Writing a play is a hard thing to do. Sitting in the room while others are watching the play you created is an unnerving experience, and I didn’t envy the two playwrights in that regard at last night’s NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival‘s ACTING OUT debut. The plays performed last night were the winners of the festival’s one-act playwriting competition and the playwrights were there to watch their works come alive before an audience (they might not remember me, but I’ve met each of them in the past and was able to spy them wandering about — one looking slightly more nervous than the other at the respective times I saw them).
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I have made numerous attempts at writing plays, with one “successful” staging so far (see photo to the right). Being in the room with the audience was both thrilling and terrifying: “Can’t they just all stop looking at me! Oh wait, none of them are looking at *me* — they’re watching this thing I made. Still feels like they’re looking at me though!” Simply getting to the point where I could show the cast what I’d written was a huge obstacle for me to overcome — and showing it the public almost destroyed me. To let folks inside your head while you are sitting right there watching them soak it in is not an activity to be taken lightly, at least not for me. I was a wreck.
PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT a reviewer or critic, but simply offering some impressions from last night’s plays.
Turning to last night’s event, we were given two very different works to experience, as is often the case with NBActs’ evening of one-act plays. Here I was as an audience member worrying that the playwrights were watching me to see my reactions — I know I spent much of my own show watching the crowd, which is something I generally do as a director anyway but being the writer as well upped the frequency of this. And so, I was sitting there worrying about whether I, as audience, was reacting “properly” or not, whatever that might mean.
In the past, I have attended (and participated) in NBActs, but with some reservations. I’ll be honest: I have found the festival’s output inconsistent, to say the least. What struck me last night is: That’s kinda the point.
What I witnessed last night was an evening of honest theatre created by fully committed participants. I am a BIG fan of feeling what I can only describe as *honesty* in art — this is a key factor in my engagement/enjoyment/appreciation of any live performance. For me, the scripts performed last night used the medium of theatre in strong ways that made their existence dependent on the medium in a way that I admire:
– The use of the double agent casting of Jake Martin as Chip/Davey in The Fried Fox Variation to mess with our comprehension of where the line of reality was actually drawn (was it just the protagonist’s friend coming in as this alternate person or was it a different person altogether? The fact that we have the same actor playing both parts — in a thoroughly convincing manner — tickles our brains with wonder about this point, regardless of whether the story itself tries to steer us to a different conclusion or not; the playwright, Michael Woodside, did a daring job twisting what could have been a typical “apartment drama” into something far more intriguing, while Jake Martin & Alex Donovan threw their whole selves into the strangely intense roles, in what I personally thought was a funnier script than the audience on hand seemed to think, or were at least willing to share out loud.
– Vanceboro was a pleasant surprise from Chris Fulton. I only knew one script by Chris, a street theatre piece of his I performed in a few years ago, and its humour just wasn’t to my liking. However, last night’s script was mature and patient and just a completely different thing altogether. The range of experience and strength in the actors on stage was interesting to me as a theatre practitioner, but I don’t mean this in a bad way. It was simply clear that the stage presence of the actors varied, but such that each were able to use their strengths to work as an ensemble to tell this fictionalized account of an historical event. The very last moment twisted the entire mood of the play for me in a way I think I liked (I don’t want to give it away though in case somebody happens to actually read this before the upcoming weekend’s performances). That very last moment, before the lights go down, unravels some of the assumptions we’ve made by this point, and all I’ll say is it made want to investigate Mrs. Donnelly’s fate …
And I’m not saying this feeling of *honesty* was new to NBActs, but simply that I was able to see and feel it again myself with a better understanding of why NBActs exists.
Last night, sitting in the Hall, watching those plays, knowing the time and energy put in on the parts of the performers and all those behind the scenes, and realizing they have been *consistently* offering theatre artists of all skills and talents a chance to work together to create something for Fredericton, and for the province, for so many years now shows me the value and good of what NBActs has to offer. The festival gives us all a chance to witness the power of this committed energy in way that precludes any judgement on the output, per se. That is to say, in order for these artists to grow in their craft a venue like NBActs needs to exist. Folks, from the writers to the performers to the tech staff to the administration to the audience, all need the chance to fall on our faces and rise to the stars in a welcoming environment, discover how we can embrace theatre in whatever our role might be, and keep this thing called “theatre” alive for us. For our community. Some folks learn this line of work ain’t for them. Some learn it’s hard work and they want to keep pushing on. Everyone, from the participants to the audience, is offered the chance to learn something from others in our direct community through a theatrical setting. I’m a fan of that. In fact, the new play I’m trying to finish is, in some sense, about this very thing … theatre as community … the necessity of gathering together for the sake of the whole …
So, if you’re reading this, please get out to see some of the festival — it runs until Sunday!