From the very start of Monster, the audience is an active participant. During the play’s opening, a voice is heard rudely quieting a neighbour in a movie theatre. Unknowingly, this one gesture makes the audience complicit to the stories of abuse, addiction, and violence that are woven together through a dozen or more characters all connected to each other through a single event that is the premise of Monster. While this may sound unnerving, creating a collaborative space for audience and actors onstage to explore theatre together is central to the work of Twitches and Itches Theatre, who will be performing Daniel MacIvor’s Monster at Theatre Aquarius’ Studio Space as part of the 2019 Hamilton Fringe Festival.
“There may be one person on stage, but the piece is much less about one person and more about inviting the audience in and playing with the contract that inherently exists between performers and audience members,” says Colin Bruce Anthens, co-founder of Twitches and Itches Theatre and solo cast member in Monster. “We’re performing a play that is about the people in the space together at that particular moment … and we’re all in this together.”
Although Anthens will stand alone on stage at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, he’s no stranger to working with an audience and large group to create a production. Founded in 2009, Twitches and Itches Theatre creates original work through collaboration. Dubbed by Anthens as an “actor’s company”, the St. Catharine’s-based ensemble allows actors to grow from their collective experiences as they utilize theatre as a mode of storytelling.
Monster has had a profound impact on Anthens, who originally saw the play in 2007, following its nomination for the Governor General’s Award for Drama. “I was in my first year of college,” he recalled. Since then, Anthens has spent much of his time directing the Twitches and Itches ensemble, but also performed in another Daniel MacIvor play, House, with Stolen Theatre Collective. Monster represents an opportunity for a return to acting, and for a fellow-ensemble member to share leadership while Anthens explores new creative freedoms.
To portray that dozen characters and overlapping visions of Monster, Anthens has been studying the script to learn the nuances, faults, and colloquialisms of each character to transform into each one seamlessly. Additionally, Twitches and Itches will rely on sound cues to create dreamscapes, lighting, and visual elements to mirror a suspension of reality with minimal props to ensure that the audience’s awareness of the essentials onstage is heightened. Regardless of the character he is portraying in the moment, Anthens will stay in the same spot on stage for the majority of the production, allowing the world to be built and go on around him. As clues are dropped and pieces of a tragedy is pieced together, the audience will be able to make their own judgements.
“Monster deals with a complex paradox,” Anthens stated. “Humans are empathetic creatures, yet we are also drawn to dark stories of morbid destruction […] This play asks how we deal with that as a society; and what is underneath the way that we operate right now. The questions that are asked through Monster don’t go away. They linger.” There are no definitive conclusions drawn during the performance; instead, audience members draw their own conclusions as facts are presented to them. “The audience learns that it is a lot like the narrator, and that the narrator is like the audience. And it’s uncomfortable and unnerving and we have to ask questions around that. But ultimately, it leaves judgement to the audience.”
Who: Twitches and Itches Theatre
Where: Theatre Aquarius Studio (190 King William Street)
When: July 18-28, various dates & times (as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival)