Naming the Beast, Performance Lecture & Screaming Along at the Punk Show – A Chat with Thomas McKechnie, writer/performer of “4 1/2 (ig)noble truths”
Interview by Hallie Seline
Hallie Seline: Tell me about 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths.
Thomas McKechnie: 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths is a performance lecture on clinical depression. It’s more fun than that sounds. It’s my attempt to take the swirling incoherent masses of feelings, perspective and physical and emotional sensations of depression and give it form. To name it. If you know the true name of a thing it doesn’t make it less significant but it allows you to reach your arms all the way around it. To make it a thing that you can manipulate, contend with. Instead of being this overwhelming weight that lies on top of you in your bed, or chews on your joie de vivre among friends, it becomes like a pet you inherited, you don’t necessarily like it and it doesn’t necessarily like you but so long as you feed it and treat it ok the relationship is mostly peaceful.
Hallie: Where did you get the inspiration to create it?
Thomas: I started working on it the Soulpepper Academy under the direction of Guillermo Verdecchia. He encouraged the writers to write something personal for our first piece and really pushed me to not hide in my words or my ideas.
Hallie: Tell me about the format of the performance.
Thomas: It’s a performance lecture. Which can be sort of imagined as if that one teacher you had in high school who always got really invested in telling you about the War of 1812 or whatever, making gunshot noises and singing Rule Britannia etc, was let off the leash. It’s an attempt to use the lecture format of direct address with the poetry and metaphorical action of a play.
Hallie: Can you speak to what you are currently interested in exploring in your work in the experience of going to the theatre? This question is inspired by the following from your description:
“Because we are walking around polishing silverware or running schools or arresting jaywalkers, and we’re dying all the time and no one is saying anything. We aren’t talking because we don’t have words. Or we have those words but to say them could be worse. If he howls will you howl back? If we howl together will we be healed?”
Thomas: In reference to the quoted passage I’d say: localization and liveness. By localization I mean recognizing how the theatrical ecology has changed in 100 years. When folks did three-night-runs of touring productions of Shakespeare to 1000 people, the event had very little localization. You couldn’t be speaking to those people in that place specifically. You could speak to all people generally and the people would find specificity for themselves. By doing small plays in small theatres for small audiences we have a chance to speak to them specifically, locally, like a congregation at a church.
“This is for you if you come. I made it for you. I didn’t make it for the sold-out run in four major Canadian cities on a major tour that is not going to get specifically. I made it for you, here, now.“
Which ties into the liveness. I’m so fucking tired of having performances pretend I’m not there, pretend that we’re not doing a thing together.
“When I go to a good punk show I feel like I’m included. I’m allowed/encouraged/impelled to scream along, it isn’t just the performers doing their things and me watching it. The band opens a space where I can scream, where the person next to me can scream, where we can all scream. Where we are all there, having more and more fun, together. This is what I want for theatre.“
Down with the fourth wall. Speak to me.
Does that mean every show should be a solo show in direct address? No. What it means is that if I wanted a dead, abstracted, though very moving, performance I’d watch a movie.
Why are we doing this live? It’s hard and expensive and an ineffective means of communication. Given that, there should be a really, really good reason to make it live.
Hallie: What music would you recommend your audience listen to before the show?
Thomas: Titus Andronicus – The Monitor. It’s a devastating album that weaves the history of the American Civil War as a metaphor for the lead singer’s turbulent (and sometimes violent) relationship to mental illness. It was one of those bands that saved my life.
Hallie: What inspires you as an artist?
Thomas: I came up in the church and I still have so much of that mythos and ceremony and ritual in my bones, that pursuit of a holy thing.
“I’m not one of the faithful anymore but you find that transcendence in all sorts of places, in all sorts of music, in the way light lands on streetcar tracks.“
Hallie: If you could have written one album, which one would it be and why?
Thomas: Nana Grizol – Love It, Love It. It’s strange and bright and kind and SO SO SO wise. It’s like a strange man who hitchhiked into your town and he seemed cool and so you invited him to have a beer and instead of hearing his story you find yourself telling him your whole life and he listens carefully and has the exact right words to heal, to inspire, to make you laugh. It’s wonderful.
Hallie: Where is your favourite place in the city?
Thomas: Bathurst and Dundas at dusk.
Hallie: Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Thomas: Lots of shit my mom says. Not advice per-se but more of leading by example, “We’ll make it work.” “This too shall pass.” “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Things like this.
Hallie: Describe the show in 5-10 words.
“Shitty punk kid tries to find the words you need.“
4 1/2 (ig)noble truths
Written and Performed by Thomas McKechnie; Directed by Michael Reinhart; Assistant Directed by Julia Matias; Scenography by Claire Hill; Produced by Kelly Read.
Let’s pretend for a second that we’re OK. What does that feel like? A lot of things are not OK with Thomas but he’s got a ten-pound sledge hammer and is pretty sure that could solve at least one of his problems. This is a show that he wrote. It’s for/from those times when you can’t get out of bed. When you’ve only been eating breakfast cereal for days. When if someone asks you how you are you’ll say great – and then smash your face into their face. Thomas has 4 ½ totally useful pieces of advice for battling depression. He has an hour-long anarchic expression of depression that must be passed through first. Because we are walking around polishing silverware or running schools or arresting jaywalkers, and we’re dying all the time and no one is saying anything. We aren’t talking because we don’t have words. Or we have those words but to say them could be worse. If he howls will you howl back? If we howl together will we be healed?
“‘The Buddha laid it out a long time ago:
All life is conditioned by suffering
Suffering has its causes
Put an end to the causes, and
Cultivate the path.’
My favourite young anarchist playwright wrestles with mental suffering and clears his own path, which might be yours as well.”
– Guillermo Verdecchia
Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman
6 Noble Street
Thursday August 4th 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Sunday August 7th 7:45 PM – 8:45 PM
Wednesday August 10th 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Sunday August 14th 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
More Show Info:
twitter – @postbrechtian