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  • 'Something Rotten!'

    Back 'Something Rotten!' Now onstage until October 27 at the Festival Theatre, The Stratford Festival, 55 Queen Street. Ann Baggley Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter actor, director, adjudicator, arts educator VOICE CHOICE “Something Rotten! is something spectacular! All hail the return of Donna Feore!” This week celebrates the launch of the Stratford Festival’s 72nd season offering 10 plays and two musicals. One of these musicals is “Something Rotten!” and it’s miles from its namesake. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a more entertaining and spectacularly performed musical at North America’s largest repertory company. Director and choreographer Donna Feore, whose hiatus last season was keenly noticed, has returned with another song-and-dance extravaganza that had its opening audience on its feet twice to wildly approve of the antics and breathtaking, electric choreography from a cast of incomparable triple threats. Donna Feore is Broadway-gold! Critics and artists have celebrated her work worldwide and she’s back in top form. I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy a musical more after experiencing her 2022 runaway hit, “Chicago”. But a packed opening night performance sent the term, “musical comedy” to knee-slapping, guffaw-filled new heights. What’s more, no one seems to have heard of this fractured and fresh send up of history’s most iconic playwright. “Something Rotten!” is an irreverent telling of two racy, raucous rivals of Renaissance rock star, William Shakespeare! It debuted on Broadway on April 22, 2015 and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Curiously, it closed not two years later after only 742 performances. It deserved a much longer run! The Bottom brothers, Nick (Mark Uhre) and Nigel (Henry Firmston), are two struggling playwrights in Tudor London. They’ve just written their new history play, ‘Richard ll’, a work they’re convinced will propel them to new heights of fame and fortune. They soon realize that celebrated playwright and actor Will Shakespeare (Jeff Lillico) has put quill to parchment and crafted his own hit version of the troubled monarch’s reign. Broke and defeated, and desperate for new ideas for a hit play, Nick Bottom seeks out a soothsayer by the name of Thomas Nostradamus, nephew of history’s famous French forecaster (a deliciously over-the-top Dan Chameroy), who predicts the future’s bold, new theatrical genre: the musical! After hearing of this next big thing that hasn’t happened yet, where actors inexplicably break out into song and bust a move or two…or three, Nick is convinced he will conceive and perform the next million-pound hit. So begins a saucy and silly send-up of the Bard, today’s musical theatre phenoms and celebrity culture. There’s something for everyone in this brilliant production. Stratford is a place as renowned for its musicals as it is for its Shakespeare productions. Director and choreographer Feore has ingeniously mashed the two up to create something outrageously irresistible. She has assembled a cast of 24 extraordinarily talented singers, dancers and actors and once again shows how adept she is at re-imagining entire productions to meet and maximize the demands of the Festival theatre’s thrust stage. Her imaginative staging is spot-on, weaving fast-paced storytelling through thrilling, athletic dance that this more than capable cast is totally up for. With Feore you can expect something you’ve never seen before, something that will surprise and delight you. Feore’s Tudor take on the Bard is bombastic and breathtaking! Please don’t let her leave us again, Stratford! As the loathsome down-on-their-luck brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, Uber-talented Mark Uhre and Henry Firmston play their sibling rivalry with aplomb. Uhre plays Nick as the sour, frustrated artist just wanting to write a hit play, get rich quick and be a superstar. He’s a singing and dancing triple threat, a gem to watch. No surprise as he had a recent Broadway stint in ‘Les Miserables’. By contrast Firmston as Nigel brings a fresh youthfulness to the quieter, more sensible and creative playwright, with his eye on the prize while finding love with the local Puritan damsel Portia (a captivating Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane). His voice is clear as a bell and his chemistry with love-interest with Portia is palpable and charming. Jeff Lillico’s Will Shakespeare is hamming it up with his rock-star swagger, seething matinee-idol stardom and cocky pretention. His first number, “Will Power” nicely sets up the narcissist superstar. The girls love him, the boys want to be like him. He’s a curious cross between Jack Sparrow and Freddie Mercury. My only minor quip here is that I wanted him to have more fun playing up the rock star persona. Lillico is extremely talented (with a spot-on British accent) and I’m sure he’ll settle into the role as the run progresses. Stratford favourite and musical comedy veteran Dan Chameroy is at his hilarious best as Thomas Nostradamus, the loony soothsayer who almost sees the future perfectly. His campy, over-the-top scenery chewing is comedy gold. His timing, characterization and vocal chops are in perfect sync. The show-stopping standing ovation after his big number, “A Musical” confirms his reputation as a Festival favourite. Other veteran favourites are along for this wild ride through the Renaissance. As Portia’s father, the pompous and pontificating Puritan Brother Jeremiah, Juan Chioran is taking himself none too seriously strutting and spewing his disapproval of all things theatrical while Steve Ross has a small but memorable role as Shylock, the moneylender who loves theatre. Ross’ loveable portrayal harkens back to his heartwarming performance as Amos in “Chicago” a couple seasons back. Honourable mentions must go to the excellent supporting performances by Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Lady Clapham, the Bottom’s patron of the arts and Starr Domingue as Bea Bottom, Nick’s caring but headstrong wife. Kudos to the entire Ladies of the Renaissance and The Bard Boys, Will’s backup dancers, gyrating and writhing in sexy unison. These supporting players weren’t just ensemble dancers but invested actors portraying characters with dimension and focus. Something rarely seen in musical comedy. The entire cast was focussed on one mission – to entertain. Mission accomplished. Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco are medieval period to the max. Authentic velvet dresses, ornately embroidered capes, britches, doublets, codpieces and frilly collars with a splash of leather, studs, top hats, leotards and high heels. Told you it’s a mash up. The set is simple and functional on two levels evoking Tudor timbers and wooden scaffolds. Musical director Laura Burton deftly directs her fabulous orchestra through Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s quirky and eclectic score while lighting designer Bonnie Beecher’s impossibly replicates medieval lighting centuries before electricity before bathing the set with rock concert LEDs. Another crazy mashup. A huge shout out to stage manager Cynthia Toushan and her team of nine dressers and assistants. With 275 costumes, changes are impossibly fast. Actors seem to come and go in completely different garb in what seems like seconds. With an entirely different production going on backstage, no change is longer than 90 seconds. One marvels at the Herculean efforts of the backstage crew needed to pull this off nightly. If you’re not a fan of musicals or Shakespeare, you owe it to yourself to see this brilliant and innovative satire of both. I can’t remember the last time I had so much rollicking fun at the theatre. “Something Rotten” is pure escapist entertainment. It’s hilarious, witty, filled with kitschy dialogue, clever jokes, catchy songs and WAY over-the-top characters that you’ll instantly fall in love with. You’ll laugh so hard your sides will split and your feet will be numb from non-stop tapping. ‘Something Rotten’ is something wonderful and don’t we all need a little wonderful in our lives? Running time: approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes with one interval. ‘Something Rotten!’ runs until October 27 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford. For tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or visit www.stratfordfestival.ca ‘Something Rotten’ BOOK BY KAREY KIRKPATRICK AND JOHN O'FARRELL MUSIC AND LYRICS BY WAYNE KIRKPATRICK AND KAREY KIRKPATRICK CONCEIVED BY KAREY KIRKPATRICK AND WAYNE KIRKPATRICK DIRECTED BY DONNA FEORE CHOREOGRAPHED BY DONNA FEORE Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

    Back Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Presented at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre Evan Zimmerman Joe Szekeres (Note: This review is based on one of the last preview performances. With the publication of this article online, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will have officially opened.) Visually resplendent with superlatively exquisite technical wizardry in ‘Cursed Child’, but is there anything else? Yes, this rhetorical question is to hook you into reading, and I’ll answer it shortly. I’ve only read the first two of the Potter series and have seen the first three film adaptations so I’m coming at this review not as an aficionado, but as a theatregoer. I was still able to follow the story closely for the most part. Additionally, there are excellent refresher notes in the programme so take advantage to read as much as you can before the performance begins. It also helps my invited guest and friend, Darlene, is a ‘Potter head’. There are moments where ‘Cursed Child’ becomes jaw-droppingly engrossing for formidable technical special effects and Jamie Harrison’s mind-blowing wizardry and magical illusions. Three examples come to my mind. One is the entrance of the Dementors at the end of the first act, especially with one flying and gliding over the orchestra and stationed close to the balcony. Enchantingly and horrifically mesmerizing. Another hypnotic moment occurs visually when time travels backwards. You must see it for yourselves to experience it. The third is the entrance of some characters through the fireplace floo. Wow! However, I do want to point out a few things that drew my attention for concern. ‘Cursed Child’ becomes very dark as the story unfolds and I wondered if it is appropriate for young children to see. Advertising might say the show is suitable for 10+, but I strongly advise it should be 12+. Parents, if you have already purchased tickets for young children, prepare them well, please, before arrival at the theatre. My friend, Darlene, said there was a young girl in the women’s washroom at intermission crying her eyes out and telling her mother she wanted to go home because she was so frightened. The mother was trying to calm her daughter down by saying she would be fine and that nothing would happen to her. As Darlene and I walked up the aisle at the end, we both looked around and saw many young children had fallen asleep in their chairs possibly (probably?) because of the play’s heightened emotions. Big bucks spent here, folks, so be aware and prepare if you are taking the kiddos. Visually the production remains incredibly stunning throughout. Renovations were completed in the Ed Mirvish Theatre to accommodate the show’s staging requirements. Upon entering the auditorium for the preshow, we are at the train station and hear the customary usual sounds thanks to Gareth Fry’s designs. Christine Jones’s set design is magnificent to take in. Moving back from the proscenium arch, the house is covered in the brick found in the train stations of the United Kingdom. Neil Austin’s lighting design eerily illuminates moon ray beams ghostly reflected off the floor. I loved the flourishing and hearing the ‘whooosh’ sound of the black cloaks of the ensemble as they changed the scene settings. Katrina Lindsay remarkably captured an effusive array of colours and textures in each of the splendid costume designs. The story begins where Harry (Trevor White) and his wife Ginny (Trish Lindstrom), Ron Weasley (Gregory Prest) and his wife Hermione (Sarah Afful) are seeing their children Albus Potter (Luke Kimball) and Rose Granger-Weasley (Hailey Lewis) off at London's King Cross Station Platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts. It is at school where the young Albus meets the young Scorpius Malfoy (Thomas Mitchell Barnet), son of Draco Malfoy (Brad Hodder) who was Harry’s arch-rival years ago at Hogwarts. Circumstances quickly erupt and unfold which leads the young Scorpius and Albus off into a nether world of darkness, mayhem and mischief that threatens to destroy them and their families. Just like the principal players, the supporting characters in the ensemble are also many of Canada’s finest stage actors who have appeared across Canada from Canadian Stage, Soulpepper, The Stratford Festival and The Shaw Festival to name just a few places. It was tremendously exciting to go through this list. When I read the Covers who substitute for the listed performers, again the names there are top-notch so the production is most assuredly in capable hands going forward. I’m not going to be able to mention each of them for the sake of space. The show most definitely belongs to Thomas Mitchell Barnet and Luke Kimball who deliver ardent performances in their character arc of development as Scorpius and Albus. Exciting to see youthful, emerging talent given their chance in this show that I’m almost certain will change the course of their professional careers. Several supporting moments drew my attention. Steven Sutcliffe brings a touch of decency and humanity as Severus Snape in his Act Two encounter with Albus. Brad Hodder’s death-like stare as Draco Malfoy is memorable. Trish Lindstrom’s Ginny becomes that voice of calm and reason often in the face of confusion and flusters. Fiona Reid is a stately and elegant Professor McGonagall who means what she says with her students (and Ms. Reid looks as if she is having a great deal of fun with some of the wand effects she enacts). Since I’ve neither read the completed series nor watched all the films, Trevor White’s Harry Potter has come full circle for me. I only remember seeing the young lad on film and reading about him breaking a million school rules. White’s convincing performance certifies that eventually troubled young lads must begin to take responsibility as an adult and as a parent. Director John Tiffany and Associate Director Pip Minnithorpe have magically and memorably created an enticingly surreal world of loss and trauma which threatens many lives in the story. However, the ultimate message behind ‘Cursed Child’? No matter the hardships and deep troubles that will occur in life, nothing will destroy the unconditional strength and bond of familial love. Now to answer the question posed earlier. Along with the beguiling look and sound of ‘Cursed Child’, is there a good story told underneath all this veneer? Let’s not forget that is the prime reason why we attend the theatre – to become wrapped up in the story told by the artists. Yes, Potter lovers will most certainly adore the story with its flash and dazzle. Theatre lovers will ask (demand?) a bit more which is what I’m doing regarding some quibbles that hopefully have been addressed. For one, there appears to be a great deal of shouting, yelling, and screaming throughout Acts One and Two which started to hurt my ears since the actors are wearing head mics. Sound design is magnified for several of the special effects but why have actors try to do the same thing with their voices? Was something amiss with Shawn Wright’s headpiece as Lord Voldemort? From my seat, it looked as if it wasn’t fitting his head properly and appeared just slightly askew. A sense of dreaded fear had to be felt at Voldemort’s entrance, and I wasn’t feeling any of it at that moment. Just minor issues which I’m sure have been addressed. Final Comments: Before I retired from my teaching career, I can recall some Ontario school boards wanted the Potter series removed from the shelves for concern about the use of ‘black magic’. After seeing ‘Cursed Child’, I can honestly say there is no cause for concern regarding this issue. The story deals with troubled father and son relationships and their eventual repair through familial and unconditional love. That is the important message audiences leave with after seeing ‘Cursed Child’. The feats of wizardry and spectacle are a bonus. Running time: approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. As of the writing of this article, As of the writing of this article, the show has an open-ended run. Mask-wearing remains in effect at the theatre. To purchase tickets, visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD Based on an Original New Story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. A New Play by Jack Thorn Director: John Thorn. Associate Director: Pip Minnithorpe. Movement Director: Steven Hoggett. Set Designer: Christine Jones. Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay. Lighting Designer: Neil Austin. Sound Designer: Gareth Fry. Illusions & Magic: Jamie Harrison. Music Supervisor & Arranger: Martin Lowe. Hair, Wigs & Make-Up: Carole Hancock. The Company: Sarah Afful, Kaleb Alexander, Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Michael Chiem, Mark Crawford, Raquel Duffy, Sara Farb, Bryce Fletch, Brad Hodder, Luke Kimball, Hailey Lewis, Trish Lindstrom, Lucas Meeuse, Kyle Orzech, Gregory Prest, Fiona Reid, Katie Ryerson, Yemie Sonuga, Steven Sutcliffe, Brendan Wall, Trevor White, David D’Lancy Wilson, Shawn Wright. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Jack: A Beanstalk Panto' (The Naughty Version) Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan

    Back 'Jack: A Beanstalk Panto' (The Naughty Version) Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan Now onstage at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, until December 23. Credit: Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres "Just plain ol’ good and naughty fun with the occasional eyebrow-raising double entendre mixed in. Allow this terrific cast to whisk you away with its slapstick and shenanigans and leave your troubles outside." Barista Jack (Zoë O’Connor), short for Jacqueline, gets the day underway for customers at ‘Beanie,’ the local Port Hope coffee shop, with a warm, inviting smile. She’s also known for helping the town's residents if they are down on their luck, sometimes by giving free coffee away. Gus (Steve Ross), a local and friendly guy, comes to the coffee shop daily. Although he is down on his luck, Gus likes to see and speak with Jack, talk to other customers, and spend time there, often reading. Milk is desperately needed for the café. For some reason, the café cow (Milky White) cannot produce enough milk for the business. Gus knows why cows might have this problem. He massages the cow’s udders and finds the animal dry. The owner of the café and villain Pearson (Paul Constable) orders the cow to be sold and the money brought to him. Instead of doing this, Jack trades Milky White for some beans from a mysterious stranger. When Pearson hears this, Jack is fired from the coffee shop. Jack scatters the beans, and a beanstalk grows skyward. Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets a not-so-nice Giant (Paul Constable), his frenzied housekeeper (Christy Bruce), and some disco line-dancing Hens where one of them lays a golden egg. There’s also an always-in-heat rabbit and a handsome coffee shop patron (Robbie Fenton). If you recall the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, a harp plays lovely music to put the giant to sleep. A deadpan, gorgeous, and buxom, Steve Ross appears as the harp. One of my personal highlights in getting ready for the Christmas season these last few years has been the travel to Port Hope to see the Capitol’s panto. Always the naughty version, especially this year. I needed to laugh after surviving my first-ever bout of Covid. ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ is just plain ol’ good fun with the occasional eyebrow-raising double entendre mixed in. Make it a night to watch some slapstick and shenanigans and “leave your troubles outside” (as the Emcee tells us in ‘Cabaret’). With an excellent creative team behind the scenes, writer/director Rebecca Northan and Music Director Chris Barillaro add a decent amount of rum to this delicious eggnog of a celebration of the panto. The resulting taste in performance work never overpowers. The script and song lyrics are cleverly and tautly delivered with a piquant punch of several double-entendre meanings that had my guest and me laughing hard. For example, at the top of the show, when the stage goes black, we hear Jack ‘moaning in pleasure’ (I don’t think I need to say more) before she bursts into song. It certainly sets the tone without needing to go into specific details, but my guest and I, at that point, were howling with laughter. But the naughty nature never ventures over into the dirty for dirty’s sake. That was an intelligent choice because such puerile thinking can and does grow tiresome. The script ventures into spot-on comments about gender fluidity and pronoun usage where it’s possible the show could turn woke. I also wondered how far the adult nature would go when Gus massaged the cow’s udders rather suggestively in a manner that could appear to be something else. I held my breath. That’s the beauty of the panto in the naughty version. It suggests without ever being dirty or vulgar. Bravo to a cast that knows when and for how long to revel in these delectable double-entendre moments. Adam Campbell’s terrific sound design remains a bonus. His selection of pre-show music took me back to my years at high school, where disco and platform shoes remained the style. I could hear every word of the song lyrics thanks to Campbell's meticulousness in design. Too often, I’ve attended several musical productions where the sound balance was out of sync, and that’s frustrating, especially when the plot and humour push forward through the songs. That did not occur at this performance. Some of Anna Treusch’s set and props designs gloriously remind the audience that a fairytale is being told to us. Many of the props appeared larger than life from my seat in the house which adds to the comedy. Hollywood Jade’s choreography succinctly keeps in time with the music. I was amazed at how Steve Ross could walk down those steps in high heels and wearing a dazzling gold evening gown. Joyce Padua’s costume designs are reminders of the story as a fairytale. For example, Milky White’s costume is a reminder of Julie Taymor's character designs from ‘The Lion King.’ Nick Andison’s lighting design nicely creates specific locales. The lighting in the Giant’s castle remains shadowy to underscore the ‘drama’ of wondering when he will appear to wreak havoc. The cheeky cast remains delightful throughout. They’re well-versed in improvisation in front of a live audience. They continuously break the fourth wall. We boo at Pearson and yay with Jack in the Giant’s castle. Yes, they’re corny sometimes, especially in the disco line-dancing of the Hens and then asking if the audience wants them to continue returning to the music of a given specific era. But who cares if it’s corny at times? That’s the appeal of the panto, and that’s what brings people back to the theatrical form. Zoë O’Connor is lovely as Jack. She initially introduces this concept of gender fluidity, but O’Connor wisely does not make her performance revolve solely around that. Steve Ross is excellent in his juxtaposing performance work as the goofball, slow and dimwitted Gus (who is sharp when understanding the workings of a cow) with the deadpan, drop-dead, ‘bosomy’ Giant’s Harp. What a treat to see Paul Constable live on stage for the first time. Yes, he was Gary from over 150 televised Canadian Tire commercials; however, his comic timing remains smartly in tune throughout, especially when he is bad guy Pearson and improvising with the audience. Clea McCaffrey played the Magic Hen with the perfect dash of sass and silliness at this performance. As the Giant’s Housekeeper, Christy Bruce never ventures out of her control in her frenzy and harried nature. Robbie Fenton and Hal Wesley Rogers round out the ensemble and keep the zaniness clipping along without ever making the play's pacing feel rushed. Final Thoughts: It has been a long time since I’ve heard ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Thank you to this company for sharing your twist on the story with such abandoned glee. I’ll never look upon this fairy tale in the same way again. Great fun. We all need this kind of entertainment to get us into the Christmas/holiday spirit. Get tickets, dine, and spend a few moments in downtown shops. Running time: Approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Jack: A Beanstalk Panto’ (The Naughty and Nice versions) runs until December 23 at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street. For tickets, capitoltheatre.com or call 905-885-1071. JACK: A BEANSTALK PANTO (The Naughty Version) Runs in repertory with the Nice Version Written and Directed by Rebecca Northan Music Director and Arranger Chris Barillaro Choreographer: Hollywood Jade Sound Designer: Adam Campbell Set and Props Designer: Anna Treusch Costume Designer: Joyce Padua / Associate Costume Designer: Arielle Voght Lighting Designer: Nick Andison Stage Manager: Alice Ferreyra Galliani / Assistant Stage Manager: Charlene Saroyan Musicians: Chris Barillaro (Pianist), Alex Panneton (Guitars, Drums & Synth) Performers: Christy Bruce, Paul Constable, Robbie Fenton, Clea McCaffrey (at this performance for Madison Hayes-Crook), Zoë O’Connor, Hal Wesley Rogers, Steve Ross. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Končan

    Back 'Women of the Fur Trade' by Frances Končan Now onstage at the Aki Studio in Toronto's Daniels Spectrum Kate Dalton L-R: Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, Cheri Maracle, Lisa Nasson Joe Szekeres “A 21st-century Canadian history lesson that hooks its audience initially with humour in its quest to begin recognizing the truth of what actually happened. Strong performances marked by an assured and confident direction.” The time is eighteen hundred and something something. The setting is on the banks of a Reddish River in Treaty One Territory, Winnipeg, Manitoba today. At first glance, playwright Frances Končan’s ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ is hilarious. Set inside a fort, three uniquely distinct women of voice and character use twenty-first-century slang to share their views of life, love, and the ‘beefcake’ hottie of the day, Louis Riel (Jonathan Fisher). The married European settler Cecilia (Cheri Maracle) sits in a rocking chair in the centre. Cecilia sometimes becomes a referee between the other two in their discussions. She sometimes exudes a maternal instinct between the two and harbours an attraction to Thomas Scott (Jesse Gervais), Riel’s assistant. Métis Marie-Angelique (Kelsey Kanatan Wavey) sits in her rocking chair to Cecilia’ s right. Marie-Angelique is Riel’s number-one fan. She becomes smitten with him and will do anything to meet her heroic idol. Ojibwe Eugenia (Lisa Nasson) sits in her rocking chair to Cecilia’s left. When we first meet her, Eugenia is sullen; she struggles to understand why men behave as they do. Eugenia wears her heart on her sleeve. Her facial reactions usually indicate her internal feelings throughout most of the story, but that all changes as the story continues. Through a series of misguided letter correspondence and people pretending to be someone they’re not, ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ becomes an opportunity for Toronto audiences to see a Canadian historical satire of survival and cultural inheritance shift perspective. Končan’s script utilizes humour nicely to propel the story forward. This is smart because the modern vernacular dialogue hooks the audience into listening to what these women tell us. Some wonderfully staged moments also bring laughter. Floating down from the flies are Canada post baskets into which the women place letters to be mailed. At one point, a FedEx basket floated down, which brought laughter. The women also use sock puppets, and there’s one with a noticeable male appendage. The mix-up in the letter correspondence provides the impetus to ponder the subtextual meaning. I did not see the Stratford summer/fall 2023 production under Yvette Nolan’s direction or the Ottawa January 2024 production under Renae Morriseau’s direction, so I don’t have any reference points as a comparison. At the talkback, we were told Morriseau was suddenly called away due to a family situation. Kevin Loring directed the Toronto production, and Joelle Peters was the assistant director. The play takes some poetic licence in its Canadian history lesson. I am the first to admit shamefully that I can’t recall much about Riel’s influence in Canadian history. Hence, I researched before and after the production to refresh my memory about this iconic figure. There’s a great deal to admire about this production. For one, the visual look remains top-notch courtesy of Vanessa Imeson’s colourful and distinct costumes for each of the five characters. When I sat down, Lauchlin Johnston’s scenic design, set on risers on wooden slats in a diamond shape, caught my eye. The units of ribbons along the back wall are striking. The black-and-white pictures of men on the back wall became a sharp and stark reminder of a truth that I am prepared to admit—our Canadian history has been seen and told from the perspective of white males. These individual photographs look genuinely realistic. These men could jump out of the picture frames and take over the fort—credit to Candelario Andrade for creating this stunning visual effect. A second glance at those pictures on the back wall reminds us that the men in these photos look privileged in their dress and comportment; this is another vital fact to remember about ‘Women.’ Kevin Loring directs the Toronto production with an assured hand. He doesn’t allow the comic moments to overshadow the simmering tension the women experience as they sit and wait in the fort for news of any kind, especially the planned Rebellion. Under Loring’s capable hands, Cheri Maracle, Kelsey Kanatan Wavey and Lisa Nasson actively and attentively listen to each other from their rocking chairs. There’s nothing static as these ladies speak to each other with genuine conviction. They’re entirely grounded in their belief systems and ensure that others know exactly where they stand on issues. As Louis Riel, Jonathan Fisher is a bit of a drippy jerk. His Riel is haughty, pompous, and arrogant. Jesse Gervais’s Thomas Scott becomes an appropriate foil to Fisher’s Riel. Gervais is fastidious and particular in his performance as Scott when he wants to ensure Riel’s fan mail has been answered. Gervais and Kanatan Wavey’s seduction is excellent fun, and they never overplay the moment. One theatrical highlight involves the black and white pictures hanging on the back wall. Not only is that moment handled carefully in its execution, but it also becomes an impressive visual image I can still picture in my mind two days later as I complete this article. The Toronto production of ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ is admirable, but the question remains—is it necessary for audiences to see it? Yes, it is for its solid theatrical presentation. But there’s more in this production. Frances Končan’s vital Canadian history lesson reminds us to continue listening, paying attention, and hearing the First Nations' stories while ensuring they are never forgotten. And Another Thought: During the talk-back session, I asked if there would be a student matinee performance of the production. There is one. I don’t know about others. As a retired secondary school teacher, I agree wholeheartedly that young people should see this production. Teachers and parents, be advised that some adult situations are involved. I’m not one for censorship, and I don’t believe Končan’s script should be doctored in any way for student matinées. Nevertheless, teachers and parents, prepare young people before they come to the theatre. Running time: approximately one hour and 50 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ runs until April 21 in the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East. For tickets, visit www.nativeearth.ca or call (416) 531-1402. WOMEN OF THE FUR TRADE by Frances Končan Original Direction: Renae Morriseau Revival Director: Kevin Loring and Assistant Director: Joelle Peters Stage Manager: Jackie McCormick Lighting Designer: Jeff Harrison Scenic Designer: Lauchlin Johnston Projection Designer: Candelario Andrade Costume Designer: Vanessa Imeson Sound Designer/Composer: MJ Dandeneau Performers: Kelsey Kanatan Wavey, Cheri Maracle, Lisa Nasson, Jonathan Fisher, Jesse Gervais Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Sweeter' by Alicia Richardson

    Back 'Sweeter' by Alicia Richardson Now onstage to December 17 at the Aki Studio, 585 Dundas Street East Credit: Foreshots Photography. Pictured: Daren Herbert as Ralph and Alicia Plummer as Sweet Pea Zoe Marin, Contributor “With the ongoing discourse about whether or not kids should learn about race in schools, ‘Sweeter’ proves that it’s not only necessary, but also doesn’t have to be difficult.” ‘Sweeter’ takes place in American South in 1887, only two decades after the abolition of slavery. Ralph (Daren Herbert) widowed and newly emancipated, seeks a better life for him and his daughter, Sweet Pea (Alicia Plummer). This brings him to Mr. Zucker’s (Sébastien Heins) small farm in Eatonville, Florida, where he is currently unable to afford the small patch of land Zucker offers him. Eager to have something of his own, Ralph agrees to “lease” the land and work for Zucker until he’s able to buy it. Here. Ralph begins to tend to a withered mango tree that he promises will prosper with the right care. As it turns out, “Mango Tree” (Emerjade Simms) can talk, leading to a close bond with Sweet Pea and making an enemy out of Zucker. ‘Sweeter’ approaches the topics of slavery and anti-black racism with a directness that makes it easy for children to understand, as well as a humour that eases them into the more intense discussions of these issues later in the play. Director Tanisha Taitt further elevates that joy through her usage of music and dance that is sure to keep children and adult audiences equally engaged. I also thoroughly enjoyed how she kept the energy going through her transitions that often involved unique portrayals of the tree growing (through ladders with leaves attached), or flipping the flowers “planted” on the set (designed by Sim Suzer) to show a change in season. With the mix of human characters, along with with a talking sun Dee (Uche Ama) Mango Tree, the show never loses its playfulness, even as it delves into serious issues The Mango Tree metaphor works incredibly well as a clear way to portray the anti-black rhetoric of the time, while also not suscepting the audience into two hours of ‘trauma porn’. When Zucker, a light-skinned black man, first sees the Mango Tree, he calls her ‘ashy’, ‘dark’ and ‘scary’. When he first hears her talk, he says she’s demonic and spews Bible quotes at her. Then when he finds out how much money he can make off her fruti, he starts exploiting her. The metaphor is clear. The treatment is still vile, but the mango tree allegory cushions the hateful rhetoric without ever censoring it. Although ‘Sweeter’ is intended for young audiences, there are many nuanced layers to Richardson’s script that invite different audience interpretations. In addition to portraying anti-black racism, ‘Sweeter’ also touches on how class, proximity to whiteness, and gender can lead to certain privileges or further subjugations within the black community. I don’t think a small child would explain it like that necessarily, but the play definitely opens up the floor to those discussions. In the programme’s Playwright’s Note, Alicia Richardson says her purpose for writing ‘Sweeter’ was: “to explain the adult Black experience to a Black child.” As someone who is neither black, nor a child, I can’t speak to whether that specific mission was fulfilled. However, at ‘Sweeter’’s opening performance, there were so many moments where I heard the audience become disgusted by something Zucker said, or gasp, give a big “Aww” at a moment between Sweet Pea and Ralph, or even just laugh at a joke about Florida. Sometimes it was many people, other times it was just a few. Either way, it’s clear that Richardson’s very speific writing for her target audience led to a deeply personal and nuanced story that engulf’s the entire audience for each of their own reasons. A really memorable moment for me happened when Mango Tree talks about previously not benign able to grow fruit, and she says: “Can’t nobody expect you to grow if you’re too busy surviving.” Although the use of the mango tree metaphor could have risked deluding the show’s message, witnessing the collective ‘Mmh” and nodding of heads after this moment realy solidifed the importance of this story right now. Slavery may have already ended by the time ‘Sweeter’ begins, but its lasting effects continue to prevent Sweet Pea, Ralph, and even the antagonistic Zucker from ‘growing’. By focusing on the years after the abolition of slavery, ‘Sweeter’ fights against the anti-reparations/anti-affirmative action/anti-CRT/ pro-bootstrap myth crowds of today who believe that society is far removed from slavery, or the Jim Crow era, or police brutality incidents from a coupl of years ago. The same crowd who believes that people need to just ‘move on’, and that there’s no need to teach kids about it. By showing how bad society still was decades after abolition. ‘Sweeter’ puts a magnifying glass up to how society is still not removed from this dark history, and how it needs to be educated. On the note of education, I would also like to appreciate the ‘Study Guide’ provided by Cahoots, written by director Tanisha Taitt with contributions from playwright Alicia Richardson. The Guide includes further context about the characters and setting, discussion questions, curriculum connections, and additional themes for students in Grade 3-6 and 7-12. The Guide isn’t necessary for appreciating the play, but I would encourage teachers, parents, or even less-educated adults to read it over to have a more profound understanding. Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Sweeter’ runs to December 17 at the Aki Studio, 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto. For tickets, https://www.cahoots.ca/production/sweeter SWEETER by Alicia Richardson A Cahoots Theatre Production in association with Roseneath Theatre. Directed by Tanisha Taitt Set by Sim Suzer Costumes by A.W. Nadine Grant Lighting by Shawn Henry Sound by Miquelon Rodriguez Featuring: Daren Herbert, Alicia Plummer, Uche Ama, Sébastien Heins, Emerjade Simms. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'White Muscle Daddy' by Raf Antonio

    Back 'White Muscle Daddy' by Raf Antonio Now onstage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto. Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh. Pictured in profile: Frankie Bailey and Jaime Lujan Joe Szekeres ‘There are moments when the script is clever in its deceptive title. Although it might initially mean what you think it does, there’s an entirely new understanding at the end.’ Raf Antonio’s ‘White Muscle Daddy’ is a horror/thriller ‘film within a film within a play’. My guest and I discussed it intently on the way home. Antonio is bang-on about using the screen format within a play setting. Live and pre-recorded film and video footage are used throughout. Antonio is both clever and perceptive about developing this hybrid use further. Why? Our lives today are intently focused on the screen, whether we are watching a film, sitting in front of our computers for work and careers, or sometimes simply passing the time away on YouTube (I’m guilty of that) or TikTok (Don’t have an account. Don’t want one). Because I don’t want to spoil the surprises behind ‘White Muscle Daddy,’ I will do my best not to give away too much. The press release states that ‘White Muscle Daddy’ uses projection art, live camera feed, and shadow play…to subvert cinema/film and theatre expectations. Was that achieved? More about that shortly. ‘White Muscle Daddy’ is set in Los Angeles, primarily in an exclusive gym. There are moments when we are shown gorgeous photographs of the LA sunset night sky and extraordinary photos of what I assume to be at least $ 3 million US dollar homes. Appreciation to Nicole Eun-Ju Bell, Connie Oreamuno and Khanh Tudo for the specific hours of work that had to be done to search for these photos and then do magic in any editing for specific effects. Alia Stephen’s sometimes perfect lighting design effect underscores the strong visual impact of looking at the photos from where my guest and I sat far stage left. The appearance of camera operators Khanh Tudo and Katerina Zoumboulakis (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone) was also effective because the LA paparazzi are everywhere with their paraphernalia. It appears that in LA life, to be somebody, one must always be on camera. The notion of privacy is thrown out the window. Cat Calica’s costume selection perfectly reflect the style and finesse of each of the characters. There were moments in the pre-recorded or actual backstage footage where the sound was not aligned precisely when the characters spoke on screen. It was just a split second out of alignment, but it did bring me momentarily out of the scene. Can that also be looked at? In her set design, Echo Zhou places three separate riser platforms on far stage right, middle and far stage left to denote various LA locales. For sight line purposes, Zhou made a good choice to allow for maximum sight line view; however, there were moments when the action took place far stage right, and I could not hear the dialogue as I sat far stage left. The speaker on my right did not appear to amplify the sound, and I could not hear the dialogue. Hopefully, sound designer Stella Conway will be able to fix this going forward with future show performances. At the top of the show, we are watching the filming of one of the Grade B slasher horror flicks. Performer Augusto Bitter plays Stuart in the film. Stuart is reading a book and waiting for the arrival of their boyfriend to come home. In true horror film ‘Scream’ fashion, there are some nifty surprises for the audience that I don’t want to give away. It appears Bitter was having a hell of a good time in the pre-recorded filming. The film's director, Lucy (Chel Carmichael), enters the stage. Chel Carmichael’s Lucy is direct and confident in scenes with the filming. Carmichael’s Lucy is also connected to the rest of the characters in the play’s script. The central story involves Jeremy (Jaime Lujan), an impressionable individual newly hired to work the graveyard shift at the gym. Jeremy’s co-worker Thomas (Shaquille Pottinger) shows Jeremy the ropes of the gym. Thomas was moving out of the gym as he had found another job. One night, Jeremy sees and becomes smitten with Eugene (Ray Jacildo), a fitness instructor who appears to have the kind of LA life Jeremy has always wanted: muscles, good looks, and enviable LA parties. Jeremy’s ‘crush’ on Eugene begins to play havoc. Jeremy begins this insatiable hunger for Eugene and wants to know everything about the dude. Jeremy’s choice to follow the secret desire to know more about Eugene wreaks chaos in his relationship with his partner, Gustavo (Frankie Bayley). In turn, Gustavo looks to Lucy for moral support whenever their relationship with Jeremy appears on the rocks. In a heated moment of passion between Jeremy and Gustavo, the former says something to the latter that is downright nasty and cruel, which begins to alter the course of events not only in their lives but also in those in the story. The question remains right to the end—who is Eugene? Something about this character spells trouble for everyone involved. Directors Raf Antonio and Tricia Hagoriles have selected a diverse cast in their appearance and voice sound. That was another wise choice. For some reason, whenever I hear the name ‘Los Angeles,’ I immediately begin to think of plastic-looking people who are ‘practically perfect in every way’ (as Mary Poppins sang), from their looks to their sexuality and gender. Antonio and Hagoriles have selected real, natural, and ordinary-looking actors who commit themselves to showcase the two-hour and fifteen-minute running time (sans interval/intermission) with intent and focus. Once again, in the press release, Antonio (as one of the directors) spoke of "taking the tropes of the horror film genre and mashing them together to create an experience that will leave audiences chuckling, a little spooked, a little provoked...” Did that vision of mashing create an experience that left me chuckling, spooked, and a little provoked? Well… Yes and No. Directors Antonio and Hagoriles ensured the performers captured the Grade B horror film (over) acting from the sixties and seventies. In watching the pre-recorded film on stage during the performance, I recognized some similar recoiling in horror moments akin to the Vincent Prince scream films and Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' That left me chuckling. A couple of captured moments left me a tad spooked, but I hesitate to explain what it is because that would give away the surprise I didn’t see coming at all. All I will say - when it does appear, I had to avert my eyes quickly. It’s the word ‘provoked’ that I want to explore just a bit further. The script and the actors did provoke a bit of squeamishness within me so they succeeded on that account. There is one moment on film when I felt myself just scrunching my face up and putting my head down because it is a tad sickening. But I do have some quibbles. Is it possible for Antonio’s script to be re-examined again? I found it too long to sit for two hours and 15 minutes. There are moments where moments need to be tightened especially in moving from film to the stage. With no breaks at all, the production makes for uncomfortable sitting. A few got up around me to go and then return. Getting up and down is distracting both in the film and the theatre, but I get it – rarely are there intermissions in films. The directors have captured that vision. But if I go to the cinema and have to use the washroom during a long film, I quickly leave the hall, run to do my business and then get back to my seat. That’s not always possible in the theatre. This leads me to explain further the hybrid approach of combining cinema/film and theatre. It’s an exciting concept that deserves to be explored further on the stage. The press release calls ‘White Muscle Daddy’ a cinematic theatre thriller. Antonio says in the release that horror can be a malleable genre, and it is rarely performed on the stage. It’s not malleable here for me at this performance. Not quite yet. I hope a re-examination of the script and another staging might just do the trick. Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with no intermission. Masks are required to be worn for the performance. ‘White Muscle Daddy’ runs until March 31 at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets: buddiesinbadtimes.com or call (416) 975-8555. A PENCIL KIT PRODUCTIONS AND BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES THEATRE PRODUCTION Presents ‘White Muscle Daddy’ by Raf Antonio Produced by Claren Grosz Directors: Raf Antonio and Tricia Hagoriles Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'The House at Poe Corner' created by Michael O'Brien and Eric Woolfe

    Back 'The House at Poe Corner' created by Michael O'Brien and Eric Woolfe Produced by Eldritch Theatre and now onstage at The Red Sandcastle Theatre Credit: Adrianna Prosser. L-R: Mairi Babb and Eric Woolfe Dave Rabjohn “A crazy mash up of two unlikely partners with Edgar Allan Poe’s haunted characters dovetailed with the beloved stuffed animals of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ by A.A. Milne. A strange combination – or is it?” Created by Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe, this is Eldridge Theatre’s latest thrust into the world of cheeky horror. Calling themselves “the cabal of horror” Woolfe has been serving up the grotesque with puppets and magic for many years. The storyline wanders. The Pooh characters are blended into the Poe plotlines. Pooh is pronounced Po while the other familiar friends (Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger, among others) are bastardized in creative ways. A number of Poe stories are referenced including ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘Goldbug’ and ‘The Raven’, among others. The two humans that both ride the story and manipulate the puppets are played with saucy abandon by Eric Woolfe (Edgar) and Mairi Babb (Allan). As the various characters fall into gruesome situations, Pooh (Poe) and his friends are haunted by the fear of the unknown Blunderbeast. Is it a childish fear or a real terror? The beast chases them down and they are swallowed Jonah like and sit in the dark reviewing their fate. The plot is murky and bounces too often from story to story – a concentration on just one of Poe’s masterpieces may offer some unity. Having said that, it is the visual and the shock value (not the plot) that rules this production. Woolfe has been quoted as saying “we’re reluctant as theatre artists to engage the imagination of our audiences.” With the suspension of disbelief, it is our imaginations that colour the puppets. Woolfe, in hair and make-up a la Gomez Adams, burns through energy as he engages the maelstrom. His puppetry skills are first rate although the parlor style magic was at times tawdry and out of place. Babb matches her partner’s energy and adds a touch of Greek chorus as she reacts with coy facial expressions to some of Woolfe’s frantic actions. Many of the puppets were creatively repulsive scoffing at the very cuteness of Milne’s charming animals. Some puppets lacked detail and therefore personality. Because of the nature of the Eldritch brand, everything goes big – including sound and light. However, some of the blaring pinks and lime greens could have been somewhat muted. The blaring soundscape also seemed to overwhelm some scenes, but several clever choices of music empowered some of the action. The Red Sandcastle Theatre is an intimate space to a fault – there is sort of a meandering aisle up the middle of the bleachers and there is sort of a washroom that doubles as stage left. Having said that, the audience was engaged and delighted as it has been for many years. Eldritch Theatre makes no apologies for its cheeky indulgence in “themes of the horrific, supernatural and uncanny.” Reading their online descriptors of people and events is a mash up of gothic mayhem and insouciant self-confidence. This requires a niche audience and Eldritch delivers. ‘House at Poe Corner’ by Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe Performers – Eric Woolfe, Mairi Babb Tickets – eldritchtheatre.ca Performances run through April 21, 2024. Previous Next

  • THE FULL MONTY

    Back THE FULL MONTY On stage now at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street Credit: Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres “A story of unconditional love and acceptance. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, you’ll laugh. But ‘The Full Monty’ has so much more going for it that must be experienced live.” Adapted from the 1997 British film, ‘The Full Monty’ tells the story of six unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo, New York, who are low on cash and facing limited job prospects. Their relationships with significant others (wives, girlfriends, partners, and friends) remain on tenterhooks, too. The musical speaks volumes today about relevant themes that have never really disappeared from modern society: body image, gender biases, societal pressures to conform, financial pressures, and toxic masculinity. These are struggles to which everyone has connected at least once, making the characters' experiences understandable. At the top of the show, the audience hears a performance of GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT at a local bar where Chippendale dancers perform. Best friends Jerry (Gaelan Beatty) and Dave (Daniel Williston) spy on the women's behaviour and are astonished at what they witness. After speaking with Keno (Alex Wierzbicki), one of the scantily clad dancers, Jerry and Dave devise an idea to make some quick cash. They find four other guys, each with their own unique personalities and struggles: Ethan (Darren Burkett), Horse (Gavin Hope), Malcolm (Jacob Macinnis) and Harold (Ian Simpson), to develop a one-night-only show where they will perform a strip show. We witness the guys rehearsing, their nerves palpable. Will the show be successful? As the story unfolds, their feelings of inadequacy and fears of ridicule remain firmly rooted. Yet, they bravely push forward, their personal lives unfolding in front of the audience. Ultimately, the guys become the talk of the town, and the question is asked of them—will they go the full monty (take it all off for everyone to see)? And do they? You’ll have to see this ‘Full Monty’ for yourselves. But why this one? Is Port Hope ready for a show like this with all its innuendo? It sure is judging from the audience I saw and heard on opening night. But it’s not going to be for everyone. One man sitting in front of me had his head lowered and appeared somewhat uncomfortable while watching the show. He didn’t stand at all during the curtain call and didn’t applaud. His wife, however, was on her feet, smiling and loudly applauding what she had just experienced. Director and choreographer Julie Tomaino says the time is right to bring ‘The Full Monty’ to Port Hope because it’s fun, funny, hilarious and has heart. She’s right. We need a story like ‘Monty’ to make us smile and sometimes give us a good belly laugh. I did just that with some of the clever-sounding songs and dialogue. ‘The Full Monty’ shows us very real people who do not have six-pack abs and washboard stomachs. Tomaino cast genuine-looking performers of all body shapes, sizes, and temperaments who had not been pulled out of Vogue, Playboy or Playgirl magazines. (Do these still exist?). These actors tell ‘Monty’s’ story with humour, warmth, compassion and heart. That’s why you should see the show. Julie Tomaino understands a thing or two about the direction of musical theatre. Last fall, I saw ‘Once,’ directed by her, at Gananoque’s Thousand Islands Playhouse. It was a moving piece of theatre, and I kept my eye on waiting to see what she would be doing next. Good things come to those who wait. And I’m glad I did. I’m not disappointed in the least whatsoever with ‘Monty.’ Tomaino’s direction remains tight. She keeps the story’s pace clipping along nicely, never feeling rushed or hurried. Her choreography remains what it is to be. These guys are not professional dancers, so there’s no need for pinpoint accuracy. They’re ordinary schlubs, out to try something daring in their lives. The final strip number is just that – a dare or what we call YOLO (You only live once). These guys are out to have fun. In the meantime, that sense of fun spills over to the audience. Scott Penner’s design of various props, from wall urinals to hanging punching bags to guitars, nicely establishes a particular scene without needing many sets to be pushed on and off. Joyce Padua has selected some bright colours that women would have worn back in the 90s. The men are dressed comfortably in jeans, dress pants and shirts – until the bright red bikini briefs are revealed, drawing raucous audience laughter. Jareth Li’s lighting design incorporates a shadowy effect to heighten the dramatic intensity, especially in one moment between Darren Burkett’s Ethan and Jacob Macinnis’ Malcolm. Paul Moody’s terrific-sounding music direction is one of the show's highlights. Whether or not Sound Designer Emily Porter worked closely with Moody to ensure the lyrics to the songs could be heard, let’s say that I’m pleased that even balance has been effectively maintained. There were a few moments when I didn’t hear all the lyrics, but it was opening night. I’m sure that the balance will be fixed this week. Some spirited numbers get the audience up on its feet. The final in Act 2 – ‘Let It Go’ - did just that. Horse’s ‘Big Black Man’ is another moment where performer Gavin Hope has the audience right in the palm of his hand. His smile says it all during the song. There are also some heartfelt moments when the men reveal their vulnerabilities to each other touchingly. This is the other highlight of the evening: watching trained actors perform appropriately and for us, the audience, to respond in kind. It’s not unmanly to be moved by seeing other men open up their feelings. Donna Garner’s cigarette-smoking, boozy-broad and piano accompanist Jeannette is terrific. Garner combines the perfect amount of sass in her Act 2 Showbiz Number. It’s garnished with the exact peppered attitude of a woman who takes no crap from anyone. Gaelan Beatty’s moments with August Fox (who plays Nathan) are convincing. As the central character, Jerry, Beatty delivers a grounded and balanced emotional performance in moving back and forth between the comedy of wanting to go on stage to strip versus wanting to do what’s best for his boy, Nathan. The young August Fox is one to watch in the future. He listens intently and responds appropriately in each scene when he is present. The father-son moments between Gaelan Beatty’s Jerry and young August Fox as Nathan are compelling, most notably in ‘Breeze Off the River,’ when father watches his son sleep. Jacob MacInnis’ Malcolm is shy, quiet and reserved. Malcolm cares for an aging and cantankerous mother who might be suffering from some form of dementia. Throughout the verbal abuse, MacInnis delivers a quiet, reserved and stoicism in his performance, knowing that he is caring for his ailing mother the best way he knows how. In his ‘You Walk with Me’ with Darren Burkett, Ethan is proud to admire just how much Malcolm has given up to care for his mother. Their friendship begins its formation on that solid note. Ian Simpson’s Harold is standoffish because his job in the plant is above the other workers. He can’t get chummy, and Simpson nicely exhibits that quality when first introduced. But like the other workers, Simpson is let go from his job and is afraid to tell his wife, Vicki (Julia Juhas) because she likes the good things in life. Gavin Hope’s broad-shouldered and husky-sized ‘Horse’ heightens the hilarity behind trying to see if what is said about a ‘Big Black Man’ is true. Daniel Williston delivers a memorable performance as Dave, who wears his heart on his sleeve. Williston’s Dave is someone who always wants to do the right thing. He wants to be a good husband, a good friend, and a good citizen. someone who has been hurt many, many times in his life, and he wonders if it’s due to his size. Jamie McRoberts’ Georgie (Dave’s wife) importantly underscores one of the themes of ‘The Full Monty’ in ‘You Rule My World.’ It’s Dave, whom Georgie loves, and that’s all. And Another Thought: Julie Tomaino hopes the audience will embrace the characters with as much love as the creative team and actors did in preparing for the opening. This message of love permeates a few of the shows I’ve seen over the last while—not the gratuitous, activist, shouting, exploitative side of supposed love, but the side of wanting what’s best for the other person, unconditional love without expecting anything in return. That’s another reason to travel to Port Hope to see this ‘Full Monty.” To the man sitting in front of me on opening night: I’m sorry you may have felt the way you did and chose not to see things from a different angle (as the message in Stratford Festival’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES tells audiences to do). Even Atticus Finch advises Scout to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it. It’s essential to do that. Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘The Full Monty’ runs until July 28 at the Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets: (905) 885-1071 or visit capitoltheatre.com. CAMECO CAPITOL ARTS CENTRE presents ‘The Full Monty’ Book by Terrance McNally. Music & Lyrics by David Yazbeck Directed and Choreographed by Julie Tomaino Music Direction by Paul Moody Lighting Design by Jareth Li Costume Design by Joyce Padua Set Design by Scott Penner Sound Design by Emily Porter Stage Manager: Jessica Severin Band: Paul Moody (piano), Tami Sorovaiski (bass), Matt Roy (guitar), David Schotzko (percussion) Performers: Gaelan Beatty, Darren Burkett, Autumn-Joy Dames, August Fox, Donna Garner, Gavin Hope, Julia Juhas, Jacob MacInnis, Jamie McRoberts, Ian Simpson, Tahirih Vejdani, Alex Wierzbicki, Daniel Williston Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Trace' by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King

    Back 'Trace' by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King A ReDefine Arts and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-Production Credit: Henry Chan. Pictured: Tristan R. Whiston Joe Szekeres ‘Trace’ Draws a Shadow of Incompleteness Is it possible to be both intrigued and puzzled by choices made in a theatrical production? Whether or not this is true, ‘Trace’ (now in the middle of its run at Theatre Passe Muraille) did just that. I’m all for really hearing and listening to learn of themes and messages, but I am also puzzled by choices here made that didn’t draw completeness for me. A press release from Theatre Passe Muraille bills the production as: “an interdisciplinary performance about the voice in transition, ‘Trace’ focuses on the ongoing nature of queer being and becoming by transforming a private story into a public performance that takes the audience on a journey across time and identity.” It is performer Tristan R. Whiston’s voice that is in transition throughout. As a retired Catholic educator, I know the importance of interdisciplinary studies within the secondary school system. Nevertheless, a great deal of planning is necessary to ensure the cross boundaries of pulling various disciplines together to ensure student success and learning is of the utmost importance. I’m not convinced enough planning was set aside in gelling the audio, visual, sight and sound together. As an audience member, I felt incomplete leaving the theatre and wondering what I have missed. Trixie and Beever’s set design piqued my attention. The striped beach huts where one could enter and learn about voice technology were interesting. During the show, an invited audience member went in to record something that we could hear on our way out. Jasmine King’s costume designs nicely accentuated the uniqueness of each of the characters in the live choir. Whiston’s white suit complete with a white hat was a classy look a la the 1940s. However, ‘Trace’ showcases too much in this interdisciplinary performance. It’s as if director Moynan King wants me to pay attention, here, then here, then over there and don’t forget this. I really couldn’t figure out where my focus was to be. Am I to focus on the experimental sound art (which I found fascinating by the way)? Jeremy Mimnagh’s video designs of the visualization of the lake juxtaposed with Tristan R. Whiston/Moynan King’s sound designs are rather impressive to view and hear. What was also fascinating was the whispering of the echoes of ‘Can You Hear Me?’ which worked well within the auditorium of the Mainspace theatre. Okay, is the theme of ‘Trace’ one where we are to do our best to hear, to really hear, what someone is saying? That’s what I gleaned especially when I could hear Whiston’s singing voice in transition. Not only is it polite and proper but very important to hear what everyone has to say since the world that we know now has changed so much. A transgendered male, Whiston moves down to tell us about Tristan’s journey. Tristan uses some stand-up comedy and some good old-fashioned storytelling. Okay, so I wanted to hear what Tristan was saying and I paid attention. Tristan did make me smile and laugh a couple of times at some of the anecdotes he shared. But am I now to focus on the stand-up comedy routine and hear what’s being said about the voice in transition? The archival video footage of The Boychoir of Lesbos and the live choir of a newly realized trans/non-binary/gender-queer choir provided some astounding vocals to hear and listen. It was a moving presentation of the live choir near the end to hear Styx’s ‘Come Sail Away’. The harmonious vocals of the singers were powerful. Charissa Wilcox’s lighting design framed this musical moment sharply. I could clearly see the singers’ faces from my seat. But why ‘Come Sail Away’? Where did this production want to sail away with me? What is the final destination? At one point, I read the Visual Link of ‘Trace’ in the programme. (Possible spoiler alert ahead) Within this link, Tristan is described as a transgender worrier rather than a transgender warrior, and the worries have changed over time. Tristan used to worry about how Tristan’s transgender identity will affect Tristan’s daily life. Now Whiston worries about Tristan’s life and being an average man. That last sentence is a contentious issue in our world right now. It is one causing a great deal of violence and disagreement. So, am I to glean I was sailing away to confront this controversial issue? If I was, then I felt uncomfortable about it. The production did not prepare me for this voyage. I can’t have a trace of an understanding of a social issue that has wreaked controversy, and that’s why I felt incomplete leaving the theatre at the end. Final Comments: I have no problem with theatre challenging audiences at all. Good theatre intends that. Passe Muraille has presented some quality productions since I’ve begun reviewing where I’ve been challenged to think about the story and the characters. I like when that happens. Unfortunately, ‘Trace’ is only a shadow of what it could be. Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. The production runs to April 30 in the Mainspace at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit passemuraille.ca. TRACE by Tristan R. Whiston and Moynan King Director: Moynan King Performer: Tristan R. Whiston’ Co-Producer: Anna Camilleri Video Designer: Jeremy Mimnagh Sound Designer/Composition: Tristan R. Whiston with Moynan King Production Manager/Lighting Designer: Charissa Wilcox Set Designer: Trixie and Beever Costume Designer: Jasmine King Stage Manager: Becky Gold Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Peter Pan and the Wendy Lady' adapted by Brandon White

    Back 'Peter Pan and the Wendy Lady' adapted by Brandon White Now onstage at Toronto's Campbell House, 160 Queen Street West, Toronto. Credit: White Mills Theatre Company. Pictured Breanna Maloney as Peter Pan Joe Szekeres “An appealing and charmingly immersive fantasy story, delightful performances, and a production that makes me smile.” Upon entering the historic backdrop of Toronto’s Campbell House, Solomon (Scott Garland) greets guests at a podium and passes dance cards to the audience. We’re told not to lose the cards and to wait quietly in the lobby. With Solomon’s booming voice shouting: “Neeeexxxttt”, the next audience member approaches and gives their name for the evening. We have been invited to the Debutante Ball and the coming out tradition of introducing eighteen-year-old Wendy Darling (Ella Mazur) to the world. Before we enter the celebration, the guests/audience are taken to the drawing room where Wendy’s father, George (Scott Moore), converses with James (Spencer Schunk), a dashing, accoutered young man who has come to win Wendy’s hand. The audience is then taken to a cloakroom where George’s wife, Mary (Barb Schleffer) and son, John (Jonas Trottier), welcome us and take our coats and bags. We are then instructed to climb the stairs to enter the sitting room where the ball will take place. On our way, we pass Wendy and her younger brother, Michael (Jessi Ellgood), chatting about the ball and the stories Wendy likes to write. Wendy shares with her brother that a publisher rejected her most recent story. The two are surprised to see the audience there, and Wendy instructs her brother to lead us into the drawing room. A two-piece orchestra band plays ‘The Four Seasons’ while we enter and can sit in chairs. While waiting, a black-shadowed figure crawls out from somewhere. (I won’t spoil it here) At first, I wondered if this might be Darling’s dog, Nana. But it’s not because the dog is in the backyard. This shadowed figure moves quietly around the room and on the floor, sometimes playing with shoelaces, eyeing people, and rolling around. It then struck me that this is a shadow – and as the story progesses you’ll know whose it is. Mrs. Darling introduces her daughter, Wendy, to all of us. However, challenges occur, ruining the Debutante Ball's custom. Mary begins to read one of her stories out loud to the guests to showcase Wendy’s talent as a writer and appease the audience. It is then we learn about Wendy’s rejected story of Peter Pan (Breanna Maloney), his lost shadow (Emily Trace), Captain Hook (Schunk), Tinkerbell (Shannon Mills), the Lost Boys, and the Buccaneers. Even the Crocodile (Schleffer) pays a visit, and a sense of justice is instilled at the conclusion if you know what happens in the original story. That sound effect made the audience laugh approvingly. The rest of the story deals with moving around Campbell House as we fly to various parts of Neverland via pixie dust. The visual look of the story remains gorgeous, thanks to Brandon White’s meticulous attention to costume detail and colour. Captain Hooks’ clothing and Wendy’s ball gown are only two examples. The grime and filth of the Lost Boys’ clothing is spot on. Ella Mazur’s choreographed dance movements are stylish when the ball begins. There is one moment when a couple of audience members are encouraged to participate in the dance. Rob Carruthers and Rae Gallimore’s musical arrangements underscore the splendour of the look of Edwardian Toronto. I’ve always liked hearing Vivialdi’s ‘Four Seasons’; the two-person accompaniment of Rob Carruthers and Rae Gallimore creates a regal atmosphere. Shannon Mills’ musical direction of choral singing remains charming, especially when hearing the harmony work. There are tricky moments regarding lighting that didn’t always work for me. For example, the audience spends some time in the upstairs drawing room watching the confusion emanating from the debutante ball to Wendy sharing her unpublished story. The lighting works well for the ball; however, the shadowy effect to create a dreamlike sequence when Peter is introduced bothered my eyes. I had difficulty focusing on the primary action because the shadows prevented me from doing so. Brandon White creatively adapts this iconic J. M. Barrie story for a twenty-first-century audience. A couple of modern-day references made me smile. My guest told me that much of the original text appears in this adaptation. There are times that once again made me smile as several of the characters genuinely understand the meaning of the words and confidently speak the text. White subtly co-directs the production along with Cassie Davidson and Shannon Mills. They have favourably created a whimsical place where the audience suspends disbelief. The audience has seemingly entered a playful, mostly fun but sometimes harrowing and lonely environment. At times, they move quickly from one room to the next, and I’m amazed at how the cast is not out of breath when moving up and down the stairs. The performances are delightful. Once again, I couldn’t help but continue smiling and watching these J. M. Barrie character icons spring forth with exuberance. Although I was never a fan of the Peter Pan story, several dynamite productions have made me change my mind over the years. Breanna Maloney is a spritely sprite of a Peter Pan. As Wendy, Ella Mazur maintains a grounded performance of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood in her journey of self-discovery of who she is. Scott Moore’s George (and Wendy’s father) sharply represents the values of the Edwardian era, in which everyone had their place within the world. Barb Scheffler’s Mary (Wendy’s mother) is a far too doting Edwardian mother who knows her place within the world and feels responsible when the debutante ball abruptly ends. As Mary’s siblings, Jonas Trottier’s John and Jessi Ellgood’s Michael offer two distinct performances. Trottier’s John is like Moore’s George: a man of values who stands up for what is right. Trottier is amusing in his performance in the kitchen scene and enjoys the attention paid to him by the two attendants. Ellgood’s Michael is quite fascinating in physicality. There’s an impish, childlike innocence of Ellgood that remains believable throughout the production. It took me a few moments to connect that Shannon Mills was playing Tinker Bell. Her free-flowing emerald gown looks great, but there’s nothing in Mills’ first entrance to denote she is the pixie fairy. Perhaps some glitter hanging in mid-air or a bit more on her costume? Spencer Schunk’s brief appearance as James re-enforces the young Edwardian male who wants to sweep the young Wendy off her feet and whisk her away to a world of lovely promises. Having Schunk play Captain Hook in Wendy’s story was clever. Schunk’s Hook is a devilish brute of a monster at first, intent on terrorizing the others with his pirate Buccaneers in the other world of Neverland. Schunk never overplays Hook’s fear of the crocodile. It remains charmingly childish each time Hook experiences it. Having Barb Scheffler play the Crocodile was also a good choice. Again, Scheffler’s Mary is so completely doting as a mother figure that her Mary comes across as suffocating. If you know Barrie’s story, you know what the Crocodile does. Scheffler appears to have great fun leading her Crocodile to that moment of ‘suffocation.’ The enthusiasm of the supporting players adds unique magic to creating a faraway land of ‘pure imagination,’ as Willy Wonka once sang. I especially liked those moments staged downstairs where we are on board Captain Hooks’ ship. It is just purely terrific to watch actors having great fun bringing characters to life with zest and vitality. And Another Thought: Toronto’s Campbell House's historical backdrop has again been an excellent choice to stage an imaginative story. I’m constantly amazed at the energy this cast expends, running up and down the stairs and moving from scene to scene. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking up and down stairs. On this opening night, there was plenty of space for audiences to sit on chairs. As the show continues and the audience grows, please be aware that there may not be ample seating on these nights. A lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening of theatrical entertainment. Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with no intermission. ‘Peter Pan and the Wendy Lady’ runs until March 23 at the Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets: https://www.whitemillstheatreco.com/upcoming-events Adaptation, Co-Direction, Production & Costume Design by Brandon White Assistant Director & Fight Coordination by Cassie Davidson Co-Direction & Musical Direction by Shannon Mills Musical Arrangements by Rob Carruthers & Rae Gallimore Choreographer & Poster Illustration by Ella Mazur Production Assistant & Portraits Edited by Daniel Tofach Assistant Stage Manager ~ Iris Asserlind Performers: WENDY DARLING ~ Ella Mazur JOHN DARLING ~ Jonas Trottier MICHAEL DARLING ~ Jessi Elgood MARY DARLING/THE CROCODILE ~ Barb Scheffler GEORGE DARLING/MR. SMEE ~ Scott Moore PETER PAN ~ Breanna Maloney TINKER BELL ~ Shannon Mills LIZA/SLIGHTLY ~ Cassie Davidson TOOTLES ~ Shelby Handley NIBS ~ Annie Roberts JAMES/CAPTAIN HOOK ~ Spencer Schunk BILL JUKES ~ Anthony Botelho NOODLER ~ Austin Larusson SOLOMON/CAW/SKYLIGHTS/THE MOON ~ Scott Garland THE TIDE ~ Manon Ens-Lapointe THE SHADOW/ODILE ~ Emily Trace MUSICIAN 1/ODETTE ~ Rae Gallimore MUSICIAN 2/MULLINS ~ Rob Carruthers Previous Next

  • 'La Cage Aux Folles' presented by The Stratford Festival

    Back 'La Cage Aux Folles' presented by The Stratford Festival Now onstage until October 26 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford. Credit: David Hou. Pictured: Steve Ross as Albin playing Zaza. Joe Szekeres “La Cage Aux Folles’ firmly rooted messages of belonging, acceptance, family and love speak even louder in the wokeness of the twenty-first-century world. At times delightfully over the top, Sean Arbuckle and Steve Ross head a terrific cast that struts and sashays with lots of glittery oomph.” The year is 1978, mid-August in St. Tropez. The evening begins at the La Cage Aux Folles nightclub. Proprietor Georges (Sean Arbuckle) welcomes the audience. While Les Cagelles, the audacious drag chorus line, struts its stuff onstage, Georges frantically searches backstage for Zaza, his headliner. Zaza is Albin (Steve Ross), Georges’ twenty-year-old long-time spouse. Zaza/Albin was locked in his dressing room. He fears he is getting old and won’t be a valued part of the nightclub and Georges’ life. The couple's unique twentieth-century living accommodation is turned upside down with the arrival of Jean-Michel (a dashing James Daly), Georges’ adult son, from a one-night stand. Jean-Michel announces he is engaged to Anne (a winsome Heather Kosik), the daughter of ultra-uber-conservative parents Eduoard Dindon (a first-rate, stuffy, boorish Juan Chioran) and his wife Marie (a fine looking and vocal sounding Sara-Jeanne Hosie). I always smile at the couple's surname because its literal translation in English means ‘turkey’ and fits Edouard exceptionally well, especially at the end of the musical. For twenty-one hours, Jean-Michel asks Georges and Albin to play it ‘straight’ for his soon-to-be in-laws, as Anne is nothing like her parents. It’s going to be a challenge like no other. From stripping Georges and Albin’s apartment of all things reminiscent of their lifestyle to their flamboyant maid/servant Jacob (impeccable work by Chris Vergara), will Georges and Albin be able to keep their promise to Jean-Michel without complete chaos erupting in their lives? Brandon Kleiman (Set Designer), David Boechler (Costume Designer), and Kimberly Purtell (Lighting Designer) splendidly create a visual feast of eye popping colours washed in heavenly lighting. Purtell’s lighting captures the sparkle and dazzle of Boechler’s extraordinary work in the selection of nicely fitting suits for the men and the dazzling gowns worn by Zaza/Albin. Kleiman’s set design suggests the grandiose opulence of the nightclub setting while purposefully establishing that it is one of the places where Georges and Albin feel at home. Franklin Brasz’s top-notch musical direction resonates superbly in the Avon Theatre. At one moment, he captures the bubbly effervescence of nightclub life, and then there is a touching duet between Georges and Albin while a performer plays a concertina in the background. A shout-out of recognition to Sound Designer Brian Kenny, as the balance between the orchestra and performers is perfect for hearing every lyric. Cameron Carver’s choreography is exciting to watch. Director Thom Allison discusses the message of love in his Programme Note. I’ve only seen a handful of productions of ‘La Cage’, and this current Stratford version is probably the only one that emphasizes love's importance. I’m not referring to the sexual gratification of love from all the twenty-first-century activist idiocy, not at all. The love in ‘La Cage’ stems from genuine and selfless concern and a desire for only the best for another person. It’s the selfless love of not expecting anything back in return. That sounds rather Christian to me. Allison references the Christian theme again when he references Billy Joel’s “I couldn’t love you any better/I love you just the way you are.” There’s my reason why ‘La Cage’ is worth doing and seeing in the twenty-first century. This cast is one of the reasons why we attend productions at the Stratford Festival. Leading this marvelous cast are Sean Arbuckle and Steve Ross as Georges and Albin, the same-sex couple who have stuck together through life’s struggles in wanting to be together at a time when their relationship would have been frowned upon. A vibrant theatrical ringmaster at the top of the show, Arbuckle’s Georges is akin to Kelsey Grammer’s prim and properness of Frasier Crane. Ross remains adorably cuddly as the flamboyant Albin but thankfully does not park himself on that proverbial over-the-top radar of gayness. His closing Act One number, ‘I Am What I Am,’ remains rooted in complete conviction of emotional intensity ranging from frustration, hurt, anger and resentment. Ross selects moments to pause dramatically while his eyes and face reveal his internal experiences - a marvellous conclusion to Act One. And Another Thought: Near the end of his Director’s Note, Thom Allison reiterates once again that ‘La Cage’ is about a loving family struggling for each individual’s acceptance and understanding. For Allison, that sounds pretty ‘normal.’ I’m going one step further. Thanks, Thom, for saying that. Christian families also struggle for acceptance and understanding. These gifts of the human heart are ones to be passed on to our young people. Bravo to this company for keeping woke activism out and simply presenting a human, familial story of the heart for us all. Running time: approximately two hours and 45 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ runs until October 26 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford. For tickets: stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600. The Stratford Festival presents: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Book by Harvey Fierstein Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman Based on the play by Jean Poiret Director Thom Allison Choreographer Cameron Carver Music Director Franklin Brasz Set Designer Brandon Kleiman Costume Designer David Boechler Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer Brian Kenny Make-Up Designer Dino Dilio Drag Consultant Justin Miller Fight Director and Intimacy Director Anita Nittoly Performers: Sean Arbuckle, Steve Ross, Eric Abel, George Absi, David Ball, Josh Doig, Jordan Goodridge, David Andrew Reid, Aidan deSalaiz, Ayrin Mackie, Chris Vergara, James Daly, Heather Kosik, David Ball, Juan Chioran, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Starr Dominigue, Kevin ‘Koovy’ McLachlan, Alexandra Gratton, Jason Sermonia, Jeremy Carver Jones, Amanda Lundgren, Jamie Murray Previous Next

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

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

  • 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 Article 'De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail' The World Premiere

    Back 'De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail' The World Premiere Now onstage at the Young Centre, 50 Tank House, Distillery District. Produced by Soulpepper Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Damien Atkins as Oscar Wilde Joe Szekeres ‘Damien Atkins delivers a thrilling performance.’ This world premiere is billed as a musical fantasy based on author/playwright Oscar Wilde's letter to his love, Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was incarcerated for two years at Reading Gaol, hard labour in prison for the crime of gross indecency with Bosie (Alfred Douglas). The longer letter, ' De Profundis’ (From the Depths), was written a page daily over the last three months of Wilde’s imprisonment. Each page was collected at the end of each day and handed over to Wilde on his release from prison. The longer letter detailed Wilde's loneliness of life in prison. To combat this feeling, he also wrote his philosophy on art, love and devotion to Bosie, and the excess and pleasure of life experienced outside the jail. The latter part of the letter details Wilde’s understanding of religion. More about this shortly. Robbie Ross (Wilde’s best friend) had edited sections of the letter that pertained to the relationship between the author and Bosie. The entire letter was released for publication in 1960. Damien Atkins plays Oscar Wilde, Colton Curtis plays Lord Alfred Douglas, and Jonathan Corkal-Astorga plays Robbie in Soulpepper’s production. Lorenzo Savoini's designs are always distinct. His work in set and lights is once again creative in this production. The moveable walls of the intimate Michael Young Theatre shift back and forth from the jail cell to other events in Wilde’s mind as he writes. The claustrophobic cell remains stark and lifeless, beautifully lit by the shadows. The walls shift, and the space increases. When this occurs, it’s as if fresh air enters Wilde’s mind, even for an allotted time frame. Ming Wong’s costumes are stylishly fashionable tuxedos. Wilde’s prison outfit looked like comfortable pajamas from where I was sitting. Olivia Wheeler’s Sound and Frank Donato’s Projection Designs excel in underscoring heightened dramatic moments in Wilde’s mind. I profiled Adaptor and Director Gregory Prest before show opening and discussed how ‘De Profundis’ is unlike most theatre shows in Toronto. Why? Because it’s a letter. A play's traditional linear or narrative format does not drive this production. Instead, ‘De Profundis’ remains emotionally driven with the creative team’s selection of dramatized material that is sometimes abstract in nature. Audience experience in reaction to the letter is of extreme importance. Bottom line? Does this reading of a letter work in front of an audience? It does. At times, the production is incredibly moving within Prest's imaginative, assured hands as Adaptor/Director, Mike Ross as Composer, Music Director, Arranger and Orchestrator, and Sarah Wilson as Lyricist. This Creative Team valiantly captures the angst, the romance, the passion, and the eventual downfall of two people caught doing something for which they have no intention to apologize. Corkal-Astorga effectively underscores Mike Ross’s compositions at the piano to highlight the emotional impact, especially in those moments between Bosie and Wilde. Sarah Wilson peppers several smart lyrics with clever wording and precise intonation. The moment when Wilde sings what we think is going to be an Irish ballad and then quickly veers off is amusing. The opening moments of the play supply the right amount of humour to pique the audience's interest. As Oscar’s best friend, Corkal-Astorga has the formidable task of grabbing attention and making us want to learn about Wilde. Corkal-Astorga gives a solid performance as Robbie throughout the production, but there are moments when I couldn’t hear him as I sat on the other side of the auditorium. The audience learns a bit about the iconic author from Robbie until Damien Atkins, as Oscar, appears behind a door in a dressing gown. Wilde asks his friend what he’s doing. When Robbie announces he’s trying to make the audience understand more about Oscar, Damien announces pompously to get another audience. Much appreciated humour to open the show. Mind you, the production does not make Wilde and Bosie heroic by any means. These men may appear elegant in their demeanour, but they can be mean-spirited and duplicitous, and their ensuing dialogue remains pointed and sharp. Colton Curtis plays a dignified Bosie but also infuses a mean and nasty spirit within, especially when the audience learns why Wilde is thrown into jail. Curtis suggestively uses his eyes to convey a lot. Movement Director Indrit Kasapi proudly showcases Curtis’s artistic talent as a dancer. The specific choreographed ballet is stunning to witness. Prest says Damien Atkins was born to play Oscar Wilde. I couldn’t agree more. Atkins delivers a thrilling performance as the title character. Not once does he try to look or even mimic how Wilde might have sounded. His Oscar is sometimes campy, a tad enigmatic, boyishly charming, and somewhat petulant. Sounds a bit like true human nature to me. The Christian references near the show's end make this understanding of Oscar Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’ unique for me. From what I recall, during my undergraduate years studying English language and literature, Oscar Wilde converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in Paris. I wanted to make sure I had this understanding correct since undergraduate studies occurred over 40 some years ago. The Vatican Official Newspaper, ‘L’Osservatore Romano, recounted that "[Wilde] not just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England," …"[he was also] a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false." (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-vatican-wakes-up-to-the-wisdom-of-oscar-wilde-1750093.html) Atkins exactly accomplishes this. Near the end of ‘De Profundis,’ Oscar considers the times he may have made mistakes in his relationship with Bosie. Things might have been handled differently. In doing so, he introduces this important concept about what is truth and what is false. It’s true; there is no need for Oscar (and Damien) to apologize justly for who they are, nor should they from a 21st-century perspective. Oscar also didn’t feel the need to apologize for who he was in the 19th century. In our woke twenty-first-century world, this pull between truth and false continues to wreak havoc. Those who understand an objective truth and an objective false appear at peace and will not cater to the whims of those who try to change to suit a particular narrative. It’s reassuring that this ‘De Profundis’ and its reading do not become Christian bashing. And Another Thing: Soulpepper bills this world premiere as ‘The Greatest Love Letter Ever Written.’ At first glance, I wasn’t sure if this statement was a fair analysis of the piece. Further consideration leads me to believe that it’s the beginning of looking at understanding even more what objective truth and falsehood are. For that reason, ‘De Profundis’ is an important production to see. Hopefully, there will be some talkbacks for audience members. Running time: approximately 100 minutes with no interval. The production runs until February 23 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane. For tickets: https://tickets.youngcentre.ca/overview/14125 or call 416-866-8666. To learn more about Soulpepper: soulpepper.ca. DE PROFUNDIS: OSCAR WILDE IN JAIL (World Premiere) Adapted by Gregory Prest. Original Music & Lyrics by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson Adaptor/Director: Gregory Prest Composer, Music Director, Arranger & Orchestrator: Mike Ross Lyricist: Sarah Wilson Set and Lighting Design: Lorenzo Savoini Costume Design: Ming Wong Sound Designer: Olivia Wheeler Projections Designer: Frank Donato Movement Director: Indrit Kasapi Stage Manager: Tamara Protic Performers: Damien Atkins, Jonathan Corkal-Astorga, Colton Curtis Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov. Adapted by Liisa Repo-Martell

    Back 'Uncle Vanya' by Anton Chekhov. Adapted by Liisa Repo-Martell Now onstage at Toronto's CAA Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Tom Rooney as Uncle Vanya Joe Szekeres “A theatre dream has come back. I’m elated that this cast returns. This ‘Uncle Vanya’ piques majesty in its ordinariness.” I had seen this astounding production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Crow’s when it premiered over a year ago. When I heard it was returning a year later (after recent performances at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius), I wanted to revisit it to see if its emotional impact still hits as hard as it did. It still does, especially at the end. (except for that annoying cell phone alarm. Grrrr!!!) As I left the auditorium, an audience member remarked how ‘Uncle Vanya’ sometimes seems like a comedy. That thought had never crossed my mind. I sat with it, wondering if there was truth behind it. And there is. Liisa Repo-Martell’s solid adaptation of this Chekhovian classic with the original Crow’s cast finely highlights those comic moments because there is so much sadness within the lives of these characters. This Mirvish presentation deserves its singular review. The time is the waning days of Czarist Russia. Ivan “Vanya” Voynitskiy (Tom Rooney) and his niece, Sonya (bahia watson), are doing their best to run their family estate, which appears to be in its initial decaying stage. Ivan is the son-in-law of Alexandre (Eric Peterson), a celebrated professor. We learn Ivan is a widower. Alexandre returns to the estate with his young, rather beautiful wife, Yelena (Shannon Taylor), and this visit causes the lives of everyone in the house to be changed forever. We also meet the denizens of the family estate. There is the wise housekeeper Marina (Carolyn Fe), known as Nana. Dr. Astrov (Ali Kazmi), a local country doctor, has been called to the estate by Sonya on account of her father’s supposed gout. Sonya’s obvious growing affection for Astrov becomes noticeable as the story progresses. Does he feel the same way? It also appears Astrov carries his secret intentions at the house. Ivan’s mother, Maria (dtaborah johnson), a widow continues to voice her opinions even when she is not asked about how life is run on the estate. Ilya Ilyich (Anand Rajaram), also known as ‘Waffles’ on account of his pock-marked face, becomes the guest who shows up, stays for days, leaves, and then returns. He is a local impoverished landowner. The plot heats up when Alexandre announces his intention to sell the estate and evict everyone. What originally made this production at Crow’s Theatre astounding was its immersive experience. The audience walked right into the sitting/dining area of the estate. Most of the audience floor seating made me feel like an unseen guest watching the story unfold mere feet away. I could see facial expressions clearly in each character, which kept me keenly focused. This time, I felt removed from the immediate action at the CAA Theatre. It’s comparable to a fishbowl where I watched the action from afar. I couldn’t see faces as clearly as I would have hoped since I was about half to three-quarters of the way back in the auditorium. That doesn’t negate how powerful this ‘Uncle Vanya’ continues to be in the hands of this remarkable company of artists who know something about the art of performance. Director Chris Abraham’s gorgeous visual staging remains a theatre lover’s dream. Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan’s co-set design is a marvel to behold. At one point, Alexandre speaks about the estate being a mausoleum. Fox and Quinlan have readily captured that ‘cemetery’ look with a stone wall back wall that rises high and towers. Astrov maneuvers a bucket into place at one point to contain water dripping from the roof. Another amusing moment happens upon Vanya’s first entrance, showing the place is falling apart. The combination of Kimberly Purtell’s lighting and Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound designs richly underscore several dramatic moments to emphasize the claustrophobia of the estate. Purtell’s selection of natural light beaming through the windows of the second act immediately catches the eye. That brief interlude of a warm glow remains welcome in a world that appears to suffocate as Yelena reminds the others. Ryder Payne’s selection of realistic sounds of approaching horse and carriage and an approaching thunderstorm acutely make us aware there is a world outside the one the characters know. Ming Wong’s costumes are apt reminders of the class system. Abraham’s direction is seamless from one scene to the next. He creates fascinating characters in their ordinariness who pique interest in what they do on stage, what they say to each other, and the underlying meaning of their discussions. I’m elated that this cast returns. Their performances are amply deepened. A noted weariness emanates in their characters, stances, and walking, making the sadness of the play pierce even deeper into the heart. As housekeeper Marina, Carolyn Fe is lovely in those moments where she hurls a one-line zinger at someone and then becomes that matriarchal figure of comfort and solace. Anand Rajaram injects a heavy-hearted gloominess into his ‘Waffles,’ who wants to feel a connection with Vanya’s family. dtaborah johnson’s Maria also provides much-needed moments of humour, but dutifully reveals the inherent sadness the others feel as the story unfolds. As the young but dutiful wife to Alexandre, Shannon Taylor’s Yelena at first elicits compassion when she feels as if she cannot breathe within the confining restraints of the estate. However, Taylor utilizes grace and elegance to hide Yelena’s true intentions. Like Taylor's Yelena, Ali Kazmi’s Dr. Astrov has much to lose. Kazmi’s Astrov effectively uses his handsome charm around Sonya, Marina, and Yelena, and there are terrific moments to watch when this occurs. Kazmi’s final moment with Sonya is heartrending. Eric Peterson’s Alexandre is devilishly narcissistic and cutthroat. His Alexandre never ventures over the top. As the ever-toiling Sonya, who yearns for love, bahia watson delivers a riveting performance of emotional layers in her conversation with Yelena before the end of the first act and Astrov before the play concludes. Tom Rooney continues to amaze as the central character. His Vanya subtly and carefully commands the stage one moment with heightened moments of grandeur the next. When Vanya finally lashes out at Alexandre as the truth comes out about the estate sale, Rooney delivers a masterful performance in listening, responding, and reacting with tremendous and attentive care. Final Comments: This ‘Uncle Vanya’ most certainly deserves a second look if audience members had the chance to see it the first time at Crow’s Theatre. If this is your first time, prepare for an epic artistic feast of performers who tell a hell of a good story. Please go and see it. Running time: approximately two hours and 45 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Uncle Vanya’ runs until February 25 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. David Mirvish presents the Crow’s Theatre Production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ by Anton Chekhov Adapted by Liisa Repo-Martell Directed by Chris Abraham Set and Props Co-Designers: Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne Stage Manager: Jennifer Parr Performers: Carolyn Fe, dtaborah johnson, Ali Kazmi, Eric Peterson, Anand Rajaram, Tom Rooney, Shannon Taylor, bahia watson. Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 2 Pianos 4 Hands by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt

    Back 2 Pianos 4 Hands by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre Cylla von Tiedemann Joe Szekeres Virtuoso performances by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt do not skip a melodic beat in this 2P4H. Absolutely wonderful. I had the chance to see 2P4H for the first time in the early 2000s at the Royal Alexandra and admired it so much then. Now, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt reprise their roles and return to the Alex once again, and I for one am honoured to be in their presence. The production appears stronger than ever and struck an emotional nerve within me possible for the fact we’ve all aged, we’ve all experienced more of life’s hardships, and we’ve all lost something or someone that has altered the course of our lives forever. ‘2 Pianos 4 Hands’ is the story of the young Dykstra and Greenblatt and their wish to become classical concert pianists. We follow their lives through their practices, their recitals, their rehearsals, their exams, and their auditions. Along the journey we share with Ted and Richard, we also share in their joy and sorrow in experiencing the pain of rejection and the sense of loss that so often comes with the music industry in knowing that one may not have what it takes to make it as a classical pianist. But is that enough? Two magnificent Yamaha Grand Pianos sit centre stage facing each other. Stage right behind the piano is a suspended gigantic vertical picture frame. At stage left hangs another gigantic horizontal picture frame. Throughout the production, these frames contain visual projections that help set the scene. Thank you to John Lott for the extraordinarily awesome sound design as I could hear everything clearly. Both gentlemen are elegantly dressed in tuxedos – Dykstra wears a dark black tuxedo, a white dress shirt underneath, black dress shoes and a black bow tie. From my seat, Greenblatt’s is dark grey with a white shirt, white bow tie and dark dress shoes. In between these sometimes hilarious and poignant moments of memory, we are also treated to virtuoso performances of classical music at the piano which remains one of the strong highlights of the production. Another strong element of the production is the grounded performances of Ted and Richard. The passage of time has not diminished their work as gifted artists. The bit of shtick at the top of the show when they enter, bow to acknowledge the audience, and take their places at the pianos becomes comic gold for a few moments through their gazes and stares at each other, and in their silent conversation. To tell you what happens here would spoil the setup as you must see it yourself to witness solid comic timing live. We are also introduced to some of the eccentrically, odd piano teachers both men had when they were boys. Early on, Dykstra assumes the role of a tired, haggard nun who was Richard’s first piano teacher when he was a boy. It worked beautifully. Dykstra hilariously assumed the voice and gait of this nun, and I could just imagine him in drag wearing a nun’s habit with the crucifix around the waist and a 12-inch wooden ruler in hand ready to rap Richard’s knuckles if need be. In contrast, Greenblatt becomes this wildly eccentric French piano teacher to the young teenager, Ted. Pay attention to the way Richard says ‘piece’. I can’t replicate the sound in print, but his vocal context and intonation once again are a comic joy. There was one moment where the double entendre of a joke sent the audience into raucous laughter. There was another racial reference at one point where the audience uncomfortably laughed because the ‘woke brigade’ today might (could?) take offence, but come on, folks. The context and setup for the joke are not malicious in intent at all. If anything, this joke becomes a reminder that through this reference we must not say something like this at all today. No offence is intended or meant whatsoever. Final Comments: What makes ‘2 Pianos 4 Hands’ still resonate today is it doesn’t skip a melodic beat at all. Dykstra and Greenblatt remain in tip-top and fine performance mode. The production most assuredly put a smile on my face. Terrific all around. Welcome back, Ted and Richard. 2P4H is stronger than ever. Running time: approximately two hours and five minutes with one intermission. As of the writing of this article, Covid protocols remain in effect. ‘2 Pianos 4 Hands’ runs to July 17 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. David Mirvish presents The Marquis Entertainment Inc & Talking Fingers Incorporated's production of 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Created and Performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt and featuring alternate performers Richard Todd Adams and Max Roll Production Designer: Steve Lucas Sound Designer: John Lott Stage Manager: Andrea Bragg Produced by Robert Richardson and Colin Rivers Directed by Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra Previous Next

  • Unique Pieces Article 'our place' by Kanika Ambrose

    Back 'our place' by Kanika Ambrose A Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-production World Premiere Gesilayefa Azorbo. Background: Pablo Ogunlesi. Foreground: Sophia Walker Joe Szekeres Virgilia Griffith and Sophia Walker are stunning as Andrea and Niesha. Under Sabryn Rock’s compassionately infused direction, these ladies capture real-life women caught in the crossfires of a broken Canadian immigration system. Two premieres in one night – Kanika Ambrose’s ‘our place’ and the debut of director Sabryn Rock. An exciting night indeed to encapsulate two wins for Theatre Passe Muraille and Cahoots. Ambrose’s ‘our place’ is the story of two women living and working in Scarborough against the backdrop of the Jerk Pork Castle restaurant in a strip mall plaza on Kingston Road. Andrea (Virgilia Griffith) and Niesha (Sophia Walker) are undocumented residents who work for cash under the table. They were hired by Yvonne, the unseen owner of the restaurant who is aware of the ladies’ situation and wants to assist as much as she can. We also meet Malcolm (Tremaine Nelson), Andrea’s boyfriend and Eldrick (Pablo Ogunlesi), an acquaintance of Malcolm’s whose sparking interest in Niesha becomes questionable as the plot ensues. Sim Suzer’s set design was a three-quarter theatre in the round sitting on the Main Stage and it worked nicely for me. Centre Stage was the typical diner one might find in strip mall plazas. The counter is centre stage. There are two tables with chairs and the restaurant entrance. A bedroom (which later serves as a hotel room) is set on risers. As the actors exit and enter, they walk along the perimeter of the restaurant setting. At one point, two of the actors appear on the balcony for another scene, and it does make sense for that scene to take place there. An important note for future audiences. The characters in the play are from the fictional islands Fanon and Caviva and have fictional dialects which blended four real dialects. With my working knowledge of French, I could also detect a few words from the language. There is a monitor audiences can follow if they wish to do so. I did and it was helpful to follow the story. It did take a few minutes to get used to following the screen while watching the onstage action, but I got the hang of it. Do let the front of house/ushers know if you would like to be able to read the monitor so you can sit accordingly. The English teacher within me was curious why the play’s title was lowercase, but it makes sense why it would be with the knowledge of the fictional dialect. Ambrose’s script sharply captures the unique flavour of how these four characters speak to each other. Technically, we are listening to real conversations so really there’s no need to have the play’s title formally captured. Virgilia Griffith and Sophia Walker’s performances remain stunning to watch. Director Sabryn Rock holds compassion for these ladies and their situation. In her Director’s Programme Note, she writes the story has compelled her to investigate her own connection to immigration and to a family member who has been through the same type of journeys as Andrea and Niesha. The risks for these undocumented people are many as they can be exploited by others who may take financial or emotional advantage which may cause severe and lasting consequences. Knowing these risks and being away from the security of their family and their loved ones, Andrea and Niesha do their best to continue moving forward with the hope their families and loved ones might be able to join them in Canada soon. Virgilia Griffith’s oozes a sinewy and sexy manner as the sultry Andrea. Sophia Walker’s Niesha is practical and stolid and remains clearly focused on the task at hand because she wants to bring her children to Canada to live with her. It is the fine performance synchronicity between Griffith and Walker that makes ‘our place’ soar. These two ladies are so in tune with each other in listening and hearing what the other is saying, and their clearly organic justified responses to each other are credible. When they tease each other jokingly, it’s wonderful to watch. When Niesha must inform Andrea about her behaviour and how it can be misinterpreted in the wrong hands, Griffith intently is aware of what is being said. Marvellous to watch these two ladies together. Supporting players Tremaine Nelson and Pablo Ogunlesi offer solid performances for the most part, but Nelson’s development of Malcolm is one-dimensional and predictable. As Andrea’s good-looking ‘boy toy’ we see the two of them have their “really good time together” as playwright Ambrose writes in her Programme Note. Nevertheless, I could just sense this relationship was not going to last especially as Andrea wants to dissect the elements of her relationship with Malcolm. He is the first to utter those three words in any relationship that will make or break it (I love you), but it’s obvious from Rock’s staging those three words were uttered in the heat of the moment and Malcolm did not truly mean what he had said. Pablo Ogunlesi’s Eldrick suavely uses his charm and handsome looks to lure Neisha to go out with him first and ultimately hustles her to trust him. Walker beautifully and sharply rebuffs these initial advances with perfectly cutting comic timing in her responses and the glares at Ogunlesi. A terrific cat and canary/cat and mouse relationship ensue at first which progresses more deeply when Eldrick ‘promises’ Niesha he can and will try to bring her children to Canada. It’s going to cost her big time financially but more so emotionally as evident when she agrees to follow through with what Eldrick asks of her. It is this misuse and abuse of trust that Neisha feels ruthlessly betrayed by this hustler. Walker runs the veritable gamut of emotions when the truth is revealed with such raw honesty. Final comments: Once again in her Director’s Note, Sabryn Rock writes “This funny, powerful and heartbreaking script has cracked me open in a way I didn’t expect.” She’s correct on this account as I too have begun to check my opinions at the door regarding the issue of immigration into this country. ‘our place’ opens the door to continue that conversation about those who immigrate to Canada. There may be questions on why many undocumented folks arrive, but do we really understand the risks these individuals have taken or have made for an investment in their future as Ms. Rock points out further in her Note? We need to continue that conversation. ‘our place’ should be that place for everyone – a place to call ours where we all feel safe and valued within the community. Kanika Ambrose’s 'our place' duly respects that inclusive vision for Canada. Running Time: approximately two hours with no intermission. ‘our place’ runs until December 3 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit passemuraille.ca or call (416) 504-7529. our place by Kanika Ambrose A Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-production world premiere Produced by Lisa Alves Directed by Sabryn Rock Production Manager: Maya Royer Set and Costume Designer: Sim Suzer Lighting Designer: Shawn Henry Sound Designer: NON Intimacy Coordinator: Anita Nittoly Choreographer: Virgilia Griffith Video Designer: Shayne Levine Captions Operator: JD Darawi Performers: Virgilia Griffith, Tremaine Nelson, Pablo Ogunlesi, Sophia Walker Previous Next

  • Profiles Kelli Fox

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

  • Profiles Brad Hodder

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

  • Profiles Susan Ferley

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

  • Profiles Irene Sankoff and David Hein

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

  • Profiles Rick Miller

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

  • Profiles Martin Julien

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

  • Profiles Michael Rubinoff

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

  • Profiles Nathalie Bonjour

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

  • Musicals Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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

  • Profiles Duff MacDonald

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

  • Musicals & Juliet

    Back & Juliet Broadway Bound production now onstage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Matthew Murphy Joe Szekeres An imaginative and unique new idea about a ‘What-if’ situation involving two of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers (Updated July 11 for correction of information) In exiting the Princess of Wales Theatre after seeing an extraordinary ‘& Juliet’, I turned to Marg, my high school friend who accompanied me, and called out to her the Food Basics catchphrase we all know: WOWZA! There’s flashy pizzazz, lots of glitter, and raucous spectacle which add to the heaping mound of the excitement of this first-class experience of sight and sound in this behemoth of a play within a play musical, but I stripped away all of that to see if there is a story underneath. Is there a story, a good one at that? Absolutely!!! ‘& Juliet’ becomes a rollicking, boisterous, uniquely clever panoply of incredible music set against the backdrop of envisioning Juliet did not die at the end of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Instead, we are led through Verona and on to Paris, France, where the young heroine begins her life again first under her parents’ (terrific work of understated proportion by Nicholas Edwards and Veronica Otim) tyrannical rule. That all changes as the story progresses. ‘& Juliet’ is a stunning twenty-first-century imaginative coming-of-age tale where the central character begins to accept life on her own terms and become her own person. Lorna Courtney is marvelous. Her majestic vocal pipes nearly blew the roof off the theatre. I’m trying not to spoil too much as future audiences must experience this hell of a ride themselves. But here goes: We are introduced to Shakespeare (a dashing Stark Sands) who wonders whether the ending to ‘R & J’ needs to be re-written. Enter his wife, Anne Hathaway (a bold and sassy Betsy Wolfe) who got a babysitter for their two children while she and her husband engage in the re-writing of the text. And the task to create is underway. The plot details go back and forth in time where we meet Romeo (Ben Jackson Walker) who laughingly at one point referred to himself as a tight, six-pack muscular guy who really isn’t the man we initially thought he was. We also meet Juliet’s Nurse (an audacious and plucky performance by Melanie LaBarrie) who continues as her lady’s beloved confidante while showcasing and revealing her true innermost thoughts and feelings to the events around her as they all move forward into the next chapter. Amid this back and forth in time, we meet other characters who become linked with Juliet in her new life: Francois (Philippe Arroyo) a suave debonair gentleman who is set to marry Juliet so that she can begin her life again. Francois’s wise father Lance (Paulo Szot) wants what’s best for his son while harbouring a past that made me laugh out loud once we know what occurred. Juliet’s gender-fluid friend May (Justin David Sullivan) becomes an important modern element of this modern take on the love story and what this emotion truly means for an audience. Can’t forget the superlatively energetic Company of Players. What struck me so keenly at first was the diversity of individuals of various heights and sizes. This lively energetic and spirited troupe attacked Jennifer Weber’s to die-for choreography with focused strength and supple agility. I haven’t seen break dance movements like this in a very long time. I’m not that huge a fan of rap. Nevertheless, when you take these tunes and score them to incorporate break dance, all I can say is: “Hot damn, clear the floor and let these people strut their stuff” which they do with confident aplomb. About halfway through the first act, one thing struck me about this Broadway-bound production. It is staged productions like ‘& Juliet’ that will bring young people into the theatre and get them loving the art form so much they will want to learn more. As a retired teacher of English who had taught ‘Romeo & Juliet’ for many years, I would highly recommend teachers to bring classes to see the production after having finished and studied the play. Students will not get many of the ‘in jokes’ throughout until they understand the context in which these one-liners and zingers are delivered. Scenic designer Soutra Gilmour’s visual look remains stylistically impressive. Upon entering the auditorium during the preshow, the larger-than-life logo is centre staged. Andrzej Goulding’s visual projections on the back wall and side walls contain those earth-coloured tones reminiscent of the Elizabethan era. Goulding then effectively incorporates multi-coloured tones for many of the choral/company numbers. Pay close attention in the second act to ‘The Bois Band’ (you’ll get the joke when you see the show). Slightly angled stage right is a jukebox with the letter E propped against it. The visual impact of the jukebox at the conclusion of the show remains in my mind. What appears to be an architect’s workstation desktop can be found stage right with the letter O propped against it. Around the stage are other letters you can probably guess that will spell someone’s name from the show. Paloma Young’s Costume Designs reminded me of a cross between a punk/steampunk clothing style which looked great. Howard Hudson and Gareth Owens Lighting and Sound Designs vividly encapsulate crowd scenes or heart-to-heart conversations between two people. I gotta hand it to Bill Sherman as Music Supervisor, Orchestrations and Arrangements. Hearing all these Max Martin tunes blew me away and left me speechless. During many of the company numbers, many around me were waving their arms in the air as if we were all attending a concert. It all seemed natural and convincing in the way the songs were introduced in the story. Advice to future audiences: just sit back, watch, listen, hear, and enjoy. Finally, Luke Sheppard’s inspired direction remained intently focused on two elements he successfully accomplished: to tell a good story and to make sure audiences had a good time. Sheppard more than succeeded. He lovingly gave back to an adoring Covid weary theatre crowd who just wanted to have one hell of a good time. I know I did. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. ‘& Juliet’ runs to August 14 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333 & JULIET Music and Lyrics by Max Martin and Friends. Book by David West Read Directed by Luke Sheppard Music Supervisor, Orchestrations & Arrangements: Bill Sherman Cast: Lorna Courtney, Paulo Szot, Betsy Wolfe, Stark Sands, Justin David Sullivan, Melanie LaBarrie, Ben Jackson Walker, Philippe Arroyo, Brandon Antonio, Michael Ivan Carrier, Nico DeJesus, Nicholas Edwards, Virgil Gadson, Katy Geraghty, Bobby “Pocket” Horner, Joomin Hwang, Alaina Vi Maderal, Daniel J. Maldonado, Joe Moeller, Brittany Nicholas, Veronice Otim, Jasmine Rafael, Matt Raffy, Tiernan Tunnicliffe, Rachel Webb. Previous Next

  • Solos Doc Wuthergloom's HERE THERE BE MONSTERS

    Back Doc Wuthergloom's HERE THERE BE MONSTERS Now onstage at Toronto's Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East. Credit: Adrianna Prosser. Pictured: Eric Woolfe as Wuthergloom with two of the macabre looking puppets Joe Szekeres Eric Woolfe delivers a bedevilling grand performance as the ghoulish Dr. Wuthergloom. The production is often hilarious and witty about dark moments of the mortal realm we never want to discuss. Macabre storytelling, especially around Hallowe’en, never sounded so enticing as it does in the clever hands of Eric Woolfe in the intimate Red Sandcastle Theatre. Tonight was a perfect opening to those who appreciate Hallowe’en. We enter the world of Dr. Pretorius Wuthergloom (Woolfe), a travelling exorcist and infamous necromancer who sells his merchandise about monsters lurking in the horrors of the mind and mortal realm to gullible buyers. Yes, I was one of them. I also purchased a potion vial for my goddaughter, who accompanied me this evening from Wuthergloom’s ‘lovely’ assistant Camille (Emma Mackenzie Hillier). Dressed as a ghastly-looking, yesteryear Las Vegas cigarette girl right out of ‘Rocky Horror,’ Camille carries around the ‘merch’ to hawk to unsuspecting audience members. A few don’t bite. Music from a pre-recorded calliope can be heard throughout the pre-show. There is an unsettling, eerie feeling just looking at the set. Some objects are covered. These will be uncovered throughout the show. There are shrunken heads with what look like masks of the varied frightening creatures and monsters that can be found in Wuthergloom’s ‘Field Guide to Monsters’ (which he shamelessly continues to plug throughout the show) Wuthergloom/Woolfe sits hawkish in the corner upstage right and stares as the audience enters. The look in his eyes is ominous. He reminds me of one of the outlandish circus freaks from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. He is shuffling a deck of cards or tarot pack to help pass the time. Designer Melanie McNeill accoutres the Doctor in blood-red and black striped pants. His black top hat has seen better days. He wears a black vest and a white open-collar shirt. His running shoes are large. The white makeup on his face is a perfect combination of a cross between a skeleton and a banshee. This opening night production is often wickedly satirical, with piercing jabs at some contemporary references in the local Toronto/Ontario provincial scene. One most notable was the state of theatre companies applying for grant money from the provincial Ford government. There is audience participation, so beware. It won’t matter if you’re sitting in the first few rows or not because Wuthergloom/Woole scans the audience for victims…oops…volunteers. Side note: It’s fun if you volunteer to go up on the stage. Eric Woolfe is a bedevilling Dr. Wuthergloom. His comical timing in narrating child-eating faeries and the cigar-smoking Kapre of the Philippines remains a riot. The grisly puppets used during the performance wickedly showcase Woolfe’s terrific vocal work in establishing individual personas. The story of Edward Mordrake, the man with Two Faces is hilarious. Woolfe’s magic tricks are also impressive. I sat in the second row, and there were moments where an ivory-looking egg disappeared and reappeared. How was that done? Final Comments: I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at ‘Here There Be Monsters’. I suspected there would be ghost stories and tales of the dead to be told. I didn’t expect to laugh and have as much fun as I did. ‘Here There Be Monsters’ is a terrific show to experience as the sun sets earlier, the cooler weather beckons and rust-coloured leaves tentatively hang from tree branches. Great fun, but don’t bring the wee ones. There is s some adult humour and language depending on Woolfe’s improvisations at the particular moment. Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission. ‘Here There Be Monsters’ runs until November 5 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East, Toronto. For tickets, https://eldritchtheatre.ca/tickets/ ELDRITCH THEATRE presents DOC WUTHERGLOOM’S ‘HERE THERE BE MONSTERS’ Created and Performed by Eric Woolfe Produced by Adrianna Prosser Costumes Designed by Melanie McNeill Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • News Arsenic and Old Lacy by Joseph Kesselring

    Back Arsenic and Old Lacy by Joseph Kesselring Presented by Scarborough Theatre Guild Credit: Julie Adams Photography. Pictured are Scott Baker and Kai Novak. Joe Szekeres “American theatre chestnut play arrives at Scarborough’s Village Theatre. How does it fare for a twenty-first-century theatre crowd?” There’s a line about drama and theatre critics in Joseph Kesselring’s theatre chestnut of a play that still makes me smile: “Please don’t think hard of the drama critic. Somebody has to do those things.” With the theatre industry undergoing significant changes over the past five years, the role of the reviewer/critic/blogger has not remained static. Instead, it has evolved into a crucial component. I am currently in an online theatre workshop exploring the concept of equitable criticism. The focus has shifted from mere critique to fostering a dialogue through responses and feedback. I intend to do this with my feedback piece on Scarborough Theatre Guild’s opening night production of ‘Arsenic & Old Lace,’ now onstage at the Scarborough Village Theatre. I hope it becomes a conversation piece and starter for back and forth discussion. Opening on Broadway from 1941 to 1944, the story is set in Abbey (Carolyn Kelso-Bell) and Martha (Jill Tonus) Brewster’s dark, grandiose house in a Brooklyn, New York section. The Brewster sisters are dotty, eccentric, and loveable when we first see them. They have made it their life's work to comfort lonely old men. What these sweet little old sisters do to help becomes a unique and somewhat bizarre premise that sets the stage for a farcical look at American life back in 1941. Some whacko characters live at Martha and Abbey’s, while many come knocking on the door. The Brewsters’ nephew Teddy (Brad Finch) lives with the ladies. Teddy believes he is Theodore Roosevelt. Each time he runs up the stairs at the house, Teddy believes he is running up San Juan Hill and shouts ‘Chaaaarrrrggggeeee’. Nobody bats an eye at this behaviour. Then there is Teddy’s brother and the Brewster sisters’ second nephew, Mortimer (Kai Novak). Mortimer is a pompous drama critic who writes for the newspaper and sometimes enjoys ripping plays apart. Mortimer becomes engaged to his fiancée Elaine (Kiran Bardial), much to her father's hesitation, Dr. Harper (Paul Coady). Why? His future son-in-law promotes the theatre, a shameful task (another comical reason why the play is a farce). Then, a third brother and nephew, Jonathan (Scott Baker), returns home to the Brewster household with revenge on his mind. Meanwhile, some dopey police officers and medical personnel show up at the house at all hours, which leads to bedlam, chaos, and, most importantly, fun because it is a farce. Great comedy involves truth to make us laugh in the face of tragedy and sadness. Can ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’ still live up to the theatrical standards of the twenty-first century? It all depends on the director’s vision. Jeremy Henson and his production team have a considerable task of ensuring they have done justice to ‘Arsenic’ in presenting what it is intended to be – a farce. And have they? Well… Let’s have a conversation. Visually, the production is quite a ravenous feast for the eyes, thanks to Jackie McCowan’s gorgeous two-level set design that fills the Village Theatre space for maximum effect. McCowan also utilizes the stairs at the side of the three-quarter auditorium setting to show how large the Brewster house is. Much attention to detail has been paid in creating this mammoth setting, right down to Heather Hyslop’s props of fine bone china on the dining room table. Andra Bradish’s costume designs are lovely recreations of colours and fabrics from the early 1940s. Without spoiling the plot, Darlene Thomas’ makeup design on Scott Baker is terrific. Chris Northey’s design effectively captures the sometimes-eerie lighting that helps create the incredible and intense tension needed for this theatre chestnut of a farce to work. On this opening night, the auditorium, which is usually air-conditioned, was dreadfully warm. At first, I thought what a clever idea director Henson had—to have the audience vicariously experience the Brewster house's overpowering heat. Later, I learned that was not intentional, as the air conditioning was not working. For future audiences, rest assured the auditorium will be air-conditioned for comfort. Jeremy Henson wants audiences to laugh uproariously throughout the approximately two-and-a-half-hour running time because ‘Arsenic’ must be played outlandishly while never veering out of control. This opening night is hit-and-miss under Henson’s usually focused and astute direction. Several key moments that should have left the audience in stitches of laughter because the play is a farce went right over our heads. Several opportunities for spot-on timing of verbal cues are missed, which is a shame. The humour at that moment propels the story forward in its madcap, zany plot unravelling. ‘Arsenic’ is an ensemble effort, yet Scott Baker, as Jonathan Brewster, comes dangerously close to stealing the show as the revenge-seeking Boris Karloff doppelganger. Baker’s initial entrance in Act One is undoubtedly worth the ticket price—pure comedy gold. He and Neil Kulin’s Dr. Einstein are a perfect duo match. Kulin gets to showcase an admirable accent, as it does come across naturally for the most part. There were a few moments in the second act where I had difficulty hearing Kulin as the accent was getting in the way of the dialogue, possibly because it was getting unbearably warm in the second act. In his appearance near the end, Lorin Beiko’s sturdy stature as Office O’Hara and the surprise he reveals when he shows up at the Brewster house is spot on. Likewise, Alan Maynes’ brief wink and nudge appearance at the end as Mr. Witherspoon with the Brewster sisters responding uniquely in kind perfectly captures the fact that ‘Arsenic’ remains a theatrical farce. Brad Finch’s Teddy Brewster has several key moments that put a smile on my face. Finch’s eyes capture perfectly that he is ‘not all there.’ Nevertheless, I hoped to hear that horn bellow throughout the auditorium as that’s part of the needed humour. Hopefully, Finch can keep practicing before showtime to ensure that he can blow that horn with tremendous force. Kiran Badial's Elaine remains girlishly sweet in trying to understand the comedy behind what she might be getting herself into when marrying Mortimer. Kai Novak’s Mortimer comes across as a pompous blowhard who honestly does care about the welfare of his aunts. But Novak also misses a few visual cues that don’t make the moments as amusing as they should be. Yet there was one moment when he walked in the front door at the appropriate time a character said something on stage. The audience roared with laughter because they got the joke. We need to see more of that. I wanted to see more oddball eccentricities in Carolyn Kelso-Bell and Jill Tonus as Abbey and Martha. Those eccentricities are budding, but the two ladies must pick up on a few more. For example, when they come clean with Mortimer about what’s hidden in the window seat bench, there are terrific looks between the two ladies and some excellent wide-eyed responses. Again, I’d like to see more of that as an audience member. Might it be possible for Kelso-Bell and Tonus to show us some differences in their physicality? For example, both ladies appear to walk the same. Might one be able to be on tiptoes as she crosses a room? Weird, different, true, but that’s the point behind these little old ladies. A Final Thought: The Guild’s ‘ARSENIC AND OLD LACE’ is just about there as a farce. It’ll get there as performances continue.” Running time: approximately two hours and 20 minutes with one interval/intermission. The production runs until July 20 at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road. For tickets: theatrescarborough.com or call the Box Office (416) 267-2929. SCARBOROUGH THEATRE GUILD presents ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ by Joseph Kesselring Produced by Darlene Thomas Directed by Jeremy Henson Stage Managers: Teresa Bakker and June Watkins Previous Next

  • Profiles Chilina Kennedy

    Back Chilina Kennedy Moving Forward (from Chilina's Twitter account) Joe Szekeres Chilina Kennedy certainly has a lot going on in her life right now as you will see from her answers below. With a five-year-old son who is the pride and joy in her life right now, I am grateful she was able to take a few minutes from her schedule to check in with me as she moves forward into a new way of living. Along with her work as one of the Co-Artistic producers of Eclipse Theatre, Chilina is a top-notch and dynamic performer. I’ve seen her work as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ, Superstar at The Stratford Festival. I hadn’t heard the music from ‘The Band’s Visit’ so when I attended the opening night performance through the Mirvish series I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did like the story, and one of the reasons why was her performance. The one role I will always remember her was in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’. I had taken m sister as my guest when I reviewed the opening night production. My sister, Kathy, even remarked how I put my pen down as I didn’t want to write any notes but simply enjoy what was presented before me. It was glorious. Thank you again, Chilina, for taking the time from your schedule: It appears that after five exceptionally long months we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. How has your daily life and routine along with your family’s life and routine been changed? Well, it’s interesting that you asked me at this point because I’m in quarantine with my five-year-old son. I didn’t want to lose our green cards so we had to go back to the US for three nights just for the while we re-applied for the entry permits so we could stay in Canada for the next two years. Once you come back, you have to quarantine and they’re very strict about it as they should be. It’s been very interesting. He still continues with at home learning. He had a drum lesson this morning and we’re about to go into a home school situation with three or four other kids. We’re going to take turns as each family is going to teach on a different day. It’s been fascinating, but unfortunately for people in our business there has been virtually a 100% unemployment rate in the terms of performing artists at least. People are able to continue doing all other sorts of things which is great, but at least in terms of the performing arts film and tv are starting to come back and that’s been great as I’ve had lots of auditions for that kind of stuff. But everybody job that I had has been cancelled which is disappointing. Were you involved or being considered for any projects before everything was shut down? I was supposed to be playing Fantine in ‘Les Miserables’ right now. That’s a disappointment as I’ve always wanted to play that role, and I figured it was my opportunity to do that role now. I don’t know if I’ll get that chance to do it again. I just had a fitting for it when the pandemic hit. A lot of things are now shooting in Canada so they’re looking to fill a lot of Canadian quotas, the American companies are, and there are a lot of Canadian companies that are too. That’s good news plus the online concerts. What has been the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you. Solitude is not something I’m afraid of even with my five-year-old son. I quite like it. I like the peace of mind it brings. It’s a positive thing really. The hardest part for me initially was not seeing my parents for the first couple of months until we decided to bubble with them. It was tricky because we came from New York, so we were really worried that we were carriers of the virus. The last thing I wanted to do was to spread it to anybody, particularly my aging parents. That was hard with the panic of what to do. And the panic of what to do with my apartment in New York. That still remains a challenge but at least I’ve got somebody in there right now. Life as we know has kind of died. It’s a bit tricky because I’m never going back to that apartment in New York as I’m going to let it go. Everything has just changed. I don’t know if Broadway will ever be the same again. In some ways, that’s a good thing because we’re learning a lot of lessons in this time. It’s challenging, that’s for sure. I agree with the comment that Lucie Arnaz also made about Broadway not coming back until the fall of 2021. I think it will be at least that. People are very creative and there are lots of interesting ways of getting around things. As you know, I’m the Co-Artistic Producer of Eclipse Theatre here in Toronto along with a bunch of other people. The company is trying to follow suit and do some of the things we want to do at a distance, but it’s challenging. Our systems have not really been tested yet, so we don’t know yet what we’re doing. What had you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? To be honest with you, there has been a lot to do, running the household and keeping my five-year-old entertained. I want to make sure he’s stimulated so we have a lot of projects happening. I’ve been re-doing my basement, cooking a lot, and I’ve had tons of auditions which has been great for film and tv so that’s been helping me to get my chops back up. We’ve been setting up an Education Department at Eclipse which has been great. There have been some online classes and I’ve been teaching a little bit. Most importantly, I’ve been remembering how to relax, gardening and doing things like that. I’ve also been trying to open my eyes and educate myself on what’s been going on in the world. Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of Covid-19? What advice would you give to new theatre graduates about this time? Oh, that’s a very good question. In fact, I’ve just offered some words to artists at York University who are about to start school next week. My advice, and you can take it with a grain of salt, “I hope that people don’t feel discouraged.” I know it’s a challenging time but theatre is going to survive, it’s never going to die. We’ve been through wars, through pandemics and all sorts of things and theatre has always survived. I think it’s going to look a little different on the other side, but I think we’re going to get through it so I hope the next generation of artists are training as hard as ever because they’ve got to be ready when we ARE ready to come back. This is a pause button and an opportunity to reflect. It’s a time of great change so if we can learn something from this time and move forward with new voices and new stories and exciting material coming out of this time, we’ll be all the better for it and have a stronger arts community. A lot of the great artists wrote their masterpieces during times of great suffering and trial – ‘King Lear’ was supposedly written during the Great Plague. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic? If we take the bull by the horns, I see a lot of positive change. I also see a lot of possibilities to revert back to the way we were, and I don’t think that’s a very good solution. There’s a lot of push and pull – there are a lot of people who do want lasting change, and I think there are a lot of people who have a stake in the way things used to be and want things to go back to the way they were. And I understand both as there is a comfort and familiarity in going back to the old ways. We’ve got to strive ahead in a much better fashion than we were before. I feel encouraged for the environment, for diversity in representation. In your opinion, can you see Broadway, the Toronto, regional and North American professional performing arts scene somehow being changed on account of the coronavirus? I sure hope there is diversity in representation with the BIPOC voices and communities. I hope there is a lot of change. I think there should be change. There should be more listening happening, much more diversity and inclusion in terms of stories that we’re telling, and who’s telling, and who’s creating them and the way we collaborate. I think we have this great opportunity to enter a new phase of how we create art and how we tell it. What are your thoughts about streaming of live productions? Will it become part of the performing arts scene in your opinion? Have you participated or will you participate in any online streaming soon? Well, I’m probably going to misquote somebody. I’ve heard somebody say there is a name for acting on camera and it’s called film and tv. I don’t think live performance is meant to be Zoomed. It’s weird. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan but if that’s all we have well I think we’ll find creative ways to present it in a fresh capacity. To be honest, isn’t there a term – I think we’re all getting a bit Zoomed out? People are just aching to be back together again in the theatre. There’s something about gathering that is so unique to what we do for a living, breathing the same air, and the heart beating at the same time as we wait for the production to begin. Indeed, it’s a shared experience. It’s so important and those live emotions that are shared with each other do not exist through a screen. It’s only a percentage of the experience. Obviously, artists have to be compensated appropriately if streaming is the only possible option if any kind of profit is made. Despite all the change, the confusion and drama surrounding this time of re-emergence and recovery, what is about performing you still love? I love creating new work as that is probably my greatest love. One of the things I have been continuing to work on is a new musical that I’ve written with Eric Holmes who’s one of the writers on ‘The Good Fight’. He was one of the writers on ‘Smash’. He’s a fantastic guy, very talented and he and I have been working on this new musical for a couple of years. We’ve been continuing to bash away at it. It’s wonderful because I do have a piano in my house, guitars and ukuleles and all sorts of instruments around the house. My son and I make music together. I continue writing my show. There are ways to keep at it. I was sitting in an outdoor gathering with a bunch of wonderful women, friends of mine and colleagues and we were all sitting at a distance around this fire. We were talking about singing, not for the pay cheque, but just for the fact we love to sing and that’s something I think so many of us have forgotten. Now this chance, this quiet opportunity has made many of us so aware that we miss singing simply for the joy of it. We started singing in this circle with all of us getting involved not because we were getting paid or people were watching, no job at stake. It was just for the simple fact we love it. We were just feeling that live vibration in that space and right in that particular moment, in that outdoor space. And I think that to me, “Oh, wow”, I think back to when I was a kid just starting out. And it’s the whole reason why I do what I do. That’s why I love it. Previous Next

  • Profiles Damien Atkins

    Back Damien Atkins "Change is constant and necessary. It’s not always fun, but there has been some worthwhile movement forward..." Credit: Soulpepper Theatre. Pictured: Damien Atkins in rehearsal sitting on bench with Colton Curtis who plays Lord Alfred Douglas Joe Szekeres One of Canada’s accomplished artists, Damien Atkins was raised in St. Albert, Alberta. He is a graduate of the musical theatre program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta. This month, he will appear as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Soulpepper’s ‘De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail.’ I held a telephone conversation with Atkins as he walked to the theatre as the show was now in preview. Adapted by the creative team of Gregory Prest as Director with Original Music and Lyrics by Sarah Wilson and Mike Ross, the production is billed on the Soulpepper website as a musical fantasy based on Oscar Wilde's letter. At the same time, he was incarcerated for ‘gross indecency’ (homosexuality) with his love, Lord Alfred Douglas, for two years at Reading Gaol. Over three months, the letter was written a page a day, collected at the end of each day, and handed over to Wilde on his release from prison. When I asked him what drew him into wanting to learn more about Wilde, Damien paused momentarily. He added that, as a queer person himself, he has a connection to the flamboyant writer and author; however, the spectre of Oscar Wilde was a familiar nightmare of what can happen to a gay person, and Atkins didn’t want to look too far. The troubling factor remains that Oscar fell in love, which destroyed him. He went to jail for being gay, a wrong reason for imprisonment. Prest, Wilson, and Ross delved further throughout the rehearsal process to uncover the extra nuances of understanding Wilde. The creative team had always wanted to write a show for Damien when he received a call to see if he would be interested. Initially, he had no idea the story would be about the author. Atkins quickly adds that he has great confidence in the creative team and calls them brilliant. Audiences must come to see the production because it’s fierce, it’s wild, and it’s unlike anything they have ever seen: “[Gregory, Sarah and Mike] bring mischief and a sense of impishness. It’s a perfect blend of reverence and irreverence. A terrific blend of seriousness and frivolity has been balanced during this time. Their intuition, patience, and sensitivity to the culling of Oscar’s letter have been both fearless and kind…Prest has been unassuming and kind but also mischievous and fearless in his direction and staging.” There’s sensuality, sexuality, pleasure, and wit for audiences to witness. Atkins states the production is a theatrical endeavour unlike anything ever seen. Philosophically, it will lead us to ask if we all really know what happened to Oscar Wilde. The man was a genius, a revolutionary and a hero, but he was also a terrible person at times and, in Atkins’ words, could also be an ‘asshole.’ Nevertheless, ‘De Profundis’ will allow audiences to see Wilde’s tremendous humility in taking responsibility. Wilde does not apologize for his sexuality and renounces it. Instead, he takes responsibility for a bad lot and vows to do better by holding those in charge accountable for the wrong reasons for his imprisonment. When I asked him how he felt about rehearsals and previews, Atkins didn’t say too much except that things were going okay. During that time, his basic tenet was that everyone works as hard as possible. Damien keeps his head down and does not want to evaluate so much. How does he feel about the Canadian theatre landscape and industry changes? “Change is constant and necessary. It’s not always fun, but there has been some worthwhile movement forward that has been worth the hard work. The industry must continue to work on equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI). Yes, the pandemic made us aware, but we must continue to do more.” Atkins spoke about the troubling audience reluctance to return to some theatres nationwide. Encouraging people to return remains challenging, which has been a tremendous loss to the industry. Realistically, it’s all a question of money. That money (whether from the provincial, federal, or municipal governments) will also help other sectors. The help from the government is crucial moving forward as theatres continue to deal with changes and adaptations. Damien continues to hope audiences and governments will recognize that dollars are well spent promoting the arts. Once ‘De Profundis’ concludes its run, what’s next for Damien Atkins? At first, he jokingly stated: “A break,” and we laughed briefly. He’s not one to sit around, though. Atkins returns to the Shaw Festival this summer to play Sherlock Holmes for the third time in a new play entitled ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart. He will also appear in Bernard Shaw’s ‘Candida’. Damien would also like to continue to appear in his solo show “We Are Not Alone.’ I saw the production at Crow’s a couple of years ago. At first glance, the solo piece becomes a look at “mysterious sightings, videos of shapes moving in shadows and inexplicable crop circles. Are these occurrences a sign of otherworldly visitors, or are we being deceived?” Atkins stated the show becomes a comment on how we live together. Can we live peaceably with crazy ideas and notions? Hmmm…’ If “We Are Not Alone’ returns, it might just be worth another look. ‘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 Jillian Keiley

    Back Jillian Keiley The Self Isolated Artist John Arano. Joe Szekeres Jillian Keiley was the former Artistic Director of the English Theatre of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre who has led an illustrious career in the theatre. She is an award-winning director from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and founder of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland. Jillian has directed and taught across Canada and internationally. She assumed her role as the Artistic Director of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, English Theatre, in 2012, and her productions there have included A Christmas Carol, Twelfth Night, Oil and Water and Alice through the Looking Glass. Thank you, Jillian, for participating in this series as On Stage appreciates you taking the time in your busy schedule: We’re over the four-month mark now with most places entering Stage 3. How have you been faring during this time? How has your immediate family been doing during this time? Through a series of unlikely circumstances, I ended up in Newfoundland, where I’m from, at the very beginning of the pandemic and I haven’t left since. I live on a farm when I am here, and I get to spend time with old friends and my family, so I consider myself really lucky. The first few months were hard on my daughter, but now she is able to spend time with a few friends, so we are ok. Thanks for asking! As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? I’m not a performer but as a someone who works very closely with performers I am really worried about my colleagues. We are losing some extremely valuable colleagues right now and it’s such a loss. We are working on making opportunities for audiences to re-engage in live performing arts again in a really serious way – and I hope we have at least a few more COVID Friendly works on the way in the very near future. I recognize how lucky I am to have a contract that keeps me deeply engaged and employed right now. I hope I am using this time to help make things a bit brighter for some other artists. 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? We were loading in for a beautiful production of ‘Copenhagen’ when it all came down around us. I’m sorry about that, it was a challenging, strangely beautiful version of the show, that surprised me in its emotional content. Everything is ready to go if we are ever able to remount it. I hope we can. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? At work we have been reinventing what we imagine theatre to be. Challenging our internal systems of white supremacy, reading, learning. All of that is deeply personal work, and work on behalf of the institution. Outside of that and the also large job of being a mother, I learned how to make good snowballs (the coconut and cocoa kind) and powerballs (the prune and mixed nut kind) and peanut butter balls (the oats and peanut butter kind) and I learned how to do a herring bone braids and fancy buns for my hair which is good because I can’t find a hairdresser who’ll take a new client. Otherwise I spend a lot of every day trying to do things in the theatre and undo things in the theatre. It’s been a greater labour than I’ve experienced in a long time, probably ever. I’m never bored. 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’d suggest to them that they go make something. Somehow. And keep making the things. And then when someone has money sometime, they will say, “Hey that young person –they make things! Go ask them!” I find myself a lot of the time, seeking out people who are doing cool things that cost little in materials but were ingenious theatrical acts. Sometimes it is in theatres, sometimes it is posted to the internet. People who have contracts and grants to award eventually do find out who the people are who are doing things in towns and cities and communities. The people who are shining, especially shining despite these hard circumstances are so valuable. When I was younger we had no money to advertise this one show, but I knew someone who had an in at the hospital laundry, and I knew that they had these bags and bags of torn sheets going to the garbage on the regular. So to advertise the show, I got about 20 friend who pulled their shirts down and their pants up and made a giant toga parade using this sewn together band of old hospital sheets with the name of the show painted on it. It certainly brought a lot of attention to the show! I don’t recommend doing anything with hospital sheets these days but… .I’m always personally on the lookout for people who are willing to go the extra mile. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? I think the wakeup call of Black Lives Matter and addressing white supremacy in the arts is a tidal shift that will never let us return to where we were before. It’s a very positive shift. I hope we can see real change and I hope I am allowed to be some part of that change. 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 don’t love it. I believe theatre has ritual around it, and I believe that there is a deeper spiritual aspect to it that disappears online. But I have appreciated the educational opportunities of watching shows online. I have tuned in to shows from theatres I haven’t been to before, and that’s interesting. But I am really, really looking forward to being with people experiencing some art and going through the spiritual, ritualistic aspect of theatre again. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? I love the creativity and resilience of performers. We have performers still doing their things on line, in cars, in drive ins, on roof tops, over the radio, in parking lots, in theatres with unprofitable configurations in the audience, for one person at a time, for pairs, for plants. Storytellers, mythmakers, meaning and metaphor purveyors- are simply amazing. You just can’t keep them down. As a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests: 1. What is your favourite word? Yes (and here’s how) 2. What is your least favourite word? No (and here’s why) 3. What turns you on? Good puppetry. 4. What turns you off? Men who talk over women who are already talking. 5. What sound or noise do you love? My kid laughing. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Harleys with holes in the muffler. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Gentle Jesus What is your least favourite curse word? Bullshit 8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? I would like to go into palliative care, or Funeral planning. I’m a fairly upbeat person, but I feel like the dying aspect of living is not done well in our society and I think I could help. I used to do something like it years ago, and I felt useful. 9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? A Butcher 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You used up 98% of it, girl! That’s pretty good!” Previous Next

  • Solos 'Dana H' by Lucas Hnath

    Back 'Dana H' by Lucas Hnath Crows Nest Theatre presents the Goodman Theatre, Centre Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production of Lucas Hnath’s ‘Dana H.’ Now onstage at Factory Theatre Credit: John Lauener Dave Rabjohn ‘Chilling’ ‘Powerful’ 'Baker's work is the heart of the play' Please be patient – this is quite a list. Crows Nest Theatre presents the Goodman Theatre, Centre Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production of Lucas Hnath’s ‘Dana H.’ As well – that is at the Factory Theatre filling in for Crowsnest. That is a lot of parts, but the sum is a bold inventive play and a unique and compelling performance by Jordan Baker. This solo production tells the chilling real life story of Dana Higginbotham, a psychiatric ward chaplain who was abducted by an out patient and dragged for five months through seedy Florida motels and unimaginable abuse. What is so singular about the structure and performance of this play is that the victim’s son, as the playwright, creates all the dialogue from actual interview recordings of Dana Higginbotham after her escape. Every word you hear is her actual voice – Jordan Baker says not a word but lip-syncs the entire play. Powerful. Baker’s work is the heart of this play. Memorizing lines is the backbone of work that any actor experiences. But Baker must do much more – every line must be memorized. Then the rhythm must be matched. Each intake of breath was perfectly time – every ‘huh’, every cough, every pregnant pause. An extraordinary effort. Adding to this technical miracle, Baker takes us through the roller coasters of emotion and terror. Almost static in a centre stage chair for most of the 75 minutes, she draws us in with hand gestures and bright dramatic eyes. She rolls us through the spectrum of expressiveness and withdrawal. Hnath’s Tony award winning play tells more than one story of horror. Higginbotham’s words describe not only her own terror, but the painful upbringing of the unstable young man. He was manipulated into some rag tag Aryan society. He didn’t know how to operate a light switch because most of his life was in prison. Maybe not entirely forgiving, she at least sets the table for his unhinged behaviour. The other shocking story is from her own loveless upbringing – cold parents virtually ignoring an unwanted daughter. Heartbreakingly, she suggests a cold irony. Her abuse as a youth may very well have ‘trained’ her to manage the pain and terror of the abduction. Her parents did her a favour? Ouch. Not surprisingly, one of the two Tony awards was for best sound design. Mikhail Fiksel’s work reflected the process of taping itself. The voice is slightly tangy and mechanical as it echoes out of a machine. It was a haunting gesture as the old reel to reel ran out and we hear the circular flapping of empty tape. Andrew Boyce’s scenic design was a harsh box set representing the seedy motels on the outskirts of Orlando. Raw florescent light easily exposed the mould and grunge of the place – an awful place paralleling an awful crime. As horrors descended further, Paul Toben’s lighting design, along with Fiskel’s sound began caterwauling into dysfunction. Another effective moment was an eerie flat white light seen momentarily as the motel door opened – her disassociation with the outside world. As director, Les Waters should be applauded for a minimalist approach. He let Baker set the tone and pace. As mentioned, blocking and movement was minimal allowing her thoughts to surface undistracted. A tinge of Stockholm syndrome is suggested. At times Dana feels almost as a protector of her assailant. But important, continuing issues of blaming a female victim in abuse cases becomes a central theme. The final chapter is called ‘The Bridge.’ Higginbotham finds a hospice career where she helps patients bridge between life and death. Her story also finds a bridge between horror and survival. ‘Dana H’ by Lucas Hnath Performer: Jordan Baker Director: Les Waters Andrew Boyce: Scenic Design Janice Pytel: Costume Design Paul Toben: Lighting Design Mikhail Fiksel: Sound Design Production runs through: April 7, 2024. Tickets: boxoffice@crowsnest.com Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Profiles Alexander Thomas

    Back Alexander Thomas Looking Ahead Ian Brown Joe Szekeres What an extremely humble, grateful, and appreciative man is artist Alexander Thomas. Just before lockdown, I had the chance to see his Dora Award winning performance in Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre’s outstanding and terrific production of Stephen Guirguis’ ‘Between Riverside and Crazy.’ Absolutely magnificent production all round. I was hooked right from the beginning of the production and didn’t want to make any notes in my book as I did not want to miss a thing. Alex and I held an engaging online conversation, and I learned a great deal about him through his honesty and candour about where his career has taken him. He began his career later in life, but he has performed in world renowned cities such as Berlin, London, and New York Off Broadway. I was fascinated by some of the stories he was telling me where his life has taken him. Through it all, Alex remains grounded and rooted in his belief that one can do anything if you set your mind and heart to it with hard work and dedication. And he won a Dora Theatre award as well for his work which is one of the highest honours in the Toronto professional live theatre scene. I hope and want to see more of his work onstage as Alex’s story and voice deserve to be heard. His personal website, which I’ve included at the end of this profile, indicates he has performed in some good theatre both when he lived here in Toronto, in New York where he lives, and across the Atlantic Ocean to some noteworthy productions overseas. Thomas received his training at the Stella Adler Studio in New York City and the Meisner Technique with Richard Pinter (former head of the Neighbourhood Playhouse) He studied Creative Writing at the University of Toronto. We conducted our conversation both through Zoom and email. Thank you so much for adding your voice to the conversation, Alex: 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. That’s an interesting question for me on a personal level. It kind of highlights, as a black man, what at times feels like living in a parallel universe in relation to the white friends (and family) in my life. I’ll try to explain that feeling: My father (who died when I was eight) carried deep trauma and bitterness for events that happened to him in the 1920s growing up in Alabama. I won’t go into that although some of it is documented in my solo play ‘Throw Pitchfork’. Giving my age away, in 1960 at six years old, my mother took us kids on a Grey Hound Bus trip from Albany, New York (where I was born) to down south (where she was born). At a stop in Georgia, I had to go pee and slipped by my mother, as kids can do. I went straight into the Whites only restroom. My mother probably had explained to us not to do that but, you know, I was six years old. My mother was petrified. Even at that age the tension was visceral and then my mother’s fear which came out in anger scolding me, which she had to display to the satisfaction of the white folks watching that she was taking care of her bad little boy and none of them had to. When I think of the mind set of my mom, it was only five years earlier that Emmet Till had been murdered for innocently up setting white folks in the south. Then I was taken around back and shown the “Colored only” doors I was supposed to use while down there. Other restroom doors on the trip were more explicit “N word only.” All that is to say this was a pretty “harsh reality” for a six-year-old. Lesson learned, lesson internalized, so (on a personal level) the idea that the rose-colored glass of life has suddenly been replaced by this “harsh reality” because of Covid doesn’t register with me. The pandemic is not some new high level of harshness or trauma to adjust to in my psyche. To be honest, I’ve pretty much flowed with it a day at a time. Like an “I’m just watching the world go by” kind of thing. The same can be said of all the perceived eye-opening events that happened in America during the early part of lock down around race. Those back-to-back incidents credited with opening everybody’s eyes. But, for many of us, that is the reality we knew already. The one you push aside (deep inside) in order to co-exist in the parallel universe without being labelled hyper-sensitive or as over-reacting, or simply not believed. More people believe you now and I can see how, for them, that’s a new reality. Don’t get me wrong, the pandemic and quarantine have been bizarre and surreal and a bit of an existential swamp to live through. At one point my city ran out of morgue space it was doing so poorly. There is a whole physical life to adjust too; Having to wait in a line to buy food, not being able to go out to a restaurant or to a movie theatre, not hugging family and friends but that’s almost kind of a privileged harshness to deal with, if that makes sense. 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’ve enjoyed the Zoom projects, podcasts, online readings/workshops I’ve gotten to do this year and found them artistically satisfying for the most part. (I think workshop readings of plays online may stay forever – you can work with actors all over the world). Theatre is live, in person, but the bottom line is the need to tell stories or create an experience to express an idea. You can’t work with something if you don’t respect it. The pandemic forced us to build our respect for these other mediums. Obviously, there were artists who already had that respect, but at the beginning a lot of creators were almost righteously against it, some still are: “this is not theater” “I am never going online.” We like the idea of seeing ourselves as being pure somehow and in order to be pure something else has to not be. But, as the reality sunk in, people became, shall we say, sweetly reasonable. Like, hey, you’re not going to create or present anything this season at all if you don’t embrace this. It was like a bittersweet surrender and acceptance, and the need to create and tell stories was allowed to run wild again without judgement of the format, whether it was using the technology or forced to come up with ways of being in person like Talk Is Free Theater performances in bubbles. Is the definition of theater changing? I don’t know. I don’t really think so, but what theaters program might. People like to point out that watching a stream of a play performance in real time (not a recording) is not the same as being there. No, it’s definitely not, but it’s still pretty cool. And it’s kind of less elite when you look at how many people can see it. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? Feeling the focus and energy from the room whether an audience or your fellow artist when rehearsing or performing. The spontaneous responses: laughter, silences, gasp of identification, even the yawns, the intuitive ebb and flow of attention. It’s an instinctual Geiger counter for how things are going. That can’t really be recreated. I also miss the Meet and Greets, table reads, first full awkward run throughs, long tech days. Having lunch break with your cast mates or getting completely away from you cast mates on break. (Alex says with a good laugh). As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? I think a lot of people probably answer that question with, that they won’t take for granted they will always work again. My path has been very slow and sporadic with many stops and starts, including a number of inactive years where I thought maybe this was all a dream deferred. It probably would have made sense for me to just completely give up if I’d had any sense (with another laugh). So, I’m used to huge gaps of time in between, never take it for granted I’m going to work again and am always grateful for any opportunity to work. I know that might sound like some kind of false humility, but it’s true. I see a lot of plays each year and had to cancel a number of tickets and plans I had lined up. I will relish seeing plays again and won’t take it for granted. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I am very excited and encouraged by the number of artistic director and curator appointments I’ve seen for women and POC over this past year in America and Canada and hope this continues. This will be the first season for many and I’m rooting for every one of them. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. What I must accomplish? I don’t know if I must do anything. I’m not sure I’ve approached life that way. Damn, I guess that sounds like I’ve got no drive or ambition, is that bad? I want to keep growing as a person and continue to practice how to allow that to inform my art. I want to work more consistently. And build more and stronger artistic relationships. It’s tricky for me because we move around a lot. One of the things I learned and loved about the Toronto theatre community (I lived there for five years) was the power of supporting each other. They’re really good at that. I mean, hell, I was a stranger, essentially an interloping outsider welcomed and supported and ended up winning a Dora Award. Amazing and unpredictable. 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. Know how I feel about that? So what? A big event happened, it shook up the world, and people are gonna talk about that. They’ll talk about till they don’t have too. Big deal. It won’t be the first subject that has been written to death. Some people will get sick of them, some won’t. In the end they’ll be judged the same way everything is, by its own creativity. Reviewers, if they are fair and don’t have their heads up their butt, will say “this Covid play stands out in the glut of Covid plays because of” whatever: “because it’s really about relationships” “it really explores the human spirit” or something, whatever. Others will be awful, then that trend will die out. So what? You ain’t gonna stop it. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I hope I can be a part of fostering more understanding and closing the gap between the parallel universes we sometimes live in. To learn more about Alexander, visit his personal website: www.alexthomasactor.com . Previous Next

  • Musicals Chris, Mrs. - A NEW HOLIDAY MUSICAL

    Back Chris, Mrs. - A NEW HOLIDAY MUSICAL Now onstage at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre Credit: Max Power Photography. Pictured: Liam Tobin, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane and the ensemble Joe Szekeres “In a world so desperately longing to smile, we need ‘Chris, Mrs.’ to put a tuneful song in the heart accompanied by tripping the light fantastic dance numbers.” The world premiere of ‘Chris, Mrs.’ ticks all the boxes on the proverbial rubric scoring sheet of a Hallmark Christmas film. The story begins in the big, busy city where widower Ben Chris (Liam Tobin) is not in the Christmas mood at all. He leverages his late parents’ lodge for a work promotion. But this is a problem as Ben’s brother, Charlie (Kale Penny), still runs the lodge. Charlie feels a sense of connection to the lodge in memory of their parents. To convince his brother it’s best to sell, Ben decides to go to the lodge and takes with him his socialite, bitchy and arrogant girlfriend Vicki Vandrelle (Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane), and his three children, teenage daughter Claire (AJ Bridel) and twins, Samuel and Samantha (Lucien Duncan-Reid and Addison Wagman at this performance). The twins discover a ring in their father’s suitcase and write a letter to Santa asking for assistance. Magically, Holly Carmichael (Danielle Wade) appears. Her name says it all. Holly is full of Christmas spirit. She is a seasonal employee at the lodge. Holly and Ben have met over the years, but there is no connection. However, through misadventures, a twisted ankle, mischief and personal heart longings, everything wrong becomes right again. Sometimes cheesy and corny in a few puzzling plot elements? Yes. Boy meets girl after many years and re-kindles relationship. Yes. Snow falling at the end with everyone standing around a Christmas tree with love in the air and a song in their hearts? Yes. Is there anything wrong with any of that at this time of year? Absolutely not. It’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be a Grinch. You shouldn’t either. A quibble I have with this opening night production, and I’m sure it will be rectified immediately, is designer Ranil Sonnadara’s uneven sound balance between the singers and the orchestra throughout most of Act One. From where I sat in the house, I could not hear the lyrics in most chorus numbers and found it frustrating. I know I lost important plot information. Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane has quite an exhilarating vocal number (‘Vicki’s Lament’) to close off the first act, which moves the plot forward in her ‘scheme.’ Again, I could not hear one word in her song as the orchestra overpowered. Things were somewhat better in Act Two as I could hear the lyrics for most of the numbers. There’s much to appreciate about the opening night production. Cory Sincennes’ costume and set designs emblazoned the set in various traditional holiday colours. Mikeal Kangas’ lighting design nicely focuses attention where it needs to be. I was rather impressed with some of Greg Dougherty’s technical direction. The tree lighting at the end of Act Two is quite clever. I smiled as I watched how the ice skating was handled on stage. What is also impressive is the breakneck speed at which the ensemble moves set pieces smoothly in the variety of settings for the story. A good choice was made not to place the stage in complete darkness each time, which would have wholly brought the audience out of the story’s fluid pacing. Choreographer Sarah Vance creates several visually appealing high-stepping dance numbers. Katie Kerr’s tight direction keeps the pacing fluid and moving. Her and Music Director Matt Stodolak's lyrics are uniquely clever and cheery. One example is Claire’s ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ where a particular ‘play on a word’ kept me smiling throughout the entire musical number. The ensemble dance work of George Absi, Carla Bennett, Devon Michael Brown, Shelley Kenney, Heather Kosik and Jason Sermonia remains one of the production's highlights. Sarah Lynn Strange is bubbly and effervescent as Candace Brown, Ben’s secretary. Lucien Duncan-Reid and Addison Wagman are adorable as the troublemaking twins at this performance. Their finding of the ring also reminded me of comic moments from classic Disney films. Mark Weatherley captures the essence of the season's magic as Nick, who sets Holly on the right track when uncertain about what she should do regarding Ben. Weatherley’s silver fox look also sets Candace’s heart fluttering. Andrew Broderick and Henry Firmston are credible in their onstage work as respective nice guys Cole Jackson and Tim Penner, who also get what they deserve by the end of the story. As brothers Charlie and Ben, Kale Penny offers a solid juxtaposition in character development to Liam Tobin, especially when the truth outs in the second act with the arrival of the potential buyers of the lodge. As Claire, AJ Bridel’s lovely singing voice resonates and is poignant in her rendition of “All I Want for Christmas.” Liam Tobin and Danielle Wade are appealing as ‘Christmas-crossed’ lovers who finally recognize the truth of what each means to the other. I couldn’t help but smile again as all appeared right in the world as the entire company sang ‘Different This Year.’ Again, a tad cheesy and corny, but who cares? It’s Christmas. We need to smile in our world right now. Final Thoughts: Thank you to Katie Kerr and Matt Stodolak for sharing their dream of having a place in the Canadian musical theatre canon. Yes, ‘Chris, Mrs.’ is a holiday treat this year. Go and see it with your loved ones. I look forward to seeing what their company BOLDLY PRODUCTIONS has planned. Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Chris, Mrs.’ runs until December 31 at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. For tickets, 416-366-7723 | 1-800-708-6754 or visit CHRISMRS.com. BOLDLY PRODUCTIONS and The Winter Garden Theatre PRESENT The World Premiere of ‘CHRIS MRS. – A NEW HOLIDAY MUSICAL’ Music, Book, and Lyrics by Matthew Stodolak & Katie Kerr Director: Katie Kerr Musical Director: Matthew Stodolak Choreographer: Sarah Vance Set & Costume Design: Cory Sincennes / Associate: Beyata Hackborn Lighting Design: Mikael Kangas Sound Design: Ranil Sonnadara Stage Manager: Jessica Severin Production Manager: Greg Dougherty Band: Matthew Stodolak, Ben Kersey, Tom Skublics, Steve McDade, Karl Silveira, Dave Patel, Peter Bleakney Performers: Liam Tobin, Danielle Wade, Eric Abel, George Absi, Carla Bennett, AJ Bridel, Andrew Broderick, Devon Michael Brown, Finn Cofell, Lucien Duncan-Reid, Henry Firmston, Isaac Grates-Myers, Shelley Kenney, Heather Kosik, Kale Penny, Jason Sermonia, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, Sarah-Lynn Strange, Addison Wagman, Mark Weatherley Previous Next

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Profiles Michael Torontow

    Back Michael Torontow Artistic Director, Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT) Barrie, Ontario Lane Dorsey Joe Szekeres Talk is Free Theatre’s (TIFT) company name from Barrie, Ontario has always piqued my curiosity since I’ve embarked on this new journey into professional theatre commentary. When I profiled Arkady Spivak a couple of years ago, I forgot to ask him about the name’s genesis. I was so thankful he assisted in helping me obtain an interview with TIFT’s Artistic Director, Michael Torontow. After I spoke with Michael, I got in touch with Arkady again to ask about the genesis of the name: From Arkady: “There are many inspirations for the name; three more widely used are 1) free speech and an opportunity for artists to engage in projects without interference from other pressures, 2) the satire on everyone thinking they are doing something by simply talking about it performatively, 3) acronym TIFT is a Restoration verb which means to get something ready, to prepare.” And in that same email, Arkady coyly wrote: “There is an inside meaning, but to reveal it would be to lose magic” with two smiley emoticons following. Thank you for this explanation, Arkady, as I would never want to destroy TIFT’s magic for me. I like what Christopher Hoile from Stage Door wrote about TIFT: “[It] is one of the most vibrant, innovative theatre companies in Ontario. TIFT provides one of the best reasons why Torontonians who love exciting theatre need now and then to look beyond the city’s borders.” I am planning to do just that going forward. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Michael taking time to speak with me and to allow my Grade 12 Co-operative Education student to sit in on the interview and to hear a highly respected and articulate man speak about the company. Torontow will also appear in TIFT’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ in June. More about this upcoming musical shortly. On a personal level throughout Covid’s continuation, he and his immediate family have been faring very well. Michael feels extremely grateful of course and privileged in many ways that, with many who have suffered loss over the course of the pandemic and endured so much hardship, he is very lucky. He and his partner live in a house with a yard and nature nearby in the Dundas, Ontario area. They got a dog over the course of the pandemic and have taken the advantage of being able to live their ‘little’ lives and be safe in venturing out to the grocery story when necessary. Michael feels there is so much to say about the trajectory of Canadian live theatre regarding Covid’s influence. He is going into his first season as full-fledged Artistic Director with the company. He is excited just for a sense of normalcy within the industry once again when it comes to how everyone experiences live performance. TIFT took some inspiration in learning from the pandemic last summer in venturing forward with the outdoor production of ‘Into the Woods’ and the ‘Plural of SHE Festival’, a series of shows performed by women and those identifying as women. TIFT continued to search for ways to keep the artist working, whether it was through first day readings (where they got people together on Zoom to read a play) and whether something would come from that. Some of these opportunities turned into development of full plays. For example, the recent ‘Judas Kiss’ came from one of these first day readings. I could tell Michael was keen to share TIFT’s plans for its upcoming slate which will be announced soon as certain details are still being worked out on certain projects. Additionally, the pandemic has allowed the company to complete a great deal of reflection about moving forward with development of some service projects, to examine mental health in the rehearsal space, and to address some of the issues that have come up over the last couple of years. Through implementing these changes in future TIFT productions, Michael hopes the company can become a leading example of progress within the theatre industry that other theatre companies can look to for advice, guidance, and inspiration. When I looked at the names of the company members on TIFT’s website, there are the crème de la crème of quality artists. I asked Michael if all these persons were gathered and sitting in front of him at this moment, what would he say to them? He paused, and in a hushed voice said, “Oh my gosh!” I know I put him on the spot, but he acknowledged he wouldn’t be able to keep it brief. But he did: “Thank you for being a friend. There’s an element to which TIFT is what we are today because of all of you. We have an interesting symbiotic relationship with all of you where a strength of TIFT is that and what attracts great people to the company is that we do work that people want to do, whether it be original or anything artists want to create themselves. We will continue to do things differently and uniquely from how you might see things at other places. And you, dear artists, continue to inspire TIFT with the gifts you offer.” What a beautiful tribute Michael paid to this company which proudly sees itself artist first and organization second. Nevertheless, Michael also recognizes the company’s learning during this time how artists and audiences are aware Covid is still among us and not going away immediately. There may have to be a pivoting away from plans and goals depending on how Covid progresses. He got to direct his first musical, ‘Into the Woods’ with TIFT as Arkady saw something within to venture into new territory as director as he had been thinking about that for some time. In June, Michael will play the titular role in ‘Sweeney Todd’ directed by Mitchell Cushman. The production will take place at the Glen Rhodes Campus at the Neighbourhood Food Hub. (Link provided at the end of the article) Without spoiling too much fun, Michael said audiences will be made to feel part of Sweeney’s story in an immersive and roaming production instead of just merely watching it. Nearly every inch of space in the church will be used. Guests will enter through the church, but they have no idea where they will be taken. There are certain scenes of the show where audiences will literally be among the action, perhaps even twelve inches away from the actors and artists. You may not know where to look, but that’s okay as that’s all part of the point as so much stuff will be going on all over the place. Rest assured though Covid protocols and masks will be used since there are no understudies and TIFT does not want anyone in the cast, crew, or audience to get sick. Some staging of the scenes will be intention as the wearing of masks will also become intentional as part of the audience involvement and performance. One of the things Torontow hopes to accomplish in playing Sweeney is seeing the human side of Benjamin Barker first before he became the murderous, demon barber of Fleet Street. The whole reason for Sweeney going through emotions and actions when he returns to London from Australia is the fact he is trying to get a sense of what he might have lost as Benjamin Barker. He wants his daughter back and he wants to find his wife. Why do audiences need to see ‘Sweeney Todd’ now? For Michael, one of the prevailing themes comes from one of the lines in the show: “Those above will serve those down below.” The play is all about a class issue and how Sweeney was easily whisked away to that penal colony in Australia by a Judge who, just because of his position in society, was able to take something from Sweeney and then shove him off wherever he wanted. To a certain degree in our society for Torontow (even though he doesn’t consider himself an economist) the rich and the poor are diverging more and more, and the middle class is disappearing more and more. To be able to illustrate the difference between the above and below is a little bit of a nice reminder to people. A month of rehearsals was already completed. The production was at the end of a two-month hiatus, and the company returns into a refresher and into technical rehearsals starting Tuesday May 31. And once ‘Sweeney Todd’ has completed its run? What’s next for Michael Torontow? Well, right away he is going to be part of the Porch Side Festival at Theatre Collingwood. Michael had performed the play ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ with TIFT a couple of years ago and will perform it once again in Collingwood. After Collingwood, Michael will then be developing new and exciting things coming up for late summer and early fall for TIFT. He is one busy guy but the energy he exuded during our conversation was infectious. Thank you so much for your time. To learn more about Talk is Free Theatre, visit www.tift.ca . To learn more about TIFT’s upcoming production of Sweeney Todd: https://tickets.tift.ca/TheatreManager/1/tmEvent/tmEvent328.html 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

  • Profiles Soheil Parsa

    Back Soheil Parsa “We have to create good art. It’s not diversity for the sake of diversity.” Credit: Aluna Theatre Joe Szekeres For the last three years, I have been trying to get in touch with Soheil Parsa for an interview, but I never knew where to turn. I wanted to learn more about this Iranian Canadian theatre artist and his vision. Thank Goodness for theatre publicity rep Suzanne Cheriton who made it easier and asked if I would like to speak with him about his upcoming direction of Aluna Theatre’s ‘On the Other Side of the Sea.’ I jumped at the opportunity. From his Factory Theatre bio: “Soheil is the co-founder and former artistic director of Modern Times Stage Company and has directed over forty productions for the company since its inception in 1989.” I’ve seen several plays he has directed, the most recent being Daniel McIvor’s ‘Monster’ and David Paquet’s ‘Wildfire’ (for which he won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for direction). Parsa started his theatre school training and received three and a half years at Tehran University, Iran, in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Theatre Department, prior to the Iranian/Islamic Revolution in 1979. After the Revolution, Soheil was in his fourth year. He was honest with me and said he was kicked out of the university because he did not support the Revolution. The other vital aspect also in play was his religious background. He and his family come from the Bahá’í minority under severe persecution. His journey from Iran to Canada was not an easy one. He fled Iran in 1982 amidst severe persecution due to his Bahá'í faith. He arrived in Canada with his family in 1984; he was twenty-nine then. Not knowing English, he faced the daunting task of learning a new language in a foreign land. Despite the challenges, he enrolled in an undergrad program and completed a second Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies at York University. His determination to learn English and continue his education in theatre reveals his resilience and passion for the arts. On a personal note, Soheil has never had a mentor. Directing has been self-taught, so he proudly states he never stops learning about the theatre. He’s always searching, seeking, and investigating different forms and traditions of theatre. He laughed (and so did I) that as we age, we slow down a bit in our learning. But Soheil doesn’t stagnate at all in the arts. One doesn’t stop learning, no matter what age. He believes artists must keep updating themselves. Although taking workshops is challenging since he continues to be busy directing, Soheil reads a lot about the arts and the theatre. He goes to see a lot of productions and watches the younger generation of theatregoers (whether on stage or in the audience): “New generations and different generations of people bring something different, and I think for [we] senior artists, it’s always important to stay updated. There’s no way an artist can stop and say, “I’m done. Now I’m perfect.” As an artist going forward, how does he feel about the state of Canadian theatre amid its changes in the last three to four years? Soheil agrees it has been a challenge in Toronto and across Canada. The industry hasn’t recovered entirely, but live performance art remains necessary in connection with others. It may take another couple of years to recover, hopefully without any more pandemics. He still believes that audiences will return to the theatre. Will there be further changes in the industry moving forward? “Definitely. When I started my theatre company (Modern Times) in 1989 with Peter Farbridge, the situation then wasn’t like what we are currently experiencing now. There’s no comparison. Yes, there was a bit of a struggle in the first ten years of Modern Times to produce and create shows because whatever I did was labelled as either Persian or multi-cultural, and I hated those words…Change is promising…There weren’t a lot of opportunities for artists like me back in 1989.” Change is also happening in the leadership within the theatre community, and that’s promising as there weren’t a lot of opportunities for artists of colour back in 89. Even though Soheil does see the changes for artists of colour, he also gets a bit worried because it’s not just about diversity for the sake of diversity. Art is the bottom line. Whatever artists promote or showcase must be exciting. Whatever is happening is fine, but as an artist of colour, Soheil believes he can speak the truth in saying we’ve gone to the far extreme on the other side now; however, he hopes in a few years that balance will be found in that artists will be supported for their work and for what they do. When he started Modern Times, he wanted to be recognized and supported for his work as an artist, not because he’s an Iranian-born theatre director. It’s not diversity for the sake of diversity. Theatre must keep growing and flourishing. We have to create good art. Theatre previews are always exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing Soheil’s next production as director for Aluna Theatre’s ‘On the Other Side of the Sea’ starting February 7 at the Theatre Centre. Written by Salvadorian playwright Jorgelina Cerritos and winner of the 2010 Casa de las Américas Prize for drama based in Havana, Cuba, the play is described on the Theatre Centre website as a powerful, minimalist drama celebrating courage, conviction, and life itself.” Aluna is thrilled to produce a play from El Salvador, representing the first time the company will produce a work by a Latin American artist not residing in Canada. The plot is not realistic, but the characters are real. There is a fisherman with no name and a civil servant at her office desk, oscillating between loneliness, memory, and reality on a journey toward human connection and renewal. Beatriz Pizano and Carlos Gonzales-Vio will appear in this Canadian premiere. Rehearsals have gone well. Soheil says he’s lucky to have them for this premiere. He has worked with Beatriz and Carlos before. He calls them generous. Although the process of exploring during rehearsal wasn’t easy at times, the actors kept exploring the text and what lies underneath it. They know how much Soheil values subtext and its importance, so that has been rewarding overall for everyone involved. Any play has to be challenging for everyone involved, not only for the actors but for everyone involved. If it’s not challenging, what’s the point of doing it? Parsa calls ‘On the Other Side of the Sea’ a remarkable, poetic, magical, and fascinating piece. The influence of the Theatre of the Absurd on the play is undeniable. He was introduced to the play before the pandemic by a friend who told him: “Soheil, I know your work. This is your play. You have to direct it.” When he first read the play, Parsa was confused about what was happening. When he read it the second time, he fell in love with the “lyrical beauty of the words and the evocative style. The play is deceptively simple. It’s about hope, and that’s what fascinates me about it.” In Parsa’s words: “Simplicity is simple. You have to achieve it.” As we began to wind down our conversation, I asked what kept Soheil still excited about the theatre: “The live connection between the audience and the actors. I think that’s the most irreplaceable art form. We don’t have any art form like theatre to have this direct, live human connection between the creators and the audience. That’s what fascinates me the most. The theatre will always survive no matter how far we advance in the digital or YouTube world.” What’s next for Soheil once ‘On the Other Side of the Sea’ finishes its run? There have been requests from theatre schools to direct their shows. Last year, he directed two shows, one for Humber and one at the University of Ottawa. This year, he is teaching part-time at Brock University. Next fall, he will direct a show at Brock University for fourth-year students. Nothing has been finalized yet, but there is a possibility he might be directing for Tarragon Theatre. ‘On the Other Side of the Sea’, presented by Aluna Theatre, runs February 7 – 25 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West. For tickets, call (416) 538-0988 or visit theatrecentre.org. To learn more about Aluna Theatre, visit their Facebook page or website: alunatheatre.ca. Previous Next

  • Profiles Sky Gilbert

    Back Sky Gilbert Moving Forward ​ Joe Szekeres Controversial and complex, artist, educator, filmmaker, director, and writer Sky Gilbert has undoubtedly influenced the Canadian theatre scene. Although I haven’t had a chance to see any of his plays at this time (but am hoping to catch some soon), I have heard from others and read online Gilbert’s literary works from novels to scripts become often raw, quite funny and intensely vocal. I’ve been wanting to profile Sky, his voice, and his work for some time but wasn’t sure how to get in touch with him. A workshop production he is directing will premiere shortly, and it was fortuitous he was available to chat with me via email since he is busy in preparation. Gilbert holds an Honours bachelor’s degree in fine arts from York University, and master’s and Ph. D degrees from the University of Toronto. He has been teaching in the School of English and Theatre Studies for 24 years at Guelph. He is now a full professor and will retire in a couple of weeks. He was co-founder and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for 18 years. Given that we're returning to live theatre, albeit slowly, Sky feels terrified because in his words: “I’ve seen so much bad stuff…I am wanting to be shocked, angered, challenged, stimulated, not to have all my views and attitudes to life affirmed. I go to theatre to NOT be confirmed as a good person but to question myself.” I must applaud Sky for his honesty and candour here. He believes politics is killing theatre in Toronto and this means bad theatre. The theatre he sees assumes that the audience has the same ideas they do and confirms them over and over, so it is pessimistic for him. Given his frank observation regarding the state of theatre in Toronto now, I asked Sky where he sees the industry headed over the next five years. He gently corrected me by saying that he doesn’t see theatre as an industry but as an art. For him, art is so overrun by commercialism, meaning the digital megaplex. Art has been whittled down to a message that it has to be a ‘good’ one and judged on that and that alarms Sky because he says: “artists are self-censoring because they think that they have to deliver an approved message.” So, have we as an audience forgotten what art is? Sky believes so and that’s what he’s afraid of right now. How does he view art? “Art comes from the unconscious; it is unscientific, and it is a lie. It is an irrational connection with the irrational. It doesn’t mean things — things -- that can be put into words as much as provide an experience.” I received a release recently that details Gilbert’s upcoming workshop presentation ‘Kink Observed’: “Kink Observed explores what ‘kinky’ sex — and sex itself — means to gay men, (and hopefully, ultimately to us all) by considering these questions: “why do we push ourselves to the limit, sexually?” and secondly “can an audience watch a representation of ‘kinky sex' without demonizing the players? It will challenge recent misleading and myopic representations of gay sexuality by putting three gay men onstage who place their sexuality directly in your face.” For Sky, he had written audiences don’t see much gay male sexuality in Toronto plays. Instead, we see gay men adopting children and acting like straight people. But even though there was AIDS there are still bathhouses, and sex in washrooms and parks, and there is a culture of HIV-positive men who have a lot of sex, no longer with condoms. Because men can hook up easily online, our sex lives have become less visible — unless it is demonized in things like the horror of the Bruce McArthur murders — or of course in the recent very popular Jeffrey Dahmer TV Show. People just seem to love gay serial killers, but they are a little bit wary of looking at the real sex lives of real gay men who are not murderers. Would audiences perhaps push back at this workshop presentation of ‘Kink Observed’ or are they open to discussion and seeing the material? Again, Sky had written the portrayal of gay male sexuality should not be controversial in 2022. He reminds us there is porn on the internet and that we should also look at what the kids are watching! People have their heads in the sand and it’s time to become aware. The workshop (billed as provoking and immersive theatre experience) offers audiences an opportunity to view gay male sexuality performed live and up close. ‘Kink Observed’ comes from the real-life experiences of the gay men who are actors in the play and, in that way, it is a very honest and revealing account of what real gay life is like today. Of course, it is fiction, it is a play, and the gay men are using their lives as fodder for art and poetry — they are not just ‘being themselves' or repeating their real-life experiences. But there is a brutal and I think important honesty here, that needs to be seen. Sky is hoping the production will get a Canada Council grant to pursue the workshop further to a full-length production. He speaks glowingly about the artists who are involved in the production. He has known Ryan Cunningham as a friend but only recently started working with him. He didn’t know why that occurred but it’s great that it has. Ryan is a producer and former artistic director of Native Earth. Gilbert discovered recent theatre school graduate Ray Jacildo for his production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Titus? in the summer and says he was AMAZING. Brandon Nicoletti is a filmmaker whom Gilbert auditioned for this project and feels he has a lot of insight and brings a great deal of honesty to the work. While they all had fun creating the improvised scenes in the summer. Sky writes they are working on: “the kink demonstrations’ where the audience will get to see some real kink stuff happen and even participation — however slightly — in the goings on! Hopefully, it will be a rare and interesting experience!” THE DETAILS ABOUT 'KINK OBSERVED' WHAT: ‘Kink Observed’, a collective creation directed by Sky Gilbert and devised (with Sky) by Ryan Cunningham, Ray Jacildo and Brandon Nicoletti, who also perform in the production. Live music is by Lyon Smith, props by Trixie and Beaver, and costume consultation by Marty Rotman. WHERE: Deanne Taylor Theatre, 10 Busy Street Toronto DATES: Nov 25, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Fri) Nov 26, 2022 at 02:30 pm - 04:00 pm (Sat) Nov 26, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Sat) Nov 27, 2022 at 02:30 pm - 04:00 pm (Sun) Nov 27, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Sun) For more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kink-observed-tickets-450934365827 Previous Next

  • Profiles Qasim Khan

    Back Qasim Khan Looking Ahead Mark Short Joe Szekeres I had the opportunity to see Qasim Khan perform at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre in ‘Paradise Lost’ and wondered who this intense looking artist was on stage because he drew my focus to him immediately. When I had emailed Qasim I was very pleased he agreed to an interview, and the fact he answered the questions via email and returned them to me meant I could post his profile sooner. According to his website (https://qasimk.com/biography/), Qasim is a 2008 graduate of the joint Acting Program from Sheridan College and the University of Toronto. In 2011, he was one of eight artists from across Canada to join The Soulpepper Academy, a performance residency with The Soulpepper Theatre Company. Qasim’s resume includes some work with outstanding theatre companies across Canada. I encourage you to visit his website for more information. His two social media handles are found at the end of his profile. We conducted our interview via email. Thank you again, Qasim, for participating. It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Wow. That’s a real big question. On a personal level, there’s not a single aspect of my life that hasn’t changed in the last year. The day-to-day basics are different: I would normally be in Stratford at this time of year, and I have decided to stay in Toronto for the time being. It’s been nice being close to my (small, contact-traced) circle of friends in the city. Last summer in Toronto was actually really lovely; I haven’t spent this amount of time in Toronto in years, and someone close to me sort of toured me to all these beautiful outdoor spots that I never knew existed – for someone who doesn’t normally spend tons of time outdoors, it was really magical. There’s still a few more places for me to explore this summer, so that’s a nice thing to look forward to. The other day-to-day changes are easy: I was a bit of a homebody pre-pandemic, so staying at home isn’t the end of the world (I’ve absolutely hit a wall though – we’ve been on a lockdown since last October here in Toronto – so right now all I want to do is go to a club and kiss strangers). Wearing a mask is a no-brainer, and I don’t even mind my hands being dry from hand sanitizer. Pre-pandemic, especially while working, my only hobby was going to the gym, and I haven’t set foot inside one since the day the NBA locked down in 2020. So, where I was lifting heavy things every morning at 6am, I’m now doing what I can at home, when I can, led by an app on my phone that makes me feel sufficiently guilty if I skip a workout. There’s a level of communication and transparency in my current relationships that is new to me because of COVID. Last November I worked on a movie and was COVID tested every 48 hours gearing up to being on set. My bubble and I had to keep extra safe so that I maintain a negative test result (otherwise I couldn’t go on set, or work). So that was a conversation with friends that I never thought I’d have: “Can you please only see me, and maybe not even go to a grocery store?” Pre-pandemic I had been with my partner for about five years, and we parted ways a few months into the pandemic, after building a really solid friendship. So, setting up my own home has been part of the adventure of 2020 as well – it helps having an ex who’s a very good realtor! I knew that I would be spending a big portion of 2021 locked in this new place, so I let myself deck it out with stuff that I feel good being surrounded by, including a very comfy couch, and a little army of plants (that are thriving). I guess the overall personal shift is that there’s far more calculation and mindfulness in what I’m doing, who I’m surrounding myself with, and how I’m spending my time. The need for routine comes in waves, and the routines themselves need fine-tuning as more time passes. This is probably a good lesson for the post-pandemic world: everything needs to evolve and reflect where you’re at, and I’m valuing the freedom I have right now to roll with things as they come. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? It’s a humbling thought that the very thing that has been so pivotal to my life, which has been essential to me as a human and professional, is so utterly non-essential in times like these. Of course, when we can have audiences again, theatre will be more essential than ever. But it has been a challenge having the largest part of my identity stripped away for over a year. Something that has been inspiring and speaks to how hungry all of us are to get back to work is how quickly theatres and artists adapted to the situation. Within a few weeks of the pandemic, a friend had put together a small, weekly, online reading group where we read through a bunch of plays together – for no purpose but to stay connected. And within the first couple of months, I was busy being part of online readings and workshops of new plays. I don’t think you’ll find an actor in this country that isn’t now a Zoom expert. I’ve been lucky to stay busy with Film/TV work, and some writing projects that I have on the go as well. I suppose my perception of the industry hasn’t changed, so much as the pandemic has highlighted many areas of the business that could be functioning better. We have all inherited a system of working in the theatre that no one has really challenged or questioned in a big way, partly because there is never time to reflect. It’s a beautiful way to earn a living but working in theatre has a lot of personal costs to it. We have told ourselves that it’s worth the trade-off, but what’s good about this break is that we can reevaluate how we have been working. It’s all stuff that allows artists to have a bit more agency – which will only create better work for our audiences to see. Because of COVID, there’s now conversations happening around sick days; for example, if you came backstage at a show during cold/flu season in the past, you would see a group of over worked actors sucking back lozenges, teas, covered in tissues, and doing whatever they needed to not miss a show. I have shattered a finger, had a concussion, and gashed my head open in the middle of performances, and have prided myself on trudging forward - these all made for good stories at the bar after the show – and everyone is celebrated for being die-hard. But COVID safety protocols are forcing us to get realistic about the boundaries an artist needs to have. So, having a break from the routine of everything is necessary to get some perspective. The murder of George Floyd and the protests of the last year have also been central to my perception of the theatre industry. What has been illuminated for many people is how unjust our current social-political setup is, and that translates to how every sector and organization has functioned in the past. It is heartening to see how keen most organizations are to return in a way that is healthier and supportive for Black and Indigenous artists, and artists of color. Part of my professional life in the pandemic has been sitting on the Stratford Festival’s Anti-Racism Committee, and we have been working hard to identify barriers for company members that are Indigenous, Black, or of color, and strategizing a way to shift the culture of the organization to allow these company members to have a fulfilling, meaningful, and equitable experience while working there. It’s wonderful to finally have the prospect of a 2021 season of shows and artists to gear this work towards. It’s all very exciting. I also became a member of the Howland Company in Toronto, and there’s lots of cool things in the works for us, and it’s another group of really inspiring theatre makers. So, where I would spend eight hours a day in a rehearsal hall, I now spend my day sitting on Zoom having stimulating conversations and dreaming about the theatre that audiences will see SOON! As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the people, the joy of creating something on my feet, the excitement I feel when a stage manager announces: “Five minutes to the top of part one, please; five minutes.” I think, most of all though, I miss the adrenaline rush of being on stage in front of a room of strangers. That is a feeling that, in 12 months of being at home, I have not been able to recreate, and it’s a feeling that is so central to who I am. The New York Times put out an article last week that talks about the feeling of “blah” we all have at this point in the pandemic – the “languishing” we all feel – I think my “languishing” will be remedied by that specific adrenaline kick. I miss that and can’t wait to feel it again. Oh, and I really miss making people laugh. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? I will never take interacting with people for granted again. I’m a bit of homebody, a loner and a hermit when I work; it’s rare for me to socialize with folks I’m working with, especially once shows are running. I will never take for granted the opportunity to build relationships with these special humans ever again. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. Well, to be frank, a lot of organizations have made lots of promises to the community about their focus on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and I certainly hope these promises are followed through. It would be a shame to spring right back to the kind of system we had before – it would feel bizarre at this point for both artists and audiences because the world as we know it is significantly different than where we were a year ago. Cultural shifts take time, so companies that funneled resources into this work last year are in way better footing to re-open in a better way this year *fingers crossed*. The ability to work online has presented opportunities for artists and organizations to collaborate on a national level, and that is a new thing that I hope we figure out how to bring into the off-line world. Theatres are speaking to each other, artists are speaking to each other, everyone is sharing resources and ideas, and a lot of the new works that have been developed in the last year have been influenced by folks Zooming in from around the country, and sometimes around the world. How cool is that!? I wouldn’t want to lose that connectivity. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. I was on a bit of a good, lucky streak of theatre work before the pandemic, and what was exciting about that was that it felt like I was getting to the point of playing the kinds of roles I wanted. So, there are roles I dream of playing, plays I dream of working on, directors I would love to collaborate with, and theatres I want to work at. I’d list them all but that’s more interesting to me than your readers. The only ‘agenda’ I’ve ever brought to my work is wanting young folks of color to see someone that looks like them be central to the stories they see on stage, and with the kinds of shifts I think we will see in the industry, that might be more possible than ever. That’s exciting. 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. OH FUCK NO! I’d rather see theatres stay shut (that’s mainly a joke) than see or work on anyone’s socially distanced, one-person, masked, plexi-glassed, piece about their pandemic sourdough starter and plant collection. Or anything about isolation for that matter. Absolutely not. No one that lived through this time will ever forget what it was like, and I don’t think we need it amplified in the theatre right out the gate. I think the superpower that theatre will have post-pandemic is to provide an escape and balm for what we all just went through, and to speak to the social and political shifts we have seen in the last year, in an artful way. I’m hungry to perform in something that will either make people belly laugh, cry a lot, be stunning to look at, or to be candy for my brain (or, ideally, all the above… with many people on stage…. not six feet apart). As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? (This feels like I’m writing my own eulogy, but here goes!) Ummm… I mean, I guess I want people to remember that the guy they saw in ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘The Neverending Story’ was kinda weird, but kinda funny, and it turns out he’s capable of a lot. And that his name rhymes with ‘awesome,’ but he’d rather people do the rhyming in their heads than out loud and in front of him. Follow Qasim on Twitter and Instagram: @theqasimkhan Previous Next

  • Musicals 'Inge(new): in search of a musical'

    Back 'Inge(new): in search of a musical' Now onstage at Toronto's Red Sandcastle Theatre Dahlia Katz. Foreground: Cory O'Brien. Background: (l-r): Astrid Van Wieren, Mairi Babb, Elora Joy Sarmiento Joe Szekeres An intelligent world premiere of a Canadian musical by Theatre Myth Collective about the roles we play in life. ‘Inge(New) is performed by a strong ensemble of theatre artists who tell the story with confidence. Bridget (Mairi Babb) shows up at an audition for the role of the ingenue in a soon-to-be-cast musical. Over her career, she has played every heroine from Juliet to Christine in ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Nevertheless, time marches on, and Bridget begins to realize perhaps she is not the young and impressionable ingenue from years (and shows) ago. Should she continue auditioning for such roles? Each time the musical accompaniment leads her in for her audition piece, Bridget doesn’t sing but instead speaks to an unknown individual out there in the dark. Is it the playwright? The director? The musical director? Others soon join Bridget on stage for the audition. There is bubbly Joy (Elora Joy Sarmiento) who idolizes and looks up to Bridget. The two of them worked together in another musical, but Bridget cannot recall working with Joy. The truth then comes out – both Bridget and Joy are auditioning for the same ingenue role. Gertrude (Astrid Van Wieren) next arrives. Throughout her career, she has worked with everyone in the business. Gertrude is at that stage in her career where she is no longer the ingenue but the bold, brassy, and seasoned performer who loves delivering that big 11 o’clock number in the second act. And there is Max (Cory O’Brien), the perfect-looking handsome leading man with a profoundly deep baritone/tenor voice who sweeps the ingenue off her feet. Director Evan Tsitsias’s cleverly written blur-the-lines Book connects the world of the theatre and real life regarding the roles we all play in life. I’m reminded of Jaques’ monologue from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’: (All’s the world a stage/and all the men and women merely players/They have their entrances and their exits/And one man in his time plays many parts…). One doesn’t have to be a theatre lover or aficionado to recognize how each of us becomes different things to different people. We’re husbands, wives, parents, lovers, partners, friends, siblings – the archetype list is endless. Sometimes we behave differently depending on that role or part and on the context of our relationship with others. Sometimes the parts or roles that we assume in relationships with others need repair or are unfixable. Irene Ly’s set design of brick wallpaper at the back of the stage showcases this reality. Some of the bricks are in complete disrepair while the cement in other parts still needs to be put together. Rachel Shaen’s lighting design mysteriously reminds the audience that we are sometimes in the realm of the present but can quickly revert to some painful reminders of the past. An overhanging bulb periodically makes a loud buzzing noise at various moments of emotional growth for the characters. This bulb reminded me of the ghost lamp in theatres that is turned on as everyone leaves for the night. Tsitsias’s script takes a deliciously ironic turn of events. Many plot surprises along the way are funny and poignant. Just to whet the appetite – while actors Bridget, Joy, Gertrude, and Max go from one theatre contract to the next in real life, ‘Inge(new)’ entwines their lives together where the audience learns more about Bridget’s life and where she is headed next. (Spoiler alert in this next sentence only – the title sort of gives away Bridget becomes a new person resulting from this moment in the theatre.) The cozy black box Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen Street East sets the audience smack dab in the heart of the plot action. The arm’s length intimacy from the stage thankfully allows the audience to clearly hear the messages conveyed through the songs. Acknowledgment of Music Director Kieren MacMillan in creating some fine vocal performance moments. I especially liked Gertrude’s song about why she wears rubber boots. Alexis Diamond’s lyrics with additional lyrics and music by Evan Tsitsias and Julia Appleton remain richly sharp thanks to the poetic-sounding language of the at times amusing and affecting subject material that moves the story along naturally. Evan Tsitsias soundly directs the production. There’s a clearly trusted and insightful vision in combining the world of musical theatre and personal relationships. It’s impossible not to be pulled into the lives of these four characters who tell the story with confidence and assurance. And this cast. Mairi Babb, Astrid Van Wieren, Elora Joy Sarmiento, and Cory O’Brien are WONDERFUL. They deliver four uniquely distinctive performances of tremendous conviction and ardent emotional passion for the subject material. They each have their own 11 o’clock numbers where I just sat back and allowed the sound of their voices and the messages of the songs to move me back and forth between the world of the theatre and real life. Final Comment: A treat and a joy to be able to see and experience a new Canadian musical at its birth. I certainly want to keep an eye on Theatre Myth Collective and see what Evan Tsitsias has planned for future. ‘Inge(new): In search of a musical’ represents why we must continue to get out and go to the theatre. Go see it. Running Time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. ‘Inge(new): In Search of a musical’ runs until June 4 at Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East. For tickets: redsandcastletheatre.com/tickets. THEATRE MYTH COLLECTIVE presents: ‘INGE(NEW): In search of a musical’ Book, Additional Lyrics: Evan Tsitsias Music: Rosalind Mills Lyrics: Alexis Diamond Add. Music/Lyrics: Julia Appleton Director: Evan Tsitsias Music Supervisor/Music Director: Kieren MacMillan Choreographer: Jen Cohen Set/Costume Designer: Irene Ly Lighting Designer: Rachel Shaen Stage Manager: Annasofie Jakobsen Producers: Lauren Welchner, Evan Tsitsias Performers: Mairi Babb, Cory O’Brien, Elora Joy Sarmiento, Astrid Van Wieren. Previous Next

  • Musicals Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

    Back Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre Joseph (Jac Yarrow) sings 'Close Every Door'. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann Joe Szekeres Joseph’s back, and it’s just as grand a storytelling spectacle of music, song, and dance as ever told by a uber multi-talented diverse cast. Wonderful entertainment. Toronto certainly needs Joseph’s story right now, and I for one am glad it’s back. Based on Joseph’s story from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, the Narrator (a lovely performance by an engaging Vanessa Fisher) tells the story of the young dreamer (Jac Yarrow) and his eleven siblings. Their father Jacob favours Joseph and, as proof of the affection, purchases a multi-coloured coat for his beloved son much to the brothers’ extreme chagrin, jealousy and resentment of both the young lad and their father. Joseph dreams he will rule over all his brothers one day which adds more fuel to the fire in their resentment of him. They plan to kill him but instead sell him into slavery to some passing Ishmaelites. To hide what the brothers have done, they and their wives tell Jacob that Joseph has been killed. We then are introduced to Joseph’s world as a slave where he meets some highly unusual individuals from the Book of Genesis. There is Potiphar and his wife (more about them shortly) who order Joseph to be jailed for a possible indiscretion with the lady. Act One concludes with one of the best versions of Joseph’s ‘Close Every Door’ I’ve heard in quite some time. In Act Two, the Narrator points out there is hope for the imprisoned Joseph thanks to The Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) who has been suffering from crazy dreams which cannot be explained. Joseph is then summoned to interpret what these dreams mean. As a result of Joseph’s interpretation, The Pharaoh makes him one of the most powerful men in Egypt. We then return to Joseph’s brothers who are suffering from a severe famine that has ravaged them all. The brothers are extremely sorry for their actions against Joseph and travel to Egypt to beg for food. Joseph’s brothers are not aware of who their brother is when they arrive and as they beg for food. Joseph consents to help but tricks them with something to see how they respond. When he realizes just how much his brothers have changed, Joseph reveals his true self to them and to his father. And there’s that terrific Megamix at the end. Well, where to start? Directed with an ardent passion for just plain ol’ fun in storytelling by Laurence Connor, this North American premiere becomes a struck oil gusher of music, dance, song, and spectacle for the holidays and the New Year. Joann M. Hunter’s athletic, high-step-kicking choreography is mesmerizing. The tap dance with Fisher and some of the brothers is perfectly executed. From my seat, I couldn’t see Ben Mark Turner in the orchestra pit (just his hand and baton periodically). Let’s just say Lloyd Webber’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics remain in masterful hands under Turner’s rockin’ musical direction. The only slight quibble I did have was in Gareth Owen’s sound design. There are a few moments in the brothers’ ensemble singing and in The Pharaoh’s Song where I couldn’t hear clearly all the lyrics. I’m a stickler for sound quality so, hopefully, this very minor issue can be resolved for future performances because it’s one helluva of a production not to be missed. Some very smart and creative choices were made for this production that nicely worked for me. For one, Morgan Large’s set design of Pharaoh’s court is awesome and the way it appears on the stage reminded me of something right out of the film version of ‘The Ten Commandments’. During the Pharaoh’s song, I really liked the enormously large religious Egyptian statue icons stages left and right both singing and bopping along with the music and playing instruments. Highly creative and very impressive. Another touch - local Toronto youth have been cast and a few of them play some of Joseph’s brothers which soundly worked for me because this shows us the diverse age range and body sizes of the brothers. What was also a nice touch was the young Jacob Davidov who played Potiphar at this performance. The young Davidov controlled the power of the moment when he, as Potiphar, sends Joseph to prison. For me, the strong visual impact of that moment is still in my head. At first, it put a smile on my face but, when I thought about it after, what if that was a possible historical reality that Potiphar may have been a small man? Additionally, Vanessa Fisher assumes the roles of both Jacob and Potiphar’s wife which was another effective choice made. It makes sense as it initially helps to keep the pacing moving along since the Narrator is on the stage at that point. However, what makes this ‘Joseph’ so unique is its diverse casting and seeing both Jacob and Potiphar’s wife played by the Narrator does leave a strong visual impact. Fisher is a terrific singer and her opening Prologue with the children is still poignant and sweet to watch as she sets the story. There are also some nice modern elements here too. At one point, Fisher takes a selfie with two of the kids. Jac Yarrow is a handsome and charming Joseph whose rendition of ‘Close Every Door’ soars to the rafters of the theatre clearly, forcefully, and meaningfully. This rendition is one that you must hear for yourselves. Personally, I can certainly understand why Lloyd Webber gave his blessing to Yarrow for the role because, in the end, we have seen the positive change in Joseph and what he has become – a man of honour, integrity, family and values. Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s Pharaoh is delightfully sexual campy and his performance of ‘Pharaoh’s Song’ is stellar. His Pharaoh reminded me of a marvellous cross between Elvis Presley (obviously), Rum Tum Tugger (of Cats) mixed in with just a hint of the look of Kanye West. Speaking of Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Theatre Company and their panoply of iconic shows. See if you can spot some of the Really Useful Theatre Company icons on the back wall near the end of the show. It was fun to pick out a few of them. (Hint: I immediately found the Phantom’s mask). The ensemble of Joseph’s brothers remains extraordinarily animated and focused on many of the choral numbers. ‘Those Canaan Days’ and the marvellously sounding vocal harmonies combined with the campy French accents resound clear up to the second balcony of the theatre. Another of my favourite numbers is the ‘Benjamin Calypso’ where Joseph recognizes just how sorry his brothers are for their behaviour. Again, pure fun on that stage with that message of forgiveness underneath the song. Final Comments: This ‘Joseph’ remains wonderful. Uplifting. We need this production now more than ever to help us continue moving forward out of Covid. I hear the production is Broadway bound. Let’s hope it makes it there to put a smile on audience's faces as it did on mine and those sitting around me (who weren’t wearing masks). A winner. Another of my picks to see this winter before it leaves in February 2023. Running Time: approximately two hours with one intermission. ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ runs until February 18, 2023 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets call 1-800-461-3333 or visit mirvish.com. JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOUR DREAMCOAT Lyrics by Tim Rice and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber Director: Laurence Connor Music Director: Ben Mark Turner Choreographer: Joann M. Hunter Sound Designer: Gareth Owen Lighting Designer: Ben Cracknell Set and Costume Designer: Morgan Large Performers: Jac Yarrow, Vanessa Fisher, Tosh Wanogho-Maud (plus many others listed in the programme). Previous Next

  • Profiles Frances Loiselle and Michael Williamson

    Back Frances Loiselle and Michael Williamson Emerging Artists Selfie Joe Szekeres As this Pandemic Profile series winds down, I thought it was important to check in with emerging theatre artists at the beginning of their careers and to see how they’ve been faring during these last sixteen months. Many of the seasoned artists to whom I’ve spoken are concerned and hopeful that the emerging artists have not been deterred or discouraged. Frances Loiselle and Michael Williamson have not been swayed at all as you will see from their responses below. If anything, both have faced the results of the pandemic head on with the knowledge that their careers may appear different looking ahead, but they will move forward and continue in a career which they still admire and appreciate. Loiselle and Williamson are both graduates of Toronto’s George Brown Theatre School. They have appeared in a variety of summer productions with Port Perry Ontario’s ‘Theatre on the Ridge’ with their most recent as Tinkerbell and Peter Pan in 2018. This summer, they will perform in a touring production of C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ around the Durham and Scugog Regions on your driveway, your front lawn or even on your street. I’ll include the link at the end of the profile. The three of us conducted our conversation via email: 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. FL: The pandemic was a good shattering of the illusion that anything about your life is remotely under your control. You can’t control anything; you can’t plan for anything. Things just happen to you, you accept, you change, and you continue. Covid, or more precisely folks responding to it, hit home with the reminder that we do not all experience this life, and this world, in the same way. There are some deep, deep injustices and inequalities constructed into the fabric of our society, by white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism, many of which by virtue of my privilege I could comfortably remain ignorant to. Many of them benefit me, as a white woman, and endanger and oppress others. They also steal a better, more just world away from all of us. The pandemic, as well as the enforced isolation and loss of employment, and most importantly the labour undertaken by many BIPOC activists, educators, authors, journalists, and peers in writing pieces, creating art and sharing knowledge, forced I think many of us to stop looking away and take some responsibility. The pandemic shook up the foundations of what I took as regular, every day, unchangeable life, and it made more possible the questioning of this state, these institutions, myself and my attitudes. I’m still very much learning. MW: I suppose for myself, the pandemic has shed a lot of light on my mental health. I think I have lived with a lot of things that I had been ignoring for most of my life, but the pandemic has aggravated those things enough that I think I am now starting to acknowledge them and work through them. So, the pandemic has definitely made parts of my life a lot more difficult but it is also giving me opportunities to face some of those things that I might have ignored for years to come. In regard to “the world I know” I think a lot of people are starting to become more aware of a world bigger than just themselves or the people they are in contact with. Through that, I think people are taking this opportunity to become much more active and really define themselves in what they stand for and what they can actually be doing to make the change they want to see in the world. 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? FL: I feel a little like a fraud, answering a question as a professional artist of the live theatre industry, because most of my time, and especially during this pandemic, I haven’t really gotten to be that. Just starting out, work as a professional artist can be few and far between. I think it has been an interesting time of all of us collectively getting to question, what is live theatre? My romantic notion of it is up on a stage, or at least in some in-person space, with an audience present. But I’ve seen some fantastic shows (and been a part of one!) that were definitely not film, not television, that were live, not exactly theatre, but this whole new entity. Initially, I wanted to entirely dismiss “zoom” theatre. I found it depressing, a pale imitation of reality, it didn’t offer to me anything I loved from in-person theatre. But I’ve changed my attitude on that because some great artists have made some cool stuff. MW: I think reinforced is a better word for me. I feel like through this shutdown of most live theatre it has only solidified my stance on the essentialness that is live theatre for society as a whole. Live theatre is a wonderful place to share and experience; be inside a room with many others as you all witness something going on in front of you. Whether that experience is funny, frightening, or riveting, you all are allowed to go through something in the same room while still being kept safe. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? FL: I miss being live, in theatres. Being around other bodies. Strangers gathered to witness a performance. Seeing real human people in front of me speaking, feeling, listening, sweating, and breathing, and breathing with them. Feeling the collective audience response around me, and not merely my own. The sense of, for a brief span of time, forming a small community, together. Being alone, in my bedroom, watching a screen, sometimes just feels lonely. MW: Working in a room with your whole team. There is no substitute. And while zoom and other mediums people have been using to work through are nice and provide a variety of comforts for everyone involved, nothing compares to the joy, unity, and cohesive strength that can come from working with your team face to face. 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? FL: The little in-between moments. The camaraderie you build with your collaborators when you sit down to eat lunch together, or warming up before rehearsal, or getting dressed before a show. The new relationships you get to build, the cool and interesting new people you get to meet. When you have to sit alone on your living room to warm up before your zoom show or wear a mask and move six feet apart as soon as you break for lunch, it’s difficult to make and enjoy those connections. MW: Probably the rehearsal room/stage. It provides such a wonderful freedom and atmosphere for everyone to create; to leave behind whatever else is going on that day, whereas when you are rehearsing at home everything serves as a constant reminder about your “non acting life”. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. FL: I’m hoping that there is a move away from the “you have to work yourself to the bone” attitude towards making theatre. To be honest, I was mostly trained and brought up in that attitude, and I was really devoted to it for a long time. You are taught that you have to work incredibly long hours, shirk all other responsibilities in your life, and experience incredible mental, physical, emotional strain to create good theatre. It was both an expectation and a behaviour that was rewarded. And I took pride in being tough enough to survive it, and it meant I had a very toxic attitude towards expecting others to do the same. But I’m coming across more conversations, now, and people speaking up, especially many artists who are often marginalized by these attitudes- Black and Indigenous artists, artists with disabilities, artists with young children- about how it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m trying to reconsider that assumption. First, it’s an extreme privilege to be remotely able to make theatre in that way. It assumes you don’t have loved ones to take care of, mental or physical health issues or differences of ability to accommodate, that you aren’t experiencing an additional, invisible burden of dealing with white supremacy inside and outside the rehearsal hall. “Working yourself to the bone” for theatre, for any art, really is just not an option for the majority of people, students, artists, arts workers. And it shuts them out. Second, it’s really not an option for anyone. It just burns you out and makes you want to quit. It makes you need to take time away to recover, if you’re lucky enough to be able to. Why am I having to recover from making art? I think the pandemic has been a part of it, of mine and other folk’s reconsideration around their devotion to “working to the bone.” There’s more conversations, now, about how people are doing, how long they can handle rehearsing on zoom. Maybe many institutions are doing it superficially? I hope not. It feels like a shift. I certainly hadn’t stopped to consider it until the pandemic. But I obviously want to acknowledge I didn’t suddenly come to realize this; a lot of artists have been speaking about this for a long time. I actually recently read Yolanda Bonnell speaking on this subject in another ‘Self-Isolated Artist’ interview for OnStage Blog. MW: Hopefully, demand for it! Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. FL: Um… everything? Quite a bit? I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished very much, yet. I’m not sure yet what I want to accomplish, what path I might take. I think my next step, for me, is finding more of a voice as an artist. My training and experience have been more as a facilitator of others’ voices. That is your work, as an actor. You are a collaborator, you contribute, and you help shape the piece, but (for me anyway) I don’t really feel I am a creator. I assist in the creation process. But I would like to also be an artist, with a voice, with something to share, and I just don’t really know what it is yet. I struggle with feeling I have anything of importance to share, really. I feel comfortable as an interpreter, and I want to develop my own voice. To do some of my own work. MW: Well there’s a lot of things here. I’m still very much starting out, so I have a pretty hefty bucket list but if I had to pick something I would say getting the opportunity to act alongside some of the actors I grew up loving in some mainstage show. 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. FL: We make art in response to life, to our lived experiences, our perceptions of this world. We make art to comment on, explore, reflect, celebrate, criticize, question, transform what we observe. So of course, with COVID having affected so many of us, in such different ways, all around the world, artists will want to respond. I think, or at least I hope, this doesn’t mean a very homogenous, repetitive slew of theatre pieces talking about the exact same experience of the pandemic, from the same perspective, with the same ideas, over and over. The pandemic has been many things. The pandemic has been about isolation and loneliness, about maintaining connection, and accepting solitude. It has been about the staggering inequalities and injustices in our society being laid so bare, becoming such a matter of life and death. It has been about loss. It has been a dystopian sci fi weirdness of masks and social distancing and mass vaccination clinics. We could make a lot of varied, interesting theatre out of all this. Especially if a huge diversity of perspectives and voices are given the money and support to do so, and not just a handful of old white guys who spent the pandemic safe in their living room trying to figure out how to share their screen on Zoom. MW: I don’t think it’s that difficult to piece together really. The Covid Pandemic has universally affected the whole world for over a year. I think whenever something like that happens a ton of art is created around that experience (any large war, the aids crisis to name a few). So much of art is based around sharing an experience with one another and Covid might be one of the biggest shared experiences we have had recently. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? FL: No idea! I still deeply identify with the label of “emerging artist.” I feel sometimes like I look at fellow “emerging artists,” my peers, and they seem to already be developing a strong vision, a confident voice, good relationships, be blossoming into lovely and interesting butterflies of artists. And I am still contorted in a safe gooey cocoon, existing as a half-formed mush of vague ideas and self-doubt. So my work, my artistic voice, still feels a little unknown. I guess, if it’s about the work I’ve done so far. I’d like to be remembered for my honesty. I’m still working on being honest with myself, with others, in my life. In my work, I always want to be honest. MW: I think it would be an honour to just be remembered outside my own circle of friends and family for my work. I think though for me, it's less about being remembered for my work and more being remembered for being someone people wanted to work with. To learn more about Theatre on the Ridge’s productions this summer and the touring production of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, please visit www.theatreontheridge.ca.You can also visit their Facebook Page: Theatre on the Ridge; Twitter: @TheatreOTRidge; Instagram: @theatreontheridgeportperry Previous Next

  • Musicals Peter Pan Musical adapted by Piers Chater Robinson

    Back Peter Pan Musical adapted by Piers Chater Robinson Staged at Oshawa's Regent Theatre and produced by Mansfield Entertainment --- Joe Szekeres Do I believe ‘Peter Pan’ deserves another round of storytelling? What’s different or unique this time around? We all know the story of Peter Pan and the Darling children as they travel to Neverland to battle Captain James Hook. It might be the J. M. Barrie story itself, the Disney animated film, the early/mid 60s musical that seemed to tour forever (Mary Martin as the original Peter Pan) or various versions of the play (one version was produced at Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge a few summers ago). Ergo I don’t really have to give that much of a plot summary. Simply put, it’s a story about young children and the inevitability that we all have to grow up sometime. For some, it becomes a natural part of life while others (like the title character) do not want to grow up. From what I understand, Oshawa’s Mansfield Entertainment secured the rights to the musical with the blessings of the adaptor Piers Chater Robinson. The poster for the production asks the question that is also one of the titles of the songs from the Second Act: ‘Do You Believe?’ Well, yes, I do believe in the power of theatre to move an audience. Theatre reviewers, critics, bloggers, and lovers always want to encourage audiences to go to the theatre to see a production. We don’t write for a theatre company, or the actors, or the production team. We write for the audience to let them know what we thought with the hope it will encourage others to attend. When a company calls itself professional, it must also be able to take all kinds of feedback. And was this opening night 2-hour and 35-minute performance of ‘Peter Pan Musical’ with tickets starting at $44 with tax (they go up in price the closer you get to the stage) worth it? I sat in these seats near the back of the auditorium. For the most part, yes, but there are some quibbles. ‘Peter Pan’ needs a good-sized stage to tell a story and it was a wise choice to stage it at Oshawa’s Regent Theatre. There’s no mention of a Set Designer in the program but that Mansfield Entertainment provided Sets and Props. The pre-show music was a bit puzzling as I heard a few ABBA synthesizer melodies from MAMMA MIA. I couldn’t figure out the connection between ABBA’s music and Peter Pan. Hmmmmmm. There were a few elements that worked well on the stage. Stage right is three beds angled which is the nursery in the Darling home. Stage left is the window angled and adorned with lace curtains from which Peter will enter and the children leave to fly to Neverland. One thing that kept annoying me throughout that first scene and at the end when we return to the nursery. Every time Peter entered through the window, it kept shaking and, at one point in the last scene of the second act I thought it would fall over. Can that somehow be stabilized because it spoils the illusion of wanting me to believe the sturdiness of the window if it wobbles. Lace curtains adorn the window. Lined wallpaper behind the children’s beds and the windows give some depth to the room. What was a nice touch was this backdrop slowly spun around for each of the scenes which added further depth to the setting of each scene. Bright green and fall colours clearly caught my attention and made the scene come alive. Hanging centre stage is a rectangular screen used for projections which add nuance to each scene. It was fine for me, but in the second act when Hook is at sea and we see the water behind, there are moments when it is apparent that we’re watching a film as it stops and starts. Andrew Nasturzio’s Costume Designs are eye-catching and highly colourful for the entire company. I must applaud Nasturzio for the hours that were probably spent in searching, coordinating and measuring each cast member for fittings. Colin Hughes’ lighting design finely accentuates each of the scenes whether it’s full lighting or effective hiding in the shadows. There were a couple of times when some of the ensemble were in the shadows and I couldn’t see their faces. Thanks to Dale Wakefield for the clear audio design. Again, there were moments where some of the dialogue was not clearly enunciated by some of the actors and I couldn’t hear it. That isn’t Wakefield’s concern, however, it’s the actors. At times, Tristan Matthews’ choreography was rather simplistic to the point it reminded me of some similar dance moves one might find in a high school musical production. Concluding a dance number with jazz hands didn’t cut it for me. One of the highlights of the production was the solid synchronistic work of Miguel Esteban and Diana Chappell as Music and Vocal Directors. Thankfully, save for one moment in Act One, there was never any overpowering of the seven-piece band members in the company musical ensemble numbers. Another highlight of the opening night production was the array of youthful up-and-coming 18 cast member talent that I hope to see in other productions soon. Space will not allow me to mention each, but I do want to highlight a few. Jeff Hookings becomes a dastardly devilish Captain Hook. Laura Denmar’s compassionately sensitive Mrs. Darling shone through beautifully in the last scene of Act Two. Enya Watson’s lovely singing voice coupled with a truly believable performance as the young Wendy on the verge of becoming a young woman was fascinating to see play out before me. As the title character, Kyra Weichert effectively assumes that youthfully genteel sense of abandonment in only wanting to focus on play and having Wendy as his ‘mother’ figure. In the last scene of Act Two, Weichert and Watson nicely juxtapose and share how growing up becomes a natural part of life. Joan Mansfield’s direction of the production at times is uneven. There are moments where the actors are simply placed on stage in what I call the ‘park and bark’ or ‘park and sing’ with no believability in how to get from Point A to Point B. Additionally, at times, there are a few moments where the play does come to life and then that needed energy quickly evaporates and dissipates. I felt the cast was uniquely sensing this on opening night and they were doing their utmost to bring the play back to life where it should be. Hopefully, as performances continue, that sense of the appeal of the life force can be reignited. Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes approximately. I kept my mask on in the theatre as did others I saw around me. However, there were many in the audience who did not wear masks. ‘Peter Pan, The Musical’ runs to July 24 at the Regent Theatre, 50 King Street East Oshawa. Tickets range from $44 - $67 with taxes included. For further information, please visit www.regenttheatre.ca or call 905-721-3399 extension 2. PETER PAN MUSICAL Produced by James and Joan Mansfield and MANSFIELD ENTERTAINMENT Book, Music and Lyrics by Piers Chater Robinson. Adapted from the play by J. M. Barrie Directed by Joan Mansfield Music Director: Miguel Esteban. Vocal Director: Diana Chappell Lighting: Colin Hughes Sound: Dale Wakefield Choreographer: Tristan Matthews Stage Manager: Kit Bauldry Featuring: Kayleigh Cerezo, Kaitlyn Coulter, Mercedes Davy, Laura Denmar, Peyton Garcia, Annabella Gulliver-Azevedo, Celeste Hauser, Tanner Homonko, Jeff Hookings, Brogan Nelson, Kelly Preeper, Jordan Robertson-Reid, Kelsey Robinson, Rebecca Rodley, Lucy Sanci, Amy Sarjeant, Enya Watson, Kyra Weichert Previous Next

  • Profiles Mike Nadajewski

    Back Mike Nadajewski Looking Ahead (courtesy of The Shaw Festival) Joe Szekeres Mike Nadajewski’s work has been extensive in the Canadian theatre cannon, and I’ve been pleased to have seen his work in the Stratford production of ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’ before it transferred to Broadway. Other memorable roles include ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at the Ed Mirvish Theatre and ‘Harvest Moon Rising’ (Talk is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ontario). Recently, I saw Mike read the role of Nick in ‘The Great Gatsby’ for Talk Is Free’s Theatre Dinner A La Art. I’ve always liked the Gatsby story and hearing it read made me hopeful that a play may be in the works sometime in the future. This summer, Mike will appear at the Shaw Festival. He speaks about his roles in one of his responses below. You will see Mike’s wit clearly in some of his responses below. To me, it appears Mike is the kind of guy who would be willing to say, “Let’s go for a beer.” We conducted our conversation via email as Mike is in the midst of rehearsals right now for Shaw. I do hope I get the chance to speak to him in person soon to say hello to him. Thank you for participating and for adding your voice to the series, Mike: 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. Well. First, I love these softball questions, Joe – nice n’ easy (!!!) What ever happened to, “How do you learn all those lines?” But seriously folks… Everything I say will be an understatement, no doubt, and my colleagues have spoken far more eloquently in your column than I can. (And now that I’ve hopefully lowered your expectations, buckle up for what can only be described as some primo insight.) When we were in the first months of this pandemic, I remember thinking how acutely I felt the loss of being able to gather. (See? Understatement.) I have the benefit of living with my family – a completely different experience from those who had to endure quarantine in isolation – and I still was completely blindsided by the realization of how deep this primal-gathering- need goes. The loss felt was grief, of course. We are hardwired to gather together and share ... something! Whether it’s art, food, religion, sports – we want to do it together and experience it together. What about those introverts, though? Well, I know a few of those (I’m also married to one!), and a lot of them got pretty tired of people saying to them: “Well, you’re probably fine with this, aren’t you?” Yes, at first, they were fine, but it wasn’t long before they weren’t, because once the choice of ‘going to that opening-night party or not’, or ‘grabbing that drink with colleagues or not’ is taken away from you, the power of choosing not to be social, so you can claim regenerative time for yourself, evaporates. I’m certainly not the first person to equate the gathering restrictions with feelings of grief. I often think, when it comes to any part of our quirky, uniquely contradictory and baffling array of human traits, “What’s the primal application here?” What purpose did grief serve our Cave-B&B ancestors when grief has the potential to shut you down completely? Of course, the other side of the grief-coin is love and attachment. I had never given much thought about the love and attachment I had for, well, just people. My fellow humans! And certainly not in this ultra-specific way. I’m already an empathetic sort. I’m an actor and I people-watch, and of course (on the inside), I watch myself interacting with people while I people-watch, and I’m kind of always taking notes on behaviour. And we all know what isolation does to people – it’s a form of torture and punishment in prisons, after all – so, within this context, I’ve been asking myself, “If contact is denied, is it an affront on our capacity for love?” Most of us have felt grief and heartache after a break-up with a partner, and when your heart is broken you grieve, and you’re generally not very interested in seeking out love again for a while. The COVID crisis has had kind of a similar effect on me. A kind of erosion has taken place. I remember last year being quite keen to gather as soon as possible. But over time, that keenness has been chipped away. This paralyzing, surgically precise attack on our second nature of passing touches, handshakes, hugs, and proximity, has slowly and rather insidiously eroded my desire to want to interact with people. Again, I have my family at home, and we get a lot of what we need from one another. In many ways – and please know I say this knowing that this has not been everyone’s experience – we have been incredibly grateful for this time as a family. But in other ways, it has turned me inward. I know we’ve all experienced this fatigue to some degree. I shudder to think of how our kids will be affected in the long run. I’ve got one of those (kids, I mean), and I think/hope mine will be alright – but what about the little-ones who are in their formative social-skill-building years? When it’s safe again to do so, it’s going to take time, along with some conscious effort, to find my way back to wanting interaction, even though I know I need it. 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 understanding and perception actually haven’t changed much, I’d say. Art finds a way. I’ve always known it could do this, but to actually witness and participate in this phenomenon has been pretty incredible. Artists will always find a way to make their art. I still think being able to congregate with a live audience and share stories together is an essential human experience and it’s not going away anytime soon (theatre has been dying for 4,000 years, after all). It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that our very humanity is centred around story-telling. Isn’t it funny that our TV’s are always desperately trying to evolve to become more and more “life like”? Higher definition, 4K, 8K, 12K, HDR, 3D, 50”, 75”, 85” screen sizes – this is technology jockeying to essentially replicate an immersive live experience. That’s not to say I don’t love story-telling in all mediums – film, television, video games, etc., but ultimately, at least for me, these are all placeholders for the real thing. What’s better than hearing your favourite band on your speakers or headphones? Seeing them LIVE! What’s better than seeing your favourite actor on screen? Seeing them LIVE! It feels as though LIVE shared experiences do something to us at the cellular level – or something. I don’t know! Dammit, Joe, I’m an actor not a …! By the way, have you noticed that everyone is obsessed with the arts? I’m not sure the greater population truly understands (which means our leaders probably don't understand) how artists touch everyday lives. All people want to do with their leisure time is read a book (written by an artist), listen to music (written by an artist), see a play (written and performed by artists), watch a film (created by artists), look at photographs (taken by artists), look at paintings (created by artists), read magazines (about artists) … this list is infinite. Art is how we survived lockdown! If I may indulge in a sweepingly general “our society” rant: Our society discourages, mocks, and dismisses its artists – these aggressions are received directly, indirectly, and systemically as well (you need to look no further than how the provincial government has abandoned the LIVE sector with confusing and unspecific guidelines for reopening). We even doubt our own worth: artists frequently discourage the next generation, telling them to, “Do anything else if you can”. I know this impulse comes from a good place, trying to give an honest reality check with statements like: “As an artist you will be underpaid, unappreciated, deemed expendable, a dime-a-dozen, seen as a free-loader, endure volatile income, it will be difficult to get a mortgage, better to have something to fall back on,” and so forth. I’ve heard them all. I’ll never forget the actor that came to my high school on Career Day. She basically said, “Don’t do it,” and that she was leaving the business. It was … really super inspiring (Can you see my eyes rolling? No? Cool.). But it’s not our fault that we feel devalued and feel the need to play the role of Dream Crusher to those hoping to make their way as artists. We need governments who understand the fundamental role artists play in our society. We need to seed long-term value in the arts. We need to foster the next generation of diverse artists from birth by funding access to the arts in all schools, including lower-income and diverse neighbourhoods. How about government funding for our major arts institutions that is on par with the support other arts organizations enjoy all over the world? I’m tired of artists needing to constantly shout from the hilltops, “ARTISTS ARE ESSENTIAL!” If you want a healthy, functioning, thriving society, ARTISTS ARE ESSENTIAL. Preaching to the choir here, I’m sure. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the spontaneity of art popping up where you least expect it: a reading at someone’s house because they’ve just finished their play and need to hear it read out loud; a coffee concert, a grassroots project some folks are just throwing together, catching that show that’s only open for a weekend, an exhibit at that gallery. You know – Living Art. 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? Well, I’m lucky. I have already returned to theatre with outdoor rehearsals for Charley’s Aunt and Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse c/o the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. It is a well-known fact, but always bears repeating, that the Shaw Festival's handling of the crisis last year under the leadership of Tim Carroll and Tim Jennings (and the remarkable team behind them) was absolutely LEGEND – they managed to keep all of their artists employed throughout the entire summer by creating the Education and Community Outreach Specialists (ECOS) program. Many have also benefited from the mastermind running Talk Is Free Theatre (in Barrie, Ontario), Artistic Producer Arkady Spivak, who kept artists working throughout the winter months with a variety of innovative online projects. But to answer your question, what will I never take for granted? ‘Leaders who value artists.’ Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I feel like just before the pandemic hit we were beginning to see a shift in the culture with regards to providing theatre artists with a better work/life balance. I first began to see the change with Talk Is Free Theatre’s shorter rehearsal days and two-day weekends (a weekend!? — *gasp* — just like a real person!), as well as supporting artists with families by supplementing child-care costs, among other ground-breaking initiatives. I’ve noticed the Shaw Festival has endeavoured to give ensemble members a two-day weekend during rehearsals whenever possible, which is a terribly difficult thing to do, given how complex The Shaw’s repertory schedule is. It’s also worth mentioning that The Shaw has occasionally made allowances for artists to “call out” of a show to attend a loved one’s wedding (this was unheard of in the non-profit theatre world not too long ago!), as well as being able to attend funerals for people not directly connected to the artist’s immediate family (all of this with the caveat of having a rehearsed understudy, of course). I hope this trend continues – this holistic approach will only benefit the art in the long run. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. What I must still accomplish? Well, before I can answer that, I first need to acknowledge my position of privilege. Talking about this is tricky – I’m not looking to explain away my ‘benefitting from being a white dude in the arts’ by just saying I’m aware of it (this is one of the many, MANY reasons why I keep off social media, because saying anything like this can often be interpreted as virtue signaling and performative – but here I go.) I’m a white dude in the arts. I’ve worked at Canada’s major theatre festivals for the majority of my career. And yes, work ethic, yes, talent, yes, handsome … (Anyone? Anyone? No? Cool.) … yes, drive, yes, yes, yes – but I still have to acknowledge the fact that I will never fully understand the degree to which white privilege has played a role in my success in this industry because it’s so deeply baked into the DNA of everything I touch! Learning that I’ve been unknowingly complicit in upholding systemic biases by merely participating in this industry is mind blowing – another devastating realization afforded by this pandemic. But I own a home. I have a family. I live in a safe neighbourhood. I often have work to look forward to. I can even look back to my early beginnings in high school when I was first cast as the Emcee in Cabaret – I remember being told I looked like Joel Grey! I looked the part. There is no denying that I am a white artist who has benefited. So, what do I need to accomplish? Well, I am not an activist, and I am not an outspoken person in the room, it’s just not my nature (if anything, I am more peacemaker than instigator), but I want to be an ally. So, I need to do my part, however small, to help facilitate the deconstruction of systemic biases that are inherent in the system. By doing what? Well, I’m not always sure. As actors, we don’t have a lot of agency, but I need to actively look for opportunities to nudge things in the right direction, including (but not limited to) recommendation requests, seeing and supporting diverse artists with my ticket purchases, educating myself, educating my son, and a healthy dose of listening. I also hope that someday I get to be in plays that tackle this issue head on. I may not have the words to express it, but I know some brilliant artists who do! 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. Isn’t it fascinating that there wasn’t a “tsunami” of stories after the last pandemic 100 years ago? I wonder if the feeling back then was, “No one wants to see or hear about that anymore!” I suppose the one big difference between then and now is, well, we have therapy. We know the value of healing through talking about things that are hard to talk about (yes, oversimplified). And truly, who could ask for a better backdrop to tell their story than this shared, visceral experience we’ve all endured together? A fascinating exploration for those on either side of the footlights! I cannot wait to hear all the unexpected stories about the times we’re living in. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences remember about you? My curls. I don’t know. Who cares about me? As my friend and colleague Mike Shara says, (an actor I’ve admired greatly ever since my early days at The Shaw), “No one knows who the hell we are!” I love to make people laugh, I love to sing, and I love to act in compelling, potentially moving stories that hopefully resonate with people in profound and/or carefree ways. If I’m remembered for any those things: Aces! If not, then, sure the curls. To learn more about The Shaw Festival, visit www.shawfest.com . Facebook: @shawfestival Twitter: @ShawTheatre. Previous Next

  • Profiles Nathan Carroll

    Back Nathan Carroll Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Wade Muir To connect with Wade, visit https://wademuir.ca . Joe Szekeres Again, I’ve recognized Nathan Carroll’s name when I had seen he had read and liked some of the profiles I’ve been compiling throughout this pandemic. I was wracking my brain in trying to remember where I’ve seen him perform. And it’s wonderful when the artist sends me their bio and I can then say, yes, I’ve seen that particular production. Nathan has performed on stages across Canada, from Vancouver to Charlottetown. His credits include: Next to Normal (Musical Stage Co./Mirvish) (saw this one), Hook Up (Tapestry/Theatre Passe Muraille), Vimy (Western Canada Theatre), Once (Mirvish) (saw this one), and The Book of Esther/Bordertown Café (Blyth). A graduate of George Brown Theatre School, he has been a member of 3 Dora Award-winning ensembles. Nathan lives in Toronto with his dog Henry. We conducted our conversation via email. Thanks, Nathan, for your time: 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? It has been a rollercoaster, and I feel for anyone who has had to deal with my rapidly shifting moods. The lows have been low. But the highs have been, surprisingly, high! The week the pandemic was declared, I came down with another virus that laid me out for a month and continued to make me sick until November. Add a bad living situation and the evaporation of every industry I was working in at the time, and I went dark quite quickly. I remember recoiling at the very idea of participating in online theatre. Things turned around in the late spring when I developed a more positive POV, kicked out my freeloading roommate, and felt the summer coming. Forced to be alone with my thoughts (terrifying!), without the validation of work (I live for the applause, applause, applause), and dating a couple of flakey guys (fair in a global emergency!) combined into an intense period of personal growth. It sucked at the time, but I’m grateful for it now. I am fortunate that my family has been healthy. They’ve all experienced their own challenges, from my brother’s endless Zoom meetings my older sister taking care of 2 teenagers, but we’ve so far been spared the loss of anyone close to us. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? I’ve oscillated between (short) periods of intense productivity and (longer) periods of ennui. I have also tried to change my relationship to the ‘less productive’ periods and get out of the mindset that says I have to accomplish things to have worth. After those dark first few months of the pandemic, I realized I needed to change my daily routine to try and pre-empt a more serious depression. I, with extreme reluctance, tried to do something physical every day (doing yoga in a basement with low ceilings did not inspire joy) and threw myself headfirst into a few creative projects. I’ve never been able to work slowly and consistently on personal projects. But I do well when I give myself deadlines, writing challenges, and to-do lists. I scheduled a Zoom reading with some actors who have been generously helping me develop my play Cenotaph. This forced me to finish a draft worthy of their talents and watching Yolanda Bonnell, Aldrin Bundoc, Graham Conway, and Michael Chiem read my silly play lit a much-needed fire under my ass to keep writing. After 4 years of procrastination, I finally started a YA novel about an experience I had being gay at a Baptist church camp. And my good friend Fraser Elsdon had the idea to co-write a Christmas rom-com which we outlined together on video calls, providing some much needed social engagement at the same time. Though I famously have no attention span, I decided quarantine might a good time to try and watch more films. I made a list of movies I’d never seen, like The Royal Tenenbaums and 9 to 5 and Breathless, and made watching a movie the ‘thing I was doing’ each evening instead of just listlessly wandering around my apartment wondering why my dog wasn’t laughing at my jokes. Of course, I couldn’t keep up with the freakish expectations I set myself for longer than a few weeks, but it did help kick me out of my funk. Since then, after a summer I spent selling cookies and hanging out at Hanlan’s Point, I’ve been working on a few different things. I started as Assistant General Manager with the Paprika Festival in the fall, the workshop facilitation I do with Canvas Arts Action has shifted online, and I’ve been teaching guitar lessons through Project Humanity’s CAPP program. Commercial and film/tv auditions have picked up a little, and I’ve been working on developing some of my own projects in that medium. But mostly I drink coffee, spend a lot of time on Twitter, procrastinate doing my daily yoga, and hang out with my dog! 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? I hesitate to describe this year as any one thing but, sadly, this year has felt like an escape in some ways. The theatre industry is dysfunctional, and there are aspects of our industry I’ve been relieved to take a break from. It’s been nice to get away from the hustle. From being underpaid (it was hard to realize how much more financially stable I felt on CERB than I have on most of my theatre contracts). From being looked down on by a large segment of society. From nepotism and bullying and sexual harassment. Start talking about racism and shadeism and misogyny and fatphobia and transphobia and femmephobia and ableism, and that dysfunction becomes even more clear. Yes, we appear to have begun to take some of these things seriously, but I can’t imagine someone who has experienced these forms of discrimination not experience some reprieve when the industry paused. 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 decided early on that I wouldn’t try to predict the future of the pandemic or when we might be able to perform live theatre again. Even epidemiologists don’t know for sure. I’ve never been particularly good at staying in the moment. I’m always planning ahead, setting goals and then working towards them. Sometimes I even have a hard time doing something as simple as drinking my coffee in the morning. I literally wonder if I’m ‘enjoying it enough.’ And it’s impossible to enjoy something if I’m wondering if I’m enjoying it……. It’s amazing how my brain can invent problems where none exist. As terrible and depressing as the pandemic has been, I’ve taken it as a forceful reminder that I can’t predict the future, and that I can always do a better job of living in the moment, even if the moment is feeling pretty shitty. I’ve tried to practice being present, and ok with not thinking months in advance like I’m used to. It may not be a popular take, and I’m certainly not suggesting that others should take the same approach, but I decided early on to assume that I’ll never act in live theatre again. I knew that having expectations to be back onstage in a month, 3 months, a year, or 3 years—and then experiencing the disappointment of another cancellation—would be hard on me, so I moved forward with no expectation that I’ll get to perform at any point. My mom is a therapist, and one of the things she’s taught me is that imagining the worst possible outcome and accepting that possibility can curb acute anxiety. I often feel more stress imagining the bad things that could happen than I feel when the bad thing actually does happen. Imagining my future without theatre and accepting that possibility has stopped me from the stress that comes from guessing and predicting and worrying. But I know how fortunate I am to have had 10 years of experiences as an actor and feel intense sympathy for artists at the beginning of their careers. Do I actually think theatre won’t come back? No. I know we’ll get back to it at some point. I am just trying hard to stay present and enjoy the time I’m being given to explore other paths my life could take. 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? I think we’ve made ‘entertaining’ a dirty word in the theatre industry. I don’t agree that it’s more important for theatre to ‘transform’ the actor and the audience than it is for theatre to entertain. To be honest, I don’t exactly know what ‘transform’ is supposed to mean. Maybe the fact our society doesn’t value entertainment as something worthy of investment and respect has made us shy away from the idea of entertainment being enough. But it is enough that theatre is entertaining. COVID has made us realize how important entertainment is. People are getting through this time by watching TV and films and stand-up comedy and Zoom panels and listening to podcasts and reading books and laughing at tweets and Tik Toks. Many of my favourite TV shows, like Broad City and Key and Peele and Arrested Development and RuPaul’s Drag Race, aren’t necessarily ‘transformative.’ But that doesn’t diminish their value. They are—to me—just as essential as shows that aim to be profound. Similarly, many of my favourite theatre experiences, like School Girls: The African Mean Girls Play, Urinetown, and Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, have been entertaining above all else. They’ve also been indelible, but they wouldn’t have been so if they weren’t first and foremost entertainting. And I don’t think COVID has changed my understanding of theatre or where it is headed. I think the powers-that-be have always known theatre should be more inclusive. It just hasn’t been in their own best interest to make those changes. Theatre has always needed to appeal to a younger audience. Part of that is making sure theatre is entertaining and another part of it is giving opportunities to new and younger voices without waiting for them to be ‘established’ or a ‘safe bet.’ COVID didn’t teach us either of these things, it just gave us the space and time to think more about them. 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 actually picked up a copy of Zoe’s autobiography during quarantine. I’ve looked up to her since I was a teenager. Though I’ve never seen her work, I was obsessed with the history of the Stratford Festival as a kid. The Michael Langham-directed Antony and Cleopatra with Caldwell and Christopher Plummer was, by all accounts, one of the biggest touchstones of Stratford’s ‘Golden Age,’ alongside Langham’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Robin Phillips Measure for Measure with Martha Henry and Brian Bedford, and the John Hirsch Three Sisters with Henry, Maggie Smith, and Marti Maraden. I ate up every story I could find about these productions and dreamed of working there. I’m not sure that I agree with Zoe. I don’t know that danger is what we should be aiming for. The best work requires risk, absolutely. Making the choice that isn’t obvious, that will surprise the audience, that might not work. But danger makes me think of fear. I’ve done some of my worst work as an actor when I’ve been afraid. A lot of this was in theatre school, taught by people who had worked with these directors from Stratford’s ‘Golden Age.’ And instead of challenging me to produce work filled with boldness and risk, their techniques scared and humiliated me into creating work that was stifled and small and terrified. Because the shadow side of those Stratford tales I didn’t read about included bullying, abuse, fear, and manipulation. I know this because actors have told me what it was really like, and the danger that accompanied the idea of speaking up. And yes, actors like Zoe were fortunate to thrive in those environments and produce iconic portrayals of Shakespeare’s great characters. But I know what other actors and stage managers endured at the same time. And I think Zoe would have been brilliant as Cleopatra without feeling danger. I’ve been lucky not to feel real danger during COVID. However, the perspectives from artists who have bravely shared when they’ve felt in danger at work (like the #InTheDressingRoom hashtag and the Black Like Me: Behind the Stratford Festival Curtain discussion) have shifted and augmented how I will approach the work when we are able to return to it. 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 can’t conceptualize a more sensitive way I’ll approach theatre as a result of the COVID pandemic, though I do think I will bring a new gratitude to the work when I’m able to return to it. I’ve learned a lot about society and the world during this time, but COVID didn’t mark the start of the learning. Some of the issues that we’ve seen come into the limelight since the pandemic began—like racial injustice, police brutality, inequity in the healthcare system, anti-Indigenous violence, and the ultrawealthy profiting while the most marginalized struggle—have existed for centuries. It’s great to see people engaging with these issues, and there is always more for me to learn, but I know it’s been exhausting for some watch people ‘discover’ their existence during this time. By no means am I trying to brag about my own ‘wokeness’, I just think these things have been visible for a long time, and it’s been weird to witness a sudden interest from the majority of people around me in something I’ve seen marginalized artists speaking loudly about and trying to bring attention to for a very long time. 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? I’ve become curious about a lot of things in the past 10 months. COVID has granted me more time to watch film + tv, I resubscribed to the Toronto Star and have the time to read the Saturday and Sunday paper throughout the week, and I inhale hours and hours of podcasts while I walk my very active dog. I started dating someone from Azerbaijan in the Fall, and through discussions with him and some articles and podcasts I became curious about the history of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well at the history of the region, from the Ottoman Empire to the Soviet Union. Being able to admit that I had hardly heard of Azerbaijan before I met my boyfriend, it’s been a good opportunity to become more aware of both the history and current affairs of the Caucasus. Probably my favourite tv series I’ve watched since this all started has been Veneno, about the life of Cristina Rodrigues Ortiz, an iconic trans woman who rose to prominence in Spain in the mid-90s. I’ve become incredibly curious about her life and the lives of other women in her orbit since watching the show, and am also fascinated and inspired by how the series was made, with a commitment to cast trans actors in trans roles—including the actors who did the English dub. One of my favourite books I’ve read in quarantine was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which was awarded the Pulitzer back in May. Because it’s based on a real school in Florida, it sparked my curiosity and led me to do research on the real-life situations the book was based on. There are some horrific parallels between this school (the Dozier School for Boys) and the residential school system in Canada, which I’d read about in books like Seven Fallen Feathers and Indian Horse. These books, along with a long article about youth detention centres in the Star, led me to research the Sprucedale Youth Centre in my hometown—where my friend’s father worked and where we even held our elementary school track meets every year. But the biggest area I’ve been curious about, and the direction COVID has specifically encouraged me to move in, is towards film + tv. I have great admiration for the artists who are exploring what live theatre looks like in a pandemic, but I am personally using this time to learn more about screenwriting and how to produce film. I’ve been chatting with some incredible young filmmakers, have a few projects in development, and am learning as much as I can about the medium in the hopes that I can find a way to bring the skills I’ve acquired as a producer and theatre artists to the world of film + tv. To connect with Nathan, Twitter: @nnncarroll / Instagram: @wademuir Previous Next

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