By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Shhhh. This weekend in Old Strathcona you may find yourself doing something subversive, illegal, and quite possibly dangerous. No, not jaywalking, my friends (or plotting against the damn Edmonton parking app).
You’ll be in a one-bedroom apartment at an underground video party you heard about on the grapevine. It’s the last days of the Ceausescu Communist regime in Romania in the late-1980s. And since consuming American movies dubbed into Romanian hardly qualifies as toe-ing the line, you might be a little on edge. Who’s watching? Who’s listening?
In Camera, the new immersive play that runs Thursday through Sunday at the Found Festival, gives you a role as The Audience. Playwright Bevin Dooley, Common Ground’s 2019 AiR (artist in residence), explains that she “became fascinated with the Velvet Revolution and the dark side of the Iron Curtain” when she saw a 2015 Romanian-British documentary Chuck Norris vs Communism, a weave of interviews and historical re-enactments.
What Dooley, a self-described “history nerd,” discovered as she followed the strange, dark trail into Communism Romanian-style, was “a huge underground network of videos. American movies, “with their portrayals of capitalist life in the West,” were a window for Romanians out of their social and cultural isolation and into what they were missing in the world. “The government knew it was happening, and cracked down occasionally,” says Dooley. “But the secret police were bribe-able.”
Irina Nistor, the star performer of the operation, who’s still alive, worked for Romanian state televisions as a translator. “She’s the voice on the tapes,” some 3,000 in number. “Pretty wild!” says Dooley. “She has a super-distinct voice, but they never tried to arrest her; they never questioned her.…”
All sorts of signature American flicks found their way into this illicit archive, from Top Gun and Pretty Woman to Alien and Rocky and Jaws, a kind of collage of American life.
Dooley, who started writing In Camera in 2017 as part of RBC’s emerging artist mentorship (her mentor was David Van Belle), wondered “how to get people invested in this story.” And in the end, “I smashed down the fourth wall and put the audience into the piece” — in the role of … audience. Heather Inglis of Theatre Yes, which specializes in site-specific theatre (The Elevator Project, Slight of Mind, Viscosity), directs a starry seven-actor cast. You are the audience, “immersed in a private world” 20 people max at a time.
“It’s unpredictable,” says Dooley cheerfully. “What the audience will do and what they won’t” is up for grabs.
“I needed political undertones without it being about the politics,” she says of a production that uses, and wrecks, a constant supply of VHS cassettes. The Romanian revolution “deserves its own play…. I’m focussing on the private lives of people who are living in a state of constant surveillance.” Our hosts are siblings: their father has had to get out of town; their brother has “disappeared.”
“Fuelled by the revolutionary spark, they host a video night, with an audience that includes co-workers, neighbours, friends from school…. What is it like to see history shaking down in front of you?”
Check out the 12night.ca PREVIEW of the 2019 Found Fest offerings HERE.
Found Festival 2019
Written by: Bevin Dooley
Directed by: Heather Inglis
Starring: Michael Peng, Elena Porter, Murray Farnell, Sarah Emslie, Maxwell Hanic, Dylan Howard, Marina Mair-Sanchez
Where: Terrace Tower, 11025 82 Ave. (Meet at the corner of 110 St. and 82 Ave.)
Running: Thursday through Sunday
Tickets (and full schedule of performances): commongroundarts.ca