Canoe Festival 2014: The National Elevator Project Part 2

I was invited to be a part of the Canoe Festival’s team of bloggers this year, where in exchange for tickets to a show, I committed to writing a post about the production. This worked out particularly well since I was planning on taking in at least one show anyway!

The tagline of Workshop West’s annual Canoe Festival is “theatre that rocks the boat”. The performances range from the use of multi-disciplinary art forms to unconventional spaces, each show pushing the boundaries of what audiences expect of theatre.

Back in October, Mack and I attended the inaugural National Elevator Project. Eight plays had been commissioned by writers from across the country with the specific intention of being performed in an elevator. Five to eight minutes in length, the plays were brief, situational encounters – eavesdropping mid-conversation, stumbling upon the climax of a long-simmering conflict, or, in some cases, becoming a part of the story ourselves. For such short plays, I didn’t anticipate the intensity that many of the scenes conveyed.

Part of the experience also involved trekking from one building to another, and in the process, seeing a different side of downtown Edmonton. Towers virtually empty at night, I loved that this show repurposed elevators into stages, and encouraged foot traffic in areas that would have otherwise been empty. It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the possibilities of underutilized spaces, and the National Elevator Project is a wonderful example of what can come from ingenuity.

Without a formal stage boundary, some of the plays also included elements of audience involvement. In one, we were vetted by an off-site man via FaceTime and in another, poked and prodded as nameless bodies. To cap off the night, we were invited to drink a “shot” and conga-line with our fellow passengers back into the elevator. The interaction was at times unnerving, but made for very intimate scenes.

Although we had been able to take in all eight plays within the two hour window, it had been a tight program; we literally sprinted and just made the final show. As a result, the National Elevator Project Part 2, part of the Canoe Festival, retooled the format, splitting eight shows between two cycles. Mack and I watched both over the weekend.

It’s challenging to write about these brief plays without giving anything away – they are really best experienced firsthand as the unexpected vignettes that they are. That said, I can say that I was transfixed by the raw, emotional confrontation in Brad Fraser’s First Father, and appreciated the Maritime/Alberta context in which Dear Mr. Keith was written. Ben Gorodetsky’s dual roles also stood out, first as an understated candidate in The Program, and then as a spirited guide of worldly consequences in #Abandonhope. While I can’t say I connected to every piece I watched, this format provides so much variety that every audience member will encounter something that appeals to them.

The Program

A scene from The Program

The byproduct of a more relaxed pace was that we were able to take the time to chat with others attending the shows, instead of dashing off to the next venue. Catching up with people at various points, checking in with their thoughts about what they had seen, was an accidental but welcome element of the new format.

The National Elevator Project Part 2 runs until Sunday, February 2, 2014. I’d encourage you to check it out while you still can! You can buy tickets here.

Sharon Yeo is a food enthusiast who has been blogging for seven years at onlyhereforthefood.ca. In 2011, Sharon was named one of Western Living Magazine’s “Top 40 Foodies Under 40”, recognizing the impact of her blog. Sharon is also an active member of Edmonton’s food community, co-founding What the Truck?!, Edmonton’s food truck extravaganza, Blink, a series of pop-up events highlighting the potential of the downtown core, and Eat Alberta, an annual food conference that has brought chefs, farmers and foodies together since 2011.

Canoe Theatre Festival: “Operation EVAsion”

Workshop West’s Canoe Theatre Festival promised “some of the season’s most interesting artists and challenging performances.” Based on the promo for Operation EVAsion, by local company Firefly Theatre, it wasn’t difficult to see why this particular play was included in the roster:

Operation EVAsion is based on the bizarre but factual account of the multiple disappearances of the corpse of Eva Perón. Upon her untimely death at age 33, her body was embalmed to the point of immortalization. Additionally, there were several duplicates made of her corpse, and in the ensuing Argentinean political turmoil, they all disappeared. Their journey lasted for 24 years and involved espionage, kidnapping, murder and astrology.

Mack and I took in the last performance on Sunday at the Timms Centre.

With such rich material to start with, I was curious to see how the company would present the story, particularly as a one-woman show (to be fair, musician Jason Kodie was also on stage, providing a auditory accompaniment in the form of an accordion). The set was black, save for a multimedia screen, ensuring the audience was transfixed on the sole performer. Annie Dugan recounted the body’s journey – through Argentina, Europe, and back – interspersing the narrative with Evita’s own words (in Spanish, with an English translation projected behind her). Evita’s corpse was wielded as a political weapon, used to maintain or regain power, or perhaps even more compelling, was the fact that after her death, she was able to affect her country’s politics (particularly among the poor, her image is still common in Argentina, often hung right next to the Virgin Mary). I did learn a lot (prior to this, the extent of my knowledge of Evita was the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, popularized by Madonna), but I was hoping for more interpretation, and less historical fact.

Of course, as Firefly Theatre is synonymous with aerial performances, we were looking forward to seeing how they would use movement and height. Because our only previous encounter with Firefly was their stunning, explosive display at the RISE Awards, we were unfairly expecting something similar. That said, Dugan’s restrained perimeter better matched the tone of the play, and garnered much respect – it can’t be easy delivering an hour long performance suspended several feet in the air – something she did with poise and grace. It was an ideal visual – representing the limbo status of the corpse and Evita’s elevated stature. The white fabric that suspended her was also particularly effective in parts – when used as a screen for Evita’s visage, projected next to Dugan’s own face, and as a cocoon with eerie resemblance to mummified remains.

We left the theatre with a desire to learn more about Evita (the starting place: Wikipedia, heh), and an interest to see what else Firefly Theatre might have to offer. As promised by the Canoe Festival, it was indeed an interesting performance.