A fire in the forest

Never in nature does one see different animals come together in a small space with tolerance. Then again, never in nature has anyone seen so many forest fires.

JMar Electric’s The Cave explores the effects of climate change through the point of view of animals whose home is being engulfed in flames. Displaced and fearful, some animals find refuge in a bear’s cave, others try to save their children and some try to get to their loved ones.

With music by John Millard, lyrics by Tomson Highway and book by Martha Ross, The Cave, being performed in Vancouver from Nov. 10 to Nov. 20, 2022 at the Cultch, contrasts the glitz and glamour of the cabaret world with the raw and emotional power of animals, says director Adam Paolozza.

“It will definitely be a marvel for the eyes and ears,” he adds.

Photo by Cassandra Popescu

A fire in the forest

“Everyone knows about climate change, so how do you engage people emotionally about a topic that people have a lot of different emotions about?” asks Paolozza.

So, animals are being used in the play.

“There’s something about animals going through these emotions of losing their children, losing their homes, trying to hold on to moments of joy and happiness in the face of possible disaster that gives people a way to process their emotions,” Paolozza explains.

Night is both a place where evil can grow and love can spark to light, sings the moose.

As their home is burning down, the bear allows others to take refuge in its cave. Other animals like the snake desperately try to save her children. The crow tries to reach their beloved fox. The beaver ignores the threat entirely and continues working, while the lynx tries to go against instinct and be a good neighbour to the other animals in the cave. As the fire ravages their homes, evil grows and love sparks to light.

While the fire is at its worst, all the animals are trying to get to their lovers, save family, worry about other animals in the forest and starving. Finally, a mouse comes in and sings a song in cree to create a moment of joy, describes Paolozza.

The Cave explores climate change through the point of view of animals who are losing their home to a fire. | Photo by Delal Hagos

“The thing that’s amazing about Thomson Highway’s writing is that he very much wants to make it known that laughter, joy and exuberance are part of the human experience as well,” he says. “We don’t want to ignore the tragedy, but engaging with the serious side of life shouldn’t mean we let the joy
become impoverished.”

Becoming the animals

“My wheelhouse is creating theatrical images that use the human body in very interesting ways,” says Paolozza.

In The Cave, he was challenged with combining animal movement and animality with the physicality of a cabaret singer.

“Humans speak with subtext, but animals don’t have subtext. They say what they’re thinking so it was a mixture of those two approaches and thinking about how the body moves,” he explains.

In order to reflect the urgency of the fire in the muscular gestures of the animals while maintaining the sultriness of cabaret, Paolozza had the four performers who play multiple animals be 100 per cent animal in their bodies as an exercise.

By tapping into the inner emotional state of the animals they were able to explore what the world looks like from their viewpoint, he says.

Then little by little he had the performers add human physicality to their characters.

Since 2019, the show has worked with Bruce Alcock, an animation artist from Vancouver to really bring the fire to life.

A balancing act

Paolozza shares that they are really using animals to talk about themselves.

“I think people are really responding to being able to share emotions in public. It doesn’t matter what your political affiliations are. On a human level, the animals allow us to access these emotions and I think it’s really special,’’ he says. “We don’t have any answers, but we try to raise questions in a space where you feel safe to feel all these strong emotions in an uncritical way and to start a conversation.”

Learn more here: www.thecultch.com