One of the things I look forward to each year is anything by the gifted writer and performer Kate Story. Peterborough would hardly be Peterborough without her; she does this thing that no one else can do. One minute I’m mesmerized by her monologue, or her interaction with a costume or prop, but there’s movement that transmits a non-verbal subtext, like a double whammy. Using both voice and body language and her own distinctive scripts, she is one of those rare female actors who can deliver slapstick as easily as poetry with unaffected grace.
Take Performances May be Permanent. Story, in an over-sized overcoat, somehow weaves together a meditation on Glenn Gould and a relationship with a mentally ill parent. At intermission at Market Hall, no one can really speak. Tears are welling up in our eyes. She struck a chord, touched something we recognize but can’t verbalize.
At last year’s Erring on the Mount multimedia festival, Story performed a place you’d go to find something, something that you’d left there in the coveted and deliciously theatrical Trunk Room. Accompanied by the light and lyrical guitarist David Bird, the story unfolded as part mystery, part historical drama, part inner dialogue. Watching and listening to Story unravel the journey of a young novice entering the convent for the first time with her solitary suitcase, so alone and far from home, I felt like the kid engrossed in a scary story in a tent lit by flashlight.
Insomnia was executed impossibly and wistfully on a vertical bed in the dark and tiny Theatre on King in 2013, accompanied by the music of Curtis Driedger, Derek Bell and Charity Justrabo dressed in night caps and gowns, along with a birch tree and astro turf which covered the stage, like the incongruent language of a dream.
I can’t quite explain Kate Story’s work, but it stays with me for a very long time.
Story grew up in Newfoundland, of academic parents, a distractible kid with access to an “uncurated” library, who once got the strap for not paying attention in school. “I was always being put in the corner for daydreaming and talking,” she confesses. “Now I make my living daydreaming and talking.”
She toured with the Newfoundland Dance Theatre at the tender age of 13 and garnered a spot in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet summer school, but wasn’t a good fit for the pressure-filled world of professional ballet.
After attending Trent’s Cultural Studies, she began grad school at OISE until a serious car accident made it clear to her that she needed to leave the academic stream. Story tells me she had an epiphany and knew exactly what she had to do. “I want to make theatre happen.”
Sky Gilbert at Toronto’s Rhubarb Festival had offered her a reading of one of her plays; the following season she wrote a one woman show. When Rhubarb agreed to produce it, they assumed she would perform it. “I just wanted to be cool … it didn’t occur to me to perform it and it was terrifying,” she tells me. She went on to perform at St. John’s Fringe Festival and Summerworks.
Although she never received professional theatre training, for 7 years she pursued writing and acting in Toronto, hanging around Theatre Ontario or DNA Theatre as well as the Union and 4th Line Theatre in Peterborough. While engaged in the competitive theatre scene of Toronto, she was advised to specialize, even while those she admired pursued multidisciplinary approaches. She began creating out of frustration when she found acting roles for women were pathetic, limiting her to playing the ingenue. She explored writing and created characters like Bold Pearl, and a drunken baby, playing with gender and “literally dissecting myself … a sort of fearlessness that masqueraded as confidence … nothing was off limits.”
“I love narrative,” she tells me. “Text is nice because dance can feel inaccessible … in our culture we knock the dance right out of people.” Just as an artist’s sketch can often be more interesting than a finished painting, Story leaves space for her audience to connect the dots. She does what only the best artists do – she lets us in.
Love brought her back to Peterborough, where it became apparent that she could continue to make theatre on her own more easily than in Toronto “without tons of money,” and where she felt needed. She was and is willing to do whatever it takes – set painting, costume design, grant-writing – to make sure other theatre companies such as Mysterious Entity, The Nervous System and The Theatre on King thrive.
Peterborough has afforded her the opportunity to work and collaborate with people of high caliber – choreographers, musicians, artists and performers the likes of Claudia Moore, Bill James, R. Murray Schafer, Ryan Kerr, Caroline Langill, Patti Shaughnessy, Martha Cockshutt, Curtis Driedger and Ray Henderson as well as the chance to develop through performance incubators such as Public Energy’s annual Emergency series, Artsweek and The Theatre on King.
Her new work is damned be this transmigration, a response to the life and writings of Don Marquis. Marquis acerbically captured the golden era of American publishing empires and the age of prohibition of the 1920’s, while acting as ghostwriter to a wise cracking, philosophical cockroach named Archy who cranked out a weekly 23 line newspaper column for The New York Evening Sun without the use of capital letters. With contemporaries like Dorothy Parker and James Thurber, Marquis’s free verse satire was exemplary during this literary heyday.
Story stumbled on Marquis’s archy and mehitabel as a child and admits the text and its animated illustrations by George Herriman, creator of the zany Krazy Kat comic, were somehow indistinguishable. The writer’s star-crossed life and regret that in his career he had never “gotten to the big stuff, the stuff that matters” resonated with her.
With director Em Glasspool at the helm, Story draws a portrait of the capricious and insatiable alley cat Mehitabel who imagines herself to be an incarnation of Cleopatra; the inimitable Brad Brackenridge plays the beleaguered newshound Marquis alongside Ryan Kerr as the precise and personable cockroach. The original music is by Rob Fortin, accompanied by Susan Newman.
Story is also author of 2 published novels, Blasted and Wrecked Upon the Shore, that navigate the quicksand of relationships, magical thinking and claiming self. “I know right away if it’s a prose idea or a performance idea,” she says.
I ask her about the possibility of remounting past work. Unlikely, she tells me. “Remounts are like that second shot of Jägermeister – seems like a good idea at the time, but remounts are always disastrous. You don’t have the momentum and someone gets pregnant and someone has moved away.”
Which is my way of telling you that you should always take in a Kate Story show whenever you can – you will probably have one chance only to experience her remarkably original performances.
damned be this transmigration
January 29 – 31, 2015, 8pm and February 1, 1pm
Tickets $15 or pay-what-you-can at The Theatre on King