SFU Woodwards presents “The Alice” and “Black Box 2011″

Let me begin by saying that I will not be reviewing shows at my alma mater, the School for Contemporary Arts at SFU. I will, however, shamelessly plug them on the internet before I watch them.

A lot of changes have occurred since I began at SFU in 2005. My first SFU acting instructor, Marc Diamond, sadly passed away that fall while writing his Alice play. I’ve graduated with my BFA (and lost some of my enthusiasm to the need to not be poor, sadly) and SFU Contemporary Arts has moved from the leaky-roofed old facilities on Burnaby Mountain and into the shiny new Woodwards complex on Hastings Street. Cosmetically, the new SFU theatre spaces are unrecognizable compared to the old SFU Mainstage and its hillbilly little cousin, Studio II.

In spite of the new facilities and the new faces gracing SFU’s stages today, Marc’s Alice play, and his beloved partner Penelope Stella’s commitment to realizing it onstage, has remained. Until March 5, “The Alice: A play by Marc Diamond” is being presented in the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre as SFU’s Spring 2011 Theatre Mainstage production.

(Sources from the inside have reported that during rehearsals the running time for “The Alice” was approximately four hours so be prepared to lengthen your attention span.)

Tickets to “The Alice” are very affordable at $10 for Students/Seniors and $15 General Admission. Please note that there are no performances on February 27 or 28.

In addition to its Mainstage production, SFU Theatre is also presenting its 2011 Black Box season this spring. Blackbox is an SFU theatre course in which an ensemble of students create, rehearse, and produce a new show every few weeks of the spring semester. It is an exercise in creativity, experimentation, and sheer endurance. Generally, when I see a season of SFU’s Black Box, I see things that disturb me, make me laugh, inspire me, and sometimes just make me go, “Huh.”

SFU’s Black Box season is the perfect taster for those new to SFU Theatre. The performances are short, free, and go well with whatever else you’ve got planned that evening (drinks afterwords at one of several nearby Gastown pubs, for example). Show 2 of Black Box 2011 is based on the theme of “Community” and runs Friday, February 25 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Saturday, February 26 at 7:00 and 9:00 in SFU Woodward’s Studio T.

If you can’t make it this time round, don’t worry, there will be more shows this season.

SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts has been hidden for far too long atop Burnaby Mountain. They have made the effort to move downtown and join the Vancouver artistic community. If you are curious about the innovative work being created and performed by tomorrow’s contemporary artists, may I humbly suggest that you visit their brand spanking new campus and see what all the fuss is about.

East Van: please be my Valentine

Last year my Valentine’s Day present was Alexandre Bilodeau’s Olympic gold medal. I was watching on a big screen in Robson Square, jumping up and down and screaming like crazy. Hugging the man next to me. Being interviewed by CTV but never actually being on TV. That sort of magic.

This year my Valentine’s Day gift is a little more quotidian and a little closer to home (and my heart). I’m in love with my neighbourhood. I’m in love with East Vancouver. And it constantly, consistently, gives. No matter the weather, no matter my mood, my neighbourhood is friendly, beautiful, and vibrant.

My inspiration to write this post and make East Van my Valentine is the “I Love You” graffiti that covers neglected surfaces in East Van (sources in Toronto report several “I Love You’s” spotted in that Canadian city as well). Every time someone paints over an “I Love You” it comes back. It’s vandalism, sure, but I do feel loved every time I see it.

So thank you, East Van. Please be my Valentine and accept some possibly very bad poetry as a token of my love and esteem.

Photograph by Steffani Cameron

On opposite sides of East Vancouver
Two outlaw artists spray paint the words “I Love You” on walls, fences, dumpsters.
Each time their work is whitewashed over,
It is quickly, carefully, replaced.

I like to imagine that over the days, weeks, months
These two Painters circle one another unknowingly,
spiraling inwards, irrevocably inwards,
until one day—

Outside a warehouse on Powell St.
Two sharp pings! as two cans of spray paint
Fall to the pavement on opposite sides of an empty parking lot.
Traffic stops.
Nobody makes a sound.
(Except of course for the stupid gulls,
Who are, as always, completely unaware of the moment.)

The Painters move slowly towards each other.
Inside they are running full speed, full tilt
Into something as solid and scary and gritty as a warehouse wall.
Painter 1 and Painter 2:
They meet at last.

–I’ve been leaving messages. Did you get them?
–Yes. I answered. Did you see?
–Yes.

The thumb of Painter 1 leaves a smudge on the cheek of Painter 2
Painter 2 does not move, only breathes.
They stand this way in the parking lot,
The hand of one on the face of the other,
A touch that satisfies both.

The gulls, with no sense of occasion, scream again.
–Well then.
Says Painter 2.

The arm falls.
The shadows lengthen.
Two cans rust on opposite sides of an empty lot on Powell St.

I pass them on the bus and close my eyes.

PuSh 2011: “Peter Panties” at the Cultch

I’ve been a Peter Pan devotee all my life. I’ve seen the musical, own the Disney film as well as a live-action one, I cry every time I read the book. It makes sense, therefore, that I was very jazzed to be wrapping up my 2011 PuSh Festival experience with “Peter Panties” at the Cultch on Saturday. “Peter Panties”, written by Niall McNeil with Marcus Youssef, is a Neworld Theatre and Leaky Heaven Circus co-production, directed by Steven Hill and Lois Anderson, with original music by the fabulous Veda Hille. It will be performed on the Cultch’s Historic Theatre stage until February 13.

Before the show I ran into Marcus Youssef in the lobby. I’d met him very briefly last spring after “Ali & Ali 7″ so I reintroduced myself and expressed my enthusiasm for attending a Peter Pan-based play. Youssef was glad I was excited but warned me that “Peter Panties” would be an almost unrecognizable version of the story.

I appreciate the warning but I think Youssef is wrong. No, J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of the boy who refuses to grow up does not traditionally include rock ballads, CSI investigations, or Macbeth. But any die-hard Peter Pan fans in the audience would immediately recognize all the important landmarks of the story: the nursery window, Mr. Darling’s job at the bank, Skull rock, Tinkerbell’s jealousy, Hook’s abduction of Wendy, the crushingly sweet moment before innocence is lost. These landmarks may not be “in order”, they may be expanded and exploded, but they are all there. Like the Never Land, anyone who truly understands and loves the story of Peter Pan can find it in McNeil’s version.

The playwright, Niall McNeil, has Down’s Syndrome. This fact is not hidden nor overly advertised. Video footage of McNeil and Youssef’s writing process (shown at various moments in the piece) reveals a deep commitment to expressing McNeil’s version of the play. Nothing I saw or heard that evening seemed cleaned up  or doctored in any way. And the result is totally unpredictable but very funny and always beautiful.

Watching the piece feels like watching children at play. Certain scenes seem distracted. Certain scenes are confusing. Characters move from snippets of this and that, certain lines sound like something a child overheard at the table or on TV. Like a children’s game, the characters are moved by their own strange logic, unfathomable to observers but incredibly important to those in the game. It’s funny for us but deadly deadly serious for them.

The piece puts the “panties” in “Peter Panties” by  moving beyond the simple idea of the boy who won’t grow up to the notion of the way children think about sexuality. They are curious about it, and Peter and Wendy (played by James Long and Sasa Brown) demonstrate a very clean but inventive way to make a family, but sex is not understood in this play, or seen. To understand sex Peter would have to grow up. And in “Peter Panties” it’s not simply that he won’t, it seems he can’t.

Given the constant exploration of the tension that exists in the middle ground between childhood and being an adult,  “Peter Panties” is more true to the original and beloved tale than people realize, or perhaps more than they’re willing to admit. As a worshiper of the J.M. Barrie text, I have no problem adding “Peter Panties” to the shrine.

Props also go to the Bank Dogs and Veda Hille. If there are copies of the “Peter Panties” soundtrack out there I’d love to get my hands on one…any song that dismisses the idea of growing up with the line “F— that, NO MUSTACHE” is my kind of music.

To read more about “Peter Panties”, I recommend checking out Plank Magazine‘s review by Maryse Zeidler as well as Colin Thomas’s review in the Georgia Straight.

If my stellar blogging has managed to convince you to see the show, “Peter Panties” runs at the Cultch until February 13. Tickets can be purchased online from the Cultch or by telephone through the Cultch’s box office at 604-251-1363.