Is My Microphone On?

Canadian Stage's Dream in High Park, Toronto

Elana Emer

Joe Szekeres

A bold and courageous production of a controversially delicate script despite some rough spots
Canadian Stage took some daring risks in producing Jordan Tannahill’s ‘Is My Microphone On?’ as this opening night performance encompassed many noteworthy things.

With gritty and focused direction by Erin Brubacher, I loved how this diverse group of young performers became a highly natural professional ensemble of players to present what I’m going to call Tannahill’s chorally spoken text based on what the Programme Notes state are “excerpts or lines inspired by Greta Thunberg’s speech to world leaders at Davos on January 25, 2019; Thunberg’s speech to British MPs at the Houses of Parliament on April 23, 2019; Thunberg's address to the United Nations on September 23, 2019; a Facebook note posted by Thunberg on February 2, 2019; and Nature Now, a short film by Thunberg and George Monbiot, released September 19, 2019.” I don’t want to call these artists ‘kids’ as they have made a brave choice to be part of an extremely important adult discussion of Greta Thunberg’s ideals which truthfully have been both admired and maligned by many.

Just a side note here: I loved the professional looking curtain call delivered by these young people. Classy and impressive as it did not resemble a put together last minute ‘grade school/high school’ bow at the end of a show.

There was so much to like about this Canadian Stage production. For one, holding it outdoors was an ideal choice as the sounds of cicadas and birds enhanced some of the silent moments. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional but, just before the performance began, there was the sound of an ambulance siren in the distance. I thought what a clever tie in with the ambulance sound juxtaposing the message of the play in the fact our planet is very ill with the destructive elements of climate change.

The actors surrounded the audience on the stage, at the side and at the back (all physically distant from each other) so we would be able to listen and to hear their voices all around us. The use of head mics allowed me to hear the lines clearly delivered so that was extremely important since the performers never or rarely veered from their space during the 65 minutes (except those who went to play one of the musical instruments for sound effects and for the song at the end).

Tannahill’s script captures the colourful and sometimes vulgar teenage and young person vernacular style, and Brubacher’s cast handled it with confident aplomb. There were a couple of moments where the ‘f bomb’ was dropped and I wondered how parents might have responded as there were several young children around me. I’m not naïve to think that young children have not heard swearing before, but I’m hopeful parents may have had a discussion with their young lot post show on the way home.

You’ll notice that I earlier called Tannahill’s script controversially delicate. Good theatre and good drama will take sometimes delicate social issues hopefully to spark some rational discussion in context. In this case, as Director Erin Brubacher stated in her Programme Note: “This work is a response to the climate emergency, performed during an election in progress. These kids are here to tell you to consider who you vote for and what you demand of your representatives. They can’t vote. They need you to take care.” There are several moments where the cast connects these two elements applicably, and I applaud these young people for making me aware of their understanding of how they see the climate emergency in the face of an upcoming election that could certainly change the course of events for many of us.

However, there were some moments where I didn’t feel as strong a connection continually as I wished I had. For example, the cast certainly got my attention when the question was asked at the top of the show for those of us who were born before 1965 to raise our hands. I did as I’m a 1960 baby, but the comment that was returned to us from the stage irked me a tad and made me feel less of that important connection when it is implied that I’m responsible (meaning those from my years) for the present-day situation in which our world now finds itself.

I understand what the cast was trying to accomplish in realizing that hopefully anger makes us pay closer attention. But my back was still up about this annoying earlier insinuation even as I listened to some mighty impressive choral work that ventured into a sometimes angry, sometimes bitter, tirade against we baby boomers as to how we are responsible and should be ashamed of ourselves for the choices made over forty, fifty years ago that have now made our planet sick.

This isn’t what I was expecting as my invited guest and I later discussed in the car on the way home. Had what we just seen was a prime example of a script of an indoctrinated woke culture which refuses to see things and place them in context of events that had transpired prior to the lives of these young people and their uneducated lack of humility in their understanding?

Nevertheless, I persevered through to listen hard to what these young people were wanting to tell me about their fears and concerns for their future. The fascinating individual stories intertwined with the spirited choral narration fully engaged me to want to learn more from their perspective.
But I had quibbles with two issues that really didn’t make me connect with what this youthful lot wanted me to understand.

The first occurred with what my guest and I called the Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld) dance that one of the characters performs. We both agreed we could not make any kind of connection to this dance and how it even moved the plot forward. The second issue occurred with the song near the end of the production. As a retired teacher, to hear youthful voices join in melodious harmony becomes truly inspiring, and I thought the song would make a strong conclusion.

It didn’t happen.

Sound balance between the speaker system and the singers was off and I couldn’t hear the majority of the song lyrics at all, and I so desperately wanted to hear what these impressive young people wanted to re-capitulate once more through another highly dramatic musical art form. I do hope this will be fixed for future audiences and performances as I received the impression this song is of utmost and dire importance.

Running Time: 65 minutes

Production runs to September 19 at Toronto’s High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West, Toronto.

Performances begin at 7:30 pm.

For tickets and further information, please visit www.canadianstage.com.

IS MY MICROPHONE ON? By Jordan Tannahill and Directed by Erin Brubacher

Presented by Canadian Stage

With performances by Remi Ajao-Russell, Hiyab Araya, Jack Bakshi, Chloe Cha, Felix Chew, Nia Downey, Sidonie Fleck, Oscar Gorbet, Saraphina Knights, Iris MacNada, Iylah Mohammed, Amaza Payne, Sanora Souphommanychanh, Alykhan Sunderji, Catherine Thorne, Sophia Wang, and Skyler Xiang.

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