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One of the highlights of the summer for me is seeing the Halifax Summer Opera Workshop’s sensational productions, and I was really disappointed to miss them this year.
However, all was not lost as I did get to see HSOW’s Artistic Producer and marvelous Mezzo Nina Scott-Stoddart in concert with singers Claire Mallin and Paula Rockwell, and pianist Jennifer King in beautiful Mahone Bay.
The concert was part of the Music at the Three Churches series, and it was a doozey. These women offered up a beautifully paced concert that had something for everybody. The program ranged from the familiar, classical “Habanera” from Carmen to the lovely, contemporary Allister MacGillivray tune “Here’s to Song”.
Despite the fact that in “The Alto’s Lament” we learned that it sucks to constantly sing the harmony, there were plenty of tunes that showcased the rich Mezzo voices.
The audience favourite was probably a wonderful Flanders and Swann chestnut called “A Word on my Ear”. Scott-Stoddart had the audience rolling in the aisles as she cast about for the right note while declaring “I’m tone deaf”.
The last concert in the series is on September 9th at Mahone Bay’s Trinity United Church, and it showcases the winners of the 2nd Dalhousie Student competition.
Visit www dot three churches dot com for more information, or call (902) 634-4280.
2011 will be known as the “fun and funny” Merritt Awards. Gone are the days when hosts spewed vitriol from the podium and the targets hid their tears behind false laughter. (But never fear, the Nigel Bennett “always a bridesmaid but never a bride” joke lives on.) Instead, host Marty Burt kept the tone light and celebratory, mixing humour, praise and clever musical numbers.
2011 also marks the year when Two Planks and a Passion loosened its three-year stranglehold on the outstanding production category (although The Crucible was recognized with a Best Actor Award for Graham Percy and a Best Supporting Actor award for John Beale). The Outstanding Production Award this year went to Zuppa Theatre’s dreamy Five Easy Steps to the End of the World, for which Susan LeBlanc Crawford also picked up the Best Actress Award and Louisa Adamson took home the award for Outstanding Lighting Design.
Martha Irving, recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Theatre, gave a beautifully phrased inspirational speech about the value of art and artists to our community, a sentiment that was echoed by the Theatre Nova Scotia Scholarship winner Sebastian Poissant Labelle in a more rambling form.
Thom Fitzgerald garnered the Outstanding New Play by a Nova Scotian Award for Cloudburst, the first production at Halifax’s Plutonium Playhouse, a venue that has quickly become an integral part of the Halifax theatre scene.
For a complete list of the nominees and winners for the 2011 Merritt Awards, visit http://www.merrittawards.ca/
What could be more pleasurable on a cold winter night than seeing some of Halifax’s finest actors reading plays by some of Nova Scotia’s most talented playwrights? If you can’t think of an answer, you might want to take in the Cold Readings Series at Plutonium Playhouse.
Last week’s offering was a reading of His Greatness, a “potentially true story” of Tennessee Williams’ visit to Vancouver for the opening of a play that was later savaged by critics. (Don’t you just hate critics!). Artfully directed by Katherine MacLellan, the reading was brought to life after only two days rehearsal by the terrific Richard Donat, John Beale and Stewart Legere.
Next up is: A Reading of WITH BATED BREATH by Bryden MacDonald, Thursday January 27, 8PM. Featuring Hugh Thomson, Mary-Colin Chisolm, Stacy Smith, Keelin Jack and Ryan Doucette. $10 or $8 students, seniors For advance tickets phone 423-4653
It’s pretty common to see several members of Halifax’s tight-knit theatre community supporting fellow artists on any given night at any given show in the city. But that was not the case with the sold-out run of The Doppler Effect’s production of Logan and I at the 2010 Queer Acts Theatre Festival.
“Our normal audience was pretty much untapped,” says Michael McPhee, actor, playwright and co-founder of The Doppler Effect Production Company. “Queer Acts draws on a whole different audience of theatre-goers and with such a short run, we sold out before a lot of the theatre community got a chance to see it.”
The solution: remount Logan and I at the Bus Stop Theatre over the holidays so that actor Glen Matthews, who has since relocated to Toronto, could reprise his role as the troubled and menacing young Logan.
“I’m really glad that we could do the show again with Glen, because I can see that he is on the verge of being a really big Canadian film guy,” says McPhee. “He’s got a kind of Gary Oldman, chameleon quality going, and if you see his work on The Corridor,”—-a 2010 horror film shot locally and written by Josh MacDonald—-“you’ll know pretty soon it’s going to be next to impossible to snag any of his time.”
Logan and I is a dark yet funny coming-of-age story set in the 1980s. It traces the relationship of the shy and well-to-do Dezzy (played by McPhee) and the tough and under-privileged Logan (Matthews) from the time they meet at age eight and bond over their passion for Transformers, through their shared sexual awakening and the turmoil that causes. Along the way, the play explores issues such as male intimacy and sexual identity.
As the show’s playwright, McPhee says he also thrilled to be doing the show again for a very specific reason.
“Despite the amazing response we had and all the really positive feedback, I never felt that I found that illusive ‘sweet spot,’ that one perfect show that I was looking for. I’m really excited to get the chance to do it again now that I’ve had the chance to let it sit and stew.”
Logan and I runs December 15-18, 8pm, with a 2pm PWYC matinee on December 18. Tickets are $15-$20, available through firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s like taking a calm bath.”
This is the surprising answer that actor Jackie Torrens gives when asked what it’s like to have to endure multiple, speedy costume changes to play several very different women in Neptune’s production of
“I just stand there and Dot [Dorothy Ward, Neptune’s wardrobe mistress] transforms me,” says Torrens. “I’ve been in lots of shows where I’ve been scrambling to do it myself, so it’s a real luxury.”
Torrens plays three of the 12 eccentric characters who open their seventh-story windows to find a man (referred to in the program only as “Man”) perched on the ledge. He’s obviously contemplating suicide, but this fact doesn’t seem to occur to many of the characters he meets. Instead, they launch into stories of their own crazy lives while Man struggles to glean wisdom and comfort from their ramblings.
Torrens does an amazing job of morphing from an air-headed party girl with a braying laugh to a religious spinster who has an original and hysterical view on miracles. But it is as the play’s most sympathetic character, a 100-year-old housebound lady, that Torrens really shines.
“I had two very feisty grandmas who lived to be 100,” she explains. “So I fell in love with this character and I’ve tried not to play her as some sort of cliche.”
Man is played by Toronto actor Tom Barnett, who says that he sees his role as sort of a sounding board for the troubled lives of the comic characters who interact with him on the ledge. He says Man’s journey is about finding out whether or not anyone in this odd collection of people has a viable way of life. And while Barnett declines to reveal the ending of the play, he does say that it has something to do with belief: “A leap of faith, if you will.”
Barnett believes that 7 Stories, which was written by Canadian playwright Morris Panych more than 20 years ago, still has plenty of appeal for today’s audiences.
“I think it’s as relevant today as it was when it was written because it deals in a really humorous way with the big questions that we all ask ourselves,” he says. “I mean, who hasn’t wondered about the meaning of life? That’s a question that has always been and always will be around.”
Nerd alert: if “it’s only a flesh wound” makes you giddy, this news is for you. Monty Python’s Spamalot is coming to the Metro Centre for three performances, Saturday, October 16 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, October 17 at 2pm. Back in 2005, the theatrical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail won a fistful of Tony awards and it’s been touring ever since, making geek-boys happy everywhere. Tickets ($52.50-$68.50) go on sale Friday, August 27 at 9am, 451-1221/ ticketatlantic.com.
Along with cash for its performers, the enjoyment and expectations of audiences, the Halifax International Busker Festival raises a perennial question: Who is a busker?
For Kim Hendrickson, president of ESP Productions, the company that puts on the festival, a busker performs a “circle show. Then they pass a hat,” she says on the phone, away from the hustle and bustle. But, she goes on to explain, a performer must possess more than will and even skill. For one, an act or performance is “scripted” and rehearsed, a point she makes a few times during discussion. “There has to be a show to it,” Hendrickson says. “Just because someone has skill doesn’t mean they can put on a show.”
Other people busk and understand busking, in an informal, unofficial way, as a matter of travelling and jobbing and not performing as part of a sanctioned schedule.
“Busking is selling your art through performance on the street,” says Victor McLean, an Ottawa native who arrived last week to spend some time in Halifax. “It’s street-level.” He’s just packing up his guitar after finishing another “shift” outside the Halifax Ferry Terminal.
“I write folky and jazzy stuff. It’s all clean. I don’t believe in cursing in music,” explains McLean, adding with a mix of pride and surprise at himself: “I just wrote a folk song in English and French.” The 28-year-old hitchhiked here. Crossing Quebec especially influenced him. “I met all these really great francophone people,” says McLean. “All the people I met I immortalized in a song.”
He didn’t know the Busker festival was going on before he arrived, but he’s enjoying the atmosphere and the friendly support he’d received by the mobile masses. “I don’t have a job. I wanted to live off busking for the summer. I’m a registered chef: I don’t need to do this,” says McLean, who graduated from Niagara College. “I can just show my papers and my resume and can probably be working in a kitchen again in a day.”
As a busker, McLean believes each gig is a rehearsal for the next one. He got into busking as an act of “tough love.” After starting to play stages back in the nation’s capital, an acute anxiety kept him from playing. “I started busking and cured myself of stage fright,” he says, smiling. Busking provided the necessary nerve tonic, but also needed travel funds. McLean came to Halifax to see the Atlantic Ocean, explore the Ovens and visit Oak Island.
Festival performers include seven acts from Australia (the largest contingent of the 19 on the slate), have their return flights and hotel accommodations in Halifax paid for thanks to event sponsors, writes ESP event manager Christina Edwards.
British playwright David Harrower's Blackbird was on Richie Wilcox's wishlist, so he jumped at the chance to return to Halifax to direct the play for Angels & Heroes Theatre Company, opening August 9 at the The Living Room (2353 Agricola Street).
"I'm a fan of darker, grittier scripts that push the boundaries," says Wilcox, a founding member of A&H, who now lives in Toronto while working on his PhD—he has his masters in theatre directing from Texas State University. He's a big fan of British playwrights, who don't shy away from "in-your-face theatre." Wilcox is all for tackling issues on stage—anyone who saw A&H's memorable Fewer Emergencies in 2008, starring Garry Williams, Ann Doyle and Stewart Legere—can attest to that fact.
Blackbird, which features Shawn Duggan, Kathryn McCormack and Clara Bullock, is the story of a couple who meet again after a forbidden relationship that took place 15 years ago. "We all have someone who haunts us every day of our life that we can't escape," says Wilcox. Given the nature of the script and the issues that it dives into, Wilcox says it's an extremely intimate script for the performers. "It's hard to get rid of," he says. "It seeps into friendships and relationships, and makes you uncomfortable." Rest assured though, Wilcox says there's dark humour keeping it all afloat.
Once the run is over, Wilcox will head back to Toronto, but look for him next summer assistant directing alongside Daniel MacIvor.
Blackbird runs August 10-15, 8pm, with a pay-what-you-can on August 9 and a 2pm matinee on August 15. Tickets are $10; reserve ahead by calling 223-5371.
Don’t let the plot fool you: Splinters is not based on a true story. It’s just a story that happens to be true.
“The actual events of the play are not autobiographical,” insists playwright Lee-Anne Poole. “Besides the fact that, you know, I have experienced some of them.”
She calls Splinters, opening at the Plutonium Playhouse (July 8-25, Tuesday-Sunday $15-$20, 423-4653), a “fortune-teller” for her life: it’s about a lesbian, Belle, who has secretly been dating a man for over a year. Poole, who until recently considered herself a lesbian, began writing the play years ago while dating a woman. It was only after finishing both the script and relationship that she too began seeing a man—-and, like Belle, it’s been over a year. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the validity of sexuality and how much people’s identity relies on that,” Poole says. “I felt like I was betraying or hiding a side of myself when, suddenly standing next to a man, you’re automatically assumed totally straight.”
That’s Belle’s problem in Splinters. Prompted by her father’s death, Belle returns to visit her mother in Sambro, Nova Scotia (where Poole’s own mother lives—-still not autobiography, though). Belle brings her beau, but she hides their romance from her mother, worried about proving her right—-maybe the whole “lesbian thing” was just a phase after all. “It’s less about just blanketed homophobia,” Poole explains, “and more about where I think sexuality is going, where sexuality is splintering off, and it doesn’t so much matter whether you’re straight or gay or bi, and people are just attracted to people.”
Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for straight folk to (mostly) fill the production. Three out of the show’s four actors are straight (including Stephanie MacDonald as Belle), as well as the director, Simon Bloom.
“Ultimately, whether or not it is a play about sexuality, it is a play about human beings,” Bloom says. “Not being able to be heard and not being able to be understood is something that people experience regardless of sexuality.”
That’s why Bloom finds it so easy to bring out other themes in the play, like what he calls the show’s “undercurrent of scopophilia.” Imagine, onstage, walls of a house made of long, broken-up pieces of thin wood, and characters shadowed in the background, watching the action before them.
“It’s still a naturalistic play,” Bloom says. “It just has elements of storytelling that are not naturalistic.”
Call it naturalistic if you want. Poole prefers to call the style one “where things are shitty and hard and they suck, but lots of funny stuff happens.” In summary: “It really is just real life.”
Just not her life. Sort of.
Warning: You may feel totally self-conscious as a spray of water tickles your face, which is pressed against the metal fence surrounding the fountain in the Common. But the voice telling you to stand there is kind but firm in its instructions. Hold on though, you’re off on a fantastical ride.
The Common: An Experience For One Person In A Public Place is a site-specific play presented on an iPod that takes individuals on a journey from the North Common, up Bell Road to the Public Gardens, ending at Victoria Park. Secret Theatre director Dustin Harvey, whose previous productions include Winding Up Godot (performed with wind-up toys) and Cowboy Show (hosted in an old trailer), is known for subverting traditional theatre conventions like space, location and audience intimacy.
Harvey knew that he wanted to do a performance using an iPod, and certainly there isn’t a more polarizing piece of land in the city on which to base a site-specific story. “We’re living in a time where the Common’s role is fuelled by debate—-what is its best use?” Harvey asks rhetorically, sitting in a lawn chair by the fountain. A green flag marks the beginning of the play, where Harvey hooks up participants with an iPod, a guidebook, pencil and a pin to flash at people in case they want to talk.
The Common is written by former Coast contributor Rob Plowman. “He took the idea of myth and folklore as his inspiration,” says Harvey, with themes of “history, place and identity.” But as history is not a static concept, Plowman deftly bleeds current news and urban tales (random violence) with facts (skating at Egg Pond), locations (the Citadel) and prominent figures (Samuel Cunard). Don’t expect a straightforward narrative; sometimes the voice tells a story; occasionally you’re presented with a task, or asked to search for a personal memory. “It’s a bit of a dream,” says Harvey. “How real is it? We blur and play, just a little bit. A lot happens in your imagination.”
It is particularly surreal journey on this lovely Tuesday night, as the fields are covered in teepees and striped carnival tents for the Membertou 400 powwow, while security guards lean against fences, eyeing passersby suspiciously. Even the Bengal Lancers horses seem to be in on the action, as instructions are given to quicken your pace. It looks like you’re doing a trot. “Certain things are triggered, some aren’t,” says Harvey mysteriously. “Sometimes those serendipitous entrances seem to be on cue.” By the time you reach the end, you may feel exhilarated or subdued, or like you’re coming off a peyote high.
The Common runs from July 1 to 11, from 6.30pm to dusk. It’s free, but admission is appointment only. Email email@example.com with the day you’d like to attend and a phone number. For more information, visit foraslongasyouhavesofar.com.
If your doctor has been looking a little undead lately, there’s no need to be alarmed. Might be a mild case of method acting, getting ready for They Came from Eekum Seekum, an original musical put on by Capital District Health Authority staff, family and friends. The small-town lobsterfest turned zombie feast was written and conceived by the bizarro brain of Roy Ellis, Capital Health’s bereavement coordinator. This is Ellis’ second full-out musical production for the health authority—-last year’s sold-out show was a spoof of General Hospital—-and one he’s been preparing for since last year.
In true Guffman community theatre spirit, no one is turned away from the stage, and with 10,000 staff members, Ellis—-a former actor who’s been writing plays since he was a kid—-had to prepare for a large cast: “Thirty-five souls and not all are living,” he laughs. Outside of a few male singers and hired musicians, including members of Gypsophilia, this means that “doctors and dish room workers are equal on the stage,” and new relationships inevitably form: “The process is human building,” Ellis says. The hospital business is a stressful one, which is why the health authority progressively provides the musical with start-up money that will get reimbursed through ticket sales.
As for the tunes, Ellis says think of pseudo-musicals like Moulin Rouge, where new lyrics are put to old melodies, e.g. Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” has morphed into “Hot Lobsters.” And of course you can’t have a gang of zombies without a little Thrilleresque dancing. Ellis also brought in choreographer Cynthia Myers to “kick some arse.”
They Came from Eekum Seekum opens tonight and runs until May 8, 7:30pm at Alderney Landing, with a 2pm Saturday matinee ($20, ticketpro.ca). There’s no real gore so it’s pretty family-friendly for those of zombie-coping age.
We’re totally game for Zuppa Theatre’s Sport & Social fundraiser on Saturday night (the AARC at Armbrae Academy, 1400 Oxford, $5, 19+), especially when we heard about the pie-eating contest, with pies made special for the occasion by theatre moms and volunteers. “Everyone’s eyes really light up for that one,” says Zuppa’s Sue Leblanc Crawford. Leblanc Crawford explains the chicken toss really is just that: tossing rubber chickens into a milk crate, perfect for unathletic arts supporters, as is Speed Scrabble and tea leaf readings. Look for more trad games too, such as foosball, ping pong and the scary (for some of us) balloon darts.
When they're not preparing for duck-of-war, Zuppa is working with Ambrae, co-writing and directing the school’s production, and preparing for the premiere of their apocalyptic Five Easy Steps to the End of the World, in Cardiff, Wales. Expect the Halifax premiere on October 26.
“I don’t know what form something will take when I start to write,” says Thom Fitzgerald, the award-winning filmmaker of movies such as The Hanging Garden, The Event and 3 Needles. “I start with a thought, and it usually becomes a bunch of dialogue…I just seem to write in dialogue.”
This may explain why his latest work, Cloudburst, is being born as both a play and a movie. The play opens this week at Plutonium Playhouse, a new theatre company that makes its home at Common Ground Studios (2315 Hunter Street). The movie, which will star Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, is slated to go to camera in and around Halifax this summer.
Cloudburst is the story of Dotty and Stella, two elderly women who have been a couple for over 30 years. After Dotty takes a fall, her granddaughter decides it’s time to move her to a nursing home. In a move reminiscent of Thelma and Louise, the duo makes their escape. They head for Nova Scotia with a view to tying the knot, but when they hit some bumps in the road along the way, Stella begins to wonder if she really has what it takes to look after Dotty.
“Doing Cloudburst as a play before it becomes a film allows me to get inside it and all around it. It’s a wonderful chance to delve into the material,” says Fitzgerald.
He says the intimate, flexible confines of the Plutonium Playhouse (which seats 40) will be a great venue for staging the work.
“This play is dramatic and funny and I really hope people will come out and see it…It’s not everyday you get to see a play about geriatric lesbians, with a foul-mouthed old dyke as the protagonist.”
Cloudburst runs April 8-May 8, 8pm with 2pm Sunday matinees. Tickets are $20, call 423-4653 to reserve.
I’ve always been tickled by the moniker Merritt Awards, named for the late, great Nova Scotian playwright Robert Merritt, because of the lovely wordplay. However, after Tuesday night’s annual bash, a name change to “The Two Planks and a Passion Awards” may be in order.
The valley company, led by director Ken Schwartz, has dominated the outstanding production category for three years, including this year’s win for the unforgettable Rockbound.
Canadian composer Alan Cole, who flew in from Toronto to attend the ceremony, went home with awards for Outstanding Original Score and Outstanding New Play by a Nova Scotian, also for Rockbound.
“Well that went well!” he exclaimed. “I must say that I’m really moved.”
The Merritts returned to Dartmouth’s Alderney Landing after a foray to the more staid confines of Neptune’s Fountain Hall last year. Mary Colin Chisholm and Christian Murray hosted, and the tone was some how kinder and gentler than other years, though no less funny.
Among the video snippets—which included a hilarious look into the future for our city’s thespians and a clever, catchy Chekhov rap—was a very touching tribute to members of the theatre community who have died in the past few years.
Picnicface’s Bill Wood seemed genuinely surprised to win best supporting actor for his role as the sneaky, snakey Hermann in 2b theatre’s East of Berlin. He declared the entire evening a “spot-on” success.
2010 MERRITT AWARD WINNERS:
BEST ACTOR: Duncan Fraser, Calum MacDonald, No Great Mischief, Neptune Theatre
BEST ACTRESS: Shelley Thompson, Florence Jenkins, Glorious, Festival Antigonish
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Bill Wood, Hermann, East of Berlin, 2b theatre
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Burgundy Code, Anapest Kraus, Rockbound, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre.
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR: Ken Schwartz, Rockbound, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre
OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN: Louisa Adamson, Poor Boy, Zuppa Theatre/Neptune Theatre
OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN: Patrick Clarke, The Game of Love and Chance, Neptune Theatre
OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN: Will Perkins, Homage, 2b theatre
OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN: Mike Ross, No Great Mischief, Neptune Theatre
OUTSTANDING ORIGINAL SCORE: Allen Cole, Rockbound, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre
OUTSTANDING NEW PLAY BY A NOVA SCOTIAN: Allen Cole, Rockbound, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION: Rockbound, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre.
LEGACY AWARD: Jean Morpurgo
VOLUNTEER AWARDS: Perry Kossatz and Aaron Harpell
MAYOR’S AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT IN THEATRE: Jeremy Webb
MAYOR’S EMERGING THEATRE ARTIST AWARD: Natasha MacLellan
TECHNICIAN AWARD: Ian Pygott
STAGE MANAGER AWARD: Sylvia Bell
This afternoon we received an email from the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, who are "disappointed that the subject of Her Majesty’s potential visit to the show became public knowledge before all issues could be resolved."
Apparently there have been some royal-sized rumours about why the queen won't be attending the Tattoo during her visit this summer: It was going to be difficult for Beth to get up on the stage because of the theatrical presentation risers they use, which can be dangerous if you haven't rehearsed with them under all the lights, etc. Not because she's old, as was suggested by some people who obviously haven't watched The Queen.
"This is not in any way shape or form an age issue. A large number of the Production Team is well over 60 years of age. This is a safety and dignity issue. The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo will not place Her Majesty or His Royal Highness in the position where their physical safety and/or their public dignity could be in any way compromised."
So the Tattoo is doing everything they can now to accommodate and hopefully reverse this decision:
The Tattoo is immensely disappointed, especially on behalf of the younger cast members and those cast members serving in the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, that officials somewhere in the chain of communication between Nova Scotia and Buckingham Palace via Ottawa have decided to block this opportunity. We cannot be certain at what level this decision was made but we do know that Her Majesty takes a great pride in the work of the Canadian Forces, has a great love of military music and as someone who served during the war years, is herself one of the veterans that we salute at every show. The Tattoo hopes this decision can be reversed.
Me too. I want her to sign my Jubilee tea cup.