Uno Fest: Taking a call from your teenage self

PREVIEW

What: Uno Fest
Where: Metro Studio, Intrepid Theatre Club and other venues (full schedule at intrepidtheatre.com)
When: May 17 to May 27
Tickets: Tickets $18, $20, $25. Passes $50, $85 (at www.intrepidtheatre.com or Ticket Rocket at 101-804 Broughton St.

 

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For 25 years, Victoria’s Pamela Bethel kept a cache of cassette tapes in a cardboard box.

These aren’t just any old cassettes. It’s a collection of phone messages from her teen years. There are a whopping 200 of them on 90 minutes of tape.

“Check this out,” said Bethel, plucking a Realistic Radio Shack cassette from a ziplock bag.

After decades of collecting dust, these messages — from teen pals, adults and the odd person dialing the wrong number — have emerged as the unlikely star of her new solo show. Produced by Theatre SKAM, After the Beep makes its debut next week at Uno Fest.

Now in its 20th year, Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest will host 15 one-person shows from Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco and New York. Over two decades, the festival of solo performance has hosted more than 330 shows, including performances by such notables as American monologist Mike Daisy, musician Hawksley Workman and T.J. Dawe (who returns this year with his show Burn Job).

Bethel, who will turn 40 this year, describes After the Beep as part confessional, part story and part show-and-tell. People will hear digital recordings of her phone messages. And there will be graphs and charts —she’s organized her “data” into different categories.

“It’s just a cool picture of my life as a young person, through everybody’s voices except for mine,” she said.

An actor, writer and doula, Bethel had a private phone line as a teen attending Lord Byng Secondary School in Vancouver. For some reason, she never erased the old messages on her machine. Instead, she kept them in a box also containing vintage mix-tapes and a Tom Petty cassette.

The phone-message collection starts with birthday greetings from pals congratulating her on turning 15. Some messages are from boyfriends. First there was Beau, then Mike, and then some another guy.

“Mike is a guy I got together with at a party. Interim boyfriend. I like that term; it sounds nicer than adulterous affair,” said Bethel, laughing. It turns out she ditched poor old Beau in favour of a fling with Mike.

The daughter of divorced parents, Bethel lived with her dad, a liberal fellow who enforced no curfew and paid for her private line. She was an extroverted teen, a self described “parent pleaser” who loved theatre and photography.

Bethel’s show examines such themes as the fallibility of memory (she’d completely forgotten about Mike until revisiting her tapes), the kinds of experiences that make us adults and the question of why she kept the tapes in the first place. Quizzed on the latter, Bethel says she’s a born “archivist” who likes to takes photographs as well.

She admits she purposely put off listening to her teen tapes for many years.

“I had to get up the courage to listen to them. I was just so ready to cringe, right?” Bethel said. “But when I did, I fell in love with these people all over again.”

The Uno Festival is varied. The shows include 4 1/2 ( ig)noble truths (Thomas McKechnie’s punk performance-lecture on clinical depression), Quiver (Anna Chatterton’s tale of a single mother and a rebellious teen daughter colliding when a love interest comes between them) and Broken Tailbone (Carmen Aguirre gives a salsa lesson while recalling her experiences in Canada’s dance halls).

There’s also a keynote lecture, WTF? (or What’s Theatre For?), by nationally known theatre artist Daniel MacIvor.

Uno Fest is curated by Heather Lindsay, Intrepid Theatre’s executive director. She vetted 60 videotaped submissions and travelled to see other contenders.

In selecting shows, Lindsay says, she looked for diversity and the performer’s ability to connect with audiences in an intimate, brave manner.

And After the Beep fit the bill.

Commenting on her show, Bethel said: “It’s taking the risk to be vulnerable. That’s where we need to go with theatre.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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