Leftovers, An Interview with Charles Demers

Leftovers_Landscape

Charles Demers and Baby Demers. Photo By Simon Hayter.

One of the stars of CBC Radio’s The Debaters, a best-selling author, and one of Canada’s finest stand-up comedians, Charlie Demers also lectures in creative writing at UBC and continues to fight the good fight as a political activist. His newest adventure Leftovers, which he co-created with Marcus Youssef and also stars in, is presented by The Cultch and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival from Jan 26 to 30 at the York Theatre. We had a chance to chat with Charles about his latest show, its inspirations, and the political landscape in general.

1. You are the playwright for the hugely successful East Van Panto, which has its own brand of political speak. How does Leftovers differ?

I’d say that the biggest difference is that, in Panto-land, we’re in a marshmallowy, cartoon world where everything is ultimately going to be okay — we never really feel unsafe in the Panto. So the political mockery, the potshots, the little jokes, even when they are about real, awful stuff happening in the world — gentrification, uncontrolled speculation, political corruption, whatever — the jokes come from a place of safety. Those bad things can’t get at us in the Panto, because we’re playing pretend. In Leftovers, we’re leaving the door open to all the vicious beasts and monsters in the world. Capitalism isn’t a harmless subject of satire in this world — in this particular show, it’s a bulldozer, it’s everywhere, and we’re scared of it. We’re supposed to be scared of it, even when we’re laughing.

2. You are a very busy man engaged in many varying projects from being a lecturer to an author/playwright, to standup/acting, where does the inspiration and drive come from to create these artistic feats?

Well, the cynical part of me would say that core, unshakeable feelings of financial and emotional insecurity will forever drive me to try and find the greatest number of both paycheques as well as strangers to tell me I’m doing good things. That’s partially true, at least. But I love the life of ideas, I love engaging people with ideas, and I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to get the opportunity to do that on a really nice scale, with a number of people and in a number of different ways, and I will work as hard as I have to and say yes to as many opportunities as I’m presented with that will keep that process alive.

3. Ronald Reagan has been the poster boy for dumb politicians, which Canadian politician do you feel comes close to him?

Well, Jean Chrétien play-acted that he was dumb, but he was actually brilliantly cagey and that was all Machiavellian performance, I think. I had thought that our new man, Justin Trudeau, was a major intellectual lightweight, but as it turns out, there may be something of Chrétien in him after all. No, I’d say the closest thing we’ve seen to the Reagan brand of oblivious cruelty here is probably Bill Vander Zalm, or our current premier, Ms. Clark.

4. Do you find it easier collaborating with others as you have done with Marcus Youssef for Leftovers or creating solo?

It’s interesting — in some ways, I think there’s a mistaken feeling that sets in early on in the process that working with a collaborator is going to be easier, because there’s someone else there to share the load, and that’s true. But having a co-creator ultimately, I think, means that you’re going to work harder, because you’re constantly being challenged about what the piece is, beyond the limited, comfortable thing that you maybe thought it would be. So it makes the show an infinitely richer thing, because you’re being pushed and challenged in ways that you wouldn’t ever do if you were working on your own. In a really good way.

5. East Van and The Cultch have a history of challenging the status quo in what they represent, does the area of East Van, the neighbourhood, play into how and what you present?

I didn’t grow up in East Van, but I lived here when I was a baby (my first home was the rented ground floor of a Vancouver Special on Kaslo street), and I started coming back to hang out on the Drive, at La Quena and for foosball at Joe’s, as a teenager. I’ve lived here for years and the neighbourhood has shaped me culturally and politically and socially and in every other way possible. I’ve been watching shows at The Cultch since I was a teenager, seen so many of the amazing shows that made me want to create theatre myself, that it’s almost impossible for me to answer this question, it’s so big. Let me put it this way: the first time my aunt and uncle babysat my daughter, when she was still shy of a year old, they took her for a a walk in her stroller, and the only time she stopped crying was when they were on the Drive.

6. You pose the question,” Why are we so accepting of the world as it is?” Without giving away too much info about Leftovers, do you have the answer?

Ultimately, I think that the often bloody back and forth of the 20th century drained us of our political imaginations. We’ve hardened against the idea of utopia — and while it’s true that we can’t build utopia in the real world, there’s something profoundly depressing and disempowering about a world where we don’t even entertain the idea, where we don’t even play with thought experiments about what profound changes in the way we organize society might look like. Given this context, I think that a non-cynical comic sensibility is important for the left; to be a little bit ironic, a little bit smirking, is a useful guard against the nightmares of the 20th century, I think. But without other feelings — feelings of love, or fear, or anger — that sort of comedy can become politically harmless, and that harmlessness makes us even more cynical. That’s why we’re excited to be doing a comedy show that isn’t, in this case, only stand-up — to be able to tell jokes but also have those real moments of feeling alongside them

Get your tickets now before they’re gone! An extra show has already been added due to demand!

A LEFTOVERS GLOSSARY

Toussaint Louverture: (1743 –1803) Leader of the Haitian Revolution.

Maximillien Robespierre: (1758 –1794) One of most influential figures of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.

Tibet: A region on the Tibetan Plateau in Asia northeast of the Himalayas; occupied by China

Frederick Douglass: (1818–1895) African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.

Emma Goldman: (1869 –1940) Anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches.

Oakridge: An area in south-central Vancouver with an average household income of $65,000.

Jean Jaurès: (1859-1914) French Socialist leader.

The Paris Commune: Radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871.

Commercial Drive: Roadway in Vancouver, BC that goes through the neighbourhood of Grandview-Woodland. Better known as “The Drive”.

Rosa Luxemburg: (1871 –1919) Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist of Polish-Jewish descent.

Leon Blum: (1872 –1950) French politician, identified with the moderate left, and three time Prime Minister of France.

Michael Corleone: Main character in the Godfather film trilogy

Clement Attlee: (1883 –1967) British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1945-1951) and the Leader of the Labour Party (1935-1955).

Jawaharial Nehru: (1889 –1964) The first Prime Minister of India

Ho Chi Minh: (1890 –1969) Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was prime minister

Deng Xiaoping: (1904 –1997) Chinese revolutionary and statesman influenced by Marxism-Leninism.

Salvador Allende: (1908 –1973) First Marxist to become president of a Latin American country through open elections.

Che Guevara: (1928 –1967) Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist.

Stuart McLean: Canadian radio broadcaster, humourist, host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Cafe.

Henry Kissinger: American diplomat and political scientist.

Karl Marx: Philosopher, economist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.

Maoism: Political, social, economic, and military theories and policies advocated by Mao Zedong.

Bernie Sanders: American politician and the junior Senator from Vermont self-described socialist and democratic socialist.

French Revolution: A period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799.

Are We Cool Now? An Interview with Director Amiel Gladstone!

Are We Cool Now? An Interview with
Director Amiel Gladstone!

We are so excited to start our new season with Are We Cool Now?, a musical featuring the songs of Dan Mangan. The show is directed by the fabulous Amiel Gladstone, who was also the director of the hit Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata and both of our East Van Pantos (Jack & the Beanstalk and Cinderella). We chatted with Amiel about kicking off the new season.

Hey Amiel! Are you excited to be back at The Cultch?

AG: Of course! The Cultch is the neighbourhood theatre, and I have so many memories of being there. Amazing things happen there – there’s a great vibe and it feels homey. So many different things happen on The Cultch stages and so it feels like the perfect place to host this hybrid indie-rock musical.

Can you tell us a little bit about the show?

AG: Well, I’ve always been curious about how to get the music we listen to every day on to the stage. Dan (Mangan) and I knew each other, he had seen Craigslist Cantata and I really liked his music. It seemed like a natural fit for both of us. We looked for a narrative in Dan’s music and found themes of love, longing, nostalgia, and road trips and Are We Cool Now? was born!

What can subscribers expect from Are We Cool Now?

AG: It’s an indie-rock musical about life and love in your 20s and Dan Mangan’s music provides the backdrop. It’s songs we all recognize and Dan wrote one new song for the show which hasn’t been heard anywhere else.

Is Dan Mangan coming to Opening Night at The Cultch?

AG: Yes! And Dan hasn’t seen it yet! Anton Lipovetsky is playing guitar, and Spencer Schoening from Said The Whale is on drums.

We can’t wait! Thanks Amiel! Tickets to Are We Cool Now? (and all the shows in our 15/16 season) are on sale now!

A one-on-one with The Rap “Guy” From Evolution

Two weeks ago, Baba Brinkman was speaking at the Nelson Arts Festival in New Zealand. Last week, he was a guest speaker at the University of Alabama as part of their ALLELE Lecture Series. The week prior he was busy participating in the 10th Annual World Wilderness Conference in Spain, and last month he performed at Universities all over the UK, as well as at MIT as part of their public science engagement lecture series. Needless to say, Brinkman is a busy man. However, this doesn’t come as a surprise; with 14 lit-hop (literary hip-hop) albums under his belt, Brinkman is one of the only rap-artists who has had their work peer-reviewed by scientists, or who has been commissioned to write an album for the NYU Stern School of Business. Brinkman’s love of words comes from a Masters Degree in Medieval and English Literature from the University of Victoria, where he focused on the relationship
between epic poetry and contemporary hip-hop culture. Since graduating, Brinkman has been touring the world performing his unique blend of theatre and rap, on topics from Beowulf and Gilgamesh to political revolution and evolutionary psychology.

For only a few more days, The Cultch is lucky enough to have Baba home to perform his latest show, The Rap Guide to Evolution. The ground-breaking show was first presented, and awarded for best new theatre writing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. The show is inspired not only by evolutionary scientists and theorists such as Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, but also by the history of hip-hop culture itself and the role that individual selective process, especially with the advent of new technologies, takes in defining the path of a cultural phenomenon.

We were lucky enough to be able to ask Baba a few questions:

I suppose my first question for you is simply how you ended up where you have ended up; rapping about science, economics, psychology , and or ancient literature is not a common career path. Was this something that you have been interested in from a young age, or a skill you accidentally happened upon?

In my teens I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t have a clear idea of what sort, whether journalism, novelist, playwright, etc – I just knew I was good with words and wanted to use that skill. I pictured traveling around the world, composing new work in diverse locations, and making a living from my wits. At nineteen I started writing rap rhymes and was very quickly drawn into the art form. I had been listening to rap since age eleven but hadn’t written any raps of my own. It wasn’t long before I was bringing science and literature references into my rhymes, which seemed natural to me because I was a university student at the time so I was immersed in the world of ideas. Finding an audience for that concept took some time, but I pretty much live like I pictured, traveling, writing, performing, and getting paid to do so.

So would you say you entered hip-hop through academics, or did you find academics through hip-hop?

I was a rap consumer from a young age, but not a participant. Once I started writing and performing I got into the culture more heavily, freestyling at house parties, rapping at open mics, and signing up for freestyle battles. But at the same time I was always academic-minded. I decided my best contribution to hip-hop culture would be to push its boundaries and build bridges to other cultures and art forms, so I focused my English Lit degree on the parallels between hip-hop poetics and traditional English literary poetics. Once my energies were channeled my grades got a lot better, and so did my lyrics, so you could say I found academics and hip-hop independently, but I only got
fully engaged with each by merging them.

What inspires the topics for your productions? You have written about such a variety of themes – where do you begin? Where did the impulse to write The Rap Guide to Evolution come from? Are you ever commissioned to write raps about topics you have no interest in?

People suggest new topics to me all the time, but not all of them take hold. Most of the time I just go “yeah, sounds interesting” and don’t follow up. But with the The Rap Guide to Evolution,  I was very keen as soon as the idea came up. It helps that it was a paid commission of course, because with money on the table you can put other work aside and give a project the time it needs. I have pretty wide interests so no, there isn’t a topic I’ve written about on commission that I’m disinterested in. Then again, I have a lot of creative leeway so I can put an interesting twist on pretty much anything.

The projects either start with an idea, some underlying deep connection or tension I see that I want to explore in the writing, or else it starts with a challenge, someone hiring me or recruiting me to write something, prompting me to hunt for ideas to accomplish the task. I tend to gravitate towards subjects where there’s a disconnect or gap that I think I can bridge, like the perceived inaccessibility of medieval literature vs the actual appeal of the stories, or like the scientific consensus around evolution that is still rejected by major sectors of the population. The surprise and friction that lives in those kinds of spaces is my main attraction.
 
Lastly, you have travelled all over the world presenting your work. What have been some of the most surprising responses to your shows you have received?

I’ve had all kinds of negative responses, from creationists offended on behalf of their religion to feminist social constructivists offended on behalf of women to white liberals offended on behalf of black people. The show brings an evolutionary perspective to all of those subjects: race, religion, gender, and not always in a politically-correct way. Then again, I think everything in the show is scientifically defensible, and it was written to be strategically provocative, not for the sake of being offensive but for the sake of causing people to rethink their assumptions and question the basis of their beliefs and taboos. So in a way none of the negative responses are surprising. The most surprising response was having a New York theatre company offer to produce the show for a major Off-Broadway run, and having it run for five months and get rave reviews. I can’t say I expected that when I started writing the show!

The Rap Guide to Evolution is playing at The Cultch until November 10 in the Historic Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at: https://thecultch.com/tickets/ , or by calling the box office at 604.251.1363

 

Serial Killers and Bus Boys – A Closer Look at the Precursor to True Love Lies

Did you ever attend your high school reunion? Ever experience that eerie feeling that while at first glance everyone looks older and more mature, after ten minutes of milling around with your drink in your hand, you realize that everyone there is exactly the same?

Notorious playwright Brad Fraser knows what we mean, and has infused that same feeling into the script of his play, True Love Lies. Running at The Cultch from September 21 to October 1 this play is a return to the same characters from another work of his – Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love – a performance that was wildly successful at its world premiere more than 20 years ago. In case you missed Unidentified Human Remains, we thought we would catch you up on the play which ultimately has become a prequel to True Love Lies.

Unidentified Human Remains ensemble still photo from 1990

Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love at Workshop West, Edmonton, 1990

Opening to packed audiences at the Alberta Theatre Projects’ PlayRites festival in Calgary in 1989, Unidentified Human Remains was regarded as highly controversial from the moment it premiered due to its violence, nudity and scandalous dialogue. Of course, for those same reasons, it was also applauded as a huge success. Soon after its premiere, it went on to successful runs in Vancouver (by Touchstone Theatre), Edmonton, Toronto, Chicago and New York, just to name a few, before being named one of the 10 best plays in 1992 by TIME Magazine. It’s won numerous awards and has been translated into multiple languages for runs in places like Greece, Brazil, Argentina and Japan. Oh, and did we mention Fraser also wrote the play’s adaptation for the film Love and Human Remains that was released in 1993? It’s safe to say this little Canadian gem has seen huge international success.

Unidentified Human Remains is a complex story that follows a handful of twenty-somethings desperately trying to find the true meaning of love – all the while living in a neighbourhood that’s being terrorized by a serial killer. But wait, how does True Love Lies fit into the picture? Well, as it turns out, True Love Lies is a look at two of the play’s characters, Kane and David, and their surprise return into each other’s lives 20 years later.

In Unidentified Human Remains, the lead character David is a former child actor now working as a server. Often predisposed to seek intimacy in fleeting sexual encounters with complete strangers, David is blindingly in love with his heterosexual best friend Bernie. Ultimately however, he develops a relationship with Kane, the bus boy 12 years his junior. Kane, who has an affinity to television due to the lack of affection he receives from his parents, idolizes David and his TV star past. However, in a constant battle to recognize his own sexuality, Kane ultimately develops into a stronger, more confident character at the end of the play with a somewhat ambiguous yet seemingly bright future.

Stage still from True Love Lies, live theatre in Vancouver presented at The Cultch

True Love Lies, 2011, at The Cultch, Vancouver

Fast forward 20 years and In True Love Lies we find out that Kane’s future involves a wife and two kids. When his daughter applies for a job at a trendy restaurant, only to discover the restaurant owner is her father’s past lover, the once-happy family dynamic gets turned upside down. See for yourselves what happens next in this wicked dark comedy starting September 21st with a preview at The Cultch.

True Love Lies runs at The Cultch from September 21st to October 1st. Tickets start at $16 and are available online at tickets.thecultch.com, by phone at 604.251.1363 and in person at 1895 Venables Street.

You’ve Got Mail: The Surprising Email that Sparked Brad Fraser’s True Love Lies

Brad Fraser: True Love Lies playwright, live theatre presented by The Cultc

Brad Fraser

The sudden return of a gay ex-lover; decades-old secrets discovered at last; the bawdy sex-capades of a family in crisis. Sure, it reads a bit like a soap opera script. But would you believe that this sinfully explosive portrait of truth, lies, sex, and betrayal is borrowed from the real life experience of controversial Canadian playwright, Brad Fraser?

We kid you not.

When the notorious ‘bad boy’ received a surprising e-mail from an ex-lover he hadn’t seen or spoken with in over twenty years, he turned this would-be-awkward moment into an opportunity for personal growth — and theatrical brilliance.

“We caught up and it turned out he was married, had two teenage children and was going through a divorce,” explains Fraser.

And, although he hadn’t written a play in five years (having focused his energy elsewhere on other forms of media) the nagging question of ‘what if?’—“What if I’d been involved with that family? What if I’d met those children?” — continued to tug at the back of his mind.

“From there it kind of just went and literally spilled out of me,” says Fraser, who also reveals that he carried around a lot of unresolved issues after the couple’s less than amicable breakup. “Neither of us really had a chance to address [those issues],” he says, so when the unexpected email appeared one day in his inbox, Fraser knew he couldn’t just click delete.

“I felt like he was coming back and addressing [those issues], putting certain things behind him. I felt that if I could help him in that it would be very good for both of us.”

Indeed, it certainly has been.

True Love Lies image, female in front, male couple behind embracing and laughing

Still from True Love Lies. Photo by Emily Cooper

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Fostering Creativity: Artistic Residencies at The Cultch

Here at The Cultch, we’re all about fostering creativity. Whether it’s music, theatre or dance on our stages, or visual art in our gallery, we want to see artists succeed and do what we can to give them a hand. Of course, one of the greatest ways we help by seeking out incredible local, national and international shows that we know our audience will love. But we also do a lot behind the scenes as well.

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Young Playwright Chris Nyarady talks about seeing his play performed on The Cultch stage at the 2011 IGNITE! Youth Festival

From April 25 to 30, The Cultch was taken over by eager and energetic youth for the IGNITE! Youth Festival. Hundreds of youth from across the Lower Mainland came together for a week of amazing performances. We caught up with youth playwright Chris Nyarady about the experience of seeing his play Hide and Go Sell performed on The Cultch stage. Check out what he had to say about the process of writing, re-writing and finally seeing nearly four years of work come together for the first time.

Photograph from Hide and Go Sell

"Hide and Go Sell" was part of the IGNITE! Youth Festival at The Cultch that ran April 25-30, 2011.

By Chris Nyarady

I don’t claim to know everything about writing, but from what I’ve experienced so far, writing is like hunting a giant mythological creature.  You want to believe you’re after something amazing and one of a kind. You might have an idea of what you’re after, but you don’t know for sure. It’s all purely speculation. Hell, what you’re after might not even exist at all, but damn it, you’ve got your mission, and you’re going to see it through. As you write/hunt, you begin to find out more about your prey. Perhaps it confirms what you already thought, but sometimes you make some startling discoveries. This creature that you thought had a horn, actually had two. And wings powerful enough to create localized tornadoes! Damn! Didn’t see that one coming. A big change, but nevertheless, the hunt must continue.

I had been hunting my script, Hide and Go Sell, since 2008, and believe me, it went through some radical metamorphoses. What started as a simple examination of the power of advertisements turned into a semi-spy thriller/comedy with a rather sombre ending. All of this even before I heard of IGNITE! and The Cultch.

At one point, the trail had gotten cold on my mythological creature hunt. I was close, so close, but somehow that tricky devil had eluded me.  Luckily, I happened to be part of an organization called PARC (Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre) that sent a weekly newsletter. I owe a lot to them for helping me further my career as a young playwright, and for alerting me of IGNITE! and The Cultch. The hunt was back on. (more…)

Dave Deveau brings emotional, laugh-out-loud theatre to the Neanderthal Arts Festival

Dave Deveau of Zee Zee theatre Vancouver Playwright of Tiny Replicas playing at the Neanderthal Arts Festival at The Cultch

Dave Deveau

Make way for the Neanderthal Arts Festival, a new, adventurous festival lumbering over to The Cultch this summer. This festival will highlight bold, innovative work from visionary artists and will run from July 21st to August 1st at The Cultch. One of these local visionary artists is The Cultch’s very own Head Front of House Manager, Dave Deveau. Describing theatre as “the ultimate conversation about humanity”, Dave has started two theatre companies in Vancouver and is now working on various projects at home and in Toronto. His play, Tiny Replicas, will be at the Neanderthal Arts Festival (July 21 to 25) and we took this opportunity to pick his brain about the festival, his work, and the secret to his success as an emerging playwright and theatre company creator.

­­­­You are behind both Zee Zee Theatre and Thirty Below Theatre. When did you start these companies and what are they all about?

Thirty Below Theatre emerged as a project in the final year of my undergrad at York University with the mandate of producing plays by Canadian playwrights both past and present. There are a multitude of companies in our country who help develop work by young playwrights, but very few who actually see them through to professional productions. The company itself formed in 2005 with the English-Language world premiere of Canadian master playwright Michel Tremblay’s The Train, which I translated and directed. The company has produced a show every year since.

Zee Zee Theatre is my fiancé Cameron Mackenzie’s mastermind project which he formed at the end of 2008. It’s a registered non-profit that focuses on the stories of the marginalized as seen through small moments. It launched with Bryden MacDonald’s Whale Riding Weather in February 2009, followed by my own play Nelly Boy last October, which earned the company its first Jessie nomination.

What made you want to start theatre companies in Vancouver? What challenges have you faced?

As any young artist out of theatre school can attest, it’s hard to get hired, particularly if you’re a director or a playwright in a city that’s not yet familiar with your work. You need to get your name out, and the best way is to do it yourself. One thing Cameron was adamant about with the formation of Zee Zee, was that everyone got paid a professional living wage from the get-go. It’s vital because otherwise you’re dismissed as amateurs and we don’t have the time or patience for that. So despite not receiving any government or foundation funding for Whale Riding Weather, Cameron chased funders and patrons and was able to employ a full roster of Equity actors and professional designers – something I still stand in awe of.

Tiny Replicas image playing at the Neanderthal Arts Festival at The Cultch

"Tiny Replicas"

What have you found most rewarding about your experience?

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5 Things with Noam Gagnon

10 THINGS you’ll HATE about ME is a Molotov cocktail of spectacle, dance and desire from choreographer/performer Noam Gagnon. Organized as a series of deeply personal vignettes, 10 THINGS walks the tissue-thin line between art and autobiography.

10 things you'll hate about me noam gagnon

What can the audience expect from 10 Things?

For 10 Things, I want to take the audience into the story of a fairy tale for grown-ups (but not limited to).  I want to create a world where the audience can be enveloped by the magic of what theatre can do.  I am a dreamer by nature, an extreme optimist, and that has carried me through many hard times.

In the show, I ask people to forget about reality and send them on a ride, showing them a beautiful, visual physicality, a poetry where there are images filled with the power of the story of a boy, and the traditional story of the hero.  It’s about love.  It’s about survival.  But ultimately, it’s about being able to transcend and make the choices that lead you to live the life you were meant to lead, not the life that was given to you.

10 Things is described as a series of personal vignettes, can you tell us more about them?

10 Things is a fairy tale, and a life in Technicolor.  It draws on a series of vignettes, text, set design, and imagery to describe the boy’s story, and is seen through a parallel of the story The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.

I speak about love, loss, hope, transcendence; it is based on something greater than our day-to-day experiences.  It’s about our own humanity and the desire to transcend. So it’s not a piece where you can sigh with relief.  But you feel safe watching something that’s sometimes tragic, and also creates a magic and a beauty in this world.

What have you been working on since 2007’s world premiere of The Vision Impure at The Cultch?

I have been touring the new solo version of The Vision Impure that will be shown at CDF this coming June, and premiere in Vancouver during Dancing on the Edge this coming July. Also a few film projects, a few small creations/explorations, mentoring (which was delightful), Beyond Pilates teacher training, and more….

What was your inspiration for this work?

Essentially, creating magic in my overly-scheduled daily life.

You’ve described yourself as an emotional dancer.  Do you ever fear of expressing your emotions on such a public scale?  What compels you to do so?

I believe in beauty. And beauty doesn’t have to mean perfection.  We are beautiful when we are tired – it’s when our barriers are down that we are beautiful.  These may be things we think others will hate. It’s just our essence then, and I love that. It takes a lot of courage to be in those places.  And I think people can find themselves in the story, and that is beautiful, too.

An Interview With the Creators of Ali & Ali 7

Camyar Chai Ali & Ali 7

Ali Hakim played by Camyar Chai

Ali and Ali 7: Hey Brother (Or Sister) Can You Spare Some Hope and Change? is a follow-up to Ali and Ali and the aXes of Evil.  Can you tell me about the characters and original story?

Marcus Youssef (MY): The characters were two Arab/Persian stereotypes Cam and I played improv games with in our early 20s, touring BC with Green Thumb. In the wake of 9/11 the CBC asked if we wanted to create something in response for the radio. At the time the only image of Arab/Muslims available you saw anywhere was either terrorist or victim of US racial profiling / paranoia. Those are, for me, equally uninteresting (and deeply interrelated) possibilities. So I suggested we use the Alis — because they’re not real; because they say the wrong thing; because they are about the West’s image of the Middle East, not the Middle East itself.

Camyar Chai (CC): One of my first experiences on stage was performing in the musical Oklahoma! in high school in North Vancouver. After a hot audition, I dreamt all weekend of being cast as ‘Curly.’ Why not? I was cute and had curly hair. I was shocked when my name appeared in front of the character, ‘Ali Hakim.’ It was then, at seventeen, when I first realized that my fellow Canadians didn’t see me as a blond and blue eyed Oklahoman, but rather, a creepy Persian peddler who enjoys de-flowering virginal white women. To my surprise, it was the best part in the play and I’ve rarely had bigger laughs. The idea behind our play’s Ali Hakim is to take the negative stereotypes of the character from Oklahoma! and appropriate them for our own gains, without losing the clown and the cultural tropes but adding dignity and complexity.

Marcus Youssef Ali & Ali 7

Ali Ababwa, played by Marcus Youssef

Did you plan to write a follow-up to The aXes of Evil?

MY: There was no plan at all, until Guillermo and I were in Toronto watching a hearing in federal court against security certificate detainee Mahmoud Jaballah. It was crazy. The most extraordinary thing to watch testimony in which the prosecution is not obligated to talk about its evidence, and instead relies entirely on hearsay and inference, while casting aspersions at a guy who’s been held in solitary confinement for almost a decade WITH NO CHARGES. In CANADA. Halfway through the first day of testimony and I said to Guillermo, this process is so absurd the only way I can imagine tackling it is with a characters for whom absurdity is central, as an aesthetic and as a critical tactic.

CC: The first one wouldn’t go away. Then suddenly the Obama phenomenon happened. We had a theme in the first play: ‘same but different.’ At that time we were referring to the fact that, if you look at their actions it’s hard to see much difference between Bush and Bin Laden (amongst other similar examples). Now, the theme still applies, only the comparison is between Bush and Obama as well. Everyone said everything has changed. Has it really? Another interest I had was the response to the first show in Seattle. I had to sit out because of an appendectomy and I gleefully watched Guillermo [Verdecchia, director] play my part. There was an edge to the satire, a level of self-consciousness and complicity, in the American audience that didn’t always happen with Canadian audiences. I think the subject of the Canadian Security Detainees gives us that edge.

If this is a sequel, why is it numbered “7”?

MY: They [Ali Ababwa and Ali Hakim] thought that calling it “7” made it sound more successful. Maybe it’ll excuse it if it’s bad. Nobody expected Rocky 6 to be any good. Or Saw 12.

CC: It was Marcus’ dumb idea. Or Guillermo’s? Anyway, they both think it’s funny so I humour them.

Ali & Ali 7 is on at The Cultch from Apr 13–24 @ 8pm. Matinees: Apr 17 & 24 @ 2pm.  No performance Apr 18 & 19.  For tickets, order online at http://tickets.thecultch.com/ or call the Box Office at 604-251-1363.