Let’s face it: despite Wiarton Willie’s prediction of an early spring, things are still looking pretty chilly out there. When it’s this cold and dark, something has to be really special to drag us out of our warm living rooms. Undercurrents is definitely that special something.
Now in its second year, this mid-winter theatre festival has already had the indie theatre crowd all aflutter with a selection of plays from some of Ottawa’s most interesting creators and performers. Like the Fringe Festival, undercurrents showcases works not generally destined for the mainstream stages; themes like online bullying, sexual abuse and political revolution are explored with a fearless honesty that can be both disturbing and captivating to watch.
The two festivals part company in their selection process: undercurrents is a juried festival – a definite plus for those wishing to avoid the occasional 45-minute disaster that unfolds on the lottery-chosen Fringe stages.
“It’s very experimental in form, content and style,” says festival producer Patrick Gauthier. “There are a lot of emerging artists who make their home here in Ottawa and are working outside the mainstream. This gives them a beautiful studio environment to explore.”
Gauthier started the festival last year with Lise Ann Johnson, artistic director of Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.
The two came up with the idea in order to make use of the GCTC’s studio theatre space outside of the company’s regular season. Gauthier had just completed an internship under Johnson and welcomed the opportunity to seek out experimental productions that would fit their fledgling festival’s aesthetic. One such play that made this year’s lineup is Luna Allison’s Falling Open.
“I saw Luna’s show at the Ottawa Fringe last summer and I loved it,” Gauthier says. “She performed it originally in her apartment, so there were only 17 seats a night. It was very intimate, but it meant only a small handful of people got to see the show. I really thought that it needed a bigger audience.”
The one-woman play is the epitome of what undercurrents is hoping to showcase: edgy theatre that can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Allison tells a tale of sexual abuse not only from the perspective of the victim, but also from that of the perpetrator and a doll that acts as witness and narrator. Gauthier is keenly aware of the show’s risky nature, having experienced some initial hesitation with the subject matter prior to seeing the Fringe performance.
“I admit when I first heard of it I bristled, because it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to sit through,” he says. “But it’s so full of beauty and humour that my reservations disappeared completely. She’s an incredible performer.”
For her part, Allison welcomes the chance to provoke discussion and debate with her show’s provocative themes. Writing and performing from the abuser’s point of view was certainly an emotionally demanding task, but it also afforded some surprising insights.
“The writing in particular was difficult because I had to immerse myself in the mindset of a sexual abuser,” says Allison. “It brought up a lot of resistance.”
She researched the piece by reading accounts of convicted sex offenders, including an intensive sociology study that included numerous interviews with predators.
“It was a really fascinating read and it very much informed my portrayal,” Allison says. “It debunked a lot of myths I had, even as a survivor, about abusers.
“I care so much about the truth with this piece that once it had been written I was completely committed to portraying the abuser in realistic, human ways. It sounds really strange to say, but I was excited to bring forward what I had discovered and uncovered to help people understand that perspective.”
Fri, Feb 17-Sun, Feb 19
Great Canadian Theatre Company
1233 Wellington St W