By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
What goes up must come down. In the multi-pronged flight of fancy that opens Friday at the Citadel, you’ll do a little of both as Slight of Mind takes you on a journey into the wild blue yonder: the secret nooks and crannies of the cavernous glass-and-brick playhouse downtown.
The roving production, part of the Citadel’s new-play Collider initiative, is the latest from Theatre Yes , the adventurous indie company that doesn’t say No to experiments in immersive theatre in unexpected places.
In The Elevator Project, Theatre Yes explored the dynamics of storytelling in nine downtown elevators, spaces so intimate we were cast as voyeurs and eavesdroppers (or participants), elbow to rib with actors in 16 short plays. Anxiety led us through tense encounters in a secret industrial warehouse. In the Theatre Yes installation Viscosity, we came face to face with real-life stories of oil workers.
And now, in the new adventure fashioned by the award-winning actor/playwright Beth Graham (Pretty Goblins, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble), we’ll fly the friendly skies of Icarus Air. As a nine-member corps of Icarus flight attendants leads us through the non- theatre spaces in the labyrinthine Citadel complex, we’ll be on a flight path designed to take us into the heart of myth, explains Theatre Yes artistic director/ producer Heather Inglis.
The invitation to “explore the architecture” came from the Citadel’s Daryl Cloran, says Inglis. “We started with the gaze.… What could be seen outside through the glass? What could be seen looking in? We worked to find a way of highlighting the building.”
Inglis’s cast improvised up on their feet: “we’ve never created that way before!” And Graham devised three interlocking stories of flight, linked by a nine-year-old girl (Ivy DeGagné) who dreams of becoming a pilot, All three stories have a mythic reverb, starting with Icarus (Philip Geller), the boy who flew too close to the sun with his custom-made wax and feather wings, and paid a big price. And, says Inglis, all three storylines are imbued with paradox: “the contradiction between aspiration, and the inevitability that if we fly we must come down….”
In one of aviation history’s most celebrated mysteries, we meet the pilot Amelia Earhart (Melissa Thingelstad) who vanished into thin air in 1937 during an aerial circumnavigation of the globe. In 1958 Valentina Tereshkova (Lora Brovold), factory worker-turned-cosmonaut, risked “a close call” for the distinction of being the first woman in space: 48 orbits in a Vostok 6.
Slight of Mind, says Inglis, “is partly about the trade-offs we make to get the most out of life…. Love and the way it’s undermined by the human will to achieve.”
In an age when truth has lost its lustre, its value and its contours to counterfeits, myth retains its special impact. “There’s a truth in myth. Fiction reveals truth…. And myths are by their nature timeless; they speak to now, in a society with oppressive regimes that manipulate truth and constrict freedom,” says Inglis.
Playwright Graham, who usually works in more traditional dramatic structures with an audience that sits still, rose to the challenge of setting a play in motion “as a physical journey to different spaces,” as Inglis puts it.
Graham’s intertwined story arcs take the production along two pathways. The audience (maximum 60) meets at the Citadel box office, the departure lounge so to speak. And we get divided into two groups that journey to sites in a different order. The play “embraces the reality that people are walking,” says Inglis. Slight of Mind parallels the disorienting experience of being in an airport: “it’s illogical; you’re always in motion and you don’t know why or where. Each experience has a gate number, and that scene becomes a flight of the imagination….”
Contributions from the innovative composer/sound designer Gary James Joynes and video designer Ian Jackson make Slight of Mind “seem less like a traditional play and more like a poem,” says Inglis. “It’s a love-letter to risk-takers.”
Slight Of Mind
Theatre: Theatre Yes in collaboration with the Citadel Theatre
Written by: Beth Graham
Directed and produced by: Heather Inglis
Starring: Lora Brovold, Ivy DeGagné, Philip Geller, Cole Humeny, Ian Leung, Byron Martin, Silverius Materi, Rebecca Merkley, Melissa Thingelstad
Where: Meet at Citadel box office
Running: March 27 to April 14
Tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com