Elgin Fringe Fest RecapDon Haefliger
Having been a part of the Elgin Fringe Fest, actors and director agree that it was worth the work that went into mounting Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano was both very worthwhile and satisfying to all. The entire cast consisted of actors who had graced the IP stage in past seasons: August Conte appeared in seven productions including Uncle Vanya and The Royal Family; Beth Hitzeroth-McDonald appeared in five productions (including The Club [twice] and Waiting in the Wings); Patrick Rork appeared in three productions (including Working and The Royal Family); Mark Steensland appeared in fourteen productions (including The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Mr. Pim Passes By) and directed twelve shows (including Fifth of July and A Doll House); Mary Gale Tan appeared in two productions (The Club and Working); and Dana Udelhoven appeared in three productions (including Waiting in the Wings and The Royal Family). For these actors, it was great working with actors with whom they had worked previously to journey through the world of Eugene Ionesco’s play. For all, working in the absurd world of this play was a real adventure because all except Dana had never acted in any play like this; she, however, had played the part (Mrs. Smith) years ago when she was a high school student and loved having a chance to again inhabit that role.
Some audience members thought that IP took a chance opting to do Soprano, because it is 65 years old, and does not present hot button issues which are the subjects of so many other performances at fringe festivals. Artistic Director, Don Haefliger chose the work because it has real historic significance—it is considered the first absurdist play—and with it, Ionesco launched the “absurd movement” worldwide. Furthermore, Haefliger believes that the play presages the present-day state of language which is constantly being dumbed down and mutilated by people who don’t bother to write grammatically correct sentences, who stoop to using slang phrases and abbreviations when they write. Ionesco writes extremely correct lines of dialogue, but he gives the theatre-goer the experience of listening to the absolute mundanity of the catch phrases, slogans and abbreviations (i.e., “U” instead of “you” when one writes) that overpopulate ordinary conversation and run rampant in the texts one receives on his phone.
Ionesco clearly states just how sad it is that people, perhaps, just don’t care about how they use language, one of their most precious possessions—he refers to this as “the tragedy of language.” To quote Martin Esslin: “What he deplores is the leveling of individuality, the acceptance of slogans by the masses, of ready-made ideas, which increasingly turn our mass societies into collections of centrally directed automata. The Smiths, the Martins can no longer talk because they can no longer think; they can no longer think because they can no longer be moved, can no longer feel passions. They can no longer be; they can “become” anybody, anything, for, having lost their identity, they assume the identity of others. . . The people in The Bald Soprano have no hunger, no conscious desires; they are bored stiff. They feel it vaguely, hence the final explosion—which is quite useless, as the characters and situations are both static and interchangeable, and everything ends where it started.” Independent Players was born with the idea that it should be independent and move outside the box in what it chooses to do. Therein lies the reason for our choice to do this play.
Because the response to this choice was so positive, IP will bring something that is modern, but not necessarily a hot button topic when it returns to the Elgin Fringe Fest next year. The cast had a blast doing the show, and by the way they laughed, one can surmise that the audience had a good time as well. We also got to see other performers who are our friends —Matt Fox, Alex Wiseman, Gareth Sitz and Madeline Franklin to name a few—who were also there to “do their thing.” The EFF is a great event, and for those who did not attend, but who like the arts, this is something you won’t want to miss.