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Dummies Theatre is a Canadian experimental and interdisciplinary contemporary theatre company known for creating free site-specific works and daring productions in vacant stores located in Montreal during the 1990s and into the following decade.
The group was founded in April, 1992 by actors Anna Papadakos, Carlo Alacchi, filmmaker Pascal Maeder and soundman Dave Ballard for the production of the original play Dummies in the Window. The production took place in the vacant store below Papadakos's apartment on Montreal's Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The actors commissioned installation artist Pierre Allard to create a storefront display. While the artist was setting up, a falling dummy shattered the glass window and crashed on the sidewalk, missing Montreal Gazette's reporter Albert Nerenberg by only a few feet. Nerenberg wrote an article about the incident that prompted the group to use the term Dummies in their play title and Theatre name. With no money to promote the show and a strong creative intention to build a "street theatre environment" by behaving like "barkers", the actors stood in front of the before the performances to lure passers-by. The popularity and success of the initial two-week run allowed for an extension of two weeks.
Papadakos, who took on the role of Artistic Director in addition to writing and directing the shows, was motivated by the show's success and a desire to create a "conscious" theatre. She launched a financing drive and caught the attention of Canadian philanthropist, Phyllis Lambert, who saw it as a way to rejuvenate neighborhoods through art. With the assistance of The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation (who was launching its Urban Issues Program of which Dummies Theatre was one of the seven recipients out of three hundred Canadian applicants) and various other sources including the CALQ, the newly formed theatre company raised enough funds to produce a second play, Return of the Dummies, the following year in a bigger vacant store a few doors up the street. In the fall of 1995, the group completed its trilogy on immigrants with Dummies 95 in yet another empty store on the Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
In 1996, the group created Go Weast, the first of three pieces on alienation. As the early 1990s recession was ending in Montreal, empty stores filled with new businesses and the group rented the second floor of a newly moved grocery store - Segal's Supermarket located at 3997 boulevard St. Laurent, which later became the home of Mainline Theatre. Go Weast's success and subject matter along with its stunning dream-like 16mm original footage of visuals of Canada and Canadians attracted the attention of Marie-Helen Falcon of Festival de Théâtre des Amériques making Dummies Theatre the first English Theatre company from Québec to be invited to partake in the international event. The play Medea in the Media followed in 1998 and was performed in the same space, which had become the company's permanent home. In 2000, the group produced its last creation before disbanding, Dummies in the Mirror. This was an introspective piece that used the lighting technician (Cuban Artist - Ramon Luis Perez who came with a special project visa) as a third actor with a wired console providing the only illumination.
Content, experimentation and form
Immigrant identity, culture shock and tensions, relationships with the self and the other, alienation and identity in general were the main themes of the Dummies. The sets were primarily minimalist using surveillance cameras, video and original 16mm black-and-white footage projected through windows or reflected through mirrors, props and found objects.
- "Crashing Dummies", The Montreal Gazette, April 1992
- “Medea in the Media: The Theatre of Anna Papadakos and Dummies Theatre,” Canadian Theatre Review 97 (Winter 1998): 84-89.