A feisty old lady who refuses to kick the bucket gives the Grim Reaper a run for his money. That’s the storyline of Grim and Fischer, an award-winning theatrical play produced by Wonderheads Theatre and features a prominent use of full-faced masks.
Grim and Fischer will be on stage at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre Thursday to Saturday (March 27-29). Wonderheads Theatre co-founder and actor Kate Braidwood said “live action Pixar” is a simple way to describe the production style of Grim and Fischer. “That’s sort of our elevator pitch,” Braidwood said. “It’s a bit cartoonish and larger than life and also in tone it’s very funny and very poignant in the way that Pixar can be. It’s not just for kids like Pixar is, but Pixar works on different levels, which we do as well for adults and younger folks.”
Grim and Fischer, which is about an old lady named Mrs. Fischer who encounters the Grim Reaper, touches on the theme of dying and death in a humorous and emotional way.
“We think it is really important to laugh even in the hard times in life,” Braidwood, a University of Victoria graduate, said. “So it definitely walks that line of funny and poignant. It’s entertaining and moving, and I hope it is that for people … I want to make people laugh and cry. That was part of the reason for creating this piece because it is about death.”
The Wonderheads Theatre, which has received numerous awards for its productions, was founded in Portland, Ore., by Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix, specializing in visual storytelling and mask performance. Braidwood, who plays Mrs. Fischer, describes her character as “quite a feisty grandmother.”
The inspiration behind Grim and Fischer blossomed out of darker moments in Braidwood and Phoenix’s lives. In fact, Mrs. Fischer is heavily based off of one of Braidwood’s relatives.
“It came for me at a time when all my grandparents were really going into various kinds of nursing homes or care. It kind of hit me hard that my grandparents wouldn’t be around forever and Mrs. Fischer herself is pretty inspired by my own nana, who was very fiery,” Braidwood said. “Also for Andrew as well, he had dealt with some death and tragedy in his family and so we were both reeling from that and we wanted to create a piece that was about that, but also again, that we could laugh and to help us through that and to help other people through it.”
Braidwood and Phoenix originally crossed paths while they were studying at Dell’Arte International in Blue Lake, Calif.
“It’s a physical theatre school and mask is one of the forms that we trained in there and it was a form that we both took to in particular,” Braidwood said. “I love it because you can tell both very simple and profound and imaginative stories with it, especially with full-faced masks.”
It can take anywhere from 50 to 80 hours to produce a single mask for the production. The masks prove to be a powerful theatrical element in Grim and Fischer.
“I think people are sometimes surprised because it’s a pretty rare form and they’ve never seen anything like it before,” Braidwood said. “They’re surprised by how powerful it is. Even with the masks, you think of this sort of static thing that doesn’t move and how could it have much power and emotion, but people are always very surprised by how much emotion the masks convey and how invested they are in the story.”
Grim and Fischer is set for Malaspina Theatre at 7:30 p.m. For more information, please visit www.wonderheads.com/grim-and-fischer/.