By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“I can never go back to the person I was in 2020,” says Elena Belyea. And the world can’t go back to its old self either.
Which brings her to “the central question: What do you do when the world you know, the world loved, is gone? What do you do now?”
It’s a poser, with major reverb, that has found its way obliquely into I Don’t Even Miss You. This latest from Belyea, the artistic director of Tiny Bear Jaws, the innovative little indie theatre with the fierce overbite and the sharp experimental appetite, opens Thursday (in partnership with with Common Ground Arts Society and Why Not Theatre) as the second in RISER Edmonton’s 2022 series. And though “it’s not a play about the pandemic,” as the queer performer/playwright/producer assures, “it’s about my life in the pandemic…. I was very lonely and I got a dog.”
Think about the ambivalence you feel in large groups now. “It’s a collective trauma…. And we’re still trying to make sense of it,” says Belyea, the creator and star of the cross-country hit Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable, a play that sets its teeth and sharp-eyed sense of humour into an apocalyptic trauma of another sort.
Belyea’s original inspiration for the new show, she says, was neither issue nor narrative; it was an image: “a character in in a turquoise snowsuit.” That would be Basil (they/them), a non-binary computer programmer. “They wake up one morning, and everybody in the world is gone.… There’s no evidence of why, no cataclysmic event.” In the three years that follow Basil builds themself a “digital assistant,” Orchid, a relative of Alexa or Siri. Finally, Basil meets, and gets abandoned by, a companion. As I Don’t Even Miss You begins, they’re attempting to write and record a musical, to archive their life and losses.
So … is the show we’ll see at the Co*Lab space a musical? Belyea considers. “Maybe, but with air quotes…. Basil would be happy to call it that.” A play with music? More like it, she thinks. “Similar to me, the character has never written a musical…. There are five songs in it, and they’re used by the character to communicate feelings.”
Belyea, one of the founders of Found (Edmonton’s festival of theatre in unexpected places), is intrigued by enlisting technology for theatre. Her play The Jubilant, for example, is a play for the age of streaming that actually takes place in online encounters. Gender? I Hardly Know Them, her queer sketch comedy duo with Sydney Campbell, took to Tik Tok videos in hilariously ingenious ways. But then, Belyea thinks (a why not? in her voice), “so much of my life I’ve spent digitally, on the phone, trading social media, consuming other people’s social media….”
No surprise that she and her Tiny Bear Jaws partner Tori Morrison (an innovative video and projection designer who’s the company’s executive director/ producer) set about creating a multi-disciplinary solo show that would experiment with the latest technology — and find ways to integrate live music, dance, video into the narration.
I Don’t Even Miss You started small, and along the way to big, it attracted the talents of a diverse group of innovative collaborators. To create Orchid the digital assistant, the voice of actor Vanessa Sabourin was sampled; “we created a text bot out of her voice,” says Belyea. She and sound designer Morrison took their ideas to Kory Mathewson, a Rapid Fire Theatre improv star who’s also an authority on A.I. “We’d ask him ‘can A.I. do this? Or that? ’ And he’d either say Yes, or ‘let’s try’.”
As Basil Belyea herself wears a mic with voice modification capacity, to conjure Basil’s flashbacks of past selves. Some scenes use a live camera feed. Some scenes are underscored, some not. “The music,” says Belyea of the score she created with Morrison, is “pretty pop-y, high energy.… I want people to want to get up and dance.” The sound is electronic (Belyea plays the electric ukulele). She credits Miranda Martini as musical dramaturge. “Then we looped in Gianna Vacirca for choreography.”
Montreal-based Emma Tibaldo directs, and is the dramaturge (“I can’t imagine doing a show without her!”). There’s even an understudy, times being what they are; Sarah Emslie, who’s also the assistant director, performs some of the shows. “So I could literally step out and watch, as a playwright…. It’s been very collaborative,” says Belyea. “Solo work can be really lonely.”
I Don’t Even Miss You
RISER Edmonton 2022
Theatre: Tiny Bear Jaws
Written and performed by: Elena Belyea (Sarah Emslie at some performances)
Where: Co*Lab, Community (Arts) Laboratory, 9641 102 A Ave.
Running: Thursday through May 4
Tickets and masking and vaccine requirements: commongroundarts.ca