by Caleigh Crow
Trevor Barrette and Kaleidoscope Theatre are no strangers to the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, and it’s not a stretch to use the word ‘darling’ to refer to his previous two FRINGE offerings, Captain Aurora and Captain Aurora II. Trevor is back this year with Memento Mori: A Support Group for the Dead, a departure in mood and style from Aurora, but with all the imagination. The title is a common Latin expression meaning ‘remember you will die’ and the story follows six characters at an impasse in the afterlife inching closer to moving on with every support group meeting. “Some characters are closer to acceptance than others,” Trevor says. “One character is under the impression that he’s just having a near death experience and is on his way back to life. There’s one guy who’s on his way out and he’s ready to cross over, there are some people who are trapped in their moment of death. So, some characters are just trying to understand better today why they’re there. The slow walk towards acceptance.”
The piece employs a style called immersive theatre. In Memento Mori, the audience sit in a circle of chairs next to other audience members and actors alike as the support group for the recently deceased unfolds around them. The characters share their stories in a familiar support group setting, complete with coffee, baked goods, and call and response readings. When asked why he chose to use immersive theatre techniques, he responded “I want to keep getting closer to the audience. I felt the need for that.” Trevor also believes the FRINGE is right for this piece because it’s a “a place of community which is a really great cadre for immersive theatre,” he says. “Everybody just wants to see good theatre and be present when this kind of stuff happens and that’s been really inspiring.” By “this kind of stuff” Trevor is referring to the non-linear story structure that unfolds, if you’ll pardon the expression, kaleidoscopically before the audience.
Trevor confessed early on in our conversation “immersive theatre scares me.” If you’re like Trevor and you aren’t sure what an audience member should expect in terms of participation from the audience, have no fear. “I play the chairperson of the meeting so I welcome the audience, we have a moment of silence, we do a call and response reading, and we close with one too. But the actors take up a lot of place,” Trevor reassures me. “We encourage first time people in the meeting to listen and share after the meeting, or the play, is over.” Each character has a job to do before the meeting starts as the audience enters. Actors pull from a hat what they’ll be doing that night, be it handing out nametags or greeting people at the door. “I always wanted the naturalism, in the sense that we are all realistically sitting in this meeting, so it’s not so out there,” Trevor explains, “and they go into their little pockets of things. I always knew something like that was going to happen and I wanted it to be free for the actors to do so. I wanted rehearsals to be a game.”
Trevor’s written text has metamorphosed through the rehearsal process from six monologue type texts to a “fractal” storytelling piece divorced from linear time and space thanks to the creativity of the ensemble. “The first read we decided to read it in order, because I wrote it in order,” Trevor explains, “and then I said, ‘now read whenever you want to read, you stop whenever you want to stop, you can interrupt each other’ and it’s just getting more and more free.” This process is a departure from a lot of Trevor’s past work, especially musicals, which rely on a high degree of strict choreography and blocking to deliver a story. Given the open nature of the rehearsals so far, the overall feeling of the story changes each time. “There are characters who are so lost, who have no idea where they are, who have no idea where they’re going, what’s happening, if everything is OK since they left. And you’re left with a feeling of unfinished business.” But ultimately, Trevor says the one thing that never changes is the feeling of “serenity” that washes over the actors, who in this case are also audience members, and he hopes everyone connects with that final moment of tranquility.
At the time of our interview, which was a good two weeks before publishing, Trevor still didn’t know what sequence of events for the final piece would be, and he didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to commit. “We’ve been talking a lot about the human experience. Huge conversations about collective unconsciousness, and synchronicity, and afterlife. The actors just being the amazing people they are, will spend an hour just talking about Jungian theory.” All of this informs the rehearsal process, which Trevor is certainly not taking for granted, and the play is a very strong ensemble piece because of it. “What you’re left with are ideas and feelings. If that happens, we’ve done our job.”
Tickets for Memento Mori are available here. The show runs from June 1st to 17th at the Espace Freestanding Room.