'Trace' by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King
A ReDefine Arts and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-Production
Credit: Henry Chan. Pictured: Tristan R. Whiston
‘Trace’ Draws a Shadow of Incompleteness
Is it possible to be both intrigued and puzzled by choices made in a theatrical production?
Whether or not this is true, ‘Trace’ (now in the middle of its run at Theatre Passe Muraille) did just that. I’m all for really hearing and listening to learn of themes and messages, but I am also puzzled by choices here made that didn’t draw completeness for me.
A press release from Theatre Passe Muraille bills the production as: “an interdisciplinary performance about the voice in transition, ‘Trace’ focuses on the ongoing nature of queer being and becoming by transforming a private story into a public performance that takes the audience on a journey across time and identity.” It is performer Tristan R. Whiston’s voice that is in transition throughout.
As a retired Catholic educator, I know the importance of interdisciplinary studies within the secondary school system. Nevertheless, a great deal of planning is necessary to ensure the cross boundaries of pulling various disciplines together to ensure student success and learning is of the utmost importance.
I’m not convinced enough planning was set aside in gelling the audio, visual, sight and sound together. As an audience member, I felt incomplete leaving the theatre and wondering what I have missed.
Trixie and Beever’s set design piqued my attention. The striped beach huts where one could enter and learn about voice technology were interesting. During the show, an invited audience member went in to record something that we could hear on our way out. Jasmine King’s costume designs nicely accentuated the uniqueness of each of the characters in the live choir. Whiston’s white suit complete with a white hat was a classy look a la the 1940s.
However, ‘Trace’ showcases too much in this interdisciplinary performance. It’s as if director Moynan King wants me to pay attention, here, then here, then over there and don’t forget this. I really couldn’t figure out where my focus was to be.
Am I to focus on the experimental sound art (which I found fascinating by the way)? Jeremy Mimnagh’s video designs of the visualization of the lake juxtaposed with Tristan R. Whiston/Moynan King’s sound designs are rather impressive to view and hear. What was also fascinating was the whispering of the echoes of ‘Can You Hear Me?’ which worked well within the auditorium of the Mainspace theatre.
Okay, is the theme of ‘Trace’ one where we are to do our best to hear, to really hear, what someone is saying? That’s what I gleaned especially when I could hear Whiston’s singing voice in transition. Not only is it polite and proper but very important to hear what everyone has to say since the world that we know now has changed so much.
A transgendered male, Whiston moves down to tell us about Tristan’s journey. Tristan uses some stand-up comedy and some good old-fashioned storytelling. Okay, so I wanted to hear what Tristan was saying and I paid attention. Tristan did make me smile and laugh a couple of times at some of the anecdotes he shared.
But am I now to focus on the stand-up comedy routine and hear what’s being said about the voice in transition?
The archival video footage of The Boychoir of Lesbos and the live choir of a newly realized trans/non-binary/gender-queer choir provided some astounding vocals to hear and listen. It was a moving presentation of the live choir near the end to hear Styx’s ‘Come Sail Away’. The harmonious vocals of the singers were powerful. Charissa Wilcox’s lighting design framed this musical moment sharply. I could clearly see the singers’ faces from my seat.
But why ‘Come Sail Away’? Where did this production want to sail away with me? What is the final destination?
At one point, I read the Visual Link of ‘Trace’ in the programme. (Possible spoiler alert ahead) Within this link, Tristan is described as a transgender worrier rather than a transgender warrior, and the worries have changed over time. Tristan used to worry about how Tristan’s transgender identity will affect Tristan’s daily life. Now Whiston worries about Tristan’s life and being an average man.
That last sentence is a contentious issue in our world right now. It is one causing a great deal of violence and disagreement. So, am I to glean I was sailing away to confront this controversial issue? If I was, then I felt uncomfortable about it. The production did not prepare me for this voyage. I can’t have a trace of an understanding of a social issue that has wreaked controversy, and that’s why I felt incomplete leaving the theatre at the end.
Final Comments: I have no problem with theatre challenging audiences at all. Good theatre intends that. Passe Muraille has presented some quality productions since I’ve begun reviewing where I’ve been challenged to think about the story and the characters.
I like when that happens.
Unfortunately, ‘Trace’ is only a shadow of what it could be.
Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission.
The production runs to April 30 in the Mainspace at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit passemuraille.ca.
TRACE by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King
Director: Moynan King
Performer: Tristan R. Whiston’
Co-Producer: Anna Camilleri
Video Designer: Jeremy Mimnagh
Sound Designer/Composition: Tristan R. Whiston with Moynan King
Production Manager/Lighting Designer: Charissa Wilcox
Set Designer: Trixie and Beever
Costume Designer: Jasmine King
Stage Manager: Becky Gold