Peep Show and Tell

Kelly Thornton gives new meaning to the term "interactive"

PEEP SHOW conceived and
directed by Kelly Thornton, with Aviva
Armour-Ostroff, Brad Brackenridge, Ian
Carpenter, Leanne Dixon, Ruth
Madoc-Jones, Salvatore Migliore,
Shoshana Sperling, Carly Street, Jamie
Robinson and Clinton Walker. Buddies in
Bad Times (12 Alexander). Previews
Sunday (September 30), opens Tuesday
(October 2) and runs to October 21,
Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday
2:30 pm. $18-$25, Tuesday and Sunday
matinee pwyc, preview $12.

Rating: NNNNN

psst! wanna peer into the lives of nine anguished, ignored souls? As its season opener, Buddies in Bad Times offers you Peep Show, a series of keyholes for prurient viewing.Don’t look for anything conventional. The audience literally wander through a world where the ordinary becomes surreal, fixations dominate daily activities and viewers, unseen, tap into secret desires.

Peep Show is a view of people’s most private moments, a crazy juxtaposition of the dark and the comic.

Devised by director Kelly Thornton, it grew from the series of performance/installation art pieces she added to last year’s Rhubarb! Festival. Available to an audience of one, these 60-second peep shows drew a curtain on a surprising tableau or provided a brief theatrical episode.

Two of the Rhubarb! contributors, designers Steve Lucas and Sherri Hay, are back to create the universe for the current show, where spying eyes catch unexpected insights into sad lives.

A visual artist by training, Hay co-devised the most disturbing piece in the Rhubarb! installation. Dirty, a collaboration with Ian Carpenter and performer Shane MacKinnon — both are in Peep Show — had me stick my head through a hole to see MacKinnon, overalls stripped to the waist, with a huge eel sticking out of his pants. One end of a string was tied to the eel, the other dangled in front of my face. I sensed that I was supposed to yank my end, but I wasn’t expecting him to order me to use my mouth.

Talk about interactive creepiness.

“What I’m aiming for is a Playdium for visual and theatre artists,” explains Thornton, artistic director of Nightwood as well as director of Rhubarb! and such shows as This Hotel.

“It’s a million-dollar idea, suitable for a huge warehouse. But Buddies was designed for alternative ideas, and they bought this concept when we pitched it, even before we had a script.”

We’re sitting in Buddies’ Chamber, the main performing space, in a circle marked out with tape and surrounded by a raised walkway, walls and bizarrely tilted windows. It’s the start of the set for Peep Show, and construction is still going on around us. I’ve noticed a huge room painted blue and a small trailer home in opposite corners.

The audience spend the first and third “acts” of the show in the central space, while in the middle act they wander through various nooks and crannies. In the process, they observe the hidden fixations of nine central figures and the opium-addicted proprietrix, who either conjures them up from her imagination or possibly controls their lives.

Peep Show has gone beyond spy holes and one-minute shows.

“Now it’s something to walk into, sometimes to look at, sometimes to touch,” says Hay, an artist who’s studied in Paris and worked in Budapest.

“I love the methodical process of drawing and painting, but my installation art has a different quality,” she continues. “It’s site-specific and ephemeral, not a commodity in a gallery. Gallery art is so serious — viewers are afraid to laugh, and artists are afraid to rough it up a bit.

“In most environmental theatre, the actors walk you around, but in Peep Show you do the walking.”

Among those whose lives we snoop into are a widow with a trousseau that’s almost sacred, a man obsessed with his body image and a schoolteacher with a dark secret. As Thornton notes, in each case desire becomes obsession, and then perversity.

Hay and Thornton, who first collaborated on a production of The Visit, began discussing this piece two years ago, beginning with Hay’s charcoal drawings of monkeys fucking.

They discovered in the process how yin/yang their work methods are. Hay wants to discuss big themes presented through narrative, thus making her visual contribution not just decoration. Thornton admits she needs “a landscape to decide how to direct. I move from the ground up, through design.

“In the 21st century, audiences shouldn’t just sit and look at a proscenium stage. An interactive piece like Peep Show offers an alternative theatrical experience, entertainment on a non-intellectual level that doesn’t require you to “get it.'”

jonkap@nowtoronto.comtheatre preview

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