Coincidence, chance, serendipity: each of these are beautiful forces that wander through our world uninterrupted. They are reminders that, as soon as you think you understand the world around you, there will always be something unexpected that will, once again, fill you with wonder. The world is mysterious and if you’re open enough to accept this you will begin to welcome these little (or big) surprises.
Last week, I was walking home through a residential street I had only walked through maybe twice before after completing my roster of Volcano classes for the day. As I navigated this unfamiliar street I saw a woman shaking out some bags on the sidewalk. Getting closer, me walking, her shaking out dirt and hitting canvas, she turned towards me and we immediately recognized each other. This woman shaking the bags was an artist I met maybe three years ago now at the annual, or biennial, Unconference by Small Wooden Shoe (which is happening again very soon and you should go to it) by the name of Michelle Polak. Last I heard from her she was participating in a tour of I, Claudia. We very easily began talking about theatre, I was throwing her some stuff that had me very inspired from the recent classes I was taking with Volcano, and she began telling me about her experience working on OUBLIETTE, a show opening this week at Summerworks. We asked a lot of “How”-questions and walked away from each other, I think, with a bit more wonder in our minds than when we began.
Later that night, Michelle got me in touch with Kevin, the writer / director of the show she’s working on. I’m quite curious to see OUBLIETTE. After talking with Kevin and reading his responses to my questions, it seems he is full of as much wonder and awe as Michelle and I.
So, without further ado, I give you dossier #21:
Who are we talking to?
I am Kevin Rees. I have been creating theatre, acting and writing for the past 15 years or more. A lot of my original work has been with emergency exit – a company Sean MacMahon and I started about 12 years ago when we wanted to shake shit up a bit. We do multi-media performances that use improvisation quite heavily and we do everything ourselves (call cues, operate lights, music etc.)
This year I began Think, Pig! to have a platform for performances I want to do that don’t sit in the perimeters of emergency exit. I’ve got a project in development right now (section 2 will be at the Performance bar on August 15th) called I am Trying to Lose my Mind.
I have also written a few plays – Rabid (which won the Summerworks Jury Prize back in 2001 alongside Matthew MacFadzean’s richardthesecond), which was all about skinheads and fratricide, and Madder which was about a town with a missing girl and a tainted water supply. Fast – my first play was about excruciating love.
What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to playwriting, to directing, to this particular show, to wherever the hell you are in life)
I began acting in high school and have to say it was all about escape back then. I wanted to act my way out of my actual life because it was harsh a lot of the time. I was awkward, I was deeply angry, and I found that theatre was a fount of things I didn’t allow myself or just couldn’t find in reality. It also allowed me to unleash. Theatre gives you permission. You never have to apologize for your actions. Theatre is the opposite of hiding.
Oubliette originally began because I wanted to write something for women only. I wanted to work with some particular women- and I wanted to write something I could not cast myself in. I have always been fascinated by and read about war and watched films about it, been deeply disturbed by the idea that seems to float around that it is somehow necessary. It fucking isn’t. Then I started thinking about the body-counts – TV says – 300 people died in Baghdad last night during “shock and awe”; but who were they? And why are we treating this like the playoffs?
What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?
Probably when I sat in the audience watching about 3 of my friends in a production of ”You Can’t Take it with You?” in high school. They all auditioned and I was terrified and didn’t. We went to Cawthra Park which had an arts programme. I remember thinking – that was the last time you turn away from that kind of fear. The ball was already rolling then though. I also recall realising what an ACTOR was when I was watching an episode of Dallas with my Mum when I was maybe 10. I thought John Forsythe had a very interesting occupation.
Theatre is terrifying.
I used to think acting was the most nerve wracking job, I still tremble in the 15 minute call before curtain, but then I wrote something that I did not perform in – so I had to sit in the audience; that taught me a lesson. I didn’t know my guts could feel like that. Fear is healthy.
It’s such a great word. David Bowie says it in Labyrinth, that was when I first heard it. When I began researching what they were I was really intrigued but also amazed at the effort someone would go to to make someone forgotten. It seemed a perfect setting and symbol somehow to explore ideas surrounding genocide.
What kind of atmosphere do yo intend to set up, or can someone expect while attending OUBLIETTE?
I’d prefer not to answer this one. I think the atmosphere of the play is one of the most vital aspects, so I’d rather leave it unexplained. My friend Hillar Liitoja (of DNA) covers the synopses on the backs of books so that while reading it everything is new information as he comes across it. The synopsis hasn’t pre-conceived anything for him. I think Hillar is a very smart man.
I understand this piece has been in development for a long time. Can you speak a bit about the history of it? Why now?
I don’t recall precisely when I began writing it but it was first workshopped in June 2004 with a TAC grant I received. The first cast was Viv Moore, Heidi Strauss, Michelle Polak and Allison Cummings. That was an incredible experience. My friend Heather Lash directed it. She has experience as a theatre director and has worked first hand with refugees at a centre here in Toronto. We did a couple staged readings in the back room at the Playwright’s Guild where I worked at the time.
In 2006 I ran away from home and moved to Budapest, Hungary for 4.5 years. Near the end of my time there I hired 4 more actors Patricia Hughes, Rachel Lambinon, Gretchen Meddaugh and Liana Andrews and we did another workshop at this amazing bar/hostel in Pest called Roham. That was odd and awesome. The audience there didn’t know me really, many of them didn’t have English as a first language – I got some very useful feedback, made the language more stripped down and I began to concern myself much more with the rhythm and tone of the play.
Now, here we are. I am returning to Summerworks after not having produced or performed at this festival for about 9 years. I am very pleased to be back.
What is your favourite memory from the development of OUBLIETTE?
Probably early on this time around when Michelle Polak and I had a meeting at her house. We were a couple weeks in and she wanted to “get inside my head” so she could help out with rehearsals as an assistant director. We sat down at the kitchen table and went through the whole script and she poked and prodded with her fabulous actor brain – she asked me all kinds of really detailed questions and drew stuff from the script and suggested the temperature and made links where I didn’t realise I had written them and whatnot. I think that meeting was fuelled by ginger tea. She is the best question asker ever. I was going to say “interrogator” but that is too aggressive for Michelle. She helped me realise all the detail that was there.
She’s been there from day 1 asserting that I should follow my instincts. She is a great ally.
Describe OUBLIETTE in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.
Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare does a nice job I think…
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?
I’ve included postcard image, a drawing, and a mugshot.
For showtimes and performance info, click on the picture above and you’ll be redirected to the facebook event page. Or check out the Summerworks site. That also works.