author: nicole garies | contributor
The stunning product trumped the show’s controversy.
Joey Tremblay’s cautionary and lucrative tale of his experience in the Canadian health care system had me crying, laughing and feeling a great deal of empathy throughout this biographical phenomenon. This is my fourth year as a part of the University of Regina theatre department. Going into this production, I was skeptical. Though I take most things with a grain of salt, there was a particular reason for this hesitation – not just from myself, but from others who are also students in this department. However, there is also a reason for how completely blindsided and terribly mistaken I am now, upon seeing this show.
The beginning of this winter 2017 semester had many students in the theatre department concerned. Bad Blood was a production meant to integrate the work of student and professional artists through the use of both the U of R theatre department and professional theatrical company Curtain Razors. There was an unfortunate stigma that occurred right around auditions upon receiving the information that the students were being used as ensemble members instead of having speaking roles in this production. To the great dismay of some students (including myself), it felt as though we were being left behind. It wasn’t until viewing and understanding the concepts of this production that my mind was entirely changed.
As the saying goes, “there are no small parts—only small actors.” Upon seeing Bad Blood for the first time, I soon realized the importance of the roles of students. The students portrayed an ensemble of hospital patients (gowns and all) that were dancing, groaning and suffering alongside Joey in his journey. Fortunately for the ensemble of ten, they had the most distinct opportunity to work with the fabulous Joey Tremblay and actors from Curtain Razors. What was most fortunate was that a great number of these students were fresh faces to the department, creating a rich experience for them coming into our department.
As I understand, there were originally no chorus roles written in the original script of this show. Naturally, the first few months of rehearsal for Bad Blood were experimental: trial and error. I had the pleasure of speaking with Joey Tremblay, writer and director, about the beginning rehearsals and processes for his work.
Tremblay explains that “the students provided a complete structure for the show. They dramaturged it. Saved it. Gave it a structure. It was a lesson for students – of physical and movement dramaturgy, but also how a piece is constructed – from conceptual to manifestation.”
Unorthodox though the rehearsal process seemed to me, the students truly seemed to live and breathe through this show. I think I speak for many students as I express my deepest regrets to the unfortunate stigma that took away from the willingness to be in this production. I understand now the intention for this show and our department – to build not only a community of actors, but a home, an experience in integrating the world of student and professional to look back on for years to come.
I digress—onto the production itself.
This hilarious and creative adaption of the life of Joey Tremblay had audiences flustered, and what a spectacle to witness on our main stage. The audience walked in to nothing but an illuminating purple ambiance on an empty stage that gave off a subtle hint of darkness to open the show. Through the cross of the cascading moonlight behind Jayden Pfeifer’s chilling performance as Joey himself, we were invited to bask in the darkness as character Joey tells his story of his traumatic experience with healthcare.
As humans, we all face the challenges of mortality. Some, to a greater degree than others. Joey Tremblay, in his comedic and passionate writing, tells us about his fight with mortality. Struggling with hereditary hemolytic anemia, Joey goes through multiple traumas of rude nurses, uninformed doctors, repulsive hospital foods and understanding the limits of his patience and of his own body.
Pfeifer, star and good friend to Joey Tremblay, states, “It’s one thing to work on someone’s story, but its another having that person be a good friend of mine. I knew of these traumas as a pal to him. It always seemed so wild. And to take it on as a project, it’s a totally different thing. There is lots of creative interpretation of the story; I want to feel that the show is telling the story that he wants seen on stage.”
I felt many things through watching this show, and not once did I doubt Pfeifer’s performance as Joey on stage. Talented improviser and artist on the stage, Pfeifer did nothing but great justice in his phenomenal amount of storytelling, charisma with the audience, and passion for this production.
Large, plastic scrims lined the back of the stage through out the entire production, illuminating projected images of a florescent moon, of water, of greens and yellows and whites. It was a thrill to the eye to see these backdrops created a toggle between storytelling and dreamworld of Tremblay himself.
The music in this show congruently provided a chilling experience. Sometimes creepy and subtle, other times melancholy and mysterious. My personal favourite was the singing of “Angus Dei” in the background of a dramatic monologue.
The ensemble actors played a sort of “character in Limbo” as student Natasha Urkow puts it. According to Urkow, a really enjoyable part of this production was getting the chance to see Joey’s process from real life to the stage, and the emotional attachment that you can clearly see in his work. This is something now, upon learning so much in this experience, I truly wish I had been a part of.
This production stands out to me for many reasons, including some of the things I have mentioned already, but the largest thing I believe the university has been missing is shows that bring in a human aspect of empathy. Bad Blood is undeniably one that an audience can relate to.
An amazing and heartfelt production for all audiences of the U of R main stage, Bad Blood bellowed and called to all members of our society who have ever been to a hospital. Through no lack of human empathy and grim mortality, Bad Blood has made a remarkable name in our department and effortlessly made itself deservingly the largest show this university department has seen in 18 years.