What: 2013 Winterlab festival
Where: Metro Studio and Intrepid Theatre Club
When: Jan. 26 to Feb. 3
Tickets: $30, $23, $18 (or $69 for a festival pass); 250-590-6291
From transsexual plays to multisensory techno-freakouts, Intrepid Theatre is counting on a new winter festival to turn heads and expand minds.
Traditionally, near the end of January, Intrepid invites adventuresome touring shows to this city. This has worked well because the Victoria company piggybacks on other Canadian theatre fests already happening, such as Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo.
Artistic producer Janet Munsil said this time “the stars aligned” to allow Intrepid to bring in five shows within the space of a week. So her company decided to group the shows as a festival it calls 2013 Winterlab.
Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors and Thief of Mirrors was presented on Wednesday night. The upcoming shows are:
• Look Mummy, I’m Dancing (Saturday at Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.) by Belgium’s Vanessa Van Durme, who was born a boy and underwent sex change in his 20s.
• Grim & Fischer (Jan. 30, 31 at Metro Studio) by Portland’s Wonderheads company, which has earned critical raves on the fringe circuit with its full-mask physical theatre.
• And the Birds Fell From the Sky (Friday to Feb. 3 at Intrepid Theatre Club, 2-1609 Blanshard St.) by Brighton, U.K.-based Il Pixel Rosso. For this experimental show, making its Canadian debut, the audience dons video goggles and headphones for a surreal, dreamlike experience.
• Winnipeg Babysitter (tonight at Intrepid Theatre) is based on Winnipeg artist Daniel Darrow’s sifting through the archives of independent cable television shows from the 1970s and ’80s, a so-called “golden age” of public-access TV.
Look Mummy, I’m Dancing promises to be one of Winterlab’s most revealing offerings. In this monologue, based on her autobiographical book, Durme offers a frank and sparse (no props or set) performance about her transformation from man to woman.
Durme, interviewed from Belgium, said she was the first person in her country to undergo a man-to-woman sex-change operation. She was 27. She flew to Morocco in 1975, where the procedure happened on the same day of her arrival at a “back-alley” medical facility. Fortunately, the doctor who carried it out was highly skilled.
Previously a trained actor, the sex-change caused Durme to be regarded as a freak in Belgium.
“I was a prostitute for 13 years, because in those days, people like me, we were completely put on the side of society. We were some kind of monsters. You couldn’t find work, you couldn’t find nothing. We were all prostitutes.”
These were desperate times.
“It was not a question of having money. It was a question of, ‘Do I have food for tomorrow?’ ” Durme said.
She eventually found her way back. Durme, now 65, had a 15-year marriage with a male antiques dealer (they eventually divorced). She later embarked on a successful career writing plays and sitcoms for Belgium television. Durme, who was jovial and jokey on the phone, also became a popular radio personality.
Her working-class parents, now deceased, accepted her decision to have a sex change. However, Durme never forgot her mother’s first words upon receiving the news.
“My mother said, ‘Oh, child, what have you done to yourself?’ I said, ‘Mother, I had no choice.’ ”
Durme said she realized she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body at the age of seven. Upon learning about sex-change operations at age 14, Durme knew she would eventually have one. As a child, people’s suggestions that she indulge in boyish pursuits went nowhere.
“I couldn’t. I was afraid of football. I was afraid of boys. It was not my world. I wanted to be with girls all the time.”
First performed in 2006, Look Mummy, I’m Dancing has been staged more than 250 times in four languages. Although the 100-minute piece has been mounted in Montreal, Durme’s performances in Victoria and at Vancouver’s PuSh festival mark its Western Canadian debut.
The intent of Look Mummy, I’m Dancing is to give audiences insight into the transsexual experience, she said.
“I never ask people to accept me or understand me. Because you can’t understand me. It’s impossible. I just ask, ‘Respect me.’”
While her show investigates her experience of gender reassignment, Durme says she doesn’t dwell on her sex change in everyday life.
“I don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Ah, I’m a transsexual!’ ” she said, laughing. “Everything is OK with me, you know. I had a sex change, but I didn’t die. I’m OK. I’m very well.”
With Grim & Fischer, the Wonderheads reprise the commedia dell’arte-style mime show they wowed audiences with at the 2011 Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. The troupe consists of Kate Braidwood, a University of Victoria theatre grad, and her sidekick Andrew Phoenix.
While broadly comic in places (yes, there’s a fart joke), Grim & Fischer delves into dark territory as well. A mysterious overcoated man turns out to be a Grim Reaper-like personage tracking an old woman who’s still bristling with life. What makes the show remarkable is how skilfully executed the mask-mime work is.
Braidwood, a professional mask-maker, met Phoenix when the pair studied at the Dell’Arte International school in northern California. The Wonderheads’ mission, she says, is to create mask-based theatre with a “child-like wonder about it.” These shows, focusing on original work, are intended to appeal to both adults and children, somewhat like Rowan Atkinson’s wordless Mr. Bean character.
It took about 18 months to develop Grim & Fischer. The pair’s dedication and extreme attention to detail paid off on the fringe circuit, where the award-winning show regularly racked up five-star reviews (Victoria theatre writers voted it “best fringe production” that season).
Rooted in ancient clowning techniques, Grim & Fischer harkens to a simpler, more elemental form of theatre. Braidwood says that, for now, the Wonderheads continue to use mime and masks covering the entire face. Future shows may feature half-masks and speaking roles.
Their mission is to take audiences to another world.
“When we do a play, we want to be transported and believe that we are somewhere else. This mask work is just a way to do that.”
And the Birds Fell From the Sky may rank as one of the most curious theatre productions to visit Victoria. Audience members (just two at a time) enter a virtual world thanks to goggles and headphones. This enables co-creators Silvia Mercuriali and Simon Wilkinson to show participants only what they want the audience to see and hear.
What follows, Wilkinson said recently from Brighton, is hard to describe. You have to experience it. And he hopes it will alter your ideas about live performance — and perhaps even how you experience the world.
“Once your body’s immersed in this piece, you find yourself in quite a scrap in the middle of something that’s quite a bizarre, surrealist, odd experience,” said Wilkinson.
Some viewers, he added, have compared it to psychedelic drug experiences. “People come out with quite wide eyes.”
And the Birds Fell From the Sky is inspired by a famous experiment called the rubber-hand illusion. In the experiment, people watch a dummy hand being stroked by a paintbrush. At the same time, their own hand, which is hidden, is stroked with another brush. The brain is tricked into believing the rubber hand is, in fact, their own hand.
Similarly, with And the Birds Fell From the Sky, audience members — following instructions — experience via their other senses of what they see through the video goggles. The viewer is thus thrust into an active role, becoming a participant in the performance rather than a passive observer, like at the movies.
Unlike other Winterlab shows that will visit other Canadian cities, And the Birds Fell From the Sky is the only show playing Victoria exclusively, Munsil said.
“It’s one of those shows that kind of ruins theatre, which is great,” she said. “Suddenly, everything is totally possible.”
Note: Theatregoers must book a time to attend And the Birds Fell From the Sky by calling Ticket Rocket at 250-590-6291.
© Copyright 2013