In a loft on Jeanne-Mance, situated partly in Outremont, partly in Park-Ex and a touch in the Mile End, a group of hipsters, art lovers and cheap wine seekers are congregating. Girls with striped sleeveless dresses and purple stockings and guys with dreadlocks and knit toques take off their shoes and make their way into the open loft painted white, two flights up from the entrance.
In the corner of the loft, with windows looking onto the street is a stage where producers and cameramen are going over the shot list for the evening. Host Annie Briard, 25, once an editor at the Concordian, reviews her cue card notes alongside the production team, on a black armchair placed perpendicular to a patterned couch where the show’s guests are meant to sit.
“Where are you going to cut to change tape?” AndrÃ© Fry asks his co-producer amidst the pre-show scramble.
“I’ll give you a cue,” Shereen Soliman replies, “although we can always do it after an intro.”
The show they are gearing to film is a Montreal first; a late-night talk show all about the arts scene, aptly titled, Late Night in the Loft. The artists featured on the Feb. 19 pilot, including actor Joseph Bembridge and musical guest Dynamo Coleoptera , came mostly out of Briard’s Rolodex.
The idea came to the show producers after having seen an earlier attempt on a smaller budget. “We actually took the project from some friends who were Concordia students who filmed a pre-pilot episode last fall,” said Soliman, monitoring the final camera adjustments before taping.
Modeling the show after a similarly titled Toronto project, Late Night in the Bedroom, Soliman, a Concordia grad in New Media Art, thinks a talk show is a great way to expose Montreal’s thriving art scene. “The point is to showcase emerging artists who otherwise wouldn’t get the exposure,” Soliman said as the TV lights around the stage were turned on.
Fry suddenly jumped onstage and motioned for the loft dwellers to move closer to the setup. Briard tucked her bright red hair behind one ear and stood up. It’s show time.
Revamping an old white man’s medium
Late-night television has been a white man’s game since its inception. The Tonight Show on NBC began in 1954 with Steve Allen and has consistently been hosted by men (except for a few guest-hosting stints by the likes of Joan Rivers). Today, there is a small amount of diversity on cable television – the E! and BET networks both have female hosts anchoring their late-night shows – but the format is the same. Monologue, guest, guest and sometimes a pre-taped skit.
Late Night in the Loft, however, isn’t trying to make anyone laugh or push someone’s latest movie or comedy special. The point is to discover art through public discourse, in a trendy urban setting. Interviewing an artist to understand the craft rather than sell the product is a technique that was used by the Toronto-based Late Night in the Bedroom when it first began in the summer of 2009.
“A key feature of the show is bringing the artists onstage to present themselves as people, not just practitioners or not just their product as an object separate from person,” said Joshua Brandt, 24, a producer of Late Night in the Bedroom, in a video on the show’s website. “These people are interesting.”
Two such interesting people are Alessandra Naccarato and Deana Smith, who came to chat and perform as part of their Throw! slam poetry collective.
“It’s good for writers and for artists,” said Smith breathlessly after she walked off stage alongside Naccarato, the audience still cheering in the background. “I thought I was going to be nervous [because of the cameras], but it was a great experience.”
The duo performed a call-and-response poem written by Naccarato that captivated the crowd sitting at the foot of the stage and standing in the far off corners of the loft.
Slam poetry, where poets perform rapid-fire rhythmic poetry, is not a well-known or well publicized performance art. Naccarato hopes that by filming and releasing it online, Montrealers will be drawn to the slam poetry craze that has swept across the West Coast. “Vancouver really has a good scene,” Naccarato said. “They have a huge slam event once every week, while we are brand new in Montreal, so the crowds are small.”
Online to primetime
During a break setting up for the next act, I approach Alexandre Emon who has been manning one of the three cameras aimed at the elevated stage. He joined the production team after answering an ad on Facebook searching for a camera operator. Emon seemed enthusiastic about the project and enjoyed having an audience while filming. I ask if he is being paid for his services. “Ya,” he responded, “in wine.”
Late Night in the Loft’s budget is as small as they come, but Briard and the show’s producers managed to get everything donated or subsidized. From the drinks (donated by Barefoot wine, a company known to support local artists), to the cameras and lighting, Late Night in the Loft was produced on the cheap. All money raised from the entrance fee goes towards future episodes. The show also receives some funding from Concordia’s Fine Arts Student Alliance.
Once the final show is placed online, Soliman hopes that it receives enough traffic to be sold to a TV station. “I see the show on television, but we are still debating it,” she said. “But the first step is putting it online to get a wider audience in a bigger sphere than just [Montreal].”
The final act: when entropy takes over
It’s a good 30 minutes before the final guests, Dynamo Coleoptera, a two-member band who describe themselves as experimental Japanese pop-rock, take the stage. The wait was worthwhile as the crowd lit up during their opening set that involved singer/guitarist Maya Kuroki gesticulating with a fake third leg sticking behind a curtain hung at centre stage. The camera operators, however, did not envision the difficulty of recording such a dynamic performance, and were forced to take the cameras off of their tripods and film by hand.
During an interview between sets, Kuroki references the madness she created onstage which only enhanced the sentiment felt by the technicians. “That song &- its just chaos,” she said in a broken accent to loud cheers.
As the show came to a close and the rowdy crowd dispersed into the night, a feeling of relief flashes across the faces of the producers. One audience conquered. All that’s left is the cyberspace.
The Toronto-based Late Night in the Bedroom is currently negotiating copyrights with producers of Late Night in the Loft, discussing the trademarked title and parallel show concepts. Late Night in the Loft will not be available online (www.latenightintheloft.com) until an agreement is negotiated.