All That We Are – or a sampling

Near the end of the first semester of Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program, the new ensemble/class puts on a performance with samples of many of the exercises and disciplines they’ve been studying, from stage fighting to clowning, original monologues and scenes including some in character mask, ensemble singing and dancing and choric recitation, interpretive movement in the Laban tradition, and – I think that covers everything, but it might not.  I don’t know if there is a genre word to describe this kind of performance – it’s like a portfolio on stage.

Given the variety of skills and genres covered and the size of the class (22 performers), the show was surprisingly coherent.  The prop-shifting and interludes between main pieces were done as vignettes by clowns, and there was some repeating imagery and background characters (Death, prison guards, etc) that made things fit together.  I don’t know whether the students were involved in making the performance fit together or if that was done by the instructors directing it, but it worked.  In the first act, which was more light-hearted with shorter pieces, I actually lost track a couple of times about whether I was seeing something on the program or something interstitial.  But it didn’t really matter – the show was fast-paced and there were no noticeable delays or cue-mismatches, so things just swept along uninterrupted for an hour until intermission and then built more intensity with longer, more serious, and larger-cast work.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen women do stage fighting before, at least not enough to be impressed.  And today I was.  Several fight scenes were set into bits of familiar plays – Sasha Sandmaier and Megan Einarson’s fight scene was Rizzo and Sandy at the pajama party in Grease, AJ Collins and JP Lord’s was the Capulet-Montague thumb-biting scene although the Drop Dead Juliet lines instead of the original, and a third fight scene (Tyler Johnson and Becky Lozinski) was staged around the dialogue of the disturbing scene in Spring Awakening where Wendla asks Melchior to show her what it feels like to be beaten.  In that scene I was distracted from the skill of the fighters by thinking how powerful and confusing the original scene had been in context.  It was satisfying seeing Wendla kind of kick Melchi’s ass, though.

I don’t know very much about the training of performers, but these performers must be getting a good grounding in the physicality of their profession.  Besides the fights, the clowns, and several expressive solo movement pieces, there were four large-group choreographed numbers, one of them created collaboratively by the ensemble and the others starting from existing songs.  They were all well-done and fun to watch.

I found several monologues or mask vignettes particularly moving.  In an original piece, Jessie Muir was a child waiting for Daddy to come home from Away, with enough foreshadowing and dramatic irony that I am convinced there is a whole story there and would pay Fringe prices to see it.  Constance Isaac and Richard Leurer both did monologues from existing work that I now want to read or see.  Jake Tkaczyk’s masked character had the audience gasping in shock and sympathy when he dropped the egg he’d planned to hatch into a pet, and then kneeled on the floor sadly piecing bits of shell together.  Next time I go to a show like this I need to make notes during the show, because there were other really great bits but I can’t remember who they were.  I expect I will see many of these young performers and creators on the wider Alberta theatre scene in future.

The final performance of Showcase:  All That We Are is tomorrow, Saturday 15 December 2012, at 2 pm, in Studio A of Red Deer College Centre for the Performing Arts.

Teatro Quindicina’s The Nutcracker Unhinged and Walterdale Theatre’s Le Misanthrope both close tomorrow night. If you’re closer to Red Deer or you like this description, see Showcase:  All That We Are.  If you are in the mood to think and pay attention, see Le Misanthrope.  Here’s what I said about it.  If you want to laugh and celebrate Old Strathcona, see The Nutcracker Unhinged (it’s got a matinee as well as a Saturday evening show).  More notes on The Nutcracker Unhinged will follow here in a few hours.

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