Michael Rubenfeld never meant to start CanadaHub when he brought hit show Counting Sheep to Edinburgh two years ago. As producer of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s self-styled guerrilla folk opera about the build-up and aftermath of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2004, Rubenfeld couldn’t have predicted the effect Mark and Marichka Marczyk’s messy mix of east European klezmer and interactive re-enactments of key events connected to the revolution would have on what happened next.
Influenced by international Edinburgh Festival Fringe showcases such as Big in Belgium, Rubenfeld pitched something similar to visiting Canadian dignitaries. Last year, the first CanadaHub took up residence at the King’s Hall as part of Summerhall’s programme with six shows by young Canadian companies. This included the Herald Angel-winning Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story as well as Fringe hits, Mouthpiece and Foreign Radical.
This year, the second edition of CanadaHub returns to the King’s Hall with five works. These include First Snow, or Premiere Nege, a collaboration between Quebec-based companies Theatre PAP and Hotel-Motel with the National Theatre of Scotland. The show also forms part of the Made in Scotland programme. The rest of CanadaHub goes beyond conventional play-writing in a showcase highlighting a generation of theatre-makers operating in radically different ways.
In Ming Hon’s piece, Chase Scenes, three women act out a series of chase scenes culled from films and presented using live video feeds, props and costumes in a DIY film studio. In a similar vein, Famous Puppet Death Scenes finds The Old Trout Puppet Workshop company doing exactly what the show’s title suggests.
The other two shows are both solo works. In Daughter, performer Adam Lazarus confronts toxic masculinity in ways which on previous runs has seen many audience members walk out. Huff, meanwhile, sees playwright Cliff Cardinal play two indigenous brothers caught up in a world of solvent abuse and loss. For those in search of light relief, CanadaHub will also host CanadaClub, a late night programme of Canadian cabaret and comedy.
“Canada is sometimes seen as a country that’s trying to survive,” says Rubenfeld, ‘and we’re not often seen as a country in a global context, so our response with CanadaHub is to be able to create a space where we can have all these complex conversations that are going on right now.”
Scotland’s theatrical relationship with Canada and Quebec has long been a fertile one. Thus far that relationship is probably best known for Scots translations of plays by Michel Tremblay, with works such as The Guid Sisters and Solemn Mass for a Full Moon in Summer produced by the Tron and Traverse theatres respectively.
Other work by Quebecois writers seen in Scotland include Daniel Danis, whose play, Stones and Ashes, was seen in a translation by Scots playwright Tom McGrath, while Reel of the Hanged Man by Jean-Mance Delisle was produced by the Stellar Quines company. The company also co-produced a production of audacious feminist play, Age of Arousal, by the late Linda Griffiths.
Quebecois maverick Robert Lepage has performed his epic works in Edinburgh and Glasgow at various points over the years, while the Calgary-based One Yellow Rabbit company has visited several times.
“People know about our stars like Robert Lepage,” Rubenfeld observes, “but they don’t know about the rest of Canadian theatre.”
CanadaHub arrives in Edinburgh hot on the heels of controversy concerning Lepage’s forthcoming show, Kanata, which aims to tell ‘the story of Canada through the prism of relations between whites and indigenous people.’ An open letter signed by prominent indigenous actors, writers, activists and artists and published in Quebec newspaper Le Devoir, and written in response to an interview with Ariane Mnouchkine from Theatre du Soleil in Paris, where Kanata will premiere, aid that no North American actors will be appearing in the show. The letter decried the ‘invisibility’ of indigenous people in Canada and Quebec, with its signatories saying they were fed up ‘of hearing other people tell our stories.’
Rubenfeld is conscious of such tensions, and has remained sensitive to them in CanadaHub, particularly through Huff.
“There is so much still to do in relation to indigenous people,” Rubenfeld says. “and it’s a problem we’re probably still about a hundred years away from solving. I don’t think most people know much about the intensity of the indigenous experience in Canada, and a show like Huff gives people a taste of the quality of indigenous work. It’s a hard piece to watch, but it’s one of the most successful indigenous shows in many years.”
While there is undoubtedly an element of political branding behind the various international showcases that now exist on the Fringe, the packaging of the likes of CanadaHub, Big in Belgium and Made in Scotland also provide something of a selective crash course in a country’s theatre scene that puts it on a global stage.”
“What’s great about Edinburgh and the Fringe is that the world comes here,’ says Rubenfeld. “The world is both big and small right now, so how do we learn about the people who live in it? The international showcases can make a huge difference to that.”
For CanadaHub in particular, in Rubenfeld’s view, it helps show off some of the complexities of a country through its theatre.
“First and foremost, he says, “I think that, through CanadaHub, audiences can get a really nice taste of what’s going on in Canada. For me as well, what’s really important is that we hold on to the nuances of things when we talk about being alive. Right now I think we’re losing that. There are so many terrible things going on in the world right now, and what’s nice in Canada is that we can still have complex conversations about things, and hopefully the shows in CanadaHub reflect that.”
Canada Hub, Summerhall@ King’s Hall, Venue 26, August 1-26. Daughter, 12.30-1.40pm; Chase Scenes, 2-25-3.25pm; Huff, 4.15-5.20pm; First Snow / Premiere Neige, 6.10-7.40pm; Famous Puppet Death Scenes, 8.30-9.40pm. CanadaClub, 10.30pm-12.30am.
The Herald, July 27th 2018