UBC-affiliated Bramble Theatre Collective speed-runs 30 plays in 60 minutes

The 2022 Vancouver Fringe Festival presented over 70 works this year, but who has time to go and see that many plays? The producers of Bramble Theatre Collective put that power in the hands of their audience through a whirlwind production.

The collective’s debut show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival has a unique structure as well as a mouthful of a title: 30 Neo-Futurist Plays from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (30 Plays in 60 Minutes) by Greg Allen.

Bramble Theatre Collective began their journey just this year, founded by six UBC students and alumni who met through the UBC Musical Theatre Troupe.

Their show featured an ensemble of ten actors, a curated list of 30 short plays and a dependance on audience participation. The show opens with the numbers 1 to 30 strung up on a clothesline on stage, and a countdown clock with 60 minutes projected behind them all.

This show asks you to forget everything you know about traditional theatre etiquette, blurring the lines between a conventional stage show and pure improv. The timer starts counting down, and each audience member is given a “menu” of plays, and instructed to shout out the number of the play they want to see next. This results in the thirty plays being performed in a random order every evening — and the results were astounding.

Play #26: Three Year Old Interview, brought an audience member up on stage for a formal and hilarious interview. Play #5: Macbeth, attempted the entire Scottish play in two minutes and Play #28: This Is Not A Play, was simply that — it did not exist.

Each play ranges from absurdist to laugh-out-loud hilarious to deeply emotional and reflective.

Bramble co-founder and stage manager for the Fringe, Elsa Yuan, found each night brought a fresh perspective due to the show’s improvised structure. Still, though the pacing changed every night, the relationships between the ensemble created a consistently tight and moving creation. She notes that by the time the curtain closed, “it always felt like people had the complete experience”— even though that experience differed each night.

On the night I attended, the cast kicked off the show with Play #19: These Things Are True. In the original script, this play lists anonymously submitted secrets from the original cast members, read aloud onstage.

The script encourages new productions to submit their own secrets and perform them, a challenge that Bramble took up.

“We spent a bit of time letting the cast look at the truths and then see the ones that they felt connected to or wanting to perform,” said Yuan.

It was an incredible and profound experience to watch, as well as to participate in, as the cast still doesn’t know whose secrets they were delivering every night. These secrets ranged from minor embarrassing moments to the deep-seated fear of coming out, which creates a network of human experiences for the audience to take in.

Each show finished with a number left on the clock, and the audience left sweating. Across their six-show run, the cast finished every night with times ranging from two minutes to just nine seconds left.

Bramble co-founder and actor Claire DeBruyn said that “it was 100% completely possible for [them] to not finish,” as they often did not beat the clock throughout rehearsals. The actors all knew which plays were the longest and shortest, so they were able to assess how they were doing for time. The audience however, had no idea what was about to happen next, making it a constantly engaging experience.

30 Neo-Futurist Plays is a perfect choice for a Fringe Festival, as it encapsulates the spirit of unconventional and offbeat theatre performance that Fringe champions. It acts as something like a fringe-within-a-fringe, allowing audiences a taste of many short avant-garde pieces. And just like the Fringe Festival as a whole, you never knew what you were in store for.

So if any piece wasn’t for you, you simply move onto the next one. But based on the audience reaction and the adrenaline pumping through the venue, this show was for everyone.

Bramble Theatre Collective received recognition for reflecting the Fringe’s vision through the Joanna Maratta and Mollie Bailey Award. This provides them with mentorship from Executive Director of the Fringe Cory Philley.

“It’s exactly what we need,” said DeBruyn. “Bramble Theatre Collective is pretty new. So getting to have this professional mentorship is very impactful for us. And also having folks recognize us as a group that exists outside of the Fringe … it was such an honour.”