Canada’s largest ten-minute play festival, inspiraTO, is back for its 12th year at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto. After receiving 458 play submissions written around a common theme of growing up, 24 of the best were chosen and separated into four separate 60-minute shows: the blackShow, the blueShow, the redShow and the whiteShow.
With a mere 10 minutes to bring a show from start to finish, I was impressed over all with the writing and acting presented in all the plays. The artists managed to touch on some heavy topics like alcoholism, gun control and death and do them justice in 10 minutes, which is a talent in itself.
Although both shows had their successes, it was clear to me that the blueShow was much stronger in its writing and performances. The blackShow, while it showed potential, left me wanting more. I often found myself asking “Why?” or “What's the point?” It was this disconnect that left me feeling disappointed.
That being said, there were some positive highlights from the blackShow. Special mention goes to The Hourglass by Francesa Brugnano for its fun, lighthearted story about responsibility; and The Chinese Life Force by Michael McGoldrick for its excellent writing and strong performances by Shawn Lall and Mark Brombacher. Although the blackShow had some strong moments, it still fell flat for me.
The blueShow was comprised of 6 incredibly written 10 minute plays about life, death and what it means to grow up. The performances were strong, the writing was on point and the themes resonated with me. Some notable mentions go to the Samuel Beckett-inspired Immortals, with strong performances by Armand Antony, Josh Morris and Bruce Williamson; The Lesson, written by Steven Young, for its poignant discussion of gun violence and gun control in America; and (my favourite of the 12) Transferring Kyle by Jonathan Cook, with its outstanding performances by Thomas Nyhuus, Evan MacKenzie and Kyrah Harder.
Though the whiteShow is meant to provide a more intimate atmosphere for audiences, I couldn’t help but feel the opposite while viewing many of the pieces.
I attribute this feeling, in large part, to the setup, which has audience members climbing sets of stairs to travel back and forth between two venues to view these performances (the same setup is also used for the blackShow). The first venue is a room within the theatre where spectators are invited get in close to the actors as they perform the scenes. In the second venue, Alumnae's studio space, audiences are seated in a traditional setting across from the stage at a much farther distance from the actors.
It can be a powerful tool for audiences to travel to different areas within a space and get up close and personal with the actors in intimate settings. This particular back-and-forth charade just felt tedious. Navigating through one space with the help of simple blackouts could have been much more effective in achieving the intended intimacy factor.
Despite this pitfall, whiteShow, featuring plays focused on the theme of disrupted innocence, has its notable pieces, including Anne Flanagan’s Adulthood Nightmares – a comically bizarre movement piece depicting childhood monsters from an adult’s frame of mind; and J. Joseph Cox’s unpredictable and cringe-worthy Grindrd, about discovering adult secrets you wish you could un-discover.
The redShow offers a stronger focus on technology, and for certain pieces this works, such as in Karen Loseff Lothan’s Twirling, where video projections make for a stunning visual addition. For most of the pieces however, projections are used to create backgrounds – some, which also distractingly project onto the bodies of the actors as they go about the stage. I would like to have seen technology put to better use overall as it is an important component of this particular show.
Some notable pieces from this set of shows, which are centred on obsession, are Rick Allden's Rachel, an ominous piece about personal limits and a dangerous relationship; and Jenny Lyn Bader's A Complete Set, a humorous play about how four chairs – and a neighbour dressed as a superhero – teach a couple about trust and desire.
Both shows have their stronger and weaker pieces. Some plays are a little too predictable, or feature characters who do a lot of telling, rather than showing. Other plays seem to work quite well. Over all, inspiraTO is successful in continuing to showcase up-and-coming theatre creators and allowing fresh ideas to come into fruition. Much of it requires finessing. But that’s where art begins.
inspiraTO runs at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto until June 10. For more information, visit http://www.theatreinspirato.ca/