SNAFU, a Victoria-based theatre production company, is known as a society that creates unexpected spectacles.
Since 2006, SNAFU has brought award-winning storytelling, puppetry, dance, live music, circus and visual art to the stage. They are creators of site-specific theatre, with a knack for shows in unusual places like public washrooms or parking garages.
This summer will be a standout for the company. Kicking off the season as part of Theatre SKAM’s annual SKAMpede Festival, SNAFU presents Suitable Transpo: A Junk Puppet Spectacle.
At the end of August, they launch a large-scale Fringe production – the scope of which is rarely seen in Victoria – entitled New Earth Bandits. Two years in the making, it involves interactive choose your own adventure-style theatre exploring possible futures that take place 5,000 years from now.
SNAFU co-artistic director Kathleen Greenfield describes New Earth Bandits as “next level,” drawing comparisons with Sleep No More, an award-winning New York theatrical interpretation of Macbeth where audiences go into an old hotel and come across different pieces of theatre as they move around.
“They see little parts of the stories happening and it’s nonverbal,” Greenfield said. “Then it ends with a big performance. So, we’re doing that, with possible futures and people who’ve been through portals.”
To help design the theatrical futuristic worlds, SNAFU collaborated with several community groups such as Embrace Arts Foundation, which creates meaningful opportunities in the arts for those of all abilities (including those with mobility issues or who are neuro-diverse); a group of former Theatre SKAM performers, and Britt Small, lead director with local production company Atomic Vaudeville.
The imagined worlds curated into a bigger picture will take place at Macaulay Point Park in Esquimalt. Audiences will stumble upon live theatre as they explore the remnants of the old fort’s tunnels and old battlements, set to the scenic backdrop of the Juan de Fuca.
Greenfield clarified that New Earth Bandits is not a post-apocalyptic play: rather, it’s about a generative and imaginative world-building.
“We’re not creating something about a crash, and then how to survive it … We all feel this kind of downer energy about the apocalypse coming and the world changing, but we’re actually focusing on what a new world will look like … with new rules and evolutions of the human body with stuff that could happen over 5,000 years. And so we’re trying to be hopeful, as opposed to kind of being dark or being Walking Dead about it … It’s not about how everybody’s a terrible person, you can’t have any faith in humanity … It’s more about imagining anything.”
And what might that look like? The possibilities are endless, and the creators weren’t short for hilarious ideas at the brainstorming session in early June.
“There’s an interactive potential. Maybe we have like a futuristic carnival and human Whack a Mole,” Greenfield quipped.
Or, “Racoon bandits. A physical evolution of racoon, like they’re humanoid.”
“There’s a lot of possibilities,” she said.
SNAFU’s embrace of the unexpected makes them the perfect pairing for the Theatre SKAM’s SKAMpede, a festival they have been a part of for the 15 years it has been around. Greenfield and SNAFU’s other co-artistic director, Ingrid Hansen, take turns directing the productions.
During SKAMpede, audiences go on walking or biking tours to see short works around Victoria’s inner harbour. The shows are only 10 minutes, which allows the space for artists to be more daring and experimental than usual with their creativity.
SNAFU’s 2021 SKAMpede play Atmosphere blossomed after an actor put a cat tunnel on their head during a devising session. Soon, the show’s creators had designed these tubular, colourful futuristic alien costumes.
“We kind of had a loose plot based on some writing exercises but the characters really came out of us building them and then moving around in them, problem solving,” Greenfield said. “We’re figuring out the story while we’re still crafting.”
This year’s SKAMpede show titled Suitable Transpo: A Junk Puppet Spectacle takes a dark and whimsical journey reflecting the cycles of life and death through junk-art puppetry and music.
The beauty of SKAMpede for SNAFU company artist Jeni Luther is the “community vibe” and the fact that when you have to do a short show over and over again, every show is going to come out a little different. She highlights the 2020 SKAMpede production The Goosening, as an example, where actors dressed as business executives while pretending to simultaneously be geese (they also did dance choreography).
“You’re so involved with your audience so it’s not like you’re on a stage somewhere … When we did the Goosening, somebody came with their dog and we had chips on the ground and their dog came and tried to take the chips and one of the actors scared the dog off by going full goose on him … You never know what’s going to happen.”
|A dog crashes the scene at SNAFU’s 2020 SKAMpede play, The Goosening. (Sam Duerksen)|
These memorable SNAFU moments are why critics have said things like “[SNAFU] will forever change the way you see theatre and its possibilities” (Montreal Theatre Hub) and “A true pleasure that I would recommend to anyone who has become a little too familiar with reality” (The Charlebois Post).
“Happy accidents,” is what Greenfield calls those magical moments that happen when the actors and creatives are really free to just follow their creativity to all of its odds and ends.
“The society of unexpected spectacles. It’s true,” Luther adds. “You can pull in all your talents. Generally, what happens is when you give this opportunity to do something, without judgment, crazy things happen.”
Loly Espinoza, co-creator and performer for SNAFU’s summer productions, has found beauty in that uninhibited approach, very different from the way theatre was approached in her university classes in Chile.
“I loved working with [SNAFU], coming from a really straight school and realism … This was giving me the chance to go with what I wanted to bring – to try and to fail. To find the joy in failing and making mistakes and finding something there and not being judged.”