University of Waterloo’s FASS theatre company performed their production of The Other Side of the Story — a musical comedy intended to tell the true stories of several famous cartoon villains. The performance was a bright, lighthearted endeavour that was resourceful in its production yet forgetful of what makes a story ‘tick.’
Directed by Allan Beldan and R. Brent Clements, and produced by Thomas Broadley, The Other Side of the Story aimed to flip the stories of The Three Little Pigs, Harry Potter, The Legend of Zelda, Jaws, Super Mario Bros, and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads. Through puns and parody, the show set out to display a sympathetic portrayal of the Big Bad Wolf, Voldemort, Ganondorf, the shark from Jaws, and Waluigi. The show also featured a different cameo on each night — on Feb. 2, a brief cameo from Ward 6 City Councillor Mary Lou Roe; on Feb. 3, faculty of mathematics lecturer Dan Wolczuk, and on Feb. 4, Waterloo MP Hon. Bardish Chagger.
There is certainly value in the creation of art for art’s sake — producing something that is proudly unpolished with the purest intentions of having fun, expressing oneself, and performing without the expectation of perfection. Artists and creators of all crafts are likely to understand the pressure to make something that is professional, without flaw or error, and even marketable. Amateur theatre deliberately strips away these pressures and accepts itself as a craft that values the process of production and performance; the sheer love, passion, and hard work that goes into making a show, regardless of artistic ability or funds.
That said, our critiques of this play have very little to do with the actors themselves, the costume or set design, or anything superficial. Rather, ‘amateur theatre’ — if at all possible — should not be used as an excuse for weak characterization and playwriting.
The Other Side of the Story intended to retell classic stories of ‘good versus evil’ from the perspective of evil, and yet there were many moments when that perspective felt detached from the original characters and source materials. Parody is meant to mock, tease, and subvert, but it is fair to say that a strong parody will understand the pillars of the material it is parodying and flip them upside down. In order to know precisely where to take creative liberties and add a unique twist, one must know exactly what makes the original material what it is. What makes it feel so recognizable, familiar, and iconic to its audience? What are the story’s foundations, what values and ideas are embedded into the story, and why are they there?
The characterizations of several important characters were too far removed from the original source material to be considered ‘creative liberties’ taken for the sake of parody. At times, the characters felt detached beyond irony, as if little time was given to researching the stories and characters from which the original script was borrowed. In “The Only Thing Threatening Hyrule was Climate Change,” an act about The Legend of Zelda from Ganondorf’s perspective, it is acknowledged that Princess Zelda (played by Alice Cai) is only a 12 year-old girl, yet a considerable portion of her lines revolve around her feelings of sexual attraction and frustration towards the other characters, such as Link. The classic trope of the snobby, rich princess is leaned into, showing very little respect for the behaviour and personality of the original character. This was not a one-off situation, with characters such as Luigi from the Super Mario Bros franchise exhibiting personalities that had no connection to the original characters. There were moments when certain characters were not recognizable, even though they were listed in the playbill, due to the lacklustre attempts to establish the character through costume and behaviour, which led to confusion.
The humour within The Other Side of the Story relied too heavily on sheer, unfiltered silliness, and silliness on its own does not complete a joke, let alone strengthen a play. Silliness in comedy can add flavour, but pure randomness and juvenile humour can crumble a decent foundation for a joke if used too generously. The script was littered with jokes about substances and sex, which may be a problem in and of itself, as they tended to be bland at best and insensitive at their worst. Substances and sex are often the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of comedies, and even if you expect the majority of your audience to be university students, integrity and creativity are perhaps more valuable to the creation of a joke than all that is dirty, raunchy, and edgy.
There is a difference between media that is funny, and media that is deliberately trying to make you laugh. Personal tastes in comedy differ, and in our opinion, the best humour is that which feels organic. Sometimes, you just know when a show is trying too hard to be funny — the jokes feel contrived, forced, and in some cases they reach for the low-hanging fruit and try to juice as much out of it as possible. It is easy to take something you don’t fully understand and find a joke in it, but when the thing you do not understand becomes an entire group of people, or a social issue that affects a group of people, you need to tread lightly. A joke about Kirby, the Nintendo character, having an eating disorder sounds incredibly funny when you have never understood or suffered the experience of an eating disorder. Substance abuse seems laughable when you have never had family members struggle and pass away because of it.
On a brighter note, Chagger appeared on the stage to joke that UW deserves to be granted the zoning laws to build an eighth engineering building, because, “it has only been four years since the last one,” which sparked a genuine laugh out of me — an arts student.
To reiterate, amateur theatre does not have to be ‘perfect,’ but within the realm of comedy and parody, it does have some level of responsibility. In this case, refusing to acknowledge this is not a dire situation necessarily, although it can and did lead to some inconsiderate jokes. That being said, acknowledging this responsibility certainly can not hurt.