Devised theatre piece a gem

Opening night is quickly approaching as University of Toronto theatre students rehearse their original production of The Jewel in the Lotus.

The play is not your typical piece of theatre. With no plot, characters or story, the production gives the audience a type of show they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

Cast member Anya-Kay Dixon said she is aware people may not be used to different types of non-traditional theatre.

“It’s a devised piece that surrounds the topic of love — it’s symbolic, literal — it’s about everything and nothing at the same time,” Dixon said.

When asked how she would describe the play’s structure, Dixon said it was not something with a concrete definition.

“I would say it’s like life — it’s random.”

“You never know what to expect,” she said. “You think you know what’s coming and you think you have an idea of what life is and you say, ‘I’ve got it down! This makes sense — I’m in control!’ Then you lose it.”

Artistic director Trisha Lamie described the production as a collage of different theatrical elements.

“It doesn’t flow,” she said. “Some parts are very improvisational in nature. Some parts are very meticulously choreographed. Some parts a very meditative. Some parts are very silly and fun.

“We have everything — it’s sort of a real radical juxtaposition of all kinds of performance styles, dance, movement, sound — that uses ‘love’ as a thematic focus to hold the piece together.”

Show development started last September. The cast members collectively had a big hand in the creative process, which as actor Ebony Gittens explained, meant it was not always a smooth one.

“It’s a difficult process because things change every day,” she said. “There are so many different creative minds behind it, that it can get difficult when they clash. People have different ideas and we need to learn how to work together to get that idea to come across the best to make everybody happy.”

Artistic director Trisha Lamie discusses the production’s structure — or lack thereof.

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The audience also plays a huge role in the performance. In addition to having two designated audience participation sections, Gittens said it is important for the audience to be involved for the actors to feed off their energy.

“Not only do I think that we were tested making it, I think the audience is tested viewing it,” she said. “We’re both actively participating in this.”

The cast urged that experiencing different types of theatre is important for expanding what we are used to and comfortable with as a society.

“It’s so important for us to build on what we already have. If we just stay comfortable with everything, we’ll never advance,” Dixon said.

The Jewel in the Lotus begins its run on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Leigha Lee Browne Theatre in Scarborough.