Tag Archives: c103

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 Photo

The Photo is about an hour long.  I’m glad that it wasn’t longer because I was so worried about the characters that I could hardly breathe.

Elena Porter and Michael Peng stagger separately onto the stage, not quite aware of each other.  At first they both seem shocked by something that’s just happened, but their responses are different enough that the nature of the awful thing wasn’t immediately clear to me.  But the basic sad event is clarified quickly, so that one character seems to be grieving in a conventionally comprehensible way and the other is alarmingly detached from reality.  I did keep wondering in the back of my mind whether I was wrong, or whether more horrible details would come out later, but I was relieved to have my guess confirmed, and could then watch the couple cope and connect.

I don’t think I’ve seen Michael Peng and Elena Porter on stage together before, but I’ve seen both of them in challenging roles in dark or painful stories – Peng in An Accident and in The Kite Runner, Porter in The Three Sisters and in The Clean House.  And they were both good in The Photo.   Peng’s thin-lipped quiet background anguish and Porter’s sparkling surface cheer over pain suited the roles well.  The script provided enough resolution that I could breathe again, and I felt as if the two characters were beginning to understand each other’s needs and would be able to take care of themselves and each other.

I do not have personal experience of the kind of loss experienced by the characters.  I don’t think I’d recommend this play to someone who has, without offering to warn him or her, but on the other hand without knowing what to expect I found the initial scene disturbingly effective, and I don’t want to spoil that for anyone else.

The Photo is playing at C103 until May 23rd.  It’s a Theatre of the New Heart production, written by Dana Rayment and directed by Michelle Kennedy.  Advance tickets are, of course, at Tix on the Square.

Starting the year off with a SHOUT!

Over the winter-solstice theatre dark nights I had intended to post my notes on everything I saw in December, but it didn’t seem to work that way.  I’ll work through the backlog as I can, even though the busier schedules of January and February mean that programs are piling up again.

SHOUT! is a 1960s musical revue produced by Round Barns Productions, which played at C103 in early January.  Kristen Finlay directed it, and Sally Hunt was the musical director.  During the show, five young women in England (Leslie Caffaro, Nicole English, Kristen Finlay, Erin Foster-O’Riordan, Monica Roberts) move through the years from 1962 to 1970, with songs, dancing, and glimpses of their lives in that era.  They’re called “The Red Girl”, “The Orange Girl”, “The Yellow Girl” and so on, after one of those magazine-article personality quizzes (voiceover by John Dolphin), and the quick lists of traits are turned into five distinct and attractive characters by the performers.

A magazine called Shout provided a framework moving through the show, with the characters reading articles about 1960s phenomena like Twiggy, the Beatles, and the sexual revolution.  John Dolphin’s voiceovers provided assorted magazine content, and the characters also wrote letters to “Gwendolyn Holmes” a women’s-magazine advice columnist of the era (voice by Elizabeth Marsh) who responded to most problems with suggestions like cheering oneself up by getting a new hairstyle.  Much of the advice and other magazine content was terrible from a 2015 point of view (the cigarettes diet, the asbestos dress).

The music was great, mostly songs I was familiar with.  I loved the “Coldfinger” parody of the James Bond theme, “I Only Want to Be With You”, and “Shout!”, and the “You’re My World/All I See is You” medley made me cry.  And there was enough character development arc under the mostly-lighthearted show to provide satisfying outcomes for the characters “I got pregnant!”, “I got sober”, and “I got Penelope!”  Especially the one who takes over for the advice columnist.

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.

The Genius Code, from Surreal SoReal Theatre

The concept of The Genius Code intrigued me – putting different audience members into the viewpoint of different characters, by giving them headphones.   I am fascinated by the idea of piecing together the truths of different people’s experiences.  It’s easy to do and fairly common in written fiction.  And I’ve seen movies and tv shows where a scene is shown from one character’s viewpoint, maybe with some voice-over retrospective narration, and then repeated from another character’s viewpoint and voice with a very different impression.  It’s also doable on stage, although harder – it might be a fun improv game for experienced players.

But in The Genius Code, the writer and director (Jon Lachlan Stewart) doesn’t control which of the viewpoints an audience member chooses.  And in attending one performance, you only get one viewpoint – you can’t switch.  This performance-art choice leads to some fascinating differences in audience experience.

When the audience is wearing headphones, the lighting design has the house quite dark, and the logistics of cable management mean that the audience members tend to sit still.  I think that mostly people aren’t listening to the same commentary as their neighbours.  And the audiences for the two performances I’ve attended have been unusually quiet while we were wearing headphones.  Mostly, the characters’ inner thoughts were heard in one set of headphones only, and the conversations taking place on stage were transmitted by floor mics to all three sets of headphones.  But even when all of us were hearing the conversation, I thought the audience wasn’t very responsive.  I kept wanting to sigh and smile and gasp and chuckle and wince in recognition, but somehow the awareness of being surrounded by a room full of people listening quietly in headphones made me hesitate.   Later in the show, there’s a part where we’re instructed to take the headphones off.  The house lights came partway up, the story continued unamplified, and the audience immediately became more responsive.  This fascinated me, and I wondered if it was disconcerting to the actors when we were quieter.

Technically, I was relieved and impressed that the headphones thing worked.  I never heard any sound bleeding over from the other feeds, either in the full house of opening night when I was surrounded by people listening to different feeds or on the preview night when I had empty seats next to me.   Soundscapes (Aaron Macri and Jonathan Krawchuk) and video backgrounds projected on an unusual surface (Matt Schuurman) added to the atmosphere and provided more information.

I’ve attended two performances and listened to two points of view.  I’m planning to return one night next week to listen to the third one.  Listening to the second one made me re-think some opinions I’d formed during the first show, and then wonder whether the assumptions that led me to those opinions were unfair.  Things kept surprising me during the second show, things that I know rationally must have happened the same way both times but for some reason I didn’t remember them clearly.

The characters in the story are Sky (Jamie Cavanagh), Gyl (Laura Metcalfe), and Gene aka DJ Genius Code (Cole Humeny).  As the story starts, Gene has just brought his two friends together, and as they seem to hit it off, they agree to let Gene record all their conversations.  This is a convenient explanation allowing Gene to move about the stage adjusting microphones so that the audience will hear the conversations through our headphones, but it is also important in showing how Gene relates to the other two.  It provides some important plot movement, and the option to re-play or re-mix the recordings also gives some interesting framework.  The phrase “Let’s start again” is used several times during the performance, usually in a sense of “let’s play this recording again from the top” but in other senses as well.  And in fact, sometimes in life and relationships, sometimes one cannot just start again.

My first impressions of Gyl were that she’s a wacky outspoken young woman, talented and attractive.  Sky struck me as a glib provocative young man who enjoys playing with words and is also accustomed to being desirable.  And Gene was a puzzle.  Humeny plays the character with near-flat affect and an immobile face, usually looking down or to one side rather than making eye contact with his friends.  Costume/Set Designer Cory Sincennes has dressed him in a hooded shirt a bit too big for him with sleeves too long, making him look small and not in control (a very different impression than when I saw him as an enlisted Marine in A Few Good Men).  There were scenes of credible friendship and affection.  There were a couple of intensely erotic sequences of dialogue and movement, one of which turns disturbingly into a fight scene (choreography credit Ainsley Hillyard).

I had not seen any of Jon Lachlan Stewart’s work before, but now I will make a point of seeing anything else available.  I’d seen all the performers at least once – Metcalfe as the grasping sister-in-law in The Three Sisters, Humeny in Ride, Strike!, and a minor role in Clybourne Park as well as in A Few Good Men, and Cavanagh in several plays and improv shows over the last couple of years, starting with Sexual Perversity in Chicago and most recently Romeo and Juliet.

As I said, I’ve seen two viewpoints and I plan to return for the third.  I wondered whether it was fair to post about it before seeing the third side, but I want to encourage more people to see it, It’s playing until Sunday June 8th at C103, the theatre in the Strathcona Market parking lot.  And I imagine many theatregoers will see it only once, but will compare notes afterwards with other people about the versions they saw and what they thought.

I liked it.  There was one thing that I found unsatisfying, I found myself wanting to put the headphones back on and hear more about how things were unfolding later from my character’s POV.  I don’t really know why this bugged me – maybe because it felt asymmetric not finishing the way we started, or maybe because I liked the internal-monologue parts, or what.  And I guess the private-to-shared transition is part of how this story needs to get told – medium being the message and all that – but I kept wanting there to be a headphones ending.  I hope it was a legitimate artistic choice rather than some decision to put the audiences back into their comfort zones – because when I go to theatre I don’t mind being out of my comfort zone.  (SLIGHTLY out of my comfort zone.  That does not mean I sit on the aisle at a bouffon show.)

Sapientia, a disturbing tale of child martyrs and a fascinating portrayal with puppets

The author credited for this play was Roswitha of Gandersheim, a 10th century playwright, poet, and (according to the Canoe Festival program and Wikipedia) secular canoness.  A Wikipedia link explains that this referred to a woman who lived in a monastery but did not take religious vows, so it might have been a handy way for a woman of the aristocracy to pursue a single scholarly life.

This adaptation as object theatre was made by Joseph Shragge of Montreal.  Mia van Leeuwen of out of line theatre was credited with direction and design.  Object theatre is a sort of puppetry using found objects.  The four puppet performers were David Barnet, Kara Chamberlain, Nancy McAlear, and Brendan Nearey.  The objects were simple and ordinary (a kettle for the emperor, teacups of diminishing size for the three little girls, a mirror for the mother), but the small gestures of the puppeteers and their voices made it easy to picture the characters as the story unfolded.

The subject matter of the tale was a Christian woman and her three young daughters, defying the Roman emperor Hadrian to the extent of torture and martyrdom.  It was a classic martyr story, with the satisfying ending being death without surrender leading to frustration and loss of authority of the murderer.  I imagine that in the 10th century it might have been particularly radical to have the woman and her young daughters being strong and determined and logical, while the male emperor and his advisor/executioner appear ineffective, emotional, and flailing.   The stories of my 20th century childhood might have found beauty in sacrifice and justice in choosing the right belief, but the responses from my 21st-century heart as a parent and aunt and leader of young people are so strongly opposed to the idea of encouraging children to die for a belief or ideal that I couldn’t finish this blog post last night.  I can admire the courage and honour the choice of Aitzaz Hasan, the 15-year-old Pakistani who tackled a suicide bomber to save his classmates, but I feel really uncomfortable about the idea of a parent encouraging his or her children to choose a principle or belief over staying alive.   And I don’t think I’m the only modern person who feels this way, or we wouldn’t have discussions about whether Christian-Scientist or Jehovah’s-Witness parents should be prevented by a just society from refusing their children conventional life-saving medical treatments or whether small children are able to make those decisions themselves.  Anyway, it’s upsetting, but the play made me think, and I’m glad of that.

I’ve also been interested to notice how the genre of the storytelling, with the simple symbols representing the characters and their fates, allowed some graphic but elliptical imagery to address the horror of the tortures and deaths more closely than would have been bearable for a more conventional acting genre.  For example, the executioner broke a teacup, or crushed a ripe pomegranate, and the audience gasped in shock for the brutal murder of a child represented.   I won’t record any more of the details because I need to be able to sleep – but it was fascinatingly well-done.

Canoe Festival 2014 continues this week with showings of National Elevator Project Part 2 Tuesday through Sunday, and Tanya Tagaq’s Nanook of the North with one performance Wednesday.   Twitter hashtag #canoe2014 and a series of guest bloggers posting at http://canoetheatrefest.tumblr.com continue the conversations about performances and performers, theatre and life.

Static Electric

I’d seen mention of Mile Zero Dance and Gerry Morita around the Edmonton entertainment scene for some time, but I’d never attended a performance before.  Having now seen Static Electric, the Mile Zero Dance piece at Canoe Festival, I’d definitely seek them out again.

The two dancers, Gerry Morita of Mile Zero and Farley Johansson of Science Friction and Coastal City Ballet in Vancouver, explore a cluttered living space full of lamps, televisions, recordings, transmissions, a piano being played by Viktoria Reiswich-Dapp, a jukebox, and other electric apparatus.  At first, the two characters seem completely unaware of each other, although they overlap in space to the extent of tumbling over and around each other on an easy chair and a carpet.  Later, they come to interact more consciously, but eye contact is fleeting.  Sometimes they have normal-sounding conversation and exchange reminiscences through family-band radio walkie-talkies.  There is also some dialogue in German and, I think, in Russian (though it might have been Ukrainian or another similar-sounding language).  Morita plays with a cassette recorder, speaking into it and then playing it back, and she also disassembles a cassette tape, constructing streamers on a fan and then becoming tangled in a mass of tape.  Lighting designer Patrick Ares-Pilon moves intentionally through the space towing and adjusting carts of electrical gadgets.

The program says that the performance is improvised.  It works fascinatingly well.  Morita and Johansson are both powerfully athletic and expressive artists who are thrilling to watch.   My favourite bits were the ones with “Volare”, “Riders on the Storm”, and hockey play-by-play as the soundtrack.  The last bit of the show sounded as if Johansson was dancing in a box of broken glass, and the sound effects were so disturbing I could hardly bear it.

Their last show is in about half an hour (Saturday afternoon) but there’s lots of other good stuff to see and hear and think about at Canoe Festival.