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Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Person: Sabrina Reeves of Fée Fatale on live theatre

Sabrina Reeves and Paul Hopkins in Hollows of a Dream
(Photo credit: Dominique Chartrand)

The Ecstasy of Not Knowing
by Sabrina Reeves

One of the simplest definitions of dramatic tension that I’ve ever heard is: not knowing what’s going to happen next. The kind of theatre that I like takes this definition literally. It creates an experience for the audience that is not only mental but also physical. It seeks to immerse the audience in the world of the piece. In this kind of theatre, not knowing what is going to happen next is a visceral experience.

I went to Carnegie-Mellon University. It is a rigorous theatre-training program. However, upon graduating, 80% of the students go to Los Angeles to work in filmI think it is as far back as this training that a question lodged in my brain.

Why go to see a piece of theatre instead of a film?

The obvious answer is: because it is live.

How could a text-based, story-telling medium like theatre ever feel like a rock concert? And more importantly, should it?

This is what I thought too. I was among the 20% who didn’t go to LA but rather moved to New York determined to have a life in the theatre. But the more I went to the theatre the more I started to realize that, for me, the vast majority of theatre doesn’t feel live. Usually, not always, but usually after about 5 minutes in my seat, it would happen. I would forget that the people before me were living, breathing humans and almost subconsciously, I would think I was watching a movie, a low budget movie that had no special effects, could only afford one set, and didn’t have a camera that could zoom in.

And so came my next question: How does one make theatre feel more ‘live?’ I had been to site-specific performance work, to the circus, to rock concerts, and to every variety of event where I did have the feeling that it was live, that there were living breathing people before me. But I couldn’t see the link to theatre. How could a text-based, story-telling medium like theatre ever feel like a rock concert? And more importantly, should it?

Lucie Vigneault in Hollows...
(photo: Dominique Chartrand)
But most importantly, they spoke. There was text. It was theatre.

It was in Montréal that I had the transformative experience that would set me on the path to creating the kind of theatre that I still make today. It was at the FTA and De La Guarda had come to Usine C. I bought my ticket and was herded into a large space with no chairs and asked to wait, along with the two hundred other people who were there. There was a palpable feeling of anticipation. I remember looking towards each of the four walls wondering which was going to be ‘the front.’ Then I heard it, a sort of scratching sound.  I looked up and there above us were bodies suspended in the air– upside down and sideways, looking down at us through a glowing transparent ceiling. They were scratching and poking at this rice paper that separated us until finally they broke through and descended in amongst the crowd – they touched us, hugged and kissed us, dumped water on us, and invited us to join in their dance.

But most importantly, they spoke. There was text. It was theatre.

I was hooked. 

Fée Fatale creates theatre that respects the traditional values of unity of action, cohesive story elements, catharsis, character, place etc. But from the untraditional comes the belief that the methods for creating the ever-important dramatic tension are only limited by our own imagination. 

Les creux d'un rêve (Hollows of a Dream) Show details

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