by Anastasia Koutalianos
The Trampoline Hall (TH) Lecture Series is a monthly talkie-talk out of Toronto. Running strong since December 2001, the show is created by author Sheila Heti and rides on a pretty simple premise: have three lecturers present a topic of their choice to a live audience in the seediest bars across town. Only catch is you can’t speak on any area in which you’re an expert. Topics range from the overly dry to the completely ridiculous—with each talk followed by an informal Q&A. Think nonsense meets intriguing à la dinner theatre.
This past Sunday I had the chance to check out Vancouver’s edition of Trampoline Hall c/o the PuSh Festival’s Club Push lineup.
Set at Performance Works in Granville Island, the night is full of promise. The venue makes me think of a comedy club in Montreal—tables lining the front of the stage, with high tops in the back and of course, a bar. Ah, yes, drinks and entertainment. What a novel idea.
I grab a cranberry and soda and a red wine for Mr. H. Seven dollars for a plastic glass is steep in my books, but doesn’t put a damper on the night. The menu does boast beef jerky. Meat, drinks and entertainment. Genius.
Besides the occasional mini chandelier, the room is pretty bare. That is with the exception of what’s on stage: a mic, a chair and off in the corner, two chefs playing poker as bubbles fill the air. Our set design for the evening. In fact, each edition of Trampoline Hall is uniquely designed. This, while something, isn’t blowing my mind.
Our host tonight is Toronto’s own comic and improv instructor, Misha Glouberman. After what feels like a good half an hour of the show will start in X minutes, things finally get going. (The program states a 7pm-ish start time. How clever.) His intro is long-winded and never seems to end. We’re given the low-down: this is TH, this is what TH is, after each talk will be a Q&A, after which there will be a 10 minute intermission etc. The whole bit on whether a question is good or not puts me off. I will be the first to admit, I am not the most patient person in the world. (Sigh.)
Our first presenter takes to the stage. John Anderson is as hippie as it gets. With hair down to his waist and a camel-coloured corduroy jacket, he gives us the spiel on Sanskrit as the next lingua franca. What? From dull intro to duller presentation, this night shall be long. I can’t connect to the talk. In fact, it’s packed full of random tangents and rabbles about English being a noisy language. I feel rude that I’m neither here nor there. I make a point of listening more attentively, only to get lost again in my own thoughts. I don’t understand if the crowd is interested in the talk or simply asking questions to entertain themselves or those around them. Maybe this is a Vancouver thing. Either way, I’m excited by the first of two intermissions.
With 10 minutes to reflect, I come to see TH isn’t just a lecture series, it is a show. The format is simple: get people to talk about things they don’t know, and have the audience participate. Fine and dandy, but the topics have to be interesting, and how they are presented, equally so. This falls much on the show’s curator. Who talks is 50% of the equation, the topic, the other half.
The cornered chefs take to banging their plastic pails in an attempt to make music. This lasts a good two minutes and then the radio kicks in. A live band would have worked wonders. Rather the set design plays off the minimal décor of the night—leaving me wanting more.
Elizabeth Bachinsky is a poet and creative writer. She wears dark-rimmed glasses and a bubble skirt. With the exception of her oversized rose-coloured woolen scarf, she is dressed head to toe in black. Her topic: neuroplasticity and how memory works. Like a poem, she gives us a visual map of memory and the brain. I make a point of actively listening. It doesn’t take much. The topic interests me, and more importantly, it’s presented in a palatable, creative way. Not just some slide show history 101 bore.
A plate of beef jerky and some more plastic drumming later and we’re on to our last talk: Mike Archibald on 1930s American Westerns. Like Bachinsky, he reinforces the idea that topic and presentation are key for this format to work. He answers everyone’s questions with ease and adds his own clever analysis.
Trampoline Hall as a lecture series is quite brilliant. I like the entertainment factor, but think its Vancouver edition was a little weak. Did our lecturers pick topics they like or the audience would connect to? How were the presenters chosen? What is our presenters’ expertise? Questions, that for the most part, will remain unanswered.
I could have gone without Anderson’s blah blah blah on Sanskrit. The last two presenters are more up my alley, but that’s only because their topics had me listening and honestly, their presentations weren’t dull. For $24 bucks, you’d expect more. Live music is clearly a must. Dinner options over snacks would have been nice. And while the set design was mildly creative, it came across as more of an afterthought. When on point, Misha is a good host. He fills dull moments with commentary and leads the Q&A without a hitch. Still he is a rambler and I find myself half listening. I’d be interested to see Trampoline Hall in full swing in Toronto. As a full package, it has punch. Out West, it was more of a fizzle-sizzle.
Curated by Lee Henderson
Set design by Mark Delong and Jake Gleeson
Hosted by Misha Glouberman
Trampoline Hall topics I would have liked to see:
All the Girls I Loved Before High School by Luke Kirby in Toronto (April 2002)
The Ethics of Sweet-Talking by Chris Buck in New York (April 2003)
How to Emigrate to Canada by Loren Lazarony in New York (September 2003)
Origins of Everyday Expressions by Ben Cormier in Toronto (November 2004)
Teenage Girls and Their Diaries by Aleysa Young in Toronto (July 2005)
Slang and Bling by Batie Bethune-Leaman in Toronto (March 2009)
How to Hold it Down When We’re Fucked Up in the Game by Noah Goodbaum in Toronto (June 2009)
Secrets of His Roommates by Erik Robert Johnson in Bloomington (November 2011)
Aging Actresses by David Balzer in Toronto (December 2011)