Well, I did it. I saw 11 shows in 10 days and lived to tell. In fact, theatre being the energizing force that it is, one could say I am more alive now than I was before (less rested, but more alive). Here's a capsule of what I experienced in the second half of my marathon.
Technically, I saw far more than 11 shows because one of the events was Hive2. This aptly named production is actually a showcase for 11 separate theatre pieces, all presented in some part of the same huge warehouse, none longer than 18 minutes. Audience sizes range from a single viewer who must win a straw lottery (for a show I didn't see by The Only Animal) to 18 spectators for an apocalypic show called something like Comic Chaos.
Because you can't possibly see all the shows in the allotted three hours, and because you need to wait in line for a trip that might be a thrill or a big disappointment, Hive2 is a lot like an amusement park for theatre people. It's got the same buzz of excitement, the same anticipation, the same crush of people. Some of the shows even have the potential to frighten you or make you sick to your stomach. And everywhere is the sense that you are part of something extraordinary, and fun, and - sorry Walt - magical. On top of that, the whole evening ends with a party with live music where you can chat with all your friends about what you saw. I'm hoping they sell day passes to Hive3.
The next day I saw a new Canadian play by local first-nations playwright Kevin Loring. In Where the Blood Mixes, Floyd and Mooch are two small-town guys who seem designed to reinforce all the stereotypes of native men. Except that Loring peels away the layers of bravado, excuses, and agression to reveal the deep pain of hardship and loss, dissolving our easy judgement. It is to Loring's credit that the story manages to focus on race and transend it at the same time. In addition to the clear message about the irreparable damage done to Canada's aboriginal people through the residential school system, the play also offers insights into issues of adoption and suicide and, more important, to tell an incredibly human and ultimately redemptive story. It was not only white man's guilt that filled the theatre with sniffles and sobs before the play was half over. The compelling writing was met by strong performances from the actors and the talented guitarist who provided live scoring.
That evening, Toronto's Volcano Theatre presented an intriguing work entitled Goodness which managed to make it onto my newly created top 10 list. While it's not a perfect piece of theatre (which I would argue Tempting Providence is), Goodness managed to combine many of my favourite things in a single play.
I love theatre that can't be anything else and Goodness could never be a movie. Not only is it virtually furniture-free, it lives in a completely theatrical universe. In a delightfully unsettling way, the narrator breaks out of the story at several points, and in one place the characters mutiny, playing out a scene that he protests never happened and never could happen.
I love theatre that uses your whole mind and Goodness definitely does. In addition to trying to solve the mystery at the core of the play, your senses are aware that the rules might change at any moment and the complicated timeline requires attention to detail.
I love theatre with acting that reveals the humanity of the characters. These actors were not only transparent they could sing, punctuating the performance with stirring a capella renditions of folk songs in many languages.
At the top of the list of "theatre I love" is theatre that has something to say. It can't just have something to say (one of shows I saw last week was a bit too earnest and well-intentioned to be entirely successful art) but it must not be without substance. Goodness is a veritable cornucopia of ideas that throw you to the mat with the boldness of their assault. Issues of responsibility, guilt, loyalty, and twisted love entangle the viewer in a way that makes it clear we are all culpable. One of the play's recurring questions still bounces around my brain: "why do good men rush to do evil?"
Chew on that one for awhile. And be sure to see Goodness if you get the chance.