Teaching the Audience… But Will We Ever Learn?!
Teaching the Fringe is all about you and me… yes, the audience! When Kier Cutler took the stage, a woman a few seats down from me was trying to open a candy and was making quite a loud crinkling noise. Kier emphatically gave her permission to keep struggling with that annoying candy wrapper, which she did… seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was being made fun of. This event nicely set the tone for the rest of the show.
The premise of the show involves a rather nasty letter that Kier received from an audience member at last year’s Winnipeg Fringe in response to his show Teaching As You Like It. The letter – three pages, handwritten, single-spaced – is wittily dissected sentence-by-sentence.
The gist of the complaint, which was sent to the past executive producer of the Fringe, is that in last year’s performance Kier used the Fringe as a venue to teach audience members in the art of seducing underage schoolgirls. The letter boldly asserts that Kier’s play acted as a textbook for individuals interested in learning about the specifics of this illegal and immoral act. To which Kier responds, “If someone wanted a textbook on this topic, why would they come see a Fringe play?! Especially since they can simply go out and pick up a copy of The Lecherous Professor.” Incidentally, The Lecherous Professor is an actual book on sexual harassment on campus that he holds up for everyone to see.
At another poignant moment during the performance, Kier reads aloud the part of the letter that charges him with bastardizing Shakespeare by using his works to teach seduction. Again, Kier has a book on-hand to refute this. This one is called Shakespeare and the Art of Verbal Seduction.
Overall, Kier does an excellent job of logically ripping this letter apart line-by-line. However, at times it felt a bit tedious, like I was back in university English class.
The play ends with a good message for all Fringe audience members: If you are offended by a play, it’s probably just because you didn’t get the joke. In the case of Teaching As You Like It, the device used was something called irony. He pleads with the audience that if we ever see someone getting upset over what is said in a Fringe play, we should lean over and whisper to them not to worry, the actor is simply being ironic.
Walking out of the theatre, my friend overheard someone exclaim how she could understand why the person wrote the complaint letter. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t turn to this individual and explain the irony of the situation. If I had heard that remark, I sure would have! Oh well, it just goes to prove that even in a play that is about audience members who ‘just don’t get it’ there will be people who don’t get it that some people don’t get it… get it?!
For it’s snappy commentary, albiet a bit tedious at times, I rate this play: Light Rapid Transit.
A Bit Grey for the Fringe?
The show Shades of Brown delivers a good message about racism. No, actually the message is great. Specifically, the play recounts various stories about the Filipino-Canadian experience from the perspective of a Filipino-Canadian who doesn’t feel Filipino (The Coconut – brown on the outside, white inside), the recent Filipino immigrant to Canada (The FOB – Fresh Off the Boat) and the white woman who grew up immersed in the Filipino community (The Rice Lover – one who only dates Asians).
The diversity of perspectives makes for some very interesting stories and some of them are truly touching to listen to. At scene changes the audience is treated to short dances by Magdaragat Philippines Inc., who provides essentially a mini-Folklorama experience.
Despite the great message and clever delivery of that message, I kept thinking throughout the performance that I’m not really being entertained. The whole thing kind of felt like a workplace diversity training seminar where everyone agrees that diversity is good and prejudice is bad. The problem with the play and most diversity training, is that it was, imho, geared towards the wrong audience. The individuals who really need to hear these messages tend not to attend plays like these.
I think Shades of Brown would send a powerful message if delivered in front of a junior high or high school audience, but it felt a bit out of place at the Fringe.
For delivering an important message on racism, but perhaps not in the most entertaining way, I rate this play: Bus Rapid Transit.