By Caleigh Crow
“I did the Montreal Fringe 24 years ago. It was very different, not as many venues, not as many services and events,” says Zag Dorison of his FRINGE Festival background. “On one hand I’m a veteran, and on the other hand it’s not like I’ve done many of them. No, I’m no expert by a long shot.”
As an artist, Zag’s career has taken him in down many creative roads, as a spoken word and sketch performer, a writer of short fiction, as a playwright and an actor. Now Zag is back to solo performance with his St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival show, Renfield or, Dining at the Bughouse. Loosely based on a character from Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel Dracula, the play takes a deep dive into the psyche of Renfield, an asylum inmate who compulsively consumes insects in an attempt to absorb their life force. “For some reason, I don’t know why, I’ve always been fascinated by madmen, and certainly, Renfield is a good example,” Zag says with a grin. If your Dracula knowledge is a little rusty or you’ve never read the book, fear not. “There’s very little from the novel actually in the show, but it’s a different take on it. You discover how Renfield ended up where he did and why he’s waiting for Dracula to come to him.”
Zag is bringing his horror piece to the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival this year, but it’s not the first iteration of this story. Zag performed Renfield that time, 24 years ago at the Fringe, and felt it was time to revive it. As well, he gave a stripped down performance of it at DRACULA ’97, an academic conference, marketplace, and fan convention all rolled into one held in Los Angeles to celebrate the centenary of Dracula. He wound up adapting it into a short story and submitting to and winning the first prize at the literary competition held at the conference. One of the jurors, a noted vampire fiction author called P.N. Elrod, singled Zag out and offered to help get the story published in an anthology about all things Dracula. “I had never had anything published before, so I took 1.5 seconds to say yes!” Zag says laughs, “As if I’m going to say no.”
When asked what he believes draws him to madmen characters such as Renfield, Zag credits the “actor in me” who entices Zag to step outside himself. “I’m actually a very shy, quiet person. I was a good little Snowden boy with very normal family upbringing,” he explains. “I’m just drawn to the opposite of myself somehow. As an actor, I seem to gravitate towards slightly off kilter characters.”
As someone looking to exhibit “off kilter characters”, Zag can’t think of a better place for Renfield than the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival. “Generally, FRINGE is by the nature of its name, more alternative, not particularly commercial,” Zag says thoughtfully. “This show isn’t particularly commercial, either, in the general sense of the word.” He also takes the time to reflect on how the Montreal theatre community has evolved since his last foray into the scene. “Given how Montreal theatre scene has changed over the decades. It’s more alternative and uses various movement, visuals, multi-disciplinary approaches to theatre.” He considers, “It’ll be interesting to see how people take it.”
Renfield or, Dining in the Bughouse runs from June 8 – 18th at Studio Jean Valcourt du Conservatoire. For more information and tickets please click here.