Interview: Six At Home

by Ottawa Fringe

June 20, 2010

by Andrew Alexander

Emma Zabloski

One only needs to spend a few moments in Laurier House to know it’s a special place; this is one of those old mansions of which you say, “they don’t make them like they used to.” The house was the residence of former Prime Ministers Wilfred Laurier and MacKenzie King, and over the next ten days, it will also be the venue for a unique piece of theatre entitled Six At Home, spearheaded by Ottawa U theatre alum Emma Zabloski. Of the interviews I’ve done so far for the fringe, the setting for the one I’m doing with Emma is by far the classiest, surrounded by antique furniture, textured wallpaper, and wooden wall panels. As we talk, performers are going through their pieces, walking through the space in a ghost-like state, speaking to an audience that doesn’t exist yet. It’s almost unsettling.

Months ago, Emma had already made the application for a Bring Your Own Venue at the fringe, but didn’t have a venue; she knew that they would be six, in a home, but didn’t yet have the home. “I was looking for a simple house,” she recalls. “I asked all my friends, and put out calls, desperately trying to find a home, but it wasn’t happening. Lots of issues: roommates, or insurance. And then by chance, I thought of Laurier House, and I emailed them, and they were interested…”

Laura Astwood in character.

The inspiration for the show hit Emma during a bike trip in Europe. “I had a few really intimate, connected experiences, so I decided I wanted to create something in that vein when I came back. I knew that when I came back I wanted to do a show, it’s been a couple of years since I did my own piece. Recently I’ve been very disenchanted with the conventional stage setting, the audience-performer relation. I knew I wanted it to happen in a house, having these intimate experiences in different rooms.”

Thus began the project of Six At Home, a series of monologue performance pieces taking place in different rooms of the house. The overall effect is still unified, however. “The thing that linked us was our research,” says Emma, “these forgotten bits of Ottawa history, from the late twenties to the seventies. Most of them are concentrated on the thirties-forties. We’re not trying to embody these people that really existed, we’re using their stories to create our own. It’s an adventure.”

Sarah Waisvisz, on the staircase.

The characters, going through their pieces, almost look like ghosts wandering through the house. “Coming from being in this house, with MacKenzie King’s spiritual tendencies, we decided to frame it as a seance of sorts. We have an opening scene on the front porch downstairs with the spectators, a ritual that awakens these characters that are coming into us.” As much as the pieces are essentially monologues, the audience is very much an integral part of the show, surrounding the actor as their perform and interact with them. “Part of this project is total experimentation. We have ideas of what might happen: we can gauge how people might react, not be so willing to participate: a huge part of this is research in itself, we want to see how things turn out, and learn from it for future projects. I’m really looking forward to that element which is yet to come. We haven’t practised this with forty-eight people, the maximum audience we’re accepting, going up and down on stairs, there are so many things we don’t know… ”

Despite the unknown, Emma is clearly enthusiastic for the prospect of how the show will be received. “The energy I want to have is when you have someone over from dinner. You have a form – you’re the guest, I’m the host, we know our roles. I probably bring out the fancy glasses, you might bring a bottle of wine. There’s a form to the event, but we’re still friends, having a good time, sharing a meal. I really want to have this idea of an experience where truly, the audience and the performers are on the same level. All the pieces are based on having people to interact with.”

Guy Marsan, in the bathroom.

This is Emma’s second fringe show, her first being the successful If Not For The Sea, which won Best Ensemble piece at the 2007 Ottawa Fringe Festival. She’s become more interested in creating her own works than being cast in other people’s. “I really want to create and get better at what I do. I like this idea of generating material with a group. We were rehearsing as a group, training, researching our pieces.” The cast knew that they wanted to go through archived editions of the Ottawa Citizen, forgotten bits of Ottawa history as the inspiration for the creation of their pieces. “But you can only do so much without knowing where you’re performing, right? So when we came in, people chose their spaces, and that’s when things really started to roll.”

She’s got a lot on her plate: in addition to coming up with the structure of the show, she’s producing, directing, as well as performing her own piece as part of the six pieces of the show. “Technically I’m the director because I’m organizing and coordinating everything, but [the other cast members] are totally responsible for researching their own pieces and creating a structure, writing, and then I would help them to shape it. It’s very collaborative, it’s the first time I’ve done something like this, where you give up a lot of ownership… the first time I’ve done something site-specific… the first time I’ve directed something and performed in it… lots of firsts.”

The first showing of Six At Home sold out on Friday night: it ran a little longer than expected, as they’re not constrained by the hour time-limit, so you might not make a 10pm show, but then again, if you’re fast on your feet, you might.

Six At Home can be seen at the Laurier House, at 335 Laurier Avenue East (at Chapel), a ten-minute walk from the fringe tent. More information on the show can be found on the company’s website, http://www.wix.com/sixathome/fringe.