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Monday, October 30, 2017

Diving into work at Walterdale...

Last week was kind of a special one for me with regards to Walterdale Theatre. At the AGM I became the President for the 2017/18 Season, a posting I am very excited about especially considering the team that I will have to work with on the Board. It marks a return to the Board after a 5 year absence where I poured myself into production and a new job and work on other Boards. I think that after the experience I have gained on the Theatre Alberta and APN Boards I go back with a lot of skills that will help me serve the organization.

I also was surprised with an Award last week. I was selected for the Outstanding Season Contribution Award. Because they knew I was attending as incoming President they didn't tell me, so it was a very nice surprise. I was glad that Mark had decided to come along and since Walterdale has been so much of my theatre family over the years, I did feel like I had a lot of friends there to share the win with. It is always wonderful to be recognized and thanked for what you do and even nicer when it is done in front of people you love.

As for my Walterdale non-Board work this year, I am happy to announce that my play, Water Beneath Her Feet, has been selected for development and production at this year's From Cradle to Stage Festival. This means that I get to work on the script with dramaturge Tracy Carroll between now and February and then the developed script will be presented at Walterdale as part of the From Cradle to Stage Festival in May 2018. I had my first session with Tracy tonight and am looking forward to diving into a new draft with her questions and comments buzzing in my head.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Woman Behind the Man... Testament of Mary at Northern Light Theatre...

Saw Testament of Mary at Northern Light Theatre last night. It is a strikingly beautiful play to watch, particularly because of how Trevor Schmidt's Set and Costumes are lit by Adam Tsuyoshi Turnbull's lighting. This is not the cool, mild Mary portrayed in the New Testament but one that simmers beneath the surface so perhaps it is also appropriate that Holly Turner, who plays Mary fiercely and intelligently, is dressed in warm reds instead of the cool blues we often associate with the Virgin Mother. It's a fascinating imagining of Mary's personal, emotional, resistance to what happened to her son (who she refuses to name) and to how she feels used in the narrative that is being constructed around his miracles, death and resurrection.

On reflection this morning, it has me thinking about how we receive and consume news in our world. So much of the stories we receive are crafted by media and conflicting details are suppressed and shaped into something palatable and click-worthy. If you've read the Da Vinci Code you are probably aware that there are many more than just 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and that those four were selected for the new testament to tell a particular and consistent story. I wonder what the story of Jesus would look like if we read the other testimonials as well. And yes, I know that this is a fictionalized 'what if' story... but I can imagine that a mother who lost her son in the way that Mary did would not be so inclined to rejoice.

Testament of Mary runs to November 4th at the PCL Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Photo Credit: Holly Turner in The Testament of Mary, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Questions raised by Freedom Singer at the Citadel...

Where do we come from? Where are we going to? 

These questions have been in my head a lot over the last few years, so in some ways Freedom Singer was the perfect show for me to see as it deals very beautifully with both of them. Inspired by a search for his history, creator Khari Wendell McClelland embarks on a journey to find out more about his great-great-great Grandmother Kizzy who fled the U.S. and slavery to Canada via the Underground Railway. Additionally, he was seeking a larger social history in trying to recover the songs and music that Kizzy would have sung. Like the saying goes, it's the journey not the destination, and we are fortunate to go on that journey with him.

From the moment it started, the spirit of the room is one of welcome and companionship. We are invited to witness this story and thanked for coming along. There are several touch points along the way where McClelland makes sure that the audience is walking right a long with him. We are as invested as he is to find out what he is seeking because of the constant yet gentle invitation to be a part of the journey. Along the way we get to hear music (beautiful, thoughtful, layered music) performed masterfully by McClelland, Tanika Charles and Noah Walker. Charles, a gifted vocalist and truthful actress, also portrays several characters encountered by McClelland in his path to knowledge. It's both more than a concert and more than a play. 

And along this path, with ups and downs, and many dead ends, I was able to reflect more about those questions and my own life. Generously, this show allows the audience to embrace their own history and the complicity of our ancestors without shaming them. It's about acceptance and acknowledgement and I think, for me, most importantly about the second of the questions. While it's important to know where we come from, it is even more important to think about where we are going to. 

A joyful, truthful, embracing story that should make everyone think about who they are and what they can be. 

Freedom Singer has only two more shows: Saturday, October 28 at 8 PM and Sunday, October 29 at 2 PM. Click here for tickets. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Plans for the Weekend... Freedom Singer at the Citadel and The Testament of Mary at Northern Light Theatre...

I certainly feel that the theatre season is in full swing. Since mid September I have seen 8 shows, 1 concert and I have two more shows coming up this weekend. The menu has been varied, global in scope and both thought-provoking and entertaining.

This weekend I will be taking in two shows. The first, Freedom Singer, promises a compelling true story about the Underground Railroad combined with outstanding music from Khari Wendell McClelland, Tanika Charles and Noah Walker. 

Here's a sample:

Freedom Singer runs at the Citadel until October 29. Click here for tickets.

The other show I will be seeing this weekend is The Testament of Mary at Northern Light Theatre. It's going to be a very different show in terms of content and tone. In it, the mother of Jesus tells her story of her son’s crucifixion and questions his death and divinity. It's a one woman show starring Holly Turner and directed by Trevor Schmidt, and a portrait of a very human woman trying to make sense of and come to terms with the tragic death of her son.

 The Testament of Mary runs until November 4, 2017 in the PCL Studio. Click here for tickets.

Les Feluettes (Lillies) at Edmonton Opera... Stories we still need to tell...

Tuesday Night I saw Les Feluettes (Lillies) at Edmonton Opera. It was such a beautiful production. I'm usually aprehensive with opera, but 10 minutes in I was hooked. The acting was so strong and the cast a true single organism. I wasn't sure what i would think about a show entirely composed of men, but it was the only way it would make sense to tell this story. Plus the singing was gorgeous, both the solo voices and the choral pieces. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team. It was also told respectfully and honestly and artfully. It hit all the markers. 

I cried a little - during the scene in the picture, not because the scene was sad, but because it was so beautiful and because it hit me that it is sad that we are still in a place that we need to tell these stories. For most of the world I live in, Love is Love is Love is Love, but there are many places in the world, in our country, in our communities, where that is still not the case. So even though this story takes place in 1912 and 1952, to some degree this story could be happening today and that made me cry. Won't it be wonderful when we don't need to tell these stories anymore? 

There's only one more opportunity to see the show - Friday, October 27th. Click here for tickets. 

Photo Credit: Nanc Price

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk... Terrific TYA!

I had the pleasure of taking in Alberta Opera's Jack and The Beanstalk last week at the Backstage Theatre. They only had a very short public performance run before they headed off on their 200+ performance school tour. I was so glad I managed to catch this show as I have been disappointed to some degree with the TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) that I have been able to catch over the last few years. This one, directed by Lana Michelle Hughes with music direction by Erik Mortimer, was delightful. The perfect show to make younger audiences appreciate and enjoy theatre. A clear story with captivating characters (played with skill, talent and enthusiasm by Ethan Snowden, Marc Rico Ludwig and Rachel Ironmonger), humour and well-written and well-performed music, and a subtle message that was neither preachy nor throw-away. It also clocked in under an hour, which from my experience with my own children is simply perfect. Kudos to the cast and creative team for an enjoyable introductory theatre experience. The children in the audience I attended were captivated and thoroughly entertained!

There are no more public performances, however, if your child is in K-6 in the Edmonton area chances are they will be seeing the show sometime during the school year!

The Aliens are all around us...

Took in The Aliens by Annie Baker at Theatre Network this past week. It's a very introspective piece with silences and pauses but don't let that scare you off. Director Taylor Chadwick has made sure that the pauses are present and engaging, not simply waiting for the next thing to happen. The action is meticulous and purpose driven, pulling us in. It focuses on KJ (Chris Cook) and Jasper (Evan Hall), two 30 something misfits who hang out in an alley behind a coffee shop. Enter Evan (played with wide-eyed wonder and a delightful awkwardness by Michael Vetsch), a 17 year old coffee shop worker who encounters them and forms a connection with them, entranced by their seeming wisdom and coolness as compared to his relative inexperience. Although KJ and Jasper are failures by most modern standards, they do not see themselves that way and neither does Evan. Their purposeless lives have purpose if only to them. They are here in this alley for a reason even if that reason is just to hang out together in silence. They see themselves as geniuses even if the rest of the world does not. The chemistry an interaction between Hall and Cook is tight. They understand these guys and they make them work by making them human, not stereotypes. It's a deft, unusual portrait of the less than ordinary, which points us to think more about those in our world who do not stand out, who seem to exist on the margins. We get to see them as Evan does - as inspirational, as heroes, as artists and as geniuses.

The Aliens runs to October 22nd at the Roxy on Gateway.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Doll's House (Walterdale Theatre) - still so incredibly relevant...

I took in the Opening Night performance of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen at Walterdale Theatre  this past Wednesday evening. I knew what was coming, having read much of Ibsen in my 20s and 30s, and revisiting some of it in my 40s. What struck me was how sadly relevant it still is today. It spoke sharply to the defined roles that people impose on themselves and others with regards to marriage and parenthood and life in general and that need to find and understand oneself outside those expectations. It speaks also to societal judgement and the implications of stepping out of line morally and the personal and professional ramifications of moral missteps. I see it all around me - particularly in our social media world - the implications of social shaming for errors combined with the need to present a near-perfect persona to the world. I'm torn on some of this in today's world because I find social media shaming morally abhorrent in many situations... but I digress...

It is this fear of judgement from the outside world that guides Torvald, along with his expectations of his roles and Nora's within a marriage. Nora has bought into those roles because she has been told they are correct and while she is living a pleasant life there is no reason to question them. It's when things are not going so well that the social order is challenged and Nora wakes up, or decides she needs to wake up.

We can dismiss this world as being of it's time, but I don't think it is. I know people today who buy into that philosophy of having to appear perfect and without flaws - just look at the nearest Instagram feed, each selfie composed thoughtfully and artfully demonstrating a life to envy. Look at the kids dressed as tiny adults in designer clothes - little dolls dressed up to highlight the perfection of their family. All vacation and no real life. There are many doll's houses in our world today, created by a code of superficiality and lack of real depth. So many people today, like Nora then, do not truly know themselves. They can quote the deep and complicated articles they read in their Facebook and Twitter feeds but upon questioning their rote responses indicate they do not fully understand what they are saying. They, like Nora, are having fun but they are not truly happy...

Anyhow, as you can see it gave me a lot to think about and I truly believe that it is an extremely relevant piece today. Kudos to the cast for excellent commitment to a challenging script and to the entire team for creating the world.

A Doll's House runs until October 21st at the Walterdale Theatre.
Tickets can be purchased at Tix On The Square (780.420.1757 or or through the Box Office 1 hour prior to show start. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night on Tuesday, October 17th and a Talk Back on Wednesday, October 18th.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

UBUNTU (The Cape Town Project) - Thoughts on who we are...

I'm very aware that there are a lot of people around me that are 'not from around here'; mostly because I am an immigrant myself. I blend in well... because I have been in Canada from a very young age and because I think of myself as Canadian, but there have always been stories and accounting of our heritage in my family (Norwegian, German, Macedonian, Irish, English, American,... and so on). Now I was born in Minnesota (the most Canadian of all the states), not China or Zimbabwe or Wales, but I have always been conscious that Canada is a country of travelers - probably because I lived in Fort McMurray for a large part of my life and the majority of people there come from somewhere else. I went to my friend's homes and was warned to eat from the pot on the left because I was Canadian and I was unlikely to be able to handle the spiciness of the pot on the right. I did my best to understand the heavy accented English their parents spoke, enjoying the cadence and knowing that most of the time they were teasing us. My friends came to my house and we ate grilled cheese and sang along to the radio in my bedroom while my little brothers annoyed us. All this is swirling in my brain as I come home from seeing Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project) at the Citadel. At it's core is a need for connection between people of different cultural heritage. It juxtaposes South African spirituality and Canadian practicality. It finds common ground that pulls people together and disconnect that pushes them apart. It does so using beautiful music and movement and language - from both worlds.

Following the show, I talked to a young friend of mine and she asked what stood out for me, what resonated. It's hard to articulate. It's a beautifully layered story told in two times, about two visitors to Canada from South Africa - a father and son. Both have challenges when they encounter the Canadian culture - from bad coffee on the lower end of the spectrum to funeral rites on the upper end. Both find connections and both lose them. The story of what happened is unwrapped cleverly with surprise and anticipation. We see bits of the past nested in the search in the present. Emotion is expressed through movement and repetition - both joyous and sad. And it's about ubuntu - "I am because you are" - the perfect word for theatre, for what is a play without an audience?

Here are things that resonated with me:
- I really enjoyed hearing the untranslated Xhosa onstage. The scenes became about understanding the emotional needs of the characters and even though I didn't understand everything, I understood the stakes and how the characters were feeling. Later scenes in the play helped to give context in retrospect challenging my brain to recall and stay engaged. Also, Xhosa with it's clicks is just fun to hear.
- The movement/dance portions were quite lovely. Used to underscore the emotional tides of the characters the flavours of the movement were simply beautiful.
- The juxtaposition of science and spirituality. Those who know me know that I sit much more on the science side, but the show challenged me to be more empathetic to those who are more spiritual. I think I will continue to think about this balance for weeks to come.

UBUNTU (The Cape Town Project) runs to October 22nd at the Citadel
There's a Pay-What-You-Can this Sunday evening and tickets for all other shows start at $30+fees&GST.