I’ve had the pleasure of checking in with the creators of Escape Velocity over the last couple of months (check out my preview for more on this) and tonight I saw the finished work. Broken into several sub-stories, Escape Velocity explores gender-based violence, race, sexuality, community, and relationships between people of the same and different genders through a variety of theatre and movement techniques. While I connected to some parts of the show more than others, I thought as a whole the show was excellent and provided many points of access whether you are more familiar with movement-based art, more traditional theatre, visual art, or even if you don’t frequent the arts all that often. The show has a lot going on in it, and it may have felt scattered if not for the theme of space and the changes a body undergoes when it is in space, which is revisited several times throughout the show. In addition to the recurring theme, the show was also tied together by the set design (by Athena Photinopoulos), which allowed room for two chalkboards (paint-on chalk, maybe?) where the actors wrote the name of the scene they would be performing. In a performance that changes pace and setting so fast, this was extremely helpful.
In the program Nikki Shaffeeullah, Festival Director and Producer says Escape Velocity came about from examining the question: “How can we talk about gender-based violence in our communities when the dominant language is silence?” This idea of silence, of passiveness, really stayed with me while I was watching the performance. Art is meant to explore uncomfortable topics – the things we don’t, won’t, or can’t think or talk about – in a safe environment. And for the most part, Edmonton’s theatre scene does a great job of creating, producing and supporting shows that do just that. But the work Undercurrent Theatre is doing around gender-based violence is so important because it explores a topic it seems most companies (most people in fact) shy away from. The topic of gender-based violence is so multi-faceted and I think it’s brilliant that Undercurrent Theatre addressed this by creating Escape Velocity through community-engaged techniques. The very act of doing so through exploring the creators’ lived experiences and consulting with members of the community who are in some way engaged in discussions around gender-based violence there is no one “right” way to discuss or examine gender-based violence and there certainly isn’t just one solution. Escape Velocity and Undercurrent Theatre’s previous works allowing us to experience a few of the ways gender-based violence takes place and spark at least an internal dialogue about what that means and what we can do.
I (obviously) recommend you check out Escape Velocity, playing at the Azimuth Theatre (11315 – 106 Avenue) April 2-6. The performances of Escape Velocity are also prefaced by installations and performance shorts, which explore related themes. Admission is by donation.
Escape Velocity was created by the cast and director. It was facilitated and directed by Nikkii Shaffeeullah and performed by Saima Butt, Neelam Chattoo, Aliya Jamal, Rebecca John, and Natalia Knowlton.