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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Since we haven't been able to travel much... Why not go to Destination Wedding? At the Fringe!


Hey Everyone! After not being able to go last summer (but still buying the t-shirt for the Fringe that Never Was), I was at the Fringe once again yesterday! I arrived a little early to meet up with my Fringe-going partner Anne Marie, and grab a Green Onion Cake (no Fringe is complete without at least one). I was very happy that the gated entry was changed to Pay-What-You-Will as I do not think I could have justified the cost otherwise as I was really just in it for the green onion cakes. I am and have always been an Innie (Indoor shows) when it comes to the Fringe, but I do understand the challenges of trying to run the Festival and wanting to compensate those outdoor artists without the increased physical contact of passing the hat. 

Anyhow, about the SHOW! I chose Destination Wedding presented by Whizgiggling Productions, directed by Trevor Schmidt and featuring Michelle Todd, Cheryl Jameson and Kristin Johnson. It was a fun show, with each of the actors playing two roles (a primary and secondary one). I chose this show because it looked fun and because of the track record of the company and the performers involved and I was not disappointed. The script is slick and witty, and the three main characters are definitely well-defined and relatable, and although they are very different from each other, it was not hard to imagine them as long-time friends. It's more than just a gathering of women over cocktails in an exotic resort, however, as there is a murder/suspicious death. Our job as audience members is to sort through the layered clues to perhaps make a decision about who did what. We don't however, get all the answers. There's an Online Poll you can do after the show to register your guess for the murderer. 

Overall, the show was fun and bitchy - with the patterns of friends who know each other well and who have entertained and irritated each other for years - and although I wanted more answers, I'm totally cool with not knowing everything. It was a great choice for my return to the Fringe!

Tickets are going fast for this one - the performance we went to was Sold Out and many of the performances left have limited availability. You can get your tickets here

Also - for those wondering about Covid Safety. The spacing was great in the venue and the line-up. Masks are required inside (except for that one table of ladies who obviously felt it wasn't required for them). There's sanitizer and masks if you forget yours. Even the line-up outside was well spaced. It was nice to see the show, laugh along with others in that special unity of an audience, and not worry about being safe. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Summer 2021 - A Return to Live #yegtheatre... tentatively... with Macbeth...


So... I saw a show this week... in person... it was outside... a return to a live theatre space. It felt good. 

On Wednesday evening, in Louise McKinney Park, I took in the Preview performance of Freewill Shakespeare's Macbeth. Responding to Covid, the company presented an adaptation written for 3 actors, which was shorter, with streamlined sets and costumes, to better fit into the Fringe and other locations. There's also a similar production of Much Ado About Nothing adapted for 5 actors, but I haven't had a chance to catch that one yet. 

It was so nice to be in an audience sharing the experience of live theatre, and this was a terrific choice as it was brisk and lively and quite funny. The three actors (Nadien Chu, Rochelle Laplante, and Laura Raboud) were skilled with the Shakespeare as well as the quick script. Three natural comedians, they played well with and off each other. Those that know Macbeth can be reassured that the essentials are covered, but this adaptation tends to lighten the more gory parts with clever songs and provide exposition in humorous ways. There's also low-risk audience participation. On the Preview night, the audience was a little rusty but once their memories were sparked they leapt in. 

Most lovely for me was seeing the three actors joyous response to the applause. I feel for all the #yegtheatre performers who have tried to serve us over the last year and a half with online performances. Finally they can hear our gratitude for the splendid art that they are creating instead of sending it out into the silent void of zoom. 

Next for me is a Fringe show. I'm finding it hard to get back to being around people so I am taking it slow. I'll see a show on Monday and if that goes well, I hope to catch a few more later in the week.

You can catch Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing at the Fringe. Click the titles for the links to tickets and showtimes. Some performances already show limited availability, so you might want to get those ticket sooner rather than later! 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Tentatively stepping back into the theatre space...

The great pause... that's what we are in, I guess, and for me and many of the people I know, the biggest shift has been the loss of live in-person theatre. For me this was huge because of the amount of shows I normally saw on a monthly/weekly basis. Even with my slowing over the last few years, the shift was noticeable. 

Prior to last night, the last show I saw was Girl in the Machine in March. I don't think I blogged about it because right afterwards everything shut down. I was due to see a show at Shadow Theatre and postponed going due to being tired (how I wish I hadn't done that). I was also mentoring a director at Walterdale and had sat in on some rehearsals just prior to it all stopping. I remember feeling at the time that this was just going to be a few months. With my work at Walterdale we had many conversations about the shows in rehearsal. One was 2 weeks from Opening, the New Works (6 one acts) had just been cast, and the July musical was set to have their first read-through. So many conversations. So many if-then plans (if we can open by this date, then we can still do the show; if we open by this date, then we can do it in concert; if we cancel by this date, then we don't lose the royalties...). At all stages those conversations were heart-breaking, challenging, The various teams were creative. Most of the New Works decided to record zoom readings of their brand new/in-development plays and we were able to share those with our membership on-line. The team for the musical also did a zoom first read-through which allowed them to celebrate the show that would-have-been and hopefully this allowed for some temporary closure for them. At this point we do not know when we will be able to do a musical again (and after reading about this community theatre production of Mamma Mia!, I think we are right to wait). At the Board level we have had many many many conversations about what opening might looks like. We struck a committee to develop a plan to make sure that when we do reopen we are safe for everyone, our members and our audiences. We are definitely erring on the side of extreme caution (we are well aware how many of our audience members fall into the high risk categories). I have said over and over "We do not need to be first!"

So that brings me to last night. Last night I went to a show, in a theatre, with live actors onstage and other people in the house. It was the Horizon Lab at the Citadel, with their first show Where are Your Stories? "You are so brave." said one friend on Facebook. It never once felt unsafe. Certainly if felt different. But compared to a trip to Safeway or Shoppers, it was so incredibly well managed. Clear, explicit directions on mask-wearing and controlled socially distanced seating. An almost religious-ceremony of baptizing our hands with sanitizer on our entry. Everyone in masks. Even the show is kept clean - with a technician sanitizing the deck and set pieces that may have been touched by actors in the previous scene. I did not feel it was bravery to go, because I never felt unsafe in the situation. 

It was so nice to be in the familiar space. To share in applause and laughter with a group of people. The zoom and other online performances have been nice, but there is something about that communion of a live audience. Even the familiar irritation at the audience member in front of my who kept looking at his phone was kind of cool, because the feeling was nostalgic (Ah! I remember this!).  

The show(s) were... interesting, thought-provoking, and generous. They were all very different as you might expect from the varied backgrounds of those involved. Some were more compelling than others. Some were better written than others, Some were better performed than others. Some I understood, and some were a bit confusing. Some were angry, some sad, and some joyful. So, all in all, it was a pretty good night for theatre. 

I hope that the future offers me more of these nights. I'm good with going slowly and safely. I'm just happy to be back in my church. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

February Theatre - And the Theme is Fight the Power!

I've taken in 3 theatrical events so far this month (2 productions, and one reading of a new work) and I am noticing a theme... it's all about fighting against oppression!

The first show I took in was 1984 at Walterdale Theatre (full disclosure: I am Board President of Walterdale). It opened last Wednesday and runs to Saturday, February 15th. The production is a striking adaptation of George Orwell's 1949 novel. I was very impressed with the striking and flawless design of the show and clear direction. It's executed cleanly by it's cast, who do an excellent job creating the dystopia of the world. As Winston Smith, Michael Anderson shifts from disillusioned party member, to brash rebel, and then to a descent into brokenness as he is defeated and tortured by the all-seeing all-knowing Big Brother-led Inner Party. I've never seen 1984 onstage before, and I recommend this production as a worthy adaptation for the stage. 1984 runs to Feb 15th and you can get tickets here.

Photo Credit: Scott Henderson, Henderson Images

I also saw The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare at Catalyst Theatre. It's about 7 women agents of subterfuge who work as a team to help defeat the Nazis in WW II. I've written a longer write-up here. I can summarize to say I loved it! Tickets are available until February 23 and you can click here to purchase them.

Photo Credit: dbphotographics

The reading I attended was at Script Salon - Anahita's Republic by AuTash. It's a piece I know well as I participated in some of the early readings and work shopping of it. It's a brilliant play written by a two Edmonton playwrights about modern day Iran and the challenges of living in a repressive society where not everyone is equal. There's much more to it than that as it also offers comment on western society, but does so in a very human way. I really hope that this piece gets picked up for production soon. I think it tells a story that everyone would benefit from hearing. It was such a delight to hear it read by such talented actors and to hear how far it has grown in the four years of it's development.

The Invisible at Catalyst Theatre - Revealing the Exceptional!

This past Friday, I was delighted to take in the latest theatrical creation from Catalyst Theatre - The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare. It tells the story of seven exceptional female operatives during World War II who risk their lives to help bring down the Nazis. It's engaging and unpredictable and full of compelling music, performed with brilliance by a cast of seven and a three piece band. It easily takes a place as one of my favourite Catalyst productions ever!

Set in 1940, in France, it's inspired by the stories of real-life Special Operations Executives (SOEs) who were tasked with sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. The SOE was the only branch where women were allowed to participate in combat roles by the Allies. The musical imagines an all-female cell, who participate in missions to bring down the enemy. They are led by Evelyn Ash (Melissa MacPherson) who recounts their history and actions in the war. MacPherson is steely and determined, a force on the stage, leading us through the ups and downs of their recruitment, training and ultimate deployment. The 6 agents she recruits are a mixed bunch, with varied citizenship, skills, and motivations for their participation. As a group, they contain the perfect blend of skills and talents to pull off multiple missions with success. Of course, the story is told through action and song, and not only are they exceptional agents, but they are also tremendous triple threat performers. Make that quadruple threat - as they all, at various times, speak in languages other than English, from French, to Polish, to Romanian, to Czech and German.

It's hard to single anyone out, as they are a well-balanced machine. I was drawn into the story, leaning in to learn what happened next.  I do have to draw attention to Tara Jackson, whose vocals are particularly amazing, especially in her jazz club number, but all seven actors are gifted singers and each is given their moment to shine. There's a real diversity in the music, and director and writer Jonathan Christenson has used the strengths of all his actors to great effect in order to tell his story. This is supported by creative choreography by Laura Krewski which moves the piece from moment to moment and place to place with precision and attack. Bretta Gerecke's design evokes the world with a sepia paper backdrop and sharp columns of light which feel almost solid. It's striking and compelling and the mood of every moment is carefully crafted.

It was the best, of course, to see this female-centric story set in a world where we are not used to seeing women - at least not in popular culture. And to see it told by such gifted artists playing characters who are not stereotypes or victims, but instead are women of agency and intelligence, was wonderful. I highly recommend this show - catch it before it's gone!

The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare presented by Catalyst Theatre, runs to February 23rd in the MacLab Theatre (Citadel). Tickets are available here.

Photo Credit: DBPhotographics

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Grabbing a Few Shows in the CCCCCOOOOLLLLDD of January... And looking forward to a warmer February!

It's tough on those theatre artists who present in January in Edmonton. Sometimes we get a mild winter and the weather doesn't affect the house size much, but when it's cold-cold-cold like it was in 2020, it can be tough to get people out of the house and into a theatre. I know it affected me a bit, but I still managed to catch a couple shows...

I took in Cost of Living earlier in January at the Citadel theatre. It closes today, so you won't be able to catch it (sorry...). It was a well-done show, if not what I expected. It told two stories - one about a PhD student with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver, and a woman who has suffered a devastating accident resulting in being confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic and her ex-husband who still loves her and comes to help care for her. The acting was excellent and all four artists gave compelling and complicated performances. It was also very cool to see Venom from The Guild (Teal Sherer) onstage in Edmonton (call me a fangirl!)! I was a little disappointed by the script, however, as it felt unfinished. It also seemed to imply that the story was more about the two able-bodied characters and how they were the more disenfranchised of the four characters, and my impression going in was that it was about all four equally. I know, it's probably just the sales messaging, but it left me going, "huh...?" Still, it was a very thought-provoking piece, and perhaps that 'huh' was what they wanted me to leave with. 

I was delighted to catch Everybody Loves Robbie at Northern Light Theatre this past month. It's closed as well, so I am terribly sorry you missed it. It was Sold Out for much of it's run and it was easy to see why. It was a delightful trip back to the high school drama class/club, told by two engaging actors (Richard Lee Hsi and Jayce MacKenzie) who both charmed the audience and broke our hearts. As a former drama kid AND high school drama teacher, I was so in love with this show. You might say I was in nostalgia overload. Ellen Chorley's script was brilliantly constructed and although it was full of highs and lows, it was truthful and engaging, supported by wonderful direction by Trevor Schmidt, who kept it flowing much in the way that high school tumbles by for a teenager. I actually hope they bring this show back. Every high school drama student (past and present) should see this show. 

Most recently (and you can still catch this one until February 9th) I saw Happy Birthday Baby J at Shadow Theatre. The story centers around a couple who are choosing to raise their child without a gender and they have invited a small group of friends and family to celebrate the child's 2nd birthday. At first it was a little challenging because I really didn't like the characters, but once I gave myself permission to laugh at them, I had a great time and I laughed A LOT. It's an interesting premise and playwright Nick Green has penned a clever script to explore the complicated world of wokeness. Gary and Louise (Chantel Perron and David Ley) feel rejected by their baby group because of their choice to raise the child without a gender, but it's really because they spend all their time Wokesplaining that no one can stand them. I've been thinking a lot about this one, and how much it says about what's wrong with 'people who think they know better than everyone else and also feel they have to tell them'. There's a cautionary tale in there, whatever you choose to do with regards to raising your own children. There's a lot more going on in the show beyond the question of gender, as it also throws in race, social media, relationships, and the complications of family and friendships. 

Anyhow, that was January... I'm looking forward to a warmer February with more shows. I already have 4 lined up for the next two weeks! I'll be back to tell you about those in a few... 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Like the Stars Above, SILENT SKY Sparkles with wit and wonder!

Last night, Walterdale Theatre kicked off their 61st Season with Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, and directed by Kim Mattice Wanat. (Full Disclosure: I am President of the Walterdale Theatre Board of Directors). It is a lovely show, with a charming ensemble who tell the story beautifully. There is a lot of humour, music, and above-all wonder at the universe and awe in those that pursue knowledge. It's the kind of wonder that brings tears to your eyes and indeed there were a number of audience members wiping away that evidence as the lights came up. It's also quite beautiful to see - indeed magical - thanks to the set and lighting by designer Beyata Hackborn.

It was a wonderful way to kick off the season!

Silent Sky runs to October 12 at Walterdale Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit: Henderson Images -