The last performance assignment on the curriculum for the 2014 graduating class in Theatre Performance and Creation at Red Deer College was to create and perform some site-specific work off campus in some space not normally used for theatre.
The class chose the Red Deer Lodge hotel, and took advantage of several different spaces around the central courtyard of the hotel, starting in the lobby and leading the audience around. There was a general theme of self-discovery, exposure, and the choices of how much to reveal, but the various scenes and vignettes used a variety of techniques and tactics, giving the performance some flavour of a showcase of skills developed.
Continuity was maintained by having Julia Van Dam as a guide. Although she had a challenging trickster demeanour, it was reassuring in an apparently unstructured situation to see her red-gloved figure glide up and point us to where we should go next. After some bits in the lobby of the hotel, the audience members were led to explore various glimpses around the courtyard, fights and dances and conversations, and then directed to a murder investigation in a hotel conference room. That was good to have early on the program, while the audience was feeling uncomfortable with what was expected, because the characters (Wayne DeAtley, Victoria Day, Chase Cownden, JP Lord, Bret Jacobs, and Julia Van Dam) were easy to identify and the narrative arc straightforward.
After that, things got weirder, but we got more comfortable with it. Some of the scenes took place in hotel bedrooms – Jen Suter and Jessica Bordley did a powerful invocation of tormented teenage girls in a scene that I thought was probably called “So Fucking Angry”, and Brittany Martyshuk and Jake Tkaczyk had an interesting concept of speaking together in the solitude of separate rooms with the help of crackling baby-monitors. Some happened on a balcony over our heads. Another one seated the audience in a conference room while dancers reflected on a curtain formed Rorschach-blot-like shapes in response to a patient’s (Taylor Pfeifer) answers to a nurse (Constance Isaacs). Dustin Funk and Tyler Johnson were two homeless people in conflict. Richard Leurer and Megan Einarson had a particularly disturbing scene in the hotel pool. Some of the narrative in the performance was in rhyme, and some of it was recited in chorus. There was quite a lot of expressive movement, possibly a bit too much, and there was some stage fighting, some dance, and some good tableaux. There was a movement scene with, I think, Jessica Bordley, Tyler Johnson, Chase Cownden, JP Lord, and Richard Leurer, narrated in rhyme by Julia Van Dam about friendship and romance and shifting loyalties that I liked a lot.
I was impressed that all the traffic-directing was done in a very organic way and that none of the performers fell out of character at all even when the audience probably wasn’t doing what they wanted us to. I thought that the performance might have been a bit too long or too repetitive, but in general I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the sense of wandering around with more going on than I was able to see. Skin Deep continues Wednesday and Thursday this week, with information available at this Facebook page.