Stan Douglas’s hard-boiled stage and screen hybrid

The Canadian artist has teamed up with scriptwriter Chris Haddock to create a multi-layered, live film-noir
Lisa Ryder in Stan Douglas's and Chris Haddock's Helen Lawrence. Photo by David Cooper
Lisa Ryder in Stan Douglas's and Chris Haddock's Helen Lawrence. Photo by David Cooper

Cinephiles sometimes use the term ‘live movies’ to deride the supposed superiority of staged drama over feature film. Yet audiences will have to look beyond this simple, high/low hierarchy, when they watch Stan Douglas’s new dramatic production, Helen Lawrence, currently playing in Vancouver.

Douglas, as we note in our monograph, is great at assembling images and footage that evoke certain social and political turning points. The Canadian photographer, video and installation artist's work has touched on themes such as African liberation, jazz music, civil rights and mass media in the past.


Now Douglas has teamed up with scriptwriter Chris Haddock, best known for working on the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, to produce Helen Lawrence, an innovative show at Vancouver's Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

Subtitled Vancouver Confidential, the show is a hardboiled crime tale of corruption and vice set in 1948. However, for this production, Douglas and Haddock have their players perform the parts on stage, in front of a plain blue screen.

This is filmed, fitted into period-correct digital backgrounds, and screened instantaneously on a 'scrim'  - or semi-translucent screen -  that fits across the front of the stage. Audiences can see the real actors on stage, the crew filming them, and also a kind of live, cinema-style rendering of the action too.


All this technology might sound unduly complicated, but the overall effect raises interesting questions about history, fiction, performance and representation. "One minute it draws you to the artifice and the next it reveals the complete sort of naked nature of the stage presentation," Haddock says.

Want to see it for yourself? Well, if you can’t make it to Vancouver before 13 April, when this initial run comes to an end, then don’t despair.  Helen Lawrence will also play at the Munich Kammerspiele in June and the Edinburgh festival in August. For more, go here, and for a greater understanding of Stan Douglas’s work, take a look at our great monograph.



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