Dispatches from the Rehearsal Hall: Nordost

This spring I have the privilege of acting as production dramaturg for the play Nordost, by German playwright Torsten Buchsteiner (translated by David Tushingham). The director, Aliya Griffin, and I are good friends and co-artistic directors of Aliya’s performance society brainchild, The Troika Collective (which is to say these dispatches will be somewhat self-serving since obviously I want to spread the word about this amazing show).

This room is "the skinny", where the cast was rehearsing yesterday!

This room is “the skinny”, where the cast was rehearsing yesterday! (This photo is a few years old).

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been involved in a rehearsal process and I must confess my theatrical muscles have gotten a bit stiff lately. This makes me somewhat wistful, remembering a time when life was pretty much one long loop of rehearsing and performing and I got to move and shout and experiment and collaborate and create with my friends a few times a week (there really was something lost when I decided not to make performing a priority anymore). But it’s kind of invigorating too–waking up old sensibilities, watching the creative process unfold, and having it feel fresh again, rather than being the same old slog (which does happen, as much as I enjoyed performing). I think production dramaturgy is a good fit for me, and a fortunate one–not every director will work with a dramaturg (and some who have dramaturgs foisted on them don’t listen to them anyways). There’s something very attractive about dipping my toes in the process but not getting fully immersed. I get to see something different from what the director and cast are seeing (because they are seeing the everyday of it, and I am seeing more like time-lapses), and that’s kind of special.

But still very daunting. In the past, The Troika Collective has created the work we perform, and you’d think mounting a show that has already been written and performed successfully elsewhere would be easier for us, but it really isn’t. When the challenge of writing a new piece is removed, the challenge of working within textual constraints (and with expectations, if the play is well-known) replaces it. Our production will also be the North American premiere of Nordost, and that is a pretty big responsibility, especially when the subject Nordost tackles is so solemn.

Which brings me to the challenge of content. All plays, no matter their subject matter, should be rehearsed and performed with rigour and intention. That being said, some demand this rigour more than others and we are currently rehearsing a pretty rigourous play. From the perspectives of three different women (a Russian mother of two, a Latvian-born paramedic working in Moscow, and a Chechen widow-turned-militant), Nordost tells the story of the 2002 hostage taking of the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow by Chechen rebels/freedom fighters, and about the Russian government’s duplicitous and bungled response, which left all of the hostage takers and plus 129 Russian civilians dead by Russian actions. This is a heavy play.

So how do you tell this story in a theatrical space? How do you bring such a terrible event to life in a way that engages, rather than exhausts, your audience? How do theatre artists engage with this material for several hours several days a week without becoming nervous wrecks?

Thankfully, Buchsteiner has written a a great deal of strength and humanity into his characters. There is grief in this story, and anger, but also incredible resilience. In many ways, doing the play justice will mean getting out of the story’s way a bit and letting the audience experience it for themselves. As for the artists working on the show, I feel safety and camaraderie in the rehearsal room and that goes a long way. Rehearsals can still be incredibly pleasant, even fun, in spite of the seriousness of the play being worked on.

There are also formal challenges. Nordost will be performed in the round, which I think is one of the more difficult stage configurations. Unlike a proscenium stage, in which the scenes are really moving pictures in a frame, a round stage offers no place to hide and requires each stage picture to be dynamic and interesting from all angles. It’s a configuration not to be taken on lightly, but when it informs the work (as I think it will), it can be a rewarding artistic choice.

Challenges aside, I am getting pretty excited. Everyone involved directly in the show is an excellent person with commitment and vision and it’s sort of like going on a long road trip with your friends–you know you’re going to get tired sometimes but you know it’s going to be so much fun.

Mark your calendars! Nordost will be performed at the Havana Theatre on Commercial drive March 4 – 7.

Dancing Monkey Presents: “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: an Irishman, an Englishman, and an American are chained to a wall–

swwomlogoNo, this is not the set-up for some lame stereotypical joke, but the premise for Frank McGuinness’ searing play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, a story set not against the backdrop of the Lebanon Hostage Crisis, but chained deep within its dark belly. Under the direction of the luminous Julie McIsaac, the players of Dancing Monkey Presents wade neck deep into the waters of fear, despair, madness, and hope that threaten to overwhelm us when we are, quite literally, hostage to forces beyond our control.

Though the play runs over two hours (with a short intermission), McGuinness’ script is witty, biting, and fast-paced, taking its characters careening between the polemic and the playful, the religious and the ridiculous, between anger, insanity, honesty, and love. Though the Lebanon Hostage Crisis and its casualties are, of course, deeply rooted in the political realm, McGuinness’ story does not dwell on this, choosing to focus on the human beings beneath the hostages, in all their fear, self-righteousness, and unexpected kindnesses, rather than on condemning or excusing either the hostage-takers or the governments who may or may not have done all within their power to secure their citizens’ safe release.

McIsaac’s staging of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is simple yet effective. Three men are chained in a small bare room, lit by a single dangling bulb. We do not know what time of day it is, or where they are, and neither do they. Against such a sparse backdrop, the performances of Jay Clift (Adam), Ashley O’Connell (Edward), and Kirk Smith (Michael) truly shine as McGuiness’ script races them, and us, through an emotional labyrinth at break-neck speed. Each character is a pressure cooker, roiling with physical energy they cannot expend, anger they cannot unleash, and fear they cannot relieve. The script, which is actually quite funny at times, swings each man from tears to laughter and back again, relentless and unflinching.  The skill that lies beneath the delicately controlled performances delivered by Clift, O’Connell, and Smith is not to be understated.

Though 1980s Lebanon is worlds away for most of us, McGuiness and his characters strip away the layers of distance and time that separate us, the comfortable audience, from them, the men waiting to find out if they will live or die, if will they ever see their families again, or if anyone even knows what has happened to them. In the isolation of a cell, with the possibility of madness an ever-present companion, three men encounter the same fears that gnaw at most of us–that it does not matter where we are from, how educated we are, whether we are good or bad people. Things will happen to us that we do not understand and cannot control. We will not know why. We will not know if there is even a why. What we will know is what our reality is, in the here and now. We will know what the darkness is and we will have to decide how to live with it, no matter how short or long our captivity. In the darkness there is loneliness and helplessness but also humanity.

If I were to have a complaint about the evening it would be that the intimate seating still contained several empty chairs and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me deserves to play to packed houses. With a ticket price of $16 (affordability being part of Dancing Monkey Presents’ mandate) a script this good, and performances this strong, there is really no excuse not to see it if you can.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me plays at Renegade Studios (125 E. 2nd Ave., Vancouver) for one more week, March 18 – 23, at 8:00 p.m. each night. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door (though the house is small so booking early is advised). NB: The vents are turned off during the performance and the space does get a little cold during that time so dress appropriately!

Clockwise from top left: Jay Clift, Kirk Smith, Ashley O'Connell

Clockwise from top left: Jay Clift, Kirk Smith, Ashley O’Connell

Disclosure: My guest and I were provided tickets courtesy of Dancing Monkey Presents. My content is my own.

The Troika Collective Presents Belarusian Dream Theater Vancouver

Poster design by Liam Griffin

Poster design by Liam Griffin

On Tuesday, March 25, The Troika Collective, in association with Ensemble Free Theater Norway (EFTN), will present the Vancouver iteration of the Belarusian Dream Theater project in Studio 4270 at SFU Woodwards.

From the announcement of the project in the Belarusian Review:

Belarusian Dream Theater [is] an international performing arts event supporting freedom of expression in Belarus, conceived by Brendan McCall, Artistic Director of EFTN.

On 25 March 2014, Belarus’ Freedom Day, partner theaters will present readings and/or performances of new short plays about Belarus simultaneously in Australia, Belarus, Denmark, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Ukraine, and the United States.

[…] The hope is that this coordinated cultural event will stimulate a greater knowledge and interest in Belarus by international audiences, journalists, and artists.

So why is it important to know about what is happening in Belarus? Before becoming involved with this project, I must admit that I had not thought about Belarus in a long time (perhaps not since passing through it on a train when I was ten years old). I have, like many people, been keeping an eye on the political situation in Ukraine. Meanwhile, news from Belarus has been comparatively quiet.

As it turns out, that is because the Belarusian government has, for many years, severely restricted independent expression through a combination of legislation, intimidation, and force. Based on information from Amnesty International, the protests that have rocked Ukraine in recent months would likely not be possible in the political climate of Belarus today, especially given the country’s “Law on Mass Actions”:

In 2011 weekly “silent protests”, where groups of people throughout the country would stroll wordlessly, applaud or use their mobile phone alarms simultaneously, saw participants beaten, sentenced to administrative detention or fined.

The largest demonstration in the country’s recent history, following the presidential elections in December 2010, was suppressed with unprecedented violence. When police moved in to disperse it in the centre of the capital Minsk over 700 people were detained and many, including by-standers, were beaten and wounded. Four prisoners of conscience Mykalau Statkevich, Pavel Sevyarynets, Eduard Lobau and Zmitser Dashkevich remain in prison in connection to the demonstration to this day.

[…] Peaceful protesters are frequently sentenced to fines or short periods of detention for violating the Law on Mass Actions or for minor offenses such as swearing in public. Pavel Vinahradau, a member of the youth political movement Zmena (Change), spent a total of 66 days in detention between 30 December 2011 and 12 December 2012 on eight separate administrative convictions, all for minor offenses such as swearing or violations of the regulations for public meetings and pickets.

And it isn’t only protesters who are finding their freedoms of expression curtailed. Citizens wishing to join or create an independent organization (for support, to express an identity or opinion, etc.) must be sure the organization is registered with the government and meets the government’s strict registration requirements. Activists who have been deemed to be acting on behalf or as part of an unregistered organization face prosecution.

So where does Ensemble Free Theater Norway, the Belarusian Dream Theater playwrights, The Troika Collective, and the rest of the companies participating around the world come in? Well, though many of these plays could not be performed in Belarus (or at least not without considerable risk), they can be performed here in Canada, our actors and directors can speak without fear of reprisal, and we can listen. We invite you to join us for an evening of theatre, music, and hopefully, social good.

The Vancouver performance of the Belarusian Dream Theater project will take place on Belarus’ Freedom Day, March 25, at 8:00 p.m. in Studio 4270, SFU Woodwards. Admission is by donation (though no one will be turned away for lack of funds), with proceeds benefiting the Troika Collective’s operations. If you wish to support free expression in Belarus, proceeds from the sales of the plays being read/performed around the world as part of this project will go to Amnesty International. You can also make a direct donation to Amnesty International online at Amnesty.ca.

Disclosure: I am the co-artistic director of The Troika Collective, along with founding co-artistic director Aliya Griffin. The Troika Collective is a registered non-profit.

Project Limelight Presents “There’s No Place Like Oz”

When I was growing up in rural Saskatchewan (and partially in Europe), the opportunity to participate in theatre was one of the greatest gifts my parents and schools could have given me. Theatre gave me a way to keep playing dress-up long after my peers no longer thought it was cool. The stage was a place where I could be confident, unselfconscious, and (blissfully) anything, or anybody, I wanted to be. Being involved in productions kept me focused, gave me something to look forward to, and brought me those weird, it-all-happened-in-the-dark, we-bonded-in-cue-to-cue type friendships that only other theatre artists can understand. In my darkest hours, the responsibility of maintaining myself as a performer (body, voice, health) kept me from making some bad choices as I tried to deal with the academic and emotional hurdles life brought me.

d58e5a79e1deb00e6b78f5f9f952197dWhen I learned about the Strathcona-based Project Limelight Society, a free theatre program for East Vancouver youth, I couldn’t think of a more positive way to engage children and young people with the arts, their community, and with their own talents. According to their website, the Project Limelight Society was founded by former film industry professionals (and sisters) Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, as a way to support and give back to the community they were raised in. Designed for youth aged 8-15, each four-month session teaches and develops performance skills as participants prepare for a full-length production. Enthusiasm and commitment from participants seems to be the name of the game, with no previous experience required. And of course, it’s offered at no cost to the participants.

Hold on, you say, what about that full-length production you mentioned? Oh yes! The young performers of Project Limelight will be treading the boards later this month at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema (SFU Woodward’s) in their upcoming production, There’s No Place Like Oz, loosely based on the children’s classics by L. Frank Baum.

Project Limelight Society presents THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE OZ, featuring 18 young performers, ages 8 – 12, who have worked together to create a show for their friends, family and community. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE OZ, in the tradition of Pantomime, combines audience interaction, music, comedy and dance, and is suitable for audiences from the very young to the young at heart.

At Project Limelight, we want to unleash the imagination, awaken curiosity and give young people the opportunity to experience the magic of applause. Our program offers youth living in Vancouver’s Eastside, a safe place to build an artistic community.

[Read the full show description on Project Limelight’s website.]

There’s No Place Like Oz will be running for ONE DAY ONLY (two performances) so make sure you know the details:

Sunday, February 24, at 2:00 pm and again at 6:00 pm

Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema in SFU Woodward’s (Goldcorp Centre for the Arts)

Tickets are $15/$10 and can be purchased online through the Project Limelight website.

If you would like to support the work of the Project Limelight Society but will not be able to attend the show, donations to the program can be made through their website.

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody (once again, it seems, East Vancouver has stolen my heart…)!


PuSh 2013: Opening Gala (Crossing the Line)

unnamedOne of the things that I’ve always admired about the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is that, well, they push the arts. They push culture. And Vancouver’s arts community is the better for it. Nowhere is that so obvious than during the PuSh Opening Galas, fun events that incorporate music and interactive performances with libations and dancing. The PuSh 2013 Opening Gala was held this year on Monday night at Club Five Sixty on Seymour.

At this year’s Gala (more than at any other PuSh Gala I think) I actually paid attention to the opening speeches (did it have anything to do with the fact that one of my favourite musicians, Dan Mangan, was an MC? Possibly). From Dan Mangan himself, and Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson, and PuSh Executive Director Norman Armour, the message rang loud and clear: the arts are important and we should protect them, fight for them, and (dare I say?) fund them. With the closure of the Waldorf in East Vancouver on our minds (not to mention other high-profile closures in the past year, including the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company), it seems to be a dark time to celebrate “crossing the line”, as the PuSh Festival is asking us to do over the next two weeks.

So why do they do it? Why spend a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money on a two-week international performing arts festival? Because we need it. Because festivals like PuSh represent a coming together of the very best of the performing arts community, and a commitment to refuse complacency, refuse mere satisfaction with where the Vancouver performing arts scene is today, and to push to the envelope (there’s that word again), and audiences, into new territory, artistically and geographically (with productions from as far away as Taiwan, Argentina, and Belgium). Only by seeing what we’ve never seen can our arts community strengthen and become what we’ve never yet been–safely sustained, more than hand to mouth, more than dependent on the capricious whims of provincial and federal funding.

More than just a seat-warmer for an eventual condo development to move in.

One of the PuSh Gala’s interactive performances this year, Open Book (inspired by Human Library, a production brought to PuSh 2013 by Denmark’s Stop the Violence), is an excellent example of performing art’s capacity to “cross the line”, and to bring its audience with it. In the eerie Club Five Sixty basement, my TC and I had the opportunity to check out a “human book” for a 10-minute conversation. I checked out Patti, a psychic, who explained to me what being psychic means to her life (it makes it calmer, she says) and who believes that all people have the capacity to tap into their intuitive and psychic abilities. TC had a conversation with Bruce, a legally blind painter who uses acrylics to create highly textured works and who paints the irregularities of his limited vision onto his pieces. A performance like Open Book is not traditionally what one would consider theatre–and yet it is live, it is an experience, it is not designed to be therapeutic or necessarily educational but simply to push us, through the power of a simple conversation with a stranger, into a new place (in this case, another person’s, a real person’s, experience).

Of course the Gala got me excited about What To See. What to see, what to see? Every year I have to make tough choices and every year I miss something amazing, simply because most of the festival is amazing and I can’t see even half of it. Every event at the festival (and Club PuSh) seems intriguing, new, virtuosic. Two pieces in particular are calling to me–Ride the Cyclone (Atomic Vaudeville, Victoria BC) and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (National Theatre of Scotland, Glasgow). TC’s top pick: Reich + Rite with pianist Vicky Chow (Music on Main, Vancouver). But there’s so much more, always so much more, and so many ways to cross the line.

To see what the PuSh Festival has to offer this year, and decide how you want to cross the line, visit the PuSh website at www.pushfestival.ca. For more about specific PuSh events (plus the event calendar and program guide), visit the Festival Events page.

Disclosure: My TC and I received comps to the PuSh Gala this year, as I have every year I’ve gone, because I have blogged and tweeted, and continue to blog and tweet, about the Festival.

“Libation Bearers (The Flame)” or “I Wrote A Play!”

This is not the first play I’ve written, and I hope it won’t be the last, but regardless, I’m pretty excited about this. I, NiftyNotCool, have written a play (cue trumpets and confetti)!

This play is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy The Libation Bearers (also known as Electra if you read the Sophocles version), called Libation Bearers (The Flame). It is the second installment in the three-play Oresteia series produced by my friends in Rice & Beans Theatre, and will be directed by Pedro Chamale.

Electra and her brother Orestes kill Aegisthus, murderer of their father

Obviously, since the tragedy dates back to ancient Greece, the plot itself is not exactly a nail-biter. The gist of the story is pretty simple and well-known: In the ancient city-state of Argos, Queen Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus murder her husband (Agamemnon). The Libation Bearers itself takes place years later, as Clytemnestra’s children (Electra and Orestes) plot to avenge their father’s death. That’s it that’s all.

But not really. If that was all no one would bother adapting the play for contemporary productions (and there are countless adaptations of the Oresteia, for countless contemporary productions). Most of us know the what of the story (i.e., what happens, which we should all know now, because I just told you), but what seems to change from adaptation to adaptation, and even from ancient Greek version to ancient Greek version, are the how and the why of it all. That’s what was interesting to me when writing Libation Bearers (The Flame) and that is hopefully what will be interesting for the actors to explore and interesting for the audience to watch.

Betrayals happen. Murders happen. Revenge is plotted. Today’s headlines are relatively similar (which is probably why these old stories live on). The reason we read past those headlines into the macabre news report below is because we want to know why this thing happened, and how such a thing could be possible. Sometimes, I think we want to see what separates us, law-abiding non-murderers, from those who commit horrible crimes. What are the steps that would have taken us to that place? What would we have done, in the same situation?

Also contained within the question of how in an adaptation of an ancient work is simply the matter of how this story is going to be told. How does my script handle the events of the play? How does the rhythm of the language guide us through? How do the characters, as I’ve interpreted them, find their way towards their actions? Once the play is written, how does the direction affect the story? How do the actors interpret their roles, and blend their sensibilities and skills which the words they’ll be speaking?

If the cast/crew list for this show is any indication, the how will be very exciting. My conversations with director Pedro Chamale about his vision for the show leave me confident that he is going to take my words and make them truly work (the only way they really can work, which is in performance). I respect the technical and stage management team. As for the actors, I’ve seen them all perform and studied with most of them. They are exciting performers. I’m excited.

I’m very excited. I hope you will see the show.

Libation Bearers (The Flame) will run for four nights only, November 21 to 24, at 8 pm in the PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street (Coal Harbour).

Tickets are $15/$10 and are available online through Brown Paper Tickets: http://theflame.brownpapertickets.com/

Fringe 2012: Resounding Scream Theatre presents “The Troubles”

Photo credit: Panos Argryopoulos

On Tuesday I visited Resounding Scream Theatre‘s final pre-Fringe dress rehearsal to watch and review their upcoming Vancouver Fringe offering, The Troubles. Avid followers of mine may recall that The Troubles was part of last summer’s double bill, combining Troika!, the show I co-created, and The Troubles into one night of hot Vancouver theatre. Since its 2011 runs, The Troubles has been revised and reworked to create the one-woman show on offer at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival this year. The Troubles is written and performed by Stephanie Henderson, based on the experiences of her father and his family in Northern Ireland, and directed by Catherine Ballachey.

The issues at the heart of the play surround what was referred to by the British as “the Troubles”, a period of violent religious-political conflict in Northern Ireland which spanned the 1960s through to the 1990s. As one of the characters quips, Northern Ireland is not “all ponies and roses.” The violence which overwhelmed the region is both real and recent. The Troubles is concerned not with specific religious or political issues, or with which side was right or wrong or caused more hurt or had more justification for their part in the violence, but with the everyday people–from mothers to schoolboys to blue collar workers to “footie” fans–forced to try to continue their “normal” lives during a time when violence and conflict has become the new normal. I was particularly struck by Henderson’s depictions of the effect the conflict had on children, whose play fights and mock battles became all too real with bricks and bottles, stones and beatings, forced to take on their parents’ issues.

Photo credit: Panos Argryopoulos

One of Henderson’s strengths as a performer has always been her ability to interact with her audience while in character. Five different “people” appear onstage through the text and performance of The Troubles, and each character speaks to us (readily or reluctantly, as the case may be) in their own unique way. Henderson has understood and embodied her five characters so thoroughly that regardless of an audience member’s response to her questions and remarks, she will have a quip or a cuss word at the ready–always in character, and always (Northern) Irish.

As an audience member, you will need to work a bit to keep up with Henderson’s North Irish lilt and the speed with which many of her characters speak. Overall though, the frank and good-humoured nature of her portrayals and the weight of her subject matter were enough to pull me in and keep me through the whole of the performance.

Photo credit: Everette Jelley

The Troubles will run September 7 – 16 at Studio 1398 (Playwright’s Theatre Centre) on Granville Island. For more information and specific show dates, please visit Resounding Scream’s Upcoming Projects web page. Tickets to The Troubles may be purchased online through the website of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, or with cash at the door.

Disclaimer: Stephanie Henderson and Catherine Ballachey of Resounding Scream Theatre are personal friends of mine, as well as theatrical colleagues. However, I agreed to review The Troubles in my capacity as a blogger first and foremost, with the understanding that this disclaimer would be necessary. I do not feel as though my experiences of the show, reviewed here, were compromised by our personal friendship.

Not Just for Kids: A Year With Frog And Toad at Carousel Theatre

Going "cookie for cookies!" - Todd Talbot, Josue Laboucane. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Every once in a while I am lucky enough to see a production that I find so in every way delightful that even the act of writing or telling other people about it is delightful too. This is how I feel about Carousel Theatre’s A Year With Frog And Toad, playing at the Waterfront Theatre until April 8.

I have been to Carousel productions before (The Wizard of Oz and Aesop’s Fables), and I’ve always been a young-at-heart-believes-in-fairies person who is interested in and enjoys stories for younger audiences, be it through theatre, film, or literature. My past experiences with Carousel have been great.

But A Year With Frog And Toad really takes the cake. The theatrical experience begins, as it seems it always does at a Carousel production, with entering the theatre and seeing an absolutely beautiful set onstage, waiting, like us, for the magic to begin. Set designer Heidi Wilkinson created two picture-perfect homes for Frog and Toad, outside and in, and the effect this set has on everyone, not just the kids in the audience, is palpable.

Todd Talbot, Josue Laboucane. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

What follows is 60 minutes (that’s right, it’s short and sweet!) of pure delight. I am able to look at this show the way I look at a show meant for adult audiences because it is just that tight. The cues are tight, the funny bits (and the show is very funny) are perfectly-timed, and the costumes (designed by Yulia Shtern) are exactly what they ought to be down to the last dapper polka-dot (for Frog) and floppy mitten (for Toad, of course, for sledding!). The show is delivered by a seamless and talented ensemble of five performers who sang, danced, croaked, squeaked and chirped their way right into my affections in the first number and had me hanging on their string right until the finale.

But my heart, of course, goes to the dandy and particular Frog (Todd Talbot) and his slightly more disgruntled, ruffled, but no less loving best friend Toad (Josue Laboucane). To watch Toad try to coax his flowers into growing is to watch one of the sweetest and most genuine theatrical moments I have seen in YA theatre. The friendship of Frog and Toad, complete with swimsuit issues, too many cookies, and plans for rescue, feels sincere and tremendously touching. A Year With Frog and Toad is, quite simply, a year in the life of two best friends, with all the humour and heart that goes with it (I must admit I cried, I tried hard not to, because I was sitting next to a stranger, but I couldn’t help it).

In short, Carousel’s production of A Year With Frog And Toad is not just a show for kids, and it is not just on its technical and theatrical merits that adults will find entertainment and joy. Many artists I know dislike YA theatre in general because they feel it “talks down” to its audience. A Year With Frog and Toad does nothing of the sort. The fun and humour in this production are universal. And so is friendship.

Which is the point, I think. Aside from the tap-dancing forest creatures and the gorgeous set, the real story of A Year With Frog And Toad is one of friendship. Kids will love the show because it is beautiful and magical and fun. Adults will connect with the show for all of these reasons of course, but also because they’ve (sadly) had enough knocks in life to know how important and incredibly special a good friend really is.

Rebecca Talbot, Todd Talbot. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

A Year With Frog and Toad will run until April 8 at the Waterfront Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online on the Carousel Theatre website, or by calling the Carousel box office at 604-685-6217.

Disclosure: My ticket to A Year With Frog And Toad was arranged and provided by Jessie van Rijn, General Manager for Carousel Theatre. I remain the sole author of the content on NiftyNotCool.com.

“Chasing Home”: an interview with co-Director Pedro Chamale

For the past five months, a group of emerging and non-professional Vancouver theatre artists have been working together as part of Screaming Weenie Productions‘ All The World’s A Stage project. The result of this collaboration is Screaming Weenie’s brand-new play, “Chasing Home“, directed by Sean Cummings and Pedro Chamale, playing March 15, 16, and 17 in the Vancouver Playhouse Recital Hall.

From Screaming Weenie:

Home is more than a place you sleep and keep your stuff, it’s often a community, a feeling of belonging, a sense of security. What is home to someone who is an immigrant to Canada, or a refugee from a war-torn country, or someone who has been disowned by their family for simply loving someone of the same gender?

Chasing Home is a creation piece that explores the theme of ‘home’ from the viewpoint of cultural outsiders, immigrants, refugees, and others who have been forced to flee and create a new life for themselves in Vancouver.

To gain more information about the show and the All The World’s A Stage project I decided to ask co-Director Pedro Chamale (who is also the co-artistic director of Rice & Beans Theatre and my good friend) a few questions:

Tell me about the “All The World’s A Stage” project. How did you get involved?

ATWAS is a Screaming Weenie project that is giving non-theatre/emerging artists an opportunity to be mentored by professionls and then given the chance to develop and produce their own show. I was invited by Screaming Weenie to participate as an emerging artist, and upon hearing about the opportunity to gain more experience as a director and to collaborate with new people I jumped on board.

Who are the cast/company members in “Chasing Home”? (Are they students/ professionals/ emerging artists, etc.)

The cast members for Chasing Home are Christopher Casillan, Evelyn Chew, Jeremy Leroux, Damian Rumph, and Sheryl Thompson, who are a wonderful group of professional actors .The crew of our show is a great mix of professionals, emerging artists, recent immigrants–all the way to a first generation Canadian like myself. We are: Sean Cummings and myself (directors), Carolyn Yu (stage manager), Nicole Holas (lighting designer), Esta Mun (props & outreach coordinator), Hanno (set and costume designer), and Stacey Sherlock (technical director).

For how long/how often were the “All the World’s a Stage” participants meeting? Can you describe your training/creative process?

We started meeting back in October. Back then we would meet bi-weekly, and at first we were focusing on the mentorship part of the program. We were partnered with our professional counterparts who were working on Screaming Weenie’s production of Falling In Time. We volunteered with the production’s run and observed a professional show being put up. After Falling In Time closed we then shifted the focus of our meetings to what kind of show we would like to do.

What, in your mind, were the core impulses that led to the creation of “Chasing Home”?

“Chasing Home” came from common themes that occurred during our discussions and meetings and one of the prevailing themes was the idea of what is home. All of the other participants were born in another country, and I was not born here in Vancouver. So a lot of our talks were about what it was like to be in a new city and culture. We each came in and presented things we would like to see in our show and also we told stories of our lives, which in turn inspired the play.

Why might this play be vital to our community? Why now?
I believe that [“Chasing Home”] is vital to our community because most of us are searching for what is home to us. Or if we are not searching, we have at least felt it before. This play is also vital because not only is it a new piece of  Canadian theatre but the show has been made by and is cast with a non-Caucasian majority, which is not always seen on the larger stages in Vancouver, and it is nice to see a show that is a little more representative of the population in our city.
Event Details:
Performances: March 15, 16 & 17, 2012, at 8:00pm, with a matinee March 17 (Saturday) at 3:00 pm.

Venue: Recital Hall, Vancouver Playhouse at 601 Cambie Street

Admission: $10* | Tickets available at the door or on-line at:


*no one turned away for lack of funds

Other Important Notes

While it has (sadly) come to my attention that at a press conference this afternoon, the Vancouver Playhouse announced that it will be closing its doors after the run of “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is complete, I have, as yet, received no information indicating that “Chasing Home” will not be performed as planned in the Recital Hall.

Disclosure: In return for helping spread the word about “Chasing Home” (via any social media means I so chose), I have been offered a ticket to the opening night performance on March 15. I am happy to help create buzz around a project such as ATWAS, and the idea to interview Mr. Chamale was mine. As always, I remain the sole author of my content.

2012 PuSh Festival Opening Gala

January 17, 2012 was just as exciting as January 17, 2011, in that I was invited back to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival Opening Gala, which was held this year in the swanky-as-hell Waldorf Hotel on Hastings Street in East Vancouver. The PuSh Gala is one of the few events that I have been invited to as “media” and with my trusty Georgette von iPhone and a swipe of red lipstick I was ready to paint the town and tweet my heart out. Attending an event as “social media media”  is much much easier, it just so happens, when you are carrying a smartphone in your little purse instead of a laptop in a big ol’ satchel (as I learned last year before I had Georgette). It makes dancing easier too. For those committed bloggers who did bring their laptops, however, reserved tables in the “Hideaway” room were available for them to do their thing and, pretty much, be awesome.

Nita Bowerman dances in the Hideaway

For those of you who don’t know, 2012 marks the 8th annual PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver. My very first PuSh experience was seeing the Electric Company Theatre‘s Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge in 2006 and I have tried, as much as possible, to see at least one PuSh show a year since then. There have always been new pieces and new experiences on offer from all around the world and this year is no exception. No matter what you choose to see it will be innovative, interesting, and deftly executed. I think my favourite PuSh show so far is Welshman Hugh HughesFloating, which I fell in love with and blogged about last year. This year, I am very excited to see Taylor Mac‘s Comparison is Violence at Club PuSh (February 3 and 4, 2012).

I like Nudity, and TC likes The Internet. What a pair.

But enough about all the fun I will be having watching the shockingly beautiful Taylor Mac. With the trusty Georgette in my hand and my TC on my arm (and a glass of wine in my other hand) I set out to the have the gala-est gala I possibly could. And we have a lovely night. We made buttons at the Vancouver is Awesome button making station in the Hideaway, took some silly pics as the Waldorf hula dancer, took more silly pics in the PixStar photobooth in the Tiki Lounge upstairs, ate some of the amazing food that was on offer–for FREE (I had duck on toasted baguette, and beef and chicken kebabs), shouted along as Vancouver’s only accordion rock band, Fang, played their hit Hipsters Playing Sports (“Hold on to my cardigan/ So I can play some badminton”), and slowed it down to dance to the incredibly-amazing-and-I-can’t-believe-I-hadn’t-heard-of-them-before Vancouver band, e.s.l.in the Cabaret (yeah, um, the Waldorf is really big).

e.s.l. at the PuSh 2012 Opening Gala

Besides the fun fun times to be had, PuSh Galas are also a great place to network, or, if you’re too shy, to observe Vancouver’s cultural VIPs off the stage and drinking or eating kebabs like the rest of us schlubs (though to be frank, I don’t know any theatre artist who would turn down free food). I even caught sight of my favourite Vancouver musician Dan Mangan, though since I’d already fabricated an excuse to meet him at a theatre event before Christmas I decided not to bother him this time (though he doubt he would have minded–he is the nicest man in the world). I was a little disappointed that Mayor Gregor was unable to attend this year because seeing him in the flesh is like seeing the Batman of Vancouver but my night was altogether too pleasant for me to mind overmuch.

If you haven’t gathered yet, I had a great time, and tweeted like crazy (PuSh volunteers even took a photo of TC and me tweeting!). The Waldorf is really a fantastic venue and PuSh makes a huge effort to make their Gala fun and interesting every year. Many thanks to the awesome Tara Travis, Outreach Coordinator for PuSh, for inviting me and for showing us all such a great time.

The 2012 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival runs from now to February 4, 2012. With so many different shows and events (from the Main Shows to Club PuSh to the Aboriginal Performance Series), it would be embarrassing for any arts-loving, lower mainland dweller to miss out on seeing a PuSh show. So many venues are participating, you’d almost have to making a point of NOT attending any PuSh shows to avoid seeing one. So do yourself a favour, give in, and see some amazing performing art already. Information about events, venues, artists, and buying tickets can all be found on the PuSh website.

Happy PuShing!