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.

Looking Backward to Impel us Forward

I thought now would be an appropriate time to review what has been utterly amazing year personally and artistically. A brief walk through the year's events mentally caused me to pause in wonder at just how much one can accomplish in as short a time as a year.

January - In the throes of the MA, I also took on projects outside the course. Performed with the hit You Me Bum Bum Train in the West End, an immersive theatre project which challenged my own conceptions of audience participation - something I had heretofore loathed - edging me toward a desire to unsettle the audience's cocooned experience of theatre.

February - ceaseless creation ensued, and I was busy writing my first play along with directing and interpreting the work of Jean Genet. Explorations in rehearsal for both impelled me to risk at a greater level in my creative endeavors.

March - a whirlwind, I directed a scene in response to Genet, and performed in 4 others for fellow students on the MA. Had a workshop performance of my own piece of writing Trying, a new sort of out-of-body experience, even more unnerving than directing. Created a performance art installation Autel which showed at RADA to great success. And finally, if that wasn't enough, co-directed Ludus Daniellis in full medieval Latin at King's College, London.

April & May - Dove into research and preparation for my dissertation, as well as rehearsals for the other pieces I was contributing to. Presented my work at a conference of art historians, sharing my creative response to The Duchess of Malfi called Forc'd To Woo.

June - performed in a piece of promenade one-on-one theatre called How We Met, written by colleagues at RADA Eleanor Massie and Holly Bragg. This piece fed into ideas I had already been having for pieces to create at home, and will crop up again in some work commissioned for 2013.

July - Performed and created my own dissertation piece No More Prayers, and also performed for two others - Nil by Mouth by Holly Sharp and Between Sand and Stars by Dena Rysdam-Miller. I have performed and created work under pressure many times in the past, however nothing was comparable to the intensity of this period, absurd attention to detail and aggressive pursuit of clarity in my artistic vision.

August - With the performances completed, I dove into the writing of my final dissertation paper - a 10,000 word artistic statement and critique of my performed work. The process for writing this was arduous, but rewarding overall, as I found it extremely useful to dig through my own creation and defend it in such a rigorous fashion.

September - Directed 4 staged readings for FemFest 2012, having returned to Winnipeg. Had a fabulous re-immersion to the Winnipeg theatre community, also beginning new contracts teaching at Prairie Theatre Exchange School.

October - my performance installation from earlier in the year at RADA, Autel, was selected to be part of a group installation at the Gas Station Arts Centre, running to the first week of January 2013. This was an amazing experience, the first time I had participated in a show in a non-performance based way.

November - finalizing the script for my latest play Dear Mama (which premieres on 17 January 2013) I began developmental work with my director Megan Andres to finalize the script. Also had the opportunity to re-ignite work on a show from 2011 Dionysus is Getting Impatient, which I was part of creating with I was part of creating with Theatre Incarnate.

December - as the best christmas present possible, learned mid-month that I have officially graduated RADA and the University of London with  Distinction. If this weren't enough, I had the fabulous opportunity to be part of a reading for Winnipeg's Theatre By the River for their annual holiday fundraiser.

And now for 2013, onward and upward! Dear Mama opens in mid-January, after which I expect to dive into a few other projects not yet mentioned here. I am eternally grateful for the year I have had, and look heartily forward to further opportunity in 2013!

Upcoming Projects....

Because a dissertation just isn't enough, I've got some extra projects on the side coming up shortly.

First, I have workshopped and will be performing in a piece of new writing titled How We Met as part of the RADA Festival on July 2 and 3. This is a piece of one-on-one theatre performed on promenade through Bloomsbury in London. The piece runs throughout July 2 to 7 - for more information or tickets, check out the festival site here:

Second, I am contributing to a performance art installation titled Moving Forest, to be performed July 4 (afternoon) at the Chelsea College of Art, described as "a twelve hour sound art opera of betrayal and rebellion". The section I am involved in is a reading of a long form poem, 500 slogans, in the Parade Ground outside the college. For more about this interesting adventure, look here:

Finally, I am participating in a reading for the Early Modern Reading group at Birkbeck College, on 4 July (evening) where we will be reading John Lyly's The Woman In The Moon, led by Darren Royston.

Have to keep busy! I hope you can try to make it out to one (or all!) of these adventures. And more posts related to work-in-progress dissertation presentations soon. . .

The British 10k - 8 July

Time for me to ask something of you readers (and lurkers) - I am running the British 10k in London on July 8th in support of RADA scholarships, and am looking for donations. Any of you lurkers who are artists know how horribly expensive school can be, and how few scholarships there are for arts students. Fundraising from this will help with the Hardship fund at the school, and for creating future scholarships for students.

You can donate here:

Any amount is greatly appreciated, as it all adds up. Thank you in advance for any support you can offer!

Inspiration in Surprising Places

Yesterday my daughter and I ended up at the Science museum, after seeing the enormous Saturday afternoon lineup at the Natural History Museum. The science museum might be one of the coolest places I have ever been. The exhibits are really interactive, including showcases of objects and information, and then computer/objects to interact with to actually try out the idea displayed in the section. In addition, the design of the building's display made for a fabulous setting for learning; high ceilings, objects on the ceiling, lights, and actual spacecraft were all contributing to the atmosphere.

One of the coolest exhibitions was on the science behind the development of electronic music, starting with Daphne Oram's experiments at the BBC in the 1950s. It was amazing to see her original work with film strips to create a sequencer, the precursor to programs like abelton, reason, cubase, etc.

The best part of the experience for me, and the location of the surprising inspiration, was an installation called "listening post". This was a large, dark room, with around 100 small LED reader boards mounted on the wall along one side. The reader boards displayed text from online chat conversations of over 100,000 people, which had been filtered for certain words. These were then read out one by one in a computerized voice, accompanied by a chilled synth. The series we saw were all "I am" sentences....I am pretty, I am 17, I am sad today.... Listening and watching this, I couldn't help but feel the absurdity of our modern communication. These expressions of a need to connect, sent over a series of 1s and 0s, cold, empty...and utterly meaningless. It was exactly what the absurdist playwrights have been writing about of 50+ years...but somehow our modernity has only escalated this, not solved the problem. We still can't connect, depsite all the devices that are supposed to solve this problem for us.

Swans, spiders, and Pelicans?

England are famous for their swans, and in a brief wander of St James' Park last week, we saw some swans, as should be expected. I am by no means an admirer of birds, but must admit that these are magnificent animal. Slightly further up the path, we turn around a bend and what should we see but some Pelicans. Not happily behind the comforting barrier (really just a chain...but it makes me feel better) but right in the path! These birds are enormous. So John and Sarah go right up to them, and I, being a brave soul, make a bee-line to the furthest possible point from the birds. Even from 25 feet away, i was fully amazed at these birds! They easily weigh more than Sarah, and just stood there with a subtle calm as people and other birds flurried around them in excitement.

The other thing England should be noted for is the number of spiders! While out jogging I have seen a notable number of excellent spider webs (i have always been fascinated with the patterns in a spider web). In addition, the spiders guarding these webs were no tiny beings...they were quite large! As well, there are seemingly millions of tiny spiders; while sitting in the field during Sarah's footie training, and again later during John's match, numerous tiny black ant-sized spiders would find their way up my leg or arm. Hard not to feel crawly after that.

In non-animal related news, tomorrow I go to orientation at Birkbeck (The college in University of London that takes care of us MA students). I also have a formal registration this week, and a meet-up with my classmates, where we'll take in a production of Macbeth that was at the Camden Fringe (including a performance from one of my classmates). Looking forward to getting down to the theatre business here in Londontown.

Why are you way out here?!?

We are settled now! Arrived in London on Wednesday morning after an unexpected extra week in Ottawa. The UK High Commission had some IT issues which meant that our visas were approved, but couldn't be processed. So we had some extra time with friends, and also got to really explore Ottawa, including Rideau Hall and Parliament.

Getting set up in a new country takes a lot of work, regardless of how prepared you have been. We arrived, had our flat (wooo!) but our stuff hadn't been shipped yet due to the delays and uncertainty. So we had a couple nights with no real bedding....thank goodness we had taken some small blankets on the train and plane rides. We spent Thursday and Friday orienting ourselves with the neighbourhood; acquiring groceries, some cheap dishes (4.56 for a 16 piece set...I Think So!!). Got John set up with a cell phone so we can communicate with the outside world, and a week's worth of wifi until our actual Sky contract can get setup.

The true highlight to date was Friday; after much searching, and visiting 3 different Council of Greenwich buildings, we located the council office at which we could sign up for Sarah to attend school. We waited about 45 minutes in the noisiest waiting room I have ever experienced; kids running, crying, people talking extremely loud. Finally we got to go up to an agent who was quite lovely and helpful as we explained what we needed. Shortly into our discussion she grew quite concerned; what was this nice young Canadian Family doing in Woolwich? She was quick to let us know that the Royal Arsenal (where we live) is really really nice, but the rest of Woolwich "didn't really even speak English". She went on to be concerned that our "bright" daughter would be set back from a year in UK Public school, especially if it was in Greenwich. She pointed out there weren't any schools here she would send her kids to; they go to a public Catholic school in Eltham (a bit south of here).

We politely left her with the forms, tried to make small talk about how we thought the neighbourhood wasn't bad, etc, then went on our way. At first I felt worried that we had made a poor decision on where to live. That lasted about 2 minutes, until I realized that what this lady really was saying was that aside from our enclave, Woolwich is full of poor immigrants and chavs. J and I had a good laugh thinking that this woman was likely the same kind of person who would, in Winnipeg, look at where we live and be appalled that Sarah goes to public school in the North End.

Honestly, I was really rubbed by this for some time. In North America, when someone says something about a part of the city, etc, there still feels to be a little innocence about it...that it really isn't all that bad. They have their opinions about "rough" neighbourhoods, where you "should" live, etc, but there is still a feeling of jest about any comments made. Not here....this woman was dealdy serious in her concern; this woman was genuinely concerned for our safety! People don't do such things!!

In other news...we've now been to see Big Ben and the London Eye (no ride yet) with Sarah, and the outside of the Tower and Tower bridge. Will do the tour at a later date (lots of time!). Heading to the British museum tomorrow, and then later in the week we'll see the Tate, National Gallery, and likely the Imperial War Museum. Our neighbourhoold in Royal Arsenal is awesome; it is an old munitions factory that has existed in some form since 1510 when Henry VIII commissioned the expansion of the Royal Fleet. It was active until 1974 or so...after which is was just a bunch of old empty buildings. In the late 90s a developer came in and began updating to make this amazing community. It consists of several buildings, all within a brick fence and gate, backed on the Thames. Lovely cobblestone roads and limited car access. There is a pub and two cafes, and some great public art along with great trees and greenspace. As well, the Royal Artillery Museum is just up the street. Lots of photos to come of our area as we explore more.