Culture  A night with old friends

MainLine Theatre’s storytelling series connects audience and performers

Theatre performances often rely on the ‘fourth wall’ – the idea that there is a wall between the actors and the audience, allowing the audience to immerse itself in the play while remaining distant. Once a month, the MainLine Theatre tears down this fourth wall with its storytelling series, Confabulation, to create a direct and personal connection with the audience. The monthly storytelling series allows Torontonians and Montrealers to come together and share real-life experiences. Characterized by the connection, intimacy, and sincerity of a storytelling format, the series stands apart from the regular season shows at the MainLine. All are welcome to perform at these events, with the goal of giving everyday people a stage on which to share their experiences.

September’s edition of Confabulation, titled “On the Road: Stories of transition, travel, and crossing lines,” saw the theatre filled with spectators eager to feel that direct connection. The audience consisted of a younger crowd, generally in their twenties and thirties, who shared in the sense of humour of the performers and contributed to an attentive and engaged atmosphere. Not a soul was bored; each spectator was fully engrossed in the drama, suspense, and emotion of the stories.

The evening’s seven storytellers touched upon the themes of travel, transition, and growth, using comedy to tell what may have otherwise been upsetting stories. Clara Bee Lavery talked about getting through a particularly difficult period in her life this past year – touching on divorce, heartbreak, miscarriage, and death in the family – but focused on the heartwarming detail that friends and family used cacti as gifts to cheer her up. She engaged the crowd with jokes about her personal peculiarities, such as her search for symbolism in her life, her love of Beyoncé, and her belief that she would die on the rollercoaster of an amusement park. Even through the rough parts, Lavery kept the crowd laughing.

David Sklar’s stories of teaching in Tel Aviv and nearly getting arrested, while a world away from Lavery’s content, kept with a similar tone. He spoke of teaching Shakespeare in Jerusalem, lamented his ability to deliberately cry from only one eye, and consoled himself with the fact that his mother (who had never heard this tale) hadn’t come to the show that night. The star of the evening, Natalie Zina Walschots, told an extraordinary story about a creative fifth grade experiment. At a Catholic school, Walschots would write letters in red ink, pretending to be a demon, and stuff them in a tree in the courtyard. Walschots’ letters almost led to an exorcism being carried out on that tree, and on herself when it was discovered that she had written the letters.

Other storytellers recounted journeys to self-assertion, the pursuit of unrequited love, first kisses, and leaving university for a man met in a chatroom. In each story, no matter how light the tone, performers exposed their vulnerability, sharing the risks they took for love and careers. However, while self-deprecation can be an effective device, it was used too much and occasionally led to pity rather than laughter.

While the subject matter of each story was different, the stories altogether painted a diverse and touching perspective on transitions, as the performers recounted pivotal transitory moments in their lives. The speakers had strong stage presence and delivered their tales in a way that absorbed each and every attendee. In fact, the performers fed off the energy and enthusiasm of the audience, who in turn benefited from the intimacy, creativity, and wit of the performers. The audience was not immersed in a fictional universe ­– the performances were personal and real, allowing for an evening that felt less like a night at the theatre, and more like catching up with long-lost friends.

The next productions of Confabulation will touch upon “Bad Medicine”, “Good Date/Bad Date”, and “The Shortest Story.”