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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | ‘Is My Microphone On?’ Shines With Passion And Commitment

By Paula Citron on September 8, 2021

'Is My Microphone On...' Iylah Mohammed (Photo: Elana Emer)
‘Is My Microphone On…’ Iylah Mohammed (Photo: Elana Emer)

Canadian Stage/Is My Microphone On? A play in the form of a protest song, written by Jordan Tannahill, dramaturged and directed by Erin Brubacher, High Park Amphitheatre, Sept. 2 to 19. Tickets available at boxoffice@canadianstage.com.

Seventeen young people (aged 12 to 17) surround the audience at High Park Amphitheatre. One by one, they hurl out short sentences. “Your time is over!” ‘You haven’t been listening!” “You are failing us!” “We will never forgive you!” “This is a declaration of war!” And the all-important: “I will fight for the earth!” “My intention is to live!”

These statements define Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill’s Is My Microphone On? A play in the form of a protest song. And what a protest it is. At the beginning, one of the young actors asks the audience to raise their hands if they were born before 1965, and anyone who was, is the target. In his text, Tannahill has made certain that these young people, these Gen-Zs, are very, very angry at inheriting a broken world.

The title Is My Microphone On? is a direct quote from a speech by Swedish, teenage, climate activist Greta Thunberg. In fact, the program references five different Thunberg speeches that Tannahill has used as sources. The rest of the text comes from the playwright’s fertile imagination as he puts himself into the minds of these young people who are literally fighting for their future. “I want to see my daughter’s daughter grow up,” one of the actors plaintively says.

The play was originally written for the international theatre festival, Theater der Welt Dusseldorf, which asked Tannahill to pen something for young audiences. COVID, unfortunately, allowed only for a truncated two-day workshop performance. Thus, the High Park performance is the first major go-round with the project.

To make the play absolutely au courant, Tannahill and director/dramaturg Erin Brubacher have included up-to-date references with what is happening right now in the world, in terms of climate horrors. The text also references all sorts of flora and fauna data about High Park itself, which certainly makes the play locale-specific.

'Is My Microphone On? A play in the form of a protest song' (Photo: Elana Emer)
‘Is My Microphone On? A play in the form of a protest song’ (Photo: Elana Emer)

Brubacher has been forced to use pretty static staging in order to keep her young actors socially distanced, so the variety comes from within the text, not from the physical action. For example, Tannahill includes infighting, such as an argument over the use of violence, like the actor who wants to kill the 1%. There are also fights about the efficacy of capitalism and fascism.

Perhaps the most bone-chilling moment is a diatribe of pure hatred against the elders, with the actor declaiming total lack of respect. “I will not give up my seat on the bus!” she defiantly cries, implying that the failed generation does not deserve it.

The ending totally switches gears away from the spoken word. Choreographer Cara Spooner has given young Iris MacNada a silent movement piece that has her walking on eggshells, as it were. Is she trying to move forward against great odds? Is she fighting against the forces of a failed world?

The young actors also break out into a very Brechtian singspiel song by composer Veda Hille which includes lyrics such as, “There must be a way forward.” It’s a strange song, filled with choral disharmony, but then, it is reflecting a dying world.

'Is My Microphone On...' Amaza Payne (Photo: Elana Emer)
‘Is My Microphone On…’ Amaza Payne (Photo: Elana Emer)

In the end, there is some hope. “We love you, we forgive you, we’re on the same side, we’ll move forward together, but — there is a but — we don’t accept what you’ve done.” And suddenly the entire forest surrounding the stage comes alive with Kaitlin Hickey’s glorious lighting, only to have it fade into darkness.

The most impressive aspect of the show is the pacing. The old theatre teacher in me rejoiced at what director Brubacher has done with these young actors, (who, needless to say, cover the waterfront in terms of ethnicity). As one finishes speaking, the next one comes in on cue. No halting, no awkward pauses. It is an astonishing feat, given the young age of the cast.

There is also the interesting use of musical instruments. The actors never play melodies. Rather, they keep hitting discordant notes as punctuation and emphasis. About midway through, we are also treated to an agitated violin coming from behind.

Debashis Sinha should be singled out for his sound design. I don’t know how he did it, but these 17 young actors scattered in a circle around the audience could all be heard, although a couple could speak a bit louder.

Sherri Hay is credited with set and costumes, but in the case of the former, there were installations happening on stage, but quite frankly, they were hard to make out. As well, it was nighttime, so what the young actors were wearing was difficult to see. In this aspect, lighting designer Hickey had dim spots on the actors, but I suppose, there are only so many lighting standards to go around.

Yes, the play is over-earnest and preachy, but it is a song of protest, after all. In defense of Tannahill, Brubacher and their young cast, we are living through terrible times with forest fires and melting glaciers, and let’s not forget the devastation caused by hurricane/tropical depression Ida.

Is My Microphone On? A play in the form of a protest song is a play for the Gen-Zs, and you could certainly feel the passion and commitment of these young actors in the delivery of their lines.

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Paula Citron
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