With theatre season in full bloom in Toronto, I continue to discover more local theatre companies creating challenging and provocative works. This past week I learned about Lester Trips (Theatre) founded by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton. Their latest collaboration, Mr. Truth, an off-the-beaten-sketch-comedy-path is set to premiere at Why Not Theatre’s The RISER Project.
To learn more about Lester Trips (Theatre) and Mr. Truth, Gillis graciously agreed to be part of my 5 Questions With… series.
HM: I understand that physical theatre and ambiguity play a big part in your company’s work. Can you tell us a bit about Lester Trips (Theatre)’s focus?
Lauren Gillis (LG): My collaborator Alaine and I both love two things: 1) visceral, grotesque imagery and sound, and 2) when you aren’t sure if something is supposed to be funny or not, and you’re left to teeter between comedy and tragedy.
To get that into our bodies, we train together in butoh dance, which we have been studying with choreographer Denise Fujiwara since 2011. We also study voice with Fides Krucker. She has an emotionally integrated take on extended range vocal practice with a background in bel canto. Both practices give us a way to make big, intense choices as performers while veering away from what might be considered “cartoonish”. So even in a show like Mr. Truth that uses obvious sketch comedy conventions, all that is (hopefully) still bubbling under the surface. And occasionally geysering up violently.
HM: In one of our earlier chats, you mentioned how you want to invite audiences to be in a sort of “uncomfortable place” when watching your work. I can think of a few reasons but why is this “uncomfortable place” so important, do you think?
LG: The discomfort in our work often comes directly from not knowing whether you’re “supposed” to think, or “allowed” to express whether something is funny to you. People often laugh at very different things in our shows.
When I personally have that uncomfortable experience watching something, it takes me back to being a child and having to figure out through trial and error what reactions are acceptable. It brings me back to a place of high emotional volatility, innocence, confusion, curiosity, and openness to questioning how we organize ourselves. I think that’s an interesting place for an audience to be.
It might also bring someone to a state of being disturbed, irritated, or skeptical. This is useful too. Discomfort prevents the experience from becoming a kind of placid pat on the back, or from being self-indulgently “shocking” or manipulative. It keeps you turning it around in your mind and your guts, and keeps you unsure, and maybe from there you become critical of or open to something you weren’t previously. That’s the goal anyway. You can tell us if this is all crap, because there’s an anonymous feedback box where you can drop your comments and condemnations.
LG: You know when someone asks you what you’re into erotically, and you list off some “hot” things, but there’s something you’re leaving off the list? Whatever justification I try to provide, I still feel this little burning start in the pit of my stomach like someone is tapping me on the shoulder and saying “You chose to edit that out- but I heard that.”
Often these things are the most erotically compelling and personal and disturbing. Some of them are disturbing because in actual fact, the desire is totally banal, and our lives would improve drastically if we were just honest. And others are disturbing because when you reveal them, people make a grossed-out face and may throw plates and/or try to send you to prison.
I guess the thing I’d like people to know about this show is that it’s not about people who want round-the-clock flesh hook suspensions. Some people want a partner who enjoys gardening, some people want a foot massage, some people want to live in a cage and have all their food intake controlled. But they all have one thing in common: they probably went through a time where they were not totally upfront about this and it was painful and awkward.
It seems to me that the more progressive you think you are, the weirder the thing is you’re trying to hide. So if you think “Ah, I’m not hiding stuff” or if you think “Ah, repression is exaggerated!” I would invite you to come have a look at this beast.
We structured this show rhythmically and dramaturgically with a female orgasm in mind. Or a feminine orgasm. Or a woman’s orgasm. Or an orgasm of the non-aristotelian variety. So the relationship to tension-climax-resolution is stretched out, repeated, modified. We’re interested in people knowing that before they come in and seeing how it affects their viewing experience.
LG: We play 24 characters in the piece, and in one way or another, they’re all denying or repressing or misunderstanding some erotic “truth” about themselves. And when these desires start to torment them, the people project them as “Mr. Truth”- which could be a sinking feeling, or a flushed face, or an awkward silence between two friends who thought they knew each other really well; or in some cases, it could be an actual demon lurking and hovering, eventually forcing you to come to terms with that desire by literally pressing it into your terrified face.
We’ve all seen that friend who tries to justify to us (and themselves) why their clearly incompatible partnership with someone is “actually fine!”. We may have also seen the person wanking away their laptop who then RAPIDLY slams the screen down before they even pull their pants up. Come to the show to laugh at that person, and stay to ask whether one of those people is you. And maybe laugh a bit, sort of. And then come dance with us afterwards on Saturday, April 21st because we’re having a cheap open dance party in the theatre!
HM: After your run at the RISER Project, what’s next for Mr. Truth and Lester Trip (Theatre)?
LG: We’re hoping Mr. Truth will continue on to different venues to make people feel some combination of aroused, queasy, confused and/or ecstatic.
The next piece we’re just starting to write is about a well-meaning life coach type who has to continuously revise their dating/pick-up seminar to keep up with the times and respond to criticism, and in doing so, descends into their own personal hell. They shouldn’t Read The Comments, you know? But they do.
Mr. Truth and the rest of RISER 2018 take over The Theatre Centre from April 15 – May 12, 2018. For full listings, showtimes, and ticketing information, please visit theatrecentre.org.
*Photos by Helen Yung.