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Posts Tagged ‘summerworks’

Return to Caledonia

In Theatre on May 21, 2013 at 8:47 pm

How excited am I to be writing this review??

It was almost three years ago now that I first saw Melody Johnson’s wonderful MISS CALEDONIA, as part of my first ever theatrical road trip to the Summerworks Theatre festival.  Actually, I saw it twice at that festival because I fell in love with it so bad, and you better believe I let out a hoot of approval when Peter Hinton announced it as the closing show of his 2012/2013 season at the National Arts Centre.   And now, after waiting the whole season it was finally time for my third go at this little gem, and now I’m reminded of why I fell in love with it in the first place.

Written and performed by the amazing Melody Johnson, and based on the true story of her Mother, the show follows the life of Caledonian teen Peggy Ann Douglas in the 50’s.  Struggling to maintain interest in her simple farm life with her gruff Dad, ever-pleasant Mum, and no indoor plumbing, Peggy thinks she’s found a way out through the local beauty pageant circuit.  Nursing dreams of stardom like her heroes Debbie Reynolds and Bing Crosby, Peggy enlists her Mum’s help to train up for the coveted Miss Caledonia crown under the nose of disapproving Dad, not to mention outwitting a nosy puritanical lodger.  Melody is joined onstage throughout by fiddler Alison Porter, providing sweet and sassy musical accompaniment along her journey from farmgirl to would-be beauty queen.

It's official...between this show and SHE RULES WITH IRON STIX, baton twirling clearly makes damn good theatre.

It’s official…between this show and SHE RULES WITH IRON STIX, baton twirling clearly makes damn good theatre.

Sentimental but never sappy, and filled with clever dialogue that always rings true to its small-town roots, MISS CALEDONIA might actually be impossible not to like.  At least, I might not want to hang out with you if you managed to frown during this show.  Packed with memorable characters and beautiful, hilarious scenes (Peggy’s first and rather shaky attempt at beauty pageants is pretty unforgettable), but with plenty of genuine emotion that’s never too far from the surface.  I still got misty at Peggy’s story about Ginger, and you’ll just have to watch the show to find out what I’m talking about.  I can just about guarantee you’ll thank me.  Melody Johnson is a seriously skilled actor, and has enough charm to power any ten shows without breaking a sweat.  She and Alison Porter make a pretty terrific onstage combo, right up to the crowd-cheering pageant finale.  Will Peggy take the prize?  Do yourself a serious favour and find out.  Plays at the NAC Studio until the 25th, so get goin’! And Miss Johnson..?  It was a real treat seeing you again.  Come back to Ottawa ANY time.   Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

Songs for the Haunted Hillbilly

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

A couple years back (sweet Jesus, but time flies) I took my first ever major theatrical roadtrip to Toronto, to hit up the SUMMERWORKS festival.  I had a blast, and saw some amazing shows indeed.  Few were as amazing as THE HAUNTED HILLBILLY, a big-cast musical production from Sidemart Theatrical Grocery.  The show, based on the novel  by Derek McCormack, was a killer fun romp of a show, with amazing music and songs provided by a gent named Matthew Barber (with help from Graham Cuthbertson and Joe Grass). Barber a Toronto lad himself, won a Montreal English Theatre Critics Award (MECCA) for his work, and the show itself won a MECCA for best production in 2012.   Not too shabby.  His latest album is a compilation of songs from the play.  Here’s a short writeup gakked from Barber’s official website:

Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly brings all the numbers from the darkly comedic show together on record for the first time, sung by Barber and backed by multi-instrumentalists Joe Grass and Julian Brown who also make up the live band.  In addition to the core musicians, there are some notable guest vocalists including Julie Fader, Doug Paisley, Justin Rutledge and Oh Susanna.  The result is a rollicking trip through the back alleys of Nashville circa 1950 complete with cautionary tales about booze, religion (lost and found), love, lust, betrayal, fame and fashion.  In the stage show, the songs weave in and out of the dialogue and are sung by the actors who play the various characters which include the hero Hyram Woodside, his rival country star Erskine Mole, the villain Nudie, Hyram’s wife Audrey and his girlfriend Bobbi.  The album simply presents the songs all sung by the songwriter and thus plays out like a country concept album with recurring characters and a unifying narrative.”

Barber will be at the NAC 4th stage promoting the new album on the 19th (with special guest Ben Wilkins), and 20th (with guest Joe Grass). And through circumstances passing understanding, yours truly has tickets to give away to BOTH SHOWS!  So if you’re interested (and you should be), rush on over to my Twitter Page, where I’ll be asking a trivia question for a pair of tickets to the show on the 19th.  And over on my Visitorium Facebook Page (links to both on the left side, and possibly also the right, of this page), I’ll be putting the tickets for the 20th up for grabs.  First correct answer wins the pair for the day in question (a different winner for each day, if you please).  Free tickets, fools!  Why are you still here??  Oh, and if someone could pick up a CD for me at the show, I’d be grateful…I can’t even go myself!  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

A Homegrown Affair

In Summerworks on July 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm

So, funny story: last year at the SUMMERWORKS festival in Toronto, like a Fringe Festival only juried, there was this play, HOMEGROWN by Catherine Frid.  I didn’t catch it myself, but even before it had been put up some folks at the Toronto Sun got themselves in a kerfuffle of a tizzy over it, saying it ‘glorified terrorism’, and using public funds no less!  Summerworks gets part of its annual funding from a gov’t grant, dont’cha know.  And they tried to explain that, no, no, the play didn’t glorify terrorism at all, here’s the script, why don’t you just…

…but, well, the Toronto Sun is a PROFESSIONAL GODDAMNED NEWSPAPER, son, they don’t need to read a play to know what it’s about!  And by God, neither does Stephen Harper, who ALSO vented about the terrorism-lovin’ going on in HOMEGROWN.  The whole thing seemed rather silly, the show went on, and Summerworks had a fine old time last year.

Then came the election, a Harper majority, and the funny part of the story, where the very same Summerworks festival THIS year finds itself being cut off from its gov’t funding at the eleventh hour, with no particular reason given (okay, not funny ha-ha, depending on which side of the ideological divide you hang your hat, but STILL…).  The PC’s swear it had nothing to do with HOMEGROWN, and say that anyone who believes so is a tin-foil-hat-wearin’ loon.  So fine, it’s not about HOMEGROWN (except that it absolutely, totally is, and everyone know it).  But it sure as hell is about showing them uppity arts hippies who’s in charge now, when 50 grand and change is yanked after five years of growth with nary so much as a ‘sorry ’bout that, chaps‘.

To counter this state of affairs, said dirty-artsy-terrorist-loving hippies sprang into action.  Aside from a flood of private donations, an event was organized across the nation by one Michael Healey…staged readings of the supposedly inflammatory HOMEGROWN, by whichever companies chose to participate, with proceeds going to the Festival..  It was a grand idea, and to my delight Ottawa took up the baton (with local heroes GRUPPO RUBATO and MI CASA THEATRE leading the charge).  The GCTC donated some space, McAuslan donated some beer (hooray!) and were off to the readings!

It was a simple affair, as you might expect of a reading, which is what it sounds like…actors on stage reading the scripted words right to you off the page, with someone calling out the scene changes and what not.  Directed my the luvly Miss Emily Pearlman, the night’s event starred Kris Joesph, Nick DiGaetano, Mary Ellis, Todd Duckworth, Greg Kramer and Sarah Waisvisz.  Being killers, they obviously performed grandly under the conditions..this WAS thrown together rather quickly, after all.   The play itself, by the already mentioned Catherine Frid..?  A work in progress, quite literally.  Tho I missed seeing it at SUMMERWORKS last year, there were bits in the version we saw that couldn’t possibly have been included at last year’s event.  The show is based on the authour’s interviews with a suspected member of the ‘Toronto 18’ terror plot and his plight being detained without trial for years on end.  It’s a good, engaging  story, with more work to be done to make it a better play…but that isn’t really the point of this, is it?

No, the point, as we all cheered and filtered out into the lobby to drink beer/support the arts, was getting back what had been taken away.  It was coming together as a community.   And it was about showing our Prime Minister that, even though he’s got his beloved majority, even though he thinks he’s got the power to do what he wants (and what he wants seems to be to hurt arts festivals like this one, just for the sake of it), Stephen Harper can think again.    He tried to bully them dirty hippies, getting all Godfather on their asses and trying to his them where it hurts.  But in the end, Summerworks will survive, and be stronger for the troubles.  They had recouped some 34 thousand of the shortfall already through donations (click on the link to their webpage, above in this post or on the left side of this page, if you still feel the generous urge), and I have a feeling this evening’s festivities will nearly close the gap.  And Harper proved to everyone that, when faced with a real fight, he’s no Vito Corleone.

He’s Fredo.

Peace, love and soul, Summerworkers,

The Visitor (and Winston)

Practicing Hope

In Theatre on April 4, 2011 at 2:23 am

Had a great lunch with the wonderful Nadine Thornhill yesterday.  We were supposed to be meeting for pancakes, but were too late for that, but still had good food to go along with great palaver.  It was the latest in an odd string of pseudo-dates I’ve had recently with some of the cutest and most talented ladies in the Ottawa theatre scene, and I’m almost starting to think I’m being punk’d or something.  This just isn’t ME, you dig?  But, seeing as how Nadine and I are now arm-in-arming it to the Prix Rideau Awards next Sunday (hopefully with the blessing of her Man of Mans, who is apparently a fan of the old Visitorium rag), I guess the joke ain’t over yet, and who am I to stop the fun now?

So buoyed by that good tiding, I all but sailed in to my volunteer shift tonite at the GCTC, for their latest show THE MIDDLE PLACE, a Project Humanity production by Andrew Kushnir, who also performs.  This was only my second foray into Verbatim Theatre (ie: Recording the words of ordinary people and using that as your ‘script’), the first being the superwonderful THIS IS A RECORDING, about which I have raved at length elsewhere.  So I was mightily excited.  And not just because I had some pre-show chat with ANTIGONE’s Richard Gelinas and Simon Bradshaw (of THIS IS A RECORDING, dont’cha know), and beloved acting Boss Barry Karp who had come to see their show.  THE MIDDLE PLACE itself was a little poorly attended tonite, but I intend to do what I can to remedy THAT silly situation.

The set is perfectly simple, a single white disc, ala FLASH GORDON (minus the spikes), which holds our four actors ( a fifth, playwright Kushnir, acts as the questioner throughout the audience after a dramatic arrival).  The Onstage actors, Akosua Amo-Adem, Antonio Cayonne, Monica Dottor and Kevin Walker, all do beautifully timed and staged double duty as both the residents and staffers of a shelter for homeless youth located in a particularly nasty section of Toronto.  The play debuted ( I do believe) at the Summerworks festival in TO a few years back, and it’s absolutely my kinda show.  A few simple sound and light effects are well-used to heighten the distinction between those who work at the shelter, and those who simply end up there.  I especially dug the way actors would sort of ‘step into’ a new voice when they made an entrance onto the disc/stage.

The story, or stories rather, paint an alternately bleak and hopeful picture.  Somewhat anchored by Amo-Adem’s dominating Callie, the residents we’re introduced to are desperate, pleasant, angry, beaten-down, optimistic…a spectrum almost shocking in its ordinariness.  They’re just people, just kids, who ended up int he wrong place in their lives.  As a relatively pampered son of an upper middle-class family, I noticed how easy I had it, and it’s good to be reminded that not everyone does.  This show does that well, but it does not preach.  A key moment for me is when one of the staff is asked how one maintains hope in a place like this.  Her answer is ‘Practice’.  I like that.

I was mightily impressed with the actors across the board, and with words like these to work with, they can only be inspired.  THE MIDDLE PLACE is definitely one of the highlights of 2011 so far, and you should damn well make sure you get out and see it.  And while you’re at it, practice being hopeful.  Because that really, really sounds like a good idea to me.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

2010 – Big Stoopid End of Year Post!

In Theatre on December 30, 2010 at 12:55 am

This has been a rough, dreary end-of-month, no fooling!  I had not realized just how much I had come to define myself by theatre, and this blog, in so short a time.  At least, not until I had NOTHING TO GOD-DAMNED WELL BLOG ABOUT. Seriously, someone needs to start running shows over Xmas holidays, just for me.  I’d appreciate that, everyone.  Although this HAS given me a chance to start watching LOST and UGLY BETTY, helping me fulfill the Norte-Americano dream of becoming a couch potato.

But, all good things must come to an end, and if you think this year was ‘good’, then that cliche now applies, because it’s over!  I for one had a good time, some GREAT times, a few absolutely horrible…so, a year.  Here are a few personal notabilities:

Holy  shit, I’ve started a blog! Following in the footsteps of one famousactressNancyKenny, I started up this here ridiculous amateur theatre chud, something that was originally only going to be a series of reviews/notes on Facebook about the Ottawa Fringe.  Instead, I’ ve given my sad little life some flicker of ongoing, contrived meaning.  Yay me!

Holy shit, I went on a roadtrip! To Toronto, specifically, to see and review the Summerworks festival thereabouts.  It was a grand, if highly ill time, I saw great shows, got noticed, and finally met Emily Pearlman and Nick DiGaetano.

Fucking Hell, I broke someone’s heart. It was the worst thing I’ve ever done.  No one should ever be allowed to do that.  Especially me.  Sorry, Jammy.  You deserved a lot better.

Holy shit, I’m volunteering for a theatre! The Great Canadian Theatre Company, to be precise, and I’m having a blast.  At this writing, I’ve served seven shifts (counting envelope-stuffing day), eagerly awaiting the next show.

Holy Shit, I took acting lessons! Over at the venerable Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, under the tutelage of theatrical Yoda Barry Karp.  Met some great people, had the most fun I’ve ever had in a classroom, and am counting the days until level two begins.

Holy shit, I have Nancy Kenny’s cat! The adorable Winston the cat, my roommate since October now, and here he will remain until our very own littlest hobo (Nancy Kenny) can finally settle down somewheres.  He took his Xmas travels like a champ, by the way.

So there’s the short version of 2010…how about the long version?  Thought you’d never ask…here for history’s sake is a complete list of all the shows I done took in during this calendar year:

6 Characters in Search of an Author
7 (x1) Samurai (2)
After Shock
Airport Security
Anatomy of a Broken Love Affair
the Andrews Brothers
Aomega
Archy and Mehitabel
Art DeXo
l’Ascenseur
As You Like It
Bash’D
Beer Tent: Reflux
Big Face
Billy Stutter: an Irish Play
Biographies of the Dead and Dying
Blackbird
Bliss
Blood. Claat
Breaking Down in America
Burlesque Unzipped
Cactus: the Seduction
Countries Shaped Like Stars
Dale Beaner and the Turtle Boy
a Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup
the Death of Tybalt
Deliver’d From Nowhere
‘Dentity Crisis
Divinity
the Duck Wife (2)
Edge
Educating Rita
Every Job I’ve Ever Had
a Fistful of Flowers
a Flea in her Ear
Grievous Angel
les Guerriers
Grouch on a Couch
Hamlet (solo)
Haunted Hillbilly
Heart-Strings
Heroes
I
the Innocents
Inspecting Carol
It’s A Wonderful Life
It’s Just a Stage
It’s Raining in Barcelona
Ixok
Jamaica Farewell
Kayak
Kilt
the Kreutzer Sonata
the Last Goddamned Performance Piece (2)
the List
Love in the Time of Harlequin
the Man Who Went to Work One Day and was Eaten by a Bear (reading)
Mechanicsville Monologues II
Me Happy
Men Telling Stories
a Midsummer Nights Dream
Miss Caledonia (2)
Mixing Boal: Kitchen of the Oppressed
Molotov Circus
Multinational gRape Corporations
My Narrator
Nativity
Not the Good Kind of Animal Attraction
the Peter ‘n Chris Show! (2)
Phone Whore
the Pig of Happiness
the Prisoner’s Dilemma
Purely Cabaret (2)
Redheaded Stepchild
Red Noses
Ride the Cyclone (2)
Romeo and Juliet (Salamander)
the Roof Top Guy
Sacred Sites in Suburbia
the Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smack-Headed Peter
the Saddest Girl in the World
St.Nicholas
Say Ginger Ale
Seeking
Shadows
Shakespeare’s Interactive Circus
Shed
Someone for Everyone: an Unromantic Comedy
the Sorting
Speakers
the Sputniks (2)
Sweet Little Nothings
Swimming in the Shallows
They All Do it
This is a Play
Time to Put my Socks On
TransCanada ‘69
the Turn of the Screw
Twelfth Night
Underneath it All
Vimy
the Visitor
We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! (reading)
Who You Callin’ Sweetheart?
Word! Sound! Powah!
You Are Here

Hon.Mentions:

-My Summer Crush Improv
-Fringe Festival Secret Cabaret Show
-Taxi Stand Jam
-Wrecking Ball

Not too bad for a relative theatre newbie like my own self, if I do say.  although I admit I got off to a slow start (I’m SO fixing that next year, but more on that later).  And in no particular order, here now are a few of my fav’rit things from that list (note:  not ‘best’, just some of my personal picks.  I am by no means qualified to decide what is ‘best’ or not, and please never, ever trust anyone who says they are.  They are lying to you.)  With that in mind, here are some of my…

FAV’RIT ENSEMBLE SHOWS:

– Bash’d – A perfectly, insanely entertaining gay musical rap-opera from Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow.

– A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Company of Fools show how it’s done in the great outdoors, with a brilliant cast and a hep, funny take on Shakespeare’s faerie fling.
– A Fistful of Flowers – the Baltimore annex Theatre crashes Emily Pearlman’s living room for the best theatre nite of the year, with their must-see DIY show about love and revenge in the mythical west.
Airport Security – Gruppo Rubato puts on a seriously underrated show at the GCTC studio about the perils of modern travelling.  Hilarious and dark all at once.
Vimy – I saw it five times, I’m NOT gonna put it on the list?  Thumpingly awesome WWI drama with a killer cast, that shattered some records for the GCTC and earned every penny.
I – David Hersh’s world premiere at the Gladstone was supercool and fresh, with an aspiring writer clashing with her idol and a cast of thousands (well, almost).
The Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smack-Headed Peter – an impressive, filthy, edgy modern fable about a new kind of messiah along the Thames.  Dirty, epic poetry.

Twelfth Night – The Ottawa Theatre School teams with some keen pros to deliver a funny, sexy telling of one of Zombie Bill’s funnier bits.

The Peter’n’Chris Show – Shit, that was funny.  DAMN.

FAV’RIT SOLO SHOWS:
Blood.Claat/Word! Sound! Powah! – Two from human dynamo Dbi young, I caught the first at GCTC and the second at Summerworks.  Powerful pieces of Jamaicana indeed, from a positively inspired performer.
Time to Put my Socks on – Alan Shain tells it like it is in his original show about one disabled man’s quest for love and sex, and other good things.
Hamlet (solo) – Raoul Bhaneja performs the entirety of Zombie Bill’s epic, alone, no sets, no effects, and it couldn’t be more mesmerizing.
The Sputniks – Elison Zasko made me cry.  All I’m saying.
7 (x1) Samurai – David Gaines gives a solo interpretation of SEVEN SAMURAI.  And it works.  Holy hell, I love theatre.
Redheaded Stepchild – from Summerworks, Johnnie Walker’s amazing show about an awkward, effete ginger teen, his flamboyant alter-ego, and clueless stepmom.
Aomega – There were, like, 7 people in attendance at this gorgeous drop of insanity from Daniel Nimmo at the Ottawa Fringe, about the trifold multidimensional consciousness Aomega.  I maintain that everyone else was scared.

FAV’RIT MUSICALS (besides BASH’D, cause I already mentioned it):

Ride the Cyclone – Atomic Vaudeville tears up Summerworks with a twisted and brilliant tale of a deceased coir singing their final songs.  I still heart poor, headless Jane Doe.
Haunted Hillbilly – A wonderful show from Sidemart Theatrical Grocery about fame, country music and vampires, featuring Greg Kramer (also in 12th night) as the villainous couturier Nudie.
Countries Shaped Like Stars – I saw it again at Summerworks this year, it counts!  I will never, ever get tired of this show.  Eager , tho, for their newest LIVE FROM THE BELLY OF A WHALE.  Go Mi Casa!
Nativity – My first proper show at the NAC in several decades was a delight, with everything from singing angels to singing coyotes, with many other singing things in between.
Grievous Angel – A simple, gorgeous stage show about the life of legendary country figure Gram Parsons, and his protoge Emmylou Harris.  Their ‘Cash on the Barrelhead’ was a grand moment.

 

FAV’RIT BOY ACTORS:
Simon Bradshawthe Man who went to Work one day and got Eaten by a Bear, Airport Security, Swimming in the Shallows – Maybe the best pokerface in Ottawa theatre, he’s got angry/funny down to a science.  Do NOT miss THIS IS A RECORDING at Undercurrents, folks.
Garret QuirkDeath of Tybalt, Romeo and Juliet, Mechanicsville Monologues II – His explosive Tybalt was the big reason I caught Salamander’s R&J, and his piece in MMII brought down the house.  Expect great things!
Jeff CulbertArchy and Mehitabel – Had to mention gentleman Jeff, and his hypnotic turn in A&M from the Fringe.  Elegant and masterful.
Alex McCooeyeMe Happy, Nativity – Two distinct, utterly wonderful comic performances have me very much hoping I get to see this cat in something else, and soon.
Richard GelinasA Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Interactive Circus, Swimming in the Shallows – A serious actor with a very hysterical streak in him.  How to steal scenes while hiding behind a newspaper?  Talk to this guy.
Raoul BhanejaHamlet (solo) – Too impressive not to mention it again.  He did HAMLET, for god’s sake.
John KoensgenHeroes, Educating Rita, St.Nicholas, Blackbird – Volume alone would put the killer on this list, but BLACKBIRD nailed it.  Fucking wonderful.

John Doucet/Kevin LoringVimy – Pardon my singling any of the lads out, but Kevin and John’s work as not just their two leads, but each others central past figures, was a perfect joy to watch.  Even again and again. 🙂

FAV’RIT GIRL ACTORS:

Emmanuelle ZeesmanAndrews Brothers, Shakespeare’s Interactive Circus, I – What can you say about the Zees?  Whip-smart, funny, AND she can tap-dance.  ‘Nuff said.
Nancy KennyThe Last Goddamned Performance Piece, Shakespeare’s Interactive Circus, We won’t Pay! We won’t Pay! – Winston, did you put this one in here..?  Fine, fine.  She DID have me laughing out loud before the doors were even closed in TLGDPP, and pretty much at will after that in whatever she did.  Yeah, she makes the list.
Jenny DavidL’Ascenseur, You Are Here – A Visitorium fave, wee Jenny David is one of those ‘up’n’comers’ who’s impressed me twice in a row now, and I’m hoping she goes for the hat trick sometime soon.  One to watch, trust me.
Dbi YoungBlood.Claat, Word! Sound! Powah! – An unstoppable theatrical force.  You should bust down walls for the chance to see one of her shows, they are jolts of awesome straight to the heart.
Danielle SavoieDeath of Tybalt, Romeo and Juliet, Red Noses – A memorably hilarious turn as Rosalind in TYBALT, followed by a twistedly sinister ‘Raven’ in the great RED NOSES.   Supahcool.
Kate SmithAirport Security, Turn of the Screw, We won’t Pay! We won’t Pay! – Harried high-flying comic housewife or potentially unstable victorian-era nanny, Kate Smith pretty much does it all and makes it look easy.
Kelly RigoleThey All Do It, Mechanicsville Monologues II – Her bit of Commedia in THEY ALL DO IT was a joy to behold, and her burlesque numbers in MMMII weren’t too shabby, neither.  Have I mentioned about THIS IS A RECORDING yet?  It’s already selling out guys, for serious.
Catriona Leger Airport Security, Someone for Everyone – The funniest lady in O-town?  Could very well be.

 

There’s a lot more I could mention…fav’rit venues?  Carleton Tavern and Emily Pearlman’s living room, for  start.   Fav’rit directors?  While I’m still not too technically savvy on such things, I have to give the great Pat Gauthier a nod for his multiple and awesome shows.   Fav’rit Writers?  Howsabout good ole Donnie Laflamme?  Or David Hersh?  Fav’rit moments?  Too many to count.  Don’t no one be offended if you’re not on this silly list, it’s safe to say that if I saw your show, I thank you, and want to see more.  This is just a small (really!) bit of love from me to all of you theatre peeps.   Thanks for, y’know, changing my life and all.  And with that, here’s a brief look forward, with my very own NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS for 2011:

#1 – SEE MORE STUFF.  I’m going for a minimum 130 shows in the next year, not counting repeats.  Think I can do it?  I want to make a special effort to see more community theatre.

#2 – STOP BEING BORED. There’s no reason for it.  I’ve already been practicing my new modal operation format: INPUT//OUTPUT//DEATH.  Here’s hoping I do it right!

#3 – 211 IN 2011 – I’ve been off my movie watching game, and want to correct that.  So on top of those live shows, I want to see at least 211 new movies (or old ones with new commentary tracks) in the new year.  I’ll keep you updated.  But gotta nourish other senses, so…

#4 – READ MORE. – I’ve been WAY off my reading game, and that has to stop. And I especially want to start reading some plays, too.  Again, I’ll keep you updated (I know, you’re waiting on fucking pins and needles).

#5 – ANOTHER THEATRICAL ROADTRIP – Maybe SUMMERWORKS again, maybe someplace a little further…I’ve been eyeing the Victoria fringe for a while now.  Someone just tell me where Jayson MacDonald’s gonna be.

There’s more, but they don’t really belong here, and this has been going on for WAY too long without me being drunk.  So hats off to all those amazing people who got their shit together, put it on a stage and made me say ‘wow’, because you rocked my world.  To my fellow theatre fans, keep on showing up, because that’s the only way it works.  And whoever you are, thanks for reading, drop a comment now and then, because as far as communication with the outside world goes, this is pretty much my big attempt right here.  Help the experiment along!

And, by the way, CRUSH IMPROV at the Elmdale on January 3rd, and COMPANY OF FOOLS Twelfth Night Fundraiser at NAC 4th stage on the 5th.  Be there, yah?  We’ll have a laugh.  From all of us here at the Visitorium, aka me and Winston the cat, peace, love and soul.  See you next year, your pal,

Kevin

‘Works: a Summer Roundup, part 1

In Summerworks, Theatre on August 26, 2010 at 1:03 am

Okay, so that was a bit of downtime I took there.  Apologies, I was a little busy finding out that I’m the worst person in the God-damned world.  Suck it, Cheney.

So now that the maelstrom of life-shit I dropped myself in is, if not behind me,at least past its destructive apex (fingers crossed), where do I go from here?  Yeah, sure, to the theatre…why not?  I do vaguely recall enjoying it…and I had some Summery things to write about.   Summer’s fun, right?  I could use some fun.   Let’s do this.

A ‘blast’ is too much for me to hope for right now…I’ll settle for a summer lovin’ tickle at this point.

So, SUMMERWORKS.  I made my first ever theatrical road trip this past month down to Toronto, and not just for the shopping (not that I didn’t load up on dvd’s…STEAMBOAT BILL JR., anyone?).  No, I partook in my first Summerworks theatre festival…a little less frenzied than a Fringe, but with plenty of ace theatre to go around, in some pretty snazzy venues.  I think the Factory Theatre Studio was my fav’rit  And all in all, I thought it was a pretty nicely run festival.  Okay, they need to do something about the massive downtimes between shows…up to two hours in some cases, between ANY available performances.  For a tourist like me, that could get pretty dull and/or expensive.   Although, again, shopping.

But I still had a swell time (constant illness notwithstanding), and without more yakking here is my personal TOP 5 SHOWS of Summerworks 2010:

No.5:  The HAUNTED HILLBILLY.  From Sidemart Theatrical Grocery, a twisted, hilarious and fantastic musical tale based on the novel by Derek McCormack.  Faust reimagined as a country-western epic, with rising star Hyram Woodside being seduced by the supernatural couturier known only as Nudie.  Massive amounts of fun.

No.4: The SAD and CAUTIONARY TALE of SMACK-HEADED PETER.  A big ensemble (like Hillbilly above), this time the bizarre and mystical tale of drugged-out prophet Peter’s rise and fall, Mother Cheapside’s telly-fuelled visions, and the terrible truth about the Dream King and the Princess of Pain.  Street level poetry and magick at its finest.

No.3: ME HAPPY.   A giddy riot of a love story from Pyretic Productions, as the rather unique Biddy of Muff, Ireland, starts a correspondence with imprisoned diver Logan Hasselhoff to try and exorcize her persistent ghost.    A much-needed dose of killer laughter resulted, and I loved every occasionally foulmouthed moment.

No.2: MISS CALEDONIA.  I secretly hope this show hits the Fringe circuit next year, because I’d really love to make people around me go see it.  Melody Johnson and Alison Porter made me all melty and happy inside with the true-based story of rural beauty queen Peggy Ann Douglas, and if Ginger’s story doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, someone needs to put a stake through your shrivelled heart NOW.

No.1: RIDE the CYCLONE.  I wasn’t alone in hearting the living shit out of Atomic Vaudeville’s musical extravaganza about a squad of dead chorists from Uranium, Saskatchewan singing their lives out one last time…it won the Summerworks award for Production and the Now Magazine audience choice, not to mention packing the house more often than not.  The Vaudeville gang are insanely talented each and every one (they impressed equally at their Performance Bar appearance), and the show is about as crowd-pleasery as it gets.  Delirious joy for all.  So there.

Some very honourable mentioning to a few others…like Dbi Young’s amazing WORD! SOUND! POWAH!, the beautiful, brutal AFTER SHOCK, Johnnie Walker’s grand REDHEADED STEPCHILD, the Celine-centric mindfuck of BLISS, and of course my hometown heroes Emily Pearlman and Nick DiGaetano and COUNTRIES SHAPED LIKE STARS.  It would have made the list but, having seen it twice before in two different venues, I can’t really think of it as a ‘Summerworks show’.  You know how that goes.  And also, a huge apology to all the shows I didn’t make it out to see…great sounding joints like HOMEGROWN (even after the Toronto Sun launched such an effective media campaign for it..!), MODICUM OF FREEDOM, FOSTER CHILD PLAY, POST EDEN, THEORY…sigh.  Too much theatre, too little time.  Oh, and of course, a huge thank you to BIOGRAPHIES OF THE DEAD AND DYING…not just for being a wicked cool show, but for legitimizing me by including one of my reviews on your sandwich board:

Pictured: maybe as famous as I’ll ever get.

I wish I’d been able to stay in T-Dot longer, see everything, but that’s the life of a working shmoe, I s’pose.  I did make it to Sneaky Dee’s AND the Beguiling, not to mention Honest Ed’s, so I fulfilled my personal obligations at least.  Thanks to Clarence Castle, my homey hostel for the duration (and where I did all my show-blogging for free by hogging their computer).  And I’ll be back tomorrow, in the spirit of keeping myself busily distracted from my own awfulness, with part 2 of my summer roundup, this time Flings instead of Works.   Including a uselessly late show review!  See you there,

The Visitor

PS. Anyone in Ottawa seeing JAMAICA FAREWELL at the Gladstone this sunday evening?  If so, I’ll see you there!

SUMMERWORKS – Day SEVEN

In Summerworks, Theatre on August 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm

So, as I write this, I have worked my last Summer, my theatrical road trip coming to a close.  It was a good time and ended on a high, but I’m still annoyed that it ended.  With just a few more days, I couldá seen EVERYthing.  But, them’s the breaks, eh? At least I had fun, and felt great thorughout…except for the pervasive sickness that’s been nagging me the entire trip, and came back with a vengeance last night.  Guess it wanted to say goodbye to Summerworks too. Can’t blame it.

Only made it out to one new play-piece last nite, actually, and that was my first stop of the day, Marion DeVries’ BIG FACE.  A one woman show (my fav’rit kinda show) about a lonesome woman dealing with her own failings, needs, wants, and not getting any younger all the while.  DeVries gives what you call one of those ‘bravura’ performances, punching a hole in your rib cage and giving your heart a few brutal squeezes.  It’s a bare-bones honest show, with DeVries laying this woman’s life out on the line for us to see, with just a perfect handful of her own songs tossed in to the mix.  Rock solid. 

By then, well, quite frankly I wasn’t feeling very well.  Is it normal to be dizzy and see spots when you’re already sitting down?  So I did what any nervously ill traveller would do…had a veggie dog and treated myself to a repeat of MISS CALEDONIA.  Sorry, but I’m just in love with that show, and it made me feel better!  Loving the interplay between Melody and Alison on her fiddle (not a violin as I previously misidentified), and the tweet and true story of Peggy Ann and her quest for the title is just about as fun and heartwarming as a lad could ask for.  Thanks, all.

With only one chance left now, I really wanted to hit the PERFORMANCE BAR at least once during the festival, so off I  trolleyed to the Lower Ossington and stepped inside.  A good crowd was there (likely because the Steam Whistle was 2 bucks cheaper here than at Factory, go figger), and local improv gang NATIONAL THEATRE OF THE WORLD  was hosting, teaming up with RIDE THE CYCLONE’s dandy troupe for the evening, ATOMIC VAUDEVILLE.  It was a pretty heartily hilarious show, and Toronto’s own Laura Harris joined the team onstage for a few bits.  I think there were a few other ‘Toronto’s own’ up there too, but as I’m not Toronto’s anything, I didn’t recognize them all.   The show was brilliant tho, and the followup concert by funkmeisters GRAND ANALOG was nice icing on that cake.  It was great fun, I danced with everyone else, I drank too much, and then, when it was all done, I missed my streetcar and walked the many blocks back to Clarence Castle for the last time this trip.  And now, it’s checkout time, and I still need to shower.  Trickier than it sounds as, due to the morphiong nature of hostel geography, my last night here was spent in a room filled with whispering, giggling Aussie girls. 
…nope, there’s no way the girlfriend could be troubled with THAT scenario.  Ottawa, here I come.  Toronto, it’s been a slice, and we’ll have a wrap-up once I get settled.  Thanks for the times,

The Visitor

SUMMERWORKS – Day SIX

In Summerworks, Theatre on August 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Getting close…after this I’ll only have one final night of shows to post about before it’s time for the long, grim ride back to Ottawa, and work.  So let’s enjoy this baby while we can!  As for yesterday, that meant a breakfast at Mars, lunch at Sneaky Dee’s, a few books from She Said Boom!, and an afternoon show.

Well, that was the plan, anyhow…FOSTER CHILD PLAY had other ideas, and went and got all sold out before I could haul my overheated butt on over there.  I’ll just assume then that it was a fantastic show, selling out and all, so yay, Foster Child Play!  Nice one.  You’re all very special people, and I said so.

So, some impromptu  down time later, I was back at the Factory, where I was in for a shock indeed.   It seems that, through no intentional malice on my part, some people have maybe, sorta mistaken me for that strange beast, ‘the press’.  Summerworks is listing my updates in their media press relase updates, and now, as I saw at the garden yesterday (and got photographic evidence I’ll share once i get back to my own computer) the good folks at BIOGRAPHIES OF THE DEAD AND DYING are actually using one of MY review quotes on their sandwich board!  A first for me, I assure you, but I promise there was no deliberate intention to deceive!  I’m not a critic, or member of the 4th estate in any way, shape or form, just an idiot with a blog and free time.  But thanks terribly for the compliment, and I sure hope I can help out before someone gets wise to me and moves in with the billy clubs.

Getting over that surprise, I headed for the ticket table, this time making it in to SAY GINGER ALE by Marcia Johnson.  A refreshing bit of fluff  (as theatre does tend towards the morbid and downbeat, all that melodrama and other jazz), and a smart story about a Jamaican-born woman who must make her first ever trip back home after moving to Canada at age 6.  Will she appreciate her heritage?  Get her tough-as-nails Grandmother to see a doctor?  Get the boy?  See it and find out, as it’s a pretty great show, good actin’, great fun, and a smart look at trying to balance two backgrounds at the expense of neither.  Raven Dauda steals the show quite handily as Grandma, by the by, but don’t hold that against her.  Just enjoy.

A quick enough turnaround after that to check out THE INNOCENTS by Daniel Karasik.  An ensemble of five fabulously cool actors carry this one handily through it’s story of fulfillment (and lack thereof), ennui, and the old question of just when in your life you can say Í’ve arrived’.  Now, I have to admit, INNOCENTS kind of left me cold, personally.  It’s obviously a good play, and a few of the performances are real knockouts, but you know when you just don’t connect like you’re supposed to?  That happened to me, and no fault to the gang onstage.  It’s still easily worth a look, and for sure most of the near-sellout crowd was having a blast at my viewing.

Too much downtime after this one, so I hit some apparently nameless bar a few blocks down queen for a few pints of 50 before heading back (almost stayed…really cozy place!).  There was a nice buzz going in the garden outside the factory, and most of it was heading in to my last show of the day, ME HAPPY by Amy Lee Lavoie and Matthew Mackenzie.  And damn, good way to end the evening.  ME HAPPY is a perfect god damn delight, a direct infusion of sweet and hysterical right to your brainstem.  Chala Hunter and Alex McCooeye are dead-on hilarious in their roles as star-crossed paramours sharing a long-distance meeting of letters…the script is genuinely warm and disturbingly funny…a dream of a show.  Hope you make it out to this one, because your soul will thank you for it.

Off to scour some late breakfast now, and get ready for what will be my final day of Summerworks.  Hope to see you around tonight, and happy festing,

The Visitor

SUMMERWORKS – Day FIVE

In Summerworks, Theatre on August 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Today started with a little much needed R&R (or ‘rander’, to put it in Haunted Hillbilly terms), with a trip back out to Markham and Bloor. Successfullly stalked the hard-to-find Green Room, where I had a delicious and cheap b-fast on a goddam lovely patio.  I’d love to go back there with some folks and have a blast.  If only I knew folks!

Hit the Beguiling and picked up some cool comix, including a saucy collection of PLASTIC MAN creator Jack Cole’s ‘Good Girl’ artwork from back in the day.  Jack had an eye for the ladies, I tells ya.  Wandered out to Sonic boom then, and oddly spied COUNTRIES SHAPED LIKE STARS superstar Emily Pearlman dashing into Honest Ed’s on my way.  I’d have followed her, but a) that would have been TOTALLY creepy, and b) there’s no way you’ll find someone once they’re inside Honest Ed’s.  Hell, I just hope she makes it out in time for her next performance!

Anyways, at Sonic Boom I stocked up some more on dvd’s, including a collection of short silent films from DW Griffith, and a classic 70’s Bollywood picture.  Nice.  Then it was back to the hostel for a bit of a sitdown, andI know i’m rambling a bit but as long as there’s incresed traffic on the site thanks to the Summerworks crowd, I might a well bend your ears a little, yeah?   Peace.

On to the first show of the evening!  A trek via streetcar (after even MORE shopping at Black Market…new clothes for V!) out to the Lower Ossington Theatre, my first time at this venue.   As I waited, I saw a particular actress who I KNOW I’ve seen in something before, but I can’t for the life of me remember what.  I’ll scour my archives and uncover the truth, because it’s driving me crazy.  Does that ever happen to you?  Man.

Anyways we got let in and got treated to BLISS, a perfectly wonderful 4-hander of a showthat was either about Celine Dion, hero worship, brutal abuse, terrible work conditions at Wal-Mart, or all of the above.  A terrific show, with rock-solid voices all around.  One of the actresses even drew blood right before my eyes, and didn’t flinch.  That’s committment to the art, folks.  I do hope she’s all right…one always worries when there’s blood left on the stage after the show.

A quick respite after that, and I dashed to the quaint looking pho joint I saw on the way up from Queen.  It’s a good choice, and the soup is killer bee.  Return with a bit of a walking tour of Ossington, and decide to nip in and grab some yummy-looking pastry from another shop, and who do I find in there?  Freaking Emily Pearlman!   I swear I am not stalking her, seriously…I could do that shit in Ottawa.  But no, she’s on her way in to my next show as well, which is another gooder by the name of MOLOTOV CIRCUS.  By a Winipeg troupe, this is a wonderful story about a somewhat struggling family, who just happen to be traveling russian gypsy carnies.  The gang goes all out for the portrayal of this odddball clan, with the father doing the entire show on enormous stilted legs, while Mama Molotov chanels Chaney from THE PENALTY and has her legs stashed up into stumps for the hour.  Hats off, tho it’s the children who end up stealing the show with a couple of the more…shall we say únexpected’moments of the proceedings.  It’s a lovely and amusingly disturbing show with some simple truth at it’s freakish center.

I was feeling a little out of sorts, then…all this time alone in TO is getting to me, so I wandered off into the night.  Had a few beers at Michaels bar, and almost instantly made a few low-rent friends who gladly would have chewed my ear off for hours about the Blue Jays and what not if I hadn’t come to a decision.  This is a vacation, after all, and I felt like a treat…so, what the Hell, I decided to RIDE THE CYCLONE again.  Sorry gang, but a fun time is a fun time.  And admiration again to the Atomic Vaudeville crew for putting on such a whip-smart zinger of a performance.  You made me go to sleep with a smile.

All new shows tomorrow, I promise…gonna scout Kensington Market a spell, and then I’m off to the Theatre with renewed vigor.  Hell, I may even TALK to someone today!  …maybe.  Wish me luck,

the Visitor

SUMMERWORKS – Day FOUR

In Summerworks, Theatre on August 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Sunday was a  great day, a GREAT day! How great?  Ýou know how it started off?  I ALMOST talked to Emily Pearlman!!

Exciting, right?  You know it is.  I mean, we didn’t REALLY talk, but just about..!  I knew it was going to be a special day, yessiree.  In fact, the reason i had this brush with fame was on account of we were both getting set to see the first show of the day, REDHEADED STEPCHILD by Johnnie Walker, and it was a dynamite way to start any day.  Johnnie pretty much dazzles with a variety of characters telling the central story of sweet ginger preteen Nicholas, his alter-ego Rufus, and tomboy Stepmom Mary-Anne.  There’s plenty of costume changes, a musical flourish, some Shakespeare, and a simple relateable story at it’s rather large heart.  Walker is killer talented, and director Megan Norwich (and they both appear to have worked together before, one assumes quite well) doesn’t miss a step.  Highly recommended, and my day was well underway.

Serious munchies ensued after that…I’m still fighting off some malicious illness, after all, and I require fuel, so a pitstop at the Java House for some schnitzel was in quick order.  I scarfed that good stuff down, and hustled to Passe Muraille for show numero two of the Sunday, THE SAD AND CAUTIONARY TALE OF SMACKHEADED PETER by Simon Glass.  A big ensemble piece telling a bombastic, fantastical and sleazy epic of a drug-drenched messiah’s attempt to create a paradise in the concrete slums of Thamesmead.  Weaving mysticism, paranoia, and a greek-style chorus together with great performances to ask the question, if all else has failed, why not give smack a try?  A downright brilliant stroke of modern myth, Glass must have been channelling Grant Morrison at some point during the writing of this beast.  I god damned loved every filthy minute of it.

Snuck off right after that to by myself a sweet new hat…my freshly bald head has gotten a little charred in these Summerworks lineups, so some protection was in order.  I got compliments on it within half an hour of purchase, so you know my luck in this town is changing.   Nothing beats a snappy lid,after all.

Me and my dandy chapeau returned to the Factory for AFTER SHOCK by Evan Tsitsias.  Now THIS is a tricky show. The story of a woman returning to her somewhat ‘rural’ family after being remade and seemingly reborn into an angelic vision on some sort of extreme makeover show (it’s never really delved into that much), Anna finds her new looks have a strange effect on all her troubled family members, and even more so herself.  And you think it’s going to be a charming country-style comedy, and settle in for a particularly witty episode of HEE-HAW.  And slowly, by ever more disturbingly shocking increments, before you know it you’re smack in the middle of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and there’s nothing you can do but sit there and watch.  Which you should, on account of it’s utterly wonderful.  A drastic indictment about the superficial nature of change most people accept, there will be some squirming in the audience, but it’s worth it.  The actors are fantastic, and I’m really getting impressed with the talent on display in this fest.  AFTER SHOCK maybe takes a shade to long to wrap things up, but whatever.  It’s great, go!  Me and my hat both agree.

Next was back to the Passe Muraille again (after a delicious stop at New York Subway for a hearty beef burrito…yummy!) for a show called RIDE THE CYCLONE by BC troupe Atomic Vaudeville.  It was a pretty long line…I even noticed Melody Johnson, Miss Caledonia herself, just behind me!  I was too chicken to talk to her, naturally, but still, more brushes with greatness!  That boded well.  And when we finally got inside…

It’ll be hard to write a full review of this song and dance ensemble spectacle, because I’m not entirely sure how to stretch WOW!! out into a whole paragraph.  May I just heartily urge everyone to see this show now, at this steal of a price, while you can.  I was blown away…ALL the leads were dazzling talents, the songs were varied and catchy, even the set and the costumes were a delight.  They put their backs into this one, folks, and it shows.  And poor Jane Doe!  I just wanted to give her a hug the whole time!  (I still do..call me..?)

Sigh.  What a great day. I called it after CYCLONE, I was getting beat and was in no shape to mount a 10:30 assault.  Besides, going out on a high…who can ask for more?  So back to the hostel (after cheap mixed drinks…it’s practically right next door to me..!) for a good night’s sleep, and now I’m off to find a good bacon and eggs in this town.  I want another great day…and I’m gonna get it.  See ya, Toronto,

the Visitor