Everybody Dies in December Thursday, September 8, 10pm Friday, September 9, 5:15pm Saturday, September 10, 4:40pm Sunday, September 11, 8:50pm The Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen Street $10
Theatre-goers will find the award-winning playwright Nancy Kenny lying atop a mortuary slab as they enter the performer's newest one-person show, Everybody Dies in December, during the Fringe Festival this week. The show asks audience members to play dead as they watch one character try and decide what her life means for her.
"There's no audience participation, but they are the dead bodies that she speaks to," says Kenny, explaining one of the many clever quirks of the show.
The story follows Claire, a third-generation funeral director who seems to find more companionship with the dead than with the living. It's a darkly comic tale, and one that goes in a very different direction than Kenny's last solo outing in Halifax: The feel-good, Best in Fest-winning comedic wonder that is Roller Derby Saved My Soul. Speaking to the prevalent gallows humour in the new piece, "in a lot of aspects I think it's both a coping mechanism and also you just...you gotta laugh," she says. "If you're gonna be in this world you better enjoy it. You better love that dead person."
Though Claire might still be figuring out what she loves, Kenny has known for a long time that theatre and writing are her passions. "I never stop," she says about her packed schedule of acting classes and prep leading up to her performances on the unofficial circuit of fringe festivals. The New Brunswicker takes every opportunity to educate herself and improve her craft, whether it be through workshops, mentors or teaching others. At the same time, she's able to be a bilingual writer, actor, producer and an arts marketing and social media professional.
"It's very difficult in the arts to just be one thing these days, or to make a living just doing one thing," Kenny says. "I love the term 'artrepreneur' because that's what I believe we're doing, especially on the fringe. In any other field the skill set that I have and that my peers have, we would be making so much money. And yet, we choose to do this, because it makes us happy."
Kenny believes that loving one's craft is absolutely necessary to getting out there and bringing creative projects into the limelight, and she sees fringe theatre as a shining example of that.
"I love the fact that it's anything goes, that it's uncensored," she says. "You are just laying yourself bare, and hoping that people will just come and love you."
Kenny's belief in and love of Canada's travelling circus of theatre pushed her to make the documentary On the Fringe, a story of eight artists as they tour their shows across various fringe festivals that she hopes will spread the word about this truly unique theatre experience.
"Some of the best theatre I've ever seen has been on the fringe circuit," she says. "Some of the worst too, but some of the best."
Just as Everybody Dies in December reconciles laughs with the hard truths of loss, the fringe brings together the full spectrum of Canadian theatre. For Kenny and many others, the production and the festival are all about personal passion and giving your life to something you love.
"No curtains, it's all there," Kenny says of her performance philosophy, "and I never leave the stage." For many Fringe performers, that's what it takes: Never leaving the stage, in heart or mind.