Jun 8, 2009

This Is What I Mean By "Play"

The key word for the inaugural New Waves Festival (running as part of Luminato) at the Young Centre this past weekend? Playful. Yeah, "play" as in theatre and performing -but "play"also, equally, as in playing-around. Comme un enfant.

Take the Artists in the Closet series. A limited number of people were invited into a weensy little space –okay, a bathroom –to sit and chat with an upcoming Canadian artist for five to ten minutes. My friend and I had the pleasure of being part of Toronto rapper Theo3’s little ‘crib’ –he introduced us to the artists who influenced him growing up (vinyl album covers lined the small perimeter of the loo) and talked about how being in such an intimate environment made him feel both inspired and intimidated. Ha. Says you, I thought, perched on a little makeshift bench (apparently the real "throne" was off limits, with a big 'DON'T SIT HERE' scrawl written across the bowl in red sharpie. Art? You decide.).

The rapper also presented his own unique take on Coldplay’s monster-hit “Clocks.” Love them or loathe them, you have to admit, the tune has a good, catchy intro. Theo used it to full effect, playing a loop of it on a boombox as he launched into a rap about his background and interest in rap. Kind of neat to hear him smoothly integrate the past with the present, even introducing his girlfriend, standing shyly around the corner from the entrance with a big, proud grin. Aw.

Equally affecting was the Bedtime Stories feature, in which a violinist/singer serenaded a roomful of strangers, all of us laid out on cots.

"This is like something out of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort," remarked my friend as the harsh, flourescent-lit room transformed into a dark cave with swirling projections of stars and galaxies overhead.

The scene reminded me of having sleepovers with my childhood buddy, who had a veritable galaxy stuck up on his own bedroom ceiling. We'd hit the lights and walk around with light sabers (okay, empty wrapping paper rolls) as the stars twinkled overhead. Yup, playful, and a direct route back to childhood.

One of the most interesting activities was Seven Singing Structures, featuring, among others, Canadian singer (and YC Resident Artist) Patricia O’Callaghan. The seven entertained onlookers in the Young Centre’s palatial lobby by singing in harmony, with huge, architectural headgear balanced precariously on the performers’ lids. Huh? One singer had the Eiffel Tower balanced atop his head. Talk about your overbearing culture. No matter. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and the singing was damn beautiful.

Once the Towering-Headgear Singers finished, fellow YC Resident Artist David Buchbinder played his trademark mix of klezmer-meets-Cuban sounds with a quartet at the other end of the lobby. To quote Jenny Holzer, contradiction is balance.

Outside the Young Centre, Cellular was being presented by actor/director David Ferry and a troupe of Canadian playwrights and performers including Maja Ardal], Florence Gibson, Catherine Hernandez, Kate Hewlett, and Daniel Karasik. the art machine, one of the works under the Cellular banner, and written by Marjorie Chan, involved dialing a number with a cell phone, before following a series of commandments by a disembodied voice (the "Jump up and down" bit seemed to really amuse passers-by, natch).


The voice also queried participants with questions like, "Have you ever stolen anything?", "Have you ever lied?" and required a public show of hands. You think I'm going to reveal this stuff in public? Ha.

The last question was for the participants to reveal a secret they'd never told anyone before. Ooooh, what a dandy. After a long, awkward pause, one brave participant revealed he’d once … (drumroll)… pinched a baby.

My own mobile unfortunately died midway through (irony, perhaps?) and one of the hosts for the mini-show loaned me his. What my dead-mobile did allow was to note the reactions of participants –glancing at each other for validation, laughing awkwardly, and being generally involved in communicating with a machine, as opposed to one another -which, all told, was (is) probably the point of Cellular itself. It was an interesting juxtaposition of modern communicating and theatre community.

Walking around the Young Centre Saturday, it was hard to believe this was the same building that had housed (and produced, via Soulpepper Theatre) such serious works as Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Marsha Norman’s ‘Night Mother. The Centre’s resident artists have created something that allows for participating as well as communicating, juxtaposing, and –perhaps most importantly –playing. Play, what it means and how it’s perceived, is what’s being examined -an celebrated. Hell yeah. Play on.

Addendum: For more photos from the New Waves Fest, check out my Flickr photostream.

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