The Arts Court Theatre production of Swimming in the Shallows follows a trend of theatre companies bringing queer content to Ottawa theatregoers. It has been a year of queer theatre at it’s best, with sold out shows and top prizes being won at festivals.
Early in the year the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) produced Bash’d: A Gay Rap Opera that had the queers — and other theatregoers — filling the auditorium each night. At the Ottawa Fringe Festival, it was Shadows, the story of lesbian theatre maven Eva Le Gallienne, that won the Best of the Festival Award.
And now, as part of its Summer Fling offerings, the Arts Court Theatre is putting on a production of Swimming in the Shallows by Adam Rock.
The script for Swimming had been mouldering in the hands of director
Joël Beddows and lighting designer Lynn Cox for three years while they looked for a theatre company to produce it. Their perseverance payed off when one production pulled out of the Summer Fling series and Swimming took its place.
Swimming is a non-realist play with a queer wedding acting as a catalyst for the audience to focus on, but the play itself is about relationships between people — gay, lesbian, straight or shark.
Yes, there is a shark.
“There is a metaphor, which is the shark and the shark goes from being literally from being a shark to a character and we have to accept the convention of the transformation,” says Beddows.
Tthe transformation of the shark may be part of the comedic and somewhat absurd element of the play, but the miscommunication between the characters — and how absurdly believable they are — is what captures the audience.
“It is a comedy, but there is a very dark side underpinning to it of how we are self-destructive and how our conception of society and social interaction is also sometimes self-destructive,” says Beddows.
Swimming is one of the first comedies that Beddows, a well-known director in the theatre circuit, has directed and the second one he has directed in English.
Beddows extended the rehearsal period and tried different formats that allowed the members of the cast to have some creative input while giving them the opportunity to understand what motivates their characters.
Janne Cleveland (Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) is the assistant director, and she acted as Beddows’ sounding board.
“Joël spent a lot of time on the script at the beginning before the actors got up on their feet, so they have a really good grasp of these characters and that helps with their [the characters] intention,” says Cleveland.
Cleveland— like Beddows — is impressed with the talent of the cast and the commitment they have shown, which, in her mind is an essential ingredient to the success of the play.
“This is a script that demands an ensemble and these people work as an ensemble they support one another — it’s really, really tight,” says Cleveland.
Cleveland and Beddows say that although the play has queer content it is the relationships between the characters — whether they are gay or straight — that is the key element of the play.
Swimming is an artistic piece and a play that is technically demanding. Lawrence Aronovitch, the past artistic director of Toto Too — Ottawa’s queer community theatre company — also read the play and briefly considered it for the company.
“Toto too as a small community theatre just did not really have the wherewithal and the resources to put the show on — it’s a technically challenging show. I think that the Arts Court has the resources to do it well,” says Aronovitch.
Aronovitch also says that the new phenomenon in the Ottawa theatre world is that theatre companies are responding to the need for more queer theatre.
“I think that the impetuous in producing is in response to the demand for it,” Aronovitch.
Whether there is a demand for more queer theatre or not, the demand for well-produced plays is evident and Swimming in the Shallows is play that might fulfill both needs — it is a play that brings absurdity to life and one that is designed to make the audience sit up and think.
“I think theatre is about individuals discovering that they can be a collective when sitting in the audience and receiving and exchanging with people telling the stories,” says Beddows. “I do know that if something magical is happening in the audience, when the show is rocking your world, suddenly people are lifted into the universe and they forget themselves and they really start to think.”
Swimming in the Shallows will be playing at the Arts Courts Theatre, 2 Daly St, Aug 12 – 22, $25 regular, $20 students/seniors, available at the box office.