3110, online at www.canadianstage.com, or in person at the box office.
Look forward to my review of Tear the Curtain, coming later this month. Subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss it, and check out the show’s video trailer on Vimeo.