Nearly three years since the pandemic forced Dalhousie students to leave campus and face an uncertain future, the Fountain School’s third-year acting class has imagined an alternate lockdown through their devised theatre piece: Not Now, Not Yet.
This unique collective creation will be presented from February 7 to 11 at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee performance at 2pm on February 11, in the David Mac Murray Theatre.
Dalhousie, March 2020: What If…?
Taking inspiration from Chaucer’s Decameron, the play is about a group of theatre students who decide to lock down and live within their own acting studio when the pandemic hit rather than evacuate the campus. Fittingly, the play will be performed in an acting studio, using a space often used for traditional theatre in a site-specific way instead.
This premise creates a hypothetical survival story where the students must live together using only what can be found in the school building. The joy of an unexpected gathering and the stress of surviving affect each character differently. Actor Daisy Rayne describes their character, also named Rayne: “She is very much into this idea of staying connected with everyone, which is why she wants to stay, and she treats everything almost as a game, and this little retreat.”
Actor August van Meekeren’s character Frederick, however, reflects how many students did not have a safe home to go to when the lockdown came. “They were in residence, but obviously residence got shut down…they don’t really have anywhere else to go,” says van Meekeren. “I have my character as the person willing to do anything to stay here.”
Recommended reading: Young fox takes centre stage in DalOpera’s The Cunning Little Vixe
Creating here, now, and together
As the students live together within the studio, they face both external problems, such as security guards and lack of food and an internal search for meaning in a difficult time. Director Matt Walker says, “The thing that we’re exploring is the importance of gathering, the idea of what it means to be together in live space and share concentrated moments of time together.” He says that while digital experience gives us the impression that things will last forever, lived experience is important precisely because it is fleeting. Because this is the first in-person devised creation since February 2020, Not Now, Not Yet is the perfect piece to explore these ideas of gathering and creating in real-time.
Much as the play’s characters must “build their own lockdown” in the limited space of the studio, the third-year class are creating this piece collectively through devised creation. Devised theatre is developed through improvisation, with the ensemble collaborating. There was no script, only a basic premise from Walker. “When I’m doing a devised process, I like to begin with play,” says Walker. “So, in the early days anything’s possible. We just start playing with props, with space, with ideas.” Then, Walker leads the class through turning ideas that came up spontaneously into a narrative structure, through a process he describes as “call and response”. “I give them prompts, and what they bring back is what we build into,” the director says.
Recommended reading: Alum’s new play tells the story of an abducted journalist in Ukraine
Imagination and constraints
Adding to the one-of-a-kind nature of the piece is its use of unique microtonal instruments from the designs of 20th century composer Harry Partch. Partch built instruments to reflect sounds he heard in his mind that could not be created using traditional Western instruments. Now, a few of these instruments have been built by instructor Torin Buzek and will be played throughout Not Now, Not Yet by an ensemble led by music director Tim Crofts.
The musicians will improvise and respond to the scenes’ emotions so every performance will be different. August van Meekeren says Partch’ spirit is reflected in this improvisation and the show’s themes: “It’s this idea of creating your own situation, being your own circumstances,” they say. Just as Partch created something new out of nothing, the actors are devising a new play from a small premise, and their characters are creating a new community in a single studio.
Purposeful constraints have been put on other technical elements of the piece, to encourage the sort of resourcefulness and imagination needed to live in a confined space like the characters do. Set designer Avery Johnson must create the set using only items found within the building. The actors are experimenting with found and handheld lights rather than traditional stage lighting. Daisy Rayne says, “It brings this kind of childlike quality to it, because you’re playing with everything that you have, and you’re doing storytelling, you’re imagining everything.”
Matt Walker hopes the spirit of collaboration and creation throughout the process and the story of Not Now, Not Yet help people face the new world we live in, where in-person community is once again possible. “For us, it’s an investigation of gathering. And we’re kind of regathering, and learning how to gather in this time,” he says. “So we’re trying to negotiate… how to be in spaces together and share them.” While the piece takes place in the early pandemic, it is about finding creation and community here and now.
To join the poignant and experimental gathering of Not Now, Not Yet, audiences can purchase tickets at the Dal Arts Centre website. Please be advised that masks are required.
comments powered by Disqus