Thursday, January 31, 2013

PuSh 2013: I, Malvolio

I, Malvolio is the best kind of theatre. What does that mean?! Well, to me it means that it was funny, clever & entertaining and yet, while doing all of that, it also made me think. 

It made me think about myself as a spectator not just in theatre but in life. It made me think about how, as a society, we sit by and watch as others are ridiculed or teased or made fun. How sometimes we even join in innocently thinking we’re not doing any harm because it is all in good fun. But are we doing no harm?! Is it all only in good fun?! When the joking or the teasing is at the expense of someone else, is that really true?! This is why bullying is such a big issue today.

(Photo Courtesy PuSh Festival. Photographer: Bruce Dalzell Atherton)

So, as I watched and laughed, I also sat there in the audience thinking to myself that this would be the perfect play to bring teenage students too. Not only is the humour witty and clever but it also has a perfectly timed crassness as well. Tim Crouch at one point quite literally bends over revealing his bare arse through his torn one-piece underwear to the entire audiences. These jokes never get old. Especially not for teenagers (or for us adults but more on that later). Why do think Judd Apatow movies do so well?!

However, right after he reveals his arse to us and the whole audience is roaring with laughter, he turns around and asks us rather pointedly “So, you think that’s funny?!” and proceeds to berate us for laughing at his expense. He does this many times and by doing so effectively makes us, the audience, look inwards at ourselves. Why are we laughing at him?! Is it funny to laugh at Malvolio, a man believed to have gone mad, because of his love for another?! A man who has been tricked into believing that the fair Olivia is in love with him?!

Don’t you think this might sound a little familiar to a high school crowd?! This is a very general example but the story might go something like this:

The nerdy, shy quiet boy is made fun of for being himself. He acts out as a result and then he gets attacked further. The bullying boys think it's funny to play a prank on him and tell him that the pretty popular girl likes him. The nerdy, shy quiet boy finds out the truth, that it's all just a joke and he is crushed.

This is why Shakespeare transcends time. And, this is the brilliance of I, Malvolio. It is a play written for young audiences inspired by Shakespeare so not only is it creating an understanding and love for Shakespeare in kids and teenagers but it is also providing a forum to talk about issues like bullying without beating them over the head with an issue-driven play.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t resonate with adult audiences. I would imagine that anyone walking out of last nights opening night performance would be able to say that they laughed a lot, that at times they probably felt a little uncomfortable and that Tim Crouch is a fantastic performer.

(Photo Courtesy PuSh Festival. Photographer: Bruce Dalzell Atherton)

To drive home this question of madness - is it Malvolio or is it really us – Tim Crouch begins the play in this wild “Turkey Cock” costume that underlines his craziness. Then as the play goes on – and he begins to bring into question the sanity of the world around him and us the audience – he slowly puts on a “normal” costume, one you might see Malvolio wear at the start of any production of Twelfth Night. The design by Graeme Gilmour is in this way both simple yet highly effective. The best kind of design. It tells us so much with so little. The choices were clearly there - the yellow stockings for example – but each choice simply made to effectively tell the story that Tim Crouch has so brilliantly written.

This is not just a play for young audiences it is a play for all audiences. It is a play that makes us question our own actions and motives and it does so with laughter. The best kind of theatre.

I, Malvolio is presented by The Cultch and The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is playing in the Historic Theatre until February 10th. You can purchase your tickets at The Cultch website. It will be 60 minutes of your life well spent.

 ~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Monday, January 28, 2013

PuSh 2013: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

When I first got a glimpse of the PuSh Festival line-up for this year I knew that there was one show I wanted to see without a doubt. That show is The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. My grandmother was a fiery Scot so you put me in a pub with traditional folk music and a beer in my hand and I'll pretty much be in heaven.

In my twenties I lived in the UK for a year - and spent some of that time in Scotland - so I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to experience a local pub night first hand; but unfortunately, and much to my dismay, we don't really have real pubs here in Vancouver. We have trendy pubs.

(Photo Courtesy of PuSh Festival. Photographer: Drew Farrell)

And, from the sound of the The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, the creators of this production are hoping to give us, the audience, an experience like you might have at a real local pub in the Scottish Borders. Lucky me, Alastair Macrae, the Musical Director and a performer in Pru (as they refer to it), took a few minutes to answer a few questions about the show to get you all as excited about it as I am:

1. What should an audience member expect when experiencing The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart? 

Ideally an audience should come to Pru free from expectation other than an idea that the show will be Scottish. In whatever interpretation of that word they want. 

It may be true to say, however, that their idea of 'Scottish' may be radically altered by the end of the night. 

2. Where did the inspiration come for this project?

David Greig wanted to do a piece that had, as it's springboard, the Border Ballads (Google Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border) and which would be as much fun as a kid's birthday party but for grown-ups. 

To that end, myself (as MD), Wils Wilson (director) and David spent a weekend in Kelso. We attended the folk night in the local pub and were visited by various Border historians and scholars, it was cold and snowy and over the course of the weekend we realised that a kids party for grown-ups is a lock-in in the pub A lot of the show came from that weekend including the character of Prudencia who is a fictional amalgamation of lots of elements of different experts we met. 

[Google: "A lock-in is when a pub owner lets drinkers stay in the pub after the legal closing time: the theory is that once the doors are locked, it becomes a private party rather than a pub. Patrons may put money behind the bar before official closing time, and redeem their drinks during the lock-in so no drinks are technically sold after closing time"]

3. What was the creation process like and have you been working on this as a team from the start? Or did it start with one person – the playwright or the director – and then bringing the rest of the team on later?

The process was about as much chaotic fun as you can have in a rehearsal room with iced-tea instead of beer. 

As far as the original team goes, we've had two actors go on to do other things but the majority of the team were in from the first day of rehearsal. 

As I said above, the original idea came from Wils and David and I, was brought on at the earliest discussions. 

The audition process was strange because we didn't have a script until rehearsal day one (and then it was only 12 pages) so we were looking for a team who had the skills to do this kind of unconventional work. We did group auditions involving music, singing and storytelling, improvised song and the like but the most important element was the group creativity. 

Having assembled the mob we started our 4 weeks of rehearsal with the first 12 pages and a wall of post-it notes with moments that we wanted to see in the show; Pru and the devil watch tv, big-breasted women fall out of the toilets spewing etc. 

David was in the room with us the whole time and watched and wrote and distracted us with anecdotes and every few days would come up with a new section of script which we would then work through, trying to use as many 'found' objects as possible to make a kind of 'poor theatre'. 

Most of the 2nd act was more straight devising; improvising, recording, re-doing honing ideas etc, and then all we had to do was stick it all together. 

We got the final script 3 days before the first show. 


4. Music is obviously integral to this project? How much was created for this production specifically? How much is from existing songs?

The canon of Scottish balladry is expansive and mercurial and stretches as far as you want to look. 

With that amount of source material it is all too easy to overwhelm an audience and turn a show into a lecture. This is something we wanted to avoid. 

There are quite a few ballads and folk songs in the piece (which is itself a ballad) mostly in the form of a pub session, but to force old beautiful songs on top of another story would be like playing Run DMC and Eminem at the same time. A very bad mash-up. This is also something we wanted to avoid.

There's a fairly continuous soundtrack throughout the piece, some of it ancient and some composed by myself (with the great help of the band and a loop- station) and some composed by Kathy Denis and made famous by Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue. So the audience are carried on a musical journey hopefully seeing the similarities these genres have and understanding their relevance to a 21st century Scottish experience. This is something we wish to include. 

5. Finish this sentence: At the end of the evening I would like the audience to leave the WISE Hall feeling…

A little undone by a great night in the pub and that the hangover's definitely in the post. 

"A kid's birthday party but for grown ups": I'm pretty sure not much more is needed to be said. I couldn't be more excited for this show if I tried.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart plays at the WISE hall opening Tuesday, January 29th and running until Saturday, February 2nd. This National Theatre of Scotland production is presented by The PuSH International Performing Arts Festival and The Cultch. Tickets at The Cultch box office or click here.

But, a little birdie may have told me that tickets are close to selling out if they haven't already, so if you don't want to miss out on a show that critics have called "rambunctiously life-affirming and touchingly beautiful" (The Herald) then may I suggest you get your tickets now.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, January 24, 2013

PuSh 2013: Ride The Cyclone

When I saw Ride the Cyclone at the Revue Stage on Granville Island a little over a year ago I was impressed by its originality, the music and the talent on stage. Jacob Richmond (writer), Brooke Maxwell (music & lyrics) & Britt Small (direction) together created a breathe of fresh air in a sometimes dull and mundane theatrical landscape. There was no denying that this creation was something special and that young people were flocking to this show.

Having said all that, I have to admit – and I may be the only one – I felt a little detached from it. I could see its brilliance but I’m not sure it drew me in the way I would have liked to be drawn in.

You see, and I’ll fully admit my bias here, for the most part (and there are exceptions of course) I am a story person. Give me a plot and someone to root for. So, when I heard through the grapevine that in the newest version of Ride the Cyclone they were working on integrating a more substantial plot line my interest in seeing it again was piqued.

Just to be clear, I would have seen it again regardless, because it is a brilliant show without or without the latest changes; however, I was pleasantly and happily surprised to find at Tuesday night’s Opening that this brilliant little musical now also included a journey for me to go on and a character, or characters, to root for.

In short: the Ancient Karnak plays a much bigger role in that he turns this spooky land of the dead, where the 6 kids from Uranium have been trapped after being killed on a roller coaster ride, into a kind of game where they all compete for a chance to get their life back. Who to root for? Who will win? Will anyone win? This is the journey.

(Photo courtesy: PuSh Festival. Photographer:  Fairen Berchard)

Then within that framework you get all the brilliance of this talented cast in each of their feature pieces: Rielle Braid is fantastic as the overachieving alpha female Ocean Rosenberg; Elliot Loran’s David Bowie-esque “Space Age Bachelor Man” as Ricky Potts is a real trip; Sarah Jane Pelzer is perfectly creepy as Jane Doe; Jameson Parker as Misha Bachinsky raps the sh*t out his number while alternatively making you want to give him a great big hug; Kelly Hudson’s pop number ‘”Sugar Cloud” as Constance Blackwood makes me want to hear her on the radio; and last but certainly not least, is Kholby Wardell as Noel Gruber who strips down to his boudoir best, slaps on a pair of heels and makes us all want to be a French prostitutes.

All of this factored in - with the addition of a live band and a few more numbers for us to all enjoy - next stop Broadway. Catch it now, if you can still get tickets, so that you can be one of the lucky ones to say “I saw it when…”

Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone plays on the Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island stage as part of The PuSh International Perfoming Arts Festival until February 16. You can purchase your tickets here!

But do it quick, if they aren’t already sold out, you can bet they will be soon.

~Sabrina Evertt,
Artistic Producer

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Looking Ahead

I am not going to lie 2011 pretty much did me in. I was so burnt out that I found it pretty darn hard to find the energy to do anything in 2012. Hence, the paring down and the 6 month leave of absence in 2012.

From that I learned two very important things:

1. Twenty Something had now moved into territory where there was more work than I could successfully do on my own without killing myself.

2. I needed to get back to doing things for myself, and not just for everyone else, because when I don’t fill my own creative well I just end up feeling drained completely dry.

So, here we are in 2013, and I’ve taken time to relax, refresh and get re-energized and most importantly I’ve put the necessary things in place to help me move forward and not kill myself:

1. I convinced Brian to come join me at Twenty Something and, I think I can speak for us both when I say, we’re pretty excited about our 2013 season plus we’ve got some pretty hefty plans for the company over the next 3 years. It’s an exciting time for Twenty Something Theatre.

2. And, I’m very excited to move back into the director’s seat with the world premiere of Sean’s new play. By the time we start rehearsals for Us & Everything We Own in March it will be 2 years since I directed a play for Twenty Something. Considering it’s a company I founded that’s quite a long period of time. But, I needed the time to get inspired again and now the time is right.

Plus, last year was just a pretty dismal and depressing year for us all involved in Arts & Culture as we witnessed the demise the Vancouver Playhouse. I know that it greatly affected me and my perspective. Trust me I had very few positive things to say at the time. And, that’s rare for me, I’m usually a pretty optimistic person.

So, as Norman Armour said last night at the Opening of Club PuSh, “it’s about time we changed the freakin' narrative on Arts & Culture here in Vancouver” to which he received a thunderous applause. And, I couldn’t agree more. We’ve got a lot of amazing theatre in this city so it’s time to brush off the dust from 2012 and move into a shiny, new and exciting 2013.

And, if the show I saw last night at the kick off to Club PuSh, 2btheatre & Hawksley Workman’s The God That Comes, is any indication of what is to come at the PuSh Festival this 2013, it is about to blow the roof of the proverbial house. I sh*t you not. My mind is still blown from the talent of that man. He not only played multiple instruments and sang (as well as obviously writing the music and lyrics) but he also played multiple characters and told a story. A funny and terrifying story. I took my brother and he said as we left “that is the best thing I have seen in a helluva long time." Buy, beg, borrow, steal a ticket and just go.

(Photo courtesy PuSh Festival. Photographer: Blake Sitter)

While I just managed to snap up a ticket last minute to The God That Comes I will be doing some blogging, as I do every year, for the PuSh Festival so look out for upcoming posts on Ride The Cyclone and I, Malvolio plus possibly a preview piece on The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.

So, here’s to a fruitful, optimistic, inspiring and energizing 2013! I think it’s gonna be a great year!

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2012 Year in Review

Happy 2013 Everyone!! I know I’m 16 days behind the times here but in my defense I was out of the country until the 7th and I had a grant plus final designs for an upcoming production due yesterday. And, the 9 days since I have been back from winter holidays have been insane. If that is any indication as to how 2013 is going to go, I think I can safely say it’s going to be a busy year.

But for now, let’s look back to 2012. This was my year of taking it easy. Twenty Something only co-produced one major production (and a mighty fine one at that) and was in development for another (to premiere this spring). I took a 6 month leave of absence – for the most part – from the every day nitty gritty of sitting in front of my computer writing grants, budgeting and fundraising to do some other things like go on a month long road trip from Vancouver to Phoenix travelling through 5 US States.

First stop was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, through the redwoods of Northern California, to San Francisco and the wine soaked regions of Sonoma and Napa. After that, skirting the coastal highways of Big Sur and arriving at the bustle and excitement of the Santa Monica pier in the LA area. I visited friends in Laguna & Palm Desert and then drove white knuckle through the Mojave Desert just me and the road, and nothing and no one around for miles on end, arriving in the hot as hell desert heat of Las Vegas. The final leg of my journey I headed to the Grand Canyon and spent 4 awesome days in one of North America’s greatest National Parks. Then on down to Phoenix to visit more friends before heading back home again.

[That's me at the Grand Canyon!] 

What a journey! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my summer off. I’m so glad I did that. I had so much time to think about where I’ve been, where I currently am and where I’m going next. Coming back home to Vancouver in the fall I was able to concentrate on other projects and design work as well as think about where Twenty Something is going next. More on that in the next post.

And yet, despite taking it easy, I saw more theatre last year than I’ve ever seen for a total of 68 shows. That’s approx 1 show every 5 days for the entire year! Some weeks I saw nothing (like when I was out of town) and some weeks I saw 3-5 shows. Here is my own personal Top 5 list (with some Honourable Mentions) for 2012. And, this year I’ve ordered them because I actually have 6 and so I made #5 a tie [Note: It’s my blog and I’ll do what I like thank you very much]:

5) (Tie): Clybourne Park (Arts Club Theatre) and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Pacific Theatre) are tied because I just couldn’t leave one out. I was utterly surprised by how much I enjoyed Clybourne Park. It took some pretty heated issues and made us all laugh. And, I laughed hard. Sasa Brown was just fantastic as the deaf and pregnant Betsy. My cousin is deaf and I think she captured beautifully the heart and the humour. And, of course, I love Andrew Wheeler, his comedic timing is impeccable (more on that later). Then, on the other hand, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe utterly surprised me with its genuine heart. It reminded me of the magic of being a kid and Mackenzie Gordon & Kaitlin Williams brought all the characters to life in such a magical way. I know this is a remount of a 2009 production but I didn’t see it back then and I am so glad I saw it in its 2012 incarnation. It will be touring locally so go see it if you can.

4) Goodness (Volcano Theatre production co-presented by Firehall Arts Centre, Chutzpah Festival and Touchstone Theatre). I had a small window of time to see this production last year and am I ever glad I did. The simplicity of the story was told in a profound way. The movement, music and choice of specific action to convey the implications of genocide from Eastern Europe to Africa was outstanding.

3) Hunchback (Catalyst Theatre production co-presented by the Vancouver Playhouse and The Cultch). This is a no-brainer. Anyone who knows me, and who reads this blog, could have predicted I would put this in my Top 5. I love every single thing about Catalyst Theatre productions from the design to the direction to the movement. And, all my Canadian theatre dreams came true when I had the chance to chat with Bretta Gerecke on the phone and then meet her in person at the Opening. One of my top moments from 2012 without a doubt.

2) Craiglist Cantata (Arts Club Theatre in association with the PuSh Festival). The stars of this one are without a doubt Veda Hille and Bill Richardson who took the absurdity of the ads on Craigslist and turned them into a funny and heartfelt musical. I came out of the theatre just grinning from ear to ear and a smile in my heart.

And, the main reason I decided this year to put them in numerical order is because without a doubt this was the best production I saw last year…

1) All The Way Home (Electric Company). Where to start?!...I did very little blogging in my year of taking it easy but I did write about this show. You can read that here if you want to read about the full impact this production had on me. For the purposes of this post I will just say that All the Way Home had me full-on snotty, ugly crying. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I'm like a broken record, I know) I could watch Meg Roe read the dictionary and be captivated. She is that good. This performance was no exception. Plus, the rest of the cast from Jonathon Young to Nicola Lipman to Alessandro Juliani to Gabrielle Rose, were all outstanding. The use of space, music and the intimate nature of this production: Kim Collier is a genius. A pure theatrical genius.

Honourable Mentions:

For the best date: granted I was on someone else’s date but boy was it ever fun. Blind Date (created by Rebecca Northan presented at the Cultch) 

For the best damn ensemble: all the talent on stage singing, acting, dancing, playing musical instruments was insane. Chelsea Hotel (Firehall Arts Centre) 

For the best drunk acting: Andrew Wheeler was drunk the entire show, not really drunk, drunk acting and boy was it entertaining. Gordon (Arts Club Theatre)

For the best damn emerging talent: there is a damn good reason Anton Lipovetsky won the Jessie and graced the cover of the Georgia Straight. Flop! (Delinquent Theatre)

For the best diva: Gina Chiarelli was Maria Callas, a phenomenal performance by one of Vancouver’s greatest actors. Master Class (Arts Club)

For the best damn show I saw twice: it was an exquisite hour I was more than happy to do over. Exquisite Hour (Relephant Theatre) 

And, that my friends, is a look back at 2012.

 ~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer