Number 574, Oct 26, 2006

Don't die of ennui.

Create your own theatre, ABC

The Thistle Project performance collective was started in 2004 by artistic co-directors, and best friends, Matthew Romantini and Christine Horne. Since that time the two have been developing their inaugural production, Gorey Story, a stage adaptation of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. And it’s just in time for Halloween. The original story, written by Gorey in 1963, is a charmingly macabre alphabet book cataloging the deaths of 26 children. At first it’s difficult to imagine how a small book of ABC’s can be transformed into an hour and a quarter of theatre, but Romantini points out that the original illustrations are often of the moment just before the child’s death. As a result, the story “is ripe with possibility with what else could be happening outside,” and that it was “really challenging to narrow down the story to its essential form.”

Romantini and Horne created The Thistle project shortly after the two graduated from York University. They decided rather than waiting for their agents to call them with work, they would “create work ourselves that we found artistically satisfying.” And thus their mandate, “to us space and the body to adapt non-theatrical sources to the stage” was born. Although simple and to the point, their mandate is open enough to allow the two to find inspiration in a vast range of sources, even alphabet books.
Between the two artists there is a wide range of experience. Romantini has worked with Kokoro Dance in Vancouver, and is co-founder of Ottawa-based theatre company, Planet Productions. Horne studied classical piano with the Royal Conservatory of Music and is a founding member of Toronto’s Wordsmyth Theatre. That doesn’t even mention their writing, producing and acting experiences. With such a combination it’s no surprise that their upcoming Gorey Story is an eclectic mix of dance, movement, and music that Romantini simple calls “theatre.”

As one might expect, Gorey Story brings Edward Gorey’s illustrations to life. Romantini explains, “the design concept we have has come directly out of the book. It’s so two dimensional…it looks like an illustration, the costumes are all drawn upon, and a lot of the props are drawn.”
One particular element of Gashlycrumb Tinies that really struck Romantini and Horne was the complete absence of parents. In this world the adults are simply absent. In contrast, Gorey story widens the picture allowing the audience to see what goes on in the moments before and after the deaths. Romantini seems genuinely concerned about the element of neglect that these children experience. For example, in the story a child named Neville dies of ennui, which Romantini suggests would “take a long time and a lot of neglect.”

But why adapt a book from 1963 you ask? Why Now? Well for one, people have never really stopped appreciating Gorey’s work, imitating his style, or reworking his stories. In that regard it seems perfectly normal for a Gorey Story to pop up. Beyond Gorey’s cult following Romantini explains his desire to adapt the work for the stage, saying “without being explicit [Gashlycrumb Tinies] touched upon my own feelings of fear and denial around where we are in the world right now. It feels like it speaks to my emotional state about the world without beating you over the head with a political massage.” And given that “fear” is a buzzword these days it seem much more useful to make works of theatre out of it, than it does to cower in it.