Tag Archive: Catalyst 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)

Playhouse Closing Photos

I was sad to not be able to join the 200+ people who gathered at the Vancouver Playhouse tonight at 7pm for the vigil/memorial/rally. I walked over to the Playhouse after my show came down tonight. When I got there shortly after 10pm there was no one standing outside, but the flowers, candles, signs and notes remained. A young couple leaving the Canucks game walked past. “What’s going on?” they asked.  “The Playhouse is closing. Tonight is likely the company’s final performance.” “Oh wow,” they said, “We’ve never seen a show here but it should definitely stay around.  Can we sign the poster?” “Of course.” Slowly others began to arrive – people who felt it was simply right to be there for what may well be the Playhouse’s final curtain call.  And as we stood outside waiting, the Ballet BC show next door came down and we watched those patrons begin to file out.  We listened as they walked past and in many cases found out for the first time that the Playhouse was closing. We watched them pick up the sharpies waiting to sign their names to the posters of support.

When the show came down and the audience began to leave, I saw many familiar faces among the crowd.  They reported an amazing night of theatre, and a curtain call that made them cry.  The cast of Catalyst Theatre‘s Hunchback took their bows and gestured to the booth as they have done every night in their run.  And then they slowly turned 360 degrees, giving the applause and ovation to the company that has hosted them here.

I didn’t have my camera with me, but I did have my iPhone.  Here are just some of the signs, flowers, and notes left outside the Playhouse tonight.

[Galleries 2 not found]

Update:  A handful of the folks on twitter have been looking for a copy of Morris Panych’s letter. Using my own photos and a handful of others’ I’ve transcribed it below.

Playhouse Forever

The Vancouver Playhouse is more than just the sum of its parts. Yes, it employs hundreds of actors, directors, designers, administrators, ushers, builders, technicians; but it’s what the theatre gives back to the community that really counts. The Playhouse has been central to the cultural identity of the city, the province, and the nation, for fifty years. Without such cultural institutions as this, we are diminished collectively. Our very hearts and souls and the hearts and souls of our community are tied to this theatre. One should fight with all of the demise of this company or any other cultural organization that has been so central to the development of cultural life here, as it represents the very voice of Vancouver. Whether or not you are a regular theatre-goer in this community, you are a member of this community and this theatre belongs to you. It is through cultural institutions like this theatre that the collective voice is heard, that consciousness and art has a home and that life is breathed into the concrete and steal of this city. Vancouver needs culture to stay alive, vibrant, relevant; it’s more than just real estate.

Please call your City Councillor, your MPP, or your MP, and make your voice heard. Stand up for cultural life in this city; stand up for your city.

Morris Panych

Grieving the Playhouse

The text messages, emails, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook messages started shortly after 2pm.  The Vancouver Playhouse had announced that after 49 seasons instead of launching the celebratory 50th anniversary season, they were closing down due to overwhelming debt. Closing night of the current show – tomorrow – will be the final performance. As the day has gone on and I have continued to speak with friends and colleagues the responses are the same: shock, anger, and grief. For many the Playhouse was a first exposure to professional theatre. For others it was the stage they dreamed of one day gracing or celebrated achieving that goal. For others still it has been a place of employment.  For all of us it has been a touchstone of our cultural community.

My ticket stub for the 2001 production of The Edible Woman

I first attended the Playhouse in fall of 2001. October 25th to be exact. I have the ticket stub to prove it. I was in grade 10 and my high school in Vernon, BC had a program in the drama department where twice a year they would load a greyhound bus with 50 students and 5 chaperones and drive to Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton or Calgary for four or five days of seeing theatre, touring schools, and getting experiences we wouldn’t get in Vernon.  That trip was my first experience of professional theatre other than TYA. I don’t know how many of you saw The Edible Woman, but the lights came up and there was a man, naked, in a bathtub, thrusting against the air and then Jillian Fargey slid herself in under him while narrating. So there’s one first the Playhouse afforded me: my first time seeing a man’s bare behind. I remember not loving the show, but I also know that I’ve previously blogged about how the bed that flung out on to stage in that show felt like magic to my young self.  We saw many other shows on that trip (Flying Blind at the Arts Club’s Granville Island stage, Elizabeth Rex at the Stanley, All Grown Up at the Gateway to name a few) and I look back on that trip as being one of the places that my love of theatre began to flourish.

My ticket stub for the 2012 production of Hunchback

Most recently, I was at the Playhouse last night.  It was my fourth (and final) time to see Catalyst Theatre‘s Hunchback. I’d been going as a volunteer for The Cultch which meant that in exchange for sitting at a table and telling people about the upcoming shows at The Cultch I got to go see Hunchback for free. I knew it was my last time going to see Hunchback, but I had no idea it would be my last time attending a show by the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.

Members of the Vancouver theatre community are planning a memorial for tomorrow night before the final performance.  They are planning to gather at the Playhouse at 7pm.  There is more information available via the facebook event page. I can’t go as I will be backstage elsewhere, but I will certainly be thinking of them.

There is a large part of me that is not ready to give up hope. During the press event they repeatedly said that with the help of sponsors and/or donors it would be possible to salvage the company. While I pray that they will find the support they need, I recognize that it is unlikely.

A couple of times already today I’ve found myself overwhelmed by waves of grief as I try to imagine Vancouver without the Playhouse. Their impact has stretched far beyond their performances. I can’t think of a single company in Vancouver that hasn’t rented their rehearsal room or rented or borrowed props or costumes. And I’m sure their are implications that I have not yet begun to consider and that we won’t begin to see until it is too late.

Allowing the Playhouse to cease to exist is a huge mistake for Vancouver and for the province of British Columbia.  It is one of Canada’s oldest theatres and has been the cultural heart for this city. Someone on facebook (I can’t remember who at the moment) referred to today as a Cultural Black Friday. And I agree.

Please use the comments to share your memories of the Playhouse – shows you loved (or hated), firsts, and other stories.

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.

On the Canadian Theatre Conversation

This morning I happened to be online at the right time to catch the audience development chat on twitter. Hosted by Praxis Theatre, with special guests Catalyst Theatre and Canstage, the conversation quickly evolved to include artists, companies, and critics from across Canada as well as a handful of US theatre people. The conversation was held under the hashtag #auddev (and actually began trending in Canada!).

In the hour and a half that we all gathered around our computers and discussed the role of social media in audience development for theatre I did not see any new ideas. There was primarily a discussion of what had worked for some and whether or not actors would be bothered by people tweeting in the audience. There were questions of time commitment required to engage in social media and there was consideration of the Such Tweet Sorrow campaign.

It was not the content of the conversation that excited me. It was the fact that the conversation was happening.

Although I have been quite involved in the 2amtheatre movement and the conversations that shaped that and that have spawned from it, they have been primarily US based. Today was, in my recollection, the first time that Canadian theatre artists have used twitter to have a nation-wide conversation about the role of social media – in fact – to have a nation-wide conversation about anything. Based on this conversation new relationships between companies and artists have been formed. And this gives me great hope.

When I first discovered the “theatrosphere” through the prompting of Simon Ogden, he, Kris Joseph, and the folks at Praxis were really the three Canadian theatre blogs to read. They were engaging with big ideas and collaborating cross-country to keep a dialogue going. In the three years since that time more and more Canadian theatre blogs have popped up (I think of Nancy Kenny, Sabrina Evertt, Rebecca Coleman, Lindsay Price and TheatreFolk, Jeremy Crittenden, and a number of theatre companies), but the ones that I have found & follow are still primarily BC, Alberta, Ontario & Quebec based. And it’s not that I’m simply most interested in those provinces, but despite hunting and searching for others, I haven’t been able to find them. I know working theatre artists in many of the other provinces as well as the territories, but there has been a real lack of online engagement on both an individual and community level. (If you know of any Canadian theatre blogs, please share them in the comments so I can follow them, especially prairie or maritime based ones!)

As I’ve watching US theatre companies host symposiums on play development and audience development all across the country, based on conversations that have started on blogs and twitter, I have watched with anticipation, hoping that soon Canada would follow suit. I have not felt that I was in a place to start the conversation – I’m not a producer or presenter of theatre in Canada – but as an artist, I care that we are talking and sharing ideas and I look forward to the next part of the conversation.

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.

Back from Toronto

I’m writing this from 39,623 feet, currently somewhere above Wisconsin (if the television screen in front of me can be believed). I’m on my way home to Vancouver and am already finding myself missing the people I met over the past eight days. One of the main reasons for my trip was to try and tour some theatres & get some interviews, but I was not able to arrange for either of those things to happen. The opinion of the theatre artists I met in Toronto was that this is not abnormal – for someone to reach out to local companies and not receive any sort of response. While I found that situation a little bit discouraging I did not let it spoil the trip for me in any way. I learned a lot about the Toronto theatre scene from the artists I met and shows I saw and I see a number of ways that the things we discussed over the course of the week may come into play in the work I am doing in the near future.

Here are just a few of my highlights from the trip:

  • Meeting Amanda & Brittney for the first time after over a year of online friendship and hitting it off so well that all of a sudden it was 3am on a Monday night and we were still giggling. As discussed recently on the 2am Theatre website, Twitter and an online relationship lets you jump past the initial feeling out of the friendship and just be friends.
  • Seeing Catalyst Theatre’s Frankenstein at CanStage and then spending the entire rest of the week figuring out why we loved it so much despite dramaturgical issues. I now completely understand why my Vancouver friends are still talking about this show two years after it came to town.
  • Exploring Toronto on foot & Public Transit: St. Lawrence Market, King Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, Bloor street, Bay street, (basically all of downtown), Kensington Market, Roncesvalles, the CN Tower, Union Station, and much more.
  • Going to see a show I knew nothing about because someone I knew from online was going to see it and then leaving with her & her boyfriend at intermission because the show was just that terrible. Instead we went out for coffee, tore the show apart, and got to know each other better than we ever would have if we stayed to watch the whole play.
  • Getting kidnapped by Amanda and taken (along with Brittney) to Niagara Falls in the middle of a lightening storm. We were so excited that we created a hashtag for the trip, laughing all the while at how big of geeks that made us. And then a racoon popped out of a garbage can. And Brittney did a toe dance.
  • Nancy Kenny coming up from Ottawa for the weekend. Another internet friendship brought offline.
  • A midnight stand-up comedy show called the Canuck Cabaret run by Nancy’s friend Paul Hutchinson in a closed movie rental store complete with ukelele songs and light twirling.
  • Visiting the Harry Potter Exhibition at the science centre with Brittney. It had all sorts of props, costumes & set pieces from the movies. We got to sit in Hagrid’s chair and pull up a shrieking potted plant. Sadly there were no photos allowed within the exhibit, but the attention to detail – right down to the buttons & clasps & textures & fonts & shading of feathers – blew us away. Can you imagine if theatre props paid that much attention to picking the right font for an on stage document? One of the most interesting things was looking at some of the costumes for Viktor Krum and noticing a recurring image of talons. One jacket had talon style toggles as the fastener, another cape had a full talon attaching it to the sash. It’s the kind of thing that in theatre, because there are no close ups, might not ever get noticed, but still ties things together so beautifully.
  • Being asked by the lady at the Harry Potter Exhibit if Brittney & I were best friends who had known each other forever and then owning up (through gales of laughter) to having met for the first time a week earlier.
  • Making gluten free, dairy free cupcakes & brownies with coconut cream icing. And having them actually taste REALLY good.
  • Visiting with Amanda until we fell asleep in the middle of what we were saying.

I had an amazing week, but Vancouverites, let me put your minds at ease: I don’t want to move to Toronto. Vancouver is home. I would love to have more opportunities to spend time in Toronto whether on vacation or through work. I want to spend more time there, I want to work there, I want to learn from the theatre community there, I’d love to be there even for a few weeks a year if for no other reason than to see the people again. And hey, there are now at least three couches I can crash on when I decide to return to the city.  But it isn’t home.

3 To See: PuSh Festival

Two day ago was the official opening for Vancouver’s PuSh Festival, but I’m running a little behind (Sorry!).  The PuSh Festival is one of my favourite yearly events because of the high caliber & variety of artistic performances that they bring to town.   I also volunteer with them – this is my third or fourth year doing so (I can’t really remember).

As a volunteer I was at the opening night reception – my job – clearing empty glasses, ensuring the cheese plates stayed full & making sure the bar staff had everything they needed.  I had a great time, got to see the new SFU Woodward’s building (specifically the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre), and got hear the responses from the audience (overall positive with a few “self-indulgent” moments).  The lobby was thick with people – it was difficult to make my way through the crowds, and at midnight we finally had to kick people out!  Now that’s an opening.

So now that the PuSh Festival is officially open, what shows should you be seeing?

1. Nevermore (Catalyst Theatre,presented by The Cultch & The Arts Club at the Granville Island Stage)

It’s tagline is: “A whimsical and chilling musical fairytale for adults.”  For me that was enough to know that I wanted to see it.  Add to that this video & the overwhelmingly positive response to Catalyst’s production of Frankenstein at PuSh 2008.  This is one you have to see!

2. Poetics: A Ballet Brut (Nature Theatre of Oklahoma at the Roundhouse Community Centre)

The basic premise of this show is that they take common, everyday gestures (brushing one’s hair, eating pizza, etc) and turn them into something more.   At first this didn’t sound particularly exciting to me, but a friend of mine showed me one of the many online videos (which I am not posting because I think it actually gives too much away) & I am really excited to see this show.

3. The Passion Project (Reid Farrington at Pacific Theatre)

This piece – part video mash up, part dance, part acting – is not the normal fare you’ll find on the PT stage, but I can’t wait to see it.  One of the blogs I frequent listed Reid’s upcoming NY show based on Alred Hitchcock as one of their most anticipated shows of 2010, so I will eagerly anticipate The Passion Project.

In addition to these three, there are 11 other shows as a part of the PuSh Festival and I encourage you to take in as many as possible.