Category Archives: Festivals

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!