Culture & Conversation

The show that wasn’t one

Photo by David Ospina

Photo by David Ospina

When theatre holds a mirror up to life, it can be a nasty picture. Case in point, Le NoShow, a collective work of théâtre-réalité that opened this year’s Festival Transamériques (FTA).

Created by the collective Nous sommes ici and Théâtre DuBunker from Quebec City, Le NoShow is an interactive “performative” piece about the business of making theatre. The “plot” begins at the box office, where spectators are asked to choose an amount ranging from $0 (the price of church) to $129 (a hockey ticket).

Once inside, the audience is faced with a bare stage, seven young actors seated at a wide conference table and a corporate-style meeting agenda splashed on a screen behind them. On opening night, the performers killed time with yawns and banalities until the company’s director-general was handed a box office report. Sadly, we’d only paid enough to support a four-member cast. The seven auditioned, and spectators with smart phones voted, leading to banishment for three young women.

The lucky four who remained embarked upon a series of thin sketches, all hanging on the central theme of how hard it is for actors to survive and prosper in a capitalist culture. Bemoaning the loss of colleagues who also would have had something to say about their working/living conditions, they went on to reference the Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway musical Rent, which referenced La Bohème, hoping to link their enterprise to the long tradition of hungry artists who’ve made magic out of struggle. Trouble is, this disjointed rant rarely rose above the level of petulance.

Director Alexandre Fecteau claims he hires actors on the basis of a chat about their life experience. In a program note, he writes: “I sometimes think that fiction, as a means of giving an account of life and reality, seems to be in decline.” An idea worth discussion, but the sum total of all this personality is artless to the point of tedious. The screen image of an actress mumbling inaudibly with her back to the audience seemed to go on for ages. Ruthless editing might unlock 20 minutes of stage-worthy material.

One of the few great moments was a video conference with the three cast-offs, who waited in the rain outside Place des Arts. Armed with a list of voters’ phone numbers and a record of their votes, they called one member of the audience for a chat. Asked point blank by one performer what she could use to get his vote, the spectator suggested: “comedy and drama.” I thoroughly agree.

FTA was to have opened with Helen Lawrence, an expensive extravaganza involving star talents from Vancouver and Toronto, but a few weeks ago, a squabble with unions over money killed the deal. There’s a dollop of bitter audacity in the decision to fill the spot with a piece about the relationship between money and art. Trouble is, all this crew has to say is that they want more money. Where’s the analysis? This isn’t political theatre, it’s bad-mannered panhandling.

Flabby in conception and hugely cynical, NoShow is too grown up to get away with so much charmless whining. It does, however, accurately resemble a certain strain of middle-class youth, shocked and horrified to find out the world is not run by permissive, pampering parents.

In the end, I was sorry I hadn’t swallowed my guilt and walked in for free instead of handing over $17, a sum derided from the stage as hardly enough to cover a touring actor’s lunch.

After two long hours, the audience was invited to stand, providing a decent cover under which a few of us bolted for the door. I got into a cab in time to hear that the Stanley Cup playoff game in progress was heading into overtime, and was home in time to catch the Habswinning goal.  Sometimes, a silver lining.

Le NoShow continues June 3, 4 and 5 at Place des Arts, Cinquième Salle. Info here.

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Marianne Ackerman is a playwright, journalist and novelist. Her new play, Triplex Nervosa, will premiere at the Centaur Theatre next April.


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