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  • Profiles E B. Smith

    Back E B. Smith Self Isolated Artist James Banaziak Joe Szekeres Just this past Saturday June 6, The Stratford Festival held ‘Black Like Me past, present and future: Behind the Stratford Curtain’ round table discussion involving 10 black artists on its social media channels. I didn’t get the opportunity to watch the discussion until Sunday evening, and all I am going to say is this is essential must-see viewing for patrons of the Festival. I was shocked, angered, annoyed (and these are only three words) to hear of the abuses suffered and endured by black artists. Absolutely deplorable behaviour on all accounts. After I watched the round table discussion, I immediately sent a message to EB Smith who was a member of the panel to ask him if he might be available for an interview. I wasn’t sure if he would be up for one since he and the other artists shared emotional moments where I often wondered if they would even be willing to speak about them again. As I was writing the message to EB, he started responding back to me. I was most appreciative when he said he would be interested in being interviewed. His calm eloquence combined with just the right moments where he made me laugh made for a fascinating Zoom discussion: 1. It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation. Just yesterday I finally saw ‘Black Like Me: Behind the Stratford Curtain’ and, right now, I have no words as I am stunned. How have you been doing with this pandemic and now having to deal with this awful reality which has been obviously going on at the Festival for quite some time? How has your immediate family been doing during this time? I’m doing great. This time is very interesting. The pandemic is hard in some ways. Routine has been shaken, and we’re all trying to figure out who we are in isolation. That’s a scary prospect for a lot of us as that requires navel-gazing and self reflection. But I think it’s also allowed people to listen in more genuine ways than they have in a long time. This industry because it’s stopped has been able to look at itself. For the first time in my career or education frankly, I feel like I’m not being gaslighted. My immediate family is okay. My parents and my grandmother live together in Cleveland. I think they’re doing fine. It’s crowded in the house and they might be getting a little tired of each other. They get to be with people they love so there could be worse fates. 2. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally during this pandemic? Most difficult thing professionally for me, I guess, has been trying to figure how to get this message out. I think part of the reason why it’s coming to the surface for so many of us right now is the power structures of this industry have shifted fundamentally. Actors feel like they can speak their minds right now because they’re not afraid of any kind of retribution. Look, right now, there’s not a single artistic director in the world that can give me a job, so I have no fear of losing a job to anybody. Reality is starting to sink in across the industry where folks are finally taking agency that they haven’t given themselves licence to take yet, and I don’t blame them. There are a lot of actors out there and very few jobs in the theatre. So, if you make those enemies of powerful people you run the risk of running afoul of them and losing employment. Losing the ability to do the work and it’s always been assumed that the price for doing the work is a forfeiture of your agency. Personally, it’s a little weird going to the grocery store and wearing a mask. Trying to remember not to touch your face and all the other stuff we didn’t think about before. It’s strange when I really take a good look at this time of isolation, I’m doing better than I have done in years. And I think it’s because I don’t have to walk into a place that I have to convince myself every day isn’t harming me. I love the theatre and what I do. The conditions under which we do this work are toxic and deadly. And there’s no reason for it. That’s ultimately what I’ve realized. I don’t miss being responsible for having to take care of people’s feelings, emotions, impulses that impinge upon my own agency, freedom, and ability to live. I don’t miss having to take care of that white fragility in the room. And that was an everyday balance you have to strike. What I do miss is speaking the words and telling the stories. I miss playing with my friends on stage. That is why I do this. I think my experience of this social isolation is unique in some ways. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about finding release in it. Financially it’s hell, and that’s a common experience. I used to think the financial stresses were the things that really stressed me out. I tell you something, I’ve been on the edge this whole time. And I’m fine. The variable I was missing was walking into a rehearsal hall where I knew I had to be on guard 24/7. 3. 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 in rehearsals for ‘Richard III’ and ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’ at the Festival Theatre. I was set to begin rehearsals for ‘Hamlet 911’ last week. We were well in process for a few weeks of rehearsal for staging and doing our thing. It was exciting because the new Tom Patterson was opening so these shows were going to be in the brand-new building. It was jarring like being launched out of a canon and there’s no netting beneath you. We were in the middle of rehearsal and things started getting a little weird as there was some strange disease happening in the world. Then it got closer and closer and closer. We went through a few surreal days weird rehearsals where we tried to be socially distant and it didn’t work. It was very odd, but ultimately it was clear we had to stop. We walked away from the rehearsal halls. I’m not an epidemiologist so I have no idea if whether Stratford will be able to present this slate of plays for next year. Personally, I think it’s probably ambitious. I hope Stratford does a season next year. The sooner we can get theatre going again, the better in terms of organizational health and the health of the industry. I do hope that, in the meantime, we make some fundamental changes in the way we do business in this industry. The not for profit theatre is broken. Theatre is broken in general. The practices we employ are outmoded and catered to a white supremacist patriarchy that just isn’t helpful in making art. It needs to be addressed. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Well, actually, I’ve been working with some friends of mine in launching a company called Ghostlight which is an online theatre training and education company. We’re trying to engage our students with material they won’t gather in theatre school. We want to develop and work with diverse stories. We also have digital production services. We’re doing online live-streamed productions of theatrical work and interview style productions. I’m writing a pod cast with a friend of mine from Atlanta. Generally just trying to keep myself engaged in what’s happening in this industry and how to move forward with it once we’re able to resume. The thing about this discussion this week – for me, it has been going on for twenty years for me. This has been my life for twenty years trying to say, “Look, something’s wrong.” I love this work but something’s wrong, so we gotta fix it, we gotta fix it, gotta fix it. And finally, those messages have gotten some traction from people of colour in this industry. Some of my white friends have been in touch this last week with me to ask, “Are you okay, this is a lot of work going on.” And I tell them, “I haven’t been okay since Rodney King got beat up. Since I’ve been old enough to recognize my relationship to the world as a black man, I’ve not been okay. I’ve been able to manage but I haven’t been good. Is now what’s happening a new revelation for me? I got news for you. And that’s why I said earlier in the interview, that’s why I’m not feeling like I’m being gaslighted by my industry and my chosen profession. It goes further. Part of the reason why this discussion was so impactful was the fact it was solution-oriented. It was the black artists’ decision to broadcast because we have to build the empathy first done through narrative first. When empathy is built, we have connection and then a solution with the motivation there to attack it. This was a unique opportunity to speak with the entire community. 5. 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? Don’t panic. We’re going to come back. When is in question, but in the meantime tell stories however you can. Use your imagination – digitally, socially distant, online, YouTube, stream. Even telling stories around a campfire is the first form of theatre. This isolation is a reset button. We’re giving a rebirth to the industry all over again. At the end of the day this is about the people. I think the institutions can forget all that. You cannot have a play without the actors performing. I don’t care what the stage looks like. Get back in touch with that across the industry. That’s what’s critical. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19? All of this is positive. Look, we’re sitting in a place where we have 18 months of reconstruction we can do. We can do nothing, sit around and let the theatre re-boot itself, or we can re-design this industry to be empowering, to be collaborative, and to be all that it hasn’t been for a hundred years. I think that’s an amazing gift, as tragic the cost of that gift, we’ve been given it and we have to honour that cost with really hard work. When we come back, we have to re-focus our energies on people and not profits. 7. Do you think ‘Behind the Stratford Curtain’ will leave some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I’m reminded from a line by Shakespeare – “We know not what we do.” The Festival didn’t know the damage they had done. A lot of arts leaders right now are having this epiphany. When I hear of people’s reactions, white artistic directors about all this, I’m reminded of ‘King Lear’ – “I’ve taken too little care of this.” They’re realizing they’ve had a responsibility they’ve neglected in terms of the shepherdship of this industry. So much of the power structure in the rehearsal room is an import that favours a top down patriarchy. It’s a way to do theatre, but not the only way to do theatre. But the buck has to stop somewhere. There are so many other practices to employ that would allow people to have a much fuller and freer engagement with the work. Who are we talking to in the industry? Who is the master in this industry? It’s not just removing detrimental practices, but you have to replace them with something. 8. 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? Sure. I think so. We’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s not new technology. We’re figuring out ways of utilizing it, but it’s nothing new. Look, one of things it has always been is theatre is inaccessible. And theatre has always touted itself as an exercise in empathy, universal experience. But, at the end of the day, you’re not allowed to come see a Shakespeare play unless you have $200.00. Or, you go to see Shakespeare in the Park. To get the experience of something like Stratford, you need a lot of money. It’s a lot of money for some people. This online work can bridge that divide because everyone has a cell phone. Way more people have access to YouTube than they do to a theatre. If we can start to figure out how to utilize that accessibility, we’ll fill our theatres up again. We’ve been looking at the writing on the wall for years that attendance has been dwindling at theatres. So, I think we need to be realistic about that and say, “It was time for a pivot, anyway.” No amount of outreach is going to do that. We need new practices, we need a new approach to how we tell stories and what the impact of live performance is. If we can figure out how to distribute the weight of what we’re doing across the platforms, it can only serve to help us. It’s a diversification of a portfolio. I’m all for figuring this stuff out. Streaming could be great and these immersive experiences that we might be able to create one day. Ghostlight is looking into that heavily right now because we want to free people from the Zoom window because it’s terrible. But there must be ways we can utilize technology in terms of innovation and theatrical experiences. The entire experience doesn’t have to happen in a theatre, perhaps part of it can happen online. Or it’s personalized. You can personalize with technology, but you can’t personalize for 300 people watching a live performance all at once. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but that’s what professional theatre has the time for right now. 9. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion of Covid and of ‘Behind the Stratford Curtain’ reality, what is it about performing that neither of these will ever destroy for you? We did a Ghost light broadcast called ‘Friday Night at the Ghost Light’ about a month and a half ago. In it, Torquil Campbell (son of Stratford Festival veteran Douglas Campbell). He played a song. Graeme played Torquil excerpts from an interview done with his father. Douglas talks in those audio clips about the ectoplasm. And that’s what I miss. I miss those moments that you cannot recreate anywhere but on stage. I miss playing with my friends. I miss the opening scene of ‘Coriolanus’ where I sat across from Tom McCamus and got to mess with him. I miss those moments of the bar of soap look where the actor dries as if the bar of soap just slipped out of their hands in the shower. I miss the vitality. I don’t miss the building and the lights – it’s fun and beautiful. What I miss are the human moments. 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: 1. What is your favourite word? Fuck! (EB says this with a definitive tone in his voice) 2. What is your least favourite word? No. 3. What turns you on? Hmmm…A specific and excellent use of language. 4. What turns you off? An unappreciation of the difference between there, they’re and their. 5. What sound or noise do you love? I love the sound my dog makes when he sees another dog. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? The sound of my cat scratching in the litter box. I hear a lot of these things right now ‘cause I’m not around other people. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Fuck. b) What is your least favourite curse word? (thanks to Nigel Shawn Williams for this suggestion) – Least favourite curse word? Damn it, Nigel…you gotta give me a minute there, Joe…I don’t know. I love words. Cursing for me is one of the more honest forms of expression. My least favourite curse words are the ones they dub in on movies for television. 8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? I could see myself doing a lot of things. Pilot probably. I learned how to fly when I was a kid. I almost did it for a career but that would have involved going into the military and I didn’t want to have to kill anybody. So I became an actor. 9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Accountant. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? Oh, that’s a good question…”How did you get here?” Follow E. B. on Social Media: Twitter: @starringeb Instagram: @storyforge Previous Next

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

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

  • Solos Review: BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY

    Back Review: BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY David Mirvish and Past Future Productions Cylla Von Tiedemann Joe Szekeres A charismatically charming Jake Epstein makes this ‘Boy’ soar past the rafters of Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. I’m probably one of the very few who never watched the Degrassi series with Jake Epstein and a whole bunch of young talent. True, there were moments when I was teaching back in the 90s where I was aware of some youth issue the kids were talking about from the show and perhaps, I may have caught a mention of its message from that highly regarded bastion Entertainment Tonight (it’s okay to read sarcasm here). Or, I may have listened as the kids talked about the episode at school. So, I never knew of Jake. When I began reviewing, I did hear of his name and that of his older sister, Gabi, whom Jake affectionately and playfully mentions in this impressive solo show backed by three hardy musicians (Musical Director, David Atkinson, Lauren Falls and Justin Hall) who look as if they’re having a great deal of fun. Jake surely was having fun from what I could see. In the programme artist note, he calls ‘Boy Falls from the Sky’ a revealing solo show when it first made its appearance at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The title refers to a song from the controversially doomed for so many reasons Broadway show ‘Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark’ in which Jake appeared as central character Peter Parker. Once again in the programme, Jake stated the metamorphosis of ‘Boy’ started with a question: what do you do when life disappoints you? Well, Jake, it might be an over used and tired adage, but from hearing what happened to you in the lows of disappointments, you kept going. I respect that tremendously. And what of ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ and its opening night at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra? The youthful, boyish, lanky Epstein is one helluva classy artist, fine showman and arresting entertainer. His humble performance style radiates brightly as he shares some strong life lessons in the business he obviously carries forward to this day without any remorse or regret. Developed with attention and directed with insightful theatrical vision by Robert McQueen, Epstein’s engaging script beautifully comes full circle where I felt that everything that needed to be said about Jake’s journey was shared with us. For those who may not consider themselves theatre-oriented, ‘Boy’ still speaks universally. We’ve all had jobs in our lives where we kept wondering if we should quit or not. We’ve all faced disappointments in our jobs and careers. And we’ve all encountered those individuals and their quirky idiosyncrasies who make the job memorable. Brandon Kleiman’s split level set design fits the Alex stage perfectly. The floor is diamond shape where Epstein steps off periodically and walks along the apron to speak with us. It appears as if we are in a dressing room of a theatre somewhere. Centre stage is the dressing room door entrance. Epstein can climb a ladder to get to the top level of the set where there are music stands and theatre posters. The musicians are located on Stage Right. Far stage left is a table where I thought a saw a coffee maker as a prop. There looks as well to be a water container. Two guitars are found just in front of the small staircase leading down – one electric and one acoustic. Amber Hoods’ lighting design creates a warm, intimate environment as Jake makes full use of the playing space. Musical theatre lovers are sure to enjoy the pre-show music ranging from Ethel Merman to Barbara Streisand. As the lights came down and Babs’ ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ quietly faded out, the lady next to me whispered quietly how she felt what a great song to introduce the show. Clad in bright white sneakers, blue jeans and what I thought was a claret reddish looking t shirt, Jake enters at the top of the show without any fanfare at all. From where I was sitting, I saw him enter from backstage through the door on the set, but it all appeared natural looking to me as if Jake was coming from somewhere. There was no spotlight when he entered. When Jake went over to the pianist to talk momentarily, the applause started. He gave that youthful beaming smile to the audience, picked up his guitar and started with the iconic ‘Razzle Dazzle’ from the blockbuster Fosse musical ‘Chicago’. And for the next 70 minutes, Jake did just that. He razzled dazzled in regaling us with moments from auditioning for the touring companies of ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘Green Day: The Musical’ to his first production of 'Our Town' at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and then 'Oliver' at the Princess of Wales. We learn about some of Jake's voice issues while on tour and what life was like on the road for an actor in a touring company where it’s not all sunshine and autographs. Epstein also refers to some big Broadway names in the business today and two hysterical situations which left this theatre lover and my guest in laughter. Absolutely fascinating to hear and to watch. It was Jake’s work in two Broadway sit down shoes that are personally compelling for me – his time in ‘Spiderman: Turn off the Dark’ (of which Jake says his mother was so pleased when he left the show) to his turn in the creation of Gerry Goffin, Carole King’s ex-husband in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’ and the process of what ensued during rehearsals, discussion with Ms. King herself and what she asked of Epstein regarding Goffin's portrayal and the opening of a new musical on Broadway. I saw the first disastrous production of ‘Spiderman’ several years ago, and not the version in which Jake appeared so I could make a connection from what I remember. My sister and I saw Beautiful at the Princess of Wales a few years ago and were moved by so many moments. Epstein becomes “un raconteur extraordinaire/an excellent storyteller” as the plot progresses. All the while regaling us with these stories, one of Epstein’s artistic strengths as a performing artist is this inherent sense in just knowing when to use facial expressiveness with his eyes for emphasis or the campy jazz hands which evoked laughter after he shared one dramatic detailed moment where he learned that perhaps the business might not be for him. Final Comments: Musically charged with vivacity and performed with verve and élan, ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ becomes that show we all need to see and hear as we emerge from the last three years. An absolute treat. Get to see it. Running Time: approximately 70 minutes with no intermission. ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ runs to May 29 at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets: www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. BOY FALLS FROM THE SKY David Mirvish and Past Future Productions Written and performed by Jake Epstein Music Supervisor by Daniel Abrahamson Developed with and Directed by Robert McQueen Set and Prop Design by Brandon Kleiman Lighting Design by Amber Hood Sound Design by William Fallon. Stage Management by Collette Berg, Erika Morey Music Copyist by Jake Schindler Voice, Speech and Accent Coach by Julia Lenardon Production performed by Jake Epstein, David Atkinson, Lauren Falls, Justin Han. Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Musicals 'Rent' Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson

    Back 'Rent' Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson Now onstage at The Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario Credit: Jordy Clarke. L-R: Robert Markus, Kolton Stewart and members of the company of Rent Geoffrey Coulter, Guest Writer, Actor and Arts Educator The Stratford Festival’s production of “Rent” is a vocal and visual pleasure! What the musical lacks in its paper-thin plot, it more than makes up for in its superbly talented, energetic, and enthusiastic cast and highly creative artistic team. This is not the mega-musical that was last season’s hot ticket, “Chicago.” There are no big numbers with non-stop belting and eye-popping, impossibly athletic choreography. This is a rock musical with mostly hard singing, power duets, and strong acting performances by a committed ensemble. Sadly, with so much vocal talent on display, there are few memorable songs to lend their talents to. Regardless, they’re each invested in as much of their thinly sketched characters as possible. Jonathan Larson’s book leaves gaps in the story arc of most of the characters, assigning muddy resolutions and nebulous futures to their fortunes. Throw in some wordy, sometimes unintelligible lyrics, and you’re left with a dissatisfying ending of plot holes and confusion. But the production is terrific! Based on Puccini’s opera ‘La Boheme’, the story is simple enough. It’s Christmas Eve in New York’s East Village circa the early 1990s. We join several young bohemian artists facing eviction from their dilapidated loft. Each character longs for love, fame and artistic expression while wrestling personal demons of substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Though the AIDS crisis that plagued the era date the show, its concept of love, friendship and living life on your terms is as germane today as it was three decades ago. Thom Allison’s direction is solid and visually spot-on. He expertly places his actors on Brandon Kleinman’s fantastic multi-level gritty tenement set, ensuring audiences never miss any of the action. I always knew where scenes were playing out, an apartment, on the street, in traffic, at a restaurant. Coupled with Marc Kimelman’s expressive story-telling choreography, this duo produces a seamless narrative. Michael Walton’s lighting evokes the LED frenzy of a rock concert yet poignantly softens the mood with well-placed spots and patterns projecting the “seasons” of love. Ming Wong’s costume designs are suitably era specific though some of the ensemble’s outerwear, though drab, seemed strangely pristine and untrodden for unemployed panhandlers. Musical direction by Franklin Brasz nicely underscores and never over-powers the voices. Nonetheless, there were times my companion and I agreed it was hard to understand some of the lyrics and dialogue. Larson’s wordy lyrics or sound designer Joshua D. Reid’s mixing and balance? This is a master class in ensemble acting. Every cast member is given a chance to shine and be seen. Though there are no real lead actors, several stand-out performances bear mentioning. As budding filmmaker Mark, Robert Markus convincingly captures the geek with a voice as clear as a bell in a role that doesn’t nearly challenge his vocal prowess. Kolton Stewart is in fine vocal form as Roger, but a bit one-note playing an artist living with HIV. Mimi Mascasaet is a standout, belting impossibly high notes in powerhouse ballads as unlucky drug abuser Mimi. Erica Peck flexes her vocals as impressively as the fiery Maureen, contrasting beautifully with the lusher performance of on-stage girlfriend Joanne, played by Olivia Sinclair-Brisbaine. Dynamite performance comes from Lee Siegel as the imposing yet emotional Tom Collins coupled with Nestor Lozano Jr. as Angel, the HIV-positive drag queen with a heart of gold and sass to spare. Although their performance was high-spirited, I felt the flamboyance and ebullience of the character could have been taken up a notch to match Angel’s gorgeously outrageous outfits. Though creativity abounds in this solid production (especially with the introduction of the potent AIDS quilt, memorializing the thousands of victims who’ve succumbed to HIV/AIDS), some directorial decisions had me flummoxed. Act two opens with the cast lining up to sing the popular “Seasons of Love,” a number which seems curiously random and set apart from the rest of the action. Performers sing out, mainly oblivious to each other, soloists dropping character to acknowledge the audience’s enthusiastic applause. Then the action just continues. Equally confounding was the introduction of Mark’s culminating films projected on an expansive sheet up stage, featuring black and white snippets of the very show we’re watching in rehearsal! I felt strangely removed from the world of the show as the curtain call followed shortly after. When “Rent” premiered on Broadway in 1996, it was a trailblazer, pioneering new forms of music in musical theatre with its high-emotion blend of pop and rock ballads. It bridged the gap between traditional musicals and the MTV generation. Younger people flocked to theatres to see themselves in these spaces and be heard. It paved the way for musicals to explore unconventional subject matter, changing how we experience them today. Despite the script’s pitfalls, Stratford’s production respectfully honours the legacy of its origins and lovingly presents audiences with entertainment to spur emotion and challenging reflection. Previous Next

  • Profiles Saccha Dennis

    Back Saccha Dennis Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres The Canadian company of the Broadway hit ‘Come from Away’ was still packing them in at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre before the pandemic closed the theatres. This story of 9/11 and the goodness of people shining through in the darkest of times is definitely a story that we all need to see and to hear too. When it’s safe to return to the theatre, I plan to get to see this fine Canadian group of actors even if it’s the last seat in the furthest row of the upper balcony. Saccha Dennis lends her talents as Hannah and others to this wonderful ensemble of characters. I’m trying not to spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it yet, but apologies if this gives it away. At one point, Hannah sings on the phone to her fire fighter son, ‘I am Here’, and Ms. Dennis’ rendition of this number still brings tears to my eyes (especially when you know what happens at the end of the story). Originally from Montreal, Saccha is an actor, director, and creator who has played in Canada, the US and abroad. She studied Musical Theatre Performance at Oakville’s Sheridan College. I also had the chance to see Saccha’s work as director of the Hart House production of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’. Tremendous fun. Saccha and I conducted our interview via Zoom: 1. How have you and your family been keeping during this nearly three-month isolation? You know, we’ve been doing good, it’s been a bit of adjustment with the routine down. We finally have a routine down after months. 2. What has been the most challenging and difficult for you during this time personally and professionally? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy? I think personally speaking I went back into full time mother mode which included being teacher, therapist and all duties that come with it. Normally, my daughter is in day care 4 times a week. The adjustment was difficult as it has been some time since I’ve had her full time. It’s great to spend time with my daughter so I’ve been really thankful for that time with her. Professionally it’s hard because in theatre we don’t know what’s going on and we don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards. It’s kinda scary. This is a profession I worked hard to get to and the fact we’re in limbo right now makes for interesting times. CFA is a story to hear right now. I’m sad that we can’t spread that message right now. Besides looking after my daughter, I’m being creative. I’ve had little projects on the side in connecting with theatre companies or to direct for them. I’m writing my own projects and pieces. But now with having my daughter full time, I’m having to juggle these other pieces and projects once again. 3. Along with your work in ‘Come from Away’ in Toronto, were you involved in any side projects when the pandemic was declared, and everything was shut down? How far were you into those projects? Will they come to fruition some time soon? Professionally, has Covid changed your life regarding how you will approach future performances of ‘Come from Away’? My projects are ongoing. I want to make sure my projects are thoughtfully and strategically planned. There’s no rush for them to come to fruition as of yet. Right now, there’s no urgency to get the projects up and running. It’s interesting the week when things started to seem off and shut down, yet we were still performing because there was nothing official happening. We got the sense that a lockdown was coming, and we knew about Covid. Already the message felt different because of the content of the show. The show was a huge and epic event from history and how were we dealing with it. It was an interesting parallel to do the show while all of this was happening around us. I think it will be the same when we go back because we will go back because something so epic happened and we did come out of it just like ‘Come from Away’, and what we do as human beings to help each other out in situations like this. 4. Some actors whom I’ve interviewed have stated they can’t see anyone venturing back into a theatre or studio for a least 1 ½ to 2 years. Do you foresee this possible reality to be factual? It’s interesting. I’m almost in denial. No one can say what will happen. People can assume and I feel and I hope anyway that we will be up and running sooner than that. A company like Mirvish is thinking of all strategies, and I believe they have a plan. To what extent, I’m not sure. Does that mean that it’s worth it to seat a third of the house for the costs? Is it worthwhile? I don’t know. I want to be hopeful and that it will be sooner. When we went into lockdown, I’m sure a number of us did some research to find out about the pandemic of 1918. Theatres were still open as people needed an escape. I’m not saying we should be running because everyone needs to be safe and to feel safe. I try to remain optimistic because it’s what I normally do. I’ve been training for this role so this production better come back. It’s definitely going to look different in the next couple of years, that’s for sure. 5. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact, either positive or negative, on the Canadian performing arts scene? I thought a lot about this. On a positive note, people will start to create new businesses. Something new will be formed out of this. Whether it’s digital theatre, whatever different form of theatre it might bring. On a negative note, there will be change but that will look like? I don’t know. Will audience and cast get their temperature taken as they enter? Will audience members have to wear masks? Will backstage crew have to wear masks? Social distancing? This could be a new era of theatre that we weren’t ready for. It’s necessary for our safety and for us to sustain our livelihood. Will the seating in the audience be in different capsules or different shelters for families? Nobody really knows. 6. 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 words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? Be your own creator. I’m starting to recently discover that it is in creating things that makes me, ME. Creating makes me love what I do. It could turn very grim for all artists. For new graduates, don’t depend on other sources or companies to give you a platform. Create a platform yourself. We’re seeing it online, You Tube, streaming. 7. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and You Tube 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 Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? I believe for me theatre is that live experience. That’s what it’s built on. We come together as a community to witness a story and to see performers take us on a journey. Digital theatre is alright, but it takes away from that experience of a community. However, there are positive aspects of online theatre that you can’t get from live theatre that actually help theatre in a way. For example, the visual. If you want to present a visual that you know you can’t do on stage, the online theatre will allow you to do that. There’s the yin and the yang. I’m old school and I think a lot of people are. I just hope theatre doesn’t become obsolete. I hope theatre has a life after Covid. 8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time? I always go back to community. It’s been three months since I’ve hugged my friends. We all need that communal interaction. That’s what energizes me to experience something in real life where I can sit across from them and touch their hand or hold their hand. Community is a feeling of human interactions, and that’s what really gets me. 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: 1. What is your favourite word? I have a few – resonance, juxtaposition (it’s fun to say), and I love the word Yes. That’s my favourite word. 2. What is your least favourite word? No. 3. What turns you on? Kindness turns me on. Kind people, watching kind things unfold. 4. What turns you off? Ignorance and hate. 5. What sound or noise do you love? I love the sound of laughter. Love it. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Whining 7. What is your favourite curse word? Bitch. What is your least favourite curse word? I’m gonna say, “Shit” on all levels. 8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt? It has to be where I can help people – motivational speaking, teaching, interior decorating is something I also fancy. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Serving. Nothing wrong with serving as I’ve done it but it’s not for me. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You did good, kid. You did good.” I need validation from God. To learn more about Saccha Dennis, please visit her social media sites: www.sacchadennis.com , Facebook: SacchaDennisRobichaud or Instagram: @sacchafierce Previous Next

  • Profiles Susan Gilmour

    Back Susan Gilmour Canadian Chat Brian Zahorodniuk Joe Szekeres The first time I saw Susan Gilmour’s work on stage was as Fantine in the extraordinary production of ‘Les Misérables’ at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre that claimed instant fame in Toronto in the 1980s. And again, I’ve seen her work since then and her resume is impressive. I also saw her work in two other productions: the fascinating ‘Larry’s Party’ at CanStage where she performed in fine ensemble work with the late Canadian theatre icon, Brent Carver, AND in ‘Man of La Mancha’ at the Royal Alexandra where she performed the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea. Susan has also performed the role of Fantine on Broadway, in Los Angeles, and in the Asian/African production. Susan’s training includes Grant McEwan Music College in Edmonton, the Edmonton Musical Theatre and in New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Arts Academy. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for the conversation, Susan: Could you share the names of one teacher and one mentor for whom you are thankful. Yes, well, teacher wise there have been two who have been very important. One I’ll start with because she was at the very beginning and that would be (the late) Dasha Goody, founder of the Edmonton Musical Theatre. When I got out of Grant McEwan College I started working in bands and I had a duo with a girlfriend (Carmen Lindsay) and I had a party band, and then I had a jazz band. I got engaged to this amazing piano player and thought my life was set and I was so happy. Well, he decided he didn’t want to marry me and he moved on, and my life fell apart. I was really, really lost. Dasha had been one of my teachers when I went to Grant McEwan, and I hadn’t seen her in about six years since then. I was singing in a Bar Mitzvah band, really unhappy but doing my best in my life. She and her husband waltzed by and she slipped this piece of paper at my feet. I read it at intermission. The note said, “Hi, Susan. It’s been a long time. I’m sitting at table 150. Why don’t you join us and we’ll have a chat at intermission?” So I went and chatted with her and she encouraged me to come down to Edmonton Musical Theatre to see what we were doing. Dasha felt it would be a perfect fit for me. I made that decision to go and a whole new world opened up for me. I trained with them for a couple of years and felt I needed more training after that so that’s when I headed to New York where I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy where I had two and a half years of amazing training which brings me to my second teacher – Karen Gustafson. She taught a class (all the classes there were amazing) there that has helped me the most in musical theatre in approaching a song as how you take it and bring it to life through taking it apart, looking at the music, what does the music tell you, take the words apart and find the subtext. In other words, take the song like a monologue. That particular skill has really made a difference here in my career in Canada. I’ve been able to build all my characters knowing how to do that and how to make them come alive through the songs we sing. Everyone we work with mentors us on some level through discussions, sharing onstage and backstage. We are all like a big family, we support one another. To choose one mentor – Lorraine Foreman. I met her at Charlottetown during the run of ‘Anne of Green Gables’. She was playing Rachel Lynde and I was playing Miss Stacy. This was my first professional production coming back from the States and I had a lot of questions and unknowns. Lorraine and I shared a house in Charlottetown, and we developed these friendships that have lasted our whole lives. We’ve stayed in close touch and have worked together many times. She has helped me to pick myself up, dust myself off; she’s a straight-ahead character, takes no nonsense and she loves fiercely. She’s really helped me through the bumps. Just being around her and soaking up everything she has done, the things she knows and experienced and shared with me. She’s in her 90s and still performing, most recently at Koerner Hall doing ‘Follies’ a month ago. All my life, I’ve said I’ve wanted to be just like Lorraine. She’s been a wonderful friend and mentor my whole life. I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. Some days are harder than others. Disregarding all these high numbers both in Ontario and Alberta, 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, the year before Covid hit, I had several little injuries on my knee and I had another one and it ended up I needed to have a knee replacement. Even before Covid hit, I had to take a rest from theatre and performing. I had some work lined up in the spring six months after my operation in 2020 but I had to pull out because I wasn’t able to do my best to be prepared for the work. Then Covid hit. I was already in a state of mind since I wasn’t working of thinking about who am I and who am I now in this stage of my life, and where do I see myself going. For me, Covid coming gave me more time once my knee healed, and I didn’t have that nagging at me and making me feel like I wouldn’t be able to work again, can’t dance, it was hard. I still had another two years to actually be still and think about those things. Funny, when you’re still things come to you and take time to breathe and be silent and go inward a little bit, things start to become clearer and happen. One of the things I’ve been hoping is that I would meet somebody. I’ve been on my own for many years since I’ve been divorced from (the late) Michael Burgess. The industry means we have to pick up and go at a moment’s notice so it’s difficult for relationships, and I thought in the last third of my life it would be nice to be with somebody. And sitting in that stillness came a wonderful person. I’ve had this time also along with inner searching to get to know this wonderful man and have this time to spend together and nurture a relationship. I’m thrilled and extremely happy. While the world was falling apart with so much anxiety and fear and grief in the world, I had this almost exact opposite experience personally in own little bubble here of love and growth and inner search and setting the tone and figuring out. I haven’t got all the answers yet where I’m going in this next stage of my life. Covid gave us that opportunity to just sit and be because we’re always on the go in this industry all the time to stay current on all levels. There’s never really any time to be, to read and to follow a path you haven’t followed in a long time. For me, it was learning to play the piano again. If I can play the piano for the rest of my life and accompany myself and sing for the rest of my life, I will be content until the day I die. How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? Well, as an artist as I’ve spoken to other people too, there was a time where I lost my voice and thought it’s gone. I was asked to do an online concert and I was going to do this one song which was going to be funny, and I was going to throw in some Covid words. It was as if my voice had disappeared. My bad, I hadn’t sung a note in several months, so I had to pull out of that online concert because I was just so scared of what was happening with my voice. That was a little bit of a wake-up call to start singing again. And that’s what partly led me back to the piano because I was playing scales and singing and then I thought it would be nice to play a song. So, I got out a book, plunked out a few chords and thought, “Geez, I’m really terrible.” So, I bought this course, and I have a private piano teacher now all online for as long as I want, and I’m learning to play again. I also picked up my guitar again and started plunking around on that and learning new finger picking methods and just allowing myself to follow the trickle of whatever interested me without any pressure whatsoever which has been really, really lovely. I’ve even dabbled in some writing, and I’m not a writer but I thought let’s give it a try. In your professional opinion, how do you see the global landscape of professional Canadian theatre changing, adapting, and morphing as a result of these last 18 months? I think it’s going to change a lot. This time of gestation for a lot of people is going to create a lot of incredible stories that have to be told. You add that to what’s going on in the world with inclusivity of all different peoples, everyone has a story to tell and they all should be told. Whether or not that includes me, I don’t know. And that’s okay. I’m just excited to see what is going to come out of all this sadness and global strife. Nobody has been untouched by this. The artist of the world, the poets, the writers are going to build an incredible amount of amazing work that we are all going to experience. A lot of my friends have been busy writing shows and writing stories, songs, poems, and books. There’s going to be so much and that’s exciting. Theatre is always going to be there. I never thought for a moment that theatre was dead or that Covid was going to kill it. I knew that Covid would make difficulty for some of the smaller theatres. Theatre will live because people will demand it. Our audiences will come back when they feel it’s safe to come back. And they already are starting. It goes up and down and that will probably continue for awhile. There will be some much-needed changes, and it’s thrilling and exciting and I hope I can be part of it. What intrigues/excites/fascinates and interests Susan Gilmour post Covid? Wow!....hmmmm…we’re not quite post Covid yet… What excites me post Covid is I want to travel more. Now that I’ve got this amazing man in my life (and by the way we just got engaged!!!!!), there’s a wedding coming up and some travelling in the future. That’s exciting for me. I’m excited to see how I can fit into the post Covid theatre community through I’m hoping mentoring, coaching, some teaching on my own, and also performing should it come my way, and continuing on developing my own skills. I’m going to start jamming with some musicians which I haven’t done in a long time. Part of me wants to revisit all that. What disappoints/unnerves/frustrates Susan Gilmour post Covid? Global politics. Looming war. People’s selfishness, I suppose, but I try not to be judgmental as fear is a real thing as people are doing the best they can, and I know that. I really hope and pray there isn’t going to be a huge division between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. It doesn’t upset me or make me angry in that way as I try to be understanding of all that. RAPID ROUND Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea: If you could say one thing to one of your mentors and teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be? “Thank you” for one. “Thank you for believing in me, for pushing me, for inspiring me.” 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? Well in another way, “Thank you” because I’m the type of person who says you can’t do something I’m like, “Oh, yeah? Just watch me!” I did have one of these individuals in my life and they did make me work harder, made me want to prove that they weren’t right. What’s your favourite swear word? Well, it’s the ‘f bomb’ I have to say. (and Susan and I have a good laugh). My brother says I’m sounding like a truck driver so I’m trying not to use it as much. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? “Yes”. What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? “Can’t” What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? I would tell her to follow her dreams, to be patient, to listen, to have no fear and to be kind to others. With the professional life experience you’ve gained, what would you now tell the upcoming Susan Gilmour from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist? To breathe, to relax a bit more, to work hard, to say focussed. To observe everything in life around you and soak it in for characters, accents, stories, everything you can use and put in your pool to draw from as an actor. Stay focused and work hard, but always remember it’s supposed to be fun. What is one thing you still wish to accomplish personally and professionally? To accomplish personally, I want to learn to be a better cook. I’ve already started. Personally, (and Susan starts to laugh) we never think of things on a personal level anymore… I want to be here for my husband. I want to have a fulfilling relationship for the rest of my life. I want to be close to my family. I want to mentor my nieces, I’ve got two beautiful nieces (they’re 15 and 17 now) and starting to question and wonder about life. I’ve told them that anything they can’t talk to their mother about, they can talk to me. So I want to be here for that. I just want to keep going with the things I’ve started to do during Covid – cooking, gardening, I’ve picked up knitting and needle point. Oh, and having time to read. I want to travel too. Professionally, I just want to go where the road leads me because I don’t know what that looks like for me yet, but I know there’s something and I can feel it. I’m just going to stay open and walk down whatever road appears before me. I’m going to say Yes and allow those experiences to come to me whatever they are, and that will be in theatre, in mentoring, in teaching, in writing, in expressing myself through music whether playing or singing in a piano bar. I’m going to do it and do it with all my heart. Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. Ohhh…there are so many… This moment, I would love to go back to the very first production of ‘Man of La Mancha’ that I did. It was at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. It was the second show I did since I got out of school. Tom Kerr was the director, and he was like a teacher to me. Ed Henderson was Music Director and was an amazing teacher as well. I learned a lot there. To work with (the late) Brent Carver – he was Don Quixote, and I was Aldonza. Brent was the seasoned actor and I learned so much from him, and from that entire company. There were so many wonderful people in that show. I would love to go back and do it one more time, just to experience the magic we made in that show together. That would be amazing. What is one thing Susan Gilmour will never take for granted again post Covid? Life and freedom. I will never take for granted life; it is so fragile or freedom. To be locked in your house and told you can’t go anywhere or see anyone, touch, hug or kiss anyone, or sing with anyone, was torture. Life and freedom. Would Susan Gilmour do it all again if given the same opportunities? (Susan says assertively) Absolutely 100%. Even the bumps along the way. Previous Next

  • Profiles Cyrus Lane

    Back Cyrus Lane Looking Ahead Colton Curtis Joe Szekeres Once again, Cyrus and I shared some good laughter during our 45-minute conversation. He was candid, frank and honest with me (and yes, we sometimes did dive into some ‘colourful’ language during our conversation.) OnStage Blog Newsletter! Play Video I did see his work last year in ‘Oil’ at ARC Theatre, thankfully before the pandemic shut down all productions worldwide. Some of Cyrus’s credits include: ‘Bunny’ at the Tarragon. Scrooge in Ross Petty’s A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose at the Elgin Theatre. Selected shows from his 6 seasons at the Stratford Festival include The Changeling, Macbeth, As You Like It, Bunny (original production), The Taming of the Shrew, Possible Worlds, Cymbeline, Peter Pan, Titus Andronicus, Richard III and Wanderlust. Happy moving between musicals and dramas, some favourite credits are Twelve Angry Men (Soulpepper – Dora Award, Ensemble), Kiss of the Spider Woman (Talk is Free), Passion Play (Convergence/Outside the March/Sheep No Wool – Dora Award, Ensemble), You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (YPT), The Tin Drum (UnSpun Theatre) and An Inconvenient Musical (Factory). After two seasons at the Shaw Festival, Cyrus acted in several shows for Canadian Stage including Rock N Roll, Habeas Corpus, and Take Me Out. TV credits include Reign, The Border, The Summit, Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, and on the Murdoch Mysteries playing Roger Newsome, and now that Roger is dead, his identical twin brother, Rupert. Cyrus trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He is married to comedian, podcast, and television writer, Joanne O’Sullivan. They have an 11-year-old daughter, Eliza. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thanks again for your time, Cyrus: 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. (Cyrus laughs)…that’s like three massive questions you’ve asked… Man, oh man, way to cut out the small talk, Joe…(he laughs again) I don’t want to give a glib answer because this is a big question…I think, for me, it’s just a hugely increased sense of precariousness and uncertainty. It’s been a period of great reflection and time to think and time to reconsider everything from relationships to politics to professional practice. And now, in the spring of 2021, I wish I could say I had some calm, gathered insight but what I have is complete uncertainty about what the future will bring for my family and myself, specifically and especially for my kid. There’s a lot of fear, not just in me but in the majority of my colleagues I speak to. There’s a real sense of ‘What’s next?’ It’s not a hopeless feeling. There have been so many things in our profession, especially in the last year, that have been so meaningful and important. Most significantly, we’ve had time as a profession to question the racism and colonial roots of theatre in Canada, and the very nature and structure of power in our profession. All of that is vital and exciting and important, but I wonder about the world those changes will be enacted in. (Cyrus laughs again) That’s maybe a bit of a joyless answer but, to be honest, that’s kind of where I’m at now, where my wife is at and where many, many, many, many, many of my colleagues are at. It’s just a sense of ‘Geez, what are we gonna do?” This pandemic will affect the kids in ways that I think are difficult to measure. I think of my daughter, Eliza. She’s in Grade 5 now. It can’t possibly be healthy for them to be sitting in front of a screen for eight hours a day. And who knows, kids are incredibly resilient, and I’ll know she’ll be back in her groups of friends soon for socializing, but it’s a habit forming thing, this time with a screen. And kids today live with so much fear. Set aside they’re living through a pandemic, all the children my kid’s age are aware of the impending climate catastrophe which, at this point, is not if but when. God, Joe, it appears all I’m saying is gloomy shit…it’s not a very encouraging time to be a parent and there’s not a lot of faith in our elected officials the majority of time that they will effect positive change that will last and be meaningful for their generation. I’ve become much more politicized. I was protest oriented and political before all this stuff started. And this pandemic has only made me more so, on her behalf and people younger than me. 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, you know within the shutdown there’s been a great questioning for our profession. As someone who represents the dominant culture, I’ve done a lot of questioning about my own role in how things are. Professionally, I’ve questioned a lot about what my role is now, and what I ought to be thinking about and doing has all been questioned. There’s not a lot of intellectual or emotional stability to be found in terms of ‘This is what I like’ or ‘This is what I want to do’ or ‘Here’s what I’m going to aim for”. I don’t know any of that anymore. And I don’t necessarily think that’s an unhealthy thing. It’s just a precarious thing. My main feeling is ‘Can I actually call this a profession?’ When I think ‘profession’, I think of something that sustains you and while my love for it is unabated, I really question how many people the theatre is going to be able to sustain when it comes back because a theatre can’t run off a 20% Covid spaced house. I’m not without hope. I think a lot of the thinking and the re-considering and the attempt to change the way theatre is structured and administered will be hugely positive in the end. It will be. Right now, mostly it’s a profound sense of how we’re going to move forward. I’m working with Talk Is Three Theatre in Barrie, and (Artistic Director) Arkady Spivak has created this amazing thing called the “Artist BIG” Program. He is really trying to re-configure the relationship between artists and institutions in a way that I think is incredibly important and powerful, and smart. And so, a lot of theatre companies talk about having a company; that company model is really more corporate, meaning company or family is what’s invoked when someone is being disciplined, but most of the time there’s no real loyalty and no real sense of continuity or home or artistic ownership. Whereas Arkady is bringing artists on and saying [he] will guarantee a certain amount of work for three years in a row and giving the artists enormous agency around what work they’ll be doing, and that’s extraordinary. The feeling of having an artistic home is an incredible thing which I hope eventually more theatres will seek to emulate. Arkady didn’t invent this idea. Obviously there have been resident artists in most companies at some point, as there is at Soulpepper, for example. But the idea of having a basic guaranteed income is really innovative in Canada. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss nothing about the ‘industry’ part of that sentence. I miss everything about the community. I miss my colleagues. I miss the thrill of risk and closeness and exploration and vulnerability and humour and love and fun, and just adrenaline and audiences and that awesome roller coaster kind of fear. I miss all of it. No one in this business ever misses the business part. (Cyrus grinned and offered a good hearty laugh) Whatever complaints you might have about Canadian theatre, the community is just gorgeous. People are fantastic, and I feel tremendous love for my community here and for my friends and colleagues. (I could see then in Cyrus’s eyes and his voice began to quiver a bit that he truly meant what he said.) I miss the work, the work of acting. You don’t realize how much you’re wired for something until it’s gone. 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? Any of it. The last show in Toronto I did was ‘Oil’. It was one of the last shows to close. I thought a lot back to how I felt doing that show. It was a great. I felt great love for the cast, the work, the production. Huge pride in it, but I was also hitting a wall of weariness with being precarious with the business side of things. A bit of a “meaning” wall – what does this mean, doing this? Who are we doing it for? And it had nothing to do with the production. It was just where I was at professionally. There were younger people in the cast who were new to the business and so excited, and that made me aware that I had become a little jaded. Not about the work, but about the life that comes with it. But now what I would not take for granted is ever doing it again. Because I don’t feel I’ll ever do it again in a regular way. Theatre will be something I do perhaps once or twice a year and that’ll be it. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning live theatre. Oh my God….This year has been a massive time for change and reflection. I mean, 2020 wasn’t the beginning of the conversation, but the BLM uprisings of 2020 and the time and space for reflection imposed by COVID on theatre forced us as a community to face the systemic racism built into our culture and our profession. I hope that the positive changes that happen in our theatre ecology as a result of that reflection extend into the power structures of our business and institutions and aren’t just gestural, performative, and superficial. That is my hope. I am trying to figure out my own role in all that and figure out how my own voice will be useful in that conversation, if at all. I’m not sure. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. ‘I don’t know’ is the answer to that question. If I did, I’d be a much less restless brain. I don’t know. I don’t know. Honestly, the baseline answer is, “Make a fucking living.” That’s been the baseline for so long. That’s been the baseline for most actors. The idea of choice is available to maybe 5% of our business. Unless you’ve been hugely lucky in film and TV or your parents are rich or both, most of the time you’re just trying to survive. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. I think that is an unlikely prognostication. From the beginning of this thing, there have been jokes about all of the Covid plays that are going to happen. But I think the better theatre artists will take this and run with it from a metaphorical standpoint rather than a literal one. Hopefully. But because I need to survive, sign me up for your Covid plays, folks! But, I don’t even think that’s true. Everyone is so fucking bored with it. What playwright is going to say, ‘You know what I need more of in my life? You need what I need to dedicate two years of my life to? Writing about Covid.” You know how long it takes to write a fucking play? It takes forever. And then after you finish it, nobody knows if it will be produced. Obviously, some playwrights know, but It’s a massive commitment. If I were a real playwright, I wouldn’t suffer through two years of writing a Covid play because I want this out of my life. If you are sensible, you will avoid this theme and it’s pretty unlikely any theatre producer would pick or pay you or pay to mount that show unless it was MINDBLOWING!!!! Seems unlikely. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? (Cyrus begins to laugh again) As a theatre artist, I have very little hope that my work will be remembered. I mean, it’s written on water, it’s written on air. I guess if I were to hope for anything if people have seen me work, it’s that I didn’t make safe choices. I like risk, but again everybody thinks they’re doing something risky, but who fucking knows? I don’t know, man. If anyone remembers me at all, even if it was a negative memory, that would feel like a win at this point. I’m being facetious. My kid doesn’t know any of the actors I adored when I was a kid. So, it doesn’t even matter if you’re massively famous, you will be forgotten. Eventually. (And Cyrus laughs again) I think that’s a really healthy way to think as an artist, especially in theatre when you know this is not made to last. Theatre is for right now. And it should be. Previous Next

  • Profiles Rick Roberts

    Back Rick Roberts Theatre Conversation in a Covid World ... Joe Szekeres Rick and I had a good laugh during our Zoom conversation when he said he’s always on the verge of quitting. He said since this pandemic has started that he has been threating to quit the whole time. But I was glad to hear that, as a creative person, he’s in it for the long haul. He loves being an actor and he loves writing. As actors, you have to wait until someone asks you to do it. Both a stage and screen actor for over three decades, Rick Roberts is arguably one of Canada’s most versatile actors. He recently starred in the CBC series Fortunate Son for which he has been nominated for an ACTRA Award. Recent appearances include Nurses (Corus/Global), Coroner (CBC), Frankie Drake (CBC), and Sensitive Skin (TMN/Movie Central), Between (Netflix). He starred in the series This Life for the CBC. Recent features include North of Albany (Slykid and Skykid), All My Puny Sorrows (Mulmur Feed Co.). He will appear in the upcoming video game Far Cry 6. In 2013, Roberts starred in the CBC movie Jack where he played the role of the late Jack Layton. His performance garnered him the Canadian Screen Award and the ACTRA Award for Best Actor. Other work includes guest starring roles on Saving Hope (CTV/NBC), Copper (BBC America), Cracked (CBC), Republic of Doyle (CBC), Murdoch Mysteries (CBC), Crash & Burn (Showcase), Haven (SyFy), Zos (Whizbang Films), Three Days to Jonestown (Next Films), and was featured regularly in the hit CBC series, This is Wonderland. Rick has headlined the series An American in Canada (CBC), L.A. Doctors (CBS) and Traders (CBC). A popular fixture on Canadian stages, Roberts recently toured with Why Not Theatre’s hit production of Prince Hamlet. Other recent favourites include Animal Farm, Waiting for Godot, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Soulpepper), Within the Glass, Enemy of the People, (Tarragon), Proud (Belfry), Julius Caesar (Citadel Theatre) and the title role of Zastrozzi (Stratford Festival). He was in the middle of rehearsing Copenhagen at the NAC when the pandemic hit. As a writer, Rick’s work, Mimi (which he co-wrote with Allan Cole and Melody Johnson) premiered at The Tarragon Theatre and was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Musical. His play Kite premiered to critical acclaim earning numerous Dora Award nominations for writing and production. Other writing credits include Nod (Theatre Gargantua), Fish/Wife (Tarragon Theatre) The Entertainers (Offstage Theatre Company) and short film The Birthday Cake. His newest play will premiere at a major Toronto theatre in 2020. Additionally, he has several television scripts in development. He is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. Thanks for the informative conversation, Rick: Many professional theatre artists I’ve profiled and interviewed have shared so much of themselves and how the pandemic has affected them from social implications from the Black Lives Matter and BIPOC movements to the staggering numbers of illnesses and deaths. Could you share and describe one element, either positive or negative, from this time that you believe will remain with you forever? I was lucky just to have the experience of ‘Orestes’. To salvage an aspect of theatre from this…I was doing a play at the NAC which was interrupted and then cancelled on account of the pandemic. It was kind of like a slap in the face and it took a while to come to terms with the reality of that. Even though ‘Orestes’ was a gathering in a Zoom room, there are things I will carry forward from this experience. For example, what works theatrically that you can imagine in a live space. Some of it is the appreciation of gathering in rooms with people. There are lots of similarities to having rehearsals in Zoom rooms and there is a real sense of community and connection around all these people, for the most part, never left their homes to do it. There was a real camaraderie and that mixture of having the experience made me long for the other experience [of being back in a theatre] again. The other thing I will carry forward is a real ‘talking to myself’ in a kinder fashion around downtimes, around when you’re laid low. In this case, I think the constant stress of the pandemic eats away at you, and early on I felt certain I would not work at all this year and that whole community seemed to be exploded. I will go through manic periods of creation and then down periods of just not being able to get out of bed. It was because I knew the cause, the constant tension of this pandemic and what it meant. I was able to go, “Today is okay to be down today.” And I’m hoping I can take that frame of mind to other things when there’s not a pandemic. It really has helped my creative process in terms of going “It’s not happening today” rather than muscling something through. The good thing once again of the ‘Orestes’ experience – it was never a done deal. Even when the last lockdown came, we were in the middle of rehearsals and we had people isolated in two different theatre spaces but wildly separated for practical reasons. In the middle of rehearsals, we had to move three mini theatres back into people’s homes. I was expecting a phone call saying, “It’s over. This is too much” from ‘Orestes’ being the season opener to not happening to happening in January and then changing it to a streamed play. Is that technologically possible? Do we have the time? So, at every point there was this feeling it could not possibly happen, and you would be heartbroken, but you knew why. Have you learned anything about human nature from this time? Oh, man. What I learned about myself and I guess it is about human nature too is the mask wearing and people not wearing masks. As the pandemic evolved and the realities of it, it’s such a stressful thing and it has to do with people’s relationship to authority a lot of times and what we are as a society. If I see someone not wearing a mask or not wearing it properly, I’ll have a reaction, but I’ll also have to be generous and go that I don’t know that person’s story. I don’t know what brought them to this place. Are they going to barrel through and not respect social and physical distancing or wear a mask? It’s a stressful time, and stress brings out different behaviours in people. I guess the human nature part is that everyone has a story which brings them to the place we are now in. The other thing and it may have to do more with human nature is that we ‘ve been steered into this hyper individuality through the neo-liberal project from the 80s. That we accept that, as human nature, we are all in it for ourselves and it’s every person for themselves. It’s not a reasonable way to address a pandemic in that we are social beings. And now we have to navigate that reality with this other reality that we also see ourselves as individuals. So, ourselves as social beings is being pushed into the fore, and we have to re-learn them. With neo-liberalism, it’s like we got hit by a car and now we have to learn to walk again. How has your immediate family been faring during this time? As a family, can you share with us how your lives have been changed and impacted by this time? My kids live in Toronto and I live in Hamilton. So, we’ve had great moments of togetherness and then the challenge of navigating the rules that are often not clear. So, my kids are also hyperconscious of social distancing and mask wearing are up to speed on that. We hang out in a park, we’re very conscious of all this, and yet we’re also aware if we’re allowed to sit on a bench or not. That becomes hard to manage and make a plan. We’ve managed to make plans. My siblings and my parents, we’re more in contact than we’ve ever been through weekly Zoom meetings which is not how we operate. We are now way more aware of each other, for better or for worse, mostly for the better. All the nieces and nephews get on that call and many more family reunions than ever. Generally speaking, the stressful part of employment and separation is there. The positive parts of recalibrating and reflecting which has been the opportunity for a lot of people is also there. We’re lucky we can do both. I know none of us can even begin to guess when professional theatre artists will be back to work. I’ve spoken with some who have said it might not be until 2022. Would you agree on this account? Have you ever thought that you might have had to pivot and switch careers during this time? That seems likely. There might be little pockets and forays but there may be the positive be such as the experiment with ‘Orestes’ and how does online participate in the comeback, and also smaller events. But in terms of theatres and large buildings with groups of people together? I feel right now 2022 seems pretty likely with even the logistics of opening a building and planning a season. I think a lot of artistic directors are going to have cold feet after this. Just to even open a building instigates a big flow of cash when things are tight with the likelihood you could close down. It’s not good for theatre if you’re not even able to predict for theatre how things are going to look in a few months. I think film and television can pivot a little more, even though it’s more expensive. If you asked me a few weeks ago, I probably would have said, “Oh, we’ll be back in September”, but 2022 seems more responsible. I don’t like to think in terms of a trajectory because I don’t know what the rest of the year is going to look like. I’m going to assume it’s going to be sparse, but that’s what I thought about last year and a bunch of interesting things came up in the middle of the pandemic, so I don’t know but I’m ready to crash again. The pandemic has put us all in the same basket. I’ve talked to people who’ve said, “I’ve been thinking about the future so I’m going to study this.” We see people whose side hustles are blossoming into something, whether or not we continue, it’s a bit of palate cleanser on the positive side. Negative side – it’s an opportunity cleanser. If another theatre company said, “Okay, it’s safe now. Bring ‘Orestes’ here. Would you consider it? Do you feel confident that you can and will return safely? Tarragon is staging ‘Orestes’ but if the NAC said, “You know what?” I don’t know what I would do. There are so many elements of the story now, I guess it would have to be a conversation about that. The original conversation was a theatre production with online elements, and the online elements were too tricky to consider. And then it reversed, and now “Can there be any live elements?” I added a lot of stuff to ‘Orestes’ that I really love right now that I’m not sure could live on stage. It would be like cutting out some things now. My knee jerk reaction right now is No. My knee jerk reaction is ‘This is what it is.” There are lots of smart talented people who would go, ‘What about this?’ and I might go, “Ooooo…hmmmm” The experience of doing it online with the experience and the involvement of the creative team and how it’s shifted to the screen and online as its own space – even now, thinking about it, it’s a unique space because the actual performing happens remotely but the actual stage is the screen which is unlike theatre, film and television so it’s its own thing. This has now been crafted over the last few months to be that. At some point, yes, I do feel safely that we will be able to return. I remember reading early in the pandemic about the plagues that shut down the theatres in Shakespeare’s time. The Spanish flu had similar conversations around. It became clear with the waves of opening and re-opening that we may not feel that definitive moment of the end of this plague, and it might just be a gradual shift into another normal, and how much that will feel like the old normal? It was the timing of the BLM movement in the plague that still has to be reckoned in live theatres, and that conversation is ongoing. Cleansing things are happening. Taking time to come back in a new way? For example, what does theatre look like? Do we need official big buildings for it to occur now? What about crowds? I know Ravi Jain at Why Not is asking those same questions in a really serious way. These all have yet to be worked out. The return to live anything is going to be gradual where we will just start to feel like, “Hey! We’re doing it again.” I do feel that in local theatre history that this time is going to be a big historical marker for lots of reasons and Covid might just be the emblem of that Tectonic shift that has been a long time coming in Toronto and Canadian theatre. This time of the worldwide pandemic has shaken all of us to our very core and being. According to author Margaret Atwood, she believes that Canadians are survivors no matter what is thrown in their path. Could you share what has helped you survive this time of uncertainty? What has helped me survive? I feel like I’m talking about ‘Orestes’ since I was smack dab in the middle of it. (and Rick laughs) I do think that theatre people do have that trait, not necessarily Canadians. Passionate people who are always inventing things and solving problems was really on display in putting ‘Orestes’ online as everyone was inventing new things as we were on the fly with the production concerning deadlines. Everybody was adapting their skills to something new that we didn’t know the rules of it. The sad part is with theatre and any live performance, often when you hit a rough patch as an actor you can talk to your parents and it’s “Hey, that’s the life you chose” which is true. I know people who had work lined up for over a year and all of it was wiped out in a space of weeks, and there is no life decision you could have made differently. Musicians and theatre people have been laid low by this pandemic but what I have seen the things we bring to any rehearsal or into our lives is resourcefulness, generosity, community mindedness and also you take the responsibility for the role you’ve taken on – whether as an actor, director, designer, and you carry that forward into a community. I’ve made lots of connections with theatre people on porches. You see the sadness of the loss and we also see the resilience and the resourcefulness musicians and theatre people have in moving forward. I attribute the term ‘theatrepeopleness’ to these individuals. It’s just spoken here for the first time. The good thing about Zoom is to mute yourself and to watch technical achievements and the conversations and people navigating. It’s like putting on a play while building a theatre in a landslide. You get to be a witness to all of this in an online environment that you might not get the opportunity to see if you’re in a physical building. I know when I’m back in a rehearsal room, and I know I will be, I will be hugging people and crying a lot. Imagine in a perfect world that the professional theatre artist has been called back as it has been deemed safe for actors and audience members to return. The first show is complete and now you’re waiting backstage for your curtain call: a) Describe how you believe you’re probably going to react at that curtain call. I’ll be weeping. Funny you should say, we were in the middle of rehearsing ‘Copenhagen’ at the NAC with Jillian when the pandemic hit and we had our first stumble through. We said, let’s just do this stumble through. Some of the theatre people would be there and we thought let’s just do it even though it wasn’t going to be performed. We were working out stuff like it was a performance. Part of your brain is going why should we worry about this? We were just on the verge of being off book. We would rehearse all day, grab a quick bite, meet in someone’s hotel room to run lines so we couldn’t do it anymore. Go to sleep and then all day next day. It was a real accomplishment. ‘Copenhagen’ messes with your mind. My dream is to go back and perform that play will Jillian, Jesse LaVercombe and Allegra Fulton and to complete that. My emotional reaction to that run through is weeping and enormous sense of gratitude for the people who sat and who were involved knowing the play was going away, I would like to put a bookend on that and have an opening night for ‘Copenhagen’ and to stand in front of an audience with that, however that may manifest itself. b) There is a crowd of people waiting to see you and your castmates at the stage door to greet all of you. Tell me what’s the first thing you will probably say to the first audience member: The weird part for me is I love talkbacks and Talkback Theatre. I get really shy in lobbies after shows, and I always try to skirt around them. I don’t think I’ll do that anymore. I’ll walk into lobbies. It’s so hard now to even think about embracing somebody of meeting an audience again, but I don’t think I’ll ever take an audience for granted ever again. That people coming and showing up to see something, I’ll never take that for granted again. I feel more a sense of camaraderie and sense of purpose with the broader theatre community which includes the audience. Previous Next

  • Opera 'Rocking Horse Winner' based on D. H. Lawrence's short story

    Back 'Rocking Horse Winner' based on D. H. Lawrence's short story A Tapestry Opera Production in association with Crow's Theatre Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Asitha Tennekoon as Paul Joe Szekeres "A haunting one-hour operatic treatment of the dangers of avarice and greed. D. H. Lawrence’s short story speaks with emotional clarity." Tapestry Opera’s ‘Rocking Horse Winner’ surprised everyone at the 2017 Dora Mavor Moore Awards by winning five of the nine categories for which it was nominated. The story deals with the dangers when greed and avarice overtake our lives. ‘Winner’ was to have returned in 2020, but we all know what happened then. The message behind Tapestry’s production of Lawrence’s story speaks to the twenty-first-century audience with emotional clarity. The opening line of the show: “Nothing is as it should be” becomes that solid reminder that something just does not appear right in this house. We meet Ava (Lucia Cesaroni), a widowed mother and her son, Paul (Asitha Tennekoon), who are struggling in the father's absence. Paul can hear quiet murmurings of voices within the house. Midori Marsh, Alex Hetherington, Anika Venkatesh, and Korin Thomas-Smith creepily heighten the tension by uttering: “There must be more money.” Paul begins to listen to these voices and then enlists the rocking horse to tell him the names of the winners of the live horse races. Great success occurs with the first bet; however, as the story continues and the bets grow, each one comes at a significant personal cost to those within the house. Jawon Kang’s set design nicely establishes the family's social status. It is a two-level set with a curved staircase on the right. There is a strong impression of the grandiosity of the house; nevertheless, there is also a dreaded sense it’s lifeless. The house is merely a building with rooms and objects. There’s old furniture. On the upper level, there are three ornate windows. This is Paul’s bedroom. The rocking horse can also be seen in the room. Yet, there’s also a sense the room appears to be suffocating, thanks to the choice of dark colours. Some of the furniture set pieces are updated thanks to the financial winnings of the horse races. There are bottles of champagne when the money starts rolling in. Ming Wong’s costumes also help establish the family’s social status. At the top of the show, the clothing worn by Ava and Paul is not flashy at all. Paul wears white boxer shorts, while Ava is dressed in a drab fashion. They change clothing when the horse race winnings come into the house. Ava is dressed sharply in a tight-fitting green evening gown with a jewelled necklace. Paul’s clothes begin to look a tad sportier. Echo Zhou’s lighting designs sharply reflect the growing tension within the house. There are moments when the shadowy effects combined with the whispering voices made me feel goosebumps. Very nice work here. Michael Hidetoshi Mori directs the production with assured confidence. He builds tension methodically. Even though I know the story's ending, Mori still manages to disarm me momentarily when the frightening reality of the final moment sinks in. Kamna Gupta’s musical direction gorgeously captures the heavenly harmonies and melodies of the music. The five-piece orchestra never overpowers the artists. Thankfully, sur-titles are projected stage left in case one did not hear all the lyrics. Composer Gareth Williams has created some extraordinary-sounding harmonies and melodies that are most pleasing to the ear. Anna Chatterton’s libretto captures the characters’ thoughts and dialogue succinctly and briefly. The remarkable eight-member ensemble is the reason to see the production. They are fully committed to telling the story with clarity and dignity while not shying away from the harsh realities of how greed can and will destroy the human soul. Peter McGillivray and Keith Klassen become terrifying reminders of what greed can do to the human soul. As respective house servant, Bassett and Uncle Oscar, they now ‘provide’ a male influence in young Paul’s life. However, they do not provide that positive guidance. Instead, the two men greedily do whatever they can to ensure they receive a piece of the horse race winnings. At one point, as young Paul rides the horse in his room to determine the winner of the Derby, the young boy becomes overcome with great angst. The looks on Klassen and McGillivray’s faces are terrifying to watch momentarily. Their Oscar and Bassett hold no concern for the young boy at all. Frightening but effective. Watching Lucia Cesaroni’s change as Ava becomes a horrifying reminder of the horror of what greed can do to a human. At the top of the show, her Ava appears tragically despondent, given her current situation as a single parent. But when the money comes in, Ava sadly allows the superficial luxuries of life to cover up the sadness at the expense of her tormented child. Asitha Tennekoon delivers a truly fascinating performance as ‘man-child’ Paul, who aptly reflects this label when the audience first sees him. He wears white striped boxer shorts, socks, and a white long-sleeved shirt. There are moments when Asitha’s work reminded me of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Children Will Listen’ from ‘Into the Woods’. Tennekoon listens carefully to the other actors and responds appropriately. At times, his Paul shows signs of being a savant, especially when he announces the winning names of the horses. As a retired teacher who worked with young people from the ages of 10-18, Paul also exhibits signs of being autistic. Initially, I would have thought Paul to be a savant, but now I lean more towards him being autistic. Tennekoom’s Paul becomes a tragic, lonely individual on the verge of manhood. The outside adult influence selfishly takes financial advantage and gains from Paul instead of providing guidance and help through this sometimes-confusing array of internal emotional upheaval. Final Comments: D. H. Lawrence's short story still holds pertinent meaning in the 21st century about the value of money and how it can threaten to destroy personal lives if mishandled. Tapestry Opera’s production is dark, but is it ever an important story to experience. ‘Rocking Horse Winner’ runs to November 12. Go and see it. Running Time: approximately one hour with no intermission. ‘Rocking Horse Winner’ runs to November 12 in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010. A Tapestry Opera Production in association with Crow’s Theatre. ‘Rocking Horse Winner’ based on the short story by D. H. Lawrence Composer: Gareth Williams Librettist: Anna Chatterton Director: Michael Hidetoshi Mori Music Director: Kamna Gupta Assistant Director: 郝邦宇 Steven Hao Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Echo Zhou 周芷會 Set Designer: Jawon Kang Stage Manager: Myra A. Malley The Cast: Asitha Tennekoon, Lucia Cesaroni, Peter McGillivray, Keith Klassen, Midori Marsh, Alex Hetherington, Anika Venkatesh, Korin Thomas-Smith Musicians: Aysei Taghi-Zada, Tanya Charle Ivenluk, Brenna McLane, Sybil Shanahan, Stéphane Mayer Previous Next

  • Profiles Richard Ouzounian

    Back Richard Ouzounian Moving Forward ---- Joe Szekeres It was reading the many reviews of now retired Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian and theatre critic Lynn Slotkin (of The Slotkin Letter) which led me to enter the world of professional theatre reviewing, and I am gratefully taking this opportunity to thank both of them publicly. I had interviewed Lynn earlier this season. My friend, Kathy Knight, told me that Richard was out for a walk and happened upon the porch side concert in which she was performing. Kathy said to get in touch with Richard for an interview, and I was most thankful and pleased when he agreed to answer the questions via email. I also had the opportunity to see Richard’s direction of ‘Four Chords and a Gun’ (Gabba Gabba Hey) and loved it for its bleeding rawness about the Ramones. Now that I know Richard will direct an upcoming concert production of ‘Follies’ since it has been postponed, I do not want to miss that one especially when you see the cast he names in one of his answers. Thank you, Richard, for our email conversation: It has been an exceptionally long five months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion? I always knew this was going to be a long haul. Well, not always. Initially I thought it would be over for North America in a month or two. Then reality set in. I think we might be back to normal – whatever that means – in about a year from now. But I secretly feel that our world has changed forever. Anyone who thinks we’ll all bounce back like rubber balls is crazy. The world we left in March of 2020 is gone forever. There will be a new way of living. I hope it will be a better one: free from systemic racism, conspicuous consumption and a lifestyle that has come to confuse motion with movement. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? Like everyone, we’ve had our ups and downs. My wife Pamela decided finally to quit her job as Board Secretary at the National Ballet of Canada and is enjoying that freedom tremendously. My son Michael lost his two part time jobs as well as his three-day-a-week involvement with the LINKS program at Variety Village. He’s having trouble coping without those anchors. And my daughter Kat, who worked in event planning, saw 10 months of work vanish overnight, which left her all at sea. But despite all of that we have stayed well and surprisingly happy. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? I’ve been the most hurt by what’s happened to my colleagues, especially the younger ones. I’ve had a great 48 year career in the business, so I have nothing to complain about, but I think of the personal and professional losses of the casts of potentially thrilling shows like Soulpepper’s The Seagull, Talk Is Free Theatre’s Sweeney Todd, Stratford’s Hamlet, Shaw’s Mahabarata, the Crows/Musical Stage collaboration on Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and so many more that my heart is well and truly broken. Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? I was joking early in March that I had just turned 70 and was about to embark on the best 7 months of my career! I had four amazing projects at Stratford: a Kander and Ebb cabaret called Only Love that I had created for Vanessa Sears and Gabe Antonacci, a late night revival of the iconic comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe, a staged concert of the forgotten musical, High Spirits, which had an all-star cast and - best of all – a celebratory gala to mark the opening of the new Tom Patterson Theatre which would pay tribute to the productions and artists who had graced the original venue. And after all that, I was going to go to Koerner Hall, thanks to Mervon Mehta , and direct a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies In Concert, starring Eric McCormack, Chilina Kennedy, Cynthia Dale, Thom Allison, Jackie Richardson, Sheila McCarthy, Ben Heppner and many more….along with a 26 piece orchestra conducted by Paul Sportelli. Deep sigh as I let all of those go. The Stratford projects, I’m assuming, are gone for good. But Mervon has postponed Follies one year and we will be doing it in 2021, God and the medical profession willing. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I have been so lucky. The one show that wasn’t cancelled was the world premiere of an amazing musical called Super School, written by Dan Abrahamson and Sarah Mucek. I thought it might be cancelled as well, but the visionary head of Bravo Academy, Melissa Bencic, decided we do the whole show on Zoom….and so we did! Auditions, workshops, rehearsals, performances….the works! And this was a musical with a cast of 13, all under the age of 18. It was a a total blast, thanks to the authors, the cast and my astonishing Associate Director/Choreographer Kayla James, who taught me how to embrace the new art form. Then, courtesy of Corey Ross, I was invited to write the Programme Book for the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Toronto and will be doing the same shortly for a Banksy Exhibition in Taiwan and Tokyo. I’m also preparing a new and exciting musical video project for Stratford to stream this winter, but I can’t reveal the details just yet! 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? To my colleagues, I’ve found that staying disciplined keeps the mind from going too crazy. I’ve continued to get up early every morning, shave, shower, dress and exercise. For me, it’s walking a minimum of 10K a day. I’ve tried to feed my family well and healthily and post a lot of my recipes on Facebook and Instagram. I’m proud of the fact that I actually have lost 5 pounds over the past six months. You also need something philosophical to hold on to. I’ve come to embrace the Stoics over the past few years and they really saved my ass during this difficult time. Dip into https://dailystoic.com Ignore the commercials, sign up for the daily email blast and give it a try. Marcus Aurelius survived a plague far worse than this one. To the younger generation, don’t let your tools get dull, don’t let your dreams sink into the dust, don’t let the negativity weigh you down. You WILL get a chance. Time is a pendulum. It always swings both ways. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? I hope it is the death of the dinosaurs. I hope it kills off the bloated, traditional, complacent ways we led our lives and – for some of us – produced our art. I hope it signals the end of my generation pulling most of the strings in all walks of life. I hope it makes it impossible for any racist, sexist or other forms of judgemental behavior to continue. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? Closing down all the theatres for 18 months to two years will definitely have an impact. What is will be, I couldn’t begin to guess. Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? The best streaming projects have been the ones that try to find a new way of doing things instead of just producing the same old work over Zoom. We have to learn how to write for the form, to direct and design for it, and most of all, to perform for it. In the future, I see it being a vital tool rather the only game in town. But, as Hamlet says, “the readiness is all.” Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? The joy of communicating something you believe in deeply with other human beings. To connect with Richard, visit his Facebook page: Richard Ouzounian or Instagram: richardouz. Previous Next

  • Musicals 'The Full Monty'

    Back 'The Full Monty' Now on stage at Port Hope's Capitol Capitol Theatre Credit: Sam Moffatt Pictured: some of the ensemble in the final strip moment. 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

  • Profiles Daniel MacIvor

    Back Daniel MacIvor Self Isolated Artist Jim Pryce Joe Szekeres Oh, my goodness, what an honour it has been to communicate with Canadian playwright and actor Daniel MacIvor for ‘The Self-Isolated Artist’ series. I’ve seen several of his works performed at local community theatres over the years. I also reviewed his production ‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’ at Tarragon in which he also appeared. Daniel began following me on Instagram recently. Because I hold tremendous respect for him and his work, I wasn’t certain if I should get in touch with him about a possible interview. Again I thought, as I had written in the profile interview with Mark Crawford, “Why the hell not?” I took a chance, got in touch with Daniel through Instagram, and was most pleased when he responded and said he was interested in participating via email. Daniel has written a short play for Tarragon Theatre’s UnGala coming up in late May. The UnGala is a series of three online events featuring scripts about possibility and hope from the bold voices of 16 of our resident playwrights: three video segments of 5-minute original plays presented over two days and read by the playwrights themselves! 1. It has been just over two months right now that we have been under this lockdown. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine As a writer I'm a pretty isolated person anyway. My interior life remains very active. Other than lining up for groceries I find this familiar and emotionally comfortable. 2. Were you involved or being considered for any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down? I was in the middle of rehearsals for "Here's What It Takes" at Stratford, the Steven Page musical that I wrote the book for. That was shut down, maybe next year. Also this fall I was supposed to embark on a tour of my Tarragon play "New Magic Valley Fun Town" and the solo show I created with Daniel Brooks "Let's Run Away". All of that is up in the air. 3. What has been the most difficult and/or challenging element of this period of isolation for you? Two things. One, not having a choice. Though I live in a Spartan and isolated way for the most part, I have chosen to do that. Now I have no choice. But really that's just a game of the mind. And maybe part of the malady of the modern world is too much choice. The second thing is no longer a problem, but it caused me a good deal of anxiety initially. I had to cut off all connection to American media. The horror show of American politics was too much for me – in fact, it felt like too much before the pandemic. I find the media generally unhelpful at this time, they can't resist trying to stir up a sense of urgency when that is the very last thing that this time is about. I suppose there is an urgency for epidemiologists and ER workers but for the rest of us, we need step back and breathe, day by day. If that is not the message, then the message is simply opinion. I have enough opinions of my own. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lock down? I am working on a couple of screenplays and editing a documentary called "Everything Is Real Nothing Is True" that I shot with cinematographer John Price over the last couple of years about my work with Daniel Brooks on the solo play "Who Killed Spalding Gray?" 5. Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams? I think this is a wonderful opportunity to look at our desires, our dreams, our hopes for the future. What are they? Why are they? What is the purpose of theatre? What is our place in that world? We get very caught up in careerism and gigging and jobbing and the like and we forget that we are a service industry. This is a chance to ask ourselves what is the service we do? In service of what? In service to whom? 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic? The very nature of the protocols – keeping distance, considering our actions, knowing where we've been, what we're touching, who we're talking to – are at the heart of mindfulness. If we can learn to move more mindfully through every day – pandemic or no - we will be better people and make a better world. 7. In your estimation and informed opinion, will the Canadian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? Yes. I think it will be difficult at first but ultimately the big questions that will come up as a result of this event will make us more focused and more compassionate. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts about this format presentation? Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you participating or will you be participating in this presentation format soon? I have participated a little. I've done a rewrite of my solo show "House" so that it could be performed to camera. It was performed by Kevin Hanchard and directed by Nina Lee Aquino under the auspices of Factory Theatre in Toronto. It was fun, 1400 people tuned in. I've also written a short play for Tarragon Theatre's UnGala coming up in late May. My interest is how this work lives in an online reality. I'm not so interested in work read or performed as plays in this format. It's too flat. Theatre needs space. 9. I’ve seen your work on stage throughout Toronto. I saw you perform at Tarragon in ‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’. I also saw a memorable production of HOUSE that was streamed online through Factory with magnificent work from Kevin Hanchard and director Nina Lee Aquino. I listened carefully to the after-show discussion. What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now? Aha, you saw it. Yes, it was memorable wasn't it. Kevin was sublime. I loved working with Nina. For me performing is a metaphysical journey into being and presence and connection. That's essential, more now than ever. With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews: a. What is your favourite word? Onomatopoeia. b. What is your least favourite word? Partisan. c. What turns you on? Silence. d. What turns you off? Bloviating politicians. e. What sound or noise do you love? Wind in the trees. f. What sound or noise bothers you? Chewing. g. What is your favourite curse word? Fuck still works a charm, in moderation. h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Architecture. i. What profession would you not like to do? Politician. j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Finally!” Previous Next

  • Profiles Uju Umenyi

    Back Uju Umenyi Looking Ahead - Emerging Playwright Provided by Uju Umenyi Joe Szekeres Recently I had the chance to speak with community theatre performer Uju Umenyi who has challenged herself both as a performer and someone who has a vested interest in the arts. As we are all too aware, Covid decimated live theatre on the professional and non-professional stages; ergo it’s crucial to help re-build the industry and the love of the oral arts plus re-ignite that creativity spark in any way we can. I applaud Uju heartily when I learned of her avid interest as an emerging playwright. She likes referring to herself in this term because she is never afraid of starting something again since emerging can take place at any time during one’s life as there’s no set specific age. Writing has always been a part of Uju’s vision to a greater and lesser degree. She fondly recalled as a child she liked writing stories and ‘clickety clacking’ away on an old school typewriter while she jokingly plagiarized (when she didn’t know what the word was) some of the story ideas from ‘The Babysitters Club’ novel series for young people. Earning a Thea Award for Best Performance by a Female in a Supporting Role for Scarborough Players’ ‘Doubt: A Parable’ as Mrs. Muller in 2019 at the ACT-CO Festival, Umenyi is appreciative for these opportunities to continue to grow in her love as a stage actor and would love to do so again. She really wants to try writing another play after completion of this current one in progress that you will discover shortly about the small town of Port Perry in Scugog Region, about a 45–50-minute drive east of Toronto. Further ideas she shared with me about possible future scripts would expand on the “spaces”, the types, and the fleshed-out roles that we don’t always see on stage for BIPOC individuals, for black people, for Indigenous people, queer and trans people or people fitting into different boxes they feel they cannot break out of. Uju has been selected to be part of the third lineup of residents in the 2022 Creatives in Residence as part of Ontario Culture Days. Since launching the program in 2020, the program has become a key component of the Ontario Culture Days Festival showcasing the vibrancy of the Ontario arts and culture community. Her residency is co-presented with Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge to create a new play inspired by the life of Samuel Stout, the first Black resident of Port Perry. Over the next five months, she will focus on community collaboration with her play culminating in community-based activities, a public reading and performance coupled with an audience feedback session and artist talk this fall in 2022. At the time of this article, Uju has developed and already led a workshop focusing on both the theatre creation process of her play while exploring local Black history. It was a phenomenal experience for that week, but she felt terrified going into it knowing she has never gone through a workshop experience before but the actors who were there have done so. One fear she candidly revealed was knowing her play is not done yet so she knew each night she would have to go home, write, and then return the next day. On top of that she was tired from the workshop and its five-hour intensive days. The biggest accomplishment to balance things out was getting the play sketched out. Uju didn’t even expect that to happen but was elated it did through the improvisation of the actors present. A lot has transpired for this personable, imaginative, and articulate lady since I last spoke with her for another column series I wrote at the height of the pandemic. First, she’s feeling a heck of a lot better emotionally compared to a year ago. Whether it’s the human nature aspect of falling into a rhythm and pattern even amid uncertainty regarding this pandemic and finding some balance within it, or maybe it’s because she feels privileged to be pursuing something which she passionately cares about, Uju knows for a lot of people the arts base was not accessible to us during the pandemic. She says: “No matter what end of the spectrum we may be on and how we feel about it, things have opened up and have brought about many opportunities for people to engage in the work once again both at the professional and amateur level, and this has done wonders for people’s mental health.” And how did she become involved with the small-town professional Durham Region’s Theatre on the Ridge in Port Perry? Uju saw the call through a Facebook group last year around June regarding this initiative of which she is now part. She humbly was trying to gather the courage to start writing. When she saw Theatre on the Ridge’s proposal, she thought it sounded like a really ‘cool idea’ as she has always been fascinated with history and the stories that emerge through time, and the stories we don’t always hear but happened. Uju wrote a requested proposal and, with a laugh, sheepishly admitted said she never submitted it. She had emailed Theatre on the Ridge’s Artistic Director Carey Nicholson to ask for more information as Carey had Uju’s contact information already. Umenyi playfully poked fun at herself as she knows herself too well in that she habitually does not follow through sometimes on things, and she is trying to stop doing that. When Carey emailed Uju that September to say that, even though the deadline had passed for submission, would she still be interested to submit a proposal? Uju took this as a sign regarding her proposal so she dusted it off, polished it a little bit, sent it to her mentor for some feedback, and handed it in thinking what’s the worst that could happen. A conversation took place between the two ladies and the rest, as they say, is history. Uju credits Theatre on the Ridge in taking a leap of trust and faith with her in obtaining this work experience as an emerging artist/playwright for her first play as funding in the theatre sometimes is limited or sets specific parameters for a purpose. Oftentimes there is an age restriction for emerging artists and, as members of marginalized communities are being given more and more opportunities than there were five, ten years ago who identify as BIPOC or across the LGBTQ2+ spectrum, it’s unfortunate to see funding parameters set by funders are such that they require these age limits. She firmly stated: “If we’re going to start talking about breaking barriers down for people who have been marginalized for a sundry of reasons (socio-economic etc), then we have to break down the barrier that suggests an individual cannot emerge unless they are below whatever age gap. The assumption made here about those marginalized who have been pushed out wouldn’t have access to the opportunities to emerge at the point where it’s deemed as an acceptable time to emerge.” What appeals to her about the person Samuel Stout from her research? Uju described him as a fascinating person and became intrigued with the fact she could bring to light a story about him. But so little is still known about Stout, and Uju doesn’t negate the fact there was racism in the 1850s and how did Stout navigate all this. For example, he was a prolific musician who played many instruments, so where did he learn to play and how did he learn to play. She also discovered that Stout led the first Port Perry Town Band for many years; he might not have been the only black man then, but at one point he was. Stout added a richness and vibrancy to Port Perry and Uju believes this is a human element we hope that we can all bring to a small town. I’m going to keep my eye on the progress of Uju’s script going forward and am looking forward to the fall and to the public reading and performance of the piece. To learn more about Durham and Scugog Region’s professional Theatre on the Ridge, visit the website: www.theatreontheridge.ca . Previous Next

  • Musicals '9 to 5, The Musical'

    Back '9 to 5, The Musical' Port Hope's Capitol Theatre Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres When a musical theatre production of a feature film is so damn entertaining, you just want to make sure it gets the garnered attention it deserves. Get to see ‘9 to 5’ because word will get out just how good it is. ‘9 to 5, The Musical’ now onstage at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre deservedly earned its standing ovation at the curtain call from the show I attended. It is so damn entertaining that I want to shout out loud how you must get to see it because it is terrific and so much fun. Based on the 1980 feature film screenplay, we are introduced to three downtrodden ladies: Violet (Julia Juhas) who trained the boss at one time. She is a widow raising her teenage son. Violet knows a great deal about the company but is treated as a secretary by the Boss. There is a newcomer to the office Judy (Krystle Chance) whose husband left her for a much younger woman. Doralee (Kelly Holiff) is the buxom personal secretary to Boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Andrew Scanlon). We also meet Roz (Gabi Epstein) who is Hart’s “eyes, ears, nose, and throat” spy within the office. Violet, Judy, and Doralee have had enough of Hart’s chauvinistic attitude and demeanour so they plot their revenge to kidnap him and keep him away from the company so changes can be made whereby everyone feels valued in the work they do. I remember reading the Broadway production did not run for as long as it was expected. Some may argue the show might be outdated for its stereotypical presentation of male chauvinism or any connection to the #metoo movement. Forget doing that. If anything, this ‘9 to 5’ flips the metoo movement on its head. Before anyone misinterprets this statement, Director Rob Kempson is not downplaying, ignoring, or poking fun at this horrific behaviour of men towards women. Instead, these intelligent women paved the way forward to combat this deplorable treatment through implausibility that provokes much laughter, and God knows we all need to smile and laugh right now. Let me count the ways in which I loved how the Capitol’s production made me do just that. For one, Kempson and Music Director Chris Barillaro pay glorious loving detail to character development, to the fluid movement in staging and the marvelous harmonies in music. Once again, I remember reading somewhere Rob adores Parton’s music and had always wanted to stage ‘9 to 5’. I hope I’m right in remembering this, Rob because your work in bringing this story to life becomes that refreshing drink of humour to quench ourselves. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was Brandon Kleiman’s attractive geometric art form in creating a corner of a downtown office building. It’s quite effective and creates the illusion this building is large. Kleiman was also in charge of costume designs which boldly reflected the colours and flair of the 1980s. Chris Barillaro’s sensational music direction heightens many scenes in plot and character development. Backwards Barbie’ is poignantly sung by Kelly Holiff who inherently understood the intent of the song. We hear the voice of a woman who is trying to fit in amidst the horrible rumours flying around the office of her extra-marital affair with Hart. Holif allowed the emotions of the song to run not only through the lyrics but also through her face and eyes. Judy’s solo ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ gracefully and stoically sung by Krystle Chance was another moment where she too also understood the intent meant not only to send her ex-husband on his way but more importantly for her never to allow that kind of influence to enter her life ever again. I was on every word sung by Holif and Chance and I applaud them for moving me and making me pay attention. Julie Juhas’s heartfelt duet ‘Let Love Go’ with the nice young accountant Joe (Robbie Fenton) is sweet without that horrible saccharine aftertaste. I was quietly rooting for them at the end of their song. Julie Tomaino’s dazzling and spirited choreography electrically charges and amply fills the Capitol stage. Every inch of space is utilized to its fullest. Two numbers to pay attention to: ‘One of the Boys’ (with Violet and the Male Ensemble) and the opening and closing title songs. My eyes constantly moved while trying to capture what every person was doing. I must acknowledge the slick work of this adroit ensemble who terrifically upped the ante in such veritable Broadway-style numbers ‘Around Here’ and ‘One of the Boys’. The seamless scene change shifts remain tautly nimble that I wanted to see how the ensemble might top themselves next. Gabi Epstein is a riot as Hart’s office spy, Roz, and what a set of pipes when she winningly soared in ‘Heart to Hart’ and ‘5 to 9’. What a theatrical treat to watch Andrew Scanlon’s lecherous and immoral Franklin Hart, Jr. in his showstopping number ‘Here for You’ to reveal the man’s world mentality in his attempted seduction of Doralee in his office. I haven’t laughed that loud for such a long time, so I thank Scanlon for giving me that opportunity. Julia Juhas, Kelly Holiff and Krystle Chance are top-notch and consistently remain so throughout the show. Thankfully they have not looked to re-create Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton or Jane Fonda in their performances. I saw flesh and blood people here who struggled and fought and who celebrated what they have achieved regarding equity, equality, and fair play. Yes, these qualities from the 1980s are not the same as they are today. But this ‘9 to 5’ let me see just how far we have come. And along with music and laughter backing this up, we are in for one hell of a great evening of entertainment. Final Comments: ‘9 to 5’ is that feel-good summer show we all need right now. Run or call to get tickets because the word’s going to get out just how good this show is. Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. ‘9 to 5, The Musical’ runs to September 4 at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street. For tickets, call 905-885-1071 or visit capitoltheatre.com for more information. ‘9 to 5, The Musical’ Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton Book by Patricia Resnick Director: Rob Kempson; Music Director: Chris Barrillaro Choreographer: Julie Tomaino Set and Costume Designer: Brandon Kleiman Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay Sound Designer: Ben Whiteman Stage Manager: Lucy McPhee Band: Chris Barillaro, Matt Ray, Jason O’Brien, David Schotzko Performers: Julie Juhas, Kelly Holiff, Krystle Chance, Andrew Scanlon, Gabi Epstein, Sofia Contal, Caitlin McKeon, Jenny Weisz, Malinda Carroll, Robbie Fenton, Jonathan Patterson, Tyler Pearse, Dave Comeau, Travae Williams Previous Next

  • Profiles Tracey Hoyt

    Back Tracey Hoyt The Self Isolated Artist Anna Keenan Joe Szekeres After I had written a profile on Sergio Di Zio, he sent me an email speaking glowingly about his friend, Tracey Hoyt, who is one of the most respected and long time voice actors in Toronto who has deep roots in Improv and Second City. According to Sergio, Tracey’s recent play is personal and lovely. He thought she would be ideal to be profiled in this series of the self isolated artist. I couldn’t agree more with him and was very pleased when Tracey got in touch with me. I perused her website and am in tremendous respect of her professional experience in all areas of the business from theatre to film and TV, improvisation and voice over work. Tracey also comes highly recommended by some of Canada’s finest talents when it comes to voice over work. You’ll see them on her website. We conducted our interview via email: 1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-month isolation? We’re all healthy and well, thanks. My three step kids are young adults and they’re all isolating in their own bubbles. My husband and I share a small space. We’ve discovered that being in nature and walking our dog several times a day has energized and motivated us more than anything else. 2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time personally? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy? Other than being away from our loved ones, it’s been not being able to experience live theatre with family, friends and strangers. I miss that so much. This has freed up a lot of time to watch films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. That’s been a constant most evenings. I’ve also enjoyed Soulpepper Theatre’s weekly Fresh Ink writing series online, some of the NAC/Facebook #CanadaPerforms readings and the occasional Zoom or Face Time visit with close friends and family. In the early days, I was commissioned by Convergence Theatre to write something based on an anonymous COVID Confession, which was very enjoyable. It was a character monologue that I recorded on my phone. I also shared a bunch of my own confessions, which inspired other artists to create songs, prose and even an animated short film. It was a fascinating and connecting experience. I also took Haley McGee’s wonderful 14-day Creative Quarantine Challenge, which was the perfect creative re-set between writing the last two drafts of my play. 3. From your website, I can see you are one very busy lady indeed with all of the coaching you give professional actors and all who might be interested in voice work. Plus, you will be in a CBC Gem series in July and you’ve just completed your play ‘The Shivers’. Professionally, how has COVID changed your life regarding all the work you have completed? Some actors whom I’ve interviewed have stated they can’t see anyone venturing back into a theatre or studio for a least 1 ½ to 2 years. Do you foresee this reality to be factual? I actually spent the first few months of self-isolation working on my play, three or four times a week. I feel grateful to have had so much time with it, as well as time to let things marinate, as a dear writer friend of mine says. It’s very hard to imagine the play being produced any time soon, but one of my life mottos is: “There’s always a way.” I trust the process and the timing of things, always. It’s tough to predict when we’ll be able to go back. As an eternal optimist, I’m going to wish for the Spring of 2021. The web series, which was shot in November 2019, now feels like two years ago. Although I can’t share the specifics at this point, I’ll be fascinated to see it. In one of my favourite scenes in the series, I was sitting with about one hundred background performers. That seems preposterous now, as it does whenever I see intimacy, crowd scenes, face-touching or food sharing as I watch anything created before the Pandemic. 4. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts scene? Hopefully not for too long. Seeing images of safely distant seats at a theatre in Berlin recently almost made me gasp. At this point, it’s hard to imagine how theatre will be sustainable in Canada with so little available space for the audience, let alone how things will be rehearsed and staged safely for the artists. That said, I’m a big believer in limitation being the perfect opportunity for more creative risks - sort of like having limited menu items in the fridge and coming up with something simple yet perfect. I sense there may be more solo and intimate performances with much smaller casts as a more realistic short-term possibility for live theatre, and that projects with larger numbers will have to get creative using digital tools. I’m curious to see how it all unfolds and hope to be part of making that happen. 5. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees of The Festivals who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? I’m hopeful that all levels of government, funding bodies and Canadians in isolation are starting to appreciate how much richer their lives are because of what performing artists do - as well as an awareness of just how many other creative and service jobs and businesses go hand in hand with that, behind the scenes and within the community. Historically, theatre has survived many challenges. It will survive this, too. My advice for recent theatre grads is that this is the perfect time to implement the vocal and physical practises you learned in school. Let them become part of this strange new normal. You’ll need these skills at every stage of your career. Keep reading scripts and working on monologues that you wish you had been assigned at school - or the ones you have never dared to try. You know which ones. Research playwrights and actors that fascinate you. Read reviews or find their other work online. Dare to start writing down your own stories, characters and monologues. As my treasured mentor Terry O’Reilly once taught me, remember that no one can do what you do. Let that be your strength and be ready to shine when it’s safe for you to join us. We can’t wait to see what you’ve been cooking up. 6. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene? I think it’s going to feel even more special to attend anything live - whether it’s dance, music, literary events or theatre. That we’ll be more selective about how we spend our energy and our time - as performers and as audience members. My hope is that we’ll all be more vocal about celebrating what we’ve seen and prouder than ever to share what we’re working on creatively. 7. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and You Tube 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 Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? From what I’ve watched live so far, I’ve appreciated that it’s been “appointment” driven - that you have to show up at a certain time, as we do when we attend a performance. The immediacy of the performance (and often the audience comments, in real time) is thrilling. When it’s pre-recorded, I have enjoyed going back and re-watching moments that stood out. For me, the biggest value is that more people can see it, across the borderless internet. For someone who has regularly done independent shows for 30, 55 or several hundred people, this excites me. I can only envision this as a new normal if all artists involved are properly compensated for it. I’m sure our theatre and media performance unions are scrambling to navigate that right now. 8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time? I suppose it’s that, within days of lockdown, so many artists found new ways to share their work. Others chose to gain inspiration by watching other people create, or to take a break from it, which is healthy and necessary. This is actually the longest I’ve been away from auditioning and performing in over 30 years. During these last few months, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation not only for the frontline workers holding everything together for us, but for other performing artists - especially singers, dancers and musicians. We’re all feeling very big feelings right now. Performing artists help us process them with everything they put out there. With a respectful acknowledgement 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? Rustle, which is my dog’s name. 2. What is your least favourite word? I dare not say his name. 3. What turns you on? Synchronicity. 4. What turns you off? Assumptions. 5. What sound or noise do you love? My husband’s laugh. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Vocal fry. 7. What is your favourite curse word? F--kyouyouf----ngf---! 8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt? A hairdresser in film/TV/theatre. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Tax auditor. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Your mother is inside. She says she’d love a coffee.” Tracey Hoyt’s headshot was taken just before she won the Cayle Chernin Theatre Development Award in May, 2019, for her play The Shivers, formerly titled Hospital Hotel. To learn more about Tracey, visit her website www.traceyhoyt.com . You may also access her Twitter handle: @traceyhoytactor. Previous Next

  • Musicals A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline

    Back A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline Capitol Theatre, Port Hope Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres Crazy for Patsy Cline A lovely evening at the theatre with an ending that I knew was coming but it still hit all the feels. What an incredibly smart decision Port Hope Capitol Theatre Artistic Producer Rob Kempson made in selecting ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ to open the summer 2022 season. And what a delightful treat to bring audiences back to the theatre. Although I’ve never seen the show before, there were moments when I could feel a big ol’ smile slide right across my face. There was a couple who sat in front of me, and the lady was swaying back and forth with her hands in listening to the music. I looked across the aisle and saw another lady doing the same thing. You go, girls. I hope more audience members do that as the show continues. Once again, the power of theatre reached inside and touched these two ladies. I wish we weren’t wearing masks because it would have been wonderful to see the smiles on their face. I was glad Rob Kempson (director of ‘Closer Walk’) spoke to us before the performance began because he gave some noteworthy information that I believe theatregoers should be aware. For the Capitol’s production, Anna Treusch’s Set and Costume Designs were particularly constructed for this performance run only to June 26. Sometimes, touring productions or productions may state that sets and costumes have to be consistent as per the wishes possibly of writers. Not here. Kempson unmistakably cares about this show because he has paid loving attention to so many particulars to ensure realistic believability. There is a definite purpose and a reason behind why the plot progresses in the way it does. He has surrounded himself with some very fine artists who have done their job, quite admirably I might add. Treusch’s set and costumes are exquisitely breathtakingly bathed in colour. I’ve never been to the Grand Ole Opry and would love to get there sometime. For some reason, I felt as if I was looking at the Opry stage. I couldn’t take my eyes off the set when I sat down as I just studied where my eyes went all over drinking it in slowly. The production is set on risers. At Centre stage, there are circular risers with the top slightly raked to allow for visual purposes when Cline sings. Stage left is the four-piece band. Stage right is the radio station where DJ Little Big Man sits. Nick Andison’s Lighting Design meticulously captures a grandiose feeling of the playing space which is effectively lit for each of the numbers where Cline moves on the stage to sing. Kudos to Ben Whiteman’s Sound Design as I could clearly hear each word of each song. This is one area for which I will nitpick because songs tell stories and if an audience cannot clearly hear a song lyric, they are missing part of the story. Treusch’s costume designs for Patsy Cline are striking to behold as attention has been paid to minute details in fabric, hues, tones and style. The band is dressed in solid bright colours with fringe either along the bottom of their shirts or under their elbows to their arms. Dean Regan’s story is billed as “A stunning tribute to one of country music’s greatest stars.” That it is, but it’s also a sweet, poignant story that didn’t veer towards the melodramatic near the end if you know what happened to Cline. It’s 1963 when we meet WINC D J Little Big Man (primo, top-notch work by Tyler Murree) who introduces many of the musical numbers before Cline sings. Murree also sings many of the commercial radio jingles and tells sometimes corny or hilarious jokes to the audience which allows for Michelle Bouey, as Patsy Cline, to change into her costume backstage for the next song. Murree also gives important contextual historical information to frame the song for the audience as well. As Patsy Cline, Michelle Bouey divinely captures the soulful and spiritual sound and persona of the 60s country music songstress with confidence . There are some lovely tunes in the first act, but it is in the second act where Bouey sings the numbers for which Cline will always be remembered. I closed my eyes during ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ as I wanted to hear both the music and the words of the song. ‘Always’ brought a tear to my eye as it was a timely anthem sung for Cline’s mother and for all mothers as far as I’m concerned. ‘Crazy’ gave me goosebumps just listening to Bouey’s soaring vocal work. What also makes this production work are the shared moments between Bouey and Murree. While she lovingly croons and harmonizes at the microphone or anywhere on the stage, he never upstages her at all. If it’s a fast-paced song, Murree moves in time to the music. If it’s a slow-moving ballad, his focus is on Bouey all the time. These are artists who get how to listen and respond truthfully to each other. Jeff Newbery’s splendid music direction combined with the stellar four-piece band complements the story told. Final Comments A delightful evening at the theatre. This ‘Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ is not to be missed. Running time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes with one intermission. As of this article, Covid protocols are in place. Please call the theatre if you need further information regarding protocols and mask wearing. ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ runs to June 26 at the Capitol Theatre, Mainstage, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call 905-885-1071 or visit capitoltheatre.com. A CLOSER WALK WITH PATSY CLINE by Dean Regan Sanctioned by the Patsy Cline Estate Director: Rob Kempson Music Director: Jeff Newberry Set and Costume Designer: Anna Treusch Lighting Designer: Nick Andison Sound Designer: Ben Whiteman Stage Manager: Sarah Miller Band: Tom Leighton (Keyboard/Organ), Jason O’Brien (Bass), Matt Ray (Guitars), Matthew Machanda (Drums) Artists: Michelle Bouey and Tyler Murree Previous Next

  • Profiles Rebecca Northan

    Back Rebecca Northan "Improvisation is completely alive, completely responsive. There's honesty, a sense of permission and relief." Both photos courtesy of Rebecca Northan Joe Szekeres At the height of the pandemic three years ago, I had the opportunity to Zoom with actor and improvisation artist Rebecca Northan. You can find our conversation link here: https://www.onstageblog.com/profiles/2021/1/31/theatre-conversation-in-a-covid-world-with-rebecca-northan. Fast forward three years and our conversation continued. She’s a busy lady but enjoying every second of it. Rebecca has just closed ‘The Applecart’ and ‘The Game of Love and Chance’ at the Shaw Festival. What else is coming up for her? Not in performance since the pandemic, ‘Blind Date’ returns to Regina’s Globe Theatre on October 18. ‘GOBLIN: MACBETH’ opens October 14 in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival. She will write and direct JACK: A BEANSTALK PANTO this holiday season, which opens November 24 and runs to December 23 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Northan calls GOBLIN: MACBETH a very new show. It has never been performed in Ontario. It was developed in 2022 for The Shakespeare Company in Calgary and described on its website as: “[a] theatrical experience not soon to be forgotten. It is a three-hander, mash-up [whereby] audiences are brought to the edge of the seat for a ‘spontaneous theatre’ experience.” At Stratford, the show features musician Ellis Lalonde, Northan, and Bruce Horak, her creative partner, who have all performed the show out in western Canada. Northan and Horak have been making shows for over thirty years. What’s the ‘mini story’ behind ‘GOBLIN: MACBETH? These creatures have found a copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ and have read it cover to cover. They wonder who this Shakespeare guy is as he knows a lot about witches, fairies, goblins, and monsters. If the Goblins try to do theatre (and they’re unconvinced it’s a good idea, but they’ll try), they may understand more about humans. They chose ‘Macbeth’ because it’s the shortest. Rebecca and I agreed the Scottish play is terrific for high school students as they seem to love the witches, blood, gore, and murder. She even goes as far as to call it one of our perfect plays: “It’s got everything. It’s dark, scary, sensational. There’s something watching the train wreck of blind ambition.” As a retired teacher, I know the importance of getting kids to like Shakespeare. What better way to do that than to take them to a live production? Rebecca stated that she, Horak and Lalonde have performed ‘GOBLIN’ for student matinees in Calgary and at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach. She compares performing for students to a rock concert. Rebecca and Bruce adore Shakespeare and remain respectfully faithful to Macbeth’s text. However, the two come from an improvisation background. Along with Lalonde, according to Rebecca, the three of them have ‘an internal permission’ to break out of the text at any time if something occurs to them. They can do this if that improv moment highlights something in the play, is directly related to it, or what’s happening in the audience at any given time. As actors, they are responsive to what’s happening in the room. Young people at student matinees don’t know what to expect; however, combined with the appearance of the Goblins and all the ensuing hijinks that follow, the students all wonder what this play is they’re watching. “That’s how we won them over,” Rebecca stated with an accomplished tone. I’m sure what the three of them accomplish for the student shows also applies to the other performances. Three words came to mind when I saw the Bard on the Beach trailer for ‘GOBLIN’ – creepy, eerie, but fascinating. Northan loved these three descriptors and said they’re apt for the production. What caught my eye immediately in the trailer was the Goblin mask she, Lalonde and Horak wear. These single silicone headpieces, which fit snugly to the face, are made by ‘Composite Effects’ in the States. The picture above next to Northan's headshot shows the three actors in costume. There is some articulation for the three actors, and the masks move slightly. For Rebecca, these headpieces are: ‘wearable works of art. There are veins in the headpiece and depth to them. They’re quite remarkable.” What is it about improvisation in GOBLIN and in the upcoming holiday panto for Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre that makes for great theatre? “It’s completely alive, completely responsive. There’s honesty, a sense of permission and relief. Improv lets the audience know they’re seen. I think, especially after two years of the pandemic (which we say is over, but it’s not), of being disconnected to having an experience where the performers see you and connect with you is so essential. It is the thing that live theatre can offer that nothing on your laptop or streaming device can…this modern notion of improv being a separate practice has never made any sense to me because there’s been improvisation in the theatre as long as there has been theatre.” With a wink and a twinkle in her eye, Northan says misbehaviour and it being in the best way is the hallmark of the work she does constantly. Misbehaviour is something our world needs right now. Once ‘Goblin’ concludes its run at Stratford, Northan is off to Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre to write and direct the Christmas/holiday fairy tale panto. She’s always loved fairy tale storytelling and listening to many accounts. She mentioned she heard a CBC broadcast that the ‘Disneyfication’ of fairytales has done a disservice as they serve to warn listeners of the dangers out there in the world but not to shut ourselves from it. Rebecca is looking forward to the experience. Although she’s never performed at the Capitol, she has known the Artistic Director, Rob Kempson, for over 15 years and says he’s terrific. (Side note: I agree, too). She’s excited that Rob trusts her and gives her free reign to prepare. Kempson is also a wonderful dramaturg and has given her excellent notes on the script so far. She’s written the Naughty version already. The Family version will simply have the mature references removed. Kempson told Rebecca that tickets to the Naughty Panto outsell the family version. She is utterly fascinated by the fact there is this hunger for naughty fairy tales. She says it’s not dissimilar to GOBLIN in that audiences want something familiar with a twist on it. It does something for us as audiences. The first panto I saw at the Capitol was rather adult in nature. A cast member carried out a particular adult toy without going into specific details. Rebecca’s version will not be that ‘adult-naughty.’ She and Rob have had some conversations already. Rebecca proudly states she is a storyteller first and foremost. She has to make a good play that will tell the story of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK – a pretty thin narrative – so what can she do to augment it? Then the jokes can come. Northan is more interested in naughty, cheeky double-entendres than overt dirtiness for the sake of dirtiness. The latter is of no interest to her at all. She describes the adult text as ‘flirting with the line’ while still telling a story. There’s nothing more satisfying than great double entendres. The line can be very innocent, and what the audience brings to it makes the double entendres. That’s an extraordinary meeting between the playwright, performer, and audience. ‘Blind Date’s’ performance runs at the same time as at the Stratford Festival. Although Rebecca is delighted it’s back, the play is still dangerous. A stranger will be brought up on stage each night and made the star of the show with the hope this person does not have Covid since the setting is a small space. Because ‘Blind Date’ exists in the present moment, it’s growing and changing, and Rebecca is thrilled the script continues evolving. “As it should be,” she quickly adds. The play is always for sale anytime, and anyone can book it. What’s next for the artist after the panto concludes at the end of December? She and Bruce Horak have been commissioned to create GOBLIN: OEDIPUS for the High Performance Rodeo put on by One Yellow Rabbit in Calgary. That’s happening in January/February 2024. Northan and Horak are also waiting to hear about some grants if GOBLIN: MACBETH goes to Edmonton. She’s also directing Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’ at Bard on the Beach in the summer of 2024. To learn more about GOBLIN: MACBETH, visit stratfordfestival.com. To learn more about Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, visit capitoltheatre.com. To learn more about ‘Blind Date’ at Regina’s Globe Theatre, visit globletheatrelive.com. Previous Next

  • Musicals 'The Golden Record'

    Back 'The Golden Record' Soulpepper Theatre Barry McClusky Joe Szekeres A veritable feast of music, sound, and images from this nine-member committed ensemble, but keep your eyes and ears open. I couldn’t make a connection between the agenda underneath the concert and the messages from the Record. I was 17 when NASA sent the Voyager Golden Record into space in 1977, a phonograph message to communicate our world to any extraterrestrials who may find it. The album contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Although I remember this event, I didn’t follow it as space and the galaxies didn’t interest me then. Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) I find myself intrigued about space and the galaxies through documentaries or news items. To combine space, the galaxy, and the messages in a concert to showcase song and storytelling is clever and original so I congratulate writer Sarah Wilson, director Frank Cox-O’Connell and music director Mike Ross because there are some wonderful moments showcasing the images and some of the music on the phonograph record. That, to me, was a terrific personal learning experience about this time. The Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre stage is set like any concert would be. There is a phonograph player just slightly off-centre stage. Circular golden large spheres are suspended on top of the playing space which represents the galaxies, and, from my seat, the visual effect was impressive. Frank Donato’s video designs remain outstanding throughout so kudos here. Programmes were not passed out to audience members before the show began as I was told there were some surprises. For me, yes there were a few audio sounds that I was pleased that I didn’t know before they occurred. It was nice to read the title of the songs performed after. The nine-member committed ensemble remains stellar as there are some drop-dead musical numbers that left my jaw on the floor. What caught my eye was watching Mike Ross, Beau Dixon and Andrew Penner manoeuvre themselves on the stage to play the various instruments for a particular moment. A slight quibble for me at the top of the show for about ten minutes was the playing of the drums rather loudly. I found this drowned out a few of the stringed instruments and the lyrics to ‘Starman’ and ‘El Cascabel’ were lost. I do hope this can be rectified for the next performance. Four musical numbers come to my mind: The opening of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ magically captured and encapsulated the vastness of outer space. I also particularly liked the duo keyboard play of Beau Dixon and Mike Ross for ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’. So much fun watching these two guys serenade on the piano because they were having fun. Travis Knights owns the stage when he tap dances. Breathtaking to watch. The closing number ‘STRING QUARTET No. 13 IN B-FLAT MAJOR: V. CAVATINA’ by Ludwig van Beethoven is glorious. Periodically I closed my eyes to listen to these artists play the strings with refined gravitas and superior prowess. Absolute heaven. I was surprised when the company came forward to take their bows because I could have listened for a few minutes more. Nonetheless, something still puzzles me regarding a choice that was made. I don’t know if this would fall under writer Sarah Wilson or director Frank Cox-O’Connell. To me, it felt as if the narrative was taking the twenty-first-century lens of examining social issues and using that same application to see world events from 1977 in the same manner. That seems out of place to me since our world now has changed multiple folds in comparison to the world in 1977. There are times when the repetition of these social issues becomes just a tad too much as if it is being forced upon me rather than allowing me to sit with what is presented and digest it. Running Time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. ‘The Golden Record Concert’ runs until November 20 in The Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane. For tickets: soulpepper.ca, youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-8666. THE GOLDEN RECORD CONCERT was presented by Soulpepper and created by Divine Brown, Frank Cox-O'Connell, Beau Dixon, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights, Andrew Penner, Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson. Writer: Sarah Wilson Director: Frank Cox-O’Connell Music Director: Mike Ross Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter Sound Designer: Andres Castillo-Smith Video Designer: Frank Donato Stage Manager: Ashely Ireland Performers: Divine Brown, Beau Dixon, Erin James, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights, Erika Nielsen, Amanda Penner, Andrew Penner, Mike Ross Previous Next

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

    Back 'Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812' A Crow's Theatre and The Musical Stage Company Co-production now onstage at Crow's, 345 Carlaw Avenue. Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Evan Buliung as Pierre Joe Szekeres VOICE CHOICE "Wondrous, theatrical, lavish storytelling that never lets up on its emotional impact! Such heaven! A theatre experience I will never, ever forget." A sung-through musical of seventy pages of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ sounds heavenly in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s. According to the billing on Crow’s website, the musical score “mixes indie rock, pop, folk, electronic dance, and classic Broadway music.” Such heaven. It’s a theatre experience I will never, ever forget. I may have to download the album to hear the score again. My suggestion - do whatever you can to get tickets. Now. The Crow’s and Musical Stage Company production has been extended to February 4. It’s Moscow, 1812, the upper-class echelon of society. Getting to know the ten characters will take a few minutes. ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Gret Comet of 1812’ is a story about the pangs of love, deceit, friendship, forgiveness, and familial bonds. The House Programme contains the Family Tree and how each character is connected. It would be a good idea to peruse it beforehand. At the top of the show, these characters are cleverly introduced via the opening song with a humorous comment about the names from Russian literature. Pierre (Evan Buliung) is a sad, sullen, and unhappily married man to Hélène (Divine Brown), who is unfaithful to her husband. Pierre feels as if he is wasting his life. He is a close friend to Andrey (Marcus Nance), who is off fighting in the war. Andrey is engaged to Natasha (Hailey Gillis), Sonya’s (Camille Eanga-Selenge) cousin. Sonya and Natasha have arrived in Moscow to wait for Andrey to return from war. The ladies visit Natasha’s godmother, Marya (Louise Pitre). Natasha has yet to meet Andrey’s sister, Mary (Heeyun Park 박희윤) and their father, Bolkonsky (Marcus Nance in a dual role) and has planned to meet them during this time, which ends disastrously between everyone involved. Natasha goes to the opera with Marya and Sonya and meets Pierre’s brother-in-law, Anatole (George Krissa), a handsome womanizer and ultimately ends up in an affair with him. (Let’s not forget Natasha is engaged to Andrey.) Natasha and Anatole’s affair has a dismal effect as each character has a stake of involvement. Several subplots all stem from this storyline of the affair. Co-designers Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan have created a jaw-dropping marvellous set design of three levels. Every inch of the Guloien is used to its maximum potential, and I tried to take in as much as possible pre-show. The actors enter and exit from all sides. Ross Kerr-Wilson has paid minute and careful attention to detail, from the gorgeous-looking red drapery to the glass decanter and drinking goblets on the piano. To the right of where I sat, it looked as if there was an altar with open religious books printed in what I thought might have been the Russian language. Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design subtly underscores the moment's emotional intensity, especially in those heightened conflicts between the characters. For the most part, Ryan Borshuk’s sound design remains solid, as I could hear the lyrics in several of librettist Dave Malloy’s stirring ballads and duets. Listening to the lyrics in some ensemble numbers is still challenging because of the slightly uneven sound balance between the orchestra and singers. Still, the harmonies resound gloriously throughout the theatre. ‘Natasha…’ remains a truly spectacular moment in the theatre. Chris Abraham and Ryan deSouza direct with a regal style and elegant flair. Ray Hogg’s fluid and electric choreography becomes a wondrous, staged accomplishment. The energetic and vibrant movement of the show never lets up. The first act nicely sets up the story; however, it is the second act where the pacing takes off. The second half dazzled and riveted me, leaving me bereft of emotion for a few moments at the curtain call. The formidable ensemble cast is one of the main reasons to see the show. They remain committed to telling a story of passion, intrigue, and deception with a compelling and convicted truth. The show remains genuinely engrossing, and I didn’t realize the time passed. Each time Evan Buliung sang, I felt tears welling. His performance as the oppressed, spiritually lifeless Pierre remains solidly gut-wrenching throughout. His watching of The Great Comet in a silhouetted tableau stillness becomes striking and hopeful at the end. As Natasha, Hailey Gillis is initially charming and lovely when the audience first meets her. However, her deception to begin her affair with Anatole removes her from that childlike, dutiful innocence to a scorned woman who will ultimately and heartfully feel her error in her choice. Gillis never veers into histrionics as Natasha’s world comes crashing around her. George Krissa is the quintessential hunky and shirtless Anatole whose suavity and bravado seduces Gillis’s Natasha. Krissa smiles, flirts, and breaks the fourth wall to do the same with some female audience members sitting in the front row. His ‘bad boy’ Anatole is one to be remembered at his worst, especially in the final moments with Pierre at the end of Act Two. Marcus Nance believably creates two exciting and different characterizations in a dual role as Andrey and his old father, Bolkonsky. At the end of the second act, his Andrey may seem cold-hearted in responding to Natasha. However, at least Nance made me feel that Andrey’s reaction and motivation are valid because he has been wronged. Louise Pitre gifts a sense of grace as the strong, remarkable, and matronly Marya. As Sonya, Camille Eanga-Selenge's reaction to the letter Natasha has written in breaking off her engagement is another heart-wrenching moment in singing she ‘misses her friend’ (Natasha). Sonya’s song in the second act becomes a fervent wish that she loves Natasha and only wants the best for her cousin, even though it may mean the two of them may never save their close friendship. I left the theatre and rode in the car on the way home, not saying a word for a few minutes. Final Comments: Confession again. This English major never read ‘War and Peace.’ Seeing this outstanding production makes me want to tackle the classic sometime soon. Will I? That remains to be seen. But I did tackle ‘Les Misérables’ after seeing the musical years ago. There might be hope. At least this musical adaptation has given me a taste of Tolstoy’s text. Get tickets for this, please. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one interval/intermission. ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ runs until March 24, 2024, in the Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010. NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 by Dave Malloy Co-presented by Crow’s Theatre and The Musical Stage Company Directed by Chris Abraham Choreography by Ray Hogg Music Direction by Ryan deSouza Composer, Librettist, Orchestrator: Dave Malloy Co-Set Designers: Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan Costume Designer: Ming Wong Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Sound Designer: Ryan Borshuk Stage Manager: Sarah Miller Assistant Director: Paolo Santalucia Assistant Choreographer: Tyler Pearse Orchestra Members: Ryan deSouza, Aleh Remezau, Colleen Cook, Alex Grant, Clara Nguyen-Tran, Rachel O’Brien, David Atkinson Performers: Divine Brown, Evan Buliung, Rita Dottor, Camille Eanga-Selenge, Donna Garner, Hailey Gillis, George Krissa, Lawrence Libor, Marcus Nance, Heeyun Park박희윤, Andrew Penner, Louise Pitre, Brendan Wall Previous Next

  • Profiles Mathieu Murphy-Perron

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

  • Profiles Tracy Michailidis

    Back Tracy Michailidis “If people go and see good stuff at the theatre, they’ll want to keep going back to the theatre.” ​ ​ A new Canadian musical premiere is busily in preparation. Theatre Myth Collective, a collective of professional theatre artists led by Evan Tsitsias, is in rehearsal with his cast and crew for the world premiere production of ‘Inge(new) – In search of a musical’. The musical is written and directed by Tsitsias. More about the plot shortly. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Tracy Michailidis via Zoom. She appears in the show along with Cory O’Brien, Astrid Van Wieren, and Elora Joy Sarmiento. (Addendum: I've just received word Tracy has had to depart the production for family reasons. Mairi Babb will now step into the role of Bridget. Plot and show information about 'Inge(new) can be found in this profile). When I asked Tracy where she completed her training as an artist, she smiled, laughed, and then said: “Is training ever really finished when you’re an artist?” I couldn’t agree with her more. Tracy attended a High School for the Performing Arts with a focus on theatre and acting. She loved it but she was also academically minded in Social Sciences and Humanities. Upon high school graduation, she attended Queen’s University but did not take theatre in her first year there but was an English major thinking she might go into law. Within those four years, she realized by doing some extracurricular theatre at Queen’s and then joining the theatre department, she said: “Whom am I kidding? This is my passion!’ Her love of language and social science remains a positive training program for her as an actor. These specific subject disciplines help complement acting and figuring out a character’s behaviour. Tracy loves looking at new scripts and parsing through the language trying to understand why these characters use these words in what context. How is she feeling about the gradual return to the theatre even though Covid still lingers? Tracy paused momentarily and then was very honest. In March 2020, she was feeling burned out. As a mid-career professional actor, Tracy is always grateful for the opportunity to work, but she needed a break to restore both her physical and mental body because theatre takes the full attention of everyone involved. Something bigger was happening to everyone in 2020. She felt she had the time to be with her family, read, listen, and just be still in the moment. The time away allowed her to ask that question many of the actors I interviewed also asked themselves: “Why am I doing what I’m doing in light of the bigger picture of society regarding essential and non-essential services? She explained further: “Theatre has been an integral part of my life and it is good. It is transformative and can change people’s minds.” but she is fine with the reality theatre is gradually and slowly returning. From a contextual frame at that time in 2020, the quiet fed her body and soul even more. She felt it was equalizing and leveling that happened, so she started teaching on Zoom during Covid. Michailidis recalled how there was good work happening for her and the students while she was teaching singing. During her teaching, she felt she was receiving from her students as well and that’s what she needed. When it appeared the theatre seemed to return albeit slowly, Tracy was involved in some outdoor productions. There were a few works she started rehearsing that were then cancelled if Covid went through the cast. Out of all this growth and struggle, she continued to be amazed at watching artists be creative with the restrictions placed on them. In this gradual return in the last three years, Tracy has been seeing a lot of ‘pop-up’ shops including smaller companies like Storefront. From a producing standpoint, these smaller pop-up theatre shops have been cost-effective and easier to produce. She compared them to midsize theatres and believes Toronto needs more of them. She was reminded of this in attending a production at the Harold Green Theatre recently in North York in the space formerly known as the North York Performing Arts Centre. Now the space has been cut up into smaller theatres. (Who remembers ‘Showboat’ from the 1990s? I do.) Tracy loves supporting the Toronto Blue Jays. When she attends ballgames, she looks around and sees so many people around her. Her statement to me which made me laugh: “Why aren’t these same people out to the theatre? If we’re united together in community here in the ballpark for the love of the game and the sport, find or make theatre that does the same.” And to the heart of our interview today. What is ‘Inge(new) – In search of a musical’ all about? Part of understanding the musical is in the title, according to Tracy. An ingenue is a young soprano often in musicals. Tracy plays the ingenue in a transitional period. Chronologically, she’s not an ingenue anymore but this is how the character identifies herself for the roles she has played and the opportunities she has had. The character finds herself in midlife not knowing how to move forward or into what box she should place herself. She’s troubled. She thinks she has it all together, but she doesn’t. By seeing herself as she is, the character can begin to accept who she is. Tracy did a workshop/reading of ‘Inge(new)’ at least five years ago. Without giving too much away about the plot, all she will say is it deals with an understanding of authenticity. Even now post-Covid, the social movements that have stemmed from the pandemic led to how many boxes we are to check off in our lives. Some of these boxes don’t deal necessarily with age, but with how we look, how we are inside, how others see us, and how we see ourselves. One of the things Tracy loves about musical theatre is the inherent collaboration by its very nature. Evan (Tsitsias) has assembled many wonderful artists from actors to creative individuals behind the scenes. Everyone is building ‘Inge(new) together and, for Tracy, that’s exciting. How would she describe Evan as director: “He’s rigorous in the way he approaches the work. He listens to the actors, and he trusts all of us which means a great deal to me. As an actor, I’m a big fan of rigor and that makes me feel really safe, especially with a new piece. I feel braver for it. As we’re going through the rehearsal, we know the story isn’t really finished at this time. As actors, we keep digging away and asking questions all the time so while this new script is fun untested, each of us in the production is also vulnerable.” With Tracy’s comment, I was also reminded of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and ‘Come from Away’ both homegrown but were always in constant revision from the various audience and critical reaction to both works. All good works of art take time to grow. Why should audiences come to see ‘Inge(new)’? For Tracy, first and foremost, come to see the play because it is a new Canadian work. She also stresses she finds the play really funny. Audiences and artists need to support each other in new work. Yes, there’s a lot of theatre going on right now, but there is good stuff going on out there and she adds: “If people go and see good stuff, they’ll want to keep going back to the theatre.” ‘Inge(new) – in search of a musical’ is about the theatre. What about those who are not involved in the industry? What can these audience members learn? ‘Inge(new)’ is a story about getting older. It’s also about intelligence versus wisdom. Tracy concluded our conversation with this statement: “We all have blind spots. When we attend the theatre, there’s that wonderful mirror that allows us to see ourselves when we can’t see ourselves clearly. I’m hoping audiences will come away from ‘(Inge)new’ seeing parts of themselves in the four characters.” ‘Ingenew-in search of a musical’ premieres May 25 and runs to June 4 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East, Toronto. Showtimes are 8 pm and 2:30 pm on some weekend performances. Tickets are available: https://www.ticketscene.ca/events/43966/ To learn more about the upcoming production of ‘Ingenew-in search of a musical’ visit the Facebook page. Previous Next

  • Profiles Gerard Gauci - Resident Set Designer for Opera Atelier

    Back Gerard Gauci - Resident Set Designer for Opera Atelier "I'm not sure where AI technology will go in scenic design, but eventually it will have some role on stage for future productions." Bruce Zinger Joe Szekeres From Gerard’s website and our Zoom conversation: “Gerard Gauci is the Resident Set Designer for Toronto’s Opera Atelier. Educated at the Ontario College of Art and Design, he graduated with Honours in 1982. He was in the Communication and Design Department. Gerard wanted to work in the applied arts, and he studied to become an illustrator. The theatre has always been at the back of his mind. His work encompasses art, theatre, and museum design. He has worked with Atelier since its first fully staged production in 1985. He has designed the company’s complete repertoire, spanning Monteverdi to von Weber. His work for the stage has been seen across Canada, throughout the United States and Europe. Gauci’s sets have been presented by Houston Grand Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival in New York State, and the Opéra Versailles.” During our conversation, Gerard mentioned that his designs are all done by hand and rarely uses a computer. Ever since I’ve had the opportunity to attend some of Atelier’s productions, I’ve been highly impressed with Gauci’s designs. How did Gerard connect with Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg from Toronto’s Opéra Atelier? While working as an illustrator, he was commissioned to do a magazine cover for the monthly CBC Radio Guide (the TV Guide for Canadian radio). There was always an illustrated cover, and Gerard was asked to produce one about theatre. He’s always been interested in the fine arts and decorative arts of the eighteenth century, particularly in France and Italy. Gerard created a published cover that featured a Baroque dancer in a kind of allegorical costume set on a stage. Marshall and Jeannette subscribed to this monthly Radio Guide, saw the cover, and found it interesting. They tore it off and stuck it on the fridge door. Jeannette happened to be working with some photographers, and one of them said she and Marshall should meet this ‘guy’ who’s interested in all this Baroque stuff “you’re interested in.” Through one connection leading to another, Gauci received a phone call from them and wanted to meet one day. He did. Marshall and Jeannette asked if Gerard would design some props for “The Choice of Hercules,” a production they were doing in the theatre at the Royal Ontario Museum theatre. Gerard agreed and enjoyed the experience. Marshall and Jeannette then continued to ask Gerard to work on set designs. Thus, his connection with the two of them began, and a new chapter opened: “Thirty-five years later, I’m still here.” Where does Gerard see the world of opera and theatre’s trajectory over the next five years? He paused for a moment. First, he said that’s a good question as the industry is still in recovery from Covid. Many of the artists whom I’ve interviewed have also agreed with this, along with the fact everyone wants to establish once again where they were before 2020. He then added: “Technology is becoming a bigger and bigger factor on the stage itself. In terms of scenic design, projection is a huge part of what one now sees on the stage. There’s talk of exploring AI scenically on stage. I’m not sure where that will go, but eventually, it will have some role on stage for certain kinds of productions.” Gauci can’t speak as a director. In terms of set design, the world of printing is changing everything. For his entire history with Opera Atelier, Gerard has everything painted on stage: backdrops, set, and flats. He has a team of painters who do all this work. Gerard creates a small-scale rendering, and the painters reproduce it at a large scale on canvas with scenic paint. This is all changing now dramatically. In the early days, one couldn’t print anything at that scale. Today, if something is 25 feet by 25 feet, it can be sent out and printed. Gerard foresees that printing will probably overtake the world of scenic painting. Atelier did a production in Italy several years ago where all the drops would be printed in Germany. Gerard had to send scans of paintings. He called this both technological and concerning because he had no idea what the quality would be like coming from a printing press instead of the hands of a team of painters. Gerard was astonished when he saw the quality of the work: “These were drops that were 60 feet X 25 feet. They were enormous. The quality was superb, and it looked exactly like my painting. When you have someone physically paint it, there’s a kind of translation that has to happen because their hand is not the same as my hand. It doesn’t look exactly like me. What I had printed looks exactly like me and done in a fraction of the time and cost fraction of what it would cost to have something painted by a team of painters.” Gauci concurs something is lost because there’s an ineffable quality about a painting versus a print. It’s not the same thing. Printed versions usually have a bit of sheen, whereas scenic paint is designed to be very flat and not reflect light but absorb it. This kind of technology in the theatre has revolutionized the world of scenic art and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, as Gerard sees it, the world of scenic painting becomes less and less of a profession. It has been used less and less over the years because scenic designers have been thinking digitally for an entire generation. Why should people continue to see the opera? The pandemic proved to everyone the value of live theatre. Everyone watched online offerings when everything shut down, yet Gerard found that experience unsatisfying. He couldn’t be engaged with that screen in the way he was engaged in the theatre. When everything ‘returned,’ Gerard said he rushed back like everyone. He saw some shows – in his words, they were fine, but they weren’t great productions. The experience of being back in the theatre reminded him of how irreplaceable it is. As audience members, we participate in that production because there is an energy exchange between the performers and the audience. Then, there is the added exchange of energy among audience members. It’s a human resonance. There’s some life-affirming about the experience of being in the theatre. Gerard added something that many artists I’ve profiled have intimated the same thought: “I found I was moved far more in the theatre than I was looking at the screen.” For Gerard, opera strives to combine all the arts. The exciting thing about Baroque opera? It was seen as a synthesis of the arts – scenic, orchestral, vocal, and balletic. Emotions were big. It allowed spectators to participate in the opera. It’s about life, but it’s bigger than life. He also added: “It was an age of invention in the theatre. The Italians were the great genius of scenic design. They could create very magical effects that would happen before the eyes of spectators. Seeing these changes on stage was an exhilarating experience for an audience.” Gerard admires Marshall and Jeannette's commitment and tenacity. It takes incredible energy and determination to run any theatre company, even if for a very short period to keep it running and lively for almost forty years is an amazing achievement. They are high-energy people and have never wavered in their commitment to the company and its vision. Marshall and Jeannette’s energy is infectious, and most of all, it’s fun. For Gerard, these qualities are scarce, and he has always admired them for these qualities. As we concluded our Zoom conversation, I asked Gerard where he sees himself within the next proverbial five years: “Oh, gosh. That’s a good question. Throughout my career, I’ve worn three different hats – a theatre designer, a painter and a museum exhibition designer. I just like to keep going. I love juggling all of these things because ultimately one thing influences the other. There’s a nice relationship between these three things.” Gerard still loves painting. He has always been interested in curation and decorative arts of museums. The theatre has been his life for so long. Opera Atelier is not going anywhere so he hopes he will continue designing sets for the company. His final words: He’s just going to continue going on. To learn more about Gerard Gauci as artist, visit his webpage: https://www.gerardgauci.com/ To learn more about Opéra Atelier: https://www.operaatelier.com/ Previous Next

  • Profiles Alexandra Lainfiesta

    Back Alexandra Lainfiesta Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Sam Gaetz Joe Szekeres To know that professional theatre artists are reading this profile series has been a boost of inspiration for me, so I thank you all with plenteous gratitude. That’s how I came to meet Alexandra Lainfiesta. I had seen her at the Stratford Festival in Napoli Milionaria! and was delighted when she got in touch with me through Messenger. Her story and voice are quite unique. Born and raised in Guatemala, Alexandra moved to Canada at the age of 19 completely on her own to follow her love and passion for the live performing arts. She attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC for two years and after graduation, travelled to Vancouver to pursue classical training for acting at Studio 58. In 2017, she joined the Birmingham Conservatory for classical training, and in 2018 did her first season at the Stratford Festival where she got to play some of her favorite roles which include Assunta in Napoli Milionaria!, Adriana in Comedy of Errors and Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII. Alexandra is a Jessie Richardson Award winner and currently has been focusing on her work as playwright. With support from The Stratford Festival, Alexandra has been developing a new operetta with Beau Dixon titled “Calderona” based on the life of Spanish actress Maria Ines Calderon during the Spanish Golden Age. She divides her time between Toronto, Stratford, Vancouver, Victoria, and Guatemala. We conducted our conversation via email and Zoom: 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 was in absolute denial for the first two weeks after rehearsals suddenly stopped at the The Stratford Festival for our 2020 season. I started to exercise at home, meditate and kept working on my script for the shows we had been rehearsing for. I had convinced myself that this was going to be over soon. Then, I waited, and waited…. and waited… and by end of April it dawned on me that this was going to take much, much longer, and so I went through a roller coaster of ups and downs, of gratitude for the time I now had in my hands to then frustrations and grief for the art we had created together in rehearsals that now was lost and slowly seeing the industry I had dedicated my life and heart to, slowly and painfully cancel seasons. My whole family is in Guatemala, and it was such a surreal thing to experience. Usually when something goes on there, it’s not happening here, but for the first time it was there as much as it was here. Nature, long phone calls from good friends and family, Whatsapp/Facetime/Houseparty were a huge support to my mental health in 2020. I’m grateful for it. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? Going through old photos, cards, letters. Writing. Lots of writing. I also spent a lot of time in nature and close to water. Water is an absolute healing and calming element for me. I stayed in Stratford for the majority of 2020 and now I am back in Vancouver. During the lockdowns I had time now to connect with dear friends across the globe whom I hadn’t talked to in years. I also created a small draft and demo of an operetta I had in mind with Beau Dixon, thanks to initial support from The Stratford Festival. I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to create music through these times. I think the biggest take from all this time away from the industry I love, is how much I’ve grown as an individual and how much more compassion, love and understanding I have for others as well as setting my boundaries and living a much more grounded life. As many can relate, I am not the same person I was before the pandemic hit globally. 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? Covid has definitely not been an escape for me. It became the “C word”. At one point it was everywhere. All conversations I was having with people over the phone, the news, social media, signs on the grocery stores, just absolutely everywhere. I am an extrovert who loves people and community gatherings. I’m Latina! So the lockdowns were absolutely hard. It was also quite shocking the first day I went grocery shopping and now everyone around me was wearing masks. I do have to say though, that the absence of theatre and work gave me the time to go in and heal many things I had procrastinated to deal with to heal. It also brought so much awareness of the many layers of social, gender and racial inequalities not only in our industry but in the world. I do have to say, I’ve been transformed by this global experience that is the pandemic. 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 think we are creative beings. As Steinbeck said: “The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.” We will come up with something, yes it won’t be full head on, but we will do theatre. In 2020 I was very fortunate to have been able to work. I did several shows that were filmed, edited and then shared online, as well as outside festivals with limited audiences. Will there be theatre? Yes, not how we’ve known it, but it will be there until we can fully gather safely again, and we will. I’ve gone through enough hardships in my life to know that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and that ‘this too shall pass.’ 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 have less time for BS now. I believe that whatever we do, whether it’d be classical, contemporary or a new work, it must be grounded, now more than ever, in truth. And what is truth? To me, truth is when we belong to ourselves and only speak from the integrity of our heart. I don’t believe that there is an “absolute truth” or a “best”. There is just honesty and speaking from the heart. ‘There are as many Hamlets as there are actors’ and actors come with a diversity of identities and thoughts which must be celebrated. We are in the service of story-telling and representation. Truth transforms and it is time we show multiple truths on stage. 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? Define “danger”. If it means exposure to harm or injury, I say no. That thinking is what has created this toxic idea that “those who make art must suffer”. The Theatre is a workplace and must be treated like one. If the word danger is more of the idea of the “possibility” that “something might happen and we don’t know what will”, then yes. I do think actors and audiences alike must feel that tension of possibility which can only be brought by being in the absolute present moment and the only way we can be present is by being self-less, because it is about the ‘other’, what we want from the other. Being alive is active. Possibilities are active. I prefer those words. And in regard to feeling danger during this time of Covid, I have to be honest, this isolation and this life of being in alert mode at all times and having privileges of liberty being taken is not new to me. I came to this country as an immigrant, completely on my own, and many of the feelings experienced during the lockdowns were somewhat familiar already. And yes, this will absolutely inform my work when theatre comes back because it has reminded me of the importance of human connection and how that is what keeps me alive and thriving. Live theatre is a living dance of thoughts and possibilities and it is always about the other and getting something from the other. Self-absorbed and self-centered theatre is beyond boring and exactly what makes teenagers never want to step into a theatre again. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? Yes, it made me sensitive to think and see beyond the obvious. It made me face fear and transform it. It made me want to come back to theatre to take the space that for years has been only been given and allowed to a certain sector of the population. It made me want to work towards taking on more leadership roles in our community. It made me sensitive to the work that needs to be done in order to achieve equity. I also because quite aware and sensitive to the fact that the Canadian government thinks of theatre as an “event” and not a workplace. Theatre is an INDUSTRY, and it is about time we start educating our government that we are a business that creates revenue and employs thousands of people across Canada. 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 love curiosity! Curiosity is active, alive, honest, inviting, and exciting. I became curious about systemic changes and my responsibility as a storyteller in this world and how perhaps I can influence that. I became curious about the human connection that was lost and how that has affected our mental health. I became curious about the creation of live theatre without being able to have a live audience. I saw an outstanding play reading of “Mojada” by Luis Alfaro, where the director, Juliette Carrillo, used the cameras and created this new hybrid of film and theatre to create something spectacular. The audience was being included in the reading through the camera lens. Same went for the performance of a play in Mexico City called “Bichito” (The Spanish language premiere of “Little One” by Hannah Moscovitch) in which director Paula Zelaya Cervantes did an outstanding job, again, merging a live performance with different cameras and having the actors either hold one camera and speak directly at it or take it with them to show certain scenes from their perspective and what they were viewing. I became curious about the conversations I was having with people. How profound, honest and grounded most of them are. I became curious about how it is okay to honestly answer the question “How are you?”. I became curious about all the kids whose introduction to school was during this time. To all the teens who had to graduate in 2020 from High School. I’m curious as to what this will do to the little humans who will one day be adults who experienced this pandemic as kids. And now, regarding what I will take back with me when theatre comes back in full force, I have to say that the spark that I know I will take with me is that of human connection. I do think that the greatest healing in our world will take place when live theatre and live music come back. Connect with Alexandra on Instagram: @alelainfiesta / IMDB: imdb.me/AlexandraLainfiesta You can also visit her website: www.alexandralainfiesta.com Previous Next

  • Musicals Six The Musical

    Back Six The Musical Now onstage at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre Credit: Joan Marcus. Pictured: Julia Pulo (centre) and Jaz Robinson Joe Szekeres Sassy, Sultry and Sexy Girl Power! This ‘Six’ is a Ten! I have read online and heard through the Sirius XM Broadway Channel that ‘Six’ is an immersive concert cum theatre production. My first initial thought – which is it? A concert or a theatre production? For this Toronto production, it doesn’t matter. ‘Six’ is just plain ol’ terrific fun. Yes, it's all superficial entertainment but that's okay. These Canadian beauties sashay with sassy, sultry and sexy Girl Power energy. Enjoy that. Plus, we get a twenty-first-century history lesson about the six wives of King Henry VIII that hopefully may encourage young audience members to want to study the Social Sciences. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s sharp, witty, and clever book is a modern retelling of Henry’s six wives in a pop concert format with this Toronto stop of the ‘Divorced/Beheaded Tour’. I loved the tongue-in-cheek tour title. Some of the show’s merchandise includes the proverbial ball cap embroidered on the back with the tour’s title. The show’s premise is easy to follow. Each wife shares the story of her initial encounter with the king. In this process, they tell the audience the band’s lead singer will be the prize for whoever they determine had the worst experience at the hands of their shared husband. History tells us two things regarding these women – they were either divorced or beheaded, with one wife outliving the king. For those unfamiliar with the wives' history, a brief synopsis of each woman is given in the program. Here’s a quick rundown: Catherine of Aragon (divorced), Anne Boleyn (beheaded), Jane Seymour (died), Anna of Cleves (divorced), Katherine Howard (beheaded), Catherine Parr (outlived her husband). Two recognizable modern female singers are the ‘Queenspiration’ for each wife. Upon entering the Royal Alexandra Theatre auditorium, Emma Bailey’s Scenic and Paul Gatehouse’s Sound Designs create a regal look and sound. A closed curtain is adorned with the regal colour mauve and gold stripes. The musical sound of a spinet playing Elizabethan songs can be heard preshow. At the top of the production, each wife enters solo through a pulled-back curtain. Finally, the semi-circular stage of two risers with band members (The Ladies in Waiting) playing becomes visible, and off we go. Gabriella Slade’s colourful, sometimes glowing and stiff costume designs are reminders of a futuristic Jane and Judy Jetson wardrobe (I think my age is showing here). Tim Deiling’s Lighting Design is reminiscent of pop concert performances from The Spice Girls and Back Street Boys. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s strutting choreography delightfully ranges from swaying hips and pelvic thrusts to elegant arm movements and finger-pointing. Directors Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage keep the show’s pacing tight. It appears many in the audience around me have either seen the show or, most likely, have listened to the live or taped album recordings. I’ve done neither and wonder if I should have done so. Tom Curran’s orchestrations strongly indicate why the production appeals to young people. It’s loud, but not deafening. Liz Baird’s enthusiastic Music Direction becomes roof-raising. There are moments when I can’t hear all the lyrics because it’s loud; however, this time, it’s no big deal. That’s why YouTube is there. If you know the songs, simply sit back, and enjoy. This ensemble Canadian cast remains the reason to see ‘Six’. They’re freakin’ good. Each of them is beautiful; their vocal range is astounding, and the harmonies gloriously soar to the rafter heights of the theatre. The opening song, ‘Ex-Wives,’ becomes a dazzling spectacle of light, sound, music, and dance. As the first and faithful wife Catherine of Aragon, the lanky Jaz Robinson uses her height to sometimes emphasize that her response will be ‘No Way’. Julia Pulo’s Anne Boleyn (Aragon’s lady in waiting and usurper of her husband) comically explains what happened to her in ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’. Maggie Lacasse is Jane Seymour, whom Henry has supposedly and truly loved. She dies in childbirth, giving him the male heir he wants. Lacasse’s heartfully poignant ‘Heart of Stone’ slows the show’s pacing momentarily and allows the audience to listen to the song’s moving lyrics. She hits a high note in the song, sending the audience into rapturous applause. Krystal Hernández’s Anna of Cleves is a riot in ‘Get Down’. At the performance, she makes eye contact with an audience member who relishes the opportunity to stand up and do what she asks of him. Elysia Cruz’s Katherine Howard’s sharp commentary of ‘All You Wanna Do’ becomes a potent reminder of why she is the other wife who is beheaded. Lauren Mariassosay is Catherine Parr, the wife who outlives Henry. Her letter to Thomas Seymour, the man she loved before the King entered the picture, is also touching. Can’t forget the four Ladies in Waiting, the band members, either. They become integral parts of the show. I found my eyes going to them periodically and watching them play their instruments. These musicians are most certainly enjoying themselves as the wives are. The last few minutes of the show are a re-mix akin to what occurs in the conclusion of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. This is the only time when tonight’s audience is allowed to pull out their phones. Final Comments: Why should you see ‘Six’? I enjoyed it, but something became apparent as I left the auditorium. This production is a celebration of womanhood. In our twenty-first century woke world right now, there’s a danger either of the erasure of women or a usurping of their individuality by ‘others’. 'Six' is a celebration of women getting and understanding each other and their uniqueness in a way we men cannot. How do I know this? On the way out, women were reaching out to other women, and I heard comments like: “I feel your tears, sister”. “I get it, sister. Let the tears flow.” “I’m crying too, sister.” Ah, the power of theatre, when it hits. Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West. The production runs until May 26, 2024. Tickets: www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333. SIX THE MUSICAL by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss Scenic Design: Emma Bailey Costume Design: Gabriella Slade Lighting Design: Tim Deiling, Sound Design: Paul Gatehouse, Orchestrations: Tom Curran Music Director: Liz Baird Music Supervision: Joe Beighton Choreography: Carrie-Anne Ingrouille Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage Performers: Jaz Robinson, Julia Pulo, Maggie Lacasse, Krystal Hernández, Elysia Cruz, Lauren Mariasoosay, Hailey Lewis, Julia McLellan, Abigail Sparrow, Darcy Stewart Previous Next

  • Profiles Nina Lee Aquino

    Back Nina Lee Aquino Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres What a delightful conversation this afternoon with Factory Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nina Lee Aquino. An absolute pleasure in hearing her speak, rather candidly, at times, about how she has been coping as a self-isolated artist. Nina Lee is choosing to remain optimistic in the face of this pandemic. Just from listening to her today, I felt reassured that she is another strong individual to lead Factory out of this darkness right now of uncertainty and confusion into whatever the future may hold. She put me at ease very quickly with her witty sense of humour combined with her dynamic spirit of counsel and fortitude especially in how she is looking where she will take Factory over the next few years. Nina Lee and I conducted our conversation via Zoom: It has been nearly three months since we’ve all been in lockdown. How have you and your family been keeping during this period of isolation from other immediate family members and friends? Well, it doesn’t feel like isolation other than the fact than I’m just really at home for almost 24/7. In terms of workload for myself if anything it’s been a lot more. We’re a family of 3, my husband, Richard, and 13-year-old daughter, Eponine. Surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly everyone has been busy. I mean everyone in the family. My 13-year-old daughter is juggling her school which has fully transitioned online. She’s had a couple of theatre gigs – online workshops or online presentations- with different theatre companies (YPT). Her movie also premiered online with the virtual edition of the Canadian Film Festival. She’s done some PR work. Apart from school, she’s had her own theatre work and the responsibilities that come with it – reading the script, making sure she’s being a good actor, and doing her homework. That’s occupied her time. Richard is a theatre artist. His teaching online during the lockdown time with Humber is done. He’s involved in advocacy work with various boards of directors that have transitioned online. He’s had some theatre gigs and some online workshops where he gets hired as an actor. And there’s me balancing Factory Theatre and PACT. I also have to help ensure the bigger picture nationally of what theatre companies are going through that I am there with them to help contribute, to help solve, to comfort or agitate (at times). I have to be at the very top helping the theatre companies go through this crisis together and be a unifying force in many ways. So, that’s the work I do with PACT. And then there’s Nina Lee Aquino, the artist. Lots of little Zoom meetings, fielding phone calls where I’m comforting the distressed and the confused. I’m also helping to comfort the anxieties with the emerging artists. I have fresh theatre graduates from York University who are really scared and confused and just want to know what they’re stepping into in this theatre community right now. So there are a lot of meetings of this kind going on and they add up in the day with virtual coffee chats, ‘talk it through’ with a lot of listening. My June calendar has filled up but July’s calendar is looking good. I think I’m due for a vacation in whatever form that takes for awhile because at some point I really need to stop and recharge. It is unrelenting but that is the job and the role of Artistic Director. And then we have to be a family of mother, father, daughter, husband, and wife, and just be together as a family only. We can be together in a space but are we really together and present for each other? I’ve scheduled no Zoom meetings on Saturday or for a certain day. Because of this COVID situation, because I try not to do anything on Saturday or Sunday, then I’m restless. It’s not like I can go out. It’s just so weird where I’ve been working at home for 40 plus hours and now, I’m not expected to leave the house except for essentials. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time both personally and professionally? What have you all been doing to keep yourselves busy? Personally, I think it is connected to the profession. Before COVID we as a family have accepted that our personal and professional lives will always be closely intertwined. I’ve stopped fighting as these are two beasts that need to live together. I’ve stopped attempting to place things in innate little columns as it just doesn’t work for our family. There’s an acceptance in the three of us that personal is professional, and professional is personal. Who we are as human beings is who we are as artists. The challenge right now really is about space. That is the one as a family we are trying to manage in this tiny Toronto shoebox of a condo. We have a dog too. The navigating of the physical spacing doesn’t really work with the professional space that is required which in turn is also emotional space. With the advocacy work I’ve done the last couple of days, how do you shed that for awhile? The final piece because personal and professional are merged – for the first time, my daughter is getting a clear idea of what I do. I have to allow her to witness me at work going through everything from the hardest bits to the glorious bits. At 13 (a crucial age), when she’s trying to figure her own shit out, what a way to learn things that I can be there and have those candid conversations with her. My kid has turned out really cool so I know we’ve done something right with her and we’re just going to go with the flow. My lovely husband has gifted me with a bike so that I can, in those small moments, hop on it, go ride around and come back. As a family, we rode our bikes together last weekend and then had dinner in a park together. I wouldn’t have thought that a bicycle would be a gift. Just give me a diamond necklace or get me shoes. The bike has come in handy. My husband gets to go out more as he is freelance. He does the grocery shopping, the errands because he’s the driver. For me, besides bike riding, I should think of something else to be able to unload for a bit. I should try to find a hobby outside all of this is a challenge. That hasn’t changed. Maybe I’ll try to grow some plants in my balcony but wish me luck because I’m horrible. My cactus died. Who kills a cactus? I know it’s awful, but I should also have some outside interests and I’m going to try. I’m a work in progress. I can’t even begin to imagine the varied emotions and feelings you’ve been going through personally and professionally with other key players and individuals with regard to Factory Theatre’s future. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts and theatre scene and on Factory Theatre? Yah. Here’s the difficult part of these COVID conversations. There’s just no answers as information keeps evolving every 48 hours. The only certain things are that it’s here and what are the safety measures to combat the spreading of COVID. We’re still talking as if it’s going to go away. Right now, we are transitioning to new conversations of “What if COVID is going to stick around like the common cold?” “What if it never goes away?” “How do we deal with this shit?” Part of me is still not accepting and that we will come back as normal as normal can be. Part of me thinks there’s going to be a season next season. Part of me says there will be people who will come through our doors and sit side by side. And it’s just not going to happen. That uncertainty is killing the vibe. No clear answers with very conflicting events that are very confusing. It’s also scary because what do we follow? What do we do? Not all provinces are ready to open while some are. For me, who also freelances on the side, what are the possibilities of doing my gigs in Winnipeg when Ontario is on semi-lockdown? It’s tricky. I worry in thinking about it. If it’s here to stay for a while, it affects what I had planned for next season. Now I have to look long term. It’s a delicate juggling balance as AD. In postponing productions, what other artists are you screwing over that season or next season? With Factory, I’ve roughly 3 seasons roughly sketched out with commitments whether it’s commission or a verbal promise. One way or another, it’s hard emotionally to balance but that’s what Covid is doing. The easy thing is to sanitize and clean theatres all you want. The programming and long-term commitments to artist and custom tailoring programming to the safety measures of this illness and virus are the impacts of COVID on Factory Theatre and on future seasons. I’m really worried about the artistic side, and the audience side is another concern. These are things that sometimes keep me up at nights. It’s not going to affect next season, but I can see it affecting at least all three seasons following. Do you have any words of wisdom to console or to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees at Factory who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? In terms of within Factory between me and Managing Director Jonathan Heppner, we’ve come to the fact that no matter what happens we will figure it out. If there’s anything that I am confident about is this uncertainty of COVID is that like true theatre artists we will work with it, around it, through it because we’re theatre artists because we make the impossible, possible. Full stop. For the grads, I was asked to speak to York University’s grad Zoomation. I was newly appointed as Professor Adjunct. Given the circumstances that we have gone through in the past couple of days, the pandemic is one thing but to be on the brink of a real awakening. That is really the lasting impact that I’m hoping. This pandemic requires us to sit still for a while that we use it to our advantage. To the theatre grads – you only need to look at your social media feeds to get what you need to get and to learn, and you are afforded the time to do so. There is no excuse anymore to not know anything. In choosing your own artistic path, coming out of this, we can be better human beings. The knowledge is out there. Stories were given out freely and put front and centre for us to now use and to learn from. For our theatre community given the racial injustice protests these last few days, this is a real awakening. We need to do better. It’s ok to say, “I fucked up.” This is action. There is also an expectation of re-thinking your programming to what we’ve just learned to have a really inclusive season. There is time now so break down your default theatre artist list and create a new one. Read new plays, make new connections to artists who don’t look like you. Read new voices. What can I do to show my solidarity to be a better human being? The resources are there. What can I do now to be a better ally and show my solidarity? It may mean starting all over again, but now is the time to start doing it. It’s good, it’s needed. We needed this pause. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene? We need to make sure spaces are safe in theatre for mental health and the racial injustice protests from this last week are showing this. COVID 19 has proven regarding our work schedules, at least from the theatre administration side that with some jobs, we don’t need to follow the strict ‘labour-esque’ work schedules. Sometimes, some of our work can be done from home. Right now, my staff at Factory is fucking kicking ass since they’ve been working from home. I love it. Even though we miss each other, my staff looks healthier, no one looks burned out, there’s no lack of rigour since they’ve been working from home. We can be a bit more flexible. It’s not just about counting hours, but it’s also about quality. YouTube presentations, online streaming seems to be part of a ‘new normal’ at this time for artists to showcase their work. 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 Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? I have come to accept the fact that as long as we’re creating, we’re good. Factory has done several virtual presentations, very successful. I am done labeling what we’re doing. I think that’s part of the problem. We’re just going to do what we do best. There’s space, there’s actors. The three virtual presentations in May and June was a way for me to pay artists and to keep the creativity going while we can. It’s also pure audience engagement and it’s our duty to check in with everyone’s souls and that Factory audiences are ok. First and foremost, I am a theatre artist. Like the virtual presentation of ‘House’, we need to be aware of new medium. Let’s play with it. That’s what theatre artists do. We push with certain things, but we have to be open to learning how to play with the new technology. There are digital artists out there who are good out there and it’s important to reach out to them. I don’t want to say no to discovering new things and new forms as they may go hand in hand. As theatre artists, discovery is one of our tenants, and we need to open to new tools and to whatever form and structure theatre may be through artistic sensibilities and telling great stories in whatever medium possible. As AD, there is a need (of funds, resources, tools) to invest in playwrights writing in a different stage. I’m not abandoning the traditional theatre format, but I have to look at investing in new processes for delivering work. Maybe Factory Season can be traditional and a couple of virtual plays online. I will never say no to creation. What is about your role as Artistic Director of Factory Theatre that COVID will never destroy? I think it’s very clear from our nice conversation so far is the thing that COVID did not affect at all is the advocacy work. The COVID can cancel my artistic programming, the COVID can re-arrange how I work administratively. That’s good it didn’t destroy advocacy to look after my community, local, Toronto, and the larger community. It’s both a burden and an honour. It’s just exhausting as you can’t stop taking care of a community. The community is playing catchup in this re-awakening. With a respectful acknowledgement 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? Metamorphosis 2. What is your least favourite word? Universal 3. What turns you on? Hmmm…a really good design jam session with my creative team. Yah, Yah. 4. What turns you off? Indifference. 5. What sound or noise do you love? The first sound cue in a cue to cue session. That first official sound cue when we’re running a tech rehearsal. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Car honk. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Holy Fuck. What is your least favourite curse word? (Thank you, Nigel Shawn Williams, for this addition to the question) Cunt. When I hear it, it makes me go…(and Nina Lee shrugs her shoulders). (At this point, Nina Lee and I laugh together a tad awkwardly but also a tad conspiratorially at this second part of the question.) 8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt? If I had the intelligence and the ability, I’d love to be one of those pure mathematicians. The ones that create proofs. That world to me is magic to understand numbers in such a meta magical way. If not, maybe a conductor of an orchestra. The waving and knowing you can control music coming at you from all angles. When I watch conductors of an orchestra, man, I wanna be there. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Oh my God, 98% I think first and foremost my friends (including Nigel Shawn Williams) would vouch for this – anything to do with nature ‘cause I hate it. Mountain ranging, gardening, even mowing the lawn, I will mess it up, fuck it up, or I will not care for it ‘cause I hate it. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “How the fuck did you get you get here? Seriously? Who gave you a pass?” I feel like I’m destined to go to hell. I think God does cuss, I really think he does, but it’s okay ‘cause he’s God. To learn more about Factory Theatre, visit their website: www.factorytheatre.ca . You can also visit their Facebook page and Twitter accounts. Previous Next

  • Dance 'Liminal' by Throwdown Collective

    Back 'Liminal' by Throwdown Collective World Premiere presented by DanceWorks Courtesy of DanceWorks web page Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator Toronto’s DanceWorks started 2023 with an interesting, visually appealing and esoteric tale of change and evolution conceived and performed by a superbly disciplined trio of artists from the Throwdown Collective. I’ve always marvelled at modern dance and how choreographers and dancers can tell a myriad of narratives, apparently abandoning the confines of classic technique and randomly shaping their bodies, leaping, writhing, running and stretching to tell a subtle, off-beat tale. Such is the approach to Throwdown Collective’s “Liminal”. The program states the piece, “examines time and perception with theatrical imagery and dynamic physicality”. This performance certainly showcased theatrical imagery and dynamic physicality, but I was often puzzled. Don’t get me wrong, this 60-minute performance, which I would call more movement than actual dance, was created and performed by three extremely gifted artists – Mairéad Filgate, Zhenya Cerneacov, and Brodie Stevenson. Their enormous dedication, skill and herculean physical control are a sight to behold. They lift each other, fall into each other’s arms, run, roll, embrace, convulse, pulsate, gyrate, snap, and even tie a necktie in trilateral unison. Though the messaging often had my companion and me scratching our heads, the individual investment of these artists in the work was ultra-impressive. Performed in a black-box style space, David J. Patrick’s and Great Lakes Scenic Studios provided a small portable revolving stage. Narrow shafts of pre-show light beamed through clouds of ethereal smoke projecting two rotating and intersecting vertical lines centre stage. Haphazardly strewn about the stage were men’s shoes, shirts pants, and brightly-coloured rumpled suits, and ties (courtesy of costume designer Sorcha Gibson) that seemed to have spilled out of a laundry bag as someone was running to the cleaners. The performers entered wearing only their undergarments, equally spaced themselves on the revolving floor and proceeded to dress in slow motion. They jumped on and off the revolving stage, undressed and dressed again, connected, hugged each other, fought each other, folded, unfolded, in almost complete silence. Mute madness and mayhem? I wanted more human sound to help me connect. This transcendent compendium was supported by a fabulous original score by Joshua Van Tassel. His eerie drones, clanging phrases and pugnacious percussive underscored the roller-coaster of activity on the whirling wheel. From hard-hitting jabs to a single heartbeat, his choices here were spot-on. Lighting designer Arun Srinivasan once again shows us his brilliance in illuminating a space. I’ve recently seen other shows designed by this Lord of Light and he never fails to impress. His wonderful use of specials, motion gobos, and pattern projections combined with colourful side lights and narrow steep beams from above created equal parts mystery and psychedelia. Brava! It was a full house at this final performance with query and conversations abounding at the post-show reception. Throwdown Collective has created a buzz in Toronto’s theatre scene. Their work is unexpected but thoughtful. Even though I wasn’t always sure the meaning of what I was watching, it was executed brilliantly! Previous Next

  • Solos 'Sea Wall' by Simon Stephens

    Back 'Sea Wall' by Simon Stephens Presented by BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS AND QUIET THINGS CREATIVE IN ASSOCIATION WITH ONE FOUR ONE COLLECTIVE, and now onstage at Toronto's Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen Street West Cass Van Wyck. Pictured: Jamie Cavanagh as Alex Joe Szekeres Jamie Cavanagh’s naturalistic storytelling makes ‘Sea Wall’ an engrossing piece of theatre. Now onstage at the Assembly Theatre, Simon Stephens’ ‘Sea Wall’ becomes an engrossing piece of theatre that left me bereft of emotion for a few moments at the end of the show. Belinda Cornish directs the one-act monologue with confident precision to ensure a naturalism that remains intact throughout the approximately 45-minute running time. Jamie Cavanagh is Alex, a photographer. He enters from the back of the auditorium at the top of the show and walks down the aisle to the stage. He looks at some of the props placed there. Even though he says nothing for a few minutes, something magnetic about Cavanagh’s presence draws attention to him. Alex is an inquisitive man. The question of Christian religion and faith belief figures prominently in the early sections of the monologue. Alex is uncertain of the presence of a religious figurehead but enjoys thinking about the topic and discussing it with others. He likes swimming and the opportunity to be at peace in the water. Alex wonders if a religious figurehead exists; he considers perhaps he might have experienced a connection while swimming. As his monologue continues, we learn Alex is deeply in love with his wife, Helen, and the two of them are overjoyed at the birth of their daughter, Lucy. We also learn Helen’s father, a retired British general, lives in the south of France by the water. Life is good for Alex, Helen, and Lucy. When she is eight, Alex and Helen take their daughter to the French seaside for a holiday at the request of Helen’s father. Alex likes his father-in-law and enjoys learning more about him while spending quality time with Helen and Lucy. While on holiday, Alex has a most interesting conversation with his father-in-law about a seawall near his home. Alex learns that this seawall is a mighty thing. According to his father-in-law, it doesn’t just drop a few meters but hundreds of feet. There is an incredible suffocating blackness at this seawall. This seawall becomes a metaphor for how things can change so quickly in life. The auditorium’s house lights do not dim for the 45-minute running time, which is an integral part of the staging. It’s a good choice because ‘Alex’ can make direct eye contact with each audience member. I noticed he had made eye contact with me a few times. At one point, Cavanagh (as Alex) asks a question and looks directly at an audience member sitting in front. She nodded in response that she wanted to know the answer to his question. (I won’t state the question because that’s part of why you must see the show.) Jamie Cavanagh’s nuanced and realistic performance is the highlight of the production. His thick British accent makes me pay careful attention. It all feels believable as he moves around the stage with purpose, reason, and intent. It’s as if he speaks directly to me, and I forget the other audience members sitting around. Cavanagh instinctively knows when to pause for a quick laugh from the audience or when something needs to be highlighted. During these carefully timed dramatic pauses, I am inching forward in my chair because I’m on every word. I don’t want to write any notes in my book about the production because I don’t want to miss anything. ‘Sea Wall’ is a theatrical treat you owe yourselves. Please go and see it. Running time: approximately 50 minutes with no intermission. ‘Sea Wall’ runs until Sunday, October 8, at the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.assemblytheatre.com . BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS AND QUIET THINGS CREATIVE PRESENT IN ASSOCIATION WITH ONE FOUR ONE COLLECTIVE ‘Sea Wall’ by Simon Stephens Directed by Belinda Cornish Performer: Jamie Cavanagh Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Opera Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski

    Back Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski A 'life-changing' experience for these ultra-chic Co-Artistic Directors of Opera Atelier Photo of Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski courtesy of Opera Atelier website Joe Szekeres To have the opportunity to speak again with Co-Artistic Directors of Opera Atelier, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, was personally and highly energizing. I hold no background in opera or dance, yet these two art forms have intrigued me since I began reviewing. I'm grateful Marshall and Jeannette, two classy individuals, continue to reach out to me to attend Opera Atelier performances and encourage more audience members to become intrigued by opera and dance and their theatrical form. Pynkoski stated if audiences aren’t entertained, then the company must re-examine what they are doing since entertainment is the goal for all audience members and not just a select few. I spoke with Marshall and Jeannette a couple of weeks before Christmas as they were quite excited to share some very important news about their ‘life-changing’ experience in Versailles, France. In April 2022, when they were directing and choreographing a new production of Grétry’s 'La Caravane du Caire' for Opéra de Tours, Marshall and Jeannette received an email from Laurent Brunner, Directeur of the Opéra Royal and of Château de Versailles Spectacles, asking if they were familiar with Marc Antoine Charpentier’s opera, ‘David et Jonathas’. Marshall and Jeannette have listened to Charpentier’s opera for over a decade and have always marvelled at the invention and power of this example of the seventeenth-century biblical drama. I smiled when Marshall said there must be some plans afoot with this simple request, especially with the proliferation of work he and Jeannette have accomplished with Opera Atelier. What they might consider simple became uber mega wonderful for me in hearing what had happened. Château de Versailles Spectacles had already planned and scheduled a major concert performance and CD recording of Charpentier’s ‘David et Jonathas’. However, due to the appearance of a very significant donor, the project had suddenly been catapulted into a fully staged production. The set was to be designed by the great French designer Antoine Fontaine and his son Roland, with lighting by the equally celebrated Hervé Gary. Perhaps most exciting of all, the costumes were to be designed by the greatest living French couturier, Christian Lacroix. Additional donors came on board through the organization known as ADOR (Les Amis de l’Opéra Royal). A DVD deal was signed, and the set design grew in size and complexity as the project expanded to include eight dancers (including two of the Artists of Atelier Ballet), nine on-stage chorus, eight superb principals, including the internationally renowned tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen as David, soprano Caroline Arnaud as Jonathas, and bass-baritone David Witczak as Saül. They were joined by a forty-piece orchestra on period instruments (Ensemble Marguerite Louise) and a large off-stage choir under the baton of the young superstar French conductor Gaétan Jarry. What’s more, this was the first time in its history that the Royal Chapel (still a consecrated space) was used as a theatre. Marshall and Jeannette accepted this “enormous undertaking in a very, very short time but such an exciting project that it was out of the question that anyone would say no.” Jeannette stated they had about twelve days to put together a two-hour opera. Normally there is a much longer rehearsal time (at minimum a four-week rehearsal), but over the years the two of them and Opera Atelier have learned to streamline the process with nine hours a day of non-stop rehearsal with short meal breaks. Everyone barely slept over this time. I could hear a bit of nervous laughter in her voice as she recalled wondering if it would all come together. It did as Jeannette added: “It was a wonderful success. It was an over-sold-out house. Everyone performed beautifully, and the production was well received both by the public and the press. There was highly informed press from the United States, England, France, and Germany. People also flew in from Israel to see the production.” Marshall also shared no one stopped working. Microphones could not be set until after 11 pm because there was so much natural light that came into the chapel because of the window. The creative team had to wait until it was night and then wait for the ambient light from the Chateau to be turned off and the rehearsals to finish. And the piece de resistance for Marshall and Jeannette? At the After Party in the Salon of Hercules, they received confirmation ‘David et Jonathas’ will now travel to Potsdam in addition to future performances in the Royal Chapel on a regular basis. There is the release of the CD and DVD of the production in 2023. I sit here as I finish this article and am astonished at Opera Atelier’s tremendous worldwide influence gently steered and guided by Pynkoski and Lajeunesse Zingg. I continue to marvel at Opera Atelier performances and look forward to seeing what they have planned. And so should all of you. To learn more about Opera Atelier, visit www.operaatelier.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Jamar Adams Thompson

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

  • Dance 'Tessel' Toronto's Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre - short film

    Back 'Tessel' Toronto's Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre - short film Toronto's Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre Photo of Yvon Soglo by Esie Mensah Creations. Joe Szekeres Disclaimer: Before I begin, I must once again state that I hold no background or specific training in the study of dance and movement. For this review of ‘Tessel’, I will comment on the production elements and storyline. Recently, I held a fascinating conversation with artist Esie Mensah: 'Looking Ahead' Theatre Talk with Esie Mensah — OnStage Blog on her journey as a Black artist where I learned she was in the final stages of preparing her short film, ‘Tessel’ which premieres June 1. Esie articulated strongly how she has had to change her story narrative as a Black Artist to continue moving forward in her career as in the Canadian canon and mosaic. I will honestly state that I had to watch ‘Tessel’ twice because there is so much hidden underneath the messages that we see presented. More on this in a moment. I had forgotten to ask Esie the meaning of ‘Tessel’ during our previous conversation, so I had to ask. ‘Tessel’ is a shortened version of the word ‘tessellation’ which means an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping. In this case, ‘Tessel’ refers to the editing of the film, how the artists’ work, while filmed independently, come together in the film to represent the interconnectedness and power of the collective as Black artists. Okay, this gave me a starting point and this definition is now clear to me in understanding the film. Esie calls her short film ‘a crucial conversation on what it means to be an artist in his historical unprecedented time.” There are fourteen black dancemakers from across Canada involved in the making of this important short film. Additionally, ‘Tessel’ is the one-year anniversary of ‘Blackout Tuesday’ where organizations around the globe publicly committed to institutional change to help the Black community. ‘Tessel’ begins with the sound of the calming effects of water as a dancer in silhouette moves in quiet solitude. We then see a variety of dancers, male and female, move and dance whether there is music playing in the background, whether there is silence or whether the artist hears the music cerebrally and then moves the body to coincide with the music that is possibly heard inside the head of the individual. There are at least two male artists in the film, so I thought that was an important distinction to notice. Along with the movement and dance of the artists involved, I heard many individual voices underscoring the dancers’ movements. I’m assuming these voices were from some of the dancers who we were watching. This overlaying dialogue of important conversations and deep questions focused on messages that have probably been demanded of and from these black artists as they have progressed through their careers at various stages. At my first viewing of ‘Tessel’ I didn’t want to write anything down except just sit back and see where the story would take me. And I was gripped intensely from the first moment of seeing the dancer/artist moving with the sunrise/sunset in the background. The time of day wasn’t made clear so I’m guessing that since it is the beginning of the film, and the dancer is moving at sunrise. Vibrant and lush colours are beautifully filmed and sharply captured from the landscape right down to the texture of some of the clothing the dancers wear. The song ‘Mami Watah’ resonated within me as I listened carefully to the vocals while admirably and silently applauding the individual stories the artists told me through their movements, sometimes restricted, sometimes freely, sometimes direct and deliberate while others were sinewy and gentle. Even though I hold no formal background in any kind of dance or movement training, I was captivated by the movements of the artists and watching their facial expressions at times focused with contentment and stillness with eyes that appeared to be mystical and spiritual. Some of the questions and statements I heard underscoring the dancers also caught my attention, two in particular: “When you hire me as a dancer, you hire all of me. You don’t just hire what you see visually.” AND “The beauty of dance, as one of the first forms of art and storytelling, is that we are able to connect in most ways people can’t.” How utterly true these statements of every performing artist whether as a dancer, an actor, a singer, or any combination of these. Final comments: Make sure you pay attention to the credits at the conclusion of the film as they also give some important information that highlights the significance of the one-year anniversary of Blackout Tuesday, and of the Black community in their quest to achieve equity, diversity, and inclusion in all elements of the arts. Four words appear at the end of the film: spirituality, humanity, care, and the principles of love. For me, this short film bravely captures these four elements in a symbiotic relationship to each other while wonderfully highlighting the solo work of the brief moment of each artist. Give ‘Tessel’ a look. Film streams free on June 1. ‘Tessel’ is a co-production with Fall for Dance North and Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. For further information to access ‘Tessel’ for viewing, visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com . Artists: LIliona Quarmyne, Lisa La Touche, Kevin Fraser, Eugene “GeNie” Baffoe, Livona Ellis, Natasha Powell, Alexandra “Spicey” Lande, Ravyn Wngz, Lua Shayenne, Raoul Pillay, Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo, Gabrielle Martin, Ronald A. Taylor, Esie Mensah. Producer: Wayne Burns Previous Next

  • Dance Fall for Dance North ARISE: 2022 Signature Programme

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

  • Profiles James Grieve, Director of Fisherman's Friends, The Musical

    Back James Grieve, Director of Fisherman's Friends, The Musical Looking Ahead ​ Joe Szekeres Last week, I had the opportunity to interview James Grieve, the director of ‘Fisherman’s Friends, The Musical’ after the opening night show at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. According to his website j.grieve.com, James is a freelance theatre director and was formerly Joint Artistic Director and CEO of the UK’s national theatre of new plays Paines Plough from 2010-2019 alongside George Perrin. During their tenure the company produced 44 world premieres on tour to 291 places across the UK and internationally by playwrights ranging from debutants to Olivier, Tony and BAFTA winners staged in historic proscenium arch playhouses and student union bars, at music festivals and The National Theatre, in village halls, Off-Broadway, on BBC Radio and televised on HBO. James’s freelance directing credits include a new production of Kander & Ebb’s CABARET for Gothenburg Opera in Sweden in 2020 and the new musical THE ASSASSINATION OF KATIE HOPKINS for Theatr Clwyd which won Best Musical Production at The UK Theatre Awards 2018. James’ new production of LES MISERABLES for Wermland Opera in Karlstad, Sweden, was described as “world class” by DN and played for nearly two years in two theatres. His production of Brian Friel’s TRANSLATIONS for Sheffield Theatres, English Touring Theatre and The Rose Theatre Kingston won Best Production at The UK Theatre Awards 2014. In 2001, James founded the new writing company nabokov with George Perrin and Ric Mountjoy. The company forged an international reputation for presenting theatre events everywhere from pubs to warehouses to music festivals to Off-Broadway, including James’ production of Mike Bartlett’s ARTEFACTS in London, New York and on tour. James trained as assistant and associate to Josie Rourke, and as staff director to Howard Davies at The National Theatre, and on The National Theatre Directors Course. He was awarded an MBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List 2020 for services to theatre. This was my first opportunity to conduct a live interview after a performance so many thanks to Mirvish Productions for this opportunity to speak with James. From what I could tell looking around me on the opening night of ‘Fisherman’s Friends, The Musical, the audience exited the theatre in tremendous high spirits because there was pure blissful joy emanating from the stage. What words of encouragement did James give to the cast before opening night: “I just told them to enjoy themselves. When you spoke about that joy earlier, Joe, that’s very real on that stage. Although they’re acting as characters, these are very real human beings who love deeply and passionately performing and acting, but most of all singing. The musicians love making music and they change instruments in the blink of an eye.” James then laughed and said he didn’t have to go and motivate them. They do it themselves before each performance. James is equally as thrilled to be invited to this ‘beautiful, beautiful, Royal Alexandra’ and to be warmly welcomed by the crew and everyone here. The creative team for ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ had been in Toronto for just over a week and a half and it has been a thrill and a privilege to bring the show over the Atlantic and to receive such a wonderful reception. Why does Toronto need a show like ‘Fisherman’s Friends, The Musical’ right now? James calls the production a universal story about ordinary people who don’t seek fame and fortune but have extraordinary spirit and talent. Fame and fortune find them instead. ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ is a story about friendship, community, and love: He further adds: “In a complicated and oppositional world and difficult a lot of the time, there’s space for a story that reminds us of the real importance of the core values of being a human being. Family, friendship, community, and a love of music all play a part in this. Through telling the story of these guys, we’ve come to understand more of what they stand for as a group. The world needs some sea shanties now and then.” As an artist for what he calls ‘twenty-something years’, James feels extremely fortunate to be part of the theatre industry which is not a straightforward profession. He feels tremendously fulfilled hugely and personally in doing something he loves and that is a rare and wonderful thing for him. For any aspiring artists, singers or dancers who might have seen this opening night show or who will see an upcoming performance, James tells them to work hard, delve into their passion and find out what makes them happy as an artist because the theatre industry is very competitive and a difficult profession. How has he felt about Covid’s ongoing presence worldwide and its effect on the theatre industry? As an artist, what James felt he missed the most was the sense of community that comes not only from working in theatre but going to the theatre. It’s extraordinary to be in a live audience that you can’t get from watching television at home. What James felt was missing was the ritual and the preparation of going to the theatre – getting dressed up, going to the city, getting a drink, sitting down, reading the programme, and waving to people whom you might know in the audience. James has returned to the theatre with a renewed sense of theatre's importance in a constantly shifting and changing world. Although we are still in the throes of Covid, this extraordinary special thing theatre does every night for audiences has almost a greater value than ever before at a time when people need human contact to experience something collectively. ‘Fisherman’s Friends, The Musical’ runs until January 15. After Toronto, the production returns to Nottingham, England, home of Robin Hood and continues its UK tour running through until June 2023. One of the most exciting parts for James is the show’s return to the Hall for Cornwall in May. ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ opened there a bit over a year ago in its home county among the people whose lives and culture they are representing on the stage. James fervently stated everyone is excited to take the show back home to Cornwall. What’s next for James Grieve once ‘Fisherman’s Friends, the Musical’ concludes its run? “I am doing a new musical about the life of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister who has led an extremely colourful life. We are putting his story on stage in London and I’m really excited to do that.” To learn more about ‘Fisherman’s Friends, The Musical’, follow fishermanonstage.com Previous Next

  • Profiles Mitchell Marcus

    Back Mitchell Marcus Moving Forward Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres Just hearing about all the accomplishments of Mitchell Marcus within the professional performing arts community makes him a mover, shaker and leader within the theatre industry. Recently named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 (2019), he is the founder and Artistic & Managing Director of The Musical Stage Company – Canada’s leading and largest not-for-profit musical theatre company. Over sixteen years, The Musical Stage Company (previously Acting Up Stage Company) productions have been recognized with 105 Dora Award nominations, 23 Dora Awards and 19 Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards and programming partnerships have been built with Mirvish, the Elgin Winter Garden Theatre Centre, Canadian Stage, AGO, TIFF, Massey Hall, Obsidian Theatre Company, and the Regent Park School of Music amongst others. Outside of The Musical Stage Company, Mitchell was the Associate Producer for the inaugural six years of Luminato, producing over 100 productions for one-million attendees annually. Mitchell has twice been the Creative Producer for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize as well as the producer of the Dora Awards. He organized four years of It’s Always Something, working with a team that raised over $500,000 annually for Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto. He is active on committees that service the arts community, serves as an advisor to the Metcalf Foundation for its Creative Strategies Incubator program, a member of Sheridan College’s Performing Arts Committee, a member of the Dora Eligibility Committee, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Canadian Musical Theatre Writers Collective. Mitchell has held positions in the arts management departments at UofT and Ryerson University. Mitchell is the recipient of the 2017 The Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for Outstanding Leadership in Administration, a Harold Award, and was a finalist for the 2018 Roy Thomson Hall Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation recognizing contributions to Toronto’s musical life. I am grateful and thankful he took the time to participate in the conversation via email: It has been an exceptionally long six months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion? Without discounting all the sadness of illness, destruction, injustice and loss, I have loved watching and participating in a global demonstration of resilience. There are, of course, so many things we are no longer able to do, but it’s been astonishing how quickly we can pivot as a species, adjusting to working-from-home, moving our lifestyles to the beauty of our outdoors, and adapting our thirst for global adventure into one more local. More importantly than the resiliency and speed of adaptation, I’ve loved seeing how many of us have found silver linings in this new routine which has forced us to challenge our expectations of what we thought life would bring and return to a simpler, more true sense of self and aspiration. In that regard, while I am certainly feeling scared about the increase in COVID-cases and frustrated by the barrage of human injustice that makes headlines every day, I am actually feeling quite optimistic and content. It’s fascinating to witness a historic moment of change like the one we are in. And I’m hopeful that what we are learning and reflecting upon during this time is going to lead to something very special on the other end. Look at how much we are accomplishing and look how much change feels within reach. If we can do that during social distancing, imagine what we are capable of once we have the freedom of movement and connection once again. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? I’m very proud of how my family has navigated this time so far. We’ve really stayed optimistic and made the most of each day: I absolutely loved being a part of my kids’ education during the Spring in a hands-on way; We used money from cancelled vacations to rent a farm near Orangeville for a month in July and organized family colour-war events and daily swim lessons; It’s the first time in my life that I have been home every night of the week for dinner and been able to tuck my kids into bed; And each weekend is now filled with lots of hiking and bike riding. I don’t mean to be painting an overly rosy picture – there have been many nights of deep worry and anxiety. But there has also been much joy in togetherness. Personally, I’ve been digging more into mindfulness during this time. I’ve been practicing meditation for nearly four years, but it’s gone into overdrive over the last six months. My nightstand is stacked to the ceiling with books on anti-racism and books on mindfulness/spirituality. I’ve loved getting to learn new things and to dive deep into the philosophical exploration of imagining what the universe is telling us in this moment and how to apply it to my life. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? The most difficult part of the last six months has been mourning the loss of live theatre and recognizing the immensely devastating impact it is having on independent artists. I feel enormously grateful and also enormously guilty for having a full-time job in the arts. I am deeply thankful for the existence of CERB and relieved that it will be extended in some form. Our team is doing everything we can think of to keep work flowing and money going out the door. But it’s very heavy to realize how many people in our industry, in our community, are struggling. At the end of the day, I often have to shut off all technology and curl up with one of those mindfulness books and a glass of wine and retreat into my own Zen place. But I also recognize the luxury of being able to shut out the pandemic and the privilege I’ve been afforded when doing so. The biggest challenge has been trying to stay in the present and not plan into the future. I am a planner by nature and my skill as a leader has been to keep our focus on multi-year strategic initiatives that make change. But it’s impossible to plan for a future we don’t yet understand. So I’ve had to work really, really hard to not get too far ahead and keep all of us at The Musical Stage Company focused on how we want to respond to the challenges and needs of today, abandoning past plans and paths that no longer feel relevant, and avoiding drawing too many conclusions for the future before we have a full understanding of what future we are planning for. But as someone who always likes to have the answer immediately, it’s been a real exercise in patience. 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? When we shut down, we were a few weeks away from the world premiere of KELLY v. KELLY by Britta Johnson and Sara Farb. We’ve been working with Britta and Sara since 2014 and we’ve been deep in development for KELLY v. KELLY for a couple of years, so this was a particularly painful project to not see materialize. It was also going to be SO good. I’m rarely confident about a production – especially a new work – but this show was in such great shape with a team that was firing on all cylinders. We also lost major milestones this season including UNCOVERED: DOLLY & ELVIS which was to play Koerner Hall in November, and the Canadian premiere of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 that was to open at the Winter Garden Theatre in January. Without question, KELLY v. KELLY will see the light of day as soon as it is safe to do so. Thankfully we were able to postpone before we had spent too much of the money earmarked for the project. We put all the funding for it aside, not to be touched until it can be revived. So, it’s in the uniquely positive position of being ready for production with the funding to get it there. We’ll have to see about everything else. More than ever it’s important to me that the stories we tell are relevant and resonant for the moment in which they are being shared. The projects that were the right “why-this-project-why-now” in the old world may not be the right projects in the one that awaits us. That’s the funny thing about programming – you are often responding to an indescribable energy in the zeitgeist. If we want theatre to matter when we return, we need to make sure not to cling to what was and be hyper aware of what people need on the other side. Having said that, our commitment to new Canadian musicals is unwavering. We have run 17 workshops for new musicals since COVID hit and have no intention of slowing down. That is the joy of new material. The writers are naturally infusing today’s emotions and thoughts into the works. They are living, breathing stories being developed during a global pandemic. So even though none of them are about living during or after COVID-19, their ongoing evolution will ensure that they are necessary and healing in the world that awaits us. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Working and raising kids! Honestly, it fills my days completely. Work has not really gotten much quieter even though we aren’t in production (turns out navigating global pandemic is more work than producing theatre). We produced 80 concerts this summer, we are in production for an UNCOVERED film, we are running workshops, our youth programs are going national, etc. By the time I’ve completed a day of Zoom meetings, cleared an inbox of emails, and spent some time with my kids, I’m ready for bed. But the weekends have been quieter than normal. There are no readings to attend or shows to see. And my kids’ programs have all shut down. So, I’ve loved the pace of my weekends. We’ve just been outdoors as much as possible, biking, hiking, and camping. 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? Here’s two of my favourite quotes from Pema Chödrön: “When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” And “Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.” I don’t mean to be cliché, answering your question with inspiring quotes, but I really believe this is the only way forward. Something has died. We have to take the time and space to grieve it. But we also have to open ourselves to the exciting possibility of reinvention and rebirth that comes after an ending. In that regard, I guess my advice for recent grads is to recognize that this death has levelled the playing field. None of us know the way forward, and the most senior arts leader doesn’t have any better strategies for the future than a recent theatre grad (who may in fact have more objectivity on what could be possible). We are all now pioneers building a more equitable, more sustainable, more relevant theatre. Seize this once in a lifetime chance to be a part of the rebirth by charting your own course and helping to mould the industry that awaits you. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? I think it has taught us to slow down. I think it has taught us not to take simple connection for granted. I think it has removed some of the allure of ruthless ambition and replaced it with a focus on empathy and equity. I hope these lessons stay with us. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? It absolutely will. Hopefully COVID itself will succumb to a vaccine and we won’t have to have the distancing and health measures in our lives forever. But I hope we will forever be impacted by what this time has taught us about equity and treatment of people. And I hope that audiences are so hungry to gather together again that they race to the theatre in unprecedented numbers! Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown? For me, producing theatre has always been about serving and enriching an audience. It is about giving a willing group of people something that their souls needed that they didn’t realize was needed. Ultimately, the medium doesn’t matter as much as the power of the message and the unbridled attention of an audience. If this exchange is happening successfully on YouTube and via online streaming sites, may it live forever! I am skeptical however about how well this is working. There is a sense of ceremony when we gather in person and devote our entire energy to a story. I fear that we haven’t yet figured out how to permeate the digital fourth wall in the same way to achieve the same outcome. But this is definitely the ‘trial and error’ phase. I have no doubt that artists will successfully navigate this new medium and make it into a powerful mode of soul nourishment. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? My heart knows the power of hearing the exact right piece of music to capture a moment or emotion. It is like nothing else. And no pandemic can keep that magical experience from happening each time I witness it in a theatre, outdoors, or online. It will withstand the test of time. You can follow Mitchell on his social media handles: @mitchellmarcus and at Musical Stage Company: @musicalstagecom. Previous Next

  • Profiles Michael Therriault

    Back Michael Therriault Looking Ahead David Cooper. Joe Szekeres First time I saw Michael Therriault on stage was in the Canadian production of ‘The Producers’ as Leopold Bloom. He won a Dora for this performance. While he was performing in a production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in New York, Michael received word that he had been cast as Gollum in the Toronto premiere of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Musical’ and he won a second Dora for his performance. Therriault also reprised his role in the West End production. Therriault also portrayed Tommy Douglas in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) TV Special: ‘Prairie Grant: The Tommy Douglas Story’ for which he was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series. Michael attended Oakville’s Sheridan College and graduated with his degree in Music Theatre Performance. He was also a member of the inaugural Stratford Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre. We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you, Merci, for 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. I think I’ve learned that I am a bit more resilient than I had imagined. When Covid began, I was quite anxious about how life would be with this new virus. The idea of spending months this way, let alone a year, seemed terrifying. But we’ve all adapted to this strange way of living and I find that really surprising and strangely encouraging. I also think, when things get back to normal, I will be even more aware of how precious time with friends and family is. I think we all will be. 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 been inspired by theatre’s resourcefulness and ability to adapt. The Factory Theatre here in Toronto did some amazing live-streamed shows that still had the thrill of a one-time event that I hadn’t imagined possible on Zoom. The Old Vic in London has been doing similar things as well. Both The Shaw and Stratford Festivals are planning outdoor experiences that sound exciting. Also, it’s been fun seeing colleagues’ creativity expressing itself in new and surprising ways: A lighting designer has turned to photography; a sound designer is renovating boats for example. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the community aspect: meeting every day to create together and be inspired by each other. I miss the thrill of first days, celebrating openings and closings as a company and the late night “aha!” moments you have when you are rehearsing. As I read about the passing of colleagues during this time, I particularly miss our tradition of getting together in a theatre for a celebration of life and collectively thanking our passed colleague with a standing ovation. It’s a very moving gesture that always reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of this community. 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 many of us will be even more aware of how special it is to being in a room full of people to share an experience together. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. This past year has had society investigate some big social issues that will no doubt have a positive impact on live theatre going forward. I think our productions will become even more inclusive, diverse, and compassionate. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. I really just hope to keep learning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that some of the joy I had as a young actor can occasionally get shadowed by fear: fear of being bad, of getting it wrong, of being found out. I’d like to continue to work to put joy and fearlessness in the forefront. I’ve always thought that the ‘it factor” that people talk about is really just people working joyfully. 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. When we gather again, we may feel the need to explore this experience we’re having in the stories we present on stage. That makes a lot of sense. But I also think we will be relieved to explore other stories as well. The collective need to “move on” will be just as great. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I’d like to be thought of as inventive, creative, fearless (I’m working on that) but most important joyful. The work I’ve done that I am most proud of was filled with joy. It felt like flying. And I think finding more joy in life is always a good idea. Previous Next

  • Profiles Vern Thiessen

    Back Vern Thiessen Theatre Conversation in a Covid World --- Joe Szekeres There are times looking back on my 33-year teaching career when I wish I had known the names of more Canadian playwrights and the crucially important stories they had shared with audiences. Vern Thiessen is one writer whom I place here. A local semi-professional theatre company had produced Vern’s play ‘Vimy’ of “a seminal nation-building moment in WWI in terms of the lives of four men from different parts of Canada, and their interaction with the nurse who cares for them.” (www.canadiantheatre.com ), and when I had seen this extraordinary production, I wanted to know more about Vern and his work. He is one of Canada’s most produced playwrights. His work has been seen across Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia. His works include Of Human Bondage, Vimy, Einstein’s Gift, Lenin’s Embalmers, Apple, and Shakespeare’s Will. He has been produced off-Broadway five times. Vern is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Dora and Sterling awards for Outstanding New Play, The Carol Bolt Award, the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award, the City of Edmonton Arts Achievement Award, the University of Alberta Alumni Award of Excellence, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, Canada’s highest honour for a playwright. After seven years living in New York, Vern returned home to Canada to teach and write. He currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta. We conducted our conversation via Zoom and shared a few laughs as I got to know Vern briefly during this time. Thank you so much for the interview, Vern, and for adding your voice to the conversation: The doors to Toronto live theatre have been shut for over a year now with no possible date of re-opening soon. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? We’re very lucky, I’ve had very good health over this year as has my family. We’ve had a couple of extended family members who have contracted Covid very early because they were coming back from travels afar, but they’re all fine with no long-term issues there. Thank you for asking. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? Well, I’m really lucky, Joe, because so many of my compatriots have lost their livelihoods particularly actors, I think were hit the hardest in the theatre. Not only because the theatres are closed but their secondary businesses like bar tending and those in the service industry were closed down. I consider myself very lucky. I have been writing. I’m also lucky because I don’t have young children and I’m not taking care of older parents. Many of my theatre friends are squeezed between these two things – they have young kids and elderly parents for whom they’re caring. I don’t know how they’ve been surviving, and certainly not creating any art. I’m in this lucky group that’s not being squeezed in those ways. On top of that, I’ve had some outstanding commissions that I could finish. I’m teaching and doing work that I’ve already done. Playwrights can write on their own and squirrel things away for future, so I’m sure after Covid lifts and everyone gets back in the theatre you’re going to see this tsunami of plays because people like me have three plays we’ve been working on. To be specific, I’ve been working on an adaptation of ‘The Diviners’ by Margaret Laurence for The Manitoba Theatre Centre which I’ve been commissioned to do. We’ve done some workshops via Zoom at MTC. I’m also just finishing a brand-new play I’ve been working on called ‘Bluebirds’ for Theatre New Brunswick which we’ve developed over the summer again through Zoom. ‘Bluebirds’ is the story of three World War 1 Canadian nurses in France. I’m working on something new that’s different for me, a family thriller, and a couple of other things in the mix. I’ve actually been quite busy writing this year and very thankful for that. Outside of the writing and teaching, my wife and I, right as the pandemic started, we happened to be moving into a new house that we were renting which was awesome because it has a huge garden plot. I hadn’t gardened in twenty years, and I come from a gardening family. I thought, “I’m gonna put in a garden” and that was a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot more cooking because my wife is busier than I was during the fall and spring so I had time to tend the garden and make some meals and become a better cook, not chef, because that would be pushing it. I’ve taken the opportunity to get to a number of things I haven’t done in a long time like play my guitar and take tap dancing lessons to get out of my comfort zone. I tap dance only for fun and nobody will ever see me tap dance except my teacher. I’ve also done quite a bit of dramaturgy and teaching online, and Covid has allowed us to connect as theatre artists across the country in different ways we didn’t do before. Just trying to use the time the best way I can – doing some family history research, things like that. 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 plus absence from the theatre as something else? No, I certainly wouldn’t call it an escape. Theatre can be an escape from your life, but I don’t think Covid has been an escape from it or from anything. If anything, Covid has been a reckoning. I’ve been lucky because theatre for me has been an escape from Covid, right, I’ve been allowed to work and do my writing while this horrible thing has been happening. Certainly, Covid itself, I wouldn’t call it an escape at all. Call it a challenge. The only thing that it has allowed me and other theatre artists to really do is to really re-think how we create. Mainly I’m talking about the professional business in Canada, the United States and Europe to some extent. Double that with Black Lives Matter and the re-thinking of how we create with our BIPOC brothers and sisters has really and completely been a revolution in Canadian theatre in the last year which I think is fantastic. I wouldn’t call it an escape, but I would call it a reckoning. In one way it has been awful because we’ve lost our abilities to make our living but, on the other hand, it has provided this opportunity for us to really re-examine and change the way we make theatre in this country for the better. 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 don’t know. I think that really, really depends on what happens with the pandemic and how it’s managed. If I was in Australia, well, the theatres are full here because the country handled the pandemic very differently. Obviously if I’m in Texas and they’ve 40,000 people watching a baseball game, The Toronto Blue Jays no less, well I can see the theatres being full down here (Vern rolled his eyes at this point so I could tell what he was feeling and didn’t have to ask him anymore) no matter what the cost to humanity. So I guess it really depends on where you are. I can see in small towns or some smaller cities that have professional theatres – Barrie, North Bay, Thunder Bay – might actually have full houses very soon. It’s going to be a bit more challenging for the commercial theatres in the bigger city centres. Even then, Nathan Lane just did something on Broadway with 25% capacity. I feel it will roll along, go back a little bit and then roll along some more and go back a bit and forward. The agreement I would say that around the world, full time, people in theatres at 100%, yes, it will probably be 2022 at the earliest, I hope, I hope it’s not later than that. I fully expect to have a production. In fact, I’ve booked productions in the US for next fall. I’m not sure how much capacity they will be at, but the fact paying me a royalty for doing my play gives me sufficient reason to believe they will have an audience. I feel like we’re slowly going to come out of the cave. 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? It's transformed me personally on many levels that we’ve already talked about in terms of my family and how I look at my family and friends, and how I communicate with people. I think it’s transformed on the business side my collegiality with people across the nation. Before Covid, it was pretty unlikely you were going to do a workshop over Zoom with a bunch of artists across the country. We did a reading of ‘The Diviners’ at Manitoba Theatre Centre which was an entirely Indigenous cast, and they came from everywhere from Alberta all the way to Quebec. That is something we would have never considered before the pandemic. Covid has changed me and my practice in a way because it’s broadened my field of vision across the country in a way that we were forced to do because of Covid. So that’s been very, very positive. It’s really changed me. It’s less about Covid than it is about what has happened with Black Lives Matter and our attempt to de-colonize Canadian theatre. That has had a huge impact on me, and again I make reference to ‘The Diviners’ because it was a really good chance for me to engage with the Metis community and the Indigenous theatre workers in Winnipeg, in Manitoba and, as a white settler dude, not only white but old, white, straight and male, it’s changed me because I’ve really had to re- think what my position is in the theatre community and world. In terms of what I’m creating (regarding transformation), that’s interesting. It’s hard for me to say as I think I’m too close to it. Am I writing stuff that has been really influenced by Covid? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I might look back on it five years and go, “Oh yeah, that was my Covid play” because those characters in the play are all in the same room OR they can’t connect. In ‘Bluebirds’ those nurses are three front line workers, so has that influenced me? I don’t know if I’m conscious of that. It’s too soon to tell. Certainly, in ‘Bluebirds’ there’s been a shift in the writing of the play which will premiere next fall, I hope. There’s a focus on these women doing extraordinary work in very dangerous conditions with a flu pandemic coming in at the end of the first World War as well. That may have been by Covid, but I’m not sure how conscious I was of that in writing it. 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? For sure, there has to be a certain kind of theatrical danger. We’re not talking about real danger. I don’t want to see actors in a place where they feel like they will physically hurt themselves, or, as an audience member, I don’t want to be in a position where I feel like I might be in a place where I might physically hurt myself. Certainly, to be in a dangerous emotional place for actors and audience, I think, is critical to the theatre. It’s not only something that should happen, and that is what transforms us because we have to come out on the other side of that. I believe that theatre should be dangerous that way. We should be excited to be there, not bored to be there or feel like it’s an obligation. We should walk out of it feeling that we have been transformed in some way, I don’t mean in any religious sense, but something should have shifted inside of us whether in my brain, my heart, my soul (if that thing actually exists within us). Yes, I agree with her. Have I ever experienced that? Absolutely. Endangering and fear are two close things that are related and certainly, as a playwright, I don’t know of any playwright who doesn’t feel an enormous amount of fear when they open up their file and start to write. It’s engaging that fear and danger that is both exhilarating and makes the time go by and fly by as you’re writing. It’s also transformational as well, right, that you’re actually putting something down on the page that has never been there before. Hopefully, down the line some actors will read it and an audience will be transformed by it in the same way you were transformed as you wrote it. So, yes, I have been in that situation. I feel danger certainly. Nobody has coughed on me, and I don’t feel the danger that I might feel as if I were in Rio de Janeiro or in that ballpark in Texas. But I certainly felt that the theatre itself was in danger, and how are we going to survive this? We’re lucky to have some great extraordinary leaders, and frankly the federal government has stepped up to the plate to give us some money early on. That was critical to ensure that some artists could survive. 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 think that hits it, doesn’t it? Sometimes, I feel as if we are overly sensitive. I feel as if we are all a bit fragile right now, and that it is very difficult to take criticism or difficult to understand how things are changing so quickly. The way we are making art changes so quickly, and our institutions this year are changing so quickly that there is a deep sensitivity to making sure we are doing it right, and that we’re creating art in a responsible way that we never did before. It’s tricky because sometimes it can lead to a fragility that is not necessarily healthy. Sensitivity can mean a lot of different things. 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 much more curious and sensitive about how other people are making art and writing plays. I belong to this Tuesday evening group of theatre people from around the country. We meet every week on Tuesday evening to read a play. We’ve been doing this now, next week will be a year. We missed a couple of times around the holidays. I think our group has read 48 plays. I do read plays and I don’t think I would have read the breadth and depth of that cannon of work had it not been for that group. So, it has made me more sensitive to what is going on. I’ve actually had time to read plays that are going on around the world that I wouldn’t have had a chance to do because I’ve had the time and the desire to do it. This time has also made me curious about other things in my life, as curiosity is always a key tool for the artist anyway. To come full circle to the first question you’ve asked me, I’ve always been curious about tap dancing. I’m also interested in taking some cello lessons. I’ve connected with a musician friend, a professional well known cello player, and we’ve decided to create something together. I think curiosity is broadening how we create theatre and who we create it with, and who we create it for. My actor friend, who is well known, lost the whole season this year. I won’t mention his name and lives down the street from me. On Easter morning, he got dressed up in this gigantic bunny suit that he rented from ‘The Theatre Garage’ (which must be hurting these days). My friend just walked around the neighbourhood and that was his piece of art for the day. We have a fair amount of children in the area, and the kids loved it. This was his chance to get out and perform, but also engage with his community. I’m not saying this is a piece of theatre, but maybe it is? That was his way of creating a bit of theatre…and that he went to direct a bit of traffic on the main street still wearing the costume. That kind of curiosity exists within me too – maybe I should write something different this time. I think that, if anything, this Covid time has made us more curious about different things, and that’s a good thing because we can get stuck in our ways. Previous Next

  • Profiles Jim Millan

    Back Jim Millan Looking Ahead David Leyes. Joe Szekeres Jim Millan has had quite the diverse career in the theatre and beyond, and his work has taken him to some places that I would love to see one day. I knew he had founded Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre and directed some productions there, but I had no idea of how extensive his work has been. He has directed comedy, dramas, magic and musicals on 5 continents in 38 countries in 17 languages and premiered over 185 new works in his career. Jim has a long series of innovative creations in theatre, comedy, magic and variety that has taken him from Canada to the West End to Radio City Music Hall, Las Vegas, Broadway and beyond. His unique talent is in demand as director, writer, producer, deviser of diverse and unique new entertainments built on his decades of experience in the traditional and less traditional theatre. In the 90’s Crow’s Theatre had produced the Best Play winner at Toronto’s Dora awards 4 out of 6 years. During this period Jim made his reputation directing such daring plays as Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Come Good Rain, High Life, The Chet Baker Project, Dali and others. Praise for Crow’s Theatre and Jim Millan included USA Today calling it “everything theatre should be, dangerous, daring and disturbing.” He directed the Canadian premieres of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shopping and F*cking and numerous other revolutionary new works from New York and London. Crow’s Theatre in Toronto has continued to thrive under new stewardship and is now a multi-million-dollar hub of cutting-edge theatre. He also was one of the founders of the Toronto Fringe and Crow’s was its corporate parent in the first year. Outside of his company, Jim began a decades-long collaboration directing the Kids in the Hall comedy group, which started in 2000. This work brought him to the attention of US producers. Five North American tours and special headlining performances have kept the 1990s comedy icons in the public eye, and they are now writing a new AMAZON TV series. Among his more explosive creations, Jim teamed with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman to create Mythbusters Live, which sold out across North America and toured Australia and New Zealand multiple times. Among his favourite experiences, he worked alongside Teller and Todd Robbins on Play Dead off Broadway, Mexico City and at the Geffen in LA. Another large-scale adventure was as the original Creative Director for The Illusionists, which opened in New York City in December 2014 and set an all-time record for a magic show on Broadway. As a comedy writer/director he created with his comedy partners SPANK: the 50 Shades parody which played over 400 cities and it has been produced in Australia and Poland. Jim’s love of comedy and unique entertainments were displayed in Off Broadway hits, The Marijuana-Logues with Doug Benson, Arj Barker, Tony Camin and Tommy Chong, and the Korean martial arts comedy Jump. Jim is also in demand as a creative consultant, having stepped in on SPIDERMAN: Turn off the Dark on Broadway working with Bono, Edge, writer Glen Berger and the creative team to help save the biggest musical in Broadway history. It ran for 3 years after its revamp. He is also a creative producer of the Governor General’s Awards Gala in Ottawa (which are Canada’s Kennedy Centre Honours). Past entertainers he has celebrated at the awards include Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, Sandra Oh, Andrew Alexander, Catherine O’Hara and Ryan Reynolds In development for the next twelve months, he has a play he co-wrote and will direct based on the book The Darkest Dark, by Astronaut Chris Hadfield, that premieres at Young People’s Theatre when possible. He is also collaborating with Lucy Darling on a new TV comedy and also with Penn and Teller for a touring project inspired by their TV show Fool Us. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for adding your voice to this important discussion about the evolving world of live theatre in a post pandemic world, Jim: 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 see the fragility of the world we’ve all lived in up to this point differently. Lots of us tended to tie our self-worth to our work, our status, that things are either progressing or regressing in our work lives. That work was disproportionately important in what many of us thought success or happiness or contentment was. I’ve got a teen daughter and a pre-teen son as well. What became very clear was that the pandemic gave me a pause to see where I really was in my life and where my kids were in their lives. My work has been international for quite a while, so there have been times where I’ve been away three or four months during the year. And so I am grateful for this time and this has felt grounding to be here at home and to help the family and other people who 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? Well, when we come back, the gatekeepers will have changed. A lot of the organizations will have had to do a lot of soul searching. And so, we will have the traditional crisis of live theatre, which is how do you balance all of the challenges of attracting an audience, building an audience, making an audience care and balance it with the influx of new priorities and realignment of so many of our assumptions. To me, that’s an exciting time. There’s going to be a lot of people who don’t come back. There will be a lot of people who will step away, both audience and artists. I think there will be a huge attrition in the audience attendance. I was an Artistic Director in Toronto after SARS. At that point, before SARS happened, you could have 6 or 8 hit plays going on in Toronto that would be sold out. There’d be a review in the newspaper and the next day the first half of the run would be sold out because people would just get on the phone and know that if they wanted to catch that production, they would have to be quick or there might be limited availability ‘til such and such a day. Well, that went away. We’d lost the habit. I hope it’s the opposite and there is instead a pent up thirst. That’s a little bit of weather forecasting and the one thing the pandemic has taught us: we don’t know anything. An image that I have nostalgia for is that lots of theatres around the planet have things are set on stage exactly the way they were on March 13, 2020. Costumes on hangers in the wings, things in dressing rooms, props on tables, sets; we didn’t come back as quickly as we hoped. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the people. I realized a number of years ago that one of the skills or changes I’ve observed in myself is that I’m a better collaborator than I’ve ever been. And because being in this business for a while is humbling, and it’s energizing and defeating and you certainly learn, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to work with great people, that the experience, the journey of making something is equal to whatever the output is, if not more important to you as a person. And so, I miss that adventure terribly. Also, I think when all of the things converge correctly that honest exploration, that adventure process you go through with the other people ends up, no matter how exhausting it is, giving you a lot more than you put in because of the sum of the energy of the group. I just miss people. I miss the fun of it. I miss the laughter. I miss rehearsal halls. I miss having a problem that’s insurmountable, and then gifted people working together, take it apart, parcel it out, solve it, surprise each other and then you go on. A big challenging production is like the film version of ‘Lord of the Rings’. A huge number of small incidents, victories and defeats and somehow just getting to the end without too many people dying along the way is your duty. And pretty exciting. Crisis reveals character. Some say it builds character and yes, over time that can be true. And what has been interesting to me is that the people who have been able to flourish have found a way to take their creative energy and be of service. That has been a salvation for me. Being of service to my family, to my children, other artists that I know and just community people that have been hit far harder than I have by this storm has been key. As artists, as this clarifying, challenging time is upon us, when we come back, those of us who are able to come back, will have a greater sense of purpose and perhaps will have refined our values because of what we’ve all been through. When we get back into a room again, we’ll be looking at all kinds of people who have been traumatized in all kinds of ways. There will be a lot of laughter, a lot of healing. I hope there will be renewed sense of purpose and renewed joy in making things. We’ve been through a storm that has affected all of us differently, and I hope there will be a kindness and generosity of practice. We’ll work on it together. 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? Being busy. (Jim laughs again) I’ve been really, really busy for around 20, 30 years. I always knew I was blessed to be that busy and have opportunities and be able to complain about having to travel so much. I also miss working in different situations and cultures with artists whose careers and taste and experiences are vastly different. I love being surrounded by people smarter and wiser than I am. Also, the challenge of making something original with fun people. Describe one element you hope has changed in the live theatre profession. Oh, I think it was a tremendously hierarchical organized creative endeavour. That’s not even taking into account the more commercial world I’ve often worked in, in the States and other places. I hope the assumptions of privilege are shattered – whether that’s white privilege, male privilege, class privilege and the pomposity of some of the folks who having been doing it longer. I’ve long observed that change was coming. This last year, I think, “the theatre” has been shaken to its foundations, which is a good thing. I don’t think I’m the only person who is curious as to what happens next. As the business of theatre, as the cultural force of theatre re-opens and touring begins (I’ve directed a lot of things that have toured significantly) it will be interesting to see what the audiences choose. Will they go on the new journey being offered by new artistic leadership like the late 60’s and 70s because the work connects with both existing audiences and emerging audiences? I’m ready to lend a hand. We’ll see. Crow’s Theatre was born in the second wave of founding of Canadian theatres centered on Canadian voices in the 80s. We were looked at skeptically. Brash new voices. So I hope this re-emergence will be a new wave of Canadian theatre. I’m ready to help and certainly know a lot of people who are in that world and there will be a time and place. I’d like to spend more time in Canada now. I’m not planning to do as much of traveling as I used to do. Let's hope that there’s an opportunity for all of us to find ways to support this next wave. We won’t know what the needs are. The challenges are post-pandemic and that’s why I think it will take a multi-layered effort from not just the artistic community but also the audience, the funders, particularly the philanthropists, the corporations. If we don’t rise to the moment, we’ll see theatre fall back significantly. I think in the short term it will take a lot to get people back, and then it will take very nimble minds and strong backs to carry us through this next period and do the next, ultimate thing – attract young people – to come to see it. If we’re not getting young people to come to see what we do, then it’ll be the progress of 50 years of significant Canadian theatre production lost. I witnessed Canadian work being culturally important, and not just being a side bar knowing that plays, playwrights and our artists can make a difference. For that important progress not to be diminished, we need to have a lot of hands on deck. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. I need to keep lifting up younger artists. I need to keep surprising people and myself. I need to lead by example because the best artists I encountered when I was young were ones able to teach me without it always being necessary to explain themselves. The people that were inspiring were able to talk the talk and walk the walk. You need to be inspired because art needs to be brave. Artists who last and also keep challenging themselves need to keep having fun, idiotically persevering and be generous of spirit. If we keep playing the game the right way, the next generation will play the right way. It’s not as if the game doesn’t evolve and we don’t evolve, but there’s just something to be said for those who have done it for a while, and to be open hearted to sharing how we do it, humble in the face of it, as it’s been a privilege to be able to do it this long and still have a chance to do it. My next Toronto-based project is a new play I’ve adapted from one of Chris Hadfield’s books ‘The Darkest Dark’ for Young People’s Theatre. It was supposed to have been on stage and running at this moment if all of our plans had come together. It’s scheduled for when it’s safe for all of us to gather. It’s nice to be doing a show about bravery and courage. It’s certainly got an inspiring message. Magic and wonder are what artists need to accomplish now and always. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre? I don’t believe there will be a wave of pandemic plays. (Jim then laughs and says) I don’t think anybody is going to be doing a lot of those. I think when the Fringe, which I helped found, happens in person again 15 months from now or whenever that will be, I think the person who gets into the Toronto Fringe by lottery and announces “My Pandemic Days” will have exactly zero people in line to go see it. That’ll be a hard “no” from all of us who lived it. (And Jim laughed again). I’m very curious to see what some of the writers who have been able to flourish have been up to. I hope those others who have been maintaining their energy and just hanging on will get busy again. I think it’ll be indirect, and I think there will be a lot of plays about revolution. I think there will be a lot of comedy, which I look forward to. We all are looking forward to some comedies. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I think the work was daring. I think my work has a great sense of humour. At least to me, and luckily, some other people think so, too. A boldness. Creating an honest and challenging question with the form and a playfulness with the audience so the show isn’t just like everything else. That I did my very best to surprise them. Previous Next

  • Profiles Justin Stadnyk

    Back Justin Stadnyk Looking Ahead Courtesy of Talk is Free Theatre website Joe Szekeres ‘There are other voices in today’s world right now that are more important than mine for them to tell their stories, and for them to lead and be seen leading.” Justin Stadynyk’s final comment during our recent conversation resonated strongly with me. He is more than happy to allow these voices to take their course and proper place in society. He hopes to still be performing in the next five years but also hopes to take that creative bug he has to be on the writing team of a show or the re-creation of a show. I applaud artists who will do their best to make something like this happen and I believe Stadnyk will do just that. He and his wife (who owns a few Winnipeg dance studios) have one newborn and one toddler boy in the house. He stated that he prefers shorter work contracts for now as he doesn’t want to be too far away from home. After we ‘zoomed’ each other, I did a bit of research and discovered I had seen him perform in 2009 at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra in ‘The Boys in the Photograph’ (formerly titled ‘The Beautiful Game’ when I saw the show in London’s West End). I wished I had told him that during our conversation, but it’s here now in print and that’s the important thing. He will appear in September for three days in Barrie Ontario’s Talk is Free Theatre’s ‘Giants in the Sky’. Just what is ‘Giants in the Sky’ aside from a song title in ‘Into the Woods’? Over September 9-11, 2022, and September 16-18, 2022, culture, music, and theatrical performance are bringing rooftops, balconies, and fire escapes of the city of Barrie, Ontario to life, and it’s all free. Performing in some manner has always been a part of Justin’s life. He reminisced that he sang on the playground when he was a “young, young kid.” He attended a Winnipeg high school that had a good performing arts program. He jokingly stated he didn’t follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers and decided to go somewhere else. As soon as he graduated high school, Justin relocated to Oakville, attended the Musical Theatre Program at Sheridan College, and graduated in 2006. This thing called Covid still hovers around all of us, including the performing arts. For Justin, these last two-plus years of absence from live entertainment have placed a lot of things into perspective for him. Justin proudly states his path during the pandemic slightly veered as he and his wife had two boys born during this time. One was born days after the initial shutdown and the other was born five months ago. He calls these last two years a re-shuffling in a perspective shift: “it feels nice that things are slowly getting back in, and it seems as if people are okay with that. Before there was the hustle of the artist trying to get the work, and now, for me, the work seems more meaningful and has a weight to it. Talk is Free’s GIANTS IN THE SKY will allow me a three-day event of musical theatre songs that I love and love to showcase.” What was it that drew Justin to the upcoming ‘Giants in the Sky’ project? He found this a great welcome back for the artists to come together to share their voices in this festival. He recognizes artists are trying to find their comfort level returning to performance as it is nerve-wracking since one can’t just simply return and pick things back up again. Not only does he consider his 45-minute performance set ‘Corner of the Sky’ a nice welcome back to theatre, but also the vast array of programming that has been put together by Talk is Free for the two weekends is fascinating from drummers to poetry readings to opera singers, jazz singers, musical theatre artists, impersonators. Stadnyk calls ‘Giants in the Sky’ a great chance for the artists to ‘wet their whistle’ again with arts and not be forced to put an entire evening aside for one style. Stadnyk will perform outdoors in a back alley for the comfort of those who might not be ready yet to venture indoors into a packed theatre. He has selected an array of songs from the musical theatre canon from classic to pop. He doesn’t have to stick to one genre of the musical theatre category in case a specific song might not be someone’s cup of tea. Additionally, Justin is also a ten-year entrepreneur and works in Yoga and Meditation. He completed his teacher training for Yoga in Brazil in 2011/2012. According to his website, his primary business is: “just music™ . It has become the “go-to” music editing company for choreographers all over North America and the world. The mission of just music™ is to provide a resource for the creative arts and sport communities to create non-jarring, seamless music edits along with providing other music services in order to allow choreographers the time and head space to flourish as just that, the choreographer.” Justin started Yoga when he was playing Gilbert Blythe in the Charlottetown Festival’s production of ‘Anne of Green Gables’. It was called Moksha Yoga then and now it’s called Modo Yoga. He fell in love with yoga as he discovered it helps with his singing and dancing in his musical career. What he didn’t expect from yoga was how much it would help in his acting because of the ability to practice letting go of everything and being in yoga for however long the session: “It is the same with acting.” Justin explains: “One has to let go of the day and be in the moment for the length of the performance. This is hard as there is so much going on in our lives especially surrounding the pandemic now. It’s important not to be able to push down your feelings and stories but to shelve for that moment so you can pick them up later for performance if necessary.” He smiles and concurs how good of a question it is to ask someone where he/she/they see themselves in the next five years. His favourite part of the arts is creating. Some of Justin’s favourite shows have been world premieres and not re-creations of something. He would love to start working on the other side of the table as part of that creative process and perhaps become a writer, an assistant director or a director. If these opportunities presented themselves in the next five years, Justin would like to dabble in them more. And finally, what’s next for Justin Stadnyk once ‘Giants in the Sky’ is complete and he returns home to Winnipeg and his family: “I’m working on ‘Into the Woods’ with Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. The pandemic has made many companies realize they need a bigger insurance policy with standbys and understudies. This is a different role for me as I will be a standby for two of the roles: the Baker and the Narrator and the Mysterious Man. So, in true form to what I said about my five-year plan, I’m really looking forward to the creative process where I get to sit and watch all of these people create and then I get to learn the roles…It’s going to be a new experience for me to be sitting taking notes up in the back and rehearsing things, but I’m excited to be doing it in Winnipeg. I’m happy this is happening more and more in theatre companies.” To learn more about Talk is Free Theatre’s ‘Giants in the Sky’ festival, visit www.tift.com . Previous Next

  • Musicals 'SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL'

    Back 'SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL' At The Princess of Wales Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade Joe Szekeres With a bemused expression on my face as my guest told me, I spotted some audience members wearing platform shoes, bell bottom pants, sparkly slacks, tops and tees, and the ‘big hair’ from the disco era which brought back some fond and embarrassing moments from my high school years at the opening night of ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’. Just like I did with ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’ which also played at Mirvish, I did make strong connections to some of the characters and events from ‘Summer’. The plot deals with the Disco Queen (rumoured that Ms. Summer never liked this title) at three stages of her life. There’s Duckling Donna (played with such ease by Olivia Elease Hardy, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in future shows). Disco Donna (a sexy and seductive Alex Hairston) and Diva Donna (a glamourous Dan’yelle Williamson). What’s clever about this production is the use of Ms. Hardy as Mimi, one of Donna’s future children. Ms. Williamson also plays Donna’s mother, Mary Gaines. At times, the production reminded me of a glitzy Las Vegas show revue. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography sharply reflects the hip swiveling, finger pointing, dance moves of the seventies. When the three Donnas sing together, hot damn do they ever sound good especially in their rendition of ‘MacArthur Park’. Those ladies look terrific on stage backed by a company of a marvelously fit dancers who sometimes appear androgynous. There’s nothing wrong with this revue looking format since I love spending time in Vegas as I’m sure many of us do if we can go. Nevertheless, that glitter and glitz flee quickly away leaving me feeling distant from the emotional element surrounding Ms. Summer’s checkered past in a failed relationship with one of her many lovers. The reason I felt distant (and sorry about the spoiler alert here). Ms. Summer clocks said lover on the face with a coffee table book that has a picture of Barbra Streisand on it. Whether or not Ms. Streisand’s picture is intentional as a joke or comment, here is a point about two strong women in the music industry who have probably had their share of high ranking official men try to take advantage of them in one way or another. I had read many years ago there was tension between Streisand and Summer when they recorded ‘Enough is Enough’ and was hoping there was reference. Nope. There was also a vulgar insinuation of Ms. Summer getting down on her knees, not only for praying, which really bothered me especially since she is no longer with us. This one hour and forty-minute female empowered jukebox musical sans intermission isn’t a terrible show as there are some strong performances throughout. Much like ‘Beautiful’’s mini concert near the end, Ms. Summer’s iconic ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Last Dance’ brought the house down. Ms. Williamson’s rendition of ‘Friends Unknown’ brought a nearly minute and a half long audience applause which brought her to tears. Steven Grant Douglas’s performance as Summer’s second husband, Bruce Sudano, is good but I wished there was more character development for him to show that not all men are like the ones Ms. Summer had to deal with in her career. I couldn’t make out the object appearing down centre stage at the top of the show. When the performance began, and it was a stereo turntable with a Casablanca record label recording, I thought that was quite inventive to tweak my interest. The videos on the panels at the back worked fine for me in order to help establish the various locales. I quite liked the images of the paintings Ms. Summer had completed when she stepped back from her career to be with her family and her own personal health diagnosis. SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL Runs to March 22 at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets, call 1-416-872-1212 or visit www.mirvish.com . Songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others. Book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff Music Supervision and Arrangements by Ron Melrose. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo Directed by Des McAnuff Previous Next

  • Musicals 'Dion: A Rock Opera' World Premiere

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

  • Profiles Dennis Garnhum

    Back Dennis Garnhum Self Isolated Artist Courtesy of Grand Theatre, London, Ontario Joe Szekeres The four years pursuing my undergraduate Arts Degree at King’s College, University of Western Ontario (now known as Western University) solidly shaped my personal and professional interests in the Arts. One of those areas where I still believe the city holds its appeal is in the performing arts sector. When I attended Western, Purple Patches was one of the central student theatre groups on campus which provided a creative outlet for likeminded individuals. I also remember the extraordinary Grand Theatre where I saw some wonderful productions nearly forty years ago. When I started reviewing for On Stage, I wanted to make sure the Grand was included. I have seen some terrific world class professional theatre there recently, and I am always grateful when the invitation has been extended to me to come to London to review their opening night performance The Current Covid pandemic has thrown the professional performing arts sector into a tailspin that has many, who hold a vested interest in it, still reeling from the devastating impact. It’s going to take an extraordinarily calm and clear-headed individual to sift through with a firm grasp and clear vision to move forward into an unknown and uncertain future. I spoke about this quality trait in an earlier profile regarding the Stratford Festival’s Director, Antoni Cimolino. I also place The Grand Theatre’s Artistic Director, Dennis Garnhum, in this same category with Mr. Cimolino. Mr. Garnhum became Artistic Director of the Grand in the fall of 2016. His credentials have been profoundly notable within the theatre community. Since his arrival and return home to London, Dennis has created several new programs with the Grand. He has also launched a new partnership with Sheridan College’s Canadian Music Theatre Program that now positions The Grand’s High School for its next phase of development. Across Canada, Dennis has directed many plays, musicals, and operas with a number of companies. At the Grand Theatre, he directed Timothy Findley’s ‘The Wars’, ‘Prom Queen’ and ‘Cabaret’. He was set to direct the premiere of ‘Grow’ before it was cancelled on account of the Covid pandemic. Dennis and I held our interview via email: 1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-month isolation? We have found some creative ways to fill our days: I work for the Grand in the basement, my husband’s office and broadcast studio (he’s a journalist) is the bedroom, and our daughters bedroom doubles as her school room. We started tiny school: 4 kids, 5 parents all on zoom. One class a day taught by a different parent. I teach drama and art! 2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you and your family during this time? What have you all been doing to keep yourselves busy? The most difficult thing is to not be able to reach out and touch and play. Our daughter, Abby, is most affected by it. We always have a minimum hour of outdoor time daily and I have organized and reorganized the house a few times. 3. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts scene and on the city of London itself? We will refer to the time before and the time after COVID no doubt. Ultimately, I think the ultimate impact will be positive: streamlining, priorities and abundant passion. We will focus on doing less, better, and with more imagination and thrill. The City of London too will learn from these things, and I do believe prosper. People will discover London is a perfect city to live in: it has a lot more space than the larger cities, combined with great things to do: Population will rise. 4. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees of The Grand who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of fatherly advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion? First of all, I have great compassion for the loyal Grand team whose jobs and lives were interrupted with very little notice. People who work at the Grand live in London and make their lives mostly around being with us - so that is without doubt the most painful thing of this time - not being able to continue to make theatre. My hope is that we return to work sooner than later, that we will return to a company and a city willing to enjoy live theatre. The last thing we did was to have a staff breakfast on that fateful day (March 13) and one of the first things we will do will be to sit together and share a meal again. I miss these beautiful people. This past year the Grand Theatre’s production of GROW was workshopped at Sheridan College and at Goodspeed Opera House. Both events used incredibly talented graduating students. They are now out in the world - waiting. I can see their bright faces. My advice is just to be clear with one thought: We’ll return. You’ve lived this dream this long - keep it in your heart - don’t focus on the dark thoughts - and think how glorious it will be when you are able to be on our stages. And you will. 5. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene? Only positive things. Everything will be reconsidered. The best part, I think, is how we will appreciate what we had to a greater extent. I think it will make for extraordinary conversations. 6. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and You Tube 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 Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19? I think online streaming was a brilliant first effort and reaction to a need. What do we have? Computers - and go! I think it’s usefulness is nearly done - and won’t play an important part in live theatre in the future. It’s film. I think it will speed up meetings and allow for some very creative shoutouts etc. But, live theatre is live theatre: people sharing stories in a room. 7. What is it about the Grand Theatre that you still adore in your role as Artistic Director? Well, I adore everything about this role. Everything. What I appreciate the most right now, is that it is a complete honour to be working at the Grand Theatre during this point in history - and I know my role is to be part of team who sees it through to bright, bright, better days. With a respectful acknowledgement 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? Beautiful. 2. What is your least favourite word? No. 3. What turns you on? People. 4. What turns you off? Long lines. 5. What sound or noise do you love? My family laughing at the same time. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Car horns. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Dang. 8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt? Architect. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Giving out parking tickets - too stressful. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “I have a Muskoka chair by the lake waiting.” To learn more about the Grand Theatre, visit www.grandtheatre.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Bahareh Yaraghi

    Back Bahareh Yaraghi Self Isolated Artist Anita Alberto Joe Szekeres The first time I had seen Bahareh Yaraghi’s work onstage was during Stratford Festival’s 2018 production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’. Her confident performance as conniving Laura Cheveley certainly made me pay attention to this character and to the story itself since Wilde’s tale of the context of cheating in Victorian England took on a different meaning in our #metoo world today. I then saw Ms. Yaraghi as daughter Emmy in ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’ when central character, Nora, knocks on that same door she slammed years ago. For me, it was interesting to watch from an acting perspective just how Ms. Yaraghi approached the daughter-mother relationship in ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’. Well, the mother-daughter relationship was taken to an entirely complex level of intrigue in female empowerment when I saw Bahareh’s divine performance (as I called it in my review) in ‘Oil’ at ARC just this past February. The audience viscerally witnesses a mother’s tumultuous relationship with her child (as a baby waiting to be born, a young person and adult) at three extremely different time frames. For me, Ms. Yaraghi has always captured a natural and convincing vocal delivery which makes me want to listen to the story she is telling and the journey she is about to take me on with her. I am most certainly looking forward to her next performance once the pandemic is lifted. She received her BA from McGill University and then trained at Humber Theatre School. A six time Dora award nominee, Ms. Yaraghi has performed on numerous stages in Toronto and across the country. She has been an ARC company member since 2012 and has appeared in past ARC productions since then including ‘Bea’ ‘Moment’ and ‘Pomona’. We conducted our interview via email: 1. How have you been keeping during this crisis? How has your immediate family been keeping during this crisis? I’m grateful to say that all my family and loved ones are all safe and healthy around the globe. We are so privileged in so many ways to be living in Canada, so my husband and I try to keep our focus on the positives, as opposed to all the uncertainties and sadness out there in the world. I’ve learned that if I literally take it one day at a time, my spirit feels much happier that way. 2. As a performing artist, what has/have been the most challenging and difficult element (s) for you? I MISS PEOPLE!!!! I miss interacting, hugging, talking, and collaborating with PEOPLE! Ok, I got that out of my system. As an artist, one of my biggest joys is to be in a room filled with fellow artists, creating work together and ultimately sharing that work with our community. Not being able to do that right now – or for the unforeseeable future – is of course extremely challenging and scary. But all artists around the globe are in the exact same position – so, staying patient and shifting my focus to my TODAY is what is most important right now. The rest will fall back into place when the time is right. 3. Were you in rehearsals, pre-production or performances of any production was the pandemic was declared and a quarantine was imposed? What has or will become of any of those productions in which you involved directly or indirectly? Yes, I was in the middle of ARC’s production of OIL. We had begun the 2nd week of our run, when we quickly realized we had to make the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel our 3rd week of performances. It was such a beast of a show and I was so proud to be telling it with such a wonderful group of humans. It was heartbreaking to have to close it early, but we considered ourselves very lucky to have had 2 weeks with it and to be able to share it. I was also supposed to start rehearsals for Soulpepper/Necessary Angel’s WINTER SOLSTICE that following week which, of course, was sadly cancelled as well. Fingers crossed you will see both productions programmed in the future. 4. What have you been doing during this time to keep yourself busy? I’ve kept myself quite active, socially. Zoom, phone, and FaceTime conversations with friends and family that I always feel I don’t have enough time for. Now I do and that’s a great feeling. I’m finding that physical exercise and meditation are vital to me right now, and they help me feel strong, calm and light. Otherwise, lots of cooking!! Which I absolutely love (I read cookbooks like they’re novels), lots of catching up on movies/tv shows with my husband, and lastly, I’ve been keeping busy working on the future of ARC with my fellow collaborators. There’s lots of exciting ARC news in the works, so stay tuned! 5. Do you have any words of wisdom or sage advice to other performing artists/actors who have been hit hard by this pandemic? Any words of advice to new actors out of theatre schools? The other day a good friend of mine said, “I don’t think I’ve got this covid thing figured out yet.” I understood exactly what he meant: he doesn’t know how he’s ‘supposed’ to feel, how he’s ‘supposed’ to use all this new-found free time, how he’s ‘supposed’ to feel creative when he’s not necessarily inspired, how his perspective ‘should’ be changing because of all this world change. However, I don’t think most of us do. My only advice to anyone would be to keep yourself strong and healthy – physically and mentally – as best you can. Stay hyper-sensitive to the things that truly bring you joy and peace, that truly enrich your spirit, and perhaps start contemplating on the things you will choose to reintroduce back into my life, or the things you’re ready to part ways with, when life and society picks back up. I think this “covid thing” can be a great opportunity for change. But it will require great thought, great strength, great belief and bravery. OR… Netflix and a bag of chips to ease the soul is also time well spent in my books! 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19? The earth and the animals are much happier. The air quality is much more refreshing. And the rat race has been calmed. There’s so much relief in all of that. On a simple level, what I love is that we’re being reminded over and over again that we are all connected, that we need one another, and that we need to take care of each other otherwise we all fall. 7. In your opinion, will COVID 19 have some impact on the Canadian performing arts scene? I have no idea what the future of theatre looks like. Or sport events. Or concerts. Or any event where the energy from a live audience changes everyone’s experience. All I know is that we need immense patience. And the need, desire and hunger to tell and hear stories will come back strong and it will be powerful. I look forward to the re-emergence. 8. Some performing artists have turned to online streaming or You Tube presentations to showcase and/or share their work. In your opinion, is there any value to this presentation format? Will online streaming or You Tube presentations become part of the ‘new normal’ for performing artists? I haven’t watched any of them. I haven’t had the desire yet. I admire the artists testing the waters and finding new ways of sharing their work. Some artists may need to keep creating; and some artists might need stillness and time to process. Everyone has their own pace and might need different creative outlets (or none at all) during these extraordinary times. There is no right answer. But the search is necessary, and I appreciate that very much. 9. What is it about the performing arts community that you still love even though it has been tremendously affected by this pandemic? Oh, it’s one of the best communities in the world! I feel so lucky that I’ve devoted my life to it, even with all its challenges. My husband is not in the performing arts community and he always says, “theatre artists are some of the most intelligent, humble, hilarious, compassionate, well-spoken, and worldly people I’ve ever met.” And it’s true. The theatre community is rich in heart. And if your heart is full, it gives you a different kind of energy. And that energy remains strong, even through a pandemic. As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he used to ask his guests usually at the conclusion of the presentation: 1. What is your favourite word? Love 2. What is your least favourite word? (It’s two) Shut up 3. What turns you on? Wisdom 4. What turns you off? Excuses 5. What sound or noise do you love? Laughter 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Someone in pain that I cannot help 7. What is your favourite curse word? F**K 8. Other than your own at this moment, what other profession would you have liked to do? I wish my parents had put me in dance when I was a child. I think I’d be good at it. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? A surgeon 10. If Heaven exists, what do you think God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Let’s dance, B”. Previous Next

  • Profiles Ted Dykstra and Diana Bentley

    Back Ted Dykstra and Diana Bentley The Self Isolated Artists Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star File Photo Joe Szekeres When I received an email from Ted Dykstra (Chief Engineer) today, I noticed at the bottom under his name he calls his Coal Mine Theatre, “Off-off Broadview theatre”. Very classy and clever, indeed, as he and his wife, Diana Bentley (Co-Chief Engineer of Coal Mine) have modelled their 80 seat theatre after the intimate, exciting and often daring productions that can be found in New York City’s ‘off-off Broadway scene’. To this day, I have never, ever, been disappointed with any of the intriguing and enthralling productions I have reviewed at Coal Mine. I must attribute its success to Diana and Ted, their dynamite slate of plays, and the outstanding actors/production crew members who continue to grace the stage here on Danforth Avenue. I have had the honour to have seen both Ms. Bentley and Mr. Dykstra perform at some of Canada’s finest theatres, and I must include Coal Mine here as well. Ms. Bentley gave a daring and brave performance as Filigree at Coal Mine in ‘Category E’. I will always remember how moved I was the first time I saw Mr. Dykstra’s co-creation of, what I believe is, one of Canada’s most famous plays, ‘Two Pianos, Four Hands’. I was pleased when they agreed to be interviewed via email: 1. How have you and the kids been doing during this tumultuous time of change and upheaval? Ted: Pretty well. We have an 18-month-old named Henry who thinks he hit the jackpot, as he of course has us to himself 24/7. Diana: I think, like most people, there are good days and then there are harder days. We are enjoying having this time at home together and with Henry, but of course we miss the other parts of our lives that we love like the Coal Mine. 2. What has been the most difficult or challenging for you during this isolation? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during the time? (I know with children your attention will have to be on them first and foremost) Ted.: My son and daughter Theo and Rosie are with their mom, and we miss them very much. They miss us too, but I think they and Henry miss each other most of all! The other thing would be speculating on the future, which is “a mug’s game” but I sometimes do it anyway. Diana: We split the days so that one of us takes care of Henry while the other works. Right now I’m working on a television show that I’ve been wanting to pitch for a few years, and a one woman show that I have had sitting inside me for a year. Both are exciting and I’m happy for the time to draw my focus to them, but also trying to be gentle with myself. Right now we’re gearing up for a Coal Mine Zoom Board meeting so we’re still working too! 3. I believe ‘Cost of Living’ was in pre-production and intensive rehearsals when the pandemic was declared, and the quarantine imposed. How many weeks were you into rehearsals? Can you possibly see ‘Cost’ perhaps being part of this upcoming 2020-2021 season or a later season? Ted: We were to start rehearsals March 17. Our New York based actor Christine Bruno arrived March 15, a Sunday. We had her set up in an air bnb close to the theatre, had rented her a mobility scooter, (the play involves two characters who are physically disabled) and stocked her place with groceries. Because she needed to isolate for two weeks on arriving from the states, we decided that we would delay the whole show by a week. So she would isolate for a week, then we would begin rehearsals at the theatre, skyping her in for the first week. But two days after she arrived, we knew it was game over due to the acceleration of the virus’ spread. So we sent her back on the Tuesday. It was very sad of course. Diana: We are very committed to making sure ‘Cost of Living’ happens. The big question is when, but that’s the question for everything right now. When we return to making live theatre, when audiences feel safe to come back and then of course what shows we will program. Lots of questions and bridges to cross 4. Any words of wisdom or sage advice to performers/artists/actors who have been hit hard during this time? I’m sure this pandemic has hit hard on the new graduates of theatre schools. Any words of wisdom for them? Ted: Our jobs have never been assured, by anyone. This is a golden opportunity to learn this. I don’t think any of my neighbours in East York have thought once that they miss the theatre at this time. Rightly so. They have far more important things on their minds. So why are you wanting to do it? It’s an important thing to know for yourself. Good time to think about it! And if you have to do something else other than your heart’s desire to live for however long, like the rest of the world does, show yourself and the world you can do it well and without complaining. We are so lucky to be living the lives we are. And you can still write, read, create, dream - all the things you love. Don’t stop. Diana: Have faith. Go inward. Listen. 5. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19? Will COVID 19 have some lasting impact and influence on the Canadian performing arts scene? Ted: Well if I were the environment, I’d be wishing the virus would stay a good long time, so there’s that! A life doing theatre has taught me a lot about humankind. Unfortunately, one of the conclusions I have reached is that no society, country, nation, continent has ever learned the lessons necessary to stave off their end. And this is, I think, a truth about humanity. We survive. We change, but usually only because we have to. As soon as we stop “having to”, we start to forget why we were doing it, and comfort and greed once again come to the foreground. Flip side of that? We keep inventing, writing, discovering, expanding in as many good ways as bad. But there isn’t anything we know now about being human on the inside then the Greeks knew 2500 years ago. Maybe we are waiting for a worldwide “aha!” moment. I sure hope it comes. But any time soon? I don’t think so… And would I love to be wrong? Of course! Theatre will continue, and some great plays will come of this time, as they have of every other time. But that’s nothing different. That’s what theatre does. So it will continue to do that. Diana: Gratitude and not taking anything for granted. 6. Some performing artists have turned to streaming and/or online/You Tube presentations to showcase or perform their work. In your opinion and estimation, is there any value to this during this time? What about in the future when we return to a sense of a new normal. Will streaming and online productions be the media go to? Ted: It’s not my cup of tea. Theatre to me is meant to be experienced in a room full of people. Theatrical performances are meant to take place in front of people. This raises the stakes, makes it so much more exciting. Watching a live play online, where actors are performing for no one, is what I would call television. And real television is an awful lot better. In fact it’s fantastic right now in terms of variety and excellence. No contest. Diana: For some people/ artists I am sure that will be exciting and essential. For Ted and I the Coal Mine is very much about the live experience so I’m not sure we’ll follow suit- but anything is possible! 7. What is it about performing and the arts scene that you still always adore? Ted: Great plays. The community. Great artists. My colleagues, friends. Memories. Moments. The anticipation excitement and hope on the first day of rehearsal. Working with designers, volunteers, stage managers, bartenders who are all infinitely better at their jobs than I could ever be. And the audience. The people who pay good money to see what we do because they love it and want it in their lives. Without them we are nothing. And after 45 years doing this, I can say without reservation that no matter what happens to The Coal Mine, we have been blessed with the finest patrons I have ever had the privilege of working for! Diana: The artists. I miss them so much. As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he used to ask his guests at the conclusion of his interview: 1. What is your favourite word? Ted: Geselig. It’s a Dutch word that has no direct translation that describes the feeling of comfort, coziness, acceptance, serenity given by say a fireplace in the winter with your favourite drink in hand and a blanket and two or three of your most favourite people in the room who share the feeling and are enjoying it as much as you, with no worries present whatsoever. And it’s snowing outside. The big, slow, thick flakes. Diana: Cantankerous 2. What is your least favourite word? Ted: The N word. Diana: Bitch 3. What turns you on? Ted: My wife. Diana: The Giggles 4. What turns you off? Ted: People who can’t laugh at themselves Diana: Narcissism 5. What sound or noise do you love? Ted: My kids’ laughter. Diana: The sound of our son talking to himself in his crib in the morning. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Ted: Anything whatsoever no matter how small that I can hear when trying to go to sleep. Diana: Loud crunching. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Ted: It’s a phrase I came up with when I was directing Shakespeare in Calgary. “Fuck my balls.” Diana: F**k 8. What profession, other than your own, would you have like to do? Ted: Astronaut. Diana : Fiction writer. 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Ted: Easy. Stage Management. Diana: Dentist 10. If Heaven exists, what would you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? Ted: “You were a good dad, so we’re gonna let the other stuff slide.” Diana: “High Five!” Photo of Ted Dykstra and Diana Bentley by Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star File Photo To learn more about Coal Mine Theatre and its upcoming season, visit www.coalminetheatre.com . Previous Next

  • Profiles Marcus Nance

    Back Marcus Nance Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Jerald Bezener Joe Szekeres Marcus Nance’s name is one I’ve heard in the Canadian professional theatre circuit for some time, but I never had the opportunity to see him perform. When he agreed to be interviewed and sent me his bio, I most certainly want to see this gentleman perform in future as his credentials and credits reveal extraordinarily fine work. American-Canadian bass-baritone Marcus Nance is equally at home in opera, musical theatre, concert, and cabaret. The New York Times described him as “a thrillingly powerful bass-baritone” while the Globe and Mail says he “has a rich voice and strong stage presence”. Marcus Nance garnered international attention as Malcolm in the world premiere of Atom Egoyan’s opera ‘Elsewhereless’ with Tapestry New Opera Works which earned him a Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination for Most Outstanding Male Performer. For Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, he created the role of Moses in the world premiere of the epic opera ‘Beatrice Chancy’, performing alongside opera superstar Measha Bruggergosman. His other opera credits include Porgy in excerpts from ‘Porgy and Bess’ with the Nathanial Dett Choral and the Toronto Symphony, Sparafucile in ‘Rigoletto’ with the Tacoma Opera, Compere in ‘Four Saints in Three Acts’ with Chicago Opera Theatre and an array of exciting roles and concerts with Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Chautauqua Opera, Vancouver New Music, The National Arts Centre, Shreveport Opera, Ash-Lawn-Highland Summer Festival, Natchez Opera Festival, Orchestra London, Victoria Symphony, North York Symphony, Chautauqua Symphony, Fairbanks Festival Orchestra, Windsor Symphony, the Monterey Bay Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Hawaii Opera Theatre, London Symphony, and the Monterey Bay Opera. New York audiences saw Marcus Nance on Broadway as Caiaphas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, in Baz Luhrman’s Tony Award winning production of ‘La Boheme’, in New York City Centre ENCORES! productions of ‘Kismet’ and ‘Of Thee I Sing’, as Alidoro in ‘Cenerentola’ with New York City Opera Education and in concert at the Metropolitan Room. Recent projects include Rev. Alltalk in Volcano Theatre’s workshop of the reimagined production of Scott Joplin’s ‘Treemonisha’, Van Helsing in Innerchamber’s concert version of ‘Dracula’, and as Judge Turpin in the Shaw Festival’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ where the Toronto Star proclaimed that he “gives the production’s standout performance as the corrupt Judge Turpin: with his stunning singing voice and commanding physical presence, he is horribly convincing as a man who aborts justice and tramples morality…”. He has spent nine seasons at the prestigious Stratford Festival where his assignments have included the monster in ‘Frankenstein Revived’, Bill Bobstay in ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’, Caiaphas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Queequeg in Morris Panych’s ‘Moby Dick’ and Rev. J.D. Montgomery in Gershwin’s ‘My One and Only’. He has also made seen as the Mikado in ‘The Mikado’ for Drayton Entertainment, and Clairborne in Charlottetown Festival’s world premiere of ‘Evangeline’. Expanding further his creativity and artistic horizons, Marcus Nance has has made his film debut as the Singing Accountant in Mel Brooke’s feature film ‘The Producers ’ starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick and his television debut as Rev. Moses in the opera ‘Beatrice Chancey’. He has also appeared in concert at the Cornwall Concert Series, Primavera Concerts, Elora Festival, Toronto’s Jazz Bistro, the Metropolitan Room in New York City, Stratford Summer Music, the Elora Festival, the Toronto Jazz Festival and as a regular guest with the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. We conducted our conversation via email, but I had the opportunity to speak with Marcus briefly via Zoom: 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? By nature, I am a positive and happy person. So, a year ago when rehearsals at the Stratford Festival abruptly stopped, my goal was to make good use of my time and to not sit around and wallow in self-pity. It was easy at the beginning because I never dreamed that a year later, I would still be waiting to get back into the theatre. So, between that day and now I have had my ups and downs. Days of panic and days of joyful discoveries about life and purpose. The biggest disappointment was not being able to play the monster in Morris Panych’s production of ‘Frankenstein’ in the new Tom Patterson Theatre at the Stratford Festival. I was so excited to be asked to play this character. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. But as the death toll from the Coronavirus began to rise, I got over myself and realized that just being alive at this time in history was a greater gift than any role I could ever be offered. I am heartbroken at all the lives we have lost. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? I have actually stayed busy doing a number of different things. One: My husband (music director Franklin Brasz) and I always work in the summer. So to have a summer off is highly unusual. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and we bought a tiny trailer. We spent the summer and fall camping all over Ontario. I absolutely loved it. I love cooking outside, going on hikes, hanging out on the beach, and drinking gin and tonics all night. I can honestly say that camping saved us and kept us from falling into depression. In the end it has made this a summer to remember. A life highlight. Two: Many years ago, I tried to get involved in the tv/film world, but an experience of blatant homophobia caused me to flee that world with no intention to ever go back. When COVID hit, my agent wrote me and suggested I be submitted for tv/film as that industry was still able to produce safely. I figured I had nothing to lose so I said yes. To my shock this has kept me busy all year. I never thought it was possible, but the opportunities empowered me and helped to erase the negative experiences I had to deal with earlier in my career. It really made me happy to know that the world is changing for gay people. Three: I started teaching voice again. I was asked to give masterclasses in Nevada, California, and Colorado. I also rejoined the faculty of Sheridan College and started giving private voice lessons from my home (via Zoom of course). I love working with young artists. Four: I started modelling again! I contacted a modelling agency I had worked with many years ago and they were thrilled to have me back. I shot two fun campaigns. At 56 years old who would have thought? Five: Lastly, I was given some incredible opportunities to film performances for online streaming. Highlights being a Christmas concert for Stratford Summer Music filmed at the beautiful Knox Church in downtown Stratford, and filming my cabaret “Voice of a Preacher’s Son” on the Stratford Festival stage for their upcoming series “Up Close and Musical” for stratfest@home 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? COVID, an escape? No! Covid didn’t allow me to escape because it gave me too much free time to think. I was consumed with BLM and the racism that was being exposed all around me. I was consumed with the racist US president and with those that supported him. I was consumed with watching people die while others were protes7ng masks. Had I been performing eight shows a week at the Stratford Festival, I would have had a place to escape from the world. I would have put my energy into performing and laughing in the wings with my friends. So COVID was not an escape for me. 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? That sounds about right. My gut is telling me that the world needs another year to get everything in order. The new strains of COVID, the lack of enough vaccine, the COVID deniers… yes, we need another year to fix all this and allow ourselves and our audiences the 7me needed to allow everyone to feel comfortable coming back to the theatre. 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 have more appreciation for what I do. Not that I didn’t appreciate art before but having been in the business for over 30 years, one does start to take it for granted… feeling that it will always be there. I now know that that’s not true. Anything can be lost to us at any 7me. I have spent a lot of hours on YouTube as of late, watching ballet dancers, opera singers, orchestral performers and theatre performers and I can’t help but feel the pain of all these amazing people who suddenly lost their jobs because of COVID. All the work that goes into perfecting their crafts and suddenly they have nowhere to share that talent. I don’t think anyone of these people will take their art for granted ever again. 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? COVID is dangerous, so yes, I have felt a sense of danger for me and for others. 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? This time of COVID has forced us to sit still and to listen. I am sensitive by nature, but my heart is more open than it ever was to the world and to those in need of being heard or acknowledged. 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 will answer this by saying that I have always been curious about what it means to “follow one’s own path” and COVID has forced me to do that. To be creative, to try new things, to work toward the impossible to see if it’s actually possible. In the last year I feel that I have done these things and I have discovered so much about myself. This pandemic is not over and this next year will most definitely test us. Can we continue to strive and grow? Do we have it in us to stay healthy and hopeful for another year? I think so and I hope so. To learn more about Marcus, visit his website: www.marcusnance.com . Previous Next

  • Solos shaniqua in abstraction

    Back shaniqua in abstraction Presented by Crow's Theatre in association with paul watson productions & Obsidian Theatre. Now onstage in the Studio Theatre at Crow's. Roya DelSol Joe Szekeres ‘A compelling, complex, and carefully nuanced experience. bahia watson becomes one of our country’s finest storytellers.” I have always been fascinated by the titles of plays and novels. When I’m in a bookstore (how many of those are left?), I always pick up the text if the title fascinates me. The title of bahia watson’s solo performance, ‘shaniqua in abstraction, ' immediately stands out. Its unique use of lowercase letters and the word 'abstraction' sparked my curiosity. Press material describes the one-woman show as ‘defiantly pushing back the boundaries defining Black womanhood.' I’ve always been intrigued by watson’s use of lowercase letters in her name. Is this her signature trademark? If so, it makes me pay attention whenever I see her name listed in show credits. She’s a charismatic force on stage, as evidenced by her role as Sonya in ‘Uncle Vanya’, which she played last year at Crow’s and this year at Mirvish. I’ve seen watson’s work on stage, and she becomes a tremendous force in bringing characters to life, which is remarkable to watch as an audience member. watson is shaniqua, an actor who has come for a casting call and (according to the press release) slips into a musing multiverse of narrative stories. The intermission-less, one-woman 90-minute sharing of perspectives ultimately leads the audience to a kaleidoscopic explosion that spins into a big black hole called shaniqua. Sabryn Rock directs the production with controlled precision. She allows watson to leave her indelible impression as shaniqua. The result of all this? watson delivers a compelling, complex, and carefully nuanced performance of many varied characters. One is an enjoyable highlight which sets the titular character as a comic television show host of SISTAHOOD. The word ‘abstraction’ caught my eye when I knew I would be at the theatre. I rarely see that word today, so I researched online like a good student to ensure I knew what it meant. Collins defines it: “Abstraction: the act of taking away or separating; withdrawal.” A lot is going on here that challenges me, and that’s what good theatre is supposed to do. It challenges audiences to think. And ‘shaniqua’ does just that. For one, as a male, I greatly appreciate women's uniqueness. But can only women honestly know what makes them unique compared to men? I haven’t made up my mind about this question yet. As a white male, do I or can I truly understand the boundaries of defining Black womanhood to which watson defiantly pushes back? I haven’t experienced that in my life at all. There are moments in Bahia’s characterizations where I can sense this understanding of Black womanhood could explode – loudly. Thirdly, watson (the artist) is in the process of removing and separating herself from the white gaze of producers who are considering her for roles on the stage or in film. The varied characters she creates on stage become the performance's integral focus. Echo Zhou (Set), Kimberly Purtell (Lighting), Thomas Ryder Payne (Sound), and Laura Warren (Video) seamlessly combine a visual look and sound that strongly accentuates watson’s varied characters. Costume Consultant Des’ree Gray has selected an orange jumpsuit and pink blazer for bahia to keep the audience’s focus on her physicality. At the same time, she strides and glides around the stage courtesy of Jaz Fairy J’s sharp choreographed movement. And Another Thought: ‘shaniqua’ becomes a vital character study of an assertive woman who begins to understand her place. shaniqua is not just one woman. She is connected to assertive women who want to mark their place in the world even though the voice in the theatre tells her to stick to the script presented to her. The production becomes coarse, gritty, and rough at times; however, when such personal feelings are explored with genuine truth and in the capable hands of bahia watson, then the live experience becomes worth it. Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no interval/intermission. ‘shaniqua in abstraction’ runs until April 28 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. Call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit crowstheatre.com for tickets. CROW’S THEATRE, in association with paul watson productions & Obsidian Theatre, present shaniqua in abstraction, written and performed by bahia watson Directed by Sabryn Rock Set Designer: Echo Zhou Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell Video Designer: Laura Warren Choreographer: Jaz Fairy J Stage Manager: Loralie Pollard Previous Next BACK TO TOP

  • Profiles Eric Woolfe

    Back Eric Woolfe "I find theatre artists are often really conservative in their imagination...We’re reluctant as theatre artists to engage the imagination of our audiences" Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres Artistic Director Eric Woolfe of Eldritch Theatre thinks of himself as a guy who works in show business. He tries not to refer to himself as an artist. Born into the performing arts profession, Eric grew up in London, Ontario, and worked at the Grand Theatre. His first professional job at ten was in the Grand’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ given to him by Director Bernard Hopkins in 1982. Actor Barry Morse appeared as Scrooge as did London Ontario actor Tom McCamus as Bob Cratchit. By age fifteen, Eric took semesters off school and worked across the country for the last forty-some years. Eldritch bills itself as Toronto’s only theatre company specializing in ghoulishly giddy tales of horror and the uncanny. During our Zoom call, Eric enlightened me further, saying ‘Eldritch’ is an old archaic word that means ‘strange and eerie.’ It became a bit of a joke that the name Eldritch was used as the title of the theatre company: “Our first show was for the Summerworks Festival almost 25 years ago. It was called ‘The Strange & Eerie Memoirs of Billy Wuthergloom.” We were running overtime by about a half hour for the time limit the Festival gave us, so I came in with a hacked piece of the version of the script which fit in the time. Just as a joke for the director, I crossed out the title and wrote ‘Billy’s Eldritch Diary’ to shorten it, and we thought, why not call the company The Eldritch Theatre?” Eldritch Theatre operates from Toronto’s Queen Street East’s Red Sandcastle Theatre. They were two separate entities until they married when Eldritch took over the space in December 2021. The art form of puppetry remains an important part of Eldritch Theatre. The first show performed by Eldritch was a one-person show. Rod Beattie travelled with the Wingfield plays nationwide. Eric thought if he did a one-person show, he would play all the different characters while Rod did his own show. Woolfe compared it to writing symphonies in Vienna in the time of Beethoven. Eldritch puppets are both strangely grotesque yet beautifully alluring simultaneously. That’s the trump suit for Eric. Yes, puppetry is an art form, but he quickly discovered that it exists in the audience's mind. In turn, it is the audience that creates the performance: “A puppet is an inanimate object being wiggled by someone. It doesn’t have sentience. It doesn’t move on its own and we know it … Nobody is fooled, but the audience creates the existence of that puppet character in your mind when you’re watching it...we imbue that inanimate thing with life.” Woolfe’s extensive knowledge of puppetry kept me on his every word. Since the supernatural and horror plays into Eldritch’s season, using a puppet can connect further with an audience, more so than, say, a character in a costume. Eric spoke about an earlier play from Eldritch about Jack the Ripper. The first scene was a dream sequence of one of the last victims who was having a nightmare about Alice in Wonderland and a giant, 15-foot-tall caterpillar puppet. That puppet could be funny one moment, threatening, sexual, aggressive, angry, weird, and jump from these different tones and from word to word and line to line because he was a puppet. If that exact text were done with an actor in a giant caterpillar costume, the only thing that caterpillar could be would be vaguely stupid. There’s no same ability to stretch tone and get under people’s skin when using human beings. Often puppetry and magic go together at Eldritch: “Magic is an opposite art form of puppetry…if it’s a puppetry performance, we are complicit to suspend disbelief to make that puppet come to life because wonder has been created. If it’s a magic trick, it works when the audience resists suspending their disbelief and has no other ability to explain what has just been seen.” The last three years for the theatre industry have been challenging for commercial theatre. Eric refers to himself as ‘the angry outsider.’ He despairs and feels terrible for those theatre companies that find it challenging. Woolfe doesn’t find many things terrible right now in the larger sense regarding the industry for Eldritch. Everything has been pretty good. Eldritch shows are selling well at Red Sandcastle. The audience demographics for Eldritch are not all dying or people in their 80s. Eldritch audiences are leaving their houses and coming to see shows. People come because they feel the Sandcastle Auditorium is not a COVID trap. His upcoming show at Eldritch is ‘Macbeth: A Tale Told by An Idiot.’ Directed by Dylan Trowbridge and coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the play’s premiere, show dates run from February 8 – 24 inclusive; Eric told me that Dylan has been pushing for a few years now that Eldritch should present a Shakespearean play. Woolfe calls this ‘Macbeth’ a one-person, surreal, classic comic telling of the Bard’s classic with puppets and magic. He’s terrified about the upcoming production because it’s a lot. He plays every single character. Here’s what he had to say about the state of the theatre: “The real truth is I don’t like a lot of theatre. I find theatre artists are often really conservative in their imagination. I think in Canada, there are way too many plays set in kitchens and way too many stories about a broken family getting together at their father’s funeral. We’re reluctant as theatre artists to engage the imagination of our audiences…People interested in conservative theatre from years ago are not coming out anymore.” Woolfe even believes that when tackling the classics, often, when theatre companies present Shakespeare, what they’re really presenting is a kind of museum piece where it isn’t even really the play they’re doing. It’s a comment on other performances of another production of another play. For example, Eric said there have been pieces from ‘Hamlet’ handed down from generation to generation. Assumptions have been based on the text that are not based on the text. Instead, these scenes are based on performances of actors making choices that are copied and copied and copied. Younger, diverse audiences have not been reached yet, according to Eric. Why? The style of plays still echoes this old model of theatre viable in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, ‘Macbeth’ is slated to begin performances shortly, but it’s a weird Macbeth. Eldritch’s idea is to blow up that preconceived notion of the old model of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. I’m most certain that, under Director Trowbridge’s artistic vision, ‘Macbeth’ will be ‘aggressively unconventional yet still rooted in the actual words.” The Scottish play was one of my favourites to teach because there are witches, ghosts, and magic. It’s also Woolfe’s favourite; however, he has never really liked any production he has seen. Instead, he likes versions of Shakespeare that upset people because the plays don’t obey the rules, don’t bluster, or don’t attempt to entertain. He then made a most appropriate analogy: “As people make theatre, we try to worry that it’s good for you. We’re trying to make healthy plays, and sometimes in theatre, we’re like restaurants: “We have the best broccoli. Come and get the broccoli. Eat our broccoli; it’s good for you, and all we’re selling anybody is broccoli.” Broccoli is great, but it’s only one thing on the plate. There are all these other tastes and things you can serve. If the food happens to be good for you, that’s fantastic, but you don’t have to tell people. It shouldn’t be the selling point. The selling point is that this meal is wonderful and has broccoli that will taste good. Eldritch’s ‘Macbeth’ will be approached like this. It’s a horror play about fear with puppets and cartoon noises, and it’s everything that should be in a Macbeth without the bluster and stuffiness and attempting to do it properly. There are four sold-out school matinees. A steadily growing demand for tickets extends the production to February 24. Does he listen to feedback from audience members, reviewers, critics, and bloggers? Woolfe prefaced his answer by saying he was always the kid in school who never liked to do the assignment the way the teacher asked. For example, if he wrote an essay, he would try to do something slightly different than the assignment. He spent a lot of time on it and did more work. Why did he do this? He thought the assignment may have been stupid or lacking any reason why it had to be done. So, when the graded assignment was returned, Eric was always that kid who was a tad annoyed when the teachers said he didn’t follow the conventions for the work. Eric reads the reviews. He listens to honest feedback. If every feedback or review is five stars, no one will pay much attention to what is said in the article. Woolfe remembers every bad review as opposed to the good ones, but the thing to answer regarding feedback, whether it be from audience members, reviewers, critics, or bloggers: “We are entering a world where people expect to be able to get entertainment that appeals to their specific tailored individual tastes...Theatre has to reflect this. Over the years at Eldritch, we are building our little niche market and our growing fanbase of weird nerds who don’t go to all theatre but like the horror stuff of comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, sci-fi movies and strange things with puppets and Tarot cards…This is our audience base. Everybody is welcome here at Eldritch Theatre, but it is a specific tent.” What’s next for Eric once ‘Macbeth: A Tale Told by An Idiot’ concludes its run? A series of play readings of some older plays from early on in Eldritch’s existence is happening through February and March. The season's final show is ‘The House at Poe Corner,’ from April 11-21, 2024, written by Woolfe and Michael O’Brien. To learn more about Eldritch Theatre, visit eldritchtheatre.ca. You can also find the company on Facebook. Tickets for ‘Macbeth: A Tale Told by An Idiot’: https://www.ticketscene.ca/events/45534/ Previous Next

  • Profiles Jewelle Blackman

    Back Jewelle Blackman Moving Forward Zak Kearns Joe Szekeres It was Carey Nicholson, Artistic Director of Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge, who encouraged me to reach out to Jewelle Blackman for a conversation. As soon as Carey mentioned Jewelle’s name, I remembered this lady who was the Assistant Director for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada several years ago. In an email Jewelle sent to me, she told me she was considering looking into directing at that time and found the experience of working on ‘Superstar’ at the Oshawa Little Theatre a ‘great experience’. Jewelle appeared in the Tony/Grammy winning original Broadway company of Hadestown playing the role of “Fate”. She is now playing the role of Persephone in the Broadway company. I won’t spoil her answer here in what was happening when the Broadway theatres were closed. She is a multi-talented artist from Toronto who has played the violin for more than 30 years and graduated from Queen’s University with a Double Major in Music & Film. She also completed a Summer Performance Certificate Program at Berklee College of Music. Other favourite credits include The Who’s Tommy (Acid Queen); Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (Jewelle) both at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival; We Will Rock You (Teacher); The Lion KIng (Nala/Shenzi) Mirvish; The Wizard of Oz (Mrs. Banks) Young Peoples Theatre; Dreamgirls (Deena Jones) The Grand Theatre/Stage West. Film/TV: Nine Lives; The Coroner; Kim’s Convenience; Shadowhunters. We conducted our interview via email: It has been an exceptionally long five months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion? I’m trying to take it day by day. If I try to plan too far ahead it becomes somewhat overwhelming because how can I plan for the future when the present is so uncertain and unpredictable? Covid has been around a lot longer than I think any of us truly expected and there is no definite end in sight at this point in time. That’s a lot to swallow. Will we emerge to a new way of living? We already are, aren’t we? We’re all adapting as best we can and navigating the unknown some days with more hope than despair. The situation is fluid. As I always say the only thing constant is change. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? Some days good, some days not so good. March and April were particularly difficult. But early on I participated in a virtual group mediation group which I think really helped to calm me and force me to look at and approach life with a new eyes. My immediate family have already remained healthy which I am very grateful for. I have also been navigating a lot of personal changes which greatly affect my son and myself. But we are all here still thriving. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? I would say being seen, recognized and appreciated as an artist. People have their opinions of you and what your limits are based on your sex or for me, specifically my race. It feels like a constant battle at times. Personally, this affects how I view myself and my worth. I'm working on this because regardless I should feel strong and confident in my value regardless of what others think or believe. 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? Well as I was on Broadway in Hadestown’, I will never forget March 12. I was in the middle of my last understudy rehearsal for the role of “Persephone”. My put-in was the following day along with another understudy and the producers literally walked in on us and announced the news. We were all shocked...I think we all knew and felt that something was going to happen, but the reality of it all struck really hard. I believe that Broadway will re-open again and Hadestown will be there in full force, and I will get to bring my “Persephone” to life….I just don't know when. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Hanging out with my 9-year-old son Zion. Working on my own passion projects. Hanging with my family. Supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement…. And walks...I take lots of walks to clear my head when it begins to feel like too much. I've also done quite a few online performances. Oh, and auditioning for film/tv quite a bit. 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? Spring will come again….this pause is an opportunity to really focus on what about this business really fuels you. What can you do to change it and make it a more just and equitable and comfortable space for all performers. Especially your colleagues and friends of colour. Theatre will re-emerge and thrive...but the goal should not be to go back to before but to go forward with the intention of change. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Personally, this has given me so much more time with my son which is so valuable and that I am entirely grateful for. On a global level it has definitely seen the rise of voices that have been silenced for so long the opportunity to be heard, and also the chance for people to reflect on how their own actions in the past may have been hurtful or detrimental to others. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I think more care and concern will be given to what stories are shared on stages and that it is not white male-dominated any longer on stage, behind the scenes and in boardrooms….that is my hope. 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? If it works for you definitely do it. If it feeds your soul do it. Just remember to get compensated. This is your gift and your craft and your career. It has value and it has worth and should not be consumed for free. Donating your art is one thing but being paid for a service that is provided should also not be ignored. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? The ability to create. The ability to share. No matter the size of the audience...there is a feeling that nothing, not even Covid can dampen. You can follow Jewelle on social media :@elleshelley on Instagram AND @jewelleblackman on Twitter. Previous Next

  • Profiles Kim Blackwell

    Back Kim Blackwell Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres What’s the old saying for ‘The Hyde House’? It’s worth the drive to Acton. Well, I’ll tell you, for the last two summers, it has been well worth the drive to 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ontario to see some phenomenal surprises at this gem of an outdoor summer theatre. There’s good stuff going on here. I remember writing the first review for 4th Line the first summer I attended and figuratively kicked myself in the behind why I hadn’t made it out there before. I’m saddened at the fact audiences might not have the opportunity to be there this summer. Sigh. Managing Artistic Director, Kim Blackwell, is still hopeful there will be a change as the first show is only postponed. I am truly praying the theatre gods will change things for the better. I know it sounds corny, but 4th Line has been one of the highlights of my summer for the last two years, and I’ve always looked forward to it. And the fact that next summer will be the 30th anniversary makes this company’s work even that more special to attend. Thank you so much, Kim, for having this interview with me via email: 1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well? Thanks for asking. I have been ok - no one in our family is sick so that is of course the best possible news. My daughter is doing school remotely and she like waking up at 8:55 am and going downstairs to the den to do school in her PJs. She loves that. My husband is working at home as well, as he works in IT. We miss seeing my parents and my husband’s mom but obviously everyone is being careful about staying at home as much as possible. As an interesting side note - I had a stress related heart issue in January of this year and now I laugh and say, “I thought my heart attack was going to be the biggest thing to happen in 2020.” :) We went to Mexico on March 10th and then the entire world went crazy and we had to fly back a week early. The stress of that was quite something. My husband, daughter and I spend days and days just seeing each other. That has been quite a time of getting to know each other all over again. We have all been so busy for several years and running around almost non-stop. This sudden stop has forced us to slow down and cook together, eat together and talk to each other more. 2. Tell me briefly about the shows that were to have been presented this summer at 4th Line. Were any of them in rehearsal or pre-production before the pandemic was declared and everything had to be shut down. Will these shows be a part of the 2021 summer slate? We have only postponed the first show so far. That show was Alex Poch-Goldin’s ‘The Great Shadow’ which was to be directed by Deb Williams. We have moved this world premiere play into the opening slot for the 2021 summer season - which will be our 30th anniversary season. The Board of Directors will make a decision about the fate of the 2nd show on May 22nd. That is Maja Ardal’s ‘Wishful Seeing’ based on the book of the same title by Janet Kellough. When the pandemic started to hit in February, we slowed all pre-production work right down to see how things would develop. As such, very little planning had started in terms of designers, etc. We had not gone into rehearsals. For either production In ‘The Great Shadow’, set in the roaring '20s, the stars of the silver screen are heading to Canada as Trenton, Ont. embarks on a quest to become Hollywood North. Sparks fly in this world première when small-town Ontario residents collide with the Hollywood elites. From Alex Poch-Goldin, the playwright who brought you ‘The Right Road to Pontypool’ and ‘The Bad Luck Bank Robbers’, ‘The Great Shadow’ is a raucous comedy, packed with romance and intrigue in the golden age of film. ‘Wishful Seeing’ tells the story of saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis played by 4th Line founder and creative director Robert Winslow, who stumbles upon a murder mystery on the shores of Rice Lake. It's a historical thriller set in 1853, with a colourful cast of characters set against the backdrop of a rapidly growing pre-Confederation Canada, and reminiscent of the popular television series "Murdoch Mysteries." 3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally? Well, personally, it has been that we bought a house right before the lockdown and are moving to Peterborough in June of this year. And we are preparing to rent out our house in Toronto. This move, after living in Toronto for 20 years, would have been a wild ride in normal situation, now it is so crazy. And my daughter is missing the last 40% of grade eight, she’s been at the same small school for 10 years. She is missing the typical grade eight celebrations. My heart hurts for her. We miss hugging our parents - my husband and I - I worry about them being so isolated. My mom has Lewy Body dementia and the isolation and lack of mental stimulation is not good for her, especially. My parents are in a retirement residence in Peterborough and the staff are so vigilant about keeping COVID out of their home. So I am deeply grateful for all that they are doing but we really miss seeing them. And with my husband’s mom - she is alone in her home with our dog. Thankfully she has the company, but we miss her and we miss having our dog with us. Professionally, I am gutted by the loss of the first show of the season and the possibility of losing the entire season. I am sick for all the artists who have lost work. I worry about future of our theatre and theatre in general. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown? There are lots of meetings around creating multiple different plans and budgets, meetings with staff, board, stakeholders. There is planning and programming decisions to make. We have created some initial online programming including Artist Talks and a reading. We will be developing more online work to keep engaged with audiences. I workout as much as I can. I am binging shows on Netflix, Prime and Crave. The best so far have been ‘Chernobyl’, ‘Once Were Brothers’ and revisiting ‘The Wire’. I am cooking and baking like crazy. I baked bread for the first time in about 20 years. I am trying to meditate and read. And some days I lay on the couch and am terribly sad about it all. I am mourning the many losses… 5. What advice would you give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What words of advice would you give to the new graduates emerging from the theatre schools? Oh gosh - I am not sure I’m a good person to give anyone advice. I think we are going to be in this for the long haul. Theatre will be one of the last sectors to come back online during this pandemic. I think patience will be needed. I do think people will come back to the theatre eventually, because we all have an innate need to gather together and share stories and communal experiences. 6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic? I think people were in a severe state of burn-out going into the pandemic. I saw people being terribly frazzled and run off their feet. I think the pandemic has allowed people to stop and breath. Of course they have been saddled with many new stresses - financial and job related primarily. Perhaps coming out of this, people will be able to slow down and prioritize their lives and say no to things more often. 7. Do you believe or can you see if the Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19? I guess people are getting more savvy at digital interaction and disseminating their work in a digital platform. There is already so much digital work to chose from, it’s amazing. I think the pandemic will reaffirm that we all love the relationship between art and audiences which is at the core of our art practice. And we will be much more sensitive to that innate relationship when we can be together again. 8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts and comments about this? Are there any advantages or disadvantages? Will streaming/online/ You Tube performances be part of a ‘new normal’ for the live theatre/performing arts scene? See above - I know that government funders really want us to explore digital platforms for our art, especially in the short-term. And of course we will/are. But in the long term, theatre needs to be experienced live. That is what makes it transformational for audiences and artists alike. 9. As 4th Line Theatre’s Managing Artistic Director, where do you see the future of 4th Line headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us? Well, that is the $64,000 question isn’t it? I hope we return to a version of normal in the not too distant future. I hope to welcome audiences back to the farm as soon as it is safe. I think we, at 4th Line, are ideally suited to do that earlier than some theatres because we are outdoors, and we can achieve social distancing without much fuss. I worry about the theatre’s fiscal viability, of course. But I know that when we started the theatre in 1992, we started small and very community based. And if we have to, we can go back to that simplicity. 2021 will be our 30th season and I am trying to imagine that a return to our roots might not be the worst thing that ever happened. When audiences are ready to come back to the farm, we want to ensure we are there to welcome them. With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews: 1. What is your favourite word? Daughter 2. What is your least favourite word? Taxes 3. What turns you on? Funny people 4. What turns you off? Lack of personal and professional integrity 5. What sound or noise do you love? It’s a tie between the sound of my daughter’s voice and the roar of an audience’s laughter. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Many sounds - I have moderate misophonia - especially candies being unwrapped in the theatre. ;) 7. What is your favourite curse word? The ‘c’ word 😉 8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt? Criminal law 9. What profession would you not like to do? Garbage Collector 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “ I know, I am surprised as you are!!!” To learn more about 4th Line Theatre, visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca . Previous Next

  • Musicals 'The Wild Rovers'

    Back 'The Wild Rovers' Now onstage until November 5 at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street Credit: Ritche Perez. Pictured: Members of The Wild Rovers' Ensemble Joe Szekeres "It’s not a total train wreck of an opening night. The terrific-sounding harmonies in some songs, the fantastic band led by conductor Kelly-Ann Evans, and some clever drama school staging make up for the insipidly silly plot." Like all kids who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I remember ‘The Irish Rovers’ on CBC television. The only song I remember was ‘The Unicorn.’ Fast forward to The University of Western Ontario in the late 70s/early 80s, and ‘Wasn’t That a Party’ was the anthem for most first and second-year undergraduates. Feeling nostalgic, I took to heart Executive Producer Bob Hallett’s programme note. ‘The Wild Rovers’ would not focus on the actual band members or their lives but instead capture their larger-than-life magic, incredible charm, and easy humour. Canadian East Coasters have this gregarious, ‘joie-de-vivre’ nature when they gather and sing at kitchen parties or pubs. Granted, the beer and wine must also help. I discovered that when I visited Newfoundland a few years ago. We Ontarians don’t seem to espouse this joy of life as the East Coasters. And as for the opening night of ‘The Wild Rovers’… “Well”, (as Samantha Stephens used to say on ‘Bewitched’). Younger readers may have to Google her. Readers my age and older will hopefully get the reference. Outside of the terrific-sounding harmonies, the fantastic band led by conductor Kelly-Ann Evans, and a couple of clever drama school staging techniques, this ‘meh’ jukebox musical didn’t capture more of the charm and spirit for me as I had hoped. Steve Cochrane’s book becomes confusingly silly, and I soon lose interest in the plot. But I push through. In the opening, we meet pseudo-story narrator Maggie (Sean Panting). A bit of a groaner as to why he’s called Maggie, and I won’t spoil it here. The story begins waaayyyy back in 19 89 (c’mon, now you’re starting to grate on my suspension of disbelief). We then meet ‘The Wild Rovers’ – Billy (Steve Maloney), Jordy (Philip Goodridge), Josephine (Julia Dunne) and the bus driver, Sheila (Vicki Harnett). The band is on its way to Grand Falls, Newfoundland, when they oddly encounter Maggie and somehow enter a portal and are whisked away to a magical world called Athunia, not to be mixed up with their sworn enemies, Ethunia (and yes, the two terms are pronounced similarly). “Uh oh!” (another ‘Bewitched’ reference from Samantha Stephens. Google it if you must). This ‘madcap’ plot challenge tests my suspension of disbelief even more. I’m trying to remain focused, but I’m losing interest. Quickly. Somehow, amid all this transport back in time, we meet those who live in Athunia/Euthania. Since the pronunciation sounds similar, I couldn’t tell where they were from. Princess Hiya (Melanie O’Brien) will soon marry Prince Farid (Powell Nobert). After this, I lost interest in this ‘magical story’ and no longer cared about these characters. But onward, I tried to decipher as best I could. Somehow, a magical egg is found (?), and courtier Roguish Rick Castley (Liam Lynch) will help find this egg. And then there’s a reference to a dragon that didn’t interest me. God, I don’t care about the book’s plot anymore. Is there something that can save this opening night for me? Do I need a beer or a glass of wine to keep me going? Some of the musical numbers save the show from being a train wreck. The actors are pouring their hearts out in song, and now it becomes ‘magical’ for me to listen to them sing. The opening number: ‘The Orange and the Green’ is lovely. Other highlights: ‘Donald, Where’s Your Troosers?’, ‘Drunken Sailor’, ‘The Unicorn’ and ‘Black Velvet Band.’ At one point, artist Liam Lynch demonstrated an impressive falsetto range. Director Jason Byrne has staged some clever drama school techniques that nicely worked for me. The use of cardboard to show the band travelling via bus is clever. When the plot switches to a ship at sea, some of the cast move a board with a sailboat on it up and down to indicate the waves in the water. Again, drama school technique, but it works here. Final Comments: I had seen the production of ‘Let’s Dance the Musical’ staged by Terra Bruce. It was another jukebox musical, but I enjoyed that one because I could look past some of the flaws in the book. After all, the singing and the choreography on that opening night did make for good theatre for me. The terrific songs and harmonies and the onstage band in ‘The Wild Rovers’ are splendid. I wish more were going for the production in the insipidly silly plot. Running time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. The production runs until November 5 at The Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, call (416) 314-2901 or visit ticketmaster.com or terrabruce.com to learn more about the company. Walter Schroeder and Terra Bruce Productions present ‘The Wild Rovers’ Book by Steve Cochrane, Inspired by the Music and Magic of The Irish Rovers Book Writer: Steve Cochrane Director: Jason Byrne Musical Directors/Arrangers, Additional Music: Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward Production Design: Graham McMonagle Lighting Design: Leigh-Ann Vardy Sound Design: Don Ellis Puppet Direction & Design: Baptiste Neis Performers: Julia Dunne, Philip Goodridge, Vicki Harnett, Liam Lynch, Steve Maloney, Powell Nobert, Melanie O’Brien, Sean Panting, Nicole Underhay Band: Alex Abbott, Sultan Dharamshi, Keith Doiron, Kelly-Ann Evans, Grant King, Paul Kinsman, Dan Smith, Josh Ward Previous Next

  • Profiles Anne Plamondon

    Back Anne Plamondon Looking Ahead Michael Slobodian Joe Szekeres What a delightful time I had chatting with Anne Plamondon via Zoom. When I mentioned during our conversation that I had received a press release which describes her as a ‘radiant choreographer and performer of dance’, she was extremely flattered that she is regarded in this manner because she considers radiance a beautiful quality of light, hope, well being, luminous and glowing. Anne hopes that her work can make an audience feel elevated especially now in our world. Art can be possible in any subject addressed; however, Anne also spoke of the fact that our present world can not always be considered a happy place as our world can be both beautiful and ugly at the same time, and audiences will see a profound depth in ‘Only You’, her upcoming dance presentation this week at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. We both agreed that we are not out of the pandemic and its dire effects yet; however, Anne recognizes these last two years have changed the world of dance for her. She isn’t sure that she has fully noticed everything that the pandemic did change and that it will take awhile before any of us really see what has been changed. Anne’s first thought on the dance milieu when the world changed two years ago was on the emerging next generation of artists and their preparation within schools in what she calls that big black hole in teaching. Her concern was how these artists were going to learn and to be prepared moving forward into the industry. Yes, schools and students had to continue via Zoom. If students and schools must do this, they can. It’s not impossible to maintain and keep the inspiration alive but learning via Zoom is not enough in dance because the art speaks so much when people move together. For Plamondon, dance is “a language of the body, of touching, reunion and communicating through the body from one person to the other”. The art of dance is not conducive to distancing six feet from each other. The whole point of dance is a gathering of the audience and the performers, and the curiosity of meeting the other person. The process of dance is about sharing the body language in the studio during the rehearsal. If dancers can’t be in the same room together or can’t enter each other’s bubble, then a huge part of dance has been cut and that’s troublesome. As a dancer and choreographer, Anne cares a great deal about what she calls partnering work. She enjoys the narrative in her dance in seeing how it starts, where does it go and what is left. It is something she has loved doing. She was lucky enough to have amazing partners in her dance career. For Anne, if the partnering work cannot happen then there is what she calls a great deal of ‘missing out’. For someone like myself who holds no background or education in dance, Plamondon wants audiences to realize that not every dance piece has to have a narrative running through it. For her, dance sometimes goes mysteriously ‘beyond the words’ and audience members may not have to understand everything. There could be images, movement, or combination of movement with music in the language of the body that might just create an interesting picture on the stage for audiences to follow and to feel something emotionally. That on its own can be poetic and touching. Today, she feels a sense of urgency to speak about her work candidly and honestly and to do it well since this great two year pause of nothing. Everything has to matter and to mean something. Anne considers herself ambitiously curious now more than ever. She was to have brought her show ‘Seulement Toi/Only You’ to Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre March 17, 2020, as part of an important step for her company. She wanted to bring a partner into the process after completing two solo shows. Thankfully, ‘Seulement Toi/Only You’ returns and runs April 8 and 9 at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. Anne says she is super excited to return to Toronto as she feels she has developed a strong relationship with the city since she has danced her many times. She considers ‘Only You’ a stepping stone to make and provide group work for her company since she has only completed solo works and solo evenings before. Making duet work seems to be a natural evolution for her to start bringing other people into the process of dance for her company. When she choreographs for herself, Anne relies on personal life connections for inspiration. She performs and creates for herself so there is no distance between the two. Choosing a partner for ‘Only You’ was extremely important. After she selects the partner, Anne then decides what both must do to keep the integrity of the two persons. Every step of the process is extremely important in the conversation of the relationship between the two dancers in trying to figure out who they are as individuals together. Before the pandemic, Anne was interested in a need for connection and a need for understanding the other in synchronicity. But the title of the piece made Anne realize that after all this stuff of the last two years, it’s just her. She has to find her road for life and walk that road. This is the personal part of ‘Only You’ and also a self quest. ‘Only You’ is also personal in that she went from only dancing for other people and a moving on to choreographic development. There was a transition for her. Anne is still a performer, but she only performs her work. She considers herself fortunate in her career that she has worked with phenomenal creators such as Crystal Pite and James Kudelka in that she was a muse for someone else’s vision. But she has moved forward. What’s next for Anne Plamondon after April 9 after Harbourfront? After Toronto, she and the company travel to Ottawa and the National Arts Centre and perform ‘Only You’ there. In June, she starts a new creation with eight Canadian dancers including herself. It’s the St Sauveur Festival in Montreal directed by Guillaume Côté. Anne was commissioned a thirty-minute piece this August to create a work. She has selected dancers from across the country. She points out that during this time everyone is talking about thinking locally. Anne makes a good point when she says that local is Canada for her, so she has dancers from Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal. Although some of the dancers have worked with each other in the past while others haven’t, Anne confidently states she is taking a leap of faith that she has selected the perfect group for this piece at the Festival which premieres August 3. As we began to wind down the conversation, I asked Anne a question what I’ve asked other artists in some profiles. What would she like future audiences to remember about her and her work ten years from now? I think I caught her off guard because she paused and said that it was a monumental task to think about this right now. Then she confided that she felt humbled in being asked this question. For Anne, she loves the art of dance and its discipline. Sometimes, dance might or could be misunderstood by audiences who may connect to music or theatre more. She feels she has a responsibility as a dance artist to bring the standards and the quality, the craft and the integrity of the work in that direction of excellence, otherwise the discipline can suffer tremendously if dancers don’t aim for excellence in the industry. ‘Seulement Toi/Only You’ performs April 8 and 9 at 7:30 pm at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Harbourfront Centre, Queen’s Quay Terminal, 3rd Floor, 207 Queen’s Quay West. The performance is 60 minutes in length with a short question and answer following the show April 9. For tickets, visit harbourfrontcentre.com. Previous Next

  • Profiles Allen Macinnis

    Back Allen Macinnis Toronto Profile Young People’s Theatre Facebook page. Joe Szekeres Sadly, as I write this, I never had the opportunity to meet Allen in my short time reviewing at Young People’s Theatre (YPT) for On Stage Blog. I only began reviewing for YPT in May 2019. I wished I had now. “Le sigh”, as my niece says. Why the glum sound? The company press release showcases Mr. MacInnis’ extensive forty-year theatrical career in which he has devoted nearly half of it (nineteen years, specifically) to YPT. I had no prior knowledge of the impact he has left on the face of Canadian theatre across the country most notably on the youngest audience members, including babies. However, as Executive Director Nancy Webster stated in this same release, Allen will first program YPT’s 2020-2021 season as well as direct before he steps down. It will be a “long good-bye in order to allow for a smooth transition into the company’s next chapter with a new artist at the helm.” I better get moving in YPT’s new season to track him down, to introduce myself, and to wish Allen well in the new chapter of his life. Hey, as a retired high school teacher, I will let him know that this new phase opens endless possibilities and further opportunities. But I’m certain he’s already aware of them. When I taught high school English and Dramatic Arts in the late 80s and 90s, I remember bringing my students to YPT especially if a play we were studying was to be performed live. I always believed it was important for students and young people to see the world of literature come alive dramatically. That was then. Today, Ontario schools have shifted tremendously in their development of meeting overall and specific curricula expectations. This year, in consideration of reconciliation to our Indigenous people, the YPT slate of productions was to have focused on the Seven Ancestral Teachings of the Anishinaabe. No one could have ever predicted how two major events this season – unrest in the provincially funded education system and the pandemic of COVID – 19 – would turn all live theatre seasons upside down. Despite these tumultuous months provincially, MacInnis’ artistic vision in joining YPT in 2002 has remained steady. YPT took these Ontario Ministry of Education expectations and fully brought them to fruition and focused on the emotional, social and intellectual development of young people which influenced all artistic choices as well as the company’s core values of purpose and audience. Additionally Mr. MacInnis, together with Executive Director Nancy Webster, established the company’s ‘Innovative Education & Participation Department, connecting every element of YPT’s educational work with the company’s professional productions. This job and calling taught Allen it’s “all about maintaining an authentic relationship with young people and the people who care about them.” Ah, there’s the key word right there – authenticity. As a retired schoolteacher, I also saw firsthand that young people truly do know when something or someone is authentic and genuine and when they’re not. You can’t pull a fast one on youth because they will automatically sense and know if it’s done. They just somehow do. I reviewed five YPT productions this year, four of them during the current upheaval of teacher unrest and threat of COVID-19: ‘Antigone’ (from the 2018-2019 season), ‘The Mush Hole’, ‘A Million Billion Pieces’, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ and ‘The Jungle Book’. The last four believably, genuinely, authentically and realistically appealed to the diverse audiences of children and adults specifically in the following four out of seven teachings of the Anishinaabe – Love, Honesty, Truth and Respect. If anything, on a personal note of reflection, these four teachings became ironic reminders of how important it is to maintain them especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic in which we now find ourselves worldwide. I will most definitely track down Allen MacInnis to speak to him more about where he believes our Canadian theatre industry is headed. He is quoted as saying in the company press release that “it’s time for someone like me to get out of the way for a new generation, especially those who face barriers to accessing leadership roles.” You have me intrigued, Allen, about this statement. I can’t wait to pick your brain and to talk theatre with you. Young People’s Theatre can be found at 165 Front Street East, Toronto. Visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org for further information or their Facebook page: Young People’s Theatre Previous Next

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