Arts 2008: Life of the arty

There were picnics in your face, hockey mixed with art and Fewer Emergencies in 2008. Kate Watson and Sue Carter Flinn round up a year of cultural happenings.

THEATRE by Kate Watson

You may wonder what methodology I use when selecting the productions for my YIR round-up. It begins in the bathtub, where I soak and try to recall the 60-plus plays I’ve seen in the past year. Those that are so memorable they jump immediately to mind likely make the list. Later I check Theatre Nova Scotia’s website and go over my notes to jog my memory for overlooked highlights. But for lasting impressions, the tub’s the thing.

Most memorable

Fewer Emergencies was staged at The Bus Stop Theatre in June. With a minimal set and three terrific actors (Garry Williams, Anne Doyle and Stewart Legere), this Angels and Heroes production made for a wonderful introduction to the work of absurdist playwright Martin Crimp.

Most pleasant surprise

Saints Alive! Theatre Society showcases talented young actors, singers and dancers. Their production of Seussical the Musical was top-notch. The performers from the Halifax Summer Opera Workshop did such an amazing job with The Consul and The Marriage of Figaro that I’ve become their number-one fan. Figaro even convinced me opera can be really fun.

Best costumes

Jerome: The Historical Spectacle was another of Two Planks and a Passion’s magical outdoor productions performed at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. The original play, by novelist Ami McKay, featured some amazing costumes that transformed the actors into all manner of circus freaks, and even turned actor Ben Stone into a legless man. The Dalhousie Theatre Department production of The Laramie Project, the story of murdered gay student Matthew Shepard, was haunting on many levels. But the visuals are what stuck with me, particularly the glittering raindrops falling on stage.

Most produced play

One of Shakespeare’s most popular works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream certainly got a workout in Halifax this year. Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s and Shakespeare by the Sea all staged it in 2008. The three were all different, all enjoyable.

Most challenging community theatre production

You have to give Dartmouth Players credit---they’re not afraid to stage plays community theatre groups normally aren’t drawn to. The magical realism of The Clean House may have left some cold, but the play stood out as effective and interesting. Dartmouth Players’ Lysistrata comes a close second.

Most charming

Chris Little conceived, wrote and performed a lovely little piece using found objects: Grandma Noda’s Tigers was an original gem.

Outstanding show of the year

There are four very different plays that have a right to this title and I cannot choose between them. They are: Dragon Country, a collection of Tennessee Williams’ one-act plays performed by Pascale Roger-McKeever and Gordon White; Frost/Nixon, a riveting political drama at Neptune; In Pink, a fantastic original play by Left Foot First Productions; and Luna/Sea’s brilliant Girl In The Goldfish Bowl.

ARTS by Sue Carter Flinn

Despite economic paranoia, government budget cuts and general stupidity (remember the Bill C10 amendment that was supposed to protect taxpayers from naughty movies?), the year in Halifax film, comedy, books and visual arts was as solid-gold as ever. I blame the strong, committed and collaborative spirit and all those overly talented people who make this city their home.

Most sketchy

Picnicface has been making people pee their pants and spill their beers for a long time now, but this was a year where even your mom heard of Halifax’s beloved sketch comedy troupe. Thanks to regular Tuesday night gigs at Yuk Yuk’s and appearances at festivals---not to mention nominations for Canadian Comedy Awards---Picnicface is officially the funniest thing to happen to the country’s laugh-track since Kids in the Hall.

Biggest non-gala

In October, hundreds of supporters attended the Vote Arts rally in Grand Parade. Inadvertently, Stephen Harper’s true-colours comments about ordinary people and their disdain for gala-going, jewel-encrusted artists actually brought culture to the forefront as a national discussion, and gave the other candidates some of the federal election’s best zingers.

A couple of weeks later, on the night of the municipal election, Nocturne, the city’s first all-night arts festival, proved yet again that people---over 5 000 of them (a greater turnout than in some voting districts)---love to visit galleries and take in street-level short films, dance and music performances. Highlights included the performing Art Bus, Yo Rodeo’s 3D prints at blink! gallery, Adriana Kuiper’s Capsule bomb shelter at Dalhousie and Lisa Lipton’s lederhosen performance at the Khyber ICA. There was some amazing photography around town, too, thanks to the month-long Photopolis festival---in particular, Adrian Fish’s empty stage photos at Studio 21, Hannah Minzloff’s subway photos on Metro Transit buses and the group show at FRED. with Michael Fuller, Niel Rough and Hannah Thomson.

Wordiest ones

For a long time, those interested in reading local contemporary fiction set in modern Halifax (i.e. not on a fishing boat) had slim pickings. But over the past couple of years, with the launch of Nimbus’ imprint Vagrant and new kid Invisible Publishing, it’s been word up. Invisible publisher Robbie MacGregor received the Mayor’s Award for Cultural Achievement in Literature at the 2008 Atlantic Book Awards. Stephanie Domet’s Homing, the first novel from the small press, won the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and former Dartmouthian Devon Code received national attention for his Invisible-published book of short stories, In a Mist. We racked up the biggie awards, too. In 2007, Don Domanski won the Governor General’s Award for his poetry collection All Our Wonder Unavenged and in 2008, Catherine Banks received the GG for Drama, for her play Bone Cage.

Biggest bang

The Arena: Art of Hockey exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia overflowed with hockey-inspired art, sports fans and artists. Timed to coincide with the IIHF World Hockey Championships, this fantastic show hip-checked the belief art and hockey don’t mix.

Indeed, bigger was better in 2008, as NSCAD opened PORTloggia, a new exhibition space at its port campus, which will lead unsuspecting cruise-ship passengers into discovering local culture past the Beavertails stand. David Harper’s full-sized taxidermied bear, which showed at Seeds Gallery and at the awesome Exalted Beings: Animal Relationships show at Dalhousie, was the most formidable creature in a gallery space since Allyson Mitchell’s fun-fur sasquatch hung out there last year.

Most star-struck

“I say young man, didn’t I see your face in the moving pictures?” This year everyone had at least one friend who became a movie extra. Seawolf had Haligonians covering their tattoos and donning bowler hats, and Mira Nair’s Amelia Earhart biopic had everyone looking for goggle-wearing Hilary Swank. And life in the city wouldn’t be the same without the annual Jesse Stone movie-of-the-week and honourary Haligonian Tom Selleck. Give the man with the ’stache the keys to the city, already.

The shorts programs at the Atlantic Film Festival continued to impress with talent. Even if you didn’t catch them at the festival, there were plenty of chances to see stellar documentaries like Cubers, Norm, Chasing Wild Horses and That’s My Time on television.As a personal highlight, I met two of my crushes/idols---Don McKellar and Clark Johnson---without making a serious ass out of myself. Now that’s a year.

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