Tag Archives: vlady peychoff


The last theatrical presentation I attended that made such a strong connection between the medium and the message was The Genius Code, a Jon Lachlan Stewart creation exploring the concepts of recording interactions and replaying them and hearing individual viewpoints.

@tension is a new work, a collaborative creation of director Vlady Peychoff, performers Emma Houghton, Eric Smith, Sarah Ormandy, and Connor Suart, and dramaturg Savanna Harvey.   The performance was introduced by playing video clips on multiple screens, mostly clips from familiar TV shows about some aspect of the internet, texting, computer gaming, and so on.  While these clips were playing – sometimes different ones on different screens or the same ones with timelag – the performers were moving about the space not interacting with each other or speaking.  I’m not quite sure where the prologue stopped and the vignettes or live clips began, and I guess it’s because of my background in conventional theatre that I even looked for that structure.   Gradually four characters were introduced, Eevee, Alexa, Dennis, and Bill.  I realized later that each character had been identified by showing his or her browser history and some of the thought processes behind it, along with a recurring trick of having different people speak the one character’s words, sometimes without expression (this made me think about the difficulties of not having tone cues in text).   Various facets of each character were then illustrated using one- or two-person scenes and symbolically represented by animation of dragging various symbols or icons to each person’s folder on a desktop.  There were also several expressive movement bits with effective soundscape.  My favourite parts were an extended video sequence reminscent of PostSecret, where a long series of confessions of the form “They found out …” were shown and narrated, culminating in repetition of “They found me”, and the one scene in which all four characters meet in the same physical space, an exceptionally awkward party.  In that scene, the traditional ice-breaker strategies of delivering an official speech, drinking heavily, and playing truth or dare were supplemented by selfie-taking and by opening up a laptop to resume a game with other people who weren’t there, and then we saw some after-party text messages building connection between two of the characters and making a date.  The scene where one of the characters briefly misplaces a cell phone felt distressingly familiar.  And parts of it are hilarious.

The piece has narrative threads but they aren’t obvious.  There is a lot to see and hear and things that happen too quickly to grasp.  This too is McLuhanesque, just like the initial voiceover bits showing distracted people with multiple browser tabs and searches.  The props and tech details worked without being disruptive or distracting.


@tension is playing tomorrow and Friday at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2 pm, at the Second Playing Space n the Timms Centre on the University of Alberta campus.  While admission is free, the creators are using a kickstarter campaign to try to cover expenses.

Devour Content Here / Of Love and Wheat: dustbowl drama in the dust

After Fringe and the Fringe Holdovers  – I saw Edgar Allan and In Search of Cruise Control.  They were both good.  I’ll tell you about them soon if I have time – my theatre world was quiet enough that I almost ended up going to a movie last week because I was bored.

Fortunately, the performance season is starting up again.  Next weekend Rapid Fire Theatre has four shows and Kaleido Fest has lots of interesting things on the schedule and it’s the Edmonton Burlesque Festival.

And this weekend Kristine Nutting is directing an original production in an old warehouse near the stadium.  I think the play was called Devour Content Here and it contained a play called Of Love and Wheat – but I’m not sure.  It had many of the challenges typical to mounting a production in an unconventional venue and requiring the audience to rove about – difficult acoustics, limited lighting choices, having to wait for the audience to move between scenes and being restricted in how they direct audience traffic by trying to stay in character.  An additional challenge of this space is that it is quite dusty.  Some of the audience members wore the provided dust masks, but the performers and crew did not.  I saw it on opening night and again last night.  The second night they were much more explicitly directive about showing people where to sit and stand, and they admitted fewer people, which also helped.

David Arial played a Narrator, but by the end he seemed to be part of the plot as well, with suspect motives of his own.  Or maybe he was two characters.  The ostensible setting was prairie drought dustbowl in a small town in the 1920s, but it had some mythical and fantastic elements.  The story was a little hard to follow, but fortunately a lot of it was fairytale archetype – the manipulative ambitious mother Liliette (Sarah Ormandy) wanting to make an advantageous match for her daughter (Sydney Campbell) with a visiting tycoon (Nathan Plumite), the daughter falling in love with the sewage man’s son (Steven Andrews), stories of leaving home for a better life and not succeeding, people being blackmailed or forced or tricked into various unappetizing agreements, etc.

There was a large chorus of despairing townspeople in makeup/costume/demeanour that reminded me of both bouffon and zombies, and there was a live band playing original music.  There were unexpected bits of circus-aerials performance, there were some solo songs and there were a few ensemble songs.  There were crass moments, horribly disturbing moments, ridiculously overdone and tongue-in-cheek bits, and a scene that shifted from absurd to compellingly intimate at different moments for each audience member (meaning that some people were giggling while I was nearly in tears).   And there were characters who seemed to be struck by nausea every time the word “economics” was spoken.

I liked the way that the young couple Harriet and Oscar seemed to be realistic awkward young people, surrounded by weirder-than-life characters speaking in some heightened or poetic register.  I appreciated Sarah Ormandy’s portrayal of the ambitious mother and former Chatauqua beauty queen, her jerky movements a parody of grace and her self-absorbed behaviour reminiscent of Snow White’s stepmother. (Late in the play, I thought I heard another character call her Lilith, which fitted.)  The best part of the music was the melodic motif “Come on down to the dark soul of the dustbowl, It’s the blackest place on earth”.  Other parts of the instrumental and vocal music suffered from the acoustic difficulties of the venue. 

If this sounds like your kind of thing, if you like performances that try out things that might not work, if you would rather see something original than something tidy, there is one more show Labour Day afternoon.  Doors open at 2:30.  Admission is by donation (they suggest $20 for the gainfully employed and $10 otherwise).  They provide dust masks, and some buckets and crates for patrons who don’t want to stand the whole time, and I saw them make accommodations for mobility impaired patrons.