About this i-ROBOT thing
Thursday night at 8pm i-ROBOT Theatre should have opened.
Wednesday night, at what should have been our preview performance, we all gathered round in the Living Room, one of the sets, and listened to the news. I was sitting in a prop wheelchair creaking back and forth. The girls would alternately hug each other or wipe quiet tears away. The guys all exchanged tight lipped expressions and wrung their hands.
We had been postponed. But the circumstance of the postponement made it feel more like a cancellation.
Starting in September of last year, I've been part of a group of theatre artists building a show based on i-ROBOT, a book of poetry by Jason Christie. Each month we would do a weekend, 16 hours worth of work-shopping. We would meet, read, research, and share our writing. Characters were created, discarded, found at the bottom of a pile, renamed, and reborn. Stacks of paper piled up. We would perform what we could for ourselves. Some scenes remain in the show today, while others were only experiments and lessons learned.
It’s a challenge and a compliment to be asked to be part of a creative ensemble. In the traditional theatre process you don’t have that much influence on the grand picture. You’re given a script and told when and where to enter and exit. There is some “table work” where the cast and crew discuss the script and the larger themes of the play. But often, the director has a direction in mind and you follow it.
A creative ensemble however, comes together to build a show. You have to be willing to offer every idea, but not hold them too tightly. Give willingly, give often, and then let go. A majority of the work that is written never sees the light of day. You may love a scene or a bit of dialogue that you wrote, but you have to set it free. If it works with the larger picture that the team is building, you may see it again. If not, well, save it for another show.
We came out of this workshop process with a vocabulary, a lexicon of characters and situations. While the scenes hinted at some of the events of the show, the show itself did not have a shape. There was no beginning or end, just a whole bunch of middle. Well over two hours worth of material.
In early April, the artistic directors of Swallow-A-Bicycle locked themselves in the former Billingsgate Seafood Market in the east Village. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation had offered to let us set up in the building, use it for our show. Pacing the space, the two began to layout the work that we had created. The floor plan and character of different rooms dictated how the show would flow, and where the audience would move. It was a collection of movement pieces, traditional theatrical scenes, interactive displays, and smaller installations. The show was designed around the space. The space was one of the ensemble.
We rehearsed for three weeks. Experiments continued on a dusty factory floor with little heat and leaking roofs. I found myself sitting in one of the two chairs we had in the space, while someone made animal noises from a yoga mat in the corner and two people tried to shake hands using mannequin arms behind me. The show discovered its arc, and ran a solid 90 minutes with no intermission. While we rehearsed upstairs, downstairs contractors for CMLC worked on getting the Fire Suppression and Alerting systems patched up and safe.
Wednesday rolled around. It should have been our preview night. The cast received phone calls around lunch with the news that we had been postponed, that preview was canceled but more information would follow. Arriving at the space that night, there was no quick tweak of a few bits, no vocal warm up or half hour call. We were all funneled into the living room to discuss the situation. CMLC regretted the timing, but could not in good conscience let us take people into the space. Small groups of people who knew the space were safe, but it was unadvisable to have larger groups of people who were not familiar with the space, should anything happen.
There would be no show that night. There would be no shows at the seafood market. i-ROBOT was postponed indefinitely.
Heartbroken, yes. But accepting. The last thing we would ever want to do was place people in an unsafe environment. But the timing was a little bit shocking. We all walked around the space in a bit of a haze, disbelieving that it was no longer home. We tried, and succeeded, in finding a few silver linings. We could tighten up that last scene in the ossuary (look it up). Zoobot might get a real costume. We might even be able to remember our lines (ok, that’s mostly for me). We will have to rebuild the show for a new space, but it will be bigger and tighter than before.
But this show, the show in the seafood market, the past month of our lives, well, it had slipped through our fingers.
After some time, we all piled into the cars and headed down to Swans in Inglewood to find the bottom of many pint glasses. On the sign outside the door, someone had put the quote
"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." - Theodor Seuss Geisel