Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Legion of Memory: Performance at Branch 51

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Legion of Memory: Performance at Branch 51

Article excerpt


Legion of Memory, a site-specific performance production cocreated by Andrew Houston and myself, was originally launched in June 2006 for the Tapestry Festival, a multicultural event in Kitchener, Ontario. Because of its integration of a sophisticated soundscape developed by composer Nick Stoning, the Kitchener Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound invited us to produce a remount for April 2007. Legion of Memory attempts to animate the cultural displacement of the veteran and refugee by having them meet in the abandoned legion hall, while also exploring the problem of war memorials in Canada today.

The following script is the remount version. Andrew Houston's contribution was that of director, producer, and performer, and mine was that of scriptwriter, dramaturg, and performer. The overall project began as his brainchild, in which he invited me to participate as co-creator. As the devising process leading up to both productions included weeks of workshopping and improvisation, the performers--Brad Cook, Nicholas Cumming, Heather Hill, Viktorija Kovac, and Derek Lindman--were all noteworthy contributors to the development and revision of the narrative.

Perhaps the principal challenge of creating site-specific performances is securing a site. We hit the jackpot with Legion of Memory because the City of Kitchener welcomed the possibility of creating a show in the disused legion hall Branch 51 on Ontario Street North in Kitchener, Ontario. The City used our show as a launching event to promote Kitchener's growing arts scene and to advertise the old legion hall as a possible rental venue for community artists.

All theatre is ephemeral, but the process-oriented method of site-specific performance makes it one of the most transient performance practices. Because the text and narrative of site specific performance is drawn from the building and the objects found there, it is meant to be performed in the site of origin. With conventional theatre, the text tends to be considered sacred, whereas with site-specific work, the text is totally contingent upon what the site offers. If the show were to be staged elsewhere, the text would have to be altered considerably to accommodate the new site of performance.

It is a rare opportunity to be granted access to a disused building with all its original contents for two incarnations of a site-specific production, separated in time by over a year. Although the building was left in an almost identical state as it was for the original production, we utilized this unusual occasion for a remount to develop and evolve the show significantly from its original conception. One important change from the original version was the addition of interview excerpts with war veterans. These interviews were conducted by Andrew Houston and Brad Cook at a legion in Kitchener. In addition, a new soundscape was created by Nick Stoning that juxtaposed these new interviews with the interviews of war refugees from Former Yugoslavia that we had used in the original launch version.

Another major revision to the remount performance was the addition of the Prologue, which was set in a couple of the lower-level rooms of the building. We were denied access to these rooms for the launch in 2006 due to the presence of asbestos and mould, but the City of Kitchener remedied the potentially hazardous situation by the time we were rehearsing the remount in 2007. One of the rooms we used was an empty chapel, which clearly resembled a chamber of mourning. We devised a series of ritualized gestures--of waiting, reflecting, and reaching out for help--that were performed by the refugee character played by Viktorija Kovac. We enhanced the atmosphere of mourning by including dozens of tea lights, a suitcase full of dolls, a smashed family photo, and a child's musical wall hanging from Serbia.

The space surrounding the chapel resembled a dated administrative space that looked like it had been abandoned in a hurry. …

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