Monthly Archives: June 2015


One of the events of an Edmonton June that I had missed in previous years is Nextfest, the celebration of emerging artists in various disciplines which used to be run out of the Roxy Theatre.  There is no Roxy right now, but Nextfest continues, with more events and performances than I’ll have time to catch.  High school performers (#NextNextfest) have a full schedule at the Mercury Theatre (former Azimuth/Living room).  Some things are along 124 Street.  And the mainstage performances are in the lower-level auditorium at Faculté St-Jean on 91 Street.

I’ve seen several mainstage shows.  Evolve was a set of short dance/movement pieces, solos and bigger ensembles.

Blackout was an hour of sketch comedy and improv. The pace was quick, the characters clever, and the inclusion of recent political events spot-on.  I liked it a lot.  It reminded me of the work of Hot Thespian Action, the troupe out of Winnipeg which was at Edmonton Fringe a few years ago.

Pinniped and Other Poems was a play written by Skye Hyndman and directed by Philip Geller, a lyrical indirect piece including flashback scenes, walrus mustaches, live goldfish named x0 and y0, an intriguing set making use of twine, rope, and translucent flats, and some effective and unusual stage business.  Alex Dawkins’ demeanour and costuming portrayed a mysterious woman from the protagonist’s past, while Connor Suart, Emily Howard, and Jake Tkaczyk all seemed to be presenting aspects of the main character.  Live music was provided by Vik Chu.  From a vocal production viewpoint I was impressed by how all the performers managed the dense text with clear articulation despite wearing what looked like straw and twine all over their jaws, and particularly how Jake Tkaczyk’s character managed to sound like an old man without losing volume or clarity.  If time permits I will definitely be watching this one again because I think there is more in the text than I picked up.

Shorts is a program of five short pieces.  I’m not sure if they’re all parts of longer works in development, but at least some of them are.  Louise Large and Andrew Dool each had solo pieces, both with unconventional treatments of fourth-wall conventions.  Kali Wells’s Forms of Communication was an entertaining escapade that started from a situation anyone might find himself or herself in, and then escalated.  It reminded me of some of the scenarios in Suburban Motel.  I also appreciated the value placed on hand-knitted socks by the characters!   Liam Salmon’s Un(known) Stories was a natural-sounding chat among three friends, exploring LGBT terminology and concepts, lived experience, and respectful disagreement.  Leif Ingebrigtsen’s Echoes of a Lost King was perhaps the most ambitious project, two songs and a scene from what seemed to be a fully designed original musical about a group of D & D players and their characters on quest, with Joleen Ballandine, Gabriel Richardson, Eva Foote, and Hunter Cardinal.   All four are strong performers and musicians, but in this short piece I noticed that the music was a particularly good showcase for Gabriel Richardson’s voice.

Desirée Leverenz’s Husk is playing in a space on 124 Street just south of 111 Avenue.  The space seems to be intended as some kind of semi-institutional residence, so it has good potential for site-specific work, with an intimate stage/risers room on one side, and the opportunity to wander through various small rooms and spaces on two floors.   The piece included a couple of full-ensemble scenes with cryptic story, movement, and sound exploration, along with a more experiential session in between where audience wandered among displays interacting with the performers as much as they chose.  Philip Geller’s and Morgan Grau’s interactions were particularly compelling, eliciting audience help or response; some of the others were more distant or diorama-like.  All seemed to be isolated, and to be embracing or struggling with some aspect of fluid and mess.  I think my favourite part of this piece was when I gradually became aware that what I thought was a completely comprehensible conversation among odd characters was actually a repetition of nonsensical phrases, imbued with actor intention as in some kind of Meisner class exercises.  (I did not actually notice this right away because I think I was assuming I hadn’t heard right and my brain was filling in more comprehensible narrative.)  Other performers in this piece were Roland Meseck, Emily Howard, Sophie Gareau-Brennan,  Stuart McDougall, Connor Suart, and a couple of others I didn’t know.

Nextfest continues until tomorrow, Sunday 14 June.

Another week of Edmonton fun, mostly theatrical!

There’s lots going on in Edmonton this week too.  Yesterday, for example, the choices included the Folkfest ticket lottery at Telus Field (popular and well-organized and a sell-out again), the Edmonton Pride Festival parade (Pride events continue throughout the month), Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids (continuing this afternoon) and Nextfest, the emerging artist’s festival continuing until June 14th with music, theatre, dance, comedy, improv, film, visual arts, and more.

Most years I’m out of town for all of July and I spend June getting ready, so I’ve been missing out on lots of the Edmonton June events.  But this year I’m going to be around in July, which also means I get more of the fun of the long days of June.

Thou Art Here, the local troupe doing site-sympathetic versions of Shakespeare’s work, had a remount of last year’s successful Much Ado About Nothing at Rutherford House, the historic site preserving the residence of the first premier of Alberta .  The audience followed the actors around outdoors and indoors, upstairs and down, as the banter, schemes, betrayals and amends of the story took place.  Director Andrew Ritchie said that this play was a great choice for their company because the whole play takes place at Leonato’s house (Kris Joseph, recently seen in Vigilante).  They did some clever things including all the audience members in the story – guests at a masquerade, deputized citizens assisting the officers Dogberry (Amy Shostak) and Verges (David Barnet), wedding guests – and they also had individual audience members standing in for some of the minor roles which they hadn’t cast.  This was fun and not embarrassing.  It was an easy play for me to enjoy, because unlike some of Shakespeare’s comedies this one had the sharp-tongued woman (Beatrice, played by Gianna Vacirca) happily ending up with a man who appreciates her and gives as good as he gets (Benedick, played by Ben Stevens), and because nobody was killed to make a plot point (I’m looking at you, Winter’s Tale …).  Conflict was provided through the machinations of Don Joan (Alyson Dicey) and her henchman Borachio (Mark Vetsch), and eventually there was a happy ending for the other couple Hero (Marlee Yule) and Claudio (Hunter Cardinal).  I thought Neil Kuefler was particularly good as Don Pedro, Don Joan’s good-guy brother, although I was a little confused about why the character was using sitcom tricks to manage his friends.

Teatro La Quindicina has moved into the Arts Barns renovated Backstage space until the Varscona renovations are complete.  Their production of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, with Mat Busby and Julien Arnold, directed by Stewart Lemoine, is the start of their 2015 season.  It runs until June 13th.  Blarney Productions’ season is wrapping up with A Steady Rain, by Keith Huff, directed by Wayne Paquette and performed by Jesse Gervais and John Ullyatt.  It closes today (Sunday June 7th) with a 1:30 show.  Tickets for both are available at Tix on the Square.

This week I also attended Let There Be Height, the Firefly Theatre performance of circus/aerials students and teachers.  It was enchanting and impressive, with different turns set to music and strung on a storyline of dreams and a dreamer.

I also attended the Mayfield Dinner Theatre’s production of Cabaret, which I saw on Broadway last year.  This production included some local familiar faces, Cheryl Jameson (Helga), Benjamin Wardle (Bobby), Lucas Meeuse (Hans), Chelsea Preston (Angel), Pamela Gordon (Sally Bowles) and Jeff Haslam as Ernst Ludwig, the ingratiating small-time smuggler whose unveiling as a Nazi serves as unavoidable demonstration of the perilous chasm looming before all the characters in 1930s Berlin.  The viewpoint character Clifford Bradshaw is played with convincing awkwardness and wistfulness by Aiden Desalaiz, and the Emcee is Christian Goutsis.  I thought the shocking ending was particularly well done, in a polished performance.

A busy theatre weekend at the end of May.

It’s a week of wrapping up seasons, celebrating, and honouring excellence.  It’s also rehearsals or tech week for everyone who’s in Nextfest, and rehearsal for the Fringe.

And in the middle of all that, Fringe Theatre Adventures hosted another excellent workshop in their Professional Development Series yesterday.  Charles Netto and Mark Hopkins of Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre in Calgary conducted an all-day series of experiences and conversations about found space and site-sympathetic theatre.  This is the second of the Professional Development series I’d participated in.  If the series continues next year, I recommend them strongly.

The nominees for the 2014-2015 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes awards for professional theatre in Edmonton were announced this afternoon in a smooth and speedy ceremony at the Next Act.  Mat Hulshof introduced the special award winners and Louise Lambert and Ben Stevens read the nominees.  I was able to reminisce about many wonderful shows I’d seen, and marvel about how many more good performances I must have missed, especially at the Fringe.

The Foote Theatre School’s Young Companies closed their instructional year with performances this weekend too.  I missed seeing the Young Musical Company in Chris Wynters and Jocelyn Ahlf’s new musical Measures, but I enjoyed the Young Acting Company’s performance of Robert Chafe’s Afterimage, an ensemble piece that starts out as narrative spoken to the audience by various company members, who seem to be inhabitants of a small east coast community.  This impression of a narrative chorus is continued by having all members of the company sit on chairs at the sides of the stage when not engaged in scenes.  Gradually, I discovered who was who in the story they were telling.  Kieran Dunch was Winston, a man badly burned while trying to repair a downed electrical line, Monica Lillo was the nurse Maggie, and Jasmine Zyp was Lise, who worked in the hospital laundry but seemed to be drawn to the injured man by foresight or some other unusual power.  I appreciated the way the story gradually fitted together, with Leonard (Daniel Greenways) and Connie (Kathryn Robinson) crossing paths with Lise at important points in their lives.  Aidan Burke, Clayton Plamondon, and Jade Robinson played child characters credibly without parody.  Katelyn Trieu was credited as The Storyteller, continuing the role of chorus throughout the play.  I was particularly struck by the plight of Clayton Plamondon’s character, the misfit among misfits, (like Wednesday Addams, but serious).  Brian Dooley directed.

Tonight was the first of three nights of staged readings for the Young Playwrights’ Company.  I watched Winky & Rex by Joshua Wiśniewski and Prodigy by Hayley Moorhouse.  Reading was done by local performers, Candace Berlinguette, Jason Chinn, Joel Crichton, Eva Foote, Merran Carr-Wiggin, Bobbi Goddard, and Lee Boyes.  In both scripts the dialogue flowed smoothly and provided enough scope for the readers to develop memorable characters.   I particularly appreciated the way the writing made each character sound different.  There were also some repeated catchphrases which amused the audience, “as previously stated” in Winky & Rex, and “Obviously!” in Prodigy.

Winky & Rex was a snapshot of life for three uniquely awkward young adults, two roommates and their longtime friend.  It was set shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That mattered because one character had grown up in East Germany and his father could finally travel to visit him.  I had some confusion early on about the relationship between the roommates and about what country they were living in (I thought they were in the former West Germany but later it seemed to be the USA).

The main characters in Prodigy were three Grade Eight students, angry and disappointed about the cancellation of their band program, and taking out their frustrations on their teacher (Lee Boyes).   The young people had age-appropriate lapses in judgement on big issues (the likely consequences of assassinating school officials for example) but were careful to correct each other on word usage that might hurt people’s feelings, which was charming and credible.

There are more staged readings of new work Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at 7:30 in the Club at the Citadel, pay-what-you-can admission.