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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk... Terrific TYA!

I had the pleasure of taking in Alberta Opera's Jack and The Beanstalk last week at the Backstage Theatre. They only had a very short public performance run before they headed off on their 200+ performance school tour. I was so glad I managed to catch this show as I have been disappointed to some degree with the TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) that I have been able to catch over the last few years. This one, directed by Lana Michelle Hughes with music direction by Erik Mortimer, was delightful. The perfect show to make younger audiences appreciate and enjoy theatre. A clear story with captivating characters (played with skill, talent and enthusiasm by Ethan Snowden, Marc Rico Ludwig and Rachel Ironmonger), humour and well-written and well-performed music, and a subtle message that was neither preachy nor throw-away. It also clocked in under an hour, which from my experience with my own children is simply perfect. Kudos to the cast and creative team for an enjoyable introductory theatre experience. The children in the audience I attended were captivated and thoroughly entertained!

There are no more public performances, however, if your child is in K-6 in the Edmonton area chances are they will be seeing the show sometime during the school year!

The Aliens are all around us...

Took in The Aliens by Annie Baker at Theatre Network this past week. It's a very introspective piece with silences and pauses but don't let that scare you off. Director Taylor Chadwick has made sure that the pauses are present and engaging, not simply waiting for the next thing to happen. The action is meticulous and purpose driven, pulling us in. It focuses on KJ (Chris Cook) and Jasper (Evan Hall), two 30 something misfits who hang out in an alley behind a coffee shop. Enter Evan (played with wide-eyed wonder and a delightful awkwardness by Michael Vetsch), a 17 year old coffee shop worker who encounters them and forms a connection with them, entranced by their seeming wisdom and coolness as compared to his relative inexperience. Although KJ and Jasper are failures by most modern standards, they do not see themselves that way and neither does Evan. Their purposeless lives have purpose if only to them. They are here in this alley for a reason even if that reason is just to hang out together in silence. They see themselves as geniuses even if the rest of the world does not. The chemistry an interaction between Hall and Cook is tight. They understand these guys and they make them work by making them human, not stereotypes. It's a deft, unusual portrait of the less than ordinary, which points us to think more about those in our world who do not stand out, who seem to exist on the margins. We get to see them as Evan does - as inspirational, as heroes, as artists and as geniuses.

The Aliens runs to October 22nd at the Roxy on Gateway.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Doll's House (Walterdale Theatre) - still so incredibly relevant...

I took in the Opening Night performance of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen at Walterdale Theatre  this past Wednesday evening. I knew what was coming, having read much of Ibsen in my 20s and 30s, and revisiting some of it in my 40s. What struck me was how sadly relevant it still is today. It spoke sharply to the defined roles that people impose on themselves and others with regards to marriage and parenthood and life in general and that need to find and understand oneself outside those expectations. It speaks also to societal judgement and the implications of stepping out of line morally and the personal and professional ramifications of moral missteps. I see it all around me - particularly in our social media world - the implications of social shaming for errors combined with the need to present a near-perfect persona to the world. I'm torn on some of this in today's world because I find social media shaming morally abhorrent in many situations... but I digress...

It is this fear of judgement from the outside world that guides Torvald, along with his expectations of his roles and Nora's within a marriage. Nora has bought into those roles because she has been told they are correct and while she is living a pleasant life there is no reason to question them. It's when things are not going so well that the social order is challenged and Nora wakes up, or decides she needs to wake up.

We can dismiss this world as being of it's time, but I don't think it is. I know people today who buy into that philosophy of having to appear perfect and without flaws - just look at the nearest Instagram feed, each selfie composed thoughtfully and artfully demonstrating a life to envy. Look at the kids dressed as tiny adults in designer clothes - little dolls dressed up to highlight the perfection of their family. All vacation and no real life. There are many doll's houses in our world today, created by a code of superficiality and lack of real depth. So many people today, like Nora then, do not truly know themselves. They can quote the deep and complicated articles they read in their Facebook and Twitter feeds but upon questioning their rote responses indicate they do not fully understand what they are saying. They, like Nora, are having fun but they are not truly happy...

Anyhow, as you can see it gave me a lot to think about and I truly believe that it is an extremely relevant piece today. Kudos to the cast for excellent commitment to a challenging script and to the entire team for creating the world.

A Doll's House runs until October 21st at the Walterdale Theatre.
Tickets can be purchased at Tix On The Square (780.420.1757 or or through the Box Office 1 hour prior to show start. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night on Tuesday, October 17th and a Talk Back on Wednesday, October 18th.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

UBUNTU (The Cape Town Project) - Thoughts on who we are...

I'm very aware that there are a lot of people around me that are 'not from around here'; mostly because I am an immigrant myself. I blend in well... because I have been in Canada from a very young age and because I think of myself as Canadian, but there have always been stories and accounting of our heritage in my family (Norwegian, German, Macedonian, Irish, English, American,... and so on). Now I was born in Minnesota (the most Canadian of all the states), not China or Zimbabwe or Wales, but I have always been conscious that Canada is a country of travelers - probably because I lived in Fort McMurray for a large part of my life and the majority of people there come from somewhere else. I went to my friend's homes and was warned to eat from the pot on the left because I was Canadian and I was unlikely to be able to handle the spiciness of the pot on the right. I did my best to understand the heavy accented English their parents spoke, enjoying the cadence and knowing that most of the time they were teasing us. My friends came to my house and we ate grilled cheese and sang along to the radio in my bedroom while my little brothers annoyed us. All this is swirling in my brain as I come home from seeing Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project) at the Citadel. At it's core is a need for connection between people of different cultural heritage. It juxtaposes South African spirituality and Canadian practicality. It finds common ground that pulls people together and disconnect that pushes them apart. It does so using beautiful music and movement and language - from both worlds.

Following the show, I talked to a young friend of mine and she asked what stood out for me, what resonated. It's hard to articulate. It's a beautifully layered story told in two times, about two visitors to Canada from South Africa - a father and son. Both have challenges when they encounter the Canadian culture - from bad coffee on the lower end of the spectrum to funeral rites on the upper end. Both find connections and both lose them. The story of what happened is unwrapped cleverly with surprise and anticipation. We see bits of the past nested in the search in the present. Emotion is expressed through movement and repetition - both joyous and sad. And it's about ubuntu - "I am because you are" - the perfect word for theatre, for what is a play without an audience?

Here are things that resonated with me:
- I really enjoyed hearing the untranslated Xhosa onstage. The scenes became about understanding the emotional needs of the characters and even though I didn't understand everything, I understood the stakes and how the characters were feeling. Later scenes in the play helped to give context in retrospect challenging my brain to recall and stay engaged. Also, Xhosa with it's clicks is just fun to hear.
- The movement/dance portions were quite lovely. Used to underscore the emotional tides of the characters the flavours of the movement were simply beautiful.
- The juxtaposition of science and spirituality. Those who know me know that I sit much more on the science side, but the show challenged me to be more empathetic to those who are more spiritual. I think I will continue to think about this balance for weeks to come.

UBUNTU (The Cape Town Project) runs to October 22nd at the Citadel
There's a Pay-What-You-Can this Sunday evening and tickets for all other shows start at $30+fees&GST.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

And Life Returns to Normal?

Guess we'd have to know what "normal" is for that to happen.... But Sense and Sensibility is up and running and I have returned to just my regular job and I have even finally had a couple of days off, so I am feeling a little more rested. The intensity of the 10 weeks was such that it will take me a little while to completely reflect on what I have learned and what I will do with it.

As to Sense and Sensibility, here are a few reviews to help you decide if you will be checking it out.

REVIEW from Colin MacLean, Gig City

REVIEW from Liz Nicholls, 12th Night

REVIEW from Liane Faulder, Edmonton Journal

REVIEW from Mel Priestley

REVIEW from Jenna Marynowski, After the House Lights

I was very happy with the show onstage and have now seen it 6 times and will see it another time before it closes. It is the last week, so act fast!

Now that the show is up and running, I have been working hard to catch up with my theatre viewing. I saw the delightful Irma Voth at Theatre Network last week. It is closed now, but it was a refreshing little piece of theatre full of humour and humanity.

I caught ELOPE's Sweeney Todd on Friday night and partook of the delicious meat pies on sale outside the Arts Barns. It was a surreal experience to see the show as it was the first time I had seen a show that I had previously directed. Hard to sort through expectation and memory.

Last weekend I caught the frenetic Bone Wars from Punctuate Theatre. At it's core, it was a TYA show that had opportunity to really discuss the importance of scientific method, unfortunately the over incorporation of extra social issues muddied the waters a bit. Still entertaining and very silly with a very talented cast - I'm just not sure the kids would be able to sift through all the layers and get to the bones of the story.

Somewhen in the last month or so I also caught 9 Parts of Desire presented by Maggie Tree. It needed a little more cohesion, but left me thinking and searching google for more information on the Iraqi War, something I sadly knew little about. The show seemed externally hijacked by the discussion of diversity in theatre, and after seeing it, I hoped that the work itself would direct audiences to the core of the play - survival and coping after living through (and still) war. The 9 women in this play live through a situation of war as normal life, and the effects of that are devastating.

I also managed to catch Madfandango Theatre Collective's The Believers presented through the Roxy Performance Series at Theatre Network. Still not quite sure what it all meant but boy-oh-boy was it compelling. The direction was incredible.

I think there was something else in there... if I remember, I will make a comment or two.

Up next this week I will be seeing Art at Shadow Theatre and Bonnie and Clyde at Northern Light Theatre. I also have Jesus Christ Superstar at the Mayfield lined up for next week.

So, what is normal?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Away in Banff... Having a wonderful time!

I have been in Banff for the last two weeks and will be here for 2 more weeks as the Intern Director for the Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program. It's an intensive and rigourous program and I am blogging about the experience here:

When I return I will be Assistant Directing Sense and Sensibility at the Citadel Theatre.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cinderella, BUST and Moi, Monsieur, Moi! All over the map - literally!

Well, I traveled from Italy to Fort McMurray and then to Senegal this week in my theatrical adventures! I also took in an Opera, a new work and a one-woman show - variety that is a testament to the many different theatrical offerings available in Edmonton in most months!

Cinderella (or La Cenerentola) at Edmonton Opera was a delightful, silly romp! The cast went for the ridiculous in this Cinderella story with a twist (the Prince is also in disguise!). Supported by terrific costumes and a fun set, this was a great light-hearted adventure. I enjoyed the singing, particularly from Krisztina Szabó as Cinderella and John Tessier as Prince RamiroThey made a lovely couple! It was also nice to go to an opera where you don't have to rely too heavily on the surtitles because you know the basic story and the step-sisters and Dandini provided many over-the-top comic moments!

Bust at Theatre Network took us to Fort McMurray post-wildfire. I have to admit, this show had me apprehensive, as most shows about Fort McMurray do. I am not sure that it captured much that I recognized as being specifically Fort McMurray any more than any other smaller city in Canada, so I could relax a little in that. I think for any of my friends who went through the fire, that this would be a challenging show to see - because there are trigger moments that might be hard to deal with. The set is gorgeous (although there should be snow... if they're playing hockey in McMurray there will be snow outside). It evokes more the burnt out  forest surrounding the city. Note: for people familiar with Fort McMurray and what the area around the tailings pond looks like, you will have to accept that there was dramatic license... The cast is a committed ensemble. Louise Lambert stands out with incredible drive through the piece and Lora Brovold delivers a heart-breaking monologue about loss that I really connected with.

Moi, Monsieur, Moi! at L'uni Theatre was a one-woman show about a young girl born in Senegal who was passed on to an aunt, a cousin, an uncle. It was brilliantly performed by Patricia Gomis using puppets, props and a terrific story-telling ability. It's a story with humour and sadness and truth. Truly entertaining but not veering away from challenging and difficult topics. French with english surtitles. I took my husband and he liked it so much he returned the next evening with our sons.

Friday, February 03, 2017

On the Horizon... The Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre Program...

I haven't written about this yet... too busy preparing and getting things ready for me to go. But in a few short weeks I will be starting an amazing career adventure. I will be the Director Intern for The  Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre Program. What does that mean? Well you can find out more about the program here. For me, specifically, it's an opportunity to learn more about how to direct from some of the top theatre professionals in Canada and following the program I will be Assistant Directing Sense and Sensibility at the Citadel. I will also be there with the 12 Acting Participants (who will be in Sense and Sensibility) and another Directing Intern who will be Assistant Directing Peter and the Starcatcher. I anticipate that it will be rigorous and challenging - I am certainly hoping it will be - and I also believe it will be incredibly rewarding. It will be wonderful to immerse myself with my fellow artists and simply commit myself to artistic growth.

Past Participants from ebenezerink37016692 on Vimeo.

2017 Program Trailer from ebenezerink37016692 on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Mountain, A Weapon, and a Dinner Party...

Annapurna, Shadow Theatre - Funny, real, and moving, it tells the story of an unexpected reunion of a long estranged couple. Their history is revealed slowly and significantly as they each harbour resentments and scars from the past. Ullysses, in a powerful and humourous performance by Shaun Johnston, is a tortured cowboy poet who greets us in an unconventional outfit. Emma, played by Coralie Cairns, arrives at Ullysses' somewhat derelict trailer with an obvious hidden agenda and more baggage than just the large suitcases which suggest she is there to move in. The two have great chemistry together and Shadow has created a sensitive and funny show you probably shouldn't miss this theatre season.

Annapurna runs to February 5th at the Varscona Theatre. Tickets here. 

Star Killing Machine,Broken Toys - "This is absurd!" yells one of the characters... and yes, yes it is. But it is also a lot of fun and filled with some really great music. I did wish for mics, not because you can't hear every word, but because it's a rock musical and I wanted to hear it more. It's a new work and I hope that it's only an early incarnation, because I think there is a lot of future in it. Go for the music, go for the ridiculous twinkie, go for the rolling chair dance, go for the beautiful closing song, go for the quirky humour. There's a lot of reasons to see this show.

Only one show left - today at 2 pm. Tickets here. 

Disgraced, Citadel Theatre - As I woke up this morning and read my twitter and FB feed, this one feels all the more relevant. An explosive dinner party that lets you step inside the experience of those that aren't you... at least to some degree. You won't leave with answers, but you should leave with more empathy and hopefully connection. A terrific script brought to life by the perfect cast.

Disgraced runs to February 12th. Tickets here. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes and Fortune Falls - Illuminating

This past week I took in 2 very different shows, both Canadian works. 

First up was Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes produced by the relatively new company, Cardiac Theatre in the PCL Theatre at Fringe Theatre Adventures. The short (59 minutes) show tells the story of Peter Fechter, a young East Berlin brick-layer who attempts to cross the Berlin Wall in the early 1960s. As he attempts to escape he is shot and we experience a fictionalized account of what goes through his mind in those 59 minutes before he dies. The source material is true and one thing the show did for me was get me thinking and reading. Off to climb down that wikipedia wormhole. That's one of the things I love about theatre is that often it provides a glimpse of something I didn't really know much about and it sparks that interest in finding out more. The production is well done. I loved the set and lighting and the choice of the alley staging - underscoring the two sides of the wall - and the twisted barbed wire that is entangled with the detritus of Peter's (Bradley Dore) young life. It was tight and engaging and thought-provoking. 

The other show I saw was Fortune Falls presented by Catalyst Theatre at the Citadel. Catalyst Theatre started out much in the same way as Cardiac Theatre is now - a group of young U of A drama grads presenting challenging work. Fortune Falls combines many things that Catalyst has become known for, an edgy world with a unique vision. Each moment is excellently executed by it's 5 person ensemble. The music is original and tight with stand-out vocals from Jamie Tognazzini and Daniel Fong. The many characters portrayed by the ensemble are clearly defined and individual. My favorites included Braydon Dowler-Coltman's brash and larger than life Tour Guide, Shannon Blanchett's hilarious clickety-clark executive secretary (there are too many characters for me to remember names) and Graham Mothersill's East-coast factory repairman. I really loved the lighting design by Kerem Çetinel, which was brilliant and precise - no small feat in a thrust theatre - and Megan Koshka's costumes were inspired. Truly an original world created onstage. 

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes runs to January 22nd at the PCL Theatre.
Fortune Falls runs to Feberuary 5th in the Maclab Theatre at the Citadel.