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  • Home | Our Theatre Voice

    W elcome to Our Theatre Voice Click THIS MONTH'S REVIEWS tab at the top to see the latest theatre reviews from the team. Click the SEARCH tab at the top and then type in the name of an archived production that has now closed. Click the PROFILES tab at the top to see who has been interviewed recently in the theatre industry. ABOUT US Here at ‘Our Theatre Voice,’ we discuss all things in live theatre sincerely. We welcome disagreements with thoughts and ideas, but will never tolerate, acknowledge or publish anything hurtful, malicious or spiteful. The views and opinions expressed on OUR THEATRE VOICE are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Joe Szekeres (Founder, Editor and Publisher) or any other persons published on or associated with OUR THEATRE VOICE. Read More Follow us on our Socials Don't miss a thing Join our mailing list Subscribe Now

  • News 'Shakespeare in Love' adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard

    Back 'Shakespeare in Love' adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard Now onstage at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough Credit: Brian Whitmore Pictured: Jeff Grujicich and Misha Harding Joe Szekeres “Commitment to the moment by each of the 28-member cast is one of the highlights of ‘Shakespeare in Love. The production is directed with painstaking care by Meg Gibson.” It’s London, 1593. The young Will Shakespeare (Jeff Grujicich) needs a hit play. He has writer’s block and needs inspiration to keep himself focused. Will has written ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’ much to the chagrin of his theatre colleagues. He discovers his muse to keep writing in the beautiful Viola De Lesseps (Misha Harding). She wishes to become an actor but understands women are not allowed on the stage, so she disguises herself in drag as Thomas Kent. ‘Kent’ comes to audition for the Pirate’s Daughter play that is causing Will great grief. Christopher Marlowe (Holm Bradwell), a good friend of Will, accompanies him to find Kent to let him know he has been cast as Romeo. Trouble occurs when Will and Viola fall in love at a ball given by Viola’s father (Stephen Flett), announcing his approval of his daughter's engagement to Lord Wessex (Stephen Martin), Viola’s fiancé. Wessex wants to marry her quickly to ensure he will receive the family fortune. Wessex also intends to cart Viola off to a Virginian plantation. The scene resembles the first meeting of the star-crossed lovers in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Wessex gets highly jealous of the attention Will pays to Viola. When Wessex asks for Will’s name, he uses Marlowe’s. From this point on, the story becomes comically and absurdly oriented. But aren’t all love stories just that? At times, there are moments of who’s who with mistaken identities. Other times, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ becomes a romantic love story mixed in with the sadness that love can sometimes bring. I saw the film version many, many years ago. It was quite a feast for the eyes then. The theatre setting was astounding, as were the sumptuous costumes. ‘Shakespeare’ was on the live stage at Stratford several years ago where the festival could meet the professional demands required to produce this behemoth of a show. Could a community theatre group pull off that same technique visually? I’m delighted that The Scarborough Players have created an enjoyable evening at the theatre. The company bills itself as ‘Good Stories. Well told.’ That’s quite a testament. This opening night production is evidence of a good story and is well told. What is most profound is the technical work behind the scenes to ensure the 28-member cast looks and sounds great on stage, from Fight Choreographer/ Captain Mercedes Davy and Jonathan Bell to the multitude of props and their coordination by Carol Kim and Jamie Darker. The use of the minstrels is an absolute delight to watch and to hear. Anthony Jones’ set design, combined with Costume Squad Lead Katherine Turner's, has created a visual feast for the eyes. The sturdiness of the two-level theatre set is quite impressive. Turner and her costume squad team created realistic clothing in 1593 in London, England, in various fabrics, colours, and textures. For example, the gown worn by Paula Wilkie as Queen Elizabeth I is extraordinary, as is Kaylee Oak's hair and makeup design. One thing that I will always comment on in any stage production, whether community or professional, is the audibility of the actors. Can they be consistently heard? If that is a problem, I am prepared to call it out. No problem there at all. The actors’ pronunciation and enunciation are very good for clarity. Under Meg Gibson’s solid direction, the 28-member cast is to be congratulated heartily for a production rehearsed with painstaking care for the subject material and the period piece setting. In her blocking of individual scenes, Gibson ensures the stage never appears overcrowded at any given time. The sightlines are excellent. Although it is a long show, the story trips along at an acceptable pace. Pay close attention as a great deal of information is given. As the story's focal points, Jeff Grujicich and Misha Harding are terrific as Will and Viola. They remain committed to the moment (as the entire company does) and use humour, comedy, pathos, and dramatic intensity to underscore selected moments finely. For instance, when Will and Viola meet for the first time, Marlowe coaches the young man on what to say to the young heroine on the balcony. Grujicich and Harding listen attentively and eagerly to each other, which makes that moment highly enjoyable from the audience seating area. One Final Thought: I believe ‘Shakespeare in Love’ was to have been staged earlier in 2020, but we all know what happened then. Good things come to those who wait. This ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is a good thing. So make sure you see it. Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ runs until June 22 at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road. For tickets: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=tscar or call the Box Office (416) 267-9262. Scarborough Players presents SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE Adapted by Lee Hall from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard Produced by David Rudat Directed by Meg Gibson Click here: https://theatrescarborough.com/scarborough-players/productions/shakespeare-in-love/ to see the names of the cast members. Previous Next

  • Profiles Martin Julien

    Back Martin Julien Looking Ahead to 'The Man that Got Away' Helen Tansay Joe Szekeres Since I’ve started the profile series, I’ve heard Martin Julien’s name or have noticed he may have responded to some Facebook comments these last few years. He has been a professional Canadian actor since the age of ten. Over time, he has also become a playwright, theatre deviser, lecturer, and scholar. Martin has been nominated for three Dora Mavor Moore Awards as Best Performer and was also highlighted as Toronto's top-rated theatre artist of the year by NOW Magazine in 1995. He holds a Ph.D. from the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies in the University of Toronto, where he was an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow (2015-2017). Martin was the senior editor of Theatre Passe Muraille: A Collective History, Playwrights Canada Press (2019), and his play ‘The Unanswered Question’ premiered at Ottawa's National Arts Centre in Artistic Director Peter Hinton-Davis’s inaugural season (2007). Recent acting credits include ‘Under the Stairs’ by Reza Jacobs and Kevin Dyer, YPT (2019), and playing the titular role in ‘Sir John A: A Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion’ by Drew Hayden Taylor, NAC (2017). Martin’s newest show ‘The Man that Got Away’ opens this week at the Buddies in Bad Times theatre. He took a few moments to answer questions via email. Thank you so much for taking the time, Martin. I’m looking forward to seeing the show this week: 1. Where did you complete your artist training? As an actor, at TMU in the mid-eighties. Before it was a university. When it was the Ryerson Theatre School. The director of my play, Peter Hinton-Davis, was in my class. As a performance scholar, I hold a PhD from the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies in the University of Toronto. 2. The twenty-first-century world of the professional artist has changed on account of the worldwide pandemic. What advice would you give to a young person who is/will or might consider a future career as a performing artist? As a veteran freelance player and deviser of theatre, I am far more interested in what advice such a young person might give to me! Those born since 2000 have the grand task of re-inventing a responsive ethics and practice for professional artists as we move on. We have two wonderful performers in their twenties – Ben Page and Tat Austrie – rounding out our cast of three, and they are my teachers. 3. Given the last three years of the worldwide pandemic, as a professional artist how are you feeling about the state of the live entertainment scene going forward? In your professional opinion, where do you see the world of live entertainment/live artist/theatre headed within the next proverbial five years? We must dedicate ourselves to clarifying new active relationships between creative practice, economics, and fairness. There seems no longer the funding for producing companies to invest in necessary rehearsal time and fair wages, while simultaneously there are important issues regarding artists’ health and scheduling which are being recognized. Where do time, money, and justice come together? The days of ‘the show must go on’ no matter what are over. 4. Personally, how are you feeling at this moment regarding the effects of the worldwide pandemic? I am also an educator of acting and theatre practice for young adults, and my personal feelings tilt towards both admiration and concern for this cohort of people. Crucial years of collaboration and collegiality have been lost, at a pivotal time of life for those just coming ‘into their own’. We must find ways to recover solidarity and trust in order to keep creating collective art. 5. Tell me more about ‘The Man That Got Away’ coming up at Buddies. What was its genesis? The play is based in my own personal history of growing up through the 1960s to 1980s in a loving and complicated family of my lesbian mother, my gay father, and me. It is a multi-faceted play that celebrates and critiques underexamined notions of queer identity through a unique personal lens, from the days of pre-Stonewall repression to ‘Gay Liberation’ to the AIDS epidemic. I sense that much of the ramifications of this collective journey are in danger of being ‘lost’, or simplified, in politics, art, and memory. It also celebrates and subverts my deep love of showtunes! a) Why do you believe it’s important for audiences to see ‘The Man That Got Away’ at this time? As a person in present-day society, I am appalled that the popular discourse continually insinuates that Covid-19 is the first epidemic to sweep North America since the influenza of 1919. Over the years between 1987 and 1992, in Canada alone, nearly 6,000 deaths have been attributed to HIV/AIDS. The vast majority of these deaths were gay men – often cared for by lesbian volunteers – who were often unrecognized and condemned by politics, religion, media, and the medical establishment. I fear this history of struggle and advocacy is being lost. At a time when trans and queer rights are both emerging and attacked in our civil dialogue, I feel it important to create public art that confirms and liberates the historical advocacy of LGBTQ2S+ rights and the beauty and breadth of queer culture. b) I thought I recognized the title of your show from a song title. I’ll be honest that I had to do a quick YouTube search to realize that the song was sung by Judy Garland in her 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’ opposite actor James Mason. It has been years since I’ve seen this film so it’s on my list to watch again. i) Am I reading too much into this or is the connection one that you are hoping audiences will make to your upcoming show? ii) From what I know about the life of Judy Garland, she was a tortured soul who battled many demons. Will your show focus also on demons/struggles/challenges you have faced in your life personally and professionally? Some audience members – Friends of Dorothy – will make the connection, and others will be learning something new about the depth and meaning of mid-twentieth century and mostly closeted and coded ‘gay culture’, and its relationship to Judy Garland. These ideas certainly have personal relevance to my family’s life growing up and are explored through the arts of theatre and performance in my show. I do not see Garland as a ‘tortured soul’ but perhaps, rather, a genius performer who was overused and abused by the ‘show biz’ industry. But also, her spirit was very good medicine for people such as my father Leo, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1988 at Casey House hospice. 6. What’s next for Martin Julien once ‘The Man That Got Away’ completes its run at Buddies? A rest from the four years it has taken to create this play and production! That said, I am participating in a workshop for a new musical in early January, then returning to teaching music theatre performance at Sheridan College through the spring. ‘The Man that Got Away’ previews December 6 and 7. It opens on December 8 and runs until December 18. All performances will be held at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office (416) 975-8555 or visit buddiesinbadtimes.com for further information and/or to purchase tickets online. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'On The Razzle' by Tom Stoppard

    Back 'On The Razzle' by Tom Stoppard Now onstage at Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre Now onstage at Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre Dave Rabjohn Etymology is fun – well, maybe an acquired taste at best. But this reviewer recently learned, from Bob Hetherington’s essay in the program, that the word ‘farce’ originates from a French verb meaning ‘stuffed.’ Theatrically, it was used to describe comic bits inserted between the more serious scenes in a performance. ‘Stuffed’ may not be a very elegant descriptor of Tom Stoppard’s play, but it was undoubtedly crammed full of entertainment – simply, ‘On the Razzle’ dazzles. ‘On the Razzle’ is now playing through the summer and fall at the Shaw Festival in the warmly intimate Royal George Theatre. Quick history – the play is adapted from a nineteenth-century Austrian play by Johann Nestroy – ‘Einen Jux will sich machen.’ Thornton Wilder used it as a basis for ‘The Matchmaker’, adding the extra plot line of Dolly Levi. In turn, it became the hugely popular musical ‘Hello Dolly.’ This production is anchored by two spectacular performances by Kristi Frank (Christopher) and Mike Nadajewski (Weinberl.) The two young working-class merchants have resolved to give up their responsibilities for a day and head in to town for a fling (a razzle.) Their draconian boss Zangler (stylishly played by Ric Reid) is also in town where mistaken identity and mayhem ensues. Adding to the fun is Zangler’s young ward Marie (Lindsay Wu), dreamily in love with Sonders (Drew Plummer) as she tries to escape her uncle’s control. Of course, they all end up in the same place as doors flap open and shut and ladders spin out of control. As mentioned, the comic performances by the two young rascals feed the rest of the cast. Their movements are almost cartoonish with legs and arms constantly akimbo. Ms. Frank delights with comic faces – one moment she appears to have bitten into a lemon and the next into an apple pie. Mr. Nadajewski’s physicality puts us in mind of a Mr. Bean while his vocal antics are hilarious. This is a full on period piece from near the turn of the nineteenth century. Set and costumes designed by Christina Poddubiuk are spectacular in precision and colour. Adding to her challenge is the fact that many costumes come on and off onstage and some have to be versatile enough to add to the mistaken identity routines. The set brims with doors, corners and pockets to facilitate the hectic blocking. Projections by Jamie Nesbitt are both subtle and Monty Pythonish giving a charming sense of both rural and urban Austria. Craig Hall’s direction is superb – conducting this circus like production would certainly be a challenge. A nod also to stage manager Amy Jewell and her team for keeping so many balls in the air at once. This is not one of Tom Stoppard’s more sophisticated philosophic comedies. It has been described as a ‘lark’ but it is still riddled with Stoppard’s unique ability with language and phrasing. Malapropisms, puns and inventive dialogue are unrestrained. Full-throated comic delight is guaranteed. ‘On the Razzle’ by Tom Stoppard Performers: Jason Cadieux, Kristi Frank, Julie Lumsden, Patrick Galligan, Elodie Gillett, Alexandra Gratton, Claire Jullien, Graeme Kitagawa, Mike Nadajewski, Drew Plummer, Ric Reid, Tara Rosling, Jonathan Tan, Taurian Teelucksingh, Lindsay Wu Director: Craig Hall Set and costume design: Christina Poddubiuk Lighting design: Kimberly Purtell Projections: Jamie Nesbitt Stage manager: Amy Jewell Production runs through: October 8, 2023. Tickets: shawfest.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Irene Sankoff and David Hein

    Back Irene Sankoff and David Hein Self-Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres When it is safe to return to the theatre, and we will (sorry to disagree, Dame Judi Dench), if you have not gone to see the extraordinary ‘Come from Away’, make it one of the shows you definitely must attend. I know I would like to see it again. Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s apres 9/11 story of hope, of kindness, and of generosity is one that resonates with me in an emerging post COVID world now more than ever. Amid the statistics and the confusion of this coronavirus time, I know there are stories out there of front-line workers who have instilled hope, shown kindness, and born generosity of spirit. I had the good fortune to see the show three times: twice in Toronto (and once with the Canadian cast) and the New York/ Broadway company. Many thanks to Irene and David who were extremely kind and generous to participate in this interview when they have so much going on in their lives right now. How have you and your family been keeping at this over three-month isolation, and now with a slow re-emergence? IRENE: We’ve remained healthy. Not sure how with so many people we know having been hit by this wretched virus, but so far, we’re okay. We’re grateful for what we have and try to stay aware of our privilege. And wear our masks when we’re out near others but mostly stay home. I really miss my life from The Before Time. It was all gone so quickly, y’know? DAVID: We had been living in New York but have driven back with our daughter and two cats and renting a place – and we’re only now sorting out where we’ll be going forward. We’ve been trying to keep an eye on our five CFA companies who are all out of work – not just the onstage team, but the box office, front of house, crew, etc. And we’ve been trying to do some good, donating, buying a 3D printer for makers to make face shields and delivering them. What has been the most challenging and difficult for you and your family during this time? What have you all been doing to keep yourselves busy? IRENE: In the early days it was fear over the outbreak at my Mom’s Long-Term Care Home. We spent a lot of time sourcing and delivering PPE as well as coming up with ways to keep the staff and residents’ spirits up, whether it was having food delivered or doing impromptu performance art outside the building. Now that the outbreak has resolved (knock on wood) I’m missing the community I had in NYC, as they drift away from that city and all over the map. I spend a lot of time texting or video chatting with them. So - keeping busy has not been a problem. Work has not slowed down (I know, I’m surprised too – and grateful). And then there’s the education and entertaining of our six-year-old. She is used to a lot of programming and stimulation, having lived the last three years in Manhattan. But she is LOVING being here – and running in and out of the house and hopping on and off her bike and making friends with kids across the street or over a fence while yelling “6 feet back!” DAVID: We’re surprisingly really busy. Between homeschooling our daughter and figuring out where we’ll live next, we’re doing interviews and as many benefits as we can, trying to raise some money or cheer on front line workers – many of whom are our friends. But we’re also doing work in film and television – and everyone in those fields seems to see us as writers at home with nothing to do – so there’s suddenly a lot to do! We’ve been working on the ‘Come From Away’ movie, a TV project, and a couple of other irons in the fire. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian and North American performing arts scene? DAVID: I don’t think there’s a way that it won’t – it’s been so challenging for every theatre company, performers, all our crew members – not being able to work. And at the same time, I hope that some writers out there – the ones without six-years-old to homeschool – are writing the next great Canadian musical. Or just recharging and being good to themselves, so that when it makes sense, they can write the next great Canadian musical! Zero pressure to be productive during this. But long term, I know that theatre will come back – our producers are determined that “Come From Away” will return – and its message of resiliency and coming together in response to a tragedy feels even more relevant now. IRENE: Yes. I definitely think COVID will have a lasting impact. You can’t come out of a moment like this unchanged, both metaphorically and practically speaking. I’m mercifully (for all involved) not on the business side of things - but when I speak to those who are, they are cautiously optimistic about the long term. They are constantly running through options and worst-case scenarios and running task forces, and I try not to bother them too much because I don’t know how they do it. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any sage and wise words of parental advice to the new graduates from the theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? IRENE: I’ve always been a big fan of having a Plan B. I always had more than one and lived them for a long time. It gave me income, insight into humanity, and knowledge that I then used in my artistic pursuits, as well as confidence that there were many things I could do to earn a living. So, I was never desperate and always had the ability to walk away if I wasn’t happy in a situation. It also gave me friends who weren’t in the arts who could advise on life matters and who could frankly afford to come and support our shows. So, this seems like a great time to go to your Plan B. What else can you do? I’m not saying to give up, not one bit, but you’re going to have to be creative about HOW you are going to keep going while there’s nothing to go to. What else can you do right now to keep yourself fed, and to keep yourself learning so you’re not burnt out by the time this is all over? (Also, I don’t think it will ever really be ‘over’. But I’d love to be wrong about that). Before COVID, it was predicted that people would have 7 different careers in their lifetimes. Not jobs, careers. As people in the arts, we shouldn’t think we’re exempt from that. David and I are each on our third, maybe fourth careers? And that’s before COVID. DAVID: I obviously, often think about Newfoundland and what a hard place it can be to live – the winters are awful – it’s literally a rock in the ocean, the fisheries failing – all of that. But the people there have responded by becoming some of the best people in the world – kind, generous to both neighbors and strangers, and brilliant musicians and storytellers. Each winter, they get stuck inside, and they’ve learned to overcome them by coming over to each other’s kitchen parties and telling stories and singing songs – and making sure their community survives together. So, I think there’s hope that we can learn from this moment and become better. And to the graduates – many of whom were born during 9/11 and are now graduating during this – you have an incredible, unique story to tell – and that story and this time will bond you together as a group. Find the people you love who you’ve studied with and make art that you love. That’s what we did. Worst case scenario: you’ll have enjoyed the process. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian and North American performing arts scene? DAVID: I think the pressure it’s putting on the system is exposing so many inequalities, which is painful, but acknowledging those issues and working together to find solutions is positive. We’re already seeing new theatre companies being founded to share unheard voices and we’re excited about the art that this moment in the Black Lives Matter movement will create – which as allies, we are trying to educate ourselves on and work to support. IRENE: COVID has shown so many cracks in the way things were all along it’s dizzying. But the positive side of that is we can look to ways to change during this pause. Inequalities in healthcare and education and access to technology are painfully more pronounced. That’s why performing arts schools all have students who look the way they do – not a ton of racial and/or socioeconomic diversity. And women are being squeezed out of professions again not just in theatre, but elsewhere as well, as men usually make more money so their jobs take priority, and child-rearing and domestic management still tend to fall to women somehow. I’ve had so many friends, in arts, science, business and even healthcare say something along the lines of “how did I become a 1950s housewife?!” Wait…I was supposed to stay positive. Oops. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and YouTube presentations destroy the theatrical impact of those who have gathered with anticipation to watch a performance. What are your thoughts and comments about the advantages and/or values of online streaming? Do you foresee this as part of the ‘new normal’ for theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? IRENE: I have no idea. If it is all going to be about streaming, I better learn how to use the TV. Although, I do have a kid. Isn’t that why people have kids? So, they can change the TV channel? They don’t even have to get off the couch anymore. Back in my day, you had to walk all the way over to the TV. DAVID: I don’t think anything will replace live theatre – that feeling of your heartbeat synchronizing with the audience members around you. But if theatergoers want to watch theatre right now on their computers, how can you blame them? And why would you discourage it? If you don’t want to watch it, don’t –there’s already theatres working out how to do live theatre with socially distanced seating, or in front of your house, or by phone or zoom – but I don’t have an issue with streamed theatre – the more theatre the merrier! What is it about the performing arts you still adore that will never be destroyed by COVID? DAVID: We stand at the back of the house at Come From Away and we watch the show, but we also watch the audience. I love hearing a thousand people laughing at once or hearing them all sigh together – or cry together and then pass Kleenexes down the row. There was that article about how everyone’s hearts start to sync in rhythm within a theatre. It’s such a gift to get to witness people coming together in a shared experience – which is really what our show is about – and I can’t wait till we can return. IRENE: I’m not sure I adore this, but somehow, from the very beginning and no matter where in the world we’ve been, David and I have always ended up writing cramped in the middle of the night on a closed toilet seat in a bathroom, one of us seated on the edge of the tub if there was one. There was no tub at the Broadway theatre, but everyone knew the bathroom in the stage manager’s office was where we worked. And lo and behold, we’re working in a cramped bathroom again right this minute. Apparently COVID can’t destroy that. But seriously, a line from ‘Carousel’ comes to mind that gives me hope. This isn’t quite it, but the sentiment is right: “As long as there is one person on Earth who remembers, it isn’t over yet.” With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests: What is your favourite word? DAVID: When I was a kid it was “Hawaii” – I’d say it over and over again even though I’d grown up in Saskatchewan and had never been there. With ‘Come From Away’, when we had to travel to meet our Australian company, we stopped there and it became our daughter’s favorite place – primarily because of the stray cats, so it’s as good a word as any. I also love the word “kindness” both for its practice and that it implies a “kinship” or “similar kind” with another person – recognizing our similarities rather than our differences. IRENE: Roller Coaster. What is your least favourite word? DAVID: This is such an only child word to pick – and I hate saying it to our only child too, but “No.” IRENE: Sprain. What turns you on? DAVID: A good Canadian self-deprecating sense of humour. IRENE: Surprising people. What turns you off? DAVID: People not listening, or not learning. I’m guilty of it too, plenty of times, but it drives me crazy. Also, when computers don’t work. It makes me crazy. IRENE: Ableism. ‘Isms’ in general. What sound or noise do you love? DAVID: Irene and my daughter’s laughter when they literally can’t keep it inside and it just burbles out. It’s my favourite sound ever. I spend a lot of time being goofy mostly so I can hear them laugh. IRENE: Rain. What sound or noise bothers you? DAVID: Chalkboard fingernails and my daughter crying. Or our cat, Gambo, “wowing” for breakfast at 5am. IRENE: Ignorant people talking. What is your favourite curse word? DAVID: Fuck. I also love the Newfoundlander’s “lard tunderin’ jaysus” though I never feel like it’s mine to use. IRENE: Fuck. Other than your current profession now, what other professions would you have liked to do? DAVID: I always wanted to be an animator or draw comics. Through Come From Away, I got to draw a backup Spider-Man story and I can’t wait to do another one. IRENE: Teacher. Being surrounded by small children. Is. The. Best. What profession could you not see yourself doing? DAVID: Oh man, there’s so many. Prime Minister since I’m terrible at decision making. Deep sea diver because I’m claustrophobic. Is scorpion zookeeper a thing? I might rather die. I have a lot of respect for all of those, but I couldn’t do them. IRENE: Teacher. There is no profession more underrated, underpaid and under-respected. Post-COVID I’d add ‘essential worker’. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? DAVID: “Excellent, you and Irene came together. Glad you took your time.” IRENE: “You can dance the way you used to, and it won’t hurt a bit.” To learn more about any of the worldwide extraordinary companies of ‘Come from Away’, please visit www.comefromaway.com . Previous Next

  • Dramas 'among men' World Premiere by David Yee

    Back 'among men' World Premiere by David Yee Factory Theatre Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres Masterful storytelling and performance in Factory Theatre’s opening night world premiere of David Yee’s ‘among men’. To see mastery of the above-mentioned crafts intelligently adapted into a soulful production that left me wordless for a few minutes at the conclusion was exhilarating. It took me over an hour on the train ride home just thinking, remembering, and pondering how truly moved an audience member can be when a play is handled with such minute and detailed finesse in many technical components. The world premiere of David Yee’s ‘among men’ at Factory Theatre did just that. His richly charged script of striking poetic images and real human emotions remains with me as I write this article today. Directed with a consummate vision of grace, humour, and compassion by outgoing Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino coupled with passionate performances by Ryan Hollyman as poet Al Purdy and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio as Milton Acorn made the world of Canadian poetry become a personal living and breathing entity for me. I think it’s obvious I’m going to tell you to get to see this. It is 1959, Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, Ontario. Al Purdy and Milton Acorn are finishing an A-frame cabin on Roblin Lake. Many superficial scripted elements at times hinder the progress in completion of the A-frame which provides for some of the wonderful humour of the piece. Pay careful attention as Hollyman at one point tries to fix the cabin flooring. It’s a comical tour de force to watch. While trying to finish the cabin and through their discussion on the state of Canadian poetry in the coming modern era, we see Al and Milt speak about many of the issues related to writing in general and to poetry. Early in the play, Al anxiously waits for a letter regarding his sending a play to the CBC while later Milt has received an invitation to attend a conference in Kingston. An initial thought to begin. Playwright David Yee succinctly captured the humanity behind Purdy and Acorn. During my undergraduate years many moons ago, for some reason (possibly my naivete), I used to place poets and authors in the same category as performers. For me, these individuals were to be highly regarded because there was something extraordinary about these artists and the lives they lead. Thankfully, playwright Yee rightly nixes that idea. Pay attention all undergraduates who may place artists on a pedestal of high regard and adulation because we’re all flesh and blood flawed human individuals underneath. Director Aquino smartly never allowed the men’s imperfections to venture over the top. Respectively, Ryan Hollyman and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio viscerally reveal Al Purdy and Milton Acorn as two uniquely distinct true to life men who sometimes get rather graphic in their talk with each other as Gonzalez-Vio so aptly demonstrates at the top of the show. As Purdy, Hollyman superbly listens intently to this sexual rambling before flinging a nasty zinger back to Gonzalez-Vio which resulted in uproarious laughter from the audience. Rest assured though this production is not just mere flinging one-line insults back and forth a la Neil Simon’s Oscar and Felix and thank goodness for that. What made this opening night production so memorable for me is the fact both Hollyman and Gonzalez-Vio demonstrated a master class in focused listening to each other, hearing each other, and then responding in a genuine believability. These two gentlemen are naturally, fully, and completely grounded in their characters and made me believe every single uttered word in what was said and what was not said in those blissful moments of silence between them. Another touching element of this production was the definitive care taken by Aquino and Messrs. Hollyman and Gonzalez-Vio to show that, yes, grown men are humans who can and do experience traumatically emotional life impacts just as much as women. There is quite a heartfelt moment of male friendship in true master class performance downstage centre between the two that, for me, tugged at my heart strings as a hush filled silence of respect enveloped the auditorium. I truly did feel that synchronistic chemistry between the two performers at that moment. Joanna Yu’s stunning two level Set Design of the A-frame cabin is a marvel to behold. It is a work in progress resplendent in the odour of sweat, cigar stench that Gonzalez-Vio smokes and the drinks after drinks of whiskey and badly brewed coffee the two men consume. When I sat down in my seat, I didn’t open my notebook right away to write notes as I just wanted simply to revel in looking at this mammoth creation which Aquino noted in her audience address before the show began. The set is angled which provided perfect sightlines from my seat. There is a wood burning stove which amply is utilized throughout the play. Just slightly off-centre stage right is a table with bottles and other props of newspapers and stuff haphazardly thrown around. Up stage left balled up papers can be found in a corner haphazardly thrown there. A well-worn easy chair which probably should have been thrown out years ago is angled and placed right behind the table. There is a well-worn rug placed underneath the easy chair which probably should have been thrown out as well but adds character to the fact the cabin is that proverbial work in continuation. On stages right and left, props are hanging from strings which become part of the action. Yu’s costumes appropriately reflect the differing characters. Gonzalez-Vio’s Acorn wears a red lumber jack looking shirt with work dirty work pants. Hollyman’s Purdy wears what appears to be grey looking dress slacks, dress shoes and a white pinned striped show from what I could see. Michelle Ramsay’s Lighting Design warmly enclosed the playing space of the cabin akin to a natural light setting. I liked Christopher Stanton’s selection of aural newscasts that I heard during the preshow sounds as the audience entered. At one point I thought I heard elder Trudeau Pierre speak. From what I can recall, these newscasts of the sixties began to focus on Canada’s emergence on the world stage in key areas of culture. The song ‘Lonely Boy’ took on a new meaning for me as I left the auditorium. Final Comments: Nina-Lee Aquino concludes his tenure as Factory’s Artistic Director. There’s a line from the play I scribbled down in my book in the dark hoping I would be able to read it later: “A poem feels unfinished even when it is.” ‘among men’ doesn’t feel unfinished when it concludes. Yee’s script says what needs to be said. Instead, I’ll remember the line: “I remember it. I remember the good ones. ” Aquino, Hollyman, Gonzalez-Vio and the entire creative team conclusively and unquestionably reflect what needs to be said while performing a good one. Get to see this. Running time: approximately 100 minutes with no intermission. Production runs to May 15 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.factorytheatre.ca or call the Box Office (416) 504-9971. ‘among men’ by David Yee Directed by Nina Lee Aquino Set and costumes designed by Joanna Yu Lighting by Michelle Ramsay Sound design and composer, Christopher Stanton Cast: Gonzalez-Vio, Ryan Hollyman Previous Next

  • Profiles Nathalie Bonjour

    Back Nathalie Bonjour Looking Ahead Brian Medina Joe Szekeres For someone like myself who has never had any formal training or background education in dance, why is it important to reach out to those of us who have no expertise in this area? Director of Performing Arts at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Nathalie Bonjour was grateful to have a Zoom call with me where she was eagerly willing to engage in such a conversation. Her response regarding those audience members who have no training in dance: “I don’t think you need to have any background or academic understanding of dance especially in this [upcoming] piece of [Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart L-E-V Israel]. The music is very strong in this piece so audiences will be drawn in right away as is the lighting. This is a piece where audiences must let themselves be carried on the journey. The movement is very particular, very unique. There’s an energy as there is a tension in wanting to move forward but there is an extension back.” Bonjour emphasized clearly that it is the emotion and the tableaux on stage that speaks to audiences, and one doesn’t have to have any background or training to experience and feel that. I agree with her on this account as those dance productions that I have had the opportunity to watch, to listen, to hear have spoken to me on many levels. The Canadian premiere of Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart L-E-V Israel opens March 3 and plays again March 5, 2022 at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. It will play in New York first before it opens here. Choreographed by Co-Artistic Director of L-E-V Israel’s Sharon Eyal this production opens Torque, Harbourfront’s international contemporary dance series. From a press release I received, Ms. Bonjour states that Journey: “invites us on an exhilarating journey through the extreme states of the heart, from anguish and fervour to passion and rage. It is a universal narrative, and we can all intimately relate to L-E-V’s vulnerable study on heartbreak.” Additionally, stunning costumes for the dancers, designed by Christian Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, emblazoned with one bright red bleeding heart will emphasize the sensuality and the emotion of the work. Bonjour spoke candidly and compassionately about the heartbreak for all those involved in the art of dance as the community has suffered just as all professional artists have experienced. But with the dialogue of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous residential schools, the truth, and their creators and creations, the dance community has become stronger in the last two years. Harbourfront Centre has been creative in finding ways to get through and keep going these last two years. The company had to learn how to become video producers and come together as presenters and learn how to support artists in other ways creatively. Like many of the professional performing arts companies, Bonjour recognized how programming changed at Harbourfront. There were a number of live streams and pre-recorded shows along with a lot of digital experiences in working with AR and VR in person. Outdoor installations and projections also filled the void so audiences from the last two years could still come down to the Harbourfront and remember there is a performing arts Centre there. Bonjour supervised The Junior Festival and The Summer Music in the Garden. Some of these editions were done online completely during the first summer of the pandemic. In the second year, Bonjour recognized how people have been on screens a lot and how could Harbourfront do something different? There was investment in commissions of works that could be seen later when Harbourfront re-opens. The Toronto International Festival for Authors has done two editions fully online. When theatres reopened but not to the general public, there were production residencies at Harbourfront for artists to continue working on their shows. As a larger organization in the ecosystem of the performing arts, Bonjour wanted to know how Harbourfront could help other organizations so when everyone goes back there are those smaller presenters as well. It followed through with a financial partnering with The Citadel where there was support of three solos by female choreographers. In August, Harbourfront welcomed the National Ballet of Canada as an outreach and it was so successful that Harbourfront will be doing it again. On the national level, Bonjour was part of an alliance that was created with other dance presenters - the NAC Dance Department, Danse Danse in Montreal and Dance House in Vancouver - to start an initiative called Digidance. In concluding our conversation, Nathalie and I spoke about how it is the anticipation in watching dancers move and intertwine with each other that makes dance productions visually moving for me. I have seen some Fall for Dance Toronto productions over the last couple of years and have been captivated by the dance artists’ electric synchronicity with each other. I’m looking forward to experiencing what Bonjour describes for Journey as a universal narrative on heartbreak since we’ve all been there at one time in our lives. I hope you will also join this journey. Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart L-E-V Israel performs live March 3 and 5 at 7:30 pm at The Fleck Dance Theatre, Queen’s Quay Terminal 3rd Floor, 207 Queen’s Quay West. Suggested ticket prices are $20 - $ 95, Pay What You Wish. Ticket link and website: www.harbourfrontcentre.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Brad Hodder

    Back Brad Hodder Canadian Chat Liz Beddall Joe Szekeres Augh!!!!!! I nearly ran out of time on the Zoom clock in chatting with artist Brad Hodder as there was so much I still wanted to ask him. Brad proudly talked about how his parents supported him and didn’t mind when he chose to pursue theatre professionally. He also had teachers in junior high and high school who encouraged him to pursue a path in the arts. He called himself really lucky and is very fortunate in his life that he met people along the way who helped him to this point in his career. Just looking at his resumé, I’ve seen several his performances at Stratford: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ were just three. Brad also was Assistant Director on two productions that were quite good: Groundling Theatre’s production of ‘King Lear’ and the Stratford Festival’s production of ‘The Crucible’. Brad has two upcoming productions at Mirvish this season that I am keen to see. In November, he is directing the musical ‘No Change in the Weather’ which opens at the CAA Theatre on Yonge Street November 19, 2021. And he will play Draco Malfoy in the all Canadian production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ when it opens at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre on May 31, 2022. Brad and I conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for your time: Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful that brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist. Well, two of the same. I had a teacher in theatre school at the University of Alberta, my first year Acting Teacher, was a guy named Charlie Tomlinson. Big connections. Charlie’s family is originally from England, but he’s also lived in Newfoundland. Charlie’s father was at the Med School. Charlie was involved in the early days of CODCO here in the province in the 70s and 80s. I’d never met him before here in Newfoundland until I got to the University of Alberta. He had a profound influence on me, and we started a theatre company together here in Newfoundland that ran for ten years before I moved up to Ontario when I got into the Stratford Festival where I spent eight seasons. The other is Martha Henry who brought me to Stratford as part of the Birmingham Conservatory. I auditioned for Martha here in St. John’s when they were doing a national tour from the festival, and Charlie’s name was all over my resumé. When Martha was the Artistic Director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, Charlie ran the Second Space there. They had quite a strong friendship and he definitely put in a good word for me. So, Charlie was a strong teacher and Martha became a real champion for me and a real mentor. I learned a lot from her. I ran the Langham Program at Stratford under her as well. She cast me in the lead in ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ and gave me opportunities. I got to assist Robin Philips simply because of Martha before he passed away. I was his assistant on ‘Twelfth Night’ that he was directing. I spent six intense theatre weeks with Robin, but he too had a profound influence on me. I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level? Well, we moved home to Newfoundland. I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. We were living in Stratford and getting ready to move to Toronto for ‘Harry Potter’. When everything started happening, we made at the time a complicated decision to move back home to Newfoundland not knowing what’s going to happen. In hindsight it’s the best thing we ever did. That changed me that I’ve been home for nearly two years now with my family, my parents, my kids’ cousins, that kind of family time and recognizing (I know it sounds so clichéd, but everyone is so busy and things were happening so fast). Then when we didn’t have to be so busy and so fast, there was the reality that for all those opportunities I had in Stratford, I became Dad too. I was working six days a week in Stratford. I missed getting to go home in the summertime because I was at the Festival working. The kids and my partner would go home every summer for a month or six weeks but I couldn’t. Even at Christmas time, they could go home but I couldn’t because I started working at Groundling Theatre and we’d rehearse over the Christmas break. My time home at Christmas in Newfoundland was short, and my time home in the summer was non-existent. The silver lining during this time for me is being with my family, my kids, and my time to re-connect with Newfoundland which, I’m sure, Joe, you’ve heard from anybody that a connection with Newfoundland is a special place. It’s where work takes me away, but if it wasn’t for that I’m very happy in Newfoundland and it’s a great place to be. I have been transformed these last eighteen months. We were all on hamster wheels, and then all of a sudden, the hamster wheel stopped, and I started baking. I became one of those pandemic bakers and seeing what else I can do with sour dough discard, and how to laminate pastry. I’ve been running a lot. It’s been a good time. How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? The art that comes out of Newfoundland, and the history of our art here is very different from anywhere else in Canada. The idea of a national theatre in Canada I’ve always found to be a little silly because each region is so large, and each region has such a different relationship with theatre history. The cultural icons from each region of Canada are different. The idea of a national theatre in Canada is a topic for another conversation. I’ve been very lucky. Very few people move to Newfoundland for work. There’s a company here called Terra Bruce that’s producing ‘No Change in the Weather’ that I’ll talk about shortly. Terra Bruce was doing a web series so I did a web series with them for a few months in the winter. Terra Bruce has a resident company so they’ve kept about 30 to 40 artists employed during the pandemic and paying them a weekly wage. We’ve got a building here where we’ve been rehearsing ‘No Change’. I also started a Chekhov reading group online with actors at the beginning of the pandemic and we’d meet once a week to reach each of the Chekhov plays, one act at a time. I led that until I ran away from all things online because it was feeding me the same way as live theatre and shows do. There’s been lots of work in Newfoundland, so I’ve come home. I’m working on this production of ‘No Change’ with people I went to high school with; we started out together in going to the theatre and making theatre together. Even though I lost touch with them, I’ve been reunited with them. My sister is doing the costume design for ‘No Change’. I did a movie here. I did a short horror film with my 12-year-old kid where I got to play the killer. I’ve never had the opportunity before. Professionally, I’ve been able to keep food on the table and the family supported. The dog (a rescue dog) gets really expensive dog food to help in digestion (and Brad and I share a laugh over this). I’m aware that so many of my friends have had to pivot and that has been big for them. For me, the biggest change was to leave Ontario with my family, but work wise I’ve been very, very fortunate and it’s not lost on me how lucky I am. It’s been nice to reconnect professionally with so many people here who I cut my teeth with. Getting to work with these people again has been a real, wonderful gift. In your opinion, do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months? I think so. I think it has to. We’re already seeing it in the way we’ve been working here. For ‘No Change’, we’re rehearsing in mask; we’re singing in mask, and that in of itself has been a bit of a game changer. The way we build our rehearsal days, especially working on a musical, we’re building in there has to be time in the day for the room to air out. We can sing for 15 minutes out of the hour without masks on. Practical things have changed. Our rehearsal week has changed. We’re doing five days now instead of six days for this contract. We’re seeing what’s possible and how much time we have together. The rehearsal hall, to me, has to be a place where you can try lots of stuff. It’s safe and respectful. I love parameters and that’s a good thing, but some of these parameters that Covid has put us into can dull the creative impulse. So finding a way to create in these parameters is a challenge. I like the challenge of putting on a musical during this time. I’m really curious to the many social things that have been happening around us. What are the plays that will be here when we are fully back? Are we going to see a bunch of pandemic theatre? What’s going on with equality, and diversity and racialization in so many ways and how that informs our theatre. With theatre do we want to reflect back to audiences the way the world is OR the way the world could be? I don’t know where we go now because the world the way it now is might not be the way the world is going to be. But the world that it could be? It could be so many different things when coming out of pandemic and how difficult it is to get a positive message going globally. Theatre should be responding to the way the world is going around it. It should be for the people. I’m always weary of truth onstage, but LIFE, we want to see LIFE on stage. I still think I’m two years away of realizing how my life has changed right now. It’s emotional during rehearsals right now. In this long-winded answer, Joe, I hope the theatre is very different in a lot of ways in that it reflects all the things we want it to reflect. I was drawn to the theatre; it made a lot of sense to me so I hope we don’t lose that sense of safe space. Maybe we’re trying to open it up a lot more? How are rehearsals going for NO CHANGE IN THE WEATHER? What drew you to want to direct the story? Tell me about the characters and the artists playing them? How has this experience enriched you as an artist? What do you hope audiences will take away from NO CHANGE IN THE WEATHER? As director it’s a challenge. This is a show that they’ve had for a few years. It’s gone through a couple of incarnations and had a lot of work done on it. I was part of very little of it. I was going to be in the cast because I was a member of the resident company of this show. One day out of the blue I got a phone call asking if I would be interested in directing ‘No Change’. Before I moved to Stratford, I was doing a lot of directing than acting here in Newfoundland. When I was at Stratford, I was an actor and did the acting thing. But I have an interest in directing so I did the Langham thing towards the end of my time at Stratford. I started a small theatre company with Steve Ross. We would do late night one acts in the Art Gallery at Stratford, a midnight showing of a one act play for just a small, invited audience every night. I love directing. My insecurities as an actor leave me when I’m directing. When I think of a play, I never think of the part I want to play but the play I want to do. I often think I get hired as an actor, I love acting, but if someone told me tomorrow that I’m not going to be acting anymore, I’d be okay. I’m really curious and hungry about directing. I’m good at it and I want to do it. I enjoy it and I feel comfortable with it. It’s all positive stuff in directing. For me, this was an opportunity. I’m used to directing a couple of actors and no technical support, just to get a good play with a couple of good actors and tour it around. I love rehearsing. One of my goals as a director is how can we bring rehearsal on to the stage? How can we keep this living, breathing, thing of a play alive? Different directors approach that in different ways, and I’m still trying to figure that out. ‘No Change in the Weather’ has been a playground for me with this company that has such wonderful resources and support for its artists. The bells and whistles are here, and I was able to get the company of actors that I was really excited about. In its earlier form, ‘No Change’ was more sentimental and dramatic of a Newfoundland story. One of the things I wanted to do with Steve Cochrane’s adaptation of the story was turn it more towards a comedy and make it more of a farce. I just thought there was more strength in the story the adaptation wanted to tell. I thought the play is a lot funnier that people initially thought it was. Terra Bruce agreed to me wanting to work with the adaptor of the play and to be in control of the cast I wanted, and they were agreeable to that. I’ve a design team that complements the production extremely well. I feel like we’ve got really good people involved. One of the best things I’ve learned as a director is not working alone, but they have their people, they have a team. There was a sense years ago of the director as tyrant, the boss, the all knowing. I don’t run into that – the directors who excite me the most are very collaborative. The director needs the actor to help tell the story as opposed to the director who tells the actor how to tell the story. This process is almost like working on a new play. Getting these actors together and getting them to help me figure out the story – I love that process. I could stay in the rehearsal hall forever. For better or for worse, I’ve never directed a musical so this was just one of those things that is scary, but I should do it. There are lot of people involved whom I respect and I love, and I want to spend time with. It was something I got excited about – the challenge of it. There’s an ensemble resident company of actors here that I did this web series with This group of actors has been together for a year. Outside of theatre school, sometimes at the Festival, you get to work with one group of actors for 8 months to a year. It’s so rare when that happens. When you’ve got that group of people that I had here for a year, and now I get to create a play with them and complement them but filling out the company with other artists, but at the core there is this group of artists here that is of such value to me. ‘No Change’ is a real ensemble piece and it makes it hard to rehearse. Pretty much everyone is on deck the whole time so I can’t rehearse a small group if a dance rehearsal has been called. It’s not always easy, but this is a strong company and they’ve got a leg up since they’ve been together for a year, and I’m just fortunate they’ve accepted me as a director. The collaboration is there, the history is there. It makes the challenge easier but a lot more attractive. I hope audiences will leave ‘No Change in the Weather’ with having a laugh. It’s a comedy in the tradition of CODCO, even ‘Kids in the Hall’. Steve Cochrane who has done the adaptation has had a long history with sketch comedy. There’s a lot of Newfoundland music. There’s a political story at the heart of ‘No Change’ and the high drama surrounding The Churchill Falls blunder. Walter Schroeder, Executive Producer of Terra Bruce, fell in love with Newfoundland music and is passionate about the province and its artists. He is involved with the music he wants in the show, plus the story and politics he wants. There’s been a pretty collaborative and effective way of working with him. I hope the audience will see ‘No Change’ as a Newfoundland comedy but not the plaid shirt and rubber boots. A lot of Newfoundland jokes are old and have been told a lot. Like so many cultural stereotypes these jokes become stereotypes of themselves. We play with this and flirt with it but we’re trying to be aware this production is a Newfoundland comedy; a Newfoundland musical being created in 2021 and not relying on the Newfoundland tropes from 40 years ago. What intrigues Brad Hodder post Covid? Chekhov really intrigues me, and I want to direct. Obviously ‘Harry Potter’ is intriguing me at Mirvish and I’m looking forward to getting going on it. I’m really intrigued about what the next ten years will be like for my kids. I know that sounds cheesy, but I’m really curious about coming out of this pandemic and everything and what the next ten years will be like. RAPID ROUND Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea: If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be? Thank you. If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be? Thank you (Brad says with a quick laugh and smile) What’s your favourite swear word? Fuck, but I’m told what I usually say is ‘Shitballs’. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? Satiated What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? Patronize because I never know which way to say it. What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? You are enough. With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Brad Hodder from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist? Be patient and take your time. What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally? Professionally, I want to direct all of the Chekhov plays. It used to be the Shakespeare history plays but after so much Shakespeare, I now want to hang out with Chekhov. Personally, I want to have really good, good adult children. That’s something I keep coming back to. I just want to make sure they’re okay, and they’re making other people okay, and that they’re a force of good in the world. I aspire to give them love and hope each day, and I hope they will do the same to others around them. Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. Playing Edmund in ‘King Lear’ at Stratford because I never feel like I got it. What is one thing Brad Hodder will never take for granted again post Covid? My family or my work and TIME. Would Brad Hodder do it all again if given the same opportunities? Yah, unfortunately (and Brad has a good laugh) I wish, Joe, I wanted to be an action movie star and I honestly think if I wanted something like that I could be rich and famous. I’ve always to do theatre in a small black box. To learn more about ‘No Change in the Weather’ in November, please visit www.nochangeintheweather.com . Brad will appear next year in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Mirvish in May 2022. To learn more visit www.mirvish.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Susan Ferley

    Back Susan Ferley Looking Ahead Peg McCarthy. Joe Szekeres I met Susan Ferley several years ago where she and I (along with others, including Derrick Chua) were asked by Jeremy Smith to judge Driftwood Theatre’s Trafalgar 24 (held at Whitby, Ontario’s Trafalgar Castle School). Susan is a highly articulate and intelligent individual when it comes to the live theatre industry, and I was sincerely hoping that I would have the opportunity to speak with her again and share in her love of the live theatre industry. That opportunity did render itself when I later learned she is the Artistic Director of the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope, Ontario. Since this profile, Susan has stepped down from her role as Artistic Director. I was grateful Susan was honest in saying it’s been a bumpy ride at the Capitol especially when Covid arrived over a year ago. She has a great deal of respect for the extraordinary Board of Directors and what they’ve done for the survival and flourishing of the Capitol Theatre. Even before we delved into the scripted questions, Susan and I discussed how theatre will change as a result of Covid. She believes virtual theatre will be part of the future, and it’s a challenge not only for her but for all of us who have grown accustomed to loving and to seeing live theatrical shows in an enclosed space on the stage with an audience. Susan studied in England and received her Master of Arts in Actor Training and Coaching. We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thanks for taking the time, Susan, to add your voice to the conversation: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. I’ve realized how connected I am to work and collaboration. I live on my own; I think of myself as a private person. I know I can survive on my own, but I feel diminished in some ways. It’s striving to find outlets. I’ve been cooking and baking more and realizing how, because I’m so focused on the work, friendships and family relationships were set aside. I’ve realized my personal need to connect with other artists and also with friends and family, and nature. Do I think of myself as someone in love with nature? No, I’ve often been in dark theatre rooms. Almost every day I go out for a walk. I’m looking out my window right now and seeing the trees glow green; the leaves aren’t fully out but you see that journey walking around and seeing the flowers starting, the forsythia, tulips popping up and daffodils in full bloom, and listening to the birds. The river here, The Ganaraska, is extraordinary. The sound of it too. If all else fails, I would walk along the river in the downtown area. Right now, because of the current stay at home, barriers have been put up. They don’t want you walking along the river because that’s what draws people to our community often. So, I can’t get close there right now. This community is so beautiful and has so much to offer. That’s been lovely, but I’ve had to re-assess who I am, where I am, what’s important and what I’ve missed in my life journey. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artistic director of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? Phew…I’ve always felt the theatre plays a vital role in a community and I think, for me, it’s heightened that awareness. I’ve been reading. There was an article I read talking about a theatre in San Francisco where it spoke about theatre being an ‘empathy gymnasium’ where we learn about compassion; whether as an individual or as a community, for me, theatre provides an emotional gymnasium, a place where we can release. I know people are often looking for entertainment and want to laugh, and how important that is to gather in a room and to share a story and find an emotional release. It’s not always laughter, sometimes there are tears, sometimes memory. But just what an important role, for me, but also the arts play in the lives of individuals in a community and also more broadly in a community. It’s shared journeys, shared stories. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? (Susan laughed as it appears she just answered the question earlier) Gathering in a room, artists, actors, creative teams, technical teams; it’s the collaboration that is so important to me, that interaction where creativity is sparked. That certainly is missed. Heightened communication that is intellectual, emotional, psychological; sharing stories and also taking the creation (the production/the story being told) and sharing it. Through the sharing of the story there is also being informed and stimulated creatively as you learn from that interaction more about the creative process that goes into it. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when the doors re-open? (Susan laughs) Just that, the human interaction and communication, the heightened communication, enriched communication through stories. The ability to gather and share an experience. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. It’s offered time for reflection on how we do what we do. Certainly, and this was very early, with the murder of George Floyd the awareness that has been brought to my/our collective attention. Our failings as artists working with other artists, playing with other artists. The failings of our institutions. Theatres are creative places and gathering places and welcoming and compassionate, and there have been failures, major failures. And so, hopefully, through reflection and the time being offered, there will be changes in how we work. Just thinking of theatres as institutions I find offensive, you know. It’s about creativity, challenge and shared stories, and a place going back to whether it’s that idea of gymnasium where things are shared, and out of the exercise of coming together and sharing a story we leave with greater understanding and compassion. I think there is potential for change, but lots to do. Watching the IBPOC/BIPOC round table from the Stratford Festival last summer was so heartbreaking at times. And then we don’t want to just wallow in that, and then you go, ‘How, what, has to happen to move forward from all this?’ Whether professional or non-professional the need to open, welcome, and be willing to hear, to listen, and to see other stories outside of our own story, and outside of our lens. We now have, one hopes, a heightened awareness of artists of colour. As a friend pointed out to me, there’s also diversity on other fronts. That awareness is starting to parallel with BIPOC/IBPOC artists so that we hear the artists. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the live theatre industry. Well, with a greater awareness, to support and encourage. With my involvement with the High School Project (from my time at London Ontario’s Grand Theatre) and going off to England, and training and taking a program that was actor training and coaching, to enrich the skills that I have to support artists in development, artists that are emerging. I know that’s an area I’m interested in working with young and emerging artists, if I can be of assistance in helping them to reach and claim that potential and soaring. I’ve had opportunities to work in training programs and I always am exhilarated by that. The schools certainly have an increasingly responsibility in terms of assembling the IBPOC/BIPOC teachers so that the students of colour see themselves reflected in the faculty and trainers. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artistic director, and as an audience member observing the theatre. I think there will be some Covid themed plays. I’m looking at to see if I can try to bring it to the Capitol Theatre is ‘February: A Love Story’ by Sudden Spark Collective. The artists involved with that project, Ellen Denny, is someone who came out of the High School Project in London, Ontario and has pursued a career as a performer, but more recently as a writer. She and her writing partner, Emilio Vieira, have created a love story in times of Covid. They describe it as a romantic comedy, and it very much is. But it’s also about life in the midst of Covid. So, while in my head, I might go, “Oh, I don’t know if this would go work on the subject of Covid,’ I think there will be some. This particular piece, ‘February: A Love Story’ is playful and filled with love and hope. Those are key things to get us through this time. Because of Covid, the play was also filmed. It may be on a Stratford platform so keep your eyes open. I think because of the isolation, and certainly I feel it as an individual, but I don’t think I’m alone in that shared experience of isolation from community and shared experience, that theatre can offer that potential for catharsis. Whether that’s coming together to laugh out loud, or whether to come together and through the experience find an emotional release whether laughter or tears. That is something that we need and want desperately to come together especially during this time. There’s a need to get back to that emotional gym for an emotional and psychological workout. It’s been hard on individuals, human interaction and communities. Theatre will play an important role and if it takes a Covid themed play to do it, so be it. Shakespeare was pretty good at it too when ‘King Lear’ was written during a time of plague and pandemic. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Oh, dear, I’m never good about this sort of question, I’m afraid. I hope I’m viewed as having had a generosity of spirit. A joy and a passionate love for what I do and that’s whether in creating work with a group of people that is shared with another group of people. A sense of play and a love for all that theatre can offer, all that sharing stories can offer, all that creating and playing together can offer. To learn more about Port Hope’s Cameco Capitol Centre, visit Cameco Capitol Arts Centre – Experience Entertainment (capitoltheatre.com). Facebook: Capitol Theatre Port Hope; Twitter: @CapitolPortHope Previous Next

  • Profiles Gregory Prest

    Back Gregory Prest “I feel my job right now is to continue making work.” Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres I’ve begun a check-in on some artists. In 2020, I held my first conversation with artist Gregory Prest. You can find the link to his earlier profile here: www.onstageblog.com/profiles/gregory-prest. Last time I saw Gregory on stage was as Ron Weasley in the now-closed Toronto production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ For the last several weeks, he has been the adaptor and the director of the world premiere of Soulpepper’s ‘De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail’, now in previews. The production opens on February 8. Before we even talked about the opening of ‘De Profundis’ this week, I wanted to check in on him to see how he’s feeling professionally and personally about the theatre industry: “It’s not NOT alarming…I don’t know what to think about it. I’m unsure about it. I really don’t know what to do other than to continue doing the work. I don’t have the responsibility of running an institution and trying to figure out how to make it all work in this new world. I feel my job right now is to continue making work.” That reminded me of the motivational UK poster in preparation for World War 2: “Keep Calm and Carry On’. Now, I’m not saying there will be a war of any kind; however, when challenging times continue, we all need to continue what we do daily and keep busy. Prest sees this as an opportunity for the theatre community to continue supporting each other, showing up, and buying tickets to see the work. His latest venture, ‘De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail, ’ opens on February 8. According to the Soulpepper website, [it]is a musical fantasy based on the letter Oscar Wilde wrote while incarcerated for two years at Reading Gaol to his love, Lord Alfred Douglas. The letter was written a page a day over a period of three months, collected at the end of each day, and handed over to Wilde on his release from prison.” Prest is the adaptor and director for this world-premiere production. Rehearsals have gone well, as did the technical rehearsals. Part of the exercise was to come in every night of the preview and watch as if he had never seen the show. There was so much historical context that had to be taken into consideration. The text of ‘De Profundis’ would have probably created fifteen shows, so the entire letter is not in this production. Selections had to be made, and audience experience was essential at this time. Gregory doesn’t call the week before opening Hell Week but rather the ‘wildly unstable snipping section of time.’ ‘De Profundis’ is an experiment in a lot of ways. The creative team is trying something exciting and moving, challenging, interesting, and engaging. Part of the preview period is seeing what the show does and responding as a creative team to how the audience reacts. Prest sees the show changing significantly during previews as the time right now is seeing what is clear for audiences and what is not clear: “A show like [De Profundis] that is abstract in nature is not really linear or narratively driven but emotionally and narratively driven. There’s so much space in it; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s a confusing thing and a puzzle to figure out.” Gregory does not want to leave anyone out in the cold. He jokingly said he doesn’t want audiences coming in and wondering, ‘Who’s Oscar Wilde?’ We shared a quick laugh over that, but again, that’s a fear a creative team must keep in mind. For Prest, Wilde is an incredible artist. ‘De Profundis’ is not meant to be a piece of theatre; it’s a letter. Yet something is fascinating about this letter. It feels like this letter has become the first celebrity trial. Wilde was someone at the top of his game with significant influence, power and reputation who publicly fell, failed, and was the target of scorn and humiliation. The experience of this process for Prest himself is being on the inside. One of the things that became clear at the end of the letter was how to move forward when everything has fallen around you. How does one deconstruct an ego when you’re alone? How do you move forward with sorrow and disappointment? What is so moving about ‘De Profundis’ for Gregory? It’s the piece's dynamic, along with Wilde’s slow movement toward walking with the disappointing facts of his life hand in hand with acceptance. The transformation in the piece is one of moving with a former self as opposed to becoming something new. Prest finds this really interesting right now. The process for the generation of ‘De Profundis’ started with Prest and Original Music and Lyrics by Sarah Wilson and Mike Ross in a room. They spent three days reading the letter, going through it and then realizing the need to break it. Prest calls himself conservative and said if it were up to him, he’d like to stage the entire letter. He had a good laugh, knowing that wouldn’t be possible. The task of bringing ‘De Profundis’ to the stage has been humbling. The team had to: “pull things out and explode things as an act of love.” Out of love, they’ve had to destroy the letter and try to re-build it again. ‘De Profundis’ is not a natural idea for a musical, but it’s challenging and worth pursuing. Mike and Sarah then went to work, and the three came back together, worked again, and then went away to work. Eventually, Damien Atkins (who plays Oscar Wilde) was then brought in. It was continuously creating material, putting it side by side and seeing how everything spoke to each other. The music in ‘De Profundis’ reflects something underneath the plot, a bird’s eye view, perhaps of a moment with Oscar and then coming back down. Jonathan Corkal-Astorga and Colton Curtis appear with Damien in the production. What has each of them brought to the story according to Prest? Jonathan has brought professionalism, skill and heart with care, interest, and sensitivity. Colton brings incredible skill as a dancer and is the most generous person in the room you can find. With sensitivity and skill, Colton brings an enigma to the character of Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde’s lover). To play him is not an easy task. Damien is all humanity, humour, rage, camp, and talent. This is why it’s so beautiful to have him play Oscar Wilde. Prest calls Damien a ‘great’ friend. When you’re in his presence, and he is ‘on,’ Prest calls it as if you are sitting next to the sun. For him, this is what it must have felt like to be around Oscar Wilde. Just to be clear: Damien is not making an impression of Oscar Wilde; there’s no dialect as we’re not in that world for ‘De Profundis.’ The story is set in a different kind of dreamlike place but with that sense of celebrity. As we begin to close our conversation, Prest recommends reading the entirety of ‘De Profundis’ because it is a beautiful experience. The letter is such a coded document. Wilde could say things and couldn’t say certain things. Even though the letter was very private, it was also public. Prest smiled and said they were being reckless about some things. Without being weird about it, Prest believes some people will really dig ‘De Profundis’ while others are really going not to do so. The flip side to this thinking is if you really like Oscar Wilde, you may really loathe this ‘De Profundis.’ Prest also quickly adds that the production is not meant to be definitive, as there have been many stories, plays, and films about Wilde. What’s next for Gregory once ‘De Profundis’ completes its run? He begins rehearsals as an actor for Canadian Stage’s ‘The Inheritance.’ For these last few days, he has been doing double duty of rehearsals at CanStage in the morning and heading back to Soulpepper in the afternoon for final tweaking and juggling. A remount of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ will be performed at Soulpepper, and he’s involved in that production: “It’ll be very good and healthy after this process [of De Profundis] to land in someone else’s room with a big ensemble and have a change of pace as an actor.” Is there time for Gregory Prest to be just Gregory: son, partner, brother, and friend amidst all this rehearsal? “Never!!!!!!!!!, but we’ll see, we’ll see.” ‘De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail’ is now in previews. It opens on February 8 and runs to February 18, 2024, in The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, in Toronto’s Distillery District. For tickets, youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-8666. To learn more about Soulpepper Theatre, visit soulpepper.ca. Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare

    Back 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare Presented by SHAKESPEARE BASH'd and now onstage at Theatre Centre Credit: Kyle Purcell Pictured l-r: Emilio Vieira and Michael Man Zoe Marin "By fleshing out the sexual repression of the original characters in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’, SHAKESPEARE BASH’d makes a case for why this seldom-performed dramedy deserves a place in the popular Shakespeare canon." Unlike other Shakespeare productions that are begging for modernization, the plot of ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ already feels straight out of an HBO young adult series. In short: Two sexually repressed bisexual men fight over a lesbian. To expand: In Athens, three widowed queens interrupt the wedding of Hippolyta and Duke Theseus to ask him to go to war against King Creon of Thebes for denying their husbands proper burials. Despite being against his cruel tyranny, the ‘two noble kinsmen,’ cousins Arcite and Palamon, fulfill their duty to protect the city of Thebes and fight on Creon’s side. However, after Theseus wins, the cousins are imprisoned. While imprisoned, the cousins catch sight of Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, and immediately fall in love with her – inciting the rivalry that tears their relationship apart. Eventually, Arcite is released while Palamon escapes with help from the Jailer’s daughter who is in love with him. When the cousins meet again, they agree to fight to the death, with the winner marrying Emilia. Theseus catches them but ultimately revokes his death sentence. Instead, there is a tournament to decide which cousin marries Emilia and which gets executed. While there continues to be a series of complicated events in the second half of the play, in the end, one of them dies, and one of them marries Emilia. Mind you, at no point does Emilia express interest in either of them. And yet, she feels that it is her duty to marry one, just as Arcite and Palamon think it’s their duty to either marry Emilia or die. While the original text may have focused more on the ‘chivalric code’ of its source material (Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale’), this production really leans into its criticism of compulsory heterosexuality and toxic masculinity. Michael Man and Emilio Vieira’s portrayals of Arcite and Palamon, respectively, are as hilarious as they are heart-wrenching. Director James Wallis further showcases the different ways the two characters repress their feelings for each other through their physicality. Palamon is more prone to violence, moving in large gestures and speaking boldly, while Arcite is much more subdued. Arcite rarely initiates touch, but always leans into it when he can – whether that be when Palamon embraces him or when the two are dueling to the death. In these moments, we see how their chivalric sense of duty forces them to be violent or avoid intimacy when they very clearly want the opposite. At one point, we watch Arcite reach out to put his hand on Palamon’s shoulder but then decides against it at the last minute. These missed opportunities to be earnest remind us that we’re watching a Shakespearean tragedy, and these characters have no hope of happiness. As she explicitly states, the funniest and most tragic part about these two cousins fighting over Emilia (Kate Martin) is her absolute lack of interest in all men. She shows a clear indifference to both cousins throughout the play, and in the end, her marriage to Palamon is just as tragic as Arcite’s death. Throughout the play, the entire cast has great energy that never falters during the almost 3-hour running time. ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ is performed on a thrust stage, which Wallis uses effectively, especially during the dances (Breanne Tice) and fight choreography (Jennifer Dzialoszynski). The show opens with a great movement sequence that serves as an overture, full of images alluding to moments the audience sees later. However, since the rest of the staging was more straightforward, I was left craving more movement. I also enjoyed the productions, metatheatricality with the actors entering as themselves and putting on costume pieces to become their characters. ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ in itself portrays an unclear time period, historically taking place in Ancient Greece, with all the action and characters presenting medieval times. Therefore, rather than leaning into either, the costume design captures the inherent anachronism and metatheatricality through its mix of modern clothing and Elizabethan elements. I will admit that some costumes were much better than others. I particularly enjoyed the Jailer, the Jailer’s Daughter, and Pirithous because the elements mixed well together. On the other hand, I found myself distracted by anybody wearing a jogger or a long belt. I also think actor Kate Martin was not set up for success with that skirt so long she’d step on it anytime she had to change levels. Overall, I really enjoyed SHAKESPEARE BASH’s production of ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ and felt that its portrayal of masculinity and sexuality makes the original text extremely relevant to a modern audience. The production runs until February 4 at the Theatre Centre Incubator (1115 Queen Street West). For tickets: https://theatrecentre.org/tickets/?eid=110137 or call 416-538-0988. ‘THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN’ by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare Presented by SHAKESPEARE BASH’d Directed by James Wallis Stage Manager: Milena Fera Sound Designer: Matt Nish-Lapidus Fight Director: Jennifer Dzialoszynski Choreographer: Breanne Tice Lighting: Sruthi Suresan Jailer’s Daughter Songs: Hilary Adams Performers: Daniel Briere, Joshua Browne, Tristan Claxton, Jennifer Dzialoszynski, 郝邦宇 Steven Hao, Madelaine Hodges (賀美倫), Melanie Leon, Michael Man, Kate Martin, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Breanne Tice, Le Truong, Emilio Vieira, Jeff Yung 容海峯 Previous Next

  • Profiles Al James

    Back Al James The Self-Isolated Artist IMDB photo by Jon DeLeon Joe Szekeres As a practicing Catholic, I’ve always liked the phrase ‘By the Grace of God’. I passionately believe it is through the Almighty’s grace that, sometimes through goodness and sometimes through surprises, our lives have been lovingly and carefully determined for us. Enter Al James and his family. Al, his wife Kathy, and their two children Frances and Henry, attend the same Catholic Church I do. The James’s have attended this Church longer than I was. When I started attending several years ago, I noticed there was one little guy who used to peer around his father when the priest entered from the back of the Church. With the biggest smile on his face, this little dude waved to the priest and reached out to touch him. The priest always called him by name and waved back to him. Other parishioners around me always smiled when they saw this selfless response. I recall asking a person next to me who the little guy was and found out his name was Henry. Several weeks go by. After church one day, the parish priest was talking to a gentleman and I was waved over. The priest said this man was looking to speak to someone from my school, but Father knew I had an interest in drama. This gentleman who was talking to the priest was Al James. The priest turned to me and said, “Joe, you have an interest in drama. I was looking for Mike, but you can answer Al’s question. Joe, this is Al. Al, this is Joe. Talk!” And the priest immediately left us alone. In a few seconds of stunned silence, because I don’t believe either of us expected it, I looked at Al. He looked back at me. We both let out a huge laugh. And a wonderful friendship started from that point. There are many things I respect about Al. His Catholic faith and immediate family are the most important elements in his life. He is a devoted Catholic who also takes his career as an actor very seriously. Over the years we have spoken about the industry and about our communal faith. 1. How have you, Kathy, Frannie and Henry been doing during this time? Actually, we’re managing quite well during this period. We are fortunate enough to be able to continue working and, for the most part, have not been too affected by this pandemic as far as daily routine is concerned. Obviously having the kids at home during the day has been a big adjustment, but we managed to make the transition in stride. 2. Were you involved in any industry projects when the pandemic struck? I wasn’t involved in any projects when it occurred. 3. Have there been any personal or professional challenges for all of you during this time? Personally, I’ve welcomed the time spent at home among my books and guitars and have been enjoying the time spent with the kids, but I’m aware that this has been a trying time for many. The most challenging part of this isolation period for me has been trying to take it one day at a time instead of trying to determine what the near future or distant future may hold in store. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I’m continuing to work on the creative projects I’ve begun and am also getting in more time for my daily prayer devotions, studies and reading. 5. What advice might you give to other performing artists who have been hit hard by this turn in world events? I’m not one to be giving out advice, but if I were to add anything to the attempts to help ease or comfort those during these difficult and challenging days, I’d invite my fellow artists to reach out to those who are worse off and stay in touch with them. I’ve been contacted numerous times from fellow colleagues asking how I’m doing and if my family and I are well. It’s brought me a lot of comfort to hear from them, and I’ve also reached out to others as well. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID-19? I believe lots of positive things can come from this if we allow them to come. As I mentioned earlier, the need to reach out to those whom I regularly wouldn’t think to contact has shown me that, in future, I don’t need a time of crisis as an excuse to connect or re-connect with others. 7. From your experience, do you see any changes in the Canadian performing arts scene on account of COVID-19? I don’t know how the industry will be affected, at least not in the long run. Whether any permanent changes will occur may depend on the duration of the general ‘lockdown’. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you doing or will you be doing any of this? I’ve had a couple of self tape auditions for voice over gigs and I assume this will continue and most likely increase over time. I think it’s a good idea to be prepared for more ‘at home’ auditions. 9. What is it about performing that you still love which hasn’t been affected by this pandemic? Live performance on stage is what I love more than any other format. The shared energy and dynamics of performing in front of a live audience has always been my favourite. I love how every performance is different. As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests: 1. What is your favourite word? Supernatural 2. What is your least favourite word? Spiritual 3. What turns you on? A hint of wit and sarcasm in a woman 4. What turns you off? A lousy sense of humour 5. What sound or noise do you love the most? Laughter 6. What sound or noise bothers you when you hear it? Pop Music 7. What is your favourite curse word? Motherfucker 8. Other than your current profession, what other profession would you have liked to try? Writer 9. What other profession could you not see yourself doing? Politician 10. When you arrive at the Pearly Gates, what do you think God will say to you? “Not yet” Previous Next

  • Young People Soulpepper Theatre Company Present Bad Hats Theatre's 'Alice in Wonderland' adapted by Fiona Sauder

    Back Soulpepper Theatre Company Present Bad Hats Theatre's 'Alice in Wonderland' adapted by Fiona Sauder Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto's Historic Distillery District The cast. Credit: Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres A delightfully enjoyable ‘Alice’ and knowing it’s okay to be different while growing curiouser and curiouser about life. What a difference a year can make from the absence of live theatre. Last year, I enjoyed Bad Hats’ streamed production of Fiona Sauder’s adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but there was something uniquely different on this opening night at Soulpepper compared to last year’s online presentation. What was that difference? It’s that necessary connection and spark between the actor and the live audience that makes us want to go to the theatre that we can’t get from a computer or television screen. Most of the cast from last year’s production of Bad Hats’ ‘Alice’ has returned for this run and delightfully captured the joy, innocence, sweetness, and excitement of this adapted tale on opening night. Creatively directed with controlled precision and obvious affection for the story by Sue Miner, this boisterous and exuberant nine-member cast confidently tells the story with enthusiastic dedication. At times it’s a tornadic whirlwind of activity from Cameron Carver’s fast-paced choreography and set pieces to roll in and out with actors entering from all corners of the theatre, but that’s part of the fun in wondering what will happen next. The audience sits on both sides of the stage which was a good choice made as it allowed for excellent sight lines. Logan Cracknell’s warm lighting design accentuates the playing space for visual impact. Ming Wong's costumes beautifully re-create sometimes rather simply the essence and joy of wonderment of classic childhood tales. Matt Pilipiak’s White Rabbit costume says so much about the character with so very little. On the outside is the teacher Mr. C. who arrives late to class and is flustered by that fact and needs a few moments to compose himself. Pilipiak is properly dressed as the supposed role model teacher Mr. C; however, when he becomes the White Rabbit, Pilipiak places bunny ears on his head and a bunny poof of a tail on his backside. Vanessa Sears’ stunning ruby red gown as the Red Queen immediately caught my eye upon her first entrance. Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko’s music composition is spot on with cheeky wordplay in the songs ably supported by Rachel O’Brien’s direction. The only thing I found bothersome at times was Andres Castillo Smith’s Sound Systems. There were a few moments in some of the choral numbers where I couldn’t hear all the lyrics and that was a tad disappointing. I’m a stickler for sound design if people and songs can or cannot be heard. There were several children and young people in this opening night audience, and I believe it is prime to ensure they enjoy what they are seeing and hearing. What made this production enjoyable for me was the concept and misconception of time in its understanding and misunderstanding. There are two clocks in the classroom that I didn’t see from my seat and the students wonder which clock they are to look at to decide what is the correct time. We are in a classroom when the story begins, and I also got the sense play adapter Fiona Sauder might perhaps be poking fun at the education system (Ontario’s perhaps?) where the students playfully and intentionally misread the questions asked of them in trying to finish their homework which leads to many amusing anecdotes and comments. The same homework sheet can also be found in the audience programmes. Matt Pilipiak’s frazzled in a tizzy of a teacher Mr. C. is amusingly adorable which makes his connection to the White Rabbit’s being late more believable for me from a childlike perspective. Tess Benger is Alice, the likeable young child protagonist who likes to question why things are the way they are and why they aren’t the way they aren’t supposed to be. Benger is a naturally believable performer who becomes the doe-eyed young child sent off to the corner by Mr. C to finish her homework, and it is from here that she falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. I must applaud the simplicity in the manner Miner has staged Alice’s falling through the rabbit hole – very simplistic to stage with props and still intriguing to watch. Even umbrella props become fascinating tools to utilize. Other characters are also quite fun to watch. Fiona Sauder and Landon Doak become entertaining word players as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and as the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Vanessa Sears’s Red Queen gorgeously becomes larger than life and fun to watch thanks to Ming Wong’s extraordinary costume design. Aisha Jarvis is an attentive Cheshire Cat who moves about the stage gracefully and incorporates some feline movements as she and Alice talk. Jarvis manages to utilize that grin on her face that made me believe she could be from another world. Supporting players Breton Lalama, Jessica Gallant and Richard Lam contribute grandly to the world of the curiouser and the curiouser whereby we all begin to understand why things are the way they are when we ask questions. Final Comments: In her Director’s Note, Sue Miner reminds us to keep asking questions, small and large, because with curiosity and kindness the world cannot help but be a better place. This exceptional cast of players makes us all glad to be back in the theatre. Oh, and by the way, here’s another idea for a Christmas or holiday gift. Come to the theatre and see ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Running Time: approximately 85 minutes with no intermission. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ runs until January 7, 2023, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. For tickets, 1-416-866-8666 or visit Soulpepper.ca. To learn more about Bad Hats Theatre, visit badhatstheatre.com. ALICE IN WONDERLAND Adapted by Fiona Sauder Soulpepper Theatre Company Presents Bad Hat’s Theatre production Directed by Sue Miner Associate Director: Fiona Sauder Set Designer: Bad hats Theatre Co-Composers: Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko Dramaturg, Associate Director: Matt Pilipiak Music Director: Rachel O’Brien Choreographer: Cameron Carver Lighting Designer Logan Cracknell Costume Designer: Ming Wong Stage Manager: Tamara Protic Artists: Tess Benger, Landon Doak, Jessica Gallant, Aisha Jarvis Breton Lalama, Richard Lam, Matt Pilipiak, Fiona Sauder, Vanessa Sears Previous Next

  • Profiles Jonathan Wilson

    Back Jonathan Wilson Moving Forward ​ Joe Szekeres It was great fun to reconnect with Jonathan Wilson once again after I had profiled him over two years ago. If you wish to read the first time he and I spoke, please go here: www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items/jonathan-wilson We both agreed on how important it was to try to remain positive in the changes once again regarding Covid. Jonathan's doing all right these last two years and adds: “Life is good. You’re always reinventing yourself even when you think you’ve finished the work. It’s always a new challenge. The other day I was speaking with someone about starting at zero periodically. That’s not meant to sound negative in any way, but it’s a reminder we’re always learning and always moving forward.” For the first time in forty years, Jonathan doesn’t have an agent. The agency changed and moved on, and he thought this was a good time to self-represent, really go solo and really create his own work in a way that has been “fantastic and very empowering”. During these last two-plus years, Wilson says the positive side was concentrating on solo writing as a self-creator. Back in his Second City days, he learned that as a writer he could hire himself. Additionally, Studio 180 has also assisted him in developing a new solo piece entitled ‘A Public Display of Affection’ that was filmed and, just this past spring, there was a public screening of it at Toronto’s Paradise Cinema on Bloor. Wilson says the lockdown has provided new learning opportunities for himself and his craft regarding digital capture of a theatre performance without an audience. He recently re-visited The Rivoli on Queen Street, one of his old haunts, where he did sketch comedy and improv. He got to perform a section of his upcoming show in front of a live audience, and he was thrilled he had the chance to do that. With the upcoming production of ‘Gay for Pay with Blake and Clay’, Wilson is looking forward to having a live audience in front once again. A press release stated the following about the upcoming production: “Every actor knows there is nothing more prestigious than bravely playing gay. But is your pesky heterosexuality getting in the way of booking a one-way ticket to award season? Join Blake and Clay, two seasoned gay actors, as they teach you to play gay and make LGBTQ about YOU. Go from straight to straight-up booked! Let their lived experience get your acting career off life support! Because representation matters, but their representation hasn't called in ages.” The Toronto Fringe sellout of ‘Gay for Pay’ won the 2022 Second City Award for Outstanding Comedy and Patron’s Pick. It opens on November 16 and runs to November 27 at Crow’s Theatre. Wilson worked with co-creator/performer and actor Daniel Krolik seven years ago on a Studio 180 piece for the PanAm Games. They became friends and Daniel encouraged Wilson to continue writing and self-producing. This past spring, Daniel was writing a Fringe show with co-creator Curtis Campbell and approached Jonathan to ask him if he would ever consider doing a Fringe show. They produced some online material. Jonathan saw the online material and it made him laugh. Curtis does a character named Alanis Percocet (and I had a good laugh over that). Jonathan started his career in Fringe shows. He only had to think for what he calls two seconds to agree to do the show. According to Wilson, Krolik and Campbell went away and wrote the show, a fake fun acting class. The premise? Two theatre performers have found an assigned gig and are teaching straight actors how to play gay. When he read the script, Wilson said he laughed so much and considers the rehearsal process and performance a real gift as an actor. He has a chance to continue honing his comedic skills as an actor. There’s improv in the show as well. There’s a community group effort with a lot of give and take with the audience in responses only. Wilson says: “It’s been a lot of fun and a reminder that in the theatre world comedy is overlooked. If anything, we need laughter right now.” Jonathan reassures that audience members will not be pulled up or ‘picked on’ to participate in the action of the production. As an audience member, he doesn’t like when that happens, and he doesn’t think it’s right for him to do that to an audience. At the Fringe, ‘Gay for Pay’ was sold out every night and Jonathan had a fantastic time doing it then. He credits and thanks Crow’s Artistic Director Chris Abraham for opening the door once again to perform it in the east end. Was there a reason the title does not use the names of the actors? Jonathan was looking for significance when he got the script wondering why the two characters are called Blake and Clay. Co-creators Curtis and Daniel said they both thought it sounded funny. Jonathan plays Clay so he wondered if he is supposed to be able to be moulded like clay in helping the students in this class take new forms. Director of the production, Curtis Campbell, told Jonathan: ‘Whatever! If that works for you, Jon, go ahead.” Jonathan then jokingly poked fun at himself by saying to give actors some seed and off they go to grow in whatever form they want. He’s having a great time with the production. Performances of ‘Gay for Pay with Blake and Clay’ run to November 27 at Streetcar Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue (Toronto) in the Studio Theatre. Running time is approximately one hour with no intermission. For tickets, visit crowstheatre.com, click the WHAT’S ON tab and purchase tickets online. You can also call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390. I’ll be reviewing the production this week. Look for my review to follow shortly thereafter. Previous Next

  • Dramas Orphan Song by Sean Morley Dixon

    Back Orphan Song by Sean Morley Dixon World Premiere at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre Cylla von Tiedemann Joe Szekeres This ‘Orphan Song’ resonates, but I had to play close attention to this challenging production. Please don’t misunderstand when I say the opening night performance of Sean Dixon’s ‘Orphan Song’ is a challenging one. Challenging how and what we think are good and necessary, and we need to be challenged constantly all the time regarding discussion of worthy artistic endeavours. ‘Orphan Song’ is truly worthy of sound, intellectual discussion and Tarragon will hold talkbacks following certain performances. I would strongly encourage future audience members to partake in those talks and to read the theatre Resource Guide and programme available. I wished I could have listened for a few minutes to a talkback following the play. The synopsis: In 40, 027 BCE, a grief-stricken Homo-sapiens couple Gorse and Mo (Beau Dixon and Sophie Goulet) adopts a Neanderthal child called Chicky (Kaitlin Morrow). Language separates the parents from the child, only then to separate mother and father. In other words, how does one love when it is difficult to communicate? Communication using what kind of language since the play is set BCE? Will it be standard English? Two challenges for me. In the Programme Playwright’s Note, Dixon states ‘Orphan Song’: “is an exploration of what it means to take responsibility for a child at all costs in a dangerous world.” He and his wife in 2014 adopted a girl and recall the struggle of forging attachment to her but don’t say how long this struggle occurred. His daughter is now 9. Since I’ve never raised my own children, here’s where I knew I would pay close attention to the story. The other challenge? Oral language takes on an entirely new meaning in ‘Orphan Song’ and that’s where I found the provided Resource Guide invaluable. Briefly, the English spoken in the play is derived from a list of 200 words considered basic to every language known as the Swadesh List. So, I really had to pay close attention to the dialogue and words spoken as it would be very easy to get lost if attention span wandered. And this is where I can make a personal connection since I was a Core French as a Second Language teacher at the beginning of my teaching career over thirty-five years ago in utilising a list of 200 words and phrases basic to a conversational understanding of the language. What makes ‘Orphan Song’ so deserving of a post discussion is the way director Richard Rose and this singular cast melded Dixon’s script together to explain how does one love an adopted child when there are difficulties in communication. Did it work for me, though? Was the play worth doing? These were the two questions I pondered on the GO train ride home. Yes, ‘Orphan Song’ did work soundly for me. I probably would have arrived at that decision earlier if there was a talkback to help guide some of my thinking. Graeme S. Thomson’s set, Jareth Li’s lighting and Juliet Palmer’s sound designs immaculately recreated the suggestion of eras and eras long ago. Upon entering the auditorium, I really liked hearing the sound effects of the gulls and birds. The hanging burlap fabric of meticulously and carefully painted Cro Magnon and Neanderthal rock was sharp. The dimly soft focused lighting thankfully did not pierce my eyes. Tree branches and sticks lined across the front of the stage which also nicely evoked a strong sense of the era. Charlotte Dean’s costume designs appropriately captured what I had envisioned from seeing pictures about the outfits worn from this specific era. Once the performance began, I was fascinated with the marvelous eye-opening introduction of the ensemble called Pipers who incorporated music and fantastic use of puppet mastery. I would really like to acknowledge Kaitlin Morrow’s work here in the latter. I found myself mesmerized in watching how the strong ensemble manipulated the puppets while blending, at times, unusually high-pitched trilling sounds which affectionately grew on me after awhile. There is further puppetry in the production as well from tiny, adorable hedgehogs to large, winged attacking and ferociously looking pterodactyl like birds. Absolutely breathtaking to watch this tight knit ensemble incorporate gigantic and subtle body and head movements. I can’t even begin to imagine the initial rehearsal process with the cast, Rose, Dixon, and the oral language issues because there must have been some obstacles which had to be overcome. It did take several minutes to accustom my ear to listening, hearing and then processing the message delivered, but I got used to it and was able to understand most of what was being said. There are two moments where standard English is used to help with plot delineation. Richard Rose is a gifted director and his clear vision of focusing on the universal and emotional elements of adoption remained solidly intact. Juliet Palmer’s musical direction and incorporation of melodic sounds subtly underscored tension and interest thanks to some terrific ensemble work of individuals whom I will name at the end of the article. Beau Dixon offers a towering patriarchal presence as Gorse. (Spoiler alert) Sophie Goulet’s matriarchal Mo tugged at my heart strings in the second act when she plans to leave the family and the others desperately search for her. (End of spoiler alert). The grandmotherly Gran’s Terry Tweed becomes that wise and sage figure for whom we all search in times of desperation and change. Kaitlin Morrow’s work as Chicky was one of the performance highlights for me. When the audience first meets them, there is an adorable, playful quality sound which emanates from Morrow in their trilling as they strive to communicate with the others. That sense of feeling that Chicky belongs through attachment which breaks and then re-forms and breaks again did play at my heart. Final Comments: At this moment in time, we now live in a world where listening and hearing one another becomes of extreme importance in relationship building. Through a visually captivating production to the eye and to the ear, ‘Orphan Song’ required me to pay close attention, to listen and to hear what others are trying to tell me about family, about communication and about love. There’s so much going on in the use of the language that perhaps I may have to pay a second visit. In any case, come listen to this song. Worth a visit to Tarragon. Production runs approximately two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Covid Protocols in effect. ORPHAN SONG by Sean Morley Dixon (World Premiere) Directed by Richard Rose Set design by Graeme S. Thomson Lighting consultation by Jareth Li Costume design by Charlotte Dean Musical direction and Sound design by Juliet Palmer - voiced and created collaboratively by the cast and composer. Puppet mastery by Kaitlin Morrow Stage management by Sandy Plunkett Apprentice Stage Management by Alysse Szatkowski Performers: Heather Marie Annis, Beau Dixon, Sophie Goulet), Phoebe Hu, Germaine Konji, Ahmed Moneka, Kaitlin Morrow, Kaitlyn Riordan, Terry Tweed, Daniel Williston Production runs to April 24, 2022, at the Mainspace, Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.tarragontheatre.com or call 1-416-531-1827. Previous Next

  • Profiles Heath V Salazar

    Back Heath V Salazar Moving Forward Gaetz Photography Joe Szekerers This time of isolation from live theatre and the emerging civil and social reforms have certainly made me aware of the importance of hearing from as many voices as possible within the artistic community. Several of the artists profiled have been extremely helpful in suggesting names of individuals who deserve to be highlighted. I was pleased when two artists suggested Heath V. Salazar. In the twenty-first century, it’s wonderful that we have social media sites like Facebook to make initial introductions; however, nothing beats speaking to a person face to face which is what I hope I can do in the near future with all of the artists I’ve profiled so far, and when it’s safe for all of us to return. And I was grateful to make an introduction as Heath told me they would be delighted to be profiled for this series Heath V. Salazar (they/them) is a Dora Award-winning trans-Latinx performer and writer. Since graduating from Randolph College for the Performing Arts, Heath has developed a body of work as an actor that spans the gender spectrum in both theatre and film. Within the drag world, they perform multidisciplinary draglesque as Gay Jesus and are featured on Season 1 of the CBC Arts’ Canada’s a Drag. Through their writing, Heath was selected for the Spoken Word Residency at the Banff Centre of the Arts (’17) as well as the Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (’18). In addition, Heath has gone on to teach as a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto. Currently, while Heath continues the development of their short film, Préstamo, in partnership with director Tricia Hagoriles, they’re also an Artist in Residence with both Aluna Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times. It appears that after five exceptionally long months, we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. Has your daily life and routine along with your immediate family’s life and routine been changed in any manner? My daily life and routine have changed drastically over the course of the past five months. As a multidisciplinary artist, I’m accustomed to working multiple gigs throughout the week that involve audiences or being in close proximity with large groups of people. In addition, as a queer and Latinx creator, I personally hold a strong community focus within my work which involves actively engaging with audiences outside of a performance setting as well as regularly attending community events. Due to safety restrictions, all of those spaces were put on pause which has completely altered my everyday life. However, that community focus has been a great contributor in motivating me to seek out alternate platforms and methods of creating that allow me to remain in connection and of service to my communities and those around me. Were you involved or being considered for any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down? There are a number of projects that I was preparing for when the pandemic was declared. In addition to local gigs and performances, I was in the midst of making arrangements to move to Stratford, Ontario for the summer to perform as Rafe in Wolf Hall as a company member at the Stratford Festival. In the past year, I’ve been involved in creation and research development programs at the theatre including working as a guest artist for their Laboratory Ensemble as well as for the Stratford Incubator. This would’ve been my debut performance with the company, however, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible, the theatre was forced to close. Fortunately, the Stratford Festival has worked actively throughout the pandemic to continue upholding a sense of community with their company members. They’ve arranged mini-challenges and projects to bring people joy, they’ve ensured consistent and transparent communication, and when the civil right movement currently taking place began, they took the time to listen and have used their reach and platform to engage in productive and important conversation with Black and Indigenous artists and creators. The state of our world, let alone our industry, needs to change and having a company like Stratford take accountability for its history engages a lot of people in a dialogue they may not otherwise have had. Describe the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you. Did this element or moment significantly impact how you and your immediate family are living your lives today? One of the most challenging elements of the isolation period for me, particularly in the beginning, was navigating limitations regarding my ability to bring aid to my loved ones and community. Safety isn’t something that’s afforded to everyone in our society. Even before the pandemic started, violence and discrimination against racialized trans people, particularly those who are Black and Indigenous, disproportionately affected their ability to access basic necessities such as housing, healthcare, and food stability. Since the initial lockdown, those circumstances have only escalated but, since I had lost my employment for the foreseeable future, I felt very limited in my ability to help. However, the work I’ve done over the years has allowed me to learn from some of the most incredible activists on how to provide community support in ways that don’t involve monetary donations, and that translated very well even in a time of isolation and social distancing. This came heavily into play over the past couple of months. Ways to help can range from promoting and sharing information about organizations that provide resources for marginalized communities, donating performances and/or performance fees for online fundraisers, attending protests and demonstrations that call for the reallocation of city/government funding to be put towards community resources, using social media platforms to share accurate information about how people are being affected and ways that your friends and peers can help, engaging in a personal dialogue with city officials to demand protections for our most vulnerable communities, learning about the impact that the redistribution of funds can have even on a minor scale, seeking out petitions with clear demands to bring aid to those in need and much, much more. Quite often, difficult times can bring on feelings of despair and helplessness, but those I’ve had the privilege of learning from have shown me the impact that can take place when we stand together as a community. What were you doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown and isolation from the world of theatre? Since theatres will most likely be shuttered until the spring of 2021, where do you see your interests moving at this time? During the time of lockdown and isolation from the world of theatre, I’ve largely pivoted my focus to online creation and performance as well as the development of new work through my residencies at both Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as well as Aluna Theatre. As a creator, my practice involves approaching work development from a holistic standpoint centering and prioritizing the human in human experience. Working as storytellers within a capitalist context can, has, and does encourage toxic and damaging methods of working in order to ensure a high turnover of creation and consumption. However, we as people are not products and if we’re going to tell stories about people, but all of them get damaged in the process, then what good are the stories? What are we actually saying when we tell them? This pandemic has really highlighted those values for me. Life is very short and needs to be appreciated because, ultimately, we can’t stop ourselves from dying. My main interests right now are nurturing my relationships with my loved ones and working to protect, empower, and advocate for those around me. Sometimes that’ll be in the form of performance and sometimes it won’t. But life isn’t about performance, performance is about life; I’m making life my priority in whatever way that takes place. Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams? The greatest piece of advice I would give to performing artists and new theatre graduates concerned about the impact of COVID-19 is that your value as a person isn’t determined by the jobs you do and don’t book. Life will always bring what we least expect, but how we adapt influences the people we become as well as the world around us. As creatives, artistry can be a very personal element within ourselves but remember that though art is a glorious part of you, it’s not all of you. Give yourself permission to become someone that you would admire in a way that centers your character, not your profession. That way, no matter what you do, your legacy will be one that you’re proud of. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic? It’s a complicated thing to find the positivity in a time that’s brought people so much loss. However, I also think that there were a number of deadly crises taking place prior to the arrival of Covid-19 that were costing people their lives and weren’t being addressed until a mass amount of our population was forced to slow down. Canada has a consistent track record regarding the erasure of our history and the systemic racism upon which our country was founded. Knowledge is powerful, but a lack of information hinders the ability to understand and address the long-lasting effects that this racism has had on people of colour on this land. The repercussions have manifested in our modern-day society through a number of violences including the mass amount of missing and murdered Indigenous women who have yet to receive justice, the disproportionate incarceration and murder rate of Black and Brown people at the hands of our police system, as well as the targeted violence experienced by our sex workers, particularly those who are Black trans women, only to name a few. The world of theatre is largely regarded as progressive and inclusive, however, when we look closer, we find exclusionary practices that not only contribute to but encourage systems of oppression within both our workplaces as well as on a mass scale due to the number of people taking in the messaging within our work. My hope is that our companies and our theatre workers take this time to grow their scope of awareness in order to change the toxic culture that previously existed within our spaces. We’re all capable of growth and, as an industry whose practice is so deeply steeped in compassion and empathy, I have faith in our potential to create a better work environment, and in the long term, a better world. In your informed opinion, will the Toronto and the Canadian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted on account of the coronavirus? I have no doubt that the Toronto and Canadian performing arts scenes will and have been changed on account of the coronavirus. This pandemic has cost people so much from their safety to their livelihoods and, worst of all, their loved ones. A lot of our people right now are grieving while others are ill, and we don’t know what our futures look like. But when I turn to those around me in the performing arts scene, particularly disabled, 2SLGBTQ+, and BIPOC creators, I see phenomenal innovation and community care. This spans from performers, to writers, to lighting designers, and more. I’m watching, in real-time, as people adapt the use of the performing arts to keep one another alive and to share their ruthless faith for a new future. Our practices across the board will have to be reassessed and adapt to our new circumstances. But I think that as long as we prioritize people’s safety and wellbeing over profit and product, we have a great capacity to improve and strengthen the future of our industry. What are your thoughts about streaming live productions? As we continue to emerge and find our way back to a new perspective of daily life, will live streaming become part of the performing arts scene in your estimation? Have you been participating, or will you participate in any online streaming productions soon? What I’ve found so far regarding the streaming of live productions is that it’s made the performing arts far more accessible for a lot of people. Our industry isn’t financially or physically accessible for many members in our communities which applies across the board from on-stage, to behind the scenes, to our audiences. I’ve received a lot of feedback in the past five months from people with a variety of different accessibility needs that being able to access performances, panels, and classes online has drastically changed their ability to become involved in and/or take in the performing arts. This shows us that accessibility has been a possibility all along and that it’s crucial for it to be a priority in our work even as we begin to reconvene in person. We also need to keep in mind that viewing art online still has its limitations as it requires the ability to own a computer and have access to wifi, which simply isn’t a possibility for many people. As our industries slowly re-open and we develop new practices in regard to safety, it’s vital that we ensure accessibility becomes a core point in how we adapt moving forward. These conversations have been prevalent for me in the past five months as a lot of my performance work has shifted to online. As a drag king, I watched the drag industry adapt very quickly. Within days of the announcement of the lockdown, drag artists were creating online content in a variety of different formats. I, myself, have now participated in live online performances, fundraisers, interviews, discussion panels, and more. Most recently, I developed a three-part video series during Pride whose pieces were screened separately at online events throughout the month of June. The last piece in the series, All of the Above, can be viewed online through the CBC Arts website. What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now? Storytelling is an ancient practice and I chose the performing arts as a profession because I believe in their ability to influence monumental change within our society, thereby shaping our world. I grew up speaking three languages, so I’ve seen how limited words can be. As a multidisciplinary artist, I view art as a form of communication that allows us to connect with some of the most profound parts of one another, as well as ourselves, in a way that transcends the confines of language. Performance allows us to document both our history as well our current human experience at the same time, all the while, influencing our future. It’s something I have great respect for and am incredibly honoured to be a part of. With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews: a. What is your favourite word? Amor b. What is your least favourite word? Impossible c. What turns you on? Privacy d. What turns you off? Willful ignorance e. What sound or noise do you love? Family reunion rancheras at 4am f. What sound or noise bothers you? Sirens g. What is your favourite curse word? Nothing I’d let my mother read in an online publication h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Immigration Lawyer i. What profession would you not like to do? Anything that involves euthanizing animals. I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario and as a teenager, I used to volunteer at the Science Center. The section I worked in specialized in caring for Northern Ontario wildlife but, for some of the animals, their feeding process involved having to euthanize mice. Though I understood the importance, I just didn’t have it in me and, after seeing my face when my supervisors taught me the process, they thought it best that I not be allowed to do it because they were concerned I would free the mice. They were correct. j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? ‘Took you long enough.’ To connect with Heath, visit their social media sites on Instagram and Twitter: @theirholiness. Previous Next

  • Profiles Jamar Adams Thompson

    Back Jamar Adams Thompson “[The rehearsal process for ‘Tyson’s Song’] has demanded from us a greater amount of trust in our vulnerability with each other and our ability to hold space and grace with one another.” ​ Joe Szekeres The last time I saw Jamar Adams Thompson appear on stage was in Cahoots’ Theatre Production of Steven Elliot Jackson’s ‘Three Ordinary Men’, directed by Tanisha Taitt. I remember being so moved by that production that I could not speak for a moment afterward. Jamar was part of a terrific ensemble that kept me riveted by the story’s action. He was appreciative and humbled by the audience’s experience of ‘Three Ordinary Men’ at the time, and he says that experience will remain part of his heart forever. Knowing that Jackson’s story deeply touches audiences means the world to him. We interviewed via email. Jamar is a University of Windsor alumni and holds a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Honours in Acting. He is smack dab in rehearsals for the upcoming Canadian premiere production of Peter N. Bailey’s ‘Tyson’s Song, ’ which opens April 26 at Toronto’s Factory Studio Theatre. This is Adams Thompson’s debut working with director Ash Knight and production company Pleiades Theatre. Working on the production with a team that he calls passionate and intelligent has made the process both inspiring and challenging as an actor. He calls Ash Knight: “one of the most passionate directors I know who really speaks true to his convictions.” Knight is always keen on exploring the most interesting choice in a character’s objectives and motivations. For that reason, Jamar feels he has never felt more born for a role. ‘Tyson’s Song’ is a story about two best friends, two brothers, on one last big night out in the city. The play is a conversation not only among brothers but also one that is unspoken for many of the viewers who might relate to these characters. This conversation, this story, ultimately unpacks some very real issues in the Black male community of mental health, the absence of genuine emotional support and positive emotional outlets, and questions of masculinity, identity and self-fulfilment. It is a story of real pain but also one of hope. Adams Thompson truthfully claims that ‘Tyson’s Song’ found its way to him. Unbeknownst to each other, two close friends of his had forwarded the e-drive submission about the show, demanding that Jamar audition. When he read the submission email the next day, it was as if I was coming home after a very long pilgrimage: “The email mentioned “Black men’s mental health” and “Brotherhood” and specifically sought second-generation Jamaican/Caribbean-Canadian artists. I have and will always remain an advocate for the continued discussion of mental health and support among all people, but to know that someone was finally writing a Canadian story for someone like ME was nothing shy of a dream come true.” Excitement would be an understatement describing how Jamar feels about the upcoming premiere. He recognizes the pressure artists always feel when presenting new work. Still, as surreal as that may sound, this is the first time Jamar has had the chance to explore a character from his particular side of the Black diaspora. Although many more stories are being told and written for his people in general, there is still so much more room for the stories of Caribbean people in Canada. Jamaica has influenced so much of the culture in Toronto, from its cuisine to music to art and, most notably, its cultural slang. Despite this influence and the abundant population of Jamaicans in the city, their stories have not made footing in the theatre as they have in the poetry, music and dance scenes, or even the visual arts. One of his biggest hopes with the premiere of ‘Tyson’s Song’ is to motivate a greater ushering of Caribbean and Jamaican-Canadian stories within the city. ‘Tyson’s Song’ appeals to me for several reasons. One is to learn more about the stories of the Caribbean people in Canada. I also want to see Jamar’s work in a completely different setting from ‘Three Ordinary Men.’ I also have a personal connection to Jamar’s fellow actor, Kyle Brown. I taught him when he was in high school: “WOW! What a full-circle moment for you as well! You'll be proud of him. Kyle and I hit it off very strongly from the auditions. We had the pleasure of working together in the callback, and right away, a palpable grace came with his presence. It was so easy to play off one another and help each other shine.” Jamar calls Kyle an incredibly generous and honest performer. Their most significant discovery with these characters is their unique ability to relate with both of them. They each carry a bit of Tyson and Bryan and could easily have read for the other’s part. This unique empathy has allowed them to bridge many hidden gaps and barriers in connecting with the characters and each other in a way that he thinks has surprised them both. What’s next for Jamar Adams Thompson once ‘Tyson’s Song’ concludes its Canadian premiere? He jokingly stated in jest that a nap would be ideal, as I’m sure any actor who is presenting new work would. But he’s not one to rest too long. Jamar has been keeping busy in hopes of pursuing his MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) quite soon. While his goal is always acting, be it on stage or in front of the camera, he is taking more steps towards participating in his own play premiere. Writing has not so secretly been a large aim in fulfilling his purpose as a storyteller! His hope is to have some scripts and anthologies that he has been working on come to life at a theatre near us. He closed off our email conversation with a 😊 and said: “Stay tuned.” ‘Tyson’s Song’ runs from April 24 to May 19, 2024, in the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst St.). Tickets are pay-what-you-choose starting from $5, at PleiadesTheatre.org or FactoryTheatre.com. Previous Next

  • Profiles Dylan Trowbridge

    Back Dylan Trowbridge Looking Ahead Tim Leyes Joe Szekeres In the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, my discussions with most Canadian, American, and European artists led me to understand just how their professional lives have become forever changed and dramatically altered. In all honesty, I’m still wondering how this pivot back to the indoor live theatre will look for them and their colleagues as necessary worldwide social movements have spotlighted the need for change. I first came across Dylan Trowbridge’s name in the early stages of GhostLight. All of the co-founders of GhostLight wanted to create a space to keep the theatre community active, inspired and connected while the industry was shut down. During the last few days, theatre news from Broadway indicates the theatres in Manhattan will be open this fall. Still no word about the indoor Toronto and Ontario theatres. Yes, there are pockets of outdoor theatre and I for one am pleased to hear this news, yet still Canadians wait when we can all return indoors. You’ll see from Dylan’s responses he has tried his best to remain positive and to keep moving forward. From the University of Toronto website: “[he] is a Toronto-based actor, director and teacher who began his career at the Shaw Festival where he played the title role in Christopher Newton’s production of Peter Pan. Other Shaw Festival credits include leading roles in The Lord of the Flies, The Matchmaker, Widowers' Houses, The Coronation Voyage and Rutherford and Son. Dylan made his West End debut in 2009, playing Neil Kellerman in Dirty Dancing at London’s Aldwych Theatre. He also spent two seasons at the Stratford Festival, appearing in Mary Stuart, Measure for Measure, Titus Andronicus and The Grapes of Wrath. Additional theatre credits include: Tribes, Julius Caesar (Canadian Stage), Taking Care of Baby (Critics Pick Award for Best Supporting Actor), the English language premier of Wajdi Mouawad’s Tideline (Factory Theatre) and Tiny Dynamite (Theatre Smash). Dylan is a founding member of Theatrefront, with whom he co-wrote and performed in Return (The Sarajevo Project), earning a Dora nomination for best new play. Film and television credits include The Handmaid’s Tale, Anne with an E, V Wars, Impulse, American Hangman, Dark Matter, Private Eyes, Alias Grace, Orphan Black, Bomb Girls and Hemlock Grove. As a director, Dylan’s productions of The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy and Space Opera Zero! for Toronto’s Eldritch Theatre have earned multiple Dora nominations, and one win. Other recent directing credits include Herringbone and The Yalta Game (Talk is Free Theatre) and Every Brilliant Thing starring Gavin Crawford (Festival Players). Dylan is the Artistic Associate of Theatrefront, the Associate Artistic Director of The Festival Players of Prince Edward County and the Co-Founder/Co-Creative director of GhostLight, Canada’s online platform for mentorship in the theatre (ghostlight.ca).” We conducted our conversation via email as Dylan is an extremely busy family man. Thank you for taking the time to add to the conversation, Dylan: The doors to Toronto indoor live theatre have been shut for over a year now with no possible date of re-opening soon. How have you and your immediate family been faring during this time? Thanks for asking this, Joe. While this has been a profoundly challenging time, I have tried my best to seek silver linings where I can. I’ve got two amazing kids, and I have spent a lot more time with them over the last year than I would otherwise have been able. When everything shut down last March, I took the opportunity to teach my youngest son how to read. We had a great time with it, and we never would have been able to do that under normal circumstances. We established some fun family traditions during the pandemic: Thursday night campouts in the living room (or on the balcony in the summer). Takeout and old episodes of ‘Survivor’ on Friday nights. Because there are four of us and a dog packed into a condo, I have been fortunate to avoid the massive challenges of isolation that so many people have had to deal with over the last year. We’ve tried to make it fun however we could. About indoor live theatre shut for over a year, there is a void for sure. More than anything I have missed the social interactions, the ridiculous jokes and meeting new people. I miss the event of theatre. The anticipation when the lights go dark. The thrill of audience and artists sharing a space. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? I’ve tried to keep busy! A few days before all the theatres shut down, Graham Abbey and I had opened a production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ at U of T. We’d had such an inspiring experience working with these students, and we were discussing the possibility of creating more training and mentorship opportunities in the near future. Then when March 13th hit, and, like everyone else, all our immediate theatre plans evaporated. Graham called me and we began a conversation about building an online platform for theatrical mentorship. We wanted to create a space that would keep the theatre community active, inspired, and connected while the industry was shut down. Through that conversation we laid the groundwork for what would become GhostLight (www.ghostlight.ca ) Alongside co-founders Stephen Barnard, E.B Smith and Adrianna Prosser, we spent the next several weeks developing this platform, recruiting mentors and creating our launch event Friday Night at the GhostLight (featuring Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Clarkson, Torquil Campbell, Colin Mochrie). In May we launched our first series of free classes lead by some of the great theatre artists in this country, and we continued to do so throughout 2020—offering 19 classes to over 300 students. Then, in September, Graham and I returned to U of T to teach Advanced Performance: Mainstage Drama. In that class we created two digital theatre pieces: an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rosamund Small’s play ‘Tomorrow Love’. It was a great opportunity to explore the possibilities that exist when creating theatre online. I also shot a couple of Film and TV projects: ‘Marry Me this Christmas’ for the Bounce Network and ‘Titans’ for HBO Max. In April I directed a new play workshop for Alberta Theatre Projects (a company I have long admired), and a “First Day Read” for Talk is Free Theatre. I also work with Festival Players of Prince Edward County (https://www.festivalplayers.ca ) as associate AD. We are busy planning an exciting season of outdoor theatre, music, dance and comedy for July and August. The late Hal Prince described theatre as an escape for him. Has covid been an escape for me or would you describe this year long absence from theatre as something else? I think he must have meant that theatre is a great escape from ordinary life, and that I can understand and relate to. Theatre allows us to live in wonder and to transcend the ordinary This year-long absence from theatre has not been an escape for me though. It definitely has caused me to reflect and re-evaluate my life and my work in a healthy way. As actors and theatre artists, so much of our identity is wrapped up in our creative lives. This year forced me to cultivate an identity outside of those parameters. I have learned that while I love being an actor, I don’t need to base my sense of worth upon it. It’s also taught me to keep an open mind about what theatre is, and what it can be. The popular opinion (and I totally understand it) is that theatre is defined by live assembly in a physical space shared by actors and audience. But this year has taught me to challenge that. We are storytellers. When the traditional parameters of our story telling are taken away from us, how do we adapt? I have been profoundly moved by digital theatre. I have been wowed by digital visuals in online plays. I have laughed heartily. I have witnessed beautiful, genuine connection between actors over Zoom. I have witnessed student actors deepen their understanding of the craft in an online classroom. So, while it hasn’t been an escape, it has been enlightening, transformative and satisfying. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? My understanding of this virus and the various vaccines is limited, so anything I say here is complete speculation. My instinct is that it will be at least a year before people are attending theatre in a way that resembles to what we are used to and accustomed. Once we get everyone vaccinated, it will take some time for audiences to gain the confidence to gather in large groups again. My hope is, in the meantime, theatre-makers will be inspired to get creative with their approach to alternative strategies. I started my career doing outdoor theatre in Montreal. There is a magic to it when it’s done well. And it can attract non-traditional audiences. I think we will also see companies getting innovative with hybrid models of theatre: a live performance in a real theatre with a tiny audience and live streamed to a greater audience in their homes. I’m curious about how this challenge can create new models of theatre. The advent of Zoom theatre has opened up performance possibilities that transcend geography. While I don’t expect we will return to ‘normal’ in 2021, I am confident that this obstacle will lead to innovative approaches that could transform the way we create and attend theatre. I think theatre historians will look back on 2020-2021 and expound on on its vital transitional moment in the way we create theatre. The most important thing in all this? All levels of government must prioritize supporting arts organizations. As things stand, there is no scenario that will allow us to generate the ticket revenue sufficient to meet our costs. If we want a thriving performing arts sector on the other side of this pandemic, it is vital that we keep companies afloat. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? What our industry has endured over the last 14 months will forever change the way we create theatre, and the way audiences experience it. The most important moment we have experienced as a result of Covid is the reckoning that took place, and continues to take place, at arts institutions across this country. The closure of theatres created an opportunity for theatre artists to shine a spotlight on the systemic inequity and racism that has been taking place in our theatres and cultural institutions. I believe that a positive, permanent transformation has begun to take place. I anticipate that we will continue to see healthy, innovative leadership models evolve because of this, and that will affect everything from programming, to process, to casting and hiring practices. With regards to how we will create theatre in a post-pandemic world, my hope is theatre artists will be inspired to devise work that celebrates what makes the medium unique: liveness, gathering, collaboration and imagination. Great theatre can be like a party or a concert. It should be an event. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Exhilarating. I expect that there will be a greater urgency to the work we do and a hunger in the audiences that experience it. Have you felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will influence your work? In 2006 I created a play with actors from Bosnia called ‘Return: The Sarajevo Project’. These artists grew up during the war in Bosnia and experienced legitimate, tangible threats to their lives every single day for several years; it affected everything. Their work was raw, spontaneous, and unpredictable and I learned a great deal from being on stage with them. I have not experienced that kind of sustained and palpable danger. Covid has been frustrating, stressful, and inconvenient. It has posed a threat to my livelihood and my ability to pursue my dreams. But it would be inauthentic to suggest that I have a deeper understanding of danger that I will bring to my work as a result of this. The word I keep coming back to is “urgency.” I will create theatre with more urgency when this is over. I’ll make up for lost time. I’ll relish the opportunities to collaborate with great artists in a shared space in front of an audience. I’ll enjoy it more. I’ll play more. And I won’t take one second of it for granted. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made an impact on your life in such a way that you will bring it back to the theatre? In 2019 I suffered a serious concussion while rehearsing a play. I was unable to act on stage for the entire year. Then I lost a very close friend to a tragic accident. And then Covid hit. These three events permanently altered the way I see the world. Life and health feel much more fragile now. Everything we experience is raw material for the work we do. I hope and expect that these challenging events will have a positive impact on my work as an actor and director. Once again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? Covid has intensified my desire to do three things that I have been unable to do: traveling, creating theatre and socializing. I want to meet new people and see new places. I think that our work requires us to feed our imaginations by seeking out a multitude of perspectives and pursuing new experiences. That’s what I plan to do as soon as I am able to do so. Follow Dylan on Instagram: @dylantrowbridgeyyz Previous Next

  • Musicals Dreamstage Live 'BROADWAY: STORIES & SONGS' (With Ted Sperling & Friends)

    Back Dreamstage Live 'BROADWAY: STORIES & SONGS' (With Ted Sperling & Friends) Guest: Jason Danieley Website Joe Szekeres Wow! I am so grateful and appreciative to have had the opportunity to chat several weeks ago with both Ted and Jason before I saw tonight’s concert. You can find both of their profiles here in Our Theatre Voice. This evening was an artistic culmination for me to hear two professional artists collaborate and briefly reminisce about some of the moments they experienced in the world of performance. Most importantly, after fifteen months of lockdowns and bubbles, ‘Broadway: Stories & Songs’ just put a big ol’ smile on my face to listen to two incredibly talented guys entertain us tonight with some Broadway showtunes. I hadn’t heard of several titles, so I was pleased to be introduced to them for the first time. Messrs. Sperling and Danieley appeared naturally comfortable with each other as the cameras rolled for this near hour-long concert. For me, just to watch their personal demeanor towards each other showed they clearly held respect for each other’s talents. Ted and Jason have also been friends for over 25 years as Jason met his late wife, Broadway artist Marin Mazzie, through Ted so this bit of knowledge adds even more believability to their relationship. (May 28 and 29, Jason Danieley) Danieley wore a grey suit with white open collar shirt while Sperling wore a dark coloured suit with white open collar shirt. Good to see this as wearing a tie would have made things seem just a tad too formal (along with the fact that wearing said tie would not be useful in singing). For most of the concert, Sperling played the piano and offered back up vocals when necessary. Just watching Danieley ‘become’ the different characters in each of these songs was fascinating and inviting. I especially liked his Irish accent in the opening song ‘On the Streets of Dublin’ from A Man of No Importance. Danieley became the character in the song and, as he appeared to finish the number, I almost got the impression he was ready to say, ‘C’mon, let’s have a beer. I’m paying.” This opening song was a perfect ice breaker for the concert. I loved the tribute to ‘Sara Lee’. I don’t know if we have ‘Sara Lee’ dessert products here in Toronto. (I’ll have to look in the frozen section next time I go to the grocery store). These two attacked the song with great fun and ease, and at one point Mr. Danieley completed a pelvic thrust which made me laugh for a few seconds. At one moment, the mood became poignant as Mr. Sperling stepped back and allowed Jason to sing ‘We Will Always Walk Together’ which he sung at his late wife’s memorial service. Just watching Danieley engage in this vocal moment with a resilient emotional strength as he looked up and sang to his beloved wife was highly moving. He paused for a few seconds at the end, and I thought I saw a glisten in the corner of his eye. A truly human moment that was shared with all of us. ‘They Can’t Take that Away from Me’ fittingly concluded the event for both gentlemen. The pandemic may have stopped them momentarily in their love of performance, but Covid can’t and won’t take away that connection each of them made with me tonight through songs and stories. Jason Danieley’s concert will be re-broadcast again May 29, 2021, at 2 pm. EST. Dreamstage Live continues BROADWAY: STORIES & SONGS with artists Victoria Clark on June 4, 5 and Meghan Picerno and John Riddle on June 11 and 12. For further information on tickets and to learn more about DREAMSTAGE Live, visit https://dreamstage.live Photo of Jason Danieley, Ted Sperling and Ticket from Dreamstage Live website. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde

    Back 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde Shaw Festival Shaw Festival Dave Rabjohn The Shaw Festival is now running a delightful production of Oscar Wilde’s eminent play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ This period piece is subtly directed by Shaw’s artistic director Tim Carroll and highlights the delicious banter and cynical wit of these characters who exude a complete absence of moral commitment. Completely true to the traditional text, some surprises come from a unique set design and clever scene introductions that penetrate the social stratification. Indeed a comedy of manners, it features preposterous situations and comic confusions of identity. John Worthing (Ernest) has been raised as an orphan in the higher levels of society. In the flat of his friend Algernon, played boldly by Peter Fernandes, they discuss the various merits of love, marriage and proposing. Their dialogue is filled with the aforementioned cynicism. The core of their conversation is the admittance of getting away from the city and using fake identities to roam for pleasure. Enter Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell who uses her overbearing personality to intimidate the young men. Kate Hennig plays the imperious autocrat with overweening delight. Lady Bracknell refuses Worthing’s connection with her niece, but Ernest and Gwendolen commit to each other secretly. Moving to the country Algernon arrives and proposes to Cecily (Worthing’s niece) and then they are joined by “Ernest” and Gwendolyn and mayhem ensues as identities are mixed or lost. Ancient discoveries are made that comically return all characters happily to their trivial lives. Martin Happer, as Ernest, is efficiently cool and emotionless – physical humour was amusing as he flops with fake dread on a couch or spends too much time on his knees addressing various characters. Julia Course plays Gwendolen with great wry humour and excellent timing. Gabriella Sundar Singh, as Cecily, feeds energy into Act 2 with her saucy wit – big eyes and bouncy spirit poorly hiding her manipulative calculations. The unathletic Algernon (Peter Fernandes) is hilarious as he attempts to leap over a shrub and then abandons the attempt. The death of Banbury speech was a brilliant highlight. Gillian Gallow’s set design was traditionally elegant, but some twists were a signatory. A series of deepening prosceniums drew the audience eyes into almost a bandbox that moved forward in act one. This resulted in an intimacy with the opening dialogue. Pursuant scenes used various sized prosceniums to regulate outdoor venues or larger ornate rooms. The final library scene is cleverly fitted with a flat displaying a large bookcase, but no book titles exist. This subtly parallels the thin veneer of upper-crust society – all show, no substance. The manor house garden was largely filled with shrubbery, so finely tuned that it was almost cartoonish – again reflecting the pretensions of Wilde’s characters. Delighting the audience were comic entrances and exits through the silly labyrinth. Another clever surprise was a momentary treat that opened each of the three acts. Played by the servants, a small distinctive playlet or musical whimsy introduced moments in each scene. One could almost perceive, under the guise of droll professionalism, their disgust and wink-wink observations of the lampooned upper class. This production clearly displays the pretentious characters who do not change from beginning to end. Wilde skewers Victorian society unabashedly. This play seems to be governed by Wilde’s paradoxical aphorism – “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.” Fun fact: When the SARS outbreak hit Ontario in 2003, then director of the Shaw Festival, Jackie Maxwell, decided to take out pandemic insurance – one of the very few companies to do so. Because of that instinct, virtually all Shaw employees continued to work and be paid throughout the covid crisis. Well done, Ms. Maxwell! ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde Performers: Julia Course, Peter Fernandes, Martin Happer, Kate Hennig, Gabriella Sundar Singh, Neil Barclay, Patty Jamieson, Andre Morin, Ric Reid, Graeme Sommerville, Jaqueline Thair Director: Tim Carroll Set Design: Gillian Gallow Costumes: Christina Poddubiuk Music and sound: James Smith Production runs through October 9, 2022. Tickets at: shawfest.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Fiona Mongillo and Lucy Jane Atkinson

    Back Fiona Mongillo and Lucy Jane Atkinson Looking Ahead Into 2023 L: Fiona Mongillo (Ann Baggley) R: Lucy Jane Atkinson Joe Szekeres When you miss a live theatre production and begin kicking yourself because you heard it was good, you wonder if there will be that minute infinitesimal opportunity of a chance to see it again. Thank you to the theatre gods for aligning the stars, to Crow’s Theatre, to Fiona Mongillo and Lucy Jane Atkinson, for bringing Dennis Kelly’s ‘Girls & Boys’ to Toronto. I missed it at Stratford’s Here for Now Company last summer. Mongillo returns to the solo role in which she appeared last summer with the production directed once again by Atkinson. Artistic Director Mongillo founded Here for Now in 2012. According to its website, the independent professional theatre company based in Stratford, Ontario: “aims to challenge and inspire its audiences by producing a bold annual theatre season, comprised of new or underproduced plays. Here For Now focuses on the stories of women and also seeks to amplify all unheard voices.” Recently I had the chance to interview both Fiona and Lucy in a Zoom call and really enjoyed speaking with them. They have known each other for a decade. Fiona calls Lucy her favourite director on the whole planet. They had just completed a rehearsal for ‘Girls & Boys’ and were tired but invigorated. Atkinson is excited to return to the production after six months of being away from it, but she has also said the script is a very heavy and draining piece as there are more layers to uncover. I’m doing my best not to read any reviews of last summer’s production but the brief plot synopsis still intrigues me. Fiona assured her synopsis of ‘Girls & Boys’ would be “super brief because it is so difficult to talk about this play without spoiling it.” Essentially, it is a woman who shares her life story with the audience about her relationship with her husband, her children, her career and how the events that have occurred in recent years and the turn these events took. What drew the two ladies to ‘Girls & Boys’? For Lucy, she saw the production when she was working at London England’s Royal Court Theatre Box Office a few years ago. She has loved Dennis Kelly’s work for years and the production featured Carey Mulligan and was directed by Lyndsey Turner. Lucy remembers it was about mid-point in the show she saw at the Royal Court and describes the moment as “all of the air left my body. It just hit me in a way that I can’t remember another time that I’ve had that physical response to a piece of theatre.” Atkinson calls herself predominately a new writing director. A lot of the work she does is female-focused with small casts that specialize in monologues normally up to three-four people at a perch. Everything she does is very intense and close and ‘Girls & Boys’ is all these things as it fits everything she has wanted to do with the script. For the past five years, Lucy has been waiting for someone to allow her to direct ‘Girls & Boys’. She sent Fiona the script along with several other titles with the caveat being Kelly’s story. In Fiona’s own words, the initial reading of ‘Girls & Boys’ scared the shit out of her and she said no to it, absolutely not. She closed the script and thought she might not be up to it or perhaps Here for Now audiences might not be up for Kelly’s story either. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it for a couple of days. She read the script again and then read it aloud to her husband. She told him: “I should probably do this play.” And he said: “Yep. 100%” She added further: “It’s a really brilliant piece of writing. The only reason I was initially hesitant and balking at it was if audiences would be up to the intensity of the story or maybe I wouldn’t be up to it. That’s not a really good reason to say no to something because that’s really fear. So I said yes.” Since the show concluded its summer 2022 Stratford run six months ago, has Atkinson’s vision for Kelly’s script been transformed? Lucy found it a good question. She thought for a moment: “The interesting thing – when we rehearsed it last summer and I directed it then, so much of what we were doing was world-building for Fiona. It is just her on the stage talking to the audience and making eye contact with them as everything had to feel so truthful and so embodied.” For the two of them, the real mission of the show is honesty and being as truthful as you can possibly be. A great deal of time was spent building the house so Fiona could walk around it in the scene and know where everything was. There was the building of an intricate timeline and printing out of photos of everywhere where she lived. There was also printing out photos of her kids. This was all done so it would appear real in Fiona’s memory. This time in preparation for the Crow’s run, both ladies concur: “We don’t need to do that quite so much because it’s all there already. What we’re really looking at is just deepening from what we had before. Last summer if we found the top three layers, then we’re now looking for that fourth, fifth and sixth layer and trying to get into the guts of it. This is my mission this time around is to go to these next layers.” What do the ladies hope audiences will come away with after seeing ‘Girls & Boys’? For Lucy, it’s a very provocative play and she hopes to provoke people to think about power dynamics between the sexes and within relationships. ‘Girls & Boys’ is a piece that sets out to poke at sore spots, and she hopes audiences are receptive to that and don’t flinch when they are poked and instead stay engaged when they go home and really think about what has just transpired on the stage: “It’s a delicate balance. When I saw it at Royal Court just after the curtain call and the audience was filing out, there was a fistfight between two men. It was insane and crazy as it became obvious to me people were triggered by it. On the train ride back home, my partner and I had an argument about the play as well. This was one of the only arguments we ever had.” Lucy hopes audiences don’t shy away from these reactions and will take the time to look at them in the same way Fiona did when she read the script and took the time to consider, re-evaluate and explore why she was fearful. I hope the audiences trust us enough. This is not to say that ‘Girls & Boys’ is traumatizing. There are some moments that are quite hilarious. For Fiona, what theatre brilliantly does is hold up a mirror so we can take a look at ourselves. In that reflection of showing the entire spectrum of the light and the dark, ‘Girls & Boys’ is meant to impact us, teach us, shine a light on within us and create room for reflection and growth. ‘Girls & Boys’ achieved these goals in the summer run. Although she did have that initial fear an audience might not be ready for the play, Fiona thinks she underestimated the Here for Now audiences last summer. “We don’t always need to go to the theatre to be entertained or feel comfortable. Sometimes we go to the theatre to have catharsis, to be uncomfortable in order to sit in discomfort. That is an equally important experience ‘Girls & Boys’ provides, and that’s what I hope audiences will experience. What’s next for Fiona and Lucy once ‘Girls & Boys’ concludes its run at Crow's? As Artistic Director of Here for Now, Fiona says she will be on a very high workload since two months have been taken away. There will be grants to write and details to hammer down since the Here for Now 2023 season will be outdoors. The season will be launched March 1 at the Box Office. For Lucy, she has a show of hers that has been touring for the past year that has come to London, England so she will be doing a remount of it. She is also directing some shows for drama schools. There is a musical she has been working on for the past five years and a fifth draft has been finished so there will be some revisions and deletions on that. As a freelancer, Lucy says there are always little bits and pieces of things to continue examining. ‘Girls & Boys’ opens January 26 and runs to February 12 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets visit crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office at 1-647-341-7390 ex 1010. To learn more about Here for Now and its 2023 summer festival, visit www.herefornowtheatre.com . Previous Next

  • Comedies LA BETE by David Hirson

    Back LA BETE by David Hirson Presented by Barrie's Talk is Free Theatre at Five Points Theatre, Barrie Ontario Presented by Barrie's Talk is Free Theatre at Five Points Theatre, Barrie Ontario Joe Szekeres David Hirson’s ‘La Bête’ is aptly named as it appears to be a beast of a play to mount. When it’s skillfully handled by Barrie’s Talk is Free Theatre with fine direction and a gelled ensemble, it’s that perfect comic antidote we all need now to combat the throes of a cold, dark winter. Set in 1654, France, ‘La Bête’ (The Beast) details the upheaval in a famous acting troupe in the court of Princess Conti (Amelia Sargisson), its patron. Elomire (Rylan Wilkie), the leader of the theatre troupe, has been commanded by the Princess to allow Valere (Mike Nadajewski) to become part of the company. Elomire is disgusted by Valere and his work while Bejart (Josue Laboucane), the second in command of the company and Elomire’s friend, becomes worried about offending the Princess and thereby losing her patronage and all the rewards that come with it. Valere’s arrival and entry into a nearly twenty-minute monologue in Act One drive Elomire into even more of a frenzy of contempt since some of that diatribe was sarcastically aimed at him. When the Princess arrives, she tells Elomire the acting company and their work have recently become mundane, boring and monotonous, and that new blood is needed. She hopes Valere and Elomire will work together to bring new life back to the ensemble and the art of performing. This discussion about the place and value of art in 1650 France is a most relevant consideration about its place in our twenty-first century world. Uncertain of this command as Elomire senses Valere prefers to perform alone and will have difficulty working in a group, the former challenges the latter to see if he can work as an ensemble member. This test will come in the staging of ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ for the Princess. Playwright David Hirson’s script is not an easy one to stage. For one, it’s written in iambic pentameter verse of rhyming couplets (remember those from high school English classes) and that alone requires actors well equipped in its execution. To maintain the authentic look of 1650 France, appropriate costumes must also be designed along with a set design to suggest the elegance of the era. There are layers of humorous sub textual meaning in the rhyming couplets and I didn’t catch them all because either I was laughing out loud or others were around me. Barrie’s Talk is Free Theatre met this challenge of staging the play head-on and did not back away from it at all. Joe Pagnan’s lush set design of drapes and fabric beautifully adorns the playing space. Pagnan has created a beautiful still scene to admire in entering the auditorium, but the huge picture frame slightly angled and suspended over the playing space indicates this story is far from perfection as it takes a slightly different turn in Act Two. An expansive-looking settee is found far stage right. A writing desk and two padded chairs are angled slightly stage right. Jeff Pybus’s soft lighting pre-show nicely sets the mood that we are in the court of royalty years ago. I really liked the pre-show music of the era so kudos to James Smith’s sound design. Laura Delchiaro’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, costume designs define each of the characters from Princess Conti’s stunning ball gown to Elomire’s perfectly coiffed hair, nicely cleaned clothes and right down to spit-shined shoes, highlighted by Valere’s torn, ripped and loosely fitting clothing and cheek dirt makeup. Be warned there is partial nudity for a few minutes. Monica Dottor’s work in staging the Act One opening number is most lovely to watch the ensemble move together in time with the music in such a way that I can imagine that might have been played in front of royalty long ago. Dylan Trowbridge finely directs this production with pristine class and utmost wit. He juxtaposes perfectly the pageantry of what court life must have been like in Act One with the bawdy, loud nature of the meaning behind ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ in Act Two. Amelia Sargisson captures that regal sense of nobility in Princess Conti as she is willing to hear both Valere and Elomire speak about what they bring with them to the acting troupe. When she raises her voice to the two men in frustration and anger, Valere and Elomire naturally behave and respond as if they are in the presence of royalty. As Bejart, the second in command of the acting company and Elomire’s friend, Josue Laboucane solidly reveals his loyalty to his friend by assuring him that Valere’s behaviour is crude and uncalled for. Laboucane thankfully never upstages as Valere rips into his lengthy Act One monologue. Instead, I found Bejart’s silent facial reactions and responses funnier in his silent response. Rylan Wilkie and Mike Nadajewski remain sublime foils as Elomire and Valere. Their perfect timing in their responses and reactions to each other is pure comic gold. While Wilkie’s Elomire is stuffy, arrogant, moribund and pompous, Nadajewski’s Valere is cocksure, flighty, crude and childlike. Wilkie’s Elomire remains in stasis and inactive and moves with purpose when necessary in plot development. Nadajewski rolls, tumbles and falls all with the greatest of athletic ease and also with purpose. His nearly twenty-minute Act One monologue is magnificently executed in all its pausing and pumping of vulgarity, crudeness, brilliance and intelligence. Wilkie’s silent responses like Laboucane’s greatly contribute to the comedy of the moment. Katarina Fiallos, Heeyun Park, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens and Madelyn Kriese impressively create a cohesively gelled ensemble who intently listen and respond to the events naturally around them without ever upstaging. Their work in staging ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ in Act Two is solid, especially in watching how the Princess reacts in finally understanding what the play means to her. Final Comments: A joy and treat to partake in live theatre especially when the tickets are free. ‘La Bête’ is pure comic genius and a joy to watch. Go see it. Running Time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. ‘La Bête’ runs to February 11 at the Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie, Ontario. Tickets are complimentary but you must register for them at tift.ca. TALK IS FREE THEATRE presents LA BÊTE by David Hirson Directed by Dylan Trowbridge Set Design: Joe Pagnan Costume Design: Laura Delchiaro Lighting Design: Jeff Pybus Properties; JB Nelles Sound Design: James Smith Movement Assistant: Monica Dottor Stage Manager: Bona Peacock Cast: Mike Nadajewski, Rylan Wilkie, Josue Laboucane, Katarina Fiallos, Amelia Sargisson, Heeyun Park, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens, Madelyn Kriese Previous Next

  • Profiles Yolanda Bonnell

    Back Yolanda Bonnell Self Isolated Artist Ty Sloane Joe Szekeres Yolanda (She/Her) is a Queer 2 Spirit Ojibwe and South Asian mixed performer, playwright, and poet from Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Now based in Tkarón: to, and a graduate of Humber College’s Theatre Performance program, she and Michif (Métis) artist Cole Alvis began manidoons collective: a circle of artists creating Indigenous performance. In February 2020, Yolanda’s recently four-time Dora nominated solo show bug was remounted at Theatre Passe Muraille which garnered a great deal of controversial interest. She has performed on stages at the Stratford Festival, the NAC, and The Cultch. Yolanda was recently nominated for a Dora award for her performance as Narrator/Bear son in Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin/ Gállábártnit. We conducted our interview and conversation via email: It has been the three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation, and some places are starting to emerge into Stage 2. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time? My family is doing well. They’re healthy so far. My mother is immunocompromised and she lives with my sister who is a dental assistant and has just been forced back to work. I’m nervous. She’s nervous, but they’re all being as safe as they can be. As for myself, you know I was doing alright in the beginning. As a person with a lot of social anxiety I didn’t mind having to stay home too much and spending time with myself was seemingly a good thing. I think, as time went on in isolation and lacking human touch, my depression sort of reared its ugly head, so it hasn’t always been easy and the last few weeks have been especially tough. I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic support network that keeps me safe. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? Personally, as a performer, I’d say the structure of colonial theatre has been difficult to work within. It doesn’t give any room for our humanity. The long workdays, the rigidity, the ‘leaving your baggage at the door’, the two show days. It’s not sustainable and cast, creative teams, and production teams end up being worn down and, because it’s the arts, you have to get up and go do it again and again. And, if you’re working on a play that has difficult or traumatic content, this type of environment doesn’t give space for care. It’s so important that we continue to work towards more sustainable and healthier ways of storytelling. Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? I had so many projects this summer! I was meant to be a part of Banff’s Playwright’s Lab in April with my play, My Sister’s Rage, which was then meant to have a workshop. I was also supposed to have a two-week workshop of White Girls in Moccasins, which is my play in residency with Buddies in Bad Times. Both of which we ended up doing virtual versions of the workshops, complete with online readings. We have some hopes for getting into a room in the fall, but we’ll see what happens. My solo show, bug, was also supposed to have a three-day run-in Stratford as part of the Lab series. Most of the projects are all sort of up in the air, as I believe many are - just waiting to see what happens. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? A lot of Netflix, again - I’m sure this is a common answer. I’ve also been doing a lot of beading. Trying to get better at it. It’s really calming, and I can spend hours doing it. I’ve also been trying to do as much activism as I can with this incredible revolution we’re seeing with the push to dismantle systemic racism. The balance of important, revolutionary work and attempting to disconnect and breathe can be difficult, but both keep me busy in different ways. Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? I would say read. Read plays by Indigenous and Black playwrights, and other playwrights of colour. I think it’s important for artists, and especially theatre school grads, to look into plays that they most likely weren’t given access to at their schools. Read books about the history of this land in your spare time. Because how can we create and perform art on this land without fully understanding what we have and how we have it? Specifically, to BIPOC artists, I would say to never be afraid to use your voice. You have more power than they let you think you do. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19? Well, I think it definitely gave everyone a moment to slow down. Living in a capitalist machine, as we all do, there was no breathing room. We’re breathing now. Or trying to. We’ve exposed capitalism as a structure that doesn’t work and that’s important. I think it’s interesting that with this pandemic happening, it’s led to economic decline, which I think gives access and room for this revolutionary uprising we’re in right now. And as tough as it is - especially for Black and Indigenous folks - we are seeing small positive changes happening when it comes to systemic racism. Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene? Yeah, I think it might - I mean how could it not? It’s tough to say whether it’ll be positive or negative. Maybe both. We’ll probably see a drop in the amount of plays being programmed for a while due to the money being lost during the closed seasons. At the same time, it also gives room for longer development and rehearsal periods. We’re definitely going to see a huge shift in how we make and produce theatre over the next couple of years. Some artists have turned to YouTube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? I’ve done a couple of live streams myself and I think it’s fine. It definitely has its challenges, but something we have to remember is that disabled artists have been doing a lot of this work for a while. Not all theatres are accessible for performers or audience members or, if they are, it’s often a big deal to get to an elevator. I think this is an opportunity to re-think theatre accessibility. Maybe all theatre should be live-streamed or have Livestream specific shows or a mix of both. I have a friend who can’t sit in chairs for a long period of time due to her disability. There was this show that would have been amazing for her to see and she couldn’t go see it because we don’t make theatres comfortable for all bodies. This is a chance to change that. If you can’t rip out your chairs and replace them with better seats (which is what I think should happen), then we need to think about other ways in which our stories can be accessed, and maybe online is the way to do that. Colonizers built this society for only certain types of people and institutions uphold that. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you? Our stories are medicine and storytellers are the vessels of that medicine. It doesn’t matter how the story is told, just that it is told. And that can never be taken away. With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests: *You HAVE to know how excited I am about this. As a young person, I loved watching ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and I so badly wanted to be on it, mostly for these questions, so thank you for making a little dream come true* 1. What is your favourite word? Odebwewin (it means the sound of the heart) 2. What is your least favourite word? Fiscal 3. What turns you on? Passion 4. What turns you off? White tears/guilt/ignorance 5. What sound or noise do you love? Babies laughing 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Sirens 7. What is your favourite curse word? Fuck What is your least favourite curse word? Anything that tries to replace a curse word (ie; Frick) 8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? Entomologist 9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Cop 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You did great work. I’m proud of you. Yes, you can return as a bear.” You can learn more about Yolanda by visiting www.yolandabonnell.com and www.manidoons.com Twitter: Yolanda_Bonnell Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Earworm' by Mohammad Yaghoubi

    Back 'Earworm' by Mohammad Yaghoubi A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crows Theatre. Now onstage at Crow's Theatre Dahlia Katz Dave Rabjohn “An outstanding world premiere that is pensive and shocking” Years of Iranian civil strife as a result of violent revolutions in 1979 and 2022 are depicted in Mohammad Yaghoubi’s new play ‘Earworm.’ This outstanding world premiere is both pensive and shocking as it deals with how Iranian discord can echo across the world and specifically in Canada. From Yaghoubi’s notes, facing horrors one thought you had escaped and learning that heroes can be otherwise are prevalent themes in the story. Homa (Aida Keykhaii) is an immigrant from Iran who clearly has a dark past as a victim from her days in Iran. Living with her soft spoken son, Pendar (Amir Maghami), she clearly plays the role of social consciousness as she rails against the clerical regime of Iran. As a blogger in Toronto, she is open about her past and bitterly condemns events in Tehran. Conflicts arise as her son’s fiancé, Fatemeh, fiercely played by Parya Heravi, is perceived as a conservative Muslim with an extremely conservative father. A dinner invitation is fraught with possible conditions – must Homa wear a hijab, tone down her rhetoric, even avoid smoking? The conditions are not met, but the invitation stands. Fatemeh is less conservative as perceived with bare arms and amorous advances on Pendar – until her father appears played by Amir Zavosh. Homa’s Iranian nightmares are ignited as she comes face to face with horror and the story spirals into blackness. Keykhaii’s performance is strongly understated – her passions are keen but controlled. Anger at the regime is quietly forceful. Her frustrations with Pendar are open but loving. This subtlety gives strength to her second act where she finally blazes and careens through anger and horror. As the quietly frustrated son, Maghami also is subtly controlled. At times, though, he is too much arms and fingers as he points at his mother wildly. Heravi brilliantly plays the naïve girl friend. As the crisis mounts, her shock is alarming, but her reaction is more inward than explosive. We can’t imagine her horror as she grabs at the hems of her dress reeling and barely standing. Zavosh as the father is also staggeringly subtle. His arms are often folded with a wry grin. He does indeed become the “smiling damned villain.” Several moments gave way to very quiet dialogue. Perhaps this was part of the understated conflicts that are seething below the surface, but it was frustrating at times for the audience. Sina Shoaie’s sound design was forceful with music underscoring the abhorrent animus. The constant barking of the dog signified the intrusion of one family on another. Projections were artful and, at times, staggering. The double ending (not double switch) was inventive, frightening and added thoughtful dimension. Yaghoubi’s writing achieves his pronounced goals as the horrors of unrepresentative governing are displayed in the broken lives of family and lovers. A number of listed dates are performed in Persian (Farsi) with English subtitles. These diverse talents add to the exceptionality of this cast made up mostly of Iranian background. ‘Earworm’ by Mohammad Yaghoubi A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crows Theatre Performers: Aida Keykhaii, Amir Maghami, Parya Heravi, Amir Zavosh Director: Mohammad Yaghoubi Set design: Amin Shirazi Sound design: Sina Shoaie Stage manager: Sabrina Weinstein Production runs through March 3, 2024. Tickets: crowstheatre.com Previous Next

  • Musicals 'Once' presented by Gananoque's Thousand Islands Playhouse

    Back 'Once' presented by Gananoque's Thousand Islands Playhouse Now onstage at the Springer Theatre, 185 South Street, Gananoque. Credit: Randy deKleine-Stimpson. Pictured at piano: Melissa MacKenzie and on guitar: Tyler Check Joe Szekeres A lovely, enchanting story with glorious roof-raising harmonies. Two things I remember about the touring production of ‘Once’ in Toronto several years ago. One is the gorgeous bar where the story takes place. The audience was allowed to walk on the stage preshow, and at intermission, where drinks were also served. The other was the play’s ‘folksy’ music, but the songs at that time weren’t memorable for me. Boy, I am glad I gave this story another chance at Gananoque’s Thousand Islands Playhouse. This time, it's a different visual look for the 2012 Best Musical Tony award-winning musical. Enda Walsh’s Book has a far more significant impact in the intimate Springer Theatre than when I saw the show years ago. About a half-hour before the show begins, Daniel Williston and Haneul Yi bring their guitars out and sing songs. A good choice made here because it’s the kind of music one might hear in an Irish pub when there are solo singers. ‘Once’ is based on the 2007 film of the same title. Set in Dublin, this enchanting story follows a busker (Tyler Check) known as Guy. He sings an unrequited love song on the street. He puts his guitar down when he finishes the song and walks away. Meanwhile, a young Czech girl (Melissa MacKenzie), known as Girl, has been watching and listening to Guy sing on the street. She approaches and tells him he’s pretty good. Girl then proceeds to ask him many questions. She discovers Guy has written many songs for a former girlfriend (Em Siobhan McCourt), who left him and went to New York. Guy finds it challenging to continue singing and ditches it. The memories are too painful, so he returns to fixing vacuum cleaners at his father’s (Sandy Crawley) repair shop. Girl announces uproariously she needs her vacuum repaired and proceeds to bargain with Guy – repair her vacuum, and she will play piano for him. He approves when he realizes she will not take ‘No’ for an answer. In five days, the chemistry between Guy and Girl grows as his songs soar to powerful new heights. But in all love stories, some issues arise. For example, Girl has a daughter, Ivonka (Brea Oatway/Vera Deodato). There is no husband in the picture currently. She lives in a Dublin rooming house with her mother, Barushka (Seana-Lee Wood) and flatmates Reza (Alexa MacDougall), Andrej (Kevin Forster), and Svec (Alex Panneton). Meanwhile, Billy (Daniel Williston), the bar owner where Girl plays music, continues hitting on her because he is also attracted to her. Joe Pagnan’s clever set design of guitar sections emphasizes one of this production's underlying themes: the love of music remains crucial. The set has two levels and a large backdrop painting of water. At one point, the moon is subtly raised when the stage lights dim. When supporting cast members exit the stage, they sit in chairs on stage right and left, where they will become orchestra members. Michelle Ramsay’s soft and, at times, shadowy lighting design underscores the various emotional levels of the characters. Sound is crucial in this production, and hearing the lyrics is crucial to furthering the storyline. Designer Brian Kenny accomplishes this task. He also makes me want to listen to the soundtrack again. Ming Wong’s costumes appropriately reflect and establish the characters. Director and Choreographer Julie Tomaino states the following in her Director’s Programme Note that caught my eye: “ONCE is a beautiful moment in time…two souls destined to meet have such a profound impact on each other that their lives change forever.” At first, I thought the play was only just a love story. It still is. This committed ensemble of artists finds the human truth of that love story in song, word, and movement. Guy and Girl begin to discover and feel the emotional chemistry between them. ‘Once’, however, is more than just a love story. The musical becomes a poignant reminder that we all have had, at least ‘once’ in our lives, an opportunity to connect with another soul, not necessarily in love, that has profoundly impacted us and changed our lives forever. It’s that very connection with another soul that becomes the ‘beautiful moment in time’ that Tomaino wants the audience to experience. I didn’t have that same experience when I saw ‘ONCE’ years ago. I thank Julie for letting me feel her goal this time. How did I know I felt her objective? A welling in my eyes periodically during the show. The songs and harmonies gloriously soar to the rafters of the Springer Theatre thanks to Chris Barillaro’s extraordinary music direction that needs to be experienced in person. At one point, Julie Tomaino’s exciting choreography is stunning as the supporting players (who all play their own musical instruments) synchronously move in a rousing dance break that sends the audience into thundering applause at its conclusion. Tomaino has also directed the production with sensitivity, and it shows in the performances. There is one musical number of the Academy award winning song, ‘Falling Slowly’, where the entire company plays. An absolute joy to sit back, listen and watch this stellar company sing with such class and grace. Breathtaking! Tyler Check and Melissa MacKenzie offer credible and nuanced performances of depth and conviction. I believed them every minute throughout the show and I found myself rooting for Guy and Girl continuously. Future audiences will discover whether the two follow through on their feelings. There remains a true gentleness in Sandy Crawley’s Da, Guy’s widower father, that makes me want to go up and hug him. Seana-Lee Wood’s Barushka, Girl’s mother, is so continental European bold that I laughed out loud when she softly kissed Guy when he met her for the first time. The look on Tyler Check’s face says it all. The role of Girl’s daughter Ivonka has been double cast. I think Brea Oatway played the adorable tyke, although I wasn’t sure when I looked at the programme bio. Is it possible to announce who will play Ivonka at future performances before the show, or place a placard somewhere in the lobby with that information? Alexa MacDougall (Reza), Kevin Forster (Andrej), and Alex Panneton (Svec) deliver three uniquely distinct performances of eccentricities who have been a part of Girl’s life in Dublin. They are also three fantastic musicians enjoying themselves to the maximum as they play in several musical numbers. Daniel Williston is a hilariously and ferociously gruff Billy who’s all bark. Alexa MacDougall’s flirting with Williston and his physical response is perfectly timed comedy needed. Jon-Alex MacFarlane’s Bank Manager is that tight-fisted executive with no time for anyone who wants to borrow money for a ‘pipe dream’. His daring response of bravado to hearing Guy sing in his office is further perfectly timed comedy. Juno Wong-Clayton is Eamon, that lovely recording studio executive who wants to give someone that ‘break’ needed to get a musical career going. Final Comments: This production of ‘Once’ was to have been staged in September 2020 at the Playhouse. We all know what happened next for three years. What’s that adage? ‘Good things come to those who wait’. I waited for ‘Once’ because I wanted to give it another chance. It’s a good thing I did because it’s a GOOD, no, TERRIFIC show to see. Don’t wait any longer. See ‘Once’ because it is GOOD, no, TERRIFIC. Now, time for the film version. Running time: approximately two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission. ‘Once’ runs until October 22 in the Springer Theatre of Thousand Islands Playhouse, 185 South Street, Gananoque. For tickets, call the Box Office at (613) 382-7020 or visit www.1000islandsplayhouse.com . THOUSAND ISLANDS PLAYHOUSE presents ‘Once’ Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová Book by Enda Walsh Based on the Motion Picture Written and Directed by John Carney Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino Musical Direction by Chris Barillaro Set Designer: Joe Pagnan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay Sound Designer: Brian Kenny Stage Manager: Dustyn Wales and Rebecca Eamon Campbell Performers: Tyler Check, Melissa MacKenzie, Juno Wong-Clayton, Kevin Forster, Alexa MacDougall, Sandy Crawley, Seana-Lee Wood, Alex Panneton, Em Siobhan McCourt, Daniel Williston, Haneul Yi, Jon-Alex MacFarlane, Brea Oatway, Vera Deodato. Previous Next

  • Profiles Kelli Fox

    Back Kelli Fox Looking Ahead David Cooper Joe Szekeres Although it was an early morning 9 am interview with Kelli Fox in Vancouver, B.C. (and noon hour for me in Toronto), she had me laughing so much during our 40 minutes. It was heartening to hear how she is conscious of the good fortune she has had within her 35 year career, but you’ll see from some of her responses she (like many artists) have had their love of live theatre come to a crashing halt. On her personal web page (which I will include at the conclusion of her profile), Kelli speaks of how her work is always centered on language. And that language was glorious to hear when I had seen her production of ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ which she had directed at Coal Mine Theatre and her appearance in ‘Sweat’ for Canadian Stage. Kelli has worked for 13 seasons at The Shaw Festival and 3 seasons at The Stratford Festival. She is the recipient of the Gina Wilkinson Prize in 2016 established to recognize women’s transitioning to directing in mid-career. Once again, make sure you access Kelli’s website to see samples of her work over her 35 year career. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thanks again, Kelli, for taking the time and for adding your voice to the conversation: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Wow! It’s so complex! I’ve been ruminating a lot on the fact that, before this happened, I was feeling incredibly burned out. The last couple of projects that I did, I felt like I approached not as prepared as I wanted to be because I was just tired. I was longing for an opportunity to plant myself somewhere and not pack a bag for a few months. All of that was in my head. And then this (Covid) happened, and I thought, “Oh, my God, what have I brought upon us all? What have I wielded into being?” It’s been frustrating and scary and lonely, really. But I’m also trying to embrace the fact that I needed this rest. I needed to spend every night in the same bed for a year. And get a bit of breath and a routine happening in my life. And now, a year in, and I’ve also been resistant, and I know a lot of people have been doing some incredible work online; people are keeping theatre companies alive, keeping themselves present in the virtual world. I’m so impressed and have such admiration of people who have been able to do it. And I just felt like I could barely keep up with the old way of doing things. I can’t start re-inventing the wheel right now. I’m too tired, too burned out. And it’s not my world. I don’t understand it and don’t know how to operate in it. And then this winter I was invited to take part in a reading of a play ‘An Acorn’ by Caridad Svich through Impel Theatre in Toronto and organized by a young woman whom I know is just remarkable. They invited me to take part in this, and I had said. “Sure, of course” as it wouldn’t require very much of me other than to show up on the Zoom webinar and read the play. And the play spoke to me on such a kind of fundamental level, and for the first time in a year I felt like just being present with these other artists and reading these words, I felt nourished. I felt remembered what it was to be an actor again. I’m now in very early stages of trying to figure out if I can work in this media. The other thing that is beginning to come clear now is that when we do come out the other side of this pandemic, what the world looks like then is going to include this digital theatre work. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to get folded into our practice. So, I might as well start to get comfortable on how to work with it and what to do. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? Well, that’s the sad part for me. I come from a city (Vancouver) where theatre has not ever, in my experience, been really centered in the cultural life of the city. That’s why I moved to Toronto 25 years ago because I remember the first year I moved out to Toronto, within the first couple of years. I saw the influence of theatre in the city. A friend of mine, Corrine Koslo, was in a show at Tarragon. I called her up and said I’m attending the Sunday Pay What You Can and I’ll see you after the show. She told me, “Just so you know, the show was ‘Memory of Water’, it’s selling really, really well and when we do these Sunday performances the box office opens at noon, and you have to be in line by 11:30 am at the latest because the line starts to go around the block.” I showed up at 11 am and the line was already going around the block and the people at the front of the line had lawn chairs and thermoses. I thought, “I’m in a city where people care about this art form.” These aren’t theatre artists who are lined up, these are theatre lovers and theatre goers. I was so enthralled that it made me fall in love with Toronto. What’s making me sad now, a year in and it’s a complete erasure of the industry. We don’t hear a lot about it. Not that I’m dissing any of these people who are also just trying to survive during this difficult time. We hear a lot about the restaurant industry, we hear a lot about sports and the teams, and how they and the athletes are going to be able to carry on. It doesn’t seem to matter what steps people take to try make things safe in theatre. Even the film industry is somehow able to get an opening to move forward. It doesn’t seem to matter what the theatre does, nobody cares enough whether it survives to put a real political cultural will behind it. That makes me sad if I think about it too hard. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? Ooooo…..I miss, strangely enough, I miss sitting in an audience. I sometimes think back to previews of ‘Riverside’ at Coal Mine Theatre and sitting in that cramped little space with 70 other people, shoulder to shoulder, and feeling and breathing with other people. And in that space, it wasn’t the blood and sweat of the actors, it was the audience too engaged in that. I miss that jamming in of humans together into a shared experience. I would call ‘Between Riverside’ my first mainstage directing project even though Coal Mine is an indie company, it’s one with a lot of profile. I knew this was one people were going to see, and I was nervous. I was just so in love with the entire cast of ‘Riverside’. (At this point, Kelli named each of them with a big heartfelt smile) As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? Just the privilege of being a working theatre artist. I think I’ve thought I understood what that meant. I know I’ve said to many people over the years I’m conscious of my good fortune, and that I’m one of the few that gets to make a living at this. I would never guess that 35 years in that a whole year would pass and I wouldn’t work at all. I’m not making a living at this. I’m in fact now going to have to start thinking about some alternative way to get some income because I can’t. I’m not going to hold out much longer. And that’s been a bit of a shock to me as to how much I had taken for granted even as I thought I was being consciously aware and grateful of my good fortune. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. Well, this was already started to happen before the pandemic: “The keys to the gates are in different hands” and that’s going to change what it all looks like and how it all operates. And I think that’s a good thing as it’s been a long time coming. I don’t really know what to expect when that happens when we all do show up to work together again. It’s not gonna be the same old guard putting us back on the same track to do the same kind of thing. It’s going to be different. And people like me are not going to be running that show so, I’ll see what the party looks like and who’s invited to it and what kind of work gets done. It’s a conversation too, and that’s partly what I love working live is that it makes the conversation interactive. It feels like real questions get posed and people walk away with real and live conversations in their heads about what they’ve seen and heard. Those are going to be different. I’m being a little bit cagey about how I’m wording this because I don’t want to get in to a too much detailed conversation about what we’re seeing. But what I’m seeing is a lot of change, and a lot of change at the gatekeeper level, and I think it’s good. I hesitate to talk about it too much because I don’t want to invest myself too much into a particular either-or form of outcome. I want to see what happens. Even if you have no problem with what was going on at Soulpepper before Weyni Mengesha (Artistic Director), just the fact she comes with a completely different perspective and completely different set of curiosities and interests and wants to focus on different areas that would never have occurred under previous artistic leadership, that to me is incredibly valuable. We need that. I’m so delighted that more and more of that is happening. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Ooooooo….. what must I still accomplish within the industry? (Note: I stumped Kelli for a few seconds as I could see she was really thinking) Apart from in the late 80s when I visited the Shaw Festival and saw the work and had a deliberate conscious idea that I need to work there, to work with that company. I want to be in that milieu. And I worked really hard to accomplish that specific goal. And I was really pleased it worked out. I had a great time there. But apart from that, I’ve never really made a plan. I got very lucky when I started to direct because I had enough of a track record as an actor that people went okay, sure, let’s see what you do with this show. As things started to work out, people started to ask and that worked out. I asked Gina Wilkinson how she made that transition. And she said, “I just wanted to. And people let me.” I thought that sounded great and good for Gina. And in turn that’s exactly what happened to me. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. (Kelly let out an Uuuugghh)… I want to be surrounded by humanity and share in a live experience together. That’s mostly what I want. But God, I hope we don’t get a whole tsunami of Covid themed plays. I see a lot of stuff on Twitter, and these are conversations I try not to get involved in too much, about I hope we don’t see that. Or when we get back to the theatre, people are saying we’re going to do meaningful work, meaningful work, and the company’s program is ‘Sound of Music’ or ‘Singing in the Rain’. We just need to bring an audience back. And is an audience going to be a post World War 2 audience? We just want to see dance and a comedy. We don’t want to deal with death and destruction. We’ve had enough. We’ve been through a collective trauma, and it would make perfect sense for people to say, “Just do a tap dance. Please.” I would empathize with an audience that wants music and laughter, and artists that want to work in that capacity. I just want to be in a room with people and share a laugh. That said, there’s going to be the need to have a conversation about what audiences want to see. The important thing to me is that we get to a place where we’re comfortable. This is what worries about me about how long it’s going to take because we need to get to a place where people feel good about walking into The Coal Mine Store Front space and sitting shoulder to shoulder with 80 other bodies, and not feel concerned about that. That’s where we need to get back first before we get back to the theatre. I feel that’s going to be a long time. We need to be patient with each other and take a little space, breathe, smile and have that conversation. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Wow!! I think what would be most important to me is if people thought of me as somebody who centered the work over herself as an artist. I think I’ve always tried. Obviously, I walk into the room with an ego, and all actors enter the room with an ego, and you can’t deny that. But I think, I’ve always consciously tried to say if I’m having an issue, is the issue I’m having about my ego or is it a problem I need to solve in the work. I never wanted to be too concerned about what people thought of Kelli after they saw a play in which Kelli played a racist. I never wanted people to walk out of a theatre after ‘Sweat’ worrying about what they thought of me as a human being. I want them to look at Tracy as a human being. To learn more about Kelli, visit her website: www.kellifox.ca . You can also follow Kelli on Twitter: @KelliFox14 /Instagram: @nelsonsdotter Previous Next

  • Young People 'Frog Song - A New Children's Opera' Book by Taylor Marie Graham; Music by William Rowson A WORLD PREMIERE

    Back 'Frog Song - A New Children's Opera' Book by Taylor Marie Graham; Music by William Rowson A WORLD PREMIERE Presented by Here for Now Theatre on the grounds of the Stratford Perth Museum Courtesy of Here for Now website Geoffrey Coulter, Guest writer, actor, director, arts educator “Frog Song” has passion but needs to leap a little further to proclaim itself a true children’s opera. What does a boy in a frog suit, an insecure soprano, her free-spirited costume designer friend, a fairy-tale inspired singing competition and a trio of hopping frogs have in common? They’re all summer campers at the enchanted Camp Songbird, discovering how song will change their lives and relationships forever. Stratford’s independent theatre company, Here for Now, presents the premiere of the new one-act children’s opera, “Frog Song”, a charming and fanciful tale of facing fears, self-confidence, finding new friends and lots of operatic singing. Navdeep and Wyatt are two disparate pre-teens paired to participate in a singing competition. Though divergent in talents and attitudes, they have mysterious dreams featuring a trio of mischievous singing frogs. With the help of other campers and their director, they must defeat their fears and sing their respective truths to the world. The dynamic cast of 7 talented performers, three doing double duty morphing between human campers and pouncing polliwogs, thoroughly invested themselves in their extraordinary characters, with an exaggerated but never phony acting style. After all, this is a show geared to a particular audience and is rightly limited to a 65-minute running time for those who may get squirmy after an extended period of sitting still. This is a show that needs to provide constant stimulation to keep younger viewers interested and engaged. This production started well. More on this later. The venue, located on the grounds of the Stratford Perth Museum, is refreshingly unique; a small rectangular white tent, open on one side to a small patch of grass and an endless vista of farmland (with an encroaching housing development in the distance). The action takes place on a small elevated square stage within and, aptly, on the turf beyond. Performers enter and exit from outside, popping in and out from their jungly backstage. A rather heavy summer deluge earlier in the day left most of the grass and pathways a soggy, slippery bog, a particularly authentic setting for the frogs but often making actor (and patron) exits and entrances precarious. A wet and muddy stage and soiled costumes didn’t faze this cast in the slightest. Director Liza Balkan does an admirable job staging her actors’ comings and goings both within and outside the tent, keeping the narrative flowing and interesting. Unfortunately, Beth Kates’ projections of some very cool abstract art above the stage were washed out and awkwardly positioned. I’m sure most of the audience didn’t see them. The simple low-budget set dressings by designer Bonnie Deakin evoked a fantasy summer camp with funky lawn signs and games - a bit sparse but we got the idea. Deakin’s costumes are rather ordinary, consisting of pastel T-shirts, leggings, shorts, and running shoes with an occasional vibrant shirt, vest and bowtie PLUS a onesie frog costume. Changing the chorus from frogs to humans by having them don and doff ball caps with bulbous eyes secured to them was innovative and practical. Under William Rowson’s deft musical direction, the cast brings cadence to his pleasant but standard compositions of coloratura and arias. Curiously, the program billing proclaims this production “…with the Stratford Symphony Orchestra”. I was puzzled when only two keyboards provided piano accompaniment. Priya Khatri, as Navdeep, the resilient, empathetic camper with a heart of gold, blesses us with her angelic soprano though my companion and I had trouble understanding all her lyrics. As flamboyant camp director Jay, Derek Kwan’s bel canto tenor, charming smile and affable demeanour are right on. However, at times his lyrics were also difficult to discern. Wyatt, played by Ben Skipper, gives us a multi-dimensional and utterly convincing performance as a melancholy young camper caught in a personal crisis. Darcey Baker as Riley, a quirky and fun-loving old friend of Navdeep’s, has an expansive voice with volume to spare (perhaps too much for such a wee venue). As the frog chorus (and campers), Megan Dart, Michael Neale, and Lucy Sanci spend most of the show crouched on the wet grass and boast excellently stylized physical and vocal abilities and interpretations. “Frog Song” is billed as a children’s opera but needs to connect more meaningfully with its junior crowd. The script’s decisive message of cooperation and friendship starts well but loses its staying power. Kids have visceral but finite reactions to the extraordinary. Children at the show I attended were completely engrossed for the first half of the show, especially in Wyatt, dressed as a giant frog. However, attention waned in the second half. Perhaps the fairy tale element needs embellishment or more outlandish costumes and props. Perhaps the lead characters need funnier, wackier, more off-the-wall dialogue. Maybe lyrics and music need to be exhilarating, catchy and memorable. The story can’t let up for a moment. Opera is a bizarre, wonderful, head-on collision between music, drama, and passion. “Frog Song” has passion but needs to leap a little further to proclaim itself a true children’s opera. Running Time: approximately 65 minutes with no interval. The production runs until August 12 on the grounds of the Stratford Perth Museum, 4275 Huron Road. For tickets, call the Box Office: 519.272.HFNT(4368) or visit herefornowtheatre.com. Previous Next

  • Profiles Duff MacDonald

    Back Duff MacDonald Canadian Chat Grant Landry Joe Szekeres I’ve seen Duff MacDonald’s name over the last few years in theatre programmes and through some of the social media websites. His name sounded familiar to me, and I soon figured out where I recognized it. I saw him play in the first Canadian company of ‘Les Misérables’ at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra. Duff was also part of the first National Touring production of ‘Les Mis’ in 1989-1990. Duff also played "Eamon" in the recent Grand Theatre (London ON) and RMTC (Winnipeg) productions of ONCE. According to his bio, Duff proudly hails from the Saskatchewan prairie land. He has recorded albums and sang in many venues across Canada and the United States ranging from coffee houses to large auditorium venues. He is proud of the training he has received. He obtained a full scholarship to go to North Dakota State University to study opera. He also studied at Vancouver’s Gastown Actor’s Studio and private studies in Acting with June Whittaker, Linda Darlow and Uta Hagen. Duff has also completed voice-over work in commercials. He has been seen in film and television roles like the recent LOCKE AND KEY (Netflix), CARTER (CTV Drama Channel), GOOD WITCH, TITANS (Netflix), CLAWS OF THE RED DRAGON, Incorporated (SyFy), Tru Love (Winner of 35 Worldwide Film Fest Awards), Cinderella Man, Foolproof, The Music Man and most recently in the nation-wide spot for AMERICAN EXPRESS/AEROPLAN and BOSTON PIZZA as the gold Professional Sports Trophy Model. We conducted our conversation via Zoom as Duff lives in St. John’s Newfoundland, at this moment. Thank you so much for the great conversation and laughter, Duff: Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about one teacher or mentor in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist. I am very grateful for a number of people in my life who brought me to this point in my life as an artist. In the beginning, in my small town of Watson Saskatchewan, there was this lady named Jean, and she played the piano. She took me on. She was best friends with my mother and father for years. Both my mother and Jean were teachers. I just remember going over to Jean’s house and her teaching me a lot about music and singing and singing some old classic tunes. She was always the woman who was coaching me through all of that early stuff. Later on, I became part of ‘Saskatchewan Express’, a teen talent competition and I won and became part of this group of performers similar to “Up with People’. We toured all over Saskatchewan and I learned so much in the early 80s when I was 16 from all of those musicians. We had a 12-piece band behind us, and we had dancers; it was a big production sponsored by the lotteries. The woman who ran that, Carol Gay Belle, who worked for the CBC, she was also a huge influence on me as a kid in my teen years. I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level? Oh boy, that’s a big one. Initially, it was a shock as it was with everyone. I was just about to go away and do a show. Personally, I did a full pivot turn. We performers spend a lot of time on our own, and as a writer and painter, I have a lot of different creative outlets. So, right away, the first thing I did was turn to my creative side and that really saved me during most of Covid until I ran out of projects. I produced a web series with a friend (check it out on Duff’s personal web page), two of them actually, a comedy series and another web series where I was interviewing people from all over the world. That brought me a lot of joy and peace in checking in with people around the globe and gaining a global perspective on what was exactly happening in our country and other countries. This really helped me to check in because the media was going crazy, but when you talk with other people in other countries, one on one, it really changed my whole view of everything and cut out all the crap the media was feeding us. I became grateful personally. I had my own apartment; I was in seclusion. I didn’t have a family; I wasn’t attending school. Everything just stopped for me, and I turned into a creative monster (and Duff says this with a good laugh). How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? Well, they’re synonymous for me as an artist because I’m self-employed so everything is melded together. As an artist, it encompassed so many things for a lot of us. The rug was pulled out from all of us, but as artists, we’re very dependent on the community, the audience. That’s our living. When that disappeared, it really affected me but I used that artistic talent as a way of survival and it changed everything and started to focus on that. Also, my technical skills and my game went up about ten notches because artists were all forced to audition in our own homes, with our own lighting and our own camera. Luckily, I had done my comedy web series called ‘The Duff Show’ and learned so much about filming myself with green screen. So when auditions were coming up where they were doing live one on one Zoom calls, it didn’t shock me as much as some. My technical and voice-over side that all went up. My agent didn’t worry about me technically because he knew that I had seemed to have everything in order. Tell me further about ‘No Change in the Weather’ opening in St. John’s shortly. Are you hoping to bring it to Toronto after St. John’s? ‘No Change in the Weather’ …(and then Duff stopped for a moment to catch his breath and continued). I’m almost going to cry because it has been such a gift. The past couple of months were really, really hard even with the creative projects I had. After a while for me I kept wondering when I was going to get a job. I’d be so close to getting national commercials. I was starting to really doubt myself. I was away camping and got a call to audition for ‘No Change in the Weather’. I started looking into it and reading the script and doing some research as the play had been done previously. I saw there were some Ron Hynes music in the production. Ron is a Canadian institution on the East Coast, especially in Newfoundland. ‘No Change’ just came along out of nowhere and I got the job. Again, I put together a self tape, had all my equipment together. I had clips that I professionally recorded at the time. Everything just lined up and I had sung ‘Sonny’s Dream’ which is a Ron Hynes song in another show before, and I was auditioning for the character of Sonny. So it was a really sympatico moment where it all happened really fast as they were only looking for a few people. I’m part Irish, and Newfoundland has deep Irish roots here. ‘No Change in the Weather’ is the story of a family that comes home for their mother’s wake and to celebrate her loss and her life. They all come together on an island called God’s Pocket. The family doesn’t want the wake to be a downer so they’re trying to celebrate their mother. And then I show up as Sonny, and I haven’t seen anyone in 20 years as Sonny works for the government. There is a connection to the Churchill Falls political incident and blunder. I represent the political side of the show, and everyone has a lot of disdain for my character. It’s a beautiful story of this family coming together and finding a place of peace amongst all the craziness. It’s funny, it has some great Newfoundland tunes, some Alan Doyle and Ron Hynes music, some really classic Irish music. It’s full of heart and laughter. It really has been a gift for me and for the company. There are beautiful voices, and the talent in the production. The production is different from ‘Come from Away’ as this is Newfoundland people. It’s quite a bit different from ‘Come from Away’ as ‘No Change’ deals with the political slant, and it’s got some real Newfoundland heart. Bob Hallett, one of the members of Great Big Sea is Executive Producer of the show. Our director is Brad Hodder who is going to be in the Mirvish production of Harry Potter when it opens next year in Toronto. Steve Ross, who has completed 18 seasons at Stratford, is in the show with me. (Note: a profile of Steve Ross can be found through OnStage). These are only a few heavy hitter artists in the show as there’s more in the cast and it’s going to be a good show. It runs at the CAA Theatre in Toronto on Yonge Street and blow everyone away. We’re just performing ‘No Change in the Weather’ in St. John’s Newfoundland from November 12-14 as a tester and we come to Toronto November 19-27, 2021. In your opinion, do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months? I really do. There were some theatres that took the proverbial ‘bull by the horns’ and embraced this challenge and clicked in right away to continue connection to audiences. Some went virtual right away. I have a friend who lives in Texas who filmed a whole play virtually. The actors were not all in the same place. They were filmed separately and edited together to look like they were all in the same room. $20 was charged for the link to see the show, and they made some cash. That theatre wasn’t waiting around waiting for things to start up. The theatre scene has changed and I hope it doesn’t stay this way at half capacity. Ontario just went full capacity so fingers crossed, but what has happened is that theatres realized they can make money virtually: ‘Diana: The Musical’, ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Come from Away’ are the first three examples that come to mind. I think theatres are realizing that some want theatres to be live for them and as you and I know, Joe, there is nothing like that in the world. Nothing beats live. But, there’s also that clientele who can’t attend live theatre and can afford $200.00 tickets. Filmed productions of live musicals are getting pretty good, and there are those who would like to see it as well but can’t afford to go live. I hope it doesn’t go back to zero capacity but theatres are thinking things through. Look at Stratford with the outdoor tents. I think theatres will be a little more prepared for things now that we are slowly emerging from Covid. What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests Duff MacDonald post Covid? Oh, wow! (and Duff and I have a good laugh at his initial response) Well, I’m fascinated by the human condition and how people operate under the conditions we’ve been under and how we’ve adjusted and not adjusted. I’m also fascinated by the strength of the human spirit. So many things happened during the pandemic – Black Lives Matter, Juneteenth, attack on the U.S. Capitol, but we persevered through it all and learned some important lessons. Things won’t be the same ever again, but I’m fascinated by how things have to be taken to the extreme in order for humans to learn. It’s incredible how hard we have to fight to get what we want and get to where we want – and we’re still doing this, really Saskatchewan? really, Alberta (Duff is making reference to the Covid numbers in both provinces) What excites me are the possibilities of what we can do. What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Duff MacDonald post Covid? Stupidity (and Duff and I share a good laugh again) and no lack of logic. Where does Duff MacDonald, the artist, see himself going next? Like I said, I’ve been really trying to up my game. I see myself being better. I want to be as good as I can possibly be. As every audition come through, I want to do my best. If I don’t get the job, at least I know I did my best. Everything else is out of my control. I believe that’s the mantra of my industry. Where does Duff MacDonald, the person, see himself going next? Uh….(and Duff starts to laugh again) it’s so hard to separate the Duff artist and the Duff person. It’s so hard…as a person I’d love to care less MORE. (and Duff laughs again.) I’m in my 50s (almost 55), so when you hit your 50s, it’s I don’t give a shit, I don’t give a fuck. I wanna care less about what people think MORE. RAPID ROUND Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I give credit to the late James Lipton and The Actors’ Studio for this idea: If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be? Well, that’s kinda obvious. “Thank you.” If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be? (Duff laughs) “Fuck you.” It’s part of my performing artist mantra in not giving a shit. What’s your favourite swear word? (And another good laugh from Duff) Actually, I like, and it’s a bad one…by the way, Joe, are you able to print these words? Okay, here it is. It’s a strange thing, but I always say, “Cock!” I ended up on a tv show and that was a line we had to say. The other character had to say, “Cock and balls!” But for me, for some reason, it’s “Cock!” What is a word you love to hear yourself say? It’s actually an Italian word, and when Italians pick up the phone and say (And Duff, in his best Italian on the spot, says): “Pronto!” I don’t know why, I just love saying the word: “Pronto”. What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? Well, it’s two words: “I can’t” What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? “Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride” (and Duff says it again this time in an on-the-spot Bette Davis with an imaginary cigarette between his fingers). And then make sure your readers know they can watch my comedy show live, “The Duff Show” and see me do it live. With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years as an artist, what would you now tell the upcoming Duff MacDonald from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career? Oh… take more dance classes and study more. Study music more extensively. What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally? Professionally, I’m also a writer and would love to have one of my scripts produced. Personally, I would like to be independently wealthy. (and another laugh from Duff) Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. Hmmm…one moment…I would have probably stayed in ‘Les Misérables’ another year. The show was on its way back to Toronto after touring. I was offered another year and I said, “No”. Because I was a cocky 22-year-old. Can you imagine I said that? Who says “No” to another year of full-time work in “Les Mis”? Little idiot, me. What will Duff MacDonald not take for granted ever again? Oh, boy, it just hit me (and I could tell Duff was tearing up). My parents. Yep. Would Duff MacDonald do it all again if given the same opportunities? No. Completely, I call it divine order. Everything that happened, happened for a reason and put me where I am. I totally believe good and bad it all brought me to this place, and I’m talking to you, Joe. To follow Duff at Facebook: @duffmacdonaldmusic, Twitter: @DuffMacDonald and Instagram: @duffmacdonald To learn more about Duff, visit his webpage: duffmacdonald.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Rick Miller

    Back Rick Miller ‘That’s how the young Rick Miller understood the world – by listening, hearing, learning and taking on a voice in order to better understand someone else.’ Joe Szekeres Joe Szekeres Rick Miller is one helluva busy guy. In 2020, he agreed to be one of the first few actors whom I profiled when all our lives had changed when the pandemic hit. We talked about his work when I first heard of his name in ‘MacHomer: The Simpsons do Macbeth’ at Toronto’s Massey Hall and, in a provocative turn, ‘Venus in Fur’ through Canadian Stage. I also saw him host the Dora Awards. I last saw him onstage at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre in 2022 in ‘Boom’. I had seen the production at Montréal’s Segal Centre before then and enjoyed it so much. When the opportunity arose to see it again in 2022, I jumped at the chance. Miller will have just returned from premiering ‘Boom X’ and ‘Boom YZ’ in Taiwan where he has performed both shows in repertory. In 2021, Rick travelled to Taiwan with ‘Boom’ where the production was adored, and the overseas audience response was for the show to continue. A lot of work has gone into the preparation of the two shows for Taiwan. Miller learned some Mandarin over the last two years he can speak during the show which will also be subtitled. Amid all the travel and craziness involved in moving the show overseas, ‘Boom X’ arrives at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre on May 10 and plays until May 28. An east-end Toronto guy, this will be his first time performing here and Miller is excited and proud to perform his work in his home and the neighbourhood which is so very important to him. He wants to give back to the community he knows and loves the opportunity to show those around him what he has been doing in travelling all over the world. ‘Boom X’ is billed on the Kidoons website as: “[Spanning] 1970-1995, this second in a trilogy of solo multimedia performances which collectively with ‘Boom’ spans 75 years of history, politics, culture, and technology on our planet. ‘Boom X’ picks up where ‘Boom’ left off, at Woodstock in August 1969 and takes the audience all the way to 1995 when the internet began to dominate our lives. Miller plays over 100 colourful characters from the days of disco, the oil crisis, Watergate, the Cold War, video games, punk rock, the (second) British invasion and more.” The form of ‘Boom X’ has altered from ‘Boom’. There’s a lot going on. It’s a busier show, technically heavy, and it’s a reflection of the beginning of the polarizing of the cable news that we started to live in at that time. The show begins that complex reflection of the media of the 1970s-1995 era, and that’s the magic and wonder of the live production that is high performance. Several weeks ago, I spoke with Rick in a coffee shop in the east end of Toronto and wanted to get caught up with him before he headed to Taiwan. He had just returned from performances in Regina with ‘Boom’ where he had never worked before. The show went extremely well in his words and there’s talk now of bringing ‘Boom X’ there, and Rick loves when that connection is made. On a personal and poignant note, he shared it was the first series of shows he had done since his mother passed away several weeks ago. Rick plays his mother over the course of this trilogy so he was curious how he would pull it off and how it would feel: “It felt less sad and more of a gift and honour to be able to tell [my mother’s story] and to share her voice and to play her in the show.” Rick says it’s hard to describe both the tightrope performances of ‘Boom’ and ‘Boom X’. On the one hand, they’re part entertainment, part documentary and part jukebox musical. Music is key and the heartbeat to these shows. It’s hard to pin down, but what comes across is a celebration of joy, humanity, light and humour. What leads out there is someone genuinely smiling and really trying to please. Artists shouldn’t be shying away from wanting to please and to give to audiences. It doesn’t all have to be introspective. While Miller doesn’t shy away from serious topics, audiences are looking for and want to be uplifted. ‘Boom’ and ‘Boom X’ are not only a history of the celebration of history, culture, and politics in all its complexity, but they’re performed with great spirit, joy, and humour and people love to see that. It’s a very high performance and Miller gives everything he’s got when he’s performing on stage. He literally lays it all out there in what he calls failure and sweat. The ‘Boom’ trilogy is a unique experience compared to what one can get online these days. He also said something that I find important as we all return to the theatre. Why bother going anymore? After the last few years, Rick stated the best writing in the world is happening on television and streaming platforms, but acknowledges: “It’s our responsibility as theatre performers to create something that is different from television and film. Don’t write or film-present a failed tv scenario on stage. That’s not serving the medium. If you want to bring people to the theatre, do something theatrical. You don’t have to spend a million dollars. Just be inventive and celebrate the fact people are in the room with you and create something special and unique.” Rick is proud to say his shows feel like events that leave an impression. He’s very grateful for this high compliment and praise he receives. He’s not simply a Vegas performer who can do voices. Miller feels he has the kind of skills that can leave an impression on someone’s heart and head. If he can bring something to light or jostle an idea through connection to an audience that leaves them even slightly transformed, that is a magical thing for him. That’s why he keeps doing these shows repeatedly. What keeps him grounded? Miller is 53 now and at that age where family responsibilities pull him in one direction and his parents in the other. He’s at that tricky stage of his life as a professional artist in asking the question: “What is the next chapter? or What is the last chapter?” To keep himself grounded, Rick practices mindfulness and meditation in this workout of his mind along with physical workouts. Essentially, he begins to understand how his brain works as everything is connected generally to well-being. By doing that, he puts all his thoughts, emotions, and craziness of our world into a little bit of perspective where he can breathe, set his feet on the ground, and set himself in the moment wherever he is. Rick calls himself a theatre performer even though he has done work in film and television. He takes this responsibility very seriously. People have paid good money to see him perform. They don’t want to see Rick do ‘Boom’ for the 400th time. They want to see him perform for the first time and Miller says that’s a huge responsibility on his shoulders. As we concluded our conversation, Rick mentioned how he is trying to ‘Fail better’, a Samuel Beckett quote. It means trying again, failing again, and doing better. Failure is part of any creative process whether you’re an actor, an athlete, a scientist, or an artist. You must try and fail, and only through that search and that failure do you find anything resembling success as it is fleeting. Rick doesn’t like hearing someone say they’ve arrived because everything is always changing in that sense. It’s a mindfulness thing. Everything moves on including one’s successes so don’t sit in outrage or exult in your own glory because these will pass. What’s next once 'Boom X' has completed its run? Over this coming summer, Miller will continue developing work with his Kidoons partner Craig Francis and then be back on the road in the fall with a tour of ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Jungle Book’. Next year there will be five shows on the road including the three-part ‘Boom’ trilogy. Boom opens May 10 and runs until May 28 at Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue. To book tickets, call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit crowstheatre.com. To learn more about Rick Miller and Kidoons, visit kidoons.com. To learn more about Rick Miller, the actor, visit rickmiller.ca. Previous Next

  • Profiles Michael Rubinoff

    Back Michael Rubinoff Looking Ahead --- Joe Szekeres Like many of the artists whom I’ve profiled this last year, producer Michael Rubinoff is one busy individual who continues to move forward as we all are outside of the pandemic. Over the years, I have heard his name and knew he was a producer of musical theatre here in Canada, but I was not aware of the extent of his influence in the industry. I’ve learned a great deal about him and am most thankful he was able to take a few moments to add his voice to the conversation. As you will see from his responses below, Michael helped to develop the 9/11 story in Gander, Newfoundland that continues to move audiences here in Toronto, on Broadway, in the West End and Australia. Outside of ‘Come from Away’, Michael continues his busy schedule. He is a Toronto based producer and lawyer who conceived the idea to share the compelling events depicted in ‘Come from Away’ as a musical. In 2011, he established the Canadian Music Theatre Project, an incubator for th3e development of new musicals, where he produced and developed the first workshops of ‘Come from Away’ and developed 29 other musicals. He is a producer and consultant to ‘Come from Away’s’ five companies around the world and received an Olivier award and a Tony nomination for Best New Musical for the show. He is producing the new musical ‘Grow’ which will have its world premiere at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario in April, 2022. He continues the development of new work at home and abroad. Michael was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General of Canada for his role in ‘Come from Away’. A proud graduate of Western University Law. @mrubinoff. We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you so much for adding your voice to the conversation, Michael: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Despite the numerous challenges of this ongoing pandemic, it has reinforced that we are resilient. It is a rare global event in which everyone has been affected. That impact has been disproportionate, but even those most privileged have been at the mercy of a virus. It has exposed vulnerabilities we have not previously confronted effectively. It has widened awareness and increased support for necessary change on many levels. This time has also invited more meaningful conversations. I am hopeful this newfound resiliency can propel change at a faster pace. Prior to the start of the pandemic, I was operating at a constant 100 miles an hour, working on multiple projects at home and abroad. The pandemic brought that pace to a screeching halt. That has allowed valuable time to reflect personally and professionally. It has provided an opportunity to re-examine what is most important to me and the work I want to do in my next personal act. One of the most significant changes has been, after a decade of service, at the end of this academic year, I resigned from my position as Producing Artistic Director of the Canadian Music Theatre Project (“CMTP”) at Sheridan. This has afforded me the time to wholly devote myself to what I am most passionate about, developing new musicals. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? It has reinforced that what we do is necessary to foster social interaction and social innovation. We provide a valuable service and outlet for the public. We bring communities together. At the same time, this great intermission is a moment of reflection for the entire industry and has amplified the necessary need for a more equitable and inclusive industry. Time to take time has given the industry the opportunity to have very difficult and uncomfortable conversations. It has provided an opportunity to begin the concrete work on making change, in advance of the start of rehearsals and theatres re-opening to audiences. This moment has reinforced accountability measures that must be adhered to going forward. There is no going back to normal. Many challenges and missteps will happen, but the work must be constant to ensure safe and healthy environments for all. Further, if the theatre industry is to survive and remain relevant, it must be reflective of the communities it serves on stage, off stage and in the audience. In the musical theatre, where my work is focused, more inclusiveness in storytelling will only make the work that much richer, powerful and desirable to all audiences. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? As people we crave social interaction and connection. In the digital age, theatre is one of the last mediums that brings people together, in person, to collectively share an experience. Theatre is an event, that takes place in a moment in time in which an emotional bond is created between words, sometimes music, actors, and audience. This cannot be replicated online. I am missing most, standing at the back of a theatre and watching an audience of strangers, untethered to their screens, come together as a community. It is always powerful to witness and feel and I can’t wait to be there again. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? I feel so privileged to be a part of the theatre industry, that I try not to take any if it for granted. However, as a producer, I have never enjoyed being in tech. I have tremendous respect and admiration for all of the artists involved in that process. For good reason it takes focused time to implement and perfect the thousands of intricacies to create theatre magic. As mentioned earlier, I was always trying to move through life at a rapid pace. So, tech is going to be the thing I am never going to take for granted again when we return. I do encourage you to check up on me on that journey! Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. As mentioned before, there is no going back to “normal”. Institutional change takes time, but it is being on the path towards eradicating systemic racism in our industry that I hope has changed. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. My commitment as a producer has primarily been to the Canadian musical and commercial theatre. On our journey towards institutional change, we need to encourage and foster a generation of IBPOC commercial theatre producers in this country. This work for me, personally, is an accountability measure to ensure we are meeting the objective of a more inclusive industry. I am working with a group of Canadian commercial theatre producers in consultation with members of underrepresented communities, to design a program that will educate, mentor and provide meaningful opportunities to emerging producers who want to work in this space. Canada has lacked this kind of programming and, with urgency, I am determined to share what knowledge and support I can, to contribute to the necessary change. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. As the individual that conceived the idea and developed a musical about 38 planes landing in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador on 9/11, I get asked about my ideas for a Covid musical a lot. Live theatre can share historical events in very compelling ways. I believe that musical theatre is one way to report and preserve history. Despite many doubters along the way, it was one of the reasons I felt strongly that the humanity exhibited on such a dark day should be shared in the musical form. Ultimately, successful musicals connect with an audience. Due to the length of the pandemic my ideas for a Covid themed musical continue to build. I do have a concept that I believe is compelling. However, I have learned that time helps best frame how you want to tell stories about immediate events and post-pandemic reflection will be necessary. I do believe this moment in history should be preserved in the musical form and I look forward to working on a project that will respectfully resonate with audiences. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Canada has and will always be home. I believe in the brilliant Canadian writers, composers, creatives, talent and technicians. I also believe that we have our own stories that are important to tell, both the good and shameful in our history. The Canadian Music Theatre Project, which launched with the development of ‘Come From Away’, led a renaissance in Canadian musical theatre at home and around the world. Over a decade the CMTP developed thirty new musicals. Many of those shows have received professional premieres all over the world. We see Canadian not for profit theatres, commercial producers, schools and community theatres developing, producing and presenting Canadian musicals. This risk taking, in large numbers, on our own talent, was not always the case. Most importantly, we see audiences embracing this work with pride and a sense of ownership. So, if I am remembered for anything, I hope it is for the ignition of creation and the support of our Canadian storytellers to tell our stories. Previous Next

  • Profiles George Masswohl

    Back George Masswohl Moving Forward Selfie Joe Szekeres Performing artist George Masswohl has graced Canadian stages in highly charged performances over the years. I had the opportunity to see him play opposite Fiona Reid in a solid production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Canadian Stage. A little tidbit of information I also discovered. George sang the title role of ‘Sweeney Todd’ off stage for Vancouver Opera at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre when the actor playing the titular role developed vocal issues. Wow! I applaud George’s dedicated professionalism to ensure a quality production for the entire community. Recently, until the pandemic was declared, George also appears in some little play in Toronto with packed houses called ‘Come from Away’ where he plays Claude, the mayor of Gander, plus other roles. By the way, the Toronto company is extraordinarily wonderful, so if you haven’t seen this production make sure you do when we can all return. I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the Canadian and Broadway cast members for this column, and ‘Come from Away’ is one show I do want to see again. George is also a member of The ROWDYMEN, a band dedicated to the preservation and the propagation of the vibrant music of the people of Newfoundland. Hopefully, the band will play somewhere in Toronto when it’s safe for all of us to return. I also discovered from his Facebook page that George studied English Language and Literature at my alma mater, The University of Western Ontario (Go, Stangs!) Excellent choice, by the way. We conducted our conversation via email. Thanks for the conversation, George: It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion? If I’m being perfectly honest, I feel differently from moment to moment. As things drag out, and confusion reigns, despair and hope come in waves. But so far, I’ve always managed to come back to hope. I renew this effort every day. That is my current way of living. I’m keeping it in the moment. How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? It’s been tough on my family. My partner and stepson and I have all been shut down. She is a dancer and yoga teacher and he was working, variously, as an usher at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, at an escape room business, and at the Beer Store – which is a filthy job in an environment where most patrons seem to be non-compliant vis a vis Covid protocols, and management less than vigilant. Almost all of these have become impossible for me now. Beyond our household, it’s even tougher. My sister struggles with the new difficulties in her already difficult work as a counsellor at a women’s shelter and with caring for our 90-year-old aunt, who lives with her. In addition to all of this, we are still in the aftermath of having lost our mother last year after a long and difficult series of illnesses. Having said all of this, we are remarkably upbeat and, as mentioned above, fiercely committed to coming back to hope, finding the joys where they can be found…and doing our damndest to incorporate fun into our days wherever we can. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? The part of me that thinks it’s over…that 35 years of constant hustle has come to a dead end. Watching my colleagues, all at different phases in their journeys, going through similar angst. Trying to imagine, at age 53, what I’ll do for the rest of my life if that part of me, heaven forbid, is right. Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? I was working on recovering from hip replacement surgery to return to my cherished community and the role that I love in the Canadian company of ‘Come From Away’. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I have been working with my band, ‘The Rowdymen’ with Greg Hawco and Gerry Finn. It has been a saving grace for all of us. Not a money maker at this stage, but it has kept me creative, and for that and them, I am very grateful. Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty? I think it’s best for me to defer to their wisdom and ingenuity. The smart money in this business has always subscribed to the credo that the best way to ensure your employment is to create your own work. If they were to ask me for advice, I think I’d offer that up, and encourage them to do whatever they can to reimagine and rebuild the industry. I’d also pledge to continue to do the same – and pledge my support. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Oh, well, there has to be something. Can I tell you in a year? Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? You better believe it. Many theatres, like many other small businesses, have shuttered forever. Our associations are tapped out and struggling to maintain relevance in a desert landscape. Funding is stretched beyond previously imaginable limits. Our artists are suffering immeasurable psychological stresses. On top of it all – and not surprisingly as it has ever been thus – much of the rest of society seems blind to the connection between the content they voraciously consume and the value of the artists who create it. Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? I’ve been involved in quite a bit of it, mostly as fundraising for various entities struggling to survive. I’m not sold on it as a vehicle for theatre. We need communal experience…book clubs, concerts, poker games, choir, sports, church, THEATRE. Having said that, I’ll be involved in a live stream on Boxing Day. Stay tuned. 😉 Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about the art of performance that Covid will never destroy for you? My creative spirit. The fire of creativity in me is burning hotter than it ever has. I went through a bunch of years where, for various reasons, I didn’t care about anything. I was telling everyone I was retired – and they were starting to believe me. But even through that, I was, somehow, able to preserve an ember to carry forward. I never really know quite how, but I know that I have an undeniable drive to survive. My creativity is at the centre of that flame. To learn more about The Rowdymen, visit their Facebook page: The Rowdymen, Twitter: @TRowdymen Instagram: @The_Rowdymen Previous Next

  • Musicals Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

    Back Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT) at the Neighbourhood Food Hub at Glen Rhodes Campus Roman Boldyrev Joe Szekeres Clocking in at 3 hours and 30 minutes for opening night and told by an extraordinary cast, this ‘Sweeney Todd’ remains a monumental marathon of operatic song, dark satire, black humour, and ultimate revenge. Remember, it’s ‘Sweeney Todd’. The story can’t be told and unfold quickly. Keeping Covid protocols in place and ensuring safety for all audiences, TIFT ensures each performance is limited to 44 members. This was an extremely smart decision Director Mitchell Cushman made because I still got the sense a grand tale was being told to me although the setting in each of the rooms is minimalist. As we moved around the building, the audience becomes immersed fully in the action of the story. At one point, there is brief audience participation. A reminder to future audiences to make sure you wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking up and down staircases, and you may be asked or signalled to stand at the back of certain rooms of the Neighbourhood Food Hub at Glen Rhodes Campus. As the night settles and darkness envelops both inside and outside, stairwells are appropriately lit by ushers who ensure everyone is safe walking up and down stairs but remember to pay attention in doing so. What was reassuring was the fact the ushers and actors (while maintaining character) didn’t rush us from each room. The time is 1845. From TIFT’s website: “It is here we meet Sweeney Todd (Michael Torontow) whose real name is Benjamin Barker. Todd uses his new alias to resume work in his barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s (Glynis Ranney) struggling pie shop after being wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Cyrus Lane). After swearing vengeance against the judge that tore his family apart, Todd and Lovett plot a unique plan that helps them both and leads them down a dangerous, thrilling path with deadly consequences.” I saw the New York revival several years ago with Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone as the infamous duo. What worked so well in that minimalist production? The cast played their own musical instruments and director John Doyle maintained the musical’s sense of grandiosity throughout. The New York production worked fine for me, but I felt distant from the action of the story from my seat in the house. This didn’t happen in TIFT’s production. I was mere inches away from some of the actors which truly fascinated me to be up this close. As we enter the building, Joel Cumber (billed as Ensemble) sits outside begging for money or scrap morsels. He wears ripped jeans, a torn jean jacket, unwearable sneakers, and a ripped t-shirt with backpack at his side. Hmmm. Okay…isn’t this a period piece? Without spoiling the reason for Cumber’s costume, let’s just say it all cleverly comes full circle at the end of the production. Did it work for me? Yes!!!! I heard myself gasp when it became clear. Before we enter the Sanctuary, we are instructed to sit where we see a lace tablecloth draped over the pew. We enter the Sanctuary where the setting sun casts an eerie glow of red and orange throughout the room. Immediately, members of the company are standing and posing on the pews like wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s. They are clothed in period costumes. Their faces with just the right touches of makeup have that look as if they have seen something awful which I’ve never experienced. There is another worldliness in their eyes and other than faces different from mine. When the klaxon sounds at the top of the show… Wow! These ghostly figures then come to life and sing ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ with such deep vibrancy of a sound from a long time ago that gave me goosebumps. My eyes darted around the room to see what each of the actors was doing. And here’s where it is fitting why TIFT (or Mitchell Cushman) decided to stage the production in this building. Sweeney appears at the front of the sanctuary with ‘Unto you is a born a Saviour-Christ the Lord’ right behind him. Torontow’s intense profundo vocals combined with a frightening gaze of terror in his eyes juxtaposed with the loving Gospel message behind becomes a key visual element of horror. Again, I say Wow! There is so much to admire about this production. Laura Delchiaro’s costume designs splendidly capture the era so well from filthy dresses to torn sweaters. Nick Blais’s lighting design hauntingly heightens the sense of dread and fear that hovers in the air. I was impressed with some of the period props Kathleen Black found, in particular the feather pen and ink Sweeney uses in the second act. Cameron Carver’s choreography remains sharp and purposeful, especially in staging some of the Greek chorus numbers commenting on the play’s action. ‘City on Fire’ comes to mind. Dan Rutzen’s sensational Music Direction remains one of the highlights of the production. Another wise decision was made to have four musicians as the focus then becomes the story and the song. It was truly gorgeous and marvellously enchanting to hear these vocals reverberate in the Sanctuary. Two of these numbers were Griffin Hewitt’s (Anthony Hope) singing of ‘Johanna’ and ‘God, That’s Good!’ at the top of Act 2. Because I know the show, I knew what each of the characters was singing; however, there were moments when I couldn’t hear some of the lyrics so someone who doesn’t know the show may not catch everything. Cushman’s successful vision of creating a human connection in this immersive ‘Sweeney’ remains consistently visible. Here’s where the immersive element fabulously works because eye contact between actor and audience member becomes that much stronger. Michael Torontow becomes a ferocious and voracious Todd, hellbent on revenge. His ‘My Friends’ in that intimate room holding with shaving blade so tenderly with audience members around still haunts me as I write this. There are moments where we do see Sweeney has been deeply hurt by what has happened in his previous life. Watch Torontow’s body language before Ranney sings ‘By the Sea’. Just watching Glynis Ranney as Mrs. Lovett, I finally realized the extent of her character arc. She must be everything to everyone – a mother figure, a confidant, a schemer, a ‘supposed’ lover, a caretaker, an accomplice to murder. Ranney powerfully packs believable, realistic emotions in each of these scenes. Her ‘Worst Pies in London’ is wonderful comic gold, especially in the way she beats the dough each time she punctuates a note. So good. Cyrus Lane believably and shockingly reveals the madness of Judge Turpin quite disturbingly (which is how it should be). During his self-flagellation scene, Lane’s controlled but highly accentuated work made me close my eyes quickly as he believably uses the whip on himself while the ensemble behind the plexiglass window realistically provides the whipping sound. A third wow factor. Andrew Prashad’s The Beadle becomes just as terrifying as Turpin. The look on Prashad’s face and in his eyes when he kills the bird in the cage caught my eye while someone standing next to me inhaled in shock. As the Beggar Woman, Gabi Epstein demonstrates her impressive vocal range when she sings ‘Alms, Alms for a miserable woman.’ She locked eyes with me at one point and the inherent sadness emanating from them proved just how focused Epstein was at that moment. Memorable. Lovebirds Johanna and Anthony Hope (Tess Benger and Griffin Hewitt) provide some relief from all the intensity and mayhem until she is captured and taken to an asylum. Benger’s ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ sung from the Sanctuary balcony lovingly soars to the rafters. Their comic duet ‘Kiss Me’ beautifully becomes delightful. Another wonderful bit of much-needed humour is Jeff Lillico’s playfully haughty shyster Adolfo Pirelli who confronts Sweeney Todd on who the better barber is (until we learn of Pirelli’s secret). Lillico punctuated those moments with precise intention in each word sang. As the sidekick to Pirelli at the beginning, Noah Beemer’s dutiful ragamuffin Tobias Ragg sweetly tugs at the heartstrings in the duet ‘Not While I’m Around’ with Ranney, but that all the changes while the course of events spirals quickly downward. Final Comments: I’ve read so much about Talk is Free Theatre over the last couple of years of the pandemic about the company’s ingenuity to tackle well-known theatrical works and present them in new ways. I never got the chance to see last summer’s ‘Into the Woods’ which took place in the woods in Barrie. I didn’t want to miss what the company had planned this summer. Talk is Free refreshingly presents ‘Sweeney Todd’ uniquely, resourcefully, and grandiosely. Worth a trip to see it. Running time: 3 hours and 30 minutes. Covid protocols in place. Only 44 audience members each performance. Show runs to July 3 at the Neighbourhood Food Hub at Glen Rhodes Campus, 1470 Gerrard Street East, Toronto. For tickets, visit tickets.tift.ca or call 1-705-792-1949. SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by Hugh Wheeler Presented by Talk is Free Theatre Director: Mitchell Cushman Music Director: Dan Rutzen Choreographer/Associate Director: Cameron Carver Set and Properties: Kathleen Black Lighting Designer: Nick Blais Costume Designer: Laura Delchiaro Musicians: Samuel Bisson, Gemma Donn, Stephan Ermel, Dan Rutzen Cast: Michael Torontow, Glynis Ranney, Noah Beemer, Tess Benger, Joel Cumber, Gabi Epstein, Griffin Hewitt, Jeff Lillico, Andrew Prashad Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' by Rajiv Joseph

    Back 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' by Rajiv Joseph Now onstage at Crow's Theatre in association with Modern Times Stage Company Dahlia Katz Dave Rabjohn A biting new production of Rajiv Joseph’s ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’ has opened at Crow’s Theatre in association with Modern Times Stage Company. Could there be a past due date stamped on this production which has painfully sat on the shelf for many Covid months? Emphatically no! This play explodes, baffles and mesmerizes from all four corners of the stage. Artfully directed by Rouvan Silogix and charged with breathtaking performances, this play might be called whimsical if it wasn’t so painful. Set in the midst of the Iraq war in Baghdad, a captive tiger bemoans her predicament while satirizing her fellow inmates who have foolishly wandered away from the war-torn zoo and city. Teased by an American soldier, the tiger tears off his hand and is in turn shot dead by a second soldier, Kev. Throughout the balance of the play, the tiger’s ghost haunts Kev into insanity and suicide. The insanity of war is exposed by Tom (Andrew Chown), with a newly fashioned prosthetic, who harbours a gold-plated handgun and toilet seat looted from the mansion of Uday Hussein – the son of the dictator. Misadventures continue between Tom and Musa, a creative gardener turned interpreter for the American army. A series of inevitable tragedies underscore the insanities of war. The performance of Christopher Allen is astounding and riveting. He moves easily through fear in the desolate and dangerous city to overwhelming angst as he is haunted by the tiger. Anguished screams haunt even the audience. His acting versatility is unmatched as his ghost becomes more evocative and philosophical while playing the Greek chorus to the mayhem around him. Kristen Thomson’s performance as the tiger is equally powerful. Thankfully lacking a loud Halloween costume, subtlety underscores the strength of the tiger’s observations, commenting on the parallels and contrasts of the human and animal world. Strength comes from Thomson’s subtle staring from time to time as her head and neck quietly move as a pensive animal’s would. A very slight lumbering in movement conveys indifference and is enough to contrast with the humans’ erratic movements. Ahmad Moneka, along with some beautiful singing in act two, artfully plays the gardener turned interpreter who is caught in the middle between two warring factions. His topiary work of various animals hanging from the theatre's heights reflect the majesty of his creations and the horrors of war as some of them are damaged. Stinging interactions between himself and the ghost of Uday, coolly played by Ali Kazmi, hint at repulsive crimes committed against his sister, genuinely played by Sara Jaffri. The theatre in the round scheme, invoked by designer Lorenzo Savoini was brilliant and intimate as no seating was higher than four rows. Potent lighting and sound (by John Gzowski) paired robustly to remind each scene that the war was ever-present . It is the dynamic of incongruity that makes us ache. Examples of this dissonance include the buffoonery of masturbation in a formal army interpreter’s office. The ridiculousness of eyeing a fortune on a toilet seat. A leper with an empty first aid kit. The ghost of a young girl with half her face blown away cries from one eye – the jest is caught in our throats. How different are countries from animals? The hunger for oil, wealth or power is not much different from the want of rice or meat. From Iraq to the Ukraine, Rajiv Joseph’s startling message is sadly universal. ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’ by Rajiv Joseph Performers: Christopher Allen, Andrew Chown, Mahsa Ershadifar, Sara Jaffri, Ali Kazmi, Ahmed Moneka, Kristen Thomson Director: Rouvan Silogix Set and lighting designer: Lorenzo Savoini Costume designer: Ming Wong Sound designer: John Gzowski Crow’s Theatre: Runs through November 6, 2022. Tickets at: www.crowstheatre.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Matthew MacKenzie

    Back Matthew MacKenzie 'This was a Covid romance where my wife Mariya were able to get married and welcome our son into this world, against all odds.' Credit: Nastya Gooz. Matthew appears with his bride Mariya Joe Szekeres What an interesting name for a theatre – ‘Punctuate! Theatre’. This name caught my eye immediately and I wanted to find out more. And there is more. Recently I received a notice about Punctuate Theatre’s touring production of the world premiere of ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ that will run in the Franco Boni Theatre at Toronto’s Theatre Centre. Punctuate bills the production as a ‘romantic comedy for an unpredictable world.” ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ is now playing in Kamloops BC until March 25. The production then travels to Toronto at The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8. It will then travel to Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre from April 22 – May 13 with its final stop in Vancouver from May 25 – June 4, 2023. Written by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova and directed by Lianna Makuch, this world premiere according to Punctuate’s website is “based on actual events. This captivating real-life love story is set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Award-winning playwright Matthew MacKenzie joins forces with his wife, award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova, to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the war in Ukraine.” I had the opportunity to conduct an interview via email with Matthew MacKenzie. He trained at Montréal’s National Theatre School in their Playwriting Program led by Brian Drader: The name ‘Punctuate! Theatre’ immediately captured my attention. Could you tell me about its genesis? "I was not with the company when it was founded, but my Managing Director Sheiny Satanove says “The name Punctuate! Theatre was a collaborative effort between the five founding members. In their initial meetings, they determined what type of theatre they were interested in making - subversive, relevant, and thought-provoking. It was important to them (and still is to the company today) to use our productions to give audiences something to think about, to ‘punctuate’ their thoughts. From there the name was born!” In your professional opinion, how have the changes from the worldwide pandemic affected where you see Punctuate! Theatre headed in future. "The changes forced us to stop touring our work for a couple of years, but we are happy to be touring the country again in ‘23 with ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’. One of the exciting things to come out of the pandemic is a virtual Indigenous playwriting unit we have formed with our partners: the Pemmican Collective. It went so well during the height of the pandemic that we decided we wanted to continue with it into the future. We are currently supporting the development of fifteen Indigenous projects through the unit." Tell me about the plot of ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’ to whet future audience appetite. "The play follows my partner Mariya Khomutova and my love story from a meeting during a theatre workshop in Ukraine, to Mariya visiting me in Toronto, to me returning to Ukraine, where I met Mariya’s parents in the magical city of Odesa. Two days after I flew back to Canada after that trip, Covid really hit, and countries closed their borders–so we suddenly didn’t know when we would be able to see one another again. A month after that trip, we learned that Mariya was pregnant. So I had to figure out how to fly across the world in the midst of the pandemic and sort of sneak into Ukraine. I was able to do this after we had been apart for four months and we married on a perfect summer morning in Odesa. Back in Canada, we had to jump through many bureaucratic hoops, with Mariya finally accessing healthcare shortly before the birth of our son, Ivan. We were just about to return to Odesa for our son to meet his grandparents there when the Russians launched their full-scale invasion. Since that time, when pretty much everyone my wife has ever known has had their lives turned upside down, we have welcomed my mother-in-law Olga and contended from afar with the horror Putin is unleashing on Ukraine." From the release I received, the play was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre during the height of the lockdown in 2021. It was written by you and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, 'First Métis Man of Odesa' makes its on-stage debut and offers a continuation of the initial story told in the radio play. Have you made any major changes from the radio play script to the one that will be presented this month? "The big difference is that Russia had not invaded Ukraine when we did the radio play, so the effects the invasion had on Mariya and I provided the inspiration, both dark and hopeful, for the second half of the play." It has been wonderful to return to the theatre even though we are still in Covid’s embrace. Again, in your professional opinion, why is it important for audiences to see ‘First Métis Man of Odesa’? "This was a Covid romance, where Mariya and I were able to get married and welcome our son into this world, against all odds. I think people will respond really positively to a good news story coming out of this terrible time. And much like Covid, the invasion has had a profound impact on our lives but has been something out of our control. I think seeing the human side of how the invasion has affected people will really resonate with folks." Once the run of the play has concluded at the Theatre Centre, what’s next for Matthew MacKenzie? "I’ll be travelling to South Africa to participate in a residency in Johannesburg at The Centre For The Less Good Idea, where I will be developing a new play titled Genital Posturing Of The Vervet Monkeys Of South Africa." To learn more about Punctuate Theatre, visit www.punctuatetheatre.com . To purchase tickets for the Toronto production at The Theatre Centre, call 416-538-0988 or visit www.theatrecentre.org . Previous Next

  • Profiles Allen Kaeja, Co-Artistic Director of KAEJA d'DANCE

    Back Allen Kaeja, Co-Artistic Director of KAEJA d'DANCE Looking Ahead Courtesy of KAEJA website Joe Szekeres According to Allen Kaeja, we are all dancers. A recent enlightening conversation with Allen Kaeja, Co-Artistic Director of KAEJA d’DANCE, and his statement above allowed me to gain further understanding and knowledge about the art form of dance. Several weeks ago, I also held a conversation with Allen’s wife, Karen, and she was also present during the Zoom call. On the Kaeja d’Dance website, Michael Crabb from the Toronto Star stated the Kaejas: “have been called ‘a power couple’, ‘go-getters’ and ‘the coolest couple on the dance scene.” I liked Crabb’s descriptors of the two of them as I could sense these same sentiments as well. How’s Allen feeling about the return to the world of live dance given we’re still in the throes of Covid: “The world turns. It changes all the time. We adapt or die and for myself, when the world pivoted, the whole thing for Karen and I? We’ve been working in film for 25 years. We were working in Zoom years before the pandemic on other projects and I’ve already investigated live stream years before. When everything shut down, boom, we’re ready to go and within a few months, we were up and running fully as a company and with projects in our transition from live theatre back into film.” I asked them what has the overall response been from audiences about the return of live performances of dance. Karen has attended a few shows and she has found responses fantastic. She senses from what she has seen in the lobby there is a fresh sense of camaraderie. From her perspective, those audience members who are ready and prepared to go are relieved to be seeing something visceral that they can witness and that they know is ephemeral. Karen and Allen are in the contemporary dance field which they call experiential and immersive. Audience members must allow themselves to be flooded by the imagery, the physicality of the brilliant dancers and the resonance to embed itself. For Allen, contemporary dancers don’t work in a linear per se type of artistic field. Contemporary dance is an abstract form that deals with kinetic and majestic visual value. Yes, there is an intention behind the work, and the progression of the piece has its own series of arcs, but it is not something which says one has to think or feel certain emotions at certain points. What’s next for Kaeja d’Dance? In celebration of its 31st Anniversary, November 11-13 will see the world premiere of two deeply personal works: ‘TouchX + I am the Child of’ as part of the international contemporary dance series Torque. Fifty performers combined will be involved and 4 AR experiences. ‘TouchX’ will be choreographed by Karen. She has been working on this piece for seven years. It’s the largest piece she has made, the longest, and the most number of people and collaborators in it. There is a mix of professional company dancers with community dancers with whom she has worked in other site-specific ways. This is the first time she has brought all these dancers together on stage. For Karen, what’s exciting about ‘Touch X’, it’s new but it’s also a lot to be organizing. It is a massive project which is a challenge, and she thrives on challenges. From the release I received: “I am the Child of, choreographed by Allen, the first fully staged dance production in Canada to integrate Augmented Reality, examines the concept of perspective and delves into childhood memories - in particular those life-altering memories that shape who we are and live on in the body. Each of the nine dancers in the work was asked to share a profound memory that has shaped them. Memories from being left to hitchhike by a parent on the Highway of Tears in BC to learn how to rollerblade to childhood emotional abuse were exchanged and helped inform the creative and choreographic process.” In 2015 when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, there was a crisis in the Middle East with refugees wanting to come to Canada. Mr. Harper started to say he was going to block these refugees. Back then Allen was rarely political in his social media posts, and he was driven to write a Facebook post that started with ‘I am the child of a refugee.’ Allen’s father, Morton Norris, was a Holocaust survivor in Auschwitz. His brother-in-law died in his arms. 90% of his family was murdered, many of them from the ghetto and Auschwitz. Morton witnessed his family being put on the gas trucks. In 1945, William Lyon Mackenzie King was an avid anti-Semite bringing in the policy of none is too many and Jews were not allowed in this country. In 1948, Norris came to Canada as a refugee with nothing. He built a life. He built a new family as he was married with children before the war. Norris made new connections and built a community. When he passed away, Morton Norris was made an honorary police officer for the work he had done not only for the Police Federation but for the community as a whole. This is what refugees do. They come here and build worlds; they work hard and build a community. That’s why Allen had written his social media post “I am the child of a refugee” which went viral. A couple of years later Allen was thinking about what he wanted to do as new work because he’s done a lot of work based on his family’s history and the Holocaust. His community is so filled with such essential voices and experiences that he wanted to invite these different individuals to begin to reveal and express their stories through dance and for us to interact physically and kinetically with each other. This is the inspiration for “I Am the Child of”. Allen also adds he has a brilliant cast of eight live dancers and five AR (augmented reality) dancers, so a cast of 13. During the performances, the audience will be invited to come in with their personal devices. They will have a choice to watch different sections where they will be cued to see multiple perspectives and viewpoints so make sure phones are charged. Audiences do not have to do this and can just simply enjoy what plays out in front of them on the Fleck Dance Theatre stage. For Allen, audiences who use their device will be given more context, and more information if they choose to do so. Audience members with educational backgrounds and training can see more in a dance and movement piece than those who do not have a strong background. In Allen’s opinion, what is it about dance and movement pieces that appeal to ALL audience members? “Because we live in our bodies. We are who we are, and in our world (but I won’t speak for Karen), all movement is dance and we are all dancers. Whether we pursue it professionally or not does not matter. All movement is dance and therefore we are intimately involved with dance whether we’re aware of it or not. As an observer dance moves us kinetically and viscerally.” Kaeja d’Dance 31 (TouchX + I am the Child of) will perform on stage November 11–13, 2022 at 7:30pm at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, as part of the international contemporary dance series Torque. For further information, visit harbourfrontcentre.com. You can also visit kaeja.org to learn more about Kaeja d’Dance. Previous Next

  • Profiles Andrea Rankin

    Back Andrea Rankin Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Mat Simpson Joe Szekeres Artist Andrea Rankin has quite the impressive list of resume credentials on her website. I had the opportunity to see her work at The Stratford Festival in ‘Mother’s Daughter’ and ‘The Crucible’, and her other credits in theatre, film and television are varied in range. Her training and educational background are solid. She is billed on her personal website as a multidisciplinary Canadian artist with a passion for live performance and equitable spaces. Andrea is an actor, singer, musician, and songwriter born in Amiskwaciwâskahikan on Treaty 6 Territory (Edmonton, Alberta). Thankfully there is a section on the website where I can listen to some of her songs. In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shuttered. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? I am healthy, I have enough food and a safe and comfortable place to live - so I am doing alright, despite everything. Thankfully my family is safe and healthy too. Some days I feel hopeful and able to appreciate my surroundings and the present moment, some days are difficult and full of grief and I find myself needing to sit or lie down. I’m getting more used to the ebbs and flows and to trying to accept instead of resisting the emotions that come up; I think this will be a life-long practice. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? At first, after the 2020 Stratford season was cancelled, I poured my energy into what you might call the ‘domestic arts’. Before the lockdown, I had just closed a nearly-year-long run of “Mother’s Daughter” by Kate Hennig at Stratford/Soulpepper and had started rehearsals to play Ophelia in “Hamlet” and Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Stratford Festival. I was spending my days in rehearsal halls with passionate artists and spending my evenings continuing to work. My last rehearsal was a Saturday afternoon and then I received a note on Monday morning not to come into work. Stopping suddenly felt like whiplash at first. There was a period of waiting to know how long this would go on that has never really ended. For comfort, I became very invested in my sourdough starters (Peg and Diane, respectively) and in trying to bake a perfect loaf of bread. I started cooking new things and testing out long, detailed recipes. I started writing every morning, as a place to put my thoughts. I felt no other creative impulses for a long time and frankly, tried not to think about anything artistic. To deal with the anxiety I took up running. To stay hopeful, I tried to hold onto what I did have available to me: the outdoors. I spent time walking, running, having bonfires, at the beach, camping, hiking; I did whatever I could to be outside at all times. Near the end of the summer, my partner and I drove across the country and camped our way to Alberta to have distance visits with family and friends. That was a highlight. In the fall my creative energy came back and I decided to embrace another artistic passion of mine: music. I’m a trained classical singer and pianist, and the journey to discover my own style has been a satisfying one. In November 2020, I decided to release my first EP of alt-pop music, called Tides. It’s given me a lot of purpose and meaning and I’ve learned a lot about the music industry in Canada. I’ve also started writing in other ways – meeting weekly with friends to work on script ideas. I don’t know what will become of them, but the act of meeting and writing together has been deeply satisfying. I also started teaching voice and acting lessons online over Zoom and now I teach students from across the country every week. I’ve still been auditioning here and there for film and television, but I’ve certainly channeled my creative energies into music. Luckily, it’s an art that I can still do from the confines of my living room. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else? At times it’s felt like an escape from the relentless momentum of productivity and chasing notions of success, but in almost every other way, this has felt like the opposite of an escape. I think it’s a gift to have more time to pay attention to the world we’re living in. It has involved a new kind of listening and feeling anger and grief; and the grief I feel for all those suffering is immense. In my experience, it’s been a time to look at myself, my life, my community, my work and my participation in systems and structures and ask why. What stops me from listening? Why am I not fighting for change every day? It’s been a chance to listen deeply and a chance to educate myself. It has been a chance to let go of things and reimagine. In other ways, I’ve tried to look at this as an opportunity to discover parts of myself that are changing: interests I’ve neglected, relationships I’ve taken for granted. I’ve tried to think of my creativity as a daily experience, present everywhere in all things. I can find it when I cook, in choosing my outfit for the day, in the trees when I go for walks, in calling friends on the phone and listening without distraction. It has felt like a year-long exercise in mindfulness. I’ve really felt that when you can’t go backwards, and the future is unknown, the safest place to be is in the present. The more I’m able to be in the day I’m having and live slowly, the more I find I’m able to be okay, learn and listen. When I worry about what’s happened or what’s to come, I start to feel fear and anxiety. There has also been a great deal of time sitting with these feelings and trying to accept what I do have, what I can learn, who I am and who I could be. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? I’m not sure how things will go. I often think about artists at home, grieving and breathing and I wonder what will come out of this for everyone. Who will have left the industry? Who will have studied something new? What art will be made and shared? We’ve experienced a collective trauma, and this takes time to heal. At times, I try to remind myself of how this is creating space for everyone to explore other parts of themselves, their other interests, skills and curiosities. I imagine watching strangers hug someday in the future and how joyful that will be. I imagine standing next to a stranger at a concert and sharing a sweaty moment of shared humanity and I think - I can wait. To keep people safe so that we can all share moments like this again: this is worth waiting for. Whenever it happens, it’s going to be spectacular. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? As it’s ongoing - and in Ontario in a lockdown state similar to what we had in the spring of 2020 - I’m not sure how this has transformed me just yet. I know I will be a different artist. I know that my voice can be used for things I believe in and to protect the safety, creativity, and spirits of all artists in the room. I think I’ll be less desirous to please and more desirous to connect. I look forward to discovering how I’ve changed and how this time has changed me. The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre? I think the idea of ‘danger’ in the work is a difficult notion and worth expanding upon. The notion of artistic danger can sometimes be a privilege and used as a way to wield power over those without it. Speaking generally about 'danger' can mean that we’re not all having the same conversation. For some, danger in the rehearsal hall and in performance is very real: not being seen or heard, having a fellow artist look at you through a lens of racism, ableism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, body-shaming; people that believe you only deserve to be there if you play by their rules. As a community we’re waking up to these discoveries, but they have been the lived reality of many artists for a long time. If danger creates fear, then I disagree with Ms. Caldwell. Declan Donnellan speaks of this in his book “The Actor and Its Target.” He writes “ No theatre work absorbs more energy than dealing with the effects of fear; and fear is, without a single exception, destructive. Fear makes it difficult to disagree. Fear creates as much false consensus as strife. A healthy working atmosphere, where we can risk and fail, is indispensable. Fear corrodes this trust, undermines our confidence and clots our work. And the rehearsal must feel safe so that the performance may seem dangerous.” In other words, a safe room creates dangerous work. I believe in this very much. On a personal level, in the characters I have played, I’ve been strangled, hanged, beaten, suicidal, died tragically, institutionalized, silenced and murdered in just about every play I’ve been in over the past decade; the canon for young women, especially in classical theatre, is rife with danger. If the process threatens the safety and autonomy of the artist, if they are not given a space to use their voice and there is inequality in who is allowed to express their experience and who isn’t – these things are not only detrimental to our art, but damaging to the brave and vulnerable individuals who choose to make theatre their craft. As far as danger in the time of Covid – absolutely. It is a wild and terrifying thing to experience a constant, invisible threat. I think the experience of this kind of danger will influence my work in reminding me not to take anything for granted. Our time on this planet is not guaranteed and that’s what makes it beautiful and worth paying attention to. It is a precious thing to have time in a room with people and I won’t ever take that for granted again. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? It has. I’m still experiencing this, so it might be too early to describe how, but it has forced me to live more slowly and to pay more attention to the world around me. Thich Naht Hahn – a buddhist monk and writer whose work I admire and read often – talks about how the meaning of life can be found in the experience of wonder. When we experience wonder – with others, in the natural world, alone - we feel connected to something and this gives us meaning. I think this time has made me sensitive to wonder and to the world around me. This wonder isn’t always easeful; it can be wonder at the problems in the world, at people’s willingness to allow others to suffer. This time has made me ask why I am living the way I do, who I’m living for, what my values are. It’s asked me to sit with myself and offered a chance for me to make choices consciously. I will bring this all with me. There’s no going back. Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? It certainly has. I have been curious about what’s possible in my life and in my ability to help and support others. I have been curious about having hobbies! I have been curious about myself as a songwriter and musician, and I’ve had the chance to release music and explore this great love of mine. It has made me curious about political structures and inequality; cooking and baking; nature and the outdoors; what it means to be a good friend; how suffering is universal; where socks go when they get lost in the dryer; that we need to look out for one another; the power of a phone call, of a Christmas card; of the ebbs and flows. In some ways, while you’re busy making art you don’t always take the time to make your own life a work of art. This is a cheesy way of saying this but I think it’s sometimes true. The mundane, the boring, the ugly, the exhausting, the beautiful; these make up a life and are the very things I am so desirous to see on stage. I hope these reflections, observations and discoveries come with me whenever and however I return to this art form. Thank-you for the chance to reflect on this time in my life and to consider the answers to these questions. I’m grateful for the opportunity. To connect with Andrea, visit her personal webpage: www.andrearankin.ca . Twitter: @heyandrearankin Instagram: @andrealindsayrankin Previous Next

  • Profiles Sabryn Rock

    Back Sabryn Rock Moving Forward Kristina Ruddick Joe Szekeres The first time I saw Sabryn perform was with Jeremy Smith’s wonderful summer Bard’s Bus tour of Driftwood Theatre. During those summers, Sabryn performed in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘King Lear’ and ‘The Comedy of Errors’. I remember watching these three performances and thinking Sabryn is destined for even more phenomenal roles on future professional stages in Toronto and across Canada. And she has given exceptional performances over these last few years including ‘The Royale’ at Soulpepper for which she received the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Play. Selected Film and Television: Two Sentence Horror Stories, Departure, The Expanse, Holly Hobbie, Carter, Taken, People of Earth, Black Mirror, The Girlfriend Experience. Selected theatre: Rose, Caught (Theatre Passe Muraille), Once on this Island (Acting Upstage/ Obsidian) as well as Caroline, or Change Romeo and Juliet, Three Musketeers, The Merchant of Venice (Stratford), Ruined (Obsidian/Nightwood). Sabryn has been nominated for several Dora Awards. As a director she’s directed shows and workshops for Summerworks, Shakespeare in Action, Obsidian and the Musical Stage Company. She recently directed Contractions, an experimental play/film hybrid over zoom for the Studio180 At Home series. Sabryn also loves to read (especially out loud) and has now narrated seven audiobooks. She is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre at the Stratford Festival and the Actors' Conservatory at the Canadian Film Centre. We conducted our interview via email as she is one busy lady. Thank you so much, Sabryn, for taking the time: It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion? I’m feeling very disappointed and yet not at all surprised that the numbers are surging. I have a lot of anxiety and insecurity about what the future will hold. But I have to say, being a freelance artist who often lives paycheque to paycheque prepared me well for the whole ‘not knowing’ aspect of all this. I just wish the circumstances weren’t so dire and serious for so many. We will absolutely emerge to some new way of living- it’ll be what it is for that time and place and life will continue on…how that will look I have no idea. I think (and hope) people will be a lot more cautious about illness, handwashing and mask-wearing in the vulnerable seasons forevermore and generally more conscious about the safety and wellbeing of folks. Also for me, personal space and physical boundaries shifting in a big way! I, myself, have enjoyed the distance and the lack of expectation that I have to hug everyone or shake everyone’s hands all the time (especially strangers or acquaintances I don’t know well); that’s a surprising perk to all this for me because I find often in our industry, people assume everyone is comfortable letting them into their personal, intimate space for touch. I will say though that I am fortunate to have a husband and cats who I can hug all I want when I feel like it. Some people aren’t that lucky right now and I totally understand that- the deprivation of physical touch can be harmful for so many. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? I count myself very, very blessed-I can’t say that enough. I am faring just fine all things considered. I know that speaks to my privilege as I have been able to keep working, have a comfortable home and a partner who hasn’t lost work at all this year. Another odd perk was getting to spend so much time with my husband during the first lockdown- getting to take the time to eat lunch together everyday was a simple yet profound joy we wouldn’t have been afforded otherwise. It’s really made us value one another in a new way. It has been difficult not being able to see my folks consistently who are in Saskatchewan, especially now that the holidays are around the corner and choosing to stay put to keep us all safe. They’re lucky that they’re in a very spacious place that isn’t as dense but numbers are crawling up there too, so…I just keep begging my parents to stay home and pray they’ll keep safe and healthy so we can be reunited soon. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? Honestly, seeing all my peers struggling and not knowing how to help besides reaching out and checking in on people. The theatre companies, the freelancers, the people who rely on contract work not being able to have a consistent livelihood or have any concrete plan for the future has been really tough to witness. Also, not knowing when we’ll be able to gather in a theatre again to watch or put on a play for an eager audience of patrons is unnerving. And yet, and I’m unsure if it’s ignorance or naivete, but I seem to have adopted the “everything will be okay” mentality and am trusting that professionally my career will be where it needs to be when it can be there. I just hope that the many theatre companies and creative people who are taking huge financial hits right now are able to pull through and pivot in ways that can sustain them. Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? I was one of the few who didn’t have any concrete plans for 2020. I had made a conscious effort to lay off theatre for the year and focus on screen and voice and I was very lucky in that regard because all my friends and colleagues were losing work. It just felt like I was in the same position as I would’ve been anyways: having no idea what jobs would be coming or when I’d work again; with the huge caveat that lockdown definitely hindered any or all opportunities for actually being on set or a studio for a large portion of this year...but I was fortunate to have been working almost right up until March so was able to coast for a few months without worrying much about my financial situation. And thank goodness for CERB! I did have a workshop of a new play in development I’m directing that we had to postpone for a few months and settled on doing a three day zoom workshop instead. It was useful for many reasons as far as hearing the play with actors and dramaturgy etc. but we were also hoping to do some physical exploration at this stage and that just wasn’t possible over zoom. The production is tentatively slated for fall 2021 but only time will tell if that’ll happen so all we can do is wait and see and come up with a contingency plan in case we have to postpone which at this point, is looking very likely. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Lots of reading, cooking, cleaning for those first three months and then I got really tired of being cooped up and feeling like I couldn’t find a satisfying creative outlet. I actually completed The Artist’s Way for the first time ever in the summer which was such a huge help. Even just writing everyday shifted my mental health in a big way. The artist dates I went on and the creative tasks reinvigorated me and my creative spirit which I so desperately needed. Once things started opening up later in the summer, I was very lucky to have booked some work again on set and in the studio as well as a few directing gigs for virtual theatre including a zoom production of Contractions with Studio 180 which was another elixir I needed. Getting to collaborate with other artists and using my director brain after months of creative atrophy was the burst of a new energy I needed. It was such a joy and privilege to have those opportunities and although zoom can be challenging at the best of times, the constraints forced some really creative problem solving which I also didn’t realize how much I missed. I also started doing some virtual teaching at Randolph College in the fall as well as some outreach work with Studio 180 and both been a nice side gigs that are safe to do from home. Teaching is something I’ve regularly done to supplement my income prior to Covid and I truly love it. The shift to zoom has been surprisingly easy if not a bit exhausting on the eyes, although I really can’t imagine doing theatre school training-most of which is so physical- over a computer. These students are so dedicated! Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? For my fellow performers and colleagues, be sure to keep engaging in creative outlets and lean on your supports. Reach out to mentors, past collaborators or friends if you need connection or want to create something. I think a lot of people are eager to collaborate right now- I have friends sending scripts for feedback or brainstorming virtual projects just because they need the outlet and I think that’s a great way to cope. For some, they’re not in a position to do that right now so I would say making sure to do something that’s good for your mental and physical health and wellbeing everyday. Meditating, long walks with a great podcast, calling an old friend, baking something for a pal just because..anything that makes you feel happy, calm and engaged. Also, therapy has been a huge help for me. As far as helpful resources and options since it’s difficult to find a therapist in these times, I know Equity launched LifeWorks earlier this year to support members https://www.caea.com/News#LifeWorks-June-29. For ACTRA members there’s a new Expanded Access- Mental Wellness Support Benefit I was just reading about that sounds promising. Info available here: https://www.afbs.ca/fraternal-benefits#additional-benefitsI For recent theatre school grads I would say: stay positive and optimistic, stay ready, keep reading plays and pushing yourself to learn and engage as much as possible. Take a virtual class. Write those emails to casting directors, artistic directors, people in the community you admire…propose virtual coffees. The hustle to get your name out there has always been hard but now it’s even more of a challenge so it’s time to think outside the box and stay on top of it. Stream those online readings and productions which there are no shortage of internationally but also here at home there’s lots on offer with shows streaming online with Acts of Faith at Factory Theatre, Contractions with Studio 180 (shameless plug J), Musical Stage Company’s Uncovered just to name a few. Look for inspiration everywhere as you might be surprised where you might find it. Write everyday if you can- it helps so much. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? As far as theatre goes, I think this time off has forced many organizations and companies to recalibrate; to look at how things are run and re-examine structure and operations that have oppressed so many for decades. The BLM movement and the protests in the summer shone a light on so many systemic issues within the world but in our community, it really inspired many to voice their experiences with the #inthedressingroom campaign. Reading the many tweets and posts, I didn’t find any of these stories particularly surprising unfortunately as I’ve both experienced firsthand or heard of all the micro and macroaggressions towards artists of colour over my career. I think a lot of people are taking this time to stop and reflect on how they can better advocate for and foster, support, and protect BIPOC artists so that when we meet again in a physical space, there are some tangible practices put in place to change the trajectory forever. I also think that having all this extra time at home, many are realizing that the six day work week isn’t necessary and that we can likely accomplish just as much in five days- arguably maybe more with TWO days off: one to do groceries/laundry/spend time with family and one to actually accomplish the work. I know I definitely do not miss only having one day off a week. I myself, have found that this lockdown time has really changed my perspective on what really matters in life. Yes, I love my career and performing but getting to have quality time with family, connecting with friends whom I haven’t spoken to in ages, those are the things you won’t ever get back. Jobs will come and go but loved ones are what matters most to me. Balance and boundaries are key. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I think it already has on so many artists and companies. Many people leaving the business or finding a new livelihood out of necessity, companies having to shut their doors, losing their space and folding because they can’t financially sustain themselves…I think the fabric of our performing arts scene will forever be changed. However, I think this is such a fascinating time and will absolutely inspire and birth some incredible new work and from the ashes, new companies will rise. It’ll just take time. Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? I think it’s amazing the way people have pivoted so quickly. Even just having the ability to lean on streaming is going to be a huge asset to many as things may remain up in the air for the foreseeable future. It would be foolish not to utilize this; I think it is the only option for many actors and companies if they want to keep getting their work or name out there or maintaining audience engagement and some type of revenue. Unfortunately, these things can be very pricy endeavours if quality is a priority and not everyone has it in the budget to outfit a full home studio right now or create and develop a streaming platform like Stratford. There is so much more content on offer online right now specifically because of Covid, so the challenging part is getting viewers. I find it overwhelming sometimes to decide what to watch and who to support with all the choices. Streaming can also be pretty frustrating depending on if there are any technical difficulties or if you have crappy internet and I find it really hard to fully sit down and engage at home when I can be multitasking and doing a million other things at the same time which I can’t do in a theatre. Personally, I have also been trying to stare at screens less in my life since I’ve been forced to engage with work in this way now more than ever so I may not be a great target audience member lol. But I think people have got to do what they got to do and if it’s helpful to utilize YouTube or streaming for the benefit of their spirit, creativity or livelihood, all the power to them. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? I really miss the live feedback from an audience, that energy; the shared experience of people coming together in a space and breathing, gasping, laughing together (you know, all the risky and dangerous stuff right now). Heck, I even miss the oblivious patron unwrapping candy at the most inopportune moment which then in itself turns into another shared funny/baffling moment between audience and performers! Covid will never destroy my desire to get together for several weeks and create something out of nothing with a talented group of people and sharing it with live humans in a physical space. I think when I first step into a theatre again when it’s safe to do so, I won’t take it for granted ever again. Previous Next

  • Musicals Chicago

    Back Chicago The Stratford Festival David Hou Joe Szekeres Simple Math Equation: “If Roxie Rocks Chicago, does ‘Chicago’ Rock The Stratford Festival?” You don’t have to look in the back of the textbook for that answer. ‘Chicago’ blows the roof off the Festival Theatre. It’s gonna sell out quickly so make sure you get your tickets while you can. Once I heard the rights were attained to produce the show for the Festival’s unique thrust stage theatre and what Donna Feore calls in her Director/Choreographer Note: “the rare opportunity to completely reimagine the production [since] ‘Chicago’ is a big show, and dance is not locked in time.”, I was curious how she would stage the production since for me the definitive versions in my experience were the New York cast with Bebe Neuwirth and Joel Grey plus the touring production at the Princess of Wales years ago. Both excellent. But a totally reimagined and re-staged ‘Chicago’? Yes. A thousand times, yes. Feore’s optimal staging of the plot with prizewinning, divine and to die for choreography work divinely and magnificently as every inch of the thrust Festival stage is utilized to maximum effect and capacity. There are musical moments where so much occurs, but it just reinforces Billy Flynn’s showstopper ‘Razzle Dazzle’ that life is a circus at times. This entire company is having one hell of a good time and their contagion infected the audience so quickly. It’s one time when I felt I didn’t care if I caught that boozy bug. It is the 1920s. Vaudevillian wannabe Roxie Hart (Chelsea Preston) has fatally shot her lover Fred Casely (Chad McFadden). Claiming he was a burglar, Roxie convinces her dull mechanic husband Amos (Steve Ross) to take the rap. When Amos finds out the truth, he turns Roxie in where she is remanded to the Cook County Jail to await her trial. It’s at the jail where Roxie meets Velma Kelly (Jennifer Rider-Shaw), a fading vaudevillian star who killed her husband and sister after discovering they committed adultery. Velma has slick defence lawyer Billy Flynn (Dan Chameroy) retained by prison matron Mama Morton (Sandra Caldwell) who offers to put Roxie in touch with him. Flynn agrees to take Roxie’s case as well after she persuades Amos to pay his substantial fee. Michael Gianfrancesco has re-created a jaw-droppingly realistic speakeasy set from the 1920s. Even amid the sense of disorder on stage after a night at the club, there is a sense of order present. A ghost lamp appears centre stage. Tables are placed throughout and some chairs are overturned. Some glass bottles in cartons are also found on stage. Gianfrancesco’s set is two level as there is a rounded railing out front from which actors can be placed. Dana Osborne’s Costume Designs are fantastic recreations of the 1920s from flapper dresses to flashy loud pin-striped suits and matching vests. Michael Walton’s Lighting Design and Peter McBoyle’s Sound Design all contribute gratifyingly to the flash and dazzle of the era. A huge shout of appreciation and gratitude to Mr. McBoyle as well for the fact I could hear every single lyric in each musical number. And the music! That gloriously sexy-sounding music under Franklin Brasz’s direction evokes that heightened and gritty acute sense of smell in picking up the stale stench of booze, billowing cigarette and wafting cigar smoke that jutted out from these seedy nightclubs. And those musical numbers! The first note of ‘All that Jazz’ and the roar of applause which was repeated for ‘Cell Block Tango’ (and what an inventive way to involve the male dancers in that number). Chameroy’s entrance in ‘All I Care About Is Love’ is executed in such perfect timing the audience once again roared with approval. So good. As Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, Chelsea Preston and Jennifer Rider-Shaw initially may resemble kewpie-eyed bimbos out to make a fast buck in whatever way possible. No way! Preston and Rider-Shaw beautifully play Roxie and Velma not as vapid chorines but as intelligent and smart (and yes, sensitive, even though they both have committed murder) gals who work with Flynn to get what they want. And, as we all know with society’s fascination with celebrity behaviour, they get away with it and we love them even more for it. Plus, a bonus with Preston and Rider-Shaw. The pipes on these ladies. They can belt a tune, parallel harmoniously in song, and carry out a Feore dance with splash and aplomb. Underneath that “Sad Sack’ skin of Roxie’s dimwitted husband, Amos, Steve Ross radiates so much compassionate empathy (as R. Markus points out in a perfect diva Mary Sunshine reporter moment in their song ‘A Little Bit of Good’) that I wanted just to walk up there and give him a big bear hug right after his ‘Mister Cellophane’. Ross just inherently knew when to pause during the song both for comic and poignant effect. Such good work. Dan Chameroy is primo slick as defence lawyer Billy Flynn that he would make it appear as if being swindled would be just fine. His eleven o’clock ‘Razzle Dazzle’ number that life is sometimes just for the ornate show brought down the house once more. Beneath that smile of Sandra Caldwell’s Matron Mama Morton lies a deceptive individual who would sell her own mother to make a fast buck. I love the line “Ask any of the chickies in my pen/They’ll tell you I’m the biggest mother hen” from ‘When You’re Good to Mama’. Who really cares if Mama cares about these gals under her guard? She’s out to make a fast buck like all those individuals in Cook County to get themselves out of the prison, and they’re having a hell of a good time in the process. That’s all that counts to them. This five-star hot, torrid, athletic and kinetic ensemble tackles Feore’s choreography with great gusto and hearty aplomb. From what I could see from my seat, every dance move was also keenly connected with facial and eye contact that radiated passionate licentiousness. Feore’s choreography remains one of the highlights of the production, and it appeared to me this ensemble wanted to do justice to the work. Final Comments: If you have seen the New York/touring revival of ‘Chicago’ now playing in New York or on tour, you owe it as a treat to yourself to come to Stratford before the door of this speakeasy is closed. “Chicago is a winner. Dynamite from beginning to end. Flawless in performance.” Running Time: approximately two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. As of the writing of this article, Covid protocols are in effect at the theatre. ‘Chicago’ runs to October 30 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. For tickets, www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. Chicago, based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins with script adaptation by David Thompson Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse Music by John Kander Lyrics by Fred Ebb Producer: Dave Auster Director and Choreographer: Donna Feore Music Director: Franklin Brasz Set Designer: Michael Gianfrancesco Costume Designer: Dana Osborne Lighting Designer: Michael Walton Sound Designer: Peter McBoyle The Company: Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Chelsea Preston, Chad McFadden, Steve Ross, Stephen Patterson, Bethany Kovarik, Amanda Lundgren, Heather Kosik, Bonnie Jordan, Celeste Catena, Sandra Caldwell, Dan Chameroy, R. Markus, Amanda De Freitas, Devon Michael Brown, Philip Seguin, Gabriel Antonacci, Robert Ball, Henry Firmston, Jordan Mah, Eric Abel, Jason Sermonia, Julius Sermonia Previous Next

  • Solos Patti Lupone: Don't Monkey with Broadway

    Back Patti Lupone: Don't Monkey with Broadway Played Toronto's Meridian Hall November 17 and now on tour in the US Credit: Rahav and from TOLive website Joe Szekeres “Patti Lupone is far more than a diva of the theatre. Don’t label her that anymore. ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ is a joyous event and a celebration of storytelling. She is an artist who remains eternally grateful for the opportunities in her career.” She might be billed as a diva of the theatre; however, ‘la grande dame’ Patti Lupone came across as far more than that label on November 17 for one night only of her ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ tour at Toronto’s Meridian Hall. She’s one hell of a grateful lady for the opportunities she’s had and doesn’t take the critical acclaim and reaction of audiences everywhere for granted. When she walked out on the stage, the audience was on its feet in its first of standing ovations. Lupone appeared emotionally moved by this display of affection even before she sang or spoke one word. Billed as a love letter to the Great White Way, ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ initially comes across as a masterclass in song delivered by the founding member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School. The house programme did not carry the song titles. There’s a reason why, and it’s a good choice we don’t know. It’s the same reason why a vast orchestra isn’t backing her up. She doesn’t need one. Instead, her Music director, Joseph Thalken, beautifully accompanies her on the piano. He gets what she wants to do. In grateful appreciation for that, Lupone periodically acknowledges his work and playfully, at one point, pulls him up with her to take a bow. Instead, like a true teacher, Lupone wants the audience to hear and to listen, two key elements that sometimes appear to be lacking today. Through hearing and listening, Patti gets the audience to think about what they are hearing and listening. How novel! An artist who gets people to think through hearing and listening. Accoutered smartly in a black dress, the first act has Patti interspersing songs with moments from her career. In the second act, she enters wearing a tuxedo, which reminded me of Julie Andrews in ‘Victor/Victoria.’ Patti announced that sometimes men have incredible moments of song that women don’t have. Patti wants to sing them. And she launches right into them full steam ahead. She does so with the bold confidence of a woman who has survived the highs and lows of the theatre industry. When she begins ‘Trouble in River City’ from ‘The Music Man’ I couldn’t help but smile. Patti has caused some trouble in the River City of Broadway. She’s snatched phones from theatregoers in performance. She stopped ‘Gypsy’ when she knew pictures were being taken. She took batting practice in her UK dressing room when she learned she would not play Norma Desmond when ‘Sunset Blvd’ transferred to New York. Sometimes, causing ‘trouble’ gets results and gets people to think. Whether or not we agree or disagree with how she dealt with these troubles doesn’t matter to us. They mattered to Patti, and she dealt with it in the way she did. She cares. That’s why she’s caused trouble over the years. People know that about it. She’s vocal about stating how Broadway has changed in the last 10+ years. But the audience isn’t here to discuss these issues. We’re here to hear, listen to, and hopefully understand how music transforms Lupone and how she can transform an audience. And that’s why you don’t monkey with Broadway or her. Lupone showcases those incredible vocal pipes with some terrific musical theatre numbers. The audience went wild just before the intermission with the unmissable ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ from ‘Evita’ for which she won the coveted Tony award. She will be remembered for two other numbers – Rose’s Turn from ‘Gypsy’ and Ladies Who Lunch from her Tony Award-winning performance in ‘Company’. The former suddenly burst forth as a segue from the end of one song to the next, sending the audience into a love frenzy mania for the songstress. But I was waiting for the latter as ‘Company’ has always fascinated me, and ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ is one hell of an eleven o’clock number that I longed to hear. I waited patiently…and waited patiently…and kept wondering if she would do it because we were approaching the second act's end. But the adage ‘Good things come to those who wait’ aptly applies in this case. Lupone didn’t disappoint. Not in the least. The reason why ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ is more than just a masterclass in song? Patti remains a consummate artistic storyteller who inherently senses the power of words and their meaning. Someone who knows how to tell a story well will always make people pay attention and listen. This is Patti. She loves the sounds of words through speech and lyrics. Her rendition of ‘Hey Big Spender’ from ‘Sweet Charity’ is only one example where she incorporated laughter because she finds the humour in words, in the way she pauses and in the way she punctuates in delivering the song that makes the audience roar with approval. Final Comments: I’ve seen Patti live on stage twice – in the early 90s in ‘Sunset Blvd’ in London and the early 2000s in New York in ‘Sweeney Todd’—two very different roles, the former a stormy relationship with its composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. But what an honour to see her, hear her and listen to her again. ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ also means ‘Don’t Monkey with Patti Lupone’. She’s seen it all, heard it all, experienced it, survived it all. And she’s still here. And if ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ plays in your city very soon, see it. CREDITS: Scott Wittman, Director and curator Joseph Thalken, Music Director Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Dramas 'Lobby Hero' by Kenneth Lonergan

    Back 'Lobby Hero' by Kenneth Lonergan Produced by Icarus Theatre now onstage at Alumnae Theatre Alexandra Bolton Joe Szekeres I’m keeping my eye out for Icarus Theatre in the future if this performance of ‘Lobby Hero’ is any indication of where the company is headed. Icarus Theatre challenged itself in tackling Kenneth Lonergan’s gripping ‘Lobby Hero’ at Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre. The script reflects modern twenty-first-century daily life in Manhattan. It was an apt choice made by Icarus to stage it, but not an easy one, as the play addresses issues that have been heightened throughout the pandemic. Lonergan’s story is set in the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building where we meet the on-duty night security guard Jeff (Anthony Goncharov) and three others who strongly influence his life at this moment. There is Jeff’s strict and perhaps a tad overbearing boss, William (Matthew G. Brown) and two cops on the beat who end up in the lobby – senior officer Bill (Connor Briggs) and new police officer Dawn (Emily Anne Corcoran). A tad insecure about his life, Jeff has big plans for himself. He’s not that interested in this job but it’s security for him to stay there to put the first month’s rent down on a nice apartment and move out from his brother and sister-in-law’s home. Jeff is on the computer, reads a book and will sometimes place his feet on the desk and close his eyes for a nap. His supervisor William has a lot on his plate right now and is rightfully testy with Jeff. William has learned his wayward brother might be involved in a murder investigation. Jeff and William’s professional relationship is on tenterhooks now as well. On-duty and unpredictably mannered police officer Bill and his intensely focused on-the-job rookie partner Dawn end up in the lobby a few times. For some questionable reason, Bill periodically ends up here with Dawn and tells her to stay down in the lobby while he goes up to a specific apartment. Dawn doesn’t question Bill’s authority but later we learn something is going down in that apartment which puts their professional relationship in jeopardy regarding police ethics, honour, and duty. Additionally, Jeff’s building personal interest in officer Dawn also places her in an awkward personal situation when we learn about her past. Racial issues also influence the story deeply and strongly. There are some challenges with Naomi Daryn Boyd’s set design on the Alumnae stage. I liked how the angled corners of the sides of the building give the sense we are peering in on the story’s action. The back wall housing the mailboxes is in dire need of a paint job which shows this apartment is not an upscale Manhattan building. The security desk is located centre stage with a computer. There is a sitting area downstage far left that looked comfortable enough for those who are waiting for something or someone. I was puzzled by the door entrance to the lobby stage right. It does not convey the sense this is an apartment building. Most apartment buildings in Manhattan would have larger entranceways. Additionally, when the said door was opened and closed, sometimes quickly, the braces shook and at one point looked as if the door would crash down. Doesn’t convey we’ve entered a building. The other design choice made that puzzled me was the elevator upstage left on the wall. Most apartment elevators would be a tad larger to accommodate furniture. Instead, this one appeared rather tightly compact. As well, when officer Bill pushed the button, and got into and out of the elevator, he had to pull the door open and closed instead of it opening and closing automatically. That brought me out of the moment when this occurs. Carley Melvin’s lighting design subtly and effectively underscores the intensity of the scene when needed. However, there were a couple of times when some actors were in shadows, and I had difficulty deciding how I was to pay attention to this scene. Bjorn Kriel’s sound design of the outside noise of midtown Manhattan evoked a real sense of being in New York City. Where this production does shine is the character performance and their various emotional levels. Directed with a solidly believable understanding of each moment by Liam Eric Dawson, I saw some very real characters on the Alumnae stage. Anthony Goncharov intently listens and responds naturally as the insecure Jeff. At one point he tells rookie officer Dawn something about her partner, Bill, who is upstairs with one of the building’s residents. When Bill returns to confront Jeff, Connor Briggs smartly plays with Goncharov at first to set him at ease before the imposing threat of intimidation not to talk about whatever Jeff sees ever again with Dawn. This moment is terrific to watch the cat and mouse game between the two, and the look on Goncharov’s face indicated to me he was going to follow through with Briggs’ suggestion. Connor Briggs brings just that right amount of cocky smarm both in his police-swaggering gait and on his face that just made me bristle inside. Emily Anne Corcoran builds a credible emotionally conflicting intensity as rookie cop, Dawn. She wants to be the best officer she can be. However, Corcoran offers quite an interesting take on how she deals with her possibly developing interest in Jeff juxtaposed with how she deals with her smugly and ingratiating cop partner, Bill. I remained completely and fully engaged with Matthew G. Brown’s performance as building security supervisor, William. There remains a bubbling intenseness in Brown’s work that I kept wondering if, and or when there would be a complete explosive gush of anger as William has many responsibilities to which he must tend. There is a fixation on ensuring Jeff writes down when police enter the building to visit residents. William is also faced with an ethical dilemma regarding his brother and the possible murder investigation. Final Comments: On the theatre scene, it’s exciting to see how change and growth can strongly influence a new professional theatre company on the ground floor and where it is headed if the right decisions have been made in the process. As Icarus is a new theatre company, I’m sure there was a limited budget. I want to keep an eye on Icarus in the future. I spoke with Artistic Director Anthony Goncharov after the show for a few minutes and I could sense he is set to move forward in meeting growth and change and confronting artistic challenges on all levels. I look forward to Icarus’s next production. But go and see ‘Lobby Hero’ by all means to support a new professional theatre company. Running time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. ‘Lobby Hero’ runs until December 17 at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets: onstagedirect.com/lobbyhero or at the door on performance night. Evening performances begin at 7 pm while matinees begin at 2 pm. ‘Lobby Hero’ by Kenneth Lonergan An Icarus Theatre Production Co-Producers: Anthony Goncharov and Liam Eric Dawson Executive Producer: Anthony Sweeney Directed by Liam Eric Dawson Stage Manager: Lauren Fahey Set Designer: Naomi Daryn Boyd Lighting Designer: Carley Melvin Sound Designer: Bjorn Kriel Performers: Connor Briggs, Matthew G. Brown, Emily Anne Corcoran, Anthony Goncharov Previous Next

  • Profiles Marie Beath Badian, Filipino Canadian playwright

    Back Marie Beath Badian, Filipino Canadian playwright “You can’t take anything for granted that there is going to be an audience.” Caroline Mangosing for Vinta Gallery Joe Szekeres Marie Beath (pronounced Mary Beth) Badian is a Canadian Filipino performing artist whose plays have been commissioned by The Blyth Festival, The Stratford Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange, and Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. (www.mariebeath.com ). Like any writer, she thinks very deeply about all her characters before she puts pen to paper. Commissioned by The Blyth Festival, Badian’s play ‘Prairie Nurse’ opens Saturday, July 15, at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre. This play, along with ‘The Waltz’ (a terrific production staged at Toronto’s Factory Theatre earlier this year), is part of a multi-generational story spanning fifty years and set in rural Saskatchewan. The third, ‘The Cottage Guest,’ is in development 2.0 and has just been finished in draft form. Badian had a workshop on ‘Guest’ in February of this year. The litmus test is to be in a workshop of the play and listen to the actors. If the characters are speaking in the way Badian imagined in her head, that’s a huge relief. ‘Guest’ needs a bit of tweaking and Marie Beath is hoping the play will hit the stage in the next couple of years. We had conducted our conversation several weeks ago, and at that time, rehearsals for ‘Prairie Nurse’ were just getting underway on June 26. Badian would miss the first day of rehearsal because it was her ‘kiddo’s’ (I like that) Grade 8 graduation. Sometimes, the family unit must take priority, and I’m all for that. Badian had completed her training and received her diploma from Toronto Metropolitan University. She was the second last of the diploma programme. She graduated in 1999 and then grandfathered into the Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2007. Does Marie Beath consider herself a Toronto girl at heart: “Oh, yeah. I was born and raised in Scarborough. I didn’t move very far. I’ve been living downtown since 1997. [Toronto] has always been my home and will always feel like that when I’m away.” Badian calls it an exceptional privilege to return to live theatre. It’s still tremendously unique to sit in the audience beside people and experience the play. For her, it feels incredibly novel and fleeting. There’s joy in seeing people’s faces once again. Badian does not take this generosity in this return to the theatre for granted. To decide to attend the theatre is a crucial choice. Before the lockdown, Marie Beath was feeling exhausted. Sitting in a theatre felt like a chore, and she now feels guilty that she went through that experience: “You can’t take anything for granted that there is going to be an audience.” Marie Beath and I both agreed on this point strongly. At one point, we wondered if the lockdown meant the end of the live theatrical performing arts because we are not essential workers. That’s the reality regarding sacrifice and heroism among the healthcare essential workers in the grand scheme of things. Her mother was a nurse for forty years and Marie Beath worked at the Ontario College of Nurses for a long time. The community of nurses has always been a part of her community’s lifeblood. Knowing that their diaspora and the family legacy of these front-line individuals put into perspective what essential work truly meant, especially essential work for the soul. On its website, the Capitol Theatre describes the plot of ‘Prairie Nurse’ as a laugh-a-minute comedy of confusion based on a real-life story. The story involves two Filipino nurses who come to work at a small-town Saskatchewan hospital in the late 1960s. Cultural clashes, personality differences, homesickness, and the amorous but dim-witted goalie from the local hockey team complicate the women’s lives and create chaos at the hospital. Add a doctor more concerned with fishing than his patients and an overly romantic candy striper. ‘Prairie Nurse’ is based on the true story of Badian’s mother’s immigration to Canada. Confident that 'Prairie Nurse' is being well taken care of under Megan Watson's direction, the playwright is adjusting to the unusual experience of having one of her plays performed multiple times. Badian considers it a privileged position in Canadian theatre and is always amazed when her work is produced. Even with 'Prairie Nurse' no longer a world premiere, Badian still feels the same jittery excitement as before. She is over the moon with the cast the director has assembled. It’s unique and exciting, and she was delighted to hear who they were after the fact. Megan and Rob Kempson (Capitol’s Artistic Director) have been so thoughtful about the casting process of the play. What’s delightful about all productions of ‘Prairie Nurse’?: “It gets to introduce me to new people in the Filipino diaspora that I hadn’t known before and that there is work for them. I don’t know the two actors who are playing the nurses. I think they are fairly recent grads. What’s exciting first is that this production [at the Capitol] marks the ten-year anniversary of ‘Prairie Nurse’. It’s also exciting that these two ladies who were in school when the play premiered now understand there is work for who they are authentically as part of the diaspora.” For many years, Marie Beath has been friends with Rob Kempson. She is impressed with how he and Erin Pierce (Capitol Theatre’s Managing Director) have made their values of the live theatre performing arts come to fruition and how exciting it is to be part of the season. Badian holds Canadian actor Deborah Drakeford in high esteem and is thrilled to have her involved in the production as the ornery head nurse at the hospital. She’s a chain smoker at the hospital in the sixties, becoming a riot as the play unfolds. What is a message Marie Beath hopes audiences will take away after seeing ‘Prairie Nurse’?: “Joy, the joy and the laughter that I feel is so inherent about the story. I hope audiences will also take away a different perspective of the period piece of the fabric of Canada in 1967. It’s a gentle and loving way to remind people of the value of the Filipino diaspora in health care. It’s a way to reflect health care that if we have ever experienced health care in Canada, it has been at the hands of a Filipino caregiver.” ‘Prairie Nurse’ begins performances July 14 and runs to July 30. All performances take place at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets call 905-885-1071 or visit capitoltheatre.com. To learn more about Marie Beath Badian, visit her website: www.mariebeath.com . Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Migraaaants: There's Too Many People on this Damn Boat' by Matei Visniec with translation by Nick Adwe

    Back 'Migraaaants: There's Too Many People on this Damn Boat' by Matei Visniec with translation by Nick Adwe Now onstage at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto Credit: Zahra Maleki. Pictured: Ahmad Meree and ensemble Joe Szekeres “Toronto premiere delves into a comical and terrifying look at newcomers to a supposed land of freedom.” Billed as a ‘dark comedy,’ Matei Visniec’s play focuses on the dangerous journey of African and Middle Eastern refugees to Europe. From an overcrowded boat and then to an unknown uncertainty about whether these individuals will be welcomed in their new land, this Toronto premiere explores what director Siavash Shabanpour calls “the unbreakable human spirit within the refugee narrative and gives audiences a chance to connect with the people beyond the headlines.” Under Shabanpour’s strong direction, the ensemble delivers heartbreaking performances inspired by the real stories of refugees who have fled war-ravaged environments. Shabanpour uses as much space as possible on the Passe Muraille stage and the various levels. The emotional impact is palpably strong when the action is on the floor; however, one scene between President (Garrett Mallory Scott) and a Public Relations Coach (Henry Oswald Pierson) takes place on the second level, relatively high up. This scene details the importance of using the ‘politically’ correct word regarding those who flee their homeland. Is immigrant to be used? Migrant? Refugee? The discussion piqued my attention; thankfully, Scott and Pierson can be heard. However, this scene didn’t have as strong of an impact personally because I felt far removed from the action physically. For the most part, Shabanpour’s genuine compassion in his direction allows the audience to see the struggles, hopes and fears these migrants have faced and will continue to face in their new lands. That strong sense of fear remains categorically palpable from the seventeen-member ensemble cast on the Passe Muraille main stage when the action occurs floor level. The production creative team has made solid choices. Designer Kadi Badiou has wisely selected an empty stage at the top of the show where the audience hears lapping water against a shore thanks to Victoria Gallant’s sound design. On the floor level, there is a riser which resembles a catwalk from a fashion show. The audience sits left and right on this riser, which becomes a significant focal point when the performance begins. Sometimes, the multi-media production immerses the audience right in the reactions and responses of the characters. Designer Duncan Appleton uses some visually striking and effective projections. Tessa Bourchier’s various colours and sizes in the costumes nicely delineate and identify the multiple characters in the mosaic of stories. Playwright Visniec smartly incorporates and combines both dark humour and harsh reality to showcase the continued sense of fear these migrants have had and will have to continue to face wherever they will head. At times, this juxtaposition makes for good theatre. We’re first introduced to Boss (Ahmad Meree) when the lights go down. Boss will help these individuals escape to Europe, but they must listen carefully to him and follow his strict conditions for travelling. His ‘goons’ who stand behind him are to ensure those in the audience are listening. Meree is powerfully in control at this moment. There’s no messing with Boss, and Meree demands immediate focus and attention on him. It was an incredibly dominant moment that made me hold my breath, wondering what might happen if any of these individuals got out of line. It does happen later. And again, Meree remains a compelling force in how he ‘punishes’ the individual who disregards instructions. An ‘ordinary’ Balkan couple (Andrew Chown and Mahsa Ershadifar) try to make sense of this conflict around them. He comes home from work while she is busily preparing their evening meal. They snap at each other, rightly so, because the world they know remains tense. Without spoiling the dramatic impact, Chown and Ershadifar subtly and cleverly show how they will respond to the events surrounding them. A haunting moment comes from Parastoo Amanzadeh’s still performance as the young boy Elihu who will sell his body parts and limbs as capital for his family. I felt chills down my spine as it must be seen live to experience the full emotions. In a rather dark, comical turn of events, Keely Krall and Shannon Pitre become Shopping Channel spokespersons for a surveillance device that can instantly kill people. A few moments later, the two again become fashionista models for a barbed wire costume. Final Comments: One thing still puzzles me about the production. I don’t understand why the play's title is spelled as it is. The sentence after the title is harsh and cruel. Nevertheless, that harshness and cruelty remains issues newcomers have felt leaving their homeland. ‘Migraaaants’ is another essential story to experience. It’s plausible and believable. Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no interval/intermission. The production runs until January 28 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: call 416-504-7529 or visit https://ca.patronbase.com/_TheatrePasseMuraille/Productions/MIG/Performances MIGRAAAANTS: There’s Too Many People on this Damn Boat by Matei Visniec with translation by Nick Awde Produced by two thousand feet up theatre company Directed by Siavash Shabanpour Set Designer: Kadi Badiou Costume Designer: Tessa Bourchier Lighting and Projections Designer: Duncan Appleton Sound Designer: Victoria Gallant Composer: Nariman Eskandari Stage Manager: Daniela Olmos Performers: Jamar Adams-Thompson, Parastoo Amanzadeh, Jeffrey Auminio-Mesidor, Jeysa Caridad, Andrew Chown, Mahsa Ershadifar, Silvana Herrera, Lean Jafari, Eric Kinsella, Keely Krall, Ahmed Meree, Daniel Motaharzadeh, Henry Oswald Peirson, Shannon Pitre, Henrique Santsper, Garrett Mallory Scott, Jona Villa Previous Next

  • Solos 'Hypothetical Baby' written and performed by Rachel Cairns

    Back 'Hypothetical Baby' written and performed by Rachel Cairns Runs until December 17 in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Rachel Cairns Zoe Marin ‘An intimate and emotional solo show performance’ Hypothetical Baby is as intimate and emotional as it is politically relevant. Whether it’s the specific details about writer-performer Rachel Cairns’ life or her more TEDxTalk-style explanations of broader feminist issues, I can’t imagine anyone leaving this show without feeling a deeper introspection about themselves or an acute awareness about the socio-political state of the world. When the lights went out after Cairns’ last line, it seemed that everyone was so emotional they forgot to clap. For a few seconds, all I heard was a mix of sniffles and the shaking chairs from people suppressing their full–body sobs. It’s not that I thought a story about abortion would be incredibly light-hearted, but I was surprised by the extent to which it impacted me and the people around me. Hypothetical Baby is a solo-show written and performed by Rachel Cairns, a multidisciplinary artist known for her award-winning podcast “Aborsh” about abortion in Canada. Hypothetical Baby begins with Cairns inquiring about how to get an abortion, and the doctor inquiring about her financial and relationship status to figure out why she would even want an abortion. After discovering that Cairns is meant to fly back home to Vancouver the next day, the conclusion is that this is an issue for Cairns and some other clinic in Vancouver. Ultimately, Cairns finds herself getting a “medical abortion” on Christmas Eve in her family home. Although this specific event inspires the rest of Hypothetical Baby, as Cairns explains in the show, life isn’t just an “event”, it’s a “process”. Therefore, for the remainder of the show, Cairns jumps back and forth in time to analyze what led to her ultimately choosing to get an abortion and how it continues to affect her to this day. She also goes through the history of Canadian abortion laws and other systemic issues to analyze how the “choice” she made isn’t fully hers. Cairns first refers to the titular “hypothetical baby” in the days leading up to her abortion when her signs of a healthy pregnancy make her briefly consider what it would hypothetically be like to have this baby. Obviously, most of the concerns are financial. She’s been told many times that there’s never a “perfect time to have a baby", and she asks: Why not? Despite Canada being such a “progressive” country, its capitalist structure creates various access barriers that prevent people from keeping a child even if they wanted to. And so, although Cairns legally can choose to get an abortion, how much of a choice does she really have? And how much less of a choice do other people have? Cairns is self-aware of her specific privileges and disadvantages as a white woman with a non-salaried job living in Ontario. Through a mix of her personal interactions with other women, as well as her mini-lectures, she shows the audience how the intersections of gender, race, citizenship, able-bodiedness, and class play into reproductive rights. With the mix of so many personal anecdotes and lectures, Cairns covers a lot of ground within the 75-minute time frame. There are moments that could have felt random, like a long section about author Sylvia Plath’s life or a presentation on how women are specifically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, everything in the show connects strongly to the question of the hypothetical baby. Every moment is deeply personal to Cairns’ story, but also exposes Canadian society and specific systemic issues that I have not seen explored so directly on stage before. The production elements are very simple, but effective. There is a small platform with a rug, chair, and white backdrop. Along with this set, the lighting, projections, and sound transport the audience to various locations including a walk-in clinic, a house party, a Hudson’s Bay, and the bathroom where she experiences her abortion while her family has Christmas Eve dinner downstairs. Director Lancaster keeps the information-packed story flowing, while also giving the audience the time and space to sit with the heavier emotional moments of the piece. Lancaster makes specific choices about when to pull out all the bells and whistles or when to hold back. At times, Cairns is very active throughout the space, and the sound and projections are as overwhelming as what she is experiencing. Then there are other moments when Cairns is simply sitting in a chair and talking to the audience. Each choice made by both Lancaster as a director and Cairns as an actor does justice to how emotional, provocative, intimate, angry, political, educational, and even funny the text itself is. One of my favorite aspects of Hypothetical Baby is Cairns’ portrayals of conversations between herself and other characters, especially with the characters who are a bit harder to sympathize with like her uncommunicative boyfriend or the failed actor turned anti-abortion public speaker she stalks online. Although Cairns doesn’t justify their behavior, by stepping into their shoes, they reveal larger societal issues to Cairns as well as her own internal conflict about her abortion. The heart of the piece, however, is the relationship between Cairns and her mother who is there for the entire story including her abortion, her existential crises about her career, issues with her relationship, and the final moment of the show that left most of the audience sobbing. Cairns’ mother’s story draws many parallels to her own story, and provides a really personal exploration of the concept of motherhood as a “choice”. In the same way that Cairns’ connects with the many people around her regardless of how different their stories may be, I believe that anybody who watches Hypothetical Baby will find something that resonates with them. THE HOWLAND COMPANY presents ‘Hypothetical Baby’ written and performed by Rachel Cairns Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster Sound Design by Cosette Pin Production, Lighting & Projection Design by Julia Howman Associate Technical Artist: Emily Jung Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Profiles Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

    Back Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg Choreographer and Co-Artistic Director of Toronto's Opera Atelier Courtesy of Toronto's Opera Atelier Joe Szekeres What a delightful chat I had recently with Choreographer and Co-Artistic Director of Toronto’s Opera Atelier, Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg. Last year I had the opportunity to interview her husband, partner, Director, and the other Co-Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski. The two of them were delightfully charming and engaging, and I could tell they were both very keen on having not only me but also many new audience members attend the opera this coming year. Many Torontonians who attend the opera call Marshall and Jeannette ‘royalty’. I now understand why. Jeannette is gracious, open, and articulate. Her passion and dedication to the opera and ballet were strongly evident during our conversation. The theme for this year’s Opera Atelier season is ‘Passion Returns’ which is an appropriate one. It is the company’s passion for returning to the theatre through productions of ‘Dido and Aeneas’, a passionate love story and ‘The Resurrection’, the story of the Passion of Christ. I began our conversation and asked her how she felt about being called Toronto’s ‘opera royalty’: “Well, we’re very flattered, to begin with. We have dedicated our lives to Baroque Opera, French Baroque in particular, and we will continue to bring Baroque Opera to Toronto and worldwide.” Like all the artists who have been asked this same question about the gradual return to the performing arts given the unknown about Covid, Jeannette did point out one thing clearly that I respected: “The media is not our best friend when it comes to things like that for sure.” However, Jeannette remains quite optimistic going forward. The subscription goal was modest but Opera Atelier had reached it. Now the company is selling single tickets. Opera Atelier has done quite a bit of reaching out to newer markets. For example, at the beginning of our conversation, Marshall also appeared on camera to say hello for a few moments before he dashed off to students from Catholic schools who were attending workshops today. Jeannette would join him once our conversation had concluded. The workshop involved some demonstrations and a very brief background on how dancing fits into Baroque Opera. Then to top it off, the workshop concluded with students getting up to dance the minuet. Jeannette was pleased there was full and active participation from these Grade 6-8 students who asked very intelligent questions along with active participation in the dance and who are eager to learn since the pandemic cut down on this type of experiential learning over the last two-plus years. What a terrific way to get twenty-first-century youth interested and involved in the world of opera where they can experience things up close first and ask questions about the art form and receive an immediate response in a small group. Jeannette also spoke of the work Opera Atelier does in Europe quite frequently. Productions there sold out and masks are optional and rarely worn. She recognized that North America is always a bit behind but will follow suit. Going forward, we must ensure people are not so frightened when they attend a live theatre production of any kind, especially older people. Yes, this fear does come from the media, but Lajeunesse Zingg confirms we have to start somewhere getting back, and this appears to be the first logical step going forward. Once again, she remains optimistic people will want to come for a good show, and there is no need to be fearful as we return. What a marvellous choice Opera Atelier has made in selecting ‘Dido and Aeneas’. The story itself is from Books 1-4 of Virgil’s ‘The Aeneid’. Dido, the Queen of Carthage, has been widowed and has sworn never to marry again. Aeneas has been fleeing his burning city of Troy with a group of men and lands there and he thinks perhaps it’s his destiny to re-found Troy. Dido’s courtiers are pushing her to marry Aeneas because he has fallen in love with her and she is with him. The courtiers feel it will strengthen their kingdom which at the moment is a little unstable after having lost her husband, the King. Of course, it is not Aeneas’s destiny as his destiny is to found Rome, but he doesn’t know that. The destiny is put into the form of witches who want to undo Dido in this particular telling of the story, so they trick Aeneas into thinking that Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, is telling him he has to move on after he has already committed himself to Dido. Aeneas comes to tell Dido he has to leave, and she is appalled and very angry. Aeneas says he will change his mind to defy the gods, but Dido says it’s too late and he has to go as she has been spurned and humiliated. Aeneas leaves and his men are happy to leave and get back out on the sea and find a new place. There’s a lot of dancing as the men are happy to return to the sea. Dido feels she has been so humiliated that she feels she has to take her own life. There is that very famous aria at the end of ‘Dido’s Remorse’ that many great opera singers have as part of their repertoire. And what is it about the beautiful art of opera and ballet that still fascinates and intrigues Jeannette: “I can’t imagine not being intrigued. It’s part of our identity and who we are. We live with culture and culture is part of life and opera has so much to offer in culture, music, acting, dance, sets, and costumes. It’s part of worldwide culture and it’s something that we want to have as part of our lives. It’s intriguing because there’s something new to find, always some new ideas to get from these older pieces from a different era where the thought processes were different from our [twenty-first century].” She still affirms the artists and the company still has so much to learn from these pieces. Even though Opera Atelier holds a huge repertoire, the artists will never be finished delving deeper into them ceaselessly. During the pandemic, OA did switch to film and there was a commission of one piece so the learning and growing are continuous. For some reason, there appears to be this misunderstanding that if one doesn’t have an extensive background or education in the study of opera and ballet, then it’s not worthwhile attending. Lajeunesse Zingg firmly disagrees. One doesn’t need to have any background to enjoy and appreciate Baroque Opera. It’s lively, it’s dramatic, the music is beautiful, and the costumes are beautiful. Baroque Opera is a feeling on every level. Why is it important for all audiences to attend, and that includes those who would like to attend but might be a tad reluctant: “It’s a big part of our culture”, explains Jeannette. “Culture and art are the highest point of humanity that we can achieve. Everybody should be able to be a part of that.” ‘Dido and Aeneas’ opens on October 20 and 22 at 7:30 pm and the final performance and October 23 at 2:30 pm at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. The performance running time is one hour. To learn more about Toronto’s Opera Atelier, visit operaatelier.com. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak

    Back 'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak Now onstage in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival Tim Nguyen Joe Szekeres An often deliciously wacky and sometimes unpredictable look at a Shakespearean tragedy that, at times, is just plain ol’ fun. There's an endearing quirkiness to 'Goblin: Macbeth'. Is it possible to have fun watching a Shakespearean tragedy? That’s quite an oxymoron. Anyway, I sure did. In this Ontario premiere, three goblins, Wug, Cragva and Moog, will perform ‘Macbeth’ to see if they can learn more about this Shakespeare fellow from their ‘Good Book’ - ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.’ They have read it from cover to cover and discover he knows a lot about goblins, fairies, monsters, wood nymphs and all creatures. Wug, Cragva and Moog also hope that in the performance of ‘Macbeth,’ they will learn more about human nature. Wug plays the central character and several other roles. Cragva plays Lady Macbeth and several different parts. Moog plays supporting characters and provides musical and sound accompaniment. Why have the Goblins selected ‘Macbeth’? It’s the shortest one in running time. That’s it for the plot. Don’t worry if you can’t recall anything about the play because the Goblins will give you three essential pieces of plot information to remember. Rebecca Northan directs with a signature panache and flair for misbehaviour with the text. She has the actors constantly on the move throughout the intimate Studio Theatre. Using improvisation, the macabre, the fantastic and the tragic moments of the Bard’s play, Northan and Bruce Horak adhere to the original text we all know. Nevertheless, their text sharply nails and pierces several contemporary references that made me laugh out loud. One of them was the current state of the Ontario education system. Another had to do with trying to understand all 100+ genders in our woke world today. A third deals with which pronoun people prefer to use. ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ thankfully never veers from its course to tell the story. The actors have given internal permission to each other to stop the plot action for a few minutes. If they halt the action, it better be for a good reason. There are good reasons for the halts. The actors make these stops work. Skillfully. First, they are having fun with the words and context of the scene. They know something about improvisation and when to permit themselves to use it. However, the three of them are not mere clowns. They remain acutely aware of what’s coming next and how that momentary improv can heighten interest in the next scene. Wug, Cragva and Moog never allow their playfulness to derail from telling the story. There are moments when all three poignantly heighten the tragedy of the moment. Thus, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ remains just plain ol’ good fun. Combine all this above and mix it in a cauldron of cool, nippy, and frosty night air. You have the makings of a terrific fall theatre evening outdoors and indoors. Part of the fun occurs a half hour before show time when the three pull up in a car and park with one wheel lodged over the curb outside the Studio Theatre. Their grand ghostlike entrance is initially mysterious, as it looks as if they might be coming to take the world over. They comically interact with the audience outside. The ensuing hilarity continues inside the Studio as the three begin to set up for tonight’s performance while mingling and interacting with the audience. Some ask politely for selfies, and these creatures are happy to oblige. Take a few minutes; sit back and watch the three do during the pre-show. It’s most entertaining. In her Director's Note, Northan makes an interesting comment about not knowing who any of the actors are in a production. She discourages the audience from seeking out their identity. Instead, allow the actors to work their magic on the audience and let their performance hit us in new ways about ‘Macbeth.’ What a novel idea! It works for me! Magnificently! I will respect what Northan asks and not seek out the identity of the players. (Side note: I know who they are, and if you are interested in cheating, go here: (https://www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items/rebecca-northan. ) The facial coverings by Composite Effects remain stunning. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. You can see the veins running through. True, the masks do appear ghastly at first, but that soon ebbs away, and they become a natural part of what we are witnessing in front. There is some give and take in the face when the actors speak. Philip Edwards’ costume designs are stark, subtle, futuristic reminders of the jet-black clothing worn by Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix.’ Anton deGroot’s specifically focused lighting effectively reveals an impending sense of doom throughout. These ‘unknown’ actors become masterful storytellers. They listen intently and never upstage each other. Their comic moments are beautifully timed, especially at one point when they ask Stage Manager Lili to turn on the spotlight. But, as Northan states in her Director’s Note: “The pairing of tragedy with humour, as Shakespeare intended, is a profoundly human impulse that highlights the horror, while allowing us to bear it.” This line speaks volumes when the audience learns Lady Macbeth dies. Someone gasped as if he/she/they weren’t expecting it. There was complete silence in the house. My eyes were fixed on Wug when he delivered Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech with tremendous dignity in remembering his wife - such tenderness and compassion. Final Comments: As a retired English Language and Literature teacher, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ challenged me to revisit why I chose to pursue an undergraduate degree long ago in the Arts and Humanities. I can now recall why - to appreciate the sound and meaning of words, either in print or hearing them spoken. The production is a terrific way to get young people to appreciate and enjoy the works and words of William Shakespeare. Be aware that some adult humour with language may be unsuitable for anyone under 16. Teachers, you should call the Box Office to see if there are matinees and if some wording might be re-phrased. For weekend matinee and evening performances, rush now to get tickets because I hear they're selling quickly. Running time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. (Make sure you go to the bathroom before) The production runs until October 28 in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival, 34 George Street, Stratford. For tickets, stratfordfestival.com or call 1-800-567-1600. A Spontaneous Theatre creation and part of the Meighen Forum GOBLIN: MACBETH Created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak Directed by Rebecca Northan Musician: Ellis Lalonde Costume Designer: Philip Edwards Masks: Composite Effects Props Designer: Hanne Loosen Original Lighting Designer: Anton DeGroot Stage Manager: Lili Beaudoin Performers: Wug, Cragva, Moog Previous Next

  • Musicals 'Pride & Prejudice' (sort of) after Jane Austen

    Back 'Pride & Prejudice' (sort of) after Jane Austen Now onstage at Toronto's CAA Theatre Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic Joe Szekeres “A cheeky, bodacious, and delightful ensemble. The production respectfully pokes entertaining fun at Jane Austen’s iconic novel.” Isobel McArthur’s tongue-in-cheek adaptation follows the lives of the five Bennett sisters as they each try to find a husband under the dutiful eyes of their mother. The sisters understand that they will become destitute and lose control over house ownership if they do not marry wealthy husbands. Each woman also begins to understand her duty and place within Regency society. We also see the love story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy play out in front of the audience. What makes McArthur’s story adaptation unique? These five women are servants in this upscale home. In her Director’s Programme Note, McArthur writes that ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is also set during the Napoleonic wars. While most men were off fighting, women made up for a disproportionate number of household servants. The five ladies play many roles in ‘sort of’ telling Austen’s story set in 1716 through modern twenty-first-century vernacular. I arrived at the theatre today not having read ‘Pride & Prejudice’ in my undergraduate years while studying for my Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. You may ask, “How can an English major not read a book by Jane Austen?” “I’ll tell you; I don’t know.” “But it’s true, I didn’t read it.” (Thanks to Tevye’s conversation with the audience in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ for this inspirational reference) Two things that didn’t destroy my attention towards ‘Pride & Prejudice’ (sort of): a) I could follow the story thanks to the colloquial language used in the dialogue. b) my guest today loves Austen’s novel. She was able to fill me in on a few amusing references I might not have connected with since I hadn’t seen the film with Colin Firth nor read the novel. Visually, the Regency era has been effectively captured thanks to Designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s design of the grand semi-circular staircase. The drawings of the book spines on the wall and each staircase step nicely suggest an upscale setting without having to show that we are in a wealthy, upscale manor. Simple white costumes suggest these ladies are servants within the house at the top of the show. As the story progresses, they throw on various accoutrements and become the various characters. Colin Grenfell’s lighting indicates where attention is to be focused for each scene. I’ve been commenting on sound design for several productions recently and continue stressing the importance of hearing the dialogue and the lyrics of songs if applicable. Once again, thanks to Michael John McCarthy and Niamh Gaffney for aptly ensuring that sound quality is an essential component. ‘Pride & Prejudice’ (sort of) is an extremely smart comedy, making it a great deal of fun to watch. Thanks to Directors Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey’s observant attention and this cheeky, bodacious, and delightful girl power ensemble of dynamite ladies, some wonderfully staged comic moments made me laugh out loud. Before the show begins, the ladies immediately break the fourth wall and enter the house, chatting, kibitzing, and joking with the audience. Yours truly had the top of his bald pate sprayed and wiped clean with a (hopefully) clean rag. If you are in the aisle seat, take notice that you may become part of the staged fun. And if you are, relish the moment. Remember, it’s the Christmas and holiday season. We all need to smile and laugh. Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography remains simple but nicely timed to the vocal numbers. There were moments when I couldn’t help but make a few favourable comparisons to ‘Six’ playing just a few blocks over. In both productions, the choreography aptly reflects the internal emotions the characters are experiencing. Some theatre aficionados may struggle with the idea of the continuous breaking of the fourth wall throughout a live performance. I get it that the magic of the theatre involves transporting the audience away for a couple of hours to another place and time. In this ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ the continued breaking is of necessity, especially in the staged karaoke numbers of twentieth century pop songs. They offer a biting and funny commentary on a plot event. The riding of Willy made me double-take, but man, oh, man, did I ever laugh. These five women are the main reasons to see the show over the holiday season and into the new year. It’s sensational ensemble work. The ladies listen carefully to each other and respond appropriately to the jokes and double entendres. Absolute hilarity and joy in the CAA Theatre. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission. ‘Pride & Prejudice (sort of) runs until January 21, 2024, at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets: mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. PRIDE & PREJUDICE (sort of) by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen Directors: Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey Musical Supervisor: Michael John McCarthy Choreographer: Emily Jane Boyle Sound Designers: Michael Mohn McCarthy and Niamh Gaffney for AUTOGRAPH Designer: Ana Inés Jabares-Pita Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell Comedy Director: Jos Houben Performers: Ruth Brotherton, Christina Gordon, Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, Olivia Dowd, Grace Liston Previous Next

  • Profiles Dan Mousseau

    Back Dan Mousseau "The Theatre is a soul-filling act" Chris Frampton Joe Szekeres A 2015 Toronto Metropolitan University theatre graduate, actor Dan Mousseau is preparing with a big-name cast for the premiere of The Howland Company’s ‘Prodigal’ written and directed by Paolo Santalucia, produced in association with Crow's Theatre. The production opens on Friday, February 24 at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre. I’ve also seen some of Dan’s other theatrical work this season. He appeared in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Campbell House in December 2022 and in ‘Three Sisters’ at Hart House in November 2022. Some of his other work includes the upcoming ‘The Seagull’ for Soulpepper. Other productions at Soulpepper: It’s a Wonderful Life (2016), Innocence Lost (2018) Other Theatre: Perfect Wedding (Thousand Island’s) Film/TV: Frankie Drake Mysteries, Workin’ Moms (CBC), and Tempted By Danger (Lifetime). About a year after completing his theatre degree, Dan attended the Soulpepper Academy to complete their two-year training program. “The learning is ongoing”, he candidly stated. “It always is whether you’re in a workshop to help develop a play, develop your own work, or even attend an acting class. I don’t think it ever really stops. It’s a cool career because you’re always growing when it comes to the challenges an actor can do.” Dan is thrilled to be back to performing in the live theatre even though Covid’s embrace still tightly enwraps the community. During the pandemic, he found it extremely hard to take a step away as he missed what he called the ‘ritualistic’ bonds of connecting with other cast members and ultimately an audience in front who have come to hear and watch a story unfold. Mousseau calls the theatre ‘a soul-filling act’ (and he doesn’t consider himself religious). He’s feeling hopeful in watching the theatre community return with such renewed energy and a real hunger for people wanting to come back to what it was before. He acknowledges it is a tenuous time for the theatre as there is the business end of it. Audience numbers are starting to climb back up cautiously. However, there’s a cathartic feeling about being back for Dan. He likens it to a mental health practice as he feels everyone who attends and participates in the theatre needs some kind of release from the strongly felt pandemic restraints. Although there are still cautions in most of the houses where audience members are strongly encouraged to wear masks (and some companies stating masks will be worn), PRODIGAL will have Mask Mandated performances on Tuesdays and Sundays. Our conversation then swung around to the rehearsal process and preparation for ‘Prodigal’. “Rehearsals are going so, so very well. I don’t know why I’m so very superstitious (and Dan knocks on the table). It has been such a trip.” This is the first new play Dan has ever worked on, especially with Paolo as writer and director who Mousseau firmly stated: “has been amazing.” Mousseau has been in awe of Paolo’s endurance for rehearsals, re-writes, and cuts as he has established clear guideposts regarding the story of ‘Prodigal’: “We’re in really good shape at this point. Paolo has made things feel so tremendously collaborative. I’m very proud of my friend. He’s a creative rocket ship. I'm in the most talented cast. I'm so honoured to be working among these actors. And it's their bravery and work that has made this collaborative spirit of rehearsals so fruitful." With a cheeky grin and laugh, Mousseau said Paolo better keep hiring him for future gigs: “I’ll hitch my wagon to his cart if he’ll have me.” ‘Prodigal ‘follows the return home of Edmund Clark (Mousseau), the open-wound eldest son who has been estranged from his family for the last five years. Edmund makes a surprise homecoming with a new acquaintance and everything gets turned upside down. Without giving away too much of the plot, Mousseau added the story centres around this very wealthy, privileged Canadian family with many pivotal turning points in their trajectory. An engagement party night for one of their sons takes place quickly gets thrown off the rails. Another family is also involved. Mousseau says there’s a microcosm of the interplay of privilege, forgiveness, and (mis)communication that plays into the broader context of the Clark family that just can’t connect, can’t talk as they are so distant. Dan says there’s a great deal of yearning and pain in this distance between the family members in their inability to see each other for the cost of privilege and also those who don’t have that sort of privilege. “It’s funny as tragedy is,” Dan said with a smile. “Audiences will be laughing one moment and possibly wiping away a tear in the next.” For Dan, ‘Prodigal’ is such an important play for audiences to see. What’s really important about this play is twofold for him. There’s an important and meaningful conversation for him about the intersectionality between the experience of a queer person in privilege and the reckoning of how society has been built: “The more we talk about it, the more we see these experiences on stage, the less mystery, the less ignorance, and the less fear there will be. There is also the reality that people have very different experiences. Even two people who identify as queer are going to have two different experiences depending on the context of their lives and their families.” As an actor, what are some of the messages Dan hopes audiences will take away with them at the end of ‘Prodigal’? He first jokingly said: “Go to therapy” and we shared a good laugh over that comment. For Mousseau, ‘Prodigal’ is the story of a family but also the cost of parenting and the ways unchecked trauma can move through a family and affect the community. He would love audiences to think about their relationships with each other in their families and themselves in light of some very difficult questions demanded of us in these last few years as a result of the pandemic. Dan’s final comment – he hoped audiences would walk away from the theatre and consider there’s more to life than the next paycheque. There are more important things in life than just having a beautiful home. When one lets these things fall to the wayside, there is a cost. ‘Prodigal’ is a story of meeting each other and seeing each other as a community and in community in order to heal. Performances of ‘Prodigal’ begin February 21 and run until March 12 in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010. Previous Next

  • Dance Fall for Dance North ARISE: 2022 Signature Programme

    Back Fall for Dance North ARISE: 2022 Signature Programme Toronto's Meridian Hall Front Street Erica Cheah Guest Writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator Dance, dance, and more dance! But not just dance, a multimedia feast for the senses. That’s what’s on full display at Toronto’s Meridian Hall until Oct. 8. Fall For Dance North is Toronto’s Premier International Dance Festival. Back live for its eighth season (the first since 2019) FFDN has curated a 2-and-a-half-hour show packed with an eclectic, international buffet of dance, film, and live music. The brainchild of Artistic Director, Ilter Ibrahimof, FFDN offers mixed bills that include performances by large-scale local and international companies for a supremely affordable ticket price of, get this, $15!! Unbelievable! The aim of FFDN is the “whet Toronto’s dance appetite and inspire audiences to seek out more dance throughout the year”. Well, after attending the other night, I’m hungry for more! The show brought five distinct offerings to the stage, most world or Canadian premiers – an enthralling tap number with live music, a comedic short dance film, a Hawaiian ancestral dance, another short film accompanied by a scintillating 13-piece string ensemble and an evocative show-stopping piece by students of the National Ballet School! Every piece was set on a bare stage with nothing but props/instruments and simple lighting to frame the performances. Act one started with the world premiere of Canadian choreographer Dianne Montgomery’s ‘Softly Losing, Softly Gaining’. The six-member troupe, accompanied on stage by musicians Bryden Baird on trumpet and Drew Jurecka on violin, gave an energetic, nuanced and highly stylized 30-minute routine. This cast dressed in bright shirts, pants and suits (Cori Giannotta, David Lafleur, Jonathan Morin, Veronica Simpson, Kai Somerville and Tarra Tresham) was mesmerizing. With impressionistic-style projections by Todd Kowalski and warm hues by lighting designer, Siobhan Sleath, these happy hoofers were synchronized and precise with wonderful shading in their crisp and clean tap sounds. I was often so caught up in their dance story and conversations, I forgot they were tapping. I couldn’t stop smiling! Next up was a silly 15-minute dance film called, “…Savannah?”, directed, choreographed, and starring Zui Gomez, co-starring Alicia Delgado, first presented as part of FFDN’s inaugural short dance film series, 8-Count. While stylistically shot in one-take in an empty loft apartment, the duo seemed to just be kicking around and having high-energy fun but without much point or purpose. If anything, the film served as a much-needed “filler” for the backstage crew to set up the next performance. The curtain rose again to reveal the 28-member company of Hawaii’s Kuma Hula of Kamehameha High School and Ka Leo O Laka/Ka Hikina O Ka La performing “Kau Hea A Hiiaka”. This Canadian premiere by choreographer Kaleo Trinidad featured Hawaiian ancestral costumes (designed by Trinidad), drums and powerful traditional meles (songs), supported by a video projection with a conservationist message – nature in the Pacific Isles is being destroyed by pollution. Like the ancient ancestors, we need to be the curators of our planet’s rebirth. I found the storytelling in these tribal dances – especially the drumming sticks - fascinating. The group moved with military precision and had powerful choral work. However, many of the beats were repetitive and hypnotic and caused more than a few heads near me to nod off. Kudos to the impeccable organization of stage manager Janelle Rainville for having props, instruments and cast members glide on and off the stage so magically. Act 2 started with yet another world premiere of dance film, “Zipangu” (Marco Polo’s word for Japan), directed and choreographed by Indigenous artist Michael Greyeyes, with live music provided by Ensemble Soundstreams. In the film, we see a semi-nude single dancer (Ceinwen Gobert), painted gold, representing a waking mythical Japanese Goddess. Her modernistic dance stylings with wild gyrations and sharp, staccato movements evoke transformation, a portrait of earth itself. Below the screen in stark lighting was a sensational 13-piece string ensemble (violin, cello, double bass) playing a haunting, bellicose original score by Claude Vivier under the nuanced direction of conductor David Fallis. These talented musicians had an impeccably balanced sound. Close your eyes and you could hear the power of a full orchestra. I was connecting more with them than the rather monotonous visuals on the screen above. The program ended sensationally with 146 professional young students of our own National Ballet School brilliantly performing choreographer Jera Wolfe’s inspiring and explorative piece, “Arise”. This 30-minute lyrical-ballet routine featured highly disciplined 12–19-year-olds pouring their very souls into thrilling storytelling and exploring how, according to the playbill notes, “collaboration and support for one another enable us to rise up and face challenges in our lives.” Dressed in simple grey T-shirts and shorts designed by Robyn Clarke, these brilliant young artists moulded their bodies into exquisite shapes and moving waves with exquisite principal dancers in pas de deux and pas de trois silently landing their jumps with ease. The seamless fluidity of movement, precision, focus, athleticism, and flawless technique had me and the entire audience transfixed. Lighting designer Simon Rossiter’s use of dim lighting on the ensemble while bathing principals in warm side glows, perfectly enhanced the movement. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so emotionally invested in such beautiful theatre. Hats off to the genius of choreographer Wolfe for his stunning use of the expansive Meridian stage. Moving and placing 146 bodies into intricate formations in any space is no easy feat. I also can’t imagine how stage manager Jennifer Lee managed to corral all those kids into first positions! Brava! This number alone was worth the already-low price of admission. I had never heard of Fall for Dance North prior to last week. After witnessing this celebration of their eighth season, I regret missing their first seven! I can’t wait for next year’s festival. Previous Next

  • Dramas “First Métis Man of Odesa” by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova

    Back “First Métis Man of Odesa” by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova Now onstage at Toronto's Distillery District in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova Guest reviewer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, adjudicator, arts educator VOICE CHOICE “A wonder in its sheer simplicity.” Soulpepper Theatre, in the heart of Toronto’s Distillery district, hosted a wonderful evening celebrating all things Ukraine. Not only was a fantastic play on offer but an entire evening celebrating the heritage and crisis facing the Ukrainian people. The theatre’s atrium was transformed into the Odesa Bazaar replete with Ukrainian artists and artisans showcasing and selling their eclectic offerings of hand-crafted candles, stained glass, fine art, kids’ books, jewellery, beaded embroidery, charity organizations – all helping to raise funds and awareness for the plight of war-torn Ukrainian families. After the play, the audience was invited to remain for a post-show reception and experience Ukrainian Heritage Night, a free event celebrating authentic Ukrainian cuisine, music, and community. The Bazaar and Heritage Night were memorable bookends to a heartwarming play full of equal parts charm, wit, angst, tumult, and hope as a young couple captivatingly share their real-life love story set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “First Métis Man of Odesa” is a multi-Dora Mavor Moore award winner and was the most popular touring show in the country last year. It’s easy to see why. It’s relevant and engaging with an easily relatable narrative of the transcendent resilience of love defying the odds. Edmonton-Born Matt Mackenzie, a Métis playwright travelled from Canada to Ukraine to workshop one of his plays. Native-born Mariya Khomutova was one of the actors in that performance, and their romance blossomed between rehearsals and after shows. Together they recount their burgeoning romance, meeting the parents, getting married on the banks of the Black Sea, leaving Odesa for Edmonton, life in a new country, becoming parents, homesickness, relationships and what it means to be an artist in a time of crisis and what ultimately makes their bonds unbreakable. The play just works! It’s 90 uninterrupted minutes of pure joy and unencumbered vulnerability. Not only are the performers instantly likeable, but their storytelling is superb, their chemistry as a real-life couple undeniable! Many of the best scenes in the show are so deeply improbable (early conversations, dates, and marriage ceremony) or so straightforwardly honest (travelling during COVID, pregnancy, war), one wouldn’t believe it as a work of fiction; but as the true stories they are, they triumph. The simple set - a theatre within a theatre, with dramatic red curtains and glorious textiles inspired by Khomutova’s Ukrainian and MacKenzie’s Métis heritage — is perfect. Their stories are told with the help of two white chairs, a creative testament to director Lianna Makuch’s considerable talent. Matthew Mackenzie, Artistic Director of Punctuate! Theatre, an average guy in conservative grey pants and shirt, proclaims before the show begins that he’s not an actor, but a playwright as if apologizing upfront that we weren’t getting an experienced performer, rather someone making his acting debut! Despite his disclaimer he was thoroughly delightful and authentic. He has wonderful comic timing, heart-felt sympathy, good physicality, and a clear connection to his scene partner. Isn’t that what every actor strives for? He’s a natural. Mariya Khomutova is absolutely lovely as Matthew’s life partner. In simple grey skirt and blouse, she’s very much at home on the stage. Like Matthew, I found it difficult to think of her as an “actor”, so natural an unforced is her performance. She fully utilizes her excellent vocals and engaging storytelling ability with a twinkle in her eye and more than a few loving gazes to Matthew. Khomutova and MacKenzie are experts at drawing the humour out of every possible moment, building their stories around the most incongruous of details and adding to each other’s lines with perfectly timed bits of banter. They are each other’s perfect foil and perfect partner. But it’s Lianna Makuch’s inspired, respectful, and innovative directing that catapult this production skyward. She makes the most out of the minimalist set and brilliantly creates vivid images by simply changing the positions of the two chairs. Angled to the left and Matt and Mariya are having their first date, to the right, we’re meeting their unseen parents for the first time. When the chair is toppled it becomes Mariya’s hiding place in the rubble of a war-ravaged town, then the handlebars on a bicycle. Every part of the stage is used to full effect, we never doubting where we are or how we should feel. Her clever use of the moveable centre upstage column and suspended panels is sheer brilliance. Incredibly, this is her directorial debut. I see a very bright future for this emerging artist and storyteller. A production’s sound design needs to enhance each scene with appropriate music and sound, enhancing mood and crating auditory “images”. Edmonton’s award-winning composer and sound designer Aaron Macri’s and audiovisual group Daraba, work incredibly immersive magic. Daraba’s original scores and stings are wonderfully thematic while Macri’s ethereal drones and sound effects guide us from the joy of a beach wedding to a Russian attack on Mariupol, from airports to baby cribs. Soft and innocuous and booming and intrusive as the scene required. This team’s wonderfully understated work provides maximum impact. Projections has always been a bit dubious for me. I’ve seen them used to dreadful effect, washing out actors' faces, or being too washed out to see the images being projected. However, they can also be used very effectively to provide context, location, and mood. Amelia Scott’s vivid lighting and projection design is proof positive of the power of simplicity. Rather than projecting solely onto a back wall, Scott creates depth and dimension by projecting video images and animations simultaneously onto the arched proscenium resulting in an immersive tapestry that, like the music and sound, beautifully enhances but never distracts. We are taken to dozens of locations across years and continents in brilliant detail. Lighting design utilizes rich colours, shades of grey, a couple of spots ensuring that there wasn’t an inch of the stage in darkness when it wasn’t supposed to be. Kudos to the use of sharp geometric projections on the stage floor to denote the perimeter of a queen-sized bed. Dazzling! “First Métis Man of Odessa” is a wonder in its sheer simplicity. One wonders how, with the war raging on, this couple can expose these open wounds of grief, terror, and trauma to an audience of strangers every night. But their co-written script and the intensity of their shared performances make a bold statement; these moments are too important to forget, these stories too impossible not to share. Particularly laudable is the loving care with which the production team nurtured this narrative, lovingly elevating it to a story for our time. Khomutova and MacKenzie are resolved to return to Ukraine and perform this play in Odesa. On that remarkable day, their son Ivan will celebrate that his parents’ love story will have been told in both his homelands. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. Soulpepper and Punctuate! Theatre present “First Métis Man of Odessa” written and performed by Matthew Mackenzie and Mariya Khomutova. Directed by Lianna Makuch Previous Next

  • Profiles Colton Curtis

    Back Colton Curtis Looking Ahead Self-portrait Joe Szekeres When I saw Colton Curtis on stage a few years as the elder Billy Elliot at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, I knew the Canadian musical theatre world was in VERY GOOD HANDS. He is an extraordinary dancer and artist who stopped ‘Billy Elliot’ in an exciting solo dance piece that was captivating and mesmerizing to watch. Exquisitely performed. Colton also appeared in Stratford’s production of ‘A Chorus Line’ with a string of other artists who commanded the Festival Stage with unabated enthusiasm. Incredible work to watch. Additional work in which he appeared at Stratford: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, ‘The Music Man’ and ‘HMS Pinafore.” I asked him off the cuff how he will be at his first curtain call after the pandemic was lifted. His words: “I’ll be all smiles and professional during the bows onstage, but I know backstage I will be a weeping, blubbering mess.” Thanks for your honesty, Colton, as I’m sure many audience members will experience the same emotions as you. On top of his work as an artist, Colton is also a photographer and launched his business in July 2020. I’ve seen his extraordinary work in some headshots of other artists whom I’ve interviewed for this series. From his website: “Colton began performing at an early age in his home province of New Brunswick. Upon graduation from high school, he moved to Ontario to attend his Bachelor of Musical Theatre in the Sheridan College program where he received the Brian Lineman triple threat award for each year he attended. Between his years at Sheridan, he spent summers working for the Charlottetown Festival, as well as training with Florence Ballet Company in Florence, Italy, and performing with the Finger Lakes Music Theatre Festival in New York State.” We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you, Colton, for your time and for sharing your thoughts and adding to the discussion: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. It goes without saying that it’s changed a lot. I’ve personally changed the province I live in. Currently, I’m now in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I was in Stratford until October. I’ve done a re-shuffle of things to make the past year work. My understanding of the world maybe hasn’t changed but has become a lot clearer because I’ve actually had time to think about things. I’ve spent a lot of time this year learning, on learning, thinking about the world I want to create and the world I want to work in, and the art I want to create. Now that we’re into Year 2 of this pandemic, as a young adult I’ve just grown up a lot. With a lot of time that has passed, I do feel like a different person when I last stepped on stage in 2019. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre business been altered and changed? My perception hasn’t changed a whole lot but the business itself has changed immensely which is incredible. This year has given the time for people to step back and look what we’ve been working in, the environment we’ve been working in, and for people to use their voice. Let me preface by saying that I love the theatre community. I think this is great opportunity for a lot of those voices that have never been heard in a long time to get the platform to speak out about things that drastically needed to change within the entertainment industry. I think we’re going to see theatre made differently which is exciting. I love big Broadway type and style of musicals that shine and sparkle. When we return after this pandemic, I think we’re going to see things pulled and pared back; smaller cast sizes at least for a bit until theatre companies get the means to create these big budget shows again. As an ensemble dancer that is terrifying for me when I first came to that conclusion. My career for the past five years at Stratford was as an ensemble dancer. I was at The Shaw Festival understudying and dancing. It’s something scary to think about as theatre companies no longer have the money to create these big shows. When Stratford announced their summer season with cast sizes of four or five people doing a cabaret in a tent, it was, “Oh yeah, right, this is what we’re going to do now.” In order to get back up and running. That side of the business has changed, but it’s exciting that we’re slowly seeing people get the opportunities to voice their concern to see new people step into power positions in theatre companies, and for more people be given the opportunities to create art that we didn’t see before. We see many theatre companies committing to anti-racist policies and turning around the people who are in these director positions, directors’ offices positions. I think this is all great, but we still have a long way to go. It’s the beginning. We’ve had the time for the call to action for the whole community to step things up. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the people and the community, but I really miss working. I miss the first day when you crack open the score and start learning the music. I miss the discipline that it takes physically in order to get into shape to do a show, and the stamina required to do a two-hour musical. I don’t think a lot of people understand that to be a musical theatre performer is akin to being like an Olympian athlete. I’m not tooting my own horn. Just imagine what it’s like for those who want to be in the Olympics. That same discipline is necessary and required. I really miss that stamina of working so hard. And of course, we’re trying to keep that up in our own ways whether through dance classes, voice lessons. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? Hmmm…I mean I’ll never take for granted again the feeling of being on stage with thirty other cast mates in front of an audience of 2000 people. That is a feeling that I will hold on to dearly. That’s not to say that I never did take that feeling for granted, as there’s no feeling like it that can replace it. That is something I will hold on to dearly forever. It’s like a drug. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. One thing specifically that I really want to see changed when we get back to the industry is young adults stepping into leadership roles of positions and power within theatre companies, whether it be as Associate Artistic Directors. I feel like that is something that is missing a lot of the time in places where I’ve worked at least. We constantly hear that theatre is a dying art all the time. Let me just say that I don’t think like that at all. Well, if people say this then get some young people who know what other young people are like and are attracted to do and put them in a leadership role to create something that will be irresistible to the next generation. This is something that I get so frustrated about a lot of the time. This is something I want to see happen. Take a look at Jayme Armstrong and Kimberely Rampersad. Jayme received a Woman of Distinction award in the arts community and Kimberly is the Shaw Festival’s Associate Artistic Director. That is exciting. That is so awesome. More of that, please. Oh, I don’t want to sound ageist, (and Colton and I share a good laugh) but on the record I think those with experience in the industry have done a wonderful job, but we need to stop hearing theatre is a dying art form. There are so many young people who aspire to do this so it can’t be dying as there’s still a need for it. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. I love this question. I feel like I have so much still to accomplish. I love what my career has been so far but a lot of it has been dancing in the ensemble of musicals which I love, but it is never what I thought my dream in theatre was going to be. It’s never what I saw for myself. I still have so much I want to accomplish. I want to create new things. I want to break the mould of what we think theatre can be a little bit and challenge audiences. I’m creating this inter multi-disciplinary show with James Kudelka, a former Artistic Director of the National Ballet. I’ve always wanted to do something where I have created a hybrid between a play and ballet because I really think they are similar art forms actually. I’ve been working on this, so it’s been keeping me going. It’s through ‘Talk is Free’ Theatre so I’ve been thankful for that opportunity with Artistic Director, Arkady Spivak. He is really shaking things up which is incredible in giving the permission to do exactly whatever they want so I feel really lucky that he has given me that opportunity. So, Stay Tuned for what’s in the works there. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. As an artist, there’s probably something interesting there in this possible tsunami of Covid themed plays. Artists have had a varied experience as to what this time has looked like. I don’t think anybody wants to talk about this time of Covid right now. I don’t think anyone wants necessarily to spend a couple of hours per night what we just lived through because it’s not been lovely, it’s not been the best time. I don’t think audiences want too either. Who knows, maybe in twenty years time or so, that’s something we can look back on and remember. There has been some really cool art that has been made during this time that we’ll be able to look back on and appreciate. Near future??? NO!!!!!, but in a few years, maybe. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Hmmmmm…..you know what, my hope for when people watch me perform is that they are transcended into a different realm. I think about that a lot. As we move forward out of this pandemic, I also want people to be inspired by my creativity. I’ve thought about this a little bit. I want to change the way people think, and I want to inspire them by my creativity in the ways I do that. Theatre was made to entertain and to escape. When I perform, I want people to get sucked into whatever world I’m in, and for them to leave their seats even for a few seconds. Who knows? That could change, but it’s funny, you know? Will people even remember? I don’t know. To learn more about Colton, visit his personal web page: www.coltoncurtis.com . Instagram: @coltonccurtis. To see Colton’s photography: @coltoncurtis.jpeg. Previous Next

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