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Sunday, January 2, 2011

First Person: Towards a Rock & Roll Theatre: I AM I… Redux.

The Cast of I am I

By Mike Czuba

When Dancing Monkey Theatre produced I AM I in 2009 at the Players’ Theatre, we wanted to push the ideas of what independent, contemporary, new works could be. We also understood we weren’t attempting anything new. We were simply creating a new Mash-Up. We took some of the tastier bits of theory from Brecht, Artaud and Brook, the slickness of film and the sonic boom of a live concert. We didn’t turn our back on our old friend Aristotle and his elements of Tragedy (Story, Character, Thought, Diction, Music and Spectacle), but ignored his descending order of importance, flattened it all out and let them exist in the same time and space. So in the end, Spectacle becomes just as important as Story. We also gave ourselves an internal code of conduct which explicitly stated that ‘good-enough’ is not good enough and in fact is unacceptable.

Theatre is not all that high on the pop culture grid. Movies, Video Games and Music are multi-billion industries and, if you’ve ever written a theatre grant, we project audience attendance at a terrifyingly low 33%. So instead of circling the wagons and protecting Theatre as a precious thing, Dancing Monkey Theatre wants to tear down not only the fourth wall, but all of them, and allow ourselves to be influenced by all of these giant forces. In 2009, the production of I AM I was our first experiment in this new direction and judging form the reviews, ranging from extremely positive to completely missing the point, we considered it a success. But, we also knew that we could take the production further and deeper.

That original production gave us the initial signals that our aesthetic was not only feasible but also welcomed. The reactions from those who had turned their back on theatre, or flat out disliked theatre, was exactly what we hoped for. The feedback in a nutshell was that I AM I, as a complete production, engaged, moved and challenged. We heard stories from audience members that post show, there were arguments between couples, dates became serious debates, declarations of love were voiced for the first time in the middle of dinners, and if I’m not mistaken, a lot of sex. I am in no way saying that our little show changed people’s lives, but that there was some demand for our aesthetic and that we, as a company, needed to revisit this show and push every element so that out rock-show of a play moved from the club to the arena.

With this Wildside production we now look at the 2009 show as a workshop, we got to try things, some worked and some didn’t. Most of the original company has returned and all are operating at a very high level. Larry Lamont, who is turning into a force as a director, has found new levels in the text that I didn’t even know existed. As a writer, workshops and dramaturgy can only go so far. I believe the true development of a new work happens after the first production. A writer needs to be in a rehearsal studio hearing the lines over and over, see how the actors move with the text and then sit in the audience to gage reactions and follow pacing and rhythms. These are things a reading, staged or otherwise, could never do. I attended every performance in 2009, as I will at the Centaur to continue to watch and listen to the reactions and rhythms of the show. This continued development finds its way into the next new work as nothing helps a writer’s development more then seeing their work in performance. No playwright creates a play to be read; they are written to be seen.

This new production is an opportunity to press ahead with our exploration in solving the text. As a playwright I’ve been extremely lucky to be working with a group of artists that never tried to ‘work’ or ‘fix’ my play, but enthusiastically engaged in solving it. The cast and crew are digging through the text for its answers and struggling with their discoveries. They are investigating the limits of absurdity, the depth of the characters and their own inner jungles and a truly deep commitment to being in ‘the now’. The 2011 production of I AM I is allowing the script to be truer to itself. As a company, we are given permission to push the Dancing Monkey aesthetic of a Rock & Roll theatre and reach out to a new audience of theatergoers. In the future, Dancing Monkey looks forward to investigating what the different forms Rock & Roll theatre are. My next play “Satie et Cocteau: A Rehearsal of a Play of a Composer by a Poet”, takes place in 1939 and deals with Classical music, the poetry of Art and the truth of theatre itself. Not the first things you would think of when hearing ‘Rock and Roll’, but it’s not the content, but the energy, attitude and aesthetic of how the content is attacked.

I AM I will continue to live after Wildside as it is scheduled to be published this year and will have it’s third production in April by Theatre Transit at the Motel space in Calgary’s Epcor centre.

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