Artistic Fraud goes 'Belly Up'

Karla Hayward
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One-man show uses kaleidography to tell a story of courage and triumph

"Belly up" can be an emotionally charged phrase, particularly when it refers to a pet fish. But to be belly up can mean something else entirely; it can mean to reveal the tender, soft flesh of one's centre to the world; showing what's vulnerable in order to show confidence, like pressing your bare belly to that of your lover.

"Belly Up," the latest Artistic Fraud stage production, may topically appear to portray the former, but, like all this company does, the meaning goes much deeper.

Robert Chafe is shown in a scene from 'Belly Up.' Submitted Photo

"Belly up" can be an emotionally charged phrase, particularly when it refers to a pet fish. But to be belly up can mean something else entirely; it can mean to reveal the tender, soft flesh of one's centre to the world; showing what's vulnerable in order to show confidence, like pressing your bare belly to that of your lover.

"Belly Up," the latest Artistic Fraud stage production, may topically appear to portray the former, but, like all this company does, the meaning goes much deeper.

Robert Chafe wrote "Belly Up," and he's the only actor in this one-person production. Jillian Keiley directs, video and score are by Lori Clarke, and musical theme composition is by Petrina Bromley. Chafe describes it as a story "about a blind man, who has, for most of his life, been confined to his home and dependent upon his mother."

The story picks up a couple of days after Mom has stopped coming home.

"So now he's afraid to leave his home but he has no one to take care of him anymore."

Chafe says the work is "All about fear and how fear can be taught - meaning the mistrust that the main character has learned from his mother's overbearing protection."

"In the course of the show he has to negotiate his fear of the outside world against his fear of what could happen if he doesn't leave the house," Chafe says.

Responsibility and dependence figure strongly as well. We have a man who's spent a lifetime dependent on his mother, and now "has become responsible for himself and for this little metaphor for himself, this little fish in a bowl."

But it's beyond the storyline that the real story of "Belly Up" can be found.

Therein lies what Artistic Fraud has become so known for: a unique style of choreography called kaleidography. Unlike a musical, where actors move in time to the music, in kaleidography actors use music as a timing device.

For "Belly Up," Chafe appears in front of a large screen. On it plays a prerecorded video of Chafe within the apartment in which his character lives. For the entirety of the play, live-Chafe mirror-mimics virtual-Chafe in every single movement. The original sound-scape acts as his cue.

"Our company's built around a desire to explore the frontiers: the idea of precision on stage and how we can use music as a timing device to further enhance precision," Chafe explains.

"And how much more precise can you be than a guy matching a video of himself?"

It might seem restrictive to some actors, but Chafe describes the technique as quite freeing.

"It requires a lot of time and a lot of rehearsal to move it from where you're counting and thinking about the movements to where it becomes automatic."

But eventually, he explains, the actor becomes more like a musician and muscle memory dictates the movement, not conscious thought.

So, all that thought gets funneled into interpretation.

"The mechanics of timing are really the only thing that are proscribed - in terms of when a line is delivered and when things have to happen. But beyond that, you wouldn't believe how much the show varies from night to night," Chafe said.

"One night a line will be funny, another night it will be sad. But the words and the head movement are the same for both."

"Belly Up" has been in the works for six years. The idea began in 2001. The virtual-Chafe video was shot in 2003. And the rehearsal process began in earnest in late August 2006. The show premiered in Montreal recently, to sold-out crowds and a packed talk-back afterwards.

A lonely blind man with a (possibly) dead mother and a (possibly) dying goldfish may seem bleak fare, but "Ultimately it's a bright, hopeful story," Chafe says.

"It's about overcoming. It's about conquering. I think it's a very triumphant story, personally."

"Belly Up" is on stage April 25-29 at 8 p.m. at the LSPU Hall. There's a special pay-what-you-can matinee on April 29 at 2 p.m. Call the Hall for tickets at 753-4531.

Visit website www.artisticfraud. com for more information.

telyarts@yahoo.ca

Geographic location: Montreal

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