Performance Salon – Basement Theatre February 28, 2017

Tuesday evening marked the opening night for the second week of The Basement Theatre’s Performance Salon. It showcased works by a number of young, up-and-coming performers working across various disciplines. The concept behind the Performance Salon seemed to be to create a testing ground for young creatives to evolve their works, while utilizing the energy, participation and observation of an audience to feed their development process.

The small room upstairs in the theatre was transformed into a laid-back lounge, with scattered tables reminiscent of a jazz club dotted around the stage and a bar in the corner. The whole vibe felt casual and relaxed, and did justice to the description in the preview online of ‘Moulin Rouge at the beach’.  Despite the small Tuesday night turnout, the space was intimate enough to generate a degree of audience energy, and the format, which allowed audience members to come and go as they pleased, meant that as the performances were changing, so too were those observing, resulting in an environment that was continuously evolving. The whole night was dynamic in nature, obscure at times and ultimately was a celebration of creative energy.

The opening piece, Penis Elegy, provided us with a 40-minute set of live rock music and poetry, dealing with complex subjects around homosexual culture and experience. Their music was at times slow and contemplative, but the band seemed to gain confidence and competence as their set progressed, building to their best song of the night- a grit-pop/punk rock inspired number. Here the band seemed to really come together.

An unfortunate issue arose where the volume of the music obscured its accompanying spoken poetry, so I fear, tragically, parts of the message were missed. It was interesting and at times difficult to process how this group tackled such dense, complex societal and cultural issues through their brand of rock music. At times it created a kind of comical tension between the fleeting musical moments and the longstanding, deeper comments being made- but perhaps I felt relief to be, in many ways released from the heaviness such subjects can invoke. Despite the arduous task of starting at 6pm, and the fact that there were five people in the room, Penis Elegy gave all of their energy, which I appreciated, and applaud them for.

Between the next few performances, Tom’s Snapchat’s, provided some comic relief and entertainment while audience members came and left and the stage was reset. If (for some reason) you are unfamiliar with Snapchat, it allows a user to apply various filters on their phone camera, resulting in a morphed face and voice. This performance saw ‘Tom’ utilizing these filters to create funny characters and vignettes of their fictional lives. It was lighthearted and a clever use of the usually fickle social media platform to create something with meaning and purpose.

For Connor was an acrobatic performance that also worked as a kind of intermission between longer pieces. Handstands suspended in time on stacked wooden blocks and backbends that looked almost impossible kept the audience transfixed, as the single performer channeled her inner five-year-old, reminding us the importance of innocent play and child-like whimsy.

A theatrical piece featuring two performers (one of whom played many roles) dealt with the idea of Artificial Intelligence in the intergalactic future, where a lawyer takes on a groundbreaking case advocating for an IPhone that has been replaced by a newer model. Cleverly named The IPhone Case, the piece had comedic moments carried mainly by the male performer, and moments of poignancy in the interaction between the actors. However while the premise of the plot was absurd (sometimes to comedic effect), the execution created some confusion. In the end I stopped trying to understand the intricacies of the story and focused on enjoying the work moment to moment, which allowed me to appreciate it for it’s ups and downs.

Little Sister was an interesting, experimental piece where the performer projected scenes from the ballet Petrouchka, and proceeded to copy the moves of the dancers on the screen. The effect was ultimately comedic as she grew more and more out of breath, copying moves with far less training or grace in comparison to the ballerinas, but making the audience laugh along as they pictured what they would look like if they too tried to mimic such a complex dance. It was unique and perhaps went too long, but she truly gave all her energy in entertaining which the audience appreciated.

My favourite piece of the evening by far was a segment of performance poetry, Sexts & Sub-Tweets. The performer was dressed in multi-coloured faux fur, with a tiara, sky-high heels and track pants that had ‘I give up’ printed on them. She waxed lyrical about flatmates, how her ex was like an overdraft and feminine identity. Her tone was disarming in its authenticity, and her voice spoke with strength, despite the occasional shudder during lines dealing with sexual abuse and cultural displacement. While many performers of the night, I felt, were still finding their voices, their true creative selves, this poet held her own within her work, never allowing it to take control of her or run away with itself. I seriously applaud her courage in sharing such personal musings with us. Many of the messages she touched on will remain with me, and I thank her for her expression.

The final piece of the night was a one-man piece called Opus. The performer was energetic, and throughout the piece took on several different characters, often making them interact with one another, resulting in rapid transitions in and out of character. While I applaud the huge effort he put into his performance, and the proliferation with which he mastered various accents and mannerisms, the story was confusing.

It wasn’t until the end, when one character banishes the others exclaiming “I’ve won”, that I felt it became about a drug addict dealing with split personalities. Whether that is the correct interpretation or not, there was a kind of schizophrenic, out of control vibe to the piece as it built to its conclusion, which at times made it hard to follow. I would be interested in watching this piece again to see if there were other ways it could be understood. The performer is undoubtedly skilled, passionate and his ability to improvise with audience input kept the room in high energy. He will be one to watch.

Overall the evening was an interesting up and down experience, of experimental and developing works. If you have time one evening while it’s running go down for an hour or stay for the whole three and a half (if you’re game), and support some local, brave talent, giving it their best as they strive to express.

Margie Cooney