A brief Katharsis for anyone missing live theatre
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2020 (692 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Coming in at a tidy 16 minutes, The Prairie Theatre Exchange production of Katharsis, by Yvette Nolan, is not so much a full play. It’s more of a placeholder.
It’s a theatrical event you can view from your own home, free of charge. It has one actor, minimal props and a spartan esthetic.
But for all its economy of production, it also has a hang-in-there, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel message, more cautiously optimistic than delusionally sunny. It acknowledges that COVID-19 derailed life as we know it, but it will pass. And the theatre will be waiting.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrCchDZxD3s
The film was shot in the empty environs of the Prairie Theatre Exchange, whose artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones also directed this production.
At its gravitational centre is Winnipeg actor Tracey Nepinak, standing in for playwright Yvette Nolan. We find her in the theatre alone, sitting on the stage in the faint glow of a ghost light. She engages in a freewheeling riff on “this whole pandemic thing,” discussing the potential terrors of COVID-19.
She acknowledges the trauma of the moment, when the lives of loved ones are at risk, and nothing is allowed to operate in a comfortable state of normalcy. (It all feels more pertinent at this moment than when it was shot, when Winnipeg enjoyed low COVID-19 numbers.)
Acknowledging the Indigenous nature of the work (Nolan is the daughter of an Algonquin mother and calls herself “a product of the residential school system in this country”), she shares an illuminating story of a soldier who “came back from the war all messed up” and was guided back from self-destruction after a healing session in a sweat lodge.
The play makes the point that theatre might serve a similar ritualistic function once the pandemic is past.
“Human beings have always used theatre to make sense of things,” our narrator says. “What we make believe in here becomes belief out there.”
It’s a neat analogy, suggesting theatre is a kind of group therapy where we might emerge with a greater understanding of our world, and ourselves. Post-pandemic, we’ll need it more than ever.
For all its brevity, it feels like a real theatrical experience, as opposed to much of the Zoom room stuff we see online, which mostly feels like a series of consolation prizes theatre bestows upon itself.
This feels more substantive, although that may be a function of Nepinak’s efforts. The hardworking Winnipeg actor is often asked to embody contradictory qualities: the comic leavened with the tragic; crisp intelligence and emotional availability. It’s always a pleasure to see her on our stages, so enjoying her presence in this film has the feel of a soothing balm.
For theatregoers, it feels good to see her again. And that reminds us:
It will be good to see you all again.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.