Dirty puppets debut at HomeGrown

The last two plays produced by Moira Sauer and Celia McBride were huge hits. Matt & Ben and Trout Stanley played to sellout crowds and put their…

The last two plays produced by Moira Sauer and Celia McBride were huge hits.

Matt & Ben and Trout Stanley played to sellout crowds and put their newly established theatre company Sour Brides on the map.

Now, Sauer and McBride want to take a risk — produce a play with crude-looking puppets that curse and swear, foul the bed, and use road kill and a yam as “pleasure toys.”

There is just one problem: where on Earth could they possibly get away with something like that without sacrificing their newly established reputations?

Well, they found the place to do it, thanks to Nakai Theatre’s HomeGrown Festival, which opens tonight at the Guild Hall.

The brainchild of Yukon playwright Mitch Miyagawa, HomeGrown is part of Nakai’s ongoing mandate to develop local plays, playwrights and Yukon stories.

It debuted in 2004 and runs every two years.

HomeGrown is a cross between a new play festival and a fringe festival, says Nakai’s artistic director Michael Clark.

It’s the perfect venue for established writers like McBride to test new material, and it encourages rookie writers to bring their words to the stage and mount a show on their own.

“Some of the people in it are seasoned pros — the folks who I would consider the professional quality actors in town,” says Clark.

“And then there is a group of people who have never been on stage or who have never done anything for the stage and don’t really understand what theatre’s about.”

All participants submitted a one-page written concept of their performances for the Nakai jury to assess in January.

It assessed the applicants’ experience levels, then designed a series of workshops to help them bring their piece to the stage.

“We try to give them some of the fundamentals so they can go in prepared,” says festival producer Dean Eyre, one of the Yukon’s senior playwrights.

“We’ve been giving workshops on music and stage management, sound design and set design, direction and production to get people up to speed,” he says.

“Were giving them facilities to work in, but they set their own hours and find their own sets, props and technicians and do their own lighting design and all that kind of stuff.”

The festival, whose budget runs around $20,000, will feature 22 shows involving more than 80 Yukoners as performers, writers and technicians.

The shows run Wednesday to Saturday evenings until June 3rd.

Each week features a completely different lineup.

And each theatre, the black box and the other room (the lounge area), will have different programs that run simultaneously. The audience is free to move back and forth between them.

“If you want to see everything you would pretty much have to go two nights (each week),” says Eyre.

The length of the shows vary, ranging from five to 70 minutes.

“That’s kind of cool, because there are not very many venues for short work,” says Eyre.

“It’s sometimes way better than trying to make something 30 minutes that could be five just for the case of filling a slot.”

On top of producing, Eyre will mount his own 10-minute piece at the fest, called Driving with Dad, staring actors Brian Fidler and Ken Bolton.

“It’s about a father and son driving down the highway to a mysterious destination. The son’s gay and they have a big fight about it, and it brings up a whole bunch of the past.

“It’s basically a hostage-taking,” he says with a laugh.

Kicking off each night for the first week will be a wheelchair dance piece in the street in front of the Guild.

It will be performed by a troupe of mentally and physically disabled people of all ages.

Members of the public are welcome to participate, says co-ordinator Julie Robinson.

Capping off every evening will be Sauer’s piece Dirty Life — A Small Exploration With Puppets.

“It’s a really dirty, funny, nasty, bleak piece of theatre and I think it could be really, really good and probably rather disturbing,” says Eyre.

The 25-minute piece won first place in Nakai’s 24-hour playwriting competition in October 2004.

“There’s stuff that could be very offensive; with bodily functions and some foul language that I kind of made up,” says Sauer. “It’s supposed to be very over the top and just 20 minutes of escape.”

Along with the other plays featured in the first week will be a solo dance piece, a one-man show with five different characters, and Owen Williams will perform some cutting-edge calligraphy with an enormous knife.

There will also be a reading of second-draft scripts for episodes seven and nine of the soon-to-air CBC TV series Northern Town.

The second week will feature a new play written by McBride called The Critical Success.

“It’s one of the latest things that I’ve written, so I feel it’s one of the best things I’ve written,” says McBride.

“It has 14 years of playwriting experience behind it.

“This is the perfect venue opportunity for this play to find its feet for the first time.”

The 35-minute piece, featuring McBride and actor Leigh Gower, was originally written several years ago as a companion piece to another play she produced in Montreal in 2001.

“It’s sort of my revenge play,” she says, explaining she got the idea after some of her works were brutally criticized in reviews by newspaper critics.

This was her opportunity to explore what it felt like and where she thinks the critics are coming from.

“It’s about cynicism and wit,” she says. “The playwright and the critic being almost one and the same, but neither wanting to admit that.”

The second week will also showcase a hip-hop and poetry show; a film by Dave Harder, Loucura do Homem, about Jungian psychology and mysticism and Barbie’s Perspective, by Claire Strauss, explores whether humans are more than just flesh.

There are pieces written specifically for HomeGrown and others in development that will use the festival as a step toward showing them elsewhere, says Clark.

“It’s sort of a work-in-progress festival, to some extent, so some of the things that will be performed will be done as readings, some will be done as full productions,” says Eyre.

Clark, who says he has helped out here and there with people’s performances and made suggestions to artists, admits he hasn’t actual seen any of the shows yet.

“I won’t see the stuff until opening day, but that’s part of the fun, right?”

Admission is $8 at the door. A hat will be passed around after the shows so people can donate directly to the performers.

Shows begin at 8 p.m.

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