“Pornocomix” on stage

Just the other day, we wrote of “online art” jumping the species barrier to the museum demimonde, and warned we’d have another example of online “content” metastasizing into the real world, rather after the manner of Gibson’s Idoru.

The example is of course “The Sister Season” from Skipperworld. Our story begins ages ago in Internet terms (1999) with the little-publicized début of “Skipper,” a so-called online photonovella.

Just as cashmere was rechristened pashmina and prunes are now recast as dried plums, the locution photonovella verbally camouflages the undeniable fact that we’re dealing with photo comix, certainly the most despised subgenre among the comix cognoscenti. Photo comix use still photographs with – get this! – captions or word balloons. Their deficiency, according to Understanding Comics, is their lack of iconicity: Their very photorealism robs them of the undetailed universality that make line drawings work at a subconscious and symbolic level.

There’s always someone who can come along and make a despised system work. Leisuretown, Tristan Farnon’s chef-d’œuvre (NUblog passim), remains not-unastounding. (The cartoon-character blow-up dolls, Photoshopped to within 300 layers of their lives, add chocolate shavings of artifice to the realism of the photography.)

However, our memories of photocomix are blank between Leisuretown and an early Nationalnishchei Lampoon example, in which an apocalyptically buxom blonde moves boxing gloves from still to still and tells us, via word balloon, “I am the Queen of England ¶ I like to sing and dance ¶ And if you don’t believe me ¶ I will punch you in the pants.”

Something of that ilk seems to have rubbed off on Skipperworld auteur Jared Mitchell. “Skipper,” a glorified snuff photocomic starring charismatically arrogant, tubercular exemplar of street vermin and former Black Eagle busboy Ryan Bureyko (read his 1997-vintage screed against the “lassie-faire economy”). We admired the production’s chutzpah and could readily appreciate why Bureyko found Thunder Bay too confining for his talent.

“The Sister Season” made more sense, trafficked less in eroticized murder, and benefited from better casting and higher production values – Scott “the Love God” Beveridge, a blond but not necessarily happy Film Centre diplômé with a day job; R.M. Vaughan, the catty art critic; Keith Cole, vulgarian polymath. (In case it is unclear, so far we approve of all actors named.) The story details an amour fou between a dissolute stud playboy and an uptight henpecked physician. (Story of our lives, shurely?!) Matters escalate, and inevitably, Key West becomes involved.

“Skipper” used a bit of music and bellowing from its unctuous kid star, and there’s a sound effect here and there in “The Sister Season,” but the approach is 1995-era low-tech (with matching outdated HTML). It’s a filmstrip, a storyboard. And it works. (The affecting, sensitive, yet manly third instalment, “Mr. Ed,” is actually the gem, the triplet that mom should love the most. Some porn actors actually are.)

It came as a surprise to read that “The Sister Season” would be mounted as a play in the Summerworks series. While this might conjure initial images of infamous New York “underwear plays,” instead one wondered how a glorified filmstrip could expand to fill live action, even 55 minutes of it.

The transformation was not entirely unexpected. Jared Mitchell is also a novelist (Becky Chan). A multimedia threat, one might say. A preview in a local homosexualist rag attempted to play the underwear-party card and trigger homosexualist theatregoer slavering through a photograph of Tom Albrecht (the unknown actor – more so even than Ryan Bureyko – playing the dissolute playboy stud) and a loving description of his sonorous voice. This was about the best press the production would get.

We attempted to slaver over Tom Albrecht ourselves. Missing the Woman’s Intuition cue to schlep out to the Saturday showing, we instead visited on a holiday Monday in sub-Saharan heat. We were told we had arrived 40 seconds late. This was after giving ourselves 45 minutes to make the 35-minute velocipede ride. “If there were any bike parking within a hundred-mile radius –” we began, only to have a very self-assured theatre type tell us “Oh, there’s bike racks over there.” “You mean the invisible bike racks?” we countered, annoyed at her tone of voice and body language, which insinuated “All my important theatre friends know about the bike racks. Why don’t you?” We gave up, noting on our disgusted exit that even those holy bike racks were jam-packed. It was not to be.

The plan had been to experience “The Sister Season” in the flesh, then conduct an E-interview with Jared Mitchell about the creutzfeldtjakobesque jump from online “photonovella” to experimental amateur play. But that was not to be, either.

We at NUblog have enjoyed stunning success in intervewing Finns, Amerikanskis, and even the Dutch, but local Toronto girls love to play hard to get.

Would Jared Mitchell be up for an interview? “Thanks for the offer, but I have to pass. Regards.”

And the kicker? All evidence of the non-photo play version of “The Sister Season” has been eradicated from Skipperworld, after the manner of Newspeak.

Online photonovellas should apparently stay that way.

Posted on 2001-08-20