Thursday, 23 July 2015

Coriolanus -- Venue #13 (Winnipeg Fringe)

William Shakespeare's war-driven tragedy, Coriolanus, is not for the faint of heart. The story of a warrior who is given rule of Rome, but then reluctant to take on the artifice of ruling, Mad Cow productions bring us a brisk version of the lesser known play. It is staged making good use of the long alley in the space leading up to the stage, creating a sense of depth. 

The performances in the cast have a wide range; from the deft verbal swordplay of the more experienced performers, to the murky and unclear delivery from some of the cast's younger members, there are certainly moments where the plot is lost. This is unfortunate, as again, it isn't a terribly well known story, and the physical interpretation of the scenes (save for a few) is quite static, so it won't help audience members along. 

It isn't an easy task to climb this mountain, and overall the production does an admirable job in bringing it to life. 

The Bar Scene -- Venue #12 (Winnipeg Fringe)

It is always weird to experience a play that isn't the play you are working on, but is by the same playwright. There is this thing that happens in your brain, if you are doing your job as a director properly, where you can anticipate how the characters want to behave toward one another. What they want to do to one another. So, freshly off directing Hannah Foulger's newer play, Clink, watching The Bar Scene was an unusual experience.

The four young performers do a capable job bringing to life the staff of a pub; although on the surface they may appear to be archetypes, as the play progresses we do learn that these characters want something more, and are deeper than their archetype may have implied. Similar to Foulger's other piece, this play centres around relationships, and that murky neighbourhood of attraction between close friends. How does one know when to approach? What if the friendship is at risk? Using a clever device of playing out scenes, eventually the truth of the characters' feelings come out.

There are moments of delightful comic timing from the four performers, however there are also moments of clunkiness where it is clear the actors are not clear on what they are actually trying to do to other characters. Nonetheless it is an enjoyable 60 minutes, with a healthy dose of laughs and a sweet ending.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

How Often Do I Dream? -- Venue #7 (Winnipeg Fringe)

The word "show" doesn't adequately fit what Halifax performer Katie Dorian offers with her one-woman How Often Do I Dream? -- rather "experience" would be much more appropriate. A calm and welcoming presence, Dorian greets each guest at the door, inviting them to explore the installation of objects on the stage before sitting. What follows is a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of memory and our ability to control what we do and do not remember. It weaves moments of story and character with moments of Dorian simply talking to the audience, showing us our own vulnerability through her own.

It is truly a magical experience, and for those seeking something a little different this Fringe, not one to miss. My only qualm is that I'd have loved to be unsettled even more as an audience member, with her blurring the line between natural Katie and acting Katie, so we don't know where one ends and the other begins.

Beau & Aero - Venue #3 (Winnipeg Fringe)

I caught a preliminary glimpse of these two talented comedians during a Fringe preview fundraiser, and new in a moment that I would love their work. Their full length show did not disappoint, with the pair making use of their ample physical comedy skills and playful nature to craft two charming and delightful clown characters, using a blend of mime and dance, and even circus-style tricks throughout their 55 minutes.

The best scenes were those where they played with non-verbal but still sound-based communication, in particular a bit where balloons become musical instruments. You can just imagine the kids in the audience (Ok and me too...) going home to try these for themselves.

If you have kids on your fringe docket, please please take them to this show -- it is rare to find a show that delights children and adults alike. These are two performers who will captivate your hearts and minds.

The below clip isn't their show here, but gives a little sense of what fun is in store.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Teddy Bears & Tidal Waves - Venue #5 (Winnipeg Fringe)

From the first moment, it is clear that writer/performer Leah Borchert is here to subvert your expectations. She proudly announces she's going to sing a dancing song to get everyone pumped up, then sits with her guitar and sings an awkward song about loneliness. This is just one of the many inventive ways Borchert weaves through the story of a young girl grappling with her own sense of self and the times it is at odds with expectations.

A well-shaped one woman piece, Borchert uses items found in children's play rooms to create theatre, using the props both literally and metaphorically to craft a space of exploration. Within this space she tests our expectations and assumptions for how the character, Genvieve, ought to behave in the world. This is beautifully paralleled with a discussion of the tides and the ocean -- water which also doesn't behave in the way we think it should.

This isn't the show for everyone, but it should be.

Chess - Venue #1 (Winnipeg Fringe)

One of the biggest hurdles for a fringe show is the source material; with so many shows being new writing, it truly is a test ground of what works and how audiences receive work. The odd time when a company does an established play, it generally will fare a bit better, because the source material is stronger.

Unfortunately that is not the case with Chess, the local re-mount of the Broadway & West End flop from the 80s. The music is dated, the plot slow and indecipherable, and no amount of good singing is going to change that. This is unfortunate, as the cast (Particularly the leads including a standout Bianca Orvis and Josh Bellan) have skills. A well-deserved shout-out to Steve Yurkiw who milks as much comedy as possible from the evil TV executive, too. This play is not the showcase for these folks.

On top of the dry source material, the direction is slow with lengthy scene changes, and there did feel to be at least one unnecessary dance number.

Had durational theatre been a thing in the 80s musical theatre world, we might have a different sense of these things as the pace of the show reflects a chess match. However, Forced Entertainment this is not.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

How (I think) I've turned a rom-com into a pseudo concept piece

So, as you know, comedies are not usually my thing. So when presented with the opportunity to direct the lovely Clink, a new romantic comedy about youth and expectations, I looked for ways to innovate the means of telling the story. The play centres around 3 scenes in a public place -- the couple's wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, as well as the ceremony. The play has the typical lines interacting with other people in this public space, but lacks the characters to populate it. This sort of trope often gets under my skin, so I thought about how best to overcome that hurdle.

Bingo! If we stage this in a somewhat immersive fashion, using a thrust theatre space to create intimacy, and actually engaging the audience as the side characters in this family, we have a unique opportunity to create an audience experience unlike that which they'll get in a typical proscenium staging, therefore increasing their connection to these younger characters whom some older audience members may not identify with.

Thus the idea to stage Clink in thrust was born.

Now, when most people see and or stage a piece in thrust (at least in Winnipeg) they use the typical proscenium means of actor positioning, and then either just shove the actors really far upstage, or render the side sections "cheap seats". I don't ever feel these are the solution, so rather played with an almost cinematic style of staging, where each audience position will see a face in a given time, but it may not be the face of the actor speaking. It could be the actor who is being spoken to, or spoken about. What results is that depending on where you sit, you may sympathize with a different character in the story, and it may change somewhat for you versus a friend who sat on the opposite side.

Does it work? I think so, based on some audience feedback -- those who were willing to suspend expectation. Curiously the staging asks the audience to do what the characters are asking their families to do -- release expectation and accept them on their own terms, for what may be a bit non-traditional.

Come see for yourself how my little experiment has worked. I assure you the 4 young actors are worth the show, even if you find the experiment failed.

Detailed show times available here, including tonight at 8:45.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

2015 Winnipeg Fringe!

After a 3 year hiatus from any fringe related work outside reviewing, I've plunged head first into things this year, with 3 projects. There is quite literally something for each of you.
Clink -- A new play by Hannah Foulger(Venue 11) - showtimes available here:
- This is a fantastic 4-hander which I've directed, world premiere. A brand new play by an emerging playwright, featuring four emerging actors from the city. It takes place at a wedding, and we've staged it in a surprising way, where the audience get to be the guests at the wedding! Come ready for a party. Drinks not included, but a pre-show drink is heartily encouraged. You'll feel like one of the wedding party.

Sea Wall - by Simon Stephens
(Venue 27) - showtimes available here:
- Theatre By the River's offering for the fest. This is the opposite end of the spectrum -- a play by recent Tony award winner Simon Stephens, one man show featuring Rodrigo Beilfuss before he heads off to a season with Stratford's Birmingham Conservatory. I've co-directed this piece. It is only 30 minutes. Beautifully written, a devastating piece of theatre.

popART: Project Vapour -- Sunday July 19 from 1-4pm
- Finally, this is an odd little project of mine, the first in a series of installations I am doing. I call it theatre, some may argue that point... Essentially it is an immersive installation project that lasts 3 hours. You can come and go. It features music from John Norman, and a physical video installation by Pixel Pusher, all curated by me. The goal is to re-create that feeling of disorientation you get when you go into a movie or theatre in the daytime, then emerge into the light again, but in this instance you immerse into a warehouse party in an alley in the exchange. The whole thing takes place in the alley beneath artspace on Arthur Street. Stay tuned, there is another one of these coming for Nuit Blanche too, just learned we're an official selection for the next in this series, popART: Intersection!
Anyway, hope you can make it to one (or all!) of my projects.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Poor Behaviour

I've never been much of one for following rules. That comes out in the theatre I make, the way I test audience limits and re-think time-honoured classics. So when I read about the "infamous iPhone incident" in New York this week, I laughed. Yep. I wasn't shocked, or annoyed, or disappointed. I didn't call for "education" or making sure the "right kind" of people go to the theatre. I found it a little silly that the dude believed sufficiently in the reality of the set to think there would be power running to the plug, but that's about it.

The right kind of people attending theatre are breathing people. That's really the only requirement. Breathing people feel things. They experience things. In life, and in these weird black boxes of rooms where they sit in semi-darkness beside strangers. Whether someone knows the traditions and codified behaviours, the expectations, is completely irrelevant. In fact, I would argue that those very expectations are the reason young friends feel the theatre is "not for them". Theatre is for everyone. It is. I'm not saying that in some sort of populist theatre for the people way. Theatre tells stories. People like stories. Bingo! A match made in heaven. It is that simple. 

As soon as there is any sense of an "us" and a "them", a desired audience, a set of behaviours, theatre dies a little. And it keeps dying slowly. Until we get out from behind the curtain and share stories and experiences truthfully, and with everyone, theatre will continue to die.

Lets shake things up a bit, shall we?