In the Trenches: A Double Feature by That Dog Was a Band Now
More information: facebook.com/dogwasabandnow/
Describe your show in five words.
Sincere, progressive, energetic physical comedy.
Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?
The show is a double-bill of two very different pieces of theatre. Both are within the realm of Physical Theatre and Comedy, but the styles are very different. The clown show takes place in a warzone, the Commedia deals with “Love” in an exaggerated reality where rules are (still) made by misogynistic and stupid men. We pull comedy out of these scenarios, and engage with “political” themes without ever preaching or getting “in your face” about it. We strive to tell stories that make you laugh which are based on characters that the audience relate to viscerally, rather than using a show to be a vehicle for ideas. The clown trio within the show has been described as “Marx Brothers – esque ” by audiences and clown gurus alike. Other adjectives used by critics and reviewers include: “surreal” “genius” “poignant and funny” and “Hilarious!”
That Dog Was a Band Now is a troupe of performers from Canada, Sweden and the USA. How does this diversity show up in your shows?
This is a good question… we do come from different corners of the earth, but we all learned to work within the same vocabulary at the Dell ‘Arte International School of Physical Theatre– which is the only degree granting school on the continent which basically specializes in Ensemble-Devised theatre with a major emphasis on different forms of comedy. Our year of study together featured 27 students from 13 different countries, and this absolutely impacted our course of study and the way that we all approach the work. Because our show includes freedom within the lines and Improvised Play, knowledge of the political and social landscape in this country has absolutely shaped our content as compared to when we were playing in California. Dealing with themes of war and gender inequality has been interesting since Sweden, Canada, and the USA (and the different regions within the USA) are all, generally, landing on different parts of the spectrum in terms of their history and current point of view on such divisive topics.
The first show in In the Trenches: A Double Feature is about ‘love, loneliness, duty and desire’, set in an apocalyptic war zone. Why did you choose to set the show in a war zone?
Jared Mongeau’s MFA thesis process began with the image of 3 clowns in the trenches of WW1, and the basic idea he invited the rest of us to ponder with him is “Can clowns justly play a tragedy?” World War 1 seemed natural because it is so long ago that people will not necessarily have a traumatic relationship with it, the symbols are very recognizable, and so many soldiers were needed that, by the last years of the war, many soldiers were improperly trained and wouldn’t have met previous qualifications– so, we figure that it is the most likely war for these 3 clowns to have participated in. Why do a play within a war? War has the potential to bring out extreme elements of what it means to be a human. We do not attempt to lampoon the idea of war, nor those who have fought as soldiers, but simply tell the story of what happens when these 3 clowns end up caught up in one and left to their own devices.
The second piece in In the Trenches: A Double Feature is based in the tradition of Commedia dell’arte, which relies on archetypical characters. What approach did you take to these characters to keep the story fresh and unexpected?
We believe that Commedia has the potential to be extremely potent and fresh! The masks invite the audience to instantly relate to a character through the way they are represented as a symbol. This is a unique trait of mask work, and specifically Commedia, as these archetypes are the root of all great character-based comedy which has ever emerged… we think… By devising a new show using old prompts, we allow ourselves to escape lazy comedy traps that have developed over the years and find a forgotten, timeless type of ‘funny’ through a modern lens. The characters that we have developed within these archetypes are in no way archaic, and we think that they play for an audience in a way about as close to a Cartoon for Adults as can be represented with just actors on a stage. The archetypes themselves are broad strokes, but aspects of most people that we encounter in our lives can be recognized within them with ease. We’ve attempted to create a mostly “classic” scenario that plays as if it is happening in the moment that the audience is watching it, not hundreds of years ago.
There are two pieces that are part of In the Trenches: A Double Feature, and while you say the two pieces aren’t intended to ‘match’ each other, what benefit does the audience get of seeing the two pieces back-to-back?
The benefit of seeing these two shows back-to-back is that they are both high energy comedies that really on physicality, but they end up being two different sides of that coin. The audience is brought into two completely different worlds which are living and active. The first play is darker while the second is exuberant, but they don’t completely adhere to these limitations. So far, the audience has enjoyed the piece as a whole, but individuals often tell us one or the other appealed more to their sensibilities. Also, these two styles are not as common as Sketch or Improv on the Fringe Circuit, so it is neat to expose many to these forms and debunk some common misconceptions of both. Our audiences leave after having laughed heartily for an hour, and also having experienced a combination of things that they have never before experienced. Clown is done much more often than Commedia, it seems, but we believe that our take on clown is also unlike any other show we’ve yet to come across on the circuit– not better or worse, necessarily, but different. In short, as a whole, the contrast between plays within the show creates something unusual and funny.
Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?
By the time we get to the Edmonton Fringe we’ll have already finished 4 festivals. Our shows are always growing, evolving, and changing based on the lessons we learn from the audiences we encounter– by the time we get to Edmonton we think we’ll be functioning at a very exciting level!
The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Tickets go on sale August 3 at noon and will be available at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.