Of Fighting Age a unique theatrical gallery experience

How does one describe Verb Theatre’s latest show a co-production with the Glenbow Museum called Of Fighting Age ? “It’s a tricky one because there’s no clear example in recent Calgary theatre to point to” says Verb artistic director Col Cseke.

“We’ve built the show ideally like a really well curated exhibit. You don’t get necessarily a clear linear narrative but it does all cumulatively come to a really rich experience.”

The show takes place against the backdrop of the Glenbow’s Transformations: A. Y. Jackson & Otto Dix a war art exhibition that offers both Canadian and German perspectives. Using the setting Cseke along with Of Fighting Age co-creators Christopher Duthie and David Van Belle have crafted a non-linear hybrid performance on the topic of war.

Cseke says the show is more akin to experiencing visual art than a play. “Chris and I are kind of like tour guides through this experience” he explains.

A strong theatrical element is still part of the experience of course with Cseke and Duthie performing scenes throughout the gallery. “It’s part comedy part drama part autobiographical confession. There’s some verbatim text portions; there’s audience participation portions where the audience contributes opinions or experiences to the show; there’s a lot of chalkboards that we’re projecting with and doing artwork with. So it’s a very adventurous kind of show” says Cseke.

Designer Anton de Groot has worked with both modern and Second World War-era technology to enrich the experience with projections and a broad soundscape to create theatrical settings throughout the gallery.

Of Fighting Age is several years in the making originally pegged on Canada’s complete withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. However as Cseke and Duthie discussed the possibilities of a war play they found themselves returning to their grandfathers’ Second World War stories which raised questions of their own: “Has [nostalgia] been insulating us from being able to engage with war? Is nostalgia a warmer type of ignorance that we’ve both embraced? Those are the type of questions that we discovered in ourselves” explains Cseke.

And so while the show isn’t just about Afghanistan “It connects to who Chris and I are not as soldiers but as citizens in 2014 with us being intellectually very aware that we just had a 12-year war but not being emotionally engaged in it.”

Afghanistan is prominent in a few sections such as the verbatim text portions that feature the words of a Canadian soldier who was in Afghanistan as well as a recent immigrant from Afghanistan. Smartphones or tablets are also used to demonstrate how we now relate to war (although such gadgets are by no means required to enjoy the show).

Audience members will also be asked to make choices or take sides which could swing different ways depending on the night. “Every audience member I think will have their own experience and that’s a thing I’m really excited to create” says Cseke.

For all the touch points in the show that audiences may latch onto the original connection to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is still integral to the piece.

“Sometimes the timing of shows is really important and I think this show is important to be happening now” says Cseke. “I don’t know what this show will mean in three years and I know it’s a show we couldn’t have created three years ago. It’s an immediate kind of thing.”

Audience members are encouraged to bring their smartphones or tablets to the show which is recommended for ages 14 and up.

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