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  • Home | Our Theatre Voice

    W elcome to Our Theatre Voice Welcome to Our Theatre Voice. It is important to be visible and remain visible in sharing with all of you what’s coming up in the world of theatre. If you have questions, comments or concerns, please email us: ourtheatrevoice@gmail.com 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

  • Unique Pieces Article L’AMOUR TELLE UNE CATHÉDRALE ENSEVELIE

    Back L’AMOUR TELLE UNE CATHÉDRALE ENSEVELIE Presented by Théâtre Français de Toronto (TFT) and Crow’s Theatre at the Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre Credit: Christophe Pean Joe Szekeres A unique hybrid production of opera, theatre and concert that brought varied responses from audience members regarding the timely theme of immigration to Western countries. Théâtre Français de Toronto (TFT) and Crow’s Theatre co-present a unique live production that brought a variety of responses on this opening night from audience members right at the curtain call and upon exiting Harbourfront’s Simon Fleck Theatre. ‘L’Amour telle une cathédrale ensevelie’ (Love Like a Buried Cathedral), according to author and director Guy Régis Jr’s programme note, details two story items. We are first introduced to a mother (Nathalie Vairac) and father (Frederic Fachena) who exchange extremely harsh words and accusations against each other. It’s not apparent immediately why they are arguing. But when it does become evident (spoiler: and it’s the worst nightmare of every parent), it’s clear why there is so much shouting, anger, and fear. The ‘Intrepid 33-year-old son’ has tried to cross the sea from Haiti to come to Québec to be with his mother and father. We learn that the parents are immigrants to Canada (the second story item). At their immigration, the parents were unable to bring their son. However, everything had been taken care of to prepare for his arrival. However, this story is only one example of the tragedies surrounding the many departures from countries that are losing their sons and daughters. Guy Régis Jr. clarifies that immigration to countries to begin a new life of freedom does not automatically guarantee that will happen. Some who travel to Western countries (Canada included) never make it safely. Quite the challenge to stage, indeed. Visually, the production is quite striking at the preshow. Set Designer Velica Panduru, Lighting Designer Marine Levey and Video of Dimitri Petrovic create a mysterious and unsettling atmosphere. Amos Coulanges sits on stage right in shadow and beautifully underscores classical instrumental guitar music that is lovely to hear. There is a see-through scrim at the back upon which the varied undulation of waves can be seen. It looks treacherous to be on those waters, which becomes a potent reminder of those on the ships coming to the new countries. Upon the second level, I could see at least one chair through the scrim. There will be some story action taking place here when the show begins. The story is performed in French and Creole with English surtitles. It has been a long time since my undergraduate years studying French, but I persevere because I’m doing my best to return to working language knowledge. I’m thankful the surtitles are there for the most part. When they weren’t there, I was utterly lost. That posed a problem for me and, I’m sure, for many in the audience who did not know French. This occurred during the ‘Les Voix du Coeur’ choir singing beautiful harmonies. I recognized a few words, but I could not understand everything. Because of that, I felt I’d missed much of what Guy Régis Jr. wanted me to know about the stories of the migrants to new worlds. Was there a technical glitch because the subtitles reappeared after the choir left the stage? This opening night production affected many people at the end when Nathalie Vairac, as the mother, stepped forward and voiced her anger, sorrow, and frustration at what had occurred. I could hear quiet sobs behind me. Obviously, the story had an extraordinary effect on these individuals. Perhaps these people might have had a personal connection to others in their lives who are migrants. I have not, but I saw a story that made me want to feel for those with connections. Losing a child at any age is unthinkable for any parent, and that most certainly comes across in the poetic words of Régis’ text. And herein lies the other staging issue regarding Régis’ direction that didn’t make me connect to these characters. I could hear snippets from audience members on my way out. There is little to no tonal quality of the peaks and valleys involved in the parents' arguments at the beginning and the mother’s soliloquy at the end. It’s a great deal of shouting all the time. Again, I get it that arguments and tragedy make people respond on varied emotional levels. But this is theatre we are watching. We want to ensure that we are connecting to our audiences. We don’t want to stop listening to the characters. The shouting didn’t connect me to their plight and what had happened in their lives. I so desperately wanted to do just that. But I couldn’t. Perhaps the creative team might take a look at these areas once again. Running time: approximately one hour and 30 minutes with no interval. The production plays on February 24 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, February 25 at 1:30 pm at the Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces

    Unique Pieces 'De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail' The World Premiere Click Here 'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak Click Here 'Jack: A Beanstalk Panto' (The Naughty Version) Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan Click Here 'Slava's Snowshow' created and performed by Slava Polunin Click Here 'The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes' Click Here 'Three Sisters' Adapted from Chekhov and Directed by Paolo Santalucia Click Here 'First Métis Man of Odesa' by Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova Click Here 'In Seven Days' by Jordi Mand. World Premiere of a comedy about death Click Here 'Migraaaants: There's Too Many People on this Damn Boat' by Matei Visniec with translation by Nick Adwe Click Here 'Sweeter' by Alicia Richardson Click Here 'The Tragedy of King Lear' by William Shakespeare Click Here 'Trace' by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King Click Here

  • News 'Titanic, The Musical' on November 16 and 19 at Cineplex Theatres

    Back 'Titanic, The Musical' on November 16 and 19 at Cineplex Theatres 'A poignant re-telling with class, dignity and suspense." Courtesy of Cineplex Joe Szekeres Musical theatre lovers can rejoice on November 16 and 19, 2023. Cineplex will screen ‘Titanic, the Musical’ in cinemas for the first time. The multi-Tony Award-winning production (including Best Musical) was captured live on stage in its UK tour. It celebrates the 26th anniversary of the Broadway production and the 10th anniversary of the show’s London premiere. A point of interest - James Cameron’s film version also played in cinemas at the time of the Broadway premiere, but there is no connection between the two art forms. During the final hours of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic was on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City when it collided with an iceberg. This quarter-mile ship that was deemed unsinkable slowly sank. This event is classified as one of the most tragic disasters of the twentieth century, with 1500 lives lost at sea of men, women, and children. The musical focuses on the aspirations of the unsuspecting ship’s passengers from first, second and third class. The first-class passengers discuss wanting to leave lasting legacies. Second-class passengers imagine they too can join the lifestyles of the wealthy, while third-class passengers just dream of wanting a better life in America. What’s fascinating again about the Titanic’s story is the class system and the immigrants who came to North America. Let’s consider our grandparents and parents – we are all connected to the immigrant story. I was fortunate to have seen the 1997 Broadway production, which included theatre artists Michael Cerveris, David Garrison, Brian d’Arcy James, Ted Sperling, and Victoria Clark. When I received a notice that the show was filmed and presented in a cinematic format, my first thought was, why? Outside of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the show’s London premiere and the 26th Broadway anniversary, was there a particular reason for doing it? The show has made its rounds in the community theatre/touring theatre circuit; is there anything unique outside that? This filmed touring production answers that question. With ticket prices soaring out of reach for some live theatre shows, ‘Titanic, the Musical’ makes sense for budget-conscious theatregoers. Arguably, it’s not an authentic live theatre experience since some might lean to the reality that film distances its audiences from the immediate live action. That doesn’t matter in this case in seeing this stylishly filmed production. There’s a great deal to enjoy about it. For one, the film captures facial reactions and responses from the characters, whether in song or dialogue. How often have we attended a theatre production sitting up in what is known as the ‘heavens’ only to see tiny figures moving about on the stage? Yes, the moment's immediacy and electric excitement cannot be recaptured again – can we all recall our first time seeing Lord Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’? But there’s more to enjoying the experience and making personal connections to the story. In the case of ‘Titanic, the Musical,’ the film captures a great deal that enormous live theatre houses cannot do. Audiences can once again hear Tony Award winner Maury Yeston’s lush, dulcet, and haunting Tony Award-winning original Music Score in stereo sound in a large screening room. Vocal arrangements are heavenly, especially the final moment when Mr. and Mrs. Strauss choose to remain on board the ship. A bonus is the pleasing, impeccable sound balance between the orchestra and the singers. Every single lyric of Mr. Yeston’s resonates clearly. Peter Stone’s Story and Book remain charming and poignant. Thom Southerland directs the UK tour, with Austin Shaw directing for the screen. Their compassionate vision and staging of the events still pull at the heartstrings as they have captured the essence of natural, credible people. I felt for these characters again and reached for the Kleenex to dry my eyes. David Woodhead’s set design functionally re-created the visual setting of the doomed ship. His costume designs are faithful recreations of the period. Recently, I spoke on the phone with Maury Yeston (‘Nine,’ ‘Grand Hotel’). He calls himself a cineaste, along with loving the theatre. He calls the film: ‘an astonishing accomplishment in filmmaking.”: “It [the film] captures every single face the size of a movie screen. You see every exquisite intimate expression on the actors’ faces from the most subtle wink of the eye to the curl of the lip that you could never see on the stage…What a gift (director Thom Southerland and the creative team) have given us…The performances of the actors are spontaneous, brilliant and haunting.” When I asked Maury why 2023 audiences should revisit this world-renowned story, he said that some may not have seen it and want to experience it themselves. He then turned my questions around as audiences might wonder what kind of a maniac he was for even considering developing the story. Yeston points to history first to answer my question. In 1912, the world was at the apex of the glory of British engineering of commanding the seas, the maritime movement and construction in the world. Why wouldn’t there be a dream of wanting to construct a ship that would be deemed unsinkable as a sign of that glory? That dream is no different from Jonas Salk’s dream of developing a vaccine for polio. In contemporary times, musicals are written because they inspire and elevate and can show us the best of people as they dream. Ergo, in 1995-96, as he was thinking about the possible subject matter for a musical, Yeston marvelled at the heroism of the Titanic’s story. It brought together a reconciliation of a contradiction – that man is the measure of all things, that man is the thinker. There is also the contradiction that man is an infinitesimally insignificant mote in the universe compared to the infinite size of the galaxy. The Titanic’s story brings together this contradiction. Ironically, in Maury’s consideration of this decision, another historical event occurred – the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up – and it was his AHA moment when he compared it to the Titanic. That same event has just been repeated. There can be a failure when people dream, but they are still worthy of dreams. The poor souls who gave their lives onboard the Titanic and the Challenger to advance the human race must be acknowledged. The reason 2023 audiences are to go and see ‘Titanic, the Musical?’ Dreams are positive. Dreams are also tragic because we try to do something worthy. Like fallible human beings, we failed in both historical events. We must always tell, and we must always learn. That’s when Yeston began to work on the music and lyrics of the story. As we concluded our telephone conversation, I asked Maury about a comment he made regarding the state of the musical theatre: “If you don't have that kind of daring damn-the-torpedoes, you shouldn't be in this business. It's the safe-sounding shows that often don't do well. You have to dare greatly, and I really want to stretch the bounds of the kind of expression in musical theater.” ( BMI Music World, Fall 1997, pp. 24–29) He still upholds this statement. He referred to his musical ‘Nine’ about Fellini. He jokingly said who knew what the play was about as it was all over the place as there was one guy and four women. ‘Felliniesque’ comes from this understanding as ‘Nine’ wasn’t a typical story. But it touched him nonetheless because there was something in it that made Maury’s heart sing that he just had to write it. And with that final statement about a play that made Maury’s heart sing, see ‘Titanic, the Musical’ in Cineplex theatres on November 16 and 19. I hope it will make your heart sing too. Audiences can get tickets here: https://www.cineplex.com/movie/titanic-the-musical. 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

  • 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

  • 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 Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner

    Back Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner Looking Ahead L-R: Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner. Photos provided by Mirvish Productions Joe Szekeres compiled Jac's and Ben's answers ‘Joseph’ fever has struck the city of Toronto once again. Word has it the show is on its pre-Broadway run. Thank you to Mirvish Productions for allowing me to e interview Jac Yarrow who will play Joseph and Ben Michael Turner, the Musical Director, of this newest production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ One tidbit of information. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber gave his blessing to Yarrow to play the title character. How does Jac still feel about it: “When Having Lord Lloyd Webber see my audition and think I was capable of being up on the London Palladium stage, playing this iconic character is still unbelievable to me. I will be forever grateful to Andrew for taking a chance on a new kid like me. It’s an experience that has shaped my life.” Can you please share where you completed your training as an artist? Jac: I attended The Arts Educational Schools, London (ArtsEd). Ben: I read music at King’s College London; I received my performance training from voice tutors at the Royal Academy of Music, and I was a conducting scholar of Sing for Pleasure. In between rehearsals and performances here in Toronto, I am currently writing up my Master's thesis - which I am also completing at King’s, albeit from a distance… How are you feeling both personally and professionally about this gradual return to the live performing arts even though Covid is still present? Jac: Naturally I’m so happy to be back on stage after such a frightening, unpredictable time. To share a theatrical experience with live audiences after so long feels so special. It’s something I won’t take for granted, ever. Ben: Personally, and professionally, I am utterly thrilled about the safe return to live performance. The pandemic was a uniquely isolating time. Being able to come together once again, to create and share in the glorious experience of live performance, feels like a definitive, joyful step towards rekindling life as we used to know it. At the Princess of Wales, we are testing twice weekly, wearing masks backstage and adhering to the latest guidance; it feels like a very small price to pay for safely returning to work and be able to bring this gorgeous show to this wonderful city. How have rehearsals gone so far here in Toronto as you prepare for this Toronto engagement of JOSEPH? Jac: Rehearsals have been so exciting. We have Vanessa Fisher joining us here as the Narrator and Tosh Wonogho-Maud as Pharaoh. Along with a fresh batch of 16 Canadian kids (Two teams of 8.) It’s brilliant to see the new takes on these roles and to feel the buzz from these new cast members, who are raring to go. Ben: It has been so lovely to rehearse in Toronto. Collaborating with the musicians here as we workshopped the new 14-piece orchestration was a personal highlight. Combining Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music with these magnificent players has made for a truly extraordinary musical experience. Our young acting company (also made up of Toronto’s finest) has taken the challenge of learning this mammoth show in their stride. It filled my soul with pure joy to see our first audience shower them with the love and praise they truly deserved. n.b. they also took mocking my British-isms and pointing out my lack of Canada-appropriate attire in their stride, but that’s beside the point… Is this your first visit to Toronto? What has it been like for you? Jac: Yes, it’s my first time in Toronto! I love it here. I’ve been to a Raptors game, explored the city, shopped am desperate to try Puppy Yoga! I’m so glad we’re here for multiple weeks (10 weeks) so I can fit in as much sightseeing as I can. The people are also some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. We’ve been welcomed here with open arms and it’s so lovely. Ben: I have never been to Canada before and absolutely love it. It is frightfully chilly though, isn’t it? – and I’m promised it’s only going to get colder. Nevertheless, I’ve found that there are a few things here that can’t be fixed by a plate of poutine and a glass of ice wine. Our dark day is a Monday, so I begin my week living my best tourist life. I’ve started with the classics (the CN Tower, St. Lawrence’s Market, Niagara Falls etc.) – obviously – but we’re here until February and I’m a massive foodie so any niche ‘must-do’ suggestions would be hugely welcomed. These last 2-plus years have most certainly altered the face of the live performing arts scene worldwide. Tell me how you’re both personally and professionally feeling and experiencing this JOSEPH. What is it about this new London Palladium production that you believe will make it worthwhile for Toronto audiences to see this Christmas and holiday season, and well into 2023? Jac: Joseph is a timeless show. The music is so iconic and resonates with so many generations. That’s why I believe it has stood the test of time. This particular production of Joseph is not to be missed as the show has been completely reimagined for a more modern audience. The colourful story is presented on a huge, lavish set with beautiful, colourful costumes, athletic dancing, glorious voices, and real theatre magic. Direct from the stage of the London Palladium, our production of Joseph has all the excitement and surprises it did in London's West End. Ben: Joseph was Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s first collaboration in 1968. Back then it was only fifteen minutes long and it was performed as a one-off pop cantata in a school in south London. This year we took Laurence’s Palladium production around the UK to eighteen cities, and it was truly remarkable to see the show’s fifty-year history sewn into the fabric of British culture. From the first ‘Any Dream Will Do’, two thousand people in the Liverpool Empire Theatre were singing along with the “ahs”, reciting the colours of the coat, clapping the accelerando in ‘Potiphar’, and dancing in the aisles to the ‘Megamix’. Ben: At our first preview last Sunday, there was a wonderful exchange when the audience at the Princess of Wales let us in on their Joseph story: clapping, dancing, and singing along, just as they did with Donny Osmond in the nineties and with every Joseph since. To me, this new production, and its North American premiere, feel like the start of a glorious new chapter in Joseph’s history, as a new generation of theatregoers – led by lifelong fans of the show – take this iconic story and its music into their hearts. There is something irresistibly infectious about the joy that pours out of this show every night, we are so thrilled to have brought it to Toronto for the festive season, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a small cog in amongst it all. Once JOSEPH has concluded its run, Jac, what’s next for each of you? Jac: I can’t say as of yet. I’m trying to soak up my last few weeks playing the role after four years with the show. Joseph has been a huge part of my life and I will miss both the show and the role very dearly. ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ opens Friday, December 16 at The Princess of Wales and runs through the Christmas and holiday season to February 18, 2023. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K Jerome and reimagined by Mark Brownell

    Back 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K Jerome and reimagined by Mark Brownell Now onstage at Guild Festival Theatre, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough Now onstage at Guild Festival Theatre, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough Dave Rabjohn The premiere of Mark Brownwell’s re-creation of the original 1889 farce by Jerome K. Jerome is now playing at the dramatic “Greek Theatre” at the Guildwood Park in Scarborough, Ontario. Unapologetic full-bore schadenfreude is the rule of the day. A fine cast lets us laugh at misfortunes, but somehow we are also endeared with their antics. The production style is very austere with mime in lieu of props and movement suggesting place and scenery. The life force of this play then is dependent on the skill of the three cast members and, for the most part, they deliver. The three young, naïve “city” boys plan to get away from their comfortable lives to seek their adventurous souls. They clownishly plan a trip down the Thames in a small boat with large luggage. Intending to leave at a lively 6 am, they manage to get away by 10. Misadventures include stumbling through a maze of hedges, outdoor camping without the skills, fighting with a tin of pineapple, and the ever-requisite “fish story.” Finally soaked through from unrelenting rain, our boys escape to more familiar comforts of inns and dining rooms. The mentioned austerity is tempered by the costumes – gaudy primary colours remind us of a Mary Poppins adventure through a chalk picture. The clownish suits give zest to the characters while also underlining their foolish credulity. Jay is played with manic gullibility by Azeem Nathoo. Even as a hypochondriac, Jay is delighted to act as leader (even without the skills.) He is overly verbose and considers himself poetic. Some hesitation with a few lines tended to derail the important rhythm this play depends on. Harris, played by Jack Copland, is, again, naïve but thoroughly optimistic and positive. He is the most agile of the cast playing a variety of comic accents as a hilarious train supervisor and a variety of English fops in the “fish story.” His comic artistry is best established in a send-up of various Gilbert and Sullivan numbers that barely get off the ground. George, played by Suchiththa Wickremesooriya, is equally adept at a variety of accents. A highlight is the rendition of a grave and very droll German opera singer angered by an audience of Philistines. As mentioned, movement and tableaux create both scene and humour. Becoming lost in the maze is articulated by mincing footsteps and hilarious side-stepping. Putting up a mimed tent looked like a spirited wrestling match. A near drowning of the boat was a balletic tour de force which did not require an actual boat. Barbershop harmonies were generally a fine supplement to the action. Floor mikes instead of individual mikes were an odd option. The sound was sometimes inconsistent and a buzzy feedback from a stage right speaker lost some audience focus. If you have ever seen unprepared artless canoeists filling a sixteen-footer with three 24s and a backyard barb-b-que (I have), you understand our three guileless characters. It is fun to absorb their simple-mindedness and a riot to experience their Griswold-like adventures. ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Mark Brownwell/Jerome K. Jerome Performers: Suchihtha Wickremesooriya, Azeem Nathoo, Jack Copland Director: Sue Miner Production Designer: Ina Kerklaan. Playing through: August 13, 2023. Tickets: guildfestivaltheatre.ca Previous Next

  • Profiles Maev Beaty

    Back Maev Beaty “I’m excited to see where it goes and what’s next for our art form. I would love to see how I can be helpful in that. I’m curious about where that will lead.” Alejandro Santiago Joe Szekeres Maev wondered if this statement above sounded cheesy on the page. Not at all. She has attained a great deal of experience in the industry. I believe any upcoming artist would benefit tremendously from Maev’s sagacious wisdom about the peaks and valleys of the performing arts industry whether she teaches, coaches, interviews or watches emerging artists. I am one grateful guy Maev was available for a Zoom call last month. She had a few errands to complete before concluding her final performance at this year’s production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Stratford Festival. She’s now back in Toronto. I’ve admired her variety of stage work, from productions at Soulpepper Theatre to the Stratford Festival. Some productions that come to my mind in which she has appeared are ‘August: Osage County,’ ‘The Front Page,’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘The Last Wife.’ This month, she will appear with Jesse LaVercombe in the Canadian premiere of Sarah Ruhl's ‘Letters from Max, a ritual’. More about the upcoming production shortly. Her sharp, comical wit set me at ease during our conversation. When I asked her where she completed her training, she smiled and said: “At the dinner table.” Maev grew up in a family of storytellers. Her mother is a storyteller. When Maev was growing up, her mother was a children’s librarian. Her maternal grandmother was a teacher interested in teaching English and storytelling, and that love of language came through Maev’s mother. Her father has always been a visual artist. Her parents play instruments, but Maev poked fun at herself, saying she doesn’t. She calls her brother “an artist of all trades,” who, in her words, “is a beautiful actor, hilarious improviser, and an incredible musician.” Using art to think about what it means to be human was just part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in her house while she was growing up. It was part of who they were. Maev’s father was also a farmer. Her brothers also had a few careers beyond that, so it wasn’t necessarily all ‘bohemian’ as she called it. When Maev attended school as a child, she grew up on a couple of different farms in the Thousand Islands area. She attended KCVI (Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute), and her drama teacher was Ian Malcolm, who worked with many celebrated Canadian artists who now appear in theatre – Jacob James, Chilina Kennedy, Brett Christopher – they were all Maev’s peers. Another interesting fact that I didn’t know. At KCVI, the fathers of two band members of ‘The Tragically Hip’ also taught there. Maev called KCVI a high school that prioritized the humanities to educate the students, which she calls a “huge, huge gift” to the student body. Beaty attended the University of Toronto in the University College drama program. Pia Kleber ran the program at that time. She proudly states that Ken Gass was her first-year drama teacher. She called her final year in the program life-changing when she appeared in her graduating show ‘Twelfth Night’ which toured several cities, including a few Globe theatres. She also visited the Globe Theatre in London, England, and Prague. Although she appreciated the chance to perform at Stratford in one of the most glorious versions of ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ Maev says she has been so jealous of the Toronto theatre-going public these last few weeks. There have been some incredible offerings in Toronto theatre since September. She calls the work thorough, passionate, and unified in voice. There are big artistic risks and choices being made. Yet, there is a general atmosphere of gratitude, humility, hope and a real presence of experience and mind in the theatre community. She added further: “I think the Toronto theatre-going public (and not just the traditional theatre-going public) are longing for, yearning for, desperate for live human connection and collective human experiences after this time of separation. More than ever, a chance to come together and experience something with strangers and yet still feel safe to do so that explores the primary questions of what it means to be alive.” Nothing does this better than live performance, even though she strongly admits she’s biased since she is involved in theatre. She would be remiss to say that the connection of feeling and being alive can also be felt in the other live performances of dance and opera that provide a human collective moment. Our conversation then veered towards her upcoming production of ‘Letters from Max, a ritual.’ The story focuses on the profound connection and friendship between playwright Sarah Ruhl and her student, poet Max Ritvo, who faces the return of Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer. Maev says ‘Letters from Max’ is so completely about exploring the questions of what it means to be alive on the human heart, human consciousness, and noticing that you are alive while you are alive. The privilege of working on ‘Max’ allows both she and Jesse to venture even deeper into that question. She has read the source material for the play - the book ‘Letters from Max: a poet, a teacher, a friendship’ by Ruhl and Ritvo. She spoke about the connection she and her husband, Alan Dilworth, have with Ruhl. Dilworth and Beaty have a ten-year-old daughter. The first Sarah Ruhl piece Maev worked on was ‘Passion Play,’ a substantial theatrical endeavour with ‘Outside the March,’ ‘Necessary Angel,’ ‘Convergence’ and ‘Sheep No Wool.’ The production was an epic promenade three-location, three-and-a-half-hour ensemble piece. Beaty was eight months pregnant at the time. She laughed at the memory of the madness used in the most respectful term as the ensemble walked outside down Danforth Avenue. Alan has gone on to direct Ruhl’s play ‘Eurydice.’ He and Ruhl have gone on to have a correspondence like what ‘Max’ is about. She’s reminded of the biographical confessional production ‘Secret Life of a Mother’ which she co-created with Marinda de Beer, Ann-Marie Kerr and Hannah Moscovitch. Risks were taken in the revealing of true selves in 'Mother'. Ruhl does the same thing in ‘Max,’. Maev further adds: “The generosity of the writer (in both plays) to share their actual private writings with the public is a special kind of vulnerability and generosity because you’re just so exposed. I feel privileged and vigilant about shepherding Ruhl’s words to this play.” What’s one thing that drew Maev to Ruhl’s script? She says it’s a play that deals with death head on, but it’s so much more about life. She paused for a moment to think before adding: “Because of the environment I grew up in, I really believe that words are sacred and hold sacredness. Words can be medicine, holy and transformative. Words work on the body, they work on the neuropathways, the nervous and skeletal systems... In ‘Max’, what has struck me the most is how words put down in a letter, email, or text to another person or loved one carry medicine, meaning, and profound connection through the airwaves (or postal system) to another soul and be reciprocated.” Maev marveled how can that be not purely an intellectual exercise but an existential one? In the pandemic that’s what everyone had – relying on words that carried to others that carried through Zoom, social media, and text. In the case of ‘Max’ where the two characters are distanced physically across the country from California to Connecticut, or the distance in illness, what can one do to let that person know they are not alone? That they are alive? Or trying to find the right words to reach that person far away in isolation (whether it was through the pandemic or physical distance). This last part of my conversation with Maev has touched my soul and I found myself welling up as I write this profile. As a cancer survivor and someone who lost a younger sibling to the disease, I can still vividly recall how words I used, and others used, influenced my life and my family’s life at that time. Rehearsals for ‘Max’ have been going wonderfully in the circular antechamber of a church in Stratford. Maev worked with Jesse before in ‘Bunny’ at Tarragon. It’s a pleasure to work with someone again as they continue to discover the voice of the play and take risks. Jesse and Maev have a shared sense of humour, and Alan has been very ‘patient’ with it. She laughed at the word ‘patient’ so I’ll allow my imagination to wonder about what has gone on during rehearsals. And what’s one message she hopes audiences will take away from ‘Letters from Max’? “Notice that you are alive.” True words spoken that mean so much. What’s next for Maev Beaty once ‘Max’ concludes its run? She coyly smiled and said: “Maev is just going to rest and try to take a wee break. Maev is very much longing for some time with the family. It’s been such a huge gift at this particular time of the year, and there are some adventures ahead in 2025.” She has something planned for next year in 2024 but she doesn’t want to talk about it yet. All she did say – she fulfilled one of her dreams in playing Beatrice in ‘Much Ado’ this past summer. Now that one dream has been fulfilled, the door has been opened for some other opportunities to fulfil in the next thirty years. I can wait, Maev, because what’s that adage? Patience is a virtue. ‘Letters from Max, a ritual’ presented by Necessary Angel Theatre and directed by company Artistic Director Alan Dilworth will run at The Theatre Centre from November 10 to December 3. For tickets: https://theatrecentre.org/tickets/?eid=106867 To learn more about Necessary Angel Theatre Company, visit https://www.necessaryangel.com/. 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

  • Musicals 'Dion: A Rock Opera' World Premiere

    Back 'Dion: A Rock Opera' World Premiere Now onstage at Toronto's Coal Mine Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Jacob MacInnis as Dion and members of the Chorus Joe Szekeres "A suggestively sexy seventy minutes of Dionysian pleasure. Electrifying dramatic staging. But it’s not for everyone. The stretching of sexual ethics might be troubling for some audience members." Based on ‘The Bacchae’ by Euripides and set in the City State of Thebes somewhere in time, Coal Mine’s world premiere of ‘Dion: A Rock Opera’ explores the myth of the god Dionysius, the son of Zeus and Semele (who died in childbirth). In this re-working adaptation, the self-proclaimed, non-binary Demi-God Dion (Jacob MacInnis) leads the Thebans out of the city to drink wine, get drunk and enjoy the Dionysian pleasures that come with it all. The arrival of conservative right-wing leader and King of Thebes, Pentheus, (Allister MacDonald), brings conflict because they have heard of Dion. Pentheus learns Dion is their cousin. Mother of Pentheus, Agave (Carly Street), and uncle, Cadmus, grandfather of Dion and Pentheus (Allan Louis), are two who ran away with the Thebans. We also learn a bit of the backstory behind Agave and Cadmus. Destruction ultimately reigns when Pentheus is seduced into ‘dressing’ as a woman and going to the hills to see what’s happening at all this Dionysian debauchery. ‘Dion’ is a suggestively sexy and sometimes violent seventy minutes of Dionysian pleasure that might make some audience members feel a tad ill at ease. That happened to me periodically. But that’s what theatre does. It pushes audiences to new perspectives, sometimes received and sometimes with questionable pushback. Peter Hinton-Davis is an artful director. He masterfully stages some electrifying and intensely dark visual scenes that are attractive and uncomfortable to watch, most noteworthy in grappling with the issues of sexuality. Kiera Sangster creates distinct choreographed ‘swivel and strut’ movements, especially among the Chorus. Thankfully, I could hear every word Composer Ted Dykstra and Librettist Steven Mayoff had markedly constructed, so a grateful handshake to Sound Design of Tim Lindsay. The double entendres in the lyrics, snappy dialogue, and gorgeous-sounding rock vocal work remain primo, thanks to Music Director Bob Foster. There are moments when I thought I could hear musical sounds akin to ‘Jesus Christ Superstar. ' The Chorus singing: “Dion, Dion, Dion, my God, Dion” is only one example. Scott Penner cleverly creates a practical set design within the intimate confines of the Coal Mine Theatre - an elongated brick walkway in the centre with the audience on both sides. The end of each walkway (which I will call Stage left and right) mirrors each other. A circular mirror hangs on each back wall, with two chairs underneath. There are two beautiful-looking backsides of Greek statues from the audience's viewpoint. One of these statues is male, and the other is female. Penner’s costumes vibrantly dazzle throughout the show, most noteworthy in the Chorus’s initial appearance at the top of the show and Dion’s shimmering gold lamé dress. Bonnie Beecher’s blood-red lighting hauntingly foreshadows what will come. It assuredly catches the eye with a striking visual effect as the audience enters the auditorium. Additionally, there is another striking visual moment where Dion and Pentheus appear in their own spotlight. This moment clearly reveals who is in control. This nine-member cast kept me riveted with their arresting performance work. I held my breath, though, and considered how far they might go in pushing the twisting of sexual ethics. There were a couple of moments when I needed air. Nevertheless, the cast is extraordinary. The Chorus of Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forsberg and Kelsey Verzotti take their places onstage the last few minutes of the pre-show. They enter quietly and walk to their chairs, exuding confidence. Their ‘fashionable’ costumes also draw attention to them. When the performance begins, these four strong artists remain in synchronistic simpatico with each other throughout the running time. SATE plays Tiresias, a blind prophet and former advisor to Pentheus. She introduces the audience to an understanding of the word EVOE emblazoned in large dark letters on each of the costumes worn by the Chorus. SATE sings the opening number, ‘THE WORD IS EVOE,’ with a remarkable, understated, sensuous passion that might appear to boil over at any moment. Since the story is set in a Dionysian world, I wondered if EVOE might be a deliberate and twisted play on the misspelling of the word LOVE and all its connotations in our woke twenty-first-century world. Carly Street and Allan Louis represent the other side of this Bacchanalia frenzy, respectively, as Agave and Cadmus. While we have younger people singing about the gluttonous revelry of wine and intoxication, there is something unique about Agave and Cadmus. She is angry at her father, Cadmus. Yet, beneath her anger, there is an inherent sense of dignity and grace about Street’s Agave. Allan Louis is a smartly dressed yet very mysterious Cadmus. When the two finally join in the reverie, everything changes for both. Allister MacDonald and Jacob MacInnis deliver gripping work as Pentheus and Dion. They are another reason to see the production. Fearless and audacious, MacDonald and MacInnis attack their roles with a lustful gusto that raises the sexual chemistry in and of the moment. MacInnis struts and prowls both in a sinewy and feline-like seductive fashion. At first, MacDonald is the exact opposite. They’re enraged, hot-headed, and about to explode until Pentheus and Dion confront each other head-on. MacInnis and MacDonald’s vocal work are sublime in their musical numbers. Neither of them sounds hoarse or ragged. However, MacDonald and MacInnis push this twisting of sexual ethics and mores. Pentheus’s ‘dressing’ as a woman might or could be viewed as becoming a woman in our woke world. I hurriedly scribbled down a line one of the characters sang during the performance: “The truth is…What is the truth?” Is this what it’s come to? Our woke twenty-first-century world cannot state what truth is even within sexual ethics. These questions can make for an exciting discussion, perhaps at a talkback after a performance. I hope Coal Mine has scheduled some. And Another Thing: Some audience members of religious persuasion might find this mythical re-telling and adaptation somewhat sophistical and dubious. Potential theatregoers may not be as accepting of the implications of the sexuality presented. Let’s not forget that good theatre must continue challenging its audiences to new perspectives. ‘Dion: A Rock Opera’ does just that. But be prepared for any pushback from those audience members who might disagree. Running time: approximately 70 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘Dion: A Rock Opera’ runs until March 3 at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue. For tickets: https://tickets.coalminetheatre.com/ WORLD PREMIERE ‘Dion: A Rock Opera’ Composed by Ted Dykstra and Libretto by Steven Mayoff Directed by Peter Hinton Davis Musical Director: Bob Foster Choreographer: Kiera Sangster Set and costumes: Scott Penner Lighting: Bonnie Beecher Sound by Tim Lindsay Band Piano: Bob Foster; Guitar and Percussion: Haneul Yi; Bass: Kat McLevey Performers: Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forsberg, Allan Louis, Allister MacDonald, Jacob MacInnis, SATE, Carly Street, Kelsey Verzotti Previous Next

  • Dramas 'Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD' by Aaron Sorkin The Touring Company

    Back 'Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD' by Aaron Sorkin The Touring Company Now onstage at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre Julieta Cervantes. Pictured Richard Thomas and Melanie Moore Joe Szekeres “Ontario Boards of Education need to re-think their position on excluding Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from school curricula. This fine touring production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play of the ‘slice-of-life’ American classic still speaks volumes about racial inequalities and social justice. Some wonderful performances that are not to be missed.” Directed by Bartlett Sher with gentle compassion and empathetic kindness, Aaron Sorkin’s fresh perspective script of the iconic ‘slice-of-life’ small-town Americana in the southern United States rolls into Toronto for a short run until November 27. This touring production returns to Mirvish at the end of May/beginning of June 2024 for another run. Please get tickets for it. It’s a vital story that still speaks volumes about racial inequalities and social justice for twenty-first-century audiences. Parents, if your child’s school has removed the book from the curriculum for whatever reason, please take him/her/them to this production. Based on Miss Lee’s novel, Sorkin’s script is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the early 1930s, just after the Depression began. Principal narrator Scout Finch (Melanie Moore), her older brother Jem/Jeremy Atticus (Justin Mark) and their childhood friend Dill/Charles Baker Harris (Steven Lee Johnson) break the fourth wall periodically and talk to the audience. At one point, Scout is an adult when she speaks to the audience. We learn of the childhood games the three youngsters played years ago. One of them was trying to make their unseen and scary neighbour Boo/Arthur Radley (Ian Bedford) come out of his house. The young characters refer to the time Jem broke his arm years ago on account of a horrific attack he and Scout endured. Scout, Jem, and Dill believe this incident and several others within the town stemmed from Tom Robinson’s (Yaegel T. Welch) unfair trial, where he was accused of rape by Mayella Ewell (Mariah Lee) and her father, Bob (Ted Koch). Scout and Jem’s father, lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas), is asked by Judge Taylor (Jeff Still) to defend Tom. Atticus is aware of Maycomb’s usual disease of prejudice that runs rampant throughout the town. Even though he knows Tom will be found guilty, Atticus takes the case and does his best for his client because it is the right thing to do. Taking on Tom’s case will also show Scout and Jem an essential message about courage – “it’s knowing when you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what.” Sorkin’s new production does not follow the novel's linear presentation of plot events. Some have been altered for dramatic effect. I couldn’t help but connect to the terrific production of Christopher Sergel’s dramatization of the novel at the Stratford Festival a few years ago under Nigel Shawn Williams’ direction. That production also introduced Scout breaking the fourth wall and contained one of the most exciting, yet frightening moments captured live on stage – the night Scout and Jem were attacked on their way home from the pageant. What makes Sorkin’s new production of this classic story work if you did not see the Stratford version? Most importantly, is Sorkin’s script worth seeing and doing? To answer the former, the performances are the reason to see this fine play. To answer the latter, yes, Sorkin’s script is worth seeing and doing. Although the production clocks in at three hours, the pacing never seems to drag. The cast moves Scenic Designer Miriam Buether’s set pieces with fluidity and ease. Ann Roth’s costumes are faithful recreations of the Depression era and help delineate the social class structure within Maycomb. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design assist in creating specific emotional effects especially when Boo/Arthur Radley (Ian Bedford) is introduced near the end of the story. Richard Thomas is remarkable as Atticus Finch. His final address to the jury (where we learn the significance of the title) before it goes to deliberate Tom’s fate still packs a wallop of a punch. Thomas gallantly delivers it with dignity and class. Those moments he shares with Melanie Moore as the young Scout are touching. Moore nicely captures an introspective precociousness of childhood innocence in her performance as Scout, as do Justin Mark and Steven Lee Johnson in their work as Jem and Dill. Jacqueline Williams as the Finch housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Yaegel T. Wilson as Tom Robinson deliver poignant work. Williams and Thomas remain in harmonious synchronicity and respect with each other as the adult role models within the Finch household. When she tells Scout she likes what she sees when she looks at her, the line is delivered with care and love that it brought tears to my eyes. Wilson’s first-rate work as the wronged man unjustly accused of a horrible crime remains one of the highlights. He delivers his courtroom testimony with genuine conviction that it is still hard to see how anyone could find this man guilty. As Bob and Mayella Ewell, Ted Koch and Mariah Lee thankfully do not appear as the story's proverbial ‘bad guys.’ Instead, as Atticus says, Koch and Lee carefully zero in on moments where they are to be pitied for what life has thrown at them. They both make their testimony credibly sound as if they have been rehearsed by their prosecuting and racist lawyer, Horace Gilmer (Christopher R. Ellis). However, that does not give the father and daughter the unforgivable right to do what they did in accusing a sympathetic and caring man of something he did not do. Another highlight of this performance and for this portion of the tour is seeing Mary Badham’s work as morphine addict, Mrs. Dubose. Badham was the original Scout nominated for an Academy Award in the film version of ‘Mockingbird’ opposite Gregory Peck. Badham utters some horrible things as the suffering woman that are extremely tough to hear in knowing her work from the film. Contextually, though, these words are grim reminders of a time when intolerant mentality prevailed in southern US society. The only thing I did wish from this production was Jem’s timed reading to Mrs. Dubose to help cure her addiction to the painkiller. That message about learning courage and knowing when, as Atticus says, “you’re licked before you begin, but you do anyway and see it through no matter what” is lost. Final Comments: Although I’m not one to make comments about latecomers to the theatre, this time I feel as if I must. Future audiences, the evening performances begin at 7:30 pm. Please check your tickets. Granted, I can accept if people are 5-10 minutes late on account of traffic. However, it was about 30 minutes into the show and I was paying careful attention to the performance when five people came to their seats. My guest and I had to stand up to allow these people in. What’s frustrating? Not only did we lose our concentration and attention for that brief moment, so did the audience members behind us when we had to stand and let these people in. There, rant over. I won’t mention it again. Please get tickets for this touring production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Call or check daily to see if rush tickets are available or if there are any cancellations. I may just return in May/ June to see it. Running time: approximately three hours with one intermission. The production runs until November 27, then returns May 28, and runs to June 2, 2024 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street. For tickets, visit mirvish.com. ‘HARPER LEE’S TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’ A New Play by Aaron Sorkin Directed by Bartlett Sher Scenic Designer: Miriam Buether Costume Designer: Ann Roth Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton Sound Designer: Scott Lehrer Music Director: Kimberly Grigsby Production Stage Manager: Eric H. Mayer Company Manager: Katie Cortez Performers: Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore, Jacqueline Williams, Justin Mark, Yaegel T. Welch, Steven Lee Johnson, Ted Koch, Jeff Still, Christopher R. Ellis, Melanie Lee, Travis Johns, Greg Wood, Anne-Marie Cusson, Ian Bedford, Lance Baker, Stephen Cefalu, Jr. Denise Cormier, Rae Gray, Greg Jackson, Joey Labrasca, David Andrew Morton, Andre Ozim, Dorcas Sowunmi and Mary Badham. Previous Next

  • Musicals I GOT THE JOB ! Songs From My Musical Past

    Back I GOT THE JOB ! Songs From My Musical Past Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill with Ron Abel at the piano ​ Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE Keep playing your song again and again, Lucie Arnaz. Thank you for sharing your joy of music with us each time you got the job from the past. Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill is one hell of an entertainer and performer who has taken to heart the advice of two very dear people to her. The first is from her father, who told his daughter years ago that she should develop an act showcasing her song versatility. At that time, she jokingly told him she only had two Broadway shows under her belt. But she remembered her father’s words and has since amassed a glorious musical repertoire. The second pieces of advice came from her dear friend, the late Marvin Hamlisch: “You have to respect the instrument you were given.” and “Find humour in life because it’s so precious and short.” Tonight’s show indicates that she has done just that. In between musical numbers, Lucie regaled the audience with some very funny bits where she unabashedly drops the ‘f bomb’ with such class and pizazz. Atta girl. Arnaz continues reiterating how grateful she is to return to New York’s 54 Below after four years with her show “I GOT THE JOB: Songs from My Musical Past.” She also appreciates those whose tickets changed umpteen times because of Covid and who could make it to the show. As a Canadian fan, Lucie, keep playing your song again and again. I was honoured to be in the audience tonight, and I sincerely hope Toronto will be playing your song very soon. Arnaz looked terrific tonight in what appeared to be an aqua-blue top with form-fitting slacks and dark shoes. There were moments, however, when her top's colour appeared magically to change to green depending on the stage lights at any given moment. Her passion is performing live, which was oh so gloriously evident in several musical numbers. Arnaz doesn’t just sing. She feels the consonants of each word and tastes its meaning before breathing that healing force of music and sound toward the audience. A couple of people sitting around me were indeed affected. I saw one big burly fellow wipe tears from his eyes. His guest at the table put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. What a lovely selfless act of compassion and trust. A couple of musical moments touched my heart. Lucie played Annie Oakley years ago in “Annie Get Your Gun” A beautiful moment from the end of ‘I Got Lost in His Arms’ had her looking lovingly and longingly at her wedding ring. Everyone in that room just sensed and knew there was a moment between her and her husband, Larry Luckinbill, and that no explanations were necessary. The second occurred with the song ‘I Still Believe in Love’ from the show “They’re Playing Our Song” where she got the opportunity to create her character, Sonia Walsh, from scratch. At the song's end, Lucie blew a kiss skyward to Marvin Hamlisch and again no explanation was necessary. That’s the power and reach of music. I had the opportunity to see her perform in London’s West End in “The Witches of Eastwick”. I learned producer impresario Sir Cameron MacIntosh wanted Lucie so desperately for the production that he offered her any of the lead roles in the show. Lucie comically stated she wanted to play the devil before she said she would play Alexandra, the mother. Arnaz’s comic genius inherited from her father and mother was evident in how she sang ‘Who’s the Man?’ The piece de resistance of the evening (or the eleven o’clock number)? Lucie was contacted when the revival of ‘Pippin’ went on its national tour. She was asked if she would play Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. Even though the grandmother doesn’t have much stage time, Arnaz jumped at the chance after speaking with her husband. She loved ‘Pippin’ when she saw the Bob Fosse original many years with Irene Ryan (Granny Clampett) playing Berthe and singing the song: ‘No Time At All.’ Another reason why she performed the role on tour? She got to play on a trapeze bar high above the stage during the song. And when she sang ‘No Time At All,’ tonight, I found myself mouthing the words while several around me were swaying in their chairs, keeping time to the music. I loved that Lucie left us this message at the end of I GOT THE JOB. Don’t regret wondering if you should do something. Do it now because life is so short. Appreciate its preciousness and wonder of the moment and in the moment. That’s what Lu did. And she wants us to do that too. See I GOT THE JOB: Songs from My Musical Past. It’s a Voice Choice from me. Running time: one hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. The show runs until July 22 at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC. I hear the show is sold out, but if you are in the area and would like to try and get tickets, visit http://www.54below.org . The show is to be streamed on Saturday, July 22 so if you can’t get tickets, learn more about how to stream the show. Visit Lucie’s website: www.luciearnaz.com to learn more about the actress and see where I GOT THE JOB: Songs from My Musical Past will be performed next. 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 Ma-Anne Dionisio

    Back Ma-Anne Dionisio Looking Ahead Leon Le Joe Szekeres I have been trying to track down Ma-Anne Dionisio for quite some time to profile her work as an artist. I first saw Ma-Anne’s performance in the original Canadian production of ‘Miss Saigon’ which opened Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre. Since then, I have seen her performance as Maria in ‘West Side Story’ at Ontario’s Stratford Festival. I’ve also seen online that she and other artists have given concerts as our world slowly makes its way out of the pandemic. I was so thankful when she agreed to be profiled for this series as she is one busy lady in preparation for an upcoming production in May. Originally studying in the Sciences either to become a doctor or a dentist, Ma-Anne was invited into the world of the performing arts. She has three children and homeschools them during this time of the pandemic. Ma-Anne sees her purpose in life as healer and provider so the science mind within her was highly cognizant of the constant flow of varied conflicting information we were all receiving as a collective race during Covid. She is a self-assured, confident lady who opened up quite a bit about what she called the ‘loaded question’ of year three of the worldwide pandemic and how she and her family have been doing. She candidly spoke how she feels she has heightened and deeper intuitions and has learned to trust them especially when it comes to the safety of her loved ones. Ma-Anne continues to work on her personal well being because the situation of Covid in which we now find ourselves, we put our loved ones first. Ma-Anne spoke about the challenges she has faced during the pandemic, but she also says this time was a blessing for her. With gratitude, she acknowledges several of her family members who are front line workers and with sadness she has also experienced several familial losses during this time both from Covid and other reasons. Personally, this time has given her the opportunity to be with her immediate family members and those close to her, and to look inward where she honoured and made use of that time in the first year to get connected with herself and the planet. She made a definite choice not to perform for that first year. Ma-Anne knew that a lot of artists panicked where they felt they had to move towards virtual performances because they needed to do so. She respects and honours those who felt this way and made that choice because it was a challenging time. She chose not to do this. Instead, in her own words, she said: “Let’s honour the quiet, be quiet and do nothing because why not?” This time away was a real gift for Ma-Anne to honour. She is quite humble in that she doesn’t like to talk about herself so much or to be the centre of attention. She doesn’t consider herself a stereotypical performer and actor. For her, she is grateful to be able to use the theatre to connect with people and to heal both herself and whoever is present. She clarifies the work comes ‘through’ her and it is never about her. I found this latter statement interesting. But as a single mother, whenever Ma-Anne signs on to a project, she is mindful of the fact her children rely on her as caregiver and provider. It is a big decision now to come inside a theatre for everyone because there is a risk involved, but it’s even bigger than before the pandemic. She cannot afford to put herself in a situation where she endangers herself and therefore her children, so the project has to be worth it to make that decision to get involved. It was only last year where she decided to take on a couple of projects. The first production was ‘Follies’ a two-evening concert at Koerner Hall directed by Richard Ouzounian back in October. The second project is the upcoming ‘Lesson in Forgetting’ in May with Andrew Moodie through Pleaides Theatre at the Young Centre in the Distillery District. Ma-Anne took this project on as she learned Pleaides would sell 50% capacity for the run of the production, and that is for the safety of those attending plus the performers. How true, Ma-Anne, especially for all of us who have a keen interest in the live arts. We have seen how things can turn so quickly so we must take things day by day especially when we look to the Broadway theatre scene. What drew her to want to get involved with ‘Lesson in Forgetting’: “Once in awhile in this business you come across certain pieces that are just beautiful. Hopefully we are successful in delivering the intent of this piece and what it has in its very core in this story. The play is a wonderful observation of humanity and devotion." And how is Ma-Anne feeling at this point in the value of rehearsals as she, Andrew and the company approach opening night? Before she answered this question, Ma-Anne reiterated once again the value of work is always in progress. For her, the beauty of theatre is that it is a living, breathing piece, and because it is living it constantly changes in an instant. Rehearsals are still a work in progress for Ma-Anne as she continues to become comfortable with the material in the moment and learn about the character so that, in the end, she can move out of the way so that whatever needs to be delivered through her and the piece can come through. And what does she hope audiences will leave with after seeing ‘Lesson in Forgetting’: “This piece is so beautifully written about the vulnerability and fragility of the human mind and heart, and the human spirit. It’s a wonderful observation of what goes on when your own idea of what love should look like is being challenged.” What’s next for Ma-Anne Dionisio once ‘Lesson in Forgetting’ is completed? She laughed and said there’s a lot happening simultaneously right now for her, and she said that’s the thing about this business because when it rains, it pours. Personally, she is a work in progress all the time. Professionally, Ma-Anne is developing a new musical with a writer from New York and a Canadian co-writer, so a writer/director team from there. Her limited series she shot last year with Apple is coming out soon. Her other series ‘Astrid and Lilly Save the World’ both on Crave and Sy Fy. Andrey Tarasiuk, Artistic Producer of Pleiades Theatre, announces the English language world premiere of ‘Lesson in Forgetting’ by Emma Haché, commissioned by Pleiades and translated by Taliesin McEnaney with John Van Burek, runs live on stage from May 3 to 22 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. For tickets visit www. https://tickets.youngcentre.ca . To learn more about Pleaides Theatre, visit www.pleiadestheatre.org . 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

  • French Pieces

    French Pieces Bâtardes by Chloé and Jade Barshee (English translation: Bastards) Click Here ‘Singulières’ Click Here La Bulle/The Bubble Click Here

  • 'Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812'

    Back 'Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812' A Crow's Theatre and The Musical Stage Company co-production now onstage at Crow's Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Evan Buliung as Pierre Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE Wondrous, theatrical, lavish storytelling that never lets up on its emotional impact! Such heaven! A theatre experience I will never, ever forget. A sung-through musical of seventy pages of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ sounds heavenly in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s. According to the billing on Crow’s website, the musical score “mixes indie rock, pop, folk, electronic dance, and classic Broadway music.” Such heaven. It’s a theatre experience I will never, ever forget. I may have to download the album to hear the score again. My suggestion - do whatever you can to get tickets. Now. The Crow’s and Musical Stage Company production has been extended to February 4. It’s Moscow, 1812, the upper-class echelon of society. Getting to know the ten characters will take a few minutes. ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Gret Comet of 1812’ is a story about the pangs of love, deceit, friendship, forgiveness, and familial bonds. The House Programme contains the Family Tree and how each character is connected. It would be a good idea to peruse it beforehand. At the top of the show, these characters are cleverly introduced via the opening song with a humorous comment about the names from Russian literature. Pierre (Evan Buliung) is a sad, sullen, and unhappily married man to Hélène (Divine Brown), who is unfaithful to her husband. Pierre feels as if he is wasting his life. He is a close friend to Andrey (Marcus Nance), who is off fighting in the war. Andrey is engaged to Natasha (Hailey Gillis), Sonya’s (Camille Eanga-Selenge) cousin. Sonya and Natasha have arrived in Moscow to wait for Andrey to return from war. The ladies visit Natasha’s godmother, Marya (Louise Pitre). Natasha has yet to meet Andrey’s sister, Mary (Heeyun Park 박희윤) and their father, Bolkonsky (Marcus Nance in a dual role) and has planned to meet them during this time, which ends disastrously between everyone involved. Natasha goes to the opera with Marya and Sonya and meets Pierre’s brother-in-law, Anatole (George Krissa), a handsome womanizer and ultimately ends up in an affair with him. (Let’s not forget Natasha is engaged to Andrey.) Natasha and Anatole’s affair has a dismal effect as each character has a stake of involvement. Several subplots all stem from this storyline of the affair. Co-designers Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan have created a jaw-dropping marvellous set design of three levels. Every inch of the Guloien is used to its maximum potential, and I tried to take in as much as possible pre-show. The actors enter and exit from all sides. Ross Kerr-Wilson has paid minute and careful attention to detail, from the gorgeous-looking red drapery to the glass decanter and drinking goblets on the piano. To the right of where I sat, it looked as if there was an altar with open religious books printed in what I thought might have been the Russian language. Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design subtly underscores the moment's emotional intensity, especially in those heightened conflicts between the characters. For the most part, Ryan Borshuk’s sound design remains solid, as I could hear the lyrics in several of librettist Dave Malloy’s stirring ballads and duets. Listening to the lyrics in some ensemble numbers is still challenging because of the slightly uneven sound balance between the orchestra and singers. Still, the harmonies resound gloriously throughout the theatre. ‘Natasha…’ remains a truly spectacular moment in the theatre. Chris Abraham and Ryan deSouza direct with a regal style and elegant flair. Ray Hogg’s fluid and electric choreography becomes a wondrous, staged accomplishment. The energetic and vibrant movement of the show never lets up. The first act nicely sets up the story; however, it is the second act where the pacing takes off. The second half dazzled and riveted me, leaving me bereft of emotion for a few moments at the curtain call. The formidable ensemble cast is one of the main reasons to see the show. They remain committed to telling a story of passion, intrigue, and deception with a compelling and convicted truth. The show remains genuinely engrossing, and I didn’t realize the time passed. Each time Evan Buliung sang, I felt tears welling. His performance as the oppressed, spiritually lifeless Pierre remains solidly gut-wrenching throughout. His watching of The Great Comet in a silhouetted tableau stillness becomes striking and hopeful at the end. As Natasha, Hailey Gillis is initially charming and lovely when the audience first meets her. However, her deception to begin her affair with Anatole removes her from that childlike, dutiful innocence to a scorned woman who will ultimately and heartfully feel her error in her choice. Gillis never veers into histrionics as Natasha’s world comes crashing around her. George Krissa is the quintessential hunky and shirtless Anatole whose suavity and bravado seduces Gillis’s Natasha. Krissa smiles, flirts, and breaks the fourth wall to do the same with some female audience members sitting in the front row. His ‘bad boy’ Anatole is one to be remembered at his worst, especially in the final moments with Pierre at the end of Act Two. Marcus Nance believably creates two exciting and different characterizations in a dual role as Andrey and his old father, Bolkonsky. At the end of the second act, his Andrey may seem cold-hearted in responding to Natasha. However, at least Nance made me feel that Andrey’s reaction and motivation are valid because he has been wronged. Louise Pitre gifts a sense of grace as the strong, remarkable, and matronly Marya. As Sonya, Camille Eanga-Selenge's reaction to the letter Natasha has written in breaking off her engagement is another heart-wrenching moment in singing she ‘misses her friend’ (Natasha). Sonya’s song in the second act becomes a fervent wish that she loves Natasha and only wants the best for her cousin, even though it may mean the two of them may never save their close friendship. I left the theatre and rode in the car on the way home, not saying a word for a few minutes. Final Comments: Confession again. This English major never read ‘War and Peace.’ Seeing this outstanding production makes me want to tackle the classic sometime soon. Will I? That remains to be seen. But I did tackle ‘Les Misérables’ after seeing the musical years ago. There might be hope. At least this musical adaptation has given me a taste of Tolstoy’s text. Get tickets for this, please. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ runs until March 17, 2024, in the Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010. NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 by Dave Malloy Co-presented by Crow’s Theatre and The Musical Stage Company Directed by Chris Abraham Choreography by Ray Hogg Music Direction by Ryan deSouza Composer, Librettist, Orchestrator: Dave Malloy Co-Set Designers: Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer: Ryan Borshuk Stage Manager: Sarah Miller Assistant Director: Paolo Santalucia Assistant Choreographer: Tyler Pearse Orchestra Members: Ryan deSouza, Aleh Remezau, Colleen Cook, Alex Grant, Clara Nguyen-Tran, Rachel O’Brien, David Atkinson Performers: Divine Brown, Evan Buliung, Rita Dottor, Camille Eanga-Selenge, Donna Garner, Hailey Gillis, George Krissa, Lawrence Libor, Marcus Nance, Heeyun Park박희윤, Andrew Penner, Louise Pitre, Brendan Wall Previous Next

  • Opera G. F. Handel's 'The Resurrection' (Film)

    Back G. F. Handel's 'The Resurrection' (Film) Opera Atelier Bruce Zinger Joe Szekeres Please Note: I hold no background or education in opera or ballet so I will not comment on this highly trained area of expertise in these two performance art forms. Instead, I will comment on the staging and the production elements used in ‘The Resurrection’. Although the Easter celebration for Christians and Roman Catholics has concluded, the messages of G. F. Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ are still aptly appropriate for those who hold a belief and trust in the faith as I do. The influence of the Catholic Church when this opera was first sung, I’m sure, would have probably had audiences completely mesmerized with gasping and bated breath. Historically, Christian catechesis pervaded the lives of individuals who were judiciously aware of the saving graces of Christ versus the damnation of souls into Hell. A story focusing on the resurrection of Christ most certainly needs to be shared with as many as possible. I have had the opportunity to attend a few operas so I was interested to see how Handel’s story would be shared online since Covid cannot allow us to be in a theatre to hear these exquisite voices soaring to the rafters. This story of ‘The Resurrection’ requires immense space to create the world of Heaven, the world on Earth, and the suggested world to where Lucifer would soon be banished. Could this ambitious design be created for an operatic digital platform? Under the skillful hands of Set Designer and Art Direction Gerard Gauci who utilizes the playing space of the St. Lawrence Hall to its fullest, Opera Atelier made it work. Splendidly, I might add. From the Opera Atelier website: “Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ details the events between Good Friday and Easter Sunday with the forces of darkness and light often in metaphorical duel and conflict that is heightened through highly specialized vocal tour-de-forces.” Marcel Canzona’s film editing at the opening of the production created an impressive heavenly atmosphere of light and sound which transported me away from the confines of my chair at home. This ‘Resurrection’ production was filmed in the Ballroom of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall and Gerard Gauci’s set and art designs and direction were used to full advantage to create these three immense spaces. At one point, I admired especially the celestial light which streamed in from the three windows. Whether it was perfectly or naturally timed, it was a breathtaking effect that I can still recall. Stylized work in costume design in this production added further details to the specific characterizations. Michael LeGouffe’s costumes effectively utilized opposing light and dark colours for grand effect. The dazzling white costumes of the Angels in the first number contrasted with the dark earth tones for Lucifer were highly effective. At one moment the Angel (Carla Huhtanen) and Lucifer (Douglas Williams) are perched behind their platforms and are magnetically and intensely focused on their courtroom like and accusatory charges of good and evil are fiercely flung at each other. To maintain this keenly heightened and focal intensity to propel the story forward, director Marshall Pynkoski and Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg always maintain a consistent control of the story’s artistic vision. Movement and staging of individuals and the corps de ballet are gorgeously stylized to watch. Characterizations are subtly distinct with fine nuances. Mr. Williams’ Lucifer is suavely and seductively debonair. Ms. Huhtanen’s Angel reflects Godly and goodly righteousness with strength and charisma. Meghan Lindsay as Mary Magdalene and Allyson McHardy as Cleophas are women of fortitude and tenacity as they grow from unspeakable grief and sadness to knowing that the death of Christ (and of all) is not the end. As St. John the Evangelist Colin Ainsworth’s radiant smile and reassuring vocal presence reminded me of the power of having faith and belief in the heavenly God when it appears we are in the darkest hours. Final Comments: Glorious to hear and divinely to see, Opera Atelier’s production of Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ becomes a triumphant and dazzling spectacle of sight and sound with a strong underlying tone that darkness will cease and lightness will shine forever. Opera Atelier presents G. F. Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ Featuring Soprano Carla Huhtanen, Soprano Meghan Lindsay, Mezzo-Soprano Allyson McHardy, Tenor Colin Ainsworth and Bass-Baritone Douglas Williams, Handel’s The Resurrection also showcases the incomparable Artists of Atelier Ballet, and Tafelmusik (Elisa Citterio, Music Director) under the baton of Opera Atelier’s Resident Music Director, David Fallis. Stage Director: Marshall Pynkoski Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg Set Designer/Art Director: Gerard Gauci Film Director/Editor/Director of Photography: Marcel Canzona Costume Designer: Michael LeGouffe Streams online to June 20, 2021. For tickets, please visit www.operaatelier.com . Photo of Douglas Williams and the Artists of Atelier Ballet by Bruce Zinger. 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

  • 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 Mikaela Davies

    Back Mikaela Davies Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Mark Binks Joe Szekeres I am extremely thankful Mikaela Davies sent me a friend request several months ago as I admired her work in ‘The Last Wife’ at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. Our Zoom call sometimes went off topic today as we found the questions below led to other questions and comments that I hadn’t even considered, and that was alright as Mikaela told me at one point during the interview to bring them on. Mikaela Davies (she/her) is an actor, director and writer. She is a graduate of the 2020 CBC Canadian Film Centre's Actors Conservatory. She spent two years performing at Soulpepper Theatre and four seasons at The Stratford Festival where she performed the leading role in The Changeling. She is a graduate of the Soulpepper Actor’s Academy, Stratford Festival’s Michael Langham Conservatory for Classical Direction and Canadian Stage’s RBC Director Development Residency. Davies is the inaugural recipient of the Jon Kaplan Canadian Stage Performer Award; she holds a Sterling nomination for Outstanding Comedic Performance as the lead in Miss Bennet at The Citadel and a META nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance in The Last Wife at The Centaur. She has worked closely as a dramaturge with Robert Lepage and Jillian Keiley. She has directed and co-created a handful of award-winning plays with Polly Phokeev including How We Are, The Mess & Earth 2.0. Thank you for the conversation, Mikaela: 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’ve been okay. I’ve been really lucky that my family and friends have been healthy and safe so that’s brought a lot of peace of mind. I’m also pretty lucky that my partner and I don’t have kids yet so I cannot understand how difficult it must be for parents with young kids at home trying to do their work and help them through school. My hat goes off to them. So challenging. Given my health and everyone around me and not having this extra burden, it’s been okay. It’s hard, it’s a hard time for everybody. I do feel lucky. It’s pretty scary to hear of the numbers going up and down and up daily. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? Well, when Covid first started I was quite lucky that myself, Hailey Gillis and Polly Phokeev, we were commissioned through Crow’s Theatre to work on a musical. We’re working on this adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’, workshopped at The Stratford Festival. We were able to spend a good chunk of time just throwing ourselves into that so that was a really nice project to have. Polly Phokeev and I, we also work on our own writing projects together. We’ve had a history of making theatre together and now we’re exploring what it might be like to make a tv series so we’ve working on the draft of a pilot about a mission to colonize Mars. The other thing I have a lot of time for, which I’ve never really been able to do, is to take a breath and look around and breathe. I’ve always been a go, go, go artist and so in many ways this has afforded me a great pause. I’ve spent some time camping with my partner. We were van camping. We were sleeping in the back of his van. When the cases were low, we went out to British Columbia to see his family and we drove back across the country staying in national parks. I’ve never done that. I’ve never seen those parts and parks of Canada. That was the highlight of my year for sure. It was magical. 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? This is a good question. Speaking personally, Covid has allowed me to take a bit of a breath and a pause and to spend some time living and thinking about things, and as an artist I think that’s a useful thing to do. Sometimes we’re so caught up in making art, making art, making art, making art that we forget to live. I’m speaking for myself here. I’ve felt very grateful for that aspect of it. The kind of escapism that I imagine Hal Prince is referring to in theatre to me is a very different thing than the really dark, complicated time that Covid has brought on so many of us. To me, going to the theatre is an escape. I’m reading this incredible book right now by Tana French. She’s an Irish mystery writer and that feels like an escape. I’m thinking about these characters when I’m not in the book, my mind is going to them, I’m trying to figure out the mystery, that’s escapism. Covid is the opposite of this. Instead, it has shined a fluorescent light on the inequities of society, the drastic differences of the qualities of life of someone who makes $200K+ a year versus someone who makes $20K a year. Covid hasn’t been an escape. It might have been nice if it was, but no. 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? (Mikaela chuckles) Okay with the caveat that I’m not a doctor so I really have no business making any predictions on this … I cannot imagine the theatre on an institutional level will be back to anything close to its capacity until 2022 or later. There’re two things to consider: a) when the theatre can legally come back in a safe way and b) everybody’s personal safety level. When will audiences feel safe to return because everyone will be at different starting points. I think we’ve got a long haul yet, but I’d love to be wrong. The question every artistic director asks is how to get young people to attend the theatre and become subscribers. Yes, our seniors make up a good deal of our audiences, but this may not be the case when theatres are legally allowed to re-open again. Well, one of the first things is to mount work that young people can relate to. Ya know, sometimes we think of theatre as medicine that can become inaccessible to younger people. I remember my parents taking me to museums when I was a kid, and I was thinking, “Oh, God, I don’t know if I like this. I don’t know if I’m engaging with this.” It doesn’t mean the work wasn’t incredible, it just means I didn’t understand it at the time. It didn’t speak to me and what I was going through at that time. The question is how to get young people excited about theatre and the answer is to program productions that speak to them and exploring and navigating so we can push those boundaries in their minds. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that 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? I was speaking with a director and how we might be able to put on this play through a Covid lens. We tasked ourselves with re-reading this play and imagining it in a Covid world. One of the things that struck me as possibly so exciting is seeing two characters come together and embrace and kiss each other and how electric that might be in a world where that’s not allowed if you’re not in the bubble. Like anything that happens in our world and the societies around us, it can’t help but inform the way we see things. I imagine there will be a renewed sense of chemistry and intimacy in our work to come once we are safely allowed to put these things on. I think seeing two people from different families come together and give each other a hug or any sort of physical touch will hit us in a different way than it ever would have before since we took it for granted. 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? This touches on tricky territory as we’ve seen through the #metoo Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Somebody’s idea of danger might be another person’s experience of abuse. I think it’s really important to say that you have to have everyone’s permission and consent to create that kind of environment. If you do, then I think it’s a fantastic thing to thrill yourself as an actor and for the audience and to seek that kind of danger as that’s the aliveness of theatre we all want to experience. I had that feeling of danger in reading Arthur Miller plays and when I performed in ‘The Changeling’ at the Stratford Festival. An artist can feel when an audience is in the palm of their hands and that’s exciting. 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? I certainly feel more attuned to everything around me. Not being able to see family or friends starts to wear on you and you have a greater understanding of mental health and anxiety. I’m a highly sensitive person so noise, feelings, it’s all mixed up for me and this time of Covid has turned it up. God, I hope I do bring this sensitivity when I return to the theatre. 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 interest 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? I love that. I love the fact he said theatre should spark curiosity. I think curiosity is the thing we need to build bridges in this time. When you can start to cultivate that in yourself with people who have radically different sets of beliefs than you do, you can be curious about them. You can begin to open doors and make those connections. I think that’s fantastic Hal Prince talked about the fact curiosity is one of the facets of what theatre should do. I spent a lot of time being curious about the police to be honest and how those systems worked for some people and not for others. What does that mean about a society if we are to continue a system that is discriminating against any BIPOC person? That’s been a huge learning curve for me. I watched this fantastic Zoom play reading by Ali Joy Richardson called ‘Dad’ through Studio 180. It was directed by Ann-Marie Kerr. It was so well done. One of the things I thought was so effective was it happened over Zoom but they utilized the platform of Zoom as part of the piece. In the actual play, Ali adapted it. This was a phone conversation just like you and I are right now, and we all got to be a fly on the wall during this conversation. I love ‘fly on the wall’ moments so I’m curious to see how people have been able to adapt that even while theatre can’t happen in the live space they’ve been able to take this form and make it exciting, and present, and right now. You can connect with Mikaela at Instagram: @mikaelalilydavies and Twitter: @MikaelaLily Previous Next

  • Profiles James Kall

    Back James Kall Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Ted Simonette Joe Szekeres What an enjoyable conversation with James Kall who appears as Nick and others in the Toronto company of ‘Come from Away’. And I even got the opportunity to be introduced to his beautiful dog, Harper. Gorgeous looking animal. James Kall holds an MFA in Acting from Yale University School of Drama. He has appeared in numerous TV shows, films and commercials, including "Schitt's Creek", "Suits", "Murdoch Mysteries", "Salvation", "Life with Judy Garland" and "The Christmas Market". He has over 100 professional theatre credits including "By Jeeves" on Broadway, directed by Sir Alan Ayckbourne and national tours of "Mamma Mia", "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Fiddler on the Roof". He was in the original Canadian cast of the Tony Award winning musical "Kinky Boots”. James has worked at theaters throughout the US and Canada as both an actor and a director. He is a dual citizen of the US and Canada. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thanks again for taking the time, James to add your voice to the conversation: Many professional theatre artists I’ve profiled and interviewed have shared so much of themselves and how the pandemic has affected them from social implications from the Black Lives Matter and BIPOC movements to the staggering numbers of illnesses and deaths. Could you share with us and describe one element, either positive or negative, from this time that you believe will remain with you forever? I’ve been mulling over this question for over a week since you sent it to me. I think I wanted to stay positive about it. What will stay with me is that I realize how much I took for granted and how blessed I am in so many facets of my life not only professionally in terms of the privilege I had, the white privilege I had. There weren’t times when I worried, “Oh, are there going to be roles for white men in this business” whereas my colleagues do have to worry about that, my colleagues of colour. Having been doing this for over 40 years professionally, it never really hit me like that until the BIPOC movement, and I thought how very fortunate I’ve been. As far as the pandemic, I’ve been blessed that I have a home, I have food, utilities; I have companionship, and the things I took for granted like seeing my doctor whenever I needed or going to the dentist or meet with friends. I realize now this is eye opening for me. I’m a fortunate human being and I need to appreciate it more. Have you learned anything about human nature from this time? What strikes me the most is that it seems like we are divided into two camps: first, those who put themselves first above all else, and the other camp: those who put others first which would lead to betterment for all of us. I’m thankful to be in the second camp, and there are more people in the second camp which allows humanity to survive as long as there are more people in that second camp. I’m a dual citizen as I can vote in both countries. To see what has become of the US and all of the selfishness that has risen to the top and formed a head in regard to masks, vaccinations, politics, white privilege, police violence, you’re either in the one camp or the other camp. That’s what I think I’ve learned about human nature but there is quite a division right now. I’m blessed to be a part of ‘Come from Away’ and its story of people helping others in the face of tragedy. How has your immediate family been faring during this time? As a family, can you share with us how your lives have been changed and impacted by this time? My family in the US has remained safe and healthy and have been able to continue working. My family here, the person I worry about the most is my mother-in-law. She’s 98. She’s in a nursing home outside Ottawa that was hit rather hard early on and half of the residents succumbed to Covid. She’s been good and we were able to visit her until early November because there were socially distant outdoor visits. It was great. We tried to see her every week. Since then, we’ve had to rely on Zoom and virtual calls which has worked, but she has shut down a bit because of the depression of being alone. She has people around her, but not seeing her family has been hard. We try to cheer her up online and keep her going until we can see her again. I’ve lost a few colleagues of people with whom I’ve worked over the years to Covid which is devastating. Harper is fine, and my partner, Randy, is fine. We’re all good here; we’re healthy. I know none of us can even begin to guess when professional theatre artists will be back to work. I’ve spoken with some who have said it might not be until 2022. Would you agree on this account? Have you ever though that you might have had to pivot and switch careers during this time? My answer changes daily, if not hourly, for what I see on the news. I’m going to hold on to the belief that some theatre will come back this year, and I hope the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’ does just that. We’re fortunate in that our production is sitting there waiting for us. I don’t think we will return until it is truly safe. So that’s why I’m disappointed with the roll out of the vaccines here in Canada. Nobody has really stepped up to the plate to make sure that they’re fixing whatever is not working. In the U.S., Dr. Fauci is quite pleased and believes even with the new strains of the new virus that, by April, anyone who wants to or should get vaccinated can be vaccinated. Right now, they’re doing groups, high risk, seniors. By April, I thought that’s pretty amazing. (Note from Joe: Mr. Trudeau is promising September. Thus, the reason why James’s point and why he is disappointed) We need that up here. In talking to our producers from ‘Come from Away’, we’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings, they really don’t want to compromise the show. They want to do it in the way it’s being done in Australia, intact as written. There’s so much close physical contact in the show that we have to ensure safety with this ensemble of 12 actors. We’ve done the show as a concert, which we’ve done, but it doesn’t serve the piece otherwise. So, I can there being far few audience members until it’s completely safe, but I do think the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’ will return this year. How do you think your chosen career path and vocational calling will look once all of you return safely to the theatre? Do you feel confident that you can and will return safely? I do feel confident that we will return safely, I honestly do, because they have proven that case by re-opening the show in Australia, but Australia has handled the pandemic a lot better on their continent than we have here. The producers check in on us constantly to keep our spirits up and to ensure us that we have a job waiting for us. The producers want that we won’t return unless it is truly safe for us. Having been working in television since the pandemic came about, there are ways to continue in this business. In the face of the pandemic, it’s easier in film and television, but I think there’s enough energy and enough people behind restoring the arts. The arts are essential. I do believe we will return. I do. And it will be safe. I assume all of us will be returning. And I applaud my friends who have found other creative outlets to keep going whether jewelry making, design, teaching or sewing. I’ve been really impressed with the creations coming out of this pandemic. This time of the worldwide pandemic has shaken all of us to our very core and being. According to author Margaret Atwood, she believes that Canadians are survivors no matter what is thrown in their path. Could you share what has helped you survive this time of uncertainty? First and foremost, my dog, Harper. I have to get out of bed in the morning and take her out. And I love her for that. She keeps me active and sane. We’ve explored new parts of Toronto safely along with new parks whether we walk or drive to them. Certainly having my husband of 25 years, Randy, I thought being trapped together that this could be interesting. Really, it has improved our relationship. I realize how fortunate I am that we are together. It’s the perfect fit because we have gone through this year with just us and the dog and come out better for it, I think. I can’t imagine being alone during this. That worries me because I do have friends who are really struggling because they live alone. I try to reach out to those whom I know are living alone. I’ve been keeping busy because I’m going to learn Slovak. I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish and reading a lot. One of my passions is baking as the cast would probably tell that I would bring in some new baked goods once a week that I’ve experimented with. At first I was doing some baking to take to the nursing homes or to some of my neighbours. Can’t do that now, but I’m still baking. I may not fit into my costume but I’ll deal with that when we’re back at. And the usual stuff too. I sing a lot, talk to myself a lot, I volunteer. I found this organization called VOLUNTEER TORONTO and they send out, sometimes daily, notices where they need help whether delivering food, giving safe rides, or delivering goods to people who can’t get out. I miss that terribly that umbrella from our show COME FROM KINDNESS outreach program we started. I miss that. I miss what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last couple of years. ‘Come from Away’ has become more than just a show. It’s become a movement. I highly recommend volunteering. That’s what I plan to do along with baking and rescuing dogs and enjoying life as much as I can. Imagine in a perfect world that the professional theatre artist has been called back as it has been deemed safe for actors and audience members to return. The first show is complete and now you’re waiting backstage for your curtain call: a) Describe how you believe you’re probably going to react at that curtain call. I think everyone in the cast could answer this. I will certainly be crying but have a big ass smile on my face. I cry a lot. I have become a very emotional person and I cry at the drop of a hat. I cry during commercials, I cry if someone in the audience is crying and I can’t look at them when the show is going on. b) There is a crowd of people waiting to see you and your castmates at the stage door to greet all of you. Tell me what’s the first thing you will probably say to the first audience member: Ya know I'd say (in a Newfoundland dialect), "God bless yer cotton socks for bein' here, b'y", or I'd say "Ďakujem" (Thank you in Slovak), Gracias, Merci, Previous Next

  • Profiles Mathieu Murphy-Perron

    Back Mathieu Murphy-Perron Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres I had heard about Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre, but I was never able to combine seeing a production while I was in the city. When I saw that a colleague had connections to Tableau D’Hote, I thought I’d take a chance to introduce myself electronically and see if they would be interested in being interviewed for this series. When Co-founder, Artistic and Executive Director, Mathieu Murphy-Perron got in touch with me and said he was very interested in an interview, I jumped at the opportunity to get in touch with him. You’ll see from some of Mathieu’s responses that Tableau D’Hote takes on projects that are highly artistic indeed with some world premieres that have me intrigued. Mathieu co-founded Tableau D’Hote Theatre with Mike Payette in 2005 and they managed the company together for eleven years prior to Payette’s appointment in 2016 at the head of Geordie Productions. Mathieu sits on the Board of the Conseil québécois du Theatre as the Quebec Drama Federation representative and chairs the Board of the Pointe-St-Charles Art School. We conducted our interview via email: 1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well? I’ve been doing surprisingly well. I’m more on the introverted side of the spectrum, so the lack of social contact has not been too difficult, and the love and company of my partner and our feline companion has also helped tremendously. Family is holding up okay, though some are grappling with loneliness, which is hard to watch from afar. 2. I see the world premiere of Erin Shields’ ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ was postponed on account of Covid. How far along was the production before everything was shuttered? Will ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ become part of any future slate(s) for Tableau D’Hote Theatre? We were a couple of weeks from the beginning of rehearsals when the crisis hit, but we thankfully had yet to begin our set build which was a relief. We remain committed very much to re-staging the world premiere of Erin Shields’ ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ with our production partners Repercussion Theatre. Repercussion commissioned the play years ago and have been developing it with Playwrights Workshop Montreal since. This is too many years in the making. We won’t back down now. We would prefer to stage it once distancing measures have been lifted as it would not do justice to the story or the cast to arrange for an iteration of it where these seven powerful women all need to stay two metres apart. 3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally? I miss my bike. I live a life that requires me needing to zip through town quickly several times a day. I average 150-200 km a week. That’s down to 20-30 km. now. Not because I can’t bike, but I just have a hard time finding the motivation when I have less practical reasons to do so. There is always work to be done from home, so leisurely jumping on my bike for a stroll doesn’t quite get me going. Professionally, it has been imagining all the various scenarios and what they mean for our medium. The vast majority of creation models in North America are incompatible with the present crisis. Shows take years of planning and a certain level of certainty, and it seems we may not have that luxury for quite some time. I believe that this will call for more spontaneous creation although I remain unsure what that will mean globally for the craft of our art. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? Tableau D’Hote is one of few companies creating theatre in English in Quebec. As an official language minority company, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that English-speaking artists are not forgotten in the Quebec government’s plans to support the sector, particularly seeing as how the contracts that govern our Equity productions are very different from those of our French colleagues under Union des artistes. I’ve been involved in a fair bit of advocacy work to that end as well as mapping out our various scenarios and losing myself in grant writing. 5. What advice would you give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What words of advice would you give to the new graduates emerging from the National Theatre School? Follow your instincts, stay safe and don’t be too hard on yourself for not creating or not being happy with your creations. My go to mantra has always been a quote of Martha Graham’s. I think it still applies in Covid times: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable now how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” 6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic? There seems to be a better sense of community where once there was little. Neighbours helping neighbours. People caring for one another, particularly those in more vulnerable situations. If that could continue, we’d all be stronger for it. As a staunch cyclist, I also hope this forces us to examine our cities relationship with cars. So many streets have been transformed to make room for pedestrians and cyclists, and it really makes you realize how much of our landscape is dedicated to parked cars. It’s sad. Hopefully this will push us to imagine our cities as a place for neighbours to interact and gather freely, on a human level, and less as a place for us all to be driving around in metal cages never really seeing one another. 7. Do you believe or can you see if the Quebec and Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? It’s hard to imagine how it wouldn’t be. Knowing the economic tendencies of bot the Federal Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Quebec, I predict that there will be some drastic austerity measures when all this is over. Will the arts be spared? Maybe, but a weakened social safety net and gutted social services will undoubtedly have an impact on artists. We will need to remain vigilant and demand that our representative place people over profit, even more so after the crisis. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts and comments about this? Are there any advantages or disadvantages? Will streaming/online/ You Tube performances be part of a ‘new normal’ for the live theatre/performing arts scene? If streaming becomes part of the ‘new normal’ it will mean the emergence of a form of digital art. That’s fine. But it’s not theatre. I’m not here to say one is better than the other, but I am a theatre artist, and the very nature of our art calls for artists and audiences breathing the same air under the same roof. Our art will not be replaced by streaming. We won’t let that happen. 9. As co-founder, Artistic and Executive Director of Tableau d’Hote Theatre, where do you see its future headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us? I have the luxury of little to no overhead. We are a project-based company. I have years of projects lined up that I very much hope we will be able to produce but, if we can’t, we’ll put them on the backburner and think of projects that are better suited to this reality. We can wait this out. We’ll find new ways to create (we may even have a very small experimental summer project in the works), and we’ll take whatever time is needed to listen and heal to do just that. With a respectful acknowledgment 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: 1. What is your favourite word? Flabbergasted 2. What is your least favourite word? Crazy 3. What turns you on? Collective resistance 4. What turns you off? Capitalism 5. What sound or noise do you love? The rhythm and chants heard at protests. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? My Fridge was made by a Spanish Workers’ Co-op that closed down in 2015. It beeps incessantly as soon as it gets warm and I have yet to find a mechanic that services them given that the company shut down. I hate the sound of my beeping fridge especially at 2 am. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Ostidecalissedefuckshitdetabarnacle. (Personal note and aside: Gotta love the Quebeckers for their cursing) 8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? I’m a big believer in parallel universes. They ease my anxiety. Whenever I like to tackle something in the world but that I have neither the time nor the skills to do so, I tell myself that an alternate me is taking care of it in an alternate world. That said – bike messenger. 9. What profession would you not like to do? Police officer 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? I’m agnostic, but I believe that in the off-chance God exists, they are more concerned with the life you live than whether or not you believed in them. So I’d like a knowing smirk that says it all. To learn more about Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre, visit www.tableaudhote.ca . Previous Next

  • 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

  • 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

  • Profiles Andrew Kushnir

    Back Andrew Kushnir Looking Ahead Nolan Bryant Joe Szekeres I’ve seen Andrew Kushnir’s name on many live theatre sites over the years. I did get to review one play he had written ‘Toward Youth’ at Crow’s Theatre, but that has been the only work of his I’d seen. When I saw that he had responded to one of the artists whom I had profiled, I thought well, get in touch with him to see if he is interested in being interviewed. And he was most appreciative of the opportunity. Andrew is quite proud of his latest project This Is Something Else — an investigative podcast ‘love letter’ to theatre in this country, produced by the Arts Club. They’re nearing 4000 downloads.. ‘Project: Humanity’ is also nearing the 1-year anniversary of their CAPP (Covid-19 Artist Partnership Program) -- soon to be renamed PH 1:1. They’ve provided meaningful employment to 48 professional artists this past year as mentors to youth in the shelter system (in an arts discipline of the young person's choosing). Andrew is an actor, playwright, and director who lives in Toronto. He is artistic director of the socially engaged theatre company Project: Humanity. His produced plays include The Middle Place (Toronto Theatre Critic’s Award), Small Axe, Wormwood, The Gay Heritage Project (co-created with Paul Dunn and Damien Atkins, 3 Dora Award nominations) and Freedom Singer (co-created with Khari Wendell McClelland, toured nationally to 14 cities). His most recent work Towards Youth: a play on radical hope premiered in February 2019 in a co-production between Project: Humanity and Crow's Theatre. This past year has had him collaborating on a verbatim musical about competitive eating, leading a 7-week masterclass “Verbatim Theatre: Working with the Realness” with Ghostlight, creating an original limited podcast series for the Arts Club Theatre entitled This Is Something Else, directing the graduating class at the National Theatre School in the New Words Festival, and working on Dr. Kathleen Gallagher’s Audacious Citizens project – which researches the drama classroom vis-à-vis climate justice. His co-directed documentary film Finding Radical Hope was released in February 2021. He is a graduate of the University of Alberta, a Loran Scholar and alumnist of the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction at the Stratford Festival. In April 2019, he became the first-ever recipient of the Shevchenko Foundation’s REACH prize. We conducted our conversation via email as he is one busy guy. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Andrew: 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. My brain zigzags wildly with this…what a year (and more) of flux. I think of the things that were once easy and are much more difficult, if not impossible, now. And then the inverse – how things that seemed implausible (big systemic reforms, for instance) feel not only more possible, but imperative. I have more appetite for change now than ever before, I’d say. More appetite for variations. For new stories. For moving away from the things that weren’t working. One thing does occur to me, as I turn over your question, is my perception of boundaries or borders. That has shifted for me. The notion of a safe space, one I can move freely through. In November 2019, I undertook a big research trip through Europe. I retraced my late grandfather’s journey from a small village in Western Ukraine, through Poland, Italy and England. He was a celebrated watchmaker, he designed the last railway-grade pocket watch in North America, and I covered something like 19,000 km by foot, train, plane and car rental with his pocket watch on me. I interviewed dozens of people about their sense of Time – some in their 90s – and photographed them handling his timepiece while I did it. That sort of trek through the world then felt so relatively effortless. Those meetings with perfect strangers felt so uncomplicated, relatively speaking. I think about how lucky I was to move through the world as I did then. It’s a different physical world now. Feels tighter, more bordered, for the time being. 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? I found myself realizing how much I get from ‘showing up’ in a shared space with the work; how much theatre is co-created between artists and audiences, and how we’re consequential to one another in that ‘room’. I’ve said this before: why is it heaven when you walk into a sparsely attended movie? Why is it hell when you walk into a sparsely attended play? It’s just heavy-lifting when you’re without a crowd in the theatre – and often, digital iterations of theatre have felt like that kind of heavy-lifting for me. There have been notable exceptions, of course –moments of pure medicine! But that’s all to say, this pandemic has reinvigorated my affection for audiences, to remember that we do it all with them. This past year has also highlighted for me how much more, as a sector, we have to centre care in our work. Care for our fellow artists, care in our ways of working, our ways of producing, our ways of engaging with the public. Theatre is not lucrative, it’s not high-profile, it’s in many ways a fragile ecology, all we have is relationships. How do we take best care of our relationships so that everyone can show up maximally in the spaces we gather and make work in? As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I got to direct at the National Theatre School this spring. We were safely distanced at all times, masked at all times, following very strict protocols around space and sanitization. It was kind of miraculous. And it gave me a dose of the thing I missed so much (and miss now!): the daily joy of a rehearsal hall working on a new play. The collective effort of making sense of new and original writing, testing revisions, dreaming up possibilities through performance and design. The requisite banter that comes with coping with uncertainty. The getting good at loving uncertainty. I think a life in the theatre primes you for various forms of not knowing. It makes theatre people good in a crisis. But I miss the very spaces and projects that help us get good at dancing with the unexpected. The helpful edges that keep the sand in the sandbox. 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? Seeing the lower hemisphere of a person’s face! Ok, maybe that will wear off, eventually. I suppose I’ll never take for granted how interconnected we are as a theatre ecology across this country. We aren’t that big of a sector. I think we punch well above our weight, but we’re a relatively small entity, a kind of village. My feelings around this was heightened recently through a history-related podcast I created for the Arts Club -- just seeing how interrelated we are by certain events and cultural forces. I’ve come to newly appreciate the space that large cultural institutions hold in the social imagination, and how their survival has tangible impacts on companies off all sizes. My esteem for smaller companies has also deepened, those who’ve been so skilled at responding to the immediate needs of their artistic communities. Keeping artists from creative atrophy (and from losing their livelihoods) is critical to our recovery, and to ensuring stages of all sizes get populated by exciting and diverse work. I do think we’re all enmeshed, from a theatre survival standpoint. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I hope we’ve come to better recognize the barriers that have been in place in our industry for a long time: barriers to diverse perspectives, lived experiences, ways of working. Barriers to a more equitable distribution of power and resources. Barriers to access. I was speaking to my mother about the Free Theatre Report – this stunning document that I came across created by Savage God (John Juliani and Donna Wong) in the 1970s. My mother said “I bet if theatre had been free when I was growing up, I would have gone.” There was a kind of sadness when she said it. I think we in the theatre know that it can be a magical thing in your life, it can be hope-and joy-inducing. Can we come back to it now with an eye to broadening its reach and its presence in our social fabric? Can we democratize theatre more? Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Super tough question. I do love teaching and mentoring. My own teachers, mentors and collaborators over the years have loaded me up with so many insights and concepts and ways of going about theatre. I treasure the spaces where I get to share the collage of my ‘receipts’, what constitutes and constellates and influences my approach to theatre. There’s something so satisfying when I see someone excited by something I’ve inherited, that I’ve passed something useful along. 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. I’m not so sure about that. We’re seeing a surge in pieces of art about the 1980s AIDS crisis in recent years. I know there’s a confluence of factors around that – not least of which the broader social acceptance of queer stories. But I think there’s a kind of profound shock that needs to wear off (I mean we’re still in the middle of this global pandemic), and it’s going to take some time and distance yet before we’ll be able to appreciate and welcome narratives about what we’ve undergone. Robert Caro says “Time equals truth”. I’d like to think we’ll give ourselves some time. In another, weird way, maybe any play produced upon the “return to live theatre” will be COVID-themed, insomuch as we’ll be a bit self-conscious in the dark, talking down our mortal fear of that cough we hear across the room, clocking the actors coming more than 2 meters from each other, making contact. The most unrelated content will relate to our historic moment, because the event of theatre is always so Local and Now. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Ah, the awkward memorial question. I don’t really know how to respond. I have been to memorials for theatre artists who’ve achieved so much more than I will, and I wonder how much they occur to general audiences now (their ‘future audiences’). Maybe not much. And maybe that’s not a sad thing. There’s something inherently ephemeral about our art form, it comes and goes, you’ve got to be there. If any audience were to remember my work…I don’t know… “he was playful with hard questions” sits ok with me. To learn more about Andrew, visit his personal website: www.kushnirandrew.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Shawn Ahmed

    Back Shawn Ahmed "Community is a two-way street. You have to put something into it to get something out of it." Steve Carty Joe Szekeres Toronto performing artist Shawn Ahmed currently appears in the Shaw Festival’s production of ‘Mahabharata’ in conjunction with Why Not Theatre and in association with the Barbican, London, England. In reading recent reviews of the production, I hear tremendous praise about the five-hour show. Yes, five hours, but there is a break in between the two performances. More about this shortly. Ahmed earned a Specialist in Economics at the University of Toronto. When did his desire to become an actor enter his mind? He says it was always something in the back of his head: “I just had no tangible way of achieving that goal. Before university, I attended Wexford School for the Arts. I had a huge introduction to the musical theatre there, to acting, dancing, and singing. It was always something I really loved in creating stories, listening to stories, watching stories, reciting stand-up.” Ahmed had an agent at this time, but he didn’t really see a place for himself in the industry. That’s when he attended U of T to study Economics. He remembers his agent telling him that she could still send him out to auditions since he was in Toronto. He could do commercials and make some extra pocket money which he thought was a good idea. He did that and while he studied at school Shawn was auditioning. In his second year that’s when he booked the substantial job of filming ‘Flight 93’ in Vancouver, the first film made about 9/11. (Side note: I did see the film and it is worth viewing. You can YouTube it). Shawn recalls being treated like an actor in that film. The experience was so profound for him that he had to decide how to make the industry work for him. He finished his degree, part-time over the next four years while doing sketch comedy, auditioning, and writing things. He also recalled working in the backs of bars wherever he could. Once he finished his degree, Shawn shifted focus and dove headfirst into the industry and moulded his life around how he would make a living in this business. He is very excited to be back in the theatre doing what he loves even though our world is still in Covid’s embrace. Hesitant about the theatre for the last couple of years Ahmed focused on the film and tv industry. However, in the last six months, he feels there has been a resurgence in theatre in Toronto and at Shaw. He feels there is an appetite as audiences and artists are hungry for live theatre again and for its storytelling. Voice and storytelling at its core, the really simple stuff, carry us forward while the other elements of the production lift it up. Currently, he is deep into performances for ‘Mahabharata’ at the Shaw Festival billed on the website as: “a contemporary take on a Sanskrit epic that is more than four thousand years old and foundational to Indian culture. This gripping story of a family feud is an exploration of profound philosophical and spiritual ideas.” When I asked Shawn to describe the plot synopsis, he had a good laugh and said: “If I distill it to one line, I would call it Indian Game of Thrones.” The Mahabharata is a 4000-year-old Sanskrit poem that has been told for obviously a very long time. If recited in its entirety, Ahmed says it would take 21 days to recite it. The production is a condensed version of the poem. For Shawn, what’s interesting about the story? It’s an Eastern story but it’s being told at a Western theatre for a Western audience by predominantly artists who grew up in the western hemisphere. It’s an event. At times, it’s a spectacle. The challenge is to honour what is in the original text, but the vision is to make it palatable for a western audience. ‘Mahabharata’ is many different stories, some related and some not, that have different lessons. Each story can be dissected in different ways. Each story is meant to be heard, listened and digested over and over again because you’ll get something different out of it every time. At its core, ‘Mahabharata’ is a love story where two people fall in love. As a result of that love, there are two different brothers that lay claim to the throne of Hastinapura. Each of these brothers has children and these children, who are cousins, will fight for what they believe is their rightful place. Ahmed describes the Shaw performances as ambitious but fantastic and adds: “It’s been a very difficult process, not from a place of tension but from a place of being expected to do a lot. The artists have had to do a lot. I’ve been pushed personally I think further than I have been pushed as an artist physically and emotionally, and mentally just timewise more than I’ve been for another show that I’ve done in recent memory.” Shawn stipulates he likes working hard for things he likes to do. It’s been a great learning experience. He’s proud of ‘Mahabharata’ and praises the work of writers Miriam Fernandes and Ravi Jain. Jain also directs the work. What Ahmed has found remarkable is the element of trust that has been established from and in everyone within the room towards Miriam, Ravi, and their vision for the work. An international cast has been assembled for the show and Shawn also finds that exciting. The expectation hopefully is to tour the show to as many audiences as possible. The story is very special to Shawn, and he reiterates how important it is to see both parts. Audiences are into it. The current production is told in many ways. It’s not simply a stand-up story. For example, there’s dance, music, opera, and clown influence. Outside of his work as a professional artist, Shawn heartfully spoke about his involvement in helping marginalized youth and young people break into film, television, and the theatre. He calls this initiative a community and it is a beautiful thing to him. It helps support everyone in that community and makes their lives better, their careers better and their quality of life better. Community is a two-way street for Ahmed. You have to put something into it to get something out of it. He sits on the board of directors at POV Film, a charitable organization founded in 2007 by Edie Weiss and Jeff Kopas. He proudly recalled how a lot of people stepped up along the way to help him out. Now, Shawn wants to give back and help marginalized youth break into the film and television industry through training, mentorship, job placement, and professional development. Shawn also co-founded Crazy Shirt Productions. This is a place for him and his creative peers to write, direct and produce. His projects have toured festivals worldwide and garnered awards and accolades. He just wrapped on the feature, ‘Sanctuary’, a Get Out-esque thriller, which he produced. (Hmmm…something else to watch for in the future). What’s next for Shawn Ahmed after ‘Mahabharata’ has concluded its run: “I am producing a movie that my buddy Scott Leaver wrote and directed called ‘The Devil Comes At Night’, a feature-length horror film we shot during pandemic times. We went to a cabin with a bunch of actors and crew for two weeks and shot it out. It had its premiere at the Blood and Snow Festival last November with Super channel and will have some sort of a release this year. There’s another show I produced called ‘Right Under My Roof’ through POV Films. It’s a six-part series told through found footage. The story is told through social media essentially.” And on a personal note, Shawn shared: “There are wedding bells in the future.” Always great news to hear. ‘Mahabharata’ runs until March 26 at the Shaw’s Festival Theatre. The production is divided into two parts. To learn more and/or purchase tickets, visit shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-SHAW. Previous Next

  • Community Theatre 'Love, Loss and What I Wore' by Nora & Delia Ephron

    Back 'Love, Loss and What I Wore' by Nora & Delia Ephron Production staged by The Borelians of Port Perry at Town Hall 1873 Scott Murdoch Joe Szekeres Smart, savvy, and saucy performances delivered by a technically solid ensemble I’ve never seen this play before, but I’ve heard of its title. ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is akin to A. R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ where the original casts just read from the script, and it was up to the audience to imagine the story playing out in front. This form known as ‘Reader’s Theatre’ would allow for casts to come and go as very little rehearsal time would be needed. In a slow return to the Durham Community Theatre Scene still in Covid throes, director Helen Coughlin and her cast made the choice not to read the scripts but to memorize them. Was this a good choice? More about that decision shortly. Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is a series of monologues by Nora and Delia Ephron and is based on the book of the same title by Ilene Beckerman. The story is a series of monologues focusing on the lives of five women and the clothing they wore at certain times in their lives. There are a few moments where the script shows its age. For example, there is a reference to the singer Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ which the ladies do at one point. But just because the play might be showing its age doesn’t make it any less relevant. What’s that adage? With age comes experience and, for me, that’s a mystique about ladies that can also be seen as a sexy quality. For some reason, women have this inherent instinct they remember what they had worn or what someone might have worn or not. Don’t get me wrong as this is not meant to be ‘mansplaining’ anything. Women just have this unique instinct that men don’t care about at all which I find fascinating about womanhood. The Borelians made some interesting choices for ‘Love’. This is a story about women and what transpires in their lives and in their connections to what they had worn at certain times. Can males find anything to connect with in this script at all? Recently, I had a conversation with the Producer of this show, Carolyn Goff, who is also a performer in the play and believes men can connect with the story. Good storytelling is not gender-biased. Recently the Port Perry theatre company sponsored an online contest where the production was billed as a night out with your best girlfriends. Why would men want to come to the theatre knowing this is a girls’ night out? This might appear that men might not get the story. Off I went to the opening and see if I could make a connection with the show. I also counted 14 men in the audience. If they do read this article, I hope they will comment as I would like to know what they thought. My thoughts – go and see it, guys and yes, ladies make sure you get a ticket. These are all smart, savvy, and saucy ladies who tell a good story. The second choice made by director Helen Coughlin and the cast was to go against the grain and memorize the monologues instead of reading them. Was this a good choice to make? I had no problem with it at all. It worked soundly for me in the Town Hall. From designer Shelley Martin’s neatly attractive and tidy set where every item had its proper place to Amy Caughlin’s fastidious digital designs, the production clips along at a natural sounding pace. Nothing appeared to be rushed or forced. Under Helen Coughlin’s subtle yet controlled direction, these five ladies inherently just knew when to hold for laughter or when to make those appropriate pauses for comic or dramatic effect. They sharply make the most of their time on stage as I saw distinct characterizations of many different personalities. At the top of the show, we are introduced to Gingy (Amy Caughlin) whom I thought becomes the central narrator of the story. She is sketching various clothing designs from her wardrobe that sparked personal memories for her. From there, the various ladies step forward and begin to tell their stories in their voices about events and what they wore. Some are downright hilarious, others poignant, some sad and others troubling. Amy Caughlin corralled my focus immediately at the top of the show. Her consistently calm and in control knowing smile on her face and the twinkling glean in her eye suggested she and these ladies are here to tell you some good stories and tales. And they dutifully delivered. Although the ladies play several distinct characters, I’ll only refer to one here. Go and see how they handle the others. Lara Stokes’ sharp comic sense of timing is pitch-perfect as she talks about shoes. Carolyn Goff also displays keen timing not only on why she hates her purse but also in the tough girl image she shows us about halfway through. Annette Stokes’ story as a breast cancer survivor becomes funny, touching and very poignant, especially for those of us in the audience who have been affected by the disease in any way. Joanne Norman’s frantic search to find the right thing to wear (when she says she has nothing to wear while surrounded by a mound of clothes) is enjoyable. Final Comments: As the Durham Region community theatre scene slowly returns, ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ was an appropriate choice to showcase the Borelians are back in business. Lovely to see the tight ensemble work on stage. Running Time: approximately 95 minutes with no intermission. ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ runs October 21 and 22 at 8 pm AND October 22 at 2 pm. All performances take place at Town Hall Theatre, 302 Queen Street, Port Perry. For tickets visit www.townhalltheatre.ca . ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ by Nora and Delia Ephron, Based on the book by Ilene Beckerman Presented by Borelians Community Theatre. Director: Helen Coughlin Producer: Carolyn Goff Stage Manager: Brenda DeJong Set Designer: Shelley Martin Lighting Designer: Joanne Norman Sound Designer: Michael Serres Digital Designer: Amy Caughlin Cast: Amy Caughlin, Lara Stokes, Annette Stokes, Carolyn Goff, Joanne Norman, Brenda DeJong Previous Next

  • Opera 'The Resurrection' by George Frederick Handel

    Back 'The Resurrection' by George Frederick Handel Presented by Opera Atelier Bruce Zinger. Soprano Meghan Lindsay as Mary Magdalene and Artist of Atelier Ballet Edward Tracz. Joe Szekeres Please note I have no educational background or training in the world of opera and ballet. I will comment on the staging of the production. A visual and sumptuous telling with grace and dignity. Exquisite to watch and extraordinary to hear. News of Christ’s death has invaded Heaven. The Archangel (Carla Huhtanen) and Lucifer (Douglas Williams) hold a heated argument with the latter claiming victory over Christ’s death while the former insists that death is a victory for heaven and all of humankind. On earth, Mary Magdalene (Meghan Lindsay) mourns Christ’s death. The arrival of Cleophas (Allyson McHardy) leads these two women to consider what they have seen during the last hours of Christ’s life: the crown of thorns, the nails that pierced his feet and his face. St. John the Evangelist (Colin Ainsworth) arrives and reminds the women that Christ said he would return to them. He encourages the women to visit Christ’s tomb while he goes to care for Mary, Christ’s mother. In heaven, the Archangel calls from purgatory all souls who have existed prior to Christ’s crucifixion and encourages them to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. The Archangel leads them out of purgatory triumphantly. In turn, the Angel celebrates Christ’s resurrection and invites all the world to rejoice. Lucifer is both horrified and defeated by the news and continues to threaten vengeance on all humanity. He soon realizes he is defeated and without recourse falls once again into the depths of Hell. The women arrive at the tomb and are greeted by the angel in white who assures them Christ has risen. The angel encourages the women to spread the joyful news. St. John meets Cleophas and describes his meeting with Christ’s mother – Christ has revealed himself to his mother. There is a great joy. In conclusion, the entire company celebrates the resurrection which allows Earth to rise to Heaven. Gerard Gauci’s set design and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design resplendently create a wonderful world of hues, tones, shades, and magnificent colours. There are two opposing stands on stage left and right from which the Archangel and Lucifer hurl operatically awesome debates back and forth. Christ’s tomb is centre stage covered with a gold curtain. It is a two-level set. There are staircases left and right from which some of the performers ascend and descend. Beautiful golden drapes at the top of the stairs indicate Heaven from which the Archangel descends to speak with Lucifer. The richness of Alessia Urbani’s costume designs is another visual feast. My eyes were continually moving when new characters entered. An initial look of ten seconds can give a strong first impression and this was most present in Douglas Williams. His dark t-shirt fitted his muscular structural frame. Long black boots and tight-fitting pants indicate a character who is in complete control. Marshall Pynkoski directs the production with an effectively controlled passion for the work. Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s avowed respect for dance and movement has been finely captured in the work of the Atelier Ballet artists. I recognized two names of artists whom I’ve seen in other productions. I hope I can catch the names of the other artists whom I did not recognize in other shows in future. It was also marvellous to catch Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg on stage at one point doing what she obviously loves doing. David Fallis conducts the music with a passionate and emotional intensity. Douglas Williams is a sexy and seductive Lucifer who, at one point, tries to win over the Archangel with his suave and debonair nature. As the Archangel, Carla Huhtanen remains a vocal powerhouse in the back-and-forth vocal debate about who remains in control of Heaven after the death of Christ. Colin Ainsworth offers an extraordinary contrast to Douglas Williams’ Lucifer. Ainsworth’s St. John the Evangelist remains grounded in temperance and faith in not losing hope in a promise made. Allyson McHardy and Megan Lindsay credibly respond and react to each other as Cleophas and Mary Magdalene. They are incredible women of strength and fortitude. Final Comments: This production of ‘The Resurrection’ had been gorgeously filmed during the pandemic. It was fine to watch the filmed adaptation but nothing beats a live performance. I do hope to see more of Opera Atelier in the future. Running time: 115 minutes The production has now closed but I encourage all of you to attend Opera Atelier productions. For more information, visit operaatelier.com. OPERA ATELIER presented George Frederick Handel’s THE RESURRECTION at Koerner Hall, Telus Centre for the Performing Arts and Learning. Conductor: David Fallis Stage Director: Marshall Pynkoski Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg Resident Set Designer: Gerard Gauci Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtrell Head of Wardrobe: Alessia Urbani Production Stage Manager: Tamara Vuckovic Company: Colin Ainsworth, Carla Huhtanen, Meghan Lindsay, Allyson McHardy, Douglas Williams. Artists of Atelier Ballet: Eric César De Mello Da Silva, Juri Hiraoka, Elizabeth Katashnikova, Kevin Law, Courtney Law, Kealan McLaughlin, Julia Sedwick, Cynthia Smithers, Edward Tracz, Dominic Who, Xi Yi, Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg Previous Next

  • Solos

    Solos "As I Must Live It' written and performed by Luke Reece Click Here 'Guilt: A Love Story' written and performed by Diane Flacks Click Here 'Hypothetical Baby' written and performed by Rachel Cairns Click Here 'Monster' by Daniel MacIvor Click Here 'Sea Wall' by Simon Stephens Click Here 'The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It" written and performed by Cliff Cardinal Click Here 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens Click Here 'Here Lies Henry' by Daniel MacIvor Click Here 'Living with Shakespeare' by Jeremy Smith and Steven Gallagher. Presented by Driftwood Theatre Click Here 'Prophecy Fog' by Jani Lauzon Click Here 'Shirley Valentine' by Willy Russell Click Here 'The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time' by Walter Borden Click Here

  • 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 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

  • 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 Sarah Garton Stanley

    Back Sarah Garton Stanley Looking Ahead Alejandro Santiago Joe Szekeres Sarah Garton Stanley is highly respected among the theatre community as the links found at the conclusion of her profile reveal her prolific status. We conducted our conversation via email as she is one extremely busy lady right now. I knew Sarah was the Associate Artistic Director for Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, English Theatre, but that’s all I knew of her work. Her bio from the NAC told me far more about her work in the theatre: “[She is a] Director, dramaturg and conversationalist, originally from Montreal, now lives in Kingston and works from Ottawa. Sarah is the Curator for The Collaborations and leader for The Cycle(s). Sarah co-founded and is creative catalyst for SpiderWebShow, (where Canada, the Internet and live performance connect). She is also a former Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. As well, Sarah is also Executive Producer of FOLDA (Festival of Live Digital Art) whose mission it is to support artists creating theatre in a digital age. In the course of her award-winning career, Sarah has worked across Canada and overseas. Most recent directing credits include Unsafe (Canadian Stage); Out the Window (Luminato/Theatre Centre); Kill Me Now (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production in collaboration with NAC English Theatre); Bunny (Stratford Festival); Helen Lawrence (Canadian Stage, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Munich Kammerspiele and elsewhere) and We Keep Coming Back (Jewish Culture Fest, Krakow, Poland and Ashkenaz Festival, Toronto). Sarah received the 2016 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas’ Elliot Hayes Award, the 2017 Manitoba Theatre Award for best direction for Kill Me Now and the 2018 Honorary Member Award for Canadian Association for Theatre Research.” Thank you again for adding your voice to the discussion, Sarah: 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. Between March 13 and 20, 2020 I watched a future disappear. What I was doing, was to be doing, and in the planning stages for what might come after that, all of it changed. The one constant was my relationship with my partner. But even that went through enormous change. We started off in Vancouver, I was there directing David Yee’s brilliant ‘carried away on the crest of a wave’ at the Arts Club. The set was on the stage, tech rehearsals had begun. This was March 13. March 20 we were on a flight to Toronto. At the airport the cancellation of my upcoming production of Erin Shields’ ‘Paradise Lost’ at the National Arts Centre became clear. By March 25th we had moved to Kingston and the FOLDA festival that I co-curate along with the Green Rooms pivoted to entirely online offerings. On April 13th we brought home our pandemic puppy, Matzo. And on June 17 we arrived in Nova Scotia to live off grid at Birchdale. We stayed there until November 30th. We still have an apartment in Toronto, but now live in Yarmouth Nova Scotia. All of my work in the theatre has happened online since March 17th, 2020 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? My career was characterized by travel and meeting new people and seeing old friends and family. I have been incredibly lucky to work in many parts of this amazing land called Canada. Those experiences of change and return were a huge part of my joy in what I get to do as a director and dramaturg. Shifting to online has flattened a lot of my personal connection to the theatre. I liken it to a heart monitor. It still beats but without much drama. That said, I have truly loved seeing and participating in the creative shifts we have been making to face this moment. FOLDA is a great example of this excitement but so too are the wide-ranging outpourings of social justice creations that have more capacity when working in the digital realm. (or at least this is how it appears to me). As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the dust on the floor in the rehearsal hall. I miss having to wear pants. I miss awkward conversation with incredible people. I miss trying to avoid opening nights. I miss eating weird snacks in tech. I miss watching actors work. I miss going into the room at the beginning of a process and coming out into a lobby just before an audience is about to come in and asking myself, “How exactly did we get here?” I miss feeling shitty at opening night cards and gifts and I miss feeling sad and oddly relieved when a show closes. I have always believed that theatre gave me life, offered me a sense of family. I have missed my family. 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? What it takes for every single person to participate. What the pandemic has shown us is the facts of our lives. Our kids, our pets, our homes, our personal demands. We have, through the transition to online, seen so much more of what each of us goes through to live a life. So, when I think about the theatre, I think more deeply about what an artist has to organize to get to an agreed upon meeting time with countless others. And I think the same about the audience. What did they have to do to make it possible to get to the show? I think the future will see a split experience; some who will make it to the theatre and some who will want or need to see it on demand from home. But what I will never again take for granted is what is required for a group of people to gather at an agreed upon time. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I hope how the industry has responded historically to social inequities has been forever changed. I hope that the industry will continue to be populated and led by more and more IBPOC artists. I hope the industry can be the changemaker it wants to be. AND I hope it can offer up MORE and MORE joy. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Oh god. Joe! what a question! When the pandemic hit, I felt like I had both hit an incredible streak of work AND like I was not going to be able to sustain the pace for too much longer. And like so many of us, the pandemic forced a lot of things to happen. I was a non-stop mover who has now stopped moving. I am currently working on my PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University. I am working on a creation project called: ‘Massey and Me: Conversations about the end of theatre in Canada.’ It is a work that I hope will illuminate some of the issues we continue to contend with and hopefully it will offer some insights about possible ways forward. It is a “show” and “research event” that I truly do hope I will be able to pull off. And, if it goes really well, I aim to publish the work. 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. Hmmmm...I really have not thought much about that. I hope and trust that there will be a lot of work on our stages that reflects a breadth of experience and while Covid is bound to make its way into most creation and interpretation for the foreseeable future, I think this pandemic period has highlighted for me the enormity of social change that we are experiencing in this country and the world over. I expect that a lot of work in the next set of years will be a reflection of the dynamic power shifts that we are witnessing and experiencing in many corners of our day to day lives. Perhaps that is aspirational, but I really hope that is what floods the stages upon our return. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I want people to remember the conversations I ignited through my work. I want people to remember how I played with form. I want people to remember how much I loved making work with other people and, if I am really lucky, I hope people will remember some brilliant moments of stagecraft and a few good quotes. To follow Sarah: Twitter: @saragstanley / FB: @Sarah Garton Stanley / Insta: @sarahgstanley / LinkedIn Sarah Garton Stanley web site saragartonstanley.com web site spiderwebshow.ca web site folda.ca web site birchdalelake.com web site green rooms Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Fairview' by Jackie Sibblies Drury

    Back 'Fairview' by Jackie Sibblies Drury A Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre co-production now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre A Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre co-production now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre Joe Szekerers Credit: John Lauener. L-R: Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Peter N. Bailey, Sophia Walker, Chelsea Russell "Jackie Sibblies Drury’s ‘Fairview’ demands its audiences to listen, listen and listen. I like when that happens. Tawiah M’Carthy’s solid direction throughout resulted in artful performances. The closing monologue took my breath away." The Frasier household busily prepares for a birthday party for the family’s grandmother. It appears things are running behind schedule. Daughter Beverly (Ordena Stephens-Thompson) peels the carrots. She is not dressed for the party yet. While she is listening to music, there’s a brief power surge which briefly shuts the music off and then back on. Beverly’s husband Dayton (Peter N. Bailey) assists his wife with the preparation. Sometimes he doesn’t listen to her instructions and other times he pokes fun at her for all the fuss she is creating. Beverly’s sister, Jasmine (Sophia Walker) arrives sharply dressed for the birthday celebration. Later, Beverly and Dayton’s daughter, Keisha (Chelsea Russell) arrives home from an after-school practice. She and Jasmine hold a brief conversation about the young girl not wanting to go to college after high school graduation. Keisha begs her aunt to speak to Beverly about this decision. During the dinner preparation, Beverly receives a telephone call from her brother Tyrone that he cannot come to the party because his plane is delayed. With all this commotion and fuss going on, Beverly is overcome with exhaustion and faints. The party guests then arrive and all is never the same again. The eyebrow-raising plot twists in Drury’s dense and intricate script provide some very comical and dark looks at modern twenty-first-century life. It’s important not only to hear what’s being said in ‘Fairview’ but crucial to listen to what’s being said and implied. At first glance, Jawon Kang’s set design of this immaculate-looking upscale middle-class home is gorgeous. However, there’s also an underlying sense that something just does not seem right. For example, there are no pictures in the picture frames. Everything just appears to be too clean looking, too tidy, and too perfect. Logan Cracknell’s lighting design warmly underscores and dramatically heightens the surprising plot twists of this diverse family unit. Rachel Forbes’ stylish costumes aptly reflect the unique diversity of the characters. Miquelon Rodriguez’s sound design is of the utmost importance to highlight. Three of the several song selections in the pre-show music immediately caught my ear. They are three television sitcom themes: ‘In Living Color’, ‘That’s So Raven’ and ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ that focus on black characters. A brief bit of historical and personal context is necessary here. And I’m not apologizing for my experience. When I started teaching in the mid-1980s outside of Toronto, the schools where I taught were predominately white. Teaching jobs were scarce and educators took what was offered to them. And that’s what I did. As a new teacher wanting to gain experience, I didn’t have much time to watch these aforementioned shows. However, my students did. Periodically I would watch these situation comedies to see what the kids were watching. Although it wasn’t made clear back then, the fact is now abundantly clear. We watched, heard, and listened to the stories through our white lens of the fictional lives of characters played by artists from the mid-1980s black community. Inevitably this white view predominated how we saw people from the black community for quite some time. It is this biased thinking we are asked to re-evaluate in ‘Fairview’. The title seems highly ironic. Have we given a truly fair view to this notion of race? Chelsea Russell (who plays Keisha) writes in her programme note: “It’s time that we switched for a little while, because as uncomfortable as it is to watch, it’s even more uncomfortable to perform – to live.” How true, Chelsea, that we must sit in this discomfort for a while, but how necessary it is. Initially, ‘Fairview’ plays like an 80s sitcom and director Tawiah M’Carthy cleverly plays that for comic effect with staged one-line zingers back and forth. However, M’Carthy daringly turns ‘Fairview’ on its head in what I will call Part 2. In a ‘Noises Off’ format, Part 1 is silently replayed in front while we hear some dreadfully horrible commentaries from monitored offstage voices. A warning these commentaries will ‘challenge the sensibilities’ (as Ordena Stephens-Thompson had written in the programme note) but stay with it and listen to what’s being said despite some of the vulgarity. It is in Part 3 that the other party guests arrive. Drury’s script calls out what Sophia Walker (who plays Jasmine) writes are: “the assumptions, ignorance and the OTHERED experience…and try to understand why we are the way we are.” The ensemble cast is exceptional from start to finish. Ordena Stephens-Thompson is a forceful Beverly who stands her ground for good reason. Sophia Walker is a sassy and saucy Jasmine. Peter N. Bailey’s Dayton at first is that stereotypical sitcom husband who makes fun of his harried wife who is preparing for the birthday dinner. Bailey’s importance becomes strongly evident in Part 3. Party guests Sascha Cole, Colin A. Doyle, Jennifer Dzialoszynski and Jeff Lillico determinedly deliver on the surprising twists of the notions of race and privilege. Their monitored commentary surveillance voices strongly resonate and pierce right to the gut. As Keisha, Chelsea Russell delivers a dynamite powerhouse range of emotions. Her closing monologue is astounding. It left me with chills running up and down my spine. Russell leaves us questioning if we have truly given a ‘fair view’ in creating a particular narrative and have not lived the necessary experience in doing so. Final Comments: ‘Fairview’ demands a lot from its audience and rightly so. The script pierces, cuts and digs deep into how we confront theatre and race. And that’s what good theatre should do. Go see it. Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. ‘Fairview’ runs until March 26 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.canadianstage.com or call 1-416-368-3110. A CANADIAN STAGE AND OBSIDIAN THEATRE CO-PRODUCTION Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy Set Designer: Jawon Kang Costume Designer: Rachel Forbes Lighting Designer: Logan Cracknell Sound Designer: Miquelon Rodriguez Stage Manager: Victoria Wang Performers: Peter N. Bailey, Sascha Cole, Colin A. Doyle, Jennifer Dzialoszynski, Jeff Lillico, Chelsea Russell, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Sophia Walker. 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Young People Pop! Pop! By Linda A. Carson, with Monica Dufault and Kim Selody

    Back Pop! Pop! By Linda A. Carson, with Monica Dufault and Kim Selody Now onstage at Toronto's Young People's Theatre Lauren Garbutt Photography Joe Szekeres “A magical and mysterious under-the-sea world for the wee ones. Delightful” In this delightful 45-minute journey undersea, we meet two very different sea creatures, ‘Hide’ and ‘Seek.’ Adorable. They playfully explore this enchanting new sea world, with many surprises turning up along the way. There is no dialogue in the play - only sounds that make the young audience eager to pay attention, to see and hear what’s happening. Kelly Wolf’s circular set design incorporates many bright and vibrant colours to capture a young child’s interest. I especially liked the aqua-blue waterfall-like entrance upstage. There are so many colours to see and marvel at on this set. Alexa Fraser’s puppets each have their own unique and distinctive look. The plucky starfish is so darn cute. The manipulation of the shark by the actors as it swims by becomes momentarily mesmerizing to watch. The two actors slowly manipulate it as it goes by the front of the stage. Brad Trenaman’s lighting design uniquely captures the shadowy effects of light upon the water. I especially liked Joe Lapinski’s incorporation of synthesizer music and brief sounds that will most certainly appeal to children. Director Monica Dufault understands the attention span of young children. She swimmingly keeps the show’s pace moving along thanks to the charming performances of Kaylyn Valdez-Scott as ‘Hide’ and Katherine Cappellaci as ‘Seek.’ They are agile and flexible, moving around the stage with grace and dexterity. They listen to each other, watch, and respond naturally while never upstaging the other. Valdez-Scott hides in one of the objects onstage when we first see her, and I was impressed at how she could contort her physical stance to remain in the object. I reviewed this show with the young students from a local pre/nursery school in the audience today. Watching and hearing the children’s responses to the activities on stage was tremendously fun. Valdez-Scott and Cappellaci are very comfortable with young audience members. The two performers are entirely in tune with the kids and their attention spans. They knew to bring the puppets and the action down and centre right to get their attention quickly. Valdez-Scott and Cappellaci always appear energized and never flustered if the kids become loud in their response. I spoke to them quickly after the show, and they both said how much they wished the kids would have been a bit louder. Valdez-Scott and Cappellaci feed from that connection with the wee ones. What I respect about the performances at Young People’s Theatre is the commitment to reflecting the 7 Ancestral Teachings in each performance. The two lessons reflected were Humility and Honesty. I credit Dufault for incorporating these lessons subtly in Valdez-Scott and Cappellaci’s performances. They love it when the kids are in the audience. The show closes this weekend, and I strongly encourage parents to introduce their children to the wonders of the theatre in this 45-minute show format. A wonderful way to get kids interested in the theatre. Running time: approximately 45 minutes. The production runs until October 22 upstairs in the Ada Slaight Hall. For information, visit youngpeoplestheatre.org. POP! POP! A Carousel Players Production By Linda A. Carson, with Monica Dufault and Kim Selody Directed by Monica Dufault Set Designer: Kelly Wolf Lighting Designer: Brad Teneman Stage Manager: Sara Allison Performers: Katherine Cappellaci and Kaylyn Valdez-Scott Previous Next

  • Profiles Jamie Mac

    Back Jamie Mac Looking Ahead --- Joe Szekeres Holding these conversations with many professional theatre artists this last year have been enlightening and informative where we’ve also shared in some good laughs and smiles. Artist Jamie Mac certainly made me laugh in reading his answers for his dry wit and subtle poking that put a smile on my face. We conducted our conversation via email. I’m quite thankful Jamie made the time to add his voice to the conversation. I look forward to the time when I am able finally to say hello to him in person once we emerge from this pandemic cocoon of the last sixteen months. He was scheduled to perform at the Stratford Festival last summer when Covid hit. I look forward to seeing his work back onstage there when it’s safe for all of us to venture indoors to sit down and watch a live production. Jamie submitted his brief bio to me. I’m going to place it here because his wit made me smile on this Saturday morning: “Jamie Mac was born on an island incorrectly identified by Giovanni Caboto as newly found. He studied the speaking of words and the movement of the body at a university with a toppled statue. Full time he collects money from the government, helps the neighbours with chores, reads books, plays basketball, makes fun videos with his friends, and auditions into a void of silent apathy. The majority of his creative life has been centralized around a man named William. He sometimes re-evaluates this decision. One day he’d like to go to the moon.” Thank you, Jamie, for contributing 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. Apparently, scientists estimate the entire global mass of the SARS CoV-2 is less than 10 kilograms. Something you could fit into a cargo-pocket did all this. That puts a new spin on the phrase “there are no small parts…” Also, I’ve been thinking, when individuals, groups, communities, political figures, and even whole countries make poor decisions, it really does fundamentally change the course of history forever. If Jagmeet Singh didn’t needle Trudeau to up the funds to Canadians, I really don’t know how I would have survived. If Trump didn’t… well… you can fill in the blank there. If I didn’t hit the animal on the highway the other day, I might not have been paying attention when the child fell into the road 5 minutes later. Everything is so brutally linked, and we all have such a responsibility not to make idiotic decisions; the plates of the future are so precariously balanced. (And I feel awful about the roadkill, still. The child is fine.) 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? Yeah, live theatre should be the last thing to return. We should miss it terribly, achingly, so we can rededicate ourselves to its value. Honestly, the world really was not valuing it. We inject Netflix into our faces and doze off into obscurity. Let’s get back to live people engaging our actual active imaginations. I want to do some beautiful skits in the rubble of lost potential. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? Words, man. Woooords. Gathering together and speaking about ideas is kind of the highest function people have. It’s like, the best thing we do… sometimes. And the great thing is: some writers are actually good, and that’s magic when that occurs. Oh! And every now and then, some foolish director actually says that I get to speak those words… to other actors… in front of an audience! Like, wow. What kind of fantasmagorical world is this!? That’s privilege, that is. So. It’s the ‘live’ part I miss most – like best. 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? Once, I had an actor absolutely shower me in spit for about 45 seconds, multiple times. It was a close intimate impassioned speech. It was… My. Own. Personal. Hell. But I would have done that every day of 2020 - luxuriating in the spittle like a shampoo commercial - instead of sitting around in my fuckin’ house. So yeah… passionate actor spit. That’s my answer. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. This is just me, and probably not what is going to happen, but I think people should complain less, and argue more. Respectfully. Yes. Always. But I sense we all tiptoe around too much, and no one really fights for great ideas. It’s very Canadian. I want everyone to speak up, be wrong, get corrected, learn, and fight another day. If we trust that no one is necessarily wholly defined (as a person) by some previous utterance – and make space for people to grow, they might. It is a deep form of personal respect to demand the best from each other. Let’s continue to get things gloriously wrong. That’s the only way to make things more better (as the late, yet incandescent, Ian Watson used to say.) Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Surprising myself. Acting faster than I can decide, and really discovering. 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. It seems an evolutionary imperative for people to do ‘plague stories’. There’s a really weird chapter in one of Moses’ books detailing how to diagnose and treat different spots, and pox, and plague on peoples’ bodies. I don’t recommend it, but I suppose it was helpful at the time, pseudo-scientifically or anecdotally. Even the phrase ‘opening Pandora’s box’ (or jar) is a warning story about releasing sickness. Evidently, we have to tell these stories, or we’re dead. Mercifully, Shakespeare didn’t write about being stuck in his house… and instead delved into humanity, and conscience, and malevolence, and tragedy. So, good writers hopefully know the difference between being ‘current’ or reaching for timelessness. Nothing will suck more than the sound of an audience groaning under their masks at a brutal social-distancing joke. I’ll probably fall into the trap myself, if anyone ever hires me again. None of us are immune from being relentlessly lame. (See what I did there.) But there is always a place for a good allegory, just let’s not put Zoom on stage if we can avoid it, yeah? As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I’m still wrestling with the possibility that to serve a story properly is to be forgotten. I don’t know if that’s true or not. It’s either one of these two: 1) Risk being terrible attempting to be great, or 2) Risk being forgotten in the service of the story. I probably go back and forth on those ideas, depending on the part. I would love for people to think I was intensely versatile over the course of my career, but I also would want audiences to feel I was deeply human, whatever that might mean. I just want them to laugh despite themselves, and cry if they needed a cry. But like, the rest is up to the subconscious muse of the writer. You can check out Jamie Mac’s Twitter and Insta handles: @JamieMacLive. Previous Next

  • Comedies 'Wildwoman' by Kat Sandler

    Back 'Wildwoman' by Kat Sandler Now onstage at Soulpepper Theatre Now onstage at Soulpepper Theatre Dave Rabjohn A blistering new work by Kat Sandler initiates Soulpepper Theatre’s “Her Words Festival” – a program meant to highlight the work of women creators. ‘Wildwoman’ begins this program with force. An imposing set, five brilliant performances and brisk direction staggers the audience. As mentioned in Ms. Sandler’s notes “. . . this is a true story. Mostly.” In 16th-century France, Henry II made his way to the throne amidst some shady circumstances. He marries the mercurial Catherine de Medici, and, not without some strange complexity, they finally have the heirs he demands. The “complexity” comes from various sources, including Henry’s interest in exotic creatures, a much older mistress, and a scheming servant coyly played by Gabriella Sundar Singh. The brilliance of the performances is in each character’s chameleon-like changes throughout the play. It was a demanding challenge creatively met. Seeds of their future personas are delicately planted and then are ferociously activated into the second act. Tony Ofori displays a wide range of skills as the fourteen-year-old Henry cavorts with an equally young Catherine (Rose Napoli.) It is like a kindergarten class on steroids. The farcical style belies the serious issues of sexuality, politics, and alleged murder these youngsters are thrown into. Power mutates Henry into an angry, suspicious misogynist - murderous and hateful. In a fierce and resolute performance, Catherine also transforms from the doey-eyed not-entirely-naïve girl into a sinister, raging victim bent on revenge. A skillful performance comes from Rosemary Dunsmore as the older mistress, Didi. Confidence soon leaks as events push her to the sidelines, and she becomes confused in her new subservient role. Ms. Singh’s Kitty is artful and ambitious. But marriage and motherhood soften her robust persona as she becomes a source of reason amid evil. The strange hairy ‘beast’ is played by Dan Mousseau. A real man with a very rare condition is a caged oddity and a play toy for the young king. The inarticulate Pete grows curious and becomes a worthy husband and an aspiring academic. Set design by Nick Blais is a dramatic punch to the senses. Massive antlers envelop the stage as they rise, almost two stories seething masculinity. The hunting motif is turned upside down as Catherine becomes the more accomplished hunter while she overtakes her evil husband. The court is austere and stylish, with dark wood and deep golden curtains—a bust of the severe former king peers down at the proceedings. Ms. Sandler’s writing ranges from high farce to compelling tragedy. Highlights include Henry’s retort when asked to mould a country – ‘I don’t want a mouldy country.’ Kitty’s brilliant, tragic speech about the Spanish jail is rich and heartbreaking. As mentioned, the story is mostly true, giving it even more vitality. The final historical suggestion is that Catherine ignites the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, resulting in the murder of thousands of protestants. The title not only suggests Catherine’s bizarre relationship with Pete – but it also poses questions - does her eventual wildness come from within or without? What triggers ambition and cruelty? Ms. Sandler’s play is a testimony to the implications of these questions, especially in a female context. ‘Wildwoman’ by Kat Sandler Performers: Rosemary Dunsmore, Rose Napoli, Gabriella Sundar Singh, Dan Mousseau, Toni Ofori Direction: Kat Sandler Lighting: Kimberly Purtell Set design: Nick Blais Costume design: Michelle Tracey Performances run through October 29, 2023. Tickets: soulpepper.ca Previous Next

  • Dramas 'The Red Priest' (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye)

    Back 'The Red Priest' (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye) Guild Festival Theatre at the Guild Park, Scarborough Raph Nogal Joe Szekeres A smartly directed production of two distinctly unique individuals from different social standings who movingly connect through music, art, and words. A wonderful musical treat at the end finely provides the proverbial nightcap. Enchanting to watch on a gorgeous opening night summer evening. Fun fact I did not know. I had to look up the meaning of ‘the red priest’ and its connection to the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. He had a crop of red hair inherited from his father. Ah, the things we can still learn in retirement. Mieko Ouchi’s ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) is the story of a fictional relationship between Vivaldi (David Whiteley) and the wife of one of the most powerful noblemen of the French court simply known as The Woman (Sierra Haynes). Her husband has wagered the King of France that Vivaldi can teach the countess to play the violin in six weeks at which time she will then play for the French court. This boorish behaviour by the Woman’s husband to treat her in such a cavalier manner remained unseemly to me, but it’s also the era when everyone had secret lovers while married, and no one batted an eye at this reprehensible behaviour either. Period piece settings always fascinate me and I’m curious to see how a theatre company uses and dresses the space appropriately. I’ll acknowledge Production Designer Wasifa Noshin’s astute work here in creating simple but elegant touches that allowed me to fill in my mind the grandiosity of the French drawing rooms in this outdoor Greek theatre setting. A nice touch was the lighting of the flames over the portcullis entrance centre stage. They didn’t stay lit for too long for the beautiful summer breeze, but no quibble there for me. Costume designs are splendid re-creations of the period. Helen Juvonen’s clear-sighted direction made me care about these two individuals from their appropriately different social strata. What fascinated me about Mieko Ouchi’s script is listening to the highly detailed monologues Whiteley and Haynes deliver to the audience as we see the world from their points of view. It does take time to warm up to Vivaldi and the Woman, and that’s a good thing. David Whiteley becomes a fastidious Antonio Vivaldi who recognizes, at times, an improbable task he has at hand to teach the haughty unfocused countess who initially wants events to unfold the way she desires them. While maintaining that air of superiority of social class structure in Vivaldi’s presence, Sierra Haynes makes an interesting choice in developing the Woman’s character. Haynes affirms a ‘street smart’ sense about the Woman in some of her monologues to us while maintaining her proper place within the French court. She knows she is played by her husband over this wager with the King. To maintain her dignity about learning to play the violin in an unheard-of time allotment over which she ultimately has no control, the Woman does what she can do to maintain control. She goes toe to toe with a man who will either make her look foolish in front of others or make her the envy of others through her musical talents. I don’t believe it’s spoiling the plot to say the latter wins out. One moment that spoke volumes to me was the silent look Vivaldi and the Woman gave to each other during a shared dance. It was that compassionate and caring moment between two individuals who get what the other person is all about. It’s that moment where two individuals allow each other to look into their eyes and their souls of who they are despite the call of fame, fortune or societal duty, as Juvonen stated in her Director’s Note of the programme. Those moments where actors just inherently connect with each other make live performance the extraordinary craft it is. Both Whiteley and Haynes are extraordinary musicians as well, and what a bonus it is they play the violin and fiddle. I put my book down at the end where I was making notes and just listened and watched these gifted artists share their talents with us. What a wonderful way to cap off the evening. Where I do feel bad for the company and through no fault of their own is the noise spilling out from the nearby clubhouse on the grounds. On this opening night, a wedding celebration was in full swing with loud tunes blaring for what seemed an eternity. I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration Sound Designer Sean Meldrum experienced as he did his utmost to adjust the levels of the underscoring Vivaldi music when Whiteley and Haynes began speaking. The noise level did abate about fifteen minutes into the performance, but c’mon. It has been an empty two years without live theatre and GFT gives us a welcome back gift of a wonderful show and experience we’ve been sorely missing. Can something be done in future to ensure it’s a win/win situation for all? Final Comments: I’ve heard the judges on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’ say, “It’s a yes from me.” “It’s a yes from me” to see ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye). Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. The production runs to August 7 on the grounds of Guild Park, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough. For further information on dates and times, visit www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca . THE RED PRIEST (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) by Mieko Ouchi Presented by Guild Festival Theatre. Director: Helen Juvonen Stage Manager: Tara Mohan Production Designer: Wasifa Noshin Sound Designer: Sean Meldrum Assistant Director: Alecia Pagnotta Performers: Sierra Haynes, David Whiteley Previous Next

  • Community Theatre Enchanted April

    Back Enchanted April Presented by Stage Centre Productions Scott Griffin Joe Szekeres Welcome back, community theatre. Thank you to Stage Centre Productions for the invitation. I knew nothing about Enchanted April and no knowledge it was a novel by Elizabeth von Armin before it became a play by Matthew Barber. Director Scott Griffin in his programme notes describes the play both as ‘feel good’ and ‘enlightenment through travel’ of the four female protagonists. Here’s where I’m intrigued even before the story begins. The original 1922 novel was published by a woman. The play written by a male opened in New York 2003 directed by Michael Wilson. Stage Centre’s production is directed by a male and this review incorporates a male perspective. Hmmm…in our woke culture today we’re told it’s important to ensure equitable representation so shouldn’t there be perhaps a tad more awareness of female voices at the helm in staging a story of their empowerment? I’m going to risk here in saying I’m pleased Stage Centre took a chance to have Griffin direct this solid production. Yes, we men can appreciate, discuss, and value a good story when it’s directed with an untiring vision and indefatigable dedication. Griffin was supposed to have directed this play in 2020 so thank you for staying the course and not veering away. Enchanted April is a lovely story of four strong women who ultimately turn to each other to learn about their value in a world still oppressive and reeling from the effects of World War One. Lotty Wilton (Elaine O’Neal) is a sweetly demure lady suffering depression from the London, England winters and her relationship with her sometimes arrogantly pompous solicitor husband, Mellersh (Will van der Zyl). Lotty reads of an advertisement in the paper to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April where she will be able to enjoy and admire the wisteria and sunshine and hopefully be cured of her sadness. Lotty meets and just senses she has a mutual kinship with Rose Arnott (Catherine Lenihan) who carries her own personal demons. Lotty persuades Rose to join her on this venture. To cut down on the expenses of the trip, both Lotty and Rose realize they should try to find other travelling companions and they do so in selecting tired socialite Lady Caroline (Lindsay Woodford) and sometimes cantankerous and exhausting widow Mrs. Graves (Robin Philips) Throughout the month of April in San Salvatore the idyllic and sumptuous beauty of the surroundings becomes a balm to help these ladies regain their sense of selves after they have initially clashed upon arrival at the villa. Will the arrival of husbands Melleresh, Frederick Arnott (Michael Chodos), owner Mr. Wilding (Joseph van Veen) and the occasional appearances of smart-ass servant, Costanza (Patti Byrne at this performance) destroy what these ladies have so desperately needed in their lives? The selective timing of comedy, mystery, and misunderstanding weave deliciously together as the plot unravels. Visually the production becomes a colourfully attractive panorama view from Pierre Rajotte’s eye catching set design to Victoria Richardson and her team’s gorgeous costume designs. Rajotte’s cleverly juxtaposed set design in Acts One and Two was a nice surprise for me. The Act One claustrophobic set in front of the curtain is a reminder we are in the restrictive confines of the city of London. Centre stage subtly mirrored the sameness in the dining room settings of the Wilton and Arnott homes. Stage right is Mrs. Graves’ imposing chair on which she plants herself when she holds court. Stage left is a comfortable looking fashionable chair which becomes a sitting room in the home of Lady Caroline. Scott Griffin’s selection of post World War 1 preshow music magically drew me back to another time. The sprawling suggestive look of the San Salvatore castle in Act 2 with its multihued colours of the setting and flowers made me want “to take a holiday to Italy at the end of the show’ as Griffin points out in his Director’s Note. Just this surveying alone indicated to me the tremendous amount of work gone into mounting this behemoth of a show, and for this I applaud this dedicated talented crew of the production team. I loved the tableaux established at the top of Act One because it becomes a fine picture where we are introduced to seeing members of the acting company. However, it took me several minutes to get into April’s story on account of some pesky technical glitches which I hope will be fixed for remaining performances. An initial sound balancing quibble at the top of both Acts One and Two frustrated me. When Elaine O’Neal stepped forward and breaks the fourth wall to deliver important information to the audience about what they were going to see, I did not hear a word she said as it was all lost because the sound design was out of balance. There were patrons in the row in front of me who turned to each other and said they did not hear any of that opening as well. The same thing occurred in Act Two when Ms. O’Neal once again steps forward. In addition, I was sitting in the last row and there was some noise behind my guest and me. We both commented on that at the intermission. I am hoping these glitches will be rectified for future performances. I believe actors love the challenge of using accents in their performances. The challenge nevertheless comes in sustaining a natural and convincing believability to the ear. For the most part, yes, it worked but there were moments in Act Two near the end where accents faltered periodically. Hopefully for remaining performances the cast will be consciously aware of this. The ensemble work of the four ladies remained established and sturdy. Elaine O’Neal, Catherine Lenihan, Lindsay Woodford, and Robin Philips deliver satisfying performances of four uniquely distinct women who want to find their place, their significance and their dignity in a world dominated by men. Wonderful comic moments ensued between the firm grounding of Robin Philips’ staunchly matriarchal Mrs. Graves and the comic timing of Patti Byrne as the hot headed smug Italian servant, Costanza. Decent supporting work from Messrs. van der Zyl, Chodos, and van Veen appropriately underscore the character arcs of the ladies. Van der Zyl’s patronizing Mellersh in Act Two certainly gets his just reward in an off handed back ended opening. (You’ll understand that reference when you see what he does). Michael Chodos’s secret surprise in the second act as Frederick Arnott caught me off guard much to my delight. Mr. van Veen is a dashing Mr. Wilding who certainly understands that charming will make him go a long way. Final Comments: This Enchanted April is a warmly appreciative gift of community theatre to a loyal audience after a two-year longing absence. Its story of female empowerment, belonging, longing and acceptance remains one of importance. Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. ENCHANTED APRIL by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Armin Presented at Stage Centre Productions Production runs to April 2 at the Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive. For tickets, call the Box Office at (416) 299-5557 or visit www.stagecentreproductions.com for further information. Covid Protocols in effect at the theatre. My guest and I felt quite safe in attending. Previous Next

  • Profiles Indrit Kasapi and Marjorie Chan

    Back Indrit Kasapi and Marjorie Chan A Canadian Chat Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres Before this great theatrical pause of 19 months, I had the opportunity to attend some productions at Theatre Passe Muraille which bills itself as one of Canada’s original alternative theatre companies currently developing and producing new Canadian plays. TPM is striving to articulate a distinct Canadian voice that reflects the complexity of our intercultural society. TPM believes there should be a more diverse representation of artists, audience members, and stories in its theatre. I was most appreciative of the time that two of its artists were able to take to speak with me. Marjorie Chan is the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille. As an award-winning interdisciplinary artist, she primarily identifies as a writer with specific interest in contemporary opera and collective forms, while also maintaining an active practice as a dramaturge and director. Indrit Kasapi is the Interim Managing Director of Theatre Passe Muraille. A graduate of Montreal’s National Theatre School of Canada he is well-known to the Theatre Passe Muraille community, having been the Associate Artistic Director under Marjorie Chan for the last two years— collaborating on programming, budgeting, producing as well as coordinating special projects. Prior to beginning in that role, Indrit was also the Accessibility Lab Co-ordinator which explored experimentation in access initiatives which recently culminated in a series of short documentaries. Five years in the making, his play Toka (A Theatre Passe Muraille and lemonTree creations Digital Co-Production) for which he is the writer and choreographer, will finally be shared with audiences in the upcoming year. Indrit is also the Co-founder (along with Cole Alvis) of the prolific lemonTree creations, which was a TPM Company-in-residence for the past three years. We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thank you so much, Marjorie and Indrit, for your time: Could you share the names of one teacher and one mentor for whom you are thankful. MC: Ohh, that’s always really tricky. One teacher – his name was Mr. Kishibe. I knew his first name but I can’t think of it now. He taught English Literature. I took English 11, 12 and OAC (when the province had it). He was at St. Joseph’s/Morrow Park a Catholic girls’ high school. Mr. Kishibe loved Shakespeare and because it was an all-girls’ school, whenever we read Shakespeare he would read the lead – Hamlet, King Lear, he would read MacBeth. He was extraordinary. We were excited to go to his class because he made the lesson interesting because he would perform. I did read a few times aloud in his class and enjoyed it. I didn’t know I was going to be an actor or involved in the theatre at that time. He spoke to me one time and asked me if I ever considered going into the theatre since I really appeared to enjoy it. It never occurred to me that could be a career. Mr. Kishibe came to one of the first performances in Shakespeare in the Rough (the older collective, not the collective now) when I graduated theatre school. I really appreciated it that he saw I was performing and came to see it. I have so many mentors in many forms and roles. A lot of times when I mentor a young person, I often think the reverse is true as well as they have become my mentor because I’m learning about different approaches and perspectives. If I had to mention a particular mentor at this moment, it would be Michael Wheeler who is now a professor at Queen’s University. He certainly helped me think about digital work in a different way and structural organization at theatre companies in a different way. Julie Phan, a young artist who just graduated from the National Theatre School, is also someone who has influenced me. She’s a playwright. She would be ‘mentor/menteree’. IK: This is an easy one for me because I had an important Drama teacher in high school and his name is Teodoro Dragonieri. He’s become a friend of mine now as we’ve kept in touch. He has a brilliant mind. He’s a visual artist who learned mask work and fell in love with theatre and had an extensive wealth of knowledge. He was just one of those people who has a creative mind. He was teaching us in Grade 10 how to make masks out of recycled jugs. He was an inspiration and made me realize the potential of what theatre can be and what live performance can be. He embraced my training as a dancer and saw the world in a multidisciplinary way without even using that word. Now that I think about it, my work strongly centered around that sense of creativity in a multidisciplinary format. There’s an immediacy to the work he was doing in the stories he was telling. I’ve been very thankful that my mentor is now my colleague – Marjorie Chan. She has been a huge influence on me. It’s been a beautiful journey of learning from an incredible person dating back to Cahoots Theatre from years ago. She has so much to teach all of us even as she learns from us. 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 -19 months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level? MC: It’s a huge question. I’ve been quite public on my social media; as a matter of fact, Joe, in late October of 2020 I had a stroke. I feel great. I’ve had a lot of support through the various programs available, but it’s an ongoing, lifetime journey for me. Doctors will be looking at my brain for the rest of my life. This particular full calendar year since 2020 has been a huge re-examination of everything for me and that includes in my personal life as I’m dealing with my health. All the conversations that are happening around the culture of work in the theatre industry, in terms of our scheduling, and in the way we do things, these are things that I really take to heart in terms of these conversations. IK: These last 18-19 months have made me appreciate my alone time a lot more than I used to. Before I was always needing to be in community and with people, but the pandemic has made me think more about my alone time. How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? MC: It’s been interesting to think about if you’re a practicing artist and you also have a full-time job running a theatre company, I’m already very specific about the other projects in which I involve myself. Definitely that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic – to be mindful to what I put my energy towards. For me, that’s about a selection of projects of what I do outside TPM (Theatre Passe Muraille). As an artist, I’ve limited energy so I have to be quite specific, careful and intentional whether to take a project or not. IK: Professionally, it has made me think a lot about the technology and technology within the context of the theatre medium, and how these two intertwine in various different ways, how they help and sometimes how they challenge each other. My perspective has been opened as I thought live performance was a different experience than something that’s digital. The digital world has a harder time creating community. But I think I was proven wrong in many ways because we found community in different forms, and technology was a huge support in that. I’m thinking a lot more about how technology and digital methods continue to do what live performance does in terms of bringing people together. In your professional opinion, how do you see the global landscape of Theatre Passe Muraille changing, adapting, and morphing as a result of these last 18 months? MC: When we were streaming work and doing OUTREACH where we were meeting new artists, that opportunity to connect with individuals not necessarily in Canada, even in North America, opened itself up. The artists were interested in it as well. It just shows what is possible. Certainly, on one end it was exciting to have equal access to work all across the country even if it meant that I had to wake up at 7 am in the morning to watch a show that was coming out of Hong Kong. I don’t usually watch a live theatre show at 7 am, but an exception will be made when you want to connect with live work across the globe. At the same time it’s made us all understand the need and the change in conversation that can happen when a global conversation happens. I think that’s very exciting and it’s something we’ve been pursuing in our upcoming year. We do have an international artist coming and who might bring a different perspective and enlighten our community here in Toronto. We’re also aware and want to learn more about our local neighbourhood here in the area of Queen and Bathurst and the area. IK: To add to what Marjorie is saying, I think we’ve also taken some big steps towards what is being updated through TPM. We are renovating our Back Space and we’re also launching a Digital Creators as well at the DC Lab. We are looking at how technology comes in theatre and also who from the community of artists gets access to those kinds of training, those kinds of tools. We want to make sure that our priorities in terms of the kinds of artists that we want on our stages and the stories to be represented on our stages that those artists are the first ones to have access to these trainings, the tools. The learnings from the other companies with whom we partnered, we will bring some of their expertise as part of that journey. What intrigues you post Covid? MC: Of course, I want our audiences to have positive experiences. That seems very general, but I think very deeply about this from what it means in trying to invite audiences back on their own terms (ie. a gentle entry to being back in the building and sharing the space with others). I’m intrigued by the art to come. I don’t think anyone can be unchanged by these 20 months from a social-political perspective, from a personal perspective, from not experiencing in person theatre. A lot of our work that is to come on our stages is work that was postponed from the pandemic. I’m definitely intrigued to see what’s to come. IK: For me, I’m intrigued by immersive experiences and the immediacy of us being together. How does technology and augmented reality all become a part of this. I’m curious to see how virtual reality will make its way into theatre, how audio dramas will fit into this equation. It feels to me we are in an exciting place of rejuvenation of sort as live performance art makers, and what does that mean, where is it going to go? The possibilities are endless and I’m intrigued. What unnerves/disappoints you post Covid? MC: What’s unnerving and disappointing is if the lessons of the pandemic are lost; if the lessons of the pandemic have been dismissed and there’s a return to “normal”. We can’t have the murder of George Floyd and then things return to the status quo. What is the conversation and how do we dig in? What is an organization’s responsibility? To me, that would be disappointing if the theatre industry did not take away lessons from the pandemic and things returned to the way they were. IK: I’d say the same thing. If we pretended the pandemic didn’t happen that would be unnerving and disappointing. So much has changed and how are we taking in what happened and moving forward rather than retreating and going back to what once was. I want for all of us to learn and not forget and to grow and to move forward. 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 and teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be? MC: Thank you for seeing more of me than I could see of myself. IK: Thank you for your passion and creativity because it’s inspirational. 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? MC: In a short way, I would say “Welcome”. Some of these naysayers have not come around. IK: I would say “Thank You because it was you not believing in me that drove me to work even harder.” What’s your favourite swear word? MC: I swear a lot actually depending on the company I’m with. I use the “F bomb’. I don’t use the word ‘Shit’ very much, I don’t. I’ve said, “Damn”. Sometimes if I have nothing to say or I’m stuck in a situation where I don’t know how to proceed, my staff will tell you that sometimes I might meow when I don’t know what to do (And Indrit pipes in and agrees that is Marjorie’s favourite thing). IK: For sure, 100%, it’s the “F bomb” because it’s not as heavy for me. English is my third language actually. I don’t swear in Albanian as it feels very wrong for me to do. When I use the “F bomb’ in English, I get what I need to get out of it. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? MC: What I like to hear myself probably say is “Welcome”. IK: ‘Hence’. I don’t mind hearing myself say it. What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? MC: Frankly, I don’t like to say “No”. IK: Wow!!!! I don’t know. I don’t enjoy hearing myself say “No”. I don’t say No often. With whom would you like to have dinner and discuss the current state of the live Canadian performing arts scene? MC: I would like to have dinner with a person who hates theatre and hates what it represents and has articulated they will never return to the theatre. IK: This has been on my mind lately. This is a person whom I didn’t have a chance to get to know and have been reading a lot of their tributes. I think I would have loved to have dinner with David Fox. It seems as if he has affected so much of Canadian theatre and the lives of artists in this country, and I would have loved to have heard from him what he thought about the Canadian theatre and the scene. What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? MC; To my 3-year-old self: “Hang on to your sense of playing because it will help you as you continue.” To my 10-year-old self: “Hang on there because art will reveal itself soon and you will love it.” To my teenage self that did acting randomly: “Pay attention as this might be your career, and not in Museum Studies or Teaching as you thought.” To my theatre school self: “This is all great knowledge. Hang on to it but you may not end up as an actor as you think.” To the person that got an internship to become an artistic administrator: “Becoming a cultural leader is going to change your life.” IK: “Don’t be afraid to be all the things you want to be rather than just trying to be one thing. As long as it’s clear for you, be all the things you can be.” With the professional life experience you’ve gained, what would you now tell your upcoming artist careers from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career? MC: “Continue to be brave.” IK: Wow!!!!!! This is good. “You are a director. Period. Get over it.” What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally? MC: Personally, I would like to run a 5K race. I’d like to be in a place where I can do that. Professionally, I’m so open to whatever comes. I’d like to write a play that is popular (and both she and Indrit start to laugh) and just has a broader reach even in a story in some way. IK: Personally, I would love to live in different places in the world and learn a fourth language. Professionally, it has nothing to do with theatre, but I would love to publish a book of poetry. Name one moment in your professional artistic careers that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. MC: As not quite 18 years of age, I was a production assistant at Mirvish Productions for the opening of the Princess of Wales from years ago and the Canadian premiere of ‘Miss Saigon’. I was learning so much; I was doing sponsorships, opening nights and all this producing work and not understanding that I was gaining such invaluable experience from that. This time was also a lot of fun and to be involved in such a large production with ‘Miss Saigon’ for a teenager was quite magical as an assistant to the Assistant Producer. IK: Performing at The Tokyo Metropolitan Arts Centre on a piece by Corpus Dance Projects. It was a good time. What is one thing you will never take for granted again post Covid? MC: For sure, my health. 100% IK: Proximity to my friends and family and the side conversations at the office. Would you do it all again if given the same professional opportunities? MC: I would do it exactly the same. IK: That’s exactly my answer too. I have zero regrets. I’d be happy to come back again and do it all the same. To learn more about Theatre Passe Muraille and its upcoming season, visit www.passemuraille.ca . You can also visit the Facebook page: @TheatrePasseMuraille and Twitter: @beyondwallsTPM. Previous Next

  • Profiles Scott J Kyle

    Back Scott J Kyle The Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres I was encouraged to enter the Twitter universe by the publisher and editor of OnStage Blog. I was a tad reluctant at the beginning to start using it as I was uncertain if Twitter would truly be of benefit personally and professionally. I was assured by my editor and publisher that, yes, it would be. And my publisher was right. I have made contacts with some professional theatre companies and individuals whose work I have admired tremendously and with whom I wanted to keep in touch. Some individuals have also tracked me down. One of these individuals is Scott James Kyle. When he started following me on Twitter, I’ll be honest and say I had no idea who this man was. When I read about him on line and in his brief Twitter bio, I was quite impressed with Scott’s credentials as an actor, both in stage work and film. Since Scott and his wife Karen live in Scotland, I didn’t recognize some of the television series except one – Outlander – where he played Ross. I know Outlander is a series of novels. When it appeared on Netflix, I thought I’d better start to watch it. I still have to fulfil that commitment. What strikes me as both out of the ordinary yet very humane is Scott’s manner of communicating with his followers and his fans. Just from his Twitter verse alone, he values people first and foremost and likes communicating with them. Very out of the ordinary for celebrities, but from what I read about Scott online in his Twitter feed and his website, he and his wife travel round the world meeting many people. He’s not one to shut himself off from communication with his followers and fans. I didn’t know if Scott would agree to this interview as he has over 730.1 K followers alone and he follows 660K individuals. Again, I thought, “What the hell?” and took a chance for an interview. I was pleased when the answers to the questions showed up in my online mailbox for Twitter. Thanks, Scott, for taking the time: 1. It has been just over two months right now that we have been under this lockdown. How have you and Karen been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? How are your immediate families doing? Everyone is safe and well at the moment, so we are blessed, and we are looking forward to getting together when we are given the green light by the powers that be. 2. Were you involved in any side projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down? Were you involved in the planning stages of any new projects? What will become of these new projects that were in planning stages? Yes, I had a new movie that I was supposed to be filming in March before going into rehearsals for a theatre show that was to be touring in April and May of this year. I’m hopeful these projects will be able to go ahead when the lockdown ends, and things can return to some degree of normalcy. 3. What has been the most difficult and/or challenging element of this period of isolation for you and for Karen? I think we’ve been okay with the lockdown actually and the restrictions to movement. We just got round to lots of work that we have been putting off in our home and garden. The most difficult part of the lockdown has been not seeing our friends and family. Karen and I are very sociable, so it has been sad not to be able to see everyone. 4. What have you two been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? Karen and I have been going on long walks or cycling to places that we have never been to before in our own area. We’ve also spent a lot of time on DIY projects and our garden. I’ve been working a few days a week with a local charity so that gets me out of the house and makes me feel like I am contributing something during these challenging times. 5. 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 to 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? “Infinite patience produces immediate results” – this is a mantra that has served me well over the years and is helping me to get through this lockdown. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic? There will be lots of positive things people will take from this pandemic. One of them will be a newfound appreciation for their friends and family whom everyone has missed so much (this includes Karen and I). Another will hopefully be a realisation that we have been taking a lot of things for granted. 7. In your estimation and informed opinion, will the European performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? It will be very difficult for all venues to come back from this, but within those challenges is also a huge opportunity to right a lot of the wrongs in our industry, and give more performers a chance to have a career in the arts. Some of those careers might be an outdoor/online performance driven work which I think will be a part of the industry moving forward. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts about this format presentation? Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you participating or will you be participating in this presentation format soon? It’s great to see people are continuing to be creative even during the lockdown with the streamed performances and workshops. I have been asked to do workshops online and to be part of various online filming projects. However, I’ve decided to use the lockdown to spend more time with Karen as we have been busy over the past few years, and I really wanted to focus on her. Since the lockdown has continued, I have agreed to do interviews like this one and I’ve done some cameo videos, but that’s about it. 9. What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now? To me, acting and story telling are very spiritual processes and experiences for the performers and the audiences. If anything we need these connections now more than ever. I am looking forward to seeing how the creative minds of the artistic community respond to the new challenges. I think the future is bright for the arts. “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ was a weekly televised American program where its late host, James Lipton, used to ask the following ten questions to his guests at the conclusion of his interview: a. What is your favourite word? Namaste b. What is your least favourite word? Impossible c. What turns you on? Spending time with others d. What turns you off? Negativity e. What sound or noise do you love? A scratch at the window from Jess, the neighbour’s cat. f. What sound or noise bothers you? Babies crying. g. What is your favourite curse word? The “F” bomb. h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Motivational speaking. i. What profession would you not like to do? Being a soldier and killing people. j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You’re late” You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottJKyle1. Previous Next

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  • Dramas 'Icemen' by Vern Thiessen

    Back 'Icemen' by Vern Thiessen World Premiere presented by Theatre by the Bay now onstage at Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie Credit: Hollinshead Media. L-R: Tom Keat, Nathan Howe, Isaish Kolundzic Joe Szekeres "Suspenseful! Thrilling! Entertaining! ‘Icemen’ is a Canadian story, and it’s ours!" Vern Thiessen’s newest world premiere takes place on the icy banks of Barrie at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Times are tough for everyone, not only for the characters of ‘Icemen’ but those who live in Barrie. When times are tough, sometimes the unthinkable can very well happen. The setting is a wooden icehouse. We meet two desperate brothers: Joe (Isaiah Kolundzic) and his not-too-swift brother, Rennie (Tom Keat). The two commit an act of vengeance and defiance against their upscale employer, F. F. (Nathan Howe) and hold him hostage. F. F. threatens to destroy the brothers’ livelihood – ice harvesting on Kempenfelt Bay. I won’t spoil here what F. F. stands for, as you will find out. This opening night edge-of-the-seat thriller has a great deal going for it. For one, Barrie’s Theatre by the Bay's mandate is to continue showcasing and producing rich local stories. The company commissioned Thiessen to write a play about Barrie. He had never been to the city before and didn’t know anything about it but discovered a treasure trove of stories – one of them being the ice harvesters who worked on Kempenfelt Bay. In the playwright’s programme note, Thiessen writes how the ice harvesters saw their livelihood taken away by greed and refrigeration, an ‘innovation’ that, over time, has contributed to the climate change that now threatens Canadian lakes and oceans. I did not know the local history of Barrie, and this bit of information piqued my curiosity about how it would tie into the story. So, “Icemen” is a story of high stakes. The world of the Depression was one of gradual change and innovation. There was great social inequity and economic disparity, as playwright Thiessen tells in his Programme Note. People in the Depression had a tough time making ends meet. There were also individuals at this time who had too much power. Sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it? We’re experiencing this right now in our twenty-first century woke world. The big question – did this opening night production work on the Five Points Theatre stage? Yes, it does. Skillfully, I will add. This world-premiere production is one of which I hope other Canadian theatre companies will take notice. Not only is it suspenseful, thrilling, and entertaining, but ‘Icemen’ is one of our stories as Canadians and for Canadians. Joe Pagnan’s gorgeous set design of the rugged wooden icehouse prominently figures centre stage. I closely examined what I could do from my seat about three-quarters of the way up in the house. Brenda Thompson has paid meticulous attention to the selection of 1930s-period piece props. I loved the icepick that would have been used to help drag the ice blocks to the wooden house. Like all good suspenseful stories, nevertheless, some of these items become nefariously used for shocking purposes. Logan Raju Cracknell’s shadowy lighting designs duly enhance the suspenseful atmosphere of both the ruggedness and the sense of loneliness that might also surround the lives of these ice harvesters. Madeline Ius’s costumes are believable period recreations of the clothing the brothers would have worn as they worked outside. F.F.’s clothing strongly gives the impression there is a social and financial strata division. Mathew Magneson creates an extraordinary soundscape of howling winds that strongly emphasizes how cold it must have been for these harvesters. Not only that, but the sound also underscores how lonely and abandoned it must have felt for these individuals who worked out on the Bay. Magneson also places the sound of the howling wind throughout to help in the growing and suspenseful plot momentum. It’s effective in the aural sense, that’s for sure. Vern Thiessen’s gripping script makes the audience listen carefully to the spoken dialogue, which becomes crucial to the suspenseful intensity of any edge-of-the-seat story. Thiessen surely knows how to grab an audience’s attention right away. At the top of the show, F. F. is tied to a chair, and Joe casually smokes a cigarette while talking to F.F. and the audience. A strong word of advice - make sure you do listen carefully because the play is wordy but oh, so very important in building to the story’s climax. Iain Moggach directs with an assured confidence that never wavers. Not only does he envision believable characters, but he also creates one hell of an excellent Canadian story that makes our culture a unique one. As he writes in his programme note, “Icemen” is more than just ice. ‘Icemen’ is a story of history repeating itself in new ways. Yes, that’s a scary thought, but it also makes for good entertainment. The three-member cast remains solid throughout, always listening and responding with a credible believability. As brothers Joe and Rennie, Isaiah Kolundzic and Tom Keat deliver bold and fearless performances. Rennie is not a dimwit, but he doesn’t have the ‘smarts’ like his brother, Joe. Kolundzic and Keat are in synchronicity with each other. They behave and speak as brothers often do, especially when the two might not agree on handling the situation with F. F. I applaud Nathan Howe’s work as F. F, Joe and Rennie’s supervisor. For a good portion of the play, Howe is tied to a chair, so there is little room for him to move about the stage like Kolundzic and Keat. Instead, Howe’s performance strength emanates from his listening carefully to the other two and using his voice to indicate the varied emotional levels he experiences. When freed from the chair, Howe effectively controls his energy level and doesn’t allow it to upstage Kolundzic and Keat. There’s a bubbling, boiling and ultimately scalding intensity watching the events unfold at the end. And it’s good theatre. And that’s why you should get to the Five Points Theatre to see this Canadian piece that will hopefully be picked up and produced around the province. Running time: approximately 85 minutes with no intermission. ‘Icemen’ runs until November 12 at the Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie. For tickets, call the Box Office at (705) 739-4228 or visit https://tprocob.ticketpro.ca/en/pages/COB_TBTB_Icemen Theatre by the Bay presents the world premiere of ‘Icemen’ by Vern Thiessen Directed and produced by Iain Moggach Stage Manager: Khaleel Gandi Production Manager: Rochelle Reynolds Set Designer: Joe Pagnan Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell Music Director/Composer: Mathew Magneson Costume Designer: Madeline Ius Props: Brenda Thompson Performers: Nathan Howe as F. F.; Tom Keat as Rennie; Isaiah Kolundzic as Joe Previous Next

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