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- True Story at The Staircase Cafe Theatre
VIEW Magazine - June 2002
by Kerry Corrigan
Forthright and attractive, choosing her words in the careful way that marks an academic, performance artist Allison Williams brims with enthusiasm as she describes her upcoming one-woman show at the Staircase.
“As a matter of fact, it is being written as we speak,” she laughs, when queried as to whether this is the debut of her work True Story. Yup this show is brand new.
The slick glossy postcard promo that she is distributing sports three intriguing photos of her, each with headings. The first, with Allison in a slinky black gown eating fire, is titled Side Show. Next is Strip Show, with her straddling a chair in black stockings in a mood that looks more bound than boundless. In the third she wears a red silk jacket, and the title is Talk Show. It’s a good indication of the variety to be expected in True Story.
Williams explains that, working on the show since early January, her endeavour has changed dramatically from a solo show with one character, to a solo show with many characters. She’s been rehearsing the one act play in sections, and she’s keeping it at about 55 minutes long, in order to fit into the fringe theatre format.
“The show is based on a series of interviews that I’ve been doing with people on ‘what’s the most important thing you’re carrying with you?’”
A lot of her research was done last summer in Hamilton and Toronto, and so local stories will figure prominently. “I think it’s really important that in some ways theatre speak to the community that it’s in, reflect the community.”
There are also pieces that reflect the residents of Kalamazoo, where she is employed as an artist in residence at Kalamazoo College. The performance tour is being funded by a grant from ArtServe Michigan through the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs.
When asked about the provocative publicity photos, Williams replies, “They say if you want to get really good at a skill put it in a show!” Allison’s New Vaudeville experience includes 7 years touring the Renaissance Festival circuit, including the Ontario Renaissance Festival in Milton, where she and her partner are The Daring Develinis, a 30-minute comedy stunt show with fire-eating, a bed of nails and audience participation. She is also an accomplished tightrope walker and aerialist.
She and partner Ted Espeland also make up Commedia Zuppa, a theatre company that creates and performs physical theatre, mask, circus and commedia dell’arte.
Her specialty is the Hoop, which resembles a metal hula-hoop which hangs from the air like a trapeze, and from which she can hang and pose and do “geometrically interesting things”. She also uses aerial silk, letting the equipment work as a visual metaphor for the emotional nature of the material.
Born in Florida to Canadian parents, Williams enjoys dual citizenship, which means crossing the border for work between Michigan and Ontario is relatively stress-free. She has been living and working in Michigan for two years.
She is one of 25 artists, and the only playwright, to receive The Creative Arts Grant, the first grant she’d ever applied for.
Sharing her process as an artist with other young potential artists, Williams worked in two Michigan high schools in “under-served areas, which means they don’t get as many visits from artists as other communities do”, working with students, examining their stories, and having them conduct their own interviews with family and friends. They each picked a favourite story, which was written and performed as a monologue at a special presentation.
Key chains are big in people’s selections of important things, or their “significant other”.
But how do you make the jump from key chains to strip shows?
“The show is partly other people’s experiences, partly my experiences, and partly stuff completely made up out of whole cloth.” Her avid interest in the world of exotic dancers, and people who are in that line of work, prompted her to bring elements of that profession into the multi-dimensional peformance.
Williams has given herself free reign in her creating her characters for True Story - some of them are based quite faithfully on people she has interviewed, some are based in her own experiences, some are completely made up.
“People have been telling me extraordinary stories about these objects that they carry that are important to them. I don’t plan to stop interviewing people, because I’m finding it so interesting and so as I get more stories that need to be told, I’ll probably rotate pieces in and out, add a piece, make the show longer, make the show shorter . . .”
“There’s an old saying, ‘it may not be what happened, but it’s the truth’.” For Williams that means finding the significance in people’s stories and then expanding on that to make it universally recognizable.
True Story may not really be “true”, at least not all of it, but interesting, challenging, surprising, maybe even shocking? You have only two chances to find out.
// tie dye