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Friday, January 31, 2014

Going Up? The Elevator Project...

Last night after all the people went in for Opening Night of Clybourne Park, I took off to Tix on the Square to get a ticket for The Elevator Project.  I missed it in the fall because I was out of town too much and too busy when I was in town, so I was glad to squeeze it in this cycle.  I tried to start at the Tix elevator, but unfortunately it was having technical difficulties so it was not operational.  So I headed off for the CN Tower. There was a long line up there so I boogied over to EPCOR and got in for that one, then back to the CN Tower, where I waited a bit for that one and then the long trek to CKUA and a wait for the third.

The three shows were very different.  With a five minute piece, I don't actually want to say too much about them specifically because of spoilers, but overall it was a very interesting experience. I was worried in the first one because as I stood in the tight space my mild claustrophobia started to bubble up, but the brevity of the pieces made it okay.  It's very intense to be 'right there' while an intimate conversation happens in front of you.  I went through weird thought processes about how I should be personally engaging.  Do I laugh? Do I look at them? Do we clap at the end?  I wavered between elevator etiquette and theatre etiquette.  It was very, very interesting.  Like Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat (which I saw at Fringe a few years ago), this was a theatrical experience greatly affected by the space.  The elevator has it's own rules about intimacy and eye-contact.  Breaking those rules to watch the show produced a myriad of emotional reactions in me. One of my friends said she had to watch a show sideways because she found she could not stand in the elevator without facing the front.  She tried to turn and watch, but had to turn front because standing sideways just felt wrong.  Our patterns of interacting with a space like an elevator are conditioned and when we break those conditions it affects us.

I think it would have been better if I had gone with a  friend (although I did bump into a couple of people I knew), because I think part of the experience would have been enhanced by a post play conversation and the wait at some sites was long as they could only have so many people in the elevator at a time.  Having someone to pass that time with would have been nice.  Also, it's a bit of a hike from site to site and that is nicer to do with a companion. I did have no trouble getting in my daily steps on my fitbit! Theatre as exercise! You have to love that.  I would recommend dressing warm.  I should have worn a hat and maybe a better scarf as I was not dressed as well as I should have been. You should also plan for 2 hours of time.  It might take less, but that will depend on how many other people are out for the adventure.

Die Fledermaus is Bubbly, Frothy, Fun!

There's a whole song about drinking Champagne in Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II and like that bubbly beverage, Edmonton Opera's production is effervescent and giggle-producing. I took in the Dress Rehearsal/Student matinee on Thursday and was treated to a colourful farce complete with disguises, masks, dancing and incarceration.  It's in English, which was a treat, as I didn't have to rely on the supertitles very much and I could watch more of the show.  The music is also wonderful with lush voices provided by beautiful people!

A married woman, Rosalinde (Betty Waynne Allison), is visited by an opera-singing suitor from her past, Alfred (Adam Fisher).  Her husband Eisenstein (Gordon Gietz) is due to serve time in jail for a minor charge. So Rosalinde and Alfred plan for a tryst in Eisenstein's absence.  This also works out for their chambermaid Adele (Jaqueline Woodley) who wants the night off to go to a grand party hosted by the Prince Orlofsky (Gerald Thompson).  However, we find out the entire evening has been set up by Dr. Falke (Peter McGillivray) who Eisenstein played a joke on previously. Dr. Falke manages to get all the players to the party, each pretending to be someone that they aren't and the resulting flirting, dancing and drinking leads to more and more complications.  It's a farcical piece punctuated with bright music that bubbles.

I loved Adele's Laughing Song and the song about Champagne the most, I think because they were both familiar to me, but also because they were attacked with a real vibrancy.  The cast as a whole goes for the laughs, playing up the physical humour to support the ridiculous premise.  Gietz has one of those dreamy voices and together with Waynne Allison we hear some beautiful singing. Woodley's voice is bright and bubbly, just like the Champagne.  This is not the kind of script that requires a deep emotional commitment.  This cast attacks it with levity and a sense of fun.  Fisher's Alfred plays up a ridiculous accent with great relish and no apologies.  Thompson as Orlofsky is simply over-the-top hilarious (my jaw dropped when he started singing). In a wonderful surprise, local favorite Julian Arnold plays the jailer Frosch and his banter with the audience is a delight with topical references that drew many laughs even from the youthful audience (they even seemed to get the Rob Ford jokes).

I did, however, wish for a little more creative use of the stage, particularly in the second act.  The pictures often flattened out and I wondered why they didn't use the depth of the stage more (having seen the last few productions, I know it can be done).  Despite having such a large proscenium it felt crowded in the second act as the sizable chorus was packed into a very narrow alley.  Sometimes this led to the chorus pulling focus from the important action. I just think that changing the staging to use the depth of the stage would make more of the beautiful costumes and set and support the action more.  There were also times when I was watching a "drunken" chorus member when I should have been watching the person singing.  A better distribution of bodies and smaller choices by some of the chorus members might help minimize that.

However, this is not a show of deep thoughts and maybe I am being a little picky. It's a fun silly romp with excellent singing and beautiful costumes and it was an enjoyable afternoon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

First Exposure to Hawksley... Late to the party, but drinking the punch!

Last night my husband and I took in closing night of The God That Comes, the one man show by Hawksley Workman at the Citadel Club.  I will be honest, I know there were a lot of people going because it was Hawksley Workman and they have been long-time fans, but I was going because I had heard about the show from the Calgary theatre season last year.  I had never really heard Hawksley before (other than maybe a couple of times on the radio - but I couldn't swear to it).  Since the show opened last week I had heard great things both at work and via twitter and FB so I was very anxious to see it.  I was also looking forward to the bottle of wine that came with the VIP table I had purchased way back in August!  Anyhow, last night was really cool.  A re-telling of the Bacchae in a way that was very sexy, humorous, and musically compelling.  It was laugh out loud and so clever and Hawksley Workman's story-telling with music was always invested and engaging.  What a great night. Very happy that the VIP Table came with 2 CDs and we already opened one to listen to on the drive home. I plan to look into some more of his music...

This was not my only theatrical adventure this weekend, on Friday I took in the dress rehearsal for Clybourne Park at the Citadel.    I laughed (a lot) and a cried (curse you guys for hitting me in the heart!).  So good and I can't wait to see it again with a packed house! I can't say how much I love this script and this cast and production feel just spot on. It's so honest and true to life and so very funny and it's safe to laugh at the things you wouldn't if you were actually in the room.  In this world of political correctness and "us and them" it's so incredibly relevant.

This week I want to catch The Bronte Burlesque and The Elevator Project, and we open Clybourne Park, so it's going to be a busy one!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What's On in Edmonton - aka - Stuff to See!

Theatre in Edmonton is really getting kick started this weekend, so if you are looking for something to see, there are a lot of options.

Hawksley Workman is wrapping up The God That Comes at the Citadel Theatre this weekend.  Tickets for Friday and Saturday are few, but you might be able to grab ones for tonight (better run the show starts at 8 p.m.) or tomorrow night.  Twitter has been abuzz with great comments about the show, so I am looking forward to it.

At Theatre Network, the highly successful A Bronte Burlesque opens tomorrow night.  Putting this show on a bigger stage with better sightlines is going to make it even better.  It sold out it's run at the Fringe two years ago so I expect a healthy turn-out for this. 

Also at the Citadel, Clybourne Park starts it's previews this weekend.  Its the Tony, Pulitzer and Olivier award-winning script by Bruce Norris and its biting wit seems so relevant in today's world of political correctness.  Whether you always feel like you put your foot in your mouth or you are always seeing others stepping over the line, you will find yourself on stage somewhere on the spectrum.

Workshop West's Canoe Fest also starts up this weekend.  A variety of options for you to choose from.  I'm hoping to check out the Elevator Project, but there are a lot of really cool choices on the festival schedule.

Over at Fringe Theatre Adventures, Kaybridge productions is presenting The Frequency of Water. Written by Carol Murray-Gilchrist, The Frequency of Water was the Sterling Award Recipient for Best New Play a few years ago, and is directed by Maralyn Ryan.

So there are a lot of options to get you started.  Now that it's been a little nicer out, there is no excuse to stay home - so don't, don't stay home - see a show!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

And So It's Happening... Workshopping THE EASY ROAD for Skirts AFire...

This Thursday I will be working with a fabulous dramaturge (Tracy Carroll) and 5 amazing actors (Michele Fleiger, Lora Brovold, April Banigan, Stephanie Wolfe and Jenny McKillop) to workshop my script The Easy Road in preparation for Skirts Afire in March.  I am nervous, but so excited.  A workshop opportunity, especially one a month and a bit ahead of the presentation is an incredible opportunity.  I can read my play to myself and make adjustments and changes, but until I hear it aloud, it's hard to really get what shape it's in.  I am in a great position.  I will get to hear it, definitely more than once, possibly with different actors reading different roles, and I will get to have fabulous discussions with someone who knows a lot more about play construction than I do.  And then, blessing upon blessing, I will be able to go away and rewrite.  And I will have time to make changes and more changes before the first week of March when we go back into workshop preparing to present it.

When I first started writing plays, I didn't really know about this process.  I was lucky enough to encounter it on a smaller scale through the APN Playwright's Circles, once at 10 Days of Madness before it was cancelled, and in courses at the University and then applying that to my rehearsal process for my fringe shows.  I rarely have had the opportunity to have a dramaturge like Tracy Carroll there to shepherd the process.  And to have this group of women reading for me.  I have seen them onstage and been blown away by them all, so to have them read my work and help me write a better play is just amazing.  We think that playwrights work alone, in a vacuum, and for some of the time, we do, but better writing happens with this kind of collaboration.  I promise to make it count!

Starting My Theatre Year Off with Mack & Mabel and the Plain Janes...

This past Saturday I met up with my good friend Catherine (@catherooni) for some poutine at The Next Act and my first theatre outing of the new year.   It was a great start - good company, great food and a very entertaining production. Mack and Mabel is the musical tale of the ill-fated romance between Hollywood director, Mack Sennett and waitress turned starlet, Mabel Normand. Set in the roaring 20’s when silent film was the rage and pratfalls and pies throwing were a plenty it follows their relationship in movie-making and their own kind of romance.  It also kicked off the Plain Jane's Concert series.  Directed by Kate Ryan with a tight cast of 7 with scripts in hand and a slightly streamlined version of the musical, we watched the story unfold with judicious use of blocking and song and the occasional dance.  Patricia Zentilli was simply wonderful as Mabel Normand.  Her voice soars and her portrayal of Mabel was both comical and heart-breaking.  I haven't ever seen her onstage before, but after this I will keep my eye out for her, as she was delightful to watch.  Her counter-part, Mack Sennett, was played by Jeff Haslam who seemed born to play the blustering non-romantic with the big ideas and the eye for what makes people laugh.  Haslam brought heart to the bigger than life character and his version of ‘I Won’t Send Roses’  was quite lovely. The cast was a nice tight ensemble and they treated us to a rousing tap number that was clean and sharp and just right!  It was a great start and I look forward to what this company will do next!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gearing up for Hawksley and Clybourne!

It's very busy at work right now.  I know, I know, there's a recent rejection of the word busy, but I work in a place where the pace goes up and down depending on what is on the go and right now we are busy.  A big part of my job is putting together the Playbills for each of the main stage shows and about 2-3 weeks out is when those tasks heat up.  We have two shows opening up in the next 4 weeks so I am both proofing and collecting right now, in addition to coordinating Opening Night Invitations for the first one, Clybourne Park, which opens on January 30th.  The second one, Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata opens on February 5th. So yeah, it's.... busy...

However, that's not even the next show in the building.  In our Beyond the Stage Series we have Hawksley Workman and The God That Comes opening tomorrow night.  I'm really excited for this show.  It won a couple of Betty Awards last season (Calgary's Sterlings) and made top ten theatre lists in Toronto and Vancouver.  I have never seen Hawksley Workman before but have friends (whose opinion I trust) who are die-hard fans so it all adds up.  Back in August, when I heard this show was coming I bought a VIP table right away and now I am so very glad I did.  With the way the tickets have been selling I would have been paying a lot more for not as great seats and no bottle of wine and CDs (there are a few nights with VIP Tables left... I highly recommend - they are the best seats in the house and you get the aforementioned wine and CDs).  Anyhow, I will have to do some waiting because I clearly wasn't thinking in August when I bought the tickets... for Closing Night... I might have to go earlier and see this one twice... hmmm...

After that it will Clybourne Park and Craigslist. This is clearly a great January for me.  All three of these shows really appeal to me.  They are current, edgy and very different.  Clybourne's read through was hysterical and the way it attacks the politics of speech and political correctness and assumptions about race and culture is brilliant.  I am excited to see it with all the bells and whistles.

In any case, I expect a few weeks of long days and then a very brief breath until I get to work on Mary Poppins!

Theatre Edmonton Project - The Director's Exchange, January 12th at The Club in the Citadel

About a year and a half or so ago (Sept 2012) a group of local artists started the Theatre Edmonton Project.  I heard about it via FB and was intrigued by the notion.  On their FB Page the purpose of the project was described as follows:

The Theatre Edmonton Project is an exciting new grassroots initiative that's working to accelerate and advance creative and artistic innovation across Edmonton's theatre community.
People are encouraged to join the FB Page or follow the group on twitter @theatreedmonton

Over the course of the past year and a half there were a variety of meet-ups each with a specific topic.  I went to one at last year's Canoe Festival on Resources and this past Sunday I was happy to partake in the Director's Exchange.  There was a panel of local Directors at various stages of their careers and at various sized theatres with differing structures. 

Bob Baker (Citadel Theatre)
Jonathan Christenson (Catalyst Theatre)
Elizabeth Hobbs ( Punctuate! Theatre)
Heather Inglis (Theatre Yes)
James MacDonald (Citadel Theatre)
Nancy McAlear (U of A / Independent)
Andrew Ritchie (Thou Art Here)
Amy Shostak (Rapid Fire Theatre)
David Van Belle (Ghost River Theatre)

The first half of the evening was comprised of questions from Moderator, Simon Bloom.  The directors discussed the concepts of Beauty, Truth and Style, as well as the impact of technology on productions and on audiences. They also talked about what they might take for granted and what they might tell their younger selves. It was an interesting first half with a range of responses owing to the variety of types of directors on the stage.  The second half of the evening was opened up to questions from the panel to the audience and from the audience to the panel.  Lively, positive exchange ensued.  It was a nice 2 hours of sharing, however, it felt like we had just scratched the surface and the discussion could have continued for another hour or so.  In fact some of the topics (technology, the role of theatre today, the role of celebrity in casting) could have been an entire evening of discussion. Still it was cool to be in room with so many artists sharing about the experience of their work.

For me the most interesting part was discussing the things that they took for granted.  As a director you worry about a lot of things, and what sometimes happens is those things you don't worry about don't get done and since you've taken them for granted you can be in trouble. I've had that happen and it really was stressful.  On the other side, there are a lot of people working for the show that you have no contact with.  You take that for granted and sometimes you forget to say thank you.  I know I always try to thank everyone personally who has worked on my shows, but there are always some in the larger infrastructure of the theatre that I am sure I forget.  I don't mean to, but it was good to think about it.

I did note a lack of representation on the panel from community theatre but I think they tried to get a variety of directors who work in radically different ways and types of theatres.  There were a lot of people I recognized from community theatre in the audience (both directors and actors) so they were well represented in the open discussion.

Anyhow, I also tweeted the whole evening so if you'd like, you can check out the Q & A on my twitter feed @smeep22003

I'm looking forward to the next one.  I have a few ideas for topics I might send in to the powers that be!