By Caleigh Crow
“I’m really trying to adjust my approach to the modern style of living. I want my theatre projects to go along with the flow of life. I like serious and deep stuff, but at the same time, my playful mind, my love of a challenge, and also my desire to make the challenge obey me, all that always stimulates me in my search for different forms and different locations that are not the typical stage spots” Ira Sokolova says.
Staging plays in site-specific places started about 14 years ago, with the pilot production of Ira’s newly founded by her independent theatre Gleams. The monologue play The Guitar Woman by Jon Fosse Ira presented in the Art Gallery of Victoria Hall, Westmount, in 2004. A couple of years after, Gleams Theatre produced Bookstore Theatre series where Ira S explored the ten-minute plays genre in, you guessed it, a bookstore. It was her way of bringing theatre to where people go on a regular basis, the “nowadays style of living” where people routinely go to bookstores to buy books, so why not stay for a ten-minute-plays show?
Ira produced entire four-show season of Bookstore Theatre and it was her first time using short plays, which she noticed taking off in the United States where 10-minute plays festivals are common. The reception to the series was positive, and the experience would inform Ira’s upcoming series, Bites of Life. “Great experience, it gave me an idea not just of how to do this type of theatre, but it gave me an idea of how people will react to this genre, and they loved it”, Ira says, “This all stays in you.”
Bookstore Theatre came to an end when the venue went out of business, but it wasn’t the end of Gleams Theatre or Ira’s interest in the forms and philosophies behind her work. Both Gleams Theatre and her friend’s hotel Oberge Manoir Ville Marie were celebrating ten years in 2014, and they held a bash together in the hotel. Ira knew right away she wanted to stage a short play in one of the rooms of the hotel. This was where she first connected with New York based playwright C.S. Hanson, whose play Where Were You When I Was Coming? ran in two adjoining hotel rooms at the anniversary event. It was double cast, with two performances happening simultaneously. The feedback was clearly showing that the audience’s experience was very exciting and very curious.
Ira took the production to the St Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, in June 2015 where she showed the double cast on the same stage simultaneously, incorporating elements of choral speech – sometimes the actors would speak in unison, or one actor might pick up a line where the other left off. Ira explains her reasoning as being inspired by the everyday things that happen to everyone. “Sometimes you go on the street and you see the windows of houses without curtains, and you see people behind in similar situations. “This thought came to me and I imagined how many couples in life go through that same things C.S. Hanson’s play was talking about”, Ira says.
While Ira was working on the hotel show, she was getting her hair done at her salon, her hairdresser, Farida, asked, “Why don’t we put on a theatre show in my salon?” Ira was startled, and said sure, not thinking anything would really come of it, but Farida persisted, and Ira promised to start thinking seriously about such a project and find a material that would be suitable for the venue. Not long after Ira’s idea started to take shape and eventually, she wrote a script titled Bites of Life in which she compiled three 10-minute plays: Customer Service by Philip Hall, Stalk Me, Baby by C.S. Hanson and The Best Is Yet to Come, by Ira S. The later she wrote specially for Julie Barbeau, an actor she wanted to cast in the show, but whom she couldn’t find a suitable partner. These three short plays formed Episode 1 of the future theatre series. Gleams Theatre produced Bites of Life, Episode 1 for the first time in the fall of 2015 as a salon theatre launch. By audience demand, Ira re-produced that show last year adding to it new elements delivered by two new characters: The Actor and The Juggler.
This year’s double bill production of Bites of Life, Episode 1 – The Introduction and Episode 2 – Black Coffee will mark the first world theatre series launch, a reproduction of the TV series genre where the audience can follow the stories of the characters introduced in Episode 1 in a different place, in a café.
Ira’s idea for a polyglot production came from C.S. Hanson’s partner, who mentioned he translated Hanson’s play Stalk Me, Baby into Spanish, which happened to be Sonia’s mother tongue. “I said to her, Sonia, you’re going to do it in Spanish next year!” Everyone took it as a joke,” she recalls. But the idea stuck, not least of all because Bites of Life is to be hosted in Montreal’s neighborhood of Notre-Dame-des-Graces, which has the same municipal office as the most linguistically diverse neighborhood in the city, Cote-Des-Neiges. “It’s so associated with the city we live in, with its vibrant multilingual and multicultural vibe”, she explains.
Bites of Life polyglot production will be performed in English, French, Spanish, Polish and Bulgarian, Ira’s first language, which she says people often don’t realize even exists. “This will be good for the spectators to hear how Bulgarian sounds, many people think we speak Russian or something else,” she says.
“Rehearsals are just marvelous,” Ira notes. She sees what big impact acting in their first languages had on her cast right away. “It’s so much more exciting, it becomes funnier and more engaging,” she says. Ira observed that when Sonia acts in Spanish, “her eyes light up, her voice changes, the intonation becomes more genuine – it’s unbelievable”, she laughs, “Wow!”
Not only does the show play with multilingualism, unconventional theatre space, and the short play format, there are surprises that Ira wouldn’t even share with me, for fear of ruining the fun. The show promises to be a complete evening, with both venues for Episodes One and Two catering to the customer (or theatre-goer) experience with cozy venues and accommodating hosts. At the Leonidas Café, host of Episode Two, there’s even the possibility of Belgium chocolate!
The Bites of Life series opens with Episode 1 on September 15th, and runs every Friday at 8PM until November 3rd. The first venue is Coiffure 3 (5256 Sherbrooke St., W., Montreal).
Episode 2 runs every Thursday from October 19 – November 30 at 8PM. Leonidas Culture Chocolate Cafe, 318 Victoria Ave., Westmount