Antarctica (Syrus Marcus Ware & Toronto Biennial of Art) SummerWorks 2019 Review

Antartica at The Theatre Centre with SummerWorks 2019

The climbing summer heat and accompanying global conditions are giving lots of people cause for concern. Weaving that social anxiety into a dramatic narrative, Antarctica is being presented at The Theatre Centre as a SummerWorks 2019 production.

This piece, set in 2045, is about a hypothetical future. People from various world nations – all born in, or connected to Antarctica in some way – are tasked with trying to build a sort of “second chance” civilization in the wake of the climate crisis eroding society as we know it.

I came into this performance with a lot of curiosity, and while there are a lot of interesting things to be found here, they weren’t what were in the description.

The blurb on the SummerWorks website for Antarctica says this is: “An immersive and durational work incorporating installation, film, textiles and performance, Antarctica draws on speculative fiction to explore issues of climate change, colonialism, and disability justice.” It continues with “Antarctica is a 3 hour durational piece, patrons are welcomed to stay for the full duration of the piece or come and go as they please.” Because of this, I expected to be walking into an immersive installation-style piece with integrated scenes and performances were the audience interacted with the space.

What the show ended up being more like was a series of mini-plays based around a central premise and theme. I still enjoyed watching them but had a very different experience than I anticipated.

Most disconcerting for me was that messages from the artists presenting the work seemed to be at odds with the messages from the festival in terms of how audiences were meant to consume the work . Where the show program mentioned that audience members had freedom of movement, a pre-recorded message from SummerWorks regarding theatre etiquette included how patrons that left the space would not be re-admitted. Shows have been different than what I expected before, but in this case, the disconnect continued into the space itself, and ultimately I think it affected how I consumed the piece.

Despite the distraction of these mixed administrative messages, there was a lot of great stuff going on with Antarctica. The dialogue by creator Syrus Marcus Ware was earnest and thoughtful, delivered by the cast of three in an equally organic manner.

The play(s) look at the connection between capitalism, white supremacy and climate change by examining those guilty in damaging the planet, as well as who is tasked with cleaning up their messes.

I appreciated the ‘big picture’ approach to the show’s perspective – reminding us who the largest producers of waste on earth are. In many cases, it tends to be one-percenters, corporations and other industrial complexes.

As a work of art, this made me think. It helps provide blueprints for real-life activity, such as practicing the three R’s, lessening demand for wasteful products, and giving us words to demand change from the powers-that-be, the ones who manufacture our dependence on throwaway products and foist the makings of so much garbage onto us.

The cast – Yousef Kadoura, Dainty Smith and Ravyn wngz – talk about their experiences being persons of colour, queer-identifying and living with disabilities in plain language that is easy to understand for a person of any background or walk of life.

I also enjoyed the lived-in look of the stage. The design was by Merlin Hargreaves and Ware and included various survivalist accoutrements looking worn and used about the stage. Using found and re-used materials complements the play’s thesis about sustainability – although some pieces seemed to look too new or purchased, like the cast’s white utility jumpsuits. As the show continues to develop, I’d love to see it aesthetically and ethically evolve by using as much recycled and ‘not new’ material as they can.

I enjoyed how engaging this show is. As a Lab performance, this is a work-in-progress, and the concept and execution by the creative team are solid. I do feel like in a more open and fluid environment, not constrained by the SummerWorks rules, it would feel more accessible and perhaps more true to the artists’ original intentions. The next SummerWorks performance may find a way to address this, but if not, the piece will be presented at the Toronto Biennial of Art later this year. This may prove to be a better fit for the work.

This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2018. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.

Details:

Antarctica is playing at The Theatre Center BMO Incubator (1115 Queen St W)

Performances:

  • Monday August 12th 7:30pm – 10:30pm
  • Saturday August 17th 12:00pm – 3:00pm

Warnings: Coarse language and themes of racial violence

SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.
Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.
Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.

picture provided by the company