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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Burning Bluebeard... If we spirits have offended...

There was a moment in Edmonton Actors Theatre's production of Burning Bluebeard at Theatre Network where I experienced a flashback.  In high school I did a lot of volunteering both onstage and backstage at Keyano Theatre in Fort McMurray. When I was in grade 10, I was working running crew on Aladdin, the Christmas Pantomime.  I had just placed my *rock* onstage and was waiting backstage for the end of the scene when I heard a loud bang onstage.  I was instantly worried that my rock had fallen over so I rushed to the stage door and opened it to the sight of smoke and fire and the Music Director rushed out of the smoke yelling, "Get out! Get out!" The set was on fire.  I helped lead the orchestra out the stage door (they had been located upstage in a burlap tent) and exited the theatre out the back loading dock. Outside on the loading dock, in December in Fort McMurray were the dancers and actors from the show. There the girls in their tights and sequinned bodysuit stood, shivering in the cold as we waited to find out what happened. This was the moment I recalled as John Ullyatt (as the Stage Manager) described lifting 6 dancers up through the coal chute onto the chilly Chicago street outside the burning theatre. For the Iroquois Theater it was stage lighting and hanging scenery and a stray spark, for us it was the pyro, used in the cave scene, a stray spark ignited the hanging backdrops.  The loud bang was the fire curtain dropping.  The actress playing Aladdin had to jump into the audience and exit with them through the front doors of the theatre. It was the second show of the run. Some people blamed the ostrich feathers that were used in the show (I saw an ostrich feather onstage in Burning Bluebeard too, and my breath caught), someone wondered if the Scottish play had been mentioned (it happens) or if someone had whistled backstage, most understood that pyros and burlap (even fire-proofed burlap) don't always mix well.

I thought a lot about that fire as I watched the show.  We were lucky - no one was hurt, and the worst thing that happened was the show was cancelled. For the 1903 audience of Mr. Bluebeard in Chicago at the Iroquois Theater, it was much, much worse.  The audience of Burning Bluebeard, however, was treated to a wonderful show - funny, irreverent in places, sad, and magical. It incorporated the audience without alienating them. It felt modern and fresh despite being about something that happened in 1903. It's use of low-tech magic was whimsical.  The cast of 6 (John Ullyatt, Amber Lewis, Braydon Dowler-Coltman, Vincent Fortier, Stephanie Wolfe and Richelle Thoreson) was a brilliant ensemble - multi-talented, all clearly in the same world, performing with an infectious joy and an undertone of sadness, and totally embracing the aesthetic. Dave Horak's direction is imaginative and playful.

Over the past few years I have been able to see quite a bit of theatre around the city.  Some companies I find hit and miss - I like one show, but the next I go 'meh'. What I am finding with the Edmonton Actors Theatre is that even if I am not totally a fan of the play or the message of the play, the company never fail to impress me. I always leave thinking about the show I have seen for some time afterwards. With Burning Bluebeard, I really liked the play and the show, so I double-lucked out, and I am still thinking about it...

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