#fringebuzz with Marie Ayotte of Planetarium

by Caleigh Crow

It’s a nostalgic setting – sitting in a slightly reclined chair, dome overhead. The lights dim, and suddenly the entire night sky is glittering before your eyes. Soaring string compositions underscored by booming narration escort the audience off the earth, past the moon, and then further, beyond Saturn, or maybe all the way to Andromeda. For Marie Ayotte, creator of Planetarium, the journey took her inward.

“When I was eight, I went to a planetarium show and experienced my first panic attack there,” Marie Ayotte divulges. “It was the first time I thought that maybe I don’t matter, maybe I will die, and I just don’t know what the future holds. Still, when I’m in a planetarium, I felt so distressed with all these thoughts and voices in my head. This piece is really an expression of that.”

Planetarium is an immersive theatre piece, playing at Theatre d’Aujourd’hui as part of the St Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, that creates a complete experience for the audience. The text, written by Marie and mindful to be scientifically accurate, is performed together with music, performance, and live projections. Marie describes the sensory experience as “a cocoon of overwhelming senses, like we sometimes feel with anxiety.” She continues, “Even if you don’t have anxiety, even if you don’t constantly wonder what you’re doing on this earth, just see it through other eyes, to feel it can be interesting.”

The cast is made up of three actresses : Émanuelle Caron, Andrée-Anne Giguère and Mélanie Michaud, sometimes speaking directly to the audience, other times employing choral speech techniques. The message, or as close as you can get to one in an abstract piece like this, is acceptance and understanding. “I want people to know anxiety is part of life for so many humans. I want to give a space with an open dialogue about this issue where some will maybe realize that you should pressure yourself a little less to have a picture-perfect life – whatever picture-perfect means.” She continues, “What should I do with my life? We are preoccupied with this, but you should also find a way to enjoy the ride.”

Immersive theatre techniques remind the audience that they are necessary for and accountable to the performance, something Marie seeks out as a theatre practitioner, saying, “The work that really has an impact on me is where I feel in the show and not outside the show, when my presences was a necessary part of the art.”

Adding music from Janine Fortin, movement, heightened text, and projections to the mix gives the audience even more agency. She remarks, “What’s amazing with theatre is you choose your own editing, you choose what you focus on, and that inspired me, having the melting pot of different performance styles on stage for people to make their own experience.”

Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, the show can bring you closer to understanding those who do. Marie says, “I want to connect people to other realities that they don’t necessarily have in their lives and make them experience it and bring more people together.”

Give yourself over to this science-meets-emotions piece starting June 7.

Planetarium is playing at Theatre d’Aujourd’hui from June 7- 17 at the St Ambroise Montrel FRINGE Festival. To purchase tickets, click here. For all our QDF #FRINGEBUZZ articles, click here.