I Spy (Urban Jungle Theatre) 2011 Toronto Fringe Review

The first thing you need to know about I Spy is that the show is happening outdoors, on the courtyard beside Central Tech High School, NOT anywhere inside Central Tech. If you ask anyone within Central Tech where the show might be located, you will likely find yourself explaining the concept of the Fringe Festival to a bemused high school student.

Location is key with this production since the site was chosen before the cast; and before the show was “written” actually. Perhaps “crystalized” would be a more appropriate word.

Gillian Street and Emily Niedoba, Urban Jungle Productions have a very unique approach to the creative process. They picked the venue, selected actors based in large part on facility and experience with movement vocabulary and then the team collaborated; allowing the environment to suggest ideas and scenes.

When they put the call out for performers, a percussionist with a Master’s degree in Music from the University of Toronto (Etienne Levesque) approached them and asked if they’d be interested in incorporating live music into the show. They said sure.

Anyone who was in my Fine Arts Cultural Studies (FACS) class at York is probably thinking “this has the makings of one of those projects where someone releases a tank of butterflies into the room or pees in a bucket and calls that art”. Niedoba and Street obviously didn’t take that class. This is theatre growing out of improv at its finest.

Ideas came to the cast as they cavorted around the courtyard. Working with elements present in the natural environment, free association evolved into scenes. Someone saw a park bench and imagined a spy sleeping on it. A concept to unify the various improvisatory scenes was born.

Etienne built a team of refined and creative musicians around himself and they jammed based on what the actors cum dancers gave them; incorporating their suggestions into the finished composition. The use of movement in this show was spectacular. I learned from the producers that ensemble member Jen Hum comes from a primarily dance background and it shows.

The murder-mystery, spy-chase, as told spontaneously by various members of an extended family, is interspersed with athletic and graceful chases and fight scenes; with Hum driving the choreography.

Two impressionable girls come across a murdered man on a bench. Authorities arrive on the scene, finding numerous passports on the dead man’s person. The girls run home and tell the family and their imaginations take over.

The use of the physical environment was cleverly effective. Be prepared to move around to follow the action.

The production was one of the most successful uses of an interdisciplinary approach to theatre that I have seen to date. Perhaps this is because when I asked Gillian if their approach favoured form over story she was quick to correct this assumption. It was important to them that the finished product tell a compelling story, but it was also important for it to evolve from an organic and collaborative process.

I didn’t realize while watching that the finished product wasn’t the outcome of a more traditional script writing process.

 

Details:

Note: This show is listed as “Jungle 1” on Fringe’s site. They hadn’t come up with the title for the show yet when the program write up was due.

I Spy plays at venue 21 Central Technical School (Site Specific at 725 Bathurst Street [Lawn Beside School])

Performances:

60 min.
Wed, July 6 7:00PM 2101
Thu, July 7 7:00PM 2102
Fri, July 8 7:00PM 2103
Sat, July 9 7:00PM 2104
Sun, July 10 7:00PM 2105
Tue, July 12 7:00PM 2106
Wed, July 13 7:00PM 2107
Thu, July 14 7:00PM 2108
Fri, July 15 7:00PM 2109
Sat, July 16 7:00PM 2110
Sun, July 17 7:00PM 2111

In photo: Adrian Yearwood

– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $10+$1 convenience fee)

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows

 

4 thoughts on “I Spy (Urban Jungle Theatre) 2011 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. That sounds fantastic!

    Also, I laughed out loud at “Anyone who was in my Fine Arts Cultural Studies (FACS) class at York is probably thinking “this has the makings of one of those projects where someone releases a tank of butterflies into the room or pees in a bucket and calls that art”. Niedoba and Street obviously didn’t take that class. This is theatre growing out of improv at its finest.”

  2. Thanks so much! I would like to point out that our shows are at 7pm every night this week, tonight – Sun, not as listed in the article.

  3. Also, while Jen choreographed the chase scene, the other movement pieces were built collectively, with everyone giving equal creative input.

  4. Hey Gillian, thanks for pointing that out. I’ve made the changes to the times. The author will make the change regarding choreography.

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