Preview: Reflector (Theatre Gargantua)


This Friday and Saturday at Theatre Passe Muraille, Theatre Gargantua presents a workshop presentation of its new piece, Reflector, which was inspired by the power of the image to galvanize human emotion and action. The heavily visual and physical piece is par for the course for Gargantua, which has been presenting multi-disciplinary works in two-year cycles since its founding in 1992. We asked Artistic Director Jacquie P.A. Thomas to paint us a picture of what the audience might see.

Can you briefly describe your show and how it was inspired?

Our plans for this cycle began with a completely different show in mind, but then on September 2nd, 2015 something happened that made us change our course. The photo of a young Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish shore after drowning in his family’s attempt to escape the war, appeared on front pages around the world, eliciting an incredibly profound, worldwide response. The impact of this single photograph was more powerful than all of the preceding four years’ worth of war coverage combined. It is this power of images to evoke empathy and catalyze change that struck us. Reflector explores our intricate connection to the picture — the way our brains interpret and remember what our eyes see, how images inform and express who we are and ethical questions of conflict zone photography by following the journeys of three characters, each with exceptional ways of interacting with images, and a psychiatrist/neuroscientist trying to understand their uniquenesses.

 What can the audience expect to see?

Reflector features large-scale projections on several moving screens, signature Gargantua movement sequences and a multilayered vocal/electronic sound-score created by Thomas Ryder Payne and the ensemble. With the text we’ve explored different poetic forms like rap and spoken-word delivery. We’ve also been experimenting with and integrating iPads as theatrical devices. The results are quite exciting.

How do you balance the incorporation of modern technology into the piece with making the experience a specifically theatrical one?

We have been incorporating elements of technology into our work for many years now, from the interactive programs of e-DENTITY to the live ghost projections of Imprints. But in spite of the compelling visuals that can be created with them, new technologies remain just another tool in our creative repertoire, along with the more traditional theatrical elements. While we are always trying to find new ways to tell our stories and modern technology offers ever-increasing possibilities, ultimately it is the stories and the people telling them that make a satisfying theatrical experience. The projected images in Reflector, while not only being integral to the subject of the play, also create an incredibly rich visual texture.

Reflector is about the galvanizing power of the image. What image do you find most powerful/has affected you the most?

The photo of Alan Kurdi, which initially inspired the piece, remains one of the most powerful, but we reference many iconic and provocative images that have impacted the world in various ways. It can be extremely emotional to witness them, as the most powerful ones are packed with humanity, beauty and tragedy.

What do you consider the greatest value of a workshop presentation before the show’s official opening?

There is nothing that makes you bring out your best than knowing an audience is coming. We do a lot of development where there is no public presentation, and that is valuable because without the pressure of an upcoming performance you can just explore and generate material. But at the midway point of a two-year cycle, that approaching opening is what raises the stakes and puts an unavertable deadline on artistic choices. But probably most important is simply that theatre is a uniquely public art. We love to share what we have created, and at the mid-point we always have something to show. And unlike the final work, which lives on in tours and remounts, the first-year production will never be seen again.


Photo of Louisa Zhu by Michael Cooper