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Neanderthal fest showcases risk-taking theatre

Play inspired by 'dark night of the soul'
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Cat Main's concerns about communicating with her older sister who has cerebral palsy inspired the play Other Side Through You.

Cat Mains older sister has cerebral palsy and talks with an alphabet board, sometimes with the help of her younger sister.

But a year ago, Cat listened to a lively debate about facilitated communication on the CBC Radio One program The Current and learned that some people dont believe true communication occurs at all. They believe its the facilitator controlling the moment.

That thought triggered a crisis of faith for Main.

People who are skeptical of this form of communication think that its the facilitator unconsciously guiding the hands of the person that theyre trying to help and that is actually what scared me the most, thinking that I could be controlling my sisters hands and not even realize that I was doing it, she said.

Skeptics believe that the ideomotor effect used to discount Ouji boards and dowsing rods comes into play.

Main, co-artistic director of exit.left productions, who was completing a residency with Theatre Replacement at the time, decided to turn her dark night of the soul into a play.

The result, Other Side Through You, will be performed as part of the second annual Neanderthal Arts Festival that runs at The Cultch, July 20 to 31.

Festival co-producer Allyson McGrane was inspired to start a summer theatre festival for alternative, risk-taking works and emerging artists in Vancouver by SummerWorks, Torontos indie theatre and arts festival, which recently had its funding pulled at the eleventh hour by the federal government.

On her return from Toronto, McGrane learned the Walking Fish Festival for artists fresh out of theatre school was gasping for cash because of gambling money cuts to the arts from the province. So she and Upintheair Theatre, which started Walking Fish, created the Neanderthal Arts Festival last year.

They christened the festival neanderthal because its about the beginning of things.

Were interested in stories and for us theres something about the image of cave men huddled in a cave or around a fire telling stories that just sparked our imaginations, McGrane said.

This years five mainstage plays include a Beckett-like parable about a man building a chair, a musical about a bigamist, a Dadaist take on contemporary life, a true story about one womans pregnant brother and Mains play.

The Walking Fish Showcase features three 20-minute plays commissioned by the Neanderthal Festival and written on themes of science, technology and transformation.

Theres a sci-fi thriller, a reimagining of rejected technology and a man trying to compensate for the loss of his manliness with a cannon arm.

Like last year, festival goers will be invited to dress as neanderthals and have their picture snapped in a photo booth.

New this year, social media enthusiasts are invited to tweet and live blog from the balcony or the grunt deck.

McGrane says she and co-organizers dont pray for rain to attract audiences.

The Cultch has air conditioning, she said. Its got two bars and air conditioning. Who wouldnt want to come and hang out with some neanderthals and watch some good theatre.

For more information about single tickets and multi-show passes, see thal.ca.

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi