Expect the Unexpected

Category: stage 300

Next Folding Theatre Company stage a detective story for cosmonauts, archaeologists and astrologers.

Photo: Alex Donovan

Next Folding Theatre Company deserve a round of applause. Even before their upcoming production of Jordan Stewart’s Back To Zero takes to the stage at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre this week, they’ve already accomplished something amazing.

The company’s approaching Main Stage production has long existed as an ongoing adaptation of an incomplete work of fiction. In short, when Back To Zero was first announced as part of NFTC’s current season, the story and the resulting play had yet to be finalized.

Continuously inspired by the work of Saint John writer Jordan Stewart, whose collection of short stories Greetings! From Gumdrop Mountain was adapted and produced by NFTC a few years back, the company reached out once again hoping to further their relationship and bring another of Stewart’s works to the stage.

“Jordan was interested in generating new material for us and was writing this quirky cop drama with these surreal elements in it,” said Jean-Michel Cliche, a NFTC veteran and the director of Back to Zero.

New Brunswick playwright and NFTC artistic producer Ryan Griffith has called Stewart “one of New Brunswick’s greatest writers ever”, and the two have been working closely over the past year to adapt his ideas as they unfolded.

“That’s been a real interesting experience seeing the different incarnations this story has had throughout its development,” said Cliche.

Simply put, Back to Zero is a murder mystery. But it’s also a detective story full of the unexpected, drawing inspiration from the likes of Twin Peaks and True Detective, and one that will offer Fredericton theatre audiences an experience unlike any other stage production in recent memory.

“It’s kind of a detective murder mystery type play which is kind of interesting for theatre,” said Cliche. “Usually murder mysteries and cop dramas are left to more episodic storytelling like TV shows, so this is a really interesting format to be working in for the stage where the audience is essentially going to see this whole murder mystery play out in two hours.”

There is an interesting relationship between the work’s development and the story itself, both fuelled in part by possibility, circumstance and the ever-present element of risk that NFTC thrives on.

“It’s a fine line that we’re walking,” said Cliche. “We’re obviously trying to give clues out along the way to make the audience engaged like they’re putting this giant puzzle together, but at the same time we don’t want to overwhelm them because there is so little time to ruminate on them.”

In a bold move that seems to align well with the entire project, the company held auditions for Back To Zero and cast the entire show before the script was complete. In doing so, each member of the cast was able to contribute to the play’s development through readings and open discussion as new drafts were presented to the group.

“Casting was very challenging because of the way the script was generated,” said Cliche. “When we did our casting we only had fragments of the story and we had character bios. We had ideas of where the show was going to go but didn’t have a complete idea of how it was going to end up.

“We got a first draft and the cast read it and then we had a big round table discussion about the characters, where we thought the story was going to go, and who we thought the murderer was,” he said. “This gave Ryan [Griffith] a lot of ammunition to go away and create a new draft. It’s a bit of a collective work and has been a very exciting process.”

Cliche has been involved in several NFTC productions over the years including Greetings! From Gumdrop Mountain where he was first exposed to Stewart’s voice as a writer. Now making his directorial debut with the company, Cliche is excited to see this work finally reach the stage and in doing so, lend his own creative voice to one of the province’s most daring and challenging theatre companies.

“There is a really, really exciting point in Back to Zero where something was put in the script and we all read it and said there’s no way that’s possible. We can’t put that on stage,” he said. “We had some long talks with the designers and in the end, we created something that I don’t think anyone will ever see on stage before or after. That’s really exciting and I want to talk about it so badly, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until after the show once people see what we’ve made.”

Jordan Stewart’s Back To Zero | Next Folding Theatre Company | March 9 – 12, 2016 | Black Box Theatre | 7:30 PM | $15 – $10 students and seniors | Tickets available at the door | View Event

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