By Graeme Wiggens
VANCOUVER — Tension is palpable in a rehearsal room in an upper floor of Vancouver Film School as a play is being rehearsed. It’s been a long day and the evening is wearing on the performers. There have been some problems, some personal issues and the ever-present opening night looming not far off on the horizon. They are rehearsing an act in the play that they have yet to rehearse in full, with some scenes never having been rehearsed at all. But even with the air thick with nerves, there is a clear sense that the cast will work through it. The jokes in the script are frequent and snappily delivered, often bringing the crew to laughter. The emotional notes the play requires are hit with confidence, and are genuinely moving. Even with certain scenes requiring a number of do-overs, and a near constant switching of who takes what offstage, the nerves don’t seem to prevent the cast and crew from pulling this thing off.
“This thing” is Fake Wigs, a new play from Vancouver writer-director Ryan Hoben, and will be performed in this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. Ostensibly, Fake Wigs is about “the final days of a fictional ’90s grunge band on the last leg of their Eastern U.S. tour” and the band’s struggles, both internally and with the pressures of possible success. The play is more than just a tour documentary though; it has an emotional core and delves into what it means to put your faith in others, both band-mates and relationship partners. While this seems like it could be played for straight drama with some light-hearted moments, Hoben’s script is a densely packed one with jokes coming rapidly, even in some of the most moving and emotionally wrought moments.
Hoben didn’t originally conceive this, his third Fringe Festival production, necessarily as a Fringe play. He was inspired at work, this time while tending bar for a wedding. It was a slow night and in some of the downtime, thinking about some of the bands he saw growing up in New Brunswick — Thrush Hermit, Jale and, most importantly, Eric’s trip (the Fake Wigs members’ names are actually the same as Eric’s Trip band members and the Maine town they’re from is meant to parallel Eric’s Trip’s hometown of Moncton) — he came up with the idea of a play about a ’90s band on tour and the various tribulations and interpersonal conflicts that come with touring. Over the next few hours he filled out the idea and had the basic structure and concept down.
That was the easy part. After applying for and winning the annual Fringe lottery (the festival’s selection process for what productions make the cut), the real work had to be done. He had to get to work and write it. He sat down and in a very short time had the 80-page script (eventually editing it down to around 50.) The cast, made up of former VFS pals and longtime friends, came aboard and the beginnings of rehearsals started to take shape. All that was left was to write a couple of songs for Fake Trees (the band’s name in the play) to perform. This was done in short order by Hoben himself and cast member Kalvin Olafson who perform together in beloved local rock band Minto.
In some ways Minto couldn’t be further from the fictional band Hoben penned in Fake Wigs.
They don’t tour much anymore because it’s a lot of work and can be punishing. And as the band ages, a number of outside responsibilities have imposed themselves. One member recently had twins; others have school, other bands, and acting gigs.
“Yeah, we’re getting older,” says Hoben. They try to play a few local shows a year, recently the Main St. Car Free Day, and the upcoming Rifflandia festival. This summer he’s been busy with Fake Wigs, but “We try to do a few shows in the Vancouver rainy season, when people need an excuse to get out and do stuff.”
While not so much inspired by his own band, Fake Trees does draw from some of his experiences, both from being in a touring band and from general drunken tomfoolery. Things broken down, particularly vans (the Fake Trees’ van is affectionately referred to as Betsy and is described as having been murdered) and creative ways to imbibe alcohol (thankfully the rehearsals substitute the beer for club soda) pepper the script as do ’90s references that harken back to Hoben’s youth.
With all of the rehearsing and stress, and given the small size of the cast, there are some obvious parallels to be drawn between those working on the play and the fake band that they are trying to breathe life into.
“We’ve been working a lot of hard hours all on this one project together and with the same goal. It’s kind of a case of life imitating art,” Hoben says.
Nerves and constant time together has kind of been a lot like a band on tour. Hoben admits he had to warn his girlfriend that these next few weeks, he’s going to be a little crazy, not to mention super busy. To further draw the parallel, only a few members of the cast currently play in bands, so they have to deal with added pressure of spending some time rehearsing the two live songs to be performed.
Making matters worse, it’s wedding season and in the weeks leading up to opening night almost all of the band members will be busy attending various weddings, some as far as Kelowna. This will be knocking five days off their rehearsal schedule. And to top it all off, on the day of the last performance, Hoben and Olafson will have to book it to catch a ferry to Victoria to make it in time for Minto to play a Rifflandia Music Festival showcase (Sponsored by BeatRoute!).
In keeping with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle espoused in Fake Wigs, the cast and crew, after a long day of rehearsing, decided to vent a little during the photo shoot BeatRoute had planned for them (see cover for details). The photo shoot involved alcohol and they indulged with rock ‘n’ roll aplomb, eventually ending up drunk at Dude Chilling Park, hanging out late at night on what Hoben refers to the “kid catcher,” the giant pyramid like monkey bar-like structure that dominates the playground. It occurred to him that through all the rehearsing and stressful situations that day, they hadn’t made time to actually get anything to eat for a meal, which explains how they ended up hung over the next day with vague monkey bar memories. This led to one of the more important notes he’s had to give his cast and crew — while its OK to let off some steam, “don’t forget to eat.”
Fake Wigs is premiering at the Vancouver Fringe Festival (Sept. 4 to 14). For more details visit www.vancouverfringe.com. Minto will be performing on Saturday September 13 at the Copper Owl (Victoria) for Rifflandia Music Festival.AB, Alberta, Fake Wigs, Minto, Ryan Hoben, Vancouver Fringe Festival 2014