Thursday, December 19, 2013

News: Nominations - CharPR Prize, 2013

Nominations: CharPR Prize, 2013

The Charlebois Post is in a unique position in the Canadian cultural landscape. First, we are small, so there are only about ten of us who have direct contact with publicists at the various companies we deal with. Secondly, with reviewers in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Quebec City, we are in almost continual contact with companies large and small, and because we publish articles about and from many companies outside of those centres, we have a fairly large reach. This is why we decided to create the CharPR Prize (pronounced Sharper) last year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Abominable Showman: Tom Kitt and American Idiot

Photo Courtesy Type A Marketing

Ain’t nothing like a Pulitzer
Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt sits down for a frank tete-a-tete about the landmark Broadway musical American Idiot – which headlines Quebec City, Montreal, Kitchener, Hamilton and Toronto in early 2014 – and what it feels like to see one’s name up in lights on the Great White Way …
by Richard Burnett 

John Cameron Mitchell famously debuted his drag-punk rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the gloriously rundown Jane Street Theatre in NYC’s West Village back in 1998, the very same venue where Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer and conductor Tom Kitt kicked off his sensational Broadway career with a bang back in 2002, working on the raunchy Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, which was adapted from the 1978 porn film that starred Bambi Woods. 

“That was one of my first big shows,” says Kitt who has since gone on to score such musicals as the landmark Next to Normal (for which he won the Pulitzer with his old friend Brian Yorkey, with whom he attended the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop as a team when they were both students at Columbia University) and, of course, the Tony and Grammy-winning rock musical American Idiot, for which Kitt arranged the music of Green Day for the Broadway stage.

The North American national tour of American Idiot – which tells the story of three lifelong friends forced to choose between their dreams and the safety of suburbia in a post 9/11 world – will headline in Quebec City (Jan 2-3, 2014) and Montreal (Jan 4-5) before headlining several cities across Ontario in March 2014.

American Idiot is a wonderful musical and I am so proud to be a part of such a visceral show,” Kitt told me this week.

In a Word... Sam Mullins on the upcoming Fringe (2014) frenzy

The Fringe, Broken Hearts, Blazing Through and Fatherly feelings
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Sam S Mullins is a Vancouver-turned-Toronto-based writer/humorist.  He is a staff writer for the CBC sketch comedy radio program The Irrelevant Show.  As a storyteller, he is a regular contributor to the CBC storytelling program Definitely Not the Opera, has contributed to NPR's The Moth and has been featured on the New York-based comedy podcast RISK!.  His one-man show Tinfoil Dinosaur won "Best of Fest" at the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal Fringe Festivals, and was nominated for the 2012 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy.  His new solo-show Weaksauce just picked up the 2013 Award for Best Script at the Montreal Fringe, was nominated for the 2013 Just for Laughs Award for Best Comedy and was selected to be Held Over at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe.
CHARPO: It seems to me the Fringe season has just ended and here we are with the lotteries! First, how many are you in for sure, and have you wound down at all?

MULLINS: So far, for my 2014 Fringe tour, I'm confirmed in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver. I'm waiting to hear on Calgary and Victoria's lotteries.  I was also fortunate enough to get my show Weaksauce into UNO, which is a Victoria-based solo festival in May that I've always wanted to participate in.  I couldn't be more excited about it.  I studied at UVIC, and I haven't had the opportunity to go back and perform there since I graduated in 2008. I'm sure it'll make for a pretty nostalgic time.  Lots of me pointing at inanimate objects and turning to the person (who isn't really there) and saying softly, "Remember?".

I'd say I allowed myself some 'wind down' time after this year's tour.  I took off all of September to sort of bum around in British Columbia.  Y'know. I swam in lakes, drank some wine, ate some casserole prepared by my mother, caught up on some reading and AMC programs. It was pretty fantastic, actually. 

I even quit smoking again. But if my Mom asks, I didn't restart in the first place.

Video of The Week, December 18, 2013

If you live in Toronto and haven't been to one of 360 Screenings' events, why not? They are a fusion of film, theatre, and happening. Get on their mailing list to find out when the next one is coming down the chute - but meanwhile, have a look at this nifty recap of the last one - Halloween's The Exorcist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bonus Feature: First Person - David Powell of Puppetmongers on Tea at the Palace

Tea (and cookies) at the Palace!
Historical references loaded with innuendo are not usual lines in children’s theatre pieces, but all part and parcel of a Puppetmongers’ show. 
by David Powell (photos by Dahlia Katz)

Puppetmongers Theatre presents the work of the Canadian brother and sister team of Ann and David Powell, who are internationally recognized as leaders and innovators in the field of puppetry.  They have developed a dozen new plays for both young and general audiences, which have earned a combined total of 11 Dora Award nominations.  They have been short-listed twice for the Chalmers new Canadian Play for Young Audiences Award and received four Citations of Excellence from l’Union International de la Marionette (US).  They have also received the Award for Artistic Excellence from the Puppeteers of America, and the President’s Award, a medal which has also been awarded to Jim Henson (Muppets), Julie Taymor (Lion King) and fellow Canadian puppeteers Ronnie Burkett and Coad Canada.   

Puppetmongers was founded by my sister Ann and me as a continuation of our complex childhood play.  The Christmas Ann was 8 and I was 7, our parents gave Ann a marionette as a gift.  We used our Christmas money to buy another each, and we were off to the races.  Puppetry became the focus of our time together during all our holidays home from separate boarding schools. We were doing small shows by the time we were 14, but certainly did not conceive of it as a career.  Eventually, we ended up at Ontario College of Art & Design simultaneously, where we were generously given a room for our puppetry experiments.  We formally incorporated in 1974, and we were soon performing in over 100 Toronto schools a year, touring widely across Canada, regularly performing at festivals around the world and winning international theatre awards – but we were completely unknown to the Toronto general public.  So we approached the late Urjo Kareda, then Artistic Director at the Tarragon Theatre.  He knew our Brick Bros. Circus from those wonderful Tarragon Theatre Spring Arts Fairs (we do miss them so!), and he generously ushered us into his Back Space theatre to run a show during their downtime over the Winter Holidays.  Thus was started a Toronto Theatre Tradition that has endured for almost 25 years. 

After Dark, December 17, 2013

A New Year's Wish
How we will lose the culture wars
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

A neighbour of mine saw me on the street with my brand new beard and said it was impressive. I joked lamely, "It's my last-ditch effort to look wise before I drop dead."

The fact is I don't really feel very wise these days.

It started with that idiot Charter from our blessed provincial government which made racists of everyone: Quebeckers showed their anti-Muslim hues in Technicolour and the rest didn't miss a chance to point the finger at Quebeckers as a gang of backward, stump-jumping fascists.

In the last weeks I have blazed into Facebook discussions and been subsequently eviscerated for daring to raise my head. I'm not talking about the kind of thing where I get so furious at the personal attacks that I end up shooting off my keyboard. I'm talking about vigorous debate about politics, often sexual politics, where suddenly I am treated as an oppressor, sometimes by perfect strangers! One discussion that started wondrously got so vituperative that a friend transferred the discussion over to his own timeline where thankfully it became more civil.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Question... Ingrid Hansen on Little Orange Man (WildSide)

The High-Octane Danish Girl
by Estelle Rosen

Raised by Danish immigrants in Kelowna, BC and fuelled by a love for talking with strangers, Ingrid Hansen is fascinated with ways of creating temporary communities out of groups of strangers. She has toured Little Orange Man across Canada, designed for the Dora-Award Winning musical Ride the Cyclone, and was a lead puppeteer for the children’s television series Tiga Talk! on APTN. Ms Hansen also does ongoing work with the inmate-run prison theatre company William Head on Stage in Victoria, BC. She loves to teach students of all backgrounds, especially beginners, and has taught theatre workshops for children, adults, actors, dancers, puppeteers, and prison inmates.

CHARPO: The last time we were in touch was about SNAFU Dance Theatre production of Fractured Fables, a play written and performed by prison inmates. At first glance, Little Orange Man (LOM) seems a departure. Yet perhaps not. LOM involves an outcast fighting dark battles, both incorporate fables and puppets. Are there any connections or is this coincidence?

HANSEN: I suppose the main similarity between the two projects is that when we started, we really had no idea what the end result would be. When working on Little Orange Man, at times we threw out huge chunks of material -- entire show’s worth of material -- or evolved the story into something completely different. It’s now the story of Kitt, a high-octane Danish girl whose greatest delight comes from re-enacting her grandfather’s grisly folk tales to young neighbourhood children. Kitt fires up homemade technology to extract and re-enact the audience’s dreams. Through the weird songs, fast-paced humour and shadow puppetry we have the story of an outcast child who entrusts a group of strangers to help fight her darkest battle. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Messiah

(photo by Darryl Black)

Messing With Messiah
by Ramya Jegatheesan

Against the Grain’s Messiah begins as any other Messiah might. Singers decked out in their Sunday best: the men in black suits and bow ties; the women in gowns. They are seated, music in hand. Except we are not in a concert hall, but in the grungy Opera House and the drinks are flowing. 

Then the tenor starts to undress. First the cuff links go. Then the bow tie. The sleeves are rolled up. The shirt is unbuttoned. The shoes come off, and the score is tossed away. Now you know: this is not your grandmother’s Messiah. 

Against the Grain’s Messiah is cheeky, yet reverent and grounded. This centuries-old beloved Christmas tradition has been given an inventive spin, and it is glorious to see. Handel’s beloved oratorio has been brought down from the heavens and given an operatic spin. The singers perform a juggling act, balancing their vocal acrobatics with a visual story borne through movement. They have no crutch – the notes they sing have been committed to memory, and they dance, with beautiful fluid strokes. 

Sunday Feature: Interview - Simon Brault, CEO National Theatre School

(photo by Maxime Côté)

Shaping the Future of Theatre
I believe NTS will be powerful as long as it will stay absolutely connected to the pulse of professional theatre.
by David Sklar 

Simon Brault was named the National Theatre School’s CEO in 2008 and has held several key administrative positions with the NTS since 1981. In 1997, he initiated Journées de la culture, a Quebec‐wide cultural event; in 2002, he led a 20‐member delegation at the Sommet de Montréal and founded Culture Montréal. Since 2007, he heads the steering committee of the RV07 – Montreal, Cultural Metropolis. He is Vice‐Chair of the Canada Council, an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Officier de l'Ordre national du Québec, a Fellow of the CGA, and a recipient of the Keith Kelly Award for Cultural Leadership. On September 23, 2009, Mr. Brault launched his first book of essays on the rise of arts and culture on global public agendas. Titled Le FACTEUR C ‐ L'Avenir passe par la culture, it was published by La Presse / Éditions Voix parallèles and was released in English, in May 2010, by Cormorant Books (translation Jonathan Kaplansky) under the title No Culture, No Future. In 2011, the Presses de l'Université du Québec and the Chaire de leadership Pierre‐Péladeau published a monograph about Simon Brault: Prendre fait et cause pour la culture. It is a scholarly thesis on his personal and professional journey in the arts.

CHARPO: How did it begin for you in theatre?

BRAULT: I came to it when I was 26 years old; a long time ago. I was really looking for a job. I studied two years in law but I didn’t finish. I had just had a son and needed a job so I came to NTS (National Theatre School) with the firm intention of staying for ten weeks or so. I really just needed employment insurance. My plan was simple.  

Obviously what happened was when I came here, I immediately discovered a fascinating world. We were teaching theatre here so all of a sudden actors, dancers, musicians, and visual artists surrounded me. It was also a place where people spoke French and English, and having a lot of political debates. I was doing a modest job and wandering around. For me, this became a place to learn and live and make connections. 

Jean-Louis Roux, who recently passed away, was the director general and I had the chance to decode what he was doing. I was lucky because I realized that I could play a role in this institution on the administrative side because the school was facing financial problems. It was a vibrant place from an artistic point of view but they needed a helping hand. My law background didn’t help so I began to study accounting; I never imagined I would end up doing that. But I thought, 'That could be useful'. 

I went to university four nights a week while still working.  I got the degree and was promoted to accounting, then administrative director, then co-director and eventually CEO. It took 15 years. Learning and trying and going through lots of projects.  

While my focus was the law, I came from a family of artists, mostly poets and visual artists. My father was a painter and sculptor so that was the world I grew up in.  

After 32 years, I have seen hundreds of plays, rehearsals and writing projects but I don’t consider myself a theatre person. My passion was to organize and lead this institution. Re-framing and re-positioning the role of the arts in Canadian society.  That is why I decided to also play a role in the Canada Council for the Arts. For me the future of this place and theatre schools are linked with the future of the art form itself. 

I believe NTS will be powerful as long as it will stay absolutely connected to the pulse of professional theatre. Every time I notice there is possibility that we will shape ourselves into an ivory tower, I see that as dangerous. If we isolate ourselves from society, we become irrelevant.      

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Little Shop of Horrors

(photo by Seanna Kennedy)

For a Good Time Call: Little Shop of Horrors 
by Keely Kwok 

Little Shop of Horrors is a fun, quirky musical about a bumbling, lovesick fella named Seymour Krelborn who works in a ramshackle of a flower shop on Skid Row. One day Seymour (Mark Willett)  brings a mysterious plant to the shop and calls it Audrey II (after his not-so-secret crush on the shop’s assistant). Audrey II, or Twoey, is unlike anything anyone has ever seen and suddenly business is booming! The only problem is, Audrey II has a rather peculiar diet… human flesh and blood. 

The Lower Ossington Theatre definitely delivers an entertaining, upbeat performance with a talented cast whose vocals hit you all the way in the back row. And it was a tough crowd. A lot of laugh lines didn’t receive a single chuckle but the cast rolled with it. And finally the sleazy Orin (Ryan Jeffrey), worked the room during his song Dentist! and the audience came round. I mean, who can resist that rock and roll, slightly psychotic charm?

creating a/broad, December 14, 2013

Could it be me...?
by Cameryn Moore

I can’t take it personally. All of this went through my mind like a mantra last week, when I received two emails, bam bam, informing me that neither of my proposals went through for a sexuality conference that I had hoped to present at in March. 

I can’t take it personally, no. It’s not me. You can never say for sure why a presentation proposal gets rejected, and to try to figure out why is a sure spiral path downward. Could be the topic doesn’t fit well enough with an unspoken overarching theme or approach of the conference; could be I just hit the conference programmer on a bad day. I don’t send out enough of these to be really facile with the writing; it could have been that, too. And it could be me, I would have to be a completely delusional narcissist to not admit that as a possibility, it could be me…

No. No. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. My style is to get right back on the horse, as you know if you’ve been following along up in here, so the next day I found someone else’s calendar of sex and sexuality conferences, and I will be sifting through all of those carefully, thank you. I am revisiting one of those rejected proposals—the one about Sidewalk Smut as an unexpected vehicle for sex education—and rewriting it with the Edinburgh Book Festival in mind. I am meeting up with a couple of friends this coming week to spend some hours really confronting all of the projects that I do or am planning to do, with an eye toward properly channelling my creative energy and other resources into my chosen mission: catalyzing important conversations through performance. But in the back of my mind, a new seed of doubt and dismay had lodged itself. What if this is always going to happen, just because what I do and the projects I’m attracted to, they don’t fit very well, anywhere?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Weather the Weather

Photo by Jacqui Jensen-Roy
The Snow Glow Queen or How I Learned to Just Enjoy the Show
Weather the Weather to see Weather the Weather
by Christopher Douglas

Haley McGee crafts a wintery tale about a brother and sister after the hail.
A storm’s thrown the pair into a mess:  one that requires warm winter dress.

See, the play takes place outside in the snow;
For an hour, audiences are told where to go.

The story? You know it, it’s The Snow Queen with light, taking place in a magical Toronto park night.
Brother’s struck by lighting but Sister sticks with her map. She yearns to get home and won’t take a nap.

They fight while Brother sparks and glows (neat effect and it shows)
Before being seen by the Troll of the Sky, a Canadian Glow Queen.

CharPo's Real Theatre! December 13, 2013

A Fly On The Wall, December 13, 2013

Dream Calling
by Jim Murchison

A friend of mine died this year. He was not a close friend. I knew him briefly when I was fundraising for the NAC where he also worked. What reminded me of him was when I was at The Sound of Music. He had done an extraordinary thing while he was working there and looking at the list of sponsors that have contributed to keeping the NAC operating reminded me of that. 

Norm had made a call one evening pitching sponsorship of the orchestra. An animated individual possessing a pronounced British accent and a passion for music, he usually received polite responses even when they were, “No I can’t right now.” On this particular night however, the person on the other end shared Norm’s passion and asked one question, “How much would you like?” Norm’s response was, "I would like a million dollars, but I realize that that is not possible for most people." 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Phaedra Project

(photo by Neil Scotten)

The Phædra Project: love stories framed by a pool of water
Sarah Deshaies

The story of Phædra, the second wife of Theseus, has been explored in countless re-tellings. Married to a king of Athens, she falls for his son, Hippolytus, only to be rejected by the younger man. Add in a few untruths and some revenge, and Hippolytus turns out dead and she turns out incredibly remorseful.

In this version of Phaedra, two solitary figures fill out different roles, acting in separate spaces that clash together in venn diagram-like motions.

This is The Phædra Project (No! I! Don’t! Want! To! Fall! In! Love! With! You!), a brainchild of 
Nervous Hunter (handle of director Sophie Gee).

Review: (Ottawa) Collapsible

Theatre On Many Levels
by Jim Murchison

There are a few things that Mi Casa Theatre does that you really don't get to see anywhere else. For one, there is a boldness in their choices as to staging. At the Fringe Festival, We Glow was done entirely in a Boardroom and every inch of the space was used to great effect. 

Collapsible is set at the New Edinburgh Community and Arts Centre which is really just a big old house and again every inch of five rooms and the hallways are used as performance areas. Sometimes the audience splits up; one part of it going on one adventure, the remainder staying behind, but in a play that is entirely about choices neither staying where you are or venturing forth is necessarily more right or more safe.

Picture of the Week, December 12, 2013

WC Fields is quoted as saying, "Never work with children and animals" so poor Sterling Jarvis, here as Daddy Warbucks in YPT's Annie, featured with Jenny Weisz as the title character. But we think Fields would have added, "And fercrissakes, never work with a dog wearing a Christmas bow!" because even Ms Weisz suffers from lack of attention in this greeting-card-worthy photo by Cylla von Tiedemann. Yes, Annie's curly-headed-adorable, and Daddy Warbucks is sturdy - but we just want to hug Sandy - played by Casper (and steal him).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) The King and I

Not Whistling Dixie!
by Jay Catterson

The Richmond Gateway Theatre Society brings the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I to life this holiday season. Based on the 1944 Margaret Landon novel Anna and the King of Siam, this show tells of Anna Leonowens' (Barbara Tomasic) unconventional relationship with the King of Siam (Jovanni Sy) while serving as schoolteacher to his many children, and features such iconic songs as "I Whistle a Happy Tune", "Getting To Know You" and "Shall We Dance?". Now does Gateway Theatre do this Rodgers and Hammerstein tuner justice? Well I'm quite ecstatic that I got to know this King and I over a truly joyous two-and-a-half-hour period.

Review: (Toronto) The Christmas Story

Bring your Christmas cheer (and a blanket)
by Dave Ross

Every December for the past 76 years, the Church of the Holy Trinity has embarked on an ambitious Christmas pageant, sharing the story of Christmas with tens of thousands of audience members. On opening weekend, there were members of the audience that had been attending every year for 60 years. It is a Christmas tradition in the hearts of many Torontonians. 

Review: (Toronto) Repetitive Strain Injury

(photo by Farrah Aviva)
The Young and the Restless
by Ramya Jegatheesan

Rob Van Meenen’s Repetitive Strain Injury bills itself as a dark comedy about contemporary relationships: their quirks, vulnerabilities and the tensions between fate and choice. 

We follow a young couple, Julie and Dave on the brink of marriage. Wedded bliss is nowhere in sight. The couple fights about wedding favours, sex and kept mementoes from past lovers. Julie finds a friend in Pia, a mysterious telemarketer with a font of wisdom recycled from The Matrix, while Dave’s friend Guy is too busy chasing skirts to help a friend in crisis. 

News: (Toronto) Theatre Passe Muraille has new GM - Régine Cadet (press release)

News: (TO) Tarragon receives $100K from Trillium Foundation (Press release)

In a Word... Anthony F. Ingram on Uncle Vanya

From The Darkness, Vanya
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Anthony F. Ingram is Vancouver born and bred, having lived away from his hometown a total of one year out of 47 when he trained and worked at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. In addition to that training, he is a graduate of University of British Columbia and Studio 58. Ingram has received numerous Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominations as a director and actor. In 2010, he won Best Actor for his performance as a serial killer in Frozen (Shameless Hussy Productions). Ingram has toured across the country with a number of theatre companies and has played in San Jose, California with Electric Company’s Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla. Mr Ingram previously appeared in Blackbird Theatre productions of The Birthday Party, Pinter’s Briefs, Great Expectations, and Waiting for Godot.

CHARPO:  I'd like to get right into the meat of this interview: discuss the character of Uncle Vanya, his profound sadness (read: depression) and how you are bringing your own personal experience into the production. Tell me about shaping the character.

INGRAM: Well, it’s really quite funny, because after a reading of the play around a table, we all got into a discussion about the fact that Astrov is essentially a proto-environmentalist. And Robert (Moloney) who plays Astrov, has done stuff with Green Peace and is a vegetarian (I think) and quite politically attuned particularly about human rights and the environment, and, in the middle of this discussion, I turned to John Wright (the director) and whispered to him, “Robert is Astrov”.  And John looked at me and said, “Yes. But you are Vanya”.  And John was right: I get very upset about human rights abuses and the destruction of the environment and the destruction of Canada by particular politicians, blah blah blah... but at the same time - I’ve kind of given up on signing surveys, attending rallies, and such because, really, what’s the point? It seems to me that we human beings have somehow convinced ourselves that we are particularly special and that it will be a tragedy of universal proportion if we vanish from the face of the earth. Horribly arrogant, in my opinion. My melancholic nature prompts me to just accept the fact that we’re all on this ride to Hell in a very pretty hand-basket. And I think that Vanya’s depression really manifests itself in his frustration at what’s going on around him and his inability to do anything about it. He sees his past as a waste, his future as pointless. And, these are things that I completely identify with. Vanya and I are both 47.  I was, quite seriously, shocked to reach the age of 30. Now I’m 47 and I’m thinking, “so, now what? I just keep going? Someone please tell me that it will end at some point, and end quickly when it does, because I don’t know how long I can keep entertaining myself like this”. These people who have “life-goals” - I just don’t get them. So, really, if I’m doing this (the play) right, I shouldn’t have to worry too much about shaping Vanya, we seem to fit hand-in-glove. Hopefully, all I have to do is learn the lines and not bump into the furniture.

Video of the Week, December 11, 2013

With all the Hallelujah Choruses trumpeting out there this season, could it be that Against The Grain's Messiah is not only the most exciting Handel you will see this Christmas, but one of the most exciting events of the year? We're betting yes!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

After Dark, December 10, 2013

What I Do
Establishing rules for new media
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Last week I got a direct message, via Facebook, which evolved into a chat. An FB friend (I've never met but who I think of as a real friend) wanted to discuss a review I had published. The review, she felt, was too harsh and as it was of a colleague of hers she was upset. I knew what review she was talking about (I always do in these cases) and she was right about the piece's harshness. She asked if a sentence might be removed.

This kind of contact with people I know, admire and respect is good for me - no matter how uncomfortable. It gives me the chance to explain myself, the model we are creating at The Charlebois Post, and what this model is based on. 

In the print media outlets I worked for there is a hierarchy that is, for all intents and purposes, a good one. You have the reviewers and columnists, proof-readers, the editors and the publisher (who sometimes brings in the lawyers). In these outlets the publisher who runs the machine has little contact with the front line writers. In smaller outlets, like this one, publishers have to be pretty hands on without, also, usurping the powers of editors (like our bureau chiefs and associates). But in this little world - CharPo's - primacy is given to the writers. All of us are there to protect and defend what they do as they are on the ground. This is similar to a newspaper in that editors rarely see the plays reviewed by the outlet and so rarely intervene with the way a review is written (unless it's a grammatical mess). Because I format all articles, I do basic editing but only after each has been vetted by our National Editor-in-Chief (Estelle Rosen). Estelle might warn me of some risky content, but that is a rare thing. There have been occasions where I will warn a writer about the possible consequences of what s/he wrote - especially a new writer - but that is all. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Question... Jon Lachlan Stewart on Big Shot (WildSide)

The Gun. The Bullet. The Target. The Eyes.
by Estelle Rosen

Jon Lachlan Stewart is a playwright, performer and director originally from Edmonton Alberta, a graduate of Studio 58 in Vancouver, and an upcoming graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. He seeks to address dark contemporary issues that continue to wound society through history: issues of race, sex politics, urban violence, violence among youth. Mr. Stewart is committed as a bilingual artist in Canada, and creates physical work in the Lecoq tradition of mime. Selected playwriting credits include The Genius Code (Catalyst Theatre creator-in residence), Big Shot (four municipal theatre awards, still on tour), Dog: a 1950’s Homelife Nightmare (best independent production award), Le Portrait Gooble (French tour, four Vancouver Jessie awards), and Little Room (two Edmonton Sterling nominations). He is currently developing two projects: a textless mix of breakdance and clown addressing gun violence in youth called Kids With Guns, and an examination of post-war PTSD from a child’s perspective, in the Greek structure, called Edith Rex, commissioned by Shadow Theatre.

CHARPO: When bystanders are asked to describe the perpetrator witnessed in a violent occurrence, there are often wild variations in descriptions.  In Big Shot, you're taking this a step further by six different perspectives on a split second of time between the bullet leaving a gun and hitting the target. What was your motivation to write this play; what are the challenges of being both writer and performer and combining dramatic text with dance? And just what is meant by 'slow motion theatre to pry the wide eyes open'?

LACHLAN-STEWART: After touring Big Shot to over 11 cities, one thing that audiences are really enjoying is how the show imitates the motions and sequences in famous Hollywood action movies (a la John Woo / Quentin Tarantino) in a theatrical way. We're like a live action movie on stage. It just so happens that all of these sequences move the story forward, all culminating towards a shocking finish. From our experiences, we decided to coin the phrase "slow motion theatre".

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Feature: Choreographer Jennifer Nichols on The Messiah

Tradition. Nostalgia. Sacred.
A choreographer explains the presence of dance in Against The Grain's production of The Messiah
by Jennifer Nichols

Jennifer Nichols, choreographer and dancer, was classically trained at L’École Supérieure de Danse du Québec and the Quinte Ballet School. Currently a company member of Atelier Ballet, the ballet ensemble of Opera Atelier, she has also danced professionally with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Banff Festival Dance and choreographers such as Robert Desrosiers and Newton Moraes. Jennifer is owner and director of Toronto’s Extension Room, home of the acclaimed ballet fitness program she founded in 2003, The Extension MethodTM. She is also Co-Artistic Director of Hit and Run Dance Productions. Jennifer Nichols’s performance and choreography can be seen in several film and television productions, including the upcoming CBC primetime television drama Reign (principal choreographer), feature film Barney’s Version, BRAVO’s docu-drama Nureyev, and the National Film Board’s Dance of Death.

Tradition. Nostalgia. Sacred. 

All words associated with Handel’s Messiah, a ritual holiday experience that draws loved ones to churches and theatres, uplifting the spirit and celebrating another cyclical passage of seasons. 

This annual classic is typically presented in a similar manner. Think formal dress (black tie, gowns), elegant choral books, music stands and a classic formation of voices projecting ‘en face’ to the house. 

Now picture bodies in motion, top buttons open, fervent faces moving in several directions and blood pumping harder. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) The Sound of Music

                                   (photo by Andrée Lanthier)
The Hills are Alive and Well  
by Jim Murchison

The Sound of Music is a story and a film that most people know although not as many are familiar with the play. This is what I was thinking would be interesting to see as I made my way to the theatre and when I opened my programme, I saw director Joey Tremblay making exactly the same point. This was a play first and there are strengths and emotional moments that hit more deeply in live performance.

Having said this, the songs are part of our culture, at least for people within 20 years of my age range. People under 30 might not know them as well. A great many people have already decided to see the play, and many others will just want to know if it's good. Well yes it is very good.

Review: (Ottawa) Ethan Claymore

Yuletide Brotherly Love
by Jim Murchison

As I have said my theatrical tastes are very wide, so after seeing a clever, intriguing fantasy journey of an academic falling into a Shakespearian world at Great Canadian Theatre Company, I am now ready for the more traditional holiday fare.

Director John P. Kelly has finally got to apply his light, deft touch to a Canadian play. As the promotion for the play says, Norm Foster has grabbed a little bit of this and a little bit of that from a plethora of Christmas stories. Foster tells a Christmas tale about a man that while he has not lost the will to live, is really just going through the motions. At first I was concerned that the play might not find its own way with so many of the elements of the story inspired by other classics. I enjoyed the first act but was really hooked by the second.

creating a/broad, December 7, 2013

Home: A Place Called Montreal (for now...)
by Cameryn Moore

I get the bureaucratic side-eye every time I cross the border into Canada. Every time. I’ve learned to accept it. I don’t fit into an easy demographic, as an American spending half of my time in Canada, and the rest of the time on the road, no fixed address. And my activities are also hard to pin down: Festivals. Shows. What kind of shows? Solo shows. What does that mean? One-woman plays. Just you? In their eyes is the question: is that even a thing? They don’t say it out loud, but that’s what they’re thinking. 

Neither do I say out loud what I’m thinking in response: Come on. It’s hard enough sometimes for me to justify this life in my own head, are you really going to make me defend it to a uniformed, uninformed immigration officer? At that point I just usually hand them an old postcard that’s been floating around on my dashboard, and hope that either my tits or the award laurels will distract them enough to just move on with the paperwork.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Tin Drum

(photo by Keith Barker)
Wartime Europe through the eyes of an innocent – or not
by Christian Baines

How does the first half of Europe’s 20th century appear through the eyes of a child? In particular, a man who remains a child by force of will, and perhaps through the magic of his treasured toy drum? The world of Gunter Grass’s novel is one in which the forces of fantasy, tragedy and whimsy converge against the backdrop of turbulent politics and a Continent on the brink of monumental change.

Oskar (Jesse Aaron Dwyre) is three years old when he discovers the wonders of his drum and resolves never to grow up. One household accident later, Oskar is granted his wish, albeit counterbalanced with a rapidly advancing intellect. To the outside world however, he is slow and ill-developed, much to the grief of his mother Agnes (Margaret Evans). Agnes has been splitting her life between her husband Matzerath (Gordon Bolan) and lover (among other things) Jan (Cyrus Lane), whose wife Hedwig (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) meanwhile has taken quite a shine to Oskar. The unravelling of this unhappily functional family is just the first in a string of calamities centred around the boy/man as he begins to grow old, but not up. Is he the cause? Or just witness to the destruction others bring unto themselves?

Review: (Montreal) Urban Tales

Danielle Desormeaux (Photo by Victoria Laberge)
Brava, Brava, Brava!
by Aleksandra Koplik

If anyone has watched New York, I love you or Paris, je t'aime, this play has a similar concept. Several writers tell the stories of (in this edition) different women during the holiday season in Montreal. With an acting cast of seven very talented women, including: Patricia Summersett, Johanna Nutter, Julie Tamiko Manning, Tamara Brown, Alarey Alsip, Leni Parker and Danielle Desormeaux, these gals really delivered! Everyone laughed, at times, uncontrollably even. 

CharPo's Real Theatre! December 6, 2013

A Fly on The Wall, December 6, 2013

Rage in the Mirror
by Jim Murchison 

It's a funny thing the way people express themselves. When you're pushed you can react quite irrationally. I was watching a man chase a bus down the street the other day in the middle of the street, pounding on the side of the bus and screaming, “I’m gonna fuck you up! I’m really gonna fuck you up!”

My friend and I were watching and almost simultaneously said, “Good thing that bus was faster than him. Yeah, he really would have fucked it up.” Now I don’t know if the bus driver had said something to him and he was angry or if he was trying to make an important appointment and had just missed the bus or if he had been forced to leave the bus by some authority on the scene. It doesn’t matter what pushed him to do that it was pretty interesting theatre.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Contes urbains

Hubert Lemire                   Photo Courtesy Urbi et Orbi

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...
by Élaine Charlebois

This year’s edition of Contes urbains indulged its spectators with a series of six holiday stories that reflected the mindset of our generation. Belonging to the same generation, each writer and actor brought great energy and dedication to each piece, keeping the La Licorne audience delighted from beginning to end. 

Review: (Montreal) Blindsided

The layers of Beginnings and Endings
by Chad Dembski
Blindsided premiered last night at Théâtre La Chapelle as part of their Festival Artdanthé, an ambitious festival of Montreal and Quebec artists who often cross disciplines with their practice.  Although I have only seen one other piece in this festival so far (Clea Minaker’s Book of Thel) I have been impressed by the commitment to a vision and aesthetic that each artist has brought to the modest but exciting Théâtre La Chapelle.  It is exciting in these conservative and cut-back times to see a theatre programming ambitious and risk-taking work by Montreal artists.

Picture of the Week, December 5, 2013

I don't think we have to look far beyond this photo to understand that Ronnie Burkett's new work, Daisy Theatre now at The Cultch is not a kiddy show. There is something ripe and creepy about this scene - the curlicued hair on the one character's chest and his distinctly pronounced nipples and let's not even talk about his hand on the weird child-figure's shoulder. Yup, yup, yup - Mr. Burkett warned us! Hell! read his first-person piece about the creation of the piece.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) Hirsch

The Master and MetaTheatre
by Edgar Governo

It's always hard to speak ill of the ones you care about. Even when you know you're right, even when you feel you're speaking truth to power, there is an element of pain to it, and a part of you wishes you had kept things to yourself.

Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson have clearly struggled with those feelings in their biographical play based on the life of John Hirsch, well-known enough in Canadian theatre but a legend in Winnipeg theatre.

Bringing their work to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC)  Warehouse -- that is to say, The Tom Hendry Theatre, named after the man who co-founded RMTC along with Hirsch, whose own namesake theatre is just down the street -- is fraught with potential tensions they wouldn't have had to deal with when it premiered at the Stratford Festival or when it played at the Edinburgh Fringe. For one thing, neither of those runs had to contend with a bronze statue of the man in question practically within earshot.