Of Galleries and Conspiracies
Written by Stephen Near
Conspiracy theories are the mythology of the information age and, regardless of whether they’re rooted in real-life or paranoid fantasies, society seems addicted to them. Take the strange and tragic case MH370. A casual Google search will reveal a wealth of sinister scenarios explaining the real reason for the jetliner’s disappearance. And with the flight still missing, who is to say any of these theories are false?
That’s the allure of the conspiracy theory. In the absence of evidence, conjecture leads to belief and belief becomes proof. For me, the real intrigue lies in the absence of information and how it acts as a focal point for our worst fears and suspicions. Not long after the disappearance of MH370, I started thinking about how conspiracies are born out of tragedy. The greater the tragedy or crime, it seems, the more people need to believe in conspiracies. I ended up meeting with director Aaron Joel Craig, with whom I had worked on Test at last year’s Fringe, to talk about how these theories are a bizarre coping mechanism for grief.
This led us to imagine what it might look like for a man to be trapped by his own demons of loss with the only way out being conspiracy theories. The more we talked, the more I realized I was finding my way around a far more personal loss in my own life: the passing of my mother from cancer last year. Part of me didn’t want to explore that absence in my life but the more Aaron and I talk the more I realized there might be something here to be unveiled and uncovered.
At first, the story existed as a single character onstage but when Aaron suggested the addition of a second character – a sister reaching out to her brother for support – the piece began to come alive. In the words of Aaron, “that’s the play… that’s where it lands.” With the addition of Lauren Repei to our plot, as it were, we started work on The Conspiracy of Michael.
But it hasn’t been straightforward. Much like the theories of our protagonist, the play’s evolution has taken twists and turns. For one thing, we didn’t start with a script. Much of the dialogue has emerged from a series of improvisations between myself and Lauren guided by Aaron in the studio. As a playwright, this form of collective creation is uncharted territory. It’s exciting but also a bit unsettling. As Lauren says, “there are so many ideas floating between the three of us about this show that meetings/rehearsals have really had a buzz to them. We all want to build a world, and then tear it down… in less than 20 minutes.” The constraints of the gallery space as a performance venue have also been a crucial factor. With a narrow space and only 20 audience members, we’ve been asking ourselves how to embrace the setting as part of the story. Lauren observed that “we really have to buckle down and focus and make every syllable and breath count.”
The Conspiracy of Michael is shaping into a unique theatre piece but a bit of an experiment for us as artists. Will it work at the Fringe? To be honest, we’re not entirely sure. However, we are certain that this is simply the first-step in a piece we hope will have legs in the future. So right now we’re concentrating more on process than on product. And, as a theatre artist in Hamilton, that’s not a bad place from which to work.
In theory, of course.
Play: The Conspiracy of Michael
Company: Reaching Symmetry Theatre
Details: Written by Stephen Near with Lauren Repei and Aaron Joel Craig.
Location: b contemporary gallery, 226 James St North, Hamilton, ON (mini-gallery series)
Show Times: Friday, July 18 at 9:00pm, Saturday July19 at 2:00pm, Saturday July 19 at 7:00pm, Sunday July 20 at 7:00pm, Friday July 25 at 8:00pm, Saturday July 26 at 3:00pm, Saturday July 26 at 9:00pm, Sunday July 27 at 3:00pm
Warning: Mature Content.
Stephen Near is a Hamilton playwright and producer and the artistic founder of Reaching Symmetry Theatre. He has worked with a number of theatre companies and his plays have been performed across Canada at many festivals. He is an alumnus of the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre and has studied with Sheldon Rosen, Linda Griffiths, David Copelin, Floyd Favel Starr, Daniel MacIvor and Brian Quirt. Stephen is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and the Theatre Aquarius Playwrights Unit.