A Dead Tree and an Existential Lamp: Day Two of TK Theo Fringe

Reviews of TK THEO Fringe posted on a wall. Each review is on a white cue card.
Photo by Haley Sarfeld.

After brushing off the sawdust and rinsing milkshake residue out of their hair, students from the DAN School of Drama and Music returned to Theological Hall for a second night of TK Theo Fringe—a showcase of short, fringe-style solo performances presented at Theological Hall in partnership with Theatre Kingston. Following an intense evening of site-specific theatre on Wednesday, I returned, too, and experienced what the second (and last) day of the festival had to offer. 

This article contains strong language and mentions of violence. 

I began with What’s True (Victoria Marmulak) in the Rotunda Theatre. Marmulak presents a jubilant examination of her complicated relationship with truth-telling—a resonant topic for this small-city theatre critic. Marmulak’s performance delves into self-image, listening, and graciousness through a series of lively anecdotes. Her movement and posture become more unhinged as the performance continues, with lively lighting cues that express shifting states of mind. Toward the end, Marmulak engages the audience in a series of games, including a mad libs-style monologue about a hated coworker. My favourite part? The confetti, for sure.

Murder (Matt Kush) investigates toxic masculinity through two characters: a delinquent named Matt and a dudebro named Zach. Convocation Hall’s projector screens show the grisly crime scene: a photo of a snapped tree in Victoria Park. Alternating between characters, Kush narrates the (real? fictional?) story of how the tree came to be destroyed. He builds a diatribe about piracy, vandalism, and other petty crimes that wraps into a critique of capitalism, patriarchy, and redemption narratives. I can’t say I was always fully taken in by the performance, but some bits of dark humour had me laughing out loud: “Come on, guys, you can feel safe around me. You know what? If you write me a bad review, I won’t even send you death threats.” Thanks, Matt. After the show, I sat and watched Kush sweep up the styrofoam his character had destroyed in a rage. Something about this moment added texture to the performance for me—Murder is a monologue about men owning their shit, and watching the actor clean up after himself felt like a tangible expression of that theme. 

Next, I slipped out to try my odds at finding The Chances of Loving You (Chanel Sheridan), a site-specific show in a secret location. After rolling a die at the box office and receiving a clue, I found my way to a tiny basement room decorated like a cosy apartment. This short and sweet interactive storytelling experience ponders the relationship between fate and chance. No, literally: Sheridan personifies the two in a star-crossed romance between Fate, who always has things neatly arranged, and Chance, who rolls in unannounced and never sticks to a plan. Sheridan runs the show like an oracle reading, inviting the small audience to pick a card or roll a die to decide the direction of the story. The intimate setting and Sheridan’s gently assertive eye contact create a conversational atmosphere, giving The Chances of Loving You a uniquely engaging quality. 

Just Add Another Lane (Jonas Jacobson) is a charismatic crash course in anti-car rhetoric that lands somewhere between standup comedy and a TED Talk. With impish smiles and absurd humour, Jacobson creates deliberate emotional whiplash, ending an emotional family story with “On a lighter note, let’s talk about walkable cities!” He gets into contemplative territory with an anecdote about being a queer kid in the suburbs that highlights the connection between age, power, and access to transportation. Jacobson makes a hard-hitting case for not driving: “I don’t like any situation where I could instantly end a life if I chose to.” After a sprawling monologue, a truly delightful exercise follows in which Jacobson leads the audience on a radical pedestrian field trip out of Convocation Hall and into the parking lot. On Thursday night, we practiced asserting our right of way in front of a car that was trying to turn—a gleeful bonding experience and a breath of fresh air after an evening spent indoors.

Following DRAM 339’s fringe shows, students from MUTH 333 presented the Music Theatre Creation Lab Showcase. The showcase featured seven performances of original songs and monologues. I was struck by Justin Dubuc’s number from Degeneration, a wistful, waltzy piece that explores an aging antique dealer’s relationship with his family. The accompanying monologue captures ‘grandfather humour’ (is that a genre?) perfectly, and Dubuc’s physicality and mannerisms are a delight to watch alongside the music box-like piano accompaniment. At risk of becoming a Kate Greening fan blog, I also have to mention Greening’s Ballad of a Lamp—a monologue from a neurotic lamp whose human owner has died becomes a poetic cry for connection, with impressionistic chords and goosebump-inducing imagery. I was likewise dazzled by Victoria Marmulak’s glimmery excerpt from Phosphenes—the song is beautiful, with a chatty rhythm and a vibrant group finale, and the melody lingered in my head for days. 

The festival concluded with a cameo from DRAM 339’s professor, Thea Fitz-James, who reprised her show Drunk Girl (written and performed by Fitz-James and directed by Shanda Bezic), which she had previously toured from 2014 to 2019. With a zany, effervescent opening and politics that set in like a hangover, Fitz-James explores the relationship between women and alcohol, dancing through the giddy moments and offering stomach-turning truths. 

TK Theo Fringe was a surreal experience—as a Queen’s alum, it felt almost like I was going back in time, but since I was never in the drama department, it was more like visiting a parallel universe—unfamiliar, but a little nostalgic, too. I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness such fresh student work, and I hope to see this partnership between Queen’s and Theatre Kingston return next year. 

With recently revealed policies to cut smaller ArtSci courses, I worry for the future of classes like DRAM 339 and MUTH 333, which provide unique and irreplaceable settings for focused theatre education. Today’s students are tomorrow’s colleagues—if they lose opportunities to build skills and experience in the arts, Kingston loses a cohort of skilled and experienced artists. 

I hope that future generations of theatre makers will continue to have opportunities like TK Theo Fringe to hone their craft, and that the public will be invited to see more of it in years to come. To the students who performed this week:  Congratulations! I look forward to finding out what comes next for all of you.

TK Theo Fringe ran from November 22nd to 23rd, 2023, at Theological Hall. The mini festival featured solo shows written and performed by students in DRAM 339, as well as works of music theatre written and performed by students in MUTH 333. More information can be found here.

This article was edited on December 1st, 2023 to update formatting.