One of the things that DaPoPo Theatre often demands of its audience and of its artists is a sense of honesty and sometimes the work this company creates really challenges us to examine our relationship to theatre, our relationship to art and our place in the human condition. Their newest show, Making It, which plays at the Theatre Nova Scotia Living Room until October 27th, 2012, is a show that forced me to confront some feelings that I typically struggle to repress or, at least temper, in a quite beautiful and cathartic way.
Making It can be seen as a pastiche of the process of collective creation, but I would go even further and suggest that it is a pastiche, or at least a commentary, on a certain type of theatre that has become too frequent in our community and it is a type of theatre that I have come to dread. This type of theatre panders to a very small and distinct audience of other theatre artists, where plays are not so much plays as staged inside jokes that frequently have me wondering, “Who is this for? Why is this happening? Why should I care?” This type of theatre is sometimes lofty in its concept but rarely able to rise above its own pompousness or, sometimes conversely, its own ambivalence. This type of theatre feels unfinished, like undercooked muffins still wet in the middle, and most of the time the ideas are abandoned before the artists are able to find the seed for the potential show that is usually lost in there somewhere. This isn’t the case in all process-based theatre in Halifax, not at all, and certainly not all collective creation done here, of which there is much that is wonderful, but it is a trend that I have noticed too much of lately: shows arriving half-baked masquerading as fully formed with no clear reason why.
Making It is half-baked on purpose and Kim Parkhill, Ann Doyle and Zach Faye (directed by Garry Williams) do a wonderful job of creating exactly the mixture of pandering and pretentious and over explaining and improvising and “faking it” (til they make it!?) that drives me up the wall. The difference is, of course, that they are fully aware of what they are doing and their performances in doing so are uniformly excellent. Ann Doyle has a meltdown so awkward it is painful to watch, Zach Faye slammed the door to the Living Room so hard I thought the wall might come down and Kim Parkhill has this infectious nervous energy right off the top that immediately fills an audience with unease and a little bit of dread. They use the idea of pandering to the theatre community as a way to provide two disparate experiences to their audience, as those who know the actors personally will have a different experience than those who do not. Yet, wisely, in this show neither branch of the audience will be alienated if they are not “in” on the joke. There is even a commentary on how artists talk to one another about their work, exploring the idea of how we sometimes pontificate vaguely to the artist if we don’t like (or understand) their work or exaggerate to extremes heralding everyone as geniuses when we do. In the hands of Doyle, Parkhill and Faye we are able to see the hilarious absurdities of both.
Yet, throughout Making It there are also real genuine moments of theatrical magic, as there often are in half-baked theatre shows as well, showing the potential these artists have to create unique and dramatic and interesting work. Kim Parkhill has a beautiful monologue about a Halloween costume that pulled me immediately into her character and at the very end, as Faye, Doyle and Parkhill’s voice-overs fill the stage, you start to see the very beginnings of the heart of a play, one that doesn’t need to be buried in shtick. That is the crux of the joke. The makings of a play are all there, but something has kept the artists from realizing it. What is that? How is it conquered? Why do we settle as artists for half-baked theatre? Why do we settle as audience members? What impact does this have on our theatre community? Or, as this show also suggests, is this a trend that should be celebrated or admired? What are the consequences of that?
I haven’t had a play deliberately push all my buttons like this one in a very long time and I thoroughly enjoyed being provoked and being forced to confront all my theatrical pet peeves as they taunted me, like gnats, one by one. I hope this show will spawn many discussions and debates in honesty and passion among the theatre artists in this city about the way that our work is developed, produced and the ways in which we all hope to make it.
Making It has its final performance at The Living Room (2353 Agricola Street) tonight, Saturday October 27th. 8:00pm. $10.00 donation suggested.