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Saturday, December 13, 2014

#yegbookclub Returns in January 2015 with a Mystery!!

We had a great time chatting with author Wendy McGrath about her novel Santa Rosa on November 17th.  You can follow the discussion with this storify. It was an interesting conversation and we were once again treated to having the author participate in the live discussion! We also talked about the progression of the story started in Santa Rosa and continued into North East and beyond.  I personally found that fascinating - the 'where the story will go and why'.

#yegbookclub will be returning in January with a book that caught my eye this summer at the Free Will Shakespeare Festival.  As most people know I am neck deep into the theatre community of Edmonton and this time around I get to combine reading about Edmonton with theatre in Edmonton. We will also be tackling our first mystery novel. We will be doing Janice MacDonald's Roar of the Crowd.  It's set in and around the Edmonton theatre scene, as well as the University fo Alberta English and Drama departments.  As someone who has spent time in all those 'scenes', I am looking forward to reading and recognizing (I hear that some people I know get mentioned in the book - very cool!). I was leery about starting a mystery series partway through, but have been reassured that it won't be a problem to start with this one.  I've also bought an earlier book in the series to see if that holds up!

When: January 19th at 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Where: Anywhere you can get online to twitter
How: Use the tags #yegbookclub and #roarofthecrowd to follow the discussion. You can also tag my twitter handle @smeep22003 and I will retweet any related comments. 

I hope to see you ll there!

I thought I would get this out there now so you could all get copies for people for Christmas so they can join in!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Elephant Wake - A Grande Visite with Jean-Claude!

A quick post to tell you about Elephant Wake currently playing at Catalyst Theatre.  Thankfully they added an Industry Show on Monday night so I was able to see it.  They also had a very funny talk-back with actor and playwright Joey Tremblay and Catalyst Artistic Director Jonathan Christenson facilitated by James MacDonald.

The show takes place in a paper filled ditch on the side of the road in Saskatchewan.  We are there to visit Jean-Claude (played by Tremblay).  Jean-Claude may not be the smartest person but he is a wonderful story-teller and during this Grande Visite we hear the story of his life, his town and the many deaths he has experienced.  It is magical and compelling, funny and sad, and simply beautiful. This is one of the best shows I have ever seen.  A good deal of that is due to the absolute completeness of Tremblay's characterization of Jean-Claude combined with a barrel full of stories that overlap and twist wonderfully to tell the story of his life.   It only runs until Saturday, November 29th so I strongly encourage you to get your tickets now and go see it.

You can get tickets here. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Back for a Second Helping of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS with the Boys!

On Tuesday night the whole family headed to the Citadel to take in the wonderfully ridiculous One Man, Two Guvnors.  I had seen it earlier at Dress Rehearsal but was looking forward to seeing it again and having Mark and the boys experience it.  It was great to see it again and even better in that I got to hear Gibson and Oliver laughing hysterically at it.  Once The Craze started up Gibson was glued to the stage.  He's a big music fan and he was really impressed with the group and the variety of instruments on the stage.  He also loved the parts throughout the show when the other members of the cast joined in for their 'special' numbers.  I think his favorite was Jesse Gervais on the bicycle horns, but John Ullyatt on the Xylophone was also up there!  The show was simply terrific.  It's great to go to a show that you can still laugh at even though you've seen it before, even more rewarding when your 13 year old leans over 3/4 of the way through the first act and whispers, "This is SO good!" It's hard to impress a teenager!  Of course, he did like all the inappropriate bits the best... but he's 13 so what can you do?  He told me the next day that he was telling his teachers about it.  When I asked what he told them, he said, "That it was very funny, and not really appropriate for kids!" and then he laughed.  

I think their favorite parts were the audience participation and the physical humour.  There was much discussion of the audience elements on the way home, as well as incredulous talk about how many times Andrew MacDonald-Smith either fell down the stairs or got hit. Gibson wants me to get a copy of the soundtrack, because he really, really liked the music and he's even considering taking Ukelele lessons.  I'm thinking I probably could also get him a Be Arthurs CD... I know some people...

There are only 3 more shows left for this own.  It's one I would highly recommend.  There aren't a lot of seats left for Saturday, but you probably could get in Friday night or for the Sunday Matinee.  I doubt you will be disappointed and there's a high probability you will laugh so much it hurts!

One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Citadel until November 16th.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What are the chances? Sequence at Shadow Theatre...

I wish I'd had more time this past weekend to post.  I would have written about Sequence by Arun Lakra, now playing at Shadow Theatre. I saw it last Friday and really liked it.  What I loved the most about it was the extremely clever and smart script.  This was the winner of the 2011 Alberta Play-writing Competition and it's easy to see why it won.  The play is a study of chance and probability, of genetics and mathematics, and of humans dealing with all of them.  Two stories, seemingly unrelated, are told simultaneously, and layer by layer the probabilities add up.  I'm a bit of a weird mash-up of science and drama so this was the perfect piece for me.  My Education degree is a Physical Sciences (Physics and Chemistry) Major with a Minor in English and Math.  I have since taken enough Drama courses that I could have a major in that, as well.  So I really enjoyed the merging of my many worlds.  I loved that the script is smart - not just throw-away puns, but sophisticated references (and yes, I got the golgi body joke). It's also quite accessible, so fear not if your science is not up to snuff.  If you can understand the logistics of chance that exist with the flip of a coin, I think you'd be fine.

It's the layering and unwrapping of the play that's done so well.  The reveals in the two stories are carefully measured out for maximum payoff and aha moments. Although it engages your brain, I don't think you'll find it mentally exhausting - it's more of a yoga class than a free weight session - I think you'll leave a little more enlightened.

Sequence runs until November 16th at the Varscona.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Pulled In Another Direction...

Last night I took in the Opening Night of The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble by Beth Graham at Theatre Network. On the surface, the play is about children dealing with their aging parent who is struck by early onset Alzheimer's Disease.  More specifically, it is about the middle child, Iris (played by Clarice Eckford), and her struggle to help her mother deal with the disease on her own terms.  To that end, we spend a lot of time with Iris as she tells the story very pointedly from her perspective. She even warns us that the story will be told through her filter as storyteller.  What that results in is vibrant characters in the form of the loud and brassy older sister Sarah (Patricia Zentilli), the withdrawn and tension avoiding younger brother Peter (Jason Chinn) and the warm, beautiful and wise mother Bernice (Susan Gilmour). Iris' filter exaggerates the good and the bad in each of them.

There are many wonderful things with this production. Zentilli is terrific as the outspoken and opinionated older sister, Chinn finds a way to make his limited dialogue worth every syllable, and Gilmour is the mother everyone wants - wise, sad, and poised. Perhaps she is idealized a little by Iris, but Gilmour gives her a realness that is truly moving and heart-breaking.  It is Iris that feels a little lost, but maybe that was the point? Her every insecurity is on display as she narrates and reveals what she is feeling about the awkwardness of the situation she is placed in.  Her desire to avoid the ugliness of the situation but still respect her mother almost made her shrink amidst the larger than life personalities of the other characters, so much so that she sometimes appears to be drowning. My challenge as an audience member was connecting to Iris because I think I would react so very differently to the situation than she does.  In some ways I was horrified by what she 'goes along with' even though she doesn't seem to want to.  It's always the challenge with a first person narrator - the audience member can only relate as far as they can relate to that speaker.  I know from the many sniffles in the audience that there were many people who were completely engaged.  Perhaps they were more like Iris than I am, or maybe because I haven't been in that situation I am meant to seek to understand better what it might really be like to be Iris.  Let's hope I never have to find out first-hand..

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

That was a Dress 'Rehearsal'?!?! Wowzers! One Man, Two Guvnors is Simply Hysterical!

Last Friday, as part of my job, I took in the Dress Rehearsal for One Man, Two Guvnors at the Citadel.  I loved it when I read the script.  It was so funny.  I loved the read-thru.  Even more funny. The Dress Rehearsal?! To use my current word of effusion - WOWZERS!  So, so, so, so, so funny! I cannot wait to see it again.  It breaks all sort of rules - propriety, the fourth wall, music but not a musical, crazy accents, skewed logic, prat falls, audience participation, improv - and it's ridiculous!  It's hard to pick a favorite part because you can literally go through the cast one by one and list a favorite moment. Get there early because The Craze (performed by the Be Arthurs) starts entertaining the audience for about 10 minutes before the show starts and they are terrific so you don't really want to miss them.  They also play for part of intermission so run out quickly for your ice cream and get back to see and hear them!

For this one, I'd get your tickets fast, because when people start talking about it I think it's going to get harder to get good seats! Speaking of... I better book mine tomorrow!

Photo Credit: The Be Arthurs as The Craze with Jesse Gervais - photo from the media call

Time for a Haircut?! The Barber of Seville - Edmonton Opera

Last week I took in The Barber of Seville at the Edmonton Opera.  It was a bright and energetic production with a cool concept, replanting the story in a 1940's Hollywood Movie Studio Backlot. The costumes, set and make-up was bang-on for transporting us to the world of the play and the titular Figaro (Phillip Addis) seemed perfectly situated in this new location.  Afterall, you need someone to look after all the actor's hair needs on a movie set! Addis was a fireball with great comedic skills to compliment his singing skills. When he's onstage your eyes are always drawn to him.  He's most fun when he and Almaviva (James McLennan) are playing off each other, but it's also fun to watch him get in the mix with all the characters.  As Rosina (Sylvia Szadovszki) is lovely and her voice is bright and sunshiny.  Szadovski is delightfully bratty and she plays the diva film star with a sense of fun. This is the bugs bunny opera.  The music will be familiar to most and they have done a fabulous job with the world, with everyone onstage embracing the swing of the 1940's and the hustle-bustle of the movie set.  There are even some cool magic tricks as Figaro employs his hair-styling art - it's those little details that make this so much fun!

There are only two more chances to catch it - Tonight and Thursday.  It's at the Jubilee Auditorium and tickets are available here. They've got great options for a whole range of budgets, so check it out.  Chances are you will find a seat that suits you. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Busy Doing... Too Busy to Write!

Sometimes you get yourself so busy seeing things and doing things that you don't have time to write your blog.  That's what the last two weeks have been like for me.

I have caught a couple shows that were well done and great examples of the variety of theatre that you can see in Edmonton.  A week and a half ago I took in Happy Toes by Stewart Lemoine at Teatro La Quindicina.  It was a lovely piece which caught me off guard.  I didn't really know what it was about and my presumption that the happy toes were dancing was totally incorrect.  It was more about friendship, relationships and how our expectation and anticipations affect our personal happiness.  It was a subtle piece, set in familiar places and subtly brought to life by a quintet of actors: Ron Pederson, Jeff Haslam, Julien Arnold, Cathy Derkach and Davina Stewart. It's closed now, but the Varscona is moving into the Shadow Theatre season and there are some great shows on the horizons there!

Last week I hit two shows.  The first was Ronnie Burkett and The Daisy Theatre at the Citadel.  I saw this show three times last year, I loved it so much.  It has the wonderful quality of no show being the same as there is an element of improvisation and audience participation. This time I took a Ronnie Burkett newbie and it was wonderful to see her react to his mastery of the marionettes.  After the first 'number' she leaned to me and said, "This is amazing!". It took me back to my first Ronnie show where I was just totally blown away by how you completely get absorbed by the characters on the stage, not the man up above.  It's truly magic! Now, it's on the wrong side of ribald, so be prepared and at this point there are less than 250 seats left for the rest of the run so you're going to want to buy fast to get to see it.  There are great seats left on this Sunday night, so I would hope on the phone and pick those up if you want to catch it. It runs to November 2 and plays in The Club.

The second show I saw last week was Theatre No. 6's Proud by Michael Healey - the fictionalization of what might have happened after the 2011 election if the Conservatives won all the Quebec seats instead of the NDP.  It took liberties, as it was a fictionalization, so although the Prime Minister in question is named Harper, it is very clearly an interpretation.  It is also a comedy so there is a lot of play at hand.  It's not the most perfect script - there's a character in it that you're not quite sure why they are there - and the arc is not really clear, but it was excellently acted by it's cast of four: Brian Dooley, Melissa Thingelstad, Dave Horak and Richard Lee Hsi. What I really liked about it was the explanation of politics - the tactics and the strategies - the speculation on why some things were done. Some of what is in the play (in generalities) I know to be true.  The way a party will only woo the sway-able middle and they will not waste their time on those they know they can never win over - that's totally true. There was also some political theory that literally gave me some 'aha!' moments! It also had one of the funniest sex scenes I have ever seen. Proud closed this past weekend, but I look forward to what Theatre No. 6 will bring next.  It's an exciting mix of artists who have kicked off with a very interesting piece!

Tonight I am heading out to catch the first show in the Walterdale season, And Then, The Lights Went Out by Alberta playwright Andy Garland.  It's a play on Film Noir and Detective Fiction.  I had a very small hand in helping to paint the floor but I know a lot of people involved and they are all very talented, so I am looking forward to seeing what they have done with it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

#YegBookClub - Next in the Queue! Santa Rosa by Wendy McGrath!

My apologies for not getting this out sooner - a rather densely packed life due to the start of both the school year and the theatre season led to a bit of a delay in choosing a book and finding a date for the club.  First, a brief recap of the last book club.  Mid September, we spoke with Marty Chan about Demon Gate, the first book in his Ehrich Weisz Chronicles.  It was a great chat and although it was mostly Marty and myself chatting, I could tell from the retweets and the favorites that there were others following the discussion.  I was pleased to hear hints about what was to come (but with no spoilers!) and it was great to get the insight on Marty's research and inspiration. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series!

Here are some snippets...

What book next? For our next #yegbookclub we will be reading and chatting about Santa Rosa by Wendy McGrath.  Her sequel, North East has just been released and I thought it might be nice to read the first one before I dive into the second.  I've bought both so I might just read the second as well and see where that goes. 

When: Monday, November 17th, 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Where: On Twitter - use the tags #yegbookclub and #SantaRosa to tag and follow posts.  
Who: Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion! The more, the merrier!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What you want to do? Isn't that what I said?

This past summer I directed two shows at Fringe, one of which I wrote (Little Monsters) and one written by my friend Anne Marie Szucs (Crack). Over the last several weeks a few lines from the latter have been rattling in my head, making me think hard about what my time is filled by.

     ANGELA: Sometimes I wish there were 2 of me - just to do everything I want to do.
     PAM: What you want to do.
     ANGELA: Yes. Isn't that what I said?
     CHRISTINE: Pam.
     PAM: Sometimes I think you do what everyone else wants you to do – Andy, the kids, church.  Where do you fit into the list?

I find myself coming back to that question... what is it I want to be doing?  I have many things I 'have' to do.  Some are things I have put in place, some are work or store related, some are volunteer commitments, some are things that people have asked me to do and I couldn't say no to...  I would say that most of them are things I like doing, even enjoy doing, but I think the big problem is that I am just finding more and more that there are simply too many things.  I know this because the thing I wish I was doing the most - writing - is not getting done.  It is the thing that gets pushed to the back burner by all the other stuff. 

I'm trying to clear the decks a little bit.  Some of the obligations will take longer to clear up.  Some will never go away because they are related to the children and you can't just absolve yourself of them once you have them. But I do intend to take some time to write this year, AND I do plan on getting onstage this year.  Those are my two 'Things I Want to Do' that I will make happen in between all the other things I have to do. And if you catch me saying to myself, what do I want to do, know that this is what's running through my head. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Telling Canadian Stories... Kim's Convenience at the Citadel...

Tonight Previews for Kim's Convenience started at the Citadel Theatre.  Last night, I got to watch the final Dress Rehearsal. As part of my job, I had read the play and thought it quite a nice story on the page, but it was so lovely to see it realized on the stage.  Beyond the picture-perfect corner convenience store and the sounds of the Toronto street, seeing the story live on the stage really emphasized for me the the play was truly a Canadian story.  So many of us here are from somewhere else and the freedoms and hopes of the immigrant coming to Canada for their children is a story that I certainly understood.  It was also both funny and touching.  I didn't know that I would laugh so much -  in recognition of things in my own world, in the deliberate misunderstandings between people, and in the unique relationships between parents and their children. I also didn't realize, despite reading the play, that I would get a little teary-eyed. Because Canada is a softer country than others with a tradition that is more flexible due to it's youth it is a place where you can make mistakes and go home again. 

I'm looking forward to seeing it again. 

Fatboy... Hard to Describe... Harder to Stop Laughing...

I took in the ridiculous and excessive Fatboy by John Clancy (not to be confused with the author of The Hunt For Red October) directed with controlled abandon by Dave Horak and presented at Theatre Network by the Edmonton Actor's Theatre. This is not a show for the faint of heart. It's rude, and bawling and lusty and violent and irreverent and full of more curses per minute than any of show I have seen in my life. I will admit, at first I wasn't sure what I was watching.  The show starts with a belligerent bang of a shouting match between Fatboy (Frederick Zbryski) and his extremely buxom wife, Fudgie (Melissa Thingelstad). It's over the top - not in a Broadway musical kind of way - but in a nightmarish, twisted circus of lechery and violence.  Once acclimatized to the phenomenal patter of cursing interspersed with cries for Sausages!! and Pancakes!! I just held on and went for the ride. They are joined by a multitude of characters played brilliantly by Ian Leung, Tim Cooper and Mathew Hulshof.  The entire cast is incredible.  This kind of piece only succeeds with 100% commitment to the choices and, boy, do they commit.  There were so many times while watching that I marveled at how good they all were.  The world was so complete and there was never a glimpse of the real person beneath the white pancake make-up on their faces. It was as though they had been doing this show for years.  Zbryski's patter is both frightening and hilarious. Thingelstad is marvellously brash.  It's all complimented by a delightfully tilted and distressed set designed by Scott Peters and costumes that are whimsical and macabre designed by Melissa Cuerrier.

The tale is a twisted reinterpretation of the scandalous Ubu Roi (1897) by Alfred Jarry - famous for opening and closing on the same night and causing a riot in the theatre. A comment on the excess of our world, and on the inherent selfishness of humankind, particularly those in power.  It's a little mind-blowing at the end.  I am personally not quite as cynical as the play is in it's final moments.  I can't see the world quite in the way that is suggested by the wrap up.  What can I say? I'm an idealist. But after the roller coaster of violence and ridiculousness is over, the closing comments are what you'll be talking about with your friends for hours afterwards. Depending on where you sit on the spectrum of political and social belief, I think you will come away from this with a completely different reaction. It's really whether you can see Fatboy in Kim Jong Il or perhaps  Rob Ford or your Next-door-Neighbors or even yourself that will tell just how you see the world.

I'd say this is a must-see for those that can handle the language and violence (the violence is all very comical, but for the faint of heart...).  If you are an Edmonton theatre aficionado you simply
have no excuse.  If you are a drama student at either of the two Universities I would be appalled if you missed it. It's a masterclass. Give yourself permission to laugh, and buckle-up for the ride!

Photo credit: Ryan Parker

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Smallish Project on the Horizon...

This Sunday I will be starting a smallish project for Walterdale Theatre.  When I was asked to be Master Painter for the first show of the season way back in the early summer I had to say No.  I knew that I would be too busy with the advent of the new theatre season and my new position at the Citadel.  However, a request from the set designer, former student Brendan Boyd, for help with painting the floor made me do a slight reversal. It's hard to say No to former students, especially those like Brendan. I came in with conditions, because my time is tight, but this Sunday I will go in and start the process.  I have yet to see the set design, so I am hopeful that I will have the right colours in the shop (it's a wood floor and there were a lot of varied browns in the paint shop). It should only take a couple days - for me, this month,that means Sundays.  There are a couple of wrenches in the works with the theatre being over-shared and the surprise of finding out an Open House and Tour is being held on one of my limited painting days, but I am optimistic about getting it done. I might be a little 'grumpy old man' about it, but it will get done.  I'm looking for suggestions for a good place for a massage in early October to recover from floor painting (it's the hardest on my back) so if you know any, let me know...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Terrific #yegbookclub with Michael Hingston's The Dilletantes

Last night a group of readers met on twitter for an hour and chatted about Michael Hingston's The Dilettantes.  This was the first of our two summer reading choices.  It was a lively discussion with many threads and side roads and the hour flew by.  It was a great way to spend a snowy evening in September (yes, there was snow!).  The conversation swerved from favorite weird sodas, to student newspapers (comparing U of A's The Gateway to SFU's The Peak) and angst... plenty of angst.  Michael joined in and it was great to have the author chime in and answer questions. If you want to check out the conversation, use the #yegbookclub on twitter to search.  You should be able to pick up most of it.

If you want to check out the book, here's a link to find out more.

Next week we tackle our second summer reading choice, Marty Chan's The Demon Gate.  I think you have time to get it read and join in! See you on twitter on Monday, September 15th at 7 p.m.!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Northern Light Theatre's Race for the Limelight a.k.a. an Edmonton Theatre FUNdraiser a.k.a. a Great Event Bringing Together the Edmonton Theatre Community!

Yesterday was the 1st Annual Northern Light Theatre's BATTLE FOR THE LIMELIGHT - An Amazing Race style fundraising event which took place in the Old Strathcona district. Theatre companies and related organizations across the city were invited to enter a team to
up to four competitors to participate in challenges whereby they would earn points to see who was the winner. They would also use the event as an opportunity to fund raise for their particular organization. The winning team was presented with The Golden Handjob (there were silver and bronze handjobs for 2nd and 3rd place finishers, as well).  Northern Light Theatre did all the organizing and the event ended with a BBQ at Queen Alexandra Community Hall and a great party for all involved.  I was unable to participate in the actual event due to Mom-related Obligations (i.e. Piano Lessons) but followed the tweets and FB posts and swung by the BBQ at the end.  The energy was fabulous and it was great to see so many people from Edmonton's Theatre community visiting and celebrating together.  A great event and a great FUNdraiser! I hear it's going to be an annual event and I am determined that one of the theatres I am involved with will participate next year and I will be on a team!

The Winners:

First Place - The Golden Handjob - Team AIEEEEE! (representing Teatro la Quindicina)
Teatro la Quindicina’s team consisted of: Shannon Blanchet (actor), Mathew Hulshof (actor), Ryan Parker (actor), Amber Bissonette (actor)

Second Place - The Silver Handjob - Team Nextfest #1 (representing Nextfest Emerging Arts Festival) Nextfest’s team consisted of: Maggie Baird (Nextfest Festival Manager), Ainsley Hillyard (Nextfest Dancefest Curator), Patrick Lundeen (Nextfest Emerging Artist Award Winner for 2014), Perry Gratton (Nextfest 2014 Image Artist and actor)

Third Place - Team Theatre AL-BEAT-CHA! (representing Theatre Alberta) Theatre Alberta’s team consisted of: Aaron Talbot (Theatre Alberta Communications and Marketing Coordinator), Morgan Norwich (Theatre Alberta Office Administrator & Executive Assistant), Frazer Andrews (Theatre Alberta Programmer)

Friday was One of Those "I LOVE MY JOB!" Days!

Sometimes I feel like I am unusual, because I generally wake up very happy to go to my job.  It's a terrific fit for me.  I work at the Citadel Theatre in the Marketing Department, so right off the bat you have me working in a theatre, and I love that. It's also a theatre that produces a wide variety of work and at a very high level so that's a super double bonus.  For the actual work I do, it's a great fit for me in that it uses my organization skills, my people skills, my problem-solving skills and I get to work with a lot of fun people.  It's also busy, and while some people are not as fond of that, I do like a fast pace, and there are periodic lulls to recharge when you need to.

Anyhow, I really like my job, but on Friday I had one of those I LOVE MY JOB days.  We had a photo shoot for the upcoming ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS which stars John Ullyatt and for a couple of hours in the afternoon we were entertained my his antics in front of the camera.  He kept us giggling the whole time with his contortions, ad-libs and improvising with the various props.  I was there to take behind the scenes shots and it was the most fun couple of hours anyone ever got paid for!

Friday, August 29, 2014

What's On in September?

September is a traditionally quiet month for theatre in Edmonton.  I think the Fringe has something to do with that.  People need a little time to recover, rehearse and build the next show.  Similarly the audience needs a bit of down time to handle all that happens in the Fall and many are a bit tired out and pocket poor from whatever shenanigans they have participated in over the summer months.

There are a couple of shows coming towards the end of September to kick off the 2014-15 Theatre Season.

 Kim's Convenience by Ins Choi opens the 2014/15 season at the Citadel Theatre.  This is the Soulpepper Theatre production which started at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival.  It's a tight little comedy about a Korean family who runs a convenience store in the rapidly changing Regent Park area of Toronto.  Following it's runaway success at the Toronto Fringe, it was picked up by Soulpepper for an even more successful production (both commercially and critically) and then the show began a National Tour. This is a quintessentially Canadian story (how many of us are immigrants?) and has been described as both hilarious and touching. Kim's Conveniences runs at the Citadel Theatre in the Shoctor from Sept 20th to October 11th.

Fatboy, at Theatre Network is another show with it's roots in the Fringe. This time it's the Sterling-Award winning show from the 2012 Edmonton International Fringe. Described as a live-action Punch and Judy show inspired by Alfred Jarry's UBU ROI! Scatological, scabrous and scandalous - a pummeling comedy that will leave you punch drunk. Fatboy runs from September 16th to 28th at the Roxy Theatre. 

Finally, The Violet Hour kicks off the Studio Theatre season at the Timm's Centre. A deliciously dark comedy set in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby era. A Princeton graduate who wishes to be a publisher must choose between two manuscripts: his best friend from college's masterpiece, or his lover's compelling memoir. I beleive this would be one of the MFA Candidate's shows but I am not sure which one. The show runs from September 18th to 27th.

It's going to be hard for me to wait until halfway through the month to see anything.  I'm hoping the start of school will be enough crazy to keep me satisfied until these shows open!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fringe Wrap-Up

It feels a little weird to write a wrap-up because technically I am not done.  I have a hold-over show to go to this Saturday so that means it's technically still Fringe, right? I have to say, I was very pleased with the line up for hold-overs this year.  I think they really represent some of the best work that was presented this year - best in that the companies involved worked hard and went the extra mile to produce something that was artistically excellent. It's also very diverse, which I like, as I think it represents the diversity of what Fringe goers want to see. Also, all of the shows held-over made my Word of Mouth posts which tells me that they were the kinds of shows that a Fringe Goer would tell someone to go to!

You can find the Hold-Overs here.

So, as I look back, here are the shows that resonated the most with me from this year's Fringe Festival.  Bear in mind I did not see everything (I think I saw 27 shows in addition to my own 2):

DogFight - This show left me crying. Other than the seating, it felt like so much more than a Fringe show.

McCrackin 2: The Whackining - Going to this show felt like an event.  The theatre was packed and even before the show started there was an electricity.  Then it started and was deliciously ridiculous!

eleven-oh-four - Best new work I saw this Fringe.  Creepy and hilarious.

Flora and Fawna - Hilarious and touching.  No Mean Girls!

Red Wine, French Toast and the Best Sex You've Ever Had - such a cool show - surprising, athletic, emotional and whimsical.

3... 2... 1... - This was the last show I saw of Fringe and it was well worth the wait.  It's a tightrope of a show that requires excellent direction and acting or else it could easily be a disaster.  Luckily, with Wayne Paquette at the helm and Jamie Cavanaugh and Chris W. Cook on stage it veered close enough to the edge to keep us pulled in, but never went off into melodrama.

Anyhow, I hope you all had a great Fringe.  I know I did.  Two shows was a little much for me to manage, but luckily I had great teams to help them come together and run! See you next August!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Five Show Friday at Fringe!

I saw four shows in addition to my own yesterday and in my travels I got from the Fringe site to Scona High School in less than 10 minutes.  I am pretty proud of myself! Here are the highlights from what I saw!

Red Wine, French Toast, and the Best Sex you Ever Had - A Sold Out Westbury Theatre for a dance show? WHY?  Because it was so good.  Accessible, complicated, whimsical, & saucy - so many descriptors for this show.  It's held over for good reason and I am so glad to see a piece like this in the mix.  This is one of those fringe gems that makes the Fringe lottery of ticket buying pay off.  You pay $15 and you get to see something worth so much more.

Polly, Polly - A really interesting concept and very funny solo piece all about Polly. Sit centre if you can because of the sight-lines in the space, but it's still engaging even from the sides.  It surprised me a little because it wasn't what I was expecting - that's always a good thing. Lots of laughs, and a little bit more.

Dogfight - This show had me in tears at the end.  It's hard to believe that this was a fringe show, the quality of the production was so good.  Excellent singing and acting all-around, but especially from the leads Chris Scott and Mary Kate Whitehead.  Sydney Williams is another stand-out in a smaller role but I cant' wait to see her again onstage.  She has something. Like Red Wine, French Toast this is one of those gems that you are lucky to see. I am stunned that it got anything less than 5 stars because I honestly do not know what more they could have done.

I've got a couple more to see tonight and tomorrow.  I hope you manage to get out to see some great stuff. I know I have!

Word of Mouth... Saturday, August 23rd... Fringe 2014

A Couple More Word of Mouth Recommendations... I was running a lot yesterday so I didn't get a chance to talk much...

3... 2... 1...
The Story of O's
McCrackin 2 (good thing it's held over!)
Daddy Issues

Two more days, catch 'em while they're here!

As to the running, over the last few days I made it from Holy Trinity to the Garneau Theatre (Metro Cinema) in 6 minutes and from the Fringe Grounds to Scona in less than ten minutes.  For the first feat, Keri Mitchell dubbed me a "Fringe Goddess" so I am going to be getting that on a t-shirt!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fringe Highlights, Thursday, August 21st - TONIGHT I LAUGHED! A LOT!!

Today was our Back to Back Shows day for Crack and Little Monsters.  Both shows went well with healthy audiences for the afternoon and engaged and appreciative audiences.  So wonderful to see familiar faces as well as new faces of people who just came to check us out. We only have one more show left for Crack (Sunday - 8 p.m.) but there are two chances to catch Little Monsters (Friday - 12:30 p.m. and Saturday - 11 p.m.). The response for both has been terrific so I hope you get a chance to catch one or both of them.

After the double feature I took in my Janine Hodder Double Feature!  First up was Swordplay by David Belke with music by Darrin Hagen. It's a silly but clever story of royal siblings separated at birth with a prophecy and evil villains and assassins.  The cast was wonderful.  Great voices from pretty much everyone (although I wished for mics - but it is fringe) and excellent comic timing and choices.  Mat Busby was delightful as the not so bright but charming suitor to Jenna Dykes, the far from helpless princess in disguise.  Loved the fight scenes, especially the ones between Garrett Ross and Janine Hodder. I think, however, the one that made me laugh the most was Jason Hardwick as the Evil usurper.  He was very funny in Superman, but he certainly kicked up a notch for this one. It's silly fun, but this cast makes it a good choice!

Then it was off to McCrackin 2: The Whackining all the way down on 109th street.  The place was packed and it is huge.  I'm betting the Fringe grounds were empty because everyone was at McCrackin!  Accidental Humour does such an amazing job, but this time it felt like they outdid themselves.  Playing on action movie tropes with a seriousness of tone that amps up the parody, they pulled out all the stops. I laughed. A. Lot. I'm pretty loud too... so I think they must know how much I enjoyed it. I wish, wish, wish I could see it again, but I have a show on Friday and Saturday.  I'm crossing my fingers for hold-overs because I really, really, really want to see it again. I also feel like we all didn't really pay them enough for what we got.  You can see they haven't cut corners.  I think there was over 300 people there tonight.  I hear the sales for Saturday are already pretty good, so I'd suggest buying now and going to see it.  It's a movie and a play and both are hysterical. 

Word of Mouth - Fringe 2014 - Thursday, August 22nd

Here are the Word of Mouth Recommendations for Thursday, August 22nd. I had both my shows back to back today and then saw two shows so I didn't get to ask a lot of people... but here you go!

Shangri-La - I have to say I have received the most number of recommendations for this show than any other.  It shows up in the list on any given day only once, BUT I actually have had more than one person that day recommend it. I'm hoping to fit it in, if I can. 

Eavesdrop - This is also a repeat!

Her Mark - Also a repeat!

God is a Scottish Drag Queen - Again!

3... 2... 1... - We've seen this one before too!

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman - First day to make the list!

AN UPDATE - I keep forgetting to put Crookback on this list.  It came to me from someone via twitter so it wasn't in my notebook, but they wanted me to make sure I got it on the list!

I hope you all make it out to some shows - I cannot guarantee the pedigree of these recommendations, but the repeats make me think that there is something to them!  Happy Fringing!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fringe - From Monday to Wednesday...

I slowed down a bit because having two shows was catching up to me, but I have still seen some good things.  Here are the highlights of Monday to Wednesday:

The Deep Blue - Moody, tortured, well-acted and directed. If you like a serious piece and if your fringe show choice doesn't have to be about laughs, this is a solid choice.

Her Mark - Atmospheric monologues about a family of women from Newfoundland.  Gorgeous lighting and authentic in look and tone.  I loved hearing the accents (reminded me of home - Fort McMurray).  Cheryl Jameson delivers one monologue that nearly broke my heart.

Little Miss Understood - Any parent of a teen will relate to this, although the teen onstage seemed far more likable than was implied (maybe I'm just comparing her to my own). It's a light comedy and suitable for 10 and up.

eleven-oh-four - I CANNOT SAY ANY MORE STRONGLY: SEE THIS SHOW - This is my favorite of the Fringe so far. I am not done, but this is a brilliant new work, written and performed by Cat Walsh.  She is excellent, hilarious, and note perfect.  It's very funny, a little creepy and proof that simplicity is often best, especially with a strong script.

I hope you are all getting out to shows. I have 9 more tickets purchased and room for a couple more if I have the brain for it. I also have my second double header for Little Monsters and Crack tomorrow so if you are free in the afternoon - come and check them out! Crack is on at 2:30 p.m. and Little Monsters is at 4:45 p.m.

Word of Mouth - Fringe 2014 - Wednesday, August 20th

These are from the last two days.  I've had some great conversations with people in line.  Remember, read the program for what kind of shows these are.  They are what people recommended, but you may not like certain types of shows or some kinds of content and they might be on this list!  My favorite is on this list (eleven-oh-four) so I encourage you to check that out!

We Glow
Body of Light
Bull's Heart
Zanna Don't
The Deep Blue Sea
Flora and Fawna
Little Monsters*
Harold of Galactus
Newman Mentalism Presents: Mind Games
Letters to Laura
Her Mark
3... 2... 1...
This is Cancer

I hope to have some more conversations tomorrow! Enjoy the Fringe! Go see a show!

* Yeah, so these are my shows - but those were the recommendations.  I did know the people, but they insisted they were recommending honestly based on what they saw.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Word of Mouth - Fringe 2014 - Monday, August 18th

Here are a few more Word of Mouth Recommendations:

The Legend of White Woman Creek
Who Killed Gertrude Crump
Lobster Alice
Zanna Don't
Her Mark
3... 2... 1...
We Glow
McCrackin 2: The Whackining
This is Cancer
Neon Nightz
God is a Scottish Drag Queen

There's a variety here! I think it's cool that there are dramas, musicals, comedies, solo-shows and dance shows on this list!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fringe 2014 - From Friday to Sunday!

I've managed to rack up a few shows this weekend, in between opening both of my own shows, and trips to the beer tent to visit with friends! Here are some of the highlights:

Thom Pain - It's a a cool, challenging piece of theatre excellently performed and directed.  Key word is challenging.  This company has taken a real risk with this play, but isn't that what Fringe is all about?

Famished - I laughed so much at this completely inappropriate musical about zombies in Victorian England. Well-sung and it holds no quarter on crossing lines. You have to appreciate the politically incorrect.  If you can't, then this is not for you.

Letters and Words - A Dance Show!? Yes! I haven't seen a dance show in years, but I was so glad to see this.  So wonderful to see such strong, powerful, graceful women in this piece.  I found it so engaging. The music was very cool and sometimes it was whimsical, sometimes sad, and sometimes in-your-face funny. I guess I need to see more dance shows!

11 O'Clock Number - So much fun!  I'm not sure if I like it best when the songs are perfect (There was one that was perfect - Model Girlfriend - could have been written down and recorded) or when they aren't (There's a hilarity in the weird rhyming and sometimes nonesensical lyrics). So much fun in a "how'd they do that?" kind of way.  Oh, and now I really want a pony!

Rat Wives - I'm amazed that this was a first time directing foray for Brad Bishop - it was so well done and the script is so funny.  I think theatre people or at least literary people will appreciate it the most, but it's sharp and witty and the four actresses on stage were great.

Ligature Marks - This was a super cool script and the two person cast (Morgan Smith and Chris Schultz) were completely up to the task.  Very timely, a bit of an edge, and clean and sharp.  I really liked this one.

Tin - For those of you who like the true "Fringe Experience" - a show in a Shipping Container.  I had to push myself outside my comfort zone to do this one, but the production was great in providing a cold water bottle (necessary and so appreciated) and the option to sit close to the door if you are claustrophobic.  The play itself was emotionally charged and the space helped contribute to that tension.

Flora and Fawna - I love, love, loved this show!  So funny and engaging. I didn't realize that Drag Shows could have a message underneath all the laughs (this was my first).  I even teared up at the end.  Every girl (or boy) should get to be a Nature-Elle! I highly recommend! I do have to find someone to ask about a couple of the badge names, but I might just have to go to the Urban Dictionary so as to not expose my ignorance!

The City That Eats You - I can't remember why I picked this one, but I was glad I did.  Two very strong actors and a truly original idea in the script.  It's a little bit police procedural, a little bit sci-fi, a dash of poetic language, a wonderful convention of parsing memories, and two really strong women onstage.  I liked it.

I hope you get to see some of these shows!  I'll be back at it tomorrow!

Word of Mouth - Fringe 2014 - Sunday, August 17th

I took a little time today to talk to some people in lines and at the Beer Tents about what shows they would recommend.

Here are the Word of Mouth recommendations for Sunday, August 17th, 2014:

Tales She Tells
Daddy Issues
Maison de Reves 
War  of 1812
Off Book the Musical
Running in Stilts
Flora and Fawna
3... 2... 1...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fringe Day One: Super Start to My 2014 Fringe with Plain Janes Superman!

I only saw one show today, but I'm a little spent!  Of course, I also walked in the parade and worked all day, so maybe my tiredness has something to do with that.  The energy was celebratory at the Fringe site as we visited with the other performers waiting for the Parade to start and I think we were all glad that Fringe was finally here! Huzzah!

My first show was the Plain Janes production of It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman at the Varscona. I really enjoyed Little Fish last year at the Fringe and the offerings from Plain Janes during the season, so I thought this would be a great kick off to the Festival.  It was bubbly and snappy with great singing and dancing.  The script is light-hearted and the cast ran with that.  Sheldon Elter made a perfect Superman/Clark Kent - I loved the contrast to how he played each persona, and Elena Porter was a feisty no-nonsense Lois Lane.  I think my favorite was Ryan Parker as the narcissistic Max Mencken, but there are no weak links in this show.  There are a lot of fun songs in this new-to-me musical.  It's got a real fun cheekiness to it! Perfect for all ages!

Tomorrow I have a few shows to hit (I think 5?), but my focus is really going to be on the first performance of Crack at 2:30 p.m.  Once that is up and running I can relax and watch some others!

Fringe Primer - The Solo Show!

One of the things that you will notice about Fringe is there are A LOT of Solo Shows.  There's a good reason for this, particularly with regards to touring, but it's important to think about what show you want to see.  I have seen some fabulous Solo Shows over the years (Jake's Gift, Shimmer) and some I'd rather not name... I tend to like ones that feel more like a play than a story, but I also know that there are incredibly gifted story-tellers on the Fringe circuit.

Anyhow, I took a trip through the Program and thought I would highlight some solo shows that look like they will be good to catch (remember this is sight unseen, based on program descriptions and some research on my part), so if you are a fan of the one-person show, here are some suggestions:

No Tweed Too Tight: Another Grant Canyon Mystery by Vancouver based Ryan Gladstone at Walterdale Playhouse.  This show had a sold out run in 2012. He's also one half of the duo from last year's Hockey Night at the Puck & Pickle, which I loved and found hysterically funny so I think that bodes well.

Polly, Polly is a one-woman show over at the Fringe Cabaret Lounge written and performed by Toronto artist, Jessica Moss. This show was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. You can check out a glimpse of the show in this video. Moss is also part of the Tarragon Theatre Playwrighting Unit so you know she must have the writing chops!  You know I am a sucker for a female playwright!

At The Academy at King Edward, you can check out Edmonton's own Cody Porter in thom pain: based on nothing presented by Orange Cat Theatre. Described as Samuel Beckett for the John Stewart generation, it sounds like a one man show that is bound to be a little different. It's directed by Trunk Theatre's Sterling nominated Amy DeFelice.

You will find a lot of solo shows at Venue 10: Acacia Hall.  It's size makes it ideal for a smaller cast and increased intimacy.  Two shows there that have caught my eye are eleven-oh-four, written and starring Cat Walsh and Shangri-La, written and starring Judy Wensel.  Walsh is another Edmonton favorite who has demonstrated a unique voice before in her writing.  The description suggests a tale of revenge, perhaps with a twist?  Wensel is from Regina, but Shangri-La is directed by the electric Edmontonian Michelle Kennedy, who is never afraid to make big choices.  Shangri-La sounds as though it will be a trip to past where idyllic nostalgia is likely to be challenged. Shangri-La premiered to sold-out audiences and rave reviews at the 2013/2014 Shumiatcher Sandbox Series at Regina’s Globe Theatre.

If you are a fan of story-tellers you can catch Sam Mullins, Peter Aguero, Martin Dockery, and others. Fringe seems to bring out the best of those who can spin a tale and these are a few who are consistently able to hold their audiences in the palm of their hands.

Have fun choosing!  I've got tickets already for a few of these.  I'll let you know how they were once I see them!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Sharing the Space! This is Who is in Walterdale with Us this Fringe!

I couldn't wait to get my artist's package so I went and spent the $10 for the Fringe Program.  It's beautiful this year!  A real souvenir of the festival and very pretty!  What I flipped to first, of course, were the pages for our venue, Walterdale Playhouse. I wanted to see if I knew any of the companies that we were sharing the space with.  Having 2 shows we are going to be in the building every day of the festival and sometimes we have two shows in one day.  I was excited to see some familiar faces from the local arts scene and am looking forward to meeting those out-of-town performers!

Here's who's in the neighborhood:

From Near:

One sick puppy theatricals presents Scrap Paper written and directed by Gerald Osborn. The ultimate stage mother, her reluctant playwright son, sparkling repartee, head-cracking slapstick, and a finale of EXPLOSIVE proportions! Fringe favourite Ruby Swekla reprises the role she created 25 years ago. I'm looking forward to seeing Ruby in and around the building.  She was in the original production of my play Pieces in 2007 at Walterdale and she always entertains when she's onstage! What It is Productions presents Ligature Marks by Mac Rogers, directed by Taylor Chadwick. Terry is an ex-con. Jill is his ex-girlfriend. To get through this level in their lives they are going to need each other. A twisted romance about love, video games and getting away with murder. I'm really looking forward to seeing Morgan Smith onstage in this.  She always has an incredible intensity onstage that brings the humour to a sharp and gritty edge! DuckRabbit Theatre presents Beware Beware by David Walker, directed by Joe Perry.  A makeshift confessional. A bottle of rum. Sam just wants to feel better. Lauren just wants to help. Set in the Edmonton river valley, Beware Beware is a play about the anxieties of youth, the limits of friendship, and what we talk about when we talk about God. The wonderful Erin Valentine is stage managing this piece that is chock full of young talent.

And Far:

From Vancouver we will be joined by Ryan Gladstone Productions with No Tweed too Tight: Another Grant Canyon Mystery.  The name Ryan Gladstone should be very familiar to Fringe audiences as his 2012 run was sold out. From Toronto, Operation Snatch presents Neon Nightz. From it's description it looks like it will appeal to those who like shows that cross the line - an edgier choice. From Brooklyn, NY, Pair of Animals... wants to marry YOU! Every night a new couple from the audience will meet, fall in love and marry! From Chicago, Smoke and Ask Theatre presents Hospital - which is all about travelling through that part of the healthcare system. And finally From Sunnyside, NY, Peter Aguero presents Daddy Issues, a storytelling show tackling the hardships of not being able to choose your own family.

And of course, FinallySauces is presenting Little Monsters and Crack.  It looks like there is a real variety in Walterdale this year.  It's my favorite venue and I am so glad we are there and I'm excited to meet all these other artists!

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Fringe - It's all in the family...

I am not the only one in my family who is involved in a Fringe show.  My husband, Mark, is also part of a show that you should check out.  He's lucky in that although you can see him in the show, he doesn't have to be there every night.  How's that work? Well, a couple of months ago he shot a few scenes with Accidental Humour for their production, McCrackin 2: The Whackining.  I know little about his actual role, other than it's funny and he's a lumberjack.  I'm excited to see this show, as the first of the series, Happy Whackin Jim McCrackin was hilarious and I am always so impressed with how well this company merges film and theatre.

You can check out the trailer here. If you watch closely you will catch a glimpse of Mark at around 00:46!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

It's Finally August... You know what that means... FRINGE!!!!

Summer is interesting when you are producing a Fringe show.  July becomes all about prep and then when August hits it feels like an hour glass has been tipped over and started and away you go!  This is exaggerated even more when you are producing and directing TWO Fringe shows (one of which you are also Playwright for).  It's a Fringe show, so I am also set designer, props mistress, costume designer (well, of a sort - they are both pull-shows, as is pull from your closets, but this is what I want...), marketer and media rep. I'm so lucky to have a fabulous Sound Designer in Erin Foster-O'Riordan (who is also acting in one of the shows) because she always takes sound design as a challenge and gives me more than I can even imagine. I'm also blessed with fabulous Casts and wonderful Stage Management teams who work hard and bring their own special talents to the projects.  AND I am not only getting to see another one of my scripts realized onstage, but also a lovely, layered piece by first-time playwright, Anne Marie Szucs - how blessed am I to be trusted with directing and producing someone's first play?!

But August is now upon us and we are, or will be, ready when the audiences come. Both shows are blocked and off-book (for the most part), all the set pieces are acquired and painted if need be, almost all the props are done (there are a few consumables that will be purchased day-of-show), and we head into this last week before tech ready to run and clean!

Here are my two shows.  I hope you can make it out to one of both of them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Play's the Thing - Taming of the Shrew presented by Freewill Players

It's July in Edmonton, that means it's time for the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.  Thanks to a ripped canopy at Hawreluk Park, the entertainment has moved to a new, temporary, location and the presentation of a single production but let that not dissuade you from attending, as they serve up an excellently delivered, fun-filled night. This year the performance of Taming of the Shrew is held at the Myer Horowitz Theatre in the University of Alberta Student's Union Building.  Your best bet for parking is in Stadium and they have thoughtfully provided signage to guide you to the theatre around the construction. The company has done their best to retain those familiar things that could be easily transported from the park to this new theatre space - the 50/50 Sellers and FOH staff all looked very familiar.

Although Taming of the Shrew is far from my favorite Shakespeare play, there are so many things that made this a delightful evening of theatre.  First of all, there was a real nod to the members of the company as members of Edmonton's Artistic Community.  These are not just actors on the the stage, but rather people that we enjoy seeing like old friends and true contributors to the overall artistic scene and they have been for a number of years.  Several 'original' company members are on the stage, and in the opening sequence they poke fun at themselves and bring us all into the joke.  A running gag with Julian Arnold is set up and this carries through the show.  We get a sense of both the characters these actors will play as well as hints about what they might be like in their 'real' lives off the stage.  Overall, the tone is light and there are subtle nods to the unusual situation of this season and how hard they are working to ensure that they will not disappoint their audience.  It's a generous feeling and a reminder of where the festival came from and where it's been and where it will return.

When the production gets going it is a real fun ride.  James MacDonald as Petruchio and Mary Hulbert as Kate are well-matched and excellently cast.  They are an attractive couple and both have a strength and charm that makes you root for them as a couple. I loved that each of them seemed to have a journey beyond just the 'taming'. Each starts with a number of questionable qualities but throughout the course of the play, those rough exteriors are chipped away revealing much more likable people. The rest of the cast is equally delightful. Bianca (Bobbi Goddard) and her suitors (Jamie Cavanagh, John Wright and Nathan Cuckow) and their accompanying servants (Sheldon Elter, and Patrick Lundeen) are full of fun in their hi-jinks. It's a testament to the depth of this company to see people who have anchored shows like Lear and Julius Caesar and Midsummer Night's Dream step up to bring their considerable talents to make for a show with no weak links. And although we are not in the park, the production's musical score and streamlined set give it a soft, light feeling that almost make you feel like you were outside on a summer's evening. 

This production moves quickly from laugh to laugh and was a wonderful way to spend an evening.  Don't miss it!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Odysseo - More Magic and Horses with Cavalia!

This past week I got to experience the magic of Cavalia once again, this time with there new show, Odysseo.  I took Gibson this time, as Oliver got to see it last year and Gibson was quite devastated that he missed out.  Gibson and I got the royal treatment as we experienced the VIP experience which included a lavish buffet supper, haagen-dazs ice cream, champagne, popcorn and a dessert buffet at intermission.  It was truly a VIP experience and Gibson was over the moon to get not one, but two, chocolate chunk ice-creams!  At first we could not find seats, but a lovely couple of women invited us to join their table.  The Buffet is aimed more at adults, but there were enough items for Gibson to enjoy (he's crazy for shrimp and hummus) so we both were well looked after. Our seats were fantastic and looking at the floor map, I would recommend the Red to Gold seats for a great view.  Red, Pink and Purple are all VIP seating, but the Gold is not for those of you who just want to see the show.  I looked around though, and although some seats are marked as obstructed view, I can't imagine there is a bad seat in that house.  We were certainly spoiled in the centre, but they do a terrific job playing to the whole house.

The show is wonderful!  It's hard for me not to compare it to Cavalia.  I preferred this show as there was a little more variety to it and the tumbling group from West African added a spark and humour that lifted it even more.  Bear in mind, I really enjoyed Cavalia, it's just hard not to compare! It's a circus, but a very high end circus.  It's amazing what these performers can do, both human and animal.  Sometimes they make it look so easy that it is only afterwards that you realize what they did and how incredibly difficult it was. When the West African Tumblers first come in and all of them do 10-20 backflips in a row across the stage it left me open-mouthed in glee!  Gibson kept turning to me yelling, "This is Awesome! Thank you! Thank you for bringing me!" I am pretty sure the tumblers were his favorite.  I had a few favourite moments: I loved the humour of the tumblers, especially with the addition of the high jumpers (you have to see these contraptions they wear!); I could have watched the Carousel forever, it was so beautiful and awe-inspiring; the hoop work blew me out of the water; speaking of water, well, I don't want to spoil it, but it's pretty incredible.  So many wonderful moments.  Hard to count them all.  The horses are still the stars, but they seem to get a little more of a break this show.  I am still so impressed with what they can do. Such smart, talented animals.

Odysseo runs in Edmonton until August 12th. Prices range from $40-$240 depending on seats and package. There are also lower prices for accompanied children.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Summer Theatre - Walterdale Theatre presents Jennie's Story

Last Friday I took in the final show in Walterdale's 2013/2014 season, Jennie's Story by Betty Lambert, directed by Alex Hawkins.  It tells the story of Jennie McGrane (Heather Brooke), a young married woman in 1938 Alberta who finds herself unable to have children because of a terrible injustice done to her when she was a naive teenager. There is much in the playbill about the reason for how this was allowed to happen, primarily the barbaric Eugenics Laws on the books at the time and the machinations of a trusted Priest (John Trethart) and her mother Edna (Syrell Wilson) who choose to go along with everything. It was a very thought-provoking piece and has stayed with me since.  Although the history of the piece is important in itself, as Lambert was specifically writing about this to draw attention to it, for me it connected strongly to the fact that there are still people and policies determined to control women's reproductive freedom.  A few weeks ago this story about a doctor in Calgary who refuses to prescribe any birth control due to her beliefs enraged me and the recent Hobby Lobby decision in the U.S. further emphasized the main theme of the play - that throughout history people have taken control of women's reproductive health and this is simply wrong and unfair. This is what resonated with me on seeing the play.  From 1938 to 2014, we've come so far...

The show itself is very well done.  Brooke has a real glow onstage and her Jennie moves from a cheerful earnestness to a desperate sadness over her loss.  As her supportive husband Harry, Ryan Beck gives a thoughtful and intelligent performance.  The rest of the cast rises to the challenge of supporting this story. The fifth cast member, Molly Dorval played by Molly MacKinnon is a lovely contrast to Jennie in her journey and characterization. The set, designed by Joan Hawkins, is  picture-perfect, it's pastel colours and clean lines contrasting sharply with all the dirty little secrets. Overall, I liked the script, but there are a few repetitive sections that I thought were unnecessary as well as an occasional strange turn of phrase here or there that didn't quite work for me.

It is, however, a thoughtful night and worth the trip - plus, the theatre is air conditioned, which is quite nice on these hot summer nights! Show runs to July 12th at the Walterdale Playhouse.

Checking out the Edmonton Street Performer's Festival in Winston Churchill Square

One of the very cool benefits for me of working at the Citadel Theatre is that I right next door to Winston Churchill Square.  I knew the Square was busy in the summer, but until I was walking by it on an almost daily basis I didn't quite get the scope of it.  Last week, The Works was in full force and we even had some art in our lobby, and this week (starting last Friday, July 4th) The International Street Performers Festival is in full swing.  I took some time on Friday to walk around and check out the activity and it brought back for me, many memories of previous visits to the Festival.

Years ago (in the late 1980s), when I was in University I had a job just North of Downtown and I had a bus transfer right at Edmonton City Centre.  I would hop off the bus with my lunch, take a walk to the Square and enjoy whatever was going on.  My favorite week was the Street Performers Festival.  Coming from a smaller city I had never seen anything like it before.  I couldn't believe that I was able to see such performers, right there, and all it would cost me was my applause and what I could afford to toss in the hat at the end of the show. I loved watching the kids react and thought it was a fabulous way to introduce children especially to theatre.

The Festival has grown up a lot since those early days, but the spirit at the centre of it remains the same.  It's definitely about bringing unique performance art to everyone.  The price is the same for everyone - whatever you can afford - and that is fabulous!  Now there are Food Trucks and lovely shaded seating areas for those who want to enjoy the atmosphere nearby.  I really like the way they have the space laid out.  The Food trucks have their own lane and you can scoot over for a green onion cake or butter chicken or whatever else suits you and then head back for more performances in the square.  There are face painting stations and a special Kid's section complete with bouncy castles - perfect for the wee ones who might need to stretch their legs after sitting and watching.  On Friday, I took in a bit of two performance circles - varied in what they presented.  One was a trio of dancers who combined exceptional physicality with a brilliant sense of humour. The other was a juggling type of a performer who you could tell was an expert on engaging the audience and making them feel like they were an important part of his performance.

I've been back since the Opening to catch a glimpse here and there at lunch time of the shows on the square and to get a taste of my favorite festival fare! It's been perfect weather and it looks like it's going to hold for an absolutely wonderful week!  Check it out!

A Special Note: For those of you who think that this is a just-for-kids event, I would wager that you would be very impressed by the quality of the acts AND there are special Late Night events on July 11th and 12th at the Stanley Milner Library Theatre hosted by Trevor Schmidt with music by Darrin Hagen.  Tickets are required for this and are available in advance.  This show is specifically for the grown-ups and starts at 11:11 p.m. both nights!