The Pipeline is a series of readings after which the audience is invited to discuss the play with the actors, director and writer. It is presented as an opportunity for the audience to be a part of the decision-making process on what plays will be presented in the coming season. Mr. Man and I attended the reading of Fear Liath (written by Michael Mitchell, directed by Brave New Production’s Emma McQueen, with Tali Brady, Stephanie Coco Palermo, Elizabeth Neale and Antonella Ruffolo).
The reading was fantastic. Although it was slightly clunky at parts, I was more entranced by the reading of this play than I have been by the actual staging of several others. And, to my surprise, I was genuinely scared. The corny cliché of the girl trapped in her car while a hideous, bloodthirsty beast lurks outside actually gave me sweaty palms, and I squirmed at the roaring, howling and scratching noises that were played throughout. Sure, the women occasionally seemed a little out of sync, like they were all from different plays altogether, but they sure synced up fast when it was time to scream, shake, laugh hysterically or curl into a fetal position and cry. And as we all know, when it comes to horror, that’s what we’re there for.
The discussion portion of the evening was rather half-hearted due to a lack of direction. It was unclear whether the line of artists before us wanted our views on the piece or how best to market the piece, which are two completely different things. If they wanted views on their performance, then it would have been helpful to have some guidelines on what kind of criticism they were looking for. Did they want our views on the script? On actors’ performances? Or were they just there to answer questions, as a sort of open interview opportunity.
I get the feeling, though it was unclear, that the true purpose of the exercise was to answer a far more useful question: should this play be put on, and if so, who will pay to see it? If this was the case, then the person who really needed to be leading the discussion was the artistic director, and the artists didn’t need to be there at all. Would the play appeal to horror-movie goers as a new horror experience, or just die-hard theatre fans who want something different? Did it rely too much on movie tropes, or too little? And, most importantly of all, would we, the audience, pay for tickets to see this? How could such a play be marketed to make the public cough up? These are all questions that would have been most interesting to discuss, given the context, but with the artists lined up, looking exhausted by the performance and, at times, a teensy bit defensive (yeah, I said it….), it was hard to figure out which direction to take things in.
Entertainment-wise, the show was a complete success. I was totally gripped by the performance. The following discussion, however, was lackluster. I think the Pipeline is a really good idea, as it allows the theatre to do what it was born to do – sell out, give the audience what it howls for! But the concept still needs some work for it to really be a useful tool.
Infinithéâtre’s The Pipeline Reading Series takes place from Dec. 4-8. Wed.-Sat at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Bain St. Michel (5300 St. Dominique). pwyc.