Monthly Archives: August 2014

Parade, mosquitoes, camels, and opening night!

It’s the Fringe!  The site gradually filled up all day until there was a crowd of high-energy  costumed performers gathered outside Strathcona Market for the opening parade around the site, and more people watching along the short parade route and waiting in front of the outdoor stage.  Shows started after that.

Our show Sonder opened at 10pm in King Edward School, venue 5.  It’s so fun to start sharing our work with audiences, after working on it in quiet studios.  It’s a great venue and the technicians and front-of-house volunteers were great.  In the warm humid weather the mosquitoes descended with dusk, so waiting outside the venues was a frustration of swiping and slapping, and walking across the ballfield was an attempt to outrun them.  It looks like the weather will be a little cooler on the weekend so I hope that will discourage the bugs.

After a quick drink with the company, I then started my week of watching plays with Camel Camel, a wonderful piece of physical theatre from Meghan Frank and Janessa Johnsrude, both graduates and staff members of the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California (I think the Wonderheads trained there too).  They were very funny and there were no slow spots.  I had actually missed some of the plot tying the scenes together until I read more about it on their website this morning, but I enjoyed it a lot even without.

The backlog and the roundup

As last year, I think I’m giving up on writing good reviews of the backlog of shows, so that I can start the new season fresh when the Fringe festival opens tonight.  The shows mentioned here fell off the top of my to-do list for a variety of reasons, mostly because it didn’t feel urgent to share my thoughts after the shows had closed.

In February I saw an evening of powerful modern dance with the New York City company Ailey II.  There were four pieces some with several movements, and different numbers of dancers, so the evening felt full of novelty, as well as emotion and atheticism.  My favourite piece was the last long set, Revelations.

I also saw a Pride Week performance of Coming Out Monologues at the University of Alberta.  It was personal and powerful.

In early June, I took three friends to the Varscona Theatre to see the Teatro La Quindicina production of The Jazz Mother, a Stewart Lemoine play last produced in 1991.  I haven’t seen very many of the plays of this prolific playwright, but as I expected, The Jazz Mother was clever, affectionate, and thoroughly enjoyable,.  The surprise – a pleasant surprise – was that it was full of singing too!

The setting is the small village of Badger’s Bluff, Iowa, in 1937, specifically the dining room and parlour of a boarding house run by Polish immigrant Tomas (Mat Busby).  The cozy and charming room was designed by Belinda Cornish and Jeff Haslam.  Tomas’s two lodgers are Enid, a nurse (Kristi Hansen), and Bobbie Romayne (Jocelyn Ahlf) a free-spirited jazz singer who gets off the train in town looking for work.  One of the funniest moments of the show is Bobbie’s audition to sing at a funeral home.

I also enjoyed two musical performances by Two One Way Tickets to Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone and La Cage Aux Folles.

And at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, the summer theatre in a tent in Saskatoon, I saw Taming of the Shrew.  I found it more upsetting than I had bargained for, and I wanted to think about it more before writing a review, and I still haven’t really figured out what to think.  I’d read the play many years ago, but never seen it or studied it.  And somehow, I’d had the idea that the title was ironic, and that the happy ending of the story had the smart independent woman finding love without compromising herself.  But the production I saw, directed by Johnna Wright, left me shocked and uncomfortable.  I loved Jenna-Lee Hyde in the role of Katherine, with her sarcastic tone, expressive eyebrows, and short-statured truculence.  I wanted her to win Petruchio over or trick him into believing she was tamed, and it was hard for me to read in that intention to the way the play was performed.  Petruchio (Joshua Beaudry) used the manipulative techniques of a Pick-Up Artist and an abuser, such as “negging”, gaslighting, and denying her food and sleep, and according to the canonical text, they worked.  That is realistic but at the same time awful.  The play seemed to be set in the early 1960s, with similar music and costuming choices to those in the Red Deer College production of Comedy of Errors directed by Jeff Page last fall.  In a way that’s a good choice for a story of shifts in power imbalance by genders, but the nearly-contemporary setting made me more uncomfortable with the outcome of the story.   It also provided for some fun musical interludes, with the characters of Lucentio, Gremio, Hortensio, and Grumio (Nathan Howe, Jacob Yaworski, Skye Brandon, and Matt Burgess) playing as a musical combo, and the performers of Katherine’s sister, mother, and housekeeper (Anna Seibel, Lisa Bayliss, Tara Schoonbaert) also singing harmony in 60s-girl-group style.   I didn’t get to see the Freewill Shakespeare production of Shrew this summer, with James Macdonald and Mary Hulbert, but I wish I’d been able to see it as well, to help me put my finger on what bothered me and to see whether different directoral choices would have made a difference.

So I think I’m caught up.  The Fringe opening ceremonies are this evening, and our show Sonder‘s first performance is at 10 pm tonight.  I can’t wait!

Cabaret

Listening to the musical soundtrack from a show evokes vivid memories of the show, sometimes more than expected.  That is why, after my trip to various US destinations this spring, I was sitting on a full airplane back to Edmonton, but I feel like I’m sitting in a theatre, specifically the Kit Kat Club Studio 54, swept into the world of Cabaret, and the nightclub in 1930s Berlin while the prospect of Nazi power loomed like the Nightwatch on Babylon 5.   This was not the most comfortable mood to be in on an airplane, but it was a wonderful show and I wanted to remember it as fully as I could.

The musical Cabaret was the last show I saw on my trip to New York City.  it opened recently with Alan Cumming (currently in the TV drama The Good Wife) as the Emcee, Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, and Bill Heck as the viewpoint character American novelist Cliff Bradshaw.  The poignant and tragic glimpses of ordinary people going about their lives ignoring or worrying about or unaware of the political and social shifts during what we know is the time immediately before World War II create a compelling story.  You can’t raise the narrative stakes much higher.  The plot line about Fraulein Schneider, the landlady, and about her late-in-life suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, was particularly heartbreaking.  The Emcee’s speeches and songs addressing the imaginary cabaret audience give an impression of self-conscious parody of depravity, but the other narrative between the songs, like Sally Bowles’ matter-of-fact acknowledgement that various members of the chorus had male and female lovers, just felt like a way of illustrating that the culture of that time and place wasn’t very different from our own.

The front rows of the orchestra and balcony sections in the theatre were all set up like little cabaret tables, with candle lights.  In the parts of the musical set during cabaret performances, the little table lights lit up, so that even though I was sitting in a cheaper seat I felt part of an intimate live performance.  The Club space at the Citadel feels similar, so I imagine I’ll recall Cabaret the next time I go to a show there.  The male ushers for the performance were not entirely clothed, adding to the impression of arriving somewhere exotic and slightly daring.   Before the show started, the orchestra musicians were wandering around and warming up on stage, before settling in to their platform above the main part of the stage.

Both Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams will be replaced by other performers for the extended run of this show.  While I loved seeing Alan Cumming in this role, the show would be good even without them.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

One of the hot tickets that I paid full price for on my Broadway excursion this spring was the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig and Lena Hall as Hedwig’s second husband Yitzhak.  Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) had played the role in a West End London production a few years ago, but never on Broadway.  (You might know NPH as the actor who played the title role in Doogie Howser MD, who played himself in the Harold and Kumar movies, and who was in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or the host of last year’s Tony Awards.)  I’m probably the only one who also had him confused with the guy who plays the FBI agent on White Collar, but that’s actually Tim De Kay, who looks kind of similar and is about 10 years older.   Lena Hall also has a long Broadway resume,

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is also a movie, but having seen both I think it works better as a stage musical – and it’s definitely more fun in person.  The Belasco Theatre is an intimate setting and some of the audience members sitting near me had seen the production before.  It’s a fairly short show (95 minutes or so?) without an intermission, and the character Hedwig talks or sings for almost the whole time.  The musicians performing as the Angry Inch were Justin Craig (Skszp), Matt Duncan (Jacek), Tim Mislock (Krzyzhtoff), and Peter Yanowitz (Schlatko).  Hedwig has several dramatic costume changes and manages to climb over a car gracefully wearing platform boots.

The show uses the device of Hedwig and her band talking to the audience as they do a “one night only!” musical performance, and narrate Hedwig’s history.  They keep mentioning their more successful associate Tommy Gnosis who is supposedly performing across town in a bigger venue.  And at one point Hedwig makes an aside about having been kicked out of a dive like The Jane Hotel, which is funny because the original off-Broadway run of Hedwig was in a room at that inexpensive inn, but it was even funnier to me because that is where I was staying.

I enjoyed it and I’m glad I went to see it, but it hasn’t really stuck with me very hard.  I’m not sure why not.

Fringe as a way of life

My first experience with any Fringe festival was the week I moved to Edmonton.  I got off the train with some of my stuff on a cold grey Monday morning after Folkfest, even though everyone I’d met from Edmonton had encouraged me to arrive in time for the folk music festival.  I didn’t want to wait a year to start experiencing the festive life of my new home, and fortunately I found out that there was some kind of theatre festival taking place the next weekend a few blocks from where I was living.  My first blog posts about the Fringe (they were semi-private journal entries at the time; I wasn’t publishing this blog yet) mention seeing a show recommended by a friend from Montreal Fringe, encountering handbillers, talking to strangers in the beer tent, and eating my first green onion cake.  But it probably took me until my second Fringe year to realize that one of the best things about the Fringe is that I don’t just pick the kinds of theatre experiences which sound safe and familiar.  Something about the format, where it’s possible to see lots of shows in a weekend or three in a single evening, and where none of them cost more than $15 total, lowers the perceived risk of choosing what to see.  My Fringe day wasn’t going to be wrecked if one of the performances wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  And in fact, my day was going to be more fun if all the performances were different from each other.

So I started expanding the range of what I was willing to try.   I didn’t think I liked one-person performances, but after seeing some brilliant multiple-character narratives and storytelling shows, I was hooked.  I didn’t think I liked clowns or mimes, but after watching some world-class physical theatre and Canadian Pochinko-tradition clown stories I wanted to see more.  I sought out dance shows, dramas, theatre of the absurd, musicals, and improvisational theatre.  Like music and food and drink and poetry, I discovered that I liked a lot more things than I would have guessed, and I got better at figuring out how to describe what I like and don’t like.   Eventually I fell into living the rest of the year with a Fringe mindset too.   My Broadway vacation was Fringe-like in my enthusiastic immersion, but the shows were a lot more expensive and the street food wasn’t as interesting.

Having become more involved in the year-round Edmonton theatre scene in the last couple of years, taking class, volunteering backstage and front of house, and seeing a lot of shows from a lot of companies, my decisions of what to see at the Fringe now include consideration of a lot of shows where I recognise the names in the program book, as friends, favourite directors, or performers I’ve enjoyed watching in the past.  This makes it even harder to decide what to see.

But here’s my first list.  I expect to see more, and I’ve got a long backup wish list waiting for Fringe bucks, Daily Discounts, artist comps, and/or space in my calendar.  These are the for-sures.  They’re not in priority order.  (I’m not linking any box-office pages; you can find those yourself.)

  • Camel Camel
  • Sonder – this is the one I’m producing
  • Beware Beware
  • Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip
  • Zanna, Don’t!
  • Dogfight – a Scona Alumni Theatre musical
  • The Show
  • Butt Kapinski
  • The Middle of Everywhere – this is the new show from Wonderheads, the mask troupe out of Oregon who did Loon and Grimm & Fischer
  • Harold of Galactus
  • Little Monsters – written and directed by Kristen Finlay
  • This is CANCER – I haven’t seen Bruce Horak’s show before but I’ve heard a lot about it
  • Off Book the Musical – this Rapid Fire troupe is even better at the Fringe than in a regular Saturday show
  • En anglais, s’il vous plait
  • Ask Aggie – I saw Christine Lesiak’s show last year and liked it, and I’ve heard there’s new material in it
  • Fugly
  • Rocket Sugar Factory
  • The Real Inspector Hound
  • 3… 2…1…
  • Real Time – scripted comedy by Matt Alden of Rapid Fire
  • The Story of O’s
  • Einstein
  • Scratch
  • Gordon’s Big Bald Head
  • Bible Bill
  • Fruitcake
Cast of Sonder, postcard style

Sonder and the Fringe

The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is my favourite festival.   And counting down to the Fringe is like counting down to Christmas.  When I was a child, I used to ask my parents, Don’t you wish Christmas was tomorrow? Mum would sigh and Dad would grumble in their grownup ways saying that they didn’t wish Christmas was tomorrow because they weren’t ready.  I would explain that if Christmas was tomorrow they would be ready!  They didn’t buy it.

Anyway, every year as soon as Folkfest is over I start getting excited about the Fringe.  I already have my program and some show tickets, and my volunteering schedule for the beer tent.  I drove by the grounds last night and saw the barricades on some of the roads.  I’m clicking Maybe on all the Facebook events and trying to figure out how many I can see.  I’m looking forward to the parade, the food stands (especially Rustixx pizza), the out-of-town visitors, the excitement … but at the same time I’m feeling like one of those grown-ups who has a to-do list that has to happen first.

One of the things on my personal to-do list is to get caught up writing about other performances I’ve seen, so I can start the season fresh.  That will appear here in the next few days.

The other things are about getting everything ready for the new show that I’m producing, Sonder, with our company The ? Collective (you can pronounce that however you want, but we usually say “the question mark collective” – our twitter handle is @theqmcollective).  A friend and I put together a lottery entry last fall and were lucky enough to get selected to perform in a Fringe lottery venue, King Edward School.  That’s Venue 5, the elementary school, the low white building closer to the Fringe grounds, as opposed to the Academy which is the older brick building across the street.  My friend, Jake Tkaczyk, took on the roles of director and creation facilitator, gathering a small group of Red Deer College students to explore themes of interconnectedness and meaningful moments in a collaborative creation process.  The title Sonder came from the tumblr blog Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, in which the writer, John Koenig, coins many words for interesting concepts – in this case the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as one’s own.  As the work slowly took shape, Collette Radau contributed as dramaturg, Alex Boldt responded with original music and soundscapes, and all of us told and listened to many stories.

What we’ve come up with uses the techniques of performance art, movement, recitation, and narrative scenes real and surreal to show a series of moments in different people’s lives, from the everyday to the magical, funny and poignant and sometimes disturbing.   We’re excited about showing our creation to the Fringe community, and we’re also excited about experiencing the Fringe from the inside.   I’m the only one who’s been involved with a show in the past (as stage manager for WaMo Productions’ God on God 2013, 3 stars in the VUE and the Journal).  Some of the company members will be attending their first Edmonton Fringe, and I’m almost as excited about showing them the festival that made me fall in love with theatre in the first place.

But as I said at the beginning, I’ve got a to-do list between me and opening night (Thursday Aug 14th at 10 pm by the way).  The rest of our company arrives in town today, and our tech rehearsal is this afternoon.  We have posters to hang, handbills to hand out, programs to print, buttons to sell, and a parade to entertain you in (Thursday Aug 14th, 7:30 pm, Fringe grounds). We have a blog, a website, a Facebook event and page, a twitter account, and an indiegogo campaign (running til the 21st).

And we have tickets at the box offices for all our performances, $11 adult, $9 student/senior.  We’d love to see you there!

  • Thurs Aug 14th, 10 pm (opening)
  • Sun Aug 17th, 9 pm
  • Mon Aug 18th, 12:15 pm
  • Wed Aug 20th, 11:30 pm
  • Thurs Aug 21st, 4:00 pm
  • Sat Aug 23rd, 6:45 pm (closing)
Sonder cast rehearses family scene.  Erin Pettifor as the mother comforts her children (Julia Van Dam, Evan Macleod).

Sonder cast rehearses family scene. Erin Pettifor as the mother comforts her children (Julia Van Dam, Evan Macleod).

Sonder cast creates funeral vignette.  Evan Macleod as Doug the deceased.  Mourners left to right: Julia Van Dam, Emily Cupples, Tyler Johnson, Brittany Martyshuk.

Sonder cast creates funeral vignette. Evan Macleod as Doug the deceased. Mourners left to right: Julia Van Dam, Emily Cupples, Tyler Johnson, Brittany Martyshuk.