by Lynn on July 9, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

The live audio broadcast.

Written and performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson
Original music by Britta Johnson
Original lyrics by Britta Johnson and Katherine Cullen
Directed by Aaron Willis
Set and costumes by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Stupidhead! is a musical comedy about dyslexia. It has wonderful music, clever lyrics and two beguiling performances by Katherine Cullen, who tells her story and Britta Johnson who beautifully supports her at the piano and in many other ways.

Background. Stupidhead! has had many iterations since it debuted in 2014 at VideoFag. I saw it live in 2017. Now the always resourceful theatre company, Outside the March is bringing it back first as a live audio broadcast and later this summer in a live in person production perfect for a private porch or back yard. The script has been tweaked for this latest iteration to reflect the changes in our world and in the lives of the creators.  

The Story. Actress-playwright-theatremaker Katherine Cullen has always had a dream of being in a musical. By her own admission two things might have stood in her way towards realizing this dream: lack of training and ability. These are mere triflings when you consider the sheer force of nature, personality and determination that is Katherine Cullen. Added to this determination is that Cullen has been painfully aware she is dyslexic since grade three when insensitive teachers and ‘friends’ have indicated she was different because of it. Naturally Cullen considers her dyslexia a perfect subject for a musical.

Katherine Cullen takes us through her angst-ridden journey of coping with dyslexia. Hers is unusual because her reading is not that affected. She has difficulty with maths and spatial situations. She has no sense of direction. Finding the bathroom in public school posed a dilemma which she thought about and solved in her own way. Her best friend Dannie (sp?) lived next door when she was a kid, but Cullen often lost her way home from Dannie’s because she, Cullen was not sure to turn left or right to go home. There is the fear of making mistakes and being wrong. There is also the Cullen quirky sense of humour and determination that helps her cope when matters go off the rails.

The Performance. It is so interesting to hear this production as a live audio broadcast rather than seeing it in a theatre. What is so vivid about this production is the pure joy that comes across from Katherine Cullen and her creative partner, Britta Johnson. They riff off each other. They are constantly laughing at each other’s jokes. I remember during the live production that Britta was always smiling. This version takes that joy to another level (That will also be the last time I compare previous productions of Stupidhead! because it’s not helpful to the reader hearing the show now).

Katherine Cullen’s performance is also fearless She is not afraid or tentative to sing the songs full throttle just because she does not have the ‘ability’ to sing them. This is her life, damnit, and she is going to present every note with total commitment.   Her performance is beguiling as well as compelling. While Cullen has dark memories of dealing with her disappointments because of dyslexia she tells her story in a funny, irreverent, whimsical way. Britta Johnson not only accompanies Cullen beautifully on the piano, but you know she supports her in other ways, emotional, psychological, intuitively.  Both artists wrote the lyrics and Britta Johnson also wrote the music. The songs detail difficulties for Cullen, disappointments, triumphs and inspirational advice (“Don’t Give Up). The lyrics are wonderfully clever. As when I first saw this show in the theatre, I wish there was a song list. (just a quibble).

Director Aaron Willis directs Cullen with a smart sense of when stillness is effective and when wildness is better.  We can’t see how Cullen fills the space but we can hear her and imagine the rest.

Comment. While Stupidhead! is a musical about dyslexia, it does not define Katherine Cullen. After listening to this live audio broadcast it’s clear Cullen is gifted, impish, funny, irreverent, confident, successful, composed, joyful and a thousand other things more important that a diagnosis of dyslexia. Stupidhead she is not. The show continues to be wonderful.

Stupidhead! is available by live audio broadcast until July 16, 2021

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