Dallas — Echo Theatre, finishing up its 19th season in Dallas, returns to the Festival of Independent Theatres with Trace of Arc by Ali Smith. An allegory on modern consumer and industrial culture, Trace of Arc examines how people confront or ignore problems within a changing small town. Kateri Cale makes her directing debut with this production. TheaterJones sat down with her to talk about the process so far.
TheaterJones: Echo has participated in FIT nearly every year. How do you go about choosing a show for every festival?
Kateri Cale: FIT for us is kind of a season capper. If we find something that we want to do for FIT, then we submit it. We’ve done it every year except for two.
If someone is really gung ho about a show that they think is perfect for FIT, then we’ll pursue that. If not, we have a file of shows that fall under, “This might be good for FIT.” And we’ll look through that to select one.
I read a few and they didn’t really speak to me. And then I read Trace of Arc and I thought, “This is about now.” It’s like a modern day parable about calls to action, social activism, standing up and making a statement. It’s about recognizing what’s going on in the world and what do you do with that realization. Do you rationalize it? Do you do something about it? It looks at the argument from both sides.
Trace of Arc is from a collection of performance art pieces that Terri Ferguson has. This one was actually published in 1998.
Can you talk more about the background of Trace of Arc and playwright Ali Smith?
It was done at the Edmonton fringe festival. There’s not a lot known about it. Ali Smith went to school to be a writer, not a playwright. And it seems like she got in with some theatre people in college and wrote some plays for them. Trace of Arc was published after that. Now she’s quite a respected novelist and poet. She lives in England with her partner who’s a filmmaker. There’s not a lot written about her theatre work.
Since this is your first time directing a full production, how has that experience been for you?
It’s been fun. Everyone turns to you with a hopeful look on their face, that you’ll tell them that they’ve done a really good job. But I really have a perfect cast for this show. This is really a pretty crazy script. But it’s been fun, I’ve gotten to work with old friends and two new kids on the block. The challenge is that I also had to adapt the script for an American audience, because I’m setting the play in America rather than England.
You’ve mentioned that the play seems very timely, can you talk more about how what this play specifically addresses? Environmental issues, politics?
It’s set in a small town in the middle of America, and life has changed since a big plant was built. So the questions are, “Is it better is it worse? How do people feel about it? How does it affect their lives?” Some people profit off the expansion of the manufacturing plant and some people suffer from it. And that’s just a fact. The arrival of something that big in a small town, it affects them.
It’s also a lot about saints…
Right, I was going to ask if there was any reference to Joan of Arc.
The only connection to Joan of Arc really is that she heard voices talking her. Those voices told her things and assured her of things, and she chose to ignore them for a while but eventually she decided to listen to them. In that way, there’s a character in this show that’s her Conscience. It tells her things, but the main character can’t hear them at first. Ultimately Conscience breaks through and the main woman changes lives.
How is this an allegory of modern America?
It’s set in a little corner import grocery store in this small town. It’s a little English corner shop in the middle of America. The shop is basically a little enclave of “pretend life” that is not like life on the outside. The shop owner has created this little mini-getaway escape place.
I’ve chosen to do it so that the shop appears only as make-believe. So that when the girls who work there come in they just have their register area and they draw the store in chalk when they’re opening the shop every day. I’ve chosen just a few specific props to be real.
All of the shoppers speak only in advertising slogans, you just have to figure out what they’re talking about. That’s how you figure out that things are not really rosy in this town.
Why does Echo keep coming back to participate in FIT year after year?
I think it’s because we helped start it. WingSpan and Echo were at the table when we created the whole festival with David Fisher back in the day. And it’s fun. It’s a nice opportunity to take part in something with a lot of camaraderie.
And even after 19 years, we still don’t have a theatre. We are still an itinerant, homeless theatre company with a virtual office. I think it gives us an opportunity to get new audiences to see our work.
Trace of Arc opens in the 8 p.m. performance block on Saturday, July 15, paired with Edward Albee's Finding the Sun from WingSpan Theatre Company.
Trace of Arc is performed in the following blocks:
- 8 p.m. Saturday, July 15
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 16
- 5 p.m. Saturday, July 22
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 23
- 8 p.m. Saturday, July 29
- 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5
See more info about the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres schedule here.