Tag Archives: josh travnik

New local work from diverse perspectives

Edmonton Fringe is a great place to discover new work by local artists. The program (2021: the digital listings on the Fringe website) flags new work and indicates the hometown of the producing company (2021: they’re almost all local or nearby this year, with very few touring artists).

Yesterday I saw three new works by local artists, One Song, Chanzo, and Deafy. All of them were fictional narratives in various genres, and all of them benefited from the lived experiences of the creators.

One Song was advertised as a staged read or workshop performance of a new musical, but was significantly more polished than that description suggessts. Daniel Belland (composer and co-lyricist) played keyboard to accompany the four singer/actors, Jaimi Reese, Manny Agueriverre, Ceris Backstrom, and Josh Travnik. The actors carried scripts but moved through the story and knew the music well. The mood of the story reminded me a bit of Dear Evan Hansen – kind young people getting themselves into believable awkward difficulties, well-meaning adults on the sidelines being vulnerable themselves. Jaimi Reese is spot-on as the wise and feisty single mother to a young lesbian (Agueriverre) with an open door/ear for her daughter’s best friend (Travnik) – even before the song Not This I was thinking the mother probably had her own interesting story. Ceris Backstrom plays three of the mother’s friends, brought in (consensually) to provide some queer perspectives beyond the mother’s own expertise. Backstrom’s acting was good, distinguishing between music-nerd Paul in bow-tie, drag-queen Toast, and lesbian AIDS activist Jen. All of them provided some LGBTQ+ context and incidental education (the QR-code-accessed show program provided some footnotes for audience members curious about some of the details). Agueriverre and Travnik’s characters are about fourteen. Through them we explore some nuances of sexuality-coming-out decisions without the high-stakes consequences of bullying or romance, with a clear message of everyone getting to make their own choice of how/when to share this news. Calla Wright wrote the script and co-wrote the lyrics.

The melodies and accompaniment were interesting, melodic, and in a modern-musical-theatre vein. The duet between Reese and Agueriverre late in the show was particularly strong. I thought there was a bit too much info-dump from Backstrom’s characters, but at the same time I appreciated learning a bit more about LGBTQ+ musicians and activists.

Chanzo is a play written by local playwright, dramaturg, graduate student, and director Mukonzi Musyoki. The title character (David Shingai Madawo) returns from Canada to Kenya after his father’s death, without warning his sister (Onika Henry) that he’s bringing his white Canadian girlfriend Charlotte (Jasmine Hopfe) with him. Henry’s character Bezo speaks many of her lines in Swahili, but no translation is needed to see that she is furious with her brother and the situation and full of contempt for who she thinks Charlotte is. Predictable conflicts ensue and secrets come out. The characters were compelling and I longed for them to understand each other and come to a good resolution. Yet as a viewer I was also satisfied with the more ambiguous ending of the script. One thread of the plot was familiar from a scene written by Musyoki and performed by Madawo in the late-2020 roving theatre piece Here There Be Night.

Deafy is a solo show written and performed by Chris Dodd, directed by Ashley Wright, with choreography by Ainsley Hillyard. It’s told in a mix of spoken English, ASL, and supertitles/captions. The character Nathan Jesper, on an informational speaking tour about being Deaf, decides to abandon his usual lecture script and tell stories about communication. Many of the stories are amusing anecdotes about how he and his friends get by in a hearing-centric world – the one about his friends helping him take his drivers’-license road test is particularly funny while still disappointing me with how unhelpful the bureaucracy is. The stories gradually begin to focus on his search for belonging, in a world where he is too deaf or in a group where he is not Deaf enough, as the choreography, music (Dave Clarke), and arguments with the unseen captioner escalate to express his increasing distress. As with the Swahili in Chanzo, I didn’t feel I was missing too much because I don’t understand ASL.

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.

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.