Category Archives: Festivals

How DO you solve a problem like Maria? Straight Edge Theatre has a new answer

In this surreal time of isolation, fakenews and fakeshows, the Straight Edge Theatre team is bringing to the Fringe that Never Was another of their brilliant and uncomfortable musical productions in Nun F*cks Given.  Or they would be if the Fringe that Never Was, was.  With book and lyrics by Steve Allred and Seth Gilfillian, composition and music direction by Daniel Belland, this premiere is gonna be something.  Not quite sure what  – director Bethany Hughes must be under the seal of the confessional – but the team that dressed the splash-zone audience in PPE for Evil Dead and forced their ensemble to sing while working out on spin bikes in Cult Cycle is bound to have something unique in their robes.   The creative team includes Bethany Hughes (director and choreographer), Chance Heck (fight director), and Jordan Campion, the stage manager who keeps them all in Holy Order.   Straight Edge has booked many amazing performers you haven’t seen on stage in months.  Casting the divine Sue Goberdhan as God was an inspired choice.  Jaimi Reese gives a standup performance as Father Long Johnson. The rest of the cast includes

  • Mother Superior – Seth Gilfillian
  • Mother Inferior – Steve  Allred
  • Mother Posterior – Lilith Fair/Zachary Parsons-Lozinski
  • Mother Anterior – Matthew Lindholm
  • Choir Mistress – Amanda Neufeld
  • Altar Boys turned zombies – Geoff Ryzuk, Mark Sinongco, Anthony Hurst, Josh Travnik
  • The Dancing Monks who become possessed – Daniella Fernandez, Ruth Wong – Miller, Larissa Pohoreski , Alyssa Joy, Aly Horne, Kendra Humphreys, Brittany Hinse and Bella King

After I had read this far in the promo materials, I must confess that I was actually sorry The Fringe That Never Was is not actually having real performances, because I want to see this show!   The plot teaser provides even more tease.  “After the breakdown of the nearby nuclear power plant, the nuns at a local nunnery start to realize that they have developed new abilities. The timing of these superpowers could not have come at a better time, as the clergy at the next door Catholic monastery have all been possessed by the spirits of dead saints turned evil. They must use their new powers to protect the city from the possessed monks and stop the source of the leak before their mutation leads to inevitable spontaneous combustion. Packed with nonsense, nun chucks and nun puns. So so so many puns. ”

Want to see it?  Out of luck.  Want to support the Edmonton Fringe and pay tribute to the work of Straight Edge Theatre?    Click here. Want to make a habit of it?  Keep clicking on the Fringe website and find more shows that don’t exist that you’d buy tickets to if you could.  Taken a vow of poverty?  Share the links.  Devout followers, novices, and skeptics alike should make a pilgrimage to Nun F*cks Given.

Fringe 2017 – the last weekend

A Beautiful View – Perry Gratton directed Nikki Hulowski and Samantha Jeffreys in this Daniel MacIvor script, a lovely celebration of a hard-to-label relationship between two women. “You have to be very organized to be bisexual”, the one explains to herself/the audience while deciding not to follow up on an unexpected sexual encounter.   There are a lot of segments where a character speaks facing the audience – sometimes they are alternating in a conversation with each other as retold to the audience.  I don’t know how much of that is in MacIvor’s script, but I think I remember a lot of it in a play Gratton directed several years ago at Fringe, Letters to Laura.  The ending was … well, there was enough foreshadowing that the not-entirely-explicit awful/sad ending must have actually happened.  But I wish it hadn’t, since I really liked both characters.  They were quite different from each other, but there were things I identified with in both of them.  (A Beautiful View has one holdover performance on Thursday.)

Late Night Cabaret – Late Night Cabaret is an Edmonton Fringe tradition.  It happens at midnight, every night of the Fringe except the last Sunday when things wrap up early.  I only went to it once this year, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on the ongoing jokes and routines.  Hosts Amy Shostak and Julian Faid have guests from other shows every night as well as the very talented house band Ze Punterz.  The Backstage Theatre sells out with happy artists, volunteers, and dedicated fringegoers extending their evening and building community.  It runs about an hour and a half with an intermission, and I think maybe the bar stays open during the show.  Some people go to it every night.

Multiple Organism – This piece by Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail troupe (Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel) was the most original and creative work I saw at this year’s Fringe, and I liked it a lot.  It made extensive use of unusual projection techniques.  Some of it was a little gross, but not gratuitously so.

Rivercity: The musical  – Rebecca Merkley wrote and directed this new musical which seems to be an homage to the Archie-comics characters without quite borrowing their names.   It’s full of amusing quick-changes for double&triple-cast actors, silly puns, and cartoon-inspired sound effects (especially the wind-up-and-dash running starts of red-headed Andrews (Molly MacKinnon), which sounded like the Road Runner or something).  In between, though, there were some touching and serious solos for various characters, particularly for the viewpoint character Bee (Vanessa Wilson) and for the Jughead-like Jonesy (Josh Travnik, also multiply-cast in Evil Dead).   The cast of four (Kristin Johnston plays Reggie and the principal among others) covers too many characters to count.  Live music is provided by Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe, wearing Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat-ears. 

Tempting – Erin Pettifor and Franco Correa are a psychic and a sceptic in Ashleigh Hicks’ new script.  When the audience enters the Westbury Theatre auditorium, the large stage has been made into a cozy cluttered studio-space for psychic Alaura (Pettifor).  She is puttering about doing yoga poses in a disjointed distracted way and making tea.  At first it is not clear why Adam is dropping in before business hours, and it is also not clear why Alaura is so immediately adversarial.  Those things do become clear – Adam’s girlfriend Constance is a client, and Adam wants Alaura to recant the advice (or prediction, or support) she gave Constance in a decision Adam doesn’t like.   The problem as described is interesting – Constance is dying and in pain and wants to pursue medically-assisted death, which Alaura supports and Adam doesn’t.  But I don’t really feel compassionate for either of the characters on stage, as I find out more about their motivations and connections to Constance, and I found the ending unsatisfying. 


I think I saw 28 performances this Fringe (one a repeat) and I might see a couple more at holdovers this week.

Super powers of various kinds

Another little change at this year’s Fringe festival is that an artist pass or volunteer pass works as an ETS transit pass.  It used to be that artists and volunteers could request a separate transit pass.  I had the impression that they had a limited number of passes, so I usually didn’t get one, and it was a nuisance to carry around one more thing.  This way’s great – I’ve taken the bus several times for short journeys instead of driving or walking.  On the other hand, the festival also used to have a bus-ticket perq for ordinary festival-goers, and it seems they don’t have that any more.


Yesterday’s short bus trip down Whyte Avenue to 101 Street and then a short walk in the neighbourhood that might be called CPR Irvine or part of Ritchie or just “behind the A and W” brought me to Concrete Theatre’s Playhouse performance space for The Superhero Who Loved Me, a new play by Chris Craddock, directed by Wayne Paquette and starring Kristi Hansen and April Banigan.  At first I thought, this is great, it’s just like the comic-book superhero tales that are my usual cinema fare.  And about halfway through, I thought, they’ve already had more character development and logical plot points than most superhero movies.   Hansen is the secret-agent/superhero isolated by the requirement for secrecy and Banigan the old classmate looking for friends after her divorce, and when they meet again things get steamy pretty fast.  They have all the superhero/mundane mixed-relationship troubles you might expect, and I cared about them.  Staging was simple, painted rehearsal-boxes and a few props, and the obligatory show-you-the-world flying scene was acted out with Barbie dolls.  Two more performances this weekend, and then held over at the venue next weekend.

Another short trip away from the Fringe grounds brought me to the Garneau Theatre for fresh popcorn and the midnight showing of Mo’ Manada, the Boylesque T.O. sequel to O Manada from a couple of years ago.  This year’s revue was hosted by Justin Trudeau (Morgan Norwich) and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (Johnnie Walker), and featured four talented men from Boylesque T.O. as well as stage-kitten (costumed stage-crew and occasional performer) Shagina Twain.  The hosts were just as entertaining as the dancers, and the midnight crowd was very enthusiastic.  One more show today.


The official Fringe holdover series in the Westbury Theatre was announced yesterday.  Tickets are available from the Fringe box office / website now for Prophecy, My Love Lies Frozen in the Ice, Legoland, and Drunk Girl.

Other independent venues make their own arrangements for holdovers.  Varscona Theatre will be doing one more performance of No Exit and several for An Exquisite Hour.  Holy Trinity is holding over Urinetown.  Concrete/Playhouse is adding two performances of The Superhero Who Loved Me (ticketing info not available yet).

And there’s two days left to see plays, eat mini donuts and green onion cakes, watch buskers, and hang out with other people who are passionate about theatre, until we’re back to ordinary life (which for me is more of the same, but at a slower pace and with more sleep.)

More performance genres at Fringe 2017

Note:  I don’t know why the caption isn’t showing up on my photo.  That’s Bethany Hughes from Evil Dead talking to the audience members seated in the Splash Zone. 

 

Animal Farm Treatment – I have never studied, read, or seen any version of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, but as with Sartre’s No Exit, I had a general idea of the theme and I knew one line.  During Animal Farm Treatment, a solo show by creator/performer Alice Nelson from Calgary, I wondered how it would appear to an audience member who didn’t know the expected outcome from the original cynical parable.  The playbill said that she has a study guide to accompany her show for high school audiences.  The performer skilfully switched among several speaking characters, using different physicalities and speech patterns as well as clues of having the characters refer to each other by name, and she used a few simple props to move the story forwards.  I knew that the experiment in democracy would not end well, but I kept hoping it would.  Two more shows, Friday 2:45 and Saturday 11:30 pm.

Evil Dead – Amanda Neufeld directed this lively, funny, gory musical, which is playing at L’Unitheatre.  Bethany Hughes stage managed, and in the picture above is reassuring the audience members in the Splash Zone.  Music is a four-piece instrumental group under the direction of Daniel Belland (also seen in Mormonic at this festival).  The narrative moves quickly through the tropes of horror fiction, the college students each with his or her own incentives to vacation at a lonely cabin (Matthew Lindholm, Jaimi Reese, Nadine Veroba, Stephen Allred, Josh Travnik), the eerie woods with limited access, the intrepid explorer returning from Egypt to finish her father’s work (Neufeld), the source of local knowledge Reliable Jake (Travnik), and the demons (uncredited here because that would give away some plot).  It’s very funny, and the songs are great. The action moves quickly and it’s over in 90 minutes as advertised.  Some tickets are available for tonight’s late show.

Puck Bunnies – This is another cleverly-scripted and poignant drag comedy in the spirit of Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip with Fleurette, from Guys in Disguise.  Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Jason Hardwick play the girlfriends of junior/minor-league hockey hopefuls, sharing support, gossip, and relationship troubles while in the bleachers for an intra-squad scrimmage.   Tammy, Tanya, and Tina are more than silly caricatures (although I have to say that the costumes are spot-on perfect), each with her own struggles.  The dramatic-irony part (where the audience knows something a character doesn’t realize) is great.  The gentle insertion of a more feminist awareness into a culture of “support the boys at all costs”, by Hardwick’s Tina, is credible and satisfying.  I last paid attention to this culture in the mid-90s, I found it disturbing and necessary to be reminded that, despite the pussyhat, some things have not changed.   Shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

You Fucking Earned It – At last year’s inaugural Edmonton Clown Festival (now renamed Play the Fool, and running Sept 28-Oct 1 2017), in a panel discussion Deanna Fleischer (aka Butt Kapinski) pointed out that traditional bouffon was criticizing the king in front of the king, and she challenged performers using bouffon techniques to ask themselves “Is the king in the room?”  There are two key points in this.  One is to punch up – make fun of the powerful instead of the powerless.  The other is that if it’s good bouffon serving its purpose, nobody in the audience should feel comfortable and safe.  At the start of the performance of You Fucking Earned It (a Naked Empire Bouffon work featuring Cara McLendon and Sabrina Wenske, directed by Nathaniel Justiniano whom you might recall from You Killed Hamlet), I wondered whether the piece would succeed at the second point for an Edmonton audience, but it definitely did.  One more show, 2:45 today (Friday).

The show I’ve been working on, How I Lost One Pound, the Musical, also has one more show this festival, at 6:30 pm today in the Rutherford Room at the Varscona Hotel.  We are not sold out at the box office and I will have some tickets available at the door as well.  I’d love to show more people this quirky funny low-key narrative about a woman at mid-life.   Lesley Carlberg’s show will also be playing at Vancouver Fringe and at Guelph Fringe in October, if you miss it here.

 

Fringe solos and classics

Edmonton Fringe 2017 is somewhere around half over.  Around this time I start realizing I can’t see everything I should see – I can’t even see everything I want to see.  I don’t think I can fit in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and I can’t find a time to see Turn of the Screw either.

But one of the great things about Fringe is that we don’t all see the same shows – and even when we do, we don’t all see the same performances.  So we have lots to talk about.

Wednesday I saw two touring solo shows along with two scripted plays at the Varscona Theatre.  None of them was classified as new work.

Redheaded Stepchild – Johnnie Walker tells a story as a 12-year-old boy, Nicholas, as his wellmeaning-but-weird stepmother Marianne, and as his more suave alter ego Rufus Vermilion.  It’s suitable for families as well as adults, as Walker catches the 12-year-old’s voice and physicality very well without mocking him, and his problems are easy to identify with.  And the stepmother – first we see her quirks through Nicholas’ eyes (that awful laugh!) and her acknowledgement that she never wanted to be a mother and isn’t cut out to be a stepmother, but then we see her understanding that she messed up and offering Nicholas a kind of low-key companionship which he accepts.  Walker and director Morgan Norwich have created an entertaining and inspiring tale with good pacing and interesting visuals that fits the one-hour time and the King Edward School stage perfectly.

No Exit – Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher, wrote No Exit in 1944.  All I knew about it beforehand was one famous line, but as it’s somewhat of a spoiler and comes late in the play I won’t write it here.  Ron Pederson, Belinda Cornish, and Louise Lambert are the three disparate characters stuck in an ugly room together.  George Szilagyi has a small part as the bellboy.  The colour palette of the show is mostly the faded maroon of old blood and worn-out formality.   It was funnier than I expected, and the unhappy characters made me intrigued rather than restless.  Kevin Sutley directs.

The Exquisite Hour – I don’t usually manage to see the Teatro la Quindicina show at the Fringe, but this year I made time to see Jeff Haslam and Belinda Cornish in an older Stewart Lemoine two-hander.  Cornish’s luminous self-possessed presentation works well in this gentle tale of a socially-awkward bachelor (Haslam) getting a visit from a mysterious stranger.

Ain’t True and Uncle False – Paul Strickland, another touring solo artist, comes from Covington, Kentucky.  He launches headlong into a set of affectionate tall tales about characters in a trailer park, one unfolding into the next and calling back to a throwaway comment earlier, the kinds of stories that would be funny enough on a page but are even more entertaining with guitar accompaniment and dialect and the physicality of his bowlegged uncle rocking back and forth licking his teeth.

Start of Edmonton Fringe 2017

Here are a few notes on shows I’ve seen so far, in alphabetical order by title.

Bash’d:  A Gay Rap Opera

Two talented local performers, Jezec Sanders and Kael Wynn, do a powerfully moving version of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow’s 2008 rap musical.  The beats are slick, the rhymes are fine, the show-within-the-show about Dillon, the small-town boy kicked out when he comes out and Jack, the urban party boy who never expected to fall in love and settle down is charming, the context is Canadian and unfortunately not dated, and parts of it made me cry so hard that a stranger offered me a hug after the show.

Gemini

Louise Casemore and Vern Thiessen perform a script written by Casemore which fits perfectly into the basement bar space of El Cortez, using the flaws of the space (noise from upstairs, odd lighting, heat) to develop the mood and characters, showing how a sarcastic bartender and a grouchy overbearing customer get to know each other and care about each other as time passes.

Gordon’s Big Bald Head

This Fringe improv tradition, with Jacob Banigan, Chris Craddock, and Mark Meer, builds a long-form story every night out of one of the other show descriptions in the program book.  The one I saw included a plucky orphan (but not the Cockney one), a coffee shop next to a copy shop, some mobsters, a secret pope, an amulet (not as common nowadays as talismans), and other unlikely elements, all meshing into a convincing and ridiculous story.

Interstellar Elder

This new solo show from Ingrid Hansen (Little Orange Man) is original and delightful.  There is enough narration that we understand what’s going on, but Hansen’s on-stage character Kitt demonstrates her story mostly through movement.

How I Lost One Pound, The Musical

I’m working on this show as local crew for Toronto touring artist Lesley Carlberg.  There’s a performance every day in the Rutherford Room of the Varscona Hotel.  Lesley’s story has many familiar-sounding aspects, but is told in a charming, unassuming manner full of asides and tangents.

Urinetown, The Musical

Grindstone Theatre tackles the cynical and self-aware Broadway hit with a cast of 14, a small musical ensemble led by Vicky Berg, and a multilevel scaffolding set that manages to change the beautiful brick and wood worship space of Holy Trinity’s sanctuary into the depressing underbelly of a near-future dystopic city.   I loved the asides from Officer Lockstock (Bob Rasko) and Little Sally (Carol Chu) which made fun of the tropes of musicals at the same time as providing them.  Paul Morgan Donald was particularly strong as Cladwell P Caldwell, but the cast includes many experienced actors and talented singers.  Likely to sell out.

So that’s a start – some improv, some solos, some scripted drama, some musicals, and the busy schedule ahead of me includes more of the same as well as some comedy, some burlesque, some unplanned viewing, and some shifts selling drink tickets.  I love Edmonton Fringe!

 

Opera Nuova’s Carousel

Opera Nuova’s two mainstage productions this year are The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera composed by Leoš Janáček, and Carousel, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. 

Carousel is set in a coastal village in Maine (Wikipedia says in 1873).  In the opening scenes, a touring carnival has set up outside the town, with various circus-style performers (a strong-man, dancers, a fortune teller, a juggler), carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Justin Kautz in tonight’s performance), and manager Mrs Mullin (Emily Stewart tonight).  The set includes three lovely carousel-horses, turned on a revolve during the opening waltz by members of the chorus.  (Apparently one can bid on the horses by contacting Opera Nuova before the end of the run).  Local mill girls Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge (Krista Paton and Brittany Rae) visit the carousel, but the carnival manager gets jealous when Billy Bigelow pays too much attention to Julie, banning Julie from the carousel and firing Billy.  Both Paton and Rae have lovely soprano voices in the solos and duet setting up their friendship and the story.  Kautz portrays Billy as a cocky flirt, confident in his charm, but with foreshadowing of physical threat in the way he grabs Mrs. Mullin’s forearm and threatens Carrie in the first scenes.

The larger ensemble then gathers on stage for clambake preparations, and the enthusiastic “June is Bustin’ Out All Over”, featuring Olivia Barnes tonight as Nettie Fowler.   This piece is echoed later by “That Was a Real Nice Clambake”, again with delightful choreography.  In between are important scenes advancing the tragic story – Julie and Billy lose their jobs, get married, and discover Julie expecting a baby before they have any money, so Billy agrees to help his no-good friend Jigger Craigin (Nolan Kehler tonight) with a robbery scheme.

After Billy’s death (with a spectacular fall off a pier by Kautz, one of the founders of Toy Guns Dance Theatre), the scenes 15 years later focus on Billy trying to make amends to his daughter Louise (Emily Steers tonight).  Louise’s barefoot dance piece explores solitary childhood joy on the shore with hopscotch, innocent celebration with local boy Enoch Snow Jr (Jordan Sabo of Man Up dance troupe), being picked on by a group of local children and taking petty revenge by snatching one girl’s hat, and then being swept up in a group of performers, the carnival workers of the opening scenes, particularly being drawn to a young man among them.   Later, she confides in Enoch Jr that after graduation she plans to run away with them and become an actress.

One of the most disturbing scenes of the musical is when Billy, granted visibility by the heavenly guides in order to help his daughter, gets frustrated when she won’t take his gift and slaps her hand.  Louise flees to her mother, who comforts her and seems to reminisce almost wistfully about a hit that feels like a kiss.  The underscoring music hints at this being sweetly nostalgic, which is jarring against the horrifying but realistic thought that Julie’s good memories of her abusive husband might be encouraging Louise to expect no better.   The more hopeful ending is that Billy’s spirit enables Louise to take in the graduation speech about not being limited by one’s parents’ failures and not being alone.  We can’t tell whether her happy ending will continue with running away to be an actress, marrying Enoch Jr, or perhaps something better than either.

The lighting and costumes for this production create a muted palette for the modest village and mists off the sea.  Vernacular dialects (slightly different for the carnival workers and the villagers) add to the vintage down-home atmosphere.

There is one more performance of Cunning Little Vixen tomorrow night (Friday 29 June) and one more of Carousel Saturday June 30th, both at Festival Place in Sherwood Park.  Julie

carousel 1

Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge at the Carousel

The festivals of summer, part 1.

When I was a little kid, the calendar was divided in two parts:  the school year, in which all the scheduled activities happened week by week and wrapped up in June, and the summer, which started with a parade in June for Flag Day (a local invention) and continued with drive-in movies, ice cream from the local Dairy, camping trips and time at the cottage, and being put to bed with the windows open while my parents and aunts and uncles talked quietly outside with beers, until the evenings started to get cool and the days started to get shorter and it was time to put on leather shoes again and head back to school.

Edmonton theatre life is kind of like that.  The professional companies mostly wrapped up their seasons in time for Sterling Award nomination deadlines, and are on to planning for next winter’s productions.  The awards get announced at a gala Monday night, and the summer celebrations, special treats, and traditions are already in action. Teatro, of course, has already had one play in its summer season, Salon of the Talking Turk, and has opened the second, Jana O’Connor’s Going Going Gone.   The Freewill Shakespeare Festival‘s just started.

The emerging-artists’ festival Nextfest happened earlier in June.  I took in a few performances – the spoken-word poetry night Speak! hosted by Nasra Adem and Liam Cody, a reading of new work Shadowlands by Savanna Harvey (thoughtful, provocative, and amusing even as a reading – definitely watch for it at this year’s Edmonton Fringe (or at Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, or Vancouver Fringe), and the site-specific piece Everyone We Know Will Be There: A House Party in One Act, by Elena Belyea, directed by Andrew Ritchie.  This was a very cleverly managed piece of roving theatre, with small groups of audience members each invisibly shadowing a specific party-guest character, around the house and yard.  I didn’t know the whole story after one viewing, just the parts that our character (played by Eva Foote) was part of, and some other tantalizing bits we overheard while our character was storming through rooms or having meltdowns in bathrooms.  The piece was so skilfully directed and stage-managed that any adjustments of timing and traffic direction were completely invisible to me, which added to the feeling of eavesdropping on a real story.

Opera Nuova‘s festival of opera and musical theatre continues, with Carousel and The Cunning Little Vixen playing this weekend and next.  Rapid Fire Theatre’s biggest event of the year, Improvaganza, wraps up tonight with four shows.  And Found Festival continues today and tomorrow around McIntyre Park and Old Strathcona.

Found Festival is a small festival of site-specific and found-space performance, currently under the leadership of Beth Dart, multi-talented local theatre maker and event producer.  So if the description of Everyone We Know Will Be There made you curious, or intrigued, or skeptical, then you can come to Found Festival this weekend and see more performances created or curated for unexpected spaces.  McIntyre Park, the little green space with the gazebo in front of the library, is currently set up with a box office tent, live music in the gazebo for free, and a small friendly shaded beer-garden with the best of the Fringe’s furniture and Alley Kat products like Session Ale and Main Squeeze.  (Almost like my parents’ backyard in the old days, except that now I’m old enough to drink and the music is better!)

So far I’ve attended Julie Ferguson’s powerful and thought-provoking solo piece Glass Washrooms, which explores a journey to non-binary gender identity and concepts of spaces one belongs in.  Although originally created for the public-washroom building at the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway, the later performances have been moved to the washrooms at the Backstage Theatre in order to reduce disruption to the people needing that essential community infrastructure on Whyte Ave.  There are two more performances today and one tomorrow, and I recommend it highly.

Another intriguing part of the Found Festival is the Admit One performances, short shows of various kinds performed for one audience member at a time.  I’ve seen four of them and I hope to catch the fifth.  They’re all different enough that I find myself delighted and intrigued by each one.   In Shoes and One Man’s Junk explore concepts of memory as the audience member experiences aspects of the neighbourhood space along with the performers.  The character in One Man’s Junk works in the antique store Junque Cellar, and the store background blends smoothly into the apparently-rambling thoughts of the employee on break, performer/creator Jake Tkaczyk.  In Shoes takes the audience member on a short walk around the immediate neighbourhood, on which performers portrayed various people important in a young woman’s life.  I won’t tell you who all was in it, because I liked it better being surprised.  Strife, by Matthew McKenzie and performed by Russell Keewatin, portrays a young man trying to decide on his response to a heartbreaking loss by violence, a loss shared by the audience member.  The Booth: Offerings is a set of improvised responses cascading from an audience member prompt, with Leif Ingebrigtsen’s original piano-playing inspiring Tim Mikula’s visual art and Rebecca Sadowski’s expressive contemporary dance.  Particular care was taken to create safe anonymous space for audience members, and I was glad to have a few minutes of quiet in their decompression space before exiting to a quieter side of the building.

None of the performances made me uncomfortable in that “are we done now?” “where am I supposed to go?” “am I supposed to say something or not?” way that is always a risk with performances abandoning the conventions of stage performance (you know, get a program, sit down on risers with everyone else, chat with background music til the lights go down, watch quietly until the lights come up, applaud, leave).  The performers, directors, and producers had anticipated what guidance each audience member would need, so I could let myself experience each performance in the moment without wondering what to do next or worrying that my responses would throw them off.

It’s the start of a wonderful summer of entertainment celebrations of all kinds in Edmonton, Interstellar Rodeo and Edmonton Folkfest, Street Performers Festival, K-Days, Heritage Days, and Taste of Edmonton, culminating for me at the Fringe, August 17-27.  Summer’s here!

Opera done differently

Last night I attended the Opera Nuova production of the Tchaikovsky opera Eugene Onegin.

It was fascinating.  It has one more performance, tonight at 7:30 at the Oasis Centre in northwest Edmonton.  If you like music or theatre and you aren’t sure if you like opera, this might be a good one to try.

Mind you, there are lots of other opportunities here to see outsider-accessible opera, thanks to the imaginative programming of Edmonton Opera.  But Opera Nuova tickets are less expensive, and this production makes fabulous use of its location.

I believe that’s called “site-sympathetic”.  On arrival at the Oasis Centre, audience members had an opportunity to buy food and drink in the lobby, and then we were directed to seats in a back garden amphitheatre.  I noticed that the audience included some families with children, and a wide range of dress from festive to casual.  (I was relieved about this, since I hadn’t gotten dressed up myself.)   We were seated on comfortable chairs around three sides of a courtyard (and some people were standing up too).  In the periphery I could see some attractive landscaping with pathways and an artificial waterfall.

Opera Nuova artistic director and this show’s director, Kim Mattice Wanat, spoke from the covered bandstand where the orchestra was seated, explaining that later scenes would be set indoors and we would be directed where and when to move.  The sung lyrics would be in Russian, but instead of supertitles we would be given additional glimpses into what was going to happen by a narrator reading some description between scenes or units, Kelly Handerek, There was also a plot summary in the program.

During some instrumental music (overture?) by a 12 piece orchestra under the direction of Gordon Gerrard, some performers entered and seated themselves on garden benches.  The younger women turned out to be sisters Olga (Amanda Weatherall) and Tatiana (Jordanne Erichsen).  The older woman with spectacles, kerchief, and apron was Filipievna, the girls’ old nurse.  I was immediately charmed and impressed that she knitted a sock on four needles throughout the first scene, with the practised ease of an experienced knitter.  The fourth woman in the scene was Madame Larina (Zoë Gotziaman) the girls’ mother.   As advised by the narrator, I could see that Olga was the more outgoing sister, swept away in romance with visiting Lensky (River Guard), while Tatiana seemed to be head-down in her novel for most of the first couple of scenes before becoming awkwardly aware of equally-awkward eponymous Onegin (Aaron Murphy).  I got thinking about Pride and Prejudice at this point, and about how the socially-awkward one who started out seeming rude was actually the happy-ending suitor in that story.  (And then I started thinking about Colin Firth, and then I started thinking about Cordelia in King Lear too, and I was trying to figure out whether I liked this Onegin character or not.  I definitely liked Tatiana right away though.)

At some point in the outdoor scenes, the large ensemble also entered as farm labourers presenting the landlords with sheaves and baskets to celebrate the harvest, and dancing and singing in approximately-folkloric dress.   During the outdoor scenes, various characters and couples made use of the attractive forest paths and lawns.  The actors were all wearing headset microphones (which is not the usual practice for opera, although it is common in musical theatre for larger auditoriums).   The sound quality was not perfect, but was surprisingly good given the industrial-park site with large trucks driving by and windy weather.

The audience was then invited indoors, first to seats around an area set up as Tatiana’s bedroom.  Jordanne Erichsen was especially impressive in this scene, singing solo through almost the whole scene while conveying the emotions of being unexpectedly in love and taking the risk of writing to Onegin to ask if he would consider marriage.

Subsequent scenes shifted to the other side of the auditorium.  Short intermissions were taken as needed, not necessarily when the traditional 3-act structure prescribed.  Onegin turns down Tatiana in what looked to me like an emo mansplaining condescension (“I wouldn’t make you a good husband.  I prefer to be alone”) but then kind of rubbed it in by dancing with her sister at her name-day ball.  This led to an argument with his friend Lensky, Olga’s fiancé, and to a duel in which Lensky dies.  In these scenes I liked Triquet (Sebastien Comtois) who regaled Tatiana with French poetry, and Zaretsky (Xuguang Zhang) who seemed keen on promoting the duel and brought them the pistols.

We didn’t get to find out much about what happened to Olga after that, although in the scene three years later, she was standing to the side with her mother and no escort, watching Tatiana and her high-ranking husband welcome guests to a ball.  The dancing and costumes for the three ensemble-dance pieces (the labourers at harvest, the local friends at the name-day dance, and Prince Gremin’s ball) increased in complexity and spectacle commensurate with the class differences and were all fun to watch.  Choreography was by Marie Nychka and costumes by Betty Kolodziej.  The convention of having the chorus members all freeze in place while the principals acted and sang solos was a bit jarring at first but became easy to ignore.  Onegin predictably comes to regret his earlier rejection of Tatiana, and she now turns him down.  This would be a happy and fair ending if Tatiana were in love with Gremin, but her acting conveys that she would rather be with Onegin, but alas! duty and honour and marital vows.  So it’s sad.

It’s a long performance, but I didn’t mind and mostly didn’t even notice. I don’t understand Russian, didn’t know the story ahead of time, and didn’t recognize the melodies except for a bit that was vaguely familiar from Bugs Bunny (I won’t tell you where!), but I’m very glad I was able to see this opera.   Opera Nuova’s festival of opera and musical theatre continues tonight with a second performance of Eugene Onegin, has a concert Saturday night, and later in the month moves to Festival Place for productions of The Cunning Little Vixen (with supertitles) and Carousel.  Tickets to all are available on-line and at the door.

Onegin 1

Simon Chalifoux, as Prince Gremin, and his wife Tatiana Gremina (Jordanne Erichsen), in front of an unhappy Eugene Onegin (Aaron Murphy)

 

Saturday inside the Fringe, and out.

For me, it was the second Saturday of Fringe.  Our show The Big Fat Surprise closed Friday night (with another sold-out house!) so Saturday I was washing show laundry, then celebrating the parking-space win, catching some shows, lending another artist some of my furniture for a prop, eating festival food (still love that Lunchpail grilled cheese with fresh chips and classic vegetable sticks), checking in at the Lost and Found, serving drinks in the North Tent, talking to friends, and going home in the rain.

I immerse myself in Fringe while the festival is on, after being preoccupied with show prep and publicity for weeks ahead of time, so it sometimes astonishes me that other important things are happening this week outside of the Fringe bubble.  New babies were born.  Couples got married.  Birthdays were marked on Facebook and off.  Students prepared for the next grade, the next diploma, the next degree, the next challenge.  A whole Summer Olympic Games happened and I didn’t watch or read any coverage at all or knit anything for the corollary Ravellenics celebration.  The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market shared the crowd and the parking spaces like an ordinary Saturday.  And last night I stepped into the Fringe North Beer Tent wondering about the music I was hearing, and I discovered they were using their new monitors and good speakers to share the CBC feed of the Tragically Hip’s last concert of their last tour, from the Rogers K-Rock Arena in Kingston Ontario.   While the Fringe went on outside, vendors and street performers, artists handbilling their last few shows, the High Level Trolley shuttling to downtown full of people – the tent was full of shared recognition of the Tragically Hip and of their lead singer Gord Downie, whose announcement of terminal cancer prompted the band’s decisions to tour one last summer and then retire.  I lived in Kingston for many years, and I saw the Hip’s first concert in that venue in 2008.  The CBC live feed and the social media streams reminded me how important they were and are to Kingston and to Canada and to music.  Go in peace, Gord Downie.  And Gord Sinclair, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, and Johnny Fay.


By the second weekend of Fringe, I’ve heard lots of other people’s recommendations of what to see.  And although I try not to think of anything as a must-see, because there would be so many that I’d always feel disappointed, the recommendations helped me choose three good shows yesterday and pick up some more tickets for today.

The Fall of the House of Atreus – A very clever comic take on the ancient Greek tragedies of Euripedes, from Jessy Ardern as playwright and Corben Kushneryk as director and designer, the same team that created last Fringe’s Westbury-stage delight Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests.  Fellow BFA Acting grads Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl, and Morgan Grau are the Chorus telling and enacting the connected tragedies of Euripides, with all the vaguely-familiar characters – Pelops, Atreus, Iphigenia, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Helen and Paris, etc.  Simple costume elements and hand gestures helped to keep track of who was who, and found-object puppetry added interest to different ways for characters to be killed.  The energetic performers embraced the material and found humour in the grim tales.  The pace was good and it looked like fun for them as well as for the audience.  It’s now closed.

Little Orange Man – Ingrid Hansen’s charming solo show also presents gruesome stories in a very funny way, in this case through the unique voice of a girl of ten or eleven, recounting her grandfather’s Danish folk tales and recruiting the audience’s help for a dreamscape quest.  It’s held over, so after a last show tonight at 8 pm it should move easily from King Edward Academy to the larger room of the Westbury.

Nighthawk Rules – Collin Doyle’s and James Hamilton’s ten-year-old script was directed by Taylor Chadwick in Theatre Network’s new space Roxy on Gateway (the old C103).  Comfortable wide chairs around a shallow thrust stage make the venue’s legendary summer heat more bearable, as do the cold drinks on sale at the venue.  Chris W Cook (3…2…1, Criminal Genius, Sequence, Bronte Burlesque)  and Christopher Schultz (Wish) play old friends approaching 30 and floundering in their party-bro lives, Schultz’s character trying to live up to his new girlfriend’s expectations about settling down, and Cook’s character trying to hang on to the old camaraderie of drinking games and all-nighters.  I had thought already that Chris Cook was good at bringing a mix of naïveté and good intention to vulgar characters, so he was well cast in the role of Dick, and Schultz’s character Barry seems competent and grown-up only by comparison to his buddy.  I had a great deal of sympathy for the girlfriend (Ellie Heath) until we met her and she talked about her boyfriend completely as a project she had invested time in developing in order to satisfy her perfect-wedding goals, quickly flouncing out again with threats to Barry about cleaning up the apartment and getting rid of the loser friend.   The story was very funny and the resolution of some of the problems delighted me with its unexpectedness and credibility.  Nighthawk Rules has one more performance today at 4:30 pm.

I’ve got a few more drinks to pour, a few more tickets to use, a few more Festival snacks to consume, and then it’s over.  That was then, this is (still) Fringe.