When is the last time theatre could wholeheartedly be categorized as ‘medicinal?’ You know, the kind that packs a true healing element that can make a blind man see, a deaf woman hear or a wheelchair bound child get up and dance?
Theatre Gargantua can’t promise any of these things in its latest offering A Tonic For Desperate Times—although pharmaceutical companies with deep pockets including Pfizer are rumored to be launching case studies to validate its impact on audiences—but you will be pleasantly surprised how therapeutic great theatre can make you feel in times like these.
Artistic Director Jacquie P.A. Thomas describes the last 2 years of life limbo as a ‘boarded up Main Street’ for the arts community which is why the company pushed forward with new collaboration techniques to devise a physically driven presentation equal parts pacifying and cathartic.
No need to line up for your remedial boost in spirts from November 3 – 14, 2021 at the historic St. Anne’s Parish, tickets are available here with proof of vaccination/photo ID at the venue being all that’s needed to secure a seat upon arriving at the 651 Dufferin Street venue.
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INDELIBLE ART IS OFTEN A COMMENTARY OF THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE. WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR ‘A TONIC FOR DESPERATE TIMES’ STEM FROM?
It’s interesting to note that the show actually started as an idea almost a year before the pandemic hit but its relevance and resonance was even more potent throughout the development period.
Tonic was born out of an ostracizing and very dark political climate, a constant barrage of seemingly world ending news at the time, coming from particularly the United States. We needed to see hope in the chaos.
We loved the idea of providing our audience with a tonic, a medicinal aide to soothe our collectively aching souls. We began looking for hope in our immediate surroundings and it was fascinating to see how many of our early collaborators brought back images and elements of nature as hopeful antidotes.
It became about the personal appeal—What brings us hope individually? What are our particular tonics?
That was where the theatricality came in from each individual collaborator and artist contributing their craft and individualized experiences to the project.
THE VISUAL SYMBOLISM THAT SHAPE SHIFTS IN THE SHOW IS QUITE STUNNING. HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE THEME OF ‘REDIDSCOVERING / REMINAGING HOPE’ IN THIS SPECIFIC PROJECT?
An essential image for our show was this idea of a series of pendulums swinging in unison, falling out of unison into chaos and then eventually finding cohesive formation again. This image has stayed with the whole company throughout this process because it has shown us that there is hope in chaos, there is pattern in disorder, and in moments of disorder, order comes back around.
Another image that has greatly impacted this show is starlings in murmuration; the group swerves and readjusts to collectively push forward and in turn creates beauty.
These two images have been integral to the development of this work almost from day one. They are examples of how the science and nature of hope coalesce in our show. They are in part how we are reimagining hope. We are asking our audiences to join us and rediscover hope with us.
HOW DOES THE STORY’S MESSAGE RELATING TO OUR PRIMAL ‘INSTINCT FOR OPTIMISM’ PLAY ITSELF OUT?
Each scene does its part in guiding the audience on this journey. It’s not all about ponies and rainbows.
Life is challenging and we have been sitting in the overwhelm for some time but at the end of the day the majority of people have an optimism bias even those of us who are pessimistic…or at least skeptical.
If I had to pick one scene that does this best it’s the last scene. Theatre is based in collaboration, this show has been made during an intense period of collective sacrifice, and it is therefore grounded in this sense of community. I don’t want to give too much away but we are excited to experience this moment of the show with a live audience.
HOW DOES THE WORLD FAMOUS JACQUIE P.A. THOMAS OPTIMISE HOPE IN HER OWN LIFE?
I am very fortunate to have spent the past two years with my family. I have two daughters at home and my mum is close by. Family has been integral to my past two-year search for optimism.
In everyday life I love to be outside, on walks in my neighbourhood with my wonderful husband and our delightful dog, or sailing around Ontario. I feel most optimistic when I am surrounded by family and we are doing something we love outdoors.
YOUR CASTING PROCESS FOR THIS SHOW WAS A BIT DIFFERENT THAN PAST GARGANTUAN PRODUCTIONS WHICH HAS SERVED AS A BIT OF A BLESSING FOR THE COMPANY THIS TIME AROUND, YES?
In a funny way, some of the challenges imposed on us over the past 2 years of development have in turn provided us with incredible opportunity.
We are working with four incredible performers we have never worked with before who we found by having to do online auditions, allowing for artists from across the country to audition. Each bring their own unique skills and life experience but all are also musicians and that has led us to include more live instrumentation in this work.
Our wonderful Costume Designer similarly became available as she recently returned to the country during the pandemic. At Gargantua the artist is central to all of our operations. We have a great team, an insanely talented group of people.
WHAT MAKES ‘A TONIC FOR DESPERATE TIMES’ MORE UNIQUE THAN OTHER COMPANY PRESENTATIONS?
This show will forever be a one-of-a-kind Gargantuan experience. They all are, but this one in particular will be memorable.
It has been entirely written by the collective, each member of the cast bringing a wealth of personal experience, history, knowledge, and remarkable talent. The stories they tell are haunting, funny, uplifting, mysterious, and above all: hopeful.
WITH 2020/2021 SERVING AS SUCH A DARK PERIOD IN OUR COMMON ERA, HOW IS YOUR SENSE OF PRIDE REFLECTED IN THIS PIECE?
Well, I think in a certain sense we are most proud to be doing it at all!
After so much uncertainty and fear, to be back in the rehearsal room, creating new, hopeful work, and also creating a new theatre space, it’s incredible. This production is entirely Gargantuan from the creation of the script, to the creation of the stage.
We have taken the wonderful auditorium space of Historic St. Anne’s Parrish Hall and infused new life and energy into it by creating a theatre space. It’s an exciting year to be at Theatre Gargantua and I simply could not be prouder.