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 Best – Ride 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 Lupo, Electric Company Theatre, Neworld 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:
What I Saw