As an official media partner of the 30th annual St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, Montreal Theatre Hub brings the #FringeBuzz in 2021 with an all-new interview series with artists from this year’s edition of the fest! In this Snapshot, we feature XANDER BARTH – playwright of WRETCH and Artistic Director of The Malicious Basement theatre company. Read the Hub’s Q&A interview with the creator of the digital horror play as it streams from June 1-20 on the FringeTV platform.
MONTREAL THEATRE HUB: What is Wretch about?
XANDER: Wretch is a lot of things, but I suppose, “to me”, it’s a story about how far we’d go to endure the “new normal”. It’s about boundaries and how they can be eroded with time, exhaustion and the promise that things would “just get better”. I spent a lot of time refreshing my timeline once this pandemic started; I suppose a lot of us did. The sex, lies and videotape-ticker-tape that we’d laugh and sigh collectively over the past four years descended into absolute madness. The lengths in which we’d go to endure that madness, is what the play is about. “Love” is just a buzz word, along with “couple”, and “sex”, that the story hides behind.
MTH: What can audiences expect from the experience of seeing it?
XANDER: I suppose one thing the audience shouldn’t expect, is a “right answer” to any of the events that occur in the piece. It’s a horror show, they can expect that along with some humor, mask play, and ropes. It’s a peep show, really, one of which we are invited into, with the door locking behind us on the way in. It’s very much an acknowledgement of a very real terror that exists, be it physically, or digitally.
Lila Bata-Walsh, Jordan Prentice, and Jacqueline Van De Geer in Wretch (Photo Credits: Marissa Blair)
MTH: What was the idea and inspiration behind the piece?
XANDER: Well, I suppose it comes in two parts. There’s no way around the fact that the piece had sat inside me for a while. Partially, the piece stems from personal experience, having lived and survived a long period of abuse, existing in a space and under the thumb of a fairly destructive narcissist. I suppose the other part, is the fact that I saw parallels with my own experience, with our own inter-political struggles online. How we’d abide and shrug off political and historical gaslighting over the past four years. This innate social helplessness that we shared, watching atrocity after atrocity. I suppose what really inspired it, is our complacency through emotional exhaustion, on a national level.
MTH: Why did you choose the Fringe as the place to present this work?
XANDER: Well, having written the piece over the extent of the pandemic, and produced it initially for Festival de la Bête Noire, I witnessed a lot of hard work go into the piece, along with its sister production Red Paper. If it were up to me, I’d bring both shows back for the Fringe, mostly because- the cast, and the creative team, imbued the show with something far more meaningful than anything I could possibly put to paper. That’s the reason.
Jacqueline Van De Geer, Jordan Prentice, and Lila Bata-Walsh in Wretch (Photo Credits: Marissa Blair)
MTH: What has it been like trying to create a show during a pandemic?
XANDER: Alienating, I suppose. Isolating. A cruel reality that we all had to abide by. I could list the ups and downs, along with the late night panicked back-and-forth email chains with the confused ebb and flow that was our COVID precautions and the perpetual threat of another shut-down. But at the same time, I think it was far more productive to point out that the creative team, and the cast were willing to go the extra mile to make this piece work. I like to concentrate on that fact. It was the Wild West, more-so with the masks, pandemic bandits running amok with stage lights and desperation misty-eyed with anxious possibilities. We lacked the cowboy hats though.
MTH: How does this show/story speak to our present times?
XANDER: We’ve endured countless, exhaustive, horrific, and traumatizing crises after crises over the past decade. The pandemic forced us inwards, with nothing but zoom meetings and the occasional socially-distanced walk-about to keep us from cannibalizing ourselves in a fit of cabin fever. In a way, it trapped us with a drip feed of exhaustive, monstrous abuse. The stochastic terrorism of a reality television host ascending to a political career that emboldened white-supremacists within the borders of the United States and without. The mishandling, and constant misinformation in regards to treating a pandemic, while somehow it becoming common place to neglect the countless dead in order to favour conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. The disproportionate systemic terrorism brought upon Persons of Color, and the absolute abuse and violence brought against peaceful protestors, time and time again- starting well before our lockdown. Let’s face it. While trapped within our homes, this repetition, a litany of screams and primal wounds were all that really kept us company with the door locked behind us. And all we could do is share a meme or two simply stating “This is Normal”.
Jordan Prentice and Lila Bata-Walsh in Wretch (Photo Credit: Marissa Blair)
RAPID FIRE ROUND
What have you missed most about the Fringe?
Favourite Fringe show you’ve ever seen?
I suppose it would have to be The Man Behind the Curtain by Productions Presents. An absurdist entry held within a tiny apartment that effectively blends the nature of a bait-and-switch magic trick with horror while somehow creating the illusion of a morphing, non-Euclidian space held together with gaff tape and misdirection.
#Fringebuzz: which show(s) on the 2021 lineup are you most stoked to check out?
Wait… I have to choose?
WRETCH presented by The Malicious Basement runs from June 1-20 on FringeTV. Tickets ($8.00) can be purchased online at www.montrealfringe.ca
Read here all of the interviews in the Fringe Artist Snapshots series: