Tag Archives: andrew ritchie

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!

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.

The Falstaff Project: hanging out in a bar with Thou art Here Theatre

  • Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I is a story about the prodigal Prince Hal, the heir to the throne of his father King Henry IV.  While the king is busy fighting rebels, the Prince of Wales is carousing with disreputable companions in taverns.
  • Thou Art Here Theatre is a local company focusing on site-sympathetic and immersive adaptations of Shakespeare.
  • The Artery is a small community-driven liquor-licensed arts and music venue near downtown.  (They’re being forced to close their doors at the end of the month, but are working to find a new location and continue with their mandate.  Their fundraiser is here.)

Put these three together and you can see where it’s going:  telling the story of Henry IV Part I as seen from inside a tavern, at The Artery.  Andrew Ritchie developed the adaptation and directed the show, cleverly bringing the important bits happening outside the tavern in using multimedia – clips of breaking TV news read by the Messenger (Katie Hudson), TV interviews with the rebel Hotspur hiding out in a cellar (Ben Stevens) and with the King giving press conferences in City Hall (James MacDonald), Hal’s texts and FaceTime calls with the King.  Prince Hal (Neil Kuefler) and his friend Falstaff (Troy O’Donnell) hang out in the tavern managed by Hostess Quickly (Nancy McAlear) and her employee Francis (Ben Stevens), and their bluff sidekicks Poins (Alyson Dicey) and Bardolph (Jesse Gervais) drop in with rowdy schemes.

If you’re feeling hesitant about what you have to do as an audience member in an immersive theatre experience, this is a good one to start with.  Because basically, you can just sit in the tavern with a drink and watch the story happen around you, with no more work than twisting your neck.  Or you can get up and go get another drink, or you can engage with the players a bit more if you want.

I’m not very familiar with the source text, so I can’t tell you how the adaptation varies.  It seems to have much of the original language, but all the performers are comfortable enough with the Shakespearean text that it’s easy to follow and not distracting.  McAlear is especially natural as a timeless tavern-keeper.  Kuefler manages Prince Hal’s transition from irresponsible scamp to a smooth officer for his father with a surprising shift in body language as well as costume.  And O’Donnell was a delight as the lazy greedy opportunistic middle-aged knight Falstaff.  I got a little tired of all the fat jokes, but I guess I should take that up with Shakespeare and the audiences he was writing for.

The Falstaff Project is playing at The Artery until Sunday night – and oh! I forgot to tell you the other cool thing.  There’s music afterwards.  Different local musicians are playing after every performance, and admission to that is free with the play ticket, or $5 just for the music.  Advance tickets are here.

 

Birdie on the Wrong Bus!

The other night I went to a performance of Promise Productions’ Birdie on the Wrong Bus, a delightful and satisfying story written by Ellen Chorley and directed by Andrew Ritchie.  I wish I’d been able to share the show with my 9 year old nephew, because I think he would have loved it and learned a lot that would have enhanced a visit to Edmonton.  Maybe I can lobby for a remount when my nephew is visiting?

I also liked it a lot myself.  For me there is something deeply satisfying about seeing or reading a story for young people that has elements I didn’t get enough of as a kid.  A young female protagonist who is bright, stubborn, and not overly cute.  An adventurous kid who isn’t punished by the plotline.   An odd kid who isn’t shown as being bullied.  Celebration of women in sports (I just about squeed myself out of my seat and elbowed the stranger beside me in delight when the Edmonton Grads came into the story.) Siblings who are impatient with each other but not mean.  Local mentions, places I know.  And an overall message of the rewards of discovering the city for yourself and acquiring a personal story of “Why I love Edmonton”.

The premise of the story cleverly set up the situation of a kid stuck on a wrong bus, with an explanation that fearful kids and worried parents alike could buy into without worrying that a similar thing could happen by accident.  Being on the wrong bus alone is intimidating, scary, and/or embarrassing for anyone, but that shouldn’t deter people from supporting kids to ride public transit.  Birdie, the earnest and anxious protagonist, was played convincingly by Mari Chartier.  She first jumps onto the wrong bus to defy her older sister, as the usual routine has the Grade 4 and Grade 6 siblings expected to travel home together on nights a parent can’t meet them, and the bus departs before she can get off again.

Other roles – teacher, sister, bus drivers and passengers – were all covered by Lana Michelle Hughes and Ben Stevens, with some impressively quick backstage costume changes.  Within the environment of a moving bus, Birdie encounters several people she first misjudges and then learns from – a Goth teen with big headphones is not actually a scary vampire, a homeless person collecting drink containers for the deposit money is interesting and friendly, everyone is passionate about some locations in the city because of personal meaning and memories.

Since I was young I have also loved realism in stage set elements, too.  The simple portrayal of seats on a bus, with a hint of the proper window shape and the signal cord, gets increased authenticity with a real ETS bus-stop sign, advertising placards, and farebox.

Romeo and Juliet at the Citadel

The Citadel Theatre’s Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Program takes a cadre of young professional theatre artists every year, and after a period of full-time work together produces one play in the Citadel season.  Last year it was The Penelopiad.  This year it is Romeo and Juliet.  Tom Wood directed the play, and Professional Program participant Andrew Ritchie is credited as Assistant Director.

I’ve read the play through a few times and encountered many adaptations and variations of the star-crossed lovers’ tragedy, from West Side Story to Good Night Desdemona Good Morning Juliet to the Hudson’s Bay Company/Northwest Company concept a friend is working on.  Productions of Romeo and Juliet are used as background in a season of Slings and Arrows, in one of Norma Johnston’s young adult novels, in Mieko Ouchi’s play I Am For You, and in many other stories, so that it’s possible to fake a familiarity with the story without ever reading or seeing it directly.

Last night was my first time ever seeing the play.  After seeing several recent Shakespearean productions in simpler costumes of more recent periods, it was a pleasure to see this production dressed in rich embroidered brocades and heavy fabrics that felt approximately traditional.  The men’s trousers seemed like skinny jeans with goaltender jockstraps on top, but I guess that made sense in a culture that valued decoration but had a lot of swordfighting.  Juliet had about six different outfits.  The costume design also allowed for the audience to enjoy some shirtless fight scenes and some brief appropriate nakedness.

The ensemble includes alternating casting for Romeo and Juliet.  On the night I attended, Romeo was Morgan David Jones, whose bio suggests that his roots are in Australia rather than Wales, and Juliet was Rose Napoli.  Both of them did a good job portraying the adolescent ranges of emotion needed for the characters and were credible as teenagers.  Especially considering that they both die before intermission, Jamie Cavanagh as Mercutio and Nick Abraham as Tybalt both made an impression on me as memorable characters.  Cavanagh, whom I first encountered in David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago at Fringe 2012, was perfect for Mercutio’s cocky repartee with the young men of the Montague crowd and lewd asides with the Nurse (Louise Lambert).  Abraham’s Tybalt, presumably nicknamed King of Cats for his swordfighting prowess, tosses his dreadlocks with an aloof confidence and secret pride that in this production arises also out of what appears to be a passionate affair with Lady Capulet (who is his aunt) (Mabelle Carvajal in the production I saw).  Early on Juliet accidentally sees her mother embracing Tybalt, which helps to explain her reluctance to confide in her mother later.

I didn’t find the other characters quite as memorable.  Chris W. Cook was the servant Peter, not as annoyingly foolish as some other Shakespearean message-bearers.  Jamie Williams and Patrick Lundeen were the well-meaning Friar Lawrence and Brother John.

The really sad thing about the story of Romeo and Juliet was not that the deaths were inevitable.  It’s that on the other hand they were so close to a feasible happy ending that just didn’t work out because of miscommunication and their own impatience.  Which left me irritated and not uplifted.   Also, I got thinking of how the trope of using a sleeping potion to feign death was also a plot point in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which we closed the night before, and how it didn’t work out there either.

Romeo and Juliet continues in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel until Sunday April 27th.  Tickets are available through the Citadel websiteMary Poppins is upstairs in the Shoctor Theatre until April 20th, and the Citadel season will wrap up with Make Mine Love, May 10th to June 1st.

“Just because I’m a legend, doesn’t mean I’m not real”

The Snow Globe Festival of Children’s Theatre is happening until Saturday evening at C103 (next to the Yardbird Suite in the parking lot of the Strathcona Market).  There are three plays, and some interstitial amusements between.  The schedule allows for school groups on weekdays, and performances for the general public in the evenings and Saturday afternoon.  Two of the plays in this year’s festival are new work, Boogie Monster Club by Ben Gorodetsky and Brother Platypus & Sister SuKat Go To The Sea by Spirot with Khiara Quigley.  The third is How to Eat Like a Child, the musical based on Delia Ephron’s book.

This evening I enjoyed a performance of Boogie Monster Club, directed by Andrew Ritchie (most recently AD on Bitches and Money 1878) and featuring Ben Gorodetsky, Lianna Makuch, and Todd Houseman, all familiar faces. The premise of this show is that kids from different cultures grow up with different nightmare-monsters, and that those monsters have emigrated to Canada or moved to Edmonton following the kids they want to frighten.  Each of the performers plays an Edmonton kid about ten years old (Vovo from Ukraine, Maggie from South Africa, and Dustin from Hobbema the small mostly-Cree town south of the city), and also plays a monster (Wendigo the malevolent Cree spirit, Baba Yaga the mortar-and-pestle-flying witch, and Tikoloshe, an evil spirit from Zulu mythology that likes to bite sleeping people’s toes).  As the monsters, they wore character masks and cloaks, with appropriate body language, voice, and credible accent.  And they were quite different.  The Wendigo still had power over the child of his culture, and was noticeably the scariest of the three, with big black eyes in a blank mask.  Tikoloshe was almost cute, low to the ground and wearing something that reminded me of a costume from Cats.  And Baba Yaga, of whom I had been quite frightened when I read illustrated stories about her as a child, was hilarious in her attempts to be scarier and her mispronunciations.  I can imagine that she would have had a roomfull of ten-year-olds rolling on the floor and repeating her funny lines and gestures all day or until the teacher made them stop the peeing-my-pants action.   But the part that had me guffawing more was when she stood at the child’s bedside musing about how to be scarier and he sat up and said “You can’t monologue in here – I need my nap!”

Interestingly, the play managed happy endings for both conflicting groups, the children who wanted to banish the nightmares and the monsters who wanted to be scary again.  There was a little bit of summing up the life lessons that struck me as too heavy-handed for my taste, but was probably appropriate for the intended elementary-school audience.   It was clever and fun and had a sweet relevant message.  Tix on the Square has tickets for all three shows, but the schedule for the rest of the festival is easiest to read on Facebook.

Bitches and Money 1878

After Richard III, my next playgoing was to Northern Light Theatre’s production of Martin Henshell’s Bitches and Money 1878, directed by Trevor Schmidt.  It was a pleasant change.  I don’t know how to describe the genre of this show.  Maybe “period dark comedy heist story”? “Steampunk feminist version of Oceans Whatever”? “Betrayals and plot twists”?  The publicity materials call it “about gambling, greed, and time travel”.

It was confusing and fun.  I don’t think I got answers to all my questions about the plot, but I’m not sure whether they weren’t spelled out explicitly enough for me or whether they just weren’t explained.  But it didn’t really matter.

If the title wasn’t enough to set the period and approximate location, the audience entering the PCL Studio Theatre had time to study a shallow dark-wallpapered room with a hand-drawn map of London, the external pipes of gas heating fitted to an older building, ornate fussy furniture, ominous music, and oh!  some characters I didn’t even notice at first.  Black Jack (Ben Goradetsky) is seated facing the audience, looking down at a big pistol in his hand, shifting position occasionally and adjusting the gun.  He’s hard to miss because he’s wearing a vividly-yellow plaid suit, and his black-rimmed eyes add to the sense of menace.  A few minutes later I noticed two female characters, seated on opposite sides of the stage, both sitting completely still, apparently with hands bound behind them, and with bags over their heads.  Seeing the stage populated before the play starts always makes me curious but a bit uncomfortable – should I pretend not to see them? what if they make eye contact or talk to me like in snout? or (as in Ride) are they really naked under there and should I pretend not to be wondering about that?

The lights dropped and came up, and we saw Black Jack interacting with his two accomplices, Cora (Laura Gillespie),  wearing a dramatically sexy black and red outfit that I thought of as “Dawson-City Showgirl” and Patience (Andréa Jaworsky) wearing a severe black walking suit with a small dented hat decorated with a few gears.  Aha, I thought, could this be a steampunk inventor?  One of the best things about this show was the contrasts between the two women and the ways in which each character moved beyond the archetypes seen in the first few minutes.

The story gets told in a series of scenes arranged in non-chronological order.  This is made more clear by numbers projected on the wall between scenes, which seemed to be the order in which they happened.  The setting was fun, the alliances and mistrusts and twists were not completely predictable, and the show was fast-paced with lots of repartée.

Playing until Nov 30th, with a late-night “Booty call” show Nov 29th, tickets through the Fringe Box Office.