Three years ago, 26-year-old playwright and University of Winnipeg graduate Daniel Thau-Eleff boldly took the stage in Winnipeg and presented a challenge.
It was the Fringe Theatre Festival, and the play, if you want to call it that, was Sex?: An Interactive Theatre Experience.
The idea was simple: instead of writing a play about sex, why not turn the mic over to the audience and let them have their say?
Sex?, which Thau-Eleff created with fellow graduate Loc Lu, was based on the Theatre of the Oppressed, an interactive style of theatre developed in the ‘70s by Brazilian director Augusto Boal.
Boal believed that theatre could, and should, serve as a forum for teaching people, allowing them to overcome their fears while learning about their collective experiences to better their lives.
For Thau-Eleff and Lu, the show was an often nerve-racking experience, not knowing who would show up or what they would say or do when given the chance.
Audiences were strongly divided on the show, with some notable critics panning the show as a failed experiment, while others aggressively spread the word of how the experience had impacted their lives in a very personal way.
“It was very strange. We were moving in completely new territory. Once the bad reviews came out, audiences dropped. But then those who had seen the show started telling their friends about it, and it began to rise again. You really couldn’t predict who would show up when. Sometimes we were dealing with eight people, and sometimes 50,” Thau-Eleff explained.
“It was an experiment. Everything I do is an experiment. I think theatre should always be an experiment. There should always be a risk that’s being taken.”
Thau-Eleff, now 29, has been in preparation for months with his latest production Remember the Night, a play that is uniquely Winnipeg.
Night, which Thau-Eleff wrote shortly after Sex?, was first performed at the Fringe Festival the following year, to a much different response.
The play is a murder-mystery, dark-comedy and touching romance all in one, and was met with almost universal praise at its outset.
“[Thau-Eleff] mixes Woody Allen-style laughs with Tarantino-esque structure,” a writer for the CBC raved in one particular five-star review.
With strong word-of-mouth, the show sold out its entire run, with many festival goers waiting hours in line hoping to grab a ticket.
A year-and-a-half later, Thau-Eleff, a little wiser, has pulled out all the stops with the upcoming run, hoping that this will be the show’s definitive production.
“I went back and rewrote a number of parts, adding a few things, and basically made the play as cohesive as it could be. The actors are the same, but older. I’m able to do a lot of things with the show now, because it’s completely independent, that I wasn’t able to do before. It’s exciting,” Thau-Eleff said.
In 2008, Night played at the 65-seat Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre, a tight venue to say the least.
With its new space on McDermot, the show will now have room to breathe, as well as expand.
“It’s a completely different setup. Whenever you do a show, you’re looking at the venue and seeing how you can adapt it to use the space. We’re doing that again here, it’s just a much larger space to fill.”
Remember The Night runs until March 14 at 290 McDermot Ave. (4th floor) Visit www.rememberthenight.ca
Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)