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Review: Behind the Scenes at Shopfront Arts Co-Op

By Kipp Lee

Behind the Scenes, the latest member production from Shopfront, is an open audition, where the audience is invited to watch other members of the public vie for the lead roles on Season 2 of acclaimed TV show Much Ado About Something!

This meta-theatre experience, created by Riana Head-Toussaint, invites you to cast the roles using the auditions and interviews she conducts to inform your decision.

The roles up for grabs are that of roommates Lek (originally played by Mason Phoumirath) and Charlie (originated by Holly Craig) who are an aspiring actor of Thai-Lao-British decent and a visually impaired honors student respectively.

Head-Toussaint, Phoumirath and Craig open the show with a confident, light-hearted pitch, familiarising the audience with the show-within-a-show and the structure of the night before the original Lek and Charlie take to the stage one last time before finding their replacements. Mason and Holly have a comfortable ease when performing and their humour feeds off each other nicely.

The stage is set with 2 projections, one showing the greenroom where the auditionees are preparing, playfully chatting and drinking champagne; the other which screens the cheesy opening titles and eventually the individual audition tapes.

The set of Much Ado About Something (our fictional tv universe) is sparse, consisting of a couch, arm chair, table and dog bed for Charlie’s guide dog Niki; and sits mostly unused for the duration of the play with most of the action occurring on screen or to the side in a one-on-one interview with Head-Toussaint.

For of a show focused mainly on darker themes of inequality, prejudice, and the pervasive microaggressions both characters experience, there were more opportunities for comedy than one would anticipate, with all of the auditionees reacting with jokes to deflect the awkwardness. Phoumirath and Craig became scene partners for the auditionees (this night, 3 white women) who had to embody both the roles of Lek and Charlie, roles clearly developed to reflect many aspects of Phoumirath and Craig’s own lives. This created interesting and ironic dynamics with Phoumirath as Lek’s casting director spouting casually racist rhetoric about the white auditionee and Craig as Charlie’s honours supervisor denying her necessary accommodations because they were “extra work”, while an auditionee “went full method” and blindfolded herself. The audience was uncomfortable, audibly unsettled, and sometimes even angry. The play worked well to twist us into a more sympathetic position even if we already had been predisposed to one and Head-Toussaint did nothing to alleviate that in her post-audition interviews, purposely letting us stew in discontent.

The freedom given to the auditionees, (a script, no direction and permission to improvise) exposed new sides to the characters. Introducing their own intersecting identities to the mix, one auditionee employed tactics personally used to avoid the danger of gendered violence to avoid the threat of racial violence in the scene, which added an interesting layer of analysis.

The play had simple sound and lighting designs, given most of the tech elements focused on the two live feed cameras, however both were deployed strategically. The soap opera-esque music faded in and out imperceptibly to transition fluidly between scenes and perfectly fitted the dynamic of the show. The lighting of the off-stage/on-camera scenes were often dimly lit and camera work poorly framed, however this didn’t detract from the action, even if it failed to sell Much Ado About Something as the success it was touted as.

Behind the Scenes is a fun and challenging experience which felt genuine and personal to each of the people involved in the creation. It was a pleasure to be invited to share in their experiences and not many plays let the audience be as involved as this one. The audience voted fairly unanimously at the end to cast the new Lek and Charlie (with the added extra of seeing the one auditionee who missed out receive the news backstage via the livefeed) and we see them play out the initial scene and compare the differences between actors with lived experience similar to their characters and the new actors who don’t. Behind the Scenes shows us exactly why representation matters and makes us complicit in the decisions around it.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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