Victoria Fringe Festival 2016 Preview – A Quiet Season
August 21, 2016
They’ve survived the end of the world, but can they survive their audience? From the mind of director/writer Chris Rudram and based on the popular interactive game The Quiet Year, comes a theatrical experience that mixes improv and the apocalypse. Showbill.ca’s Matt McLaren sat down with Chris to understand
Matt McLaren: “An improv show about the apocalypse, or a role playing game with an audience.” What are the parameters for this experience?
Chris Rudram: The audience, in the line-up, will be posed a couple of questions before they sit down, asking them something that might be a problem when Victoria gets abandoned, or something interesting they might find. I’ll take those and feed them to the characters scene by scene, to pose them challenges with their life now in the city. What do they do when they discover their water is contaminated? What’s the reaction if you find a stray dog?
The actors don’t know what the topic of each scene will be until a few seconds before it starts. The audience gets to sit back and hopefully enjoy the story that unfurls, that no one will know quite the direction it will take. Each night starts from the same place, with the characters, but where it ends can be completely different each time.
MM: I spy some familiar Victoria improv talent along for the ride. Who’s walking on the long road to hell with you?
CR: Bill Nance and Amy Culliford are probably the two that people are most familiar with. Natasha Guerra and Emily Bamlett are UVic students. I’m also using a couple of people for some pre-recorded voice pieces – Katya De Lancey, and Kirsten James. Both names people might recognize for various reasons around town.
MM: Chris, this is your first experience handling the responsibilities of directing and writing. I’m curious why you chose to springboard off an existing property for the framework?
CR: Mostly because the raw material was the inspiration for the show concept. I have been running murder mystery games for a few years. This has led me to a lot of reading about Live Action Role Playing. Not the type that’s fantasy based, but the style, often called Nordic Larp, that’s more experimental.
These games are a lot more about examining interactions between people in a wide variety of settings, and a wide variety of themes. After sitting in on Dr. Vickery’s UVic course on performances in popular culture, I started to tie various pieces together, and wondered, if someone made an interesting dramatic live action game, whether it would be interesting to watch as well as play. Many of the games are too long and too intense for theatre pieces, and might not really bare repeated playing for the actors.
But The Quiet Year, by Avery McDaldno, a game I’ve enjoyed before, seemed to have all the elements: an interesting concept, lots of scope for free-forming ideas from, a rule framework that would work quickly to help encourage narrative to be told by all. The Quiet Year has the players sitting down and playing the voices of a community recovering from some earth-shattering event. The stories produced are always interesting, and examine how community might unfold, and how even today community is a shifting, live beast, with agreement in one area with one group being countered by disagreement elsewhere.
So we ended here with A Quiet Season, which deals on a lower level than a whole community. Telling the story of a whole community seemed a little ambitious, so here we are telling the story of four people who might be the start of that new community after the world as we know it ends. Then again, they might not.
Not sure if that answers it. The short version: I like narrative games. I like doing events that are games that are really role-playing. I wanted to see if I could take that on stage. I’m not smart enough to start from a complete zero point, so picked a narrative game I liked.
MM: Let’s rewind and hear more from you about the development of the work – both in and out of rehearsals.
CR: Inside rehearsals, we spent the first month playing games and watching movies. We played The Quiet Year, of course, but also Fiasco, a great game of creating a Coen-brothers style film narrative together. We watched The Walking Dead. I’ll note this is not a zombie apocalypse. But The Walking Dead had a style I wanted to reflect. Gritty, mature, but with lighter moments, and elements of everyday drama.
Once we went through that, we took the character and history outlines and started to workshop the characters. What drove them, what incidents happened that really affected them. This is a technique I learned from Vanessa B. Baylen during the Murder By Midnight production. This brought the characters to life, and the actors made them their own from my outlines and sketches.
Then we got into running scenes from the show, with me throwing out ideas – in place of a real audience – and seeing how they fit together. We improved through a few starting scenes to establish the world, building up and learning as we looked at the results. And the actors sat down and imagined a possible life in Vancouver – which in the world I’ve built is overcrowded with refugees from everywhere else in coastal B.C. – so we have a side story with aspects of this life between the scenes.
The characters started from archetypes found in many role-playing games. But after casting, they matured, evolved and started to have their own quirks and foibles. Only Chloe van Kriek is really close to the original concept I had when outlining the characters before the casting. Working with the team inspired some changes and additions to their backgrounds, and these in turn have been taken and developed by the team.
MM: What about your creative team – or any other unsung heroes of this production who helped make it a reality?
CR: I’ve mentioned Dr. Vickery and Vanessa B. Baylen. Natasha has also been awesome in providing me on feedback as a director and using the right theatre words and processes. We spent a fair amount of time working through a plan to build to the point we are at now. Luckily, working to a project plan is something years in IT has set me up for. Working to a release date has probably been slightly easier than most software I’ve shipped in the past. And Fringe is a great place to try out ideas. There’s a community of people who are willing to give quick advice, and there’s a certain expectation that work will be experimental, different and trying things out.
I’d also like to mention Ian Ferrier, a spoken word poet I’ve billeted for the last two Fringe seasons. I think his infectious enthusiasm for the Fringe rubbed off enough for me to think “I could try that!”
MM: So what’s left to finish before the first curtain rises?
CR: Right now, very little. I think. We haven’t done the tech rehearsal yet, where I expect to discover at least one major problem I hadn’t foreseen in my naivety. I have a few more sound clips to edit, and a lot of promotion on the street to do. But we’ve rehearsed what we can without making it too repetitive. We’ve had feedback to see if we had some of the set up and backstory exposed enough. It’s pretty much “now get on stage,” and see what happens based on the inputs we get each show. I’m as curious as the cast is. There’s many ways the story could unfold, and we want to see what similarities and differences we get each night!
MM: Why should people come see A Quiet Season?
CR: This a passive experience. We won’t have people up on stage, or even being asked to call out ideas. You don’t have to worry about your idea not sounding great, write it down and see if it gets used. It’s not a murder mystery or a game they’ll be playing, just watching and hopefully enjoying. People who expect zombies won’t get what they expect. There are no zombies in our apocalypse.
So the show should appeal to fans of improve, they should see it so they can see a different take on building a story. People who want to see something a bit gritty, but with some light moments. People who that want to look at how we might survive in Victoria should the worse happen. Gamers should see it, to see if they can recognize the aspects of role-playing games, or those who love narrative games overall.