House of X: More on The Poetry Project

Nov
23
2012

HOUSE OF X (or, Elisa Sampedrín talks to you about “little theatres”)

Some years ago I got to wondering if you could communicate comprehensible narrative via movement, gesture and invented speech. In April of 2011 I spent a week working with Tara Friedenberg, Jeff Gladstone and Linda Quibell. We made three stories involving the conflict of two against one-- or one against two-- and there was not one word of English, or any other language, spoken: I brought in text I had invented for a character in The Boy Who Went Outside, and made up a bunch of other gibberish.

The first story was about a knight who angles for the hand of a mad girl in the grip of her protective mother. The second was about a nasty couple who put the man's aged mother in a nursing home, and how the latter and her REALLY nasty daughter-in-law don't see eye to eye. The last story was about a father and his two daughters; or rather, his daughter and STEP-daughter: he lavishes attention on the former, and punishes and abuses the latter, banishing her to the garden shed. One night she discovers she has supernatural powers and takes her revenge.

In December of last year I went back to work on House of X. Tara was not available, so I hired Tanya Podlozniuk in her place. I added a plot line about a director and two actors working on a kind of soap opera scene, in which, from one iteration to another, more and more English was spoken. I also experimented with a story about two women who abduct a man, torture and rape him, then transform him into some version of the Virgin Mary whom they worship, and of whom they beg forgiveness. This last did not work very well, and was scrapped.

I wondered what the point of all these stories was, and couldn't figure it out. I decided to cut them all to pieces and shuffle them, forcing the audience to figure out who was whom and what was going on; so the piece became about how audiences construct meanings out of whatever they see. If you were to deliberately jumble up a number of narrative strands you'd be able to force audiences to confront that subject. But would they thank you for it?

At some point it became possible to consider getting this show produced as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest at the Cultch in Vancouver. With that in mind I did one more workshop, this one in May of this year. I had to replace Jeff AND Tanya, and found Sebastian Kroon and Jane Osborne. During this workshop I brought in all kinds of texts from various collections by eminent and highly-regarded experimental Canadian poet Erin Mouré. These were drawn from all her books, from her first collections in the late 80s to the most recent. I found poems and prose-poetry pieces that supported, echoed, revealed moments in the stories I had directed/choreographed. Elisa's speeches to the audience are taken from Little Theatres. While these are one thing for Erin, for me "little theatres" are the bits and pieces of narrative that are going on all around us; Elisa advises us to pay attention to these moments, which are the only parts of our lives to which we have any claim: this moment, right now.

I decided to cast Erin's alter ego Elisa Sampedrin as the writer who is bringing the various stories in House of X to the audience. On the last day I realized I had to bring in a fourth actor to play this character, because Linda could not both play her and be IN the stories, and so Crystal Verge joined the team. We spent about three hours trying to fit her into the staging, and then filmed the results. It was kind of rough, but the general shape of the piece had fallen into place. Finally.

I had made a movement introduction that summed up, in a series of tableaux, all the potentials of the stories that formed parts one, two and three. Elisa is evidently still experimenting with these, as she is with the coda, or ending, which seems to be about a couple finding true love, despite the fact that he is already married with children.

So, the piece is about a writer's process; about storytelling; about the different genres--horror, melodrama, revenge tragedy, comedy, romance--to which we are all accustomed and addicted.

The show, which ran just under 50 minutes, was presented at the main space of the Cultch as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest in July. Both the set and costumes--by Catherine Hahn--were based on the notion of collage; pieces of furniture fused together to make the very simple set, and pieces of clothing SEWN together to make the costumes. The wonderful lighting was--once again--by the very talented Bryan Kenney.

It got good reviews, mixed audience response, suffered from very poor attendance--not surprised at that!-- and was basically an interesting failure. It didn't really hold together, because there was not enough text for the character of Elisa Sampedrin to make her a fully active part of the story; she seemed like an afterthought because she was!

Also, why do we see the stories in the order we do? And what is the accumulation that they offer to provide the sense of a rising arc, rather than a series of episodes. I have pretty much decided to hire Erin to write this part to order in the spring, and to revise the piece accordingly.

Past Production Posters

This Is A Dance

passion

passion