COMICS AND CENSORSHIP: The new play Greetings From Sardineland makes its Calgary debut this week at the EPCOR Centre’s Motel space and runs until October 6. The work has been generating a lot of word of mouth buzz including a sold out opening night for the new collective Red Phone Theatre.
Illustrations by Kristy Lannan
Comic books and violence. Art and politics. Meet Greetings From Sardineland, a new play making its Calgary debut this week at the EPCOR Centre’s Motel space.
After a sold out opening night Tuesday, the Red Phone Theatre collective is riding high for their remaining few shows. With the cast full of recent graduates from the University of Lethbridge and a couple of awards under their belts (2011 University of Lethbridge Play Right Prize and Ottawa Little Theatre’s 2012 National One-Act Playwriting Competition runner-up) word of mouth has been building over this quirky, funny production with heart and you still have time to go see it. It runs until October 6, giving you exactly four more chances to take it in.
The two lead characters, Sam and Max, are the creators of a violent and controversial detective comic. When their publication comes under fire from the Comics Code Authority, the future of their work and their friendship is suddenly in danger.
Director Alan E. Johnson described the concept of the play as being about censorship and free speech and what it does to an artist’s work.
“In the 1950s there was a huge uproar about comic books and how they were supposedly corrupting the youth. The Comics Code Authority was introduced which essentially turned all comic books into unimaginative fluff,” he said. “The play explores what this situation does to a fictional comic book publisher. Sam (played by Greg Wilson) and Max (played by Robert Kirik) created a hard-boiled detective comic that is very violent and soon comes under fire due to the Comics Code Authority. It affects their work, of course, but it also forces them to confront their own relationship and issues from the past.”
And although it’s based in the 50s, Alan believes the story still resonates with society today.
“I think people will be able to draw comparisons between the comic book panic and the more modern uproar against other pieces of culture – violent movies, video games – things like that,” he said. “There’s always some kind of ‘enemy’ out there that is corrupting us all, but the idea of censorship is such a backwards idea to me that I’ve always been against it. We should be educating people, not trying to hide the harsh truths of the world.”
Allan explained the story came from writer James Wade’s university days where he learned of the Comics Code Authority in class.
“This odd period in comic book history, filled with censorship, was forcing many writers to change their entire artistic vision was fascinating and something he wanted to explore,” he said.
“The thing about this play is it’s very funny. The subject matter is something very interesting to us, but the characters James created truly love their job – creating stories and situations that they find entertaining – and their humour comes out into the play as well. Of course the dynamic between the two is thrown off kilter when they get a new secretary, Harriet (played by Emma Sinclair), and eventually, a second illustrator and story consultant hired when the Code comes into effect, Duane (played by Mark Spracklin).”
But Alan was quick to point out that although it’s a comedy, there’s a lot of heart to this show.
“There are moments when you really get sucked into this world and the character’s relationships, and eventually you’re rooting for them. The actors have been amazing at bringing these characters to life, and making them simultaneously endearing and hilarious,” he explained.
The cast of Greetings From Sardineland (left to right) Greg Wilson, Mark Spracklin, Robert Kirik, Emma Sinclair.
Photo by Erin Bauer
Although Red Phone Theatre is new and the cast is made up of recent graduates, don’t expect a second rate production.
“As emerging artists ourselves, we understand it can be daunting and difficult to get work in the theatre community right out the gate. We were lucky enough to meet and work with many of the cast and crew before this show, and the talent within all these people is so incredible that we wanted to give them the opportunity and give Calgary a taste of who will be lighting up the stage later down the road,” said Alan. “I’ve lived in this city almost two years now and I’m constantly amazed at the wonderful art scene here, I figured it was time we threw our hat into the ring. I truly believe the theatre community will always benefit from artists collaborating and supporting each other as much as possible.”
Greetings From Sardineland runs until October 6 at the EPCOR Centre’s Motel with performances at 8pm, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday, October 6. For more information and tickets head here.