Artistic Director and co-founder of Re:Current Theatre Brian Postalian latest project, The Smile Off Your Face, will premiere at SummerWorks Performance Festival this week. This performance piece starts from an unusual position for the audience member: he or she is alone, in a wheelchair, hands tied and blindfolded. Surrounded by eight performers, embark on a one-of-a-kind journey that’s all about you.
With such an interesting set up for this performance, I wanted to know more. Here is what Postalian shared with me.
HM: Could you start by sharing a bit of background about how you (and the Re:Current Theatre team) chose The Smile Off Your Face as a piece to produce for SummerWorks ’17?
Brian Postalian (BP): I came across an anthology called All Work and No Plays by a Belgian company, Ontroerend Goed. Each play was different in style, story-telling and even script formatting. The Smile Off Your Face was in this collection, and I was instantly intrigued by the unique approach, and its individual engagement with the audience. Exploring boundaries with intimacy and the effect of a lingering hug from a stranger soon sparked in me the need to share work like this in Toronto – and SummerWorks seemed like the perfect platform for the Canadian premiere.
HM: What was it about Ontroerend Goed’s production that appealed to you?
BP: It’s a unique experience, not only because it’s built for one audience member at a time but it’s an incredibly intimate performance. It’s an opportunity to visit and explore closeness with other people. The effect is truly special. This is a show that only you experience, because what you receive from the space and the actors is constantly being interpreted by your senses and brought to life in your imagination. No two people will have the same experience, or walk away with the same understanding. The show is really all about you.
HM: The Smile Off Your Face is designed as a one audience member immersive performance, which I totally find fascinating. How did you & the Re:Current Theatre team decide the flow of the piece for each performer?
BP: Well luckily, the script (or blueprint is perhaps a better word for it) offers a clear and measured timeline for each interaction. We’ve had correspondence with the original creators, Ontroerend Goed, to discuss topics like timing and flow. There are 10 encounters for each guest, and with a new audience member being rolled into the space every five minutes, our rehearsals focused on how to achieve a smooth and seamless journey. It runs like clockwork. Our actors have put a great deal of time into finding the balance between both individual moments and overall pace.
HM: As this is a performance where the audience member has to be willing to give up a bit of control and have a good sense of trust, is this one of its main goals — letting go and allowing us to fully experience the world around us?
BP: In part, yes. But it would be foolish to tell you to blindly trust strangers. We’ve created a safe world where the performers, more or less strangers, gently guide you through your own journey. It’s less of an opportunity to ‘let go’ and more of an opportunity to access and consider deeper parts of ourselves. Seldom do we have the chance to do something like this, particularly in our current climate. What happens when you allow yourself to be in the hands of a stranger? What if instead of simply sitting and watching the play in front of you, you had the chance to literally move through and feel it instead? And this world that you’re moving through is a world you are ultimately imagining. It’s powerful. It’s intimate. It’s goal, if anything, is to make you feel special.
HM: After SummerWorks, when and where will we be able experience other Re:Current Theatre productions?
BP: Re:Current Theatre operates on a project to project basis, so we don’t necessarily have “season programming” One of our shows, This Is What I Know, that we created with playwright Jackie Rowland earlier this Spring will pop-up sometime in the next couple years in a few different cities. I will be off to Vancouver for a few years to do research into theatre as game design in a MFA at Simon Fraser University. But if you’re looking for unorthodox, contemporary, immersive work, then I highly recommend you keep your eyes and ears peeled for my Associate Producer, Ruthie Luff’s, new company, lost&gone – they premiere their first show in October.
The Smile Off Your Face plays at SummerWorks from August 3 – 15, 2017 at various times. Each performance is approximately 25 minutes in length. For performance times and tickets, visit summerworks.ca.