Ghost of Marshall McLuhan summoned for Theatre Junction’s new creation, Calgary

06Mar13

The “global village” may not be a peaceful place.  Everyone knows that villages have the best butchers.    –   Marshall McLuhan

Theatre Junction GRAND is proud to present the world première of Sometime between now and when the sun goes Supernova, the latest creation from Artistic Director and founder, Mark Lawes. This inspired and original multidisciplinary performance explores the subject of hybrid identities resulting from new modes of communication in an accelerated world. Inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s theories on media, the scientific writings on the origin of consciousness by Julian Jaynes, and Douglas Coupland’s tales for an accelerated culture, springs a work where fragments of living memories, bodies and hard drives collide in brilliant orange and purple. An artificial light illuminates a BBQ and a neon green lawn in the backyard of a suburban home.  We are sometime “after” or sometime “before” in a time-space capsule – a movie set that recalls a hangover from last night’s party:  tin foil, beer bottles, an old TV, a mattress, a Marilyn Monroe figurine, fried chicken bones, a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. There are flashes in the night – eyes, animal’s eyes, shining like knives. http://tinyurl.com/bvofoeg

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By Stephen Hunt, Calgary Herald March 5, 2013
How do you stage life in an accelerated cultute?

That’s one of the questions Theatre Junction artistic director Mark Lawes grappled with when he settled in for a three-month residency in Paris in the summer of 2012. It was there where Lawes launched the company’s newest performance creation, Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova, which has its world premiere Wednesday night at Theatre Junction Grand.

And while he found himself looking out at the City of Lights for inspiration, Lawes also turned to two of the savviest contemporary media critics of the past five decades for inspiration, who — perhaps not by accident — are Canadian: Douglas Coupland and the late Marshall McLuhan, the author of Understanding Media.

What’s remarkable is that Lawes reports that, reading it almost 50 years after its 1964 publication, McLuhan still seems relevant.

“You read Understanding Media and it’s like, wow,” Lawes says. “You wrote that 50 years ago? It’s right there today. It still reads really well — it’s a great, great book.”

When Understanding Media was published in 1964, media was two channels, a pair of rabbit ears and CBC Radio.

In 2013, we have plowed so far past 500 channels that the term channels almost seems like a slice of quaint nostalgia. We’re living in a world so wired that the conversation is underway about how, exactly, our media-saturated world is changing the ways in which our brains work.

Or, as Company of Resident Artist Raphaele Thiriet says, (referencing Coupland), “The concept that new medias are modifying our psychology and how we are interacting with each other in society.”

What Lawes — and the rest of the Company of Resident Artists, who joined him in Paris for several weeks — discovered was that a wired world is not a warmer world.

“There is one study that we read,” he says, “that the kind of multi-tasking society that we live in now is diminishing the part of our brain that can have empathy.

In other words, while we may be more connected than ever by our technological devices, we’re also more emotionally disconnected from each other than ever.

“Our empathy (for each other) is diminishing,” Lawes says. “Because our brain is needing to be used in so many different kinds of ways, it’s not only affecting maybe our physiological selves, but our cultural selves, as well … how we tell stories, (and) how we interact with each other.”

However, the next order of business was a challenge: namely, how does one theatricalize that idea?

There were other writings, too, by Julian Jaynes, who writes about the nature of consciousness, and a photographer named Larry Sultan, who photographed the scenes at a series of houses in the San Fernando Valley in the early 2000s, where cash-strapped homeowners rented out their homes as sets for porn shoots.

There were scientists, too — a Quebec neurologist in particular — doing residencies of their own, who would share potluck dinners with the artists and (literally) brainstorm with them about their project.

Lawes enlisted longtime collaborators Thiriet and musician Chris Dadge, and brought in some new voices, namely dancers Luc Bouchard-Boissonneault and Melina Stinson, as well as French filmmaker Alexander Mehring, to create an interdisciplinary piece exploring the idea.

“We’re using a lot of different mediums, as we have (in the past),” Lawes says. “A lot more video than we have before,,,(and, additionally,) we’re trying to put the body in kind of a contrast to the screen,” he adds, physicalizing it through dance.

All of which raises a question: is it possible to dance an idea?

“Yes,” says Stinson. “If you can feel something, then you can dance it just like you can project an emotion or thought or intention.”

Not so fast, says Quebec native Bouchard-Boissonneault.

“For me, dancing an idea is probably first an idea (that) brings some emotion or sentiment (feeling),” he says. “And this sentiment is so a dancer is empathetic about this emotion.

“That is the body thing about dancing,” he adds. “You embody this emotion, so you can show it, but just (an) abstract idea? I don’t think I could dance (that) — but a result of an idea that brings empathy? That, I can dance.”

Set in a kind of suburban dreamscape, replete with a lush fake lawn of a set, the question remains whether audiences will have any empathy for the lives unfolding in Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova.

After all, while Theatre Junction shows are smart, they aren’t very narratively-driven. They’re more like wandering into someone else’s dream and having a visit for a couple hours.

Not that that deters Lawes.

“You can try to express that unnameable part of an idea through dance,” he says, “or, I don’t know — a mood, light, sound, video — music works that way, too.”

Might seem odd to some, but think how Marshall McLuhan sounded back in 1964, publishing a book pondering about the overwhelming impact experiencing pop culture through a screen figured to have on everyone.

“At the time (he published Understanding Media), he wasn’t even considered an intellectual,” Lawes says. “They thought he was a quack! (Some of the critics wrote things like), this guy’s teaching at university? Media studies? At university? This guy is not serious!”

PREVIEW: Theatre Junction Grand presents Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova at Theatre Junction Grand through March 16, 608 1st S.W.   –   theatrejunction.com   –   http://tinyurl.com/asboaos 

Understanding Media Cover (1964) Signet Books paperback cover, 1964

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