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Each evening, a different local actor steps into Pathetic Fallacy in the starring role and follows instructions on a monitor while standing in front of a green screen.

Anita Rochon/Handout

  • Title: Pathetic Fallacy
  • Written and directed by: Anita Rochon
  • Actors: TBD
  • Company: The Chop presented by Rumble Theatre
  • Year: Runs online to November 29, 2020

The Chop is one of those brilliant little companies based out of British Columbia that was thinking deeply about future forms of theatre long before the pandemic hit.

Pathetic Fallacy, its co-artistic director Anita Rochon’s clever, unclassifiable 2018 show about weather, God and art, was born out of the idea of creating a touring theatre piece that would not require her to actually physically go on tour.

How useful to have that in your pocket as a performing artist right now.

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This is how Pathetic Fallacy, which is live-streaming nightly from Vancouver’s Rumble Theatre until November 29, works.

Each evening, a different local actor steps into the show in the starring role, puts on a blue-and-white striped Breton shirt and follows instructions on a monitor while standing in front of a green screen.

An in-person audience would get to watch two things unfold at the same time: On one side of the stage, the unrehearsed actor flailing around trying to keep up with the directions; on the other, a projection of the quirky documentary about weather and art that this actor’s image is being sucked into, narrated by and occasionally featuring video of Rochon in tricot rayé herself.

For this live-stream-only version, stage manager Emelia Symington Fedy, who is also co-artistic director of the Chop, calls the shots on what the at-home audiences get to see at any given moment: The farcical frenzy in front of the green screen, the smart if idiosyncratic documentary, or both at once.

If it sounds overcomplicated, it’s not: It’s funny, like watching an unprepared TV meteorologist try to give a forecast.

The substance of Pathetic Fallacy is a short visual exploration of the history of the depiction of weather in art and television.

Samantha Madely/Handout

I tuned in on Wednesday to see Jonathon Young, the charismatic co-creator of the internationally celebrated B.C. dance-theatre hybrid Betroffenheit, take part in this avant-garde experiment. Arggy Jenati, Aryo Khakpour, Omari Newton and Jivesh Parasram are on deck for the next performances.

The substance of Pathetic Fallacy is a short visual exploration of the history of the depiction of weather in art and television. (It’s just 60 minutes, the perfect length for a livestream, or at least my pandemic attention span.)

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There’s a segment in which Rochon, in recorded form, talks about an 1836 painting of the Connecticut River by the English-born, American painter Thomas Cole, finding all sorts of insights in its details into the shift between the idea of weather as a God or an act of God, to weather as a natural phenomenon we can predict and maybe even shape as humans.

A later segment sees Rochon dissect a more recent masterpiece of visual art about passion and precipitation: The 1982 music video for the disco hit It’s Raining Men by the Weather Girls.

All the while, keep in mind, there’s the overlaid physical comedy of watching the transposed Young – or whatever actor happens to be in front of the green screen in a given performance – attempt to point to the right place in the painting at the right time or join in the choreography in the music video. The Breton stripes made Young seem like a mime gone mad.

Through the magic of the green-screen technology, Rochon, in filmed form, and her stand-ins, who are live, also share a few scenes – having a conversation on an airplane or in a restaurant about the show’s themes. (Candelario Andrade and Milton Lim are credited with the projection design, which is of high quality.)

Young is a quick enough wit that these were the highlights of the performance of Pathetic Fallacy I watched. He flexed his expert improv comedy skills here, but also was genuinely thoughtful in responses to questions about why the world population is growing so quickly and whether the earth can actually “hurt” (or if that’s ascribing a human emotion to nature, see: the title of the show).

The crisis hanging over Rochon’s show is not COVID-19, but climate change. And yet while Pathetic Fallacy often takes the form of a lecture, the tone is never lecturing.

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Indeed, Rochon sets up the entire experiment as a kind of environmental paradox. She tells us right off the top that she decided to make a touring show that she wouldn’t have to tour in order to reduce her carbon footprint as a jet-setting theatre artist – but also because she wanted to stay put and have a baby, which would increase that footprint many times more than a few flights to international festivals.

How do you create – theatre or life – knowing that creation may make the planet a worse place? The theatrical tricks Rochon deploy to explore this question aren’t necessarily new, but they’ve been combined in a fascinating new way. Pathetic Fallacy is a weird show that is also wise and seems to have found its perfect form in these live-streamed times.

Pathetic Fallacy is streamable through rumble.org nightly at 7:30 p.m. PST; tickets are “pay what you decide.”

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