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Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Real" Children's Theatre... AKA Drama Camp

Gibson's Class - Attention for their Teacher!
The boys both took part in Drama Camp at The Foote Theatre School this past week.  I have had them in The Foote for various classes over the years and have always been very pleased with the curriculum and delivery, but this was one of the best yet.  I really appreciated the work as demonstrated in the final presentations on the final day and because it was Good Friday it meant that Mark also got to see the shows.  This time they split up the presentations so it was just the friends and families of the presenting class so the audience groups were smaller and everyone had a nice close seat where we could see and hear everything.  The shows were also great fun.  Oliver was in the 11-14 Comedy and Laughter Class and he had a great time.  I wasn't sure how it would go for him because he was definitely one of the younger kids in the group, but the great thing about drama kids is that they are so accommodating so you don't have to worry about age ranges as much.  Their show was about 'School' and both they and the audience had a lot of fun with it.  Oliver has had the instructor, Eileen Sproule, before and really likes her style.  I do too.  I can tell that she works really well with the age and I was really impressed with the work she did with them.  Gibson's group was the 8-11 Acting Class.  They did a presentation on Space and Aliens and it was ever so cute.  His instructors, Andrew Ritchie and Josh Languedoc, also did a fabulous job and I was really impressed with how well the younger group knew their story and 'choreography' as well as their lines and characters.  I was most happy because this was the first year that Gibson didn't seem nervous about presenting and he was actually excited about it.  He is quite talented but has bad nerves and whatever those guys did, he didn't seem nervous at all. I am glad that I got the boys into the camp (I literally waited until the last minute).  I used to have them in the Saturday classes but the introduction of basketball into our year and it's unpredictable game schedule meant that I couldn't do that the last two years.  However, I am so pleased with the week long camps and I think the continuity of the camps works well in a different way than the regular camp that I am glad I have that option. I am hoping to put them in for a week in the summer in between their U of A Sports Camps.
Oliver's Class - Low Status Pose!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Cow! That Kid Can Dance! Billy Elliot at the Jube...

On Saturday Night we saw Billy Elliot at the Jubilee as part of the Broadway Across Canada series.  Although I have seen part of the movie I was not familiar with the musical so I was in for a bit of a treat in discovery.  They have been running commercials on TV for the past month so I was familiar with a few bars of one song but not much else musically.  It was a great night of theatre.  This is a show that is really about dance and it sure did that well from all in the cast with the lead, Billy Elliot, as a phenomenal stand-out.  There are four Billys with the tour.  We saw Ben Cook. I was floored at what this kid could do.  Not only was he an amazing dancer, but he was also a wonderful actor with a lovely singing voice. It blows me away that they have four of them! That one kid could do all that so well is amazing, but to have four! Wow!  There are other talented members in the cast, both young and old.  I particularly liked Sam Poon as Michael and Janet Dickinson as Mrs. Wilkinson. Now I do admit, there is not much of the music that has stayed with me, but it was tuneful and in places quite epic but it was the dancing I was watching and it was awesome!

A side note: I am better rested now as I caught a few more hours of sleep this afternoon to compensate for my sleepless night last night. I also spent an hour fiddling with the schedule and I feel less stressed about that.  I'm a problem solver and a people pleaser and both of those tend to make me more stressed at times as I take in the challenge of a musical.  The sheer size of the casts and structure of the shows often leads to major challenges with scheduling.  I am not sure everyone involved realizes that.

Late Night Posting... Insomnia

Right now it's 4:39 a.m.

This is not a good thing.  I should be sleeping.  I almost was, but the snoring kept me from going completely out.  I don't blame Mark, he is sick and there have been many nights when I have kept him awake with my snoring.  I moved rooms but I have a hard time with other mattresses and to be honest my mind has been quite awake after an unintentionally stressful rehearsal.  For the last month we have been focusing on choreography as that is when the schedules have allowed for it so it has meant a very jam packed month with a lot of moves for the cast to learn.  For me, it was a lot of being there but the focus was not on my stuff.  That's okay, but I do prefer to layer choreography in earlier and interspersed with scene work so that there is a little more time between rehearsals for the actors to reinforce the moves and at the same there is time where I am working with them on scenes so that the continuity and structure of my rehearsal pattern is maintained.  I think my cast has handled it well, but the problem with the month intensive (12 rehearsals - a lot of choreography) is that I worry they will feel overwhelmed in the right now.  I know and they know we are still over a month out and we will have plenty of time to practice it all and clean it and get to the point where it is second nature, but it the moment it can feel like a lot. Also, I will be honest, the schedules suck. People are busy and have lives and go on vacation or have work conflicts or get sick or have other commitments and that means they miss.  We haven't really had the time to fill in the missing bodies to the degree that I would have liked and I think for those who now have to catch up it might be intimidating.  And I, sponge like director that I am, am sucking in all that apprehension and stress. I have my own stress about schedules.  I have had many people tell me that I am too nice, but I honestly believe that if a person comes to me with a conflict that it is a legitimate conflict, however, it starts to add up for me.  Every request piles up and I start to worry - will we ever have everyone in the same room? Right now we do, on paper, and I have all these TBAs that I am hoping we won't need, but without all the bodies being there I need to keep them in reserve so that I can be sure that we will have the most amazing show.  Which means more rehearsals for everyone, instead of fewer.  With this cast we should have the most phenomenal show.  The talent is in the room. So I want to make sure that I do my part to get them there.  I also sensed that a couple of the cast were not having a great time tonight.  I think I have a high empathy level and for some of them I knew there was stuff going on (not to do with their show per se) so I could feel that a few people were having a less than fabulous time.  I checked in with a couple of them - and felt the stress of not being able to make things better. So I have lain awake for the past few hours tumbling all this stress over in my brain, knowing that I can't own it all and hoping that the arising conflicts stop rolling in and that all will be well and that perhaps Mark will stop snoring soon so I can go back to my bed.

Right now it's 5:01 a.m. I am so glad that the kids are in camp tomorrow. I don't think I would be able to deal with them at home after I have only had 2 1/2 hours of sleep...

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Trip to the World of Shakespeare... Wonderful Storytelling...

Yesterday afternoon I took in When That I Was at Shadow Theatre.  Solo actor Christopher Hunt plays Jack Rice, nephew of Will Shakespeare, recounting his days int he theatre at the height of Shakespeare's career.  We were treated to a multitude of characters and stories as Hunt shifted seamlessly from queen to playwright to Earl, all as they were seen through the eyes of his younger self. I was very impressed with the tightness of the production.  Hunt himself is a gifted story-teller from within the piece.  I must commend the brilliant lighting design (Terry Gunvordahl) which works so well with Hunt to create the quick shifts in time and space seamlessly sweeping the audience up in the story.  There are many, many fascinating characters in the play, all played by Hunt as Jack Rice.  We see Shakespeare in love and jealous and disappointed and resigned. We meet Kemp and Burbage and other actors of the troupe.  We even meet Queen Elizabeth.  It's a great piece for those who love the Bard, for those who love theatre, for those who appreciate the history of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras into the Puritans, and for those who love a great story-teller.  It also had a few subtle underlying comments about censorship and the political role of artists.  It is on at Shadow Theatre until March 24th so catch it if you can.

On Saturday night I attended a very different evening of storytelling. I caught the APN reading of Secrets by new playwright Jacqueline Dumas.  It was wonderful to hear the whole play read bu two wonderful actors, Alison Wells and Gisele Lemire.  There is something very cool about being able to hear the development of a play as it moves on its journey to completion.  I was in a writing circle with Jacqueline in the Spring and have really enjoyed watching the progress of the piece.  It blows me away that this is her first play. I hope to see it fully staged someday soon!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Something Wicked... at the U of A Drama Department

Last night I took in the 3rd BFA Class production of MacBeth in Corner Stage.  For the class it is technically an acting course, but there was nothing classroom-like about the production.  For little or no production costs Director Ron Jenkins managed to put together a tight piece with fantastic lighting, sound and costumes (designed by Victoria Krawchuk).  I went for a number of reasons.  MacBeth is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, I know many of the cast members from other productions and classes, and I know the fight choreographer, Janine Hodder, very well and wanted to see what she had done with the numerous sword fights in the piece.  I was blown away!  Yes, she's my friend, but I can comment here - there is some fantastic fighting in this show and it is up and down and all around - on tables, up and down stairs, fast and layered and I was so impressed (as were the people I saw it with!).  I know that she has really enjoyed working with this class and for some of the more complicated fighting sequences she has some actors who are physically skilled and enthusiastic and they sold it. I look forward to seeing more from her with or without the swords.  I think because Janine is also an actor and director she understands that the fights have to fit within the piece and maintain the momentum.  I have seen too many fights in theatre where the show feels like it stops while the actors have a little fight and then resume after the fight finishes.  That does not happen here - instead the fights push the tension higher and higher.  Very cool and very exciting to watch. I loved a lot of the directorial choices that Ron Jenkins made.  The Witches are creepily childlike and erotic, the relationship between MacBeth and the Lady (Neil Kuefler and Georgia Irwin the night I saw it - it switches) is highly sexualized and you can see their connection.  This is a strong class overall and it really showed.

On the drive home I reflected a bit on the phenomenal educational opportunities for a student in the University of Alberta Drama program.  This was a free theatre experience (sign-up and then donations welcome) and technically anyone can go to them.  There are several of these throughout the year that students can watch.  Even the productions that they would have to pay for are ridiculously inexpensive for a student (or regular adult for that matter).  So not only do the performing students (whether BFAs, MFAs, or BAs) get an opportunity to develop their skills on the stage, but those in the audience have their education further rounded out in the watching of the shows.  When I got my degree many, many moons ago (let's say around 20 years ago) this was the case.  For me, watching these shows which ranged in production value from neutral pieces to full designs taught me that I would rather see a well acted and emotionally committed show on a bare stage than a show with all the bells and whistles that was emotionally absent.  I was thankful that while I was completing a B.Ed. in Sciences I had a roommate in the BA Drama program who knew about this stuff and I got to see it.  I certainly think that any Drama student, whether in Arts or Education, who is not attending the productions on hand in the department is seriously undervaluing the benefit of those experiences in their education, and I encourage those who love theatre who might be in a different faculty to check them out.  It won't cost you anything!

In the spirit of more Free Theatre - tonight I will be attending the following:

Secrets by Jacqueline Dumas
March 16, 2013 7:30pm
PCL Studios, Fringe Theatre Adventures-10330- 84 Ave.
Admission by donation

Meet Maria Goretti and Pauline, sisters who haven’t spoken in the 45 years since their father died under mysterious circumstances. They reunite as their mother is on her death bed. Can they finally share their secrets and become sisters again? What has really kept them apart for so many years?
Secrets is a sequel of sorts to Madeleine and the Angel, Dumas’ 1989 award-winning novel of 1950’s franco-Alberta. Forty-five years later: what has become of the two sisters?

I was in a Playwright's Circle last spring with playwright Jacqueline Dumas and I loved this piece.  I caught a sneak peek of it last weekend at Skirts AFire and I am interested in seeing where it has evolved to. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Kite Runner - A Chance to be Good Again...

Last night I took my Mom to see The Kite Runner at The Citadel Theatre. Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini it tells the story of two young boys in Afghanistan during the 1970s and the impact of the events of the country's history on their friendship.  It is also a story about making amends and forgiving yourself for past wrongs.

The production is beautiful and rich in sensory elements.  It has the right feel for part of the world it portrays and rather than go with a very concrete realistic stage Director Eric Rose's production has instead wisely chosen a more abstract and flexible design (Set and Lighting Design - Kerem Cetinel).   It works well as the scenes shift quickly from place to place and time to time in Amir's (Anousha Alamian) memory as he narrates. Sound also plays an important role in the production - with a live musician onstage (Salar Nader) complimenting the Sound Design of Matthew Waddell.  It is stunning to both see and hear and the repeated images of the kites are simply gorgeous.

Since I have read the book, I did have to adjust to the stage production from the novel, but once I let go of the expectations I came in with, I was able to immerse myself in it.  Alamian acts primarily as narrator in the first act - committed to his memories with the retrospection and self-doubt of an adult looking back - and he and his younger counter-part, Conor Wylie, are well-matched.  They even stand the same way.  When the story shifts to the adult Amir immersed in the action of the second act it is smooth and feels right in the transition.  Overall the ensemble is very strong.  Alamian runs his marathon of a show with good pace and sensitivity.  You believe that this is his story. Additional stand-outs for me are Michael Peng as Baba and Norman Yeung as Hassan.  There are a few times when the background action from the supporting characters gets a little too broad (Was everyone in 1980s San Fransisco a crazy character? Do men really play with their mustaches that much?) and these distracted me from what I should be watching.  Perhaps it was just the desire to be committed to the action onstage, but I really felt some of the background needed to blend in more instead of standing out and distracting from the main action. Despite that minor issue, I was emotionally caught up in the piece, tearing up in the final scene and taking joy in the spirit of forgiveness and hope for the future.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Whirlwind Weekend! ... Next!

Had a great time this weekend rushing from thing to thing.  The boys took up a significant portion as they usually do, but with one organizing a play date for Friday evening and the other having a bowling party on Saturday afternoon it meant that I couldn't see as much as I wanted. Oh well, it happens and I can't really complain because I do get out to a lot of things. Plus I was happy to see them both engaging positively with their peers and since I didn't have to do much more than be there it was all good.

It did make for a bit of running around.  After Mark got home from work on Saturday I scooted off to catch some of the Skirts AFire Festival. I was treated to a magic show by Billy Kidd and then a reading of a work under development (Her Story) by Annette Loiselle and Nadien Chu.  It might be the playwright in me, but I really love play readings.  I also have a very strong visual imagination so I am not bothered by not having a full set and all the blocking.  Plus with the strength of the local talent for actors, I have rarely been disappointed with the presentation. The reading was compelling and I am curious to see its future development.  I know, as a playwright, that the opportunity to hear your work read in front of an audience can tell you a lot about where it needs to go next so I hope that these two ladies got what they needed from it.

Sunday was it's usual madness.  I took the boys to piano then met Mark for lunch and did the switch so I could head off to Peep Show and my play reading. I was ever so pleased with the reception of my piece and have so many idea of where to go next with it.  I was also delighted with the line up of work. It was wonderful to hear five strong and varied pieces by all the writers.  Some of the pieces were comedies, some were dramas, all five had a strong individual voice.  I am thankful to the actors - Karyn Mott, Lora Brovold, Alison Wells, and John Ullyat - for their great work in bringing the text alive.  And I am also thankful to Tracy Carroll who acted as both dramaturge and director and was a wonderful resource int he process.  As well, I am so happy to hear that Skirts AFire will definitely be on the go next year.  It was a great opportunity and based on the turn-out at the events I attended, it is a festival that people want to go to! Following Peep Show was a Closing Concert by Colleen Brown.  She was delightful and the final song of Bird on A Wire was simply beautiful.  A nice end.

Then off to my rehearsal and finally, several hours later, home to bed!  A busy time!

I also heard about the following upcoming events and encourage you to check out one or more of them:

Friday, March 08, 2013

International Women's Day - I think Edmonton Holds it's Own!

Thinking about International Women's Day - mostly because Facebook and Twitter have it plastered all over the place - and realized that I feel Edmonton really holds it's own at least in theatre.  With Skirts AFire holding it's first ever herArts Festival this weekend and the Expanse Movement Arts Festival - both with exceptional involvement from women in the performance and organization (read: behind the scenes) areas - I think we are in a good place.  Would I like more female ADs of the principal theatre companies?  Probably, but I also think that we have some great movers and shakers who are women in the field and I think we have some great male ADs that recognize the talent that lives here and they do not let gender make their decisions for them.  I could be wrong in that, but I seem to see a lot of women in arts management in the city.  These are smart, sharp and invested women who know how to get things done. What makes me feel we have the right attitude it is that I'd like to think that people here in Edmonton want to work people who are good, not just people who fit a certain set of arbitrary requirements.  I am excited to see what Amy DeFelice, Tracy Carroll, Ellen Chorley, Marianne Copithorne, Maralyn Ryan, Belinda Cornish, Coralie Cairns,  Brette Gereke, Beth Graham, Mieko Ouchi, Annette Loiselle, Nicole Moeller, Nadien Chu, Joan Hawkins, Elena Porter, Rebecca Merkley, Kayla Gorman, Amanda Neufeld, Andrea Beca, Erika Noot, Barb Mah, Karen Mott, Lora Brovold, Amanda Bergen, Michelle Kennedy and many, many other great women create for Edmonton audiences. And I am excited to see what the boys do, too! It's a good place to be in.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Finally Writing... Feels Good...

It is no secret - I write to deadlines and from feedback.  So, luckily I have had both to motivate me in the past few weeks.  I was happy to hear that one of the scripts that I submitted for the First Annual Skirts AFire - herArts Festival - Peep Show was selected.  The selection of The Easy Road (which I wrote at last Fringe's Play in a Day) led to a great meeting with Dramaturge Tracy Carroll and gave me the impetus to write a new draft to get ready to submit to the APC (Alberta Playwriting Competition). This was a bit of a challenge as the deadline of March 1st means that I am torn between getting T4s done and working on my writing!  Every year the same thing happens and one of those things I kind of have to do or else Canada Revenue and our employees would be ticked off at me!  Anyhow, I managed to finish a new draft and send it off.

In preparation for Peep Show, we are using the original submitted draft because some of the structural changes would make the new draft a challenge.  I get to sit in on the rehearsal this Thursday and will hear three fabulous local actresses bring it to life on Sunday afternoon.  There are a few other scripts in Peep Show which showcase some of the fabulous female playwrights in Edmonton.  I think it will be a great afternoon of theatrical teasers!

Here are the details on the event:


March 10, 2013 2:00pm
Alberta Avenue Community League- 9210-118 Ave.

Glimpse into the future of SkirtsAFire and the Edmonton arts scene through a tease of new plays presented in partnership with Alberta Playwrights Network.

Five exciting new plays by five fantastic female playwrights:

Marathon/Sprint by Heather Morrow
Going, Going, Gone by Jana O’Connor
Secrets by Jacqueline Dumas
Last Chance Leduc by Katherine Koller
The Easy Road by Kristen Finlay

Our ensemble of actors:
John Ullyat
Lora Brovold
Karyn Mott
Alison Wells

For more information check out the website:

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Fantastic Sounds - CD Release Party for Lesley Pelletier

Last night I took a little break from theatre to attend the CD Release Party for Lesley Pelletier's new CD Turn Down the Lights at Fiddler's Roost.  It was a great night of music and visiting with my good friend Julie who took me as her guest, and I was doubly pleased to leave with one of the new CDs to listen to.  I have known Lesley ever since I did the show Baby with her a few years ago.  I have known her mother Judy Stelck even longer and I had a great time visiting with her as well.

The music - well, you can hear some of it here on her website.  The album is fully produced with a band, while the website is mostly just Lesley with guitar, but it still gives you a great idea of what her sound is.  It is music that requires a strong singer, which Lesley certainly is.  She has one of those full bodied voices that can belt as well as soar and which can express a variety of emotions.  Lesley also wrote all the songs on the CD and what impressed me most is that they are all so unique.  Some writers have very little variety of sound, but not Lesley - some are whimsical, some rocking, some bluesy, some sad - and all have distinctness that make them worth the listen. In a world of auto tune it was truly refreshing to hear this fabulous talent performing live.

If you check out the songs and want to get a copy you can buy them at Tix on the Square (in Winston Churchill Square). The website linked above probably also has information on where you can get them, too. I recommend!