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Monday, April 30, 2012

I Made This! Or Rather, I am Making This!

The past 8-9 weeks I have been involved in APN's Edmonton Playwright's Circle working on a piece called Little Monsters.  The Circle experience has been great. Led by facilitator Conni Massing and filled with 8 playwrights of various stages in their writing career, we supported each other and helped everyone to write the best play they could. The most important thing for me is that it gave me deadlines and those are so much easier to write towards than a blank future.  Accountability is so important for a writer.  It would be wonderful to think that we could motivate ourselves, but for me, it is the deadline.  Anyhow, I started this piece at Playworks Ink in November during a workshop with Daniel MacIvor.  Prior to the workshop I did not even know it was a play.  I was about halfway done a first draft by mid-December, but I stalled until I joined the circle.  I stuck it in my life in a time I thought was pretty free (that was thrown off by Gibson being in Titanic) but I made it work - hammering out a rough first draft that I was very happy with and a second draft that I was even more happy with.  It still has a way to go, but in the 9 weeks of the circle I have done so much more writing than I have in the last 2-3 years. 

Anyhow, TONIGHT the Circle is sharing excerpts from our plays with the public for FREE! We got to select the excerpt and work with professional actors and a director today and tonight they will be presented.  It is at 7:30 p.m. in the EC Board Room at the Transalta Bus Barns. One of the actors asked me if I had slept last night in anticipation and to be honest, I slept very well.  When I saw the list of actors that would be reading my script (Nadien Chu, Annette Loiselle and Mat Busby) I was really relaxed about it.  They are all very good and actually well suited to the roles they read. Having Tracy Carroll shepherd them as Director didn't hurt either. I love my Circle Playwrights, but it is a different thing to hear your words read by real actors who try different things and go for it. Tonight will be extra exciting to hear it read with an audience in the house. I hope you can come!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Midsummer Night's Dream: Watching with Oliver...

Last night I took my 10 year old son, Oliver, to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Citadel Theatre. He's almost 11 and is getting more mature and I felt that he was at a good age to expose him to Shakespeare.  I knew that he wasn't going to 'get it all' but hopefully he would 'get' some of it and from what I heard about this production it would be a great first exposure. 

The show was lovely, the actors were quite comfortable in dealing with the language and Tom Wood's production wisely approaches the play in a very physical way.  Everything looks beautiful and there is a bit of real magic evoked with the fairies.  Oliver loved Puck (Jonathan Purvis) for his leaping and tumbling and flying around the space.  He also loved the gorgeous swing that Titania and Bottom sail over the audience on. With the lovers in the woods, Oliver was a little bored by the kissing and arguing, however he was totally invested in the fight scene (which was excellently executed) and he loved the mischievous Puck's replacing and magicking swords as he led Lysander (Eric Morin) and Demetrius (Partick Lundeen) about the woods. Oliver's favorite part, however, was hands-down the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play performed by the Mechanicals for the royal court.  On the ride home he recounted much of the silliness that ensued, listing Thisbe's butt, Thisbe's screaming, the missing sword and the Moon's dog as his favorite parts.  As a mother it is simply fabulous to sit next to your child hearing them laugh as they are truly engaged with something you love.  I was worried, because a 2 1/2 hour long Shakespearean piece is tough to sit through, and at the end of the first act I don't think he was convinced that this was for him.  However, the second act was full of physical comedy and that's what you need when you are 10.

For me, the stand out performances were Shannon Taylor as Helena (who was fiery and funny and who possesses an amazing physicality) and the Mechanicals as a group.  I thought the show, as a whole, was well-executed and in particular the second act. This production was especially strong with the physical aspects, but engagement dropped a bit whenever the language was not supported by action. Personally I would have cut the dancing at the end and shorted the dancing fairies bit, as the show is long enough without that and although fun and/or pretty, those bits did nothing to move it along.  Overall I enjoyed myself, but I was not blown out of the water.  It is a challenge to sell Shakespeare at Citadel prices when we in Edmonton have Freewill Players doing such high quality productions every summer.  With ticket prices 2-3 times higher at The Citadel I wanted the experience to be that much more incredible. It's hard to reach that when the bar is set so high already.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Those Darn Cute Kids! Sound of Music at The Citadel...

Last night I saw a Preview performance of The Sound of Music at the Citadel.  I saw the show the last time they did it and loved it.  I have to admit, I am a bit of a fan of the show - having watched the movie over 30 times I am sure. I restrained myself, and although I mouthed the words to the well-known songs, I did not make any sound.  They really should do a sing-a-long night though...

Anyhow, I digress...

The show was lovely.  There are two things you have to do well to get Sound of Music right - get the iconography correct and get all the 'kid-stuff' right.  This production does well on both those fronts.  With such a well-known show, the fans demand certain standards for the stage production.  They do not want a re-invention of it.  It's historical and since so many are familiar with the movie, they do not want shows to steer too far from what they already know.  This production wisely included I Have Confidence and Something Good (two songs not in the original stage production, but well known from the movie) - it is always jarring when they are omitted and both actually serve a purpose in the show that I was glad to see them. The children are also quite strong. They sing and act well and stay in the scene always.  In fact, when they are on stage they usually steal the show from anyone else onstage with them.  The entire family unit of Maria, Captain Von Trapp and the children feels cohesive and I think Director Bob Baker did well to use the creation of the family as the focus of his production.  You can see why this might be a terrifying show for professional companies to attempt, as there are no guarantees when it comes to children who can act, sing and dance, but there are no worries with this production in that regard. As Maria, Josee Boudreau is in fine voice and full of enthusiasm.  She deals well with the somewhat dated script, infusing it with the conviction and spunk that Maria needs.  Rejean Cournoyer is also quite good as Captain Von Trapp.  You wish he had more to sing, but the script does not provide for that, but it was quite nice to watch his journey, as he changes more throughout the play than Maria does and he manages to play it all with a nice subtly.

There were a few things that bothered me.  I do know, however, that it was a Preview and perhaps that was the reason for some of them.  I was a bit disappointed with Climb Every Mountain as I felt it was under sung and lacked the gravitas it needed to anchor it.  The tone was lovely but Climb Every Mountain should shake everyone in the theatre a little bit and I was left wanting more.  I kept hoping the small start was leading to a big crescendo, but it never came. I would have preferred to see Susan Gilmour (Elsa) sing it as she would have knocked that song out of the park.  As it was, Gilmour was strong as Elsa, but felt a little mature in comparison to Cournoyer's Captain Von Trapp.

All in all, it was a nice night at the theatre.  It's not edgy, ground-breaking theatre, but it does wonderful service to an iconic show and is a great production for the whole family.

* Sound of Music is #18 in my 2012 Theatre Goal - almost halfway there and it's only April!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Undecided...

The 2012 Alberta Provincial Election is on Monday, April 23 and I still don't know who I am voting for. My beliefs are a mish-mash of the parties on the roster. I think if most people actually knew the the actual policies they would find the same applies to them. There are some people who fit neatly into a party, but really I think most people vote based on what they think a party stands for without really understanding anything about what that party says they will do or what those policies would actually do in practice. As always during an election, I am saddened by the vitriol of the various factions. It comes worse from my friends on the left than the ones on the right - not sure why that is, but it does. Truth be told, I don't think many of us in Alberta will notice a dramatic change in our lives no matter who wins. We are pretty spoiled and we always forget this. There are some (a small percentage) who have it rough in this province, in this country, but not many. I hope I figure it out by Monday. I hope everyone who spouts the vitriol actually takes the time to READ THE POLICY PLATFORMS of each party so they actually know what they are voting for. Get engaged - the information is out there and it is much more than just the news stories and sound bites and jokes on twitter and FB. I know some people just hope for increased voter turn-out, but I would rather have informed voters than just more of them...

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Week of Late Nights - Auditions for Nine!

Last weekend were the official auditions for Nine (playing at Walterdale in July). On the roster were over 65 people which made me very happy. A large turn-out meant that we would have a lot to choose from to make the best possible cast. Well, not only were there many, but there a lot of really strong auditioners! This meant that we had 2-6 possibilities for each of the roles we were calling back and a large group of people from which to construct the cast. I had to say NO to a lot of strong people - we looked at all three areas (singing, acting and dancing) as determiners, as well as scheduling (always a challenge with busy, talented people). After all was said and done we got a cast that I am thrilled to work with. The hardest part for me is the NOs. There are people I do not have that were absolutely brilliant. There are some that are newer and less experienced and therefore a little less polished in their audition and hopefully they come back and I will get to work with them in the future as I saw great potential. In any case, that is done and yesterday we had a fabulous read-through with our cast and I could already see that many of them had brought choices to what they were going to do. I cannot wait to hear this group sing together. The music is challenging but these guys can handle it. An interesting thing is that of this group there are only a couple that I have directed before and it is about 50-50 people I knew before and people I didn't know. We really made an effort to cast based on the auditions we saw.

I must comment, however, I do have a Blog Post coming about Auditions Dos and Don'ts. There are people who really jeopardized their being cast by playing a little too much in the Don't column. I have to think about it though, as I have held auditions for a number of shows and I want to collect my thoughts.

The other thing I did this week was check out Cowardly Kiss Theatre's The Maids playing at the Catalyst Theatre. The play is a dark little piece, directed by Andrea Beca, about 2 maids (Sarah Horsman and Louise Large) who role-play and plot the murder of their employer (Madam, played by Zachary Parsons-Lozinski). Beca's production concept emphasizes the twisted nature of the two sister-maids with specific physicalization and costume and make-up. The script itself feels a titch slow at first, but you understand the need for it later in the piece as it sets a lot of the story up. All three actors commit totally to their choices and it was really quite interesting to watch. Horsman is electric onstage in her monologue and she and Large work well together as the sisters, and Parsons-Lozinski always looks as though he should just live onstage all the time - he is so natural there, even in the campiest roles. It's an edgier piece, one you think about a lot afterwards, and provides a good contrast to more mainstream theatre. It runs until next weekend. Check it out!

* The Maids is #17 in my 2012 Theatre Goal.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Love and Whispers...

Hard to believe, but after spending so much time this week in a theatre shepherding my son, I still managed to see two more shows this weekend. I was tired, but glad to catch more of the fabulous theatre we are fortunate to have in Edmonton.

Friday night I worked coffee bar at Walterdale for their current production The Love of the Nightingale directed by Alex Hawkins. The play is a dramatization of the story of sisters Procne and Philomele. I enjoyed reading the script and it was interesting seeing it brought to life onstage. The production is carefully directed and the subtle sound design by Erin Foster-O'Riordan gives it momentum in it's silences. The costumes by Geri Dittrich are wonderful and lush and bare skin abounds! Rachel Kent, as Philomele, is luminous and in the first act my favorite scenes are between her and the doomed ship's captain, Kevin Oulette. In the second act, however, it is the fiery Procne, played by Marsha Amanova, who pulled me in. Justin Deveau also delivers a solid performance as her husband, Tereus. If the idea of a piece of Greek theatre scares you, it shouldn't. The story is clearly told and has humour to offset the tragedy.

Tonight, my sister and brother and I managed to catch Whisper, the final Studio Theatre production for the current U of A BFA graduating class. The project was a collaboration between Catalyst Theatre's Jonathon Christensen and Bretta Gerecke and the class itself. Titled Whisper, the text came from the students and were whispered to each other in translation through a classmate counterpart to the audience. A significant portion of the piece dealt with the recent death of a classmate and it is this portion which has the most impact. The production is skillfully delivered and conceptually complex with amazing lighting and score, however, a lack of variance in delivering the stories and remembrances made it feel a bit too long. As well, no matter how gorgeous the stage images were I never quite got the purpose of the deer like creatures and hunters in the woods. It is clear that this is a class with talent and a team with strong vision, but some more thought to story arc and playing more with the whispers themselves might have created more engagement, especially for those in the audience who were not familiar with the class itself and it's recent history. Personally, I felt that if they had either focussed more on their classmate (by cutting some of the script) or less on their clasmate (by shifting weight to a more defined arc to show growth or change) then the piece would have been stronger. Alternatively, they could have found different ways than just standing and whispering to relay the story. When the background was supported by action/dance/images it was stronger, as the pauses in relaying the stories slowed the pace in an already long show.

In any case, I feel full of theatre. It's a nice feeling. Tomorrow I have auditions for Nine at Walterdale. I am excited to see who is coming out. Soon we will be in rehearsal!

* These are #15 and #16 in my 2012 Theatre Goal!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

And We Go Sailing...

Titanic came and went quickly. Three shows over two days in the gorgeous Winspear Centre. Gibson did well for a 7 1/2 year old dealing with late nights and early mornings. He was a bit of a handful backstage but onstage he did what was asked of him and (in my humble opinion) was one of the most skilled wavers on the stage! Although I saw the show primarily from the little window in the Stage Right ASM room, I can certainly say it was a wonderful in-concert performance. So many strong voices and with the addition of the Orchestra and Choir it was glorious in the space. Staging was wisely kept simple so as to not detract from the music and the story. Gibson learned a lot (we did a list on the way home of what he learned, but much of it was very silly due to his sleep-deprived state of being) and as a theatre-mother I was very pleased with his experience. The cast and crew were great with him, especially Cole Chapelsky and Joy Quilala who played his on-stage parents. I liked that his experience was not dumbed down and that he learned what it meant to do his role in the play. As the only kid onstage, I think he held his own.


* #14 in my 2012 Theatre Goal

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea...

This week will be all about Titanic. I have been to about 2/3 of the rehearsals (whenever Gibson is called) and have enjoyed seeing this show come together. It's a hybrid In-Concert production with costumes and some blocking. There will not be an actual ship on stage (Gibson was wondering about that). It's been a great experience as a mother to see him integrate with the cast and the show experience and since he is the only kid it has been so good to see the cast welcome him and engage with him. I thought I would share some of my favourite moments of the show (outside the moments when my child is in scenes as those obviously are my absolute favourites!). These favourites shift from run to run, but overall, these are the ones that stand out.

#1 - Kyle Thulien singing No Moon - His voice is lovely and so suited to this mood-filled song. Every time he starts singing it I have to stop what I am doing and watch. I love the whole song as it leads into the scenes of other passengers just prior to the crash. It reminds us how human they all were.

#2 - Gerald Mason and Pat MacKeage singing Still - I think it is because they don't want the cute 7 1/2 year old to get all the awwwww moments that these two have really committed to creating the 'most heart-wrenching moment of the show', but this piece will break hearts. The two of them are beautifully committed to the song and each other and it's a gorgeous moment on the stage.

#3 - Gary Carter, Morgan Smith and Neil Johnson singing The Blame - I love this song and these three guys are so good in the singing and the acting of the piece. It also has this Sondheim-like quality to it that I like. But the three of them balance it really well, each holding their own. It's a tough song that they totally make work.

#4 - The Third Class passengers singing Lady's Maid - There's a wonderful ensemble feel to this song as they dream about their new lives in America. Joyful and fun and sad because we know they will not all make it.

There are many other wonderful moments, these are just what stand out for me today - it changes every time I see and hear it. Gibson has totally different favourites (he loves Doing the Latest Rag). Yesterday I got to hear the whole sound as they added the orchestra and the choir and I can't wait to hear it in the Winspear on Wednesday!

We caught The Blue Man Group as part of the Broadway Across Canada this weekend. A fun show, and about what expected. I don't need to see them again, but I could go if I was in Vegas and looking for a show. I did wish I had had 2 martinis at dinner because I think that would have made it even better, but like I said, I had fun. All this theatre training made me recognize it for what it was: A Clown Show. Really, that's what they are - a modern day clown show that builds their turns around technology and percussion. It's very clean, funny, silly and very, very loud. The best bits were audience participation ones (whether individual or whole audience) and it really had a slick feel to it. Fun, light, loud and commercial.

* Blue Man Group is #13 in my 2012 theatre goal