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Photo courtesy of undercurrents festival.

Show picks from the 8th undercurrents festival—opening this weekend

By Eric Coates on February 5, 2018



Eric Coates is the Artistic Director at Great Canadian Theatre Company

When the mystic Impresario Gauthier weaves his programming magic, I fall into a reverie. As in a dream, I tumble headlong through the undercurrents brochure, gorging on the possibilities until the Apt613 tyrants of word count snap me to reality with this directive: your undercurrents pick(s) will highlight ONE play, or THREE plays, or possibly FIVE plays, but under no circumstances shall you pick TWO.

Cowed by any editorial dictum, I let the brochure slip to the floor, dreading the baleful looks from the local artists whose work will not crack my line-up of prospective highlights. Worse, the admonishing stare of festival curator Patrick Gauthier looms everywhere—his eyes pick at my soul like a jackdaw harassing a corpse. In this waking nightmare, I shriek my helplessness, “I want to pick them all, Patrick. Oh GOD, I want to pick them all, but I can’t. I can’t…I can’t…can’t…” These words carom around the hollow in my brain… a place once teeming with good intentions and hundreds of unseen plays, but now a dank cell, where I face the impossible choice that I must make. Forgive me, Patrick…

I’m going to pick three. Local artists, be advised that in so doing, I am embracing one of the most important aspects of undercurrents: the opportunity to see work from other regions.

The Pipeline Project

Created by Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow

Photo courtesy of undercurrents festival.

This is categorically, unapologetically, my first choice. People have been tearing each other apart over oil for generations, yet the oligarchs who reap the benefit of this industry are magically adept at distracting us. The graphic on the festival website, showing Kevin Loring drinking a glob of refined oil, captures the dilemma nicely. Despite its murderous legacy, we consume oil with a willful negligence for the future, but none of us feel empowered to stop the cycle.

On an artistic note, I am particularly excited to see Kevin Loring*, Artistic Director of the NAC Indigenous Theatre, reunited onstage with Quelemia Sparrow. They last appeared together in Ottawa in Marie Clements’ The Edward Curtis Project, at GCTC in 2013. I loved their dynamic then, and I am looking forward to seeing them ignite again.

*Kevin may be local now, but the show is a Vancouver production.

Snack Music

Created by Ginette Mohr, Elliott Loran, Andrew G. Young and Ingrid Hansen

Photo: Dahlia Katz. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

To be brutally candid, reading the description of this piece brought a lot of my biases to the surface. When I say “brutally candid,” I want to be clear that this applies as much to my biases as it does to the content of the play. As a devotee of Aristotelian structure, I bristle at the notion that I must imagine myself an onion to enjoy a play that will be created with fresh fruit, kitchen tools and audience participation. Then I remind myself that the spectacularly clever and charismatic Ingrid Hansen, disguised online behind a kale goatee, will be leading this extemporaneous romp.

Although I suffer from kale fatigue, I doubt that Ingrid could ever exhaust my curiosity about what she can come up with next. Her Little Orange Man, seen at undercurrents back in its GCTC days, lingers as a delightful evening of theatre on my list of favourites.

Indigenous Walks

Created by Jaime Koebel

Photo: Andrew Alexander. Courtesy of undercurrents festival.

Okay, so I lied about leaving local artists off the list. Sue me. In the case of Indigenous Walks, my interest is piqued by a combination of locals and the locale itself. As cities around North America begin the process of decolonization, we would all be well-advised to take an Indigenous walk that can provide context for the changes that must be implemented in order to achieve reconciliation. Allowing ourselves to see the land as a continuum, with no beginning nor end, will help us to understand just how absurd it is to claim ownership or discovery of it. As site-specific work goes, this is one that inextricably binds the medium to the message.

Go to undercurrents. See everything, regardless of my selections. In fact, see it all twice. But whatever you do, don’t just see two.

The 8th undercurrents festival is running from February 7–17 at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) and the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St). Tickets cost $20–25 online and admission to some shows is on a pay-what-you-can basis. Visit for the full lineup and schedule.