Theatre Company SPARKS Book Festival

Expect Theatre and SPARK productions' Chris Tolley and Laura Mullen assisted on the recent Harbourfront Centre's 27th annual International Festival of Authors, with their theatrical production of One Sleepless Night, that consisted of readings and performances by some of the world's best mystery authors and performers.

I spoke with Chris about the details of the project that wrapped up on October 19th.

"We were really excited to take four of today's most thrilling mystery authors and toss them into an event that fuses literature with opera, dance, music, video, and theatre," Chris said of himself and Laura, directors for the event.

How did you guys get involved in this event?

"The International Festival of Authors and Publishing House HarperCollins brought Laura and myself in to shake up the usual format for their readings. We took four of the top mystery writers from around the world (Louise Welsh [UK], Thomas King [Canada], T Jefferson Parker [US] and Louis Bayard [US]) and we created a theatrical event around their readings."

How did you present the production?

"The production was a one night event about a sleepless man's (Hugh Barnett) bedroom on a stormy night. After a night of tossing and turning, trying everything to get to sleep from watching TV to listening to the radio, Sleepless Man finally does the last thing one should do when trying to fall asleep. He reaches for a Mystery Novel. As the reader dives into his books, his imagination takes over and he (along with the audience) finds himself transported into the seedy world of Berlin burlesque, or into the middle of a dramatic Opera piece, etc. "

What is your vision of theatre?

"Both Laura and myself strongly believe there are many great opportunities to shake up the traditional form of theatre. Theatre doesn¹t need to be confined to traditional setting where the audience just sits passively.

There are many great opportunities to work other mediums and technology into theatre and, most importantly, give the audience an opportunity to move and help place and set the work. An example is our show Romeo/Juliet REMIXED. That piece took place in a night club.­ The audience entered the space, able to dance, move and interact with the characters. Here, the audience wasn¹t just a passive group of people, but instead made up one of the most important elements in show."

You mentioned experimenting with theatre. How did you do that here?

"One sleepless night helped us refine our work by giving us an opportunity to work with surround sound instillations, video, dance etc into one tight and succinct performance. It¹s, in a sense, a test-run for a show we¹re working on called STATIC scheduled to run at Harbourfront Centre next year.

With STATIC, the audience will be taken on a guided tour of the Harbourfront Centre (via a personal MP3 player) and will be taken from performance art instillation to installation. ­ Each step of the way we'll have the story of the main character, Max, unfold. ­The audience will not only learn about this character's journey, but will also get a chance to experience it themselves via the instillations. "

What are your intentions when putting shows of this nature up?

"For both STATIC and One Sleepless Night, we hope to shake things up a bit and hope to challenge what people traditionally think is theatre. We hope to broaden the form of theatre and hopefully offer people a good story along the way.

Photo: Laura Mullen and Chris Tolley of Expect Theatre

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