Tag Archives: clown

Frenetic Dreamtime, an evening of clown play

The University of Alberta’s BFA Acting class of 2015 will be on the Studio Theatre stage starting with Moira Buffini’s Loveplay at the end of October.  But you can see them tonight (Saturday) in an evening of original clown turns called Frenetic Dreamtime.

I went to the preview Thursday night at the Timms Centre’s Second Playing Space.  Each of the ten class members had a character who did a turn, mostly solos but sometimes helping each other out.  The show was hosted by a character played by Maxwell Lebeuf.  As the audience enters, this character is seated at a dressing table facing away from the audience, doing makeup and getting in to nose and costume.   It was a bit unsettling to find it hard to distinguish the pre-show time where it was appropriate for us to chat with each other, send text messages, and knit (okay, I was probably the only one who wanted to knit) and the time when the show had started so respect would require us to observe silently.

Max’s character introduced each act by title and character name.  The custom of short clown turns each having a title, often involving wordplay, suddenly reminded me of classic animated cartoon style.   Because I don’t know all the members of the Class of 2015 by sight and because their CVs aren’t on the Drama department website yet, I can’t be certain which performers did what.  If you are reading this and you want to let me know, please feel free to email or post a comment on the entry.  But I think my favourites were the nesting hen laying eggs, the apprehensive mountain climber (Dylan Parsons), and the would-be bride of “White Wedding”.  All of these stories had an entertaining mix of some familiar emotions and some inventive physical expression of the narrative.  The ensemble worked together smoothly to set up quickly for each act, and I was particularly impressed by this because a few of the acts involved making a mess on the floor.

The show ended with Maxwell Lebeuf’s character singing a cabaret-style version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, and the nine other clowns doing a choreographed dance as backup.  That was a lot of fun too.

Frenetic Dreamtime has one more show tonight at 7:30 pm at the Timms Centre Second Playing Space.  Seating is limited (although they might bring out more chairs if there’s a bigger crowd).  Admission is free, and there’s an opportunity to donate to either or both of the Drama Department bursary fund and the class of 2015 audition tour.

Mump and Smoot in “Anything”

Since I started paying attention to the breadth of live theatre available in Edmonton, I’ve gradually discovered that Edmonton has an unusually strong tradition of clown and physical theatre, in part due to the teaching and mentoring of master clowns like Jan Henderson and Michael Kennard, at University of Alberta and elsewhere.  I’ve seen many of their students and former students perform, but never had the chance to see either of them on stage.

Mump and Smoot are the creations of Michael Kennard and John Turner.  According to the program for Mump and Smoot in Anything, the artists met at Second City in Toronto, both studied with Richard Pochinko who basically started the Canadian style of clowning, and have been performing Mump and Smoot for twenty-six years.   For those who hadn’t heard of the duo before or who hadn’t noticed that the title on the program cover seemed to be written in dripping blood, the program also helpfully mentioned that they are referred to as “clowns of horror”.   This and their general reputation cued me to expect something a little more gory and gross than a typical clown show – and the hints were welcome.

Like many clowns from the Pochinko tradition, Mump and Smoot vocalize but not always in comprehensible vernacular.  (A show I saw last winter from Calgary’s PIE Factory Collective had the interesting variation of using a gibberish that contained bits of French and bits of English.)  Their unique language, “Ummonian”, contains enough English words and near-English along with gestures and unmistakable facial expressions that after the first framing sequence it was fairly easy to follow the narrative of the three following vignettes and final sequence.  Mump (Michael Kennard) was the taller one, a higher-status older-brother type of role.  Smoot (John Turner) was the one who connected with the audience and drew the audience’s sympathies.  Prop changes and scene introductions were managed by a silent white-faced woman in straggly white draperies with a very Catalyst-Theatre aesthetic, Candace Berlinguette as Knooma.   The three scenes were titled “The Escape”, “The Romp”, and “The Remedy”.  They fit together somewhat but were mostly separate stories.  They were funny and poignant and occasionally really gross and creepy, but in ways that the audience seemed to enjoy sharing.  There was a little bit of audience participation, generally consensual and not too embarrassing.

I laughed a lot and I found the stories satisfying.  Part of why I don’t enjoy clowns from the American circus traditions or a lot of mimes is that I don’t enjoy perpetual-victim stories like RoadRunner and Coyote.  But these two characters Mump and Smoot, for all their weird troubles and disagreements, didn’t seem to be trying to beat each other or trick each other.  They liked each other.  As with the Rocket and SheShells duo (Adam Keefe and Christine Lesiak, seen in Fools for Love and in Sofa So Good) or the Nona and Squee partnership of Life After Breath (Amy Chow and Neelam Chattoo), they argued in ways that were familiar enough to be funny, and came to fair resolutions.   I can see that both performers were very good at what they did, at communicating just enough of their emotions and intentions to captivate the audience and developing a story with just enough unpredictability to delight.  I don’t know how they did it.  I would definitely watch them again.  In anything.  Or, well, in Anything, if my schedule permitted.

Mump and Smoot in Anything is playing at the Roxy Theatre on 124 Street until April 27th.  Tickets are available through Theatre Network.

Zodiac Arrest – a circus cabaret

The Westbury Theatre is the big theatre space at the Transalta Arts Barns.  I’d only ever seen it with the risers pulled out on one side and a flat proscenium stage, but the other night when I walked in, it was transformed with a few rows of seats on each of the four sides, zodiac symbols projected on a curtain on one side, and a big empty sprung floor, set up for a show by Firefly Theatre, the Edmonton troupe specialising in circus arts and physical theatre.

There were twelve performances, each introduced by patter from a costumed host evoking the characteristics of each zodiac archetype.  About half of them were arial acrobatics acts, and they were all amazing – Kadri Hansen, Lisa Feehan, Danny Gorham, Kim Precht, Meghan Watson, Kristi Wade, Annie Dugan, Michalene Giesbrecht, and Kim Precht.  The lighting, music, and costuming contributed to different moods from playful to romantic to creepy.  I don’t have any interest (or aptitude!) to attempt arial work myself, but the Firefly Theatre website has lots of information about workshops and beginner classes in their various disciplines.

Other acts included some clown performances (Candace Berlinguette and Mike Kennard), some stage magic by Billy Kidd, a dance version of the story of Ariadne (including Jamie Cavanagh as an egregiously self-absorbed Theseus), and some contortionists cum rhythmic gymnastics performers (Mackenzie Baert and Caitlin Marchak)

I thought that some of these acts dragged a bit, and that the astrological monologues were likewise too long, but on the whole I had enough awe and delight to make it a worthwhile evening.  Zodiac Arrest’s last show is tonight, Sunday at 8 pm, with tickets still available at Fringe Theatre Adventures. 

A Clown Double Bill

I’m now caught up recording my theatregoing experiences of a busy week.  I’m going to Rapid Fire Theatre’s Date Night Fundraiser (facebook link) tonight, and to Die-Nasty on Monday, but otherwise I don’t have anything on the calendar until the Rapid Fire improv-workshop performance night that I’m performing in on Thursday 31 January.  (Suggestions, invitations, and temptations for shows not to miss next week and the week after are, of course, welcome!)

Two original clown shows, each about an hour long, make up A Clown Double Bill this weekend at Punctuate Theatre’s TACO Space.  Previously I’d only ever encountered this small warehouse blackbox space at the Fringe festival in August, so I was relieved to discover that the wintertime arrangement has a pleasant lobby and a downstairs bathroom and doesn’t involve having the audience sit in a performance space with an open garage door until it’s time to start.

Lost ‘N Lost Department, by PIE Factory Collective of Calgary, was a three-handed story performed by creators Elaine Weryshko, Jed Tomlinson, and Kristin Eveleigh.  It made good use of a charmingly-detailed set, and of the humour of physical repetitions.  The clowns spoke partly in gibberish with enough English and French to be understood.  You could see how engaged the audience had become in their reality by the number of horrified gasps when a cardboard box was damaged.  As in many clown realities, the characters seem to be adults, but they don’t seem to have relevant gender or sexuality. That’s not part of the story and it doesn’t matter.  The story would be appropriate for any children old enough to appreciate the absurdity and tolerate the occasional sad bit, and the program notes say it started as a piece for the Calgary International Children’s Festival.

Sofa So Good, by Small Matters Productions, involves the same characters as the 2012 Edmonton Fringe offering Fools For Love, played by Edmontonians Christine Lesiak (Sheshells) and Adam Keefe (Rocket) and created by them along with their director Jan Henderson, the well-known clowning instructor from University of Alberta.  As in the first-act show, the characters spoke a bit in a stylized fashion, but communicated mostly through actions and facial expressions.  They used a few simple props.  Both companies involved the audience a little bit, but not in embarrassing ways.  I loved the ways in which the characters’ gender expression was played but not overplayed – I could laugh at the ways a woman might be childish or ridiculous and the ways a man might be childlike or ridiculous without feeling as if these differences were insurmountable or the most important facets of the characters, or as if the portrayals were hostile or gender essentialist..  Several jokes came from a “Clownsmopolitan” magazine, which appeared to have images on both covers like a typical Cosmo cover girl and cosmetic ad, but with clown noses.  As in the Fringe show, the most enjoyable parts of this show were when the characters shifted seamlessly from two adults setting up housekeeping to two playful collaborators in delightful pretending games, clearly enjoying each other’s company in various fictional universes.  Part of the story was risqué enough that your 12-year-old would be mortified to be seeing it with chortling parents, but would then probably repeat the whole thing to his or her friends.  Not having family members with me, my inner 12-year-old was free to guffaw.

There are three more shows, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, and Sunday night.  If you enjoy clown work in general or if you liked Fools for Love, you should definitely catch it. 

January playbill

I’d noticed before that sometimes food businesses with a holiday rush sometimes close for vacation in January – bakeries, restaurants, vendors at Strathcona Farmers’ Market.  But I’d never noticed before this year that theatres and performance spaces might also be dark at the start of the year.  It seems a little counterintuitive that there isn’t much to watch between Christmas and New Years, when people with academic schedules might have time off and be done their pre-Christmas to-do lists, but it does make sense for performers to take a break after New Year’s, when it’s cold and dark and the viewing public might be feeling frugal or unsociable.

Both Rapid Fire Theatre and Die-Nasty were dark between Christmas and New Year’s, but then jumped right back in to their weekly entertainments.  Rapid Fire is now filling up Ziedler Hall for many of their Friday-night and Saturday-night shows, so fans should buy tickets on line or line up early.

Other companies have been in rehearsal, meaning that several shows are opening this week.  The new Canadian opera Svadba, in Serbian with English subtitles, is playing at C103, the space formerly known as Catalyst Theatre.  Azimuth Theatre previews Free-man on the land at the Roxy starting Tuesday (tickets here).  A Clown Double Bill opens Tuesday at The TACOS Space in that awkward bit of neighbourhood that nobody can decide whether to call Ritchie, CPR Irvine, or “you know, behind Wunderbar, there” (tickets through Tix on the Square). Westbury Theatre, Transalta Arts Barns, welcomes the musical Legally Blonde starting Wednesday.

Deep Freeze Festival wraps up (see what I did there) today, Ice on Whyte sparkles in a couple of weeks, and ForkFest fills up January.  So if you’ve been hibernating the last couple of weeks, it’s  time to bundle up and check out what’s happening in Edmonton entertainment.