WHAT THE THUNDER SAID (SOMETHING ABOUT A RIVER, PART THREE) created and performed by Stephen O'Connell, Sabrina Reeves, Lucy Simic, Richard Windeyer, Ciara Adams, Chad Dembski, Kevin Rees-Cummings and Robert Tremblay. Presented by bluemouth inc. and SummerWorks. Meet at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst) for transportation to site. August 7-9 and 12-13 at 8 pm, August 10 at 1 pm. $10. 416-410-1048. Rating: NNNNN
Bluemouth inc.'s performed everywhere from the Gladstone Hotel to an old porn palace. Now, as part of August's big stage fest, they continue to push boundaries in their ongoing look at society's underbelly.
Don't even think about sitting in a theatre seat at a bluemouth inc. show. You won't find one.
But you will find lots of smart ideas, clever staging and a dramatic heart that beats strongly enough to touch your emotions as well as your mind.
The performance collective's core members Stephen O'Connell, Sabrina Reeves, Lucy Simic and Richard Windeyer seek out site-specific locales for their multidisciplinary shows.
At this SummerWorks, they're wrapping up their three-part show Something About A River, which uses Toronto's underground Garrison Creek as a metaphor for hidden aspects of our subconscious and society.
We're sitting in Reeves's studio - trained in conventional theatre, she's also a professional photographer and videographer - before a rehearsal.
One wall is covered with index cards that contain various moments of the three-part show and chart its current progress. It's a kind of changeable script, with segments devoted to sound, movement, action and text.
"We think of the text that we write as a kind of scaffolding, something we can build on," notes Windeyer, who creates music, sound and visuals for experimental film and theatre and integrated media projects. "Along the way, some of it gets dismantled."
The shows' titles are drawn from T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland. The first part, The Fire Sermon, deals with sexual ambivalence and was staged in the grotty Metro XXX Cinema during the last SummerWorks. The second, Death By Water, about spiritual desires, premiered last winter in Trinity Bellwoods Park. The audience huddled for warmth in a hut watching Simic and O'Connell slip and slide on the ice.
The company's not giving away where they're staging What The Thunder Said, which looks at various forms of political ambivalence. Audiences will be transported in a bus from Factory Theatre to a secret location to watch the quartet and guests artists use text, movement and visuals to unearth aspects of the body politic.
"We're trying to be true to Garrison Creek, staging works at various points along its course," says O'Connell, who has degrees in modern dance and interdisciplinary art.
"The other two parts of Something About A River were intimate shows, but here we need lots of space, in part because we're involving other artists. And this show also has a sense of rebirth, of coming back to life, and we want to have a performing area that can be as expansive as the material."
All three parts of the show get a staging next fall.
As in most collectives, there are as many thoughts as there are people involved. The four don't agree on what political ambivalence means, neither large scale nor small. Sorting out various interpretations is part of their ever-changing process.
They've been hashing out their artistic differences - and showing audiences the intriguing results - for four years now in Toronto. Before that some members created multidisciplinary pieces in Montreal and earlier were part of Vancouver's experimental troupe Radix, which played T.O. last fall.
There's always an arguing, a revisiting and refocusing of ideas as they work, depending on what each brings to the project and also the site they've chosen. Even while we're talking, they take opposing views of what they hope to convey.
Simic, who studied dance and has a degree in playwrighting, describes the process as a "creative think tank. It's like we each bring in ideas and drop them, like viruses, into the tank and see the ways those ideas manifest themselves.
"The resonance from any central kernel is different for each of us, and three weeks after we've introduced an idea you might not be able to recognize it for all the layers it's developed."
One of bluemouth's most exciting shows was Lenz, in which audiences literally followed different strands of a story about a troubled brother and sister through three rooms in the Gladstone Hotel. Intriguing, sometimes mystifying but always engrossing, the show had O'Connell and Reeves play out emotional scenes only feet away from the audience.
But bluemouth doesn't want that intimacy, nor some of the big concepts they use to discuss their creations, to scare people.
"Words like 'site-specific' and 'interdisciplinary' are just dry terminology if the audience doesn't have a visceral experience at our shows," explains Reeves. "One of our main interests is the relationship between spectator and performance.
"You don't need a background to get our work. There may be different levels of interpretation in a piece, but we aim to have an immediate impression on the viewer. If we work on a segment and it means something, touches us, it's a keeper.
"Otherwise it's gone."
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