Fresh talent fresh technique

Uprising festival promises remarkable work by young artists

The lineup of Downstage’s Uprising Festival is exciting not just due to the broad range of socially and politically engaged stories but also because of the presence of up-and-coming voices telling their tales in a diverse range of compelling formats.

Uprising is Downstage’s platform for emerging artists to showcase their talent while also engaging the public in stories and topical subjects. Ideally Uprising will only be a stepping-stone in the life of these shows. Indeed Downstage artistic producer Simon Mallet points out that some previous productions (which first appeared in the festival) went on to considerable success elsewhere.

The festival lineup contains a fascinating collection of shows as distinct in subject matter as they are in their forms.

Meg Braem’s Potentilla will receive its third production when it opens at Uprising previously performed in Victoria and at the University of Calgary. The play is based on an experience she had after graduating from the University of Victoria. William Head On Stage is a prison program in Victoria that puts on a play every year and hires professional female actors to work with the prisoners in the federal penitentiary. Braem was hired to work on a project alongside inmates and the episode proved all the more unnerving for her because she had recently lost a family member to murder.

“Meeting these guys” she says “and hearing them tell their stories and looking at them as humans and then hearing what they’ve done and having to put the two of them together was a super unique experience that I don’t think a lot of people have and I wanted to share it.”

She says the play is about how someone can go through tragedy due to crime then come face-to-face with violent criminals and somehow find a level of understanding and peace.

Also in the program is the collaboration between Verb Theatre and The PBC a group of performers from the Mustard Seed Drama Club. The Opposite of Dismal: A Show and Tell breaks from the traditional play structure in that it features five performers answering a series of “best” questions: the best thing they ever did for another person the best story their grandparent ever told them the best family dinner and so on. It’s a combination of storytelling performance and photography. Audiences will also get the chance to ask questions of the performers.

Col Cseke co-artistic director of Verb Theatre says that all the performers have in one way or another come into direct contact with extreme poverty. He believes this style of presentation allows audiences to witness the rich personalities these individuals possess.

“These performers are a fascinating group of people and when they’re just being themselves and answering questions and just having conversations the things they say you can’t write. We want audiences to see that in a raw and true form and we think a conversation is the best way to do that.”

The third show is WhiteNOISE by Devon Dubnyk. It is arguably the most technically ambitious show in the festival.

“It’s a quasi one-man show” says Dubnyk. “Except that there are other characters in the play who instead of being played by live actors are played by a soundscape essentially.”

Dubnyk wrote the script and then recorded actors reading the lines. The artistic team created over 300 sound cues for 60 minutes of show time. The final product will be a feast for the eyes and ears.

The show centres on a young man who is drawn into the world of white nationalism. Dubnyk believes there are certain everyday racist practices that are common and unnoticed by most people. And passive racism he says can quickly become aggressive hatred. He recently heard about the most recent attack against Calgary anti-racist activist Jason Devine.

“That scares the shit out of me” he says. “The fact that that’s happening in Calgary the fact that’s a real fear; I mean that cannot be tolerated. It’s hateful and it’s ignorant. We as Calgarians need to be vocal about that and create some discussion.”

Also featured will be a staged reading of the winning script from the recent Downstage National Peace Play Competition — Mansel Robinson’s Two Rooms . The story focuses on a police officer who suspects his wife is involved in terrorist activities. The suspicion slowly tears their marriage apart.