Whistling Dixon

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Morning becomes Sean Dixon. He’s creatively juiced by it anyway. The title of the playwright’s latest work, Aerwacol, is an Anglo-Saxon word that means “early awake,” in part a reference to the morning images that fill the work. It premieres in Toronto in a co-production between his company, Invisible City, and Theatre Skam, a Victoria-based group making its local debut. More surreal Dixon’s characters and storyline are as striking as the play’s name. At its centre are a BC couple who journey across Canada on a railway handcar searching for the answers to life’s questions. On the way, they meet an angst-ridden East Coast mine inspector, a student who flunked out of college and a frozen-limbed woman heading for Banff to work in a restaurant.

The stuff of a Canadian tall tale, Aerwacol becomes even more surreal when it’s presented as an outdoor production on the West Don Lands — near the Gardiner, on old railway land — with the company travelling around the playing area in a simulated handcar.

“Theatre Skam is known for its environmental productions, and I wanted to do an outdoor show here,” says Dixon on the phone from out west. “I hope the show helps reclaim that neglected part of the city that’s currently part of a proposed large-scale development. We want to do something on the land while grass is still growing there. And it’s one of the plots in the area that hasn’t yet become toxic.

“If I had a choice — remember that the play is full of morning imagery — I’d start it at 5 am, when the sun is coming up. It’s a play that starts in darkness and traces a steady movement toward the light.”

He clearly enjoys storytelling with a touch of whimsy. His first script, Falling Back Home, is the story of a hirsute young man who shaves off his body hair so as not to frighten his bride.

Among his other works are The End Of The World Romance, in which an angry woman punches her mate so hard that he lands 900 miles away, and Sam’s Last Dance, in which Samuel Beckett’s wife dresses up as Buster Keaton to get closer to her reclusive husband.

Dixon — who garnered a Dora nomination for 1492, Theatre Columbus’s unique take on the voyages of Christopher Columbus — has a knack for taking bizarre figures and giving them robust and believable emotions.

Trained as an actor at the National Theatre School, he was also one of the founders of Primus, a Winnipeg company that gave equal weight to text and movement. In fact, Primus’s creation of a body of physical material for a show — which a director would then interpret and shape — inspired the budding playwright to do the same thing with words.

Kinesthetic pleasures “I always put kinesthetic pleasures in my plays. For instance, in Aerwacol, one figure carries another around, and someone reaches an epiphany when thrown into the air. But I don’t consider my works movement-based. There’s always a reason for the physical elements, for I make them part of narrative and character.”

He was attracted to Theatre Skam because of the diversity of techniques upon which it draws, including vaudeville, non-linear narrative, music and strong visuals. In 1998 they mounted Dixon’s The District Of Centuries, and a year later they commissioned Billy Nothing, which became a Vancouver Fringe hit. After the local run of Aerwacol, the company gets on a bus and travels back out west to perform it at this year’s Vancouver festival.

Diverse techniques As excited as he is about the company’s first Toronto visit, Dixon is conscious of the potential strikes against the production. After all, it features an out-of-town company performing in an outdoor, “found” venue unknown to almost everyone. And T.O. theatre audiences are still recovering from the 34-show SummerWorks Festival.

But Dixon’s also aware of the strength of the play, which played in Victoria before coming here. He speaks of the script as “a journey through confusion and inarticulation,” in which each of the characters, damaged in some way, comes to some sort of peace and clarity in his or her life. Theatre requires a good narrative, but at base it must be something that moves in beautiful, mysterious ways.

“And that’s the thing about an outdoor staging. As a piece about daydreams, it’s well suited to the freedom of an open-air production.”


AERWACOL, by Sean Dixon, directed by Ami Gladstone, with Dixon, Ben Lawrence, Michelle Monteith, Matthew Payne and Camille Stubel. Presented by Theatre Skam in association with Invisible City, outdoors at the corner of Cherry and Mill (south of Front). Opens Friday (August 18) and runs to September 2, Monday-Saturday at 7 pm. $12, stu/srs $10, Monday pwyc. 947-9330.

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