Stephanie Johns talks with Zuppa about the 10 year anniversary production of Uncle Oscar’s Experiment. Read “Oscar’s Ballad” below or at The Coast.
Zuppa Theatre Co. presents a milestone production—a 10 year anniversary remount of Uncle Oscar’s Experiment (October 10-20, Fort Massey United Church, 5303 Tobin Street, uncleoscar.eventbrite.com), and lucky you gets to witness how the company has aged like a fine wine.
“I’m waiting to see what people who saw the show ten years ago think,” says Alex McLean, co-artistic director of the company and the director of the show. “In many ways it is the same. The story is the same, most of the physical choreography is the same, the music is the same. But it feels very different to me.” And that’s for a few reasons. Stewart Legere steps into the role of eccentric Dr. Oscar Smitthson-Burke (originally played by Simon Henderson) and thankfully, budgets are bigger. “Ten years ago we made shows on a shoestring. It’s more of a boot lace now,” says McLean. This means local designers for the costumes, set and light design. “As a result, coming to the show now feels more like entering into a very particular environment—you literally walk into the ‘Institutitorium’ in which the show is set.”
Uncle Oscar’s Experiment first began as a commission by Two Planks and Passion Theatre and stars Kiersten Tough, Legere, Ben Stone and Susan Leblanc-Crawford, with a live musical score from composer Jason Michael MacIsaac and arranger David Christensen.
Telling the story of a young girl who has a knack for mayhem, bad luck and general disaster who is searching for a cure, McLean explains: “It is a kind of fairy tale, but underlying it is a serious question: how far can a doctor go to heal a patient whose ‘illness’ is more of a social problem than a personal one? How much should such a patient be expected to endure for the sake of the common good? It’s a serious question of medical ethics asked within the structure of a grotesque clown show.”
That clown show includes a few notable hairstyles and a couple “bloody procedures”, so hold on to your butts.
“It’s been a real wild ride revisiting this show,” McLean says.
The passing of time isn’t an insignificant way the play has transformed either. “The rest of us are ten years older than when we made the show. We think differently and move differently—this has really altered the feel of the performances, I think,” says McLean. He describes the rehearsal process as “having a conversation with our younger selves.”
McLean says this conversation has “forced us to be very attentive to every movement, every intersection of text and music. Meanwhile, our older selves have brought more nuance to the piece.”
“Thematically, I think the show is just as relevant now as it was in 2003. It is largely about the power dynamics of the doctor/patient relationship—something that we should always be attentive to.”