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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Books! Books! Books! Alberta Readers' Choice Panel

The past few days, theatre was taken over by books in my life! Certainly not a bad thing, as anyone who has been to my house could easily tell you that books and reading take up a huge part of my life. 

Saturday, I attended a Writer's Corner at the Jasper Place Library facilitated by Jason Lee Norman, EPL's Writer in Residence.  The panelists were the 4 Edmonton Authors whose books were 4/5 of the Current Alberta Readers' Choice Short List.  On hand were Todd Babiak (Come Barbarians), Theresa Shea (The Unfinished Child), Diana Davidson (Pilgrimage), and Michael Hingston (The Dilettantes).  Jason Lee Norman moderated the event and the panel answered questions about research, challenges, inspiration and how it feels to have your book nominated for this award. I was invited to speak as a reader of two of the books, Come Barbarians and Pilgrimage, as those were our first two #yegbookclub selections, and there were readers for the other two books to speak about those, as well.  It was great that the two books I had not yet read could be purchased that day, so I came home with two new books which both sounded like great reads and I got all my books signed by the authors! Can you say fangirl? All in all, it was a great afternoon activity.  I am hoping to get to a few more of the Writer's Corners at the EPL, and since the next one will feature Edmonton playwright, Chris Craddock, I figure that's a double-whammy of theatre and writing for me! The date is not set yet, but once I find out when that is, I will let you know! Voting is still open for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award so click the link and pick your choice.  There is also a 5th book by Calgary author Tyler Trafford - Almost a Great Escape

A note: for all you writers out there - it was mentioned that Jason Lee Norman's collection 40 Below: Volume 2 is still accepting submissions.  Check it out if you have a great winter story and submit!

Next post - more books - #yegbookclub number three!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Listening to the the Internal Dialogue - The Genius Code

Last week I took in The Genius Code at C103. The Genius Code began in the Summer of 2012, originated by Jonathan Kawchuk and Jon Lachlan Stewart. It stars Jamie Cavanagh, Cole Humeny, and Laura Metcalfe, with design by Cory Sincennes and Matt Schuurman, and choreography by Ainsley Hillyard. It is a live play where each individual audience member listens through their own set of headphones, choosing which character to follow in a three person love tragedy set in the modern day. I was a bit worried about which headset to choose, as I worried no matter what I chose, I would miss something. But once there, I decided to pick Red and just see what would happen. My friend, @catharooni, chose White and we figured we could compare afterwards. 

The story is about a trio - DJ Genius Code, aka Gene Cody, has never been in love, in every sense of the word, but, inspired by a sparked romance between two of his best friends, Gyl and Sky, Gene brings the two lovers together, and begins creating an experimental album of music using their voices, conversations; their entire lives. The Genius Code is an innovative theatre experience bringing each audience member three different choices of a story. 

I worried beforehand about how wearing headphones might interfere with the engagement with the piece, but I was delighted with how the production dealt with that.  Everything was routed through the head phones and the the specific colour/character you chose merely augmented the perspective of the story telling.  I was following Gyl, @catharooni was following Gene. I really liked the whole headset thing.  If I had more time I would go back again and see the other two perspectives (in fact, you can at a reduced rate: From Catalyst Theatre: Want to see The Genius Code again and listen to a new character? Well if you come back with proof of purchase from a previous performance (program, receipt from Tix etc) - you can see the show again for just $15! Available at the door only. The show returns tomorrow night at 8p.m.).  I was actually disappointed when we were told to remove them.  There was a really cool effect, however, because certain members of the audience were getting pieces of information at different times and from different perspectives so our staggered laughter was picked up by the mics and it was very cool.  You got a sense of the layers of the story, even though you couldn't hear all of them. 

i will admit I was most impressed with the concept and the effect on my reception of the story.  It's all well acted with strong writing, wonderful choreography and a very cool set and projections that were 100% integrated and which felt necessary to the piece as a whole. The story itself was a challenge for me to connect to, but I was impressed with the dedication.  It just got a little too removed from my personal experience of relationships for me to truly connect. That being said, I did find it compelling and, like I said earlier, if I had the time I would go back for a second time to check out a different perspective.

Some really cool stuff happening in the show. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lizard At Home... What's This?

Lizard At Home is a new web-series that premiered May 15, 2014 on YouTube.  It's creators are Joel Crichton and Dustin Clark who have come together to write this story of Oliver, a socially frustrated scientist, and Drake, his roomate who happens to be some sort of weird lizard.  Together they are trying to figure out Drake's origin and in the meantime fighting off assassins and other obstacles. The entire 6 episode series was written and conceived and shot over a 12 day period and this first episode suggests it's a quirky, off beat show which pays homage to sci-fi classics.

Check it out:

There are 5 more episodes coming your way every Thursday.

Long Weekend - Lots of sleep and another 3 shows!

May is a great month for theatre in Edmonton!  This past week I saw three shows and rehearsed for both of my Fringe shows.  All in all and very theatre filled week!

Thursday night was Opening Night for Make Mine Love at the Citadel.  It was great to finally see the show onstage.  I was amazed by how they brought to life all the complicated elements of the show and made them seem like magic.  There's a car chase, a train ride, and a bus crash in addition to the wonderful work with all the Hollywood film projections and all of those are a testament to the skills of the phenomenal technical department at the Citadel. they really did a wonderful job integrating the film with the stage work and it was cool to see it all come together.  The cast of 10 is tremendous and they literally feel like a cast of thousands. I watched the show on Opening Night Thursday and then was back with the family for Sunday evening's performance.  The boys were thrilled to see their Irrelevant show favourites, Mark Meer and Jana O'Connor onstage, and they giggled through the slapstick and silliness.  I think 9 year old Gibson tuned out a bit during the romantic parts, but the almost 13 year old Oliver was engaged the whole time. I enjoyed the show both nights and a little bit more so on Sunday.  Not sure why, but it just felt tighter. There's some tremendous chemistry between the leads, John Ullyatt and Rebecca Northan, and the rest of the cast (Sarah Machin Gale, James MacDonald, Lisa Norton, Alex McCooeye, Farren Timeteo, Julien Arnold, Mark Meer, and Jana O'Connor) give them a fantastic array of comic characters as a backdrop. Make Mine Love runs at the Citadel Theatre to June 1st.

Friday night, @catharooni and I took in Mistakes Were Made at Shadow Theatre.  I had a great time! Glenn Nelson as theatre producer, Felix Artifex, gave a truly powerhouse performance in the almost 2 hour long show.  Although it is a two-hander, Nelson is onstage, on the phone or talking to his fish alone for about 95% of that time.  How he keeps it all straight is amazing to me.  It was incredible.  Never was he 'talking to the audience' - he was always present in whatever ridiculous conversation he was having. You'd think that a play where a character is on the phone for the majority of the time would be challenging to keep the audience engaged, but this was not the case.  As the secretary, Esther, Erika Conway was lovely as well.  She was a great counterpoint of calmness to Artifex's ever-increasing stress.  I loved the script.  The playwright in me was wowed by how the layers of the story were wrapped in these escalating phone calls.  Felix himself is not always likable and some questions were left unanswered which might frustrate some people, but I liked the feeling at the end.

Saturday was Closing Night of Starless by Eric Rice at Walterdale Theatre.  This was this season's offering of new work at Walterdale through From Cradle to Stage wherein a submitted script is selected and developed with a dramaturge (Tracy Carroll) through the first part of the season and then produced onstage.  I was a part of the production team as Master Painter. It felt a little weird to not see the show until closing, but that's the way my life has gone this month.  Starless was about a homeless man, Ralph (played by Mark Anderako) and how he is treated by the world.   I am still thinking about what the take away was from it.  It's a poignant story about his connection to his companion Mary (Monica Maddaford) and what happens on this one particular day.  Ralph is not an altogether pleasant person.  I appreciated Anderako's embracing of Ralph's flaws.  I think the play was trying to humanize the homeless, as we sometimes do enter a world of out-of-sight-out-of-mind when it comes to them, but I really had a hard time with the overall portrayal of the police, the church and the media. The play seemed to suggest that we, as a society, should just leave the homeless alone, and that strategies to help them were unwanted and unneeded, or that we should let them sleep wherever they want - on public and private property.  Maybe it wasn't trying to provide answers... I get a little caught up in that... maybe it was just supposed to make us think more about it. But I did really dislike the way the police were portrayed.  Probably because I still feel angry about that from Pig Girl.  I just know that it doesn't reflect the majority of the police officers I know. Still, it was great to see a new work onstage.  I am so glad that Walterdale puts resource behind the development of new work. This is a well-crafted, thought-provoking script and it is not easy for a new playwright to get their work produced and to do so with the support of dramaturgy and a theatre is a phenomenal thing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Up to My Waist in Theatre!

I was lucky enough to catch three shows last weekend.  This week is proving to be equally theatre-steeped, but in a different way.  I started rehearsals for both of my FinallySauces Fringe shows on Monday and Tuesday night. CRACK by Anne Marie Szucs lifted off on Monday and I started my own script, LITTLE MONSTERS, tonight.  Both rehearsals felt good and it was great to stretch those directing muscles.  Just like riding a bike!

The rest of the week is quite saturated with arts - just the way I like it.  Wednesday I will be experiencing Oliver's Grade 7 Band Concert.  I am very excited to see and hear this. It has been very fun for me to watch him apply himself to the Trombone.  He likes it! He really likes it!  All the arts-brainwashing I have done over his life has paid off! Woo hoo!  Thursday is the Opening Night of Make Mine Love at the Citadel.  I feel so much anticipation about finally seeing this show.  I couldn't go to the dress rehearsal because I had the Yeggies that same night, so I find myself quite anxious to see it!  When I read the script I was blown away by the requirements and I am so curious to see how our amazing production team has achieved the special effects.  I got a peek of a little bit of the show today at the Media Call and it has only whetted my appetite for more.

Friday will see me at Shadow Theatre for Mistakes Were Made.  I have heard great things, but I will admit I am most thrilled to see Erika Conway onstage!  She's a Walterdale alumnus and proof that there are very talented people coming from that pool!  Speaking of Walterdale, Saturday will see me at Closing Night of Starless, a new work by Eric Rice developed as part of the From Cradle to Stage program.  I painted the set so I am looking forward to finally seeing the show!  Better late than never!

All in all and tremendously arts-packed week! Good thing it's a long weekend... I will need the rest!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

#yeggies 2013 - A Nomination Amongst Great Company!

This past Friday was the 2013 #Yeggies Awards. The #Yeggies are an award show created to recognize and celebrate outstanding social media content creators in the capital region. I was honored to be nominated in the category of Arts and Culture for this blog and, I assume, for some of the other things I coordinate such as the #yegbookclub. It was very a very fun night, and although I did not win, I did have a great time meeting other people engaged in #yeg social media.  It's flattering to have been nominated because I started this blog as a celebration of the theatre that we are so blessed to have in Edmonton and as a way to encourage people to go and see more.  It's kind of cool to know that it's being noticed.

I was nominated with a bunch of other fabulous arts supporters and I thought I would take a little time to draw attention to them. Anyone who is trying to increase participation in the arts is okay in my books and these people are certainly doing that.

The Nominees:

Gig City - a online news and entertainment magazine serving Edmonton, Alberta.
thinkITEM - a visual artist
The Choir Girl - A blog about all things choir, music and performance related
What It Is - An Edmonton and Alberta Arts and Entertainment show where anything can happen and will.
Finster Finds - You are here - you know what this is, right?
I Don't Get It - a podcast about dance, mostly contemporary dance, from a guy who knows nothing about it and a girl who knows everything (or thinks she does)

I Don't Get It was the big winner and I encourage you to check them out and the other nominees for some interesting perspectives on Edmonton's arts and culture scene.

You should also check out the Yeggies nominees for the other categories as there are some real cool sites about Edmonton in a variety of areas.

Marathon - Three Days/Three Plays!

May is a great month for theatre in Edmonton!  The only challenge is getting to everything.  There's simply so much on the docket!

Thursday I started my theatre binge with Kill Your Television's production of The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson.  There are some shows I go to to just have fun and there are some shows I go to for a challenge. This was definitely one of those that challenged me.  The Crackwalker is a dark gritty piece about people on the fringes of society - the outcasts, the working poor, the uneducated, the addicted, the discarded.  It's a harsh look at a world that few of us even come close to seeing.  I'd read the play several years ago and even on the page it's a challenge. It's one of those pieces that is like watching a train wreck... you know that things are bad and going to get worse and all you can do is sit and watch and see it unfold before you.  The inevitability of it is frightening. This is a script, however, that answers no questions and provides no comfort.  That is hard to take and as I sought a message to take away I found I couldn't find one that made me particularly happy. 

On Friday night, I forgot I was old, and went to the Booty Call (11:30 p.m.) presentation of Contractions presented by Northern Light Theatre. It was a very interesting piece about corporate culture delivered with a fascinating contrast by Linda Grass and Nimet Kanji. Grass is delightfully robotic and Nimet as puzzled and disturbed as we are by the situation. The chemistry between the two women was excellent.  It felt very relevant as our culture is very focused on success in work and the idea of balance of personal life with work life.  At what length will you go to succeed professionally and what how much does your work value you as a person?  Very fascinating. I did wish that I had chosen to go to an earlier performance as I learned that staying up late is no longer something I do particularly well.  I wish I could, but truth be told, I had to stop seeing late shows at the Fringe a few years ago because I discovered I just couldn't do it.

Saturday I had a much more cheery outing with the Mayfield Dinner Theatre's presentation of Hairspray.  It was so much fun!  We saw Hairspray a few years ago when it toured through, and although I enjoyed it at the time, I preferred this one.  This production, directed by Tracey Flye, was engaging and fast-paced and had an intimacy that was really fresh.  The whole show is well sung with snappy dances and a sense of fun that bubbles up.  There were several outstanding performances that I want to mention: Stephanie Pitsiladis as Tracy Turnblad anchors the piece with powerhouse vocals and acting chops to match.  Though tiny, she is never small onstage.  Melanie Piatocha as Tracy's best friend Penny is also a delight.  She is terrifically funny and having seen her before in ingenue roles I was blown away by her comedic skills. Her romantic counterpart Seaweed, played by J. Cameron Barnett, is also a treat.  His voice is chocolaty smooth and his approach to Seaweed is sharp and fresh.  He owns it and the already high energy show jumps up whenever he's onstage. And I must give props to Aurianna Angelique as Motormouth Maybelle.  Her performance of I Know Where I've Been (along with the ensemble) literally brought tears to my eyes.  All in all the show was terrific.   It's a sure-fire fun night with a show that has some pretty important messaging about acceptance, but which never lectures!

The first two shows are now closed so you unfortunately can't catch them, however, Hairspray runs until June 15th so you can still make that one.

* I forgot to mention that I was lucky enough to attend all three with the lovely Catherine.  Truly a great theatre companion.  Mark also joined us for Hairspray and we had the pleasure of Trevor's company for The Crackwalker.  It is so wonderful to be able to share these theatre experiences with great people!

Monday, May 05, 2014

A Charming Reflection on Family... Over the River and Through the Woods at Horizon Stage...

Saturday night I made the drive to Spruce Grove to have dinner with AM and catch the latest Horizon Players production, Over the River and Through the Woods.  It was closing night, so you won't be able to catch it, but I did enjoy myself. It was a lovely, charming piece about a grandson dealing with two sets of involved Italian grandparents. It's themes were also about changing times and traditions, how people show love, and having to deal with decisions that might take us away from those who love us. it had many funny moments that I think most people could relate to, even if you weren't Italian.  Like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding or the TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie, it connects us to the universality of the modern world shifting our cultural traditions. The four grandparents were particularly entertaining, and played well. It left us with a little sadness and contemplation about what happens when those older generations pass on. A truly charming evening of theatre.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Go East! Go to Punctuate Theatre's East of Berlin for an Incredible Theatre Experience...

Last night I took in East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch at C103 presented by Punctuate Theatre and East/West Collective. It was simply terrific.  It's hard to say anything but that.  It was one of the best shows I have seen this season, and I have seen a lot of shows and a lot of good shows. It's described as a dark comedy and it is that, though I would rather say I was a dark portrait of life which at times makes you laugh and at times makes you gasp and at times makes you sad (whether you cry or not will depend on you - but I heard plenty of sniffles).

The play focuses on the legacy of the Holocaust on the children of those involved. The main character is Rudi (Jamie Cavanagh) the son of a Nazi war criminal who grows up in Paraguay. After finding out disturbing details about his father's activities during the war from a friend, Herman (Mathew Hulshof), he eventually travels to Berlin and meets Sarah (AndrĂ©a Jorawsky) the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor. What happens is wonderful, joyful and inevitably doomed.

Cavanagh is electric.  He has a natural charisma that is near impossible to be immune to.  We go through his journey of discovery along with him.  He brings us in.  Rudi spends a great deal of time talking directly to the audience, and as one of my friends said afterward, it was as though he was speaking directly to each and everyone of us.  You truly feel that this was his story. Hulshof and Jorawsky are equal to the task of being a part of this story.  This is an ensemble with no weaknesses.  You believe them.  A friend of mine, who saw the show the night before, told me, "I didn't want it to end." But of course, it had to.

Directed by Simon Bloom, this piece is perfectly paced and staged. It has an emotional resonance in all the right places and taps into everyday humour and a kind of irreverence to soften the underlying horror that comes with anything that deals with the holocaust.  Under Bloom's guidance, the three actors achieve a sense of real that is mesmerizing.  The set (Nicholas Blais), with it's multitude of scorched and dirtied file cabinets is a monument to both the bureaucracy and record-keeping of the Nazis and the hidden dirty secrets of generations before us.

After the show, I spent a good deal of time talking about it with my friends.  This is the kind of show that stays with you.  I woke up this morning thinking about it.  There are four more performances - one tonight, 2 on Sunday, and one on Monday evening.  I strongly encourage you to go to it.