By Claudia De Simone
How do you make light of ostracism? Form a comedy sketch-troupe called The Royal Liechtenstein Theatre Company and call it comical exclusion. Get people laughing at you and then say, “Kick me again!”
The Liechtensteiners — Mike Bell, Sarah Constible, Tricia Cooper, Dawn Johnson, Scott Montgomery, Gordon Tanner and second-year journalism graduate student Christopher Read — will give Toronto a taste of their relentless play, Bush Party at Tim Sim’s Playhouse next month.
Although the title could be dirty or political, Constibile said the original concept saw the show as an outdoor party.
“They create sketches that we get to relive with maximum lurid clarity,” says George Toles, chair of film studies at the University of Manitoba and director of RLTC’s 1999 play Shack Out on 101.
Toles sits in the audience of almost every RLTC performance in Winnipeg. “Every time I see them, they renew my pledge for theatre.”
RLTC members met while performing at the U of M’s Black Hole Theatre. In 1995, Bell took the initiative to decide to form a troupe.
Like the titles of their plays, the RLTC’s name has no relation to the kinds of sketches it performs, the artist Roy Liechtenstein, or the tiny country of Liechtenstein, which is situated between Switzerland and Austria.
When the troupe sent a letter about themselves to the royal Liechtenstein tourism department, they got a reply with the Liechtenstein royal family’s blessing. Tanner and Read still argue about which of them came up with the name.
The Liechtensteiners write their own sketches and a few weeks before the show, they read in a circle to vote on what should be in the play.
The content of their sketches can get personal, Read says. “Sometimes we’ll get into heated arguments where people will cry.”
The situation-and character-based style of comedy, as Constible describes it, can get vulgar. One of their sketches features bears and oral sex and another involves losing control of bodily functions while in line at a store.
“We’re constantly asking ourselves if the irony is clear,” says Constible.
Bush Party is a series of linked sketches with no curtain-drawing in the performance. “Some people might say the theme is isolation,” says Constible.
Most of the sketches in Bush Party have already been performed in Winnipeg.
Read didn’t write any parts of the show this time around. He received the script on Nov. 16 but hasn’t read it yet. He’s played all the Bush Party characters in the past and is pretty relaxed about rehearsing. Tanner’s schedule did not allow him to be in Bush Party.
Read said he still gets stage fright, but the fear fades once he gets on stage. “It’s like jumping into a pool. You get used to the temperature.”
His favourite character is Space Baby, a children’s show host on hallucinogens who interacts with a puppet. Space Baby sees things that no one else can.
“Read can go to places with his face and body that no one’s ever ventured to before,” says Toles.
Constible is partial to playing two-years-olds. She also writes and performs songs in the skits, alongside Montgomery and Cooper.
The Liechtensteiners have recently worked with Royal Canadian Air Farce executive producer and directory Perry Rosemond, who helped them develop material for a potential CBC series.
If the RLTC gets a show on CBC, Toles worries it will have to conform to an executive’s wishes. “I hope no one tampers with the troupe’s identity,” he says. “There’s not one person that the company can relinquish without it being a loss.”
The Royal Liechtenstein Theatre Company are a family, says Read. “The troupe is so much a part of our lives. We’re friends, we go out together, we love each other.”