Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Violet Hour starts U of A Studio Theatre season

Last week I saw the preview performance of the first show in the six-show U of A Studio Theatre season, Richard Greenberg’s The Violet Hour, directed by MFA Directing candidate Lucy Callingwood. I didn’t write about it immediately because I wasn’t sure what I thought of it.  I’m still not sure.  I remember feeling similar confusion last year when I saw pool (no water), which I came to appreciate more later.

As an audience member I like the Studio Theatre a lot, with the steeply-raked high-back seats and good acoustics making it easy for me to lose myself in the mood on stage without getting distracted by other audience members or by uncomfortable seats.  Like most Studio Theatre productions, this one had interesting design choices contributing to the world of the play, and used the deep stage effectively.   All the action was set in a dingy office room in a New York City building in 1919, with a colour palette leaning towards the golds and browns of worn leather, period incandescent lights, and painted wooden walls and furniture.  The sky visible outside the windows and uneven horizontal blinds changed colour as the day progressed, towards the violet of dusk alluded to in the title.

The narrative starts with a scene of two men working in this office and shouting at each other.  At first I assumed that the older one, Gidger (Julien Arnold, a BFA program grad some time ago, often making me laugh on local stages from the Varscona to the Shoctor, and memorable as the jailer in Die Fledermaus), was in charge. I was especially amused by the bit where Gidger is acting out his dog’s behaviour.

In a later exchange the younger one, John Pace Seavering (Oscar Derkx, BFA 2014), refers to Gidger as his employee, but I had been so convinced of my earlier assumption that I thought that was a slip of the tongue.  Without seeing it again, I can’t tell what reinforced my wrong assumption.  But Pace (Derkx) was a recent Princeton graduate, probably bankrolled by his father, trying to choose what manuscript to select as a first publication.  He gets the choice narrowed down to two, one submitted by his college friend (Neil Kuefler, BFA 2014) and the other submitted by his lover (Nimet Kanji of Vancouver).  The stakes for this choice are high for both Kuefler’s character and Kanji’s character.  Pace cares about both and wants to please both, but I wasn’t convinced that his own stakes were high, and I found the eventual resolution to this difficulty a bit unsatisfying.  A more interesting aspect to his character is some mention of a struggle to reconcile not being an artistic creator himself.

The script had some science-fictional or magic-realist aspects to it.  Probably more magical, because I didn’t catch any real explanation about either the messages from the future or an apparent timeline-reset. This complicates Pace’s decision-making with some snippets of information about what happens to the characters in the future.  The messages from the future (in the format of printed excerpts of written documentation) also give opportunities for the playwright to poke some pointed fun at academic and quasi-academic disciplines of the present day that use modern jargon and draw conclusions from very little documented evidence.  Julien Arnold’s comic talents were a delight throughout the show but were particularly evident in sharing the messages from future writers.  The characters of almost a hundred years ago also had fun with terminology shifts they discover, “gay” especially but also words like “existential” and “co-opted”.

Pace’s lover Jessie (Kanji), a jazz singer, is presented as African-American, or as various synonyms of the terminology of the day of various levels of appropriateness and inappropriateness.   Some of the ways Gidger introduces her verged on gratuitous and made me uncomfortable.  He also uses various ethnic slurs to introduce Kuefler’s character Denis/Denny, who is of Irish descent.   Jessie is probably also significantly older than Pace, and although neither character is married their relationship is clearly on the down-low (not to be commonly known), probably due to the racial difference more than the age difference.  “I’ll be your secret, but I won’t be your lie” she declares at one point.  Some fascinating concepts in the social construction of race in that environment are hinted at.

The fifth character in the play, Rosamund Plinth, is played with brittle flirtatiousness by Lianna Makuch, a 2013 BFA grad.  Her character seemed like a familiar type among the Bright Young Thing wealthy young women escorted by the “lost-generation” young men after the First World War.  I was struck by the common trope that the young woman is in fragile mental health and needs to be protected and catered to, while Denny is probably more messed up but is not treated with much sympathy except by his friend Pace who doesn’t really know how to help him.

There are many references to truth and lies in the script, most of them not to be taken at face value.  This script is convoluted enough that I probably would have benefited from a second viewing, but I didn’t have time.

The next Studio Theatre offering, Moira Buffini’s Loveplay, features some of the BFA Acting class of 2015 in the first show of their Studio Theatre season.  It previews Wednesday October 29th and runs until Saturday November 8th, with tickets at Tix on the Square.




Frenetic Dreamtime, an evening of clown play

The University of Alberta’s BFA Acting class of 2015 will be on the Studio Theatre stage starting with Moira Buffini’s Loveplay at the end of October.  But you can see them tonight (Saturday) in an evening of original clown turns called Frenetic Dreamtime.

I went to the preview Thursday night at the Timms Centre’s Second Playing Space.  Each of the ten class members had a character who did a turn, mostly solos but sometimes helping each other out.  The show was hosted by a character played by Maxwell Lebeuf.  As the audience enters, this character is seated at a dressing table facing away from the audience, doing makeup and getting in to nose and costume.   It was a bit unsettling to find it hard to distinguish the pre-show time where it was appropriate for us to chat with each other, send text messages, and knit (okay, I was probably the only one who wanted to knit) and the time when the show had started so respect would require us to observe silently.

Max’s character introduced each act by title and character name.  The custom of short clown turns each having a title, often involving wordplay, suddenly reminded me of classic animated cartoon style.   Because I don’t know all the members of the Class of 2015 by sight and because their CVs aren’t on the Drama department website yet, I can’t be certain which performers did what.  If you are reading this and you want to let me know, please feel free to email or post a comment on the entry.  But I think my favourites were the nesting hen laying eggs, the apprehensive mountain climber (Dylan Parsons), and the would-be bride of “White Wedding”.  All of these stories had an entertaining mix of some familiar emotions and some inventive physical expression of the narrative.  The ensemble worked together smoothly to set up quickly for each act, and I was particularly impressed by this because a few of the acts involved making a mess on the floor.

The show ended with Maxwell Lebeuf’s character singing a cabaret-style version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, and the nine other clowns doing a choreographed dance as backup.  That was a lot of fun too.

Frenetic Dreamtime has one more show tonight at 7:30 pm at the Timms Centre Second Playing Space.  Seating is limited (although they might bring out more chairs if there’s a bigger crowd).  Admission is free, and there’s an opportunity to donate to either or both of the Drama Department bursary fund and the class of 2015 audition tour.

Fun-raising, friend-raising, and fundraising events

“Friend-raising” is what a friend who worked with university Advancement used to call the university’s efforts to make and maintain positive connections with community members, recognizing that building connections and building community pays off in the long run in lots more ways than immediate financial donations.

So even though it sometimes seems odd to me to get people to come to a special event where they do something fun together, as a way of raising money for a cause they can agree on, I know that it works.  It works especially well when the fun can be had without a lot of extra paid work or paid-for refreshments and entertainment.  And it works by generating enthusiasm and connections, rekindling friendships, and reminding people of what the organization does and how to be more involved.  This worked well for Northern Light Theatre’s event last weekend, and I bet it’s also going to work for Opera Nuova’s event later this month.

I went to a fun fundraising event last weekend, Northern Light Theatre’s Battle for the Limelight.  In this event, teams from local theatre companies and organizations had the chance to raise money for their own organization through pledges, and also earned money for Northern Light Theatre through entry fees and other ways of generating cash.  And it was also a great opportunity for people involved in theatre to have a fun day together in one of the rare times of year when not much is happening on stage.  Teams from Northern Light, Rapid Fire, Nextfest, Promise Productions, Teatro Quindicina, Grindstone, Theatre Alberta, Theatre Network, Freewill Shakespeare, FAVA, and Workshop West competed in an Amazing-Race-style sequence of stunts and searches all over Old Strathcona on a beautiful early-September day.  Local businesses and artists helped by posing, hosting, and judging various challenges, from reproducing an original painting and decorating cupcakes to eating thousand-year-old eggs.   I was volunteering at the “Busking” challenge.  At this station, two talented drummers from taiko group “The Booming Tree” taught a drumming song to one of the participants, and then he or she would have to perform while the teammates attempted to drum up (see what I did there) spare change from passers-by.

After the groups completed their challenges, everyone gathered back at the Queen Alexandra Community League to tell stories, eat delicious refreshments, and compare notes on their summers.  I had to leave for another event before the winners were announced, but blogger Finster Finds reported that the first place (Golden Handjob) went to Team AIEEEEE! (Teatro la Quindicina) , with the Silver and Bronze going to teams from Nextfest and Theatre Alberta.

I also want to mention another fun event coming up on September 27th, Opera Nuova’s Singalong Phantom of the Opera.  For $44 ($40 student/senior), you can have the fun of singing along with the hits of the Broadway show, led by experienced soloists and helped out by lyrics projected above the stage.  The event takes place at River Community Church, 11520 Ellerslie Road SW, at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are available at Tix on the Square.  It sounds like a lot of fun!

Also on the playbill for this week (have I mentioned yet how handy it is to have my own copy of the Theatre Alberta playbill stuck to my refrigerator where I can look at it every morning?) are previews/openings for The Violet Hour (U of A Studio Theatre), Fatboy (Roxy Theatre), and Kim’s Convenience (Citadel), as well as more Rapid Fire shows Friday and Saturday and a clown showcase by the final-year BFA students.

Fringe Holdovers 2014

There were several held-over shows that I hadn’t seen, but I had other commitments midweek, so I went to three shows on the holdover weekend.  The Westbury lobby fills up fast with people who were too busy during the Fringe to see everything they wanted.  Nobody’s wearing Artist or Volunteer badges any more, but probably a lot of them were last week.  I should mention that a few volunteers and staff are still around making things run smoothly at the box office, concession, and lobby-filling ramen-noodle-block of a queue, and I’m always in awe of them.

My companion and I saw Mike Delamont’s solo show God is a Scottish Drag Queen II, and the two dance shows of Jake Hastey’s Toy Guns Dance Theatre.

It was my first time seeing Mike Delamont perform.  His persona wore a “lady’s power suit”, a floral two-piece with wrap blouse, with bare feet and a sensible bobbed haircut.  This was not really what I picture when I hear “drag queen”, but it fit the character, and made me think vaguely of photos of Queen Elizabeth visiting Scotland.   I kept forgetting that he was supposedly speaking as God, because he was just making funny observations as a person.  And I actually have no idea why he was in drag, or whether his persona was supposed to be male, female, or not conventionally gendered.  Maybe that was covered in his original show, and it wasn’t very distracting either.  His performance had a few improvised bits and responses to audience questions or reactions, but mostly he went through a list of several topics that people had asked to hear more about after his previous show – mostly stuff about Christianity and Biblical stories.  I appreciated the deft way he acknowledged a suggestion to talk about pedophile priests by stating immediately that sexual abuse is not funny.  Apparently he plans to return to Edmonton with a third show, for which people can submit more suggestions and questions on line.

The two dance shows were Red Wine, French Toast, and the Best Sex You’ve Ever Had, on the Friday night, with a cast of six (David Clennin, Robert Halley, Dylan Parsons, Tia Kushniruk, Amber Bisonnette, and Richelle Thoreson), and Propylene Glycol, Maltodextrin, Retinol Palmitate, and Other Words I Don’t Understand Like Love on the Saturday, with eleven dancers (most of the above plus Richard Lee, Dario Charles, Cynthia Hicks, Katie McGuigan-Scott, Jemma Robinson, Valerie Rodriguez) , an opera singer (Elizabeth Raycroft), and an occasional narrator (Christine Lesiak).  I enjoyed both of them and I will make a point of watching for more productions from this company.  People I met during Fringe who had seen one or the other described them as “the one with a scene of eating cake” (Red Wine) – it was surprisingly amusing to watch the cast members all eat cake in different ways, especially Tia Kushniruk – and “the one with the pillows” (Propylene Glycol).  In both shows, I was immediately captivated by the overwhelming playfulness of the performers and the choreography.  I also loved the approach to sexuality seen in many of the pieces, joyful and open and not limited to exclusive opposite-sex pairs.  I was impressed by the athletic and evocative dance skill of Robert Halley and Richelle Thoreson, and by the distractingly-flirtatious stage presence of Dylan Parsons.  I don’t really see how the titles fit or distinguish the work, and I noticed that the Propylene Glycol show actually mentioned both red wine and French toast.  But that didn’t bother me.