Month: July 2021

Chronicling Sasquatch

I didn’t set out to write a play about giant, hairy beasts in the forest.

Yes, I’ve always been obsessed by Bigfoot. But who isn’t? Well. Okay, maybe you aren’t. And some of your friends. And your family, too.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure a lot of people out there aren’t obsessed with Sasquatch. But you’re probably obsessed by something strange, right? UFOs. True crime. Conspiracy theories. Royal scandals. Harlequin romances. TikTok.

We all have our fixations. Mine just happens to be the prospect that a race (not just an animal) of giant, hairy beings dwell in the wilds of our world. I’ve always been fervent in this belief, too. It’s not up for debate. For me, the proof and the truth is out there. Cue music.

Still, why a play about Sasquatch? Where’s the drama? Where’s the conflict? What’s the inciting incident that leads our protagonist to oppose the obstacles in rising action towards a climax of realization? Can you tell I teach writing for a living? Seriously, though, how exactly do you tell a story about Sasquatch for the stage? So, for a while, my obsession just stayed an obsession and didn’t really inform my creative practice.

But then, in 2019, I started listening to podcasts, specifically a podcast called Sasquatch Chronicles. On my morning commute to work, I became addicted to this show; it hooked me like no other podcast around. Hosted by the downbeat and forthright Wes Germer, the show is essentially a series interviews with those who have encountered Sasquatch, Bigfoot and other cryptid phenomena. Though it examines and offers some analysis of the phenomena, the show really bills itself as “a safe-haven for witnesses to share their encounters.”

What grabbed me about this podcast, and the multitude of those interviewed each week, was the earnestness of every one of the eyewitnesses. No one has ever seemed to be playing any sort of hoax or treats the phenomena as a joke. Indeed, I got the sense that the majority of those interviewed really didn’t want to have an encounter. But now they had, and there was no going back. They all had an experience and it had changed them in an irrevocable and sometimes disturbing way. No matter what you believe, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the voices of these people.

The other intriguing thing about these eyewitness stories was the context and life history that went along with their accounts. It’s true that Wes has interviewed so-called professional ‘Squatch hunters like Russell Acord, Todd Standing, and Matt Moneymaker. But, largely, the bulk of the people interviewed have been faceless individuals Wes only identifies only by first name. Living with their families or on their own, in places all across North America, these eyewitnesses really seem to have nothing to gain from telling their stories. Some have spoken about experiences they’ve recently had. But just as many recall events that have taken place many years ago that they were perhaps afraid to share.

And it was in that word—sharing—that I finally started to find a way into what this play is about. Good drama is all about telling a story. And when I sat down to write Creature I realized I had to throw away some of the lessons I’d been taught, and have taught to others, about playwriting. Maybe this story didn’t need rising action or a climax. Maybe this story was all about recalling a particularly strange incident from my childhood.

So, maybe, I needed just to write this story as if I were sitting across from you, the audience. In front of us is a campfire. It’s late at night. We’re deep in the woods. And I tell you about that time. Years ago. The same kind of night. The same kind of woods. And then I heard it…

I hope you’ll tune into my production of Creature at the Hamilton Fringe from July 15-25 and ask yourself what you believe.

Pivot to Unknown

Pivot. It’s been the key word that pretty much every theatre maker I know has uttered at some point over the past year and a half.

Now, as much as fancy myself digitally literate, I’ve never been much of a multi-media guy. I made an honest try of it during my senior year of university which led me to write quite a bit on the merging of technology and theatre. Most notably, I wrote for a magazine called Cyber Stage back in the day. So, I was familiar in philosophy about how theatre and technology might complement each other and tell a compelling story to audiences. But the actual practice—the nuts and bolts of making it work on your computer—was never something I embraced easily.

The Apple Power Macintosh 6100… my first machine.

Fast forward almost thirty years. Add in the stress of the pandemic. Plus the wholesale loss of work for an entire industry of live performance creators. And the importance of understanding how technology and theatre can come together to create something new returned to my practice. But these days, there’s a whole new range of tools that are easily available. Resources that just weren’t available back in the nineties.

Nonetheless, when it came time to pivot to digital presentations, I’ll admit I was at a loss. Creature was supposed to be presented live at a BYOV on Ottawa St; specifically, I was going to present the show on the stage at the Laidlaw Memorial United Church. A one-person monologue about my obsession with the Sasquatch phenomenon, a critical aspect was supposed to be the intimate atmosphere of a storytelling performance. That was out the window with the pandemic. And it really wouldn’t translate well as a YouTube video. So what to do?

Pivot from in-person space (L) to YouTube (R)… uh, okay 😳

Enter my friend Luke Brown. Luke has long been a champion of this quirky piece. He shepherded its development while I was in the Theatre Aquarius Junction and, actually, had more confidence in it during the early stages than I did. But he’s also been prolifically exploring the use of soundscapes as part of his practice of digital storytelling. That got me thinking of how a big part of Creature was sound. Not just the use of sound but also sound as a theme. So, that’s where I started to explore my options. Bringing Luke onboard was a no brainer, of course. And, using resources like GarageBand and Audacity, he started playing around with the use of evocative sounds to accompany what would eventually become a series of monologues spoken by me about Bigfoot.

But something was still missing. I knew the Fringe would be broadcasting much of their digital programming via a YouTube channel when people tuned in. And I wanted to make use of visuals that weren’t simply a Fringe logo. But I also don’t know the first thing about video recording and moviemaking. But then I discovered iMovie (yes, I know, I’m late to party). This program (which is included on the Apple operating system) allowed me to add still pictures over my recorded monologue to create a slideshow of sorts. But, really, the best part is how easy it was. Literally, it was drag and drop and plug and play.

The magic of iMovie

And if there’s one thing I love, it’s nature photography. Seriously, I take more photos of the outdoors than I do of my kids. So, I had a lot of nature pics to choose from. The result of these photos, with Luke’s sounds, and my own monologue is the digital presentation of Creature premiering this week at the Hamilton Fringe.

I’ll be straight up here – I don’t know whether this will work. This digital pivot has all been an experiment. Last year, when Aaron and myself (re)did Conspiracy of Michael for the Fringe, it was a professionally shot 10 minute film. So, will a forty minute slideshow featuring my voice and a soundscape exploring the bizarre world of Sasquatch hook audiences?

Well, what do you believe?