Despite the cool weather of late, a sure sign that spring is in the air comes with the return of In the Soil. For five event-filled days, Niagara becomes an incubator of artistic creativity and expression. The seeds of discourse and delight will be planted at every performance, nurtured then shared by the wide-range of artists on this year’s roster.
Of particular interest is The Three Play Crop Rotation series, taking root for its second season. As its name implies, a trio of scripts will come to life (three times each, giving everyone a chance to go and the performers ample opportunity to fine tune their work—this reporter plans to see all of them back-to-back, April 30) on the flexible stage of the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre. Tickets are reasonably priced at $10, adding affordability into the heady mix of art and experience.
Always keen to get the inside story, we tracked down two of the playwrights/performers to get their personal take on the shows.
Welland native Katie Hood is back from a stint in British Columbia and has penned a largely biographical piece about the abuse of our best friends. The Animal Show delves into the trials and tribulations of an animal shelter volunteer then employee as she comes to grips with the seedier side of human nature and—literally—life and death budget cuts.
“It’s true to life,” she explained on the phone between rehearsals. “After graduating, I worked full time at the local shelter. The hours suited my acting schedule so I was able to do both. After a while, my job started to bleed into my life—facing so much death. Finally, I lashed out at those around me.”
That evolution from “hero” to anger management candidate permeates the action. Being the only actor, Hood has to instantly morph from character to character. “All of the characters are very vivid to me—I inhabit their frames. Having been commonly cast as men during my university and Fringe Festival days has been a big help,” she recalled. How many pets does she own herself? “It’s a mystery number of animals” was the intriguing reply.
Animal activists and theatregoers alike won’t want to miss the four phases of Hood’s journey, all under the watchful eye of director Paul Hutcheson.
Vulnerability of a different sort informs The Nona. Its three performers (Amy Teetzel, Graham Shaw and Fede Holten Andersen) also share the writing credits, but the germ for this show came from the latter: this Argentine, Brock University grad has been trying to find just the right format to further examine the fabled Nona character (a voraciously hungry grandmother who—literally—eats the younger generation out of house and home). (Film buffs should track down Héctor Olivera’s 1979 production).
Traditionally, the title role is played by a man. Holten has no qualms about gender bending and lusting for “Chocolata!” The script is a fine balance between humour (facing massive grocery bills, the at-wits-end couple opt to padlock the refrigerator, which proves to be no problem at all for Nona’s ever-active bite) and tough, modern-day choices (She’s so old … perhaps we can hurry her on to the next world). “One of the biggest challenges is to find the depth. We like the laughs but also want to give the audience something to chew on. As a performer, you never know what reaction the lines will bring until opening night. As far as the history goes, I’ve taken the character from the traditional play, then we’ve developed a very different storyline. We like to work in a long rehearsal schedule, more so than many other companies. The useage of music and sound is also important to the play,” he said.
Key to the soundscape will be The Nona’s theme. Brother Max Holten Andersen has taken on that assignment. Perhaps it will be similar in effect as the hit Damn Yankees (1955 musical), where the song “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” seems at one with its Spanish cousin.
Following the St. Catharines performances, the Stolen Theatre troupe hopes to tour The Nona during the summer.
Also playing In the Soil will be Twelve Fold Theatre’s production of Richard Varty’s Room for Improvement. The psychiatrist will definitely be in as four patients interact manically in the waiting room. JWR