We sat down with Mac Brock with Vena Amoris Projects, our 2020 Westbury Family Fringe Theatre Award recipient. This annual award provides one local artist, group, or company with $25,000 in funding towards the creation of a new work to be presented as part of Fringe Theatre’s Off Season.
How does it feel to be part of the all-new Fringe Theatre Off Season?
First of all, it’s so exciting because, outside of being a part of such a cool season, The Off Season is filled with theatre we don’t typically get to see in Edmonton. There is such a range of styles and backgrounds of artists involved the projects; it’s such an exciting thing for the city to have. I’m so thrilled to be a part of it. And, I feel really touched and honoured I get a chance to not only do this project I care about with people I care about, but that there is also a company willing to introduce my work to their audience.
I grew up in Regina, and all my training comes from the Globe Theatre there. It’s a program that really means the world to me in how it advocates for innovation and risks in theatre-making. I feel that same push towards the unknown as part of Fringe’s season. It’s an absolute blessing to me, and I think it will be a blessing for audiences who are ready to take in some challenging works.
This award provides you with $25,000 in funding support towards the creation of a new work. Tell us about your project.
Tracks is an immersive project where the audience will listen to stories and also explore the space.
We’re going to have an ensemble of actors performing little vignettes. There will be a really wide range of things happening all at once. Essentially, the audience gets to choose how they experience and interact with what’s going on in the space and to what extent, too.
The project is inspired by an experience I had at a subway station in Toronto a couple of years ago that prompted a kind of existential crisis. So for me, the story really has a lot to do with the way we create things. It revolves around a period in my life where I was taking issue with feelings of self-worth and how that affects the way we create, because if we don’t like ourselves, we aren’t going to like anything we create. That’s why Tracks features a lot of things that I came up with and hated, and didn’t think deserved a place in the world. This project is the result of experimenting with what happens when we give hated things a place and a little bit of weight.
Tracks is taking a very innovative approach to the audience experience. Tell us more about the audience experience, and why that’s an important element for you.
When I’m making theatre, the big question everyone asks is “What’s different about this moment? Why are we seeing this story today?” I
love that, but I also love eavesdropping. And, I love being able to see those intimate moments we don’t necessarily always share because they are not the most climactic, there isn’t two people fighting and an explosion or what have you.
So, the audience experience with this show has a lot to do with being able to pull the curtain back, to see those really intimate moments between people that we all have experienced. Everyone gets to hold a mirror up to themselves and project their own experience onto it, so there’s a real range of interesting moments throughout the show. For example, in our first version of the project, we had performers playing cards with audience members, or audience was able to peer over a performer’s shoulder and read the diary the performer was writing in. I think that feeling of being able to get up close and personal to someone’s life, and even the things we maybe don’t show publicly but do in the comfort of our own circles, is such an interesting feeling…and I LOVE THAT!
A workshop presentation of Tracks was first presented at Nextfest last year. How will the project change in this next phase of development?
The Nextfest project was such an unbelievable opportunity. It was terrifying but so much fun. They basically just gave us a playground and allowed us to go in, try something, and see if it stuck. And I really feel that it did. We’re back at Nextfest in June developing a new project called Boy Trouble, and I think Edmonton is just so lucky to have that laboratory for artists.
The whole experience was really rough around the edges. We hadn’t even run the full project before we welcomed our first audience in for our workshop show. The energy that comes with not knowing what’s going to happen was really exciting for me, so to take that energy and add the variables that come with having the audience and performers move around the space plus having to elevate what the experience is, that’s the next step. We have a really wonderful team coming on board too: Elise Jason is designing the space and Beth and Megan Dart are supporting us as consulting artists. Beyond what they’re going to bring to heighten how our audience takes in the story, it’s such a thrill and opportunity to work with artists I look up to.
Being able to invest the time with these performers, too, is really going to take this from a ‘who knows what can happen?’ experiment to an idea with legs, so that we are able to welcome an audience in and really take care of them. Another really important change we’re making going into the next version is that we will be casting an ensemble of entirely queer emerging artists who are early in their careers, artists who are either still students or who haven’t worked professionally. I am so grateful that Fringe has backed us up on this. I’m thrilled that we are going to help welcome these artists to the community and introduce them to new audiences, while also encouraging them to share and build their own stories in a really invested way.
You mentioned at our season launch that your show dives into “words unsaid.” Tell us a little more about that.
Tracks looks at the three ways we communicate: words we’ve said, words we wish we’d said, and words we hope we get a chance to say. The things that we think about before we fall asleep. Those are really heavy moments we focus on.
It’s such a human thing: regardless of what your experience is or where you’re from, we all have those things we hold onto in the back of our minds that are always there, the things that we don’t necessarily allow ourselves the opportunity to say, or give ourselves space to say. And that’s a lot of what the project comes back to for me. Essentially, what happens when we take sacred, special things off the shelf, open it (and ourselves) up and give it the space it deserves?
What do you hope to achieve as an artist with this project?
This is an opportunity I never even really dreamed of! The opportunity to share my story in this way is an honour. What I want to achieve for myself as an artist, and artists like me is to continue to promote that opportunities like the Westbury Family Fringe Theatre Award and what the Fringe is doing with The Off Season are so important to artists and to the community.
Keeping opportunities like these available to artists like me is what makes theatre special in Edmonton, which is something we should all be proud of. Opportunities like these allow for new ideas to be celebrated in a way that I don’t think you see much of elsewhere across Canada.
Anything else you want Fringers to know about Tracks?
The idea of an immersive show can sound intimidating because we love being able to just sit down and watch a show. There’s something so comfortable about that, about being seated in the darkness, and the lights being on the stage, you’re over here and they’re over there and then at the end, you go your separate ways. Obviously, we all love that, it’s a great way to spend an evening, but I hope Fringers know that immersive is not something to be afraid of. And with Tracks, we really want the audience to choose how they experience the story. You have to make a few choices as you’re going through the show. If there is a part of this that doesn’t resonate with you, that this isn’t part of your experience or the story you need to be hearing right now, then you have the option to turn around and see something different. And the hope is, you meet up with your friends afterwards and talk about all the little moments that maybe only you saw.