Review: STUPIDHEAD, in Innisfil, Ont.

by Lynn on August 19, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person in a private backyard in Innisfil, Ont. Part of the Bees in the Bush Festival, from Talk is Free Theatre and Outside the March. To August 28, 2021.

Written and performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson

Directed by Aaron Willis

Production designed by Anahita Dehbonehie

Stupidhead is a musical about dyslexia. More to the point, it’s a musical about how writer/performer Katherine Cullen copes with having dyslexia. Her dyslexia is not the ‘ordinary’ kind in which letters are mixed up when writing. Hers concerns spatial issues and math. She has no sense of direction.

She tells the story when she was a kid, of visiting her friend Danny, who lived next door, and not being able to find her way home. Katherine’s mother asked Danny’s mother to take Katherine home when the kids finished playing, but Danny’s mother thought Katherine’s mother was joking, so she didn’t take her home. And Katherine took hours to find her way home because she turned the wrong way up the street.

The story is poignant and is told with such warmth and humour your heart melts. By her own admission Katherine Cullen has no musical training and no musical ability. But she loves the form. So she went to her friend Britta Johnson ,who is musically trained and has musical ability gushing out of her fingers and her voice, and asked her to help create a musical about her dyslexia for an event.  Britta said yes. When is the event she asked?  The event was in two days. The songs were written. They are wonderful. That was the beginning of Stupidhead.

I’ve seen the show about three times over the last few years. Once in a theatre in Toronto a few years ago and loved it; once a few months ago as an audio presentation and it was revelatory—the rapport between Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson in that audio version was vibrant, lively and loving; and then again a few days ago in Innisfil, in a backyard.

The show has grown. There is now a rather vibrant pink and silver backdrop by Anahita Dehbonehie that adds to the show. There is a crinkled bit on the backdrop which represents a brain. Katherine is fearless in her singing and puts her whole heart into each song. She moves around the set with agility and ease. Britta sits at the keyboard, usually smiling as she listens intently to Katherine, as if for the first time.

Aaron Willis directs with care. He brings the best out of both women as they engage with each other and the music. Stupidhead is about never giving in to doubts, difficulties, or disappointment. It’s about coping with a disability and making it work. And you can sing about it too and the result is joyful.  

An OUTSIDE THE MARCH production.

Plays until: August 28, 2021.

Running Time: one hour, no intermission

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