Tag Archives: belinda cornish

An evening of celebrating the Fringe

Part of building and acknowledging a community is making and sharing art about that community. Fringe has always offered opportunities about that, and in recent years has been more intentional about expanding those opportunities to communities who haven’t always been recognized and celebrated in the same way – this year the venue pehonan is an exciting part of that intention.

But the Edmonton Fringe is itself a community. So of course there is art about the Fringe. The poster wall outside the Orange Hall is a lot shorter this year, but the sense of joyful celebration is extended by a complete set of posters commemorating every festival to date, with the imagery used that year for the program book and other publications. There’s an Instagram-ready set of brightly-coloured letters spelling out Fringe, in such a high-traffic area that it’s hard to take a picture without strangers in the way. (Unless, like me, you happen to be on site at 7:30 am.)

On Saturday, I went to three performances that were all celebrations of the Fringe culture. Gordon’s Big Bald Head: MasterThief Theatre is a long-running improv tradition, in which a small troupe of experienced performers uses the short description in the festival program to create their own version of another show. Their self-imposed rules include skipping over any sketch or improv show, since, according to Mark Meer, that would collapse the space-time continuum. (they might also skip music-based performances too.) The troupe members are currently Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Ron Pederson. It’s easy to see that they know each other well and are having fun together, as they set each other up to do some preposterous stunts while building and resolving a complex plot.

With no printed program book this year, and a relatively small number of suitable shows to choose from, they chose to start from a big stack of program books from past years, using a pseudorandom selection process to choose one show. So the audience (close to or at the 60%capacity limit in the big Varscona theatre space) probably isn’t going to be familiar with the source material. But that didn’t seem to matter. On the night I attended, the inspiration was Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, from a Toronto company in the 1994 Fringe. This allowed the performers another layer of comment/comedy about period customs and about what was okay to say in 1994 and not today. These are some of the best improvisers I have ever seen, and just fun to watch. Some of the remaining performances aren’t sold out. And no, I don’t know why it’s called Gordon’s Big Bald Head.

Die-Nasty is another long-running Edmonton improv troupe, this one in the soap-opera tradition of long convoluted character-driven stories. In a typical season, they have a 50-hour marathon show in the fall, then a series every Monday night all year, and every night of the Fringe there’s one episode of a story that unfolds at the Fringe. I don’t believe they’ve announced their 2021-2022 season plans yet, but the Die-Nasty at Fringe was just as I remembered. A collection of about 8 memorable characters – they have different guests added in each night – sweeps through a Fringe of beer tents, podcast reviews and mistaken slander, rehearsals and life-changing events, hints of romance and darker hints of murder. The night I saw it, the performers included Tom Edwards (a cowboy playwright trying to produce a musical cross between Oedipus and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Belinda Cornish as a famous actress, Hunter Cardinal trying to break away from his soccer-mad family to explore the arts, Stephanie Wolfe as a very strange psychotherapist, Mark Meer as a sort of Hunter S Thompson-esque podcaster, Wayne Jones, Jacob Banigan, and so on. The funniest moment was when one of Wolfe’s patients asked her a question about whether she can make people believe in a different reality or something like that, and she says “oh yes, I’ve been in charge of a whole province’s public health during a pandemic”.

Die-Nasty is sold out for tonight but seems to have some tickets available for tomorrow (Saturday Aug 21.)

The third tradition of performances celebrating the Fringe is Late Night Cabaret. In the Backstage theatre space as the last performance of the night, in a normal year it runs all through the week, filling the space with enthusiastic audience members who are still wide awake. An amazing house band, Ze Punters, with Audrey Ochoa the trombonist, entertains before and between the talk-show hosts and guests from various Fringe shows.

This year LNC has only four performances – on the Fridays and Saturdays of the Fringe. They all sold out quickly, but I was lucky enough to get a ticket for one of last weekend’s shows. The music and energy filled the space, but the limited admission meant that there was lots of space for safety and comfort (also short bar queues and no bathroom lineups). It was great to see familiar sets of eyes in the audience, and performance guests both familiar and new to me.

Edmonton Fringe continues until Sunday early evening, August 22, in its small careful format. I’m very glad to be here – and it’s time to head to a show.

The Garneau Block: Local, timely, and delightful!

Video is not typically ephemeral, but this one is.  If you’re intrigued by my description, check it out before tomorrow, May 3rd, at noon MDT.  That’s … hmm … 15 hours from now.  If I type fast.

The Garneau Block Act 1  #CanadaPerforms

I have a ticket on the shelf by my keys, for the first ticketed performance of The Garneau Block at the Citadel Theatre, on Saturday March 14th.  I didn’t get to use the ticket because the performance was cancelled sometime after the previous night’s dress rehearsal, that week when the theatres all went dark.

I’m always excited about Citadel new work, but I was especially looking forward to this one.  Shortly after I moved to Edmonton I borrowed Todd Babiak’s newish (2006) novel The Garneau Block from the Strathcona Branch library.  Like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, it was originally a series of affectionate and funny newspaper columns about characters in a fictionalized neighbourhood – only he was writing about a neighbourhood I rode my bike through every day en route to work.  Just like Janice MacDonald’s mystery novels and Gayleen Froese’s Grayling Cross, Babiak’s novel affirmed my sense of belonging here, because the setting and the people felt so familiar.

When I heard that Belinda Cornish was adapting the novel for the stage, I decided not to re-read it.  I didn’t remember much about the novel, and I wanted to enjoy the play for itself.

With support from the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms program, the Citadel did a live Zoom reading of Act 1 the other night, and it’s on Youtube until tomorrow morning.  And it’s great.

I almost don’t want to read the novel again and find out how many of the timely quips about the mixed-gentrifying neighbourhood near the university were in the original work and how many were from Cornish’s clever observation.   But there are a lot! I recognized trends, local businesses, and even a subtle reference to the Make Something Edmonton campaign that Babiak inspired as Magpietown around 2012.  There are no overt big-picture provincial or world politics in the characters’ concerns but it could easily have been last summer.

The casting and characterization were so good.  Julian Arnold as a philosophy professor who thinks he understands #MeToo.  Stephanie Wolfe being performatively-woke but excruciatingly uncomfortable seeing an indigenous homeless person (Ryan Cunningham).  Andrew Kushnir as theatre artist Jonas Pond, friend to Madison (Rachel Bowron).  It was lovely to have a gay character who wasn’t a flamboyant caricature.  Nadien Chu, Alana Hawley Purvis, Shawn Ahmad, George Szilagyi – the characters were all familiar but not completely predictable.  By the end of Act 1 some things were explained and some were hinted at, and I am so impatient to see where the story goes after this.

During this time of social distancing, I’ve been fortunate to participate in some on-line script reading.   From that experience, I can say that this on-line distanced presentation was very well done.  The necessary props were managed smoothly – there was even a small dog on screen! – and everyone was audible with good lighting and background.  The stage directions were read by director Rachel Peake.  She mentions at the end that the set (Narda McCarroll), costumes (Joanna Yu) and sound design (Matthew Skopyk) are waiting at the Maclab Theatre for rescheduled performances as soon as they can open their big wooden doors again.

But for right now – and for free! – you can enjoy Act 1.  Do it.

 

Unexpectedly touching and hilarious: Small Mouth Sounds

I have just seen some of the funniest stage business that I’ve seen in about a year.  And some touching character reveals that I didn’t see coming, despite thinking at the start that I recognized all these characters because I had been in yoga classes or support groups or retreats with all of them.

Wildside Productions’ Small Mouth Sounds, written by Beth Wohl and directed and designed by Jim Guedo, is playing at the Roxy on Gateway until March 24th.  I loved not knowing much at all about what to expect, and figuring out as it went along who all these characters were and why they were at the retreat.  I don’t want to give away any of the good bits, so you can have a similar experience.

It’s about six people who show up for a five-day silent retreat, and the retreat leader (Nathan Cuckow).  There is something marvelously uncomfortable and exposed about the set, especially in the harsh cold pre-show lighting – not at all like the cozy safe nest of Star of the North Retreat Centre where I attended a silent yoga day last year.   Audience seating is a bit farther back and higher up than it usually is at Roxy on Gateway, adding to the sense of distance.  There is an early scene which ends with each character rolling up their yoga mat – I realized that each of them was doing it in a way that showed who the character was and what their frame of mind was.  The other characters were played by Amber Borotsik, Belinda Cornish, Kristi Hansen, Richard Lee Hsi, David Horak, and Garrett Ross.

There is very little spoken dialogue in the narrative.  What there is, matters.  Most of the characters try to keep the discipline of silence, but fail or abandon it when it is important – just enough to give emphasis or provide a little bit more explanation to the audience.  I wondered ahead of time if the silence would feel gimmicky, but it really didn’t – it fit naturally with the context, and gave lots of opportunity for wordless communication of everything from pain to disdain.

I liked it a lot.

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.

A Christmas Carol at the Citadel

One of my motivations for writing up notes on what I see and posting them here during the run of the show is to encourage other people to go see the show, or to tell people enough about the show that the people who will like it will go.

But in the case of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel, I’m not sure whether I need to do that.  I had the impression that anyone in Edmonton who would like it has already seen it in previous years, and if they wanted to see it again they would already get tickets.  And when I saw it opening night, I guessed that most of the audience had seen it before, based on lots of them seeming to be anticipating the special effects that kept catching me by surprise.  I ended up seeing it closing night as well, and I can see why it’s such a perennial favourite with a long run every December.   It seemed to have a demographically diverse audience, some families with little kids, some families with older teenagers, and adults of all ages.  I wondered whether it was too intense or scary for some of the littler kids, or whether the story was familiar enough to them from other adaptations like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and readings-aloud that they could get past the scary bits remembering that at the end Scrooge isn’t really dead and neither is Tiny Tim.

The play has a cast of 42 with a lot of the adults playing more than one character. James MacDonald was Scrooge, and he was particularly fun when he giddily realises that he has time to mend his ways and change the outcomes.  Julien Arnold was the ever-grinning Bob Cratchit, and Eric Morin was Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Belinda Cornish did Mrs. Cratchit very well, conveying warmth and optimism while damping her usual powerful stage presence and upper-class accent enough to be convincing in the role.  Many other names on the cast list are familiar local actors and instructors at Foote Theatre School.

A lot of complicated scenery is moved quickly and smoothly on the Maclab Theatre thrust stage, much of it while our attention is distracted elsewhere.  Some magical special effects delighted me just as much on second viewing.   The ornate costumes clearly conveyed the class distinctions and the era and were fun to look at.

If you missed it this year, I’m sure it will come around again.  But in the meantime, there’s going to be lots of other great entertainment at the Citadel and around the other Edmonton stages in 2014.  I can’t wait.