On the Yellow Brick Road Again
THEATRE REVIEW by Beauregard Fiske, The Daily Adalia
A theatre has to make a buck, after all. Local troupe The Bug Circus, renowned for both its daring experiments and its rigorous interpretations of the classics, must occasionally mount a crowd-pleaser, a family-friendly hit. Everybody needs to keep thorax and soul together, and there’s no shame in giving the people what they want once in a while, as long as we remember that what we offer audiences is part of how they learn what to want. You can’t order what’s not on the menu.
The Bug Circus brings to us now a breathtaking retelling of a story we thought was long worn to shreds and tatters in the popular imagination. Turns out there’s life in the old rainbow yet. Director Viola Fleen chooses not to set the story on the bleak Kansas plains of the early twentieth century. Instead, Dorothy lives in the North End of Winnipeg. This storied neighbourhood has life and colour and a vibrancy of its own. It cannot be dismissed as entirely bleak, but it can be a very hard place.
Danger lurks in the alleys, of course, and the love of her guardians and neighbours is not quite enough to keep Dorothy from wondering what’s beyond the rainbow.
The “rainbow” she sings of here can be taken as a symbolic representation of the CPR rail lines that have bisected Winnipeg for a hundred years and more, effectively turning the North End into an island.
In this version, it is not a tornado that carries our heroine and her scruffy mutt away, it is a flood. After a chance encounter with psychic Trevor at Blackletter Books (sadly no longer in business), she wakes from a troubled and siren-filled sleep in a rowboat, mysteriously gliding upstream past the Redwood Bridge.
She finds herself in a downtown full of loft-dwelling witches, flying skateboarder henchmen and, of course, new friends who are resourceful, brave, and kind.
The magical metropolis they seek bears more resemblance to the Red River Ex than to the Emerald City, and I won’t spoil the fun for you by giving away who the wizard turns out to be. It’s not Burton Cummings.
Ultimately, the production works because the story of longing for “someplace where there isn’t any trouble” still rings true for us, in some neighbourhoods more than others. The design is artful, the direction meticulous. I do have two minor quibbles. One: how can a Yellow Brick Road that is supposed to be in Winnipeg not have a single pothole? And quibble number two: the cast was spotty in places.
The Bug Circus production of “The Wizard of Oz” is now playing at The Theatre of Your Mind.
Announcing our first Commission!
We are excited to announce our first foray into the creation of new work. We have
contracted one of our most gifted local artists to write a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It seems fitting. The commission fee is the industry standard: one Tim Horton’s hot beverage of the artist’s choice (extra-large) and a partially used iTunes gift card. Best of luck with the first draft!
This certainly promises to be a grand transformation, as we continue to break new ground in the virtual theatre landscape. We are still one of the only companies in Canada not producing works that don’t exist. We are eagerly anticipating this World Premiere and we hope you are too. Adaptations of classics are usually popular with our subscribers, though we fear this one may be a little dark for some audience members. Maybe next season we’ll do Cats.
So Sorry You Missed it!
Our recent production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was a resounding success both with critics and the small but discerning audience.
Here’s what some of the reviews had to say:
“It was small. Really very small.” The Globe and Mantis
“It was so small I could barely see it.” Blue Bottle Review
“A review of the first London production of Hedda Gabler in 1981 said that ‘Hedda’s soul is acrawl with the foulest passions of humanity.’ Kudos to The Bug Circus for having the courage to present the first production of this classic that is, quite literally, acrawl.”
“Infinitesimal!” Arachnid Times
Hedda was, like all of us, a product of her captivity. The actors in our ground-breaking production are virtually trapped in the theatre.
To some, this may raise questions about humane treatment of non-humans in inter-species collaborations, but this illusory internment does create the mood of suffocating repression that is so integral to the story.
No insects were harmed in the making of this or any other Bug Circus production. The actors only appear to be trapped. They were drawn by instinct to the wintery bathroom window, even though the door, and the rest of the warm house, was available to them.
Hedda’s desire was for a larger life than her circumstances would allow. Rejecting the warm domestic refuge being freely offered to her, longing for an un-nameable “something more:” did her instincts tell her that the cozy parlour was not her natural habitat? Did she likewise sense, like our actors seemed to sense, that the wider world would be too cold and harsh for her to survive for long? Like Hedda, we all seem to be looking through a locked window, ignoring the open door.
“Good God – people don’t do such things.”
The Bug Circus: HISTORY
The winter of 2013 was strikingly cold and seemingly endless, even for Winnipeg. In the upstairs bathroom of a house on Bannerman Avenue, a sign of hope appeared.
It was a mild infestation of ladybugs, if anything so charming as a dozen or so ladybugs should be called an infestation. In the Old Country they say that if you are visited by a ladybug, it means someone from “the Other Side” is sending you a message. At that time the owner of the house, Ellen Peterson, happened to be having one of those career winters familiar to anyone who works in theatre. No work, no prospects, no ideas. In the frosty sunset bathroom light, the message from the Other Side seemed clear :
“There are flea circuses, so why not a circus for ladybugs? They are easier to see. You should make tiny sets and props so the ladybugs can do plays.”
And so, The Bug Circus was born.
Our mission: to make tiny theatre. Theatre that is much much smaller than all the other theatres. Theatre that is so small it might not even be happening.
After several “productions,” in the name of diversity, the company’s mandate was widened to include works by and for all insects.
The Bug Circus is now well-established as a leading innovator in virtual theatre. No-one else is not doing the kinds of work we’re not doing. We have not-really-produced everything from classics to world premieres. Join our growing audience and experience productions that never really happened, in a bathroom far, far away.
©2016 Ellen Peterson