Drama Club: She Blinded Me with Science

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Drama Club: She Blinded Me with Science

Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.

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Is Tyra useful, or is she just wrong? Photo by David Hawe.


There’s a moment in Small Wooden Shoe‘s Dedicated to the Revolutions, which opened last night at Buddies in Bad Times Theate, where Erin Shields talks about the Scientific Method as she remembers it from her high school education: Hypothesize, Experiment, Observe, Report. For Small Wooden Shoe, this show represents their own version of the “Report” stage. In 2006, the company began work on a series of shows, each devoted to one of seven scientific/technological revolutions: Gutenberg, Copernican, Newtonian, Industrial, Darwinian, Nuclear, and Information. This new show is a culmination of those other shows, bringing together everything they’ve learned about how these revolutions have shaped our society with the help of dry-erase markers, some string-cup telephones, and a ukulele.
The company is made up of a wonderful group of young artists, including Shields, Chad Dembski, Aimée Dawn Robinson, Jacob Zimmer, who conceived of the piece and co-directed with Ame Henderson, and One Reed Theatre‘s Frank Cox-O’Connell and Evan Webber. None of the actors are scientists—most probably haven’t taken a science class since high school—but the point of the show isn’t so much to give the audience a useful lesson about Copernicus or Darwin, but to explore how normal people relate to science on a daily basis. Also, it’s very funny.
After the fold, we interview Small Wooden Shoe’s Frank Cox-O’Connell. Plus: SummerWorks, Blue Velvet: Live!, and more theatre news and reviews.

Frank Cox-O’Connell vs. Science

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Frank Cox-O’Connell and Evan Webber draw some questionable giraffes. Photo by Ömer Yükseker.


Torontoist: What’s one of your favourite moments from the show?
Frank Cox-O’Connell: Well, the show is supposed to change a bit each night, but at one point, we each try to answer some hard science questions and Chad transcribes what we say in drawings. Near the end of the night, he goes through his doodles and describes everything he was thinking while the rest of us were trying to answer questions. He has this amazing ability to relate even the most flighty, science-y concepts into these everyday terms that normally cracks the audience up, but sometimes—and it’s only ’cause I can watch the house at this point in the show that I notice this—someone in the crowd will get totally jaw-dropped at what he’s saying. I love it. This is after we’ve tried to explain some pretty interesting, complex things—the internet with tin can phones, relativity with skipping rope—but the thing that really seems to nail people is just hearing someone call it the same way that they see it. Chad shrugs it off and is all, “That’s just what I was thinking about,” and I can see some people like, “Yes, totally! Me too!”
Science on stage: is it a strange fit? Or do theatre and theory blend together easily?
I’ve always thought of both as being kind of boring on their own, and they both want to be very compartmentalized, at least in my brain. As someone who works in theatre, it can often seem like something no one wants into, and as someone on the outside of any real science, it seems like something I have no business thinking about. I’d like to think the show is trying to question both these notions, saying it’s worth it for everyone to question our ideas of how we change, and maybe a theatre is a good room for all the non-experts to have fun doing that questioning together.
Dedicated to the Revolutions has been going on for a while now. How does it feel to be working on the culmination of such a lengthy process?
Truth be told, the lengthy, lengthy process has really been for Jacob. None of us others but him and Ame have been involved in every one of the previous smaller presentations. So, the series for me has been mostly about slowly coming to understand the performance quality. I saw Do You Have Any Idea How Fast You Were Going? (Industrial) three years ago (wow, three years ago, Jesus), at Rhubarb and really liked it. Like, really liked it. I was in the middle of making Nor the Cavaliers Who Came With Us with Evan and One Reed and was like, “These guys are failing so bad at talking about what they said they wanted to talk about, but everyone here is in stitches and having fun, and it’s clear we’re all thinking about exactly what they wanted us to be thinking about—what a fluke.” Which, being in the throes of creating a fairly formal show was such an eye-opener. I started hanging out with Jacob—he stage managed our show—and it was while hanging out and talking there that I understood how deliberate things were in his shows, that things really weren’t a fluke. Then I did a couple of them and I started to really get it. It sounds weird, but values like having fun and trusting your audience take practice. It feels more like hosting a dinner party than performing, and as a performer that can be a hard thing to get used to.
What about the work changes when you bring all of the revolutions together in the same show?
I think the moral of our story is that it’s worth thinking about these things (like, well, progress) even if you’re going to fail. When we’ve done one at a time, we’ve been able to give some hard science, then set up the contract that we’re not experts and then set up the circumstances in which we can fail in order to get this moral across. This time, we’re trying to cut to the chase, to still try as hard as we can, but the task is set up in such a way that our failures surface faster. It means we don’t need to fake it, which as a performance I think is really fun. We can really try as hard as we can to explain the industrial revolution with skipping ropes, but in a two-minute demonstration, it’s bound to have holes. It’s just about where we’re asking those holes to appear. The other nice thing about this one is that the list of revolutions itself has holes, which is interesting
territory. It’s a description of progress that we can totally critique by trying to play out as best as we possibly can. The provocation is totally built in to the system of the show. We just need to host the party and try to help the best we can.

“And I Still Can See Blue Velvet… Through My Tears!”

BlogTO’s Robin Sharp recently announced a rather fun-sounding audition call over on his personal blog. The Bloor Cinema will be hosting several Rocky Horror-esque screenings to coincide with the Fringe Festival this July, complete with shadow casts performing the film on a stage in front of the screen. Sharp will be directing cult classic Blue Velvet, which sounds to us like an absolute scream. The other films are Jurassic Park and a Joss Whedon double-bill including Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and “Once More With Feeling,” the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Auditions are this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Bloor. You can also check out the Facebook event page for more info.

SummerWorks Announced

It’s true! The full line-up for the late-summer theatre festival went up on its website on Monday. Familiar-looking names on the list include Praxis Theatre, improv-champs Impromptu Splendor, and Ecce Homo. The invitation-only music program, initiated at last year’s festival, has yet to be announced. SummerWorks will still be accepting submissions to its Performance Gallery program at the Gladstone Hotel until Friday.

On Stage This Week

And Up They Flew is the final show by notable local company Theatre Columbus and describes itself as “Gosford Park meets the Marx Brothers.” It plays at the Berkeley until April 4.
Another Home Invasion continues its run in Tarragon’s Extra Space. Joan MacLeod’s one-hander examines the life and routine of an elderly woman, played by the terrific Nicola Lipman. The script is funny, touching, and rings true, and Richard Rose’s direction makes for a very simple and elegant execution. Younger crowds may find this play less relatable than MacLeod’s earlier work, but if you’re willing to give it a listen, she really does have a beautiful little story to tell. It plays until April 19.
CanStage‘s much-touted “Berkeley Street Project” continues with Blackbird, a Studio 180 co-production. Studio 180 had a huge hit a year ago with Stuff Happens, and this show has had successful runs in Edinburgh, London, and New York. It runs until April 4.
Katherine Mansfield continues at the Factory Backspace. Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s take on several of the Modernist author’s short stories hasn’t changed much since it came here last year under the name The Mansfield Project, and while it isn’t the company’s best work ever, it’s still a good example of their physical theatrical virtuosity and deft visual style. It plays until April 5.
Fishbowl: A Concise, Expansive Theory of Everything opens tonight at Buddies in Bad Times. It’s a one-man show written and performed by Mark Shyzer in which he plays five different characters. It plays until April 12.
Missing continues at Factory. This story of a woman who has disappeared and the detective who tries to find her is directed by the talented David Ferry. It runs until April 5.
CanStage’s production of beloved one-woman show Shirley Valentine continues at the Bluma. This time, Nicola Cavendish plays the bored British housewife who lets her imagination run away from her on a vacation in Greece. (There is also a charming film version with Tom Conti and a cameo by Joanna Lumley.) It plays until April 18.
We weren’t exactly wild about the touring production of Broadway sensation Spring Awakening that recently checked into the Canon Theatre. Youthful enthusiasm and a couple of hummable tunes don’t quite make up for beyond-inane lyrics, uninspired staging, and a severely watered-down take on a classic play. But the kids sure seem to like it. It runs until April 19.

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