Monday, June 27, 2022

Theatre in Space immerses audiences in site-specific production of Annie Baker’s The Aliens

Halifax theatre group launches with a production of Annie Baker's The Aliens in the lot behind Propeller Brewing from May 24-29.

Halifax indie theatre company Theatre in Space steps out of the traditional theatre venue for its inaugural production of Annie Baker’s The Aliens in the lot behind Propeller Brewing on Gottingen Street.

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of The Flick comes the story of two thirty-something best friends, Jasper and KJ, talking about music and literature in their favourite hangout spot, the lot behind The Green Sheep. When Evan, the shop’s new employee, starts asking questions, the two friends invite him into their world. The three open up to one another, sharing dreams, stories, and substances, revealing the strengths and limitations of their bond.

We find out more about the upcoming production in this Q&A with director Jake Planinc.

This interview has been edited.

Take us beyond the press release. Tell us about The Aliens. What can audiences expect?

Audiences can expect to see a play about love, loss, and the need for connection. Annie Baker is one of America’s finest living playwrights. Her ear for dialogue is unparalleled, her writing carefully crafted and beautifully nuanced. This is a play about relationships: between people, spaces, time, and art.

You are presenting The Aliens as a site-specific production. How does presenting it in this manner add to the play?

In a site-specific production, the environment is as much a character as those portrayed within its world. This allows for the audience and performers to be totally immersed. The Aliens is set in a single location: the outdoor staff area behind The Green Sheep, a cafe in a fictional town in Vermont. The lot behind Propeller comes strikingly close to Baker’s imagined space, complete with its back entrance and bins.

Our designers, Alison Crosby and Jordan Palmer, are working hard to augment the lot, filling in details and setting it up for a small audience, but much of what we need is already there. It’s a really exciting, new way to make theatre for me, and I think it’s bringing some excellent work out of everyone. I want to say a huge thank you to Propeller for taking on our project and being so supportive throughout the process.

Theatre in Space was created specifically to present The Aliens. Why this particular play as your inaugural production?

Our team is made up of emerging and mid-career professional theatre artists who have worked together in various groupings and capacities in the past. A bunch of us regularly work with Matchstick Theatre, a company whose mandate is to create productions of established Canadian plays.

In 2019, Henri [Gielis] approached me with The Aliens. I wasn’t familiar with Baker, and the play floored me. My focus was so intensely on Canadian theatre, particularly Atlantic Canadian theatre, that I was missing what was going on in the US. Theatre in Space is like a new band name, a one-off side project where everyone is in it for the love of the group and Baker’s incredible play. She’s simply one of the best playwrights working right now. It’s an honour to give her play its Atlantic Canadian premiere.

“I had bought a collection of Baker’s plays on a whim back in 2015 and was immediately hooked. I brought it up to Baddeck while Taylor [Olson] and I were working on a show up there together, and he was hooked. We both knew Sam [Vigneault] was our Evan, and the three of us had a great relationship with Jake from working on Matchstick Theatre projects. It was a snowball of enthusiasm.” – The Aliens actor Henricus Gielis.

Long pauses and silences are a big part of Annie Baker’s script. What do they add to the play?

Baker is pretty specific with her pauses and silences in this one, though I think she’s been moving away from the prescriptive “Pinter Pause” idea lately. I directed her play The Flick as part of my MFA at the University of Alberta last year. I discovered how active those pauses and silences could be through that work. So much in our lives goes unsaid. So many moments of quiet are full of meaning. Baker has an unmatched capacity for capturing this. Her genius lies in her ability to convey where and how language fails us or how someone can say one thing and mean something else entirely, sometimes without knowing it. The material – every word, hesitation, pause, stutter, and silence – provides a rich palette for exploration and interpretation.

Why should someone come to see The Aliens?

It’s an opportunity to see some of the best contemporary playwriting in the world performed by some of the most talented young actors in the city. It’s an intimate, live, site-specific show. I’ve really missed in-person collective experiences the past couple of years. It’s been so amazing to see The Bus Stop and Neptune open back up. In part, this is a play about the power of people coming together around works of art – whether writing, music, or performance – and I think that’s something we need right now. Our team has made it through delays and cancellations to get here, and we’re so excited to finally share The Aliens with everyone.

The Aliens runs May 24 through May 29 behind Propeller Brewing (2015 Gottingen St, Halifax). Advance tickets (no tickets will be available at the door) are available online at tickethalifax.com. The play is recommended for mature audiences.

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