Hamilton's Tottering Biped Theatre, has become quite well known for the past decade or so in presenting very interesting and personal work, that is often based upon movement, and mime, and always expresses a particular point of view. Their two most recent productions, were a gender bending version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Dundurn Castle, and a solo work BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY, directed by Ric Knowles, as part of this past July's Hamilton Fringe Festival.
But this project is something different. According to Artistic Director Trevor Copp, “this entire idea came about because we saw that Hamilton is missing a Theatre middle class. Theatre Aquarius and community theatres have been chugging away for awhile out here, but the Indy Theatre scene has had trouble getting its footing. I mean the work that is edgy, daring, and features artists that are appropriately paid for their work - we just don't have a consistent presence for this kind of work. This series is meant to fill that gap, to give a platform to local work that deserves more stage time, and bring in the kind of work that can inspire us to push further.”
This is true. For more than thirty years a series of alternative independent professional theatre companies have come and gone in Hamilton.
“Hamilton's music and visual art scenes have been outperforming our size for awhile now - and that's a trend we all want to pour fire on. But the local theatre scene hasn't had the same kind of exuberance that these other scenes have enjoyed. We are making a platform here for work that is strong, diverse, and urgent like hasn't been seen in Hamilton for a long time.”
One of the difficulties, that Tottering Biped Theatre has faced over the years, is simply lack of available affordable theatre space. For this past Fringe, they rented the city owned Mill’s Hardware, normally a venue for concerts. Their audience is already much larger than the 100 seat venues such as the Staircase or the Pearl Company.
Which leads us back to the Robinson Memorial theatre at McMaster University, which is in Chester New Hall, right in the centre of campus. There's a huge history out of this venue, mostly going back to the late 1960s, when people like Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Ivan Reitman, and the magician Doug Henning, all worked on various theatre productions there. The most infamous was probably a production of Neil Simon's play THE ODD COUPLE, which was put on by the McMaster Shakespearean Society in 1968!
In my memory however, I remember the Robinson Theatre being home to a couple of different alternative theatre groups, “half the sky theatre”, a feminist collective, often did a production out of the space every year, New Group Theatre run by “method acting” teacher Dee Francis McCafferty produced at least two productions that I can recall; Carol Bolt's ONE NIGHT STAND, and TRUE WEST by Sam Shepard. Also, Thomi Root and his company Hamilton Playwright’s Theatre, did the play, AS PRISONED BIRDS MUST FIND IN FREEDOM.
About five years back, McMaster University built a new 200 seat black box theatre, and 500 seat concert facility in LR Wilson Hall. They basically converted the Robinson Theatre to a lecture hall, although they retained the stage, and it is still used fairly regularly by McMaster Drama clubs. It remains a fully equipped theatre with sound and lighting, seating approximately 170.
So Tottering Biped therefore is building on a solid foundation, in using a theatre space, that is at least set up already. They also hopefully will connect to a campus audience, who may find something cool happening, over the fall semester. Specifically, three short productions presented over a two-month period, starting in a few weeks with the world premiere of a brand new play by local playwright Michael Kras,
“'NO BIG DEAL' is a chance for us to point out local playwright Micheal Kras who has been owning our Fringe Festivals and stages all over Canada with his insightful writing - we need to know that we have this gifted creator here in town, and to see the ways his coming of age stories resound in Hamilton. His work centres on new-generation characters navigating their lives in contemporary Canada. His funny, provocative, deeply human plays have been breaking out of Hamilton in brilliant ways and we are proud to feature his work to open our season.”
Then around Remembrance Day in November, comes TITA JOKES, a presentation of a Filipinx theatre company, which is basically just booking an established work that has had many presentations.
“TITA JOKES are a Canadian phenomena with shows selling out all over the place. It's full of life and takes a slice of experience that we don't hear about enough - the Filipinx diaspora - and gives it the time and love it deserves.”
And then finally, presenting to Hamilton audiences what I think is probably the most personal of the projects to artistic director Trevor Copp. It’s a production that he has performed in for the past twelve years now.
“Of course I take immense pride in bringing 'THE LAST 15 SECONDS' to Hamilton. I perform in the show, I've had better-than-front-row tickets to this National theatre prodigy of a show that has had, among its incredible 12 years of touring, 4 tours of the Middle East. Performing the show is like casting a spell, it takes over the audience in its momentum and never lets go. The show is winding up after its game changing run and I knew this couldn't happen without bringing it here first."
It's a play by created one of his mentors, Lebanese director Majdi Bou-Matar, who sadly passed away this past June. The play is about a 2005 terrorist incident in Jordan, focusing on the tragic death of Syrian-American filmmaker Mustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima during a series of co-ordinated attacks that hit three prominent hotels in Amman in 2005, and has just completed a fourth tour of the Middle East in September. So it's a wonderful opportunity to see something that has existed for more than a decade, finally getting shown here in Hamilton..
One of the things, that I so deeply respect about Trevor Copp is the fact that he keeps projects going. Unlike my own work, which tends to exist for a brief period and then is never seen again, Trevor seems to find ways to keep his shows alive, and I admire him enormously for this effort.
I urge you to check out these productions; it is always a great deal of risk presenting work, outside of the context of the theatre Festival like the Hamilton Fringe or the Frostbites Festival. It's hard to get people out to see shows! So I admire Tottering Biped Theatre for the leap of faith. They deserve our support.
THE TBT PRESENTING SERIES
NO BIG DEAL
Roseneath Theatre | by Michael Kras
Oct 21-22 at 8pm; Oct 23 at 2pm
Created/Performed by the Tita Collective
Nov 11-12 at 8pm; Nov 13 at 2pm
THE LAST 15 SECONDS
By MT Space Theatre
Nov 18-19 at 8pm, Nov 20 at 2pm
All performances at the Robinson Memorial Theatre, Chester New Hall, McMaster University