Interview by Caitlin Baird  – Showbill.ca Contributor

May 11, 2017

The Intrepid Theatre Club promises to be packed tonight for an exciting double bill from Vino Buono. Advance tickets for the Friday night performance of the three-day run are already sold out.

With a staff composed of theatre students and recent graduates, Vino Buono is young, energetic company. Their previous offerings have been presented at Fringe Festival, Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival, Theatre SKAM Pop Up Live Series, and as Intrepid Theatre YOU Shows. Art of the Eight Limbs, written by Artistic Director Kat Taddei, was voted Favourite New Play at last summer’s Fringe.

After this series of successful festival productions, Vino Buono has curated an inaugural season of all new work which celebrates diversity – of creators, of genres, of narratives.

Blind Portrait, the opening show, was an abstract exploration of mental health and identity written by Chase Hiebert. In contrast, this double bill features two short plays with classic narrative structures, but still with fresh perspectives: a young teen struggles with guilt, religion, and sexuality after a tragedy in Ellery Lam’s The Fitting Room; in Snowfrog, playwright Kaitlin Ruether imagines a dystopian alternate-timeline in which Canada and Quebec are at war.

Kat Taddei shared some of her thoughts on the scripts, the Victoria theatre community, and underrepresented voices.

What drew you to these scripts?

Kat Taddei: These are two pieces of new work that take risks in big, bold ways – and I think it’s precisely this boldness that drew the company to them.

Why a double feature? How do these shows interact?

KT: Well, on a logistic level, it made sense for Vino Buono to program a double bill for our first season so that we could provide opportunities to the greatest amount of creators possible within our budget, and also introduce Victoria audiences to the greatest amount of new work and new writers possible.

Tonally, these two shows are very different. The Fitting Room, while it deals with complex and challenging subjects such as grief, sexuality and religion, does so with consistent humor and lightheartedness. Snowfrog is a much darker piece, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if audiences experience mood whiplash moving from one to the next. While Fitting Room is grounded strongly in theatrical traditions of realism – it is set, surprise surprise, in a department store fitting room – Snowfrog is dystopian fiction, a worst-case alternate reality.

The contrast between these shows, both in terms of tone and genre, ends up drawing attention to how each conforms or doesn’t conform to stylistic expectations of theatre in an intriguing way. It also draws attention to how art can be political on such a broad scale – from confronting the tragic but every-day consequences of gender norms to the very real dangers of systemic, governmental violence when diversity is suppressed.

Can you speak to how these shows reflect your mandate to present underrepresented voices? Creator identity vs content is something I’m particularly interested in.

Kat: The Fitting Room highlights pre-teen and young adult voices, which I feel are definitely lacking on stages across the city, as well as queer young adult voices. We’re so excited to also have Jessica on board, a current student at Mount Doug High, who is such a phenomenal representation of what young performers are capable of! (Seriously – she’s amazing.)

Ellery Lam: Looking back on my process of writing The Fitting Room, I now recognize how it helped me articulate my own identity as a queer woman. I wrote the first half before I’d come out, and the second half after.

But it was only after seeing the play on its feet and hearing it out loud that I was able to look back and see myself working out my own inner conflict through these characters in various ways. Ultimately, I see my own experiences intersecting with the play’s broader themes, themes we can all relate to: the fight to figure out who you are, who you’re meant to be, and how to arrive again and again at a place of love and acceptance for yourself.

Kat: Snowfrog confronts its audience – which, in Victoria, is majority anglophone – with questions of how stable and sincere Canada’s multicultural identity is. The playwright, Kaitlin Ruether, has worked in consultation with University of Victoria professor of French Marie Vautier to ensure that the historic content of the play is as accurate as possible, and so hopefully – although the piece in no way tries to claim that it is speaking on behalf of Canada’s francophone population – it causes some reflection on the relationship between English and French speaking Canada here on the island, which is, demographically speaking, made up largely of settlers from English-speaking Europe.

Kaitlin Ruether: There are elements of Snowfrogthat are parts of me — Zoe’s misguided righteousness, Henry’s overdramatic zeal — but this play became about looking outward. The most true connection to my identity comes with the lesson that the anglo characters in the play learn, the same lesson I learned while researching and that I would hope is passed on: that expanding awareness beyond yourself and listening to the stories of others is the key to understanding, and often to creation.

Tell us what you’re excited about in terms of the production/design of the shows.

Kat: Both plays take place in very confined, isolating sets, with the characters often unable to see or hear each other, especially in Snowfrog(wherein the characters are trapped in cells throughout). This leads to some very interesting and physical dramatic irony – with the audience being privy to both sides of a situation simultaneously, while the characters may be left in the dark.

There have also been exciting opportunities for designer collaboration on these productions, since they run back-to-back nightly. Set designers Annie Konstantinova and Ian Simms have exchanged ideas and discussed how they can be flexible with their designs, so that the Intrepid Theatre Club can transform into two starkly different locales over the course of a single evening.

Any challenges bringing these scripts to life?

Kat: Always. There are always challenges bringing a script to life. Sometimes, theatre is a long process of trying to make everyone happy – the performers, the designers, the director, the playwright – but in the end, each person is going to experience the play differently, and each performance, from opening night to closing, is going to be completely unique and isolated, unrepeatable. We wouldn’t make theatre if it wasn’t always changing and challenging us.

Is there any content audiences should be prepared for when attending?

Kat: Yes – Snowfrogdeals with themes of oppression, discrimination, and violence, and includes violence onstage throughout. There will also be content warnings at front of house and during our front of house speech, to remind anybody experiencing the show that they are welcome to leave whenever they need to.

What did you learn from your first show of this season, Blind Portrait?

Kat: That there is an appetite in Victoria for more experimental and abstract work. I think this is something we also experienced during the run of Impulse Theatre’s beautiful and haunting The Dream Collector(s), which had a very strong, supportive response from the local community.

Personally, I learned from Blind Portraithow wholly the Intrepid Theatre Club can be transformed from a small black box theatre into an unfamiliar and mesmerizing world. Production designer and company Design Representative Delaney Tesch blew me away with the imagination and ingenuity of her design. Blind Portraitwas claustrophobic and melancholy and beautiful, and it wouldn’t have been possible had she and Karin [Saari, the director] not been so dedicated to bringing their shared vision of the space to life, complete with walls of blue-pink plastic rain and shit-stained clothing.

What’s next for Vino Buono?

Kat: Good question. There’s certainly a shift coming – a big one – in the way that our company is structured. We’re also gearing up for the projects on the horizon beyond our inaugural season, such as our co-production of Colette Habel’s Daddy Issueswith the Human Voltage Theatre Project for the 2017 Victoria Fringe Festival, and another super-secret work-in-development (which we’ll be announcing after the close of Project Mercury [the final show of this season]).

Basically: big, exciting changes for our third year in operation. We’re scheming away!

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