The 2017 Fringe Awards

The TiLee Awards were announced at the Palace Theatre on Thursday evening, along with a host of 5- and 10-year volunteer recognitions. Award recipients took home Walter Sayers-designed baseball caps similar to the well-worn one pictured here.

Theatre in London.ca’s team of volunteer reviewers chose winners in six categories:

Outstanding Show
The Morning After the Life Before
Outstanding Solo Performance
Fool Muun Komming!
Outstanding Cast Performance
Conversations Never Had
Fringiest Show
The Merkin Sisters
Outstanding Technical Achievement
Fish Saw
Outstanding Ballyhoo
Bedwetter

The Favourite Visual Fringe artist, chosen by Fringe patrons, was presented to Vanessa Vanderidder by Associate Producer Christine Gruenbauer. Gruenbauer and board member Chris Bennett also presented the volunteer awards.

Executive Producer Kathy Navackas presented the Impresario awards, for highest ticket sales at each venue, toIrena Sendler: Rescuing the Rescuers,Forget Me Not,Bella Culpa,Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths,Riding Hood, andPaperclips — The Musical. Navackas also presented several awards based on her own observations and experiences:

Award of Merit
Jon Paterson
Producer’s Pick
Jon Bennett (My Dad’s Deaths)
Spirit of the Fringe
Keith Brown (Hotter than Potter)

Theatre in London editor Peter Janes summed up the TiLee presentations by thanking the assembled artists and audience members: “The fact that any of you got up on stage, or wrote, or directed, or did anything in this festival makes you amazing, and we all thank you for it.”

Entering Eight Worlds a Night: PlayWrights Cabaret 2017

When the lights go down on a theatre stage, an audience knows they are going to be transported into a world for a few hours.

That’s the norm.

This weekend, however, those sitting in the McManus Theatre will be transported into 8 different worlds each night.

Eight stories per evening, eight different playwrights, two directors and a handful of actors will transfix audiences ten minutes at a time.

The annual PlayWrights Cabaret was the brainchild of former Grand Artistic Director Susan Ferley and has proven to be a gateway for fledgling playwrights into the world of theatre.

This year for example, London’s Carolyn Nesbitt-Larking makes her playwriting bow withJohannah, a play about the last ten minutes of Johannah (“Black”) Donnelly’s life.

Set in the burning farmhouse where she met her doom, Nesbitt-Larking says it’s about Johanna Donnelly confronting those people who put her down and saying her piece to them.

“Most of the stories about the Donnellys focus on the males and some of the research and readings made her look bad,” she explains. “This is about her and who she was as a woman.”

“She’s pretty cool. I’m kinda fond of Johanna,” she laughs.

Nesbitt-Larking was surprised that she was chosen because, she notes, “There are so many good playwrights in this city.”

“I felt very confident about Johanna but it is a blind submission so I was glad to know that the jurors thought there was something there for them to work with.”

One of those jurors was Jeff Culbert, who will be directing about half of the 16 plays. His directing partner is Megan Watson. Culbert likes the PlayWrights Cabaret because of the opportunity it provides new playwrights.

“It’s pretty easy for someone to give it a go,” he says. “We have people who have never written something before to even someone like James Reaney Sr. in our first year doing this.

Mike Wilmot started here and now his plays are produced all over North America and recently, even Russia.”

As Nesbitt-Larking noted, all submissions are read and evaluated without the jurors knowing who penned them, which makes certain the scripts are judged on merit and not the author.

“Over the 16 years we’ve been doing this, we’ve presented about 100 different playwrights from London and the area,” adds Culbert. “We get up to 60 scripts a year.”

“It kind of reminds me of an animation festival. When the lights go down you really don’t know what world you’re going to be in or what’s coming around the corner.”

The preparation for the festival is a lot of work for everyone, but few more than the actors tasked with bringing the playwright’s words to life.

Martha Zimmerman is one of them, having roles in a dozen of the 16 plays. Her focus is on bringing the words of the playwrights to life for them to see.

“It’s great for the writers so they can see their work and see how it will work onstage,” she explains. “It’s a staged reading, with scripts in hand, but we try to bring it to life as much as we can.”

“You’re definitely shifting gears and transitioning not only from one scene to the next but also one world to another.”

Joining Zimmerman on stage for the plays will be Rachel Jones, Tyler Parr and Jim Doucette.

The New Grand

At a press conference this morning, the Grand Theatre’s new artistic director, Dennis Garnhum, and a selection of Canadian theatre artists announced the theatre’s new play development program, Compass. Described as an “opportunity for London… to be on the forefront of theatre in Canada”, it currently comprises five new works presenting “our stories on our stages”.

While four of the projects are at a very early phase of conception (two have creative teams attached, and the others are ideas formulated in the last six weeks), one—Vancouver playwright Trina Davies’Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell—reveals the first hint of Garnhum’s programming for the 2017–2018 season. Told from Mabel’s perspective as a deaf woman, the play was developed at Theatre Calgary (where Garnhum was previously artistic director) and will be directed by Peter Hinton. The hints dropped about the innovative and modern presentation of this historical piece are encouraging; it should also be engaging to the general public, many of whom won’t have experienced this sort of experimental performance before.

It’s notable that the first projects announced under Garnhum’s directorship are all focused on Canadian stories, and three are directly tied to London stories. While none will be presented during the country’s sesquicentennial year, the continuation of previous artistic director Susan Ferley’s partly Canadian approach to programming the 2016–2017 season is clear. The inclusion ofStarlight Tours, a fact-based musical by Mi’kmaq writer Cathy Elliott and composer/lyricist Leslie Arden about the deaths of Indigenous men in Saskatchewan at the hands of the police, is welcome as a challenging and inclusive piece of the sort that isn’t often seen in the theatre idiom.

Locally-based plays form the remainder of today’s announcement:Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve, created by composer and 2010 Winter Olympics musical director Dave Pierce, singer Adam James, and Garnhum;London Bridges, a piece about London, Ontario and London, England, to be co-written by British and Canadian playwrights; and an interactive site-specific musical about theatre mogul, self-made millionaire, and resident ghost of the Grand Theatre, Ambrose Small.

Garnhum’s enthusiasm is apparent and contagious. Theatre in London hopes it will continue and grow, and be met with increased vigour and creativity from the local independent theatre community.

The 2015 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2015 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London were announced at the Wolf Performance Hall on Monday night in a ceremony hosted by Rod Keith and Matt Loop. Celebrating the 2015 theatre season, the awards recognized productions and performances in a variety of different categories. New this year were awards for outstanding youth actors.

The winners were:

Outstanding Female Actor – Youth
Nadine Cruz, “Ti Moune”,Once On This Island (Original Kids Theatre Company)
Outstanding Male Actor – Youth
Ben Kopp, “Macbeth”,Macbeth (A. B. Lucas Secondary School)
Outstanding Comedy Production
Steel Magnolias (London Community Players)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Stephen Mitchell,Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)
Outstanding Sound Design
Michael James Brown,The Rocky Horror Show (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Youth Drama
Macbeth (A. B. Lucas Secondary School)
Outstanding Youth Musical
West Side Story (Beal Musical Theatre)
Outstanding Set Design
Rob Deman,Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)
Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Jen Marino, “Judas/Batman”,Jesus Christ Superstar (Musical Theatre Productions)
Outstanding Original Script
Run, Father, Run, Lynda Martens
Outstanding Costume Design
Sue Hall,The Rocky Horror Show (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Makeup Design
Paula Skikavich and Mel Stewart,The Rocky Horror Show (Pacheco Theatre)
Chris Doty Award
David Wasse
Outstanding Musical Production
The Rocky Horror Show (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Male Actor in a Supporting Role
David Bogaert, “Candy”,Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)
Outstanding Female Actor in a Lead Role
Amanda Bartella, “Marie”,La Fille du regiment (London Community Players and Fountainhead Theatreworks)
Outstanding Male Actor in a Lead Role
Rob Deman, “Lennie Small”,Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)
Outstanding Director
Mark Killeen,Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)
Outstanding Drama Production
Of Mice and Men (By the Book Theatre)

The award for Outstanding Solo Performance was not presented, as there were not enough solo performances during the year; eligible performers were included in the lead categories.

The winners of the awards were decided by votes from the public, the three Brickenden adjudication panels, and the organization’s executive committee.

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, as well as to everyone who worked in, attended, and supported theatre in London in 2015. See you in twelve months!

Jersey Boys

Oh What a Night!

Having seen the Toronto production ofJersey Boys three times (touring cast, Canadian cast and once more for fun), I was a little worried that the current production at Budweiser Gardens wouldn’t live up to my memories.

No worries, this is such a strong cast that you forget you’re in an arena with a scaled down touring set. If you want to see this lively show that took the Tony award for the best musical in 2006 and you missed the Toronto production, be sure to take it in at Budweiser.

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We learn the early history—Tommy DeVito and his brother Nick are bad boys, singing under street lamps, and pulling jewellery store break-and-enters. They hear about a young teenager who sings like an angel, Frankie Castelluccio, and get him to join their trio. Frankie changes his last name to Valli with an “i”, not a “y”, on the advice of his future wife, Mary. She says that he’s an Italian so it has to be an “i”—and “y” is a b*llsh*t letter because it doesn’t know if it’s a vowel or a consonant. Between jail time and personnel changes, the Four Seasons eventually evolve. Tommy is the self-proclaimed leader, with Frankie, Nick Massi and later Bob Gaudio. When the stars align, producer Bob Crewe finally records them. Crewe, Frankie says, has the best ears in the business, to which Crewe replies, “All my body parts are outstanding.” Their hitSherry tops the charts and the “whole world explodes.”

The show is cleverly put together. The history is traced like the seasons—when the word Spring appears on the overhead screen (along with comic book sketches) the group is just getting started. When Summer arrives, they are hot and in their heyday. Then comes Fall, where financial troubles and personal squabbles take over. Then Winter: as the group ages, they are finally reunited at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

We are told in the beginning of the show that if you asked each member of the Four Seasons about their rise to fame, each would have a different story. And that’s what we get—as the seasons change, a different member of the group takes over as narrator. And each Jersey Boy has a different perspective on how they became chart toppers of early American rock and roll. We hear all the favourites, includingBig Girls Don’t Cry,Walk Like a Man,Rag Doll,Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, and many more.

Matthew Dailey is the bad boy Tommy DeVito. Dailey sings like a dream, while giving us Tommy’s ruthlessness. Keith Hines plays Nick Massi, the deep voiced singer in the quartet, who silently puts up with Tommy until one day he blows up. Hayden Milanes is Frankie Valli, singing all the hits perfectly, flipping from his smooth belt to the trademark high falsetto. Drew Seeley plays Bob Gaudio, the talented song-writer of the group. The ever-popularDecember, 1963, better known asOh, What a Night, is the autobiographical account of Gaudio’s, uh…, first time.

We had the pleasure of meeting the three female cast members prior to the show: Marlana Dunn plays the tough Mary Delgado, Frankie’s first wife; Jaycie Dotin plays Lorraine, the reporter that Frankie falls for; and Leslie Rochette plays Francine, Frankie’s daughter. But in addition to those key roles, the three young women play a total of 49 additional roles. Each of these Jersey girls has 15 or 16 costume changes; in fact Dunn has to completely change costume, wig and footwear in 8 seconds, which she does every night with help from the wardrobe crew.

It was great fun to see a couple of familiar faces in the cast. London hometown boy Jonny Wexler plays Joe Pesci, the Jersey punk who goes on to win an Oscar. Wexler is well-known to Drayton audiences as Peter Pan, and for his appearance inHigh School Musical. At the Grand, he was inA Wonderful Life, and if you have kids in your household, you’ll recognize him as TV’s orange Doodlebop. Also on stage in several roles was Dance Captain Bryan Hindle, who was part of the Canadian cast of the TorontoJersey Boys. Hindle will be familiar to Toronto audiences for his roles inWar Horse,Dirty Dancing,We Will Rock You, and more.

Director Des McAnuff has ensured the show never lags, with tight, fast scene changes. In fact, the narrator is telling the next story before the final notes of the last song die off. Credit goes to choreographer Serge Trujillo for the perfect moves that keep the familiar tunes very lively.

Jersey Boys is the best of the jukebox musicals—if you’re a fan of shows likeBuddy: The Buddy Holly Story or tribute shows, then you’ll love theJersey Boys. Tickets are still available for this brief stop in London.

The 2014 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2014 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London were announced at the Wolf Performance Hall tonight in a ceremony hosted by Harry Edison and Matt Loop. Celebrating the 2014 theatre season, the awards recognized productions and performances in sixteen different categories. (The outstanding ensemble performance, introduced last year, was retired, and there was an insufficient number of solo performances to award that category.)

The 2014 winners were:

Outstanding Drama
A Few Good Men, By the Book Theatre
Outstanding Comedy
Noises Off, London Community Players
Outstanding Musical
Evil Dead: The Musical, Iglesia Productions
Chris Doty Award (previously announced)
London Community Players
Outstanding Youth Drama
The Great Gatsby, Beal Drama
Outstanding Youth Musical
The Music Man, Beal Musical Theatre
Outstanding Original Script
Erin J. Walker,Shadfly, Tinkerspace Theatre
Outstanding Director
Mark Killeen,A Few Good Men, By the Book Theatre
Outstanding Female Actor, Lead Role
Angela Southern (Mama Rose,Gypsy), Musical Theatre Productions
Outstanding Male Actor, Lead Role
Jayson McDonald (Magic Unicorn Island), Stars and Hearts
Outstanding Female Actor, Supporting Role
Sookie Mei (Woman B,Love, Loss, and What I Wore), London Community Players
Outstanding Male Actor, Supporting Role
Alex Bogaert (Dawson,A Few Good Men), By the Book Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design
Becky Lenko and Kim McCuaig,Gypsy, Musical Theatre Productions
Outstanding Lighting Design
Rob Coles,The Full Monty, Fuse Productions
Outstanding Makeup Design
Carol Contant,Evil Dead: The Musical, Iglesia Productions
Outstanding Set Design
David Long and Stephen Mitchell,Noises Off, By the Book Theatre
Outstanding Sound Design
Andrew Johnson,A Few Good Men, By the Book Theatre

Many London Community Players alumni were in attendance to witness the organization’s receipt of the Chris Doty Award, which was presented to mark its contributions to the London theatre community over forty seasons.

By the Book Theatre and London Community Players tied for the most awards with four each; LCP also led in total nominations with a remarkable 21 for its productions or co-productions with other companies. H.B. Beal Secondary School swept the youth categories, winning for both outstanding drama and musical.

The winners of the awards were decided by votes from the public, the three Brickenden adjudication panels, and the organization’s executive committee.

Theatre in London sends congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, and thanks to everyone who attended or worked in any of the 250 theatre productions that appeared in London in 2014. Well done!

Wally Duffield’s 2007 Chris Doty Award citation

The gentleman I’m honoured to introduce to you this evening, on behalf of the Brickenden Awards Committee, is known to everyone who attends almost any arts event in London! And I can tell you that he is loved by everyone. The accolades I’ve heard have been unanimously glowing in praise of his contributions to the arts and also of his delightful personality.

I’ve known Wally Duffield since the early ’70s. Back then Nonie Jeffery and Barbara Ivey held a meeting at Barbara’s house with plans to form a support group of volunteers for Theatre London. Wally and his friends Peter Lynch and Noreen de Shane, as well as myself and many others, became part of the newly formed support organization, the Theatre London Association or TLA, which later became the Grand Theatre Association.

I have so many warm memories—of working at fund-raising bingos for the theatre; organizing the opening night party, before there was a bar at the Grand, so that we had to obtain a liquor licence for that night and set up a bar in the lobby; and going on bus trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto and elsewhere to see shows. Wally, Peter and Noreen were there—always full of fun, and totally dedicated to supporting live theatre.

Since then I’ve run into Wally everywhere there is a performance of any kind—usually he’s ushering or volunteering in some way: at the Grand, at the Palace, for Orchestra London, for the Fringe Festival, at Aeolian Hall—you name it, he’s there. He told me just last Friday, regarding the Aeolian, “I LOVE it! I do a lot! There’s so much variety—I worked 17 of 20 shows last August and they were all so different!”

Wally is always cheery and so very, very kind!

Wally came to London in 1957 to work in human resources at Emco. He had served in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II. When he moved here, he had been teaching at the University of Windsor.

“As a teenager, Wally was involved in high school theatrical productions and always had a passion for live theatre. Later he had volunteered with summer theatre in Niagara Falls and Peterborough.” (From an article by Johnny Fansher inThe Londoner, August 3, 2005.)

Unfortunately, neither of Wally’s friends Noreen de Shane nor Peter Lynch are able to be here this evening, but both have provided me with some interesting stories about Wally!

Noreen has known Wally since 1958, when they were both involved with the then London Little Theatre. She has fond memories of Wally working on sets and scenery in what he said was a “rum-soaked” naval sweatshirt, with “Nonsuch” on the front, which he had worn in World War II!

Peter Lynch has known Wally since 1960. Peter helped to build scenery for the 1960 LLT production ofBorn Yesterday, and was given a small part for a waiter/bellhop. Wally acted in that production, and also the same year inCarousel, andDark at the Top of the Stairs, in which, Peter told me, Wally played Beryl Ivey’s husband! [Patricia showed a program forBorn Yesterday which Peter had lent to her for the ceremony. Among the familiar names in the cast list, along with Wally’s, are Eleanor Ender, Alec Richmond, and Eddie Escaf, people who remained active in the London arts scene.]

In talking with some of those who have known Wally for many years, the word “bingo” has come up more than once. As I mentioned, I remember working at bingos in support of Theatre London and later when its name changed to The Grand Theatre in the mid-1980s. Peter Lynch told me that those bingos were held for 27 years—the last one in March last year. Wally has also helped with fundraising bingos for London Community Players.

Not only has Wally acted, ushered, taken tickets, stuffed envelopes, and helped behind the scenes, but he is also seen on the subscription or donor lists of names for more than one arts organization.

Nonie Jeffery’s comment, when I mentioned to her the recipient of this year’s Chris Doty Award, was “no-one deserves it more than Wally!”

John Gerry, Artistic Director for Fountainhead Theatre Productions, said, when I mentioned this year’s Chris Doty Award recipient, “Wally is one of the largest supporters of the arts, be it performing, the orchestra—Wally’s there, and he’s so b—-y positive… we all need an insulin injection!”

John added, “Wally has been incredibly supportive on a voluntary basis [of everything I’ve ever done].”

[Grant Doty presented the award to Wally with the following tributes.]

First, from Susan Ferley, Artistic Director, The Grand Theatre:

“I adore Wally Duffield. He is a treasure. He has been a volunteer at The Grand Theatre for 50 years—first onstage as an actor with London Little Theatre, and now recognized by countless theatre patrons because he welcomes them to The Grand as he takes their tickets. Over the years he has been a light walker for lighting designers, assisted with the auction and gala, served guests at our Backstage Bash and worked for years at bingos that raised $500,000 for the theatre. We couldn’t ask for more. He brings such joy and enthusiasm to all he does. And not just at The Grand. I love the fact that whatever cultural event I attend, more often than not I am welcomed by Wally and I feel at home.”

From Kathy Navackas, Producer, London Fringe Festival:

“One of the very first people to join the Fringe Troupers was Wally. Everyone in the Fringe office is now familiar with his unique ability to volunteer and see almost every show, every year. We anticipate his coming into the office with a typed sheet – yes, typed – in red and black. One colour is for his availability for shifts, the other for the shows that he’s going to see. And we dare not mess it up! Otherwise he’ll miss something.

“The Fringe cannot imagine running any of our venues without your smiling face at the door, taking tickets and talking to all of the patrons.

“Your constant passion and enthusiasm for all of the arts, and especially for local theatre, is unmatched. Wally, we all say ‘thank you.’ And we can’t wait to see your schedule this year!”

From Laura Wall, a past manager from the London International Children’s Festival (another of Wally’s volunteer gigs):

“I first met Wally Duffield when he volunteered for the London International Children’s Festival. His big grin and enthusiasm were perfect for the role of house manager for the festival’s indoor headliner shows. Performers and audience alike were warmly welcomed to the venue and I can remember at least one occasion when Wally was pulled on stage with several large and very unruly characters. He played along perfectly, enjoying his moment of stardom, and then was back to his station as volunteer without missing a beat. When it came time to recruit volunteers for the London Fringe Theatre Festival, I knew we needed Wally!”

And last, but not least, from Clark Bryan, President and CEO, The Aeolian Performing Arts Centre, Wally’s most recent volunteer venue:

“Wally Duffield has been the ‘white knight’ for volunteer leadership and role modelling at the Aeolian. His experience has taught us all so many things which help us to provide the best customer service we can. Wally is recognized as a pillar in the London Arts Community and it is a great honour that he chooses to volunteer at the Aeolian. Volunteers are often the first experience a patron has with the management of an arts organization. They are the flagship and provide much of the atmosphere and experience. This can often make a difference as to whether patrons return to a venue or an organization. With Wally greeting Aeolian’s patrons, I feel confident that they feel welcomed and directed with warmth and sincerity.”

[Grant closed with “Wally Duffield, volunteer extraordinaire—and he’s all of 87 years young!”]

The 2014 Fringe Awards

The 2014 Fringe Awards were announced at tonight’s Fringe Fried awards ceremony. The “TiLees” baseball caps, featuring a new logo designed by Walter Sayers, were presented in eight categories; the first five, selected by Theatre in London.ca’s team of volunteer reviewers, went to:

Outstanding Show
High Tea
Outstanding Individual Performance
Jayson McDonald (World War Three)
Outstanding Cast (tie)
Concrete Kid
Judy: Stonewalled
Most Daring Show
I Hate Bill Pats
Funniest Show (tie)
2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Private Dick
God Is A Scottish Drag Queen

The Impresario category of awards is based on the highest ticket sales (i.e. actual dollar amount) at each venue. This year’s Impresario TiLees were presented to:

Venue 1
2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Private Dick
Venue 2
Ladies Room
Venue 3
God Is A Scottish Drag Queen
Venue 5
The Deception Hour
Venue 6
High Tea

The final two TiLees were presented by the Fringe festival:

Spirit of the Fringe
Bob Brader and Suzanne Bachner (BITE andSpitting in the Face of the Devil)
Producer’s Pick
World War Three (Jayson McDonald)

Congratulations to all of those who took home TiLees, and thanks to every performer, artist, writer, director, stage manager, technician, trouper, Fringe board member, and audience member, for making the fifteenth London Fringe Festival another successful celebration of unique, independent, live theatre. Thanks also to Theatre in London’s review team of Emma Allison, Jo-Anne Bishop, Laurie Bursch, Erika Faust, Clara Madrenas, Bryan McLennon, Jeffrey Preston, and Sean Quigley. Finally, special thanks to the Fringe staff who work behind the scenes to make the festival and other events throughout the year happen: Dami Akinyele, Amanda Borland, and Charlene Wolf, trouper coordinator Sue Garner, producer Alison Challis, and executive producer Kathy Navackas.

London Fringe 15: Opening weekend reviews

As we’ve done for the last several years, Theatre in London will have a team of volunteers reviewing every show in the 15th London Fringe Festival over the opening weekend. Each review will initially be posted to the Fringe website, and they’ll all be archived here after the festival ends. Keep an eye on @theatreinlondon and the #ldnfringe hashtag on social media.

June 4: Due to a glitch in the Fringe website’s comment system, I’ll post the first few here. June 6: Comments are working on the Fringe site again. Go forth and have your say!

Academia Nuts

Academia Nuts is a well-acted piece about sexuality and academia that unfortunately falters thanks to a script too weak to stand.

Elements of the show were appreciable. It was good to see programs printed in Braille and diversity among cast members. The performances were good, or as convincing as they could be under the weight of the script’s ham-fisted, directionless bickering and banter. It was the script in general where this piece really did not work: the constant inconsistencies made too little sense even for farce, the serious moments bordered on the ridiculous, and the ridiculous moments were seriously annoying. There were glimmers of interest, such as a brief debate over the merits of the humanities versus the sciences, but these were bogged down by the implausibility and pointlessness of most of the other moments.

It’s a show worth seeing if you want to support some solid performers but otherwise this is a script you won’t be sorry to skip out on.

–Clara Madrenas

The After Year

Not the Apocalypse I was Expecting

So there I am with my satchel, creeping unwillingly towards another apocalypse. “Really,” I think, “How many ways can the world end? And are there still any new morals to be learned from some novel way?”

I’d settled in, whining quietly to myself, when after a few minutes unexpected interest began stirring. “Hmmm, these people are good. This is a very solid and balanced cast. Not a weak performer in sight. And the pacing is very engaging. Whoa! This fight choreography is cleanly thought out and really well executed. Cool!”

My “Oh dear, not again” attitude was evaporating, if for no other reason than the obvious skill and clarity that the company brings to this production. With ears and eyes opened, I was being reeled in. By the curtain call, I had a big smile—I’d just been taken on a ride through a well-crafted tale that I was even further surprised to find out wasn’t an adaptation of some classic science fiction short story but was the original work of company members.

BeholdThe After Year.

Bravo Dragonfire!

–Bryan McLennon

Ann With An “E” — An Anne of Green Gables Parody

Being woefully undereducated in the world of Green Gables, I was a bit worried going into this show that much of the references would fly over my head. While I probably did miss some of the humour, I found this show accessible for varying levels of Anne knowledge.

Ann With An E is a comedy that, fitting with the company name, regularly breaks the fourth wall, presenting a show as much aboutAnne of Green Gables as the story of making an abridged theatre adaptation of the classic tale. Early in the show I found the candid conversation with the audience and the injection of the actors themselves as characters in the show a bit jolting, but it got more natural as the show went on and provided some chuckles as the lives of the actors co-mingled with the story of the characters.

With humour that will be appreciated by both old and young, this is a fun show that is packed with Canadiana and pop culture references. I would recommend this show to fans of Anne and casual theatregoers interested in meta texts with a penchant for silliness in the vein of Monty Python.

–Jeffrey Preston

BITE

This choose-your-own-adventure sex comedy provides a predictably goofy and fun “bite” of absurdity, if not offering much to chew on beyond that.

The performers were well-suited to their roles and comfortable on stage throughout the show’s ridiculousness. The choose-your-own-adventure shtick kept the audience engaged through what was a pretty thin plot. The show stumbled a little with actors playing multiple roles, as character changes could be awkward, and there was some forced audience participation that was bordering on the cringe-worthy.

Overall, though,BITE is a fun experience with some good moments, particularly worth seeing for those interested in the unique choose-your-own-adventure experience.

–Clara Madrenas

Bizarro Obscure

Bizarro Obscure starts off with charm and two actresses with great voices; the fact that an accordion is used in the show adds an extra cool factor. The play is ostensibly the tale of a quest to save the imagination and unique identity of a energetic and imagination-rich ten-year-old boy. Over the next hour these two actors use their clever physical theatre skills to tell the tale and create settings of imagination all wrapped up in a quest. So this is good right?

The problem with the show is that it doesn’t hang together despite the talents of Sydney Hayduk and Christy Taronno. Theatre needs a coherent structure, a point of friction, and a strong through line. This play has the friction but the through line and coherent structure? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments in this play and I especially loved the Russian(?) DJ and how “letters” were read. But in the end the play doesn’t hang together.

So should you see it? Sure you should. The Fringe is a festival of new work, this is a new work, and as I said these two actors have some great scenes. So go in with your eyes wide open, enjoy the work of Christy and Sydney and their oddball tale. But don’t expect a complete play that hangs together.

–Sean Quigley

Bootlegger’s Wife

Victoria Murdoch tells us a tale of southwest Ontario and the mad times, mad money, and mad violence of the effects of prohibition in Ontario. She starts out with the tale of Bessie Starkman, a mother of two whose heart gets caught by a charming bootlegger. Throughout the play we travel with Bessie until she has means and money but loses the “strong man” whom she can’t stop being drawn to.

There is no doubt that Victoria Murdoch is a strong actor and a thoughtful playwright but the play could bear with some examination on the part of her director, Susan Wilby. We never see the fevered heat attraction she states for “Rocco”, nor the compulsion that drives her to choose to leave her two children and her husband. Victoria plays the main character as tightly controlled and almost staid and this does not, to use the parlance of the time, jive. With the mad impulses for abandon and excess that prohibition brought and which the main character is obviously attracted to, we need to see the attraction to “strong men” the character says she is attracted to. So tempo and the actor’s intention need some cleaning up.

The play itself is strong and the writing is spot on in its use of the vernacular of the time, and its structure and dialogue is great. The confrontation scene near the end is brilliantly played by this thoughtful artist and it drives the show toward an all-too-common, all-too-sad ending in these stories.

If this story is about a (very smart and capable) moth being drawn too close to the flame, then we need to see the moth flutter around that flame before the final plunge. In the end this play will get stronger and stronger the more it is performed, and I am certain that at the end of its Fringe tour it will be a very strong and welcome piece of original Canadian theatre. But for now we need to see the tempo increase and the moth flutter. Go see this play at least twice. I know I will.

–Sean Quigley

Bromance

There is a group of actors which travels the entire length and breadth of North America doing the Fringe circuit. From Fresno in California, to Orlando in Florida, to Ottawa, to Winnipeg, to Edmonton, and to London. It is an act of bravery, because these thespians take their original plays and test them in the toughest circumstances possible: in front of an audience. So it is withBromance, the tale of two veteran Fringe performers who have sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded.

The thing aboutBromance is that I understand exactly what they’ve gone through, from the horrible lows to the huge highs. The story ofBromance is the story of two self-described B-list Fringe performers who have come together to create an A-list show. To finally achieve what they had never done individually: Fringe tour stardom.

There were some great jokes and some funny bits, but sadly the show blew right by what one of the performers, Tommy “The Reverend” Nugent, was grappling with from the top: giving up on being an actor on the Fringe tour. He had had enough of barely scraping by, playing to audiences of 10 people, and was contemplating becoming a truck driver when he was talked into trying it one more time by his friend and fellow actor Kurt Fitzpatrick.

We’re greeted at the top of the show with a parody of the scene from Say Anything… where John Cusack is standing outside Lili Taylor’s bedroom playing Peter Gabriel’sIn Your Eyes from a boom box. In the case of these two, it’s “Fitzpatrick” holding a boom box, playingIn Your Eyes outside of Tommy Nuge’s window, trying to convince him to do a show with him. Funny? Yes. But then it goes from there to a series of inside jokes that only their fellow Fringe performers would understand, to some PowerPoint fun, and a clunky reference toBreaking Bad.

We end up stumbling to the end with a clever rap about London and a send-up of a critic they both had a hard time with in Orlando. What we miss along the way is the real story of what it’s like to be an actor. What it’s like to try to create a show from an idea and a tiny amount of cash. What it’s like to put your heart and soul into something to have five people come and see it. That is the show this could have and should have been.

Sure, keep the jokes and even the rap if you want but these two sympathetic actors missed a golden opportunity. Rather than going for the quick one-liner laughs and inside Fringe performer jokes, they could have kept some of the comedy and had an honest show about how hard it is to be unappreciated in an art that you love. So Tommy and Kurt, go away and rewrite this show, because this reviewer thinks this is a story worth telling.

For the rest of you reading this, the question is should you see this show? Well, the Fringe is the place where you go see shows that are rough, not quite ready, or sometimes brilliant. It’s where new theatre is created and sometimes the worst shows are taken away and come back as gems.

Sure this show is at times rough and incomplete, transitions from section to section are wobbly, and ultimately these two actors are talking at us rather than letting us in to share their own very important story. So if you see the show, great, but buy them a beer, listen to their stories about what it’s like to be a Fringe circuit actor and show creator, and encourage them to go back and do a rewrite for next year. I for one hope it will come back again as a gem.

Oh, and kudos to Megan Schroder for her rocking rendition ofSon of a Preacher Man at the top of the show.

–Sean Quigley

Bromance

Bromance is an entertaining hour of Fringe circuit and London, Ontario in-jokes and jabs carried by some engaging and fun performers. Although elements of the show, particularly the pop culture references/vignettes, were a little clunky, the audience adored Fitzpatrick & Nuge’s antics through and through, laughing and clapping from beginning to end (though both Mel Sheehan and, apparently, Santa Claus were in the audience, so there’s that). If you’re looking for an enjoyably meta comedy show about the Fringe circuit experience, with some endearing performances by Fringe veterans (“B-list” or otherwise!)Bromance is definitely for you.

–Clara Madrenas

Choose, But Choose Wisely

London Does Have History

First, a disclaimer: I’m one of those who loves historical drama that is tight on the facts and light on concocted romance and conspiracy. SoChoose, But Choose Wisely is my cup of tea whereas it might not be for those of another persuasion.

The strongest point of this show is the dialogue. Unlike many scripts that go lean on the fiction, this one avoids dry historical exposition by baking the facts into a relevant story leavened by wit. This approach is further enhanced by the clarity of the characters, both in how they are drawn by the playwright and how they are brought to life by the cast.

Unfortunately, neither the script as a whole nor this production of it has been sufficiently prepared to give a truly satisfying experience to the playgoer. And I’d venture to say that the traditional stage would be one of the less effective media for this story. Tightened up, it’d make a great half-hour radio drama. A costumed reading with projections and sound that fully engage the audience would have me first in line for a ticket.

There are gems that glimmer in this production, but they need to be sifted, refined and mounted in the right setting forChoose, But Choose Wisely to achieve its potential.

–Bryan McLennon

Concrete Kid

Dynamic, funny and inspiring, this endearing coming-of-age story is an absolute must-see that received the first, and seriously well-deserved, standing ovation of my Fringe-going experience this year.

Sharing the story through spoken word poetry, snappy dialogue and movement and dance,Concrete Kid‘s performers were pitch-perfect, infectious with energy and effortlessly convincing as the sometimes multiple characters they played. The script was original and on-point, moving adeptly from powerful poetry to deft wit and back again and coming to a head with a truly brilliant finale. A compelling snapshot of a moment in a young person’s life,Concrete Kid perfectly captures the terrors and possibilities, the energy and anxiety, of youth, and is truly worth seeing for absolutely anyone who is, has been or will be a teenager.

I can’t recommend it enough.

–Clara Madrenas

Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

Charming, Playful and Endearing

Charming and playful,Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is a one-woman journey of self-discovery and transformation which comes to an endearing conclusion. Music and humour are used to take the audience behind the counter of a Toronto coffee shop with barista Joanie Little. Actress and writer Rebecca Perry’s delivery is spot on, leading you to the assumption that this story is quasi-autobiographical. Perry has an incredible singing voice, belting out tunes from Rufus Wainwright to The Head and the Heart. After hearing her confessions you just might view your next barista through more sympathetic eyes, and be curious as to what their own personal story is—and wonder if they can sing quite like that.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

The Deception Hour

The classic magic show is something that everyone loves, and Keith Brown’s show is no exception. A mix of brilliant magic, mental gymnastics, and plain old astonishing feats, it’s a show well worth seeing. Mix that with a genuine warmth toward the audience, a respect for the people he pulls into his performance, and a sprinkle of a hometown boy doing something he loves, and you have an entertaining show.

You can tell from the first moment that Keith loves his work and loves magic. In a typical review I would talk about the plot, the actors, the structure of the play, but I don’t want to do that here. Friends, magic is about mystery, and I don’t want to ruin the mystery. Suffice it to say that Keith Brown is charming, the magic is gob-smackingly clever, and the performance is filled with moments where you cringe in horror at what he’s doing and moments that make you say “Wow!” Go seeThe Deception Hour if you love the mystery of magic and you want something that will leave you wondering “how the hell did he do that?” Because I know how he did it: it’s just good old-fashioned magic, and we all need a little more magic in our lives.

–Sean Quigley

A Must-See Magic Show

When done right, a magic show captures the audience’s imagination and draws out a childlike sense of wonder.

Keith Brown’sDeception Hour is definitely magic done right.

The Saturday night performance of this show was packed to the rafters with magic lovers, completely enthralled with every moment, and all left scratching their heads about how exactly Brown pulled off each feat.

With tons of audience participation and a fantastic, confident performance by Brown, this is a Fringe show that has to be at the top of your must-see list.

–Erika Faust

Deranged Dating

Deranged Dating is a one-woman stand up routine from award-winning South African performer Shirley Kirchmann. Perpetually single at the age of 35, Shirley takes us on a comedic look at the horrors of dating and her experiences with websites, match makers and bars. While I enjoyed a few of her characters and had a good belly laugh at her more off-the-cuff and edgy jokes, for the most part the show was lost on me. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve heard most of the jokes and one-liners before. I laughed, but not as hard as some in the audience. I’m lukewarm on this one.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

Dream Journey

Dream Journey is dominated by discipline and skills wrapped in a satisfying rhythmic flow of mystery, ideas and images. How refreshing it is to see a “young theatre” workshop production developed under the kind of guidance that Original Kids provides. It’s abundantly clear that egos are checked at the door and that the focus is on honing real professional skills and attitudes rather than self-indulgence often fostered by “Let’s Create” or “Be a Star” classes.

I recommend that all other London Fringe performers see this show, either to bring back that moment when they realized how much more powerful the ensemble can be than the group of individuals, or maybe to experience it vicariously—for the first time.

Original Kids
Lucky Kids
Grateful Audience
See it.

–Bryan McLennon

Early Retirement

Going into this show I expected a fairly typicalHarold and Maude type show about the passion of youth and the wisdom of old age, but what I found was something more charming and complex.Early Retirement is a character drama driven by three strong performances bringing three interesting personalities to life. Funny at times, thoughtful at others, I feel this show does a good job of capturing the messiness of modern love by juxtaposing it against the facts and fictions of a romanticized older time. My only real complaint was an aggressive use of lighting to signify scene changes which, at times, broke up the flow of the drama.

Although it’s not the type of show I’m usually drawn to, I had a good time watching this enduring and funny show and think it’s worth checking out.

–Jeffrey Preston

Einstein!

This story about science, imagination, and family is an enjoyable experience carried by a strong performer and a worthwhile script.

This isEinstein!‘s first run, in London or anywhere, so it was a little bit rough around the edges on opening night. However, Jack Fry’s multiple characters were well-defined and his jokes hit home with ease. The script balances tales of Einstein’s personal life well with segments about scientific curiosity and the wonders of the universe.

If you’re looking for a historical tale with a modern twist told by a solid performer with a multi-layered script, seeEinstein! for sure.

–Clara Madrenas

Fancy Brain Show: Poorly Put Together

A show that’s more stand-up routine than one-man show, theFancy Brain Show definitely offers up some solid laughs delivered by a funny and clever performer. While the show itself is certainly funny, I think it might be better served up at a comedy club than a theatre festival, as the audience really hurt the performance I saw. Without the loud and rowdy crowd of a comedy club, it was difficult to really get into the spirit of the show and resulted in several awkward pauses when people held their laughter because they didn’t want to be the only one in the crowd laughing.

Having said that, I think Shaw’s storytelling abilities are definitely there and would love to see him move away from the “ba-dum-pish” format of a comedy show and move into a truer one-man dramatic (but still humorous) exploration of life, health and happiness. Unfortunately, the joke formula got in the way of the meat of the experience, at times, which left the show feeling a bit unbalanced.

My recommendation is to either bring a bunch of rowdy friends along to make this show a party or wait to catch this funny guy on stage in a comedy club — in the right atmosphere, this guy will leave you in stitches.

–Jeffrey Preston

Fred Exclamation Point! The Musical

Fred Exclamation Point! The Musical offers the tantalizing prospect of Stephen Sondheim meets Dario Fo—Broadway Musical meets Labour, in a sauce of humour. Such a combination is one of those things that makes a Fringe, well, a Fringe. And makes a Fringe worth going to.

Sadly, Fred is not a dish serving up an innovative fusion of uncommonly-blended flavours, but a clothesline onto which successive loads of laundry are winched out to flap fitfully in an unsteady breeze. Inconsistent pacing and blocking that would do well on the radio do no service to the talent on the stage. Unfortunately (for the most part) the wide range of unreinforced vocal skill on display is often drowned out by the principal accompaniment—an electric piano—pumped at unreasonable volume through the P.A. This is doubly unfortunate as the piano accompaniment is one of the best aspects of the show.

Then again, sometimes this is exactly what a Fringe Festival is about.

–Bryan McLennon

Fred A Little Flat

The title of this show made me think it was going to be silly, lighthearted fun. Unfortunately, the combination of unintelligible musical numbers, cartoonish characters and union rights just didn’t strike a chord with me.

It’s possible that there were some technical difficulties with this performance—I caught the second showing—but it was the too-quiet singing that was tough to get past. The lyrics in the first song, which serves to introduce the title character, were virtually impossible to understand, besides the chorus’ repetition of “Fred! Fred! Fred! Fred!” (which is guaranteed to get stuck in your head! Head! Head! Head!).

There are some funny moments in this play—and there’s a top-notch vocal performance by Rebecca Surman—but the show fell a little flat overall for me. However the performances were earnest, and it seemed like the audience had fun.

If you’re really into union rights, silly comedies and combinations of the two, this might be a show you’ll enjoy. If not, you might want to give this one a pass.

–Erika Faust

Friend of Mine

Friend of Mine is a poignant story about love, culture and colonialism told by a captivating, multi-talented performer.

Vidya Natarajan moves fluidly from character to character and from dialogue to song and dance with the help of a clever and engaging script. Her different characters were well-defined without being over the top—her Kamala was stubborn yet mischievous and her Amy was pompous but vulnerable—and the story was simple and full of moments both funny and moving.

Among all this year’s quirky, frenetic comedies, this more sincere, paced piece is a breath of fresh air for those looking for some good straightforward storytelling.

–Clara Madrenas

Getting There: The Ariel Play

A play that really captures the spirit and style of Sylvia Plath,Getting There is a lyrical and insightful exploration into the life of a frustrated young woman who has just committed suicide. With the most complex (and clever) stage and prop use I’ve seen so far this Fringe, this is a professional-calibre show carried by the strong performance of Mackay who brings the captivating prose of writer Derewicz to life.

While the density/concept of the play might not be for everyone—it is definitely a show you need to work a bit to understand—this play has a lot to offer, particularly for fans of spoken word poetry andThe Feminine Mystique.

–Jeffrey Preston

Getting There is a story about femininity in crisis during the 1960s and 1970s told by an excellent performer under solid direction.

Sylvia Plath as inspiration really shines through here, and fans of her work will certainly not be disappointed by this original tribute, with a script that hits all the right notes by being simple, but challenging. The acting was fantastic, convincing through and through, and the direction in particular was clearly well thought out in every way.

Definitely see this if you want to support two talented emerging artists creating something polished, professional and powerful.

–Clara Madrenas

God is a Scottish Drag Queen

Uproariously funny

There are many things you will learn about God at this Fringe entry. Among them: She loves monkeys, music, floral ’80s power suits, and Justin Bieber. Yes, God is a Scottish drag queen and She’s come to tell you that She is plenty pissed off. Hilariously funny from intro to end, this is a must-see for those who aren’t easily offended, and perhaps those who are. Because if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at? Nobody and nothing is sacred in this uproarious 60 minutes. From the Pope to Amy Winehouse and Spanx to sweaty farts,God is a must-see for those looking for a good belly laugh and sore cheeks.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

Grey Days Preferable

A series of letters between sibling London (Ontario) artists Paul and Mildred Peel form a compelling look at their close relationship. Originally presented as a two-hander at Museum London,Grey Days Preferable swaps the projections of Paul’s actual paintings for clever and surprisingly representative theatrical presentations by two supporting actors. Chris McAuley, despite being slightly miscast as the artist (who died at age 32), portrays Paul as a sympathetic, innately-talented younger brother to Vanessa Woodford’s Mildred, a fine but overlooked artist in her own right who’s supportive of her sibling’s accomplishments. Director Adam Corrigan Holowitz has put his own unique stamp on the story of one of this city’s most famous exports, and it’s one of the highlights of the 2014 Fringe.

–Peter Janes

A play about Paul Peel, a local artist who died tragically young and was admired in France, by local playwright Jason Rip is a worthy subject and one worth exploring on a number of levels. In the course of the play we learn about the artist, his strong relationship with his sister, his difficult relations with his father, and his love of the French art and French light. What we don’t get is a strong play.

Jason Rip has written the play in a series of letters between Peel and his sister, which forces the play into a repeating format. Director Adam Corrigan Holowitz stages the play with an interesting idea: he sets the stage with a proscenium arch upstage which he uses to create suggestions of Peel’s paintings using two actors. A great idea which is hit or miss in its delivery. The whole play is hit and miss, sadly, and could use, and I strongly encourage, a rewrite and reworking. This is a local play well worth re-examining by the playwright and the director.

The two lead actors in this show sometimes manage to get hit the right notes—especially great is Peel’s death scene—but the cast isn’t up to the play in the end.

Here is the important point about this review, and especially the young director Adam Corrigan Holowitz. Adam has created his own theatre company and has been producing plays for the last 4 years. He is a young artist, much like Peel, learning his craft, and the Fringe is a great place for him to do it. So while I thought this play had issues, it also had tremendous promise, like Corrigan Holowitz. So go see the show, but more importantly keep going to see this young director’s work, because it is important to support and encourage our local talent. And Adam is a talent that we need to support.

Jason Rip is also a local playwright: keep supporting his work. See the play, with all its flaws, because if we don’t then how will our local artists keep developing and creating stronger and stronger work? They won’t. Go seeGrey Days Preferable: A Portrait Of Paul Peel.

Grey Matter(s)

Moved by Movement

Grey Matter(s) is a contemporary dance production that is one part choreographed, one part improvised, and set to a haunting soundtrack featuring Radiohead, CocoRosie, Medicine and Ben Howard. The lead-in is eerie, plunging the audience into a world of darkness and intense sounds. When the lights come up, dancers are set in small curious scenes across the stage depicting some kind of conflict or anxiety.

When dancing as a group the dancers set an intense and passionate aura that resonates to the audience. When dancing as individuals they effortlessly pull the audience into their respective stories of chaos and uncertainty as they try to find calm and become centered again. The heaviness and eventual lifting is very well illustrated in their movements.

Grey Matter(s) is an impressive production from such a young dance troupe. It is well choreographed, nicely timed and quite cohesive with seamless transitions. If you love music and movement, you will be moved by this production.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

Hedda & Louella

This review is going to be extremely short so you can stop reading and just go see this show: it’s great. My only wish is that it was longer, because these two actors, along with the story, could easily have filled two hours.

A historical drama that really captures the golden age of Tinseltown, this is a show about compelling women portrayed by two extremely talented actors. I likely would not have chosen to see this show myself, but I am so glad I did. Take a chance on this one, you won’t be disappointed.

–Jeffrey Preston

High Tea

If you want to see the strangest, most endearing show at Fringe this year I cannot recommendHigh Tea enough. Funny and bizarre with a healthy dose of gentle audience participation, this show is perfect for viewers of all ages.

For the love of king and country, go see this show!

–Jeffrey Preston

A lovely, silly show

I had expectations of English humour and biting wit going intoHigh Tea. What I got instead was vastly different, but still delightful. James and Jamesy’s performances don’t reflect the sort of comedy I’d expect of Doctor Who or the BBC, but they do exhibit a talent for slapstick and imagination. The two actors have excellent chemistry, and the contrast between them makes the piece exceedingly charming. The show also manages to include multiple occurrences of audience participation without ruining its timing or flow, which is a rare feat among Fringe plays.High Tea isn’t intellectual or self-deprecating, but it does allow its audience to experience the joy and creativity of make believe. That alone makes it worth seeing, especially for parents and children.

–Emma Allison

High Tea is a brilliant piece of imaginative play guided by the lovable James and Jamesy, who carry the audience through an adventure in physical theatre and make believe that really makes you feel as if you’ve been a part of something magical. James and Jamesy’s performances are a delight to watch, with Jamesy’s lithe noodling about and James amiably tagging along. The story is simple—two friends meet for tea and are swept away in a gradually building swell of mind-bending craziness—but carries complex undertones as the audience is swept away as well into a story that’s really about the value of imagination, the importance of playing together and, ultimately, what it means to be human.

This is an extremely family-friendly show and is particularly a must-see for kiddies and their guardians.

–Clara Madrenas

I Hate Bill Pats

This is a show that really gets down to the basics of Fringe theatre — a sparse stage, simple lighting, and a predictable narrative pattern. But the simplicity of the show merely adds to the authenticity of this gutsy, gritty story about one man’s brutal journey through life in Winnipeg. A story that hits you right in the feels,I Hate Bill Pats is an emotional roller coaster with equal parts self deprecating humour and gut wrenching tragedy. Although a bit rough around the edges at times, the flaws of this show only add to its charisma and make it feel more genuine.

You should go see this show. Really, you should. In part because, despite the title, Bill Pats is a loveable (if not sympathetic) guy. But more than that, you should see this show because it does something that all theatre should do but few accomplish — it will affect you, emotionally and intellectually. To me, that is the marker of good theatre and this show is, by definition, good theatre.

–Jeffrey Preston

Judy: Stonewalled

Judy: Stonewalled certainly has an interesting premise. Discussing Stonewall through Garland’s story could create a fresh take on the historical event, and at its best,Judy does just that. The music is fantastic, and Natalie Howard-Grant does an exceptional job of showing Garland’s appeal and versatility. At certain points, the writing includes self-deprecating, dark humour that helps to successfully use Garland’s life as a parallel to the struggle of the LGBTQ community. However, the piece fails to maintain this tone. In multiple scenes, the piece becomes heavy-handed instead of poignant, and the moments of compelling self-reflection are lost in the lack of subtlety.Judy is never fully able to live up to its potential, but Garland admirers will enjoy the musical performances and pitch-perfect ambiance.

–Emma Allison

Killer Quack

There are people who have interesting lives that swing through a series of coincidences, all linking together in a grand adventure that ends up finishing in an all-too-human tale of recognition and friendship. Such is the tale ofKiller Quack by James Judd. James tell us of a life that starts in show business and drives through dissatisfaction, marked by a tattoo, a side trip to law school, and an obsession where he ends up missing a terrible end by the skin of his teeth.

James is as comfortable on the deck as he is in sharing this madcap story, and he has the innate timing and rhythm to make his show fill us with laughter and at other times give us pause as he shares an honest moment in his strange life. He starts us off in his failure to fail at doing standup, then we catch up with James as he’s finishing law school and lamenting an ugly tattoo he got in an ugly part of his life. The twist comes when he wants to remove that part of of his life.

Fast forward to a laser removal clinic in the late ’90s, when in walks a man who catches James’ breath and therein begins his obsession. During his time with the “doctor” he shares some personal moments in New York after 9/11 and an encounter with his romantic obsession that shakes him badly and makes him stop treatments and end his obsession.

It’s now years later and James has successfully settled down with a partner he loves. He is selling wine around the world when he picks up the newspaper and learns a terrible truth. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story because you should go and see it. But it’s enough to say that James is a great performer who tells us a tale that takes us on a sometimes hilarious and finally ends in an all-too-human meeting of past and present. James should take some moments to not feel quite so rushed in the play, but we end up with a warm, funny, and touchingly fun show all lightly dusted with the pro comedic snark of someone who knows how to tell a good story.

–Sean Quigley

Ladies Room

A series of vignettes based within the confines of women’s restrooms, this is a devilishly funny show put on by three talented performers that is sure to entertain. An up-tempo situational comedy at its core, this show provides clever social commentary, exploring the complexity of relationships and social interaction. The writing is strong and the performances are natural, really drawing the audiences into the playful world.

This show really delivers for fans of Mei, Brown and Adler: it’s exactly what you would expect… and that’s not a bad thing. For those who don’t know these three actors, this is a great opportunity to get acquainted. Just make sure you go early, as this show is already (and rightfully so) drawing crowds.

–Jeffrey Preston

Maison Des Rêves

A stirring true crime drama about early 1900s serial killer Alexe Popova,Maison Des Reves is a difficult but important show. With descriptions of monstrous violence against women perpetrated by husbands and fathers, this performance is obviously quite heavy, but don’t let the subject matter prevent you from seeing this show.

Gritty, saddening and inspiring,Maison Des Reves is carried by a seasoned veteran of stage and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in historical drama, true crime stories, and justice for victims of domestic violence.

–Jeffrey Preston

The Mask Messenger

Oh, this is so much of what Fringing is about!

The Mask Messenger is categorized as “Physical Comedy, General”. That’s just a bit like tagging Hamlet with “contains violence and references to madness”. That’s true, but it misses the other 95% of the show. The program bumph goes further and tries to tease out the nature of the show out with “Physical comedy with masks in humorous, poignant and bizarre vignettes”. That has a vague odour of self indulgent scattershot, which is even wider of the target.

This cloak of uncategorizability undoubtedly led to a comment overheard after the showcase: “That mask bit was really good, but can it be sustained for an entire show?” Having now seen the show, I can assure that patron that that comment was a bit like seeing Monty Python’sSilly Walks sketch and wondering if an hour of Monty Python might be stretching it too far. Those are truly unfounded fears.

Christel Bartelse has a endless, headspinning collection of things to do with masks, or perhaps better, things that masks do to her, and selected audience members. You saw the thing that a single bit of face gear did to Jim Carrey inThe Mask? See how twenty masks stretch, contort and consume a very talented woman.

Bring some cheek balm—those laugh muscles are gonna ache.

If you ain’t seen this show, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

(hmmm… I’m sure there’s a mask for that)

–Bryan McLennon

Weirdly wonderful

The Mask Messenger is an absorbing solo performance by Christel Bartelse that fuses monologue, physical humour and theatre under the guise of a lecture about masks. This one hour show explores the societal and psychological use of masks and the elements of disguise. From touching to comedic to downright bizarre, the masks are brought to life one by one by Bartelse, a regular and award-winning Fringe performer, in engaging and sometimes fascinating vignettes. There were masks left untouched that I would have loved to see brought to life, and I feel the saying “less is more” could apply to the audience participation for this show, but overall it was an intelligent and enchanting performance.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

The Odd Couple

A sharp, well paced contemporary version of the classic

The Odd Couple is a much-loved classic and true comedic masterpiece. Beneath the slapstick surface is a deep, human story rife with shortcomings typical of Neil Simon characters. Felix and Oscar are perfectly opposite friends who come together under imperfect circumstances. Felix is a tidy, considerate penny pincher while Oscar is a happy-go-lucky, irresponsible slob, but the pair are lost and hurting. The story perfectly blends comedy and tragedy, and pulling off both successfully can be quite challenging for an actor.

Brian Suchorab and Stephen T. Holmes accomplish it brilliantly. The supporting cast is quite good (although Vinny could use some volume), but the two leads are absolutely spot on. The friendship between them is believable and the physical humour is well played. I was very pleasantly surprised and would really love to see this done in a community theatre setting on a bigger scale. (Nudge, nudge!) Bravo!

–Jo-Anne Bishop

Persephone

Persephone showcases an abundance of energy and movement and, on a stage as small and as polished as that of the London Convention Centre, remarkable surefootedness and in-flight guidance systems.

The music provides a satisfying modulation between adagio and allegro throughout the movements, but the choreography remains throughout the entire performance in top gear. This provides a tremendous showcase for the athleticism of dance—very well executed by the company—but denies them the chance to express subtlety and grace, sustain and expression, through small rather than large movement. It also denies the audience that necessary pause to unfire the brain so that the next peak is as grand as or grander than the last, rather than just more of the same.

Certainly a must-see for London’s dance aficionados, but not a work that would convert the non-believer.

–Bryan McLennon

Roller Derby Saved My Soul

Charming, clever, and as exhilarating as the sport of roller derby itself,Roller Derby Saved My Soul is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Nancy Kenny is endearing as she tells the story of Amy, a comic book- andBuffy-loving geek who walks in the shadow of her good-at-everything sister, June. All that changes when Amy finds her place beside June on a roller derby team, and the sense of belonging and camaraderie that comes along with it.

Kenny nicely blends elements of comedic characters and physical humour while giving a subtle lesson about the sport of roller derby. She passionately portrays Amy as she transitions from geek to “fresh meat” to a bonafide member of the derby team, and charms the audience with every hilarious moment, emotion and conflict in between.

Well acted, well instructed and very funny.

–Jo-Anne Bishop

The Rose

The Rose is a somewhat melodramatic piece about love through time told by some committed, if at times stumbling, young performers.

The Rose is a story told through a series of vignettes about love that are clichéd but cute enough. The actors gave it their all, although they weren’t always entirely convincing due to some apparent nerves and discomfort onstage. The venue was a real problem for this piece as well, as it was often difficult to hear the actors over the sound of city buses roaring by.

There’s a show for every audience, and an audience for every show. Maybe see this if you’re looking to support some first-timers in their attempts to try something new.

–Clara Madrenas

Silent Party Interlude

Silent Party Interlude is an introspective quarter-life crisis story told well by an energetic and talented young performer.

Devon More does a good job of expressing the story of this meditation retreat through speech, movement and song. The tunes are catchy and sung beautifully and the vignettes about meditating are surprisingly dynamic and absorbing for being about an activity that involves sitting quietly and not moving.

This pleasantly mellow piece with its catchy songs and quirky, likeable performer is particularly worth a watch for those interested in meditation, who will relate to more of the story’s depth.

–Clara Madrenas

Spitting in the Face of the Devil

Brader Confronts The Devil Within

Spitting In The Face Of The Devil is not an easy show to watch.

Sure, there are funny moments and touching stories, and Bob Brader’s impressive impressions will have you chuckling in spite of the subject matter.

But there are parts of Brader’s story that will make your gut wrench and your blood boil.

It’s not lighthearted afternoon entertainment, but it is a show worth watching.

Brader’s performance is mesmerizing, and the 80-minute showtime is packed full of dozens of stories and scenes from his childhood and adulthood. He has you feeling like a member of his close-knit family, and just like any family, this one has its deep, dark secrets.

As Brader tells story of his confrontation with the Devil, it’s impossible not to empathize with his feelings of fear and helplessness and being drawn into the cycle of abuse. Ultimately, though, this is a story of hope, and beating down the Devil inside us all.

–Erika Faust

Amazing Journey

It finished with a rocket-propelled standing ovation. Not one of your wussey ovations where a select few (friends and family perhaps?) jump to their feet and a trickle of fence sitters make their minds up to stand while the crew in the booth take bets on whether enough I-guess-I-don’t-want-to-look-like-a-stick-in-the-mudites will struggle to their feet and critical mass will be reached.

No, this eruption was real and spontaneous. The audience had just been taken by an incredibly skillful guide on a journey through tunnels of darkness and pastures of refreshing lightness in such perfect balance and with such a satisfying rhythm that time became irrelevant. It was only after the bracing catharsis when the story finally loosed its grip that the listeners could look back over the remarkable craft of the teller. And by then they were already on their feet, perhaps with just a hint of that relief found in the applause that airline passengers give their pilots when landing after a particularly nail-biting journey.

Spitting In the Face of The Devil should not be qualified by its content as in “A great performance on a difficult topic”, it is simply “A Great Performance”.

–Bryan McLennon

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

This magic show in disguise as a 1930s noir detective tale is a solid win thanks to the writer/performer’s wit, creativity and undeniable charm.

Tim Motley is an extremely endearing performer who adeptly dealt in stride with literally everything going wrong at Wednesday night’s performance. (I honestly thought the “mistakes” were just part of the fun of it all.) His puns and metaphors were hilarious and impressive, from the sleeper jokes that took a minute to laugh at to the immediate groaners that “only make him stronger.” The “mind reading” and audience participation were also worth a fair few laughs and the tricks and gags were overall impressive. I only wish I had been able to catch all of the jokes and plot points through how quickly Motley spoke at times.

Overall, this is definitely one you should see, particularly if you’re into magic, film noir, clever jokes and a performer you can’t help but just really like.

–Clara Madrenas

Water Under the Bridge

This family friendly (regardless of what the program says!) musical with puppets is a cute little piece with creative stagecraft, good performances and great ensemble numbers.

Water Under the Bridge is a typical Be Yourself story with a couple of bizarre and entertaining twists. It’s perhaps not as funny as the program advertises, but the puppets were wonderfully crafted and the inventive work done with set and props to create the world around them was a lot of fun to watch. The ensemble musical numbers were definitely the standout here with the performers’ powerful voices coming together beautifully.

It’s certainly not for “mature audiences” only; this one’s worth seeing with the young people in your life if you want something imaginative, feel-good and fun.

–Clara Madrenas

World War Three

In the space of 55 minutes Jayson McDonald created the universe, shared the evolution of mankind, told us the history of war, and painted the future of the world in a moral cautionary tale of our future, which could happen, unless we pay attention to our children and their impulses for love. He does all of this with a bare stage, a chair, a hat, and a jacket, and uses them all to create character after character to support this play.

In London we have artists that we don’t pay enough attention to and some of these artists are simply outstanding. Jayson McDonald is one of them. Across the entire fringe circuit his shows are raved about and his work is deeply respected and admired. In London we don’t pay enough attention to him and we don’t put his work in a large enough spaces, with enough support, so he can really take off. Fortunately you can seeWorld War Three this week at The London Fringe and I strongly suggest you do.

In his latest show he starts with the evolution of the universe and ends with the abandonment of us all by the creator and a sets up a series of moral and deeply troubling questions that leave us at the end of 55 minutes grateful for his imagination, skill as a writer, and his work as an actor.

Essentially Jayson sets up a seemingly implausible, but sadly probable, scenario where the world is ruled by an empire, the bees are all dead, and we are faced with the rebellion of our own children. What happens throughout the show is the classic example of a one-man fringe show and an actor who is completely in control of his abilities and his method of creation.

I cannot recommendWorld War Three highly enough, and Jayson McDonald, our very own London talent. The fact that this playwright and actor is not using the biggest stages, in his own city, is a crime and while the rest of us argue about a performing arts centre we have a world class artist in our midst. See the show, but more importantly let’s seriously start supporting talents like Jayson.

–Sean Quigley

Fringe Binge

To my knowledge, Wally Duffield and I are the only people crazy enough to have seen every show in a given year’s London Fringe Festival. (I’ve only done it once, despite trying for four years; Wally did several times.) It’s not necessarily the best way to see the Fringe—it’s surprising how tiring being entertained for ten straight days can be—but for those who are foolhardy enough to try, it is possible.

Bryan McLennon has come up with one way to see everything this year, and still have time left over:

Wednesday/Thursday
all shows at Venue 6
Friday/Saturday
all shows at Venue 5
Sunday/Monday
Venue 2
Tuesday/Wednesday
Venue 1
Thursday/Friday
Venue 3
Saturday
Site A/B

Plus The NO Show each night. You could even fit in the two “bring-your-own-venue” sites on Saturday/Monday and have June 14 entirely free to experience the Dundas Street Festival and Nuit Blanche.

Nicely done, Fringe organizers!

The 2013 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2013 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London were announced at the Wolf Performance Hall on Monday night in a ceremony hosted by Matt Loop and Jeff Werkmeister. Celebrating the 2013 theatre season, the awards recognized productions and performances in seventeen different categories. New this year were awards for outstanding ensemble performance and outstanding makeup design.

The winners were:

Outstanding Comedy Production
Vigil (A Missing Link Theatre Company)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Karl Goffin,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Outstanding Sound Design
Teighlor Thomson,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Outstanding Youth Drama
Flowers for Algernon (London District Christian Secondary School)
Outstanding Youth Musical
Monty Python’s Spamalot (Original Kids Theatre Company)
Outstanding Set Design
Rachel Dotterman, Ryan Cole, and Sarah Vitali,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Jessica Ducharme, “Puck”,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Outstanding Original Script
Swing Dance, Lynda Martens
Outstanding Costume Design
Rebecca Collins,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Outstanding Makeup Design
Heather Heywood,Dream (Paradoxa Theatre Collective)
Chris Doty Award
Patricia Black
Outstanding Musical Production
Avenue Q (Original Kids Alumni)
Outstanding Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Phil Johnston, “Trekkie Monster”,Avenue Q (Original Kids Alumni)
Outstanding Ensemble Performance
The cast ofLaughter on the 23rd Floor (London Community Players)
Outstanding Female Actor in a Lead Role
Carol Robinson-Todd,Vigil (A Missing Link Theatre Company)
Outstanding Male Actor in a Lead Role
Tim Bourgard, “Sigmund Freud”,Freud’s Last Session (Theatre Parapraxis)
Outstanding Director
Andrew Tribe,Avenue Q (Original Kids Alumni)
Outstanding Drama Production
To Kill a Mockingbird (London Community Players)

Paradoxa Theatre Collective’s six awards forDream equals the record set by two companies at the 2010 Brickendens, Pacheco Theatre (for Outstanding Musical winnerThe Producers) and Passionfool Theatre Company (forMarat/Sade,Medea, andMonster.

Awards in the Bravest Production and Outstanding Solo Performance categories were not presented; the former is a discretionary category, and in the latter case, there were not enough solo performances during the year, so eligible performers were included in the lead categories.

The winners of the awards were decided by votes from the public, the three Brickenden adjudication panels, and the organization’s executive committee.

As always, congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, as well as to everyone who worked in and attended theatre in London in 2013. See you in twelve months!

Dish Awards 2013

The fifth annual Dish awards were announced last night; the results, as published in theLondon Free Press, are below. All non-musical awards were picked solely by Donald D’Haene; musical awards were decided by a panel comprising Lynn Davis, Sue Parkinson, Dennis Johns, Iain Paterson, and Charles Martin.

Best Sound, Musical
Rob Richardson,Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
Best Sound, Comedy/Drama
John Fellner (Original Music),Picnic at Hanging Rock, H.B. Beal Secondary School
Best Stage Manager, Musical
Stephanie Molloy,Oklahoma!, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Stage Manager, Comedy/Drama
Jen Leack,Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Passionfool Theatre Company
Best Script
Lynda Martens,Swing Dance
Best Supporting Actor, Musical
Dale Hirlehey (Jud Fry),Oklahoma!, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy/Drama
Colt Forgrave (Robert),Boeing, Boeing, Theatre Western
Best Set, Musical
Stephen Degenstein,Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
Best Set, Comedy/Drama
David Long,Metamorphoses, London Community Players
Best Costumes, Musical
Becky Lenko and Kim McCuaig,Oklahoma!, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Costumes, Comedy/Drama
Debra Chantler, Lesleigh Turner, and Sookie Mei,Suddenly Last Summer, Theatre Soup
Best Lighting, Musical
Stephen Mitchell,Cabaret, Fuse Productions
Best Lighting, Comedy/Drama
Darryl Crichton,Flowers For Algernon, London District Christian Secondary School
Drama Queen (in Memory of Taylor Nesseth), Musical
Adam Zess (Bat Boy),Bat Boy: The Musical, Musical Theatre Productions
Drama Queen (in Memory of Taylor Nesseth), Comedy/Drama
Grace Barnhart (Rosina Brandram),Sullivan & Gilbert, London Community Players
Best Supporting Actress, Musical
Deborah Mitchell (Fraulein Schneider),Cabaret, Fuse Productions
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy/Drama
Lesley Chapman (Older Molly),Old Love, Elgin Theatre Guild
Best Makeup, Musical
Melanie Richards,Bat Boy: The Musical, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Makeup, Comedy/Drama
Dianne Taylor,A Christmas Carol, London Community Players
Best Musical Direction
Andrew Rethazi,Oklahoma!, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Choreography, Musical
Ceris Thomas,Oklahoma!, Musical Theatre Productions
Best Ensemble Cast, Musical
Avenue Q, Original Kids Alumni
Best Ensemble Cast, Comedy/Drama
God of Carnage, Iglesia Productions
Outlaw, Studio B Theatre
Pay It Forward Award
Empty Space Productions
Paradoxa Theatre
Best Actor, Musical
Jake Schindler (Mickey),Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
Best Actor, Comedy/Drama
Aaron Smit (Charlie Gordon),Flowers For Algernon, London District Christian Secondary School
Chris Kevill (Guildenstern),Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Passionfool Theatre Company
Best Actress, Musical
Caitlin McKeon (Mrs. Johnstone),Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
Best Actress, Comedy/Drama
Dinah Watts (Mrs. Venable),Suddenly Last Summer, Theatre Soup
Best Director, Musical
Andrew Tribe,Avenue Q, Original Kids Alumni
Best Director, Comedy
Sarah Farrant,Boeing, Boeing, Theatre Western
Best Director, Drama
Lesleigh Turner,Suddenly Last Summer, Theatre Soup
Best Musical
Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
Best Comedy
Boeing, Boeing, Theatre Western
Best Drama
Flowers For Algernon, London District Christian Secondary School
Suddenly Last Summer, Theatre Soup

A series of merit awards, announced earlier in the season, were also presented:

High School Comedy/Drama
Ceilidh Donovan (Mrs. Cratchit),A Christmas Carol, Clarke Road Secondary School
Aaron Smit (Charlie Gordon),Flowers For Algernon, London District Christian Secondary School
Natalia Martin (Paulette),Legally Blonde, The High School Project
Henry Firmston (Kyle the UPS Guy),Legally Blonde, The High School Project
Lucy Morgan (Mrs. Appleyard),Picnic at Hanging Rock, H.B. Beal Secondary School
Will Klanac (Romeo),Romeo and Juliet, Catholic Central High School
Lauren Moniz (Balthasar),Romeo and Juliet, Catholic Central High School
Sophie McGregor (Tweeny),The Admirable Crichton, A.B. Lucas Secondary School
Ashley McIntyre,The Laramie Project, Original Kids Theatre Company
Dallas Ensing (Petruchio),The Taming of The Shrew, The High School Project
Kenny Grenier (Sir Toby Belch),Twelfth Night, Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School
Justin Koehler (Sir Andrew),Twelfth Night, Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School
Brendan O’Brien (Archie),13: The Musical, Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School
Victoria Heine (Miss Hannigan),Annie, John Paul II Catholic Secondary School
Caitlin McKeon (Mrs. Johnstone),Blood Brothers, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
High School Musicals
Graeme Rooney (Ren McCormack),Footloose, Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School
Alexandra Grant (Ti Moune),Once On This Island, Beal Musical Theatre
Anna Osterberg,Songs for a New World, London South Collegiate Institute
Abigail Kirton (Ariel),The Little Mermaid, Oakridge Secondary School

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all those who took part in London theatre this year. It will be interesting to see if these final Dish awards function as a predictor of the Brickenden Awards, which will be presented on January 27 at the Wolf Performance Hall.

Stage fright

Two exemplars of the “Gothic” style have appeared in London theatres recently: James Reaney’s “Canadian Gothic” play The Easter Egg in May, and Tennessee Williams’ “Southern Gothic” Suddenly, Last Summer, currently in production at The ARTS Project. Both are excellent, effective reminders that the form’s full name is “Gothic horror”, makingSuddenly a near-ideal play to produce at Halloween.

Gothic horror, introduced in the 18th century, pervades popular culture to this day, primarily through its monsters: vampires, Frankenstein’s creation, and Cthulhu, among others. While the more visual aspects easily translate to film, stage drama is often much better suited for the sort of creeping horror of Williams’ and Reaney’s work. The audience knows from near the beginning that something is up, and Gothic plays tease out their macabre secrets slowly until the full depravity of their situations are revealed, often with a character becoming completely swept up in a closing monologue revealing a level of… madness? Or terrible, hideous truth?

Despite the genre’s popularity, it tends to be pieces with more sensationalist and romantic aspects that bring in the hordes. NeitherThe Easter Egg norSuddenly, Last Summer can be considered subtle—one of the defining factors of Gothic horror is its melodrama—nor are they particularly funny or light, although each has its moments of (usually uncomfortable) laughter. There aren’t any catchy ditties to break the building tension like aLittle Shop of Horrors orRocky Horror Show, both of which can only make mild claim to the “horror” in their titles, and neither of which would ever be considered remotely scary. True Gothic horrors are the sort of thing read by flashlight under bedsheets, not wanting to turn the page for fear of what’s next but being strangely compelled to find out. When done well—as AlvegoRoot and Theatre Soup have accomplished—they’re terrifying.

The 2013 Fringe Awards

The 2013 Fringe Awards were announced at tonight’s Fringe Fried awards ceremony, hosted by Michael James Brown. In a change from previous years, the awards were determined by Theatre in London.ca’s team of volunteer reviewers.

Outstanding show
Myra’s Story
Outstanding individual performance
Tara Travis (Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII)
Outstanding cast

A Beautiful View
Most daring show
CIRCLE
Funniest show
Be A Man

Two awards were presented by the Fringe festival staff: Spirit of the Fringe and the Producer’s Pick.

Spirit of the Fringe
Peter Janes
Producer’s Pick, chosen by Kathy Navackas
Tara Travis (Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and Jeff Leard (The Show Must Go On)

All recipients were given caps, to be known as “Tillees”.

A number of achievements were also noted, ranging from “crackerjack” awards (to troupers with notable accomplishments during the festival, such as taking on the most shifts) to long-term service awards for volunteers who have been part of the festival for five and ten years. Volunteers who participated in Nuit Blanche London, held on the closing Saturday night of the festival, were also recognized.

Congratulations to all of the award winners, and many thanks to all of the performers, artists, writers, directors, stage managers, techs, troupers, and Fringe staff and board members. Thanks also to Theatre in London’s review team: Emma Allison, Jo-Anne Bishop, Laurie Bursch, Erika Faust, Clara Madrenas, Bryan McLennon, Jeffrey Preston, and Kirsten Rosenkrantz.

Updated June 17 to include additional details.

Fringe Impresario performances

The London Fringe Festival has announced this year’s Impresario shows:

All performances are on Sunday, June 16.

All tickets for each performance are available in advance, i.e. shows can be sold out. Tickets for all Impresario performances are $12 including service charges, and are available in person at the Fringe office or online; there are no telephone sales. Any unsold advance tickets for a performance will be available at its venue’s box office 45 minutes prior to the performance for $10, cash only. No passes of any kind (including comps, multi-ticket passes, trouper, Friend of Fringe, media, etc.) can be used for these special events.

Impresario performances are fundraisers for the London Fringe Festival. All proceeds are split 50-50 with the performing company.

London Fringe 14: Opening weekend reviews

As has become tradition, a team of volunteers is reviewing all of the shows in the London Fringe Festival on behalf of Theatre in London over the opening weekend. Each review is initially posted to the Fringe website, and they’ll all be archived here after the festival ends. Keep an eye on @theatreinlondon on Twitter for links to each review, and watch for a 2013 edition ofThe Banner on Thursday.

2 for Tea

Not my bag

Tea, British humour and physical comedy: all the makings (in my opinion) for a brilliant show. Unfortunately,2 for Tea fell short of that brilliance for me. It started weak and didn’t progress much beyond juvenile humour and utter silliness.

One part scripted, one part improv with added audience participation,2 for Tea lives up to its “bizarre” description. A certain innocence makes the characters endearing, however I didn’t relate to them in the least and found myself clock watching after the first half hour. The laughter around me would suggest some found humour in the show but sadly, I didn’t get it.

2 for Tea was just not my bag.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Perhaps not everyone’s cup

James and Jamesy are two very charming, very talented physical actors. The two performers work well together in this partly scripted, part improvised show.

Among other entertaining bits, the show contains a particularly clever use of Leroy Anderson’s musical piece,The Typewriter (although one wonders if every audience member was old enough to recognize the main “instrument”).

This is a show that has captured many. Sadly, while I wanted to love2 For Tea—the two men are entirely delightful in person as well as on stage—I found this at best a lukewarm cuppa.

—Laurie Bursch

Anatolia Speaks

Anatolia cannot be missed

This one-woman performance is set up like a student presentation in an ESL school, where Anatolia is sharing her experience as a new Canadian. The show is exceptionally performed by Candice Fiorentino, who has you chuckling at her endearing perspective on Canadian life and her job at the Superstore.

As she moves through her presentation she talks of her life in war-torn Bosnia, where we learn of Anatolia’s devastating past. It’s in these moments where Fiorentino’s performance was heartbreaking and moving, which left most of the audience in tears. This play reminds us of the diverse stories that make up the fabric of our country, and just how lucky we are to be Canadian.Anatolia Speaks is a definite must-see this year at Fringe.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Be A Man

Be amazed!

Presented as a series of vignettes, this show explores the idea of what it means to be a man. These four men all bring something different to the table, their own unique presence (including partial nudity), as they move through each portrayal of a different type of man. It seems like the cast has been working together forever based on their chemistry and their impeccable timing.

The writing is brilliant and the acting is bold. This brave show is hilarious, touching, thought-provoking, and totally entertaining.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

A Beautiful View

Perfect performances

Coming from a group of local theatre mainstays and written by a celebrated Canadian playwright, this one’s an obvious must-see. MacIvor’s script is clever in his typical way, albeit pretty predictable with what is perhaps an unintentionally goofy finale, but where this production really shone was in the performances. Valerie Cotic was understated and perfectly believable, bringing a fantastic depth to her character, while Meghan Brown was hilarious and charismatic while still presenting her character as well-rounded and so very real. Their timing together was impeccable and their relationship onstage convincing in every way. They presented their first show, a Saturday matinee, to a sold-out house, so get tickets as early as you can.

—Clara Madrenas

Bedtime Stories

The stories behind the stories

Bedtime Stories looks before “Once upon a time…” and beyond “…happily ever after” to let the characters tell their stories in their own words: Cinderella, who traded in her evil step-family for a different kind of servitude; Rapunzel’s Witch, whose good intentions amounted to villainy; Rumplestiltskin’s Queen, who went to great lengths to keep her secrets; and Bluebeard’s Wife, who betrayed her husband’s trust.

The women tell their stories separately and together, sharing the threads that connect them. Each story warns of the price you pay for freedom, for love, for power, for knowledge.

The play is beautifully written, and the imagery the words conjure up is alternately stunning and shocking—it’s a far darker show than its name suggests. All four women throw themselves into their characters wholeheartedly, and each is a pleasure to watch.

This is a show for anyone who understands the power that stories hold, and who wants to re-examine the fables of their childhood.

—Erika Faust

Circle

Exploration, sex, laughter—an absolute must-see!

This show gives you exactly what you expect: sex, sex, and more sex! Christel Bartelse and Bob Brader act out a series of different characters in various sexual encounters, each more unique than the last. The pair transition easily into their different characters, with well-planned costume changes and sheer talent.

While definitely not a show for a younger crowd, this show is absolutely hilarious and incredibly honest, showing the wide range of sexual encounters that all types of people experience. They had the sold-out theatre in the palms of their hands and nearly rolling on the floor with laughter. Do not miss this show!

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Cover Song

The heart ofCover Song is an exploration of why and how pop tunes get covered. This nugget of an idea is a novel and fertile platform on which to base a “jukebox musical”.  The show has some great stuff going for it, most notably the fabulous sets of pipes that several of the cast members have. The classic hits are loaded with tap-ability, clap-ability and hum-ability that could infect audience members with earworms for days to come.

In a “jukebox musical”, the plot is an excuse to string great tunes together, light the fuse and then get out of the way. It may be a concocted story likeMamma Mia but at least as often it’s simply a chronology of the subject’s life and career, as inJersey Boys orElvis!.  In contrast, the predominant plot device ofCover Song—radio DJs’ banter—unfortunately weakens the show’s energy flow, halting for too long between sometimes overly shortened songs. As in the real world, radio drive-time conversational kapok gets tuned out as listeners drift away, waiting for the important stuff—the tunes—to come back on. Pulling the narrations back to energetic and focused DJ monologues or dialogs would match the spirit and vigor of the subject matter—wildly successful pop songs—and would keep everything rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ all the way through to the end.

Overall,Cover Song feels constrained, as if it has been cranked back to 8.5. It has the air of having been rehearsed in a space that was too small for its energy and ideas and in which the sound level had to be kept down. It doesn’t need to go all the way to 11, but it would be gratifying to see it move up towards 10 as the run continues. More sharpness and confidence—and even brashness—in the dancing could get the house seriously heated. Bolder choreography wouldn’t go amiss or be beyond the skills of this cast.

The subordinate “love story” thread could do well to be grown from what feels like a sidebar decoration into the show’s unifying theme. At present it varies from dance to drama to guitar noodling and feels unimportant in the shadow of the vivid upfront song performances. A dynamic dialog between the already excellent singing and an ongoing vibrant dance or dramatic potboiler would create the backbone that would pullCover Story together and maximize these performers’ work.

The core idea—original hits getting covered for new generations and flops being covered into hits—also deserves to be allowed to more crisply define the musical arrangements and even the visuals of the show. It’s a great idea that will pay back in proportion to how much it’s worked.

Finally, there was no weak link in the cast, but two deserve a special callout for their singing: Alexis Gordon and Michael Esposito II. I hope the team keep developing this: it’s got room to grow.

—Bryan McLennon

Sweet with big heart

Every music lover has a list of songs on the soundtrack to their life. Often it is built by songs that play coincidentally during a momentous event, or lyrics that remind us of a person, place or experience. Each track is added one by one, event by event.

This is at the heart ofCover Song. A tale of young romance, heartbreak and redemption expressed through music and dance. This is a show that has a good soul and much potential to grow. There were a few outstanding performances and an overall sweetness that made it enjoyable.Cover Song was a very noble effort from this young cast.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Cupidity

Outstanding show

This is exactly the kind of show that many people want to see at the Fringe. The kind of show that enables you to say in five or ten years’ time “I saw Jessica Fitzpatrick at the Fringe Festival before she got big!” And that’s not “big” in the sense of pregnancy or food issues.

Jessica has terrific high energy, writes with mischievous wit and mugs like the best of them. Definitely a sketch comedy artist in the ascendant.

So remember to get her autograph. Preferably on a copy of this review.

—Bryan McLennon

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Brutal and romantic

Two troubled individuals meet in a bar. One is haunted by her past; the other is controlled by his anger.  Slow to start,Danny and the Deep Blue Sea quickly turns into an emotional roller coaster ride.  It is a tale of desperation, hope, love and forgiveness and by turns it is provocative, funny, touching and poignant.

The acting is superb: honest and believable. The characters, though rough around the edges, are easy to relate to and easy to love. When this roller coaster ride is over, you might find yourself wanting more.Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is my first “must see” pick of the Fringe.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Truly, madly, deeply

Danny and Roberta meet in a dive bar. This is no “meet cute”—you can almost taste the stink of the bar, and they nearly come to blows over pretzels.

By sips and chugs, we learn their stories, stories that are frightening, sad, painful, alarming, and once in a while, darkly comic. And before the story takes us from the bar, we are hooked.

While the two leads are probably not chronologically old enough for the roles, Corey Schmitt and Melanie Godbout more than make up for this, delivering achingly powerful performances, grabbing their audience, and forcing us to care about these two broken souls. Maybe they live happily ever, maybe they don’t, but this reviewer will be surprised if you don’t find yourself rooting for them, and thinking about them long after the show ends.

—Laurie Bursch

A Different Drummer

The man launches into our presence like a gnarled tree stump coming vibrantly back to life. His body twists and stretches with returning vitality just as the branches of the great tree above us sway and dip in the chilling wind. Resurrected Thoreau wraps us in his history, philosophy and—most delightfully—his sometimes rough and demanding, sometimes impish, wit.

He doesn’t “invite” audience participation. Instead he circles us, jumps in with us from time to time and pulls us out at other times, assigning us tasks to build his story. Then he puts us back, usually giggling, for another go-round.

The London Fringe Festival always spans the spectrum from over-the-top ridiculous larks to challenging and confrontational dramas. Rather nicely, Dan Ebbs’A Different Drummer serves up satisfying and balanced fare—a meaty nutritious centre all wrapped up in an engaging roll of fun.

—Bryan McLennon

Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision

Cheeky and fun

As someone who loves to watch Eurovision from afar, and revel in its absurdity, I was not quite sure what to expect from this performance going in—would it seize the satirical opportunity or would it be more an ode to what already exists? Ultimately, this show falls somewhere in the middle.

First and foremost, let me just say the cast of this show is extremely talented. The singing was phenomenal, but I would recommend sitting close as the background music would sometimes drown out their unamplified voices. What was perhaps best about this show was how they picked up and poked fun at the eccentricity of Eurovision over the ages, especially the way contestants of Eurovision always strangely merge classical and traditional European musical styling with pop-techno beats. The show also did a good job of not wandering too close to obvious ethnic/national stereotypes and managed to make the songs delightfully strange without wandering into uncomfortable/racist territory.

My only real complaints with this show were that it runs a touch long at two hours, longer than typical Fringe shows, and often the humour would make a beeline for the gutter (with a glut of not-so-subtle sexual innuendos and several instances where homosexuality appeared to be the butt of the “joke”) and may not be appropriate for a younger audience.

Having said that, if you can leave your politically correct pants at home and are looking for something light and cheeky, you are sure to have fun at this show.

—Jeffrey Preston

Fringe-Prov

Light-hearted fun

improv: a form of theatre that is created on the spot with little to no pre-planning. Sometimes improv is performed solo, other times collaboratively.

Fringe-Prov: See above and just add Fringe!

This collaborative effort from Shut the Front Door Improv was light-hearted and presented in a game show format similar toWhose Line is it Anyway? Using audience suggestions and direct participation they were able to create some absolutely hilarious moments. The members of the troupe are quick witted, animated and promise a different show every night.Fringe-Prov is an hour of pure silly fun.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Geek Life

Nerddom at its finest

You never know what you’re going to get when you see a Fringe show. I usually cope with this inevitable fact by keeping my guard up. However, as soon as Slater got up on stage and began talking, I was sure that the next hour would be a great ride. Luckily, I was right.Geek Life is a fun, uplifting story with the perfect performer to tell it. In the production, Slater states that he wanted to make life more interesting, and that’s exactly what he manages here. His stunts and tricks make the audience re-imagine the mundane, and it’s a treat to experience. While the piece does have some problems with flow and structure, Slater’s personality is enough to carry the show. It’s highly enjoyable, and it may just help you get in touch with your inner geek.

—Emma Allison

The Goddesses

An endearing buddy romp

A play focused on the trials and friendship of four older women,The Goddesses is an endearing and authentic play that aims to balance the serious with the silly. Dealing with questions of death, friendship, and happiness, the writing is quite tight and has some very clever moments. Having said that, it is really the depth given to each character, as their nuanced layers are slowly unfolded as the play moves forward, that carries the show… along, of course, with four fabulous performances.

Speaking of the performers, I think my favourite part aboutThe Goddesses is how much fun the performers are clearly having together putting on this play and I can honestly say their enthusiasm is infectious.

—Jeffrey Preston

Needs the right audience

Maybe it’s because I’m not the target audience forThe Goddesses, but I just wasn’t engaged by this show. The pacing felt slow, and the conclusion was disappointing in its easy resolution. The whole concept of the goddesses also seemed jarring within the context of the rest of the piece. That being said, the play does reveal its better side when it ventures into wilder and more playful territory. Williams’ performance is excellent, and the show demonstrates the trials and tribulations of long standing friendships. If you want to see a fun production that discusses life beyond forty, you may appreciateThe Goddesses more than I did.

—Emma Allison

The Greatest Guitarist in the World

Flying fingers

In his quest to find the greatest guitarist in the world, Colin Godbout shows off his incredible guitar picking skills, playing as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt and Lenny Breau. It’s like a history lesson from the world’s coolest music teacher.

Godbout takes his audience on a musical adventure, seamlessly blending dozens of songs into the hour-long show. He’s a talented player, employing a variety of techniques to tell his tale. It’s mesmerizing to watch his fingers fly across the strings, and his picking has audiences clapping and toe-tapping along. This is a show for people who love music as much as Godbout clearly does.

The only complaint June 8’s audience members had was the party taking place on the apk’s patio. The venue did a real disservice to the performers that night, as the pop beats from outside tended to overpower Godbout’s quieter moments.

—Erika Faust

Grumpus Gets Revenge

Grumpus is a standout

Terrorism, political rants, alien abductions and an orange jumpsuit are just part of what you’ll get inGrumpus Gets Revenge. The writing is so imaginative and outside the box, and Kenneth Brown’s portrayal of Grumpus is spot-on. He has mastered the art of storytelling and had the entire audience captivated, with minimal movement around the stage.

Brown is a man who clearly has years of stage experience and is a very skilled actor. Without bells and whistles, this show is an example of the quality of work good writing, a wild imagination, and incredible acting can produce.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Happy Days

Seeing Beckett done well is like seeing Shakespeare done well. The fog in your brain lifts. Words become sentences that you understand, not by concentrating and translating, but simply by facing the stage. The text morphs from interleaved monologues into natural dialogues.  Meaning becomes obvious. Story triumphs over style.

But that’s rare. It takes great skill and understanding on the part of actors and director to find and express that simplicity. In the absence of understanding, the text will usually be told by the actors, full of sound and fury, but sadly, signifying nothing.

In their production, Passionfool Theatre may have staked a claim that will take a long time to surpass: At 60 minutes, they may have performed the shortestHappy Days since Fonzie and Potsie pulled out of the studio parking lot for the last time.

Beckett’sHappy Days can be done as a classic “house-down-by-eight, in-the-bar-by-ten” two act, or a 90+ minute no-interval offering. Even the film—and cameras abhor a pause—comes in at 77 minutes.

This production is a melodic, textured violin concerto played in double time entirely on the top string. Not quite “one note,” but definitely not with the most minimal range and subtlety to make Beckett even modestly intelligible. It’s a one-hour Flight of The Winniebee.

The set is innovative. But it is so at odds with the text as to even further confuse the simplicity of Beckett’s work.  Limitless sand and unending sun is the classic landscape of loss and abandonment. In that world Winnie’s few links to the past still exist because she has kept them in her bag, not as her most important or most beloved possessions, but as her only possessions. Her attempts to find meaning and importance in a toothbrush because it is the only intellectual challenge left are sad and poignant. In this production, Winnie is surrounded by the detritus of the past like a hoarder. Trying to find meaning in one trivial artifact when she has many artifacts of far greater interest and challenge within reach turns that poignancy into the silly ramblings of a silly woman.

Beckett doesn’t have to be corrected. This isn’t “A day that changes everything” as Passionfool’s promo claims. That’s the old style. There are no more days. The sun never sets. On the empire or anything else. This isn’t an episode ofHoarding: Buried Alive; it’s the progress of life without the divisions of days, weeks, months or years. Or maybe it’s something else.

—Bryan McLennon

The Hatter

Not quite mad enough

It’s clear thatThe Hatter has potential. When the story dives into its source material, it is both charming and engaging. The lines are twisty and lyrical, and Wade’s performance plays to an audience’s sympathies. The problems begin when the piece tries to turn the zany Mad Hatter into a merely flawed man. The language becomes boring and the story is clunky. Ultimately,The Hatter needs redrafting to become as delightful as it could be. It also needs a better warning, as I doubt young children will enjoy the dark undertones and identity crises that make up the play.

—Emma Allison

Headshots and Healing Potions

Geek flags fly

Calling all geeks in London (and I know there are a few of you): head to Fringe and you’ll feel right at home atHeadshots and Healing Potions.

This show is made up of 10 vignettes that gamers will appreciate—if you know what “teabagging” means, if you can hum theMegaman II theme song, or if you’ve ever bitched out a noob, chances are pretty good you’ll have a great time atHeadshots. If you read that sentence and had no idea what I was talking about, well, this might not be the show for you.

Each of the three cast members—Kevin Milne, Kaitlyn Rietdyk and Joel Szaefer—brings something hilarious to the table, and their love of games shines in every skit. Szaefer in particular stands out, whether he’s voicing the infuriatingly vague computer in a text-based adventure game or reminiscing about the “good old games” while waiting in line at a midnight release for his son.

There are a lot of fun moments in the show, and the gamers in the audience had a great time on opening night. Though there were some issues with timing, and some of the scenes dragged on just a bit, overall this is a show that’s on likeDonkey Kong.

—Erika Faust

Hipsters Have Feelings Too

I liked this show before it was cool

Lensless glasses. Fixies. Vintage clothes. Instagram. Do I have your attention yet, hipsters?

Whether they’re wearing t-shirts “ironically” or hating on other hipsters, this social group is something of an enigma—one Xave Ruth hilariously explains inHipsters Have Feelings Too.

Ruth’s journey from angsty teenager to detached man-child unfolds with songs, stories and very impressive outfit changes.

The songs are the highlight of this show, which includes more than one love song that will make you laugh out loud. The second song—from Ruth’s university days—is the funniest of all, and you may find yourself singing it days later.

Though a couple of Ruth’s stories meander a bit, and the pacing was just a little uneven near the end, overall this show’s a lot of fun—trust me, I’ve been, I would know.

—Erika Faust

Iago vs. Hamlet

Iago collides with Hamlet with hilarious results

From London Fringe staple Jayson McDonald, this show is everything we have come to expect from his performances, but this time he’s brought Harry Edison along for the ride. Similar to last year’s detective genre romp, this year he has turned his offbeat comedy stylings to the world of Shakespeare, pulling together a world whereOthello‘s Iago collides with Hamlet with hilarious results.

For Shakespeare fans or just people looking for a good laugh, this is a show worth checking out.

—Jeffrey Preston

Must-see comedy

Ever thought about mixingHamlet andOthello together? No? Well, you should have, becauseIago vs. Hamlet is a brilliant imagining of what would happen if a Shakespearean hero met another one of the playwright’s villains. In typical McDonald fashion, the language is twisty and intelligent, and the dynamic between Edison and McDonald quickly establishes the story’s personalities. The piece is so excellent because it’s aware of itself, and the references and staging within the production add to the hilarity. Prepare to be doubled over in laughter, asIago vs. Hamlet is a delightful standoff that’s sure to please.

—Emma Allison

I’m Thinking About Thinking About Crying

Great piece all around

This piece is somewhat undersold by its program description, which fails to really draw one in to what is in fact a fantastic piece of theatre about family, love and loss told by a versatile and engaging storyteller whose performance didn’t miss a beat. Sean Jacklin was served well by Gary Kar-Wang Mok’s simple and recognizable—yet in no way banal—script, with the excellent writing augmented by clever video and multimedia segments to tell the story of a son sifting through his and his father’s relationship after the fact. Moments of those multimedia portions of the story that could have seemed oddly irrelevant or tangential were made quite charming by the play’s own self-awareness and the performer’s confidence.

The venue’s technology, however, could have better served the piece: audio quality was less than stellar and sound clips were near unintelligibly quiet, especially when the audience was laughing (which was often). The fussy audio was more than made up for by the fact that the piece was both sincerely funny and deeply sad and Jacklin’s performance was believable, energetic and frankly wonderful to watch.

—Clara Madrenas

The Italian Lesson

A funny show for all!

The Italian Lesson is a refreshing, lighthearted show about high-maintenance Mrs. Clancy’s Italian lesson. Interrupted by her children, a puppy, a manicurist, household staff and a slew of phone calls, Sonja Gustafson is hilarious as Mrs. Clancy.
The majority of the lines are sung operatically, which suits this wealthy character, and well-timed cues by the pianist indicate interruptions. Gustafson has a beautiful singing voice, and great comedic timing. This is a fun show for all ages, and as an added bonus, the costumes are fantastic.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Keith Brown: Exchange

Keith Brown is a classic travelling magician—the sort that shows up at a saloon in a dapper suit and tie, tips his hat, draws a card from it and presents it over the bar.  But before the barkeep can finish reading “Have Suitcase, Will Conjure,” the card vanishes in a puff of smoke.

OK, that’s not a spoiler. There’s no puff-of-smoke trick in the show. There isn’t even a hat. But there are cards, a suitcase, and both classic and modern props.  As a portmanteau magician, Keith Brown uses simple stuff to weave a fabric of consternation, befuddlement and anxiety that everyone, including the maestro, hopes will end in redemption.

It’s always impressive to see great modern magic on a stage in the distance or on your media, but for me nothing beats the visceral experience of a verifiably living person just a short distance away from me in the same time and space creating illusions, some of which I leave the theatre humming, or at least puzzling over….

—Bryan McLennon

The Last Straight Man in Theatre

A mad man in the theatre

Kurt Fitzpatrick brings us an ensemble piece… all by himself. With the aid of video projection, he delivers a cast of odd, offbeat, and delightful characters, half recorded, half live action.

It’s a mad mixture. “Special effects” that are all the better for being so low tech. Cats and national anthems. Scenes that run forwards, then backward. Yes, it’s entirely weird.

While many of the characters on screen are lower key in their craziness, on stage, Fitzpatrick brings a manic child-like nuttiness that’s entirely endearing, like a kid beseeching you to come out and play.

While this show may not be for everyone, for those who are willing to enter Kurt’s crazy world, you will be well rewarded.

—Laurie Bursch

Maintenant

A mature expression against bullying

It’s refreshing to see a group of dancers—an industry typically associated with bullies, peer pressure and cliques—take on the theme of bullying, and handle it so maturely.

This young group of dancers carried the theme out well throughout the show with smart song choices, choreography and voice-overs. While some dances were choreographed and performed better than others, it’s definitely worth taking children and youth to. This performance manages to get their point across without being too in-your-face, and would be a valuable experience for any young dance fans.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Creative resistance

What I found most interesting about this performance was not its content, specifically, but that the show itself stands in direct opposition to bullying by providing young men and women a safe and accepting space to reveal an intimate part of themselves. Simply by performing, these young people are making a bold, public statement about their own self-confidence and hopefully will inspire the same type of courage in their peers.

As someone who isn’t well versed in dance, I cannot necessarily speak to the depth or difficulty of the choreography, but these young dancers’ skills were quite impressive. Having seen the two other dance shows at Fringe previously, it was fascinating to compare where these dancers are on their development path; I would wager that much of the cast is destined for great things.

I think this is an interesting and thoughtful show perfect for both young and old audiences alike. Great work by all those involved.

—Jeffrey Preston

Midway to Angie

More than midway

A black-box theatre, minimal lighting, and a trunk of small items are all that Jen Viens has to create Angie from her teens to her seventies, and those around her. It’s not an easy task.

However, Viens is a very talented performer, and she uses what she has to show us snapshots of Angie’s life: loves, choices, travels, all those pieces that make a person.

The script makes great use of Viens’ skill with accents and dance—while I didn’t see the program, I would guess that this script was written for her.

However, the script is where this show fails—there’s not yet enough there for us to really care about the character that Viens has so carefully crafted.

It’s a good collaboration that has the potential to be great. I look forward to seeing what’s next for this duo.

—Laurie Bursch

Minding Dad

A heartwarming father and son story

Minding Dad is the story of a man dealing with the deteriorating health of his father as his memory gradually fades due to Alzheimer’s, and the effect this has on their relationship. It’s a story that is familiar to many of us, making this play incredibly relatable.

Kenneth Brown and Jon Paterson are believable as father and son, and their on-stage chemistry is sweet to watch. The story shows both the frustration the son feels as he’s left to care for his father on his own and the subtle humorous moments shared between a father and son who love each other very much. With glimpses into their past, this play is heartwarming and incredibly real.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Miracle Max: Illusions of Grandeur

Marvelous Miracle Max

Here’s the disclaimer. I love one-man shows. And I love magic. And I love those moments in theatre where I’m touched by a performer’s story, whether it is real or fictional.

Steve Seguin brings the magic, both literally and figuratively. A skilled and engaging performer, he gives us feats of magic and illusion, juggling, and a whole lot of laughs. Oh, and graphs. (Perhaps this is something that happens when you entertain corporate audiences.)

If there’s not enough magic in your world, spend an hour with Miracle Max.

—Laurie Bursch

Myra’s Story

Outstanding show

Myra’s Story is a surprisingly bright and engaging ride down a deep and darkening road to destitution.

Jennifer Cornish creates a sympathetic character not out of our pity but out of our almost paradoxical admiration for her acceptance of what she believes to be her preordained fate. Thus brought to life, Myra performs a deft dance between her impish nature, the grind of life and death and her own approaching doom.

Brian Foster’s script has terrific balance and flow and Darlene Spencer’s direction honours this by progressing through it so smoothly that when the final approach and landing arrives after an uncannily short 90 minutes, it draws the performance to a perfectly satisfying close.

Is this a classic tragedy of fate beyond our control? Or is it a modern tragedy about believing that something is inevitable?

See it.

—Bryan McLennon

Occupy the Man Cave

Cowering in the man cave

Good theatre should inspire. Enlighten. Educate, but gently. “Bludgeon,” however, is not a word that should be used in this context.

From their website, “Theatre Provocateur’s raison-d’être is to present live one-act dramas… on various social issues that affect individuals, families and the community. The purpose of these plays is to educate, raise consciousness and move people to action, and give voice to people affected by the issues presented.”

It’s an ambitious and worthwhile goal, and it’s obvious that the writers/performers care deeply about their subject matter. There are some good lines, a few good laughs, a couple of compelling moments. The women give it their all in multiple roles, and song-and-dance numbers.

But sadly, it doesn’t add up to a watchable show. Perhaps your best “move to action” would be donating the $10 ticket price to a woman-centred charity, and wait for Theatre Provocateur’s next show.

—Laurie Bursch

Riding Hood

Stunning visuals and movement

Despite my limited exposure or knowledge of dance, I still found this performance quite enjoyable. The choreography was impressive, especially in the group scenes, and the overall ability of the performers was second to none. For me, the dancer portraying the wolf was particularly noteworthy, as she brought a tremendous amount of intensity and swagger to the role that was captivating. The costumes were also quite impressive and really helped to set the tone for the show.

For both veteran fans of The Dance Movement and even for newbies like myself,Riding Hood is an engaging and entertaining performance and well worth your time at this year’s Fringe.

—Jeffrey Preston

A powerful and gorgeous piece

I’ll be honest: I know little to nothing about dance. Despite this, I thoughtRiding Hood was incredibly beautiful. The choreography is not only visually compelling, but it helps form a powerful retelling that focuses on dominance, innocence and victimhood. Little Red Riding Hood is a story that’s prevalent within our culture, and The Dance Movement finds a way to make it original. The staging and use of costumes clearly establish both internal and external conflict, and they help make it a thought provoking piece. Even if you’re not a dance expert, there’s plenty to enjoy and discuss in this show.

—Emma Allison

Roommates

An average bromance story for the MTV lover

This show is done in the style of an MTV reality show. It tells the story of two roommates as they grow up and grow apart, making the transition from teen to adult. The plot was predictable, following the formula used by many sitcoms, but the sexual innuendo and immature humour earned the cast their fair share of laughs.

The characters were what you would expect: the bromance, the controlling girlfriend, the super cool female best friend, the hot roommate, and of course, the goof. Overall, the actors played their roles well, and if reality TV is your thing, it’s definitely worth a watch.

—Kirsten Rosenkrantz

Rosaline and Juliet

Support. These. Performers (please!)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this performance and, to be honest, I likely would have glossed over it had I not been asked to review it. I mean, yet another re-interpretation of Shakespeare right? Probably nothing to see here….

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

Rosaline and Juliet is a witty, sharp, and hilarious interrogation of high school society, gender and the world of teenage drama that feels kind of likeMean Girls meetsGlee. That is not to say the show isn’t original, though, because I have definitely not seen anything quiet like this aside from perhapsHamlet 2, although this show is far superior. The humour is fresh and original and, while the jokes can be subtle at times, they always pack a heck of a punch, leaving me to chortle away with delight.

Insightful and clever, it’s impossible to feel anything but happy after seeing this show. So for your own good go out and see it, have a good laugh, and support these brilliant young performers! You won’t regret it.

—Jeffrey Preston

A surprising treat

In truth, I had low expectations when I walked into this show. Imagine my joy when I was pleasantly surprised.Rosaline and Juliet has a pretty solid script and a cast with a knack for comedic timing. Every time the story started getting bland, there was a witty and perceptive joke that would make me laugh again. In particular, Rebecca Soulliere and Chelsea Reaume stood out for their hilarious performances. Sure, the production has its problems, but it remains amusing and accurate in how it portrays adolescence. If you’re in the mood to see something honest and silly, go for this one.

—Emma Allison

Screaming, But Not

An enthralling coming-of-age story

Is it better to keep your family happy by pretending to be someone you’re not, or stay true to yourself and lose what’s important to you?

Screaming, But Not tells the story of a religious family coming to terms with losing the daughter they thought they knew. Avery is a good girl, beloved by her parents and adored by her younger siblings… until her secret is discovered.

When Avery’s mother learns her daughter is gay, Avery’s entire world collapses. From trying to show her parents she is still the same daughter they always had to navigating tricky social situations at school, Avery must find her way in a world that doesn’t seem to want her.

As Avery, Cassidy Hicks handles the bulk of the play, delivering her lines with such emotion it’s impossible not to get swept up in her character’s experiences. Anna Bernard deftly portrays a variety of characters, from Avery’s disappointed mother to her supportive drama teacher.

At times humorous, at other times heartbreaking,Screaming, But Not is an important play that’s not to be missed.

—Erika Faust

Shape Shift

Don’t miss it

Spectacle. Pure spectacle. That’s the only way to really describe this performance. Merging classic and modern dance forms, there is never a dull moment inShape Shift as the performers do a fantastic job of telling an engaging and endearing story through motion and passion. The level of skill these dancers possess is astonishing and the choreography will leave you breathless.

As someone who is not traditionally a fan of dance and movement pieces, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, it was truly beautiful, and cannot recommend it enough. Don’t let this show be the one you let slip by this year because you will regret missing it.

—Jeffrey Preston

Worth seeing

I didn’t think I would be half as engrossed inShape Shift as I was. Fortunately for me, it proved to be a marvel of a show. The dancing is absolutely stunning, and the piece demonstrates the power of body movement and staging. The talent of the performers is impressive—it’s amazing how effectively they express their emotions through physical means. It’s not just the dancing that’s compelling, either. Props are used well to communicate themes, and the musical score is fantastic. If you love dancing, or just want to see something that isn’t traditional theatre, this is the show to see.

—Emma Allison

The Show Must Go On

Hilarious and gifted storyteller

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a one-man show about children’s theatre, but was immediately captivated by Jeff Leard’s presence onstage. The show is full of the funny and bizarre moments one would expect from a 186-show children’s theatre tour, and with Leard’s unique and highly energetic delivery an his simple but very effective stagecraft, not only did the humour shine through but the sweeter and more poignant moments did as well. Highly recommended.

—Clara Madrenas

Super

Super silly

Ever wished you had superpowers? According to the seven “special” human beings inSuper, it may not be so great after all.

Super tells the story of seven strangers with unusual powers who are chosen to save Earth from great evil. Unfortunately, there’s not really a “super” one in the entire bunch; as each member of this elite team stands up to share his or her story, each power is revealed to be more awful than the last.

The eight members of the cast work well together as they help each person tell the story of how they discovered their powers. It’s tough to write a review without spoiling any of the fun, because the reveals of each power and name are the best parts of the show, but I will say a certain manic “Master” stands out.

During the show, there’s a sense that this is all building to something great, that somehow, this strange assortment of people will come together in a fantastic and hilarious way. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a resolution;Super is definitely about the journey, not the destination.

—Erika Faust

[They Fight!]

Get ready to rumble!

They battled, they brawled and they crossed their swords. And boy, it looked like fun!

[They Fight!] is a stage direction found in many theatre productions, movie and television scripts. Sometimes the fights are humorous, other times brutal and bloody. But from duels to all-out brawls, the fights in this show are sure to entertain.

Drawing inspiration from Shakespearean characters, vampire slayers, nerds and more, this production is lighthearted, lively and a fun 40 minutes of watching people duke it out. It ends with one of the most entertaining brawls you will see in London without hearing approaching sirens and running feet.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

[They Fight. And Again. And Again.]

“Oh, I hate theatre. All that talky-talky.”

For anyone who’s ever decried the lack of action in theatre,[They Fight!] is for you. Seven action-filled fights, from Shakespeare to Slayer (as in Buffy). With Brian Brockenshire, currently the fight choreographer in London, in charge of the on-stage mayhem, and great costuming by a Brickenden Award-winning team, the talented cast provides an entertaining hour, with enough talky-talky to set the scene for the fight to follow.

There are a few stand-out performances, including those by Nic Bishop; and perhaps it’s all his time in period dress at the Palace, but Brandon Stafford looks like he was born to wield a sword.

As with any fireworks show, the closing piece is the climax. If only all bar fights were this much fun to watch. (No actors were injured in the making of this show.) (At least I hope not.)

—Laurie Bursch

Threads

Powerful story, engaging performer

Threads weaves together the personal and the political in telling the story of Miller’s brave and fiercely independent mother navigating youth, war, and heartbreak in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Miller is a competent performer, though at times seemed nervous amidst awkwardly placed sound cues and overly plain staging. The script is fascinating, balances powerful calm with action well, and winds together its multiple storylines with ease. This touching and inspiring true story is certainly worth the price of admission as it’s got more than a handful of moments that’ll send shivers down your spine.

—Clara Madrenas

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Best in the fest

I honestly do not think I can say enough good things about this performance. The storyline is absolutely engrossing, walking the delicate balance between historical narrative and punchy comedy. Even more, though, Travis’ performance is unparalleled, as she carries six roles simultaneously, often in conversation with each other, and does so seamlessly.

Hilarious, touching, thought-provoking and educational,Til Death has “best in the fest” written all over it. Stop reading this review and go see it! Now!

—Jeffrey Preston

And you thought having six wives was impressive

Out of all the shows I’ve seen, this is the one I’m most likely to call awe-inspiring. Travis’ acting is exceptional, as she not only makes each personality distinguishable, but she finds a way to make them nuanced with very little time on her hands. The piece is hilarious, and it also provides compelling messages about womanhood, love and relationships. Its biggest problem is how it fails to adhere to the rules of its own world for the sake of the theme. However, I found this fairly forgivable in a performance that exudes such talent and skill. Henry the Eighth’s romantic history has always fascinated the public, and this telling of events is sure to engage audiences—especially one with such a spectacular actor at its heart.

—Emma Allison

Trailers, Credits, Prologues & Epitaphs

Sympathy.

It don’t come easy.

Even if you start with a script where the characters are undisputedly the blameless victims of the outrageously unjust application of slings, arrows and heavier ordnance, those characters must still earn the sympathy of the audience before an angry monologue will find any resonance.

An actor who launches into a perfectly justified diatribe without first establishing compassion—or at least respect—between the audience and either the actor’s character or the target of the outrage is just lecturing the playgoer or lecturing the air.

This show is a classic “let’s get edgy” with a touchy current topic. The kind of show that is usually withdrawn when there is a recurrence of the tragedy that inspired it. But not in this case.

A problem with being on the edge is that if you don’t make a safety line to the audience, they won’t care if you fall.

Sympathy.

There are no shortcuts.

—Bryan McLennon

Yarn

“Knowing that you’re crazy doesn’t make the crazy things stop happening.”
—Mark Vonnegut:Eden Express

Alex Eddington has great chops for storytelling: a mischievous, absurd manner with a tune and delightfully clever uses of props both musical and not. He picked a great story to tell, both in setting and plot. Descent into mental anguish is usually a dark trip, but laughter can provide a poignant and even disturbing counterpoint to make the journey more engaging. This show starts well and begins to take us on that journey.

“He’ll take you up, he’ll bring you down,
He’ll plant your feet back firmly on the ground.”
—Moody Blues:Legend of A Mind

I agree, I agree, that quote is a bit corny. But this is the sentiment of the performer-audience contract: Once I’ve agreed to get onboard your story, challenge me, make me uncomfortable, make me cringe, change the plot, change character, drop out of character, upend the storyline, reverse direction, but stay in charge and take me to the end, even if the end is as inconclusive as the opening quote of this review.

“I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”
—Neil Innes:Protest Song

Deliberately crashing the storytelling vehicle to illustrate a crash in the content of the story usually only works for a playgoer, if at all, the first time around. It has the surprise novelty of a gimmick. Subsequently it just breaks the contract, which risks leaving the audience cold and disappointed. Not disappointed in where the story went, but how a clearly capable performer, who’s putting terrific energy into his work, seemed to suddenly lose interest in the trip he was taking us on and the insight he was giving us.

This show is has a lot of good fun and thought in it but, at the moment, is in sum, disappointing. However, I will definitely making plans to catch his next show.

“Here’s an ending that’s galling for sure,
Sir Ralph used it often on tour,
When ready to go
At the end of a show
He always left them calling.”
—F. Brill:The Hamster in the Wheel of Time

Clever the first time around, e’n it?

—Bryan McLennon

Enjoyable storytelling

Yarn is created by a machine, spinning and twisting fibres together; often using the wool of a sheared lamb.Yarn is created by a storyteller, spinning and twisting tunes and tales together; often using a lamb puppet.

The description ofYarn tells us of a young man who went to a lonely Scotland island in an attempt to find himself, and lost his mind instead. And while the story lost me a few times on its travels over the many hills and valleys on the Scottish Isle of Mull, the story was very well told. Although I didn’t find it entirely cohesive,Yarn was an enjoyable entry to this year’s Fringe.

—Jo-Anne Bishop

Thanks to the 2013 review team—Emma Allison, Jo-Anne Bishop, Laurie Bursch, Erika Faust, Clara Madrenas, Bryan McLennon, Jeffrey Preston, and Kirsten Rosenkrantz—for your opening weekend efforts.

Thanks to Kathy Navackas, Alison Challis, Sue Garner, Sarah Green, and all the venue managers, techs, troupers and others who make the festival run so smoothly.

And finally, thank you to all of the writers, directors, stage managers, and performers who put their work and themselves on stage to provoke, educate, enthrall, and entertain audiences!

Dining out on Fringe 2013

The London Fringe Festival, this city’s annual smorgasbord of theatre, starts on Thursday, June 6, along with the opening of the always exciting Visual Fringe.

The numbers: nine venues, 45 shows, 350 performance times.

Ack, where to start??!!?

If you’re not busy on Wednesday night (for instance, attending the ReThink London event scheduled at the EXACT SAME TIME at the Wolf Performance Hall), attend the performers’ showcase, which starts at 7 p.m. at the London Convention Centre Theatre. Each theatre company will have a few minutes to introduce their shows, giving you a taste of most of the offerings.

Here are a few of my suggestions to start you off on this year’s buffet, based solely on performers’ previous work:

Keith Brown: Exchange (Venue 2): Magic performed by a talented young man who obviously loves what he does. Suspend your disbelief for a while.

Circle (Venue 3): I’ve loved Bob Brader’s previous two one-man shows. This time, he’s got a partner in crime on stage, and instead of his own stories, a script written by his lovely partner in life, Suzanne Bachner.

The Italian Lesson (Venue 3): The program describes this show as “Operatic Monologue.” Yes, indeed. I don’t like opera either, but I’ve enjoyed every one of Sonja Gustafson’s previous operas presented at the Fringe.

Kenneth Brown (I’m assuming no relation to Keith the magician) is all over Venue 3 with Grumpus Gets Revenge, Anatolia Speaks and Minding Dad. He wrote last year’s Fringe favourite Letters in Wartime; I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work.

Riding Hood (Venue 6): Dance. Yes, indeed. Ashley Morrow and her brilliant company mesmerized me with their last two shows (both of which I saw twice). Go see this.

Iago vs. Hamlet (Venue 6): Last year, Jayson McDonald channelled William S. Burroughs in Underbelly. Can’t wait to see what he does with the Bard, with the help of occasional Stratford performer Harry Edison.

The Greatest Guitarist in the World (venue 8): While I expect that this will be more of a musical revue than a play, based on Colin Godbout’s last Fringe show, I also expect this will be an amazing musical revue, also based on Colin Godbout’s last Fringe show.

A Different Drummer (Site A): Written and performed by Dan Ebbs and Henry David Thoreau… and directed by Theatre in London’s impresario, Peter Janes! [Thanks, Laurie. –ed.]

Eurobeat — Almost Eurovision (Site B): I know nothing about this show. I just love Eurovision.

Happy Days (Site C): Once again, I reveal myself to be a philistine: I don’t get Beckett. But the Passionfool Theatre Company has consistently created captivating productions, and they’ve got a mound of awards to prove it.

The eight-member Theatre in London review team will be posting opening weekend reviews of ALL of the shows over the next few days; these should be very helpful in guiding your Fringing. Look for them on the Fringe website, and in paper form asThe Banner on Wednesday; after the festival they’ll be posted here.

And don’t forget to talk to the people you see in pre-show line-ups — hear about a show, make a new friend!

The 2012 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2012 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London were announced at a nearly-sold-out ceremony on Monday night at London Public Library’s Wolf Performance Hall. Hosts Sookie Mei and Lesleigh Turner presided over the celebration of the 2012 theatre season, which featured performances by the cast of Saunders Secondary School’sAnnie, “Ken Turner’s Mantasy”, and the Dean Harrison Trio.

Following remarks by Dee Dee Lewis, granddaughter of the awards’ namesake Catharine Brickenden, the following people, companies and productions were recognized:

Outstanding Comedy Production
Jenny’s House of Joy (Theatre Soup)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Brian Brockenshire, Joe Recchia, Andrew Rethazi and Ceris A. Thomas,Treasure Island (London Community Players)
Outstanding Sound Design
Andrew Johnson,Three in the Back, Two in the Head (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Youth Drama
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (London District Christian Secondary School)
Outstanding Youth Musical
The Drowsy Chaperone (A.B. Lucas Secondary School)
Outstanding Set Design
Janice Johnston and John Beverley,Jenny’s House of Joy (Theatre Soup)
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Kayla Rock,Legally Blonde (Simply Theatre)
Outstanding Original Script
Neverland, Jeremy Hobbs
Outstanding Costume Design
Becky Lenko and Kim McCuaig,Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Pacheco Theatre)
Chris Doty Award
James Stewart Reaney
Outstanding Musical Production
Seussical the Musical (Musical Theatre Productions)
Bravest Production
See Productions’ 2012 season (Goodness,Leo andAll Things Beautiful)
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Bill Hill,The Drowsy Chaperone (Musical Theatre Productions)
Outstanding Solo Performance
Harry Edison,Neverland (Black Room Theatre)
Outstanding Actress
Martha Zimmerman,Jenny’s House of Joy (Theatre Soup)
Outstanding Actor
Chris Kevill,The Crucible (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Director
Justin Quesnelle,The Crucible (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Drama Production
The Crucible (The Passionfool Theatre Company)

A special recognition award, “Outstanding Performance as Brickenden Chair”, was also presented to long-time Brickenden committee head Ashleigh Barney.

The winners of the awards were decided by votes from the public, the three Brickenden adjudication panels, and the organization’s executive committee.

Congratulations to the winners and nominees, and thanks to everyone who made and attended theatre in London for an excellent year!

2012: A banner year for London theatre

It’s awards month in London, so a bit of cheerleading seems appropriate.

Last year I noted there were 200 theatre productions in London in 2011, and although it wasn’t stated, that was one of the busiest years in recent memory. So one might expect that this year’s total would be about the same, at least within a small margin of error.

Theatre in London.ca listed 250 events this year. Two hundred and fifty.

That’s just crazy.

To be fair, not all of those were performances: also included are several workshops, fundraisers, readings and other theatre events. But two hundred and fifty of them.

More than a few of those came from companies that presented their first shows in 2012, including three from SEE Productions, and one each from Studio B Theatre Co., a missing link theatre company, and Shrew’d Business Collective.

Whether they were from new companies or old, the shows were good. Really good. I’m not going to list favourites—public voting is in progress—but as far as I can tell the bigger numbers didn’t lead to a drop in quality. Given the number of sold-out performances I heard about, attended, and was turned away from, I don’t think audiences found it too much to handle either.

Of course, it helps that productions are being promoted well, too; last year’s new trend was trailers—notably those from Andrea Hutchison and Richmond and Tower—and previews, primarily by LDT Online. That said, I still hold out hope that more companies and individuals will promote—or even mention—their shows on Twitter and other social media sites; it’s good to see LCP trying new things through @atthePalace, but they’re a rare exception.

All in all, things bode well for 2013.

Furnace

I can tell you the exact moment I knew I would never be a professional actor.

It was the fall of ’84. A Toronto call-back audition for a national touring production about the Riel Rebellion, a 2-hander featuring the characters of Sir John A. MacDonald and Gabriel Dumont. I was reading for MacDonald. The producer had lived above my brother and sister-in-law’s in Vancouver, so I thought I was a shoo-in.

When I did it, it wasn’t what they wanted. They explained carefully, wanting to help me. I knew what they wanted. I tried again. I couldn’t get it. Even on the third time. They sat there looking at me with thinly-disguised disappointment, friends on the other side of a narrow chasm, urging, “Come on. You just have to jump this far.”

A while later, an acting school friend who knew the company asked me, “What happened? You were considered.” I replied, “I don’t know.” I knew. I had reached the ceiling of my talent. I had been fueled by well-wishers in my hometown saying that I was the next star. I wasn’t.

I kept the charade up for another 4 years — auditions, classes.

I accumulated a drawer full of rejection letters. (We were taught at Humber to hold onto them as guides.) My favourites were from this summer stock company that kept changing artistic directors. Every year, the intro and concluding paragraphs would change, too, but the body paragraphs remained exactly the same.

Yet, if I had gotten that role, I would have had to drop out ofHair and _____ and I would never have become a couple. That would have been a tragedy. As turbulent as that relationship was, we still had some good times. The irony is, despite her complaint of being a “theatre widow”, she was the one who went on to professional status and fame, not I.

There are those at cattle call auditions I identified as the Wallpaper People. They are the mediocre actors you see at every audition, year after year. They watch the same actors get the roles. They watch the young ones straight out of theatre schools get the roles. After 5 years, I realized I had become one of the Wallpaper People, and it was time to leave.

There is a furnace in every profession. A place where you must go to find what you are made of. Mine was Toronto. Actors come by the thousands from all over Canada to that city to have their dreams made or broken. I have many regrets in my life. The regret of not having tried is not one of them.

I tried. I tried my damnedest.

Margaret Avison’s poemThe Swimmer’s Moment warns that those who don’t try are doomed by their fear to circulate about the rim of the whirlpool, while the daring venture within and beyond.

Which are you?

There is no “ready”. There is no perfect résumé. You just do it.

London presents the Potlatch Theatre Company

London’s multicultural community is taking theatre to a whole new level. For the first time, foreign-born Canadians in the Forest City will create theatre that is inclusive of different voices, nationalities and languages, and provide a venue for those who have a passion for theatre.

It is an opening for people who perhaps were involved in theatre in their countries of origin and want to experience the thrill of a stage or contributing to it, while volunteering and sharing their experiences about their lives as new Canadians. That’s exactly what Johanna Medina, originally from Nicaragua—who’s employed by the Ontario Works office in London—is looking for.

As a social worker, she has seen a fair share of stories from newcomers, and what they go through while trying to adjust in their new home. The Potlatch Theatre Company along with the Palace Theatre—which welcomed the idea and offered its venue—are not focusing on stereotypes or stigmas, but rather looking for stories that will not only inspire others but promote and strengthen the multicultural community through theatre.

“I will be participating in something that I’ve always had the desire to do, and not care about my accent,” said Medina, who’s fluent in both of Canada’s official languages. She sees the Native community joining the stage as educational and inspiring. “They are the first settlers of this land, so sharing stories with them makes the project more special.”

This is not your usual theatre, as shows will be written by the combining of stories that share the experience of being a newcomer in a strange place—that will include theatre, film, music, art, dance and all the artistic mediums. Stories are being collected and will be written into a script that will be performed in public at the Palace Theatre next year.

Potlatch invites Londoners to “Add your voice—add your experience—share your story.” If you have one or wish to volunteer in any capacity, you may contact [email protected] or [email protected] The company currently has people involved from Columbia, Brazil, Pakistan, India, Syria, Lebanon, Chippewa of the Thames, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, South Africa, Mexico and much more.

Obliterating the Fourth Wall

I just had dinner with a friend who suggested that—and I’m paraphrasing here—maybe one of the reasons my one-man Fringe shows have such small houses is because people don’t like to be hauled out of their seats to participate onstage. My reply—and I’m paraphrasing again (isn’t editing wonderful?)—was that I would prefer small houses of adventurous audience members to bigger houses of timid ones.

I’m for taking a truckload of C4 to the fourth wall and obliterating the damn thing altogether. I envision a theatre where you can’t tell the audience from the actors, where people re-read their programs on their way home to make sure that they weren’t, in fact, part of the cast. For over two and a half millennia, we’ve had this invisible barrier separating us from our fellows. Isn’t it about time we shook things up? What’s this barrier thing all about anyway? Some union thing?

I am fond of saying that art stands for Aggressive Risk Taking. If you’re not taking risks, you’re merely an entertainer. I’d rather be an artist.

InMarat/Sade, Peter Weiss invites us “to turn yourself inside out and see the whole world with fresh eyes.” Let us have a fresh type of theatre. And let us have audiences brave enough to enter.

My next one-man show will also have enforced audience participation. Lots.

Get used to it.

The 2012 Fringe Ballot Results

The results of the 2012 Fringe Ballot, as voted by patrons of the festival, were announced at tonight’sFringe Fried awards ceremony:

  • Best VisualFringe Artist: Nik Harron
  • Best Actress: Katy Clark,The Fantasticks
  • Best Actor: Tayo Aluko,Call Mr. Robeson
  • Most Daring Production:Little Lady, Sandrine Lafond
  • Spirit of the Fringe: Pi: The Physical Comedy Troupe
  • Funniest Production:The Good, The Bad and The Stupid, Pi: The Physical Comedy Troupe
  • Best Solo Performance: Patrick O’Brien,Underneath the Lintel
  • Outstanding Performer: Jon Paterson and Melissa MacPherson (tie),Letters in Wartime
  • Best Original Work:Call Mr. Robeson, Tayo Aluko
  • Best Show:The Fantasticks, Shrew’d Business Collective
  • Producer’s Pick, chosen by Executive Producer Kathy Navackas:Bookworm

Congratulations to all of the award winners, and many thanks to all of the performers, artists, writers, directors, stage managers, techs, troupers, and Fringe staff and board members. Thanks also to Theatre in London’s opening weekend review team, Emma Allison, Jo-Anne Bishop, Laurie Bursch, Erika Faust and Kirsten Rosenkrantz.

Fringe Impresario performances

The London Fringe Festival has announced this year’s Impresario shows:

Please note that the Venue 3 Impresario performance is on Saturday evening; all of the others are on Sunday.

All tickets for each performance are available in advance, i.e. shows can be sold out. Tickets for all Impresario performances are $10 plus service charges, and are available in person at the Fringe office (no service charge for cash, $2 service charge for debit/credit) or online ($3 service charge); there are no telephone sales. Any unsold advance tickets for a performance will be available at its venue’s box office 45 minutes prior to the performance. No passes of any kind (including five- and ten-show passes, Fringe-A-Holic, trouper, Friend of Fringe, media, etc.) can be used for these special events.

Fringe the 13th

Fringe the 13th. Forty-five shows, nine venues (Yes, nine. “But aren’t there 10?” No. Unless you can find Venue 4…), 11 days. Where to start??!!?

Our team of hearty (and possibly foolhardy) TiL reviewers will have a whole mess o’ reviews for you by Monday, June 11; some keeners may post reviews earlier. But you’ll be wanting to start your Fringing before then, of course.

To help you out on opening weekend, I give you my idiosyncratic list of suggestions, based purely on performers’ previous work:

  • Bookworm
  • The Dark Fantastic (which doesn’t open until Monday—be the first to see it!)
  • Debris
  • Epic Pitch
  • Forty Wonderful
  • F***ing Stephen Harper
  • Hard Times
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • The Italian Lesson
  • The Purdy Boys in “Midnight at Mystery Point”
  • This is Not the End

Don’t miss the performer showcase tonight (Wednesday, June 6) at the convention centre. It’s an opportunity to see most of the performers in action, and can be very useful in helping you choose what to see during the festival.

And talk to other people in ticket line-ups—they may recommend a show you hadn’t even considered….

Please Fringe responsibly.

The 2011 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2011 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London, announced at Monday night’s ceremony:

Outstanding Comedy Production
Men Telling Stories (That Dinosaur Is Blue)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Rob Coles,Picnic (London Community Players)
Outstanding Sound Design
Andrew Johnson,Earshot (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Youth Drama
The Rez Sisters (Theatre Red & White)
Outstanding Set Design
Rodel Manoy,Picnic (London Community Players)
Outstanding Youth Musical
The Phantom of the Opera (Beal Musical Theatre)
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Deborah Mitchell,Chicago (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Original Script
Underbelly, Jayson McDonald
Outstanding Costume Design
Jessica Toso,The Lost Soul Stroll (The London Fringe)
Chris Doty Award
David Long
Outstanding Musical Production
Chicago (Pacheco Theatre)
Bravest Production
The Hero (Black Room Theatre)
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Jordan Henry,Chicago (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Solo Performance
Justin Peter Quesnelle,Earshot (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Actress
Ingrid Blekys,The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Fountainhead Theatreworks)
Outstanding Actor
Tim Bourgard,Tuesdays With Morrie (Primordial Soup Theatre)
Outstanding Director
Don Fleckser,The Diary of Anne Frank (London Community Players)
Outstanding Drama Production
Underbelly (Stars And Hearts)

Special recognition awards were also presented to long-time sponsors Nonie Jeffery and Dorinda Greenway, and Edwin R. Procunier was remembered by LCP president William Meaden.

Congratulations to all, and thanks for putting together another fine year of independent London theatre!

Theatre in London: a manifesto

About four years ago I wrote that “theatreinlondon, like theatre in London, is very much alive!” Today I want to breathe new life into the online incarnation with a public declaration of my until-now unstated goals and aims for Theatre in London.ca: in short, a manifesto.

Call for writers

For over a decade, Theatre in London.ca has been about and for the London theatre community. One of the goals I had when I assumed ownership of the site in 2008 was to add “by” to that list, and that’s the biggest place where I feel I’ve failed. If it weren’t for frequent contributors Kenneth Chisholm, who recently posted his 200th review, and Mary Alderson, who reviews productions at the Grand, TiL since 2008 would basically be “Peter’s theatre blog”, which is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Why’s that so? In large part, I believe, because I’ve never made it clear that it’s anything other than that.

So please consider this a call for writers. I know you’re out there. Impartial reviews are fine—it’s always good to have more than one view of a particular production, because every live theatre show is different—but I’d also love to see opinion pieces and other work. Does London need/can it support a second professional theatre? What “should” be appearing on our stages? What ideas do people have to solve problems that affect theatre in the city? You, who create and consume theatre, are the ones who know.

Call for research

A more long-term goal is to make Theatre in London a reference for the complete, utter, entire history of theatre here: an IMDb for London theatre, as I regularly call it. If you’ve ever submitted a listing, you’ll remember that I asked for as much detail as you could provide, including full cast and crew lists. That information has been going into a database, which I’ve also been slowly filling out with similar information on productions going back to the mid-1800s.

“Slowly” is an understatement. Glacially may be apt. So I’m looking for help from interested parties—students, maybe?—who want to get their fingers dusty poring through any and every source available to them. Why? There’s a reason that Chris Doty named London’s long-running theatre awards for Catharine Brickenden: she represents the start of a continuing legacy of locally written, produced and performed theatre. Every person who’s taken part in theatre in the city shares a unique history with the likes of Hume Cronyn and John Gerry, Lucy Williams and Jayson McDonald, Kate Nelligan and Julia Webb, and untold others. Theatre in London stands in the ideal place to make that important chain of influences and interactions visible.

Ideas and actions

I also want TiL to be about approaches for enhancing and sustaining theatre in the city. The more frequent ideas I hear are essentially about building the community: selling an “independent theatre pass” that will get you in to shows at a discount, or arranging for shared advertising spots on local radio and television stations, or opening a new rehearsal/performance space, or setting up a simple, reasonably-priced site to do online ticket sales for smaller, independent productions. These are great as far as they go, but for one reason or another they haven’t (yet) happened. I want to see that change, so I’m officially sticking my hand in the air to say that if you want to do something along these lines, I’m willing to contribute to the effort.

More about all of you

Finally, I want to feature the entire theatre community here. A lot of attention is paid to awards, shows, actors and directors—even playwrights, sometimes—but the people working behind the scenes—stage managers, sound operators, set builders, costume designers, ushers, photographers, and others—rarely get their contributions recognized beyond a line in a program, if at all. (A trivia question as example: what is TOFC, and where does it do its work?) Do you have photos, audio or video of your crew or the work they do? .ni meht dneS Do you know of an outstanding individual or group who you think deserves to be recognized? .yhw wonk em teL

The rub

Theatre in London.ca is, and for as long as it continues to be under my direction will be, free of paid third-party advertising. No banners, no sidebars, no promoted placement. I personally don’t accept comp tickets or the like for locally-produced work (although I’ve no quarrel with those who do; it’s strictly a personal choice). I’m not interested in making a cent off of artists who, in a lot of situations, are essentially volunteers. TiL makes every effort to treat each show the same as any other, whether it’s a first reading of a new playwright’s script in a condo’s party room or a big-budget cast-of-thousands show on the Grand’s main stage.

However, that means that I don’t have any budget to speak of. TiL operates at a loss—a not-insubstantial one, if you include ticket costs and the occasional print ad for the site. It’s a terrible business model, but it’s exactly the one that I believe a site like TiL needs to have… and thus it’s one that I hope that potential writers and other contributors from the theatre community will accept. In so many words: TiL can’t pay for submissions. A dealbreaker? I hope not.

Finally (really)

I’ve been fortunate to see thousands of plays here in London—about 175 in the last year alone—and many in other towns and cities including Stratford, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg. I’ve talked with theatre practitioners from around the world when they’ve visited the city to perform. I’ve come to know many of “the regulars” in local audiences, at least by sight even if we’ve never spoken. And I’ve gotten to tell some of you how much I respect and admire your work. Yet with all that I don’t know a fraction of what you do. The overwhelming reason Theatre in London.ca continues to exist is that I want to learn, from the people who share their work and experience with every line, stitch or curtain pull, and those of you who will.

2011: Another take

I don’t usually write end-of-year articles (notwithstanding that in 2011 I haven’t written much here at all). However, today’s local theatre in review article in the Free Press omitted almost any mention of London’s independent, school and community theatre productions, and that’s a real shame.

First, though, I do want to call out the Freeps’ inclusion of the Fringe Festival alongside the Grand and Stratford. It’s no secret that I think Fringe productions and performers—both local and from away—have been among the best we see in the city, so I’m glad the paper recognizes the same thing. (One note, though: although the Fringe is indeed a “wild party”, the final highlight listed is actually A Wild Play, by New Jersey-based Odd Act Theatre Group.)

Now, on to some of the 200 productions that form the majority of the theatre presented in London this year, most of it by Londoners themselves.

In its 38th year, London Community Players took an interesting turn away from its recent boomer-oriented fare, most notably with February’s dark-as-nightThe Duchess of Malfi and November’sThe Diary of Anne Frank. On the other end of the spectrum, newcomers Richmond & Tower and “another theatre company” debuted, the former with a fine production ofGlengarry Glen Ross and the latter opening Procunier Hall with[title of show].

AlvegoRoot, Fountainhead, Theatre Nemesis and Passionfool continued their unique takes on challenging plays with excellent productions ofUncle Vanya,Macbeth,The Goat,Black Bag: Flowers for the Ripper,Terrorism andAttempts on Her Life. Fanshawe and UWO campuses featured works from Shakespeare (Cupid’s Exchange, an adaptation ofRomeo and Juliet, andAntony and Cleopatra respectively), Euripides (a modern adaptation ofThe Trojan Women) and Thomas Middleton (The Revenger’s Tragedy).

London’s smaller theatre festivals (includingPurple Shorts,The Big Comedy Go-To, thePlaywrights Cabaret andHigh School Playwrights Cabaret, theLondon One Act Festival andOh Solo Mio) highlighted new and award-winning local work as well as showcasing artists from across the country.

And then there were the musicals—White Christmas,Chicago,South Pacific andEvil Dead to name but a few, as well as most of Original Kids’ season and just about every high school production—and the two operas,The Old Maid and the Thief andLe nozze di Figaro.

I don’t disagree with Joe Belanger: London theatre was “a lot of fun” in 2011. But audiences who are “looking forward to 2012” should look around in 2012 too, or they’ll be missing a lot of the fine work that their—our—city has to offer.

The 2011 Fringe Ballot Results

The results of the 2011 Fringe Ballot, as voted by patrons of the festival, were announced at tonight’sFringe Fried awards ceremony:

  • Best VisualFringe Artist: Walter Sayers
  • Best Original Work:Crabcakes
  • Best Solo Performance: Justin Peter Quesnelle,Earshot
  • Outstanding Performance: Melanie Gall,The Sparrow and the Mouse
  • Funniest Show:Men Telling Stories
  • Most Daring Production:A Wild Play
  • Best Actor: Bremner Duthie
  • Best Actress: Vanessa Quesnelle
  • Spirit of the Fringe: Odd Act Theatre Group (A Wild Play)
  • Best Show:The Rocky Horror Show
  • Producer’s Pick, chosen by Executive Producer Kathy Navackas:6 Guitars

Congratulations to all of the award winners, and many thanks to all of the performers, artists, writers, directors, stage managers, techs, troupers, and Fringe staff and board members. Thanks also to Theatre in London’s opening weekend review team, and to the audiences and patrons who collectively paid over $82000 directly to Fringe artists.

A previous version of this article misnamed Spirit of the Fringe award winning company Odd Act Theatre Group as “One Act Theatre Group”.

Two by two (by two, by two…)

The official tag line for the twelfth London Fringe Theatre Festival is “It’s your play!”, but if there’s a theme to the performances it might well be “two”.

Which isn’t to say there’s less choice—with 46 companies participating, including eleven international productions, this is the biggest festival yet.

The festival features: two performance poets, jem rolls (IS PISSED OFF) and Matt. Miller (Skydiving in Suburbia); two dance shows,Love Is… andA Piece of: My Heart (Breaking); two stringed-instrument shows,6 Guitars andBanjovial.

Two shows from previous Fringe outings are returning this year,archy and mehitabel (2010) andChaotica (2008).Souled Out, performed as half of Channel Surfing’s Double Play series last year, is also on the boards again.

Two generations of Holowitzes are taking part in 2011: son Adam Corrigan Holowitz wrote and is performingManor Park, and father Stephen is the composer and musical director forCrabcakes (a sequel of sorts to 2002’sAloha Rodeo—in case you needed some more twos).

Four performers are taking part in two shows each: Jeff Culbert is the solo performer in both his one-man musicalThe Donnelly Sideshow and the aforementionedarchy and mehitabel, Martin Dockery goes solo inBursting Into Flames and doubles up (another two) with London’s Vanessa Quesnelle inOh, That Wily Snake!, and Michael Davidson and Brennan Campbell both appear inR.I.S.K. andMythic. (Bremner Duthie, here with’33, a kabarett, will also appear in some performances ofJoe’s Cafe, andSuspiciously Statuesque‘s Douglas McGeoch will be in the Fringe fundraiserThe Screw You Revue.)

The Rocky Horror Show has two midnight performances on top of its regular schedule at venue 7. And finally, there are two special one-night-only events: the London Writers Society hasFringeWords on June 20, andThe Screw You Revue returns for one show on June 22.

So over to you: what two shows are you most anticipating?

A previous version of this article omitted Brennan Campbell and Michael Davidson from the list of performers taking part in two productions.

LOAF Awards 2011

The awards for the 2011 London One Act Festival were awarded this afternoon at the Black Shire Pub. Thanks to all of the participants, the organizing committee and adjudicator Annette Procunier, and congratulations to the winners!

Outstanding Actor
Philip Cairns,The Judy Monologues
Sam Shoebottom,Revelations
Outstanding Actress
Charlene McNabb,A Serendipitous Reunion
Tammy Vink,Delilah
Outstanding Original Script
Trish West,Bucket List
Outstanding Director
Deighton Thomas,Nicola’s Dream
Outstanding Production
Nicola’s Dream
Special Adjudicator’s award for sound track
Revelations (Sookie Mei)
Special Adjudicator’s award for ensemble
Nicola’s Dream
People’s Choice Award (LOAFIE)
Delilah
Theatre Ontario Summer Program Scholarship
Margot Stothers

The 2012 festival will be held March 10–17, 2012.

The 2010 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2010 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London, announced at Monday night’s ceremony:

Outstanding Comedy Production
The Love List (Maybles’ Productions)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Peter Pownall, Medea (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Sound Design
Andrew Johnson, Monster (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Youth Drama
The Servant of Two Masters (London District Christian Secondary School)
Outstanding Youth Musical
Fame (Beal Musical Theatre)
Outstanding Supporting Actress
April Chappell, Medea (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Drama Production
Medea (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Original Script
Jayson McDonald, Gunpowder (Stars & Hearts)
Outstanding Set Design
Dean Hall, I’ll Be Back Before Midnight (London Community Players)
Outstanding Costume Design
Andrea Bennett, Anne Humberstone, Becky Lenko, Ceris Thomas, Dawn Davis, Debra Chantler, Joan Bolam, Mary Jane Walzak, and Whitney Bolam-Wilson, The Three Musketeers (London Community Players)
Chris Doty Award
Kathy Navackas, Laura Wall, and The London Fringe Festival
Outstanding Musical Production
The Producers (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Dean Greer, The Producers (Pacheco Theatre)
Bravest Production
Marat/Sade, The Passionfool Theatre Company
Outstanding Solo Performance
Justin Peter Quesnelle, Monster (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Actress
Eva Blahut, Medea (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Actor
Bill Hill, The Producers (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Director
John Pacheco, The Producers (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Production
The Producers (Pacheco Theatre)

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

Correction: An earlier version of this post omitted the Bravest Production award. The list has also been updated to match the order in which the awards were presented.

Merch

One of the newer companies in town, Arcana Theatre, has just launched a fundraiser for its next production: a calendar featuring a dozen of London’s female actors in Shakespearean roles from Juliet to Lady Macbeth. (I’ve purchased two extra copies, which I’ll give away at random to two people who comment on this post. See below for details.)

It’s surprising that having show- or company-related merchandise is a relatively rare occurrence in the city. LCP had a clever idea to sell Three Musketeers chocolate bars at performances ofThe Three Musketeers earlier this year, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anything else from local companies along those lines in 2010.

On the flip side, it’s more often than not that visitors will have something available to complement their performances. T-shirts and buttons are common, and there’s an occasional CD or DVD. I’ve even seen merchandise worked into a show: throughout Chris Gibbs’ and TJ Dawe’s mock seminarThe Power of Ignorance the Vaguen character pushes his book, which is, naturally, available after the performance.

Fringe artists are probably the most consistent when it comes to having some sort of extra available. With more than 40 other shows to compete with for attention, having something to set themselves apart can make a big difference. The Fringe example can’t be set aside as a yearly anomaly, either: one local event site lists 40 music events in the city on an average Friday night, and with sports and other events there’s a lot more than that going on.

To be sure, there’s an up-front cost involved, which can eat into many shows’ already low budgets, and it’s not guaranteed that people will want to buy what you’re selling. There are a lot of creative ways to approach the problem for less, though: on-demand houses make it easy and relatively inexpensive to do small runs of a variety of products; artists are often willing to exchange goods and services; I even know of a band that sells homemade preserves at their shows. Something that doesn’t sell out isn’t necessarily a failure, either: look at the popular totes that a few enterprising and craft-y Fringe troupers put together from unsold T-shirts from previous years.

While products aren’t appropriate in every situation—it’s hard to imagine the producers ofThe Producers selling swastika armbands, no matter how funny they’d be in context—they’re often a good way to get advance word out about what a group has going on, and a recurring reminder after a show is over of a (presumably) enjoyable experience. If nothing else, merchandise for a show makes it a little bit different, and that might be enough to get someone to come see what’s unique the next time.

Draw Rules: Each comment on this post which names any woman who has played a role in a London, Ontario production of a Shakespeare play in 2009 or 2010 will be entered in the draw. Comments that also contain the actor’s role will get two chances. Winners will be chosen at random at 11:59pm Eastern on December 22, 2010. If a winner cannot be contacted via the email address provided another winner will be chosen.

Bruce Johnson passes

Updated November 23

From The ARTS Project:

It is with great sadness and we are sorry to confirm that Bruce Johnson passed away last night.

We ask that you give the family and The ARTS Project some time. There will be a time to honour Bruce. We thank you for your condolences.

Bruce became the president of the TAP board in 2008, and has been one of the most visible and gregarious members of the staff. His friendliness, knowledge and candour will be missed.

An update from Teresa Tarasewicz:

Visitation for Bruce Johnson will be held at Millard George Funeral Home on Ridout, this Sunday, 3-5pm & 7-9pm.

A celebration of Bruce Johnson will be held at the Arts Project next Sunday, Nov 28th in the evening.

The ARTS Project has posted details about Bruce’s memorial.

Voting for the arts

Listen to the candidates for the upcoming municipal election, read their flyers and handouts, and look around their websites, and in most cases you’ll notice something’s missing:

London’s arts community.

In late September seven individuals from arts-related festivals, companies, publications and websites met to discuss the lack of recognition for the city’s artists, in the current campaign and in general. (Disclosure: I’m one of those individuals.) Recognizing that there’s a large population of artists and arts supporters in London—if you’re reading this then odds are you’re one of them—the group decided to form ArtsVote London with the goal of raising the profile of artists’ concerns among the city’s politicians and support staff at all levels. Funding is a key issue, naturally, but so are topics such as limited public performance and exhibition space, showcasing London’s arts through the tourism office, and providing affordable living and working space for artists and cultural organizations.

Similar to the ArtsVote campaigns in other cities, the ArtsVote London organizers sent a letter to all of the ward and mayoral candidates asking specific questions about their arts platforms. To date—a week before the election—only a fifth of the almost 70 candidates have responded, including just a single answer from the 15 candidates for mayor and none from any of the candidates in wards 2, 5, 6 and 11. Contrast that to Toronto, which held a mayoral debate solely on the topic of arts. (I was there: not only was the debate hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario filled to capacity, but the overflow room at OCAD and even the lobby were packed too.)

ArtsVote London encourages everyone who participates in the arts—visual, theatre, music, dance, sculpture, painting, poetry, prose, or any other form—as a creator or a consumer, to investigate and evaluate the candidates’ stances on arts issues, to declare your intention to vote, and then vote on Monday, October 25.

Brickrolling

The Brickenden Awards recently announced several changes to this year’s presentations and the registration procedures.

A new category, Outstanding Drama, has been added to the list of awards voted on by the core panel and members of the public. The previous Outstanding Youth Production has been split into two new awards, Outstanding Youth Drama and Outstanding Youth Musical, with both voted on by the youth panel and the public.

As previously announced, the touring category has been retired; in addition, the award for outstanding ballyhoo will no longer be presented.

The awards for outstanding original script (determined by a new script-reading panel last year), bravest production (previously publicly voted), and the Chris Doty Award (chosen by the adjudication panels and the Brickenden board) are now “discretionary”: they will not necessarily be given each year, and there will be no public nominations or voting.

Finally, on the recognition side, although there won’t be an award for them per se the contributions of stage managers will be recognized during the audio-visual presentation. Theatre companies are asked to provide “a photo, title of the play and a picture of your stage manager” to the committee.

Two registration policy changes were also announced: productions can now be registered up until two weeks before their first performance date—previously registrations were only accepted a month in advance—and productions can now be considered for only one of the musical or comedy categories, not both.

The 2010 Brickenden Awards will be presented on January 31, 2011 at the Wolf Performance Hall. Dates for public nominations and voting have not yet been announced.

Thirty years of Summer Shakespeare

(public domain)

Every year since 1981, UWO’s English Department has mounted one of Shakespeare’s plays during the summer. The first UWO Summer Shakespeare production,A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was overseen by accomplished theatre director Kenneth Livingstone.

The thirty Summer Shakespeare shows, which have been nominated for ten Brickenden Awards since 2001, have includedAll’s Well That Ends Well,Henry V,Macbeth,Richard III,Romeo and Juliet,The Comedy of Errors,The Tempest,The Two Gentlemen of Verona;Measure for Measure,The Taming of the Shrew andThe Winter’s Tale (twice each);Much Ado About Nothing andTwelfth Night (three times);As You Like It (four times); andA Midsummer Night’s Dream a whopping five times.

Dr. Jo Devereux, a professor at Western who is acting as the producer/stage manager of the current production ofThe Merchant of Venice, has a long and unique history with the Summer Shakespeare productions.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: How long have you been involved in the Summer Shakespeare program?
  2. Jo Devereux: I was actually the producer for the very first UWO Summer Shakespeare, in 1981. I was involved in […]Twelfth Night (1982),As You Like It (1983),A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1981, 2008),The Taming of the Shrew (2009).
  3. TiL: What was the impetus for putting on a Shakespeare play during the summer? Was it planned to become a regular occurrence?
  4. JD: The idea was to give the drama students at Western a chance to perform in the summer. The first one was just experimental and was conceived as a one-time event, but it caught on immediately and has kept going ever since.
  5. TiL: Was producing that first show just a summer job, or did you have a prior interest in doing theatre?
  6. JD: I was a student in English and Drama at Western at the time and so I had been involved in a few shows during the school year, but it was nice to get paid! [The 1981 production was sponsored by a Wintario grant.]
  7. TiL: Both the UC courtyard and the grove in front seem made for outdoor theatre. Can you talk a bit about staging plays in those venues?
  8. JD: The courtyard is especially suited to Shakespeare because it evokes the earliest stagings of his plays at the outdoor theatres like the Globe and the Swan in the late 16th century in London, England. It’s also reminiscent of the outdoor theatre from the Spanish Golden Age of playwrights like Calderon (16th and 17th centuries in Spain). It’s nice and intimate; and the gothic style of the buildings, along with the greenery of the enclosed garden, provide us with a perfect backdrop—sort of a ready-made set—for the plays.
  9. TiL: Jen Fraser is taking on double duty in “The Merchant of Venice”,
    directing and playing Portia, and you’ve got a lot of returning cast and crew. What’s it like working with this group?
  10. JD: This group has been among the best casts and crews I have ever worked with in 30 years! All the actors and production people have brought an enormous amount of talent, energy, and ideas to the production. It’s great to have returning cast members working with new members to provide both continuity and new directions.
  11. TiL: Shylock appealed his case to the Western Law Moot Court earlier this year; was the result (dismissing the appeal for delay) appropriate?
  12. JD: I think that it was appropriate because—like the distinguished panel of judges at that Moot Court—I also read the play as exposing the problems inherent in a privileged hegemony such as that embodied by the ruling class of Venice in the Renaissance: essentially, Portia acts as a spokesperson for that hegemony and demonstrates that the law is always contingent on who is in power at the time. Shylock is victimized for his belief in a kind of
    pure law that cannot be altered on a whim; at the same time, however, he is also punished for his misplaced desire for revenge. It’s a complex play because Shylock is at once a villain and a tragic victim; Portia is a comic heroine and also an instrument of oppression. As always, Shakespeare never offers simple answers: only more profound questions.

    We are playing the courtroom scene as comic in many ways, even while subtly hinting at the complex undercurrents of this part of the play.

Dr. Devereux also noted “There are quite a few plays in the canon yet to be done, including a number of the history plays and the tragedies. We’d love to get suggestions!” What would you like to see?

The 2010 Fringe Ballot Results

The results of the 2010 Fringe Ballot, as voted by patrons of the festival, were announced at tonight’sFringe Fried awards ceremony. In order of presentation, they are:

  • Best Film-on-the-Fringe:Rev Gone Rogue (Tommy Nugent)
  • Best VisualFringe Artist: Walter Sayers
  • Spirit of the Fringe: Jayson McDonald forThe NO Show
  • Most Daring Production:unADULTeRATED me
  • Funniest Production:The Screw You Revue
  • Best Solo Performance: Justin Peter Quesnelle,Monster
  • Best Performance: Mikaela Dyke,Dying Hard
  • Best Original Production:Gunpowder
  • Best Show:Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens
  • Producer’s Pick, chosen by Executive Producer Kathy Navackas:The Screw You Revue

Congratulations to all of the award winners, and thanks to every single performer, artist, producer, director, stage manager, tech, trouper, staff member, board member, and patron who made this year’s festival such a success.

Fringe Impresario performances

The London Fringe Festival has announced the shows for this year’s Impresario Series, as well as a special end-of-festival fundraiser featuring two of this year’s performers.

The Big Word, a fundraising spoken-word performance featuring One Man Riot‘s jem rolls and Fruitcake‘s Rob Gee, has been added at 9:45pm at The Lounge (Venue #7), which also serves as the venue for the Fringe Fried end-of-festival party.

All tickets for each performance are $10 and will be available at Fringe Headquarters (515 Richmond Street) and online beginning Friday, June 25, at noon. Unsold advance tickets will be available at each venue box office 45 minutes prior to each performance. Please note: No passes (including multi-show, trouper, etc.) of any kind can be used for these special events.

The unadulterated Rachelle Fordyce

In 2006 Rachelle Fordyce brought her one-person shownetherwhere:etherwhen, in which she played Charon, ferryman of Hades, to the Fringe festival. This year she’s back with unADULTeRATED me, a completely different show.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: You’ve done some interesting training sincenetherwhere:etherwhen, including a long “Clown through Mask” program. How have those affected your work in general, andunADULTeRATED me in particular?
  2. Rachelle Fordyce: I loved the “Clown through Mask” workshop and would recommend it to anyone. The process one goes through in the workshop can be applied to more contemporary styles of acting as well as to more theatrical forms, yet the workshop is specifically designed for participants to discover/uncover the 6 masks and 12 facets of their own unique and individual clown.unADULTeRATED me is done in clown, and applying even some of the most basic principles from the workshop has helped me a lot in putting together and performing this new piece.
  3. TiL: You won the (CAFF touring) lottery! What festivals are you going to do, and why did you pick London as one of them?
  4. RF: I had initially marked down Orlando, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and San Francisco. That list, however, is no longer my current touring itinerary for the 2010 Fringe.

    After winning the CAFF touring lottery, I decided I might as well add another Fringe Festival in between Montreal and Toronto Fringes. It was a toss up between Ottawa and London Fringe, since the two take place at the same time. I ended up going with London Fringe for a number of reasons, one of which being that I felt audiences at the London Fringe would particularly enjoy this type of play that I had in mind and intended to bring on tour.

    Later on, near mid April, I pulled out of the two U.S. Fringes I had signed up for due to issues and concerns with Homeland Security. I’ve heard of a few stories of performers (whether in the theatre or music industries) going down to the U.S. to perform without an appropriate visa or permit, and then not only being denied access to the country for attempting to illegally “work” in the U.S., but consequently being banned from re-entering the U.S. for a period of 5 years.

    Earlier this year I became involved in a relationship with a man who lives in the U.S. I had spent a couple months down there, and then returned to Canada for a couple weeks. My plan from there was to return to the U.S. and spend about a month or so with my love, and then carry from there directly to Orlando for the Fringe. However, a kink was thrown into that plan. On my way back down to the U.S. I was questioned quite heavily by Homeland Security. Because I had previously spent a couple months in the U.S., they suspected that I had been illegally working there in the U.S. and that I was an intended illegal immigrant. Thus, they limited my visit to 30 days, by which time I had to return to Canada, or risk being banned from re-entering the U.S. for 5 years. This also meant I could not be in the U.S. for the Orlando Fringe.

    Now that my passport had been flagged, and not wanting to be banned from entering the U.S., I figured it was the safest bet to pull out of both Orlando and San Francisco Fringes. San Francisco Fringe even advised pulling out from their festival once I explained to them my recent encounter and predicament with Homeland Security. Being involved in a relationship with a U.S. citizen, I especially did not want to risk being banned from entering the country. It was disappointing to pull out of those two festivals, yet likely for the best in the long run.

  5. TiL: I just read that Jeff Culbert chose to direct your script for a Fringe-related 24-hour theatre project in Montreal. Can you say a bit about how that came about, and what you thought of the result?
  6. RF: Yes — Jeff and I both participated in something called24 Heures Pour Jouer, which was a bilingual event part of the Montreal Fringe this year, where several plays are written, directed and performed all within a 24 hour period.

    There were a total of 6 plays written in total, 6 directors, and about 15 actors. Each director had the chance to select which script they wanted to direct, and Jeff chose mine. I was really pleased with the way Jeff directed the little piece I had written. If there was more time, I would have loved to see the sound effects implemented that I had written into the script, but even so, it was done really well. 🙂 Also, since I’m so used to performing the pieces I write, it was a different experience for me to play-write for actors other than myself. I loved the result! I’d definitely like to further explore the playwriting end of the theatrical spectrum in the near future.

Fringe Preview: Killing Jayson McDonald

Jayson McDonald’s name and work are well-known to Londoners, and increasingly to audiences and performers across North America. At the same time he’s performing his solo showGunpowder in London and touring several other solo plays to festivals across Canada, his playThe Last Goddamned Performance Piece is in production at the Ottawa Fringe Festival and his most recent directorial effort, Jeff Culbert’s one-man show archy and mehitabel, is also touring the country.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: As well as being one of the most prolific (pervasive?) people on London’s theatre scene, you’ve also become Mr. Fringe in the last few years. What convinced you to take your shows on the road? Have your travels affected your approach to writing, performing, directing, etc.?
  2. Jayson McDonald: I had been doing theatre in London for about fifteen years before getting serious about taking it on the road. After such a long stretch, you start to feel like you’re living in a fishbowl, and I couldn’t really trust that what I was doing had any appeal beyond my own tight-knit community. I had been to other Fringes and towns before, mainly touring with Dufflebag Theatre, and that was always a good time. In 2005, we tookJigsaw andThe Deluxe Illustrated Body, two very large, ambitious productions, to New York. That really opened my eyes to the feasibility of touring my own shows. The decision to travel with solo shows was motivated by two factors: keeping overhead low, of course, but also to kick my own ass as an actor. I felt I was getting lazy on stage, so I decided to remove all the comfortable elements from the process—no other actors to lean on, and no home audience to rely on for support.

    I was considerably nervous about my first solo outing…I wanted to test the waters first, so I tookGiant Invisible Robot to only one festival in my first year—the Saskatoon Fringe, a tiny little festival in the middle of nowhere. It was slow to catch on, but did amazingly well by the end of the run. And then when I embarked on a larger tour the following year, many of the touring artists who saw my show in Saskatoon helped me promote it in other towns, and I began to grow an audience outside of London.

    I think performing in other communities, and being well-received, has given me a great deal more confidence in my art and my process. And the best part about touring these festivals is getting to meet other performers from around the world, seeing their shows, and letting their methods and stories and perspectives help broaden my own world view. I feel like I belong to a much larger community now.

  3. TiL: Last year you were part of five shows during the Fringe, as writer (Spitfire), writer and performer (Trashcan Duet and Fully Insured), director (archy and mehitabel), and host (The NO Show, which was on every night). In this year’s show you’ve killed yourself. Coincidence?
  4. JMcD: It’s always the same goddamned thing. Being self-employed in the arts means that you have to be constantly inventing new income streams just to survive, so it’s always a bad financial decision to say no to a new project (although I’m getting more selective about it, believe it or not). And then personally, you want to collaborate with this person and that person, do a show at that theatre, perform this terrific script, attend that awesome festival, etc. By the time May rolls around I’m always in a state of extreme panic. I’ve accumulated about three years worth of sleep debt at this point.

    But when you see me running around the Fringe, you see me doing okay. Most of the work is done at that point. It’s all the time you don’t see me, the long, long winter, when I’m trapped in my office, chained to a word processor—that’s when it sucks. I spend an awful lot of time by myself, and I’ve started to get on my own nerves. There are times when I want to kill me because as the boss I’m a slave-driving bastard and as an employee I’m a mewling, lazy, petulant ass. So this year I decided to kill Jayson McDonald, on stage, without remorse, in Gunpowder. Only a handful of unlucky people know Jayson the writer and Jayson the director, so it was more dramatic to kill the ubiquitous Jayson McDonald the actor, who hogs all the glory.

  5. TiL: What does the London Fringe experience give you that you don’t get elsewhere (in London and/or wider)? What have other Fringes given you that you haven’t gotten here?
  6. JMcD: London is home. I’ve spent a couple of decades building an audience here, and it’s always nice when things come together and your home crowd settles into your corner and makes you feel like you belong, like you’re part of the family. And the festival environment means that many, if not most, of your contemporaries are hard at work as well. It’s a big old orgy of creativity and to me it feels like London’s peripheral artists—those of us working at the grassroots level making theatre downtown—are embraced more warmly by the larger community. Doing The NO Show at the London Fringe allows me to contribute to the experience as a whole by bringing a bit of synthesis to the event for the audience, and also to make it more fun for visiting artists.

    The Canadian Fringe circuit is sort of a weird hybrid between a travelling circus and band camp. People anticipate your return, and at some of the larger festivals, people actually take their vacations during the Fringe so they can see shows. Line-ups can stretch down the street and around the block, which is super exciting. And the touring performers become your family away from home. We lean on each other, support each other, love each other. The best part about touring for me has been the terrific friendships I’ve made along the way.

Fringe Preview: Mikaela Dyke, verbatim

If you had to come up with a recipe for a Fringe production, fluorspar miners, standup comedy, Rachel Corrie and a masters degree probably wouldn’t be your first thoughts for ingredients.

Yet all of them contribute to Mikaela Dyke‘s one-woman showDying Hard, which debuts at this year’s festival.

The Newfoundland native moved to Toronto a few years ago to do a masters degree in drama. A long-time improv theatre performer, she had to promise her parents that she’d give it up because “if you start doing that [in Toronto] you won’t finish your masters. They were probably right.” After successfully finishing her program she “stuck around” to take part in the SummerWorks festival, and has found consistent reason to “stick around” ever since, working in theatre, film, social art projects, and even standup comedy.

It’s the latter aspect that brought her to London in April to perform in The Big Comedy Go-To, a gig that came about after meeting Jayson McDonald on last summer’s Fringe circuit, although she’s been a visitor previously. Residents may scoff, but she’s absolutely truthful when she says “I really like London. Every time I go I’m always surprised by something else adorable about your city.”

The comedy festival came on the heels of a completely different performance, Dyke’s portrayal of peace activist Rachel Corrie in My Name is Rachel Corrie. “A one-person show is daunting,” she admits, but the experience was made easier byRachel Corrie being a tested show that “I have a lot of connections with… when I read it I was the same age as she was when she died.”

TakingRachel Corrie to Newfoundland afforded Dyke the opportunity to researchDying Hard, a verbatim theatre piece she developed based on interviews of fluorspar miners in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, conducted by anthropologist Elliott Leyton in the 1970s. “I found the book in a box here in Toronto, and read it, and thought this would make a really good show, it would be a really good way to get these stories out, because they’re just amazing people and amazing stories.”

“It’s really astonishing the impact that this one thing had,” she explains, not only on the miners themselves but on their families and the small communities they lived in. “It’s such an overlooked section of Canadian history… we have this idea that we’re totally perfect, nothing bad ever happened in Canada, we’re so nice… that’s not true at all.

“I’m excited. I’m excited. I hope people come to see it.”

Fringe Preview: Folk-Rock Superstar

A one-person piece written and performed by Briana Brown,Cassandra appeared at the 2006 London Fringe Festival during a cross-Canada tour. The play returns this year, but with a major change.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: I was surprised to see how muchCassandra evolved over the 10 days of the 2006 Fringe, and in the two months afterwards, so I’m curious to learn how it’s changed in the four years since.
  2. Briana Brown: I did another significant rewrite after the fringe tour in 2006 before performing it at FemFest (Winnipeg 2007). The major change being that there are no longer three sections to the play. All the breaks — which were extremely helpful from an acting perspective — are gone. The pace is better now. It’s a harder piece to perform.

    Since then, I haven’t made many changes apart from updating a few references for this production. Apparently Lindsay Lohan isn’t resonating these days….

  3. Shannon Scott: Yeah, some of my students had never even heard of Lindsay Lohan — gasp —
  4. TiL:Cassandra is a one-person show, which is a daunting endeavour for anyone, but this time around she’s played by Ally Connelly, who appears to be not far beyond the almost-ten-year-old main character’s age. Was it a natural development to put a young actor in that role, and how did you find her once you decided to go that way?
  5. SS: That’s right Peter, Ally is in grade six, and has just recently turned 12.

    I have trained many young women in my youth theatre training and performing company called Serious FUN!, yet it was still a challenge to cast the right girl as Cassandra.

    When I saw Briana performCassandra at the London Fringe 2006, I knew immediately that I wanted to direct this play with one of my students. I am always on the lookout for great works with age-appropriate roles for my students and I insist on providing my students with real issues to explore.Cassandra fit the bill perfectly. I just needed to find the right actor.

    It was certainly a hard role to cast: a 50 minute one-girl show, with adult-oriented humour and with themes and political and historical references that were beyond her years, it made for a challenging project for a young girl. I had to put the idea on the back-burner for a while and focus on other plays. But then along came Ally.

    I first met Ally when I was auditioning girls for a play I was directing at the Livery Theatre:Little Women (Fall of ’07). Ally (who was auditioning for the role of Amy), struck me at once of being a very talented young girl — her ability to get her mouth around that very tricky, classic, text was quite advanced for a then-9-year-old. After a round of many talented auditionees, I had narrowed the decision down to Ally and one other girl, Regan Bezaire. In the end, I went with Regan, who at 12 years old was simply that much more experienced and old enough to handle such mature work. (Regan did an outstanding job by the way.) But what amazed me, was how Ally took the “defeat” — Regan confided that Ally came up to her at school the next day and congratulated her on getting the role, saying that she knew Regan would do such a great job and that she couldn’t wait to see it. I heard that, and I knew without a doubt that I wanted to work with Ally in some way. I was obviously incredibly pleased when she auditioned for and joined the SF! conservatory.

    I have been blessed with many very talented students, so “being in the right place, at the right time”, so to speak, certainly played a part in Ally being chosen for this role. But after she spent two full years as a student in my company, I felt that the right time and the right person had now come together to bring my dream of stagingCassandra to life.

    Directing Ally in the role of Cassandra over the past six months has been a dream project for me. Ally is an incredibly gifted actor and she has so much creativity and positivity to offer. We have a lot of fun playing around with the role and developing her skills. She and her family are dedicated and dependable — which is definitely required for a role and project this challenging.

  6. BB: It never occurred to me that someone Cassandra’s age would ever play Cassandra. Shannon saw the play a couple of times in London and approached me with this idea years later. If I may sound particularly artsy for a moment, I think Cassandra would approve. The play talks a lot about being taken seriously and the desire to have someone place the faith in you which is deserved. The choice for a young actor to play the role seems to be in line with that. How can I give voice to someone that age and not permit someone that age to communicate it to an audience? I am truly excited to see how it will affect the piece. I’m certain I will learn a lot about this play through Ally’s eyes!

  7. SS: I think Ally has found so many parts of herself through playing Cassandra and has really enjoyed getting to express herself in this way. She truly does share Cassandra’s desire to be taken seriously and treated fairly, and has behaved very Cassandra-like at many times in order to ensure this!
  8. BB: I worked with Serious FUN! last spring when I did a series of workshops with the Going Pro [Conservatory Training] class and developed a piece for them to perform calledThe Line. I very vividly remember watching that performance and Ally really standing out because of her timing. I was so impressed that someone her age seemed to have this inherent sense of comedy. So when Shannon told me that’s the actor she was thinking of forCassandra, I thought it was a great fit.

  9. TiL: What’s it like seeing another actor perform the role you wrote and brought to life? Has Ally added anything to the character that you were surprised to learn was there?
  10. BB: Honestly, I have not seen Ally perform much of this piece yet! I have very much entrusted the project to Shannon.

    I directed another actor, Janelle Hanna (another adult), who performed an excerpt of the piece at a cabaret in Toronto recently and that was a huge learning experience. She definitely found things in the text that I did not. And really dug into the humour — approaching it from that perspective, when I think I always just approached it as a story.

    You have to be ready to pass it on. And for whatever reason, I am. I don’t think there’s much more I can bring to the role, but having other actors approach it with a fresh perspective is a way of ensuring it has continued life. Because I think the play is still very much alive… but my time performing it has perhaps passed.

  11. SS: I feel truly honoured that Briana trusts me to share her work, and especially honoured to be the first company to perform the entire piece besides Briana herself. I hope we do it justice.
  12. TiL: Briana, any chance we’ll see something else of yours in London in the future?
  13. BB: It is absolutely my intention to come back to London. The festival is a truly fantastic one — amazing vibe, really well organized — and the audiences were very good to me. It’s just been a matter of timing and figuring out the best fit.
  14. TiL: Shannon, you were here last year, any plans to make it three in a row?
  15. SS: I love the London Fringe scene — talent galore, supportive, laid-back and friendly. I certainly have plans for many future possibilities here.

Fringe Preview: The Oneymooner

Christel Bartelse has been to London several times since debuting CHAOTICA here in 2008, most recently as a performer in The Big Comedy Go-To.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: It’s your second time at the London Fringe Festival and fourth time performing in London. What brings you back to the city?
  2. Christel Bartelse: I had such a great time the first time I came to London. This is where I first performedCHAOTICA, my very first solo show, so it’s special to me, I was overwhelmed with the response. I love the people and the way the festival is run. It’s well organized and everyone’s so nice, supportive and generous. I wanted to come back last year, but I was still touringCHAOTICA, so wanted to wait until I had a new show to bring to this city. Very excited to be back.
  3. TiL: Can you compareCHAOTICA andONEymoon? Is there a progression (as it might seem) or are they from different inspirations?
  4. CB: I feel these shows are totally different but of course they both draw from my own life. I’m inspired by what’s going on in my personal life at the time I go to create the show.CHAOTICA was about a girl trapped in a board game, this came out of a time when my life was in chaos. ONEymoon is the story of a woman who marries herself. This draws from my own struggles about relationships and wanting my independence but was created at the time I entered a new relationship. I think people will find similarities in the styles of the show. I tap dance, sing, and improvise with the audience in both shows.
  5. TiL: What’s it like co-writing a one-person show?
  6. CB: I had never really done this before either so it was a new experience for me. Jimmy [Hogg] and I both wrote sections, and also jammed and tossed ideas back and forth. Mainly I wrote, he would read it, edit, write some more, and then pass it back to me. We have very different writing styles so it was great to put the two together. He’s a brilliant writer so it was great to have him on board.
  7. TiL: You’re also doing a clown workshop; what can people expect? Any experience necessary?
  8. CB: I love this art form so much, so it’s ironic that my show isn’t clown at all. It’s a comedy, but I stepped away from this style for this show because I wanted to try something completely different. However, I wanted to teach a course in theatrical clowning because I’m so passionate about it and have been doing it for so many years. I love clowning, watching clowns, and teaching it. This work is based on the style of Richard Pochinko. People don’t need any experience. Just an open mind, ready to play, have fun, and laugh of their own ridiculousness. That’s what a clown does.

Fringe Preview: Bad Ass Rev

When I saw the lineup for this year’s Fringe festival, the first thought that came to mind was “look how many performers are back!” Of the 45 companies, fully half are returning for a second, third or even fourth time around; what’s more, half of those are from outside London. I’m always curious to learn more of the ideas and thought processes that go into making theatre, so I asked a few of the folks from away to talk about coming back to London.

Appropriately first up is Detroit’s Tommy Nugent, whose posters for Burning Man & the Reverend Nuge started appearing way back in April.

  1. Theatre in London.ca: It’s your third London Fringe Festival in a row; why this one, and why so often?
  2. Tommy Nugent: London Fringe feels like my “hometown” fringe (foreign country and all — ha). I’ve made really close friends here over the last couple years, and I probably come up to hang out a half dozen or so times a year. I feel a special connection to the town, particularly her arts community.
  3. TiL: Is there a progression (or regression?) in the shows you’ve brought to the festival, Burning Man Redux in 2008, The Magician Reverend Nuge in 2009, and now Burning Man & the Reverend Nuge and American Bad Ass in London?
  4. TN:Burning Man & the Reverend Nuge is the renamed remount ofRedux — same show, but I’m about 30 performances better at it now. It’s my feel-good touring show (though it does turn on the most disappointing moment of my life),Magician was my darker counterpoint to the Burning Man show, a “What if?” tragedy — what if I hadn’t turned my life around a couple years ago? What would have happened to the character I was becoming? I really “went there” mentally and emotionally for that show and it was kinda rough… but it led to some really interesting experiences in London and those experiences led to a brand new script —American Bad Ass in London, a comedic monologue about my London adventures. I think it’s a fitting finale to my London Reverend Nuge trilogy.
  5. TiL: You described your activities at this year’s festival—Burning Man,American Bad Ass, magic during La Petite Nuit Blanche, andRev Gone Rogue in Film-on-the-Fringe—as a “full court press”; all you’re missing is having some artwork in the Visual Fringe! Why the “go big or go home” approach?
  6. TN: Visual Fringe?! Dammit! Thought I had it covered!

    Cuz I am going home… or most likely, to Ottawa next year. This is my last London Fringe for a while and I want to go out strong. My “let-the-crowds-come-to-me” approach bit me in the ass last year. So I’m gonna go get ’em this time. TheBurning Man show made its touring debut here, and having run it two of three years, I don’t imagine I’ll put it up again. I’m really proud of it and I want people to see it…especially people in the town that’s been so important to me personally and professionally.

“Maggie” to be awarded to Don Fleckser

Earlier today it was announced that the 2010 Maggie Bassett Award will be presented to actor, director and educator Don Fleckser during this month’s Theatre Ontario Festival. More information about the award, including a list of his accomplishments in over 60 years of theatre, is in the full press release.

Mr. Fleckser’s most recent performance was a storytelling revue with Adam Holowitz, who also directed him in last year’s Grimes of the Borough. In coming months he will be directing Marion Johnson’s adaptation ofEmma during this year’s Fringe festival, and AlvegoRoot’s October production ofRope.

LOAF Awards 2010

The awards for the 2010 London One Act Festival were awarded this afternoon at the Black Shire Pub. Thanks to all of the participants, the organizing committee and adjudicator Bernard Hopkins, and congratulations to the winners!

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Ben Rowe, The Robinson Family
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Jeannette Klaver, Tribes
Outstanding Director
Robyn Israel, Summer Comes Late
Outstanding Production
Where Do I Begin? by Jocelyn Graham
Outstanding Original Script
Summer Comes Late by Michael Wilmot
Outstanding Actress
Shirley Brown, Poison
Outstanding Actor
Chris McAuley, Summer Comes Late
Special Adjudicator’s Award
Samantha Gray, The Robinson Family
Special Adjudicator’s Award
Tia Dougherty, Stage Manager, Safe And Sound
People’s Choice Award
Tribes, Robyn Israel
Theatre Ontario Prize
Robyn Israel

For more details and a recap of the festival, read Clyo Beck’s post on the London Playwrights site.

Doty Docs

For many years local historian and filmmaker Chris Doty was also a prominent figure in London theatre. He was the first regular reviewer for Theatre in London, wrote plays including The Donnelly Trial and Citizen Marc: The Adventures of Marc Emery (with Jason Rip), and chose half of the first set of Brickenden Award winners himself (the other half were selected by public vote). Occasionally caustic, unrelentingly direct and always opinionated, his reviews chronicle the turn-of-the(-21st)-century boom in local independent theatre productions. His documentary filmLet’s Go to the Grand! (released at the same time as Sheila Johnston’s book of the same name) also shows up from time to time on Bravo!

A little less than three years ago, though, the registration on Chris’ dotydocs.com website expired, which meant that much of the writing he did about historical people and places around London, including his “snapshot” articles on theatre, basically went off the web. Fortunately a lot of it was archived, and Chris’ brother Grant has graciously allowed me to re-host what I could recover. There are a few missing images and sound files, but through a little work and some luck I’ve been able to restore most of it.

It’s not all theatre, but with Saturday being World Theatre Day it seemed an appropriate time to re-launch Doty Docs.

World Theatre Day

World Theatre Day is an annual global event celebrating theatre in all its forms. Since 1962 the International Theatre Institute has circulated an International Message written by practitioners ranging from Michel Tremblay to Laurence Olivier to Václav Havel; this year’s message was provided by Dame Judi Dench.

I’ve asked around on Twitter—an admittedly small subset of the community, but one I’ve found to be a representative sample—if anyone in London has planned to mark the occasion this Saturday and didn’t get much response. (If you know of any events, though, please comment below!) I’m pleased to announce, though, that the proprietors of City Lights Bookshop and Attic Books have both arranged to provide discounts on theatre books on March 27. I approached them as I know both stores have a good selection of items in their theatre sections, ranging from a play featuring works of art as characters to one copy (that I could find) of Ballyhoo 2001, the collection of London-authored plays edited by Jeff Culbert. To get the discount, visit the stores on Saturday and when you’re paying ask the cashiers to apply the World Theatre Day discount to your theatre books.

It also happens that Earth Hour coincides with World Theatre Day this year; at 8:30pm local time people around the world are asked to turn off their lights for an hour. I’d encourage readers—that means you—to up the ante: turn off everything before 7:00pm and go see one of the four plays that have performances that evening. I’ll see you there!

The 2009 Brickenden Awards

The winners of the 2009 Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London, announced at Monday night’s ceremony:

Outstanding Comedy Production
P.S. Your Cat Is Dead (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Lighting Design
Rob Coles, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Sound Design
Andrew Johnson, The Tempest (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Outstanding Youth Production
The Boy Friend (Theatre Laurier)
Outstanding Touring Production
The Stories of César Chávez (Fred Blanco, London Fringe Festival)
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Katie Paxman, Doubt, A Parable (Dariusz Entertainment)
Outstanding Original Script
Scenes For A War, Dan Ebbs
Outstanding Set Design
Jordan C. Morris, Mark Piggot, Rob Cousins, Rodel Manoy and Shane Wilcox, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Iglesia Productions)
Outstanding Costume Design
Brenda Fieldhouse, The Duncombe Rebellion 1837 (Living History Productions)
Chris Doty Award
Jeff Culbert
Outstanding Musical Production
Company (Fountainhead Theatreworks)
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Josh Cottrell, The Tempest (The Passionfool Theatre Company)
Bravest Production
Karla and Grif (The Verve Theatre)
Outstanding Ballyhoo
P.S. Your Cat Is Dead (Pacheco Theatre)
Outstanding Actress
Martha Zimmerman, Doubt, A Parable (Dariusz Entertainment)
Outstanding Actor
Niall Cooke, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Iglesia Productions)
Outstanding Director
Dariusz Korbiel, Doubt, A Parable (Dariusz Entertainment)
Outstanding Production
My Name is Rachel Corrie (Dariusz Entertainment)

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!