Tag Archives: megan dart

Two samples of local history, the macabre and the hopeful

Already this theatre season, several great productions have been seen on Edmonton stages.  The Colour Purple at the Citadel was a powerful tale of resilience, with really great music and an inspiring performance from Tara Jackson.  Silent Sky at Walterdale was based on the true story of early-20th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.  Teatro closed their summer season with Vidalia, which was confusing and ridiculous and very entertaining.

This week I was able to watch two performances with local roots and seasonal resonances, and I enjoyed both.

Dead Centre of Town XII is this year’s version of Catch the Keys Productions’ annual exploration of historical horror by Megan Dart and Beth Dart. This one is set at Mellon Farm, the 1920s-era farm property at Fort Edmonton Park.  Attending the Hallowe’en event is one of your few chances to get a look at the Park while the renovations are continuing.   The horrifying stories out of local history feel more intimate this year, with an audience of only 25 for each performance encountering the characters in the farmhouse and yard.   Fans of previous Dead Centre of Town shows will recognize the hench/guides played by Colin Matty, Christine Lesiak, and Adam Keefe.  Other characters and stories are unique to this year’s production, and there are other surprising and disturbing design elements.  Dead Centre of Town XII plays until November 1st, tickets here.  Wednesdays through Saturdays it’s part of the bigger Hallowe’en event Dark, and Tuesdays and Sundays you can experience it on its own.

I could tell you a lot more about it, but not without spoiling things – and in Dead Centre of Town, it’s better when unexpected.

E-Day, by Jason Chinn, opens tomorrow at Roxy on Gateway, a Roxy Performance Series offering by Serial Collective.  I got to see a preview show last night.  I try not to review previews because it seems not-quite-fair, but my calendar is quite busy this month and last night was my chance.

I loved it.  And I cried.  It was a little like Kat Sandler’s The Candidate / The Party, which were large-scale views of behind-the-political-scenes of a national leadership campaign and election.  But it was more like 10 out of 12 by Anne Washburn, the peek into technical-rehearsal week at a theatre company which Theatre Network produced a few years ago.    And for me it was … you know how Badlands Passion Play has the huge advantage of starting out with an evocative plot and characters that most of the audience not only knows but cares passionately about? Like, when I arrived on site, before I found my seat I looked around at the hills and saw the three crosses, and it took my breath away because I knew what was coming and it was going to be right there.  Yeah, like that.

E-Day takes place during the 2015 provincial election campaign, from E-28 to E+1.  The whole play is set in a campaign office for a local candidate, Candace Berlinguette (all the characters are named after the performers), who was unsuccessful in the 2012 election.  With credit to set/costume designer Beyata Hackborn, it looked like any campaign office I’ve visited or volunteered in.  The table of donated food, the phone bank of mismatched phones, the signs on the fridge, the beautiful coded maps,  the coloured floor tiles and alphabet squares left over from the daycare previously in the space.  Audience was seated on all four sides, and there was always lots to watch – the office manager in the corner (Amena Shehab), the teenagers on the phones (Asia Bowman and Shingai David Madawo), the comings and goings out the various doors and the mission-control of the voter contact organizer (Sheldon Elter) and his assistant (Kiana Woo).   As in The Candidate/The Party, the candidate has a same-sex partner who has limited patience for the compromises of politics (Beth Graham).

What I loved about this play was twofold.  First, the specifics felt so right.  I had been a little disappointed in the Kat Sandler scripts being about an imaginary electoral system that resembled the American one, because I felt hungry to find humour and hope within our own Canadian system that I work within.  (Like Michael Healey’s Proud, with its slightly-different-outcome of a real election, and the Parliamentary seating diagram with the red, blue, orange, and pale-blue post-its).   But this one was so believable and so local in scope – everything I knew about election volunteering, about identifying supporters and pulling the vote, about why people volunteer and who runs a campaign – it all fit.

And in E-Day, it all mattered.   Characters remind each other that the hard work and insight from the previous election loss are helping them run this campaign, and when they despair of winning this one, they repeat that every supporter gained this time makes things easier next time. Plot details are consistent with this.  And in the middle of the discouragement, someone with a laptop whoops and they cluster around to the voiceover and music of the announcement that their party will be forming the government.  And that was the other thing I loved – the message of long-term hope, that whether or not any particular campaign goes the way you want, it’s all worth it in the long term.   And this week, I appreciated getting those reminders.  They made me cry.

Dead Centre of Town tickets are here.  Many of their shows sell out, so get yours early.

E-Day tickets are here.

I’m off to Banff for the Community Theatre Summit, which I’m sure will inspire me with theatre ideas and make me a better artist and board member.  And when I come back, I want to see Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs, and Fight Night, and The Roommate, all opening soon on local stages.

Spooky October performances 2018

I’m not managing to see everything on Edmonton stages these days, but I wish I could.  I wish I’d seen Lenin’s Embalmers at U of A Studio Theatre, or the Maggie Tree production Blood: A Scientific Romance.  From what I’ve read about them, it looks like the creepy or paranormal themes could have fit into this Hallowe’en-week blog roundup, too.

At the Walterdale Theatre, I helped work on The Triangle Factory Fire Project, a script prepared by Christopher Piehler in collaboration with Scott Alan Evans using various primary source materials, and directed here by Barbara Mah.   It was thought-provoking and disturbing, because the horrible fates of real people were depicted graphically, because the resulting legal case portrayed did not result in justice, and because the hazards of the garment industry juxtaposed with fashion advertising are not so different from their contemporary equivalents.   Watching this story play out every night as one of the booth operators, I kept cheering for some of the determined young women who lived to tell their own stories, particularly Rose Freedman (Danielle Yu), and Ethel Monick, (Stephanie Swensrude), and kept getting angry at the factory owners and their lawyer (Eric Rice, Kent Sutherland, and Matthew Bearsto).  It was a relief to close that show and watch some scary shows for fun.  

Dead Centre of Town XI has four more performances in the Blatchford hangar at Fort Edmonton Park.  This year the macabre true stories researched and written by Megan and Beth Dart of Catch the Keys all relate to air travel.  As usual, the audience members are guided through relevant settings to encounter the characters of various disasters and mysterious happenings, while super-creepy poet/narrator Colin Matty provides extra detail and atmosphere.  “If humans were intended to fly, why are they so Goddamned squishy?”, he muses.  More live-theatre than haunted-house, this annual immersive event does a great job at making the details build up the overall experience – even the ticket distribution (“boarding passes”) and the traffic-management (impersonal masked uniformed airport workers in a crowded “boarding lounge” with staticky announcements) are part of the adventure.

Dark! at Fort Edmonton is new this year, adding on food (with creepy nicknames like Bloody Balls and Skewered Rat), drinks, and adult-level haunted-house attractions.  I went to one of the haunts, and decided that I prefer the Dead Centre of Town style of horrifying imagery enhanced by narrative, to the unexplained jump-scares of Dark!

The Bone House, by Marty Chan, also has performances remaining on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  It was also very scary in a different style again.  At first it felt like a TV or movie experience, with a forensic-psychology expert presenting an illustrated lecture about serial killers, but it became more unsettling – it was easy to involve myself into the story enough that I could imagine being in danger, but I also began to feel somewhat complicit in choosing to listen to serial-killer narratives in any medium.  Brrr.

This weekend I also managed to fit in a performance of Northern Light Theatre’s Origin of the Species, by Bryony Lavery.  With direction and set/costume design by Trevor Schmidt and performances by Kristin Johnston and Holly Turner, it uses the ridiculous premise of a contemporary archaeologist encountering a live prehistoric woman, to touch on several important themes with a subtle touch.  I particularly enjoyed the very gradual transition of the prehistoric woman Victoria (Johnston) towards modern physicality and communication, and the many ways that both characters subvert assumptions about “traditional” gender roles.

snout – even weirder theatre

My next experience with weird theatre was an Azimuth Theatre / Catch the Keys production called Snout, in the little playing space at the Arts Barns.  I believe it was written by Megan Dart and directed by Beth Dart, but that is from memory because there weren’t any paper programs.  As people entered the theatre, we saw a small tented space, draped with sheets and decorated with living room furniture, which also seemed to be where we should sit.  Atmospheric music was playing, and mysterious video images (Matt Schuurman’s work of course) were projected on the sheets.  An awkwardly-hunched character in bare feet and a burlap poncho (Ben Stevens) welcomed the theatregoers to his house and directed us to the couches, chairs, and cushions on the floor, while steering people away from a kitchen-table set at one end of the room.

We had lots of opportunity to study the space, especially those of us who were a little bit uncomfortable about engaging with the unpredictable character scuttling around.  The draped sheets made a football-shaped space, with openings at either end and at a few other places in the perimeter.  After a while I became aware of a looming bearded presence watching us from the various rents in the draping, but again I kind of averted my attention so as not to engage.  (As I’ve probably already said here, I love weird theatre – but I’m still awkward about being dragged in to participate.)

The main character turned out to be named Ori, and this was his home.  He also introduced us to a Wolf (Steve Pirot), as a friend that he played with and fought with.  The wolf stalked on his hands and feet, hair covering his face, and snarled convincingly enough that my neck got shivers.  The character felt dangerous in that form.  Later, he walked upright and delivered a monologue about possessions, theft, and exchanging valuables, while returning to people various objects of theirs that he had somehow pilfered earlier – in my case, a book about improv theatre that I’d borrowed from one of my teachers.  I was probably easy to steal from because of having tried so hard to ignore him!

The other two characters in the play were an ordinary couple, (Ainsley Hilliard and Mat Simpson), who had been together long enough to remember happier more romantic times, but unsure how and whether to try recapturing those feelings.

And the rest of the performance (I was going to say “story”, but that would suggest something more linear and less lyrical and cryptic) was just those characters interacting with each other and rebounding off each other and hurting each other.  I probably missed a lot – the box-office flyer suggested some resonance with an Isis and Osiris myth, for one thing – but I didn’t mind, because I liked it.