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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two Plays about prisons - Armstrong's War and Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Last week I took in Two One Way Tickets to Broadway's Kiss of the Spiderwoman at La Cite.  I was familiar with source material, having seen the movie and the stage play many years ago, but was not familiar with the musical.  There are differences, clearly, as it is a musical but the base of the story is the same.  I liked the music.  It's lush and full, and Greg Caswell, as Molina, gave a layered and subtle performance which is a challenge as I think the tendency might be to go over the top. Caswell and Todd Hauck (Valentin) had a nice chemistry with each other and each did good service to their solos.  It was fascinating to see such a male-heavy show and to cheer inside at how well they all handled it.  I also really liked the set, with it's skateboard-like prison cells.  The movable units gave a great flexibility of blocking and although there were a few moments at the beginning when I wasn't worried about them colliding, they seemed to know exactly what they were doing. 
And then on the weekend, I saw Theatre Network's Armstrong's War in the new Backstage Theatre Space.  It's about a more metaphorical prison, but a prison none-the-less.  I was quite moved by the show about the injured soldier (Jamie Cavanagh) and the wheelchair bound 12-year-old pathfinder (Eva Foote) who has come to read to him.  Both actors were excellent and each in their own way brought me to tears. Having seen Cavanagh onstage a few times over the last year, it was great to see his flexibility in this damaged and guilty character.  Foote is a bit of a miracle onstage, never do you doubt her sincerity of action, she even blushes on cue.  The play itself is an interesting piece that deals with post traumatic stress, injury, and the idea of the value of human life vs. the quality of human life.  There's a lot of reading from books and stories and I think that the actors handled that well - keeping it active - but I worried about all the reading creating a barrier to engagement.  With lesser actors I think that could happen. 

A fine weekend of theatre. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Have you ever wanted to write a play, but didn't know how?

There's great course being offered at the Foote Theatre School (Citadel) that could help you get started.  The stage needs different voices, maybe yours is one that would benefit from this course. It's a Beginners Playwrighting course (although I suspect that with these two teachers a playwright at any level would get a lot out of it) that should give you some tools to get you started. I've worked with both Conni Massing and Tracy Carroll before and they are people I trust enough to go back to. 

So, check it out:


at the Foote Theatre School
MONDAYS: MAY 4 - JUNE 15 (NO CLASS MAY 18) 6:30 - 9:00pm $225+gst INSTRUCTORS: Conni Massing & Tracy Carroll

This active, hands-on course introduces participants to the fundamentals of writing for the theatre: dramatic structure, character, conflict, and dialogue, utilizing diverse creative approaches to trigger the theatrical imagination. The instructors will guide participants through writing exercises over the 6-week course, which will culminate in a presentation of monologues and scenes created in class. For absolute beginners. No experience needed!

CONNI MASSING is an award-winning writer working in theatre, film and television. Recent projects include The Invention of Romance, produced by Workshop West Theatre last spring, and the premiere of her short film Voila! in September, 2014. She has taught playwriting for the National Theatre School, University of Alberta, Red Deer College, Alberta Playwrights Network, Theatre Alberta and the Citadel Theatre.

TRACY CARROLL has worked as a director, dramaturg, youth theatre programmer and producer for many years in both Ontario and Alberta and spent six years as Artistic Associate, North for Alberta Playwrights’ Network. Recently, Tracy was dramaturg and director for Conni Massing’s new play, The Invention of Romance for Workshop West Theatre, and director of That’s Danger! for the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre. She also adjudicated the 2014 ADFA Provincial One-Act Festival, and directed the annual Sprouts Festival at Concrete Theatre last spring. 

Phone 780.425.1820 • Fax 780.428.2130 • 
Please call Diana Stevenson @ 780.428.2120 for more information

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Win-Win with Winners and Losers and Over the Edge with 4 Play!

Despite a wicked cold, I made it out to three theatrical events this weekend.  First up on Thursday night, I took in Winners and Losers in The Club at the Citadel. It was an edgy night. The first hour you are laughing, hard, at the competitive banter of Marcus Youssef and James Long as they play their game winners and losers. They are quick and sharp, smart and funny, and the line blurs between when they are improvising and when they are on-script. Then it takes a turn and you're not laughing anymore, or if you are, it's that nervous laughter.  This is the show for people who like that edge.  For people who like to see what happens when you blur the line between acting and reality and maybe go too far.  It was fascinating to be in the room immediately after because of the discussions that arose as it is certainly the kind of show you talk about. Winners and Losers runs until April 18th at the Citadel.

Then, because I somehow don't think that resting when you are sick applies to me, I went out with the lovely Catharooni on Friday night to take in Catalyst Theatre's annual fundraiser, Over the Edge With 4 Play.  If you don't know what that is, here's a simple description: In the morning on Friday, a first line of dialogue and a prop are pulled from a hat (these have been submitted by many random people via email). That line and that prop is given to 4 playwrights who have about 3 hours to write a play for 4 actors. Then that script is given to 4 directors and 4 design teams and they rehearse and design the shows for display that evening.  Each play gets 1 hour of 'rehearsal' with the 4 actors (who perform in all 4 plays).  So, when we arrived at 9:30 pm, we were treated to 4 new plays which indulged deliciously in the ridiculous!  Afterwards we got to vote for the best play, best director, best design and best actor.  It was so much fun! The plays were all so different and funny in their own right and with casts of Trevor Schmidt, Stephanie Wolfe, Mathew Hulshof and April Banigan they were even more!  I can't believe I have never gone before and I plan to back for more (and maybe someday I can participate in some capacity!).  A truly hilarious evening and all for a good cause. Happy to announce that Catalyst met their fundraising goal!

The third theatrical event was my return for the closing of Arcadia.  I was glad to get back to see it again. It know it wasn't for everyone, but that's the beauty of art, isn't it? It means different things to different people, so the audience (the viewer) is part of it.

Monday, April 06, 2015

I have fallen in love... with a play... ARCADIA by Tom Stoppard

It's not unusual for me to think about a play for a bit after I have seen it.  One thing I love about theatre is when it reaches out and stirs me to think on things I haven't thought about before, or even things I have thought about but have been shown a new way to look at it.  I like plays I can laugh at and put away right after, too, but the ones that stick with me, the ones that make me think, are the ones that make me love theatre. There have been times, over the years, that I want to see a play twice. It's rare though. Unless I am directing a play, in which case I am looking for different things and need to see the play multiple times as part of the creative process, I rarely want to revisit it.  But, I have, it seems, fallen in love with a play.  The play? Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, currently playing at the Citadel Theatre. By nature of my working there, I was lucky enough to have to see it twice for my work (Dress Rehearsal and Opening Night). After seeing it for the second time, I was so excited that I would be seeing it for a third time (I was bringing my husband to it).  Why? Because the second viewing was even more than the first.  The script is so beautifully layered between times and with regards to concepts.  Yes, there are some heady scientific principles discussed as well as the world of literary scholarship.  I am lucky to have major in Science and a minor in English, but really, that isn't what is so fascinating for me about this play.  It's the people and the layers of truth from time to time that made me go 'aha!'.  I've seen it three times now, and the third time was the best.  Each time I have picked up on more and more of this beautiful script.  So much so, that while the first two viewings wowed me intellectually, the third hit all my emotional centers and I found myself sobbing through the last 10-5 minutes of the play.  It's the people, it's the impermanence of life, it's the miracle of genius and the tragedy of the loss of that genius too, too soon, and it's about sex and more importantly, love.

I am in love with this play, so much so that I am going to have to see it again before it closes on Sunday.  It's really a surprise to me.  I liked it when I read it, but it has been like one of those presents that has been wrapped in many layers of wrapping paper - each layer more fantastic than the one before. I can't wait to unwrap the next layer.

Arcadia runs until April 12th at the Citadel Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 780.425.1820 or online at

Julia Guy and Aaron Hursh
Justin Goodhand and Claire Armstrong
Photo Credit: David Cooper

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the Haze of Illness, I forgot to reflect on this year's Skirts AFire Festival!

No, it's true.  I was hit with a horrible cold/flu (I never know which - I only know the suffering) in March and totally forgot to write about the Skirts AFire Festival! 

The illness was descending when I took in The Mothers in the days before the festival actually started. A one woman show by Nicole Moeller, starring Annette Loiselle and directed by Glenda Stirling, The Mothers explored how the mother of a child gone wrong deals with her guilt, confusion, sadness and anger over the actions of her child. The script raised a lot of interesting things about how little we know about how a dangerous child might be created. We think there must be a straight line from the baby to the teenager with clear indicators and inciting incidents and predictive behaviour, but the truth is a lot more complicated.  Loiselle has many fine moments in the piece which is as times an archaeological examination of the past and at other times an emotional exploration of her perceived failure as a parent.  I was challenged a bit by the arrangement of the script as the build was more up an down, and there were a lot of details about the mother-child relationship that seemed inconsistent.  I wondered if that was deliberate, though, in that a parent might look back and see both good and bad jumbled together and have trouble separating truth from guilt.

Then the illness struck and I was out for over half a week.  However, I dragged myself out of bed and medicated myself so that I could make it to Peep Show, where 4 new plays were given 10-15 minutes of exposure to a first audience.  Peep show is where The Easy Road started 2 years ago which led to the full reading and workshop last year at Skirts AFire 2014.  I was looking forward to hearing the 4 pieces on display this year. We heard scripts from Michele Vance Hehir, Leslea Kroll, Hayley Moorhouse and Anne Marie Szucs.  I enjoyed hearing these four new plays and the new female playwright voices.  So pleased that Skirts AFire has provided the opportunity for more new work development.

I'm looking forward to seeing what is on the docket for next season and hoping that I am not sick so that I can see even more!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Happy World Theatre Day!

Okay, for me, pretty much every day of the year could be Theatre Day, being that I work at one, volunteer at several and I watch a heck of a lot of it.  But for those of you who are more moderate in your approach to theatre, today is THE day! Luckily, there are a lot of shows you can see right here in Edmonton this weekend!

Shows that close this weekend:

Vigilante at the Citadel Theatre.  This rock opera with an edge is being presented in the Maclab Theatre.  It's a show ideally suited to the thrust theatre space and re-imagines the story of the Black Donnellys, an Irish immigrant family who were brutally murdered.  It's also the latest work from Catalyst Theatre (Nevermore, Frankenstein, Hunchback), and has the same level of excellence in concept and execution, and a very talented 8 person cast who can sing some amazing celtic and rock inspired musical theatre.  We've had people respond so well to it that they've come back and seen the show three times! It only runs until Sunday, March 29th, so I recommend catching it quick.  For those on a budget, there are still a few $30 seats left and because they use the thrust space so well, there really are no bad seats.

First Time Last Time  at Shadow Theatre. A new take on the romantic comedy what turns the premise on it's side as it pairs two commitment shy people who go to outrageous lengths to maintain a non-relationship/ relationship.  I wrote about it more here.  It is at the Varscona Theatre  until Sunday, March 29th.

Shows that opened this week:

Arcadia at the Citadel Theatre. This is currently my new favourite play.  Other than when I am directing a show, I rarely want to see a play more than twice.  With this Tom Stoppard work I am so excited to be seeing it for the third time on Sunday (and I am trying to figure out if I can justify going again on Closing).  It's complicated and simple at the same time.  A mystery and a romance and full of sparring academics and the quest for truth and knowledge.  It takes place in two times 200 years apart in the same English manor.  Though separated by time, the parallels between the two stories are fascinating and Stoppard has managed to intertwine them with humour.  There's some heady content, but there's also many moments of deliciousness for the audience when they know more than the characters do. This opened last night and runs to April 12th.

A Dream Play at Studio Theatre.  This is a Strindberg piece and the U of A has cast all 5 women in the graduating BFA class as the only female character in the piece.  I haven't seen it yet, but I am hoping to book tickets soon, as they have reconfigured the Timm's seating so that there are far fewer seats than usual and as a result they already have some Sold Out performances. It looks like a challenging piece and I trust that the U of A has done their usual solid work.

Sondheim on Sondheim at MacEwan University. For those who love musicals and more specifically Sondheim this would be a great show to catch.  It's in the Theatre Lab space so tickets are tight for it as well, but it would likely be a great show to catch if you love Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd. It closes next Thursday, April 2nd (probably due to the Easter weekend) so don't get complacent and figure on seeing it next weekend! It was also directed by Kate Ryan who was wonderful earlier this year singing with Susan Gilmour in a Sondheim Cabaret at the Citadel, so you can be assured that it's been well steered.

These are just a few you could see.  I am sure there are others you could check out.  Tix on the Square is great for seeing what's out there.  Make this your World Theatre Day and see a show!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oh yeah! This happened... My second #yeggies nomination!

Thank you so much to whoever nominated me for the #yeggies again. The #yeggies are the Edmonton New Media Award created to recognize and celebrate outstanding social media content creators in the capital region. It was very exciting to receive the email letting me know that I had been nominated in the Arts & Culture category for the second year in a row. I always feel strange filling out the "tell us why you should win" part of the process, especially when I saw who else was nominated with me. We are lucky to have the Arts Scene we have in Edmonton, and doubly blessed to have so many avid supporters and champions of that scene.

For the complete list of Nominees, click here.

In my category, I thought I would share my fellow nominees so that you can all start following them as well!
There's a variety there - from theatre, to dance, to books, to nerd culture, to comics based art. I recommend you check them out and follow what appeals to you! I'm thrilled to be nominated with them all and had a good time checking out the ones I was unfamiliar with.

The Main Event (Awards Ceremony) is on May 9th at La Cite and I will be there with bells on!