Dark. Tragic. Funny. All words director Jamie Dunsdon uses to describe Canadian writer Karen Hines' musical play Hello...Hello, the latest instalment of the University of Calgary's current drama season.
"Really, this is a black and white movie on stage and now we're just kind of twisting it, poking fun at it, and throwing in a splash of colour," says Dunsdon. "It talks about everything from art to environmentalism to love. . . but there's always a little twist under everything."
Dunsdon is directing Hello...Hello as her thesis for her master of fine arts at the U of C. This show will be the first time the play is performed outside of Toronto and without Hines starring in it. Hines, director of clown duo Mump & Smoot and creator of the critically acclaimed character Pochsy, recently moved to Calgary and has been helping Dunsdon with the play.
"She's a phenomenal artist," says Dunsdon. "I saw her do this show and it changed my life. . . I remember just being so inspired."
After seeing Hines perform in Lethbridge, Dunsdon got her hands on a copy of Hello...Hello. Though it sat on her shelf for a long time, it was a natural choice when it came time to pick a thesis. Dunsdon is happy to finally work on the project, noting that the content is especially topical right now.
Hello...Hello, which Dunsdon considers a cautionary tale, presents a possible future world where the line between art and commerce is thin, if existent at all. It's a world where artists, zebras and even bananas are extinct.
"This play is very layered," Dunsdon explains. "It's really well constructed. . . It's such a fascinating play because it doesn't try to bash you over the head. . . It describes the death of the last zebra really poetically. It's a beautiful description of the death of the last zebra and it asks the audience to make a choice, to say, 'Is this beautiful?' "
Though that seems slightly morbid, Dunsdon assures the play is more humour with a dark twist. And amidst the despair of extinction, the play is, at its core, a love story.
"It's a romantic musical satire," Dunsdon says. "It challenges the boy-meets-girl love story. . . It's a musical, but it challenges musicals. It challenges what's underneath, what is the impulse of musical theatre, of romance genres and tries to point out the little connections."
Though it sounds complex, Dunsdon believes that through laughter, an escapist medium can be used to challenge escapist-culture, a musical can challenge musicals and a love story can poke fun at love stories.
"Show people something, let them laugh at it and let them think about why they're laughing at it," she explains. "This is a play that makes you think, without making you hate thinking. The play is so layered with all these things about art and the environment and money and love. All we're hoping really is that people will take some of that and start to link them and start to think about how we choose to look at the world we live in. Do we choose to look at it or do we choose to look somewhere else?"