In This World: Theatre For Young Audiences & Everyone Else

kristin slaney & helena pipe

Toronto-based playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s play In this World was produced as part of Supernova Next this past weekend, a program of events for youth and families produced in partnership between Halifax Theatre For Young People and Eastern Front Theatre. In This World, a Halifax Theatre For Young People’s production, was first mounted at Alderney Landing Theatre back in the Fall. I wish the remounted run had been longer because this is a play that I think a lot of Junior and Senior High students would really enjoy.

In This World finds two former friends, Bijou, a spoiled, self righteous Caucasian daughter of privilege and Neyssa, a worldlier Jamaican-born Dartmouthian of working class, waiting in a small room in their private school to be punished for a physical altercation that has left Bijou with a bloody lip. Throughout the next sixty minutes the girls delve deep and unapologetically into issues of race, class and sexual assault as the truth behind Neyssa’s hurt and anger toward Bijou slowly unravels.

What I love so much about the way that Hannah Moscovitch has crafted this play is that she has written a play about teenagers rather than trying to write a play for them. Here, Moscovitch encourages her audience, regardless of their age, to raise complex questions about pertinent issues in contemporary society and doesn’t suggest that there are easy and universal answers. Instead of telling people what they should be doing, Moscovitch asks her audiences to consider what their own individual response to the situation would be and to try and look at this moment on stage from the perspective of Neyssa as well as Bijou. Instead of pitting the girls and their points of view against one another In This World encourages empathy for both of them.

I also love how Moscovitch stays so true to the logic of her teenaged characters, whose opinions on these complicated subjects can be simultaneously forceful yet uncertain. She weaves racist and classist comments into Bijou’s tirade against Neyssa as part of her struggle for dominance in a way that feels so naive but also so disturbing. It reminded me of an article I read not too long ago about “hipster racism,” the idea that because we, as a society have “moved past racism,” that it is okay and fair to be racist in an ironic way because the playing field has been levelled. Bijou compares being called a slut with calling Neyssa the N-word (a word she can’t even bring herself to say), as though because they both attend the same private school that somehow everything and anything insulting is fair game. Throughout the play this image that Bijou has shatters completely, but Moscovitch has hit on this absurd concept so perceptively and compellingly, that comes from the privileged mind set, “Since my ancestors have fought for our Civil Rights, they have given me the freedom to say and do whatever I want and have it be okay because you can say and do whatever you want too.” She even pits feminism against racism here, but all from the points of view of two girls whose opinions on these subjects are still entirely malleable and as yet uninformed.

Tessa Mendel directs this production in a seemingly simple way, there is a minimalist set and limited movement, which really feeds into the intensity of these two forceful girls exploding with emotion being contained within a very small space, in a school where they cannot get too loud. The potential for Neyssa to explode is always present, which adds a lovely tension to the play.

Kristin Slaney plays Bijou reminiscent of Molly Ringwald’s character in The Breakfast Club, she carries herself with an air of propriety and expresses her anger more in haughtiness and contempt than in any pure or honest emotion. She is a little devious, a little manipulative, always trying to worm her way out of taking responsibility, she pretends she doesn’t care about things that are clearly eating her up inside and deep down she is obviously a very scared and very vulnerable little girl. Slaney is terrific at throwing all these aspects into her performance in a very subtle way. Her vocal timbre throughout the show is quite high and airy, which I loved at the beginning because it evoked the airs that she was putting on and also the anxiety of her situation, but I would have liked to have seen her voice become lower and more grounded as the play progressed so that we got the sense of at least some release for Bijou of the bright facade that she presents.

Helena Pipe plays Neyssa and she is absolutely incredible. She has just the right mixture of attitude and vulnerability, passive aggressiveness and poignant emotion, that the audience becomes immediately hooked and invested in uncovering the truth of her journey. Pipe performs this emotionally ravaged character as though it were the easiest thing in the world to do and there were not a bit of acting involved. She makes this production soar. I want to see much, much more of her in the theatre in this city in the future because I think she could do anything and be brilliant. Write her name down, folks: Helena Pipe; you won’t want to forget it!

In all, In This World doesn’t let its intense subject matter outshine the relationship, which is at the heart of this story, between Bijou and Neyssa. As their intimacy and trust in one another grows we are given a glimpse of the answer, which sounds so simple and yet is extremely difficult, that just being there and connecting to one another is sometimes the best we can do. That is what the theatre seeks to do and this play does it beautifully.

Coming Up For SuperNova Next:

Drama Workshop (Age 8-11): Enjoy a variety of Improv games while focusing on being creative, spontaneous and playful. A great way to make friends in a theatrical setting. Workshop leader Natasha MacLellan is an actor, playwright and director who has been teaching acting and improv to students of all ages for over ten years.

Saturday May 19th 10am-1:00pm. AN AMAZING $5.00. Neptune Studio Theatre. Call 466.2769 to register.  

Stage Fight Workshop (Ages 13-17): While poolside, trying to avoid the summer’s stifling heat, a group of restless teens erupt in a brawl of Olympic proportions! In three hours, workshop participants will learn basics of stage combat, while choreographing a stage fight where pool noodles, water wings, and flutter boards are on the offensive and defensive. Karen Bassett will lead the workshop, a theatre artist continuing her study and practice of stage combat. 

Sunday May 20th, 1:30pm-4:30pm.. AN AMAZING $5.00. Pratt Rehearsal Hall (Neptune). Call 466.2769 to register. 

Theatre as a Teaching Tool: Adult Workshop. Sing! Step! Dance! Freeze! Laugh! Learn? An education fused in the Performing Arts can have a profound effect on learners. This workshop will explore ways that allow any classroom to become a rich learning environment full of meaningful and memorable activities. Participants will “play a part” in a number of ready-to-go exercises and project ideas that can be adapted to work with learners of all abilities. Instructor Heather MacIntyre is an artist and educator who was worked on stages and in classrooms from Calgary to Halifax with students of all ages.

Sunday May 20th- 10:00am-1:00pm. AN AMAZING $5.00. Pratt Rehearsal Hall (Neptune). Call 466.2769 to register.

Ten-Minute Play Contest.

Eagerly anticipated by schools from across the province, the annual contests recognizes four student playwrights. A panel of professional theatre artists chose four scripts from proposals written by young people in grades 10-12. A director and team of professional actors will workshop the scripts and on Sunday May 20th the four pieces will receive a staged reading on the Neptune Studio Theatre Stage. The program of four short plays will also feature a youth collective performance, My Criminal Past, directed by Karen Bassett and presented by Halifax Theatre for Young People.

Sunday May 20th: 12:00pm.   

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