by Lynn on September 14, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the High Park Amphitheatre in High Park, Toronto, Ont. Until September 19, 2021.

Written by Jordan Tannahill

Directed by Erin Brubaker

Production design by Sherri Hay

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Movement by Cara Spooner

Composed by Veda Hille

Cast: Remi Ajao-Russell,

Hiyab Araya,

Jack Bakshi,

Chloe Cha,

Felix Chew,

Nia Downey,

Sidonie Fleck,

Oscar Gorbet,

Saraphina Knights,

Iris MacNada,

Iylah Mohammed,

Amaza Payne,

Sanora Souphommanychanh,

Alykhan Sunderji,

Catherine Thorne,

Sophia Wang,

Skyler Xiang

Earnest, well-intentioned, but full of contradictory messages that quickly wear thin with the hectoring. The message of hope at the end comes from nowhere and is not earned.

From the press information: “JordanTannahill’s newest play takes the form of a theatrical protest song. Led by director Erin Brubacher, a chorus of seventeen young Torontonians aged 12-17 turn the theatre into a site of intergenerational reckoning. Urgent, moving, and confrontationalIs My Microphone On? is both a declaration of war and a declaration of love delivered by a generation facing the perils of climate change.

Fundamentally asking how do we move forward from here?, Is My Microphone On?demands attention for those who will no longer be able to avoid the consequences of the climate crisis, a generation just under the voting age but painfully aware of the legacy left for them. They speak to the adults in the audience, holding them to account, questioning the choices that have not been made, the ones that children will be forced to make, and what kind of future they stand to inherit.

An artistic endeavor developed within the context of the pandemic, Tannahill’s script is adapted from speeches given by global youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, into a choral piece further shaped by Brubacher’s work with the cast, along with key collaborators, production designer Sherri Hay, composer Veda Hille, sound designer Debashis Sinha, and movement director Cara Spooner.

Director Erin Brubacher places her cast of 15 (on the night I saw it) in pools of light along the sides and the front of the amphitheater, facing the audience. For the most part each microphoned participant says a word in sequence to form a sentence or thought. The words are not said by one person, then the next word by the person beside them and so on. One word can be said by a person on this side of the audience and the next one by a person on the other side and the next word by someone at the front of the audience.  This can be disconcerting if you don’t know who is speaking. —I found myself looking around the space to see who the speaker was. Over time, just listening to try and make sense of the words was the best idea. Occasionally a speaker would have a few lines. In some cases the ‘actor’ was forceful. Most of the time the actors were monotoned. Occasionally they were inaudible, even with the microphones. But kudos to Erin Brubacher the attention to the smoothness of the deliveries. There was never a hesitation as to whom should speak next. The words filled the air like so many well played tennis balls that were batted from one end of the space to another.

Many of the cast played instruments that underlined a thought, idea or comment. We were told that every time a certain note was played thousands of species of animals/insects died as a result of climate change etc. The idea of death of trees, plant-life; coral reefs etc. were also marked by sound effects.

The main thrust of the piece was that youths blamed the adults (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa,) for every ill of climate change and suggesting young people could be anything they put their mind too and it wasn’t true and the youth sought a reckoning. They said “we are only going to say this once” and repeated it several times over the course of the evening. Many thoughts, ideas, complaints, hurts, insults, disappointments etc. were repeated. Adults didn’t listen to them when they made suggestions for improvements. The youth weren’t taken seriously; respected.

Is My Microphone On? was full of generalizations that summarily dismissed adults for their guilt and complicity in the destruction of the planet. The world pollution caused by big business and that of the owner of an SUV were equated were treated with the same contempt.

Then playwright, Jordan Tannahill has the youth then bicker amongst themselves. One would not give her seat on the bus to an older person because she didn’t see why she should. Another wouldn’t be nice to an elderly neighbour because the neighbour was a racist. It was hard keeping all the contempt straight.

Composer Veda Hille provides a song they all sing at the end offering hope. It is not supported by the piece and ends on a fake note. (and too often it was hard to hear the words, they were singing so softly).

There is a magical moment though. One youth asks us to “listen.” With that the lights on each youth goes out and an amber glow of light goes up on the lush foliage and trees surrounding the playing space. The air is full of the ‘cacophony’ of nature at night: crickets, cicadas, insects etc. Then a light breeze sifts through the leaves and the branches of the trees making a rustling sound. Even the siren in the distance captured our attention. Magical. Then the lights faded and went back up on the young cast. And they continued the blame game. Tedious.

Even at one hour playing time, Is My Microphone On? seemed padded with all the repeated ideas and invective. Releasing this diatribe might be freeing, but it makes for lousy theatre. The youth say they’ve had enough (please get behind me in this long line of people feeling the same way) and they are taking over. What the piece doesn’t say is what they would do differently. I think it’s important to know.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Plays until: Sept. 19, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kent James September 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm

I’m going to get t-shirts made for us that will read “Earnest, well-intentioned, but full of contradictory messages that quickly wear thin with the hectoring.” It’s catchy, and makes us sound like the grandmas and grandpas in the piece.


2 an adult who likes teenagers June 19, 2023 at 12:31 pm

Wow, the level of contempt for young artists in this review is really quite intense. If you’re too old to follow the action of a play, just say that.