Sheer poetry

Rating: NNNNNIt's a few years ago. Four young women have just graduated from Concordia, clutching their theatre degrees. Their names.

Rating: NNNNN

It’s a few years ago. Four young women have just graduated from Concordia, clutching their theatre degrees. Their names are Ev, Kat, Tav and Anna. Someone in Halifax will soon tell them they look a bit like an intellectual version of the Spice Girls. Ewww.

They want to make theatre. They look around to see what’s out there. Bor-ing, they moan. Seen it, done that, wrote an essay about it. They don’t want to go the traditional route. They want to have fun but don’t want to sell out.

They’re political. They read literature. They’re interested in questions of gender and sexuality. They’re not holding their breath for offers.

“We didn’t want to sit around waiting for someone to call or have someone write a crappy play we didn’t care about,” says Ev, better known as Evalyn Parry, who also does comedy and music around town these days.

“We got together over a sense of moral outrage that our ideas weren’t being expressed. We knew we were full of good stuff.”

Gone physical

So Parry and the rest of the troupe — Anna Chatterton, Octavia James and Katarina Simeunovich — come up with a plan. What excites them isn’t completed plays, but rather prose and poetry, especially works written by Canadian women. But how to make that theatrical?

“It was like poetry analysis gone physical,” says Parry about the company’s first exercises. “We took turns narrating and moving to a poem. We did it about 10 times, and as we went through, we discovered so much about the poem we hadn’t known by just talking about it. We talked about it plenty, of course, but this was breathing the poem, moving through it and becoming characters or a line. It all started from there.”

Using the poetry of Margaret Atwood and the late Bronwen Wallace, the troupe, named Collision Theatre (the name comes from the collision of different kinds of theatre) presented a short but powerful piece called The Former Republic Of Poetry two winters ago. I, the one critic in town who reviewed the show, was stunned by the work’s maturity and physical vocabulary, how it made the poetry come alive in unpredictable ways. Here was a company to watch.

Now they’re back, pairing the first piece with another, based on a short story by Monique Proulx about the beginning and end of a male-female relationship.

Their work is hard to talk about.

“You should see the script we’re working with,” laughs Chatterton, who eerily resembles a young Atwood.

Screwy script

“It’s unintelligible to anyone but us,” says Parry. “The poem is there, plus who’s saying what, and then it’ll say, ‘Kat moves table,’ or ‘Ev speaks gibberish,’ or ‘Everyone dances.'”

The four women, who collectively create their shows, try to avoid literal page-to-stage interpretations of whatever’s being depicted in a poem. In other words, they’re not mimes.

“We’re always talking about whether something’s too literal or too obvious,” says Chatterton, who’s part of this year’s Playwright’s Unit at the Factory Theatre and has also workshopped material at Nightwood.

“The poet’s chosen the words so carefully, what’s neat is taking a word and amplifying it, or showing 10 other possibilities of meaning,” says Parry.

And even now, on the verge of a higher-profile show — the show’s being mounted in the Tarragon Extra Space — the women are still having fun. Egos aren’t an issue.

“We veto ideas all the time, and no one feels bad, because we know we’re trying to get the best work possible,” says Chatterton.

“We bring everything to the table,” adds Parry. “Every idea is informed by the other three. It’s not an economical way of working. But it’s exciting and supportive.”

glenns@nowtoronto.comTHE FORMER REPUBLIC OF POETRY and VOLUME BY DISPLACEMENT, created and performed by Anna Chatterton, Chad Hershler, Octavia James, Evalyn Parry and Katarina Simeunovich. Presented by Collision Physical Theatre at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews Wednesday (October 25), opens October 26 and runs to November 12, Tuesday-Saturday at 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15, stu/underemployed $10, preview $5, Tuesday and Sunday pwyc. 531-1827.

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