What can one expect from a production which involves numerous performers, each telling their own story — literally their own story — and how do you piece those performances together to create powerful, entertaining and thoughtful theatre? Artistic director for Handsome Alice Theatre, Kate Newby, has done just that with the company’s latest production, inVISIBLE, a collaborative project that hopes to engage the audience and strike a chord with everyone at some point in the telling.
Having begun the groundwork for this performance a year ago, Newby started with approximately 20 female and non-binary artists as well as people in the community, not necessarily in theatre, with the intention for them to come together and “create a piece on what it means to be visible and invisible, primarily from the female perspective.” It was an endeavour which, Newby says, has resulted in an extraordinary bond forming between emerging artists and people in the community between the ages of 19 and 36 who have “come together to create stories … of their own personal experience that they were encouraged to create and explore.”
By encouraging these individual stories, the sharing of these artists’ experiences and views on visibility and invisibility in their lives, Newby believes that there is something almost universal in the themes, with the 12 to 14 stories to be performed being, according to her, “stories that everyone can relate to at some point in their lives, at some point in their development, and they are stories (about) the human experience from the female perspective.”
Telling it from the female perspective is key for Newby, who sees a definite lack of female-driven stories being told, and who is looking to change that with Handsome Alice Theatre.
“That’s basically our mandate — unleashing the female voice … the female narrative. I do love to use the female voice because we don’t hear enough of it. Our stories are so male-centric in theatre, the traditional theatre is obviously driven by the male perspective, (but) the majority of theatre patrons are female so they are going and hearing stories that aren’t necessarily connected to them. I think that it’s really important that we explore, that we open up the doors to diverse voices in all aspects of life. I think the narratives of the female experience are so profoundly diverse and so deep in their meaning and struggle and challenges and joys and moments of empowerment, and we’re not hearing them.”
The individual pieces themselves range from light-hearted and funny to intense and thought-provoking. Newby has taken a lot of thought and care in weaving them together, and, as well, has adapted the audience experience to suit the performance.
“The audience will enter into an immersive experience, so there’s not an audience sitting outside of the experience, but they are actually right inside the space. It’s like coming to an evening garden party that is a slumber party.” And, instead of a traditional audience-stage theatrical set-up, inVISIBLE takes a more engaging approach: “The audience and the performers sit in beds, and it is a community gathering place. The bed represents to me the place of comfort and nurturing for us, but also a place that it can be very vulnerable,” says Newby, who thinks of inVISIBLE not so much as a theatre piece but as “a happening — a shared experience in community.”
This is not to say that there will be audience participation so much as a chance for audience members to engage and feel free to experience each performance as they need. “Some of the pieces are very raw, some of the pieces are movement form, movement based,” says Newby. “There’s music, there’s text, they’re raw, they’re humorous, they’re all over the map. There are culturally diverse voices, there are voices from the LGBTQ community — it’s a mash of community.”
This “mash of community” was intentional, with Handsome Alice Theatre partnering up with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, MRU’s Dept. of Diversity and Human Rights and the U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts in an effort to include and encourage more diverse voices for the piece. “I’ve tried my best not to mess with their stories, to honour them and what they need to say, so in a traditional sense as a director to not mess with their personal experiences but to find the flow between those so that they collectively have a grounding.”
And, again, it’s the telling of stories from the female perspective, the female voice, that Newby is excited to share, noting that she’s been gratified by the initial response. “I’ve found that the people who have entered the room to see this so far are have the experience of, ‘Oh my god I’ve never heard this before,’ or, ‘I’ve never experienced this before’ and it’s profoundly moving — there’s a lot of release happening in the room, both through the process, from the artists, but also the people that are watching it. Not everybody’s going to be connected to every story or every experience, but there will be one that hits someone deeply in every single person that enters that space.”
Telling these stories from a female perspective is not intended to alienate, in fact, Newby encourages and expects all audiences to enjoy it. “I think it’s an important piece for women and men to see, (although) sometimes men feel like it becomes exclusive when it’s a female narrative. This is a really important piece on humanity and everyone will have a connection to it in some way. It comes from (the performers’) heart, it comes from their experience, it comes from their passion, and they own their voice in it, and collectively as well. It’s a real celebration to me, and a breaking through.”
“This piece is so metaphorical, (it’s not) message driven, it’s not a politically activated piece, it is a piece about humanity.”
inVISIBLE is presented by Handsome Alice Theatre runs Oct. 12-21 nightly at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees Oct. 14, 15 and 21 at the Matthews Theatre, Craigie Hall, The School of Creative and Performing Arts, U of C. More information at handsomealice.com.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at email@example.com.