Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vita Longissima Est

Be careful what you wish for. I shamelessly fished for comments on yesterday's post and then spent as much time, maybe more, reading and responding to your wonderful thoughts on sitcoms as I did on the post itself.

Let's keep the discourse rolling...

Once upon a time, I was a Fringe Fanatic. Not of the TV show or the fashion accessory. Fringe Festivals. Fringe THEATRE Festivals. It started as a fun summer volunteer activity when I was a teen in Saskatoon (where it happens in early August) but even after I moved to Vancouver for university, I sought out the tiny venues, the low-budget sets, the crazy creativity and crazed performers who travel coast to coast every summer hand billing potential audience members, billeting in local homes, launching into impromptu promotions on street corners to drum up that almighty "buzz".

The problem for me with the Vancouver Fringe Festival is that it occurs right when school starts in September.  Not as much a problem when I was a full-time undergrad student and could balance a skipped class against the awesomeness of an innovative live art performance. Way more of a problem now that I am the teacher. I have missed out on a lot of amazing shows in the past 5-8 years.

This August, one of my retired high school teachers from Saskatoon came through Vancouver en route to the antipodean continent, Australia (he's dropping in on NZ too, but I like using "antipodean" any chance I have and NZ isn't technically a continent in and of itself). We spent a few hours sightseeing and comparing notes on theatre, TV and movies. He had fringed it up in Saskatoon earlier that month and told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I was going to see ANY show at the Fringe, I had to see "Fishbowl"

Yes, sir.

And then school started and I missed the whole damn festival. #FAIL

Luckily, I'm on nearly every festival email list in Vancouver and Mr. Ramsden was not alone in his admiration for "Fishbowl". The show was chosen as a "Pick of the Fringe" show and I had the opportunity to see its last Vancouver 2012 performance last Thursday at the Performance Works venue on Granville Island.

I took a friend to the show with me and could only tell him that it was a one-man show with four characters and people I trusted deemed it "brilliant". No idea what the plot, setting, raison d'ĂȘtre was. Just "brilliant".

Mine's special. Mark signed it!

Just "brilliant" indeed. The show is written and performed by Mark Shyzer (whose surname alone already makes him the coolest guy I've ever met at the Fringe - and that includes Alan Cumming) and the characters he portrays are amazing individuals perched on a precipice of change in their respective lives:
- A teenage genius is about to single-handedly redefine the laws of the physical universe and only her fish really understands her work. 
- A sensitive but outwardly apathetic ("whatevs") boy is watching his family fall apart. 
- A terminally ill man contemplates his mark on the world. 
- A world-weary woman regards upcoming nuptials through the lens of her life experience and with an anxious eye on where her path may lead. 

A motley crew of characters. Each perfectly nuanced in voice and posture, cadence and lilt. One man behind it all. A genuinely thrilling exhibition of acting craft. But it was a truly stellar show not only for the execution of the material. The material itself, the script and plot - because there is an incredibly woven plot here, folks - is smart and emotional and deep but funny. Not sitcom funny. It makes you laugh in the delight of discovery, and in self-effacing recognition of everyday mundanities. My first question to producer Sarah Olmstead, who was mobbed by audience members looking for merchandise after the show, was whether they would be publishing the script. It's the collector in me. I may have lots of tshirts (thank the FSM that they had one for "Fishbowl") and hundreds of DVDS, possibly thousands of books but above all, I collect words and language. I love words and the infinite combinations of them and the constantly new uses for them and, especially, the ability to encapsulate and deliver an incredibly complex concept using the simplest of phrasing. (See? simple still isn't easy.)

In every good show, whether it's Fringe/TV/movie/radio, there are moments of gorgeous clarity, hanging in the audience's consciousness like the last ray of twilight highlighting a suddenly still landscape. In "Fishbowl" there were two of these moments for me. One was teen genius, Esther's, explanation of dark matter. Because there is no published script (yet!) for me to quote and because I REALLY REALLY REALLY don't want to spoil this moment for others who plan on seeing "Fishbowl" at some point in the future, I will paraphrase in invisi-type (highlight with your cursor to see):

Dark matter, she states, is like the pages of a book. We do not read the pages, we read the words on the pages. The words, therefore, are like the known matter of the universe but it is the dark matter that holds it altogether. The mass of the book is made up primarily of the pages, not the words, just as the universe is primarily made up of the dark matter not our known matter. Take the pages away and the words lose all their meaning and form and fall apart as a sploosh of ink. Take dark matter away and...

Seriously, I think I felt my brain implode as it all. made. sense.

The other moment belonged to goth-ish Ravyn (aka "Don't call me Francis") describing his love, maybe need, to sit in the dark. (Again, I'm paraphrasing. The actual scene is scripted far more tightly and perfectly than my recall allows.) He theorizes that when we have the lights on, we are all in different places made obvious by our surroundings but when we are in a true pitch dark, we are all in the SAME PLACE, the SAME DARK. Dark is the same wherever you are. It connects us spiritually. And maybe, he hypothesizes, we're all DISconnected spiritually these days because we all leave the lights on all the time. 

The t-shirt (btw, *newsflash*: American Apparel unisex is NOT as stupidly sized as their women's tees) sports the phrase that I've yoinked for my post title "VITA LONGISSIMA EST" under the fishbowl/globe (which puts us all inside, looking out, if you think too much about it) It's Latin, meaning "Life is very long", a reference to another Ravyn line in which he responds to the adage "Life is short" (and I THINK this quote is accurate)

"Hyah, whatevs," he scoffs,"Life is the longest thing I've ever done."