the national elevator project
My favourite thing about the concept of Theatre Yes’s The National Elevator Project is the idea of taking the audience, physically, into a small space that involves a little bit risk- or faith- like an elevator, to experience their theatre. The constraint of space, the awareness one has for the (slim) potential for danger and the immediacy of the performers makes it nearly impossible for this audience to feel complacent. We become voyeurs here who are trapped with our performers and this forces us to actively engage in the world of the play differently than we do in a darkened theatre and the work comes alive in a fully three dimensional way.
The first of these plays I saw was Ryan Griffith’s Shepody, Rage and Wolfe, which comes from New Brunswick. In this play we watch a young woman (played by Keelin Jack) trying to draw out a specific response from a man (played by Matthew Lumley). At first it is unclear what this woman’s objective is- she begins to sing and a custodial worker (Jim Fowler) enters the scene with a performance number of his own. The man seems intrigued, yet ultimately he is as confused as we are. These are very short plays- just a glimpse into someone’s life- but Griffith’s pacing for the revelation that the man is attempting to recover from a traumatic brain injury is meticulous. We realize that this is a significant elevator ride, orchestrated by his wife with rehearsed songs and dances and frequent repetition as her attempt to access the husband she knows is trapped in this broken man’s body. The stakes here are infused with conflict, drama and complexity and Jack and Lumley are able to create a lovely and poignant relationship with one another even in such a short span of time.
The second play I saw was Dear Mr. Keith by Rob Maclean and Melissa Mullen from Prince Edward Island. While Giffith’s play had us in a mostly static elevator this one has us riding and stopping at each floor quite continuously, with doors frequently opening and shutting. This plays on the audience’s physical body and experience, which I found helped intensify my own emotional journey to compliment the story. Samantha Wilson gives a beautifully nuanced and tragic performance as a wife who goes out West from Prince Edward Island to surprise her husband who works out there only to find him in a precarious situation with an unseemly woman. Wilson’s emotions are intense, but never overdramatic. For part of the play her face is entirely hidden underneath a giant parka hood and yet one can still feel her seething beneath it. Kim Parkhill and Matthew Lumley are rambunctious, obnoxious and flirtatious as the plastered other woman and husband, and at times their performances seem too big and too broad for the intimacy of the elevator, which gave the play a more dramatic sense of performativity and less a nuanced semblance of realism.
I enjoyed both pieces and would be interested in seeing far more short plays in elevators by Theatre Yes in the future.
The National Elevator Project from Theatre Yes plays at the Maritime Centre (1505 Barrington Street) as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival and Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival at the following times:
Each evening offers a different play of about 5 minutes in length that takes place with the audience in an elevator.
Wednesday June 25: between 5:30-8:00 (Earworm Duet by Megan Coles of Newfoundland).
Tickets for The National Elevator Project are by Donation at the door following the show.