A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Friday, May 09, 2008

I first met up with the "Three Musketeers" (my name for them), Kim Collier, Jonathan Young and Kevin Kerr, founding members (1996) of the Electric Theatre Company in 2001. I was comissioned by them to take pictures of the actors involved in a play adapted by Vancouver's Carmen Aguirre from Jorge Amado's novel, Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands. The project also involved Argentine artists Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez. On opening night, in the reception are of the East Vancouver Cultural Centre, Patrich, Sanchez and I had photographs, paintings, sketches with photographs and other variations that showed the characters of the play in their roles. It was the Electric Theatre Company that probably innaugurated the East Vancouver Cultural Centre tradition of having at least one production per year (be it a play or a dance performance) featuring full nudity. In fact it was Dona Flor's first husband (Ty Olson) who made the Vancouver theatre audience receptive to having a man on stage nude and dangle his parts for most of a performance. Carmen Aguirre was Dona Flor. She shed her clothes for the last act.

I dealt with them in 2003 for The Fall . It is hard to distinguish who acts, who directs and who writes the company's plays. I do believe that Kevin Kerr does not act. He is a playwright who won the Governor General's Literary Award in 2002 for his play Unity (1918) but both Collier and Young (married to each other, photo above, left) write, act and Collier directs. All three happily co-write many of the company's plays.

In 2006 the company staged Studies in Motion written by Kevin Kerr (right) that was based on the story of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. This wonderful play (nudity but this time at UBC's Frederic Wood Theatre) broke new grounds as all movement was choreographed by Kidd Pivot's Crystal Pite. After seeing this play I thought that theatre would never be quite same again for me. And that has been so. The Electric Theatre Company keeps challenging this concept of what theatre should or can be.

Last night Rosemary and I were challenged but entertained in the company's performance of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Both Rosemary and I had read the play many times but we have never seen it performed. No subsequent staging that we might see elsewhere will be able to match the bells, the whistles and the sheer technical wizardry of this production. And Kim Collier's direction was tight and to the point. Stuff had to be edited out. As an example when I spotted Crystal Pite I asked her, "How would you have choroegraphed this play? How would you have prevented the actors from ever blinking their eyes?" With a smile she answered, "I couldn't have." So any mention that the protagonists can never close their eyes was taken out from Paul Bowles' translation.

The three actors who are in "The Room", Laara Sadiq, Andy Thompson and Lucia Frangione show no redeeming qualities (terrific acting) and thus show why they are in hell. I never felt sorry for them and I now understand why my theology class before lunch in my Catholic boarding school in Texas seemed like hell. As we would say in Spanish, it was an antesala del infierno or ante room to hell. The class seemed like it would never end.

But it was Jonathan Young's performance as the valet that I enjoyed the best. Last year I thought his Ruby Slippers paticipation in Trout Stanley was the best performance by a male actor that I have seen in years. And Rosemary still talks about his acting in the company's 2004 play, Palace Grand (picture here of Young smoking a joint).

Young is a handsome actor. But he is slim and almost as small as Collier. He can (I am sure) almost make himself disappear so you won't notice him. And he rarely yells. You pay attention because you want to listen to him. In No Exit, while I didn't give a damn what happened to the three in the room I felt anguish for Young's valet who it would seem will have to spend an eternity dealing with people of no consequence. A worse hell I cannot imagine.

By accident I saw the CBC film (2004) A Bear Named Winnie on TV over the weekend. It is based on the true story of a Canadian soldier, enroute to World War I from Winnipeg, who adopts an orphaned bear cub at White River Ontario. It is named Winnie (for Winnipeg) and eventually ends up at the London Zoo where it became the inspiration for A.A.Milne's Winnie The Pooh stories. He is fussed over by two men. One of them is Jonathan Young who plays a veterinarian soldier called Macray. It was in this film (a film that shows that the CBC can deliver good Canadian goods when it wants to) that I noticed Young's chameleon qualities. But it was this line in the film that stopped me and made me notice, "I know everything, I have done nothing."

There is more. The three musketeers met while studying theatre at Langara's Studio 58. Carmen Aguirre studied there and has written plays for it including a most entertaining adaptation of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar's story The Rules of the Game.

A few weeks back I photographed Antony Holland who was the founder of Studio 58. His latest project is minimalist theatre. He believes that strong plays don't need staging or props. He would perhaps not approve of the Electric Theatre Company's No Exit. I would only say to this gentle man that more than anybody in Vancouver he is singly responsible for the machinations of his students. They will perhaps some day return to his minimalism. Meanwhile he should take some credit for the sheer brilliance of those whom he has inspired.

Luckily for the other theatre companies of our city, these three musketeers are only three. Were they four there would be no competition.


Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that I will be doing a public reading of Blue Box, my new play, during The New Play Festival, which takes place during Magnetic North, the national theatre festival being held in Vancouver this year.

Blue Box is a one-woman autobiographical dark comedy about sex and politics. Can there be sex without politics? Can there be politics without sex? The play takes place in the Third and First worlds, from the eighties into the new millenium, during revolutionary and post-revolutionary times.

Here's the info:

Blue Box, written and performed by Carmen Aguirre, directed by Brian Quirt.

A Nightswimming commission.

When: Wednesday, June 11th, at 9pm

Where: Playwrights Theatre Centre Studio at Festival House on Granville Island. 1398 Cartwright Street, a few doors down from The Waterfront Theatre.

Admission: $5 at the door.

Would love to see you all there! Please pass it on.... Carmen Aguirre:)


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