Journey to the East, playing from July 19 to 27 as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, marks an ending for Tottering Biped Theatre: the piece is 25-years in the making, but the Festival will mark the work’s last performance.
There’s a full-circle quality to the route that Journey has taken to the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Tottering Biped Artistic Director Trevor Copp started with text from twentieth-century writer Hermann Hesse and dove deep into the novella’s context and meaning. He studied other works by the author, even learning German so he could read the work in its original language and travelled to the sites noted in Hesse’s novella. Copp researched the stories of soldiers and refugees during World War One, and even practiced shooting an authentic period-era weapon at a firing range to better understand the experiences of those involved in the Great War. Throughout it all, Copp wrote and rewrote Journey to the East, building a team around him who shared his vision, including director Richard Beaune, local actor Mike Hannigan and composer Zach Parsons.
New Visions United Church, the venue for Journey to the East, also plays a central role to the story. The audience will be seated on the second level of the church, allowing the actors below to manipulate their shadows to create new forms and additional characters. The acoustics of New Vision also showcase the haunting polyphonic harmonies designed by Zac Parsons that so clearly belong in either a church, or a solo journey.
As Copps’ searched to build a satisfying work, his main character in Journey to the East, Herman also searches, except for belonging. As Herman joins streams of refugees from the War, he becomes haunted by a fellow refugee who resembles a lost soldier from the front lines. Journey follows Herman on an eternal walk as he struggles to find a sense of place and time, losing himself in the process. While this would typically be difficult to portray on a stage, Copp’s experience as a mime and ballroom dancer meant he was comfortable in finding physical ways for the characters to express these sentiments.
“There are sequences that can only be expressed as movement.” Copps says. “There are moments where the body can better communicate a person and their story than words ever could. And in those moments, we turn to physical theatre.”
Through physical movement, Hermann attempts to reconcile his memory and mental state with his surroundings. Like many survivors of war and devastation, he struggles with PTSD through several of the sequences as he draws parallels between both sides of soldiers and continues his quest towards redemption, home and healing.
Tottering Biped staged Journey to the East in its current form in February of this year to artistic satisfaction. “That was the piece I was waiting for.” Copps says. “It was the culmination of people, vision and artistic success.”
This achievement started a very successful 2019 for Tottering Biped. In June, Artistic Director Trevor Copps was awarded the City of Hamilton Arts Award as an Established Theatre Professional. More recently, the company’s Toronto Fringe Festival Production, Searching for Marceau received a rare NNNNN review from Now Magazine. The company is also looking forward to presenting Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Royal Botanical Garden Rock Gardens in August.
Knowing that Journey to the East reached its artistic pinnacle at the February performance, Copps made the decision to end the show on a high note. The Hamilton Fringe will mark the final performances of the work. “Journey to the East has been so intensely rewarding.” Copps says. “I couldn’t ask for a better way to put this piece to rest.”
Who: Tottering Biped Theatre
What: Journey to the East
Where: New Vision United Church (24 Main Street West)
When: July 19-20, 22, 25-27 at 8:30pm (as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival)