In the fjords of rural Norway, Annie Valentina and Michael McPhee raked grass, drank expensive beer, fenced and wrote---a lot. The pair, who make up The Doppler Effect, attended the International Theatre Lab retreat located in a schoolhouse in Norway, where they took theatre master classes, workshops and focused on their work while surrounded by Norwegian countryside. They returned, mid-August, just in time to start production on their Fringe hit play, WHITEOUT, and sort through the copious notes and rewrites for their new play, CU2morrow.
"The time spent at the lab...helped us get perspective on the story and the characters," says Valentina.
"It certainly was challenging over there," says McPhee, whose blog posts on the Doppler Effect Tumblr are quick to point out that while Norway is beautiful and the lab is beneficial, the culture shock and lifestyle changes that come with such a change are worth bitching about in an hilarious way. "The plot of this play is so complex that it wasn't until actually working with a director that we discovered what the show was really about."
CU2morrow was inspired by the Melchert-Dinkel "suicide nurse" case. Melchert-Dinkel, a 49-year-old nurse from Minnesota, was convicted this year after he was found to have been posing as a young woman in suicide chat rooms, where he encouraged at- risk people to kill themselves on webcams. This May, he was sentenced to 360 days in prison. One of his victims was Ottawa student Nadia Kajouji, 18. It was the photo of the young Kajouji in the newspaper that inspired Valentina. CU2morrow doesn't just retell the story of the Melchert-Dinkel case, but instead focuses on "the greater questions the case raises," says McPhee.
"What I found interesting about the case when I first came across it in 2009, was how unprecedented it was, yet how sadly reflective of our time and society. We're a generation of internet users whose entire lives are wrapped into our online presence," says Valentina. "Anti-social tendencies can find a home in cyberspace easily and comfortably, taking advantage of the anonymity it offers. How do we hold people legally accountable in the world of smoke and mirrors? A lot of questions arise from this that I was looking to explore."
"When we started writing this play, the case was still pending and they weren't sure if they would be able to convict him at all," says McPhee. "Everyone agrees that what he did was reprehensible. But the question is: Was it illegal? Can we retroactively change laws because we think something should have been illegal? Maybe in this particular case it would seem like a good idea, but what does that open up?"
The Doppler Effect has no interest in shying away from controversial topics---the not-for-profit company's goal is to be "a conduit for daring new works in the independent arts community of the Canadian Maritimes." Valentina says they especially value work with socio-political relevance. "Many of the topics we would like to see theatre tackle would be considered too controversial for the mainstream of our medium, so we'd like to provide an alternative. We also want to create opportunities for up-and-coming artistic voices. Halifax is a community of amazing emerging artists---our goal is to support and be part of that."
McPhee echoes this: "Being daring is all we have in theatre. We are asking people to leave their house and their internet to come hunker down in a room full of people who all want to experience something."
CU2morrow, Saturday, October 29, October 30-31, November 2-5 at The Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen Street, 8pm, $25/$20/PWYC on Wednesday, November 2
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