There is a moment right before a play starts where the room goes dark, and the audience is completely hushed in quiet anticipation. In this moment, I try to clear my mind, focus on being in the now, and prepare myself to become absorbed into whatever happens on the stage in front of me. I leave behind whatever has happened in the day and focus on the now. But Apocalypse Prairie: The Book of Daniel showed me that my mind isn’t as much of a “blank slate” as I thought.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to “get” art to enjoy it. And for that reason, I think that seeing Apocalypse Prairie: The Book of Daniel, The Groove Collective’s latest work, is a worthwhile performance to attend if you like to stretch your boundaries and experience the discomfort associated with an experience where you have nothing to ground yourself in.
The performance’s handbill delves into what it is trying to accomplish: “… In this show we’ve mostly told theatre to go away for awhile. You are about to witness the culmination of our experiment. And by experimental we don’t mean ‘weird’; we mean, we never quite knew what the hell… we still don’t. The guiding principle of the experiment has been to not think like theatre artists, but to think like musicians. There is no playwright, there is no director, we are not actors. It’s a show, but it’s not a play.” This is a beautiful preface to the performance – an invitation to throw out all the assumptions you’ve already made about theatre, about music, about experimentalism, about the relationship between art, politics and history.
Although Apocalypse Prairie is mostly comprised of songs, don’t try to classify it as musical theatre, because you’ll be disappointed by the lack of continuity. On the flip side, don’t attend expecting to witness a purely musical performance, because you’ll miss the subtleties delivered through the song lyrics and actors’ expressions. If it’s not theatre, and it’s not a concert, what is it? Apocalypse Prairie challenged me to see if I could just be. If I could just sit, and observe, and find joy in the things that I saw without analysing why, and how, and what it all means.
I think I accomplished that – instead of wondering what every piece of the performance meant, I instead reveled in the versatility of The Groove Collective. Most performers generally stick to one role in a performance – however, each member of The Groove Collective took on several roles within the performance. In particular, I was impressed by Steve Pirot’s seamless transitions from actor/radio personality to musician – taking him from one side of the intimate Livingroom Playhouse to the other in a few bounds. Kristi Hansen’s vocal range and tone was a perfect portrayal of several “voice[s] of the prairie” – switching easily from country, to jazz, to a brief rapping/spoken word stint. Laura Raboud also did a fantastic job pulling triple duty as a pianist, actress, and singer – her voice provided a great complement to Hansen’s. Murray Utas – also one of Azimuth Theatre’s Artistic Producers – proved to be the comedian of the group, portraying both a dinosaur and a child. While I wasn’t quite sure what I was laughing at most of the time, Utas has a great way of engaging with the audience, from the friendly, “Welcome!” we received as we entered the theatre to the ironic (?) “rawr”-ing – Utas drew the audience into the play.
Finally – one of the parts of the performance that was the most intriguing – was that the sound designer was sitting on stage, playing guitar and singing with everyone else, but also managing the microphones and sound effects from the centre of the stage. It was a treat to be able to see the production/”back of house” elements at the same time as I was watching the other performers interact.
Apocalypse Prairie runs at The Living Room Playhouse (11315 – 106 Avenue) from April 26 – May 12. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and can be bought the night of the performance.