Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Michael Green Obituary

Michael Green - Actor, producer, curator, theatre-maker

Born January 21 1957; died February 10 2015


Michael Green, who has died in a car crash aged fifty-eight, was a theatrical visionary, whose fearless radicalism pretty much reinvented the theatre scene in Calgary, Canada with One Yellow Rabbit, the company he co-founded in 1982, and was co-artistic director of. Working with like-minded free spirits, Green and One Yellow Rabbit introduced a hitherto rarely seen wildness to a previously staid Calgary scene, whether playing a Nazi colonel in Ilsa, Queen of the Nazi Love Camp or an alien abductee in Alien Bait.

Both of these shows, as well as other One Yellow Rabbit creations such as Doing Leonard Cohen and Somalia Yellow, toured to Scotland, playing either the Tron Theatre in Glasgow or the Traverse in Edinburgh, where the company's audacious mix of absurdist counter-cultural vaudeville found fans and friends among each theatre's artistic leadership.

Green blazed a similarly unfettered trail a few years into One Yellow Rabbit's precocious life when he set up the High Performance Rodeo, an avant-garde performance festival which brought the likes of Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and Brian Eno to Calgary, and which is now a major feature of Calgary's cultural calendar. When Calgary was named as Canada's cultural capital in 2012, Green applied similarly leftfield ambitions to his role as curator and creative producer.

More recently, at the heart of his work was Making Treaty 7, a major project which began at Calgary 2012, and which looked at the legacy of events in 1877 at Blackfoot Crossing in what is now Alberta, when several First Nation tribes ceded their rights to their traditional territories in exchange for hunting rights, a reserve to live on and payment by the Crown. It was a project close to Green's heart, and while in the midst of its creation he was thrilled to be bestowed with the Blackfoot name of Pona Ko’Taksi, or Elk Shadow, by tribal elders.

Green was born in Scarborough, Ontario, before moving with his family to Longueuil, Quebec, and in 1973 to Calgary. Green's father came from a carnival family, and, imbued with an oddball streak since early childhood, by the time he was six Green was already telling people he was going to be a comedian.

Green embraced recordings of the 1950s broadcasts of The Goon Show, and heard Frank Zappa's Hot Rats album at an impressionable age. The effect of both was profound, and Green was obsessed with Zappa and Goon Spike Milligan thereafter. It was perhaps down to his musical hero's application of of lateral-minded artistry, determined industry and a serious sense of the ridiculous that fuelled something similar in Green's own aesthetic.

Green applied this to drama from an early age, and at high school appeared in a production of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade initiated by his drama teacher, Gary Stromsmoe. Out of this experience, Ikarus Theatre was born. Green had two stints at the University of Calgary, either side of a year in Toronto. On his return to Calgary, Green threw himself into Ikarus, a company he described as 'theatre buskers', who would drive around town in a truck and perform experimental works in ad hoc spaces.

With Green's sense of self-determination becoming increasingly honed as performer, producer and general huckster, Ikarus was as avant-garde as you could get in pieces such as Night Club. Meat Song, meanwhile, saw Green reveal himself to the audience by cutting himself out of a garbage bag suspended from the ceiling, only for him to emerge completely naked. Nudity was to become something of a trademark for Green.

Blake Brooker was in the audience watching Meat Song after a leather-trousered Green had invited him from astride his bicycle, and in 1982 the pair founded One Yellow Rabbit. With Denise Clarke and Andy Curtis joining the company shortly afterwards, as documented in the tellingly named Wild Theatre, writer Martin Morrow's history of the company, the Calgary theatre scene was never the same again.

Beyond his no holds barred performances, Green was the arch networker of One Yellow Rabbit, and was key to enabling the company's international profile beyond its DIY roots. The company's first appearance in Scotland came in 1991, when they brought The Erotic Irony of Old Glory to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, where the theatre's then artistic director Ian Brown and associate director John Paul McGroarty became great advocates of the company.

Green and One Yellow Rabbit returned to the Traverse in 1992 with Serpent Kills, and by 1993 had forged links with the Tron in Glasgow, whose artistic director was then Michael Boyd. One Yellow Rabbit toured to both theatres with The Ugly Man in 1993, Ilsa, Queen of the Nazi Love Camp in 1994 and Alien Bait in 1995. In 1998 the company brought Death in New Orleans to the Traverse .

A relationship with the Tron continued following Boyd's departure through producer Neil Murray, who had been at the Tron since 1996 prior to becoming the theatre's executive producer in 2002. Murray first met Green in 1999, following an invitation to see One Yellow Rabbit's show, Doing Leonard Cohen, in Philadelphia, with a view to it visiting the Tron.

“It was a mad weekend in Philly,” Murray, now Executive Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, recalls. “Apart from the show, which was great, my overriding memory was of Michael doing his show, The Whaler, every night in the Festival Club. That consisted of him, stark naked, reciting this long poem, and at the end of every verse, roared on by the crowd, pouring a bucket of water over his head. It was hysterical and electrifying.”

Murray brought Doing Leonard Cohen to the Tron in 2000, and another show, Somalia Yellow, in 2002. Inbetween, Thunderstruck visited the Traverse in 2000.

“The company became great friends,” says Murray, “and we planned other things which for various reasons didn't happen and we drifted. Then Michael pursued me a few years ago to discuss a project which became Making Treaty 7. We applied for some funding to make it a Canadian/European project but didn't get the money, although John Paul McGroarty has continued to work on it.

“Michael came to Scotland and then we spent a great weekend in Vancouver at PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, where NTS were performing The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, which thankfully he loved. That was two years ago. I'm sure we would have done more things together.

“He could be impossible,” Murray says of Green, “but he was fantastic. A call from him was met with a combination of dread and excitement. A straight 'No' was never accepted as an answer. He was irrepressible.”

Only once, it seems, did Green become starstruck. In Wild Theatre, Morrow compares the effect of One Yellow Rabbit's iconoclastic style to that of the Velvet Underground, and it was while on a visit to New York's Knitting Factory venue attempting to lure Laurie Anderson to the High Performance Rodeo that he found himself in a near empty backstage area with former Velvets lynchpin and Anderson's partner, Lou Reed. With only an empty fridge for comfort, Reed was not in the best of moods. Rather than make small-talk with one of his musical heroes, Green passed Reed a note, and asked if he could give it to his girlfriend.

After a life-long adventure in theatre, Green's final performance was in One Yellow Rabbit's most recent show, What The Thunder Said. Inspired by TS Eliot's The Wasteland, it was seen at the twenty-ninth High Performance Rodeo, which took place in Calgary in January this year. The show took on an extra poignancy following the unexpected death of One Yellow Rabbit company member Richard (Rico) McDowell. Green's passing is a double body blow for the company.

At the time of his death, Green was travelling to Piapot, a reserve outside Regina, Saskatchewan, to talk about the experiences of Making Treaty 7 with a view to doing something similar in relation to Treaty 4. Travelling with him were Blackfoot elder, film-maker and Making Treaty 7 collaborator Narcisse Blood and two other aboriginal artists, Michele Sereda and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, who all perished.

In tribute to Green, the Langevin Bridge, Calgary Tower and Riverwalk in Calgary were lit with yellow during the days following his death. A packed public celebration of Green's life took place at One Yellow Rabbit's Big Secret Theatre space, while in a private ceremony, Green's seventeen year old daughter Maya was bestowed with her father's Blackfoot name, Elk Shadow.

Green is survived by Maya, her mother, Kim Green, his partner Morag Northey, his parents, Tom and Margaret, his sister Deb and brother Eamonn.

The Herald, March 12th 2015

ends

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