“I’m glad it’s going to be cool out for the show, because it just wouldn’t feel right in the summertime,” jokes Jennifer Cressey, production dramaturge for the Concordia theatre department’s upcoming show The Explorer. Cressey has been working on the play since the spring, but its director, Cathia Pagotto, began almost a year ago.
“[Pagotto is] steering the ship,” says Cressey. “But she periodically opens up the process and takes new ideas in, new material in, then she pulls it back and fine tunes it. […] The vision is hers but there are contributions coming from across the board.”
Pagotto has been exploring methods of collaborating on visual narratives for a decade, and brings this experience to the students and the production.
Dialogue is sparse in a play where the style has been inspired by dance and silent films, but Cressey says, “when you take the words away you realize how much energy you can put in the other things. [The play] is very beautiful and moving.”
The Explorer unfolds along two axes that come to intersect. On one, there’s the true story of Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to chart a route through the Arctic. England funded the journey hoping that it would link Europe with the west coast of the Americas and Asia.
Franklin intended to be in the Canadian Arctic for three years, but he and his crew of 24 officers and 110 men disappeared after only their first. Little confirmation of what happened to them has ever been found.
The second storyline involves the mythical northern creatures, the Hyperboreans. Their civilization is the product of Greek myth. Where they live, Hyperborea, is a paradise. The Greeks even believed that the god Apollo would spend his winters there. In Hyperborea the sun is always out and there is no aging, illness, or conflict.
The student collective of designers, collaborators, and actors have brought Franklin’s doomed voyage into this paradise of Greek myth. But through that meeting of worlds, the fate of the Hyperboreans’ utopia was changed.
“The reason they’re using the 19th century is because that’s a time before scientific answers were found to a lot of the questions,” says Cressey. “A lot of the scientific theories around the Arctic were a little outlandish […] because it was unmapped and because it was unknown.”
Hindsight makes the reality Franklin faced clearer, but at the time, people believed the fantasies about what existed in the Arctic.
The Explorer is a play which Cressey says uses this 19th century veneer to “always come back to the idea that [the Arctic] is a place of the imagination, where an alternate story is offered about Franklin’s expedition.”
Concordia has a history of producing interesting, creative, and moving pieces of theatre, but often the Montreal community, and even the Concordia community, are unaware that these shows are even taking place.
“It’s a problem that’s endemic of any theatre community in Canada,” says Cressey. “How do you do the work, develop the relationships, promote the work, and keep the people coming out without pandering – and keep it exciting?”
While Concordia may struggle to promote the work emerging from its theatre department, Pagotto and her student collective have succeeded in creating an exciting and uncompromising piece of theatre.
“People interested in art, fine art, and interdisciplinary art will especially enjoy this show,” says Cressey on The Explorer’s non-text based narrative. But, “everyone will enjoy it because it’s very beautiful and very moving.”
The Explorer is being performed Oct. 20 to 23 at the F.C. Smith Auditorium on the Loyola campus. Student tickets are $5. For more information, go to http://theatre.concordia.ca/news-and-events/events/explorer.php.