With tiny, Halifax’s Eastern Front Theatre and Zuppa Theatre Co move out of the traditional theatre to present a show that is equal parts theatrical performance, immersive installation, and museum exhibition.
“The piece comes from a very long-standing fascination with superhero culture from when I was a child,” says playwright Bruce Barton. “But at the same time, there is a sense of disillusionment about how it’s been commercialized and spectacularized by popular culture.”
Interested in the quotidian life of superheroes, Barton set out to tell the everyday stories of superhuman crusaders, with a focus on the tiny, subtle, and still aspects of their lives. “I’m particularly interested in how difficult it is to just live in the world and to take care of one another and to be open and generous to one another.”
Don’t expect Iron Man, Thor or Wonder Woman, though. In tiny, the emphasis is not on contemporary superheroes. Instead, it takes place in an alternative 20th-century history where people with unique abilities initially attain celebrity status, before something goes wrong.
“That’s where the essential part of our stories begin,” explains Barton. “It’s about a world where people are feared because they are seen to be different and, therefore, dangerous.”
While some of tiny deals with the societal response to the superheroes, Barton says the most critical exploration deals in how people deny their differences and the anxiety around being different. “Ultimately, I hope the piece is about imagining more open, more generous, more tolerant and empathetic responses to difference,” he says.
Originally conceived as a traditional theatre piece, Barton quickly realized it was not going to work out that way. “Anyone who knows my work knows that I haven’t done a traditional theatre piece in a long, long time. But when I started this project, I said to Alex that I’d write a script that could be staged,” he says.
The piece in its current form didn’t begin to shape, though until after Barton and the Zuppa team came together during an intensive in Calgary. As Zuppa’s co-artistic director Alex McLean worked with the actors, Barton would spend time at the university or library writing. Bringing back what he wrote to the group, they would play with it, and then the process would start again. “I think it refused to be a traditional play even though that was my initial intention,” says Barton.
That refusal has led the two Halifax theatre companies to a storefront in Scotia Square.
The unusual location came to them after an exhaustive search but one that turned out to be the perfect size to house both the performance spaces and exhibits that are part of the immersive experience.
“It’s essentially like going to a museum dedicated to a series of events from history, but in a reimagined world where people had superpowers, and there was an element of magic,” explains McLean who also directs the show.
Intentionally intersecting with actual pieces of history over the last hundred years, it was this juxtaposition between the human and superhuman that not only creates much of the tension in tiny but was also what excited Mclean about the piece overall.
“What interests me is the way that context shaped so much and the same set of conditions can be interpreted in radically different ways depending on other factors,” he says.
Along with the static exhibits, audiences will also see performances from pivotal moments from this alternate history. “Like when you go to a museum, sometimes there’s a room where a film plays, or perhaps a performance that might happen or dioramas that come to life. It has that kind of feel,” says McLean.
tiny takes place at the former NSLC location on the main level at the back of the food court of Scotia Square (5201 Duke St, Halifax) from November 5 – 17. Tickets are available online at Ticket Halifax. Visit zuppatheatre.com or easternfronttheatre.com for more information.