By Janis la Couvee
What do a loading dock, a warehouse, an Inner Harbour rock, the Galloping Goose, Fleming Beach and Macaulay Point Park, the nooks and crannies of the Belfry Theatre, and the palatial staircases and wood-panelled rooms of Craigdarroch Castle have in common? They have been or are still being used to stage theatre productions.
Companies like Theatre SKAM, Launch Pad Theatre, Impulse Theatre and the Belfry Theatre have all created or commissioned work for unique spaces.
One of the region’s leaders in site-specific theatre, Theatre SKAM, founded in 1995, had few other options at start-up according to artistic director Matthew Payne. Stages and performance spaces were limited. This led to memorable performances like Louis and Dave with the actors in the front seat of a parked car and a tiny four-person audience squeezed into the back, and, Lieutenant Nun at Fleming Beach in Esquimalt with actors rowing in from a spot offshore, and the audience following them through the grounds of Fort Macaulay.
For Payne, the best site-specific theatre pays attention to the space; it also reaches and engages a new audience. “Our audience wants to be involved and connected to the company in another way. They want live interactions and a journey with the work”.
Theatre SKAM is producing a number of site specific pieces in 2018, as well as their ever-popular mobile feast of performance, SKAMPEDE—returning to the Galloping Goose for their 10th anniversary July 13-15. Skam.ca
At the Belfry Theatre, the SPARK Festival (March 12-28 this year) features mini plays scattered in various locations throughout the theatre. Erin Macklem, Artistic Associate & Outreach Coordinator, says, “the mini-plays that are the most successful, from an audience perspective, take the site of the work in the core kernel, exist solely in that space and wouldn’t exist elsewhere. The space becomes a character.”
Brian Linds, local actor and sound designer, who expanded his series of mini-plays into the larger performance “Reverberations” comments on the intimacy of site-specific theatre and the fact that the audience has fewer expectations than in a regular theatre.
For Macklem, the popularity of site-specific theatre can be explained by the fact that “younger audiences want to be more involved; they want a participatory experience”
One of the largest and most historic locations of site-specific theatre in Victoria is Craigdarroch Castle, home to the popular Hallowe’en-season shows pioneered by Ian Case’s Giggling Iguana Productions and now produced by Launch Pad Theatre. There is something deliciously creepy about being scared out of your wits as you move from room to room over the four floors of the Castle. Be sure to check back for this year’s show details. Launchpadtheatre.com This spring (April 12-22), Bema Productions produces the Canadian premier of Wendy Graf’s The Lesson in the beautiful heritage sanctuary of Canada’s oldest synagogue, Temple Emanu El. Anyone who has always wondered what a Bar Mitzvah is all about will want to see this “delightful and moving play about an older man who finally decides to have this milestone in his life and the audience gets to learn right along with him”. Tickets at www.ticketrocket.co
As you travel from place to place about the region, be on the lookout for performances in unusual spaces—you never know when you unwittingly become part of the audience.