Taxicab Theatre

Gab in a cab, do time in the hole, or ponder what lies behind schoolyard shootings.

These are just some of the options available to audience members as Nakai Theatre presents version six of its Homegrown Theatre Festival next week at the Guild Hall.

The lineup of 12 local shows runs the gamut from a staged reading of Doug Rutherford’s drama about school shootings, to a more experimental work by Hazel Venzon that literally takes the audience on a taxi ride through Porter Creek.

“It goes from something like Doug’s piece, which is a linear narrative that is fourth wall and naturalistic, all the way to Hazel’s, which is interactive – what has been described as ‘boutique theatre’ – where you have a tiny audience,” explains Nakai’s artistic director, David Skelton.

“Some people might say it’s not theatre, and OK, it may not fit your definition of theatre, but you cannot ignore that it is performance. I would be happy to refer to it as a performance event.”

Skelton also points to an installation by Katherine Alexander, a scale representation of a solitary confinement cell in a women’s penitentiary.

“When you enter into it, there are voices that are played of women that she has interviewed who have been in solitary, or were in solitary at the time.”

“Going from Doug’s to that is interesting. Stylistically, they are very different, but in terms of social relevance, they’re very similar.”

Rutherford began writing And, on the Second Day shortly after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December, 2012.

“Why would somebody go shoot 26 people at an elementary school? What the hell would make you do that?” he recalls asking himself at the time.

After doing some research into school shootings in the United States, he came up with some disturbing findings.

“Between 2010 and 2013, there were 52 school shootings in the U.S.,” he says. “Most of these do not get covered.”

The ones that do get media exposure are those involving random shootings, such as the Newtown tragedy, rather than targeted shootings of specific individuals.

A targeted shootings especially, there is often one common element. Rutherford cites studies that show 86-88 per cent of such events basically result from bullying.

“The part that gets me is, if I pester the crap out of somebody for years and years, and he goes and shoots me, watch the news. Who’s the villain? It sure isn’t the bully.”

Schools may have “lovely zero-tolerance policies”, he says, but most just get lip service.

In a society where gun violence is commonplace, it might seem almost normal for a bullying victim to conclude, “I can’t get anybody to do anything about this, so I’m just going to go out and fix my problem,” Rutherford suggests.

And while he dislikes the idea of a single cause for anything, he says looking into the story behind shooting events often reveals how one thing has led to another and another, before the final catastrophe.

“If someone had broken the chain at any point, I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these wouldn’t have happened.”

Rutherford’s play, which won Nakai’s “Next 24 Hours” competition last year, is written for a cast of 15, including five non-speaking roles.

The Homegrown performance of And, on the Second Day involves 10 actors, including four students in the Music, Art and Drama (MAD) program. As a staged reading, it won’t require the services of a fight director, which a full production would need, the playwright says.

In contrast, Venzon’s piece, For Hire: in Two Parts, requires a much smaller cast – just herself and her cab-driver partner, Simon Lacombe, plus a small audience that is definitely part of the action.

Venzon describes it as an “intimate, and hopefully introspective” look at what it means to be of service.

“Aside from writing plays, I’m a doula, I’m a sister, I’m a friend… all these other roles that I definitely enjoy playing,” she says. “It’s really hard for me to etch out what my service is, so I’m asking that question in my play.”

For the first part of the play, Venzon and Lacombe will spend two evenings taking up two three audience members at a time on a 10-minute ride.

“I will sit shotgun, and we will have a conversation briefly touching on the service of a cab driver, and quickly turning the conversation around to asking the audience members about what they do, while riding in a cab and being served in an interesting way,” she explains.

“As I turn the conversation around to a more intimate, personal conversation, I’ll be asking very specific questions and gathering answers that I will use in my second part of this play.”

On the third evening, Venzon will offer a performance based on what she has recorded, with the participants remaining anonymous.

“I saw a show once in the Netherlands, and I was part of the show. The actor asked questions, and it was distilled down and used in the show,” Venzon explains.

“I was excited to see how they were going to use the material. There was a level of investment that I found myself intrigued by,” she says.

“So I’m hoping to give that to people here as well, so they feel like they’re part of my process, and just investing in it more.”

Venzon refers to what she does as a “social performance practice” that isn’t necessarily under the guise of theatre.

“It has elements of performance art, it has elements of engagement. Those are the two strongest elements that stand out to me that would help define what it is that I’m doing.”

The Homegrown festival runs May 6-11 at the Guild Hall. General admission is $12, but donations for individual performances are encouraged, and go directly to the performers.

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