‘Ten people enter, one person leaves.’ That was the concept that drove Joel to make The Kanziss Trials. Pulling inspiration from The Wizard of Oz (and the works that it inspired), The Kanziss Trials is an immersive and intimate theatre experience. Mark caught up with creator Joel Allan from Toe Jar Creative.
Toe Jar Creative, led by director and producer Joel Allan, brings us something Fringe-goers will find very interesting in this intimate space inside the charming Hotel Grand Chancellor. It has got everything that the Adelaide Fringe represents, a platform for local talent to try out something new, an exploration of daring concepts, and actors not afraid to interact and dance with the audience.
The Kanziss Trials is a new piece of work where audiences of no more than ten at a time are invited to either observe or participant. From the moment you enter, you are greeted, sorted, shuffled along and everyone in the room eagerly waits to see what will unfold. It is a spin, of a spin, of a spin of the beloved Wizard of Oz story, but it is not what you would think. 'Tributes' (participants) are put through a series of trials until one is left standing. Three-quarters of the way in, the observers, or those of us too afraid to get up on stage, get their say in who should proceed and who is sent packing, and the end, well it is just something you will have to see for yourself. The series of trials blends immersive storytelling, pop-up experiences and sober disco music.
Your invitation has been sent.
Do you Observe or Participate?
With two paths to choose from,
which brick road do you follow...
It is so refreshing to see new works explored during this time of mainstream mayhem that tends to overtake this festival. If supporting local artists is your thing (as if it is not), then go and support Toe Jar Creative this year. It is not what you expect, and that is the point.
The ticket-holders, citizens of the Emerald City in the Land of Oz, are divided into two factions. The participants become the ten tributes, who must submit to a series of trials in order to determine who is the most worthy amongst them. The non-participants become the council, who must silently bear witness to the grim proceedings. Meanwhile, two adjudicators, a father (Eugene Suleau) and daughter (Kathryn Adams), guide the trials, issue their judgements, and prepare the one who is to be selected as the new Dorothy.
Alternative interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the book being in the public domain, if not the Garland film) have been done before. Wicked comes to mind, as well as NBC's short-lived Emerald City. There is something perversely alluring about re-imagining children's fiction for adult consumption. In the original work, an outsider comes along and kills the leaders of two warring factions, defrocks the central magistrate, and then abruptly skips off. In The Kanziss Trials, we are asked to consider what exactly does happen to a society left in the wake of these major political upheavals?
If the premise of this show seems a bit dark, the implementation is actually quite lovely. Participants are in for a very gentle experience as they are shuffled about between the exercises, and for interactive theatre very little is actually demanded of them. While, from the audience, you feel yourself wanting to reach out to those on stage: there were many sympathetic 'awws' when a tribute was removed, or was left without a dancing partner, and these communal moments were easily amongst my favourite of the performance. And, it can't go without saying, Adams and Suleau were excellent at putting both participants and non-participants at ease, not to mention offering fine performances in their own right.
The show was a little short, ducking in well-under the advertised runtime, and a little more lore would have been welcome in order to pad out the proceedings. (Having witnessed a dry-run of this show, I know creator Joel Allan has already made significant steps in this direction.) But this is ambitious interactive theatre which greatly rewards participation, and I'm impressed at how well it has come together given Allan has ear-marked it for further development. There is one final performance that has already sold out, but look out for this show when it returns next year.
Opening to an intimate audience of 9 people on its opening night, The Kanziss Trials kicked off at the Grand Chancellor Hotel. A prime form of interactive theatre, it was a show that presented with great potential and offered audiences with the opportunity to immerse themselves into the play to the fullest.
While the initial set up of the show was to include a group of participants and another group of observers from the audience (you can select this upon arrival at the show), given the small turn up of people, we were all encouraged to participate in the show. It wasn't as intimidating as it sounds, because while my levels of anxiety were through the roof throughout the show, I went from not wanting to participate to being one of the last ones standing and not wanting to get booted towards the end (which, as it turns out, was the case)!
Based loosely on the Wizard of Oz, the basic premise of the show is that there is a father and a daughter, who are on a mission to bring to justice the perpetrator that took away their son and brother respectively. Throughout the show, we, as participants, were requested to follow simple directions, complete tasks, and make choices that determine our progress (and eventually, our fate) through the trial. You are often paired up or grouped together with other 'participants' and there are decisions that you'll need to make individually and as a group. Every single action you make will have a consequence. Each character guides you through your decision-making process, but they also provide you with vital information to make that decision.
Interactive theatre is something that I haven't been exposed to much, but I believe that The Kanziss Trials was a fantastic introduction to what people can expect from this style of performing arts. Not one huge into drama, I was surprised to see how much I was loving the flow of the show. The dialogue was minimal but provided with enough information to feel immersed in the story of how the death of the son / brother impacted each character. There was a level of compassion, complemented with strong feelings of passion, anger, sombreness, and consequentially, a resolution that is realised, as the show goes on. You cannot help but feel their angst and grief, as their stories ripple you senseless and give you a snippet of the anguish they experience. While it would have been beneficial to be given a bit more context to get the full experience, The Kanziss Trials has taken a great step towards giving life to drama and theatre and adding a unique twist of giving audiences the option to get involved in it themselves.
The Kanziss Trials is up for a short and sweet run this year, but it has lots of potential to grow into something even bigger and more in-depth in the future.