I cannot write a top five or top ten list when it comes to theatre in a year. How do I decide to include such an arbitrary number!? Instead, here are the shows I saw this year that made my heart beat faster, that moved me to action, that left me gasping, that pushed me to keep doing what I do, and that have stuck with me at the end of the year.
In no particular order.
All The Way Home (Electric Company) website
I had a hard time picking between All The Way Home and Initiation Trilogy, both from the Electric Company, when i was beginning to compile this list. I chose All the Way Home because it was one of those productions where not only was it excellent, but EVERYTHING about it was excellent. The cast, the design, the direction, and the implementation in it’s unique set up on the stage of the QE all worked extraordinarily well. I was moved to tears by this production and in it’s final beautiful moments I sat wanting to bathe in that beauty and not let it leave. Though that transience is part of what made it so special.
Tempting Providence (Theate Newfoundland Labrador at Gateway Theatre) website
I had been hearing one of my mentors sing the praise of this show for at least four years before I finally got my chance to see it live up to all the praise she had heaped on it. It is a play that is beautiful in its simplicity and specificity, with each movement, prop, and set piece carefully chosen to serve multiple purposes, but above all to serve the story. I saw this show shortly after a friend accused me of only liking big shows with spectacle to which I had responded that what I was most interested in was shows that work as a whole and make big choices – something this show did so beautifully. I searched for a photo from the production to include in this post, but the photos I found came no where near capturing the show’s simple beauty, so I decided against including one.
Stationary (Delinquent Theatre at Neanderthal) website
I had seen this show back when it was Parked! at Bridge Mix in 2011 and was so excited to see a longer version. By the time I was able to attend the show had been running for a few days and the festival was abuzz with delight at the talent of this young company. I was definitely not disappointed – even with high expectations – and have since purchased the soundtrack which I listen to frequently and continue to hope that I will get to see this show again. I saw the lives my friends are living on that stage – bachelors degrees, dead end jobs, and a desire for something more. I also saw an incredibly talented group of performers who showed themselves to be more than triple threats, adding multiple musical instruments to their repertoire. Is the show perfect? No. Not yet at least. But it is absolutely wonderful and from the look of things, the show is moving forward as a run in April 2013 at Presentation House has already been announced. As Delinquent Theatre says, “Real life is disappointing. Singing about it definitely takes the edge off.”
The God that Comes (2b Theatre & Hawksley Workman at SummerWorks) website
The night of debauchery that was The God That Comes was one of my favourite nights of the year. Everything about the experience – from the time the door opened – was created to enhance the spectator’s understanding and enjoyment of the evening. I went with my new SummerWorks friends at the last minute, paying for tickets since it wasn’t included in our program and we were so glad we went. We were greeted by attractive young men and women who fed us grapes (or decorated our bodies with grapes) and wine. We drank wine straight out of the bottle as we were encouraged to do as the incredibly talented Hawksley Workman told the story of Bacchus using The Bacchae as the primary source. It was part cabaret, part concert, and wholly theatrical. There is a moment near the end where Workman has a tall staff in one hand that he beats against the floor in time to the music, and as the lights changed with it I think my heart beat shifted to beat in time with the music. It’s playing at Club PuSh in a couple of weeks and I’m terribly upset that I will be unable to see it again. But rumor has it a concept album will be released and I will be buying that as soon as it is.
Blind Date (Rebecca Northan at the Cultch) website
This was a Blind Date that I returned to four times during its run in Vancouver for the simple reason that it had a great mix of heart and humor. While Mimi the Parisian Clown teased her various dates and pushed them out of their comfort zone, the level of care that Northan offered them during the performance was outstanding. It was also outstandingly funny. After my first night in attendance my face hurt from smiling and laughing so hard – an experience that I rarely have at the theatre. Northan is an expert improvisor who carefully shapes the path she wants the evening to take, guiding the men with an almost invisible hand until you return a few times and see the small ways in which she is able to guide the story to its intended conclusion.
Matilda the Musical (RSC @ Westend London) website
This was perhaps the show that I was most looking forward to this year. I have been a fan of the source material – Roald Dahl’s Matilda – since I was an eight year old bookworm. I was not a fan of the film version, but found that the play had the same heart as the book while adapting itself enough to make for a great musical. I knew all the songs going in, but found the staging to be breathtaking and ever so imaginative – which it had to be since the imagination as at the heart of the book. The cast were really outstanding and I found myself grinning for the rest of the night. Indeed, I find myself grinning as I sit here writing about how much I enjoyed the show.
I also want to mention the following shows that stuck out to me during the year:
Red (Vancouver Playhouse/CanStage), Hunchback (Catalyst Theatre presented by The Cultch & Vancouver Playhouse), Craigslist Cantata (Arts Club/PuSh Festival), Goodness (Volcano Theatre at Firehall Arts Centre), King Lear (Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op), The Exquisite Hour (Relephant Theatre at the Arts Club), Mary Poppins (Broadway Across Canada), God is a Scottish Drag Queen (Delcon Entertainment at Neanderthal Arts Festival & Vancouver Fringe), When it Rains (2b Theatre at SummerWorks), Bookworm (Corin Raymond at the Vancouver Fringe), Twelfth Night (Shakespeare’s Globe), and La Cenerentola (National Opera of Paris).
Finally, the theatrical endeavour which has been the most rewarding, encouraging, and mind-bending for me in 2012 has been the Obstructions series. For those of you unfamiliar, the companies who make up Progress Lab (Boca del Lupo, Electric Company Theatre, Felix Culpa, Leaky Heaven Circus, Neworld Theatre, The Only Animal, Pi Theatre, Radix Theatre, Rumble Productions, Theatre Conspiracy, and Theatre Replacement) have been challenging each other to up their game and re-examine their company aesthetics by testing the idea that creativity feeds on limits. Inspired in part by The Five Obstructions by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier, the core artists of each participating company submit, a few at a time and under a cold spotlight, to a list of obstructions delivered by a shadowy emcee. The companies are then commanded to create their next production around those limitations. The obstructions for each company are developed in secret by their peers – a custom-designed set of obstacles that will prompt each artist to adapt to a new approach to making theatre. Their individual tendencies toward form, place, style, theme, design, period, story are exposed and obstructed, spilling the artist’s bag of tricks all over the stage and out of reach.
The performances that have been spawned by the challenges which take place approximately once a month are a huge highlight for me, as the theatre community gathers together with our patrons and pushes what we are capable of while creating some beautiful theatre. I missed the Pi Theatre and Theatre Conspiracy performances while I was in Europe, but attended the Boca del Lupo, Felix Culpa, and Radix Theatre performances. This series continues into 2013 and I can’t wait to catch more of the performances when I am in town. Because a show done on a set built entirely of carrots likely never would have happened without a challenge like this.