Friday, October 16, 2009

Critical Perspective of STO Union's 7 Important Things by Michael Thomas Taylor

7 Important Things is a life-story anchored not by what we see, but what we hear. Despite the theatrical framework – scenes of improvisation and role-playing, switching between flash back and talk show, and the symbolic, even archetypical or fetishistic dimensions of its props and staging – the work closely hews to an utterly traditional form of narrative. A single voice chronologically remembers his own life-story, and this life-story becomes a metonym for a generation. Of course, he is prompted and parried, conceived and introduced by another voice that never settles on any single role, but this variety is in fact structured by a very simple principle: it enables him to speak. George’s voice seeks out gestures of authenticity poised between confession, interview, and therapy, and the generic irony of his story is the reason why it resonates with the audience – with our memories of the past and with the everyday realities of our working lives. But it also risks cliché. One wonders about the vitality of a tortured dance across prison-like shadows of a bar code. More fundamentally, the piece represents a deeply conservative impulse: the tragic failure of romantic rebellion and imagination that becomes here the failure of dramatic theatre.

The piece is deeply aware and distrustful of the power of theatrical illusion and seduction, and of course of modern forms of marketing and propaganda. And as an inheritance from Brecht, it also shows us something about the dangers of theatrical absorption – the kind of theatre that draws its audience into the happenings on stage and makes them forget the world for a time. Whether as ritual or escapist entertainment, this kind of theatre risks the destructive and alienating effects of a drug, as self-oblivion becomes self-abandon and the loss of all social responsibility. The piece insists instead on deliberate slowness and reflection, on wry wit, and on the power of therapeutically staged memories that contain these images and this absorption within clearly visible theatrical boundaries and conventions – a four-minute timer, a mask, commands from the director. Perhaps this is an appropriate form to represent the bourgeois origins of the belief that the freedom of self-creation and utopian community would follow from the rejection of authority and convention. But the piece also seems haunted by our age of media spectacle, in which reality TV turns authenticity into the crassest kind of performance. What are we to make of the pictures from George’s past? They elicit a phantasmagoric connection with the soul of a man whom we will never know except as a piece of theatre, and the piece itself never offers us a framework for understanding these documentary interventions as more than evocations of nostalgia. But even the impulse to insist on authenticity as itself a kind of theatre can be timid and uncertain. For me, the final revelation to the audience – a plea to see something, a living presence, denied the reality of what we had just experienced on stage. It also shifted the locus of authentic truth from the performance itself to the director as the ideal spectator. If only we could she what she sees. This is another deeply conservative gesture, and I wonder if it betrays a lack of trust in my imagination. I take Nadia Ross at her word that “each of us has a story to tell, and once we tell it, we fade into silence.” But what I missed was a work that more radically confronts, even suffers, this deficit. Instead, the tragic scheme of the story and the simple redemption it offered left me with an uncomfortable feeling of pity.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Critical Perspective of STO Union's 7 Important Things by Dr. Natalie Meisner

STO Union fittingly anchors an exploration of the politics of counterculture in the personal story of one man in 7 Important Things. We witness the hopes and dreams of a young George Acheson as he walks away from a life that he sees as drudgery; as he grows his hair, joins the hippie movement and refuses the life in the army that would make his father proud. He had hopes for peace, free love and the creation of “a whole new kind of person” that could possibly emerge out of the web of interconnected countercultural movements of the 1960’s. These hopes are dashed when the hippies sell out to the free market and so George becomes a punk anarchist rather than a duped and branded consumer.

The troupe uses a number of techniques to gently tease the meaning out of the quotidian and to revisit aspects of George’s spent (or misspent?) life. Role playing, flashbacks, and interviewing techniques reminiscent of qualitative research are all deployed at various points in the piece. The audience is acknowledged; made part of the process of meaning making without pandering to us and without poking us just for the satisfaction of seeing us wince. Due to the sophisticated viewing filters of contemporary theatre audiences, this is no mean feat. Ross changes from the role of moderator to that of provocateur to that of various key characters from George’s past with ease. Sections of focused interview and pointed questions about politics and culture are juxtaposed with the replaying of highly personal moments of George’s past.

There is an assumed “we” posed to the audience, which at various points in the performance is skilfully called into question. Do “we” share George’s valuation of work as a way of life as soul destroying? There are certainly some chuckles of recognition in the audience when he describes the mind-numbing environment of muzak and cubicles that marked his foray into the workforce in the mid seventies. And yet we are also called upon to interrogate our ideas about work. Can it bring delight as well as reward? Are there other models than the “necessary evil” with which we can animate our places of work? Doesn’t anyone offer a living wage for something that might fall under the category of a labour of love? If not, then what is wrong with us?

The vague spiritual quest that is mentioned becomes somehow substituted for the many legitimate political demands of the 1960’s protest movements and this feels like something of a shell game. But then again, this very shell game is likely a nod to the way that narcotics were problematically woven into the fabric of the legendary decade of protest. Drugs seemed to offer enlightenment, freedom and rebellion and yet they ultimately sapped the strength of otherwise talented and capable people. They dulled the capabilities and contributed to the conformity of otherwise iconoclastic, and legitimately pissed off young people.

As George lost his way, so did the youth movement of the 1960’s. This is one of the theories posed by 7 Importan Things. And yet, if one listens carefully to the heartbeat of the peace there is something else. Just as we now enjoy a greater degree of freedom, citizenship and equality as a result of the gains made by various threads of the 1960’s counterculture movements, so too has George benefitted from his unorthodox school of hard knocks.

Things seem to come ironically full circle when George finds himself at age 50 cutting hair in a small town and yet the act no longer holds the significance it once did. Now he seems to find his place in society through the offering of a small comfort. He tells us that people feel a bit better about themselves when they leave his chair and perhaps in this simple act he seems to have arrived at his answer; his offering to a world that he’s never, until now, felt part of.

Dr. Natalie Meisner
Department of English, Mount Royal University

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

by STO Union
Oct 14-17/09 4 Shows Only!


1. "The boys didn't believe that the commies were going to take over the world."

2. "Your dollar is your best friend."

3. "The guy who looked normal wasn't trusted."

4. "I loved walking through a crowd of office workers on their lunch break wearing my Sergeant Pepper's jacket and my hair down to my waist."

5. "You cut your hair in '73 because long hair didn't mean anything anymore."

6. "On Friday, they say: 'T.G.I.F.'- That breaks my heart."


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fluid Festival 2009 at Theatre Junction GRAND

Select Shows at Theatre Junction GRAND

Physical. Fun. Fierce. Fluid. Calgary’s only festival merging outstanding contemporary dance and physical performance by local, national and international artists.

Hofesh Shechter - a dance sensation from the UK – is an international headliner.
A performance of truly extraordinary beauty and profundity – Probably the most important new dance work to be created in Britain since the millennium." - The Observer (UK)
And a Canadian company also making international headliners - Montréal Danse – with choreographer Sarah Chase create a series of stunning stories with icy imagery.

Chase’s special blend of narrative biography and movement permeate the dancers. Known for their fresh audacious approach to contemporary dance, Montréal Danse performs accessible and exhilarating work.
Our outstanding international, national and local performers astound with their unique imaginations and confound with their emotive physicality. And share their expertise through artists talks and workshops.