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The Ugly Mess That Happened in St. Catharines

The Ugly Mess That Happened in St. Catharines

By Heather Allen, Jonah McGrath, Alexandra Tomulescu, Raylene Turner and Andrew Von Lukawiecki

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in a real life video game? If your answer is yes – keep reading!! DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT) is a Toronto-based theatre company dedicated to creating revolutionary theatre experiences that provoke the audience to do much more than just watch. Their upcoming show, That Ugly Mess That Happened in St. Catharines, intends to take audience-participants on a three-day journey that will re-introduce them to the possibility of genuine intimacy with others in our increasingly mediatized world.

As the premise for the show, someone has gone missing and as the participant, your job is to investigate his or her whereabouts. Throughout the city there will be actors planted in specific locations whose purpose is to secure your path on this adventure. As director Daniele Bartolini explained, “the audience is cast as the protagonist. The actors are there to support the audience’s story. The show is not to be watched but rather to be participated in.”

Bartolini, who is from Italy and moved to Canada three years ago, takes inspiration for his theatre practice from the works of Samuel Beckett, in particular Beckett’s stripping back of some of the core elements of traditional theatre – plot, characterization, even at times the actor’s voice and body. For Bartolini, this process of stripping back led him to what he feels is the heart of the theatre – the relationship of the audience member to the work. At an early stage in his career he realized that “in order to build an interesting dynamic, I wanted to create pieces for one audience member at a time.”

DLT’s previous work includes Midway Along the Journey of our Life in the 2014 In the Soil Arts Festival, a journey for one audience member at a time through St. Catharines. For Bartolini “That Ugly Mess is the next step” in his exploration of an audience-specific theatrical practice; it differs from the company’s previous work in its long duration and the fact that multiple audience-participants will engage with the piece at the same time.

The cast of That Ugly Mess is largely made up of St Catharines-based actors, and Bartolini and fellow company core member Rory de Brouwer have been coming down to Niagara for rehearsal visits since February. One of Bartolini’s main focuses in the rehearsals is to have the actors establish an etiquette of behaviour between each other and with the audience-participants. The concept is that the performers are enhancing a live action simulation which is similar to the gaming practice of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). The ideal is to help audience-participants towards a personal sense of freedom and choice, so that they can experience, touch, hear and see their city from an entirely new perspective.

The entire team of That Ugly Mess is committed to providing a plethora of intimate moments for the audience members. As Bartolini puts it, “The most important thing is that the audience comes into contact with a series of opportunities to connect.” He talks a lot about how isolated the human race has become. As the use of smartphones, social media and the like continue to grow, we drift farther and farther away from face to face interaction. This production will invite participants to be curious and open to the many possible connections one can have with strangers. He is convinced the results will be invaluable.

If this sounds like an exciting prospect, then the ultimate question is – how committed are you? To be involved in this production, participants must be willing to remove the passive comfort of the four walls of a theatre and their padded seat. They must be willing to claim their own path in the piece’s dramatic journey: “From passive listener you start to become an active agent.” said Bartolini. Moreover, you have to be ready to make a three-day commitment! While each audience-participant won’t be actively engaged all the the 72 hours of the show, you should bear in mind that the more you opt out of or into, the more this will affect the personal narrative you generate.

One of the main appeals in DLT’s work is the unique experience each individual will have. “If you speak with someone [about the show] they all see different things,” said Bartolini. “They see different meanings in things, get completely different messages.” It’s down to the openness of the audience-participant: “the experience you get is basically related to how open you are to saying yes [to] what’s proposed to you”. Whether you’re a gamer, an artist or anything in between, this creative cocktail will provide you with a three-day, open sandbox whirlwind in which to explore, discover, and enjoy.

The authors are Dramatic Arts students at Brock University who are following the making of That Ugly Mess… behind the scenes for their course DART 3P96 Studies in Praxis II: Theatre Criticism.

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