Tag Archive: Blackbird Theatre

2012 in Review: Shows I Saw

For the last four years I’ve been keeping track of what I see, and each year the number has been growing. This year I saw a staggering 174 different productions (some of them more than once) spanning the performance art disciplines in 10 cities and five countries. I saw a high school production and a West End Musical. I went to the Vancouver Fringe and the Paris National Opera. I saw magicians, musicals, and modern dance; ballet, busking, and butoh; Shakespeare, site-specific, and SummerWorks.

As with every year there are shows I regret missing, but there are way less this year. There were things I wanted to see in London that I didn’t make it to. I couldn’t see every show at PuSh. I missed Terminus at SummerWorks.But overall, I saw more great theatre this year. Of course, I also walked out of two shows this year (something I rarely do) and wanted to walk out of at least three others that I couldn’t walk out of due to political reasons or logistics.

Here they are, the 174 shows I saw in 2012 in something close to chronological order:

  1. Waiting for Godot (Blackbird Theatre at the Cultch)
  2. Never Swim Alone (TWU)
  3. All The Way Home (Electric Company)
  4. Red (Vancouver Playhouse)
  5. The Idiot (Neworld/UBC at PuSh)
  6. Amarillo (Teatro Linea de Sombra at PuSh)
  7. Glory Days (The Boys Upstairs Equity Co-op)
  8. Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner (Chelfitsch Theater at PuSh)
  9. Gunmetal Blues (Playhouse)
  10. El Pasado un animal grotesco (Grupo Marea at PuSh)
  11. Craigslist Cantata (Arts Club Theatre at PuSh)
  12. Almighty Voice and his Wife (Native Earth Performing Arts/Touchstone Theatre at PuSh)
  13. Calendar Girls (Arts Club)
  14. No. 2 (Silo Theatre at PuSh)
  15. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Pacific Theatre)
  16. Bride on Credit (TWU)
  17. Tempting Providence (Gateway Theatre)
  18. Problem Child & The End of Civilization (Theatre at UBC)
  19. I Love You Because (Intimate Productions)
  20. Intimate Apparel (Arts Club Theatre)
  21. The Silicone Diaries (Nina Arsenault at The Cultch)
  22. Hunchback (Catalyst Theatre at The Vancouver Playhouse)
  23. All Shook Up (Chemainus Theatre Festival & Gateway Co-pro)
  24. Ignorance (Old Trout Puppet WorkShop at The Cultch)
  25. Doubt (Pacific Theatre)
  26. Goodness (Volcano theatre at the Firehall)
  27. King Lear (Honest Fishmongers)
  28. Kismet 1 to 100 (The Chop at Gateway)
  29. A Vessel of Ruins (Taketeru Kudo – Tokyo)
  30. Barber of Seville (Vancouver Opera)
  31. Importance of Being Earnest (Arts Club)
  32. Importance of Being Earnest (Gallery 7)
  33. Flop (Delinquent Theatre)
  34. Snooker (Camillo the Magician)
  35. Fresco (BellaLuna Productions)
  36. The Bombitty of Errors (20-Something)
  37. Scar Tissue (Arts Club)
  38. Henry & Alice: Into the Wild (Arts Club)
  39. EndGame (Main Street Theatre)
  40. A Last Resort (Rough House Productions)
  41. Trial by Jury (VSO & Vancouver Opera Ensemble)
  42. Aida (Vancouver Opera)
  43. The Exquisite Hour (Relephant Theatre)
  44. 100 Saints You Should Know (Pacific Theatre)
  45. Blue Box (Neworld Theatre)
  46. Bliss (Ballet BC)
  47. High Society (Arts Club)
  48. Godspell (Christ Church Cathedral)
  49. Obstructions – Boca Del Lupo
  50. Shelter from the Storm (Touchstone/Firehall)
  51. Fantasticks (Gallery 7)
  52. MacBeth (Bard on the Beach)
  53. Wolf at the Door (Pacific Theatre)
  54. Not Everything You Are (Stones Throw)
  55. Obstructions – Felix Culpa
  56. UnBoxed (Scarlet Satin)
  57. Reasons to be Pretty (Matchbox Theatre)
  58. The Alchemist
  59. Xanadu (Arts Club)
  60. Titanic (TUTS)
  61. The Music Man (TUTS)
  62. King John (Bard on the Beach)
  63. Merry Wives of Windsor (Bard on the Beach)
  64. Alter Boyz (Arts Club)
  65. Armed (Xua Xua)
  66. Mary Poppins (Broadway Across Canada)
  67. Stationary (Delinquent Theatre at Neanderthal)
  68. Coercion (Hardline at Neanderthal)
  69. God is a Scottish Drag Queen (Delcon Entertainment.at Neanderthal)
  70. The List (Bouchewhacked! at Neanderthal)
  71. Tyumen, Then (Groundwater Productions at Neanderthal)
  72. House of X (Wild Excursions at Neanderthal)
  73. The Taming of the Shrew (Bard on the Beach)
  74. Obstructions – Beautiful Karrats (Radix)
  75. Sunday Service (Neanderthal)
  76. Exhibit A (411 Dramaturgy at Neanderthal)
  77. The Marraige of Figaro (Summer Opera Lyric Theatre)
  78. My Pregnant Brother (Freestanding Productions at SummerWorks)
  79. France or the Niquab (Old Pirate at SummerWorks)
  80. Haunted (The Haunted Group at SummerWorks)
  81. Artaud: un Portrait en Decomposition (TheatreRUN at SummerWorks))
  82. Medicine Boy (Native Earth at SummerWorks)
  83. Purge (Brian Lobel at SummerWorks)
  84. One/Un (Orange Noyée at SummerWorks)
  85. The God that Comes (2b Theatre at SummerWorks)
  86. When it Rains (2b Theatre at SummerWorks)
  87. Petrichor (Kitchenband at SummerWorks)
  88. Barrel Crank (Suitcase in Point at SummerWorks)
  89. Extinction Song (Voodoo Theatre at SummerWorks)
  90. Dutchman (lemonTree Creations)
  91. Wondermart (Rotozaza at SummerWorks)
  92. Marine Life (Theatre Crisis and Aluna Theatre at SummerWorks)
  93. Captain Ron’s Ship of Friendship/Atomic Vaudeville Cabaret (Atomic Vaudeville at SummerWorks)
  94. The Frenzy of Queen Maeve  (Live Lobster Theatre at SummerWorks)
  95. Breath in Between (Breath Collective in Association with Crow’s Theatre at SummerWorks)
  96. 40 Days and 40 Nights (Nina Arsenault at Summerworks)
  97. Your Side, My Side and the Truth (Compass and Trying Science Co-Production at SummerWorks)
  98. Peachy Coochy (Summerworks)
  99. We Will WeeTube (An Experiment with Theatre Replacement’s WeeTube at SummerWorks)
  100. Iceland (The Iceland Collective at Summerworks)
  101. Speed the Plow (SoulPepper)
  102. Motor Vehicle Sundown (Andy Field at SummerWorks)
  103. Midsummer Night’s Dream (CanStage)
  104. Mojo (ItsaZoo)
  105. Eurosmash! (Die Rotten Punkte at The Cultch)
  106. My Marvellous Melcher Machine (James Melcher)
  107. Pirates? (Quimera Collective)
  108. Just Bust a Move (Nathaniel Roy)
  109. Home Free (Staircase XI)
  110. Riverview High: The Musical (Entrance Theatre)
  111. In the Time of the Dream Warrior (Golgonooza)
  112. The 1812 Event (Just Push Play)
  113. Romance (Queer Arts Society)
  114. Adult Entertainment (Squidamisu Theatre)
  115. ReLapse (And the Other Leg)
  116. Miss Cosmos (Bright Young Theatre)
  117. Felony (Dreams Beyond 30)
  118. First Day Back (10 Foot Pole)
  119. Alpha (Compassionate Bone)
  120. Three More Sleepless Nights (o.o.o.o.)
  121. Weaksauce (Sam Mullins)
  122. You Are Here (Allentina Francesca)
  123. Hip Hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos (411 Dramaturgy)
  124. Tales Told by Idiots (Not The Mermaid)
  125. Lost in Twine (Looking for 143 Productions)
  126. Underbelly (Jayson MacDonald)
  127. Zanna, Don’t (Awkward Stage)
  128. Psychopomp (Psyche Theatre)
  129. Smudge (Two Wrongs That Write)
  130. God is a Scottish Drag Queen (Delcon Entertainment)
  131. Peter ‘n’ Chris Explore Their Bodies (Peter ‘n’ Chris)
  132. Loon (Wonderheads)
  133. Gadfly (Theatre of the Beat)
  134. Guernica (Hidden Harlequin Theatre)
  135. Fishbowl (Mark Shyzer)
  136. How to Love (Idea Factory Entertainment)
  137. Welcome to my Wake (INC – Ingrid Nilson Collective)
  138. Little Lady (Sandrine Lanford)
  139. The Histories AKA Will Shakespeare’s ImproMusical (GrinkeInk)
  140. Riot (Carson Graham Secondary)
  141. The Missing Piece (Theresa Hamilton)
  142. The Best, Man (Urban Rogues)
  143. Risk Everything (Squidamisu Theatre)
  144. No Tweed to Tight (Ryan Gladstone)
  145. Vincent (Spitfire Productions)
  146. Bookworm (Corin Raymond)
  147. Blind Date (Rebecca Northan at the Cultch)
  148. Post Secret: The Play (TJ Dawe, Kahlil Ashanti & Frank Warren)
  149. The Spitfire Grill (Midnight Theatre Collective at Pacific Theatre)
  150. Capslock: The Musical (Pipedream Productions)
  151. Master Class (Arts Club)
  152. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit (Elbow Theatre at The Cultch)
  153. A Beautiful View (Ruby Slippers)
  154. Zombie Syndrome (Virtual Stage)
  155. The Unplugging (Arts Club)
  156. Initiation Trilogy (Electric Company/Boca del Lupo/Writers Fest)
  157. Debts (ItsaZoo)
  158. La Boheme (Vancouver Opera)
  159. Dancing at Lughnassa (Capilano University)
  160. Chelsea Hotel (Firehall)
  161. Cozy Catastrophe (theatre Melee with Rumble and the Cultch)
  162. Gold Mountain (Les Deux Mondes & unity theatre at The Cultch)
  163. Dickens’ Women (Miriam Margoyles at The Cultch)
  164. Go Back for Murder (SAMC Theatre @TWU)
  165. Tomb with a View (Genus/Up in the Air)
  166. Far Side of the Moon (Ex Machina @ SFU)
  167. Matilda the Musical (Royal Shakespeare Company in the Westend)
  168. Twelfth Night (The Globe)
  169. NSFW (Royal Court)
  170. The Effect (National Theatre)
  171. Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Zurich Opera House)
  172. Jultrad-i-tion (Gotenburg Opera)
  173. Don Quixote (Ballet of the National Opera of Paris)
  174. Le Retour (Odeon Theatre of Europe)
  175. La Cenerentola (National Opera of Paris)

2011 in Review: Shows I Saw

Last year when I wrote about all the shows I had seen, I set forth a two part goal.  I wanted to achieve balance in my hobbies and I wanted to end the year with no regrets in regards to my theatre viewing.

Now here we are at the end of the year and even though I saw more shows than ever I’d say I did do better in finding balance.  Part of the reason that makes sense is that instead of stage managing all year I spent 5 months working for the Vancouver Fringe.  For the most part it was a day job which left my evenings free to see some awesome theatre.

But I do have a handful of shows that I regret not seeing.  I missed the work of the guys at Main Street Theatre for the second year in a row.  I missed Death of a Salesman at the Playhouse. I didn’t go see Ride the Cyclone more than once. I didn’t see Wonderheads during the Fringe (but lucky for me they won an award and will be at the Cultch next year!). I missed Wicked Shorts. 

For the first time in a couple of years, my list is entirely West Coast – I didn’t make it out to Edmonton or Toronto this year, which I regret, but I’m looking forward to more travel in the coming year – including my first ever trip to Europe!

Here they are – the 155 performances I attended in 2011, in something close to chronological order.

La Marea at the PuSh Festival. Photo by Flickr user jmv

  1. Wee Tube (Theatre Replacement)
  2. La Marea (Boca Del Lupo/PuSh Festival/Mariano Pensotti)
  3. The Pavillion (Osimous Theatre/Firehall Theatre)
  4. Iqualit (Berlin/PuSh Festival)
  5. Circa (Circa/UBC/PuSh Festival)
  6. 100% Vancouver (PuSh Festival/Rimini Protokoll/Theatre Replacement)
  7. Tuesdays With Morrie (Gallery 7 Theatre)
  8. Dead Man’s Cell Phone (UBC)
  9. Floating (Hugh Hughes/Arts Club/PuSh Festival)
  10. Bonanza (Berlin/PuSh Festival)
  11. Whale (Boca del Lupo/Kyle Jesperson)
  12. Gloria’s Cause (Club PuSh/Donya Hansen)
  13. City of Dreams (Roundhouse/PuSh Festival/Peter Reder)
  14. My Name is Asher Lev (Pacific Theatre)
  15. Hard Core Logo: Live (November Theatre/Touchstone Theatre/Theatre Network/PuSh Festival)
  16. Avenue Q (Touring Broadway Production)
  17. August: Osage County (Arts Club)
  18. Peter Panties (The Cultch/PuSh Festival/Leaky Heaven/Neworld)
  19. Clemenzia di Tito (Vancouver Opera)
  20. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Blackbird/Arts Club)
  21. Nocturne (20 Something Theatre)
  22. The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Fighting Chance Productions)
  23. Swimmy, Frederick & Inch by Inch (Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia)
  24. Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (Glass City Theatre)
  25. Quiet in the Land (Gallery 7)
  26. Cinderella (Vancouver Opera in Schools)
  27. Wild Honey (UBC)
  28. Cinderella (Exit 22 at Capilano University)
  29. Chairs (Itsazoo)
  30. The Philanderer (Arts Club)
  31. 1984 (Virtual Stage/Studio 58 at the Cultch)
  32. Evelyn Strange (StairCaseXI)
  33. The Last 15 Seconds (MT Space Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre)

    The Last 15 Seconds at the Firehall. Photo from http://bikesbirdsnbeasts.blogspot.com/

  34. Under The Influence Cabaret (20 Something)
  35. The Bacche (TWU)
  36. Another Home Invasion (Arts Club/Tarragon)
  37. Jake’s Gift (PT/Juno Productions)
  38. The Forbidden Phoenix (Gateway Theatre)
  39. Rosmershom (United Players)
  40. Letters from a Soldier; My Name is Aslam (Stones Throw Productions)
  41. The Trespassers (Vancouver Playhouse/Belfry)
  42. Ballet BC’s 25th Anniversary (Ballet BC)
  43. Scared Scriptless (Vancouver Theatresports League)
  44. Dress Me Up In Your Love (Theatre Replacement)
  45. The Graduate (Arts Club)
  46. The Wiz (Fighting Chance)
  47. My Funny Valentine (Zee Zee Theatre)
  48. Tape (Alley Theatre)
  49. Side Show (Pacific Theatre)
  50. Mambo Italiano (Firehall/WCT)
  51. Prodigals (20-Something Theatre)
  52. Love/Stories (Kineticism)
  53. Beautiful Problems (Radix Theatre)
  54. The Great Divorce (Pacific Theatre)

    Pacific Theatre's "The Great Divorce" Photo provided.

  55. Eurydice (Secretly Women)
  56. Macbeth: Nacht Shakespeare (Theatre Conspiracy)
  57. Hairspray (Arts Club theatre)
  58. What we leave behind (Lamondance)
  59. Community Dinner (Rumble Productions)
  60. Wicked (Broadway Across Canada)
  61. A guide to Mourning (Genus/Enlightenment Theatre)
  62. Merchant of Venice (Bard)
  63. A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline (Arts Club)
  64. BridgeMix (Itsazoo)
  65. Matchmaker (Gallery 7)
  66. Verona Project (Stones Throw)
  67. Bash: Latter Day Plays (Hardlines Theatre)
  68. Bye Bye Birdie (TUTS Vancouver)
  69. The Casino/The Disappearing (Stones Throw)
  70. Party This Weekend (The House Party Collective)
  71. Project X (Faust) (Leaky Heaven Circus)
  72. Other Side Through You (Cat Main)
  73. Visitors (Walking Fish 2011)
  74. At First I Thought It Was (Walking Fish 2011)
  75. Armed  (Walking Fish 2011)
  76. The Gas Heart (Gas heart Theatre)
  77. Homecoming King
  78. Chairs  (Itsazoo) (The revised version)
  79. My Pregnant Brother (Freestanding Productins)
  80. Compassion for Killers (Whirlwind Productions)
  81. Anything Goes (TUTS Vancouver)

    Anything Goes at TUTS. Photo credit unknown.

  82. Troika and The Troubles (Some of the New Bees/Resounding Scream)
  83. Flop! A one man musical (New Hands Theatre)
  84. Bare: a pop opera (Fighting Chance)
  85. When I Was (Les Petite Taquines)
  86. Richard III (Bard on the Beach)
  87. Kunst Rock (Die Roten Punkte/The Cultch)
  88. Sea of Sand (The Only Animal)
  89. As You Like It (Bard on the Beach)
  90. Cativo (Hardline Productions)
  91. Tough (20-Something Theatre)
  92. The Selkie Wife
  93. Trouble in Tahiti (VanCoCo)
  94. Archy & Mehitable
  95. Yum/Yuck
  96. Oh That Wily Snake!
  97. Jigsaw
  98. The Sparrow and the Mouse
  99. Phone Whore
  100. Screaming Silently
  101. wreckage

    Nita Bowerman's Fringe show "wreckage". Photo by Brendan Albano.

  102. This is Cancer
  103. Jesus In Montana
  104. Short & Sweet
  105. The Progressive Polygamists
  106. The Animal Show
  107. Rove
  108. Stay Away from my Boat, @$$hole (ItsaZoo/Vancouver Fringe)
  109. The Razzle Tassel Tease Show
  110. Lost in Place
  111. Duck Off
  112. Fruitcake
  113. The Mystery of the Hungry Heart Hotel (Peter ‘n’ Chris/Vancouver Fringe)
  114. Smile (Awkward Stage Productions/Vancouver Fringe)
  115. Tinfoil Dinosaur
  116. The Other Side
  117. Houdini’s Last Escape (Monster Theatre/Vancouver Fringe)
  118. Night of the B Movie
  119. The Devil & Billy Markham
  120. Giant Invisible Robot
  121. Sally Lives Here
  122. Mr. Kinski’s Cabaret of Bullshit (Vancouver Fringe)
  123. Acrobatic Daredevils

    The Acrobatic Daredevils at the Fringe. Photo by flickr user arianec

  124. Oh My God (Delinquent Theatre/Vancouver Fringe)
  125. Fortunate Son
  126. Willow’s Walk: Ripples in Time
  127. Arnie the Carnie’s House of Fun
  128. Next To Normal (Arts Club Theatre)
  129. Tuesdays with Morrie (Gallery 7 at Pacific Theatre) (The Remount)
  130. National Ballet of Canada’s 60th Anniversary Tour (National Ballet/Ballet BC)
  131. Little Orange Man (Snafu Dance Theatre/Vancouver Fringe)
  132. The Light in the Piazza (Patrick Street Productions)
  133. Circle Mirror Transformation (Arts Club Theatre)
  134. Ride the Cyclone (Atomic Vaudville)
  135. True Love Lies (Touchstone Theatre at the Cultch)
  136. A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum (Fighting Chance Productions)
  137. Visions of Vancouver (Pi Theatre)
  138. Love Lies Bleeding (Alberta Ballet)
  139. West Side Story (Vancouver Opera)
  140. Romeo and Juliet (TWU)
  141. 50 Words (Mitch & Murray  Equity Coop)
  142.  Falling in Time (Screaming Weenie)
  143. Vimy (Firehall Arts Centre)
  144. The Outsiders (Gallery 7 Theatre)
  145. Penny Plain (Ronnie Burkett)
  146. Mary’s Wedding (Gateway)
  147. Blood Brothers (Arts Club)
  148. The Patron Saint of Stanley Park (Arts Club Theatre)
  149. A Christmas Carol (Pacific Theatre)
  150. La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse Theatre)

    The wonderful Greg Armstrong Morris in La Cage aux Folles. Photo provided.

  151. Hotel Bethlehem (Ruby Slippers Theatre)
  152. Sound of Music (Gateway Theatre)
  153. Christmas Carol Project (Brass Monkey Productions at the Cultch)
  154. The Gift Horse (Caravan Farm Theatre)
  155. Christmas Presence (Pacific Theatre)

I am already excited about what is to come in 2012.  My first booking of the year is for Blackbird Theatre’s Waiting for Godot.

Make it Magic

Do you remember your first theatre experience? I don’t.

I am told I was approximately five years old when my parents took me to see a stage version of The Christmas Mouse at a local high school. I know I liked it a lot, because I named my pet gerbil after one of the mice in the play. Shortly after that I was taken to see Annie at the local community theatre. The only thing I remember about it is that when Annie goes into the laundry cart to hide from the police, it happened downstage left. I have no idea why I remember that.

Axis Theatre & Arts Club's Flying Blind

The first theatre experiences that I remember vividly came in high school. W.L. Seaton Secondary had a tradition of taking 30 students on a trip twice a year to some of the larger theatre cities within a 10 hour drive. The year I was in grade 10 we went to Vancouver in the spring– my first time in this city without my parents – and we saw Axis Theatre‘s Flying Blind at the Arts Club Granville Island, Elizabeth Rex at the Arts Club Stanley, The Edible Woman at the Playhouse, and some musical review at the Gateway. When we arrived in the city, we checked into the YWCA downtown and then headed to Granville Island where we spent the afternoon shopping before seeing Flying Blind. I remember after the show that night, the group of 35 of us (including the chaperones) sat in one of the rooms at the Y to have our own talkback after the show and pretty much everyone hated it. They were all confused by it – it wasn’t exactly a linear story. I didn’t “get” it either, but I was completely taken in by the magic of it. When we saw The Edible Woman I remember that there was this bed that was on tracks of some sort, but I didn’t know about tracks, I just knew that this bed magically flew out of the wings towards the lead at a faster & faster pace as the show went on. It was all magic to me.

Now, the magic seems to be rarer and rarer. Part of the reason for that is that I know how most of the tricks work. I know about tracks in the floor, and traps (which I usually spot long before they are used), I look at the lighting grid when I arrive at the theatre and noticed that siren light and I know that every door on a set will get used eventually. I am well versed in the language of theatricality, both as a practitioner and as an audience member. But allow me to let you in on a little secret: I am capable of forgetting all that I know.

When I am gripped by a story – when it has me and won’t let me go – I forget all of my theatre education. I forget that I saw a mirror ball hanging above the set before the show and I forget that I saw a picture showing a set piece for a later scene and I forget that I heard someone tell me how your show has an awesome trick in it. At that point all that matters to me is the story and how well you are telling it.  Each of those technical pieces becomes a necessary part of the story-telling. A part of the world you are creating. And that is when I know that it is a truly great production and when I stand up in the curtain call and celebrate your work publicly.

That is your job. It is your job and the job of your production to be so great that it forces me to forget what I know and forget my small irritations because I am so involved in the story you are telling me that I am afraid to think negatively for fear of missing something. It is the job of the production to be so good that I don’t feel like I can clap for fear of missing something. It is the job of the production to be so good that I stop noticing the running lights backstage that I can see from the house (or, you know, you could just do a blackout test during tech and shutter those running lights more effectively). It is the job of the production to be so good that I don’t leave at the end of the show wondering why exactly there is a siren type light on your lighting truss that you never use in the course of the show.

Catalyst Theatre's Frankenstein

The first time I saw a Cirque du Soliel show I was afraid to clap because I was afraid I would miss something. Now, I wouldn’t say that Cirque tells a story in the traditional sense, but they do endeavour to have an overarching narrative to tie all the acts together. With Cirque the goal is to have all the acts at the same level so that one weak act doesn’t take away from the cohesion of the entire production. Another example would be Catalyst Theatre‘s Frankenstein, which I saw in Toronto a year ago. I have some problems with that show (I think it could use about 15 minutes edited out of it and the music, despite being repetitive, is ultimately unmemorable), but it didn’t matter as I was compelled to my feet at the end of the evening. The production as a whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The story was compelling and the technical elements worked in service of the story. That is a very flashy show, but no piece was flashy to the detriment of the story. And a year later I am still talking about how much I loved that show and encouraging others to see not only that production, but anything that Catalyst produces because I believe that they know how to tell a good story.

 

Blackbird Theatre‘s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is a great example of a show that took me in and does not have any big technical elements to it. The show is on a box set with only a handful of lighting cues, but here’s where we come back to the important thing – that the box set & handful of cues serve the story. The reality of the play is that I am peeking into George & Martha’s living room for one extraordinary night. The script, the actors, the set, the lights, the costumes, and the sound all worked together on the same level to create a world that was painful to live in, but was a fully recognizable world.

When your show has that sort of magic to it, people (like myself) won’t be able to resist talking about it and more people will see it.

I know that not all shows have that sort of magic in them – that sustained world that holds the audience in the palm of its hand. It can happen many ways. Maybe the script is just plain bad and no matter what the directors, actors & designers do, they can’t make this world work because the words don’t work. Maybe the production is full of tricks – technical wizardry that looks cool, but doesn’t serve the story or is inconsistent with the world created in the rest of the production. Maybe one or more of the actors feels more like a puppet than a fully realized human being. Maybe the director has blocked the show in a way that people would never actually move. In any of these circumstances, the elements are not all working together and that is likely preventing the magic.

If there was a formula for creating theatre magic, it wouldn’t be magic anymore. I can’t name a playwright, director, designer or actor who always creates magic and its even possible that the same production won’t be magic every night. But when all of the elements – the script, directing, design, & acting – are strong, unified, and serve the story, there are moments of transcendence where true magic occurs.

Theatrical Excellence in 2010

I saw some truly great theatre in 2010. I also saw some good, some mediocre, and a few shows that were just plain bad.  I’m not here to critique but rather to celebrate the excellence I saw in the theatre in 2010. Some of it was flashy and full of spectacle, but more often than not, it was an innovative but simple approach to a fantastic story.

Meg Rowe, Craig Erickson, Gabrielle Rose & Kevin McNulty in Blackbird Theatre's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The very first show I saw in 2010 still remains with me. I was excited about Blackbird Theatre‘s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? As soon as I heard the cast list. Gabrielle Rose. Kevin McNulty. Craig Erickson. Meg Rowe. I went in with high expectations. And I wasn’t disappointed. They brought so many nuances to the play, making it feel so real that there were moments I felt embarrassed to be watching these private moments, even knowing they were being staged for me to see. I leapt to my feet at the end of the show, and can’t wait to see it in its remount at the Arts Club in the coming months.

My second standing ovation of 2010 didn’t come until five months later when I was on vacation in Toronto and I took my host for the week, the lovely Amanda Ballard, to go see Catalyst Theatre’s Frankenstein at CanStage. I had heard so many great things about the show after its run in Vancouver in 2008 (which I missed), and once more my expectations were high. Did I have dramaturgical issues with the show? Yes. I thought it could stand to cut about 20 minutes (15 from Act 1, 5 from Act 2) to keep the story tighter and more focused, but that was my only issue with the show. The designs were stunning, the music haunting, the performances so physically distinct and the images created by the combination of all of those elements still stick with me. I can’t wait to see more work from Catalyst theatre.

Tarragon Theatre's If We Were Birds

I also saw If We Were Birds at Tarragon Theatre while I was visiting Toronto. I knew very little about the show before going to see it. I knew it was a retelling of a greek myth, but it wasn’t one that I was familiar with, and I knew that I wanted to see something at Tarragon because so many shows i have worked on over the years have had their premieres there. What I did not expect was a production so haunting I couldn’t bring myself to fully clap at the end, let alone stand as I wanted. Complete with a chorus, this production used incredible simplicity to create images that haunt me still. Blood dripping from the corner of a young woman’s mouth. A disturbing shadow play. Choral voices that echo in my head. Stunning.

The fourth excellent show I saw this year, was something I saw by accident. I was in town from Chemainus for only a couple of days, popping into town to see friends and one of them said to me, “Have you seen anything at the Neanderthal Festival yet?” I hadn’t, and soon I was on a bus heading to see a show I knew nothing about. It took only seconds of arriving at the theatre and getting the program for the show to start seeing names I recognized. Countries Shaped Like Stars (Mi Casa Theatre) was directed by Pat Gauthier who I was acquainted with from the 2008 Vancouver Fringe, but knew better through twitter. I then spent an hour being transported by Gwendolyn Magnificent and Bartholomew Spectacular from islands to constellations as they sang, danced, and played their way through the story. Technologically speaking, it was utterly simple (in fact, they advertise it as available to tour to living rooms!) but each spoon, jar, mandolin, ladder, balloon, lamp, etc was a part of the journey, usually when I least expected. I still hear the songs in my head sometimes. It was a perfect excursion with my imagination. You can check out the Countries Shaped Like Stars trailer on YouTube

Josue Laboucane & Nevada Robert Yates in The Exquisite Hour

The fringe festival is always a bit of an adventure – there will be some awful shows and some good shows, but I think I somewhat discounted the ability of the fringe to present a show that would stand with the most excellent things I saw all year. I was wrong. Relephant Theatre‘s The Exquisite Hour lived fully up to its name. When I arrived at the venue I was greeted with a mason jar of lemonade and then experienced a beautiful story. It was an absolute gem of a show, and one of the few fringe shows that really felt fully realized. I smiled, I laughed, and I cared so greatly for the characters by the end of the hour.

After three years of trying, I finally saw the Electric Company’s Studies in Motion in Edmonton at the Citadel. The projection design for this show, combined with its choreography is what makes it so phenomenal. An exploration of movement and the human body, it’s the images from this play that stick with me rather than the story. And I’m so completely okay with that. As the female performers ran across the stage with white fabric flowing behind them or the men hopped with their briefcases or a naked figure simply walked from one side to the other, there was such beauty.

Vancouver Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor.

On a completely different side of the art form, Vancouver Opera‘s Lucia di Lammermoor earned my third standing ovation of the year. I am by no means an opera buff, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a beautifully sung aria, an elegant staging that played so forcefully with perspective, or a love story that brought me to tears. I highly doubt this is the last we’ll hear of Michael Fabiano, and I hope Vancouver Opera will be bringing back Eglise Gutierrez (who i first saw in 2009 in Rigoletto).

Honorable mentions:
- Dancing the night away at Dance Marathon (Bluemouth Inc/Boca Del Lupo) wasn’t something I expected to enjoy, in fact I went in as a grouch, but came out with a new spring in my step.
- Carousel Theatre’s A Year with Frog & Toad was an absolute joy to experience, especially alongside a room full of five year olds who were seeing their literary heros come to life.
- I’m still trying to wrap my head around Tear the Curtain! (Arts Club/Electric Company), but I think that was the point. One of the best uses of technology in the theatre that I have ever seen, not just in 2010.
- I’m curious to see The Trespassers again when it opens at the Vancouver Playhouse, because one of the things I loved about the production at the Belfry in Victoria was the intimacy afforded by the smaller space. Amitai Marmorstein is fantastic in this show.
- The co-op production of Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother was absolutely heartbreaking. I just wish more people had seen it.

Three to See: January 2010

I’m changing things up a bit. I figured it’s a new year, so I might as well.  The first change is right here.  Instead of what I have done for the past year where I list all the shows I want to see in a given month I am going to list the three shows that I believe are MUST SEES in the Greater Vancouver region.

Will I be seeing all of these shows? Hopefully.

Will I be talking about shows other than these? Of course.

But if you can only see one show in Vancouver this month, allow me to recommend that it be one of these three.

1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (presented by Blackbird Theatre Company at The Cultch.  On now through January 16)

Who’s in it: Kevin McNulty, Gabrielle Rose, Craig Erickson, &  Meg Rowe

The Buzz: First you have the script – a piece of Albee’s genius – which weaves perfectly the four characters & their story-lines. Then there is the cast – you could not ask for a better quartet of actors.  In addition, there is the company’s track record; the last two shows Blackbird presented both won best production Jessie Awards (Peer Gynt in 2007, The Truimph of Love in 2008).

Important Info:  Tickets range from $15-35 and can be purchased online through Tickets Tonight or by calling the Cultch box office at 604-251-1363.

2. Nix (presented by The Only Animal at Lost Lake in Whistler, BC.  January 22 – February 27th)

Who’s in it: Jennie Esdale & Rylan Wilkie

The Buzz: When Nix premiered in Calgary last year it received 5 stars from the Calgary Herald as well as two Betty awards (lighting & set design) and was nominated for three more (costume design, outstanding new play & outstanding production).  It’s set entirely in the snow and ice of Whistler’s lost lake & promises, among other things, a snowman death scene.

Important Info: Though the show runs until February 27th, it will be impossible to go up Whistler unless you have Olympic event tickets.  In order to make sure that Vancouver-ites have a chance to see the show, The Only Animal has provided cheaper tickets from January 22 – February 3, as well as a bus to shuttle people up & down the mountain,  making it an easy day trip for an additional $20.

3. American Buffalo (presented by Main Street Theater Co-op at Little Mountain Studios, January 13 – 23rd)

Who’s in it: Ryan Beil, Josh Drebit, & Daryl King

The Buzz: Last year Main Street Theatre Co-op presented Glengarry Glen Ross and it got glowing reviews across the board, along with Jessie nominations for Best Production & Best Supporting Actor (Alex Ferguson).  This time the cast is smaller and they are transforming Little Mountain Studios into the junk shop the characters work in and the audience will be sitting right in the shop with them.

Important Info: Tickets are pay-what-you-can (suggested donation of $12) & Main Street Studios only seat about 40, so book early to make sure you get a seat.