Editor’s note: Broken Soil Theatre and the Hamilton Arts Council announced on June 1, 2020 that the streaming of this performance would be postponed in solidarity with the fight against anti-Black racism and police brutality.
Twelve months ago, could you have predicted what the last month has looked like? If you could look twelve years into the future, what would you hope to see?
When Michael Kras wrote his two-person play, The Year and Two of Us Back Here, he couldn’t have predicted the new meaning that the play would take in a period of physical distancing. But on June 2nd, the two-year old play will receive its new life in a virtual format via Facebook.
Kras and his company, Broken Soil Theatre, had already been in the process of resurrecting the performance for a live staging with its original cast when venues were shut down due to COVID-19. However, when the Hamilton Arts Council announced its online performance series, Kras saw an opportunity to reimagine the production in a new way, while also ensuring the artists involved were paid for their participation.
The Year and Two of Us Back Here premiered at the 2018 Hamilton Fringe Festival and tells the story of two colleagues. Marked by milestones of public holidays and celebrations, the story charts the journey of these two individuals who differ greatly in age and personal circumstances, but whose lives are woven together through their jobs working in a hat shop in Hamilton’s east end. Kras notes that the play’s central themes of isolation, loneliness and feeling left behind as the world moves past are particularly timely and tie in well with the utilization of Zoom as a performance platform.
“The image of Zoom is isolated,” Kras explains. “There are two separate boxes, and we’re both in our own little windows and limited range of motion and terrible microphones. So the challenge for me became ‘how do I adapt these themes?’ which were quite a solid fit for the medium, I think, although one I never expected the play to be done on.”
Reimagining the play for a digital platform created both opportunities and challenges for the troupe as they restaged the work. Kras is quick to point out the grassroots nature of Fringe Festivals, and the original set of The Year and Two of Us Back Here. With primary set pieces consisting of boxes, knick knacks and rubbish that might be found at the back of any store, the set was able to be recreated in the performers homes using found objects. However, a challenge arose when examining the properties list. Kras reviewed the list with each actor, ensuring that not only did they each have the props they were required to have for their individual characters, but also acquiring or creating duplicates of props that both characters would interact with or be passing back-and-forth between screens.
Knowing that audiences would have to see each character separately, and interactions were framed in those boxes meant an added emphasis on each moment of dialogue. As writer and director, Kras placed emphasis on ensuring that the physicalization of the play and the interpretation of text, speech and dynamics by the actors all felt natural while simultaneously existing within the limitations of the frame.
“There is a lot that they embodied that they have to rethink as performers.” Kras states. “So the intentions are still correct, but the way that they physicalize them, and the way they tell the story of those intentions look very different. But we’ve been having a lot of fun and it feels really empowering, because this is a form that should not be conducive to a theatre piece, but yet we’re finding ways to elevate it beyond a standard reading.”
Like any rehearsal process, the troupe has experimented with a number of elements to create the final version that will be streamed on June 2nd. A virtual rehearsal process was strikingly similar to a physical one, Kras notes, and Broken Soil Theatre feels confident in the “toolkit” that they’ve created through this process to assist with staging any future productions on Zoom.
Despite his enjoyment of the process and the ability to stage his production for an audience, Kras is quick to note that an online format is no replacement for live theatrical experience, and the group doesn’t have any immediate plans to stage another work through Zoom. However, he has found a sense of collaboration and creativity through this experience, and hopes audience sharing the work with him on June 2nd feel the same.
“This isn’t quite the same [as a live experience].” Kras acknowledges. “But it’s as close as I can see us getting for a little while, and it’s taken me aback by how much I’ve enjoyed it, and how much I feel inspired by it.”
Who: Broken Soil Theatre (as part of the Hamilton Arts Council’s Online Performance Series)
What: The Year and Two of Us Back Here
Length: Approximately 60 minutes
When: June 2nd at 2pm