- Root Vegetables and Reflections on West Coast Culture:Radix's BEUTFL CARATS for Progress Lab
When it comes to the well-being of Vancouver theatre, the past year has been rife with challenges. The first large-scale upheaval occurred in March 2012, with the Vancouver Playhouse closing due to bankruptcy just months shy of its fiftieth anniversary. Though local artists initially rallied in support of the Playhouse and the media launched an enquiry (which, despite positive intentions, ultimately descended into a tail-chasing blame-game), the fact remained that one of Canada's longest-standing regional theatres, known for premiering canon-defining work by playwrights such as George Ryga, Joan Macleod, Guillermo Verdecchia, and Morris Panych, was closing its doors for the foreseeable future. Further disruption followed on the heels of the Playhouse's collapse. In January 2013, news surfaced that the city's iconic Waldorf Hotel, which reopened in 2010 as a cultural hot spot offering art installations, concerts, and play readings, had been sold to a real estate developer with no interest in maintaining the hotel's arts venues. Though the hotel has since been designated a heritage site by the City of Vancouver, this doesn't necessarily guarantee its survival. Beyond the loss of the Playhouse and the potential demise of the Waldorf, the pending sale of the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts to the Westside Church has thrown the city's cultural landscape into further flux.
Given these major shifts in Vancouver's theatre ecology, the likelihood that local artists would willingly submit to further challenges seems doubtful. And yet, this is exactly what ten of the city's small theatre companies are doing. Vancouver's Obstructions performance series is the brainchild of local ad hoc arts organization Progress Lab, which has assembled a host of companies over the past ten years to create an environment driven by mutual support and artistic growth, resulting in innovative work such as HIVE1, 2, and 3,1 a trilogy of interactive theatre cabarets. Progress Lab's participating companies include Boca Del Lupo, Electric Company, Felix Culpa, Leaky Heaven Circus, Neworld Theatre, Only Animal, Pi Theatre, Radix, Rumble, Theatre Conspiracy, and Theatre Replacement. Radix's July 2012 Obstructions performance, BEUTFL CARATS, functioned to reiterate the strength, ingenuity, and persistence of vision defining Vancouver's theatre community by not only responding to a set of obstacles formulated by Progress Lab but also by initiating a discussion that acknowledged the collaborative role of local spectators and critics.
Based on the 2003 Danish Film The Five Obstructions, which charts Jørgen Goth's attempt to meet five filmic challenges set by his mentee (the enduring enfant terrible), Lars von Trier, Progress Lab's Obstructions series subscribes to the theory that constraints breed creativity and asks theatre companies to craft devised performances defined by specific obstructions (Progress Lab). This work in progress is then performed and judged by artists within the organization. As members of Progress Lab are well-versed in each others' theatrical aesthetics, particularly given their ten years of co-creating theatre installations, obstructions are doled out with the intention of pushing long-standing boundaries (although gentle comic needling also seems to inform the project). Radix, a company known for site-specific work with a social conscience,2 faced the following three obstructions:
1. [Artistic director] Andrew Laurenson must revisit and answer the central question of BEUTFL PRBLMS [End Page 98]
2. In the style of French farce
3. Using a set made of carrots. (Neworld Theatre)
The first obstruction is a response to Radix's 2011 production, BEUTFL PRBLMS. BEUTFL PRBLMS used Lauren-son's family history and the 1997 victory of an IBM computer, Deep Blue, over international chess champion Garry Kasparov to explore the complexity of Internet-dominated lifestyles, the symbiotic relationship between people and the environment, and questions surrounding ecological sustainability in the twenty-first century. Aware that Laurenson was interested in possibly revisiting BEUTFL PRBLMS, the members of Progress Lab decided to build this element into the Obstructions challenge. The second obstruction worked to push Radix out of a stylistic comfort zone, challenging the company to engage with a simpler genre and...