Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Marie Brassard’s Invisible: Ghost in a Machine
Ectoplasm was a word coined shortly after the turn of the century by a French psychologist to describe the physical manifestation of spiritual energy through bodily openings. Still visible today in photographic images from this age, it is a decidedly modern substance tied to the invention of the camera and to the discovery of x-rays, which predated it by ten years. As indexes of reality, photographs had always claimed to reveal rather than merely capture or document reality. Ectoplasm was thus no invisible, paranormal spirit within the body. It was a ghost in a machine, a projection of a technological medium.
The strength of Marie Brassard’s most recent show, The Invisible, is to bring this machine on stage. Brassard appears among metallic strips and balloons reminiscent of the earliest photographic negatives; she moves and speaks with the same deliberate restraint as the theatrical contraptions surrounding her, from a smoke-machine that comes down out of the rafters to an ancient film-projector sitting on the stage. The austere aesthetics and surreal landscapes may remind you of de Chirico, but the theatre adds a third and fourth dimension of sound and duration. The slow pace stretches the audience tight; like other elements of the performance, it can feel physically disrupting. This machine is not about ratchety dualisms of mind and matter, reality and imagination. It reveals our dreams and desires, as well as our fears and our pains, to be creatures and projections of our technologies. And in Brassard’s retelling, the realm of this revelation is the realm of fiction.
Fiction appears here most immediately as JT Leroy, a recent literary hoax of an author. A ghost and causality of a literary market that trades in imagination but mercilessly punishes fraud, JT Leroy absorbed the violence that can be wielded by the consumerism controlling artistic creation today. It is thus unfortunate that Brassard’s own channeling of this androgynous character, and of the painful images of abuse and homeless prostitution that circulate through her works, falls flat. The stories that Brassard tells and the dreams she speaks are too flimsy, too predictable, too recycled to match the tension of the landscape she inhabits. The unnerving range and force of the figures from Peepshow are missing. Despite the distortions of her voice and the iterations of her character, she remains too present, too constant, too visible on stage as a performer – as the theatrical “sorceress” that others have (rightly or wrongly) seen behind her work.
Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary
Quèbècoise virtuoso Marie Brassard’s newest show, The Invisible continues to investigate the questions raised by Jimmy and Peepshow: Questions which are at the forefront of international avant-garde theatre and performance. The interface between the live body of the performer and machinery and apparatus that deliver the spectacle, the role of the audience in the process of meaning-making and the status of character and narrative in contemporary performance are all at issue in this play.
The work of Brassard productively mines the tension between text/narrative and the post-dramatic performance paradigms, as she transforms her body and voice to reveal the hidden and marginal spaces of the human psyche. For years, she notes in an interview, she fought her own adherence to the spoken word, believing theatre should be purely physical. She then realised that talking itself is a physical act. When you embody a story, she notes, and perform it, the body organizes itself. “There is a subtle choreography that is being staged without you even knowing about it." This interface between the story and the teller, between the creator and the created is at the heart of The Invisible.
There are some stunning moments of pure stage technique where a simple piece of mylar and the play of lights upon it tease the audience’s assumptions about what is in front of their eyes. Brassard’s collaborations with Alexander MacSweeny and Mikko Hynninin allow her to push the limits of the actor’s body and vocal range. As a microphone moves around the stage under its own power we might ask ourselves whether seeing is believing or whether it is the other way around. These moments of technical prowess, along with Brassard and MacSweeney’s particular use of voice technology combine for an otherworldly effect that leads us back to the play’s thematic exploration of the supernatural.
Another dimension of Brassard’s new play is its meditation on the art of acting and character development. We often speak of the actor’s skill and ability in bringing characters to life for us, but less often do we ponder the way that embodying and channelling these characters impacts the actor. Whether an actor uses the Stanislavski technique, Strasberg’s adapted “method,” or any of the ever-proliferating physical approaches to actor training, there is still an imprint that playing any character will leave on him or her and this is the terrain that Brassard wants to investigate.
Her latest in a series of one person ( but notably multi-character) performances has Brassard channelling spirits. One of the most interesting emanations she brings forth is the ongoing and complex literary/gender performance hoax that is J.T. Leroy. Leroy was supposedly the author and protagonist of Sarah: A book based on the life of a young boy who was raised as a girl and forced to turned tricks at truck stops with his drug addicted mother. He was supposedly born in 1980 in West Virginia into a life of homelessness, drug addiction and prostitution from which he emerged after the publication of his first novel. It turns out, however, that none of this was true. Leroy was recently revealed to be the nom de plume of Laura Albert, an American woman writer who also gave birth to the persona of Leroy by asking her sister in law Savannah Knoop to play J.T. Leroy at readings and public events. Then, as Brassard tells us, the play began to spill over into real life. Savannah played J.T. Leroy who became a cult figure and instant celebrity, a hero to trans-gendered people and began moving in the circles of celebrated filmmaker Gus Van Sant, Winona Ryder, and Dennis Hopper. Leroy even had a brief affair “in character” with actress Asia Argento.
Although the reaction has been mixed by those who befriended, worked with and even became romantically entangled with this fictional, yet embodied being, Laura Albert doesn’t see Leroy as a hoax, but rather as a veil or a meditation on the power of celebrity and society’s fascination with “real” tragedy and our hunger to peer voyeuristically into one another’s tragic and sordid pasts. John Strausbaugh, former New York Press editor, has compared Albert’s creation to the combination of pseudonym and real life role playing engaged in by French Writer Georges Sand and this is likely one of the points of inspiration for Brassard’s invocation of J.T. Leroy.
Despite the fact that J.T. Leroy was exposed as a hoax and the author Laura Albert convicted of fraud by a Manhattan Jury in 2007, J.T. this character who no longer exists continues to compile an impressive resume and is listed as a contributing writer on a film shot in Amsterdam in 2008 and slated for release in 2009. Savannah Knoop has, in fact, written her own book, GirlBoyGirl which explores the experience of being the public face of J.T. Leroy. Not only was she the public face of another’s literary productions, she was a woman playing a man who was supposedly raised as a girl; a complicated experience with gender to say the least. Knoop notes in an interview that her experience playing J.T. Leroy has been the inspiration for a line of designer unisex clothing called Tinc. Knoop sees her work as a form of wearable art that uses fashion as a vehicle to examine identity and gender.
In a recent interview the real life woman who played the character of J.T. Leroy at readings, parties and public engagements still speaks about being possessed by him. So where is J.T. Leroy now? As Brassard points out he continues to exist, in limbo perhaps; in fragmented and refracted forms. This is a fascinating case that asks questions about identity and performance, not only in terms of spiritual emanations, but also in the very concrete sense. What is identity? How is it formed? Who owns it? What are the limits of the law when it comes to regulating such heady matters? In defiance of the very concrete demands of economic profit and the law, J.T. Leroy lives. Despite the fact that he has been declared non-existent he is out there, refusing to exist simply inside one body. He is out there, making clothes and selling them. He is writing movies and books. He is onstage with or inside Marie Brassard each night as she performs The Invisible.
This play invokes some most powerful and timeless questions about identity and gender that are the stock in trade of the theatre since men playing women staged a sex strike upon the men to end the Peloponnesian war in Lysistrata. Or since a male actor playing Viola disguised as a man wooed Olivia in Twelfth Night.
Dr. Natalie Meisner,
Department of English, Mount Royal College
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
QUEEN LEAR Presented by Urban Curvz (Feb 11-21/09)
Theatre Junction is pleased to partner with Urban Curvz to offer a 2 for 1 ticket special to Queen Lear by Eugene Stickland for Tuesday February 17th & Wednesday February 18th at the Joyce Doolitle Theatre. All Theatre Junction patrons who have bought tickets to Marie Brassard's The Invisible can take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer for Queen Lear for the selected dates . Just phone the Pumphouse Box Office and quote "Invisible" to redeem the Queen Lear 2 for 1 or buy in person.
In a tribute to Ms. Doolittle, Eugene Stickland tells the story of an aging actress cast in an all female production called Queen Lear who has employed a young girl to help her memorize her lines. Musing on the different stages of life that both women exemplify, illustrating beautifully how time and experience separate them, this beautiful and touching story about the strength of the female spirit is not be missed.
This will be a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event to see Calgary theatre icon, Joyce Doolittle perform in the theatre named for her, in a play written for her, in the 80th year of her life!Pumphouse Box Office Phone Hours:
Mon - Fri 10:00am- 5pm MST
2140 Pumphouse Ave SW
Calgary, AB. T3C 3P5
Présentation spéciale EN FRANCAIS
With the support of RAFA (Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l'Alberta) Theatre Junction has the distinct honour of presenting Marie Brassard's L'Invisible in its original language for one night only!
Tickets to this special French Only show on Thursday February 19th are on sale for our regular weekday price of $30.25 (including all fees and gst). Students pay only $20.
We are also pleased to offer a special 10% savings for all French artists who would like to attend. Please phone the box office 403.205.2922 to redeem this offer.
Rende-vouz au theatre!
On Wednesday February 18th The Ship Bus will set sail for the 2nd time this season. Meet us at the Ship & Anchor pub where 30 tickets to Marie Brassard's The Invisible will be available for $20. Each ticket includes a free drink and transportation to and from Theatre Junction GRAND (bus @ 7:30pm). Tickets will go on sale at the Ship & Anchor pub at 6pm. First come, first served.