“I wish the stage were as narrow as the wire of a tightrope dancer, so that no incompetent would dare step upon it”
Are noble intentions and a socially or ethically important subject matter enough to create a convincing work of art? I would suppose that it’s a question that has to be answered on a case by case basis. “Rare” is the collective creation of nine theatre artists (Sarah Carney, Dylan Harman, James Hazlett, Nick Herd, Suzanne Love, Mike Liu, Nada Mayla, Krystal Nausbaum, Andreas Prinz) all of whom are afflicted with Down syndrome, under the direction of Judith Thompson. The piece is comprised of Verbatim Theatre, Song, Dance, Mask Work and recitation of poems by the greats of the English language. What makes it so extraordinary is the embrace of pure theatricality, and the constant reminder—clear from the dedication of the performers — that to be on stage is a gift. Rarely have I seen performances that lack self-consciousness the way that the ensemble here do. There is immense bravery on display: the nine actors in “Rare” make it clear that creating art is a struggle, and that struggle doesn’t necessarily have only to do with Down syndrome, it has to do with openness, honesty and the burning need to tell a story. In fact, I left the theatre feeling that struggle should be a pre-requisite for creating anything as emotionally engaging as this play. Ultimately there’s no question as to whether or not to classify “Rare” as art—but it isn’t important. What is important is what “Rare” teaches us about the nature of art itself.
For many, the word “clown” conjures images of a 6-year-old’s birthday party, balloon animals and big shoes.
There is however a long history of tragic clowns on stage (but you already know that—you’re reading a theatre blog!) So it makes a certain amount if sense for Toronto’s Morro & Jasp to present their version of John Steinbeck’s tragedy “Of Mice and Men”, especially considering that M&J’s already established personas easily adapt to Lennie and George. The big question for the audience is how will the performers strike a balance between the tragical elements of the original story and the audience participation antics they are known for? To answer that question co-creators Amy Lee and Heather Marie Annis have come up with an idea that allows them lots of wiggle room and also makes a sly comment on what it is we expect (demand?) when we go to the theatre. Morro and Jasp are broke, busted, they ain’t got a dime. In order to make enough money to start their own clown-farm and live off the fat of the land, they have to make it big with an important serious piece—they gotta leave this clownin’ around behind. A shame, since our duo want to be clowns, even if they would rather avoid the trappings of the children’s birthday party set. There’s long been a tendency to see clown and comedy in general as somehow slighter than capital I Important theatre, and Of Mice… gleefully plays with those prejudices.
My favourite bit in the whole show was a clowned re-enactment of Einstein On The Beach. The show’s pacing could stand to be tightened, especially considering that the source material is well known enough that shorthand can be used, but there are frequent big laughs and as always, watching Morro and Jasp interact with a game audience is a joy.