As Augusto Boal wrote, “We must all do theatre – to find out who we are, and to discover who we could become.”
With this quote from the Brazilian dramatist’s work The Aesthetics of the Oppressed ringing louder today than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to highlight those putting this into practice. The new Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) season puts these words into action.
The new season kicked off with Yvette Nolan’s Katharsis, a digital, 15-minute recorded play starring Tracey Nepinak, available for free viewing on PTE’s website from Oct. 29 to Nov. 15. The film depicts a one-person play that navigates an empty theatre and the dilemmas surrounding the current and future states of theatre and its community.
Artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones says after cancelling the first three shows this season, it was important to revive PTE’s atmosphere with Katharsis.
“I asked Yvette if she would consider writing something specifically for this time,” he says.
“I had the feeling that, come fall, knowing that there would not be any live plays on, it would be really important to bring our space back to life and to share a moment for people to talk about how it is to have all of our theatres empty.”
With Boal’s words in mind, Jones and Nolan highlight the aspect of self-discovery in this film and what they think of theatre’s future.
“The character in the play, Dorothy, which means ‘gift (of God),’ was what we were aiming for, to begin our season after everything we have been through,” Jones says.
“We wanted to give a gift to our audience, to the theatre community, not only to Wininpeg but to anywhere where this can be accessed.”
Nolan says this character was really brought to life by writing it with Nepinak in mind. Nolan has written for her for most of her career, and she says there was a surreal feeling while filming.
“I had her voice in my head (while writing), so that was pretty easy to do,” she says.
“With the light and set designers and sound engineers, there was a sense of the house being full of other things: of ancestors and all of the stories that were ever told inside the theatre.”
Concerning Winnipeg’s theatre future, Jones says, “I think that the important thing is working within restrictions, but I think that restrictions can be freeing if we think about things imaginatively.
“For all of us who create stories for the stage, we create them because we have something to communicate to the audience, to send some kind of message or evoke some emotion, (so) I think that we should find ways, when we can, to still gather and bring the community together (safely).”
Nolan agrees and says theatre has always been an essential part of the community, because it can help people make sense of things.
“I do not think that theatre can be killed, just because of the innate storytelling impulse in human beings,” she says.
“We need to gather together and tell stories, and though, in this moment in time, we are not allowed to gather (as an audience community), we are finding other ways of transmitting theatre.”
Video links for Katharsis are available at pte.mb.ca/performances/katharsis.
Published in Volume 75, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2020)