“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/

What would have separated me from Amanda Todd? Very little, actually

On October 10, in Port Coquitlam, a fifteen-year-old girl named Amanda Todd took her own life after years of horrific online and in-person bullying. She documented her personal hell in a YouTube video. I have chosen to post this video because according to the Vancouver Sun, Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd, believes that Amanda would have wanted the video to be used as an anti-bullying tool.

[Note: Please make your decision about whether or not to watch this video carefully. If you choose to watch it, you will be watching a young girl in incredible pain. Also, I urge you not to read the comments. For some reason posts like Amanda’s are a common target for trolls.]

After watching Amanda’s video last night, I lay awake and thought about my own junior high and high school years. I wondered what separated me from her, what had spared me from committing her desperate actions when I was a teenager.

The answer? Very little. Luck mostly. Like a large number of people my age, in high school I was no stranger to isolation. I was no stranger to self harm. I was no stranger to suicidal thoughts (that never went anywhere, thank goodness). I was pretty cavalier with myself and my self worth. And only because I was having difficulty coping with the regular teen stuff: boys, my body, academic and athletic pressures at school.

Luckily for me, I was never bullied. No one laid a hand on me, physically or virtually. If I had been, I don’t know what would have happened to me.  If I, as a teenager already stretched towards my limits, had experienced the cruel and (quite frankly) ridiculous, uncalled for HELL that Amanda Todd was put through, I can’t say with confidence that I’d still be here. Even without bullying, being a teenager is damn tough. Add this kind of torture, and I think many of us would have been in pretty serious danger.

Luckily for me, the technologies (Facebook, live chat, and cell phones) that made Amanda Todd so vulnerable to attack and exploitation either did not exist, or were not widespread enough where I grew up to provide the opportunities for harassment and torment Todd’s bullies indulged in.

Luckily for me, I spent most of my teen years in a very small town. I’m sure that bullying did exist, but in a town this small it would have been virtually impossible for any bully to hide behind the cover of anonymity. Being from such a small, tight-knit school and community (where everybody knows everybody’s business) can have its drawbacks, but at least your friends in kindergarten are generally your friends for life, and even though I was lonely sometimes, I was never alone.

Luckily for me, I had sisters who always kept an eye out for me and always made sure I was okay. I had an army of two on my side no matter what I did or what happened to me.

Luckily for me, the lack of technology and my physical isolation out on the Prairie meant I did not have the opportunity to make the so-called “mistakes” Amanda Todd mentions in her video as bringing on the abuse. With the kind of self-esteem teenaged girls generally have, I don’t really think many young girls (myself included) would have acted very differently in Amanda’s shoes. Who can truthfully say that all of their decisions between the ages of twelve and fifteen were good ones? Thanks to the internet, childhood decisions can hound people for the rest of their lives.

So I’m lucky. So incredibly effing lucky I feel sick about it. I feel sick that it took this poor child’s death (yes, she was just a child when all this happened to her) to show me this. What separated me from Amanda Todd or teens like her? Very little. Incredible good luck.

And now I have to ask myself, what separated me from the bullies that mercilessly and relentlessly abused Amanda Todd? I’d like to say a lot. I’d like to say there is a big difference between me and them. I think I was a good person, generally. I don’t think I ever bullied anybody. But I was a smartass with a big mouth. I did gossip. I did tell mean jokes sometimes. So I would like to say to anyone I may have hurt in high school: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you feel shitty. That was wrong. I have no excuse but my own insecurity and ignorance. I hope I will raise my kids to be stronger than I was and teach them that making someone else feel awful is never okay.

I hope I will raise my kids to understand how to protect themselves on the internet. And I hope I will raise my kids to understand that there are human beings on the other side of every nasty internet message or post they may wish to fire off. That using the internet to bully rather than your fists doesn’t make your hands any cleaner.

I hope I never forget what it was like to be a teenager. I know very few of us will forget Amanda Todd.

If you are a young person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or you know a young person who may be in crisis or thinking of suicide, please know that help is available. Here in BC, you can contact Youth In B.C. via anonymous chat on their website at youthinbc.com or by telephone at 1-866-661-3311 (604-872-3311 in the Lower Mainland). Help is available 24/7. You don’t have to face this alone.

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.

Adventures in BC: The Chief and Nat Bailey Stadium

Summer is upon us, and with the summer comes the opportunity to explore the “supernatural” province that we live in. If you don’t have much time (or money), what better way to enjoy beautiful BC than to enjoy the natural and cultural gems existing close to home?

Part I:

In which NiftyNotCool and her TC hike the Chief

One warm BC Day, on a whim (and after getting pumped up by watching the classic 80s film Labyrinth), TC and I borrowed his brother’s car and headed towards Squamish to hike the Chief. (For those who don’t know, the Chief is a granite cliff/mountain that you can hike to the top of. Pretty spectacular.)

After a short and scenic drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway, we arrived at the Shannon Falls Provincial Park so we could check out the pretty falls before beginning our hike to the summit of the Chief’s First Peak, which is technically part of the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park (beginning your journey at Shannon Falls adds negligible time and effort to the overall hike AND involves a waterfall! Score!).

After hearing I’d been up the Chief, one of my coworkers asked if the hike was “reasonable”. This really depends on your version of reasonable. If a reasonable hike to you is over in an hour and a half and can be done in tennis shoes or sandals, then no, the Chief is by no means a reasonable hike. If, however, climbing up (just up, not ever sideways, just up) for almost two hours, sweating like a beast as you clamber over rocks and tree roots, climbing the occasional iron ladder or needing to hold chains to avoid slipping down a granite rock face and then getting rained on and absolutely filthy on your (equally tricky) descent sounds like a reasonable hike to you, then the Chief just might be your idea of a pleasant afternoon.

Sweating and getting muddy aside, TC and I had a great time. Standing more than 600 metres above sea level on a granite peak, feeling the wind and rain whip our faces and knowing there is nowhere to go from here but down was an absolutely exhilarating feeling, worth the sweaty clamber up and slippery descent. TC and I shared a kiss on the summit and headed on our way. My legs were shaking by the time we got back to Shannon Falls but we were both smiling from ear to ear. The entire hike to and from the First Peak took us just under 3.5 hours and we felt sore and exhausted and fantastic.

Part II

In which NiftyNotCool and her friend Colleen watch the Vancouver Canadians beat the Yakima Bears 2-1 at the Nat Bailey Stadium

On Tuesday my friend (and baseball fanatic) Colleen was in town and this is why I ended up spending my Tuesday evening cheering and rhythmically clapping for the Vancouver Canadians at the splendid Nat Bailey Stadium (at 4601 Ontario Street, which is, by the way, easily accessible by transit).

According to Colleen, whose baseball-related facts I always trust, Nat Bailey Stadium is one of few beautiful outdoor baseball stadiums in Canada (and 7th largest) and should be considered a gem of Vancouver. I’m not going to argue with that. It really is an awesome venue and we had great seats for only $16 a pop.

And then, for some reason, sushi raced.

It had been a long time since I’d watched baseball but the rules are pretty simple and the innings are pretty quick. Between innings, the stadium took care to entertain the crowd with various small events: a smart car taking a spin around the diamond, a “sushi race”, dance routines by the ground crew, everyone doing the bird dance in the stands, and finally, everyone singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. I had a beer and a hot dog and reveled in nostalgia and the warm evening.

I really couldn’t have asked for more, except maybe for a win for the Vancouver Canadians. And then, at the bottom of the 9th, they made it happen! What a day. And what a stadium! Nat Bailey is a great place to kick back, shoot the shit, and watch some ball.


So what are you waiting for? Whether you prefer drinking a beer in the stands or scaling a peak, our warm weather and sunny skies won’t last forever. Get the heck outside you lazy bum, and have a summertime adventure.

Strip Down and Be Counted: Wreck Beach Skinny Dip 2012

The annual Wreck Beach Skinny Dip was held this year on Saturday, August 4. The Wreck Beach Preservation Society (WBPS) really picked a great day this for it (after a bit of a false start July 21, a Saturday which began quite cloudy). The air was warm, the sand was hot, the sun was bright, and the water was…well, the water was cold. As usual.

Besides being a little more crowded, the Skinny Dip is, for the most part, just another beautiful day at the beach. TC and I ate Skittles and apples, drank plenty of water, and I started in on a paperback of Kevin Wilson’s excellent but problematic novel, The Family Fang (many people compare this story to the Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, but I disagree with the comparison because the Tenenbaums love each other, and I am not sure that the Fang parents love their children, at least not beyond what their kids can do for their artistic careers. But my opinion on that is maybe for another time).

The only real difference between the Skinny Dip day and any other Wreck Beach day for me is, of course, the part where I go swimming totally in the buff with a lot of people. This year, I was one of 595 people posing for a big (nude) group photo and being counted by a notary public. According to the WBPS, a donor named Roger Proctor, CEO of Genex Capital, agreed to donate $5 to the Society for every registered naked bather in the water (we had to sign up beforehand to be part of the official “Dip” in order to be counted).

I guess participating in the Skinny Dip is a way to financially support the WBPS (through their donor), but for me, it’s a way to support Wreck Beach and everything I love about it by participating in some “naturist” swimming. I don’t mind sharing the beach with “textiles” (i.e. clothed people), or anyone who is being respectful, but that said, I do think respect is a key part of enjoying Wreck Beach and ensuring everyone else enjoys it too:

  • Respect for the environment: Wreck Beach does not have any garbage receptacles. This is not because you are supposed to throw your garbage in the bushes or into the sand. This is because you are supposed to take all of your garbage away from the beach with you. If everyone takes responsibility for their own garbage, no one will need to take responsibility for everyone’s.
  • Respect for privacy. Obviously, at a clothing-optional beach, taking photographs (except with permission of the subject) is not okay.
  • Respect for personal space and comfort. Visiting a clothing-optional beach is not an invitation to be hit on, gawked at, photographed, ridiculed or in any other way sexualized or objectified. Like any other beach, people go to Wreck to swim and sunbathe, not to pose for Playboy or be harassed.
  • Respect for each other. This one is pretty obvious. Be polite, share the space, don’t mess with things belonging to other people, and look out for each other. The “regulars” at Wreck Beach are always happy to come to your aid if you feel unsafe or harassed in any way.

Generally speaking, most people at Wreck stick to the principles outlined above, which is one of the many reasons this famous naturist beach has remained so beautiful, unique, and inviting. It’s one of Vancouver’s hidden gems and I hope it never changes.

Making Contact with Gifted Students in the VSB

This Friday, I will be attending the end of semester celebration for the Making Contact Mentorship Program, offered as Gifted/Enrichment Education programming through the Vancouver School Board. This is the second year in a row that I have participated in the program as a Creative Writing mentor. The program is always looking for more great mentors, so my purpose in blogging about Making Contact is to hopefully drum up more interest among my brainy and talented readers.

I was originally referred to the program by my friend, playwright and thesbian extraordinaire Emily Pearlman of MiCasa Theatre (Ottawa) who had volunteered with Making Contact as a writing mentor in the past. She is no longer living in the city but she found the program rewarding and thought I would enjoy it. She was right.

The purpose of Making Contact is to connect gifted Vancouver students with mentors who have expertise (or, in my case, skills and a helluva passion) for the same subject. The subjects explored could be almost anything. Making Contact is really only limited by the interests of the students participating and the ability of the program to find suitable mentors (in my limited involvement with the program, I have become aware of a variety of mentorships which included the following subjects: comedy, insects, film making, history, marine biology, comic book art, robotics, and transit planning). At the end of the program, students share the projects they have made with their peers, parents, and mentors at a celebration and in the Vancouver School Board office (projects will be on display there later this month if you’d like to check them out).

A unique characteristic of this particular program is that it is designed to provide enrichment programming to gifted VSB elementary students. Though several mentorship programs determine eligibility based on financial need or family circumstances, participation in Making Contact is determined by the talents and gifts of the students being referred, and their ability to make commitments of time and effort to the program. People have sometimes been surprised that the young writers I have mentored were not in financial or academic need, but to me a child is a child. The gifted children in Making Contact come from a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and are not necessarily in financial need, however, gifted children often experience isolation and frustration stemming from differences between them and their peers, and the inability of school programming to keep pace with their skills and interests. A program such as Making Contact allows these gifted students to benefit not only from focused exploration in their area of interest, but also from having a role model who shares these passions and interests.

I have been very lucky to have met both of the students I have mentored through Making Contact. They are extremely bright, talented, and humorous young women and I feel privileged to have been able to help them express their creativity through writing. I have also been able to strengthen my own writing through sharing my skills–a benefit which several Making Contact mentors across disciplines have discovered and discussed with me.

At the end of the day, participation in this kind of volunteer work just gives me the warm fuzzies. I get to spend an hour or so every week talking about writing and books (yay!) with a promising young person who shares my interest (yay!) and, well, I get to be a human being, making contact with another human being in a structured and mutually beneficial way. And that’s fantastic.

The subjects that interest the students referred to the Making Contact Mentorship Program are in fact so varied that you may not be aware that your skills and knowledge (either through your job or your hobbies) could be of interest and help to a Vancouver elementary student (for example, I had no idea so many K-7 students were interested in chess!). For information regarding which areas of expertise Making Contact is currently seeking mentors for, please visit their Current Needs page.

Brief Encounters: Strangers, Drugs and the DTES

Living where I do, I pass through Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) almost every day, either transferring buses on my way to work in the morning or passing through to Gastown on the bus for dinner or a show on the weekend. For anyone not familiar with the DTES, it is a place unlike any other in Vancouver (or Canada). This part of the city sees a high rate of drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. It is also alive, buzzing, colourful. In other parts of the city, it is the distressed and marginalized who become invisible to the world. In the DTES, it is me, with my lack of involvement with life and work in this area, who becomes invisible–an observer, and occasionally, a listener.

With the arrival of spring (and the warmer weather), I have had the opportunity to see and interact with more people in my brief journeys through their landscape. Some of these encounters have stuck with me, snapshots tacked on the mirror. I can’t condemn or judge. I have no solutions to offer. I can only tell.


It is evening and TC and I are riding the bus. We have a reservation at Jule’s in celebration of my birthday. I’m sitting gingerly, careful not to wrinkle or dirty my dress. I’m playing with my necklace, a birthday gift. A man in his thirties makes his way towards the back of the bus (and us), swaying dangerously as the bus moves. He sits down across from us and makes a funny comment about his difficulty getting to his seat. TC and I laugh. The man begins a conversation with us. I assume he is drunk, but he has a nice smile and nice teeth. We are not at all bothered by him. The man tells TC that his “wife” (i.e. me) “has a good sense of humour.” TC agrees and I cover my left hand with my right so the man will not see that I have no ring and be embarrassed by his mistake.

The man tells us that he is going to Main St. to take drugs. He says he has a wife and three children. His wife does not know that he’s using crack–she doesn’t know he has ever been using drugs. He says, “I know it’s supposed to be bad to lie, but sometimes, you have to. To protect people. I know I’ll have to tell her sometime though.” I think to myself, this man is an addict, the way I would think, this man is a hippie, or this man is a Canucks fan. Just a marker for a stranger.

He tells us he has only been using drugs for two weeks. I’m surprised but I believe him (I imagine that long-term crack use would damage his very nice teeth). He has only been using for two weeks but already it has claimed his Friday evening and probably several days and evenings since. He is angry that he ever took crack in the first place, and blames a friend for getting him into it. But he gets off the bus at Main Street, and tells us he just wants to get back that feeling.

When I tell my co-worker this story, she asks if either TC or I attempted to convince this man not to use drugs that evening. I say no. We didn’t. He wished us a good night and we said thank you. And that’s all that happened.


I am returning home from running errands at 2:00 p.m. I switch buses at Main and Hastings. To my left, I am joined by a Young Man who seems more like a boy–he could be my age at most but I’m not sure he’s even 20. He’s wearing a white undershirt and his skin is pocked and scarred. He is otherwise a good-looking young man, with a wiry build that suggests energy and activity, but today he is so tired he cannot lift his head from the hands resting in his lap.

To my right sits a man in a ponytail and clinical scrubs. He seems a little wired and very sociable. He remarks loudly to the fellow beside him that he was on his way home from work but has been called in to return to cover the rest of the day. He is asked what he does. The Man in Scrubs replies that he works at a methadone clinic.

At this the Young Man riding beside me raises his head. He turns and asks (over me) about which methadone clinic he should go to. He has a referral for one, but he’s not sure if it’s the one he should visit. The Man in Scrubs tells him kindly (and cheerfully) that it is best for him to go to the clinic he’s been referred to, that it’s close by, and not to worry, he will be taken care of there. The Young Man looks tired, and sad.

As the bus nears my stop and I leave my seat, I hear the Young Man tell the Man in Scrubs that he has relapsed today. The Man tells him not to beat himself up about it, it has happened, and to just keep going. I get off the bus and I wonder what the Young Man was like before he began a methadone program. I wonder about his energy (did he have more before, or less?). I wonder how old he is.


It is 7:30 a.m. and I am waiting at Main and Hastings for the bus that will take me to work. I’m looking up periodically, always afraid that a bird will shit on me (crows constantly congregate on the electrical wires at Main and Hastings, and pigeons live under the awning of the Rickshaw Theatre; seagulls, of course, are everywhere). Two men near me have a small argument, and one of them walks away.

The other approaches me and says hello. He tells me that he wants me to see something and holds out a stub for a federal government cheque. He tells me to look at the amount. The cheque had been for $326.

He says, “I helped ten people buy dope yesterday because I had this [the cheque]. How much of that do you think I have left today?”

I say, I don’t know. I can feel my features making a sad face and I say, Is it gone?

The man holds up a toonie. “This is all I have left,” he says. And then, “I’m not telling you this because I’m asking for money. I just wanted to show somebody because I’m ashamed of myself. I needed someone to see what I did.”

I nod as my bus pulls up. He tells me to have a good day. I think I say, You too. I hope I say it.


These stories are true, to the best of my memory. These stories all happened in the past three weeks. I’m sharing them not because I have anything to say about them, but because they made an impression on me, and because I want to.

I don’t know about drugs or addiction. I haven’t seen it in my immediate life. I hear and read good things about harm reduction and recovery programs available through places like Insite and the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver. But I don’t know anything. Stories brushed against me, and I just wanted to tell them.

Hive: The New Bees 2 (Get your buzz on May 24-26)

Are you in need of a great night of arts and culture, but can’t decide what to see? Do you wish you could have the opportunity to experience a variety of work from a variety of theatre companies, without having to leave the venue? Do you wish that instead of watching one two-hour show, you could watch ten-minute shows, have a drink at the bar, and then just keep watching more bite-sized pieces of theatre? If so, Hive: The New Bees 2, produced this year by Resounding Scream Theatre, may just be the show for you.

In 2009, Simon Fraser University BFA Theatre graduates Aliya Griffin, Gina Readman, Natalie Schneck, and Caroline Sniatynski organized and produced the original Hive: The New Bees as part of the 2009 Vancouver Fringe Festival. The mission behind the original New Bees was to showcase the work of recent Vancouver-based theatre graduates from SFU, UBC, and Studio 58. This year, Catherine Ballachey and Stephanie Henderson of Resounding Scream Theatre have taken up the mantle to produce Hive: The New Bees 2, showcasing the work of 12 emerging Vancouver theatre companies (many of which had participants in the original Hive: The New Bees).

For those of you who have never been to either Hive: The New Bees or to any of the three Hives produced by Vancouver’s professional companies in past years, you are in for a wild and fun night. You can stay as long as you like. You can see as much or as little as  you want to. If  you want to try to watch every single show, you can! If you want to watch one show again and again and again, you can! If you want to sit by one of the two bars and watch roving performances or our musical and comedic guests, or simply stare into your beer all night long, guess what? YOU CAN!

I’ve been to two of the professional Hives and I performed in Hive: The New Bees in 2009 (shameless plug alert: I am also performing next week, as part of the ad hoc company The Troika Collective). It’s always a fun night and I’ve always been able to walk away with at least one gem of artistic creation that really blew my mind (in addition to the other theatrical work I enjoyed).

The 12 emerging companies (and ad hoc companies) participating next week in Hive: The New Bees 2 are:

After each company is finished performing for the night, New Bees 2 will present after-show entertainment for those who like to party. For more information on the after-show acts, please visit the show’s event page.

Hive: The New Bees 2 runs May 24-26 at 8:00 pm at Chapel Arts (304 Dunlevy  Avenue). After-show events will run from 10:00 pm to midnight each night.

Tickets are available at the door or can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets are $20 for the whole evening or $10 for the after-party.

Emerging theatre companies often suffer from a lack of exposure as much as a lack of funds. We’re here! We’re theatrical! Come on down and get to know us!

[MORE SHAMELESS PLUGGING: The piece I am performing in is called “Chernobyl: The Opera,” directed by Aliya Griffin, with music for four voices, accordion, and cello composed and arranged by Elliot Vaughan. We’re a talented bunch (if I do say so myself), and plus, you get to hear me sing!]

UPDATE MAY 25th: This just in! Colin Thomas of the Georgia Strait had good things to say about the pieces in New Bees 2 and about the Troika Collective as one of the particulars! Read all about it!

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.