Guest Blog| Jass Takhar: We've All Fallen in Love with an Ass

I am delighted to present our first guest blogger, Jass Takhar, Vancouver actor and student in Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts and the founder and co-artistic director of Escaping Goat Productions: a new company interested in interdisciplinary practices and collaboration, covering a featured event at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival (running September 9-19).
Frances Kitson in TITANIA- Playing at Studio 16

The Vancouver International Fringe Festival visits Vancouver yearly and with it brings a plethora of new and exciting theatre to see. From the absolute absurd to the “real-est” of realism it has something to satisfy nearly everyone. This year it has TITANIA to delight and enthral audiences looking for comedy, deep audience engagement, insightful questions and an all around FUN time!

TITANIA; a one woman show was written by Frances Kitson, a graduate of the Simon Fraser University Contemporary Arts Program. I had the privilege of seeing the first “version” of her show in December of 2009 and was thrilled to hear it would be premiering at the Fringe Festival this September. I got the chance to sit down with this emerging and exciting young artist and ask her about her experience and trials in creating her delightful piece.

The first place we began was the history of the show and the length of the process:

Frances, at the age of fifteen when performing William Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Arts and Umbrella (A Vancouver based children’s visual and performing arts society) discovered the play had quickly become a favourite of hers. However despite it becoming a favourite play there was also an element of frustration: Mainly the relationship between Oberon and Titania.

Frances states, “Oberon and Titania begin the play fighting over a child, and when Oberon doesn’t get his way he magics Titania and manipulates her into falling in love with an ass! When Titania is made better, she instantly forgives Oberon and doesn’t once mention the child! You can’t just ignore that-that was the conflict! And it’s just neatly packaged away at the end?”

Frances wouldn’t re-look at this issue until years later when writing an honours essay where she revisited the source of her frustration in her paper. Forty pages later, and it still wasn’t enough: Frances found a story to tell and finally when doing a directed studies for her BFA found something substantial in her first written piece-TITANIA. In total this project was being thought about and in the works for thirteen years!

With this much history you knew there must be a lot of critical work so we then moved on to the research and different artists’ influence on TITANIA:

“The most obvious artist this work is influenced by is William Shakespeare. It is the back story between Oberon and Titania that wasn’t seen in his Midsummer Night’s Dream. As for research, I looked at a lot of different artists renditions of fairies for imagery and inspiration, after all the play is about the Queen of Fairies. I also researched child birth; specifically what kind of complications cause a woman to die during childbirth, as I have a character that dies giving birth. I also played with pre-recorded music and how its utilization affects the show.”

As mentioned I originally saw the show in early December of last year, since then the show has been gone over, performed across the country and been revised and reworked. I asked Frances what kind of changes were made and why? How did this improve the art?

“There were some script changes based on feedback from audience members where certain small moments came across unclear in meaning. I really wanted to specify my framework and make sure it was as clear as possible. I also needed fresh eyes, I actually left the show alone for a bit and then came back to it when my spot in the Fringe was solidified. In the time performing it, I realized performance was a key discovery method as well. It definitely reshaped how I saw the show and gave it new meaning. Other than that, not much has changed.”

When first seeing the show, I was struck and intrigued by the usage of light as character, placing an interesting post-modern (Yup, I went there!) spin on the show. As an actor myself, I know how hard it is to play to an invisible scene partner so I asked Frances what that was like:

“It’s definitely hard; having to talk to someone who is not really there! I realized early on that I would have to write in “his” dialogue. To really know what he was saying and how he was responding to my words. There had to be a clear conversation, not just me saying words to air. Then there was a lot of work spent on creating the physical body of a person. I had to set height, weight, shape...I couldn’t be looking a little above me one time and then a good two feet another! Or swing my arm out one moment and end up having it go through what was earlier established as his throat or something! Consistency was definitely a needed factor. In terms of the scene partner you were talking about, I learned to discover it in my audience. At first I discover the audience and then I discover what kind of partner they will be. It keeps it interesting and fun for me because each audience is different and I really need to listen to them.”

Finally we got to the question that lays it all on the line-Why should people care about TITANIA? What does it offer as a work of art?

“The thing I wanted it to offer, and I feel I succeeded in this, is questions. Specifically questions about relationships and how we perceive them. I don’t want to preach to an audience, they’re smarter than that. Instead I want them to think for themselves about why we fall in love? And what does it mean to stay in love? How do we see our partners? Do we see them as they are? Or as we want them to be? I wanted to explore what may not have been a problem back in Shakespeare’s day (Manipulating your wife is okay because all will be forgiven!) and see how it differs to our time. But really why people should see this show is because it is Fun! Lots and lots of fun!”

I urge everyone to see this play as it will be well worth their time! I also thank Frances for sitting down with me during her immensely busy schedule and answering my questions.

-J Takhar

TITANIA runs at Studio 16 on 1555 W 7th Avenue in Vancouver

Show Dates are:

Tues Sept 14 @ 7:45
Thurs Sept 16 @ 5:00
Sun Sept 19 @ 8:25

$10 M-Th, $12 F/Sat/Sun, +$5 Fringe membership

For more information on the show and its history you can visit:!/event.php?eid=146596572046690&ref=ts