“Theatre is a very funny world,” says Vancouver theatre artist Bob Frazer. “We spend three weeks perfecting a play, blocking it to within an inch of its life, and then once the actors are on stage they must pretend that it is the first time any of it is happening. What if we eliminated the knowledge of what was going to happen until it actually happens?”
Such is the thinking behind the upcoming Osimous Theatre production of Philip Ridley’s Vincent River, in which six actors will rotate over nine performances, and here’s the kicker, having never met or rehearsed together.
“We call it live theatre,” says Frazer who will direct the show, “but the only thing live about it is that there are living, breathing human beings on the stage. I wanted to make this show as real as we can make it.”
Discarding the idea of doing an improvised show, as he is still very much rooted in traditional theatre, Frazer sees the concept as a unique way in which to present Vincent River. “I still want this story to be told, but I want it to be fresh and true.”
The proverbial cart before the horse, Frazer admits that he had been thinking about the concept long before he decided the vehicle for this theatrical experiment would be Ridley’s two-hander, a play that explores the aftermath of a hate crime.
“The content is very emotional and relevant to today, but it wasn’t the main reason for choosing the play, it was the relationship that the two have that was really interesting to me,” he continues.
A quick review of the math means that there is a total of nine possible performances, with each of the six actors playing against each other a single time. Although Frazer remains secretive on the actual mechanics of how the two actors will be chosen for each show, he does reveal that there are no programs: “If anyone finds out who will be in the next show it ruins it and you lose that sense of it being the first time.”
Working individually with his six core actors, Frazer has brought in other actors to read with them and, as it will be on show days, those actors are also meeting for the first time.
“It is freaking them out a bit,” Frazer admits. “Every actor loves to know what is going to happen but in this situation the audience also knows the actors have never met or rehearsed and, perhaps I am naive in thinking this, but the audience will be on the edge of their seat.”
Frazer and his team are not going into the project blind though, having undertaken a focus group to make sure the concept worked.
“I was really surprised because I thought it would be all about the actor,” explains Frazer, “but the most surprising thing was how the audience reacted. In our post-interviews with the audience it was really amazing to see the connections that the audience experienced with these characters.”
Frazer believes the reason the audience found a greater connection to the characters comes directly from the shared experience.
“They are in the same position together because both actor and audience have no idea what is going to happen,” he says. “The audience is getting as much or more out of it because they are seeing it differently.”
When pressed with the fact that his actors will at least know the play, Frazer insists that while it may be a safety net of sorts, there are still many unknowns that will keep each performance spontaneous and fresh.
“I’ve watched actors in rehearsal and in one instance a passive actor will be playing with them and will attack them, and then another will come in and the roles are reversed,” he says. “It is a really unique dynamic that is created as the actors will never quite know what to expect from one another.”
With the audience in on the concept, Frazer is confident that when coupled with the strength of the play, even once the initial novelty might wear off, there is still the story to tell.
“Part of the process in choosing the play was in choosing something that could engage an audience,” he says. “They are going to be so intently watching the actors who are meeting for the first time but then they get hooked into the play and will be completely invested in the characters and story.”
Vincent River tells the story of how a mother mother must come to terms with the loss of her son murdered in a homophobic attack, and the acceptance of his sexuality.
Vincent River plays Little Mountain Gallery (195 E 26 Ave, Vancouver) Sep 9-20. Visit https://osimous.com for tickets and information.