Identity, memory, death and desire

By Olivia Brooks

What do death, desire and the Canadian west all have in common? Mark Lawes, the founding artistic director of Theatre Junction, and the Resident Company of Artists may have your answer in their continuing performance ensemble piece entitled On The Side of the Road. The eclectic group of artists are presenting their work as a second instalment in a trilogy dealing with the themes of identity, memory, death and desire. Audiences will be in for a diverse night of theatre that is sure to attract people from all over. The Gauntlet spoke with Laws about the project.

Gauntlet: How does identity play a role in the narrative?

Mark Lawes: I guess there are two things. One is the European confronting the culture and nature of the west of Canada. Something about that figure. It’s like she’s the old world leaving the old world and coming to the new world. So she’s confronted with language and also this vast wild landscape of northern Alberta. The writer from Canada is also confronted with his own identity because he’s coming back to this place that he hasn’t been to for a long time and his father has died. He’s inheriting this cabin and there’s this secret that his mother died when he was really young and he doesn’t know about that and he’s confronted with that at this lake. When the accident happens, it’s kind of like the self is broken into many fragments.

G: How does this play in the trilogy? Is it a narrative trilogy or a thematic trilogy?

ML: Yeah, it’s more thematic really, although there are five of the same artists in the both pieces. So some of the figures, like the sculptor for example, he played a sculptor last year. Although he is sculpting he’s still acting and playing music. I’m really interested in how people are crossing disciplines as well, which is also asking a question of identity in fact. This year he’s working in ice and last year he was working in metal and the ice is interesting too because you know it takes place at the lake and three quarters of the year this lake is frozen in ice so it’s kind of connected to the lake as well.

G: What is it like for the artists to cross disciplines, like the sculptor who is also an actor and playing music. Is it necessarily difficult or does it allow you guys to play with identity in this work?

ML: I think there’s always the difficulty or challenge around crossing disciplines [that] is always very interesting. I’m interested in how, if you come from a certain school let’s say as an actor, you learn how to function on stage in a particular way, by your training or schooling or where you come from. A sculptor doesn’t have that same background so they’re functioning on the stage very differently. To me, this kind of creates a multiple point of view on a story or a way to see a group of people on the stage so it’s not so homogenous. Everyone has their own challenges in that, but I think that by crossing disciplines, everyone is learning from each other and teaching each other.

G: What is the creative process like when you’re working with artists who have backgrounds in a diverse range of media? What kinds of examples of multidisciplinary works are in the play itself?

ML: Well the sculptor is acting. There’s an electro-acoustic composer from Montreal, he’s playing music, but he’s also acting a little bit. Pretty much everyone is crossing disciplines. The music is really, really cool in this piece, too. There are a couple different layers happening in the music. Ian Kilburn, who’s a musician and an actor, played in a punk band in Calgary so there’s a real pop element to the music and actually to the aesthetic in general, but then there’s this other layer of electro-acoustic music underneath it. So this combination of different kinds of different layers of music for example are also really interesting how they’re working together. You have many, different ways of entry into the story.

G: What do you think the identity of the Canadian west is?

ML: The Canadian west is more of a backdrop for the theme of identity. I don’t know if you can say if anything is one fixed identity. In fact that’s what we’re saying: there’s not one fixed identity to any place or any person. There’s a multiple identity in all of these places. The Canadian west is a crossroads of many different kinds of people who’ve come from different places to arrive here. This kind of complex identity is the thing we’re exploring. Lac LaBiche, in fact, that’s why this place is really interesting to me because it was a part of the trade route across in Canada. It’s one of the oldest French settlements in the west. There was a mission there; the First Nations were there for a long time around the lake; there are two Metis settlements there. It’s a real crossroads of people and cultures. For me, that’s the interest of the Canadian west as a backdrop. It really is a convergence of different people from different places.

G: How did this story come about? Was it a collaborative effort or did someone want this tale to be told and then you all worked collaboratively?

ML: I kind of did a scenario. I knew who was going to be in our company, so I imagined what characters each of them would play and I created a two-page synopsis of the story that I wanted to tell. I proposed that to the company and then they wrote on their own figures and wrote on the figures of others and we started this collective writing process as a first stage. I took all that material away and came up with the first draft of the piece. So it’s kind of a collective writing process, but I’m kind of proposing the thematic and the outline of the story.

G: How does it fit in to the over-arching trilogy? Do you have any ideas on what the third will be about?

ML: Well I think the setting or the place and time is the thing that is the link between each of the pieces. They’re all set here in the west. The themes are evolving, as there’s kind of this idea of the seasons are in the piece, so the final piece in the trilogy will be in the winter. This one is in the spring/summer at the lake.

G: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

ML: The forum that we’re working in is really of interest. We’ve been doing lots of workshops out in the community with students at the university, Mount Royal College, and high schools, just talking about the kind of work we’re doing ’cause it’s not how you typically view the theatre. So we’re asking the question “What is the theatre?” as well and how we perceive what the theatre is, what an actor is, what a dancer is.

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