Friday, January 29, 2010

PuSh 2010: The Passion Project

The Passion Project is definitely not a traditional piece of theatre (and I say that having also been to both Jerk and Poetics: A Ballet Brut). As described by Reid Farrington, the creator/director, it is a performance installation. This more aptly describes the experience. Even though we were in a theatre it seemed to me this might be the type of art installation you might encounter at somewhere like the Tate Modern or the MoMA. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just apples and oranges. The Tate Modern and the MoMA are two of my favourite places to hang out in if I’m in London or NYC but visiting an art gallery is an altogether different experience then a night at the theatre.

Reid Farrington has taken the silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and combined it with recorded interviews, sound clips and music to create a 30-minute archival film experiment. And, just like going to see an exhibit or installation piece at an art gallery, you can walk around the art work and view the piece from all angles.

This performance installation starts off with a 10X10 square foot of light that is bordered by 9(ish) frames of white material and numerous ropes tied in various loops & knots plus a stool and a bench. Then the performer (Laura K. Nicoll) enters the room and at first no one really notices. Most people went on chatting or reading their program. Last night she walked around the room sort-of interacting with, but not really talking to, the audience for what may have been almost 5 minutes (give-or-take) before the audience realized the performance had begun. After which the lights went down, the film projections started and the performer began to move the frames around the installation to capture various moments of the film on the frames.

The original film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, was thought to be destroyed in a fire in 1928 only to be discovered in the closet of a Norwegian mental institution 50 years later. Reid Farrington uses this version, and 2 other “bastardized” versions that were created from the out-takes of the original after it supposedly burnt in fire, to create this archival film experiment.

Essentially the performer is piecing together the story of Joan of Arc (both the historical account and the film version) in the same way the original movie had to be pieced together. At least that is my interpretation. But, just like how my favourite Kandinsky painting that hangs in the Tate Modern will mean something different to me than it does to another visitor, so too will The Passion Project. I imagine every person who goes to see this performance installation will have a different interpretation. That is the beauty of art.

You can check out The Passion Project at Pacific Theatre until February 6th. There are usually two performances a night at 7pm and 9pm with 2pm matinees on Saturday’s.

(Photo: Paula Cort. Courtesy of the PuSh Festival)

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, January 28, 2010

PuSh 2010: Poetics

First, they are called “The Nature Theater of Oklahoma”. Second, the description of the company in the PuSh brochure says they’ve been referred to by the New York Times as “the most buzzed about new troupe on the New York avant-garde scene". And, third, the title of the piece refers to it as a “ballet brut”. You put all these things together – nature theatre, avant-garde, and ballet brut - and I hadn’t a clue what to expect.

Then the performance begins and quite quickly you begin to smile. Then you start to chuckle a little to yourself. Before you know it you’re laughing out loud. And, by the end I was smiling and laughing so hard my face hurt.

I certainly didn’t expect that but what a good surprise! Poetics: a ballet brut is nothing what you would expect and so much more. Yes, there is no speaking, so it is “experimental” or avant-garde. The nature theatre part actually refers to a quote from Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika. And, the best part about it, is the fact that the performers have no formal dance training yet still masterfully create the movement of the piece.

Hugely entertaining, Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, creators of The Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and directors of this piece, take every day mundane gestures, put them to various pop tunes (ABBA, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer) and press repeat. The various gestures are repeated from various angles and with varying attitudes to create a playful and hysterical look at our everyday reality. The sleeping sequence to Gary Wright’s “Dreamweaver” (you know, the song in Wayne’s World) is especially clever and witty.

I was also lucky enough to be part of the audience participation factor. But don’t worry, it’s not scary, they spray themselves with breathe mint before they approach you...

It’s not what you think but it’s pretty funny (just sit in the centre if you don’t like audition participation). The last sequence is outstanding but I don’t want to give it all away. This is a piece that has to be experienced to be appreciated – me talking about it won’t do it justice - so go get your tickets. I’d do it now if I were you. It’s a small space and it only plays for 3 more days. And, if you miss it, you will be missing out on something great.

Poetics: A Ballet Brut is at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown until Saturday, January 30. On this final Saturday there is a matinee at 2pm and an evening performance at 7pm and at tonight’s performance there will be a post-show talk.

(Photo: Peter Nigrini. Courtesy of the PuSh Festival)

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PuSh 2010: The Edward Curtis Project

The Edward Curtis Project is a contemporary play that creates an unlikely dialogue between Edward Curtis and a M├ętis foreign correspondent named Angeline. Sparked by the trauma of witnessing a horrific event Angeline fears she is losing her grip on reality. She worries she is slipping from existence. A situation that is mirrored in the turn-of-the-century photography book by Edward Curtis called “The Vanishing Indian”.

Ok, so this is the one show in the PuSh Festival, where I know a couple of people involved so I jumped at the chance to have a Q & A session with both of them. Meet Brenda Leadlay, Co-Director, and Barbara Clayden, Costume Designer, of the Edward Curtis Project.

I first met Brenda Leadlay (also the Artistic Director of Presentation House Theatre) in the summer of 2006 when 20-Something produced its first show at the PHT. Brenda offered advice and support and has been doing so ever since. Before she landed at the PHT she was the Artistic Director of the Norman Rothstein where she founded the Chutzpah Festival and before that she was the Artistic Director of Tamahnous Theatre.

Brenda and Barb have known each other and collaborated together for many years but I first met Barb in the fall of 2006 (Hmmm...2006 was a good year) when I was part of Pi Theatre’s emerging artist production of Werewolves. Barb was my costume design mentor. She not only provided mentorship during that project but she was the one who introduced me to Donna Spencer (Artistic Producer at the Firehall Arts Centre) with whom I’ve worked with 5 times since then. So I can definitely say I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t met Barb. She went above and beyond and I can’t thank her enough. Barb is the winner of 5 Jessie Richardson Awards for her work as a designer with the latest being for Patrick Street’s production of Into the Woods in 2008.

Brenda, how did The Edward Curtis Project come to be?

I wanted to work on something with Marie, as we had worked together in 1995, so I asked her if she would be interested in a commission of her choosing. She selected the Edward Curtis Project.

What made you decide to produce it as part of the PuSh Festival rather just as a Presentation House production?

We knew it would be a good fit for PuSh and we wanted to be able to promote the show to other presenters in the hope of touring it to other cities in Canada and beyond. PuSh always attracts lots of presenters from Canada and abroad. Also – we knew we couldn’t compete with their advertising and that the show would get lost otherwise.

Barb, how did you become involved with The Edward Curtis Project?

I was asked by Brenda to design the costumes... and invited to do some of the original research in 2008... which meant going on this awesome road trip to LA with Rita, Marie and Brenda.

I wish I had been on that road trip! Since The Edward Curtis Project is based on a historical figure did you have to do a lot of research? How is the design process different when the character(s) you are designing for is based on a real life person? Is there more pressure to be historically accurate?

Yes... a lot of looking at pictures Curtis took, pictures of Curtis, his family and colleagues, and reading about EC's photographic trips.

As a designer, I get very inspired from doing research, either for historical projects or contemporary ones.

In the case of representing real people on stage, there is a choice to be made between trying to duplicate as fully as possible one particular image of them that exists and is known to the audience, or to represent the person(s) by giving a flavour of personality, occupation and era by the choice of clothing.

For "The Edward Curtis Project" I chose the latter - to represent rather than duplicate. The script is not a reenactment of actual events or facts... a lot of the play takes place in the imaginings of one of the characters, Angeline, so it seemed appropriate to hint at the kind of man Curtis was through his costume.

As a matter of fact, all the characters in Angeline's world are pared down to essentials in terms of their costume, with a muted colour palette, hopefully evocative of a developing photograph, or a sepia print from Curtis' era.

After having worked on this project where do stand on the controversy surrounding Edward Curtis and his photographs?

Barb: Certainly more educated on what Curtis actually did to get some of the photographs, more educated on the political and social happenings of the time and still conflicted between the beauty of his images and the methods used to get them.

Brenda: I think he did what the other photographers of his day were doing – taking romantic photos instead of presenting what was the reality – First Nation’s people living on reservations and starving. I think his vision was commendable and that his accomplishment was extremely significant. I think Edward Curtis makes us still ask the question as to why we still don’t tell the truth about the way Aboriginal people live in Canada today.

Finish the sentence.

Barb: Through the design of Edward Curtis I hope the audience… get a sense of a dream/unreal state of mind, a sense of the period in which Curtis lived and a certain timelessness where the past and present merge.

Brenda: I would be happy if the audience left the theatre… feeling like we are all responsible for what has been done to First Nation’s people and ask themselves what they can do to make life better for our First People.

Ok, now a little theatre biz talk. I’m so grateful and appreciative of the support, advice and mentorship I’ve received from you both. If you had one piece of advice for other young directors or designers what would it be?

Barb: To remember that theatre is a collaborative and collective art form, with many and varied artists working together to create a unified vision. And to never forget the magic of it all.

Brenda: To take the reins in to your own hands, as you have done Sabrina, and produce and direct your own work or the work of people you admire. I think it’s also important for you to find your own process so that your work is meaningful to yourself, your audience and those you work with. And it’s also important to keep asking yourself questions about why theatre is important and to educate yourself to the best of your ability about what has already been said and done.

The Edward Curtis Project plays at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver until this Sunday, January 31st. Be sure to also check out the photography exhibit by Rita Leistner either before or after the performance.

(Photos: Tim Matheson. Courtesy of Ellie O'Day & Rebecca Coleman)

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Saturday, January 23, 2010

PuSh 2010: Nevermore

Nevermore is a show you do not want to miss because if you do I guarantee you will regret it.

There I said it, right off the bat, because right now that is all I can think about. Last night the performance ended, the house lights went to black and as soon as they came back on, so the performers could take their bows, I was on my feet. Without a second of hesitation. That is something I have NEVER done here, in this city, before.

I have either lived in or been to a lot of great cities – London, New York, Paris, Prague, Budapest – and in those cities seen a lot of great theatre, opera, ballet, etc but Canada is my home and today that makes me very proud indeed.

Catalyst Theatre, based out of Edmonton, has created an extraordinary piece of theatre. It is “a whimsical and chilling musical fairytale for adults” based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Winner of 7 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes awards (Edmonton's professional theatre awards) Nevermore is a visual masterpiece. The costumes, taking their cues from gothic subculture (think Tim Burton), were enough to put me on Cloud 9. The set was minimalist yet imaginative and the lighting & sound all combined to create the perfect mood whether that was a funny child-like story or a garish nightmare. Next you take the actual text and music which is beautiful yet haunting and quite powerful. Add on to that the choreography, which takes it nods from contemporary dance, where significant movements are repeated over and over again and you’ve got a recipe for one of the freshest pieces of contemporary theatre I have ever seen.

The dynamic duo of Jonathan Christenson (Writer/Director/Composer) and Bretta Gerecke (Production Designer) may have just become my own personal hero’s.

In his message in the program, Norman Armour (Executive Director of the PuSh Festival) says that “it seems Edmonton’s theatre community has a penchant for mischievously twisting the musical theatre genre”. That is an understatement. They have completely redefined the musical theatre genre.

Nevermore is playing at the Arts Club, Granville Island Stage, until February 6. On Tuesday, January 26th, there is a post-show talk-back that is being moderated by Michael Scholar Jr who not only directed one of my top-5 (if not #1) show from last year but is also Artistic Producer of that other Edmonton company redefining the musical theatre genre (Seriously, is there something they put in the water there?!). As soon as I finish up this blog post I am buying my tickets to see it again.

Nevermore is everything theatre should be strive to be. My advice: if you want to see this show before it sells out get your tickets now.

(Top Photo: Tim Matheson courtesy of Ellie O'Day, Publicist. Bottom Photo: Sean McLennan courtesy of the PuSh Festival)

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Friday, January 22, 2010

PuSh 2010: Jerk

One man, three (or maybe four) puppets, a chair, a boom box, a bag and us, the audience, and you’ve got Jerk.

When you enter the room David Brooks (Jonathan Capdevielle) is seated in a chair waiting for us to take our seats on the bright green stadium-like benches. So we all file in, and as people climb over top of each other to get their seats, the ushers hand out a fanzine which later becomes part of the production.

Then he speaks and begins to tell us a fictionalized story based on the events of the actual Houston Mass Murders. The reason I say fictionalized is because one Google search into the actual events of the Houston Mass Murders (which I promptly did as soon as I got home) will reveal that the story you hear from this David Brooks does not match up with the actual events.

However, historical accuracy is not the point. Rather the intention is to blur the lines between reality and fantasy and to explore, with the audience, how the psychology of one young man’s mind might work. And so we sit and listen as David brings out his puppets and in graphic detail recounts some of the horrifying acts of rape, murder and mutilation that he witnessed and was part of.

And, at first - I’m going to be completely honest with you - it is a little uncomfortable because, for most of us, this is not your average night at the theatre. For most of us when we think of puppets and theatre we might think of say, Avenue Q, where puppets having sex on stage is actually quite funny. Well, the sexual acts perpetrated on this stage by these puppets are no laughing matter and I think that is what might make it hard for some audience members to get past. A couple of people did walk out half-way through the performance; however, for the rest of us, once we settled in and began that suspension of disbelief it was a mesmerizing journey.

Not only does Jonathan Capdevielle take us on a journey by inhabiting the psyche of David Brooks but he is also the voice of the puppets for the other two serial killers Dean Corll and Elmer Wayne Henley. Towards the end of the performance we see Jonathan, as David Brooks, in an almost catatonic state yet the actor inside is still able to throw his voice and clearly articulate the voices of the other characters.

I’m still mesmerized by his performance as I sit here and write this post. And I don’t necessarily want to speak for everyone in that room but I have never, in all my theatre-going years, experienced that long of a pause at the end of a performance before the clapping began. It really was as though everyone in that audience was put under a spell and needed a moment to return to reality.

You can catch Jerk at the VIVO Media Arts Centre at 1965 Main Street. Trust me it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Jerk plays for the next three days until January 24 at 8pm. There is a post-show talk back after tonight’s performance. If I didn’t have another PuSh show to attend I might go back just for the talk-back because I would love to know more about the creation of this piece. And, possibly, just to see Jonathan Capdevielle in real life, and not just as David Brooks, because right now if I saw him on the street I might just run in the opposite direction.

(Photo of Jonathan Capedevielle by Alain Monot. Courtesy of the PuSh Festival)

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Across the Country

Today, I received a new comment on an old post. This comment comes from Jessica Ruano, an Ottawa arts blogger, regarding a similar conversation about bloggers and their place in the ever-changing world of publicity and the media.

This is what I love about the internet, blogging and social media. We can connect these conversations together and create a national conversation.

Not only has a national conversation been started on the role of the blogger but we also wrote similar posts that link this conversation to the difference between “reviewers” & “critics”.

Interesting stuff.

Jessica will be in town attending and discussing the PuSh Festival on her blog. Welcome to Vancouver, Jessica!

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Decision Made

About a month ago I wrote a post that had the most comments and controversy of all my posts since I started writing this blog. Well, after all that discussion, a decision has been made that I think finds a good balance.

Like many said, I also believe that the more people we have talking about theatre the better. Anything I can do to help that I am on board with; however, at the same time, I also want to keep it within the scope of what this blog, and my mandate, is about which is getting younger people going to theatre.

So I suggested to Ellie (Publicist for PuSh) that maybe I could go to see a handful of PuSh shows and then afterwards discuss why the show would appeal to an 18-35 crowd. Essentially I would try to demystify - for some who may have preconceived notions - what the PuSh Festival is as well as the kinds of shows that are part of the festival. Basically telling you, my readers, what is cool about the show I just saw. So I wouldn't be writing a "review" per se but a discussion of what makes the PuSh festival cool and why you should check it out rather than go to a movie or concert or play video games, etc.

More than anything though I think it was the comment from Jocelyn that made the biggest impact on me and helped me make my final decision. She wrote:

As a blogger, netizen and ‘young person’ I am the first to admit that I seek the opinion of ‘educated opinionists’ when I want to see a show, read a book, get a haircut, and so on.

I know NOTHING about theatre except two people who work in the industry. I go see what my friend lois tells me to (and invites me to!). So I see the utility of inviting bloggers to review the PuSH festival. I see it as part of an effort to be understood and loved by a wide audience, not just the type of people who read theatre reviews in the paper.

I understand the fear of a conflict of interest, but as long as you are confident that none of the major players are people you work with or know, or are worried about offending, I say you are perfect for the role. I am a non-creative-industry person. I need someone who knows it to help me understand what is good and what is bad, how I should appreciate something or - sometimes - to put me in front of something that challenges me. I don't usually get that from strangers' reviews in the paper.

Because, let's face it. I don't read the paper. I read the internets.”

Like I always say theatre is about the audience. I write this blog for my audience and readers. As much as I appreciate (and am grateful for) the opinions of those in the industry more than anything I value the opinions of the average audience member/reader. If I’m presented with an opportunity to help, in any way, to demystify this thing we call “theatre” for them then I can hardly say no.

So, here is my schedule of shows: I will be attending Jerk on January 21st, Nevermore on January 22nd & The Edward Curtis Project on January 23rd. The following week I will see Poetics on January 27th and The Passion Project on January 28th. I will try and post my thoughts for discussion the next day.

Five shows in the span of one week. That is a lot of theatre to attend. I’m excited to do it and I look forward to writing about it. Thanks to Ellie for organizing all this and being on board and so enthusiastic about my idea.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Canadian Genius

It’s mid-January and that means the Olympics are bearing down on us. I see more and more signs warning drivers of street closures. I see buildings and tents being constructed all over town. It also means that Robert Lepage, one of the most influential Canadian theatre artists of all time, is going to be in town in 15 days. And, I am going to have the great privilege to work behind the scenes on his creation The Blue Dragon. If nothing else, I am a grateful to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics for this.

I’ve known since the fall that there was a very good possibility I would be working on this production as Head of Wardrobe but it was a matter of scheduling and timing and today I signed the contract. It is pretty exciting stuff.

Most Canadian theatre artists have heard of or, if fortunate enough, seen the work of Robert Lepage. For me it all started in University because not only was he a huge component of my 2nd year theatre history course but my design professor was obsessed with his work. So, not only did I study about his influence on Canadian theatre but I also saw slide after slide after slide of examples of the design behind his work. Then he came to Vancouver Playhouse as part of their 2002/2003 season with his show The Far Side of the Moon and I got to experience first-hand what everyone was talking about. And, now 7 years later, I have the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes, see how it all works and be part of making it all happen.

I’m not sure what to expect but, I can tell you one thing, I’m sure it will be an experience I will never forget.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy New Year

So, it’s been almost a month since I’ve posted anything on this blog. The reason is I’ve been working on “Debt – The Musical” and it has a bunch of specialty kind-of costumes (ie. Sexy Credit Cards and Fish Mascot Costumes….don’t ask, just go see the show) that have taken up a lot of my time. Yesterday I was so sleep deprived I wandered aimlessly around my house for 45 minutes because I kept forgetting what it was exactly that I was supposed to be doing. Not a good sign.

But last night’s preview was completely sold out and costume-wise everything went off without a hitch so I am happy to report I can go back to having a normal life (whatever that is).

What day is it again? Sunday. Ok, and somewhere in the last month we had Christmas and New Years, right?! It’s all been a blur to me. I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s posts reviewing the year we’ve left behind and talking about the year ahead. So I guess it’s my turn.

2009: 36 shows seen, 2 shows produced, 1 show directed, 2 shows costume designed, 1 show managed the bar as a fundraiser, and 1 new-play development.

There it is summed up in one sentence. I won’t go into too many details because most of it you are already familiar with if you’ve been reading my blog (and if you haven’t you can start now). Of the productions I did see I’ve already talked about the ones that stood out to me: Fat Pig, Any Night, True Love Lies & Robin Hood. An honourable mention does go out to The Vertical Hour at the JAC. So there you have it, my top 5 in no particular order.

A lot of great theatre happened this past year and I’m excited to see what the year ahead brings us.

For us, here at 20-Something, the year ahead is very exciting indeed. We’ve got the first production of the brand new play Prodigals by local playwright Sean Minogue and, of course, our annual summer production. The official announcement will come out soon I promise.

Personally, this year could be a year of big change and a lot of cool opportunities. I don’t want to give anything away yet because I’m a bit superstitious that way. I don’t really like to talk about anything until it is 100% confirmed. But, hopefully, you’ll follow me along for the ride because one thing I am resolved to do is blog a little more regularly.

So, cheers, to a new year. May it be a prosperous one.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer