BACK HOME produced by Urban Theatre Projects, Harbourfront New World Stage International Performance Series and Luminato, from Monday (June 4) to June 10, daily at 7:30 pm, at an undisclosed location (meet at York Quay Centre, 235 Queens Quay West). $40. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
For Aussie Alicia Talbot and her four collaborators/performers, one secret Toronto neighbourhood is going to be a home away from home. At least for a week.
They're presenting Back Home, a site-specific show about a quartet of culturally diverse, long-standing male friends who get together for one emotionally charged reunion in a backyard.
"It'll be clear that it's not a Canadian backyard, because the voices and look of the piece will be different," says Talbot. "And it won't feel like an Australian backyard, because there are squirrels. We have possums in Australia, but they don't come down trees and nibble nuts. The show might be upstaged by squirrels."
Talbot's down-to-earth humour feels appropriate for a piece that tries to deal - in a no-bullshit sort of way - with issues facing so-called marginalized communities.
"I had been thinking about the idea for the show for many years," says Talbot, in a room at Harbourfront's York Quay Centre, outside of which a bus will take audience members to the undisclosed location. "It's about the urban rites of manhood, success and leadership among First Nations and other men."
Why only men?
"I've had a long history of working in community centres and institutions that often have diverse populations. I saw all these amazing leaders around me, but they're not often in the kind of context where we'd consider them leaders. I thought it would be interesting to focus on some of the men alone. Not just in the context of women, but in what we call in Australia 'men's business.'"
The men, who helped create the piece with Talbot and in consultation with lots of community input, include an indigenous MC and hiphop artist, a New Zealand-born Samoan cultural activist and a Palestinian-Lebanese man born in Australia. Two were first-grade footballers.
"That means professional rugby," explains Talbot, when I look blank. "They're big, big guys."
Talbot admits there'll be lots of phrases and words that Torontonians won't get, but she doesn't mind.
"We considered putting in a glossary, or even surtitling the show," she says. "It's not such a bad idea. But you will get the language, if you know what I mean. The language."
The performers might not come from a traditional theatre background, but Talbot herself does. She trained in theatre school and then, upon graduation, realized she wouldn't be getting the choicest parts.
"I knew I was never going to be Juliet, I'd probably end up as the nurse or a comic character," she laughs. "So I began to devise my own solo works in and around Sydney. Then I spent five years as an artist in residence in a service for homeless people, and that helped me marry my sense of social justice and making art."
Shortly after, she hooked up with Urban Theatre Project, producers of Back Home.
While in T.O., Talbot's also meeting with various cultural organizations in a research and development capacity. She calls it "social research." She and UTP may collect material for a future show.
Is Talbot worried about ghettoizing and stigmatizing the particular neighbourhood in which the show takes place?
"I think sometimes the people who think we're ghettoizing are those who don't come from the communities we're talking about," she says. "They come from a more middle-class background and want to know more backstory about how people 'ended up' there. We bring up all these questions when making a work.
"I feel the emotion of the work - and emotions are what I tend to focus on - draws you closer together. Four friends who haven't seen each other in a long time get together again. Everyone can relate to that."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On making a work:
On creating a script :