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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My First Sterlings!

This Monday night I attended the 26th Annual Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards which celebrate professional theatre in Edmonton.  I have never gone before, but have known many who do and who have been nominated but I never quite felt that it was something I would feel at home at.  Boy, was I wrong! I was delighted to know at least half of the people in the room, if not more, and to regard those people as friends. That was a delightful surprise.  So why go this year? I went this year because I have seen so many shows this year that I actually felt invested in them. Doesn't that sound weird?  But it's true, having sat in those audiences watching those performances and seeing those effects and production elements, I wanted to celebrate the nominees and the winners.

Everyone looked fabulous.  I am not just saying that.  Edmonton's theatre community is phenomenally good looking.  It is hard to pick a best dressed, but there were some amazingly gorgeous women there.  I wish I had pictures (and if I find some I will post), but my favourites for most stunning include Kristi Hansen, Lora Brovold, host Amy Shostak, Melissa Thingelstad, Shannon Blanchet, Erika Noot, Sarah Van Tassel, Jessica Peverett, and Liz Nicholls.  There were many, many more, but those ones stand out for me.  It was a a beautiful night all around!  The men looked good too, but it's harder for me to list those.  Not only good looking, this is also a community of truly nice people.  I was sitting with my friend, Catherine, and as we would see someone go up or walk by, we would comment on how nice they were.  Either she or I would lean in, "She's such a lovely person", or "He's a sweetheart."  It shouldn't be surprising to me that these talented people are also so generous of spirit, but it was something I noticed when we were all in the room.

I am not going to list all the nominees and winners. You can find that here. I'd rather talk about the evening as a whole!

I loved the authenticity of the winners in their responses to their wins.  Melissa Thingelstad's acceptance speech touched me deeply.  She carried this joy about what she does and that poured from her with good humour and honesty.  I want to feel the way she does about what I do. I will be striving for that this year.  I also loved Ellen Chorley's tickled pink gushing about her wins.  It was lovely to see her celebrating with a spirit of immense gratitude and surprise. Kudos to her, the hardest working person I know out there! Matthew Hulshof was a delight and his speech was a wonderful tribute to the joys of TYA.  Jesse Gervais was just ridiculously funny.  There were jokes about puppies in commercials, Baby Jesse, and fathers who'd disown daughters if they forgot to thank them.  We were treated to fantastic musical performances by Julian Arnold, Kendra Connor, Jason Hardwick, Eric Wigston, Garrett Ross, Maddie Knight and John Ullyatt. There were a lot of wonderful authentic moments.

It's interesting, because although I might have voted for different winners in certain categories, it hit home for me the whole 'it's an honour to by nominated' because as I looked at the nominees for all the categories I could see why each one of them was up there on the list.  Initially I thought there were some curious omissions (e.g. Michael Peng in An Accident, Lorne Cardinal in Where the Blood Mixes) but then I thought, "But who would they replace?" The lists overall were strong and it is a testament to the depth of Edmonton's theatre community that we have this kind of playing field. So I could celebrate those who won, knowing that there was a level of excellence and while I might have chosen differently, comparing theatre is always going to be apples to oranges so it's best to let the accountants do their work and leave it at that.

That said, I was overjoyed at Theatre Network's Let The Light of Day Through winning Best Play and best New Work.  How wonderful to have a New Alberta Work win best play.  As those of you who read my blog know, this was the show that blew me away this season, so it was my emotional favourite.  It was also the winner of the APC last year so we at APN are extremely proud of how well it's done.  It's nice to have something you champion do so well! A wonderful end to a wonderful evening!

I hope to see as much theatre this season so that I can go as informed next year!

Friday, June 21, 2013

When the Boys are Away... The Mom plans her Calendar!

My kids have gone fishing with their Grandpa this weekend up North at Grist Lake.  As a result the house is very quiet.  It feels weird.  I realized that when the kids are home I am always "on" and with them being gone I feel this void of intent.  It was weird this afternoon when I realized that I didn't have to get home at any particular time and I kind of lost focus.  I dream of having time to myself but there I was, with time to myself, and I hadn't planned to do anything so I was just wandering aimlessly... Ha ha ha... If I hadn't been so busy leading up to them going today I might have planned to do some of the things I want to do, like write... It was a lost opportunity but it was also very interesting to see where my brain went without the overriding focus of the kids to power it.

Anyhow, I took the time to map out the calendar for my upcoming theatre and other things. It's all on my iPad but it needs to be transferred to the Big Calendar.  I have Freewill Players Lear and Midsummer, Walterdale's Anything Goes, rehearsals for Death Comes to Auntie Norma (Fringe) and production meetings for Proof. It sounds like a lot, but it's spaced out nicely and hopefully this kid-free weekend will help me relax as I enter summer.

Maybe I will see you at some of the shows?

Checking in with the Girls at Full Monty...

Yesterday was a grumpy day for me.  Some emails turned a lovely day into a really annoying one.  I mastered the delete button and tried to keep it at bay, but the 'issue' was literally something that would have been solved in less than 5 minutes by anyone in the building (that's how long it took me to do it after I drove across the city). Anyhow, now I am getting myself worked up again. It's a lump in the oatmeal... I'll survive!

Anyhow, after that I attended a fabulous meeting of the Fringe Artist's Relations Committee.  I am excited for this year's festival and the team has some great energy and ideas that I think will be great for both artists and audiences!  Best new thing - a Fringe iphone App! Look it up - Edm Fringe.  A lot of the information is forthcoming as schedules are not finalized, but you can already tell how awesome this is going to be in application! Play in a Day is also returning - yay! I really liked the energy in the room as we talked of awards, and closing ceremonies and artist accessibility for feedback.  Also in the works are workshops and forums and all sorts of good things!

The day was rounded out by a date with the lovely ladies, Anne Marie Szucs and Sally Hunt, to see The Full Monty. It was great to hang out and visit with AM and Sally.  AM was at the Tony Award Ceremonies in NY so we got to hear about that (how incredibly exciting!) and the shows that she saw. Sally and I haven't seen each other since Spelling Bee closed so it was great to see her and talk about potential future projects.  I still miss the Bees! The three of us had fun - chair dancing during the scene changes and figuring out when to cover our eyes so we didn't see any of the 'bits'. Show highlights? I absolutely loved my friend Francie Goodwin-Davies as the chain smoking Jeanette.  I swear, with Francie in that role, you could base a whole show on that character.  She was hysterical and literally stole the show for me.  I was also blown away by Orville Charles Cameron as Horse.  Not only did he have amazing vocals, but an incredible stage presence.  His number, Big Black Man, was outstanding.  The third highlight for me was David Johnston as the awkward Malcolm singing You Walk With Me at his mother's funeral.  I have worked with David before and know that he has no trouble going big, but it was this beautiful, tender and quiet song that really impressed me.  It is not easy to take it down and have it pay-off as an actor in a musical, but he did, and it is simply lovely.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Date Night with Martin Dubé, oh, and my husband...

This past Monday, we received tickets from our Investor's Group Rep to go see Martin Dubé, an Impersonator.  Mark and I had seen Mr. Dubé perform in Fort McMurray years ago at one of the Keyano Galas and we remembered him as being quite entertaining so we did a bit of transportation juggling so that we could catch the show.  It was in the beautiful Winspear Centre and we got exceptional seats (4th row centre!) so we sat back and enjoyed the show.  Now, for those of you who know me, an Impersonator is not my usual cup of tea.  Many years the Investor's Group show is a Stand-Up Comedian and I usually pass on those (Mark still went but he would bring a friend instead of me), but because I remembered the show being fun from before and because mark and I haven't had a chance to go out much together lately I made it happen.

Anyhow, about the show... It was very good and tight. I watch this kind of a show the way you would a Cirque du Soleil show.  It is not about the character arc, or story or connection, but more about just saying "Wow! How do they do that?!?!" There is a very cabaret feel, and some of the jokes are a bit cheesy, but it isn't the punchlines that bring you to a show like this.  It is the 5 octaves and extreme malleability of Mr. Dubé's voice.  He goes further than just the vocal acrobatics, like all truly good impersonators, incorporating in physical mannerisms and dance moves.  This is a guy who can go from Willie Nelson, to Louis Armstrong, to Celine Dion, to Maria Callas to Josh Groban in mere seconds.  It was pretty impressive.

Mark and I also had a great time out.  The last 10 minutes of the show had us up on our feet dancing and being pretty silly.  He had a tough day and I think the evening out made up for it.  And while this isn't my usual or preferred entertainment option, I did enjoy myself.  I am also happy that the kids are getting older so that we can do these couple things more often without shelling out a tonne for babysitters.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do You Like Improv?

So when I was in Toronto, my sister took me to an Improv Show at the Soul Pepper Theatre.  The performers were from The National Theatre of the World and I had a great time.  I forgot how fun Improv can be.  You see, I get so busy with my theatre and play-going, that I haven't gone to Improv for a long time.  Which I know is sad, considering I live in the same city as Rapid Fire Theatre.  Now that the kids are getting a little older, I am going to try and make it out to some!

So, for those of you who like Improv, or for those of you who have never gone, I encourage you to check out Improvaganza put on by Rapid Fire Theatre which starts tomorrow and runs until the 29th of June. That's 10 DAYS of Improv! Every year at Improvaganza, Rapid Fire Theatre hosts improvisers from across Canada, North America and beyond. Rapid Fire Theatre hosts the best comedy acts they can find, plus Theatresports matches, radio shows, workshops with amazing artists, and tons of social events too.  It sounds like a lot of fun!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Projects - Death Comes to Auntie Norma and Proof!

The other evening we had our first real rehearsal for the Fringe show I am directing, Death Comes to Auntie Norma.  As I inherited the majority of the cast from a previous production it was also a bit of a meet and greet for me.  I love beginning a new project and it was fun to read it through with the cast and hear their voices in the roles.  I wrote notes in my script and ticked off places where I got ideas and generally it got me charged up about it which is a very good thing! I have to admit that with the completion of my last two projects and then my trip out East I kind of shut off my drive so the read was just what I needed to get myself geared up.

After the read through - we started working.  I used the system that my friend AM taught me that she learned from her time at Seacoast Studios with Scott Swann.  It is always fun to start this process with people who have never tried it before.  There is a look of fear at the beginning and then by the end of the rehearsal everyone is just playing and trying new things and listening and revelling in making discoveries.  I think this foundation will be a good place for which to work as it is a strange thing to come in after another Director and re-direct a show.  I am not sure how much will change, but I do know that I am doing more than just recreating what has happened before, otherwise there is not much point to having me there! I would like to make a contribution...

Spurred by the creative energy of that night I took another look at my Audition Notice for Proof at Walterdale Theatre It will go out in a a few weeks after the Dracula Auditions finish up so I wanted to make sure that they were all in place. I am excited to have a pretty full team of great people who I know will make my life easier! I am still looking for an Assistant Director so if anyone is interested...

Friday, June 14, 2013

This Simplifying Stuff Takes A Lot of Time!

Since returning from my trip I started work on a project that has been a long time coming - purging the garage!  It's a complete mess as it has become the repository for any stuff we just need to move out of the house.  It's also complicated by the fact that someone in our house likes to buy stuff that they think they might need someday and that person also has a philosophy of if one thing is good, three must be better.  Let's just say they are wrong on that.  So, periodically, to counter-act the accumulation of stuff I do some culling.  It has been far too long, however, since the last cull and the accumulation is troubling.  However, I did some good work this week.  I took a bunch of things to Goodwill and threw out a bunch of other things and actually managed to clear some shelf space (yay!). There is a lot more to do.  I think when I have done my culls in the past I have primarily focused on my own things to reduce, and this has been an error as I wasn't really the problem (except for purses, but I am working on that). Anyhow, I can see it is going to take a lot more time, but I think that I have made a good start.

The thing that kills me when I do this is the amount of duplication we have in there.  We know we own something - a tool or some such - but we can't find it, so another one gets purchased.  So know we have two.  Also, I am frustrated by the waste.  I have found food items dated 2007 and although they might have been a good deal at the time of purchase, 6 years later they are just garbage.  Sigh. I am working on it. There is a limit to how much I can do each day because the dust starts to kill me after a few hours, but I am making progress.

So this is the goal: By the end of summer have a garage that has stuff in it, but stuff that you can find and access so that multiples are not purchased.  It's a big goal and the biggest thing will be training someone not to buy more stuff, but they may find me giving it all away on the sidewalk if they keep doing that so I advise a change in behaviour.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Lovely Trip to the East! And Stratford!

I got back yesterday from my trip to Toronto to visit my sister.  It was a lovely visit, although damp, and it was much needed.  It was great to see a few friends from the way back as well as my sister and her husband.  One of the highlights of the trip was a short road trip to the Stratford Festival where we caught Tommy and Fiddler on the Roof.  I have been to Stratford before, but hadn't realized how close to Toronto it was.  The 2 hour drives there and back were great opportunities for more visiting with my sis and we made the most of it.

The Shows:

We saw Tommy on Friday evening after driving up and checking into our cute bed and breakfast, The Artful Lodger. I was really geared up to see this show because Robert Markus was playing Tommy and as you probably know from my reviews of Next to Normal (Citadel) and The Rocky Horror Show (Citadel) I am a definite fan.  He and the show did not disappoint!  From the first chord of the show you knew you were seeing something spectacular.  The sets (50% projections) were amazing and the costumes and concepts just brilliant.  It was a super tight show and it built from start to finish.  Overall the production was amazing with everyone rising to the challenge of what was asked of them.  It was a tight, tight ensemble, but I did want to comment on a few performances.  I loved Robert Markus as Tommy along with his two younger versions.  I am not sure which actors were playing those roles on the night we saw it, but I was really impressed with them. My sister was as well, saying that Markus made the show for her. Together, the three of them were very cohesive as one character. I also loved Jeremy Kushnier as Captain Walker.  What a voice!  I will keep my ear out for any future opportunities to see and hear him in a show. Paul Nolan was terrific fun as Cousin Kevin and Steve Ross was delightfully slimy as wicked Uncle Ernie.  This was definitely one show that earned it's almost instantaneous standing ovation.

After a lovely night in our B&B, we took in the Saturday matinee of Fiddler on the Roof.  It was also very well done.  However, I realized that like Sound of Music, Fiddler is on my list of shows I have seen too many times.  Since I have been in the show twice (once as Golde and once as Grandma Tzeitel) I had very little sense of surprise or wonder.  That being said, I do feel this was an exceptionally strong production.  For someone not as familiar with the show as I am I think they would be blown away.  Scott Wentworth is a funny and accessible Tevye and he anchored the show effortlessly. I also feel that doing Fiddler in a Thrust theatre is the absolute best way to do the show.  You feel as though you are part of the village and the staging lends itself to the circular patterns of choreography that feel so right for the show. Of the supporting cast, I connected the most with Jennifer Stewart as Tzeitel, Keely Hutton as Chava and Paul Nolan as Fyedka, but here again was a super tight ensemble so it is hard to pick.  They were a true little village onstage!

All in all it was a wonderful time in Stratford.  I am hoping to be able to make more visits and see more shows there, if not this season, then next!


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Just a quick post from the road!

Made it safely to Toronto last night after an uneventful plane ride, which my brother-in-law assured me are the best kinds of plane rides! A nice supper and commencement of the visiting with my sister started immediately! It is wet here - raining a lot - and I discovered that I packed optimistically with only one pair of long pants.  Everything else is capris or skirts.  So I will head out to Yonge-Eglinton Centre tomorrow to look for warmer clothes and more socks. I fully intended to be in sandals the whole time! Ha ha ha!

Anyhow, I had a great pedicure this morning while Annemarie was at work and then we met up with friends for supper.  I connected with my university roommate Jackie and met Annemarie's friend Sarah and Sarah's mother Jan.  It was a great, if quick, visit with Jackie who looks as though she has not aged a day since university. She is an actress and has just started rehearsing for her upcoming Fringe show, Mo and Jess Kill Susie.  I wish I were here in July to see it!

After dinner Annemarie, Sarah, Jan and I headed to the Soulpepper to see The National Theatre of the World Improv show Script Tease.  It's a long form improv show where they get two pages of a script from a playwright sight unseen, start the play and then finish it. Before they start they chat with the audience and get details that they weave in with the narrative.  It was exceptional! So much fun and such a high level of performance.  The improv was smart and clever and both improvisers were so connected.  Afterwards they had a talk back with the improvisors, Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus, and the playwright, Guillermo Verdecchia. A very cool evening! I recommend checking it out as every night is different with different plays from seven playwrights.

Tomorrow - Stratford and Tommy! So excited!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Two Kids With P.A.T.'s - I stress...

So, I have kids who are three grade levels apart.  What that means is that every three years they will both be writing P.A.T.s (Provincial Achievement Tests).  As a former grade nine teacher I am all too familiar with these.  For me as a teacher, it was always about trying to figure out from the results how I could teach my kids better. For me as a parent, it becomes something completely different.  I have written before that I have been very frustrated by the Elementary School reporting system.  I find it useless to me in terms of evaluating my children at least as a communication tool.  I have my own observations of my kids, and I want to be able to help them achieve and learn better, but the evaluations seemed more based on "Goal Setting Booklets" that I have to fill out with my kid or whether or not I sign off on their reading than on actually evaluating what they can and cannot do.  My kingdom for a Rubric or a list of acquired Curriculum Objectives! Anyhow, the idiocy of the report cards and reporting methods (all the Parent Teacher meetings are student-led and never is there an opportunity to look at their marks on things and marks seemed to be more tied to behaviour than actual cognitive measures) made me curious about how much they do know.  I know that in the big scheme of things elementary grades mean nothing, but I still want to be sure they are both developing cognitively as they should be and I must admit my expectations are on the high side.  So, today we investigated the website that the school provided for practicing for P.A.T.s.  Oliver has done a few practice Math ones and is working on his second Reading Comprehension one and it has highlighted some gaps.  I think that they 'missed' a couple units in the math curriculum because there were terms that Oliver didn't have a clue about.  We made a visit to his textbook and he said they hadn't done that chapter yet which at this point of the year concerns me.  They should be reviewing about now... sigh...

Anyhow, I am very happy that the school has this website set up for us to practice on.  They do their tests on the iPad and can post their initials and school if they do well and they both seem to actually enjoy it. Oliver actually asked to do a few more!  For me, there is a relief that they both seem to be doing okay.  All of their scores on the mini-tests have ranged from 80-100% so that makes me happy.  And because we can look at what they got wrong, I can cover those concepts with some individualized instruction. We are doing the English tests... that is a drawback, because I cannot understand the French well enough to help, but I will get them to do those closer to their testing.  I am more concerned with evaluating what they do or do not know and the English tests will do for that purpose.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Closing Night... and On to the Next Thing... But First... A Wee Break!

We closed the show last night.  It was a great show with a fabulous audience and like most closing nights it had that feeling in the air of something extra special.  Overall, it was a great experience for me as a director.  I had a couple issues with actors not trusting my vision, but it all came together. I think when people have been allowed to do whatever they feel like in the past, they have a hard time cultivating discipline when asked to.  Sometimes it takes longer for people to trust the Director and you do what you can to earn it, but you can't always compel it to happen.  All I can do is work hard and work in excellence and let my work speak for my skills. I know that the show was very good and underneath the laughter causing moments there was a real truth, so that made me very happy, and it made many people cry. An added bonus was meeting new wonderful people who I will hopefully get to work with again and working with some favorites from the past.  It's always good when you surround yourself with great people. I take a break from musicals for a little while as I move on to other projects, but I do have my ear to the ground for a good option or two that I can coerce the Magnificent Sally Hunt to work with me on!  If the Fabulous Jake Hastey joins us, I certainly won't argue against that! We ended the show in fine form, strike was remarkably fast, and then wrapped it up with a party around the campfire!  It was nice to socialize and relax and enjoy each other's company.

I do have another project on the horizon.  I will be directing Death Comes to Auntie Norma at the Edmonton Fringe this summer.  I now have to knuckle down and construct a schedule for that. I also have to do the books for From Cradle to Stage at Walterdale.  I did feel a weight lift off my shoulders when I woke up this morning, but now, thinking about the things I stall have to do, I am starting to feel it again!  Oh well, I have to get the books done today or tomorrow and same with the schedule, because on Wednesday I am off to Toronto to visit my sister!  It is a much needed trip away and it will be nice to go and not be responsible for anything!