Santiago a Mil: A man sees a woman on the subway and, although they are strangers, he decides in an instant that they must be together. Isn’t it romantic? Not in the case of Teatro Cinema’s Historia de Amor, which details the physical and mental hijacking of a young woman. The production, seen this past summer at the Edinburgh International Festival, was described in its English promotional materials as “a love story overwhelmed by asphyxia, perversion, alienation and obsession, told intimately from within a tortured mind.” Now Historia de Amor comes back home to Chile for the Santiago a Mil festival. Based on French writer Régis Jauffret’s 1999 book Histoire d’amour (the first Spanish translation of which was published in Chile to coincide with this show’s premiere), the production is a stylish graphic novel come to life. It is staged within projections of a black-and-white, comic-book-noir urban landscape by director Juan Carlos Zagal, with the help of a small cast and a large team of artists and technicians. The creators’ explanation of this artistic choice is that it establishes “a bipolar world that permits us to focus on the scenes with psychological, sexual and physical violence in a more bearable way and, at the same time, insinuate those scenes that are unworkable in theatre.”
This January’s 20th-anniversary program for the Santiago a Mil festival, which welcomed more than half a million spectators last year, includes 20 Chilean offerings. (It also includes international guests onstage and in its free street-theatre subprogram, which boasts shows from Peru, China and Mali.) Another Chilean production on the boards is Helen Brown, conceived and performed by actor Trinidad Piriz and musician Daniel Marabolí. This, too, is a story of obsession—on the part of Piriz, who was scammed by the titular woman while trying to rent an apartment in Germany, and became determined to track her down—rendered with doses of humor. “Dear Helen: last night, falling asleep, I tried to imagine your face.… You were some kind of hybrid between Tracy Chapman, the concierge of my building in Chile—and me,” murmurs the actress into a microphone, as “Unchained Melody” tinkles softly on a piano in the background. (Jan. 3–19.)
Next Stage Theatre Festival: Each summer, like many cities, Toronto unleashes its Fringe Festival, a mélange of funky, under-the-radar fare. Since 2008, this Fringe has kept adventurous audiences busy in the winter too, by presenting additional new work by some of the festival’s breakout artists at its Next Stage Theatre Festival. And, just as in the summer, a beer tent will provide a gathering place for audiences and artists; fortunately, unlike in the summer, it will be heated.
The artists given a platform for this winter’s Next Stage include composer Rob Torr and librettists Ken MacDougall and Saul Segal with Killer Business: A Murder Mystery Musical (directed—because this is still the Fringe, after all—by someone named Geoffrey Whynot). Brenley Charkow, who wrote a “Best of Fringe” adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in 2010, returns with a play she wrote and directed, On the Other Side of the World, about Jewish refugees in China during World War II. Frequent Fringe participant Praxis Theatre will perform Nicolas Billon’s one-hour adaptation of Brecht’s Señora Carrar’s Rifles (simply retitled Rifles), which also carries influence from John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea. In Polar Opposites, by Nicole Ratjen (who also co-directs and co-stars), two actors in masks portray polar bears facing facts on a melting iceberg. And playwright Susanna Fournier, a graduate of the National Theatre School acting program, will premiere her Stencilboy and Other Portraits, about a young woman who becomes a muse for both a renowned painter and a graffiti artist.
Most of the Next Stage shows, if not the artists, will be new to Fringe audiences. An exception is the return (with a deliciously metatheatrical twist) of God is in the Dairy’s 2012 Fringe hit Release the Stars, based on the peculiar true story of how actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi fled the U.S. for Canada in the wake of criminal charges—while claiming that their lives were in danger from a shadowy cabal of “Hollywood star-whackers.” The play has been retooled to include the troupe’s own encounter with the Quaids, after the duo turned up in the closing night audience of last summer’s production. (Jan. 8–19.)
International Neapolis Festival for Kids’ Theatre: At Tunisia’s 28th celebration of theatre for young audiences—which includes workshops encouraging the development of theatremakers’ craft, and kid activities such as a hip-hop movement class—puppetry continues to be a major focus. This year visiting puppet theatres will hail from Egypt, Ukraine, Armenia, Argentina, Taiwan and the U.K. Some tell tried-and-true stories—Taiwan’s Shan Puppet Theatre, for example, interprets the Chinese folktale of Wu Song, who ignores an innkeeper’s warning and drinks too much wine, yet still manages to slay a tiger with his bare hands. Other companies eschew words altogether—such as London’s String Theatre Marionettes, which has created whimsical beetles, grasshoppers, spiders and dragonflies for its Marionette Insect Circus, adapting techniques from Victorian puppetry. (Dec. 15–22.)
Showbox: Scenekunstbruket (the Norwegian Touring Network for the Performing Arts) established this annual event in 2005 and has grown it into the nation’s largest performing arts fest for young audiences. Showbox was born just four years after the creation of a nationwide, state-supported program called (in English translation) the “Cultural Rucksack,” which sends arts and culture professionals into elementary, middle and high schools. The Cultural Rucksack gets 20-plus-million euros in funding from the surplus of the state-owned lottery, supplemented with local funds. According to Scenekunstbruket’s communications officer Elin O. Rekdal, the Rucksack initiative has been a boon in terms of both the quality and quantity of Norway’s theatre for young audiences. Of this year’s 24 Showbox productions, 20 are Norwegian.
Rekdal notes that a hot issue in Norwegian theatre is how serious topics should be broached onstage for kids. Several offerings at Showbox 2013 have, apparently, come down on the side of not flinching, each taking on a common theme: the loneliness that lurks at the core of human existence. In The Kitchen—the first piece created for young audiences by Jo Strømgren Kompani, a stalwart on the international dance-theatre touring scene—this is done with a light touch, detailing the relationship between an old sailor and a young orphan who move into an abandoned house. Showbox will also premiere Hege Haagenrud’s dance piece on adolescence, How to Be Alone. And a new adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse acknowledges the futility of understanding the world through someone else’s eyes.
According to Showbox artistic director Aadne Sekkelsten, “Childhood is not just some years we have to pass to becoming adults. We should have the opportunity to meet through art, regardless of age and where we are in our life.” The festival has made good on those words with a concrete gesture: For the second year, it will host a cohort of 15-year-old bloggers who will, says Rekdal, “interview, review, make small films, and write about their thoughts and opinions, all from the lobby of the theatre.” (Dec. 2—6.)