Theatre @ York presents Co.ED (or How to Become Your Gender, in 10 Easy Steps)

Theatre @ York launches its season with the world premiere of Co.ED (or How to Become Your Gender, in Ten Easy Steps), a provocative double bill devised by Deborah Pearson and Company, presented in association with Volcano Theatre, at York University Nov. 22 to 28.

The two plays in Co.ED explore the meaning of gender through very different performance styles. The first play, Tabletalk, directed by Ross Manson, sets up a comfortable narrative framework – like building a fort – and the second, A Play about the Other Play, directed by Claire Calnan, tears it down – one wooden plank at a time.

In Tabletalk, Michael, John, Nigel, Lance and Kennedy all work in an office. John hates Michael. Nigel hates John. Lance hates himself. Kennedy likes everyone, as long as they’re not gay. Once a week they play poker. Until one week, when everyone’s bluff is called. The result? Murder, mayhem and lots of beer. Boys will be boys.

The play’s director, Ross Manson, asks: “What does gender give us? What does it take away? How do we balance the gains and losses?” With these core questions as a guide, the exploration of masculinity begins.

Right: Ross Manson. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Manson is the founding artistic director of Volcano Theatre and the co-founder of the political cabaret, The Wrecking Ball. He has won many awards for his work, including Dora Awards as a co-producer, director and play maker, and the Best of Edinburgh and Scotsman Fringe First awards. Recent directorial projects include The Four Horsemen Project (co-created with Kate Alton) in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Dublin and Berlin; and Michael Redhill’s Goodness, in Toronto, Edinburgh, Vancouver, New York City, Helsinki, Butare and Kigali.

In A Play about the Other Play is a response to Tabletalk and explores femininity. Pearson loosely scripted the scenes and the company continued to devise it from there.

“We – group of women – took a look at Tabletalk, a play about men and maleness,” Calnan says. "This looking led to discussions about masculinity and ruminations on femininity. We looked for places where there were cracks in the hard surfaces of those definitions. We looked at the people who broke the rules, at the places where each of us broke the rules. And we squeezed ourselves through those crevices, looking for truth.”

Left: Claire Calnan

Calnan is the co-founder of the Artists Mentoring Youth Project and co-artistic director of tiny bird theatre. She has worked extensively in creation-based performance, with credits including Katherine Mansfield and Chekhov’s Heartache (Theatre Smith-Gilmour and Factory Theatre) and Dora Award-nominee Appetite (Volcano and Theatre Passe Muraille). She received the Crow’s Theatre Award for Direction for tiny bird theatre’s production of Raising Luke (Summerworks Festival, 2008) and was an associate artist at The Canadian Stage Company in 2009.

Pearson is a young Canadian playwright with a growing reputation in the UK. She is known for her work as the co-director and founder of the Forest Fringe, a multi-award winning venue at the Edinburgh Festival, which offers artists and performers a welcoming space to try out work that might not find a home elsewhere.

Co.ED is performed by upper-level students in the Acting Conservatory in York’s Theatre Department, with a talented creative team of undergraduates handling all aspects of the production design and execution.

The play runs Nov. 22 to 28, in the Joseph G. Green Theatre in the Centre for Film & Theatre on York’s Keele campus. The official opening is on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 7:30pm. Previews are Nov. 22 and 23 at 7:30pm. There are matinees Nov. 25 and 27 at 1pm.

Admission is $30 or $25 for students & seniors. The Nov. 22 preview is pay-what-you-can. Tickets for the Nov. 23 preview are $15 each. For more information, visit the York University Box Office Web site or call 416-736-5888.