There's something about laughter that's wonderful and powerful at the same time. Just ask Val Lieske, artistic director of Fire Exit Theatre.
"I think theatre is a very powerful medium, especially comedy," she says. "It just has the power to have people come in to this dark room and share this common experience and to laugh together. I think it's so healing."
When you get people to laugh at themselves, it's easier to get a message across.
I had the opportunity to catch a dress rehearsal of The Diseased Vignettes, which opens Fire Exit's second season, and to talk with Lieske.
The Diseased Vignettes finds the humour in our obsession with sickness and with time. The first act deals with Marisa, a hypochondriac. It begins with an examining room scene in which the doctor enters and makes a corny joke. "Thanks for being patient," he says, then laughs at his own joke. And then things get really interesting.
As doctor and patient talk, the action cuts to various scenes inspired by TV. There's Adam and Eve arguing on a daytime talk show, a game of hangman featuring a Vanna White-like character and a panel of researchers spouting facts such as, the average person will have witnessed 18,000 TV deaths by age 16.
The second act deals with Jonathan, a chronophobiac: he's concerned about how much time he has and how he should spend it. As in the first act, the conversation between doctor and patient sparks a flurry of scenes. This time there are flashbacks from Jonathan's childhood and a commercial for the great timesaving device, the mircrowave oven. Also, Jonathan is visited by Father Time, a Timekeeper, a Time Manager and a Timeline. They all offer their perspectives and knowledge on time. Did you know, for instance, that you spend 15.5 years of your life eating, sleeping or working and that you spend 913 days watching TV?
"We find the humour within the idea that we're all sick and we're all going to die and that we're all trying to fill our lives with relationships and with entertainment and all these other things," says Lieske. "Our positive message, we hope, is that there is a way and that there is hope."
And hope is what Fire Exit is all about. It is Calgary's first faith-based community theatre, comprised of various groups and individuals who decided to take what they were doing in their own communities with traditional Christian theatre to the next level.
"Everybody's welcome," says Lieske. "There are people involved from every walk of life, every skill level, every denomination and every type of faith."
In the new season, Lieske hopes the company will get better and broaden its audience.
"We don't want this to be another church service, I just want to open it up," she says. "I want it to be a faith-neutral environment for people to come in and to be entertained and to be challenged and to walk out changed hopefully. I want them to feel free to agree or disagree with what we're doing on stage but to come anyway and participate in this. And if they want to ask me questions after or poke at me, they certainly can."
The Diseased Vignettes runs until Sept. 27 at the Engineered Air Theatre.