Burn This: Bringing independent theatre to Montreal

Former Concordia students and director Dale Hayes bring the 1987 play to the Mainline Theatre

If you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it. Located at 3997 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the Mainline Theatre considers itself the home of indie theatre. Nestled tight between two other locations on the Main, unless you’re specifically looking for its flame logo and iron bars entrance, you’re sure to walk right past it. Once you squeeze through the narrow doorway and make your way up a steep flight of concrete stairs, a dim-lighted reception area greets you with posters of Fringe fest, a Cult MTL newsstand, various couches, and all-around good vibes.

It’s no wonder that Alina Gotcherian, a Concordia communication studies graduate, and director Dale Hayes chose the Mainline for their co-production of the 1987 play Burn This by Lanford Wilson. Burn This takes place entirely in an urban warehouse-turned-loft after the death of Robbie, a young gay dancer. The play follows the lives of Robbie’s roommates Anna (Alina Gothcherian) and Larry (Patrizio Sanzari), Anna’s boyfriend Burton (Alex Gravenstein), and Robbie’s older brother Pale (Julien T. Fiset) as they deal with the aftermath of his sudden death and the re-evaluation of their own wants and desires.

Originally set in 1987 Manhattan, Gotcherian and Hayes decided to both modernize the play and change the setting to Montreal. “We struggled with that,” Hayes said. “We weren’t sure whether we wanted to modernize it or keep it true to the original… collectively we made the decision that we would modernize it just so that everybody could relate to it… we refer to the Plateau and we refer to Downtown Montreal and the Village and whatnot, so it was really interesting to take that and be able to use that as part of familiar things for the Montreal audience.”

Burn This is specifically geared towards the twenty-something year old crowd. “It really relates to a lot of twenty year olds who are indecisive [about whether] they’re gay or not or if they’re struggling with coming out of the closet,” Patrizio Sanzari, a former Concordia Theatre Performance graduate, said. “They have a figure who’s dealing with it, who’s working through it, so it’s almost like you have a figure that you can turn to.”

The young crowd can also relate to Gotcherian’s character, Anna. Anna is “living more in the heart of the city and trying to do things on [her] own, which [she’s] not used to so much because [she’s] always had a really supportive family and like a cushy house,” Gotcherian said. Each character is so different; every audience member can find someone to relate to.

When asked how their time and experience at Concordia influenced their roles in this play, Sanzari, who plays Larry, answered that “the processes of how we broke the script, digested the script, even preparing for a show… my method is always coming back to what was taught to me in school… I played a lot of characters at Concordia that always suffered from low self-esteem or were feeling inadequate. Maybe they weren’t gay, maybe they weren’t as funny as Larry, but there was a lot of similarities about just trying to fit in and trying to come to terms with allowing other people in.”

Burn This places a bright spotlight on the Montreal independent theatre scene. “Independent theatre in Montreal is crucial to the community because it is accessible,” said the director, Hayes. “We wanted the price of this play to be no more than a movie so that if you had the choice [between live theatre and a movie] we hope [that you] pick live theatre.”

“It’s an opportunity for us as actors to be given the roles that we wouldn’t necessarily immediately be given on the big stage or in the big film sets,” added Sanzari. “There aren’t those 20 assistants who are helping you. It’s about the art. It fundamentally comes down to the words on the page. You guys are going to come into this audience and it’s really raw and really close up and it was done with a very very small group of professionals… and no budget.”

“You learn this in communications,” Gotcherian said. “You learn how hard and expensive it is to make movies and you could have a great idea, like a very artistic idea for a film, and it’s very hard to get things like that funded. Independent theatre and independent anything is great because it gives [you] a chance to hear something that isn’t, you know, approved by the studio system or whatever.”

The layout of the theatre also adds to the accessibility of the play. “This is a Thrust stage, which means that there’s an audience sitting all around you except for the back of the stage,” explained Sanzari. “You can see the person sleeping, you can see the person texting. You want to stop the show and like freak out but you have to keep going.”

Hayes said that what she loves most about an intimate space “is that the audience then becomes part of the show. They become voyeurs and, because it’s so close, they can feel what’s happening on the stage and they get to experience it along with the characters, not just watch it.”

As for Gotcherian, she said that, “in theatre you have to angle your body in certain ways for the audience to see you, but with a Thrust stage it doesn’t really work because if you angle yourself for that side of the audience your back’s to the other side, so you take all those rules and you throw them out the window.”

Burn This throws many rules out the window, but that is what makes it so unique and true to itself. As said by Hayes, “it is exciting, it’s raw, [and since] it is really basic, it’s scary, but it is great.”

If there’s one lesson you can take away with you after watching this play, it’s that whatever problems you’re dealing with, whatever is wrong in your life, let it go. Burn it.

Burn This ran from Sept. 11 to 14. Check out the Mainline Theatre website (mainlinetheatre.ca) for more upcoming indie theatre productions. 

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