Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Looking Backward to Impel us Forward

I thought now would be an appropriate time to review what has been utterly amazing year personally and artistically. A brief walk through the year's events mentally caused me to pause in wonder at just how much one can accomplish in as short a time as a year.

January - In the throes of the MA, I also took on projects outside the course. Performed with the hit You Me Bum Bum Train in the West End, an immersive theatre project which challenged my own conceptions of audience participation - something I had heretofore loathed - edging me toward a desire to unsettle the audience's cocooned experience of theatre.

February - ceaseless creation ensued, and I was busy writing my first play along with directing and interpreting the work of Jean Genet. Explorations in rehearsal for both impelled me to risk at a greater level in my creative endeavors.

March - a whirlwind, I directed a scene in response to Genet, and performed in 4 others for fellow students on the MA. Had a workshop performance of my own piece of writing Trying, a new sort of out-of-body experience, even more unnerving than directing. Created a performance art installation Autel which showed at RADA to great success. And finally, if that wasn't enough, co-directed Ludus Daniellis in full medieval Latin at King's College, London.

April & May - Dove into research and preparation for my dissertation, as well as rehearsals for the other pieces I was contributing to. Presented my work at a conference of art historians, sharing my creative response to The Duchess of Malfi called Forc'd To Woo.

June - performed in a piece of promenade one-on-one theatre called How We Met, written by colleagues at RADA Eleanor Massie and Holly Bragg. This piece fed into ideas I had already been having for pieces to create at home, and will crop up again in some work commissioned for 2013.

July - Performed and created my own dissertation piece No More Prayers, and also performed for two others - Nil by Mouth by Holly Sharp and Between Sand and Stars by Dena Rysdam-Miller. I have performed and created work under pressure many times in the past, however nothing was comparable to the intensity of this period, absurd attention to detail and aggressive pursuit of clarity in my artistic vision.

August - With the performances completed, I dove into the writing of my final dissertation paper - a 10,000 word artistic statement and critique of my performed work. The process for writing this was arduous, but rewarding overall, as I found it extremely useful to dig through my own creation and defend it in such a rigorous fashion.

September - Directed 4 staged readings for FemFest 2012, having returned to Winnipeg. Had a fabulous re-immersion to the Winnipeg theatre community, also beginning new contracts teaching at Prairie Theatre Exchange School.

October - my performance installation from earlier in the year at RADA, Autel, was selected to be part of a group installation at the Gas Station Arts Centre, running to the first week of January 2013. This was an amazing experience, the first time I had participated in a show in a non-performance based way.

November - finalizing the script for my latest play Dear Mama (which premieres on 17 January 2013) I began developmental work with my director Megan Andres to finalize the script. Also had the opportunity to re-ignite work on a show from 2011 Dionysus is Getting Impatient, which I was part of creating with I was part of creating with Theatre Incarnate.

December - as the best christmas present possible, learned mid-month that I have officially graduated RADA and the University of London with  Distinction. If this weren't enough, I had the fabulous opportunity to be part of a reading for Winnipeg's Theatre By the River for their annual holiday fundraiser.

And now for 2013, onward and upward! Dear Mama opens in mid-January, after which I expect to dive into a few other projects not yet mentioned here. I am eternally grateful for the year I have had, and look heartily forward to further opportunity in 2013!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Crossroads

Earlier this week results from the MA were released. I am pleased to share that I have officially graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Birkbeck, University of London, with a grade of Distinction! For anyone who follows the blog, the past year has been a rollercoaster ride of massive proportions. Loads of work, so much creation and exploration, and unbelievable experiences, all of which have culminated in this final grade. Reflecting now, I always knew this year would be huge, however even my enormous expectations were surpassed. 

And as the title suggests, I'm at a crossroads - exiting student life (again) and emerging into the creative world unsheltered by school and supportive tutors. My first true foray will be Dear Mama, which opens on 17 January at Studio 320. Nothing like diving in head first! Writing is nearly complete, anything more will be explorations in the studio, and rehearsals begin in earnest tomorrow. 

Will do my best to blog on the rehearsal process. This will be the first time my creation will be directed by someone else, and I am extremely excited at the prospect of having someone else's creative input on my work. If I've learned anything in the past year, it is that collaboration is at the heart of all truly interesting work - our inspiration comes from the people and world around us, so deny nothing. 

More soon!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Miss Gypsy Rose Lee

Not much to say, but some images to share....these are from the life of the inimitable Miss Gypsy Rose Lee.

Research is in full force. First read this weekend. aaahhHH!!!!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Writing My Blues Away....

Or something like that, anyway. I'm in madd R&D and writing mode for my upcoming production Dear Mama, part of SondheimFest. This will be my first self-produced production and is more than a little terrifying.

I've been asked a few times, and must admit it - my actions are chock-full of hubris. Entering my own piece of original writing into a festival dedicated to a Master Playwright - Steven Sondheim - seems a bit absurd. So I shall elaborate.

Dear Mama and its lead character, Ruby, have been a seed of an idea in my mind for years now. It all originates with a conversation my sister (who is also an arts professional) and I had about how strange it is that the pair of us used to watch Gypsy religiously from a rather young age. Now, for anyone who has seen it, stepping back you can understand our train of thought - Gypsy Rose Lee, famous burlesque dancer and early stripper, is the centre piece of the musical (for which Sondheim was lyricist). The show includes dance numbers by strippers, and ultimately a daughter whose mother encourages her to choose burlesque performance over not being on stage at all....to great success.

It is easy to see the parallels between this young starlet, who began performing likely before 5 years old, and the plethora of child stars we see today. From the kids on Dance Moms who have been described as 'prosti-tots' to the frighteningly sexualized performing dolls on Toddlers and Tiaras, and the latest Disney starlet, little girls are more and more a commodity, rather than children.

Dear Mama looks at a fictional young girl who had this sort of childhood....but sees her as an adult, still starved for attention and willing to take major risks to secure the adoration of her audience.

I've been lucky enough to secure the talented and brilliant Megan Andres to dramaturg and direct the piece - we will begin working together soon! Watch for further blogs as the process continues....


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Perspectives

Sunday was the opening of Girls! Girls! Girls! - a cabaret and gallery exhibition in support of the Gas Station Arts Centre. This marked my first inclusion as an artist rather than a performer in this sort of event (in a non school related setting), and was a truly new experience for me. Standing in the lobby/gallery while the audience came in, I found myself anxious, constantly looking over to my installation, checking to see if people were listening and if they were, what their reaction seemed to be.

Why? who knows. I'm paranoid I suppose. In the same way that my director-brain never quite turns off, so when I'm watching the same performance as the audience, all I see are the gaps, the over-long pauses, the missed timing. All I could see were the people NOT looking at my work. Nothing fleeted through my mind about the fact that only 1 person at a time can experience it, that it is about solitude by design.

This is a new perspective for me to learn.

Autel is available for your interactive enjoyment at the Gas Station Arts Centre (River & Osborne, Winnipeg) until early December. Entrance to the gallery is free.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review - The Brink by Ellen Peterson @ Prairie Theatre Exchange

PTE open this seasons with their 140th new Canadian Play, this time coming from playwright in residence Ellen Peterson. The Brink tells the story of a family in Niagara Falls, Ontario, struggling to keep their printing business as well as their hope afloat. The story is set to the backdrop of the moon landing, and beautifully pairs this moment of intense optimism for the younger generation, Pat (played with nuance by RobYn Slade) while the older generation (a fabulous Jan Skene and heartbreaking Steven Ratzlaff) whose hope is all but gone as they are stuck in an endless cycle of flashbacks to moments of their youth.

Peterson's strength is dialogue; the razor-sharp, spitfire back and forth between the 3 members of the family, with its natural overlap and interruption is unbelievable. The constant unfinished sentences, pausing to breathe when a character (normally Pat) realizes no one is listening capture the essence of the family's dynamic.

The overall feeling of the need to push forward, to change and not be tied to the past pervades the play. The young characters do not experience the flashbacks, and are therefore the ones able to break free.

The only weakness for me, were the flashback scenes for Jim's character; at times these felt a bit long, although the character information was all necessary and moved the plot forward. I wonder whether it was the device of having the characters melt into their new bodies slowly, rather than snap into that world which caused this feeling. I would be curious to read the script to see whether this feeling can be eliminated by a different directorial choice.

PTE have developed a reputation for premiering strong Canadian drama, and this play can easily be added to the cannon.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Review - Twyla Tharp's The Princess And The Goblin - Royal Winnipeg Ballet

You know a performance is really enjoyable, when you suddenly realize you have been sitting with a huge grin on your face for an unknown amount of time. This is how I found myself about 30 minutes in to Twyla Tharp's new ballet The Princess And The Goblin, performed by the RWB with Guest Artist Paloma Hererra. The piece begins with a fairly classical look - king father, princess daughters, classical movement vocabulary - and as the story twists and turns, the movement also twists and turns, until the Goblins are moving in a very contemporary manner. There are even touches of break dance in some areas. The blurring of style is what one would expect from Twyla Tharp, and this piece did not disappoint in any way.

One of my favourite things was the dance-fight choreography, which was highly stylized, and almost looked like Brazillian Capoeira. The humour and fun in the movement, along with the more dark and serious notes were fabulous.

The sets and lighting were beautifully simple, with many lovely diversions coming down from the ceiling to populate the same space as the dancers. One highlight was the use of shadow to create a music box style image - this section was absolutely captivating.

Highlights:
Paloma Hererra - her mischevious grin filled the stage, and every movement she made was outstanding. I am honoured to be able to see this living legend dance.

Yayoi Ezawa - an RWB favourite, Yayoi really shone, particularly in her moments opposite Hererra as the grandmother.

Sophia Lee - This girl is a star. Her turn as the Queen of the Goblins was a fantastic performance, and a highlight.

Yosuke Mino - I could watch him jump for days and days, and his strengths really came through in Tharp's choreography.

Please see this if you can! It isn't every day that Twyla Tharp has a new piece performing in your city, nor that you get to see it performed by this calibre of dancers.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review - A Few Good Men @ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

MTC open their 2012-2013 season with Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men - a script made famous by the film version starring Jack Nicholson. Clearly stepping into some big and well-known shoes, the cast did a great job of making the words their own. There were only a few moments where delivery felt stilted or put on, specifically and inorganically recalling other interpretations. There was a lot of shouting (yes, I know this is a play about the Marine Corps...) however not all of it felt necessary. I would have liked to see more variation in the non-Marine-shouting scenes. A woman behind me commented a few times that she missed lines as a result of this.

The minimalist set evoked both a prison and a military base, and the beautiful lighting design helped create the buildings with long corridors and cramped offices evocatively. The use of a revolving stage piece was less successful in creating this feeling; luckily this device was used less frequently as the play went on. I found myself comparing the production to another recent play-of-fim I saw - The King's Speech, on the West End - Unfortunately I found that A Few Good Men lacked a bit of the theatricality in its staging that made The King's Speech so enjoyable for me months before. At times it felt like it was staged for the stage only because there were no film cameras. Detailed work was clearly done on military protocol; the actors' physical work clearly delineated levels of power, and gave the tense, testosterone-filled atmosphere of a millitary base.

On that note, though, the play really highlighted for me the misogyny in Sorkin's text. Perhaps it was the opening image, with a straight line of actors spanning the width of the large mainstage, and only one female actor which sparked the thought. As the play went on, I couldn't help but react to the treatment Galloway takes from the others, specifically Jessop and Kaffee. Each time she absorbed the words of disdain, I shuddered. Later in the script, when Kaffee berates her to the point of tears which causes her to leave, I was appalled that she gave in for the slapstick apology he offers. What kind of message does this give?

Overall it is a fairly strong production, just not really my cup of tea.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Little Things

Last Friday marked my first night teaching the Friday Night Drama group at PTE School. This is a new project for me, working with a special group of adults with various abilities. This was the first time in ages that I have been nervous to teach a class; not because I was unsure of my preparation, but mainly because i was anxious with anticipation of the group, their dynamic, and whether I would fit into their circle.

We did a range of work on drama exercises, focussing on imagination. We began with a circle, talking about imagination and creating an imaginary place together. We then got up to walk around, creating our own imaginary beach, eventually finding an object, and sharing it with the group. The imagination game was very successful, every member of the group participating. We moved into other imagination-based exercises. As the group got more excited, I sensed myself getting excited too, veering from my plan into exercises with varying levels of success.

Several times through the class I found myself simply grinning with joy at the enthusiasm of these individuals, and how happy the simple theatre games made them for those 2 hours. I recently read an interview with Robert Lepage in which he stated that these days there is too much acting and not enough playing; this class reminded me of exactly this, the joy that comes from playing.

Overall, my fears were for nought, as the group really took to my style of physical imagination  and games. I'm really excited about my continued development with this group over the coming weeks, and may share more of my trials and tribulations.

Photo: Autel @ Gas Station Arts Centre - photo by Leif Norman

Monday, 8 October 2012

My Winnipeg: There's No Place Like Home @ PlugIn Gallery

This was my first visit to PlugIn since their move to downtown, part of the University of Winnipeg buildings. Exhibition aside, the space itself is very exciting. Comprised of a cluster of oddly shaped rooms in part of the triangle shaped building, you get to weave from one room to the next as if exploring, each nook and cranny filled with installations, quotes, and light.

The first part of the My Winnipeg Project, There's No Place Like Home, focussed on the myths relating to this city. Those funny things about Winnipeg that to an outsider seem absurd; toboggan races turned awry, maps highlighting childhood homes, greasy spoons, and mythical beasts of the prairie. Some of the pieces (for me) failed to engage, however this may be due to the overwhelming enjoyment I got from the toboggan video, and the mythical map. Unfortunately, due to the layout in the furthermost room, I wasn't able to see who the artist was for each individual piece, which is unfortunate.

I look forward to checking out further installments of the My Winnipeg Project through the winter months.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Winnipeg Now @ WAG - to 30 December 2012

An exciting exhibition which showcases local artists of the younger generation who have been stirring things up not only in the Canadian Art scene, but internationally, Winnipeg Now at the WAG reminded me of all the reasons I am proud to say I am from this frigid and isolated island in the prairie. The imagination, curiosity and daring exhibited in these pieces is outstanding. Each piece I encountered while moving through the exhibition struck me differently, however the resounding commonality among them was the ability I feel each would have to find itself included in a major gallery of modern art, such as the Tate Modern or Hayward Gallery.

Some individual pieces stood out for me specifically.

Sarah Anne Johnson's (title unknown) made me want to sit underneath its stratosphere for hours. My eye danced around the sculpture as it loomed over my head, colours bursting.

Michael Dudeck's pieces from his Baculum Cosmology call into play ideas of liveness, nature, and human relationship to this; the body mummified but with pipes and cables emerging from its form was haunting, and called to mind similar ideas in Damien Hirst's work, challenging our perceived supremacy over nature and science, and ultimately our mortality. I am saddened that I missed his live performance with the pieces, and only hope I can catch this in the future.

Finally, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millian's Bedtime Stories for the End of the World intrigued, due to the idea of a comfortable, relaxing space in which pre-recorded stories are heard. Similar to my own work (Autel) this pushes us to see storytelling as art, and to truly audit what we are taking in, even in seemingly everyday scenarios.

I strongly recommend taking this exhibition in, for a sense of the intelligent and sophisticated work being created by fellow Winnipeg artists.

Photo: Michael Dudeck Religion project

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review - Duet for a Schizophrenic - Little Theatre of the Gray Goose & Adhere and Deny @ Ace Art

An interesting and strange little play, Duet for a Schizophrenic is Chris Johnson's foray into double and triple worlds. A place where people pretend to be people pretending to be other people, and popuulate the dream you dream i dream you dream i dream. How's that for a mouthful?

The quick and clever word play as He (Graham Ashmore) and She (Erin McGrath) weave between various characters was very enjoyable, and began the piece at a nice pace. There were times, particularly in the second act, where the pace needed some variation - I was urging with my mind for things to delve a bit deeper at this point. The piece really hit its stride, however, in a scene with the actors, preparing for a play within a play (within a play....and more). The beautiful timing of this bit made me wish the whole play was like this.

Each act was interspersed with musical interludes of He and She singing their feelings to one another. This I had some trouble with, as the lyrics weren't always comprehensible over the loud (but excellent) band. These bits also made use of large marionettes of the two actors, which were very fun.

Some clever references to Pirandello, for those who are very familiar with his work were great, however I worry that some of the truly clever humour would have been lost without this background. In a way, I wonder whether the piece would have been enjoyable to an audience not steeped in theatrical history and information.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Girls! Girls! Girls! - A fundraiser for the Gas Station Arts Centre

I learned this week that Autel, a performance installation I created while at RADA has been selected for an exhibition in Winnipeg! The Exhibition will open at the Gas Station Arts Centre on  21 October, coinciding with the Gala event Girls! Girls! Girls! - a cabaret evening showcasing female performers. The exhibition will run for a further 3 weeks in the lobby gallery of the Arts Centre. 

Autel is an exciting piece for me - it is among my first explorations into the relationship between live experience and recorded audio, aiming to merge the two making the audience aware of the way they are experiencing art as they are experiencing it. It uses recorded audio to guide the viewer to relate to the text, and also to the other works of art and individuals around them. The piece was inspired by and created from play texts written by Jean Genet, and theoretical texts by Antonin Artaud. 

I am extremely grateful to the organizers for selecting my piece for this year's exhibition, and look forward to seeing the other pieces, as well as the cabaret performance on the 21st. I will post information on tickets for the Gala as it becomes available. The Exhibition is free to view during opening hours at the Gas Station Arts Centre. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review - Sonofabitch Stew @ FemFest 2012

This one-woman show tells the story of a Womens' Studies' tutor forced into retirement after her wild-west antics inspired by the life of Calamity Jane embarass the department for one last time. Jane regales the audience with her tales, and after a few minutes we learn that the audience have been given the role of her students at her penultimate lecture. Jane goes on to talk of her career, flashing into moments of Calamity herself. The show progresses back and forth, paralleling the professor's life with that of the Western Female archetype as we hear of her rise to infamy and her ultimiate demise resulting from the very acts which made her famous.

The script itself is intriguing as it twists these two lives together, playing on ideas about what femininity and ultimately feminism are made up of. I did find that the stylistic traits of the language between the two characters was not as distinct as it could have been; this, muddied the ability to distinguish which character was being inhabited at each moment. Ultimately I would have appreciated a clearer distinction between the two, as it would have defined the parallel more clearly. Without this, the two characters spun together a bit too much and made the piece difficult to follow at times.
 
Overall this was a nice, enjoyable script and one I would love to see further work on.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

FemFest 2012 Begins!

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Cabaret for the 10th Annual FemFest. I've had a fairly lengthy history with FemFest - I first worked with the festival as Assistant to Director Hope McIntyre (AD of the Festival) for Ordinary Times in 2005. Since then, I've directed workshop productions of new plays (The Dance of Sara Weins, 2006), shared my own work-in-progress piece Lavinia in the 2009 Cabaret, directed scenes for the launch of their book of scenes for female actresses (Generation NeXXt, 2010) and now directing readings of short plays in the 2012 festival. As I sat in the audience, hearing host and festival supporter Susan Tymofychuk speak of the history of the festival, and the opportunity it has provided for emerging artists (particularly female ones) I reflected on these experiences. FemFest has provided me the opportunity to hone my skills as a director and creator of work, providing a safe environment for me to learn and help those around me explore new works of theatre. I don't know of many festivals anywhere in the world that provide this kind of environment, and I must say that my career has been enriched immeasurably due to my involvement with FemFest.

There are shows throughout this week at the Centre for Theatre & Film at the University of Winnipeg; ticket prices are very affordable, including many free readings and talks about creating theatre. I encourage you to try to spend at least an hour taking in a piece of the festival. The work presented touches on all aspects of human experience; from Food Bank usage to Immigrant families, re-imagined fairy tales to readings from esteemed playwrights. Judith Thompson is this year's guest artist. She is one of the most well-known Canadian playwrights, and certainly the most known female playwright from Canada, and her support and participation in the festival says a lot about the amazing work Sarasvati do.

Take some time and check it out this week!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

It is voyeurism, plain and simple

John Doyle, writer for the esteemed Globe and Mail, and often someone I can agree with, has truly missed the mark on this one. His recent article for the Globe which argues that the purpose of such shows as "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" is to "kick open the shutters of closed societies and closed minds" could not be further from accurate. Certainly, I can agree that popular culture at its best will do just this; it will push the edges of what society deem acceptable from a perspective of fashion, music, pop art. The very best pop culture is where the lines of art and pop merge and blur - the Sex Pistols, rave culture, David Bowie, etc. The difference, however, is that these have something to say, a commentary on the state of the world as it is now compared with how it ought to be.

To state that a show like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" is doing something like this is, for me, a stretch. What it is, simply, is voyeurism. There are people who live differently from our own experience, and there has always been an interest in how "the other half" live. Jean Genet made a career of this instinct for voyeurism, writing plays which exposed our own human base desire to see and be seen, to control our image. This interest, however, does not appeal to our intellect (or heck, even an anthropological interest). Rather, it appeals to our most base desire to see people at their worst. Watching a family who so clearly will say and do anything if the TV cameras are watching is not condemned by critics for touching close to home, a harbinger of the death of the middle class, as Doyle argues. It is condemned for the same reason most reality television is condemned by thinking people; it encourages the lowest common denominator, pushing humanity not toward our best, but our worst.

The example Doyle gives of Roseanne Barr is a misguided one; Barr did challenge bourgeois ideas about the working class, but did so in a way that demonstrated the humanity, intelligence, and integrity of the working class. She pushed her audiences to look past stereotypes. The family in Honey Boo Boo take her cause back 20 years, portraying the working class exactly as bourgeois stereotypes would want them to be; rednecked yokels, overweight, feeding their child cheetos at every turn, swimming in mud holes.

I have been giving a lot of thought to these reality shows, in particular ones which focus on children, making them "stars" - this is a singularly distressing development in popular culture, and one we must be wary of encouraging. Think of the hundreds of children featured on these shows, or exposed to watching them. . . what will happen to their ability to value integrity and hard work? We already see a generation of entitlement graduating from our high schools, kids who have never been failed despite poor attendance and effort. Now these kids are going to universities or into the workforce, without any preparation for the challenges of life, and into one of the most challenging job markets in recent history. A recipe for the downfall of our ability to continue as a society, if you ask me . . .

Monday, 20 August 2012

One Director's Perspective...

Between the dissertation, the move, resuming the day job and new projects here at home, I have been rather neglectful of the blog. That said, I have done a little guest-blogging for Sarasvati in the lead-up to Fem Fest (for which I am directing).

Check out my piece, "One Director's Perspective" on their blog here:
http://sarasvatitransforms.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/one-directors-perspective-on-directing-new-writing/#more-1188

Friday, 10 August 2012

Upcoming Project: Shorts! at FemFest 2012, Winnipeg

My first project upon returning to the fair 'Peg is to direct 4 excerpts from plays at the annual FemFest, presented by Sarasvati Productions. These 4 plays will each be presented once between 19 September and 22 September, as an offering in the studio theatre between the two full productions each evening. Tickets for the festival are available through the site; I strongly recommend checking out as much as you can at this excellent event!

I am extremely excited to be working on these 4 unique plays from female playwrights, and will be doing a guest blog about the process and the plays for Sarasvati's blog - which I'll share here :)

I recently did a Q&A for the festival's blog, which you can read here. Have a look to learn my favourite word, and my advice to actors.



Sunday, 15 July 2012

The time to hesitate is through

We are here. After months of angst, tears, sweat, more reading than you can imagine, and rehearsals upon rehearsals, we are in our final week at RADA. I can't actually believe that I am here. It honestly feels like mere weeks ago that we were all crammed into the tiny basement studio on the first day, receiving our RADA booklets and cautiously selecting whether we would do scene study with Tom or Andrew.

I have learned so much about myself in this year. I have learned that I can make some pretty interesting theatrical pieces. I have learned that I can maybe, sort of, write a little. I have learned that the times when I feel most comfortable about a piece of work, those are the times when I haven't done enought. I have learned that I really like to scare myself into action. I have also learned from (and with) some of the most brilliant and talented people I have ever had the opportunity to be in the same room as. Tutors, obviously, but more importantly my fellow students, whose intellect, bravery, and talent have pushed me to become a better artist every minute of every day. I only wish that we could stay together and create work, rather than scatter the globe as we are bound to do. I will do everything possible to work with each of them again in the future.

So. . . as the title states, the time to hesitate is through. Dissertation performances are underway. I am assisting by performing in two presentations; Dena Rysdam Miller's adaptation of The Little Prince, and Holly Sharp's devised piece Nil by Mouth, about mental illness. I will also be reading a new play in development for Nika Obdizinski.

Largest looming in my future is my own piece - No More Prayers - an interrogation of Antigone through dramatic and philosophical history. Creating this piece has been a rollercoaster, and it has morphed to something completely different from what I first imagined, although simultaneously it continues to be an embodiment of that first seed of an idea. The piece I have ended up with is (I hope) the start of something bigger, that will continue and develop into a full production down the road. Thursday will be a "first viewing" for the work-in-progress, and I hope to share some photos and video of the presentation as well as the subsequent Q&A.

For all intents and purposes, the blog will be dark until mid next week, at which time I will try to make sense of this all. And wrap my head around the final written aspect of the dissertation, not to mention my impending move back to Canada and everything that entails.

In other news, I can happily announce that I will be directing a handful of readings for new plays at Sarasvati FemFest in September (Winnipeg) and will also be developing a piece titled Dear Mama, inspired by Sondheim's Gypsy for the RMTC SondheimFest in early 2013 (Winnipeg). More on those later, once I regain sanity.

Image: Cindy Sherman, Untitled 175

Matilda @ The Cambridge Theatre (West End)

It isn't often that you can sit through a full length musical and not have even a second where you feel that you are in the moment of superfluousness, with the the song added to make the second act long enough, or to ensure each character had enough to do to justify paycheques.  Matilda was a solid 2.5 hours of well written music and scenes, performed with gusto by this brilliant cast. The directing and choreography was fabulous, most notably the work with the children. There was not a second of doubt or uncertainty, each piece of choreography executed with impeccable precision and commitment, and crafted to tell us something about the story as the song went on.

Favourite moments for me included the song and choreography for Alphabet Song, which cleverly manipulates the set piece from school gate, to play climber, to shelf of alphabet blocks, weaving bodies in and around the structure beautifully to move the story forward and capture the terror young kids feel in approaching school the first time. Also beautiful was When I Grow Up, choreographed on swings with large sweeping gestures. Finally, in a moment of comic genius (and too bad for those hanging out in the bar at the interval!) was Telly, performed by the father and son of the Wormwood family. Had me reeling with joy.

Most importantly, though, is the magic this show brings for kids. My own little Matilda, obsessed with this book, was on the edge of her seat, grinning ear to ear for the duration of the piece. She was thrilled by the scariness of Trunchbull, the caricatured ridiculousness of the Wormwoods, and the moment Matilda accomplishes her first miracle.

I strongly recommend this show. Keep in mind that the original Dahl book is dark, and the adults in general (Miss Honey aside) are not nice to the kids, so preparing young audience members is essential.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye @ Tate Modern

It is funny how we become attached to the work of certain artists. I was in my 3rd year of undergrad, doing a 'painting project' for our honours acting class, in which we were to write a monologue as a character from a painting to 'come alive'. Most others selected paintings that were fairly naturalist and impressionist. Feeling edgy, I selected one of Munch's wood cuts; how edgy expressionism feels in an undergrad degree in the middle of Canada.

Anyway, I have spent more and more time over the years looking at various phases of his work. Obviously his famous work such as The Scream, Sick Child and Starry Night are beautiful and captivating in their own way, but it is Munch's fascination with photography that I find truly intriguing. I was extremely grateful to this exhibition for showcasing the photography alongside the painting, as it adds an opportunity to see how his experimentation with photographs, moving and unreliable images captured on film fed into the paintings. The movement in Galloping Horse was evident in a manner much more clear than it might have been otherwise.

His later photographs push this further, with images doubling, blurring, looking phantasmagoric. Curious that this led into his period dealing with fights, loss of the ability to see, and ultimately death; each of these is a mirror of our mortality, seen crisply in the photographs. The images that move, but are caught still, seem to capture that essence which is lost in death.

This is a beautiful exhibition, curated with extensive care, and one I strongly recommend.

Damien Hirst @ The Tate Modern

This is an exhibition which from its very start, pushes the viewer's boundaries, and slowly delves further and further into the mind of Hirst and his views on life and death. What is most remarkable is seeing the counterpoint between his early work and that which comes later, still focusing on the same themes almost to a point of obsession, but with a change in tone or material.

Some pieces, I found, don't evoke as much; the spot paintings, for example, with their order and perfection, I found unappealing. That said, when Hirst imposes order on the objects of every day life as he does in Still and Doubt - precisely displaying medicines and medical tools - that his work truly comes alive. He talks of wanting the shark in The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living to scare people. I find the frightening order and precision of the medicine cabinets, pills, and instruments for surgery far more frightening. That which occurs in nature may frighten us, but as Hirst highlights, is simply a part of life and death. These man-made implements are outside that cycle, an attempt to tamper with the cycle of life and death, to prolong the experience and cheat the inevitable.

The most profound of Hirst's works in this exhibition was The Acquired Inability to Escape, which features a human presence of desk, chair, cigarettes, in a case similar to those displaying the formaldehyde-preserved animals. It was a stark reminder that despite the medicines and advancements of science, we too are mortal.

This exhibition is on at the Tate Modern, Southbank London to 9 September 2012.

Photo: Damien Hirst - The Acquired Inability to Escape

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Performer Experience

The two performances I have been involved with this week have gotten me thinking about the performer experience in various forms of theatre. In the traditional, commercial theatre, the performer is a vessel; they experience physical work, speak words, move around the stage (in musicals, jump and dance about) but little consideration of the experience is given to their perspective. Everything is facing outward through the proscenium, targeted at the bums in seats who have paid their £30.

The two pieces I took part in seriously challenged this.

How We Met (still running at the RADA Festival - www.rada.ac.uk - until Saturday 7 July) is a piece of promenade theatre. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the audience go through the experience one at a time, with headphones on and a host to follow, guiding them through a way of seeing while walking through the streets. As a performer in this kind of piece, with your small but important pattern to perform repeatedly, feelings of loneliness and solitude are evoked. Much like the people enjoying the performance, the performers are simultaneously together (as a unit) but alone (doing their specific sequence). Not unlike people every day in life, who are together in this experience of London in July of 2012, but alone in our own path and perspective. The performer experience thus reflects the audience experience, taking the performer on a journey as well.

Moving Forest (500 Slogans) was an entirely different style of piece. Part of a 12 hour performance art installation, we read the poem amidst all sorts of other noisy installation pieces, crowds out on their lunch, workmen going by. Even our interpretation of the poem, as a cacaphony of noise and sound, rendering us unable to pick out the actual value from the unending stream of information flowing at us in every day society reflected this. While reading, though, focused, moving in my pattern and reading the text as rehearsed, I found myself almost in a trance-like state, unaware of all the other noise around me, having blocked it out. I cannot speak for the audience experience too directly, but writer Matthew Fuller (of 500 Slogans) noted that coming outside to our cacaphonous reading was an audible break from the volume and noise of the other installations, despite its overwhelming sense on its own.

I propose that the most exciting pieces of theatre are those which help the performer experience something while they are helping the audience experience something; the performer is not simply a vessel, but a conspirator, experiencing and changing in the world at the same time as their auditor...each having an affect on the other.

Monday, 25 June 2012

On Failure

Last week, our "Theatre in London Today" class was visited by performance artist Bruno Roubicek, who has worked a fair bit with Forced Entertainment. For those unfamiliar with Forced Entertainment work, I definitely suggest looking them up..will include a few video links below for you as well. Anyway, Forced's work and Bruno's work focus on the aesthetics of failure, something he suggests "reflects the failings of authority. . . questioning the legitimacy of the establishment" and which reflects "the postmodernist concern with failure of society and economics". Rather than aiming for a performance which would be successful by the regular standards - realistic set, believable performances, clear narrative, etc - Forced Entertainment seem to perform the anxiety of the modern (Western) experience. In one show, Bloody Mess, the characters express how they want the audience to see them in an honest confessional style format looking almost like an AA Meeting. The play then continues on to portray them in a way that undermines these desires, hence performing their failure to achieve a desired effect.

While sometimes trying to the audience, this work most certainly affects the audience (even if the result is frustration, boredom, or anger). I respect this fully, because so much "enjoyable" and "successful" theatre has no effect whatsoever on its audience, who happily leave after their evening of entertainment, unmoved by that which passed before them.

Now, in Bruno's discussions, he took us back through a history of failure in performance, demonstrating the skills of people like Jack Benny, Monty Python, other comedians (unfortunately my limited familiarity with Brit comics pre-2000 limited my ability to grab all the names...). One commonality I noticed was the relationship with the permission to laugh and the performance of failure; every performance, even the ones that took themselves most seriously, seemed to set themselves up to give permission to the audience to laugh. A free pass to identify failings and laugh at their performance in public.

This, of course, got me thinking; what happens if this free pass is not provided? If we do not give the audience permission to laugh at the characters, their situations, and their failed attempts to perform a task, but rather demand the audience's serious attention. Is it possible to perform failure in a situation which does not first give the laughter permission to escape? Or is this our only way to watch failure without turning to despair? Further yet, is performing the despair of failure functional? Does it, too teach us something?

I performed in a show in 2011 which, now that I examine it from this perspective, did perform failure; in that case, it was the failure of the characters to act in a way that would get what they wanted. The piece allowed them to re-visit those situations from their original plays, role-playing to re-enact situations where they could be dominant. One reviewer picked up on the heavy thread of despair running through it. Perhaps despair is the dramatic equivalent to laughter. For many people seeing this show, the despair was overwhelming, to the point that some reviewers criticized it for doing so, not allowing a reprieve so to speak. But do we not have something to experience from this as well? If you consider the ancient Greeks, plays like Medea and Oedipus are one long-running moment of despair and hopelessness after the next, but this adds together for a final result of hope; the ability to act or choose differently. Despair can be a useful tool.

If this is so, it is certainly difficult to ask audiences to come experience despair for an hour or two, and pay to do so. But perhaps this is necessary; for too long we have seen a comic approach to performing failure, and in fact, it has become mainstream with programs like John Stewart in the US, Mock the Week in the UK, and This Hour Has 22 minutes in Canada (among others reaching further back). I suggest that while these comic approaches to failure have worked to incite action in the past, they are becoming common, and therefore not causing the impact they might once have had. Forced Entertainment's work does seem to straddle this gray area between comedy and despair, having their audiences feel slightly aware of the impropriety of their laughter. I think this can go further.

Some videos from Forced:



Thursday, 21 June 2012

Upcoming Projects....

Because a dissertation just isn't enough, I've got some extra projects on the side coming up shortly.

First, I have workshopped and will be performing in a piece of new writing titled How We Met as part of the RADA Festival on July 2 and 3. This is a piece of one-on-one theatre performed on promenade through Bloomsbury in London. The piece runs throughout July 2 to 7 - for more information or tickets, check out the festival site here: http://www.rada.ac.uk/whats-on/rada-productions/sales-howwemet

Second, I am contributing to a performance art installation titled Moving Forest, to be performed July 4 (afternoon) at the Chelsea College of Art, described as "a twelve hour sound art opera of betrayal and rebellion". The section I am involved in is a reading of a long form poem, 500 slogans, in the Parade Ground outside the college. For more about this interesting adventure, look here: http://www.movingforest.net

Finally, I am participating in a reading for the Early Modern Reading group at Birkbeck College, on 4 July (evening) where we will be reading John Lyly's The Woman In The Moon, led by Darren Royston.

Have to keep busy! I hope you can try to make it out to one (or all!) of these adventures. And more posts related to work-in-progress dissertation presentations soon. . .

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review - Six Actors In Search of a Director by Steven Berkoff @ Charing Cross Theatre

Took this in on Saturday evening, with a surprisingly small house. The premise - built upon Pirandello's classic Six Characters in Search of an Author - places six 'bit' actors on a film set in the middle of nowhere winter-time, forced to wait. The characters spend the ensuing 90 minutes in close quarters, with little in common, but forced to get along so the work, when it returns, can be done.

Overall, the dialogue leaned toward cheese, but at the same time did stay away from cliche, walking that fine line of parodying actor habits and tendencies without jumping into the land of cliche. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the delivery of the text was rather shouty; rather than relax and allow the words to work, the actors seemed to work really hard to show us how they worked. With little success. There were certainly redeeming moments, and again, the script had a nice, almost campy, look at theatre and life, which was highly enjoyable. I simply can't handle people shouting text at me for 90 minutes.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review - Cymbeline at RADA

Sometimes, directors make choices to situate a play in a specific place or time, and despite the many logical choices that may ensue, it simply doesn't work for the play. This production was almost completely opposite; picking up on various themes in the words of the text, the production was placed in a no-space, where all objects necessary appeared at the right time, rooms and spaces appeared, and seemingly insane costume or character choices just seemed to work, despite my inability to comprehend them from time to time. It is very rare that a director can make choices that appear so arbitrary, and yet the audience are completely willing to buy and go along with it.

The piece, running a solid 2.5 hrs with no interval, was a marathon for the performers, who each played multiple parts, sang scene changes, and had an epic danced battle between the Romans and Britons. The performances were not uniformly strong, however overall the ensemble shone and worked extremely well together as a cohesive unit.

A very enjoyable afternoon of theatre.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Musings on Creation

I really honestly feel that you need to write with live bodies. The piece I am creating now, under the working title of Approaching Antigone (who knows what the real title will be) is, in the end, a performance installation, that is most likely only going to have me on stage. I have spent a lot of time reading, researching, developing ideas, but somehow until I am in the studio, nothing really comes out.

Today, I spent a lovely two hour session with a like-minded creator, trying out things and bouncing ideas off her both intellectually and physically. The ability to ask her to try something, see it in another's body, enables my mind to start to piece together how this will look to an outsider, the images it is creating. Particularly working without mirrors, this makes it possible for me to have a sense of the stage pictures my work is creating.

I tend to be extremely image-based, or text-based, and have always troubled with merging the two into a single piece. I either create a dance-theatre piece, or a text-theatre piece. I am aiming with this to merge the two so that neither text nor movement could exist without the other; i want there to be a reliance, a relationship, between the two that is parasitic in nature. The movement feeds the words which feeds the movement.

Only one more workshop left with the actors before I spend 3 weeks on my own finishing the devising process. I am going to do the majority of devising work in my flat, likely recording myself and then watching playback. Then I will move to the studio for 3 sessions. This project is really big in my head, and I need to get it out into my body and on to paper/video so that I can begin to piece something together to share in July.

Might share some videos soon.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Review - Stars in the Morning Sky by Alexander Galin @ RADA

Set in Russia in the 1980s, just prior to the Moscow Olympics, this play is focused around "undesirables" whom are shipped out of the city for the period of the games, to ensure that Communist Russia shows well to the world. It isn't much of a stretch to bring this topic to relevance today, in London, where although I haven't read about it, this must be happening. Even Winnipeg, when hosting the Pan American games in 1999 mysteriously had no homeless people on the streets for the duration of the games.

The play begins with a scene in Russian, which we then see re-done in English, to great effect. The remainder of the play is in (mainly) lower class English accents, making the above association even stronger. These women - prostitutes from the streets of Moscow - are shipped off to an awful countryside "rooming house" to sit out the games and stay out of trouble.

Overall the performances and direction were good, and I did find myself apsorbed in the play. Accents did at times wobble into RP, and it is these moments in which I found myself falling out of synch with the piece. As well, the build to the final scene of anarchy seemed rather sudden; the movement of the play from polite interaction to wild drunken revolt did not build to a boil, instead seeming to flash fry. I suspect it would have been more effective if this built over time, so that the audience feel pulled along with the revolt that would soon characterize all of Russian society as the USSR broke up. This is a great ensemble piece, with strong parts for 5 women and small-ish parts for two men.

The design and use of space were clever, using the audience aisle to position the door and outside behind the audience, moving our focus. Once again, the lighting design is stand out - there are some seriously talented lighting designers studying at RADA right now.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The British 10k - 8 July

Time for me to ask something of you readers (and lurkers) - I am running the British 10k in London on July 8th in support of RADA scholarships, and am looking for donations. Any of you lurkers who are artists know how horribly expensive school can be, and how few scholarships there are for arts students. Fundraising from this will help with the Hardship fund at the school, and for creating future scholarships for students.

You can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/Kendra-Jones

Any amount is greatly appreciated, as it all adds up. Thank you in advance for any support you can offer!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review - The Conquest of the South Pole by Manfred Karge - Arcola Theatre @ The Rose, Kingston

In premise, a strong idea; 4 unemployed lads from east London, working their way through social exclusion in their own way, bond over the story of an expedition to the South Pole that begins as an escape, but slowly merges with their own reality. The job market, prospects, become metaphorically the endless antarctic ice, and the goal of reaching the South Pole something never fully attainable. Very timely in its subject matter, the production unfortunately does not hold up. The script - disjointed and episodic - felt as though it was being moulded into a linear, psychological storyline, rather than allowing the juxtaposition of scenes that may or may not make sense. Having not read the original German version, it is tough for me to say just what role translation and direction jointly held in this.

The performances were adequate at best, with mere moments of interest perking up for me. I strongly dislike actors who appear to be over-directed, with choreographed physicality that does not come across as natural to their being. This may seem like a contradiction given my penchant for physical theatre and dance, however pieces which manage this balance of choreography that seems to be pouring out of the actor rather than painted on it are truly remarkable, and what we strive for. This piece did not have this quality.

Again, I stress, there were moments. Unfortunately they were few and far between, the gaps being overwhelmed by actors shouting in roaming accents.

I do, really, see a seed of something interesting here - it simply didn't get to blossom.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Labels

So, as I approach my 30th birthday, growing ever further from the "emerging" 16-25 year old artist category, but certainly not yet "established" at least by my definition of the word, I am at a loss for how to describe my position. It is funny that we see such a need to rank and label everyone and everything - emerging director, young theatre practitioner, veteran actor - as if the label somehow justifies what we do. Can't I just be an artist? A moderately successful artist? Does that work? It is hardly a selling feature to write on my next grant proposal. I can see it now - "Kendra isn't quite young, nor is she old. She has done some work, but not a ton. Truthfully, she lives a life of artistic moderation." Not really going to rake in the cash.

I don't know whether I really have anything to say about this, beyond what is above....what do you think? What do you call yourselves?

Also related to the birthday, I'll be travelling to Paris in a couple weeks to celebrate my 30th. I thought that given my proximity now, and the elegance that is added to any task by doing it in French, I would turn 30 en francais. It is better that way. I have not been before, and am looking forward to taking in Montmartre, the Seine and all the public gardens, along with some French Gothic architecture at Notre Dame. I also plan to make a pilgrimage to Montparnasse cemetery. Unlike those who visit the graves of more popular figures (Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, etc at Pere Lachase) I plan to visit with Ionesco, Beckett, and Sartre, 3 minds with whom I have been engaging over the past 6 years or so. I do love cemeteries, but have never been one to visit "famous" grave sites (although my toy poodle once peed on Louis Riel's grave in St Boniface) so this will be an interesting and unique day out. Also, I love the idea of creeping out my daughter with an afternoon in the cemetery. I am a nice parent.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Intellectual Fan Girl

Our dissertation term (aka right now) is peppered with weekly lectures and workshops to help us along with our process, and also to help us consider paths once we have finished the MA. This has included various events from panels with emerging artists, Q&A with former students of the course, and talks about casting and organizing. A highlight has been the fabulous workshop on directing from Andrew Visnevski for which the quote of the evening (whilst dissecting a scene from The Duchess of Malfi) was " 'How Now?' here means 'Holy Fuck she's going to shoot my balls off' " - something you have to imagine this polished, intellectual, very proper man in sweater vest and tie saying to get the full effect.

The most recent installment was from the academic side, and featured the brilliant Elin Diamond, feminist theatre writer and professor at Brandeis University in the US. Elin's lecture focused on a chapter of her book - Unmaking Mimesis - which looks at Brecht through a feminist lens, calling for a Feminist Gestic Theatre. A chapter (and book) I would strongly recommend.

What was most inspiring, for me anyway, was her discussion of how she got to where she is now. She began as an actor, trained in drama school and working professionally, but always had an intellectual side, writing essays and reading voraciously. After completing her MA and committing to being an academic, her focus was on bringing theatre and performance into the contemporary discussions of criticism. She argues that playwrights are theoreticians within each play, and the time spent to consider a play and/or performance text is unendingly valuable in understanding many of the ideas that scholars so readily apply to painting, philosophy, gender studies, etc. I was encouraged to know that it is possible to make a move such as this; to sit on both sides of things, and force not only work, but serious intellectual consideration of the work through your own writing. This is something which I hope to be able to do with at least minor success in the coming years.

Monday, 21 May 2012

10 Weeks With Genet

This is my portfolio, bearing creative and academic witness to my 10 week encounter with Jean Genet during the MA.

The "hard copy" was handed in as an installation - dirtied paper, various trash items from scenes and things through the 10 weeks, reminiscent of Tracey Emin, crumpled and in a trash bin.



10WeeksWithGenet_KendraJones_2012

Going Beyond To Return

This is an adaptation of an essay I wrote on the MA earlier this year, looking at the history of tragedy and what all of this theory means to someone trying to create theatre today. Please share your thoughts!

KendraJones_BeyondToReturn_2012.ashx

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Head is Swirling

An MA dissertation in any form is a challenging prospect. One in which you will be not only researching a subject, but creating a response to it theatrically as well as writing on it academically is an entirely new level of challenge.

Things I am learning:

1) I really like to research. To a fault. There comes a point where reading yet another version of Antigone (or reading it again for the 100th time), watching anther German Opera version, or listening to another random lecture from the RA about any painter ever to have lived is just not going to do anything. You need to create. You need to put down the books and get up in the studio and just see what comes out. I am approaching this point now.

2) I have a tendency to want everything to fit to a plan, but at the same time happen randomly. The two are not compatible. I have been hit with two major setbacks to my plan - in the form of casting issues which were first solved, then sort of solved, then not solved at all - both of which had me reeling last week. Several hours we spent lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, surrounded by my iPad and copies of the play, listening to intense music whilst wondering what to do. I do learn the most from these things though; the times when my left and right brain are battling it out over order versus chaos are the times when the most remarkable ideas come out.

3) The play has the answer. It always has the answer, you just have to give it time to tell you. Luckily, I had the time in this instance, and didn't end up staying up nights bawling at my lack of options.

So, phase 1 of the dissertation approach (reading like a maniac) is coming to a close. My first workshop to lead will be in just over a week, and I am looking forward to just playing. It is funny that when reading, I get so many ideas, mostly in the form of physical images in my head, all of which seem to be contrary to the last. Right now there are about 50 "moments" I have imagined. The first 3 workshops will be a chance to try these out, see what actually works physically and with text or music, and then I will go away to try to piece together the first draft of a piece. Then I will come back for 3 more workshops to sew it together and share it on the 19th of July at RADA.

From here, oodles of reflection on the process, writing to pull in all the inspiration and thoughts to create the piece along with the future...where does this go now. And more importantly, where do I go after this whirlwind of a year, personally, and artistically.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Review - King Lear - Belarus Free Theatre @ Shakespeare's Globe

This is the kind of production that changes your mind about everything. Belarus Free Theatre brought their politics to the fore very clearly on several fronts in this production. First, performing in Belarusian rather than the "legal" Russian of Belarus. Second, in their sparse, minimalist interpretation of the play, proving that you can take away the funding, the building, most everything, but you can't take away the fire of theatre when there is talent and something to say to the world.

When we critique most productions of Shakespeare, we critique the use of the poetry, the selected cuts, the understanding of the play. This production took away our ability to do this by being done in Belarusian, but also in the layering of sound, singing and piano under soliloquies, soundscapes created through noisy tarps and water; despite this, the sounds and images created on stage seemed to evoke the poetry in their very existence. Never before have I felt the cold fury of Lear on the heath in such a powerful manner, or the haunting moment of Lear mourning Cordelia's death. The incorporation of Orthodox religious-sounding songs, beginning with happier folk songs and evolving to dark chants haunting the pace underscored the piece perfectly. Lear's violence toward his daughters and everyone around, and their reciprocal violence toward Lear was frightening and stirring, evoking thoughts of life in an authoritarian regime. When Lear and Cordelia are caught after the French lost the war, the faceless soldiers, speaking in hushed tones sent chills up my spine.

This was my first experience of the Belarus Free Theatre's work live, having only read/heard about them. I will do everything I can to see their work again and again.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Review - Posh by Laura Wade (Royal Court @ Duke of York's Theatre, West End)

I saw this last week, on the opening night of the previews for this West-End transfer from the Royal Court. Posh was highly successful for the Royal Court a couple years back, completely selling out its run, and receiving strong reviews from some camps for its bold anti-Tory politics. Others did not find the politics so convincing.

Sadly, despite the outstanding performances and production, I have to side with those critics who did not find the initial production as political as it claimed to be. Presenting us with a clique of entitled (and titled) Eton-Oxford boys enjoying a night of debauchery, Wade is clearly aiming to show us what is wrong with those in power in England (and elsewhere). In this, she is successful; the young men come across as awful people, initially in their brazen plans, then as the play goes on, in their misogyny, violence, and ability to squeak out of trouble unscathed, in spite of the destruction they have caused, all with the wave of a pen over a cheque. That said, the play is rather one-sided - we do not see a glimmer of dimension to these characters. Wade presents them without a shred of compassion or decency, only concerned for themselves. I left feeling like the play hadn't given me anything I didn't already know, and didn't challenge me to think about the situation in a new light; it encouraged the sort of envy and derision these characters accuse the 'middle classes" of in the play, rather than attempting to present an alternative.

As I said, the production itself was strong. All performers were well cast and excelled in their roles; notably the pub owner and his daughter brought 3-dimensional life to characters who could run the risk of being hokey stereotypes. The clever set and use of choreographed set changes added to this (although the musical interludes could have been done without...the first was intriguing and used the set and history well, after which they devolved into a Glee-style singalong in my opinion).

It is certainly a play worth seeing. I'm just not sure it achieved what it set out to do.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Reading Time

My mind is engulfed with reading on performance theory right now. More on that later. That, and Laura Wade's "Posh" now transferred from the Royal Court to The Duke of York's Theatre in the West End. It is a good thing I am not a reviewer with deadlines, as it is taking me awhile to decide exactly what I have to say about it.

In the interim, I have come across two excellent articles today that I must share.

First, Dennis Kelly's (colourful) speech to open the Stuckemarkt festival in Germany. Kelly, a Brit playwright who pushes the boundaries of "polite" political theatre, challenges theatre makers to stop trying to make plays political for the sake of it. Quote of the piece "I believe young theatre makers need a very healthy does of 'go fuck yourself'". Well said, Mr Kelly, well said.

Link Here: http://www.theatertreffen-blog.de/tt12/english-posts/dennis-kelly-opens-the-stuckemarkt/

Second, Lauren Gunderson on the economics of presenting female characters, since (gosh darn it) a significant proportion of audience members are female. I can't say I agree with the argument entirely (which pretty much relies on mimesis and our desire to see the self reflected in the theatre...) but she does make a valid point. Worth a read.

Link Here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-gunderson/theatres-audiences-are-ma_b_1388150.html

Happy Reading!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Video Post....Lavinia

This is an older video of a piece-in-development from 2009 (Performed in autumn 2009 at FemFest Cabaret in Winnipeg, Canada). Titled Lavinia, it is inspired by Lavinia, Titus Andronicus' daughter in the dark Shakespearian play. Lavinia is kidnapped and raped, then has her hands and tongue cut off to stop her from telling who did this to her. In the piece, I wanted to explore her mental state, knowing that she is henceforth unable to communicate, trying to tell of the horrors she experienced whilst still re-living them in her nightmarish reality.

The audio is a cut-up interpretation of the BBC production of Titus Andronicus (1985 - the voice you hear is Edward Hardwicke), merged with a PJ Harvey song....all audio editing done by John Norman.

Here is the vid.



Friday, 4 May 2012

Review - Cymbeline by The South Sudan Theatre Company @ Shakespeare's Globe (Globe to Globe Festival)

There is something truly extraordinary about seeing performers so joyous to be performing, that when the curtain call begins, a full-blown dance party breaks out. This company, which has only existed for a year, born in Sudanese refugee camps, was presenting their first international performance, at the much publicized Globe to Globe festival. Working in translation to Juba Arabic, they presented Cymbeline as a story of love and war in Sudan. Accompanied by fabulous drumming (by the co-director and translator), Juba songs and dances were woven into the play, for entrances, exits, and the fantastic war scene. Each performer was fully committed to their character and the presence of each performer was undeniable. 

Now, as a piece of theatre, it was by no means the best thing I have seen. Jumping lines occurred with fair regularity (although in many instances, worked rather well for the energy of the piece), and some scenes felt flat. As well, even softer scenes, such as Imogen reading the letter and learning of Posthumous' location, came across as harsh, simply due to the nature of the sounds of Juba Arabic. . . as a result, some of the colour of the story was lost. Overall, however, the pure joy filled The Globe and infected everyone in the theatre.

 Sometimes theatre isn't about the perfect performance. It is, as a brilliant thinker once told me, about "bringing joy to the peeps". Per Brask, you were right.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Review - Mind as Matter and Medicine Now @ Wellcome Collection

Mind As Matter
I think brains are pretty cool. So when I heard of an exhibition about brains, merging science with art, i was extremely excited. This exhibition (@ Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, until June 2012) takes us through an examination of the human fascination with the brain. The exhibition housed photographs and paintings along with artefacts, scientific objects, and yes, brains (preserved of course). The goal of the Wellcome Collection is to present exhibitions at the meeting point between art and science. I found that with this exhibition waned a bit on this front; the outer edges presented the more art-focused pieces while the science was in the middle, the two existing in a segregated environment. This meant that the desired experience of seeing science as art and art as science was lost, for me anyway. That said, some of the pieces were really cool; casts of brains and the vein system in the human brain, and most haunting, drawings of a child experiencing a pre-operative procedure for a mental condition that will stay with me for some time.

Medicine Now
This exhibition, upstairs at Wellcome Collection, achieved what I feel Mind as Matter did not. Taking 5 areas of medicine now, the gallery was split up to merge the science and art of these. The most impressive section for me was the one on obesity; an installation of a tall, thin book shelf, stuffed with diet books reminded of the overwhelming amount of 'advice' available on the subject. Another sculpture (I've forgotten the title) looked at obesity physically; instead of the beautiful greek physique we are accustomed to seeing in a sculpture, the piece inflated various points of the body, balloning like the morbidly obese bodies we see from time to time. The figure was headless, and its body read like a road map of neglect. Other installations in this section were also very moving, includng the world map made of the kind of mosquitos that carry malaria; delicate, and dangerous.

I would recommend going along to check both out....they are definitely worth the time.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Time to get political

I try to stick to theatre and art in this blog, and its various inspirations. I can not do that right now. It is time to get overtly political. Time for some Canadian politics. Earlier this week, Alberta held an election for leadership of the province. As of the week-end, polls were showing the right-wing WildRose party in the lead, and the 40-year reign of the PCs in that province looked poised to fall.

As they sometimes do, the voters surprised everyone, and re-elected the PCs to a strong majority - 61 seats - while WildRose saw only 17. Canada breathed a sigh of comparative relief; bloggers and twitter lit up with otherwise left-leaning minds commenting how happy they were for a PC win, something you don't expect ever to hear.

So this morning, reading The Globe And Mail, I was made ill to read Ms Smith's latest.

Now that the WildRose were unsuccessful on their first attempt, they plan to change their policies. Okay, seems like a decent idea, right? Everything needs a fresh perspective after a loss. Sure. But Ms Smith campaigned on core beliefs including smaller government, ignoring climate change (well, arguing that it is still disputed scientifically...which amounts to ignoring it) and personal liberties. She had candidates making racist and homophobic comments in the media, never censured them. Now, upon losing, Ms Smith is thinking of "re-evaluating" their policy on climate change and other contentious issues. Pardon me, but re-evaluating? The party campaigned for several months on this right wing agenda, alienating the rest of the province. This is clearly something they believe heartily in. But a swift turn of the page to the day after losing the election, and Smith is ready to reconsider. Funny; a certain Mr Harper had similar right-wing views some years ago in Calgary. . . but he was deemed too extreme, and toned it down to get elected. Now that he is elected with a "mandate from the Canadian people" he is back to his right-wing tricks, dismantling the very institutions that define our country. Ms Smith appears to be taking a page out of Mr Harper's playbook.

Don't be fooled, Alberta. Ms Smith, it seems, will say whatever is required to get elected, and then do what she wanted all along. Please, have long memories on this one. Please.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

New Explorations

Spent this lovely, sunny Saturday indoors at the University of London. Normally this would make me sad, however, today it simply inspired and encouraged me. I attended the Womens Studies Group's annual Workshop, titled Women, Performance, Portraiture. This is a group of mainly history scholars who meet throughout the year for workshops, field trips, etc, and most importantly, to share their scholarly endeavors.

The day began with a keynote speaker - the brilliant Gill Perry. (more on her here: http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/arthistory/perry.shtml). The paper she presented looked at art and the creation of feiminine celebrity, particularly in 18th century London society circles. Looking at the semiotics not just of the works themselves, but also at their placement, prominence, and re-location in manor houses throughout England, she made some intriguing suggestions regarding the role art played in creating and perpetuating myths of celebrity. There were many resonances for me in this lecture, notably the ideas of public vs private space - hearkening back to our thoughts about The Duchess of Malfi. I cannot begin to give justice to her argument in the lecture, however suffice to say that it sparked many ideas in me, and something creative will come from this.

The second half of the day allowed for each delegate at the workshop to bring a small 5-10 minute presentation on their own current work. This, too, was fascinating. I was humbled in the presence of these intelligent women and the brilliant research they are undertaking. For my own contribution, I brought a section of Forc'd To Woo, the devised response to The Duchess of Malfi that I had created before our group merged our individual work to create In Secret. I talked a bit about my process for creating theatre - looking at historical texts for modern resonances and stories that echo forward, telling us something about the human condition, and specifically the female experience. I also talked a bit about how this developed in performance, and my future plans for the piece. I had some great questions from the group, and overall they seemed encouraging to my endeavors.

On a personal note, I was sure I would be nervous speaking; I was in the company of accomplished and published scholars, a lowly MA candidate, and in theatre nonetheless. That said, I wasn't nervous whatsoever. I felt extremely confident sharing my work and responding to questions about how I had created the piece.

It seems odd for a theatre maker to find their best inspiration in a room full of academics, but alas, I tend to be unconventional.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review - The King's Speech @ Wyndham's Theatre (West End)

I went in knowing little of the production, and only knowing the script in its film incarnation. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the direction of Adrian Noble (former RSC AD) and the ability to stich seamlessly together the multiple short scenes in various landscapes in this rather cinematic script. It visits many of the same locations as the film, but obviously lacking outdoor settings in the theatre, Noble, and his very talented sound and set designers, used the depth of the stage and a series of frames to give shape and distance to the space, and ingenious sound placement and effect to give the impact of being in very large or very small spaces.

This was a very crisp production, with top knotch performances on all fronts, even for the matinee crowd. Notable were Charles Edwards as King George VI, and Joss Ackland as King George V. Ackland's monologue about Edward's impending coronation after his death was riveting; a master class in acting. The only actor whom I felt less engaged with was Charlotte Randle as Myrtle Logue; granted, this is a challenging role, rather one-dimensional, as we really only see her complaining of the desire to go home to Australia. That said, her performance felt up and down, which was noticeable in comparison to such seamless performances from the rest of the ensemble.

It is refreshing to see a professional production who clearly have an enormous budget (revolving stages don't come cheap) and yet don't overuse this budge to clutter the space visually or technically. The design, as with the performances, didn't have anything that wasn't necessary. Noble has clearly taken a page from Peter Brook's manifesto and brought it sparklingly to life.

One thing to add...perhaps it was the timing and seeing this in London, but the stage show came off with a much greater sense of patriotism to the empire, rallying the troops, etc, than did the film.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Review - Song Dong: Waste Not @ Barbican (The Curve)

I had been meaning to take in this installation for some time, and today, after an afternoon at the Museum of London, turned out to be the perfect opportunity. I began with reading the lengthy introduction Song Dong provides to the piece, outlining a significant amount of detail on the inspiration, notably his mother's life. Growing up in post-war China under communist rule, she was raised in a time of extreme frugality to ensure survival. As her life grew and changed, the need for this intense frugality waned, however her need to save - anything and everything - remained. The way Dong describes it, it is as if the objects began to fill voids and harbour memories she was unwilling to let go of.

At a glance, this could just look like a pile of stuff, which really could be from anyone's house. But upon a slow, careful inspection, each item has been kept and cared for in a very specific manner; plastic bags folded in neat triangles, squares of fabric scraps wrapped with string or ribbon, books piled neatly. And Dong's arrangement within the gallery takes the viewer from the impersonal to the personal, moving from bowls and pots, to boxes and toys, and finally to clothes and shoes. It is remarkable the things that make you realize how far away from home you are; whilst looking at the installation, it occurred to me that many of the objects are similar to those my mother has kept around the house. Unlike Dong, I often encourage my mother to get rid of things she is keeping for sentimental reasons that are no longer of use. This installation and its memory-infested objects hit home, and caused me to re-consider this perspective.

I strongly recommend checking this out. It is free, and runs to 12 June, 2012 in the Barbican Curve Gallery.

Link Here: http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=12878

Monday, 9 April 2012

Cliche?

Reading Sophie Nield's piece in the Guardian Theatre Blog (http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/apr/03/curtain-calls-clapped-out-convention) got me thinking about discussions surrounding our work on Jean Genet. Our group, having created what we felt was an hour of work that subverted expectation and challenged the audience to take Genet seriously as a writer who still has something to tell us, proposed not having a curtain call. Our tutor, Andrew Visnevski, responded favourably to the piece we created, and challenged us further; not having a curtain call has become the expectation when one sees edgy, challenging theatre. So the audience, coming to see an MA response to Jean Genet would most certainly expect no curtain call. . . so our hour's worth of subversion would be undermined by this choice. Instead, he suggested that we come out behind the audience, and applaud them along with the empty stage; in a way, this honouring the ghost of Genet whom we had conjured in the previous 10 weeks and who had inspired our work.

So this is how we proceeded. Certainly the effect was startling to the audience; we waited for them to begin applauding, then appeared behind them, also applauding. It took a moment for each person to catch on, the increase in volume from 14 extra sets of hands clapping, the distinct lack of bodies on stage receiving the thanks.

In a way, this choice did what Nield and many comments on the blog have suggested; it forced a truthful appreciation of the work separate from the appreciation of the individuals creating the work. It is certainly something to consider.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Reflections in Latin - Ludus Danielis @ King's College London

I spoke briefly about this project in the fall, but in the swarm of work that has occurred since December, haven't spoken much since. This project, based in a long-term relationship RADA has had with King's College London, is an opportunity for MA Text & Performance students to direct a production populated by MA Latin students at King's. Outside of the play selection, the date, the location, and the necessity not to cut any of the latin text, the directors are given free reign on how to proceed.

Our play was Ludus Danielis - the story of Daniel - the c.1140 Beauvais play, in Medieval Latin and French. The location: the beautiful King's College Chapel inside the Strand Campus. So far, so good. Three of us from the MA T&P volunteered, and agreed to work together to co-direct the piece. This worked remarkably well, as each of us had the chance to jump in on areas where we were most interested or expert, allowing the overall production to have a very lively feel; a major accomplishment with an 800 year old play in a language very few speak or understand.

Our decision was to approach the story as a fairy tale of sorts; The student actors began as their "normal" selves, coming in as if they, too, were going to see the production. From here, we had 2 magical stagehand/ushers and a musician who weaved them into a magical land, wherein they took on the characters of the Beauvais play, and the play began. With limited cast, we opted to use puppets to populate chorus parts such as nobles or satraps, which traditionally would have been performed by larger choruses. This worked extremely well, adding a slight comic element to the piece. Now, adding comedy to a 12th century liturgical drama might seem odd, however our dramaturgical research uncovered evidence that these plays would have been fun and not purely serious; the role of early liturgical dramatic pieces was to engage the parish in the bible stories in a way that would be fun and exciting, particularly given that few would have understood Latin - much like our present-day audience. Another feature we added was music; a leitmotif was created for each character, which played as they began or ended an important speech or moment. This was in reference to the musical nature of these plays (many would have been fully or partially sung) and also to help the audience follow along with the story.

Overall, the production was a success. Our performers had a fabulous time, and reports from audience members was that the production was highly enjoyable. I look forward to this sort of unusual challenge again.

Photos: Ludus Danielis, directed by Kendra Jones, Cristina Cugliandro and Maria Kivinen
Design by Liv Wright

Perhaps I am odd

Still mentally reeling from the aftermath of 10 weeks intensely studying Jean Genet's work. I think it is the mark of a truly great writer that the further you get from the work, the more it seems to pop up in you, resonating across various areas of your life. One thing that is really interesting to me is the fascination many of my colleagues have had with Genet's own disregard for his writing, particularly his plays. He himself refers to them as "clumsy attempts", which many have voiced is frustrating, or difficult to encounter.

Perhaps I am odd. Somehow, in the midst of a world of people with limited talent taking themselves entirely too seriously, and even those with immense talent forcing a specific understanding of their work on others (The Beckett Police, anyone??) I find it refreshing to come across a writer who has had such immense influence, and yet disregards his own work in this way. It is important to note that he doesn't call out his work or tear it down, he simply acknowledges, with what I would argue is some modesty, that all we ever do is try. We never know all of the answers in our own work, or in how others will interpret it, and I find it rather inspiring that a man of such greatness can allow his work to be viewed with such simplicity. Certainly a lesson everyone can take from Genet, whether you like his work or not.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Review - Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Royal Opera Ballet

There are certain companies you grow up in awe of. For the most part, this awe fades as you get older, learn more about your craft, and see more work. The Royal Ballet, home-base of two of my favourite dancers in history (Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn) was one of those companies I was in awe of, and finally this week I had the chance to see them live. The awe has not faded in the least. This production, a re-mount of their 2011 world premiere, was every bit of brilliant dancing, amazing costumes and clever set design that I had grown up expecting to see at the Royal Opera Ballet.

The choreography, unlike many new full-length ballets, uses a significant amount of classical ballet language, with the majority of female roles en pointe. This was refreshing, as we have come to see a lot of character-shoe or bare-footed ballerinas after the contemporary dance waves of the 70s and 80s. Wheeldon spins a beautiful story, hearkening back to the original Lewis Carrol book, one spinning through confusion, illogical associations, and silliness. Some specific choices stood out; Alice's free-spirited and youthful movement carried through the piece, while the Queen of Hearts is shaped as a prima-ballerina past per prime, in full egotistical glory. The most genius stroke, however, was to make the Mad Hatter a tap dancer; Wheeldon's choreography allows the Mad Hatter's tapping to underscore the emotion in each moment, his steps mirroring the ballet ones, but adding sounds throughout, all of which was beautifully executed.

Overall, an amazing night-of-a-lifetime.