Tag Archive: Jesus Hopped the “A” Train

2011 in Review: Theatrical Excellence

I’m not a critic or reviewer.  That has never been my goal in writing this blog. If you’re looking for some of the critics 2011 lists, I’ve found the one for The Georgia Straight, The Globe and Mail, Gay Vancouver and The Vancouver Courier.

Each year I wonder how to recognize the truly excellent work I see each year. I’ve tried a top ten list (2009). I’ve tried a top six list (2010). Neither felt quite right for what I wanted to say. So now I try again. Another year. Another format. Let’s see if I can’t take some inspiration for the annual “Best of Vancouver” and make my own “Best of Vancouver Theatre” list.

The cast of Ride the Cyclone. Photo from the official Ride the Cyclone blog

Best Show that Everyone Agrees is the BestRide the Cyclone (Atomic Vaudeville)
I am a stingy standing ovation giver, but this show had me on my feet before the curtain call lights even came up. Why is this little show from Victoria topping critics list across the country? Biting humor. Vivid characters. Song and dance numbers so varied in tone/style/content that you never know where you’ll be next. The best “turn your cell phones off” speech ever. EVER. A cast that takes the quirky and makes it both heart-breaking and hilarious, all the while singing and dancing. The show uses low-tech/budget tricks to great result and the indie feel is definitely part of its charm. I went into this show having been told that it was fantastic, but I remember saying to myself, “Okay.  Now you know it might not be everything you’ve been told it is.  Let go of your expectations.”  And the best part was that it exceeded every one of those expectations.

The Best “Theatrical Experience” - La Marea (Boca del Lupo with Mariano Pensotti for the PuSh Festival)
Walking into the zero-block of water street for that week in January was like nothing else I have experienced in going to the theatre. Both ends of the busy street closed down. People everywhere. Giant flood lights light the street and then like the flip of a breaker the flood lights go out and music begins, theatre lights pop on to unexpected places, and projected surtitles appear. Each of the nine scenes were only 10 minutes long, but you had to walk the whole block to see them, and depending which end of the street you started at you had a different experience.  I’m sure it was a logistical challenge (kudos to the stage management/production management team for pulling it off!) but the effect was so stunning I went back down to the block two more nights just to watch people interact with the piece. My favourite thing was seeing people who had no idea that their favourite restaurant’s patio was now playing home to a play and that by eating there they had inadvertently become extras. Or people who just happened to be out walking in the Gastown neighbourhood asking a volunteer what exactly was going on and deciding to stay and see what all the fuss was. Most of the nights the block was wall-to-wall people and when it threatened to rain they were ready – volunteers were standing by handing out branded umbrellas. Free. Outdoors. Huge. La Marea redefined the possibilities for me.

Honorable Mention – Party This Weekend (The House Party Collective) – Was it a show or a house party? It was really a bit of both. With four intertwining story lines, a house and its yard for the set, and lots of audience interaction it was a fantastic experience!

Circa. Image provided.

Best Show I Still Can’t Categorize - Circa (Circa at PuSh Festival)
This wasn’t my first time seeing Circa perform as a part of the PuSh festival, but as always they defy being easily labelled.  The Australian company defines themselves as “circus that moves the heart and soul” but their performance lends itself to comparisons to both theatre and dance.  No matter what you call it though,  it elicited an audible response from myself and from others in the audience as the performers flung themselves through the air at each other or moved a single muscle so specifically that it could be noticed from the back of the theatre. It was an absolutely stunning night.

Honorable Mention – Dress Me Up In Your Love – Theatre Replacement – Part story-telling, part fashion show, part music, I found this show at times hilarious, at times moving and I never need to see Andrew McNee in a tight dress again.

The Best Piece of Dance for Sitting on the Edge of Your Seat - Emergence (Crystal Pite for the National Ballet of Canada’s 60th Anniversary Tour)
My dance knowledge is really very limited, but I take whatever opportunity I can to attend dance. Crystal Pite’s Emergence, the final of four pieces on the National Ballet of Canada’s 60th Anniversary Tour had me on the edge of my seat the moment it started. Intricate. Precise. Stunning. It was one of those pieces where I didn’t want to blink because I was afraid that I would miss something amazing.

Honorable Mention – Moth (Donald Sales for Ballet BC‘s 25th Anniversary) – A bare bulb dangling on stage. Sign Language and Silent Screams. This ballet exploration of grief was breath-taking.

Ingrid Hansen acting with Celery. Photo by Al Smith.

Best of the Fringe Fest - Little Orange Man (Snafu Dance Theatre)
The Fringe is a funny festival in the sense that it really is a free for all.  Anyone can do a show. You can end up seeing ANYTHING on stage. But when Ingrid walked on stage and began using a piece of bread to tell us a story, I wasn’t prepared for how touching this show would be.  Yes, it had celery sticks as characters and involved Ingrid climbing out of a giant suitcase.  It had some of the funnest low-tech magic that I’ve seen on stage in a while, and its not every day that you watch an audience hold tiny shoes in the air and conjure up small children.  The show left me feeling wistful for childhood and delighted to see what Ingrid will think up next.

Honorable Mention – Peter ‘n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Hotel (Peter ‘n’ Chris) – C’mon….they have flashy jackets, can do a slow motion car crash, and are funny.  What more do you need from your Fringe experience?

Best Show for An Audience of 15 or Less - Tape (Alley Theatre)
Crammed into a small room at the Waldorf Hotel with 11 other audience members plus this cast of three, being in the room as they fought was an exhilarating experience.  It’s what site-specific theatre does when at it’s best – puts you right there with the characters, knowing that there is no other place in which this story would have as much impact.

Honorable Mention – Whale – Kyle Jespersen – In the intimate Anderson Street Space, writer and performer Kyle Jespersen took us door-to-door selling Bibles and waiting for a sign.  I believe it was a show in progress and the note I wrote to myself that night after the show was “I can’t wait to see what this turns into.”

Rumble Productions' Community Dinner. Photo provided.

Best ReInvention of Genre - Community Dinner (Rumble Productions with Boca del LupoElectric Company TheatreNeworld Theatre & MOSAIC)
This was not like any “dinner theatre” you have ever been to before, I would guarantee it. The four companies who share the Progress Lab space teamed up with MOSAIC – an organization that seeks to empower recent immigrants – and for three months prior to the show teams comprised of professional actors and newcomers to Canada met up, learned how to prepare various ethnic recipes, and created a short piece of theatre connected to the recipe.  Each of the four pieces was as diverse as the companies they came from, and at the end of the night the cast and audience sat down to a meal of the food that had been prepared in front of them.

Honorable Mention – Visions of Vancouver – Pi Theatre - Performed for a live audience these radio plays were also recorded for FREE release as podcasts. With a simple staging and at times with script in hand, these four actors performed in a way that worked live and that works in an audio-only medium.

Best Show to Make Me Want New Toys - Wicked (Broadway Across Canada)
I don’t know how, as a person who cares about the technical side of theatre at all, it is possible to see a show like Wicked and NOT want to play with all their toys. The choreography of the set pieces alone was stunning and the costumes were so intricate. The sheer calibre and artistry of all involved made it such a visual feast to go along with such a well loved musical. The whole experience was so lovely.  I enjoy seeing the big broadway shows when they come to town, but this one topped many of them for being so on the ball technically.

Honorable Mention – Penny Plain – Ronnie Burkett at the Cultch – With 24 custom made marionnettes, I don’t think you can see one of Ronnie’s shows and not want to play with them, or at the very least examine the intricate strings that allow the performer to make even a pinky finger move.

Best Show to Give Multiple Standing Ovations – Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (Glass City Theatre)
As someone who rarely gives a standing ovation, it is even more rare for me to do so more than once for the same production.  Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train got two or three from me during its three week run. It was a heart-breaking ride that moved me over and over again as I saw it and that continues to challenge my opinions.

 

Other Year In Review Posts:
Hard Work
What I Saw 

 

2011 in Review: Hard Work

I am so blessed to make a living doing what I love with fantastic people all around me. 2011 was no exception.  I worked hard, and the hard work paid off. It was a year full of highlights, especially the world premiere of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades’ Re:Union by Sean Devine.  It was the most challenging piece I have ever worked on in pretty much every way: technically, thematically, and working in a time crunch. But we did it. And we did it without compromising the artistic vision that made the show what it was. The video below gives a small hint at what we pulled off, magically, in 2.5 weeks of rehearsal.

If the video doesn’t display properly, please click here to watch it on vimeo.

In chronological order my year was as follows:

1. Stage Manager - The Pillowman - Wild Geese Equity Co-op

Ashley O'Connell, Mike Wasko & Aaron Hursh in The Pillowman. Photo by Michael Sider

2. Sound Technician - Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train - Glass City Theatre

Rob Olguin as Angel Cruz. Photo by Itai Erdal.

 

3. BYOV Coordinator & Onsite Facilitator – Vancouver International Fringe Festival

Photoshoot for Melissa Aston's Duck Off as part of the Onsite program. Photo by Lois Dawson.

4. Box Office Manager – Prodigals - 20-Something Theatre

Brandyn Eddy, Timothy Johnston & Jameson Parker in Prodigals. Image provided.

5. Sound Designer – The Verona Project - Stones Throw Productions

Susie Coodin as Juliet and Maryanne Renzetti as the Nurse. Photo provided.

 

6. Stage Manager – Homegrown - A staged reading in support of SummerWorks

If the video doesn’t work, you can watch it HERE.

7. Stage Manager – ReUnion - Horseshoes and Hand Grenades & Pacific Theatre

Evan Frayne in ReUnion. Photo by Emily Cooper.

8. Stage Manager – After Jerusalem – Solo Collective

Andrew McNee and Deb Williams in After Jerusalem. Photo by Itai Erdal.

 
For additional Year in Review posts see:
Shows I Saw.

My First Time: The Collaborators

Sabrina and I at the 2011 Jessie Awards with the "Best Production" Jessie that 'A' Train won.

This project is something that I’ve had in mind for a couple of years, but wasn’t sure I could do it.  At least not on my own.  That’s where a great teammate comes in.

Sabrina Evertt is the artistic producer of Twenty Something Theatre. Almost four years ago she was one of the very first people who interviewed me for a job as stage manager for their production of Suburbia.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but we agreed at that point that we wanted to eventually work together. When Sabrina needed an extra pair of hands to help with auditions, load in for the cabaret, running FOH/Box Office, I often volunteered.  And when I was hiring designers for Glass City’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, I was thrilled to be able to hire her.  And we became friends, but still hadn’t worked together (something that was hindered by the fact that I’m now an Equity member and her company is non-equity).

We were having dinner back in July before one of the apprentice shows at Pacific Theatre and talking about scripts when I pulled out a script I happened to have with me and said, “You know, I think you need to read this.” I told her that I thought the script was funny, but wanted another opinion anyways. A week later she emailed and we began to plan the reading because she agreed – it read as funny on the page, but how would it translate out loud?

I am so excited to be collaborating with Sabrina on this project.  She has a lot more producing experience than I do but she wanted an opportunity to work with Equity members, something she was unable to do with her own company.  So here we are. Teaming up and moving forward. Finally getting to work together. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Wow (The 2011 Jessie Awards)

Angela Konrad, me, & Sabrina Evertt with Glass City Theatre's Best Production Jessie. June 20, 2011

I had a pretty fantastic night last night.  I danced until my feet bled. I cheered until I lost my voice. I partied with the Vancouver Theatre community in recognition of a great year of theatre in Vancouver. And most of all, I celebrated with friends as they were nominated for and won awards. A huge congratulations is in order to Rob Olguin who took home the “Best Actor – Small Theatre” Jessie.  Also, Drew Facey (Set Design – Small Theatre – for Playland at PT), Ron Reed & the PT team (Significant Artistic Achievement – Small Theatre – Curation and Execution of an Outstanding Season), Evan Frayne (Sam Payne Award), and Cheryl Hutcherson (Mary Phillips Award for Behind the Scenes Involvement). I am so thrilled that I know all of you and get to create theatre with you.

The highlight for me  was the announcement of the “Outstanding Production – Small Theatre” Jessie being given to Glass City Theatre’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train.

A year ago I was in Chemainus looking at my computer and trying to figure out a budget that would allow us to hire the talented people we wanted to work with.  I am so proud to see what came of that.  I was sitting at a table with Sabrina Evertt, the costume designer for ‘A’ Train, and I think she just about fell out of her seat when they announced it.

Mike & Rob – I can’t wait to see what you do next.

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For a list of all the winners, head over to the official Jessie Awards website. Or check out the live blog from Rebecca Bolwitt (Aka Miss604).  Can you find me in a photo on that post?

10 Reasons to go see Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

This is the part where I am telling you what to do. If you are in or near Vancouver, go see Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Pacific Theatre. It runs from tonight until April 2nd. You can book your tickets online here. I can wait.

Now, maybe you are asking yourself why you should see this show. Well I will tell you. I will, in fact, give you TEN REASONS.  But first, I must confess two things to you: first of all, it is produced by Glass City Theatre, the company that I co-founded (but am no longer with) and secondly, I’ve spent the last week in the theatre with them assisting with sound.

Here are the reasons you should see the show:

#1 – Stephen Adly Guirgis, playwright.  This man is brilliant.  I loved The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and I love the script of ‘A’ Train as well.

#2 – Angela Konrad, director.  If you saw Grace at Pacific Theatre a couple of seasons back, she won the Jessie for directing that, and this is of that same calibre.

#3 – Itai Erdal, Set & Lighting designer.  There’s a reason Itai has a reputation as one of the best designers in town, and this show is no exception.  It is stunning to look at.

#4 – Sabrina Evertt, Costume designer.  More likely you know Sabrina as the artistic director of 20 Something Theatre, but she is also an incredibly talented costume designer.  This show just proves it.

Rob Olguin as Angel Cruz. Photo by Itai Erdal.

#5 – #9 – Rob Olguin, Andrew McNee, Carl Kennedy, Kerri Norris, & Evan Frayne: The Cast.  I have watched this show approximately 10 times in the past week.  And last night at the preview I was floored once again by this cast.  They are talented, they are smart, and they give such life to their characters.

#10 – I’m not the only one who thinks it’s fantastic.  Check out what people are saying about the show:

“Jesus Hopped the A Train” and so should you. An amazing show from @PacificTheatre featuring a sublimely talented cast. Go see it. – @tarakjpratt on twitter

GREAT SHOW!!! – Stefano Giulianetti on Facebook

“Ok – honestly – I’ve been waiting all season for the opening of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and after just sitting on the dress rehearsal I’m just that much more excited for Friday. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this proud to work for Pacific Theatre!” – Alison Chisholm on Facebook

“I saw the production ‘Jesus Hopped the A Train’ last night at Pacific Theatre. It was one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I have seen in this city in quite some time. Thought provoking and packed full of talent. Sound, Lights, everything came together to make this a fantastic production. Thank you!!” – Susan Currie on www.glasscitytheatre.com

“This is a great show. Script. Acting. Directing. Thought provoking. Gut wrenching. Vancouver is on a good run of theatre lately.” – Mike Wasko on Facebook

“Just saw Jesus Hopped The A Train …… Fuckin’ A! Go see it. Crime, crack, redemption(?), and multiple murder…. What’s not to love.” – Maria Denholm on Facebook

“amazing show. one of the best I’ve seen.” – Glynis Thorp on Facebook

“Hop on. Right now because you only have until April 2. And yes, they swear. Get over it; if it was a movie you would.  What do I need to understand about a convicted murderer, prison and despair? That is not remotely relevant to my life. But then again, we’re all made of the same human stuff, aren’t we?” – Kimberly Dawn on facebook

“This production of Jesus Hopped the “A” Train contains some of the most exquisite acting you’re ever going to see….Robert Olguin plays Angel with the subtlety and authenticity of a gifted screen performer; not to get hyperbolic or anything, but watching him is a bit like watching Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Olguin’s performance never shows off or explains; his character simply reacts in the ways he does because of who he is and what’s happening to him.  And Carl Kennedy’s Lucius is a mind-blower: witty, savvy, terrified, charming…As written, Valdez is a bit of a cartoon, but actor Andrew McNee shades it in with gleeful menace. Kerri Norris’s Mary Jane is a persuasive combination of competence and disintegration. And Evan Frayne nails the smallest role in the play, a guard named D’Amico, providing some of the most moving moments of the evening. Itai Erdal provides subtle lighting as well as a stunner of a minimalist set. The excellent, grinding sound design is by Joel Stephanson.  Director Angela Konrad is the woman who pulled it all together. And this production marks the mainstage debut of Glass City Theatre. Now there’s an entrance.” – Colin Thomas, Georgia Straight

“For a thought provoking, gut wrenching, tear inducing drama that has plenty of laughs check out this new company and revel in the talent and be carried away by the story of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train.” – David C. Jones, OutTV

“Both Kennedy and Olguin are spectacular here although I was simply mesmerized by Olguin’s portrayal of the street-wise Latino.  From the opening scene where Angel struggles to remember the Lord’s Prayer, to his attempt at the end with Hail Mary, Olguin hits each note of his character with such precision, that by the end of the show I too was in tears….Director Angela Konrad has orchestrated a cast and technical crew for a show that is near perfect.  Gritty, raw and thought-provoking, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is why I go to the theatre. If you see only one show this year, this should be it.” – Mark Robins, GayVancouver.net

Saying Good-Bye to Glass City

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned anything about my work with Glass City Theatre (the company I co-founded earlier this year).  Partly it’s because there hasn’t been anything exciting to say.  The Fringe Festival went well and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is still a few months away.  However; I now want to give an update on my involvement with Glass City.  Following a conversation with Rob, my co-founder, earlier this week, I have stepped down from an active role with the company and am moving into an advisory position.

When Rob and I met back in February my career was in a completely different place than where it is now – I was just beginning my first Equity apprenticeship and figured it would take a good two or three years for the apprenticeship process to be completed.  That of course, was not how things went – it’s now eight months later and I’m a full member of Equity, a fact that makes moving forward with Glass City very difficult.  As Rob put it, I now have the kind of career that they are hoping to emerge into.

As tough as it was, we agreed that its probably for the best if I step aside and support the company from a distance.

It makes me sad because I was really looking forward to working with a lot of the people involved with Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, especially director Angela Konrad.  In fact, that desire to work with such a great group of artists was one of the main reasons I was working to find ways to continue with the production.

It’s been a really hard decision for me to do this and not one I wanted to make.  But ultimately I think it will be best for both the company and I.  I wish them all the best with the production of the show and look forward to attending it and seeing their creation.

Introducing: Glass City Theatre

A few months ago I got an e-mail out of the blue from a friend of a friend.  It’s subject line was “A New Thing?” and inside it said:

Hello, my name is Rob Olguin. I have been talking with our mutual friends, Ron Reed and Angela Konrad recently and wanted to introduce myself to you….Recently the idea of…a new company has come up. We are in the process of determining what that might look like. After reading and enjoying your blog, and a glowing endorsement from Ron and Angela, I would love to get together and formally introduce myself. My dream is an ensemble company – working, training, and creating together – HOWEVER, the reality is, I don’t know a strong community of theatre artists up here yet. Are you free anytime this weekend or next week to get a coffee, introduce ourselves, and chat about this idea of a new company?

And that’s where it started. Coffee.

In actuality, coffee became a three hour conversation and when I left I was taking a script with me for consideration and seriously contemplating not just being a part of a new company, but co-founding it.  My mind was racing. I’d been contemplating producing for a couple of years but hadn’t taken any serious steps towards making it happen, even as a one off, and now I was looking at co-founding a company. Was I insane?! (Ken Davenport would argue not at all – you need to produce, not just talk about it!)

I talked to some people whose opinions I trust and told them what I was thinking: that I was terrified but excited.  Their response? “If you’re terrified of it that’s exactly why you should do it. You have the skill set necessary. Make it happen.”

I eventually e-mailed back and said that I was in. This lead to more coffees and beers. A name for the company. Glass City Theatre. An e-mail from Rob which read, “I can’t believe we are doing this! Lets be COURAGEOUS and down with Cowards and Nay-Sayers.” We added a third member to our little tribe: Michael Wipf who is experienced as a producer with the Push Festival & Touchstone Theatre. We took the leap and programmed two shows for our first year out.

The first show is Stretch Dog, a one-man show written & performed by Rob Olguin & directed by Michael Wipf as a Bring Your Own Venue production at Pacific Theatre during the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Think of the worst commercial you’ve ever seen. Now think of the poor jerk who had to be in it. He didn’t want to be there, but he’s got a wife, a baby, a mortgage, and believe it or not, talent. Trouble is, he’s also got an agent.

The second show is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the “A” Train which will run at Pacific Theatre from March 11 – April 2, 2011. I will, of course, be stage managing it, and it will be directed by Angela Konrad.

Rikers Island. Two men sit in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day. Lucius Jenkins is a serial killer who awaits execution, Angel Cruz stands accused of a murder he doesn’t believe was a crime. One has found God, the other needs to find himself. Visceral, gritty, harrow- ing – an uncompromising drama about contradiction, contrition and hypocrisy by the author of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

The website is in development and will contain our mandate and all the other things that theatre company websites have. This morning I got the proofs for the Pacific Theatre season brochure which includes info on our shows and all of a sudden it was real.  It wasn’t just me and the guys making plans over beers at a restaurant; it was all of a sudden a real company.   And let’s be honest. I’m still terrified. It’s a big commitment. But I’m also excited.  It’s a huge leap, but I’m holding my breath and flinging myself over the edge.  Because after all, the most exciting things – the most exciting art – happen when you let go and go for it.