Electric Company Theatre draws modern tragedy into The Full Light of Day

The bold new production reopens the Playhouse to ambitious drama

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      The Full Light of Day will rank as one of the most epic-scale plays staged in Vancouver in 2019. Featuring 14 live-streaming cameras and projections, the new Electric Company Theatre production features an all-star cast led by Gabrielle Rose, an array of technologies, and a series of short, virtual-reality films that screen in the lobby.

      In 2016, Electric Company director Kim Collier scored a $280,000 New Chapter grant—a one-time project fund from the Canada Council to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation—to stage Daniel Brooks’s play. But she had one big problem. There was nowhere with the space and the theatrical fly system needed to fully stage it—except the Playhouse, which had stopped regularly hosting productions of this scope when its namesake company folded in 2012.

      “We had all this capital and art, and where were we going to do it in this city? We had this show under way!” the veteran theatre artist tells the Straight over the phone. “One of the things about building an incredible team is you need to be able to hold their schedules and that needs to be concrete. And it was very, very surprising that you couldn’t gather for a few weeks at the Playhouse.”

      The good news is that the search for a solution has not only brought Collier’s ambitious project to fruition, it’s led to a revival of the Playhouse as a regular theatre venue.

      Electric Company’s new artistic producer, Clayton Baraniuk, says The Full Light of Day required a more extended stay than a normal rental would, especially due to its extended installation period and technical elements.

      “They needed to carve out a longer residence inside of that venue in order to use it for what it was purpose-built for,” he explains of the civic-owned theatre.

      There was no availability two years out. However, a cancellation allowed the show to happen, and the production is finally preparing to take the stage in early January. “It’s a big leap for our company,” Baraniuk says, pointing out that past Electric Company shows have been produced by the likes of the Arts Club.

      In this case, the troupe is presenting alone—and it’s hoping to use the space at least once a year now that it’s entered the cycle of booking requests, paving the way for other groups to use it as well.

      “We’re a creation company. There’s no desire for us to become the next Playhouse Theatre Company, but now we’ll be able to leverage that infrastructure for other theatre companies,” explains Baraniuk. “It is our hope that we can leverage the opportunities we have been granted with this show to build our capacity and ignite Vancouver audiences’ passion for large-scale new theatre works, propelling our vision for annual premieres at the Playhouse forward and reviving theatre practice in the downtown core once again.”

      Electric Company Theatre is currently steering a Playhouse Revival fundraising campaign to make that dream a reality. At the same time that it breaks new ground with The Full Light of Day, the show continues the company’s more than 20-year tradition of building innovative, often multimedia spectacles.

      “We’ve always worked with scale,” says Collier, “whether it’s myself with Electric Company or others—shows like Tear the Curtain!, No Exit, or Betroffenheit—the major works have been on large stages.”

      Electric Company artistic producer Clayton Baraniuk and director Kim Collier needed the space of the Playhouse for the technical challenges of The Full Light of Day.
      Don Lee

      “The play looks hard at a society obsessed with land ownership—what we’ll hand down collectively to the next generation, and the scarcity of affordable homes,” Collier reflects. “It feels like we are quite confused right now and are awakening to this reality. For me, it feels like a real tipping point.

      “Daniel has written a piece that challenges us to awaken to those things,” she adds, “and he has a central character that is seeking redemption in a way—she has a personal revolt and takes a great risk to challenge all of that.”

      With Rose playing the woman on a quest to reconcile her husband’s corrupt legacy before she dies, the cast features Shaw Festival vet Jim Mezon, Bard on the Beach standout Dean Paul Gibson, and Betroffenheit’s Jonathon Young, as well as Jillian Fargey, John Ng, and Jenny Young.

      Collier seeks to use technology, somewhat paradoxically, as a way to create an intimate connection between those actors’ characters and the audience. The multiple cameras and projections often zoom in on their inner lives.

      “I really wanted to make a live-based technology and use technology to fill in the gaps,” she explains. “With the camera, you can get closer to the character and you can see the things that the script demands. I want everything to be live for the audience and not mediated.

      “All of this technology is also an expression of who we are now,” she adds. “I think it’s an honest response to today. It’s this epic, huge modern tragedy and you don’t want to reduce it to a certain location.”

      Of course, overseeing all these moving parts in the Playhouse space will take Collier to new heights of multitasking—but the theatre artist, who’s helmed everything from Vancouver Opera’s Sweeney Todd to Bard on the Beach’s Titus Andronicus and Electric Company’s own cinematic and wide-touring No Exit, embraces the challenge.

      “It’s a very complex piece. But it has been a growing strength for me to man a big ship,” she says, then adds that the full effect of all the elements coming together in The Full Light of Day might not reveal itself until opening night at the Playhouse: “I’m a visually based director; I play things out in my mind and on paper, but you can never quite know how to predict that. You can never know till you feel the rhythms, and see how they hit the body and mind.”

      Electric Company Theatre presents The Full Light of Day at the Vancouver Playhouse from January 7 to 12.