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House Guests: an invitation to a party of intimate artistry- Drew Rowsome - MGT Stage -MyGayToronto

House Guests: an invitation to a party of intimate artistry
by DREW ROWSOME
22 November 2017
by Drew Rowsome Photos by Jae Yang

Becoming one of Corpus' House Guests is a magical experience, but also one that is somewhat dependent on the element of surprise. Which is also convenient as I have no idea how to put into words just what House Guests is. While probably best grouped with interactive and immersive theatre, House Guests also draws from dance, clowning, performance art, drag, and the haunted house ambiance of a dark maze to create something unusually absorbing, comic and disturbing - sometimes all at once.

8 Baden Street, just north of the bustling hipster hub of Dundas and Ossington, is a nondescript house except for the sign on the door that reads "House Guests." A woman checks my name off a list of tonight's guests and I knock at the door. In a flurry of frazzled hospitality, a charming and handsome man in a bathrobe ushers me in and explains he is running late, needs a shower, and if I'll just have a seat in the living room he'll be right down. When the routine is repeated with the following arrivals, I realize that House Guests has already begun.

Our genial host, who I later learn is Corpus' artistic director Daniel Danzon, races upstairs to have a shower and disappears. Sort of. To say he melts into the furniture would be a pun as well as a visual descriptive. We, the guests/audience, make idle awkward Toronto house party chit-chat about the horrors of gentrification, real estate and theatre gossip, until a string of lights conjure a proscenium, curtains part and we meet the cast. Libations are served and the cast scatters, urging us to follow at our whim. 

8 Baden Street consists of four levels providing multiple staging spaces and a multitude of experiences. The entire house has been equipped with speakers murmuring musical cues and sound effects, and ingenious lighting effects. What a guest will experience is dependent on where their curiosity leads them, up stairs or down, which cast member they allow to lure them, or which doorway they poke their head into. Again it is just like a house party where the guilt and thrill of perusing an open diary is as expected and unexpected as the performers' shifts in character.

Because the number of guests is small, each gets a unique, intimate experience. At one point I found myself racing down a flight of stairs because I heard applause in another part of the house, only to stumble into a grouping of guests involved in a choral reading. I realized it was better to abandon my critical faculties, any attempt to see it all, and just surrender to the experiences on offer that I chanced upon. I can't speak for any other guests, but chatting afterwards, they all had ones I wish I had seen, and many were envious of my luck.

In no particular order (and by no means even a partial catalogue, I was part of a Marina Abramovic moment with a ghost; watched Jolyane Langlois slither acrobatically over kitchen appliances; made up for barging in on Rob Feetham reading on the toilet by letting him in through a window so he could file his slippers; watched Takao Segawa dance and recite a spellbinding tale wherein a giant glowing peach gave birth to a Charlie Chaplin doll; was shushed as Indrit Kasapi flinched from mysterious knocking and insisted we listen for voices in the wall; and watched Michael Caldwell perform a whimsical and heartbreaking puppet show. Then all the guests were subtly herded to the second floor living area where, just like a house party, even the wallflowers joined in a dance party. And then to the kitchen to break bread.

For the first time I looked at my watch and realized that we had gone over the allotted time of 90 minutes. And though I was ready to explore more, see more, our genial host made an entrance, showered and in dashing formal wear, and the main events were over. Far too short and fabulously overwhelming. I had taken notes but could only record impressions, the House Guests thematic stew is rich and elusive. It is fascinating to snoop through someone else's home and psyche, and when it reveals ghosts, childhood games, fairy tales, dreams, voyeurism, drag and dress-up, and the power of the gaze, there is a lot to process and ponder. 

In the diary that I peered into, I read the scribble: "The universe is an orgy and the sun is at the center of it." House Guests is an orgy of ideas and artistry that puts each guest at the center of their own universe. The invitation to be a guest at 8 Baden Street is one that should be accepted.

House Guests continues until Sun, Dec 17 at 8 Baden St. corpus.ca

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