Karen Hines turns real estate horror into dark comedy with Crawlspace

CRAWLSPACE written and performed by Karen Hines, directed by Sandra Balcovske. Presented by Videofag (187 Augusta). Previews from Friday (September.


CRAWLSPACE written and performed by Karen Hines, directed by Sandra Balcovske. Presented by Videofag (187 Augusta). Previews from Friday (September 11), opens September 18 and runs to September 27, Monday to Saturday and September 27 at 7 pm. $30. crawlspaceplay.com.

If the high cost of buying a house in Toronto has got you down, Karen Hines has a horror story that might make you feel better about renting.

A veteran of Canadian stage and screen since the early 90s, Hines (known for her breakout character Pochsy, directing Mump and Smoot and roles on shows like Ken Finkleman’s The Newsroom) decided in the mid 2000s to pool her financial resources and invest in real estate. Things were not as advertised, and her hellish experience – involving the home’s mysterious crawl space – resulted in a widely read magazine article.

Now, 10 years later, she’s adapted the saga into a surreal dark comedy, capitalizing on the even gloomier realities of realty today.

“I was kind of done with the story after the magazine piece,” admits Hines on the phone. “But Bruce McCulloch challenged me to make it into a show. Since he’s a comic genius, I decided to listen.”

After working through a number of different versions, including a straight staging of the article, Hines says she hit the right dramatic approach in discussions with Videofag’s Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis.

“They were drawn to the idea of it happening at Videofag in Kensington Market, an area threatened by Walmart and gentrification,” says Hines.

“Together we talked a lot about Toronto theatre trends in the 90s and laying an element of [Antonin Artaud’s] Theatre of Cruelty onto this story about real estate, calling it Theatre of Realty.”

Hines says the plan is to transform Videofag into a dreamlike living room where audiences limited to 15 people will listen to a version of herself recount the aggravating ordeal and hopefully be drawn into the story on a visceral, empathetic level.

“Jordan and I talked a lot about failure. When things go wrong, that’s when the audience really sits up, and I want to create that same feeling but with things going right. Like moments of shared laughter that don’t really happen in other art forms. It’s very different laughing at a screen versus laughing with a performer in the room. For me, that’s the greatest drug, and what we’re going for here.”

Hines says some take her tale as cautionary, while others see it more as reason to avoid home ownership altogether.

“Some people thank me for telling this story because they think they’re never going to be able to have a house and feel relieved. Ten years ago a lot of people still believed they could have a house – that was what you were going for. But now people are so much more enlightened and burned and aware. The economic instability heightens everything.”

Although she never mentions the exact address that turned her life upside down, the house still haunts her.

“When I was looking for an apartment to stay at while we did the show, I had the chance to rent at a place about a block away from the house, but I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want to be anywhere near it.”

stage@nowtoronto.com

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