Chop Theatre surveyed the masses on what makes the best and worst plays, and the local company plans to illustrate the results in a full stage production next spring. For now, the curious can learn the results of the survey, which was conducted via a mailout and online, by taking in a wry monologue delivered by actor, writer and Chop Theatre co-artistic director Emelia Symington Fedy.
"I learned that the survey takers' opinions and ideas were way more interesting than what I could have imagined and come up with myself," said Symington Fedy. "We're hearing hundreds and hundreds of people's voices rather than it be one singular voice."
The first phase of Best Play/Worst Play premieres Feb. 2 at Club Push, the more informal arm of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which runs until Feb. 4.
Best Play/Worst Play will see Symington Fedy perform as the "mouthpiece of the survey" alongside Christie Watson on electronic drums in a 30-minute production directed by Chop's other co-artistic director, Anita Rochon.
"It's also possible that there will be a dog and child on stage as those are two theatre rules that [aren't recommended to be broken]," she said.
The project started with a conversation between Symington Fedy and Rochon about whether it's possible to give audiences what they want without sacrificing personal integrity. "And also the interesting conversation of the commodification of theatre," Symington Fedy said. "Can you turn theatre into numbers and pie charts and find the best and the worst and make people happy in that?"
With a nod to artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid who in the mid-1990s used market research to create the America's Most Wanted and America's Least Wanted paintings, Symington Fedy and Rochon surveyed respondents about set, lighting and sound design, the fatal flaw of the protagonist, the worst possible closing line and a threat the protagonist could make.
"I'm going to cut your butt off," was one silly scrap of input.
The survey went international with half of the respondents hailing from the performing arts. Most respondents were people who see more than two plays a year, a few who've never attended a play and a few who see live theatre more than once a month.
Chop Theatre asked each participant to share his or her most burning question in life and discovered most people worry about similar things. "The main question is what's going to happen to me," Symington Fedy said. "Basically, questioning mortality and will I make it, will I be OK."
Chop Theatre learned the worst production respondents could imagine was a post-apocalypse story in which the protagonist was questioning his or her spirituality.
Respondents also weren't fond of meta theatre, where actors comment on their process, Symington Fedy said. "And the funny thing is that's what this play is a little bit."
On a positive note, survey participants wanted to see productions with singing and dancing that made them laugh, feel intensely sad, scared and uncomfortable at times. "They wanted to feel changed rather than have something that tells them what they already know," she said.
The company that created and toured the Jessie-nominated KISMET One to One Hundred isn't worried other theatre companies will use their results to inform their own productions. In fact, Chop Theatre hopes to offer its survey template and tips to theatre companies in other countries, similar to the way Komar and Melamid have a website that shows the most and least wanted paintings as determined by people from different nations.
Armed with statistics, Chop had originally envisioned a two-act play with the first act being "the best" play and the second "the worst." But Symington Fedy said Chop will see how the resulting work shapes up at the Enbridge playRites Festival in Alberta next month.
"Fifty per cent of people want to see a play with a protagonist that starts off with a lot and ends up with a little. And then 50 per cent of people want to see a play where the protagonist starts off with a little and ends up with a lot. So that's a very interesting thing to try to do, to try to do both," she said.
But that's a worry for next month. She needn't worry about her monologue at Performance Works.
"Audiences really like when actors make mistakes on stage," she said, pointing to the survey results.
More info at pushfestival.ca.