Local theatre companies cluck for a buck

By Kyra Jessup

What do a newspaper headline, a line from the book Mother Courage and a light source have in common?

That is for local theatre companies to decide in this year’s Fourth Annual Ottawa Theatre Challenge. The event takes place on March 27, World Theatre Day.

Participating companies get these three items and 48 hours to write, rehearse and perform their own sketch at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage.

“There are a lot of independent theatre companies here in town. We don’t get together a lot, so this is one chance for us to really get together,” says Scott Florence, the event’s co-organizer and the artistic director of A Company of Fools.

The Fools and Third Wall Theatre are co-hosting this contest of creation.

One of the major goals of this event is to help Ottawa become a theatre-going community, Florence says.

But realizing it will also raise money, Florence says the organizers decided to give the profits to charity.

This year’s pick is Alternative Learning Styles and Outlooks, a non-profit organization which donates books to families in order to help kids become successful in school.

He says the goals of this organization go hand-in-hand with what theatre does.

“It changes peoples’ lives. It makes you think. It makes you feel. It makes you re-evaluate the world.”

Florence says if the winning group got the money, “then it becomes really serious as a competition and who wants that?”

And the prize for this feat?

A Rubber Chicken Award, which will be granted by two judges from the theatre community.

“It’s a kind of default prize, really,” says Florence, adding that it works with the feeling they want to give this event.

“We can proudly make chicken noises at whoever is too chicken to sign up,” he says while tucking his thumbs in his armpits, flapping his arms and clucking like a chicken.

Third Wall Theatre has won the right to cluck at whoever they want.

The theatre group won the rubber chicken at the last two competitions, and James Richardson, Third Wall’s artistic director, says he’s ready to collect a third.

Third Wall’s quest for the chicken will begin once they receive their three items on March 25.

At that point, they will have to stage a five-minute scene around the items, a process that will probably involve working until the wee hours, says Richardson.

After finding as many connections between the items as they possibly can, Richardson predicts the members will spend the next day finishing costumes, and will then meet again for another nine-hour brainstorming session.

“The audience and the judges know that you’ve only had 48 hours,” says Richardson. “They’re not expecting the world, but often times it’s quite amazing what people come up with.”

And the judges are bribable, he adds.

“The year before last, somebody finished their scene, walked out in character, pulled out a credit card and gave it to the judges,” Richardson laughs.

Judges have been given wine, chocolates and whatever else it takes to get their vote.

“It all adds to the fun of the event,” he says.

As last year’s winner, Third Wall chose the three inspirational items and the charity for this year.

Isobel Bisby, the organization’s coordinator, says she really appreciates the interest and support the event has given ALSO for the past two years.

“Their alternative theatre fits our alternative program,” Bisby says. “We are always looking for a different approach to learning and to connecting with people.”