Theatre Yes’ latest cross-Canada collaboration puts the focus on Anxiety

“Anxiety is fear plus time.”

Anxiety by Theatre Yes. Photo credit: DB Photographics

Anxiety by Theatre Yes. Photo credit: DB Photographics

That’s an insight Theatre Yes came to after examining the idea of horror and fear as they considered ideas for a project to follow the National Elevator Project, which began in 2013 and has run for the past three years in elevators across Canada. That investigation sparked the idea that has become Anxiety, which will run at La Cité Francophone November 23 – December 4.

Heather Inglis, Theatre Yes’ Artistic Director, says of the inspiration for Anxiety, “It started with a curiosity about the role that horror plays – not just the genre itself, but why we’re drawn to it. Obviously, it’s an old genre, but what we consume as a story in the last seven or ten years as a society is increasingly more violent and brutal and so what is our attraction to that material?… That led to an investigation of fear as entertainment and why people love it. Why the haunted houses and why the roller coaster rides? But, the more we talked about it, the more it became apparent that in dramatic terms fear – the experience of fight or flight – is an end result. There isn’t a lot of dramatic tension in it, people just move into a physiologically heightened state and try to get out of it. ”

“Similar mechanisms surround the experience of anxiety – anxiety is kind of fear plus time. That felt like it was getting to the core of something that was more of a contemporary experience. Clinical anxiety has reached epidemic levels, the highest in history in Canada and the United States and those are the people who are being diagnosed with chronic anxiety, not to mention all the people that aren’t. We were curious about what it was that was moving us into a heightened state when, in fact, our lives aren’t in danger.”

Heather Inglis and Theatre Yes’ artistic team knew from the early stages of the project that they wanted Anxiety to be a collaborative project with theatre companies from across Canada, replicating the experience they had with the National Elevator Project, which was a partnership with 14 companies and 16 playwrights. “One of the things we loved about the National Elevator Project was that we were able to access playwrights from across the country… We were really excited by the possibility of bringing work that had a national scope to Edmonton, enabling our audiences to see work that represented a diversity of aesthetics and communities and points of view…  One of the key motivators to the invitations that we offered to the participant companies was the opportunity for artists – especially artists working on a small scale, we call them ‘small-scale innovators’ – to meet together and work together.”

With that in mind, Anxiety has been a collaboration between Theatre Yes and six other small theatre companies from across Canada:

  • LoHiFi Productions (Halifax)
  • Théâtre à corps perdus (Montreal)
  • Outside the March (Toronto)
  • Curtain Razors (Regina)
  • Northern Light Theatre (Edmonton)
  • Theatre SKAM (Victoria)

To facilitate the long-distance collaboration, Theatre Yes created a structure for creating the show that involved sending each theatre company a writing prompt in the form of an anxiety-inspiring object from local antique stores. While the writing prompts were being collected, local playwright Cat Walsh created a backstory that connected the objects and formed a foundation for the artists to work from. Heather says, “we were interested in the notion that objects hold a sort of energy to them and that the history and story of an object is an interesting starting point for creation.”

The objects Anxiety is inspired by are:

  • an annotated photo album from the 1890s with the photos violently ripped out of it;
  • a cell phone containing notes, messages, maps and codes;
  • a set of human and animal teeth wrapped in a lace doyley inside a candy dish;
  • a collection of photos and an old metronome;
  • a USB stick wrapped in a strange note; and
  • a tube full of maps of stars, cities nebulae and x-rays.
Anxiety by Theatre Yes. Photo credit: DB Photographics

Anxiety by Theatre Yes. Photo credit: DB Photographics

All of this creation comes together for audiences in a two-hour immersive performance comprised of 10-minute performance installations in various small rooms in La Cité Francophone, scored by renowned sound artist Gary James Joynes. Heather explains audiences are invited to move through the spaces, experiencing, “a journey that is out of bounds of what they normally expect when they go to theatre. Our mandate is to create intelligent theatre for adventurous audiences so we are looking to take people on adventures whenever we do things and a lot of that has to do with the relationships that we create with audiences and performers.”

While the piece is meant to induce anxiety as a means of exploring the topic and asks audiences to move through the spaces, Heather stresses Anxiety is not a haunted house. “In order to investigate something, you kind of have to experience it. We are using mechanisms that are triggers for anxiety with the hope that by experiencing them in a safe, theatricalized way, there is the opportunity to focus on what those might do. I think that’s kind of what theatre does – we have the opportunity to empathise and follow emotional experiences in a fictional context without the consequences of real life, which offers an opportunity for us to understand ourselves and the world we live in with more depth.”

Anxiety runs at La Cité Francophone November 23 – December 4. Tickets are $27.50 – $32.50 through Tix on the Square or at the door. November 23 is a preview performance where tickets are $16.75. The November 26 and December 3 performances are pay-what-you-will at the door.

Anxiety requires audiences to be able to stand and move about the space for 2 hours. Features of the spaces where the performance takes place include stairs (19 steps), small rooms, darkness, and water-based haze. Theatre Yes asks audiences to dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes.  Audiences should be prepared for the challenging topics Anxiety addresses, but if the experience becomes too overwhelming, Theatre Yes has prepared a way for audience members to exit the piece.

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