theatre

This Is How We Die by Christopher Brett Bailey @ The Theatre Centre (For Progress Festival & Forest Fringe)

Toronto's Progress Festival hosted a number of performances from Edinburgh's Forest Fringe over a two-day period at The Theatre Centre in late January. With only limited time, I managed to squeak in one show on the recommendation of some friends in the UK, and was certainly not disappointed.

The stage space is mainly dark, with just a desk and microphone, with a script sitting on the desk. What follows is a stream of consciousness story-poem assault on the senses. The story weaves in space and time and focus, meandering through thoughts and ideas and most importantly, memories. Brett Bailey is a captivating performer, and his ability to use words (just words, no movement or set or props) to build an arch are outstanding. Without going too much away, the pace of the story races forward until it crashes into darkness, out of which emerges a meditation of sorts; in the dark with lights facing the audience and almost unbearably loud music, the audience sit. And think. And continue to sit and think and think.

Stunning stuff.

I do feel that the stories themselves could have been slightly more concise, just to trim slightly before the final, beautiful and unsettling moments.


A Monologue on the Future of Canadian Theatre


Last week, Martin Julien (at the UofT Centre for Drama) organized a "redux" of the 1973 conversation on the state of Canadian theatre, which followed fairly closely on the "crisis" identified by the Canadian theatres of the late 60s and early 70s, in which it was determined that a major fix was required to create a truly Canadian theatre. These events, of course, are the things we teach in Canadian Drama courses at universities across the country. The Farm Show, Leaving Home, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe; all those great Canadian plays that helped to define us, while companies like the Tarragon, Theatre Passe Muraille, Prairie Theatre Exchange, and more grew from little fringe companies to national creative cultural forces. This period saw the creation of the Arts Council System, providing some serious funding for theatre which previously had been scant. And to some extent, the 1973 conversation, while it identifies continued challenges, has a feeling of "job well done".

(you can view most of that 1973 discussion here: https://vimeo.com/88594280 )

Fast forward to 2015: How much has changed?

Interestingly, a quote from the first conversation strikes me as perfectly descriptive of the current situation; that "there is something wrong with a theatre that has been around for awhile and hasn't grown in any particular direction." Now this sounds horribly reductionist, but in many ways, it is true. Look at what is programmed. Where are the experiments, the gutsy new forms and new theatrical languages that help grow and engage an audience? Where are the directors, playwrights, and to some extent even actors under 35? Does the arts council system still fund in a way that promotes the continued growth of the Canadian theatrical voice, or does it reinforce that which already happens, with the emphasis on "community building." The conversation in 2015, while it raised some valuable points, I felt focused too heavily on how we make money. Yes, we need money to make theatre. But not as much as we might think -- some of the most exciting choices and creative solutions come out of an absence, and this is a challenge we need to take up with vigour, rather than whinge about. There is a certain conflict in the young theatre makers I see today (perhaps myself included). We rail at the system that we work doggedly to break in to, with an odd sense of entitlement to get funding, and yet we shy away from doing the very kind of work that got those now well-established theatre makers noticed in the first place. Paul Thompson, TPM's first AD and artistic leader of The Farm Show creation said it best during the 2015 discussion, and in many ways echoed what he said in 1973; don't worry about the system, make work. Make work with urgency and vividness, and scrape together. Make work outside the rules. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

Don't wait for someone else to validate your work. Write it, perform it, create it. If it is well done, someone will notice. If they don't, just get louder.

Now it may sound a little idyllic, but that's the theatre I want for Canada over the next 40 years. Theatre that breaks the rules, makes its own voice, and figures out the details afterward. This is what the theatre makers we study now did. If we want to make a mark, we need to do the same, or else we risk becoming a part of what Jordan Tannahill controversially (but somewhat truthfully) labeled as "boring".

Huff by Cliff Cardinal @ Native Earth Performing Arts


Cliff Cardinal's one-man show Huff isn't an easy night at the theatre, but that is what makes it so important. Beginning on stage with a bag duct-taped over his head, he proceeds through a monologue. This is no stage trick, the bag is really on his head, and we can really see the clear plastic contracting over the contours of his face as he tells us about the game. From this attention-getting starting point, Cardinal weaves through a story of a warrior and his wife, to their eventual children (Don't worry -- he takes the bag off his head before damage is done, but don't think that you're being let off the hook). The story weaves a large cast of characters and voices and perspectives, which aren't always completely clear; at times it was challenging to follow who was speaking, and Cardinal's mainly razor sharp physical and vocal transitions did sometimes lose their specificity. Nonetheless, the story that emerged was at once funny and emotionally shattering.

His playful use of comedy to lull the audience in positions us both as judge and possible saviour, and this is a challenging place to sit for 75 minutes. His jokes veer on the politically incorrect, edging the audience to take stock of when they are more prejudiced than they think they are, and point that judgement inward. Cardinal speaks the unspeakable loudly. And the audience have no choice but to notice.

I would be remiss not to speak of the elegant staging which transformed a small number of props and pieces of furniture into multiple locations and objects, through Cardinal's deft navigation of the world of the play.

This script is difficult. But it is difficult because it lays on the table and shouts all the things that we know in the backs of our minds but won't utter aloud. And it points to the flaws in the system we are all a part of and therefore share responsibility for. I urge you to read or see it if you can.

The show has closed in Toronto but is now embarking on a National tour. There isn't currently a Winnipeg stop, and someone should rectify this immediately.

Adapting Marlowe: Thoughts on Edward II

In the ever-humbling words of Andrew Visnevski, my dissertation tutor at RADA, "you, and Brecht". Indeed, I have, attempted (nay, succeeded?) to adapt Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which some have described as "the most perfect achievement in dramatic structure". You know, no big deal.

The original is a firecracker of a story, but it is long, and a touch wandering, as Elizabethan plays can be, with altogether too many characters (What, was this some sort of government job-creation scheme??). I set out with the goal of tightening the story lines, and cutting down to 10 actors. Seems easy enough...however, being me, I embarked upon a year of reading and research. I read historical accounts of Edward's real life. I read essays about the play and its impact. I read and watched political dramas. I even read a gargantuan historical reference book accounting for the entirety of the Plantagenet dynasty. Because, you know, research.

What emerged from this research were two things. First, our current political and personal climate is one where the personal and the political are blurred. Young hopeful politicians are edited out of the race due to personal tweets from years ago. The Mayor of Toronto is videotaped and goes viral smoking crack. "Successful" politicians' families are polished and primped, photographed and prepared for the public, to the point where they are cookie-cutter versions of actual human people. But the risk of the messy truth coming out is too great. How alike this is to Edward, who wants to live his life as he chooses, which he should rightfully do, however those around him wish to dictate how he appear, and who he consorts with.

Second, the idea of the actual life of Edward II, son of the myth-making, Scot-fighting Edward Longshanks (whom most know as the vicious English King in Braveheart). Longshanks created myth like none before (and arguably few after for several hundred years). His was a world just like ours, where image and reality were two different things. Into this world is born Edward II, who wasn't meant to be King, and who (at least in the play) doesn't make a great one. His own son, who will become Edward III, becomes the face of what happens when a child is forced to inherit a legacy of image.

So, the themes of the personal becoming public, and of the prince observing a world where he is unsure of his place, took the forefront.

What opens on Thursday is a first go; the company have taken my first draft, continued to tinker with the text and images, and presented a first production. It is our hope that the firecracker that we began with from Marlowe now has an even shorter fuse, and one that compels us to see our own hopes and expectations, not only for rulers, but for those around us in any position of power, reflected.

I'm certainly not finished with this text, and would be immensely grateful for your thoughts should you see the production.

Edward II runs Oct 1-4 at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film at the University of Winnipeg. Tickets and times at www.theatrebytheriver.com 



Poor Behaviour

I've never been much of one for following rules. That comes out in the theatre I make, the way I test audience limits and re-think time-honoured classics. So when I read about the "infamous iPhone incident" in New York this week, I laughed. Yep. I wasn't shocked, or annoyed, or disappointed. I didn't call for "education" or making sure the "right kind" of people go to the theatre. I found it a little silly that the dude believed sufficiently in the reality of the set to think there would be power running to the plug, but that's about it.

The right kind of people attending theatre are breathing people. That's really the only requirement. Breathing people feel things. They experience things. In life, and in these weird black boxes of rooms where they sit in semi-darkness beside strangers. Whether someone knows the traditions and codified behaviours, the expectations, is completely irrelevant. In fact, I would argue that those very expectations are the reason young friends feel the theatre is "not for them". Theatre is for everyone. It is. I'm not saying that in some sort of populist theatre for the people way. Theatre tells stories. People like stories. Bingo! A match made in heaven. It is that simple. 

As soon as there is any sense of an "us" and a "them", a desired audience, a set of behaviours, theatre dies a little. And it keeps dying slowly. Until we get out from behind the curtain and share stories and experiences truthfully, and with everyone, theatre will continue to die.

Lets shake things up a bit, shall we?


Writing

I have been horribly delinquent recently in my personal mantra to write about everything I see. I don't really have an explanation for it, to be honest. I am seeing work. I don't hate what I'm seeing. But I also have not been particularly taken by it. It all feels frustratingly SAFE, which for me, is the death of true creativity. Granted, I get that not all audiences are willing to watch Lars Eidinger roll around in wet mud and spew Goethe translated Shakespeare at them. I totally get that. But at the same time, I think we sometimes sell our audiences short in our expectations of what will sell, which then perpetuates their own feeling of safety in their choice. It is a huge self-perpetuating problem. 

Obviously, I'm one person, and one with limited time. And who maybe sometimes likes to get paid, which I recognize means might mean some accommodations. But that said, I also sometimes want to say "screw it" and just make all the work I want to make, as self indulgent as that may be, and if we have an audience of 10 people, so be it. 

I am generally against resolutions, but I'm going to state one now: I resolve to see the work that might be challenging. It is far too easy in our busy schedules to not make it, but tired or not, busy or not, I'm going to make it. 

ATTEND theatre. And I'm going to get re-motivated to write about it. 

Jabber by Marcus Youssef at Manitoba Theatre for Young People

Marcus Youssef's Jabber was first commissioned in Montreal, and makes its Winnipeg debut with Manitoba Theatre For Young People. It tackles some serious subject matter, all of which is highly relevant to the targeted teen audience; fitting in, gender expectations, cyber bullying, parental strictness, and expressions of love all come in to play. Add to that the additional layer of the young girl being Muslim and moving to a school where she is quite visibly different from her fellow students, causing her to experience racism as one of the manifestations of her "other"-ness, the story becomes red-hot.

Structurally, Youssef adds an interesting element of hope to what might otherwise be a bleak subject. The scenes are set up by the actors, as if playing make believe, stating "lets' say. . . " to build the situation. This occurs heavily at the beginning, and then tapers throughout as the audience grows attached to these possibilities and the choices made within them. The execution comes off a little heavy-handed, as the actors sounded a bit shouty over the backing music in the early scenes, however later instances really worked.

The performances are uneven; Adele Norhona is thoughtful and perceptive as Fatima, the young girl who the story centres on. Kristian Jordan has some lovely moments, however also at times comes across as awkward and un-centred. Cory Wojcik adds some great comic relief, as the teachers, and also a surprise small role as a teen. Unfortunately, the net result is a large stylistic difference in the 3 performances, which causes it to lose some of the cohesiveness that might have helped the play succeed more handily.

That notwithstanding, it is a great story for its intended audience, although parents of the younger 12-13 year old set might find themselves with some things to explain after the show. It definitely skews toward the middle to older edge of the intended bracket.

The Fringe is Upon us!

It is that week of the year when the Exchange District in Winnipeg becomes overwhelmed with excitable theatre-goers, looking for the "best" show, some curry, and a beer. For me, the BEST show is one that gives you all three at once!

In honesty though, we can all get caught up in the reviews, the drama (offstage) and the politics (back stage) so lets' try not to this year, by following my simple steps.

Performers - Be honest and truthful to the show and performance you have worked on. Remember that only very rarely are we in a "hit", and that one person's opinion is just that - one person's opinion. Share your work earnestly because really that communion between audience and performer is all we've got. Don't be upset by a poor review, and don't fly high from a good review. Remember that 3 stars is actually a pretty good review! It is not the disaster it may initially feel like. Just keep performing your show. Truthfully. And to quote Genet, "if it is done well, they won't be bored".

Audiences - Stay true to your tastes. See shows that seem interesting to you based on their write up in the program, poster, etc. Don't get caught up in the "hit" show - I've seen many things reviewers have touted as 5-star and been disappointed. At the same time I've seen loads of things that were "average" or worse, and been transported by fantastic writing, performances, and overall production. If you see something you like, share that with someone. If you see something you don't like, try to assess the piece on its own terms, not based on your tastes. We're a communal art, after all, so the most important thing to do is share your thoughts.

For any who usually follow my reviews, this year I'll be part of the CBC Review Crew - so the vast majority of my thoughts will be available here: http://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/features/fringe/

Happy fringe-ing (and curry-eating!)

PS - remember that loads of "fringe" shows happen outside the festival and throughout the rest of the year, so plan to FRINGE ON ;)

This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan - Steppenwolf Theatre

Steppenwolf bring us this new production of Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 play, set in 1982 New York City. Under the highly skilled direction of Anna D Shapiro, the young but experienced cast of Keiran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson bring these arguably troubled young characters to life beautifully. Staged in traverse, the audience have differing perspectives; from my seat I could see into the bathroom, and watch along with Culkin as he saw old TV programs, whereas the other side likely saw beautiful detail I could not. Shapiro's staging had beautiful movement; choreographed, clearly, and yet giving the feeling of being organic - as if we were peering in on this apartment where the walls had somehow fallen down. The detail in the set design supported this, showing a mess of cords behind the hifi, as you would find in most homes.

The play, which could feel dated, does not. These youth, raised to expect everything but living stilted by the weight of this expectation, are not unlike countless you will find today. Lonergan says in the program notes that he doesn't feel different about the play, and I don't think we should either. These are our youth, our future; This Is Our Youth remains an alarming and necessary piece of theatre.

It is interesting to see audiences anticipate their own reception of an actor. Although the play has funny moments in the absurd friendship of these 3, Cera's trademark awkwardness got more laughs than the script might warrant (and than his performance deserved). His performance was at first stilted; the early scenes opposite Culkin felt careful, measured, however he relaxed into the scenes with Gevinson and this is where he began to shine.

Gevinson, known primarily for her fashion blogging, although she's been making forays into acting, was sweet and very believable as Jessica. My only real qualm was her vocal work, which lacked support.

Keiran Culkin's performance, however, was outstanding. He's played the role before (on the West End) and finds beautiful subtlety in the seemingly manic shifts of his character, Dennis. A character which I have seen come across as a cliche rich kid turned bad boy was nuanced and heartfelt.

This production is bound for New York later this year, and I'll be curious to see how it develops for Gevinson and Cera - Culkin at this time is in a league of his own among this cast.

Impel Theatre present The First Time at MEME 2013 (Winnipeg)

I've been crafting this experiment for some time now, aiming to air some questions for myself, and for people experiencing dance music and theatre . . .
What happens when we take two independent experiences - a piece of theatre, and a music performance - and let them lose at the same time? How are you impacted as an observer? What do you notice? How does this in tandem experience change your understanding of each individual piece in a way that you may not have viewed them when separate?

The First Time is an audio installation designed to be experienced in tandem with a live DJ set performed by John Norman - Friday will be the premiere of this experience, beginning at 7:30pm.

If you're around and interested, the audio file can be downloaded for free at memetic.ca/thefirsttime - simply download the file, select a meeting place, and turn up at 7:30pm. There will be a girl in a purple dress who will lead you to the Cube, where John will be playing.

If Friday evening doesn't work, that's ok too - the installation can be experienced at any time during the festival - and will create a different experience for you! Just begin at a meeting point, and slowly walk yourself toward the cube stage.

If you do participate, please share your thoughts here, by tweeting me @impeltheatre or using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Huge gratitude to the MEME festival for allowing this experiment to see the light, and to my volunteer devisers and performers on the project!






Created by artistic director Kendra Jones (www.impeltheatre.blogspot.com)

The First Time will take you on a journey immersed in the festival’s main stage atmosphere which will amplify your aural
experience of the event and your surroundings. In a festival dedicated to live
performances of recorded sounds, come enjoy two forms of recorded sound at once,
and share in a further amplified experience of these two art forms in tandem with one
another. Downloadable for you to experience at any point through the festival, the piece
is best experienced corresponding with a DJ set by Winnipeg’s techno-maven, John
Norman (Hype Muzik, UNT! Records).

Download link:
http://soundcloud.com/khemlab_johnnorman/kendra-jones-john-norman-music/s-QejNs

Instructions:

Step 1
Download the audio file to your phone, mp3 player, or some other portable audio
device

Step 2
Make your way to one of the meeting points shown here for 7:30pm on Friday
August 16th:
Meeting Point 1 – In the small triangle park across from the Burton Cummings
(Walker) Theatre – 364 Smith Street

View Larger Map
Meeting Point 2 – In front of MTC John Hirsch (Mainstage) Theatre – 174 Market Avenue

View Larger Map
Step 3
Wait for the girl. She will be wearing a purple dress.
purple

Step 4
Put your headphones in. Press play at 7:30pm. This is best experienced on your
own, so resist the temptation to take them out at any point, or to chat with others. Let
the experience envelop you.

Step 5
Listen.

Step 6
Follow the girl. She will lead you to the Cube stage to enjoy the festival.

Step 7
Notice. Keep listening.

Step 8
The full experience is about 40 minutes long, and will then leave you the remainder
of John Norman’s set to enjoy the site and music. And don’t forget to stick around for
more great acts through the evening!

Questions? Email kendra@impelartists.com or tweet @impeltheatre – and don’t
forget to share your thoughts using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Til Death: Six Wives of Henry VIII - Monster Theatre @ Winnipeg Fringe

Tara Travis is outstanding in this one-woman show written by Ryan Gladstone, embodying 6 wives of Henry VIII along with the king himself with unwavering detail and clarity. The script cleverly posits an afterlife in which all six wivevs and eventually Henry are held together in a purgatory, in which St Peter will allow only one wife in to Royal Heaven - purportedly better than "regular" Heaven. As the women jostle for position, their stories and perspective toward Henry (and their own life's potential) is seen, creating a larger picture sense of the opportunity for women of that time. 

There was still something a bit lacking from the script; it centres heavily on beauty and sex, the ability to make the king happy, which seems to detract from its supposed feminist message. 

Notwithstanding, it is well worth seeing. 

Taking Things Apart

I had the unique opportunity yesterday to be in the audience for a filming of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's acclaimed Moulin Rouge, choreographed by Jordan Morris. The project will be  broadcast to cineplex theatres around the world, and is a really monumental occasion for the nearly 75 year old company, home to many brilliant dancers.

What was really exciting for me was the process; having trained in dance myself, I am most engaged with the work of the dancer, and the effort made to make it appear effortless. Due to filming, the ballet was shot out of sequence (as it is easier to situate cameras and costumes for filming this way) which had an unusual effect. What it brought out was a reminder of the work that goes into performing a ballet of this magnitude. Occasionally while waiting for technical setup, the dancers would wait on stage, stretching or reviewing their choreography - things that always happen, but typically are hidden from the audience to maintain the illusion of perfection. As well, the movement of sets and testing of lights throughout was unintentionally performative, and highly engaging.

It was just as much an experience of dance performance as it was an experience of the structure and production of dance performance - something ballet of all modern art forms has the tendency to hide. The result was the most Brechtian dance performance you could imagine. Verfremmdungseffekt is generally the antithesis of classical ballet - whose very aim is to transport you along with the story - however in this instance the distancing, the objective observation of the behaviour, was truly possible. A moment when Zeigler pulls a pistol on the young lovers, then proceeds with a dance of seductive pas de deux with Natalie, gun still in hand, was haunting in a way it couldn't have been had we been caught up in her story. As well, the masochism of ballet rang loud and clear (perhaps ironically for a company which recently dismissed a student for appearance in a porn) with the fact that the goal of all female characters was valuation and redemption in the eyes of a male character.

I'm very excited to see the piece "Put together" as it were, in the intended order, as it will be a very different experience of the ballet.

Busy Theatrical Week Coming...

So, before I rant (in a separate post) about the de-valuation of art through commodification of it, I want to share a couple events in the coming week.

First, my project for the past few weeks has been to direct for the Manitoba Association of Playwrights Highschool Playwriting Competition (sponsored by Scirocco Drama). This annual event provides the opportunity for 5 young playwrights - often first time writers - to have their short plays developed with a dramaturg and director, and be presented on the stage at MTC Warehouse. This year I am directing a new play by Beatrice Tuano called Intoxicated. The piece delves into the impact of loss on a young life through the eyes of two characters - the boyfriend who dies in a car accident, and his girlfriend who is left behind. I've been blessed to work with three lovely actors - Eric Rae, Ruth Rietze, and Kaeleigh Ayre. 

Tickets info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/167647053399174/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Performances are Thursday and Friday evenings - and audiences get to vote for their favourite play!


Second...my dear friends over at Theatre Incarnate have been re-working a piece they shared in the Fringe 
Festival a couple years ago called Master Orloff and Madame Clodile's Freakshow Beautifique. Using buffon 
techniques, circus freaks, and live music, the original production was highly enjoyable, and I can't wait to see what the
re-work brings to light! 

Saturday and Sunday evening they'll be hosting workshop performances, followed by a Q&A session for further development
of the piece. Info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/484180224984318/?ref=ts&fref=ts


The Audience by Peter Morgan @ Geilgud Theatre (London)

Stars do their turn in the West End and Broadway all the time. Mainly, I am disinterested, however my ultimate respect for Dame Helen Mirren's craft drew me to queue for return tickets on a chilly Spring evening in London.

The play itself is a slow, pedestrian piece with little spark in the story. The production itself, for all its West End high-value budget lacks interest visually. The supporting cast are of varying quality (Though a few stand out).

Yet I was able to set every one of these mediocre aspects aside in the wake of the sheer brilliance of Helen Mirren's performance. On stage for nearly the entire length of this full length play, Mirren transforms before our very eyes (with the help of stagehands in costume) through various points in The Queen's life. Literally moving from an older Queen counseling John Major, to a young Queen in her first meeting with Churchill, and various points in between, Mirren's physical and vocal work are breathtaking. She is utterly transformed - almost shape shifting - between these, and yet with a consistently clear sense of who this woman is and what she truly wants in life. In short, Mirren is unbelievable.

Ultimately this is not a script which will stand the test of time, nor do I expect any actor - regardless of skill - to be able to step in and make this even moderately interesting.

Narrative by Anthony Neilsen @ Royal Court (London)

This concept had such potential. Aiming to follow in the footsteps of Beckett and Ionesco, Neilsen presents a script which departs from traditional concepts of narrative with a forward trajectory, instead giving us multiple scenes, none of which propose to have an end point. Unfortunately, in my estimation he falls short. The characters and scenes do not escape a forward trajectory; actions and consequences do still have cause and effect, and by the end there is a sense of completion (albeit shaky). The path to this point is frustratingly peppered with absurd concepts; people growing horns, communicating with the dead via skype, trying to take photos of their arseholes. 

Whereas there was potential for this to say something about our inability to connect, instead it showed frustratingly selfish people, most of whom I couldn't be bothered with. 

This isn't to say it didn't have high points; a few of the scenes were strongly written and performed. The lighting design was stunning. It is just the script itself; purporting to be about nothing, but telling us that so often that it did, in fact, gain meaning. 

My Perfect Mind @ Young Vic Theatre (London)

I happened to chance a return ticket on this sold out extended run, and was immensely grateful. The play's concept has the potential to become a monument to celebrity, focussed around Edward Petherbridge's real life experience of having a stroke whilst preparing to play Lear. This brilliant two hander, however, steers well clear of this. Instead, it offers a funny, touching look at the life of a performer and a life spent pretending to be someone else. Staged on a cleverly designed open space, in which we see all of the workings, objects morph to differing purpose, and the room takes on many locales with ease. The characters, too, move smoothly from one moment in time to another - this almost spastic understanding of time clearly reflecting the concepts of identity and memory being put forth in the script.

Brilliantly written. Brilliantly staged. Brilliantly performed.

There is a moment when Petherbridge stops the action and says "this isn't hte kind of Lear I wanted to be in". We are grateful that it was.

Wine & Words - Fundraiser for Theatre By The River

So, there is this snappy little theatre company in Winnipeg called Theatre By The River. It was formed by some awesome folks whom I was in undergrad with at the brilliant University of Winnipeg Theatre Department (seemingly ages ago...).

They are having a fundraiser! For only $20 you can have wine and listen to actors read brand new play excerpts. This year, I am honoured to be one of the writers whose work is featured in this year's event, as a piece of my new play in development Trying will be read.

Please come out if you can to support art, local theatre, and wine.


Live Experience, Recorded Medium

I've been giving a lot of thought recently to the experience of recorded media within a live theatrical performance. How does our interaction with the recorded media shape and colour our experience of the live performance in front of us? I'm sure everyone has been in an audience when a poorly mastered sound cue took them "out" of the world of the play, reminding them of the reality of their situation seated and observing a real and live, truthful fiction. In such instances, the recorded medium which is intended to add "reality" to the scene serves exactly the opposite purpose reminding the audience of the falsity of the performance, the pretense and conventions, the audience's choice to "buy in".

Of course, there are times when particularly well-designed sound can add significantly to the experience. Most notably in my memory was the sound design for Rupert Goold's Decade (Headlong, London UK, 2011) wherein beautifully spaced siren sounds across multiple speakers in the space created an effect of ambulances surrounding the building, heigtening the potential as an audience member to be coerced in to the world of the play. These instances add colour to the theatrical experience, and for audiences seeking something like the "reality" of movies and television, offer a shade of this.

Other art forms use recording; dance, most obviously, but also music. The work of Steve Reich has for years dabbled in the inclusion of recorded media within live performance; in the case of Reich's work, he pushes at the edge of our understanding of live performance. The recording is being played live, and also manipulated (at times by Reich himself) so what makes this any less live? Going further, modern DJ culture, even when sold as a "live" performance is still at its core a living performance of recorded media. The sounds pre-exist, unlike the cellist or drummer who creates the sound live, pushing it into the ether in that very moment. But is one necessarily better than the other? The DJ is still manipulating that recorded sound in a way that is unlike any previous manipulation; the risk factors at play mean that like the violinist who could play a squeaky note, the DJ could not mix the sounds together in a pleasurable way, could not match the beats together, etc.

All of this thought leads me to my current project; alongside my husband (DJ and Producer John Norman) I will be creating a piece of audio theatre which will correspond with a live DJ performance of his. Each of us will be working with our sounds, the materials pre-recorded. Then, the audience will be invited to experience them live from their recorded state. Furthering the experiment, we will question what occurs when the two live experiences of recorded media are experienced together; audience members will be able to listen to the play in their personal mobile devices with headphones, while around them hearing the DJ set. Our key questions are: how do these two experiences function independently, and in tandem with one another? Is there a new sort of experience this opens up to the audience members? Is either performance impacted by the correlation with the other?

More on the project soon....keep some time open in mid-August to come check it out.

The Day After

Months of writing, then rehearsing, and finally performing...now over. The first run of my new play, Dear Mama, has come to an end.

It has been an absolutely fabulous, terrifying, exhilirating and rewarding experience. I knew going in that it would be risky to create a piece of theatre so close to myself. On top of that, opting to perform it myself placed me in a position even more vulnerable as an artist. Any failure really could be pinned to me. How thrilling!

What has been truly amazing is the response the little show has received. Each performance was followed by a talkback, each of which had its own flavour and was filled with thought provoking discussion. What can we do for little girls to help avoid them becoming hyper-sexualized? What is it that drives parents to push their children to perform? And is it possible for your child's skill to be developed and nurtured in a way that pushes them, but still lets them be a child? Just some of the amazing points of debate that arose.

What has been even beyond my wildest expectations has been the way the piece is continuing to resonate with people days after the fact. CBC reviewer Joff Schmidt offered his praise (http://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/scene/theatre/2013/01/19/sondheimfest-review ) and many other audience members have written me or blogged about the show and how it has them thinking. It is extremely humbling to know that at least some bit of what I'd hoped to achieve artistically - pushing audiences out of their comfort zone, and forcing them to think - has succeeded. 

None of this would have been possible without the support of our creative team - Megan Andres, my fabulous director and dramaturg, along with Leah Borchert and John Norman.

Below are some production photos by Leif Norman taken at the dress rehearsal for the original production. More are available here: http://www.leifnorman.net/dear-mama-impel-theatre-jan-16-2013/


Press Releases...

It is a very strange phenomenon to write a press release for a show you have written, produced, and are performing in. I've certainly written my fair share of press releases, but somehow this was different. I'm simultaneously thrilled and terrified to be putting myself out there as an artist. Our RADA tutors provided excellent advice on this subject in our final days of the MA, and I'm aiming to live by it. You aren't really an artist if you aren't regularly putting yourself out there and laying it on the line.

Well, since i've just successfully blogged about a press release....here it is. Come see my show!

ps. thanks to miss Pamela Roz for her help with the press release :)


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
IMPEL THEATRE’S DEAR MAMA TO PREMIERE AT
RMTC SONDHEIMFEST
 
Dear Mama, Impel Theatre's new one-act play, will premiere as part of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's SondheimFest in Winnipeg. The show, which was created by the exciting young company for the festival, marks Impel Theatre's first production in their hometown with writer Kendra Jones playing the lead role of Ruby.
 
Dear Mama is a work which pays homage to the classic stage mother in Gypsywhile making reference to contemporary child performers. Also inspired by Sondheim's lyrics in Gypsy, this new piece delves into the mind and body of a girl obsessed with fame, beauty and attention teaching that words have the power to build you up or tear you down.
  
"Not everyone is capable of being loved, RubyThey are too selfish. They aren't willing to give themselves to the people who want to love them," reads a line from the show. "Beautiful. I'm beautiful. Look, Mama, I'm beautiful. Mama will be proud.
 
Kendra Jones has performed, devised, directed and choreographed work with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Master Playwright Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange Carol Shields Festival, Sarasvati FemFest, Theatre Incarnate, Winnipeg Fringe, and more. She has performed in the hit You Me Bum Bum Train in London's West End (2012) and directed/devised work at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as well as for King's College, London. Dear Mama is Kendra's first play in production.
 
The process of researching this piece has been very rewarding" says Jones. "I look forward to sharing the piece with audiences, and also the talkback sessions following each performance. I'm excited to see what sorts of discussions are sparked by the play."
 
Tickets can be reserved now by emailing kendra[at]impelartists.com or by phone at 204.475.8747. Note that capacity for each performance is limited to 35. The production is suitable for ages 15 years +.
 
The production is directed by Megan Andres, design and dramaturgy by Megan Andres, movement by Kendra Jones, stage management by Leah Borchert and sound by John Norman.  
 
Public information
Dates: January 17th  – January 20th 
Address: Studio 320, 70 Albert Street
Ticket prices: $10 or SondheimPass
Twitter: impeltheatre