Theatre Passe Muraille’s Alien Creature Wooes the Millennial Subconscious

Far too often we’re reminded of the negative, unfocused, lazy or narcissistic qualities attributed to our generation. However, we have more overriding characteristics that don’t seem to solicit the same type of attention. We are a collaborative and inclusive bunch, with a diverse cultural awareness. We have high levels of social and emotional intelligence, are civically minded, and believe in community involvement both locally and globally. We are a tech savvy generation that is constantly trying to be seen and heard, pushing down barriers that often get in our way. We take risks.

With this in mind, Theatre Passe Muraille is a kindred spirit of sorts. Canada’s original alternative theatre company, operating since 1968; the name Passe Muraille translates into “beyond walls” idea being that theatre should transcend real-estate; that plays can be made and staged anywhere, sight specific – in bars, barns, basements, or streetcars. TPM founder Jim Garrard once said “There should be no walls of pre-conception about what theatre could be…producing plays that are new and different and thought-provoking is what’s important…to explore a new model.” I believe these are transferable beliefs held by many Millennials today. We celebrate the different, believe we can be and do anything. We look past rules and predetermined models, are encouraged to take risks and enjoy breaking down barriers not just in theatre but in our everyday lives.

TPM presents work that is inclusive, eclectic and representative of our city. They offer accessible ticket prices, regular community and audience engagement Q & A’s, Sunday Socials and most interesting “Egg Rolls with Andy.” On the Wednesday after each opening, this free pre-show program features Artistic Director Andy McKim in conversation with an artist from the play, or a local expert, to talk about the way in which that piece of theatre is contributing to a broader conversation. There are always snacks provided by a local restaurant to keep things casual.

Theatre Passe Muraille’s newest production of Linda Griffiths’ Alien Creature (Winner of Chalmers Canadian Play Award) seems to fit the bill. Coming to us from a space between spaces, poet Gwendolyn MacEwen (Beatriz Pizano) has a message: Imagination is dying, imagination won’t get you a bank loan, and a life of poetry is as beautiful as it is deadly. In Alien Creature, MacEwen uses magic, stories, and rhymes to entice audiences with a glimpse of her life. As she reflects on forty-six years of addiction, artistry, and love the writer sparks fire from her hands and pulls her heart from her chest. She is trying to be seen, not to disappear. A sentiment not all too unfamiliar with the social media, highlight reel obsessed generation of today.

Q & A with Jani Lauzon, Director of Theatre Passe Muraille’s Alien Creature:

How and why did you get into theatre?

Both my biological parents were creative. My dad was a visual artist and played piano, my mom made dolls and we always sang together. When I moved in with my foster parents I was very lucky. They were theatre people and supported my creative spirit and encouraged me to live my life creatively. I was born to be an artist.

What kind of theatre excites you?

Theatre that makes me feel. Doesn’t matter what the emotion is. I am also drawn to visual and physical theatre. My early training was in visual theatre. I have always been inspired by the European clowns, and the work of companies like Carbone 14, Les Deux Mondes and Primus Theatre.

Is there anything you’d want to change about theatre today?

The way we develop work. The gestation period needs breath and time. I don’t have any magic suggestions as to how to make that work with the current funding models etc. We all know there isn’t enough money for the smaller theatres and independent theatre makers. In many ways it’s incredible what we are able to accomplish with the limited resources and time we have. Speaks to our incredible creative capacity and our resilience.

What was challenging about bringing this script to life, any points of creative conflict?

The play is sadly as relevant today as it was when it was first produced. And the concepts in Gwendolyn’s poems are as important now as they were when she wrote them. The bigger challenges are about one person shows. It’s a lot for one person to carry, which is why I knew I needed an artist like Bea Pizano.

Why did you want to be involved with this production?

There are layers to this answer. First, because I believe in what TPM is trying to achieve and I have always been impressed with Andy’s vision and intersection with theatre artists. Second, it is an incredible opportunity to take a classic “Canadian Canon” play and infuse it with a wider perspective. And last, because both Gwendolyn (poet, lead character) and Linda (playwright) were incredible word warriors. We still have much to learn from both of them.

How did you feel about directing a play written by Linda Griffiths, such an iconic and memorable figure of Theatre Passe Muraille?

Truth. When I first learned of Linda and her work I was conflicted. I was aware of the complicated process of the development of “Jessica”, a play she developed with Maria Campbell. These were in the days before the word reconciliation had found it’s place in our national consciousness. But the more I read Linda’s work and the more I saw productions of her plays the more I grew to respect the sheer brilliance of her craft.

Can the audience expect anything different form Linda Griffiths 1999 original production?

I didn’t see the 1999 production. I was a new mother at the time so I didn’t have an opportunity to see a lot of work that year. I would suspect that there will always be difference with any new creative team. And my team is amazing. Bea and I have a similar experience as culturally diverse women in the industry and so we bring a unique perspective to the work.

What was it like casting for this role?

We had so many possibilities. All of the amazing women we brought in to audition would have been wonderful. But Bea nailed the audition. She brings a life experience and understanding that is connected to the core energy of the piece.

Who should come and see this show?

Uhmm… Everyone? That’s a hard question to answer. We hope that a wide spectrum will find something elegant and important in the work. I can say the underlying message is important and something many of us should consider, especially as it pertains to the value of creative expression and the value of artists in today’s society.

What will this performance have people thinking about on their way home?

Perhaps they will be more aware of the shadows. The combination of light and dark. That requires paying more attention to the world around us. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we weren’t so afraid to engage with it?

In one of Gwendolyn’s poems, Let me make this perfectly clear she writes:

All I have ever cared about. And all you should ever care about. Is what happens when you lift your eyes from this page.

The show runs from January 12 – February 5 at TPM Backspace. Q and A Jan 22nd and Egg Rolls with Andy (Informed talk with community guest) Jan 18th.

Story Melissa Dennie, Photos Michael Cooper

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