Friday, January 30, 2009

20-Minute Musicals at Club PuSh

If you weren't at Club PuSh last night for the first night of 20-minutes musicals you really should go tonight (or next Thursday & Friday night).

Theatre replacement has put together four 20-minute musicals airing in 2 programs.  This week the two shows are Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata & Distant Second: The Steve Fonyo Story. Both shows are directed by Ami Gladstone.

(Above: Veda Hille, creator & writer of A Craigslist Cantata)

The Craigslist musical is a hilarious musical that looks at the humorous things people are looking for or trying to get rid of via craigslist.  With lyrics taken from actual craigslist postings, the musical makes fun of dead moose, missed love connections, and a box of 14 cat-hats.  It's the best integration of a popular website with theatre that I've heard of and is extremely well done.

Distant Second is about the 2nd guy who ran across Canada on 1 leg to raise money for cancer research 5 years after Terry Fox.  It draws a line between sacrilege and being downright offensive, dangles one foot over the line, taps around a bit, but ultimately just makes fun of everyone.  It's a great look at who our Canadian heroes are.  Andrew McNee steals the show as a very drunk Douglas Coupland. 

It was one of the funnest nights of theatre that I've had in a while and I'd really encourage you to go.  Tonight's show is at 7pm. Tickets are $20 at the door and also get you in to the two music acts at 9pm & 11pm.  After 11pm it is FREE.

Friday Arts Quotes: Critics Edition

In theatre we seem to have this love/hate relationship with the critics and there is a moment in the show I'm working on that pokes a bit of fun at that. But I'm not going to go into that here. I don't need to. Simon already wrote a great post about it back in spring over at The Next Stage" entitled Critics are your friends. Meet your new friends."

This week's quotes are about critics as they apply to all forms of art: writing, fine arts, music, theatre, opera, dance, and every melding of the above.

"Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.”—John Steinbeck

"Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of his own works."—John Keats

"The history of criticism begins with the history of art. When the first artist drew his first horse in red chalk on the walls of his cave, the first critic was at his elbow.”—Robert Morss Lovett

"A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded."—Murray Kempton

“This whole creation is essentially subjective, and the dream is the theater where the dreamer is at once: scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic.” - Carl Jung

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Excerpt from Holy Mo Director's Notes

Pacific Theatre's Artistic Director Ron Reed has thrown a first draft of his program notes for Holy Mo up on his blog, so I decided that it was only fair for me to throw a section from the director's notes up on mine.

(Left: Katharine Venour, Erla Faye Forsyth, Julia Mackey; photo by Kevin Clark. )

"Plays that deal with big fat questions, ancient heroes and mystical unseen beings are tricky. It’s hard to make someone invisible. It’s hard to be a hero when you’re just an actor making a living in a city like Vancouver. But then, maybe that’s exactly what makes it possible to be an actor and a hero - the fact that making a living is secondary to that great dance these strange people-performers do with an invisible muse whose presence is so often felt in curious buildings where the lights go out on the hour - matinee and evening after matinee and evening - when people take the time to sit down together to listen and watch. I wonder whether those listening and watching people feel and hear the sign of that muse too, rustling behind a stage curtain, shimmering somehow in the sound around them, pin-pricking their imagination with a catchy tune or an unusual turn of phrase. If you do, let us know."

Morris Ertman, Director

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Were YOU at Club PuSh tonight?

Club PuSh is my new favourite thing about the PuSh Festival.

Tonight was opening night for Club PuSh - a bar/cabaret/theatre/music event that will be running every night for the next week and a half. And it's great. The energy in the building is unmistakable as friends drink, discuss PuSh shows they've seen in the last week, & wonder what exactly they've come to see. The room is a veritable list of Vancouver theatre folk: actors, directors, critics, technicians, administrators & volunteers. I saw many familiar faces both from my own previous projects, but also people who I have never met but only seen on stage.

Tonight's two acts were widely varied. The opener, The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac was a drag-queen comedian with a hint of ukelele. She had the audience roaring with laugher as she laid down her 2 fundamental rules for her show:

#1 - Comparision is terror. Do not compare the show to anything else.
#2 - Chatty Catty's are welcome, but will be forced to join the show in a drag outfit.

(Left: Taylor Mac. Photo by Simon Phillips)

The second act, The Awkward Stage is a local band that despite the sound technician's desire to deaffen most of the audience, were very fun and talented.

Both of these performers are back tomorrow night and I highly recommend attending. Swing by after whatever show you see and grab a drink or simply enjoy the buzz. I'll be back on Thursday, Friday, & Saturday nights selling drink tickets and pointing out seats. Come say hi!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is the value of Twitter to theatre?

Praxis Theatre in Toronto has got an interesting conversation going on over at their blog. They are asking the question; "What is the value of Twitter to theatre?"

Join in the conversation here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

PuSh Festival: Week 1 in ReView

The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival got off to a great start last week. I kicked it off by seeing Skydive at the Art's Club's Granville Island Stage as my first show of the 2009 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The show premiered as a part of PuSh in 2007 & I really enjoyed the show then and was looking forward to seeing it again. And it didn't disappoint.

The theatre was only about two-thirds full, mostly with patrons who had no idea what they were about to see. I overheard many husbands asking their wives just what this play was about. The lights went to black at the top of the show and the muttering continued until the lights came up & the curtains were falling down, actors were flying through the air. It is a visually stunning opening scene & from that moment on the show had the audience in the palm of its hand.

There have been a few re-writes in the past two years, but most of them make the dialogue smoother - only one or two places feel a bit clunky - like there were some references that they really wanted to include. But overall the script is strong - a story that evokes a lot of nostalgia in people who are old enough to remember the 80's - and makes people laugh.

But the strongest thing about Skydive are the ES Dance Instruments - the technology that allows the actors to fly above the stage & audience. And at this point I feel the need to give a shout out to the operators of the ESDIs - despite being completely hidden for the majority of the show, they are integral to making the show happen - and get a few moments of guaranteed audience love.

The second show that I saw this week was not nearly as good. 5 Days in March is advertised with the following sentence:

In March 2003, in the days before the US war against Iraq, two Japanese urban hipsters meet at a post-rock show and are swept into a one-night stand that turns into five days’ continuous sex.

And with a premise like that, it shouldn't be nearly as boring as it is. Written entirely in Japanese and performed with English surtitles, it reads like an interesting short story, but doesn't work as a play. The language is colloquial - it sounds like a group of friends sitting around at a party telling a story to a friend who wasn't there - complete with different people telling their versions of what happened, going back over the same part multiple times, and sharing little details that are entirely irrelevant to an audience that doesn't know the specific neighbourhoods mentioned.

As they tell these stories about passionate subjects (sex, war, etc), there is no passion and there is little action: just small fidgety movements on a bare stage. One rocks back and forth, one grabs his crotch, one balances on the side of her foot and so on with the little twitches.

I'll admit it: I fell asleep three times in the first act.

I'm looking forward to Week two which is now up and going & tomorrow night Club PuSh opens at Performance Works where I'll be volunteering Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday night. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Annoying Audience Poll

What audience traits irritate you most at the theatre?

View Results

Friday Arts Quotes: Holy Mo Edition

"It isn't easy traveling around the world in a circus wagon with a couple of clowns. The only reason Follie, Bufoona and Guff are still together is because they love each other and need each other, they are family. It hasn't been easy touring all these years, dust in their nostrils as they pull their wagon across windy prairies, through hostile villages, over skin cracking sand dunes and up mad rutted mountain trails. As Follie sings for tomato slinging tavern sailors, she remembers that she could be making a lot more money dong cartoon voice overs. Bufoona pulls out a ratty picture of Cirque de Soliel on nights when audiencese cough, shuffle and move along. When rain starts to fall during the parting of the red sea and soot fingered boys steal backstage props, Guff remembers how much she got paid as a roadie for the Rolling Stones. So why do they do it? The story. They are more than just performers, they are prophets. Sometimes, when they sing around the camp fire, bells will come after quiet thunder and the presence of Yamma will fill the circle. Follie might see a vision, Bufoona might dream a dream, or Guff might burst into ecstatic dancing under the stars. Either way, they seek an undeniable ferociously beautiful Other and their stories are an invitation to the whole world to dance with the Divine."

- Lucia Frangione, Playwright's Notes, Holy Mo (Emphasis mine)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rehearsal Photos

First read with cast, designers & theatre staff


Costume designs by Drew Facey

Florida Director Accidently Shoots Actor in the Head

Following so closely on the heals of December's prop-knife accident, I was stunned to see another story of actor/prop negligence leading to serious injury. I take this as a reminder to triple & quadruple check all props before shows & rehearsals.

From the UK's Gaurdian newspaper:

Real-life tragedy nearly struck at a Florida theatre on Monday night, when an actor fired a live gun at a cast member's head.

During rehearsals for an amateur production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in Sarasota, the show's director, Bill Bordy, shot 81-year-old actor Fred Kellerman in the back of the head at point-blank range, only to realise with horror that the gun he used was loaded with live ammunition. Luckily the shot only grazed Kellerman's skull, and he was quickly released from hospital.

The incident occurred during the final run-through of the play's last scene, in which George Milton shoots his friend Lennie Small to spare him a painful death at the hands of a lynch mob. The Smith and Wesson pistol had been borrowed from a fellow cast member in the Sarasota Senior Theater who had, it appeared, forgotten that it was loaded.

In his defence, Bordy told reporters: "I'm the actor, I'm the director and we're running late, and without thinking I didn't check the gun."

"I was like, 'Oh my God, dear Lord, no'. Luckily I was a lousy shot."

The shooting comes only a month after the attention of the world's media was seized by another theatrical near-disaster – albeit one that occurred several thousands of miles away, in Vienna. Actor Daniel Hoevels made headlines in December after cutting his throat on stage with what turned out to be a real blade. The city's Burgtheater later admitted that the knife had been left out by a stage manager who had forgotten to blunt it; Hoevels suffered only minor injuries and was treading the boards again the following night.

For his part, Kellerman claimed the worst part of being shot was the loud bang, which caused him to lose his hearing momentarily, followed by a painful tetanus shot administered by nurses at the hospital.

The show went ahead on schedule just two hours later, with an understudy filling Kellerman's shoes.

No charges have been filed, although police are still investigating the incident.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Biographical Evolution

At the beginning of each show, I take time to sit down and revise my biography for the program, but instead of just adding the previous show I worked on to a list of credits, I try to find ways to make the bio personal.

I had to write my first bio for a show in university and it was not very cohesive or smooth, though it still had some personal touches to it. More it was about showing off that even though I was the new kid on the block, I had experience.

Lois is in her second year at TWU, pursuing a major in communications and minor in drama. Lois spent last year learning to appreciate the finer art of stage lighting during TWU's productions of The Mail Order Bride, Defying Gravity, Shadowlands, and Waiting for Godot. She has previously worked on numerous productions for 27th Street Theatre Company in Vernon, including stage managing Little Shop of Horrors and Hotline and assistant stage managing The Tuna Fish Eulogy, Interview and Something's Wrong with Ophelia. Lois is looking forward to working on many other productions in the future.

My third year of university (and five or six bios later), one of the professors decided to write all of the bios based on information they were given on a short sheet of paper. That bio is a little bit different - more a list of credits & things I wouldn't have been comfortable saying about myself.

Lois is a third year TWU student pursing a double major in Theatre and Communications. Recent credits include Cowgirls Gone Wild in the West (Wishbone Theatre), Disney's Beauty and the Beast (VCMS), The Heiress, Two Rooms, Steel Magnolias & Dr. Prescriptions Variety Hour Pt 1 (TWU), Little Shop of Horrors, Hotline, & Tuna Fish Eulogy (27th Street Theatre Company). Lois' skill and dedication will surely lead her into a career in stage management.
My bio for Holy Mo (which opens in 2 weeks) is my attempt to find the best of both worlds: a good variety of credits, while still incorporating the personal touches, and all in 85 words or less.

Lois loves her job as the resident stage manager at Pacific Theatre. It gives her a chance to combine her love for theatre with her compulsive need to organize things; skills she honed at Trinity Western University. Some of Lois' favorite PT credits include: A Bright Particular Star, Driving Miss Daisy, The Woodsman, Mourning Dove & Jesus, My Boy. When not at PT, Lois can be found stage managing dance shows & co-ops, watching her vast collection of TV on DVD or spending time with her delightful friends.

Every time I see a show, I read every bio in the program. Some are personal and only list one or two theatre credits, focusing instead on the person's life history while others are lists of only credits. While I think there is room for both of these different types of biographies to exist (and everything in between), I prefer to read the ones with a balance of the personal with credits, and that is also what I strive to write.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Weekend in the World of Theatre

It's been a surprisingly interesting weekend in the theatresphere. Here are the two things that caught my eye:

#1 - EXIT Stage Left

EXIT Stage Left is a new web-series about the fictional Lowry Theatre Company as they produce a play. On their website it is describe this way: "EXIT Stage left is a look at the men and women behind the curtain, from the auditions to opening night, a series with a bit for everyone, comedy, drama and touch of madness all coming from the stages of The Lowry Theater Company." It's free, online, and has 2 new webispodes a month (available on the 10th & 25th).

There are already two episodes online and you should definitely check them out if you have ever worked on a play or even seen a play, this is a funny (& only slightly exaggerated) look at what happens before the audience enters the theatre for the first time.

#2 - Portland Center Stage Live-Tweets Apollo

As micro-blogging site Twitter grows in popularity (both within the theatre community and the larger population), its application to the world of theatre is continuing to be explored. Personally I've been using Twitter and the #theatre group to connect with theatre artists & theatre lovers around the world, as well as "live-tweeting" shows that I've been working on. This weekend, Portland Center Stage invited a group of their twitter friends to sit in the balcony and tweet their responses to the show.

Looking over the comments from these audience members, a lot of it is criticism of the show, and a lot of it is inside comments - things that unless you've seen the show don't make a whole lot of sense.

But this excersize has certainly gotten the twitter theatre community talking about what role twitter could play in upcoming productions. Is there a way for audiences to live tweet a show & somehow use that as a part of the play? Would guided questions for your live-tweet audience members help the responses to make more sense? One friend suggested using it poll audiences & get fast feedback.

Friday, January 16, 2009

PuShing in Busy Season

Theatre seems to have its slow times (read: the past 3 weeks) and its busy times (read: the next 3 weeks).

Starting Monday, the PuSh festival rolls into town with its diverse, international offerings. This is my third year as a volunteer for the festival and I always look forward to seeing a number of shows. On my calendar for this year:

1. Siren (UK) - A music/performance piece that looks at the relationship betwen light & sound.
2. Skydive (Vancouver) - My second time seeing this award-winning play that makes a quadriplegic man fly.
3. Nanay: A testimonial play (Vancouver) - Exploring live-in care-giving, this local play was written in collaboration with the Phillipine Women Center.
4. Five Days in March (Tokyo) - In Japanese with English surtitles, I think this play will either fly or flop - not sure which, but I'm curious to find out.
5. Assembly (Vancouver) - Won critics choice, but more importantly a mentor said that it was worth seeing. Reason enough to see it, yes?

Also, for my volunteer postition I'll be working at Club PuSh January 27, 29, 30 & 31 as an usher/ticket taker, so if you pop in, come and say "hi!" I'll be the one with the name tag that says "Lois" on it.

As well as the PuSh Festival, the Vancouver Playhouse just opened Miss Julie: Freedom Summer. I saw a preview earlier this week and after a year or two away from the Playhouse I was pleasantly surprised. Often I am enthralled by their production elements, but walk away feeling like the show has missed the mark in a lot of other ways, but this time (despite a few minor things) the production felt very coherent, and all of the elements - acting, directing, design - felt like they were at the same, high level. It's certainly worth checking out.

On smaller stages there is Squidamisu's production of Shocker's Delight! at the Beaumont Studios. I worked on a production of this a few years ago and had forgotten just how sharp & funny the script was.

Sidebar: I had never been inside the Beaumont Studios before tonight, but their 65-seat theatre is a treat. For a city that is really struggling to find performance space, this is a GREAT option for companies that are just getting established and would like a little more flexibility than the Havana. Though I'm told by the actors that the only way to get from stage left to stage right without crossing the stage is to run around the building!

Also, the school's are opening their first spring term shows in the next couple of weeks. I have tickets to see Bye Bye Birdie at Studio 58 & Medea at UBC. I am looking forward to both of them. I think Cap University is opening 1949 as well, but I rarely make it out to where they are. At some point I'll do something about that.

On the community theatre front, There Came a Gypsy Riding opens at the Jericho Arts center next week.

I go back into rehearsals on Monday, so it's a busy time, but getting out there and supporting the rest of the artistic community is important. If I can't make time to go and see someone else's show, how can I expect them to have the time to come and see mine?

Friday Arts Quotes

"Every real creation of art is independent, more powerful than the artist himself and returns to the Divine through its manifestation. It is one with man only in this, that it bears testimony to the mediation of the Divine in him." - Ludwig von Beethoven

I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragoon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Eugene Ionesco

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back From Vacation

If you've noticed that posts have been a bit sparse lately, I promise that there has been good reason: I've been on vacation.

8 hours after closing Jesus, My Boy, I hopped on a plane with my family & flew to Mexico for a week, where we welcomed 2009 on the beach with fireworks and a live mariachi band.

Four days after returning to Vancouver (and experiencing a 30 degree drop in temperature) I jumped on another plane to Edmonton (and experienced another 30 degree temperature drop). I spent 5 days in Edmonton with my best friend, being goofy & enjoying each others' company.

(Canada Day came early in Edmonton this year!)

But now I'm back!

Rehearsals for Holy Mo (the next show at Pacific Theatre) start on Monday. I attended my first theatrical production of 2009 tonight at the Playhouse (more on that in an upcoming post). I start volunteering with the PuSh festival in a couple of weeks. I've jumped back into this theatrical world with both feet & am looking forward to what 2009 has to offer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Top Five of 2008

After yesterday's post I thought it only fair that I list my top five of 2008, but then I couldn't limit myself to just five because they were all so different, though I did refrain from including anything I worked on (becuase that wouldn't be fair!).

So here are the SIX shows I saw that deepened my appreciation for theatre in 2008, and what it was about each of them that stuck out:

Corteo (Cirque du Soliel)
My first ever Cirque show. The decadence on stage for only a moment of time. Spectacle to the greatest degree, and yet not hollow entertainment. I was so enthralled with what was going on that I couldn't applaud each act, for fear of missing a part of the next. It gave me a new appreciation for the possibility of what theatre is capable of with large budgets & new ways of storytelling.

Jake's Gift (Juno Productions & The Cultch)
The opposite end of the spectrum from Cirque: just a bench and a table on an otherwise empty stage. But the characters! Julia Mackey has created such a lovely pair of characters whose lives are woven together with such care. I sat in my seat with tears streaming down my face. To have characters that one can invest in so deeply is a marvelous thing.

The Tempest (Bard on the Beach)
What a feast for the senses. With a stunning cast, Meg Rowe's first attempt at directing was lovely. She had fantastic material to work with, but the decision to make Trinculo & Stephano women was richly funny. The Shakespearean language is always so rich, but this production really came alive for me.

Unity: 1918 (Theatre at UBC)
I've already raved a bit about this show here, but what I loved about it was the way it used design to help tell the story. With what appeared to be a very simplistic set, beautiful images were created that were individually poetic, but within the greater story they were stunning. It wasn't the strongestly acted student show I saw this year, but it had very strong direction.

No Exit (Electric Company & Virtual Stage)
One of the most unique uses of space & technology I have seen in theatre. Locking the actors in a small room and allowing the audience to watch them voyeristically on huge screens gave a whole new sense of the Hell that Sartre was intending.

The Space Between (Circa)
A cross between dance & theatre, this movement in this show made me re-examine the beauty of the human body. There was no set, just a blank stage, but the images that the performers created through their movements were strong & evokative.

This list certainly reflects my bias towards shows with strong images, but it also leans towards the fact that I love theatre that does what only theatre can do (something I picked up from some wise friends). The thing about all of these shows, despite their differences in budget, cast size, plot, theme, etc was that I left the theatre each time, feeling like my soul had been refilled. As though I had just discovered something new. And remembered that ultimately, theatre is about the relationship between the audience and the performers & we are each changed by what we collectively experience.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008: What I Saw in the Theatre

Working in theatre, I find that I often don't have time to see theatre. After a long day of reherasals the last thing I tend to want to do is go sit in some other dark theatre and watch a play. But in 2008 I saw an average of 2 shows per month and worked on eight productions of my own. Not too shabby.

I saw my first Cirque show, Corteo, and was blown away by it.

I saw student productions, community productions, & professional productions.

I saw touring Broadway shows.

I saw shows at The Arts Club but didn't make it to the Playhouse once all year.

I saw a number of shows at the 2008 PuSh Festival & a few at the 2008 Vancouver International Fringe Festival, but managed to miss the Magnetic North Festival due to a crazy work schedule(something I deeply regret).

I saw shows that experimented with technology and its use in theatre.

I saw shows with great scripts, great imaginations, great designs, great acting, & great directing.

I saw shows that failed in each of the above areas.

I saw shows that reminded me why I do theatre.

I saw shows that made me question why the hell anyone would work on something so stupid as live theatre.

I saw the Vancouver theatre community come together to protect our historic spaces.

I saw the theatre community bond together, not only in Vancouver, but across the country, to respond to the comments of our Prime Minister.

I can only imagine what I will see in 2009.