Pop up theatre: OCD and eleven-oh-four at El Cortez

You’ve heard of pop-up restaurants and pop-up retailers – how about pop-up indie theatre? In a month that’s all about independent theatre in Edmonton – why not?

From March 20 – 22 at El Cortez (8230 Gateway Boulevard), Defiance Theatre will present a double bill of one-woman shows that will make you laugh, wince, and re-examine yourself and your neighbours: OCD written and performed by Louise Casemore and eleven-oh-four written and performed by Cat Walsh. Cat describes the OCD/eleven-oh-four double bill pop-up as a type of indie theatre experiment, “For independent theatre, sometimes space is a precious commodity in this city to begin with and having the cash to afford that space for two weeks can sometimes be out of your grasp, so we’re super excited about this idea to see how it works. To see if people are willing to come out to our crazy night of shows.”

 If these shows sound familiar, it may be because you caught one of their previous Fringe runs – OCD at the 2015 Edmonton International Fringe Festival (or the excerpt performed in the 2015 NextFest Shorts) and eleven-oh-four at the 2014 Edmonton Fringe. Cat Walsh says the collaboration between her and Louise came about after the craziness of Fringe had settled and the two playwright/performers wanted to re-examine the shows. “For me what often happens at the Fringe with new work is that you’re under this huge time pressure and it all sort of comes together but you don’t have a lot of time to let it simmer. Usually, you don’t get a really long development process, so you’re really trying stuff out in front of an audience, which is fantastic, but it’s good to be able to go back and go, ‘Here’s how this moment seemed to land, I’d like to expand it a bit.’ Or, ‘This didn’t really work, so I’d like to make the story even clearer for the audience.'” Louise agrees, saying, “The [NextFest] short gave me a chance to test the boundaries of the kind of storytelling I wanted to do, which gave me to confidence to really go for it at the Fringe with the full length. The version I am working with this time around is very close to what was done at Fringe, with a few new avenues to play with and some sharpening of some of the writing – abandoning some of the things that never landed correctly during the Fringe and similarly moving forward with a few things that only really found themselves in front of an audience.”

OCD and eleven-oh-four run at about one hour each and El Cortez is offering 15% off ticketholders’ food bills so audience members can come before the performance to enjoy some great Mexican food or stay afterwards for snacks and drinks to talk about the shows. I’ve been to El Cortez before for their taco Tuesday specials and can vouch that the food and drinks are great.

First up in the double bill will be Louise Casemore’s OCD, which is just about to go on tour across Canada. OCD is about a woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder giving a peek into what it’s like living with some of her habits and routines, like organizing cereal boxes by height and colour and avoiding cracks on the sidewalks. Louise says her own experience with OCD was part of what inspired the play: “Having struggled with a moderate form of the disorder in my youth, I have always been intrigued with how personal it is, and also how random. People with OCD become fixated on some of the most specific and arbitrary (on the surface, anyway) things and ideas that I always have found it very interesting how these anxieties manifest themselves in terms of creating comfort and control. As I got older I was surprised that I had never heard of anyone exploring the idea on stage (or in any major way on film either), so I was motivated to present that experience to an audience. I was also interested in creating a bit of a discovery opportunity for people about the realities of the disorder since it has so ridiculously been taken on so casually by many people to mean any degree of concern for cleanliness. As cute as folks think it is to label themselves as “OCD” (as though an anxiety disorder is a charming quirk?), doing so greatly edits out the reality of suffering for those who do struggle with it and require treatment.”

OCD‘s 2015 Fringe run was sold out and Louise says that intimate look at what having OCD is really like creates a powerful experience for audience members. “I think there is a simultaneous shaming/illuminating effect that occurs as people experience the show. I received an intense amount of personal feedback from audience members following the performances, more so than any production I have ever worked on, and the response seemed to be split in terms of people approaching me to almost confess their incorrect labelling of themselves with OCD with a degree of newly informed remorse, or alternately coming to me with great emotion (anger and confusion mostly) as to why they related so much to the show. In addition to that, there is also something to be said for the way the show is presented. It exists with no fourth wall, with almost no theatrical convention whatsoever – the conversations, the questions, the emotional distress or lightheartedness are all direct in people’s eyes and to their faces. There is nowhere to hide from it, so it by nature elicits a response because there is no passivity allowed.”

Cat Walsh’s eleven-oh-four closes the evening on a “creepy” note that will definitely have audience members on edge as they return home – at least if they live in a high-rise apartment. Cat describes the show as being about, “An insomniac who becomes increasingly obsessed with her noisy upstairs neighbour and then through a chance encounter she starts to insert herself into her neighbour’s life and it sort of escalates to a very extreme place. It all centres around this idea of this person who works nights and can’t sleep and is starting to loose her grip on the difference between being awake and being asleep… It’s a bit creepy with some black comedy.” On her 2014 Fringe run, Cat says, “I think what surprised me the most was that people found the show a lot funnier than I thought that they would because the humour is there but it’s pretty dark. I think realizing that the audience will go there with me really encouraged me to go back and sort of pump up some of those moments to take the risk and just say, ‘Hey, this is also funny.’ ”

eleven-oh-four is Cat’s first solo show and was inspired loosely by an interaction Cat’s husband had with their former upstairs neighbour. The show speaks to many of us who live in high-rise apartments, surrounded by people whose habits we’re familiar with, even though we might not even know what they look like. Cat says eleven-oh-four is perfect for El Cortez’ intimate tequila cellar, which is similar in size to Acacia Hall, where eleven-oh-four premièred during the 2014 Fringe festival. ” People really love things that are creepy. There’s a morbid fascination in watching someone else almost completely lose their mind… I think it’s very much a show that’s a story that’s told in the dark that has elements of a ghost story where it’s very intimate and you’re inviting people into a really shadowy story.”

OCD and eleven-oh-four run as a double bill for three nights only March 20 –  22 at El Cortez (8230 Gateway Boulevard). Tickets are $25 through Tix on the Square and include a 15% discount on food from El Cortez the night of the performance you’re attending.

PS – for more about the shows, check out:

  • My written interview with Cat in advance of her 2014 Edmonton International Fringe Festival run of eleven-oh-four
  • The thoughts I had after seeing a snippet of Louise’s OCD as part of the 2015 NextFest Shorts.
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