The liberty of ignorance – Part One

Greg Kirk as Estragon in Bloody Theatres Waiting for Godot.
All photos by Casey McNally.

It starts at the beginning
By Greg Kirk

There are a variety of ways to start doing theatre. For me, and Praxis Theatre’s Simon Rice, the most obvious was to pick a play and start working on it. This is neither the smoothest nor the easiest method, but it is how we did it nonetheless.

I recently stumbled upon dozens of pictures that nicely document the various theatre productions we mounted between 1997 and 1999. We were both still teenagers when we started. Looking through the photos, it occurred to me that we had no idea what we were doing; some of my memories are downright embarrassing. However, being new to theatre – and thus ignorant to its conventions and not remotely self-conscious – afforded us certain liberties.

What were those liberties? What freedoms did our youth afford us? And where have they gone? I’m not sure I can answer these questions with any great rigour, but I thought it would be fun and possibly instructive to try. So in response to Praxis Theatre’s call for guest bloggers, I’m putting together a short series. A rough catalogue of a young man’s artistic process: the liberty of ignorance.

The Mamet maneouver
The chronology of these pictures moves from sloppy, carefree ignorance (e.g., mounting a show populated exclusively by late-middle-aged characters, and yet casting teenagers) to greater self-consciousness. It also documents the gradual recognition that theatre is a difficult craft. While this development is essential to artistic maturity, I can’t help but recognize that we made choices – some of them very good – that would never have occurred to us, had we known better.

In the fall of ’96 we decided to mount a production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, using mutual friends as actors and crew members. Both of us felt we were sufficiently credentialed as theatre artists by our success in high school drama programs. (This leads me to wonder if people that are genuinely new to something ever realize how new they are.)

The production was to be loosely affiliated with a now defunct art co-operative baring the unruly name Rabid Teepee Force, and carried with it intentions no grander than putting on a respectable show. It took far longer to organize than expected, but nonetheless opened in March ’97 at the Annex Theatre on Bathurst Street in Toronto.

Following through independently on a project was an accomplishment. Nobody had told us to do it. This now sounds achingly innocent, but I remember looking at the sold out final show and thinking, “these people would not be here tonight if it weren’t for us.”

Beckett and The Bard
Compelled by what certainly felt like success, we turned it into a production company called Bloody Theatre. After Glengarry, we produced five plays between ’97 and ’99 (Waiting for Godot, The Zoo Story, No Exit, Oleanna and Romeo & Juliet). The photos in this series will document these shows chronologically.

Archiving the experience captures the development of self-consciousness in young theatre artists: Closing night of Glengarry felt like a triumph, but the wrap for Romeo & Juliet our final show felt strangely incomplete. We had undoubtedly produced our most professional show, but we were now aware of the ways we had fallen short of our expectations. That was the end of Bloody Theatre. With the unwelcome yet essential gift of greater understanding, we both moved on.

The spring of 1997. Our first show.
Glengarry Glen Ross is about desperate real estate salesmen ranging in age from mid-40s to their mid-60s. Given that the cast was made up entirely of teenagers, Simon and I had to rely on less-than-subtle signifiers of aging. Garrett Hay, for example, cast as Shelley “The Machine” Levine, the oldest and most desperate of the salesmen, was asked to shave his head bald on top in the week leading up to the show in order to offset his boyish visage. One can imagine the social sacrifices such a hairstyle imposes on a 19-year-old.

3 thoughts on “The liberty of ignorance – Part One

  1. You huys put on most of your shows on at the Annex Theatre right? That’s another great downtown theatre space that is off the map now. I think the Randolph academy might just use it internally.

  2. ps i did not live in toronto for any of these shows so i find this whole thing fascinating.

  3. I remember seeing Garrett at Future Bakery & Cafe on Bloor Street one evening leading up to the show’s opening. It struck me what a ballsy move that was, to shave his head bald like that – and how fearlessly everyone seemed to be forging ahead with all of this theatre business.

    I also remember that show – Glengarry Glen Ross – and a similar feeling of awe to the one you describe at the sheer apparatus of it all. There was a theatre, a stage, a set, costumes and makeup, people knew their lines (or so it seemed to me), and the show was a pleasure to watch – a list of modest miracles. Your reflections on that time, in this piece of writing, reminds me what it was like to witness those minor miracles of theatre as a young adult. How much potential energy it all seemed to contain – and how within reach.



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