The Passionate Playgoer

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Live and in person under a lovely canopy for Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival, Back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

www.herefornowtheatre.com

Janet and Louise

Written by Deanna Kruger

Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

Cast: Peggy Coffey

Brigit Wilson

Janet has mysterious ailments. She fainted on the job—she’s a custodian at an elementary school. She broke her arm; gashed her head and seems a bit woozy. Her doctor prescribed art lessons to aid in her healing and try and keep her job, which she loves.

Louise’s art studio is doing badly. There is noisy construction going on outside. Louise is an irritable, prickly soul who has chased any customers away. Janet is her last chance to survive. Both Janet and Louise have issues. They also have a past. They know each other. Louise was Janet’s older sister Rita’s best friend when they were teenagers. Then something happened to Janet and Rita’s parents and Louise was not there to give Rita support. Louise’s marriage also suffered from that lack of support. But something happens during the play that might redeem Louise.

Deanna Kruger has written an intriguing play of two fragile characters trying to hold on to what they can and cope with the obstacles that keep getting in their way. Janet’s mysterious illnesses keep her unsteady. The fainting. She had a mishap with a mudpuddle on her way to Louise’s studio. And she had to endure being berated by Louise for being late for the lesson.

Louise also has her issues. That irritability and prickliness does not endear her to customers or people in general. Her failing business is making her anxious and she is desperate to keep Janet as a pupil. Slowly, they reach out to one another. Slowly information about their past and present is revealed. A twist at the end makes one’s eye pop in surprise and how that is “resolved” is a thing of beauty. Bravo to Deanna Kruger for such an engaging play.

Jeannette Lambermont-Morey has directed this with a sure hand and lots of attention to detail. She has brought out these characters’ frustrations in subtle body language. Peggy Coffey, as Janet is a creation of unsteadiness: on her legs, in her life, with her ailments. She seems fuzzy minded, trying to keep her wits about her. Janet’s first response to difficulty with the art lessons is to quit. Louise can’t let that happen. As Louise, Brigit Wilson is fierce in creating a character with not one shred of sentimentality, but with lots of resentments and anxieties. It slowly becomes clear that Louise has been carrying a burden of regret for a long time. She behaved badly to her friend Rita when they were teens. Louise behaved badly to her husband with whom she had a rocky marriage. Without ‘ceremony’ she makes amends at the end and it’s a terrific moment.

Janet and Louise is another gem of a play that joins the roster of the others in the Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival.  

Here for Now, 2021 New Works Festival

Plays until August 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.

Post Alice

Written by Taylor Marie Graham

Directed by Fiona Mongillo

Costumes by Monique Lund

Composer, Mark Payne

Cast: Heather Marie Annis

Ellen Denny

Aubree Erickson

Siobhan O’Malley

From the description of the play: “Inspired by four haunting characters from four iconic Alice Munro stories, Post Aliceis a stunning new contemporary play which asks the question: what really happened to Mistie Murray? And what happens to all our missing girls? Come sit around the fire with four bright and hilarious Huron County women as ghost stories emerge, songs fill the air, family secrets are revealed, and mysteries unravel into those wonderful contradictions which live inside us all. Warning: Mature subject matter, swearing and use of herbal cigarette in performances. “

Post Alice is not a play about ghost stories, per se. It’s deeper than that. Belle has serious health issues and her friends Oneida and Edie and her sister Wen gather to give her comfort. They fret about her health (we find out what the issue is later in the play). Belle is ‘witling’ a large piece of wood and nicks her thumb, which really causes concern, although initially she’s not bleeding. These women have been friends since high school. They know secrets about each other which are gradually revealed.

Belle (Siobhan O’Malley) is anxious about her prognosis but tries to hide it with flippancy and a coolness. Oneida (Heather Marie Annis) has received a letter that she is reluctant to read because it will have information about her cultural background. Her father is Haudenosaunee and was always unwilling to give her any information about her heritage. This letter will fill her in, but she needs her friends around to give her courage to read it. Edie (Aubree Erickson) has flown in in her own plane to be there. Wen (Ellen Denny) is Belle’s sister. There is good natured banter as each woman teases and joshes the others. Truths come out about an incident that happened at a party when they were teens that has certainly affected them into adulthood. And then there is the mystery of Mistie Murray.

Mistie Murray was a friend of theirs in high school who disappeared one day—telling her mother she was going to band practice. There was no band practice and she never returned. What happened to her has occupied these women for years. There are theories and suggestions but the mystery remains.

The play and production are full of references to missing and lost girls. The four women sing a wonderful haunting song (kudos to composer Mark Payne) of what happens to all the missing girls. One immediately thinks of the link to the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, deepening the play, giving it resonance.

Director Fiona Mongillo has created a beautifully nuanced production. At one point a character takes a red shawl that has been draped over a bench and delicately ties it around a pole in such a way that it drapes down and could be symbolic/representative of red dresses that were hung from trees that symbolized a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl. It’s a stunning image.

The acting of the ensemble—and this is a true ensemble—is impeccable; the singing is moving and evocative. Taylor Marie Graham has written an arresting and funny play about women and their friendships, coping with a troubled past and supporting each other.

Here for Now Theatre, 2021, New Works Festival.

Plays until August, 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.  

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Tuesday, July 27—Aug. 15, 2021

Live from Canadian Stage,

Live in High Park, Toronto, Ont.

BLACKOUT

THE MUSICAL STAGE COMPANY

Book by: Steven Gallagher
Music & Lyrics by: Anton Lipovetsky

A captivating new musical from Canada’s leading musical theatre company.

On August 14th, 2003, Toronto was sent into chaos when the largest blackout in Canadian history left millions stranded in the dark and unable to reach or connect with their loved ones.

Inspired by real events, BLACKOUT depicts three stories of connection that unfolded when the city was dark, and strangers banded together to find the light. A preview production of a new Canadian musical by two of Canada’s most exciting voices, Blackout is a story of hope, resilience, and community.

Originally developed through The Musical Stage Company’s innovative musical development initiative Launch Pad, a selection of this new work was first seen in 2019 as part of REPRINT.

www.canadianstage.com

Tuesday, July 27, 2021—3:00 pm

Live and in person at Hear for Now Theatre, New Works Festival, Stratford, Ont.

 Janet and Louise

Janet is determined to get over her mysterious ailments and keep her custodial job, so she’s agreed to take doctor-prescribed art lessons. Louise’s art studio is floundering; there is endless roadwork outside and her prickly personality chases people away. Janet arrives but thinks she might quit. Louise can’t afford to lose another student. Then Janet finds a man’s tooth inside a jar. . . At turns funny and heartbreaking, this new play asks what happens when two strangers confront what they’ve tried so hard to keep hidden.

Written by Deanna Kruger and directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey. Starring Brigit Wilson and Peggy Coffey.

Learn More

Tuesday, July 27, 2021- 7:00 pm.

Live and in person, at Here for Now Theatre, New Works Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Post Alice

Inspired by four haunting characters from four iconic Alice Munro stories, Post Alice is a stunning new contemporary play which asks the question: what really happened to Mistie Murray? And what happens to all our missing girls? Come sit around the fire with four bright and hilarious Huron County women as ghost stories emerge, songs fill the air, family secrets are revealed, and mysteries unravel into those wonderful contradictions which live inside us all.

Written by Taylor Marie Graham and directed by Fiona Mongillo.

Learn More

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 7:00 pm

At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Live and in person.  

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway.

About a group of Indigenous women who decide to leave their reserve and go to Toronto to participate in the world’s biggest Bingo game.

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

 Featuring:

Jani Lauzon as Pelajia Patchnose

Brefny Caribou as Zhaboonigan Peterson

Lisa Cromarty as Marie-Adele Starblanket

Christine Frederick as Veronique St. Pierre

Nicole Joy-Fraser as Annie Cook

Kathleen MacLean as Emily Dictionary

Tracey Nepinak as Philomena Moosetail

Zach Running Coyote as Nanabush

July 23 to August 21 | Opening Wednesday, July 28

They have their dreams and their difficulties, these seven women. One yearns for a singing career; another for a white porcelain toilet. One grieves for her lover, killed in a motorcycle accident; another harbours the memory of a horrific sexual assault. The cancer that afflicts one of them is not the only malignancy they confront.

But one dream they hold in common is that of winning “the biggest bingo in the world” – and one day, accompanied by the transformative spirit guide Nanabush, they leave their Manitoulin Island reserve and set out for Toronto to do just that.

Ribald, harrowing and mystical, this seminal work of Indigenous drama celebrates the spirit of resilience and the powerful beauty these women bring to the tough world in which they live.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

Saturday, July 31, 2021 at 7:00 pm

Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, in the Festival Theatre Canopy.

Play On!

A Shakespeare-Inspired Mixtape

Curated by Robert Markus, Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Music Director: Reza Jacobs 

Featuring:

Gabriel Antonacci

Jacob MacInnis

Jennifer Rider-Shaw

Kimberly-Ann Truong 

July 29 to August 15 | Opening Sunday, July 31 

Shakespeare’s influence on Western culture extends even into your favourite pop hits. Whether it be direct lines from his plays appearing in Top 40 lyrics or whole songs inspired by his plots, whether the borrowers be Taylor Swift, Madonna, Elton John, The Beatles, Prince or Radiohead, Shakespeare is still there, lurking in the mainstream, as cool and as relevant as ever. This lively celebration of terrific tunes affords a great opportunity to introduce a younger audience to Shakespeare’s continuing role in popular culture.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy, Stratford, Ont. until August. 1, www.stratfordfestival.ca

NOTE: All the plays in the Stratford Festival season, except Three Tall Women, are edited to about 90 minutes with no intermission and are performed under the Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy. Three Tall Women is performed in two parts (you do not ‘edit’ Edward Albee’s plays) and will be performed indoors, at the Studio Theatre.

Written by William Shakespeare

Director, Peter Pasyk

Set designer, Patrick Lavender

Costume designer, Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting designer, Michael Walton

Composer, sound designer, Reza Jacobs

Choreographer, Stephen Cota

Cast: Eva Foote

Craig Lauzon

Trish Lindström

Jonathan Mason

André Sills

Amaka Umeh

Micah Woods

Bahareh Yaraghi

Shakespeare is back at the Stratford Festival in this raucous, raunchy, bold, joyful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Story. This is a story full of magic, mayhem, mistaken identity, fairies in the forest wreaking havoc on young lovers and lots and lots of sex.  Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, the man to whom Egeus gives consent. Hermia wants to marry Lysander. The matter is taken to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who says that Hermia must follow the rule of law, obey her father in this matter or be put to death. (Yikes).

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away through the forest to his aunt’s house and get married there. They tell Hermia’s friend Helena of their plans. Helena in turn tells Demetrius because she’s in love with him and hopes to make points with him. They all follow each other into the forest. Add to this is a group of sweet yokels known as Mechanicals who are preparing a play for the impending marriage of Theseus and his fiancée Hippolyta; a fairy King named Oberon and his fairy Queen named Titania who keep one-upping each other; a confused spirit named Puck and magic spells gone right (a mechanical named Bottom is turned into a donkey) and spells gone wrong (oh, don’t ask!) and finally, breathlessly, it all works out. This is not a spoiler—it’s summer, it’s the magical forest, it’s hot. Strange things happen there. What did you expect?  

The Production.  Director Peter Pasyk has filled his production with invention, wit, impish humour, bold decisions and wonderful detail. With only eight actors in the production, that means there is a lot of double and triple casting.  The audience sits on two sides of the raised playing area that is in the centre of the canopy. A light mauve silky covering covers the whole stage and whatever props are already there (kudos to set designer Patrick Lavender for his effective set). As the audience settles “Dream” by the Everly Brothers plays over the sound system. I’m smiling. Then that segues into a mere snipped of Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I’m smiling more broadly—such an impish detail. And finally, as the cast enters André Sills lets loose with a rap song that gives the whole thing a contemporary feel to it.

When the mauve covering is removed there is a large moveable trunk on stage with an imprint of the white Tom Patterson Theater canopy on the side. (I assume the same imprint of the canopy is on the other side of the trunk for the opposite portion of the audience to see). Puck, a sprightly, spirited Trish Lindström pulls stuff out of the trunk to do magic. I like that juxtaposition—the trunk with the canopy ‘printed’ on it produces magic ‘stuff’, as does the action under the canopy where we sit.

Theseus (an imposing Craig Lauzon) and his fiancée Hippolyta (a confident, coy Bahareh Yaraghi) have just stepped out of the shower. They wear luxurious, white terry-cloth robes and her hair is wrapped high in a white towel (Bravo to costume designer Lorenzo Savoini for making every single person in that audience want those robes). The couple banters. He’s accommodating. She’s cooler, contained. But then Egeus (Trish Lindström, somber, ill-tempered and balding), Hermia (Eva Foote), Lysander (Micah Woods) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) also arrive, wanting justice. Theseus passes on his judgement about the law and Hermia’s duty to her father. Hippolyta lets him know she’s none too happy with the decree—she turns away with an attitude and Theseus doesn’t miss that rebuff. And we’re off on a whirl-wind journey.

The cast sit around the playing area in full view of the audience as they change costumes in front of us, often at break-neck speed. Even the timing of the changes is calculated and smartly ‘directed’ so as not to give away who will play what in the next scene. Costumes are pulled out of carry-all bags by each character’s seat, or situated in places around the set.

Peter Pasyk ramps up the speed in the forest, with Helena (a lively Amaka Umeh) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) now joining the fray.  Lovers try to connect or escape each other. Puck tries to keep the instructions clear about who gets the juice of a certain flower in the eye to make him/her love the person he/she is supposed to love. (I know, it’s complicated—it’s the forest, it does that to you). The Mechanicals try to rehearse their play with Bottom (an exuberant André Sills) wanting to play every part with gusto. And Oberon (a commanding Craig Lauzon), the King of the Fairies arranges for the juice of a certain flower to be put in the eye of the sleeping Titania (a perceptive, knowing Bahareh Yaraghi). Oberon says the result of that juice is that:

“The next thing then she waking looks upon

(Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,

On meddling monkey, or on busy ape)

She shall pursue it with the soul of love.”

What Titania sees when waking is Bottom, transformed into a donkey, and she is besotted.

Peter Pasyk makes a bold decision here. Rather than having Titania play it as falling helplessly under the spell, he directs Bahareh Yaraghi to play Titania as if she is on to the game and the trick, What follows is not so much Titania being in love with Bottom-the-Ass-Donkey as much as she is in lust, sexually aggressive and intoxicated with the physicality of it all. The sex is loud, raucous and a wild twist of limbs. Instead of Oberon being gleeful at his trick, he seems jealous and even embarrassed, and looks away after watching them her straddle Bottom. When Titania is ‘brought back’ out of the spell she lets Oberon know in no uncertain terms that she was wise to him. It’s a delicious moment.  I’m not sure that idea to twist the scene works completely but it’s interesting to see a director be so daring and bold.   

Sex is at the heart of what is going on in that forest. At times the four lovers are under the mauve sheet, thrashing around, gradually losing much of their clothing so that they are in their underwear at the end of it all.

When all the characters get out of that forest and return to ‘normal’ with the partners they should be with, they are clothed, joyful and dancing. They leave the audience joyful and wanting to dance themselves. This production is a dandy welcome back to the Stratford Festival.

Comment. Shakespeare is all about language. He created countless words that we use today. But our world is changing and so is language and its meaning. Words that meant one thing years ago do not have the same meaning today. In the 1890’s the word ‘gay’ meant ‘exuberantly happy’ etc. In the 20th century the word defines homosexual. Over time some words that mean one thing in one context are hurtful in other contexts. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the play the Mechanicals are preparing, one of the characters has to kiss another “through a chink in the wall.” That line is now changed to read “through a kink in the wall.” Being mindful of the power of language the word changes but the meaning of the line does not.

Shakespeare always makes us think about so many things. Welcome back.

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Runs until August 1.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, (no intermission)

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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On-line and on-demand from the Hamilton Fringe, Hamilton, Ont. until July 25, 2021.

The Laughter

Written and directed by Steven Elliott Jackson

Cast: Brandon Knox

Kate McArthur

New York City, 1943. NBC Studios. Lou Costello is getting ready to do his radio program with his comedy partner, Bud Abbott. Their special guest for that episode is a 33-year-old Lucille Ball. This gives writer/director Steven Elliott Jackson an opportunity to explore the serious life of a comedian/enne. At this point in her life Lucille Ball is fed up with the film studio and the system of making lousy movies. Her marriage is in trouble. She’s ready to quit. She comes to Lou for solace. She knows things about him that she can appreciate. Lou Costello tries to make light of how Bud Abbott earns more money than he does and Lou works his guts out for the do and for the laughs. He’s known sorrow. Lou Costello and Lucille Ball empathize with one another. It’s a hard life. But they go on.

In The Laughter, Steven Elliott Jackson gives an interesting glimpse into the world of these gifted comedians that we generally don’t see. Brand on Knox look uncannily like Lou Costello with the quick smile but sad eyes. Kate McArthur is a no-nonsense Lucille Ball who knows how to probe her friend to sell the truth about what is bothering him.  

It’s a Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest The Cops that killed Breonna Taylor

Created by: Roselyne Dougé-Charles, Carly Anna Billings, Liz Whitbread, Patrick Teed.

This is a verbatim play full of the mea culpas of privileged people trying to prove they are allies, and the platitudes from speeches declaring that “Black Lives Matter”, “Equal rights for all people” etc. It is almost a checklist of the anger and rage over the last several months when statues are painted pink in protest over past racist transgression of the person depicted; people are sorry for their insensitive behaviour but no formal apology is forthcoming. It’s an interesting idea to use the actual words spoken. But there is such an obvious cynicism in the delivery, that the whole exercise seems like overkill rather than irony.

Prairie Odyssey 

(Note: I saw this show at a previous Hamilton Fringe. They are remounting it digitally with interesting projections as backdrops.)

Written and directed by Valeri Kay

Musical director, Charly Chiarelli

Cast: Patti Cannon

Charly Chiarelli

Alison Chisholm

Valeri Kay.

This is a story of resilience in the face of grief and hardship in the 1930s. We get the details from the character of Becky on the occasion of the publication of her mother’s journal that chronicled that time.

The family lived happily and in prosperity in the small community of Chesapeake Bay until Bobby, Becky’s young brother died in an accident. The place held so many sad memories that the family moved to Saskatchewan because of the prospect of free land. Becky’s father would take up farming, something he knew nothing about. The play follows the difficulties of that first harsh winter and the drought-filled summer. Through it the family prevailed.

The cast play various characters and nicely differentiate between them by putting on a new hat or a different bit of clothing.  

Joan/Jehanne

Written and performed by Katherine Teed-Arthur

Directed by Max Cameron Fearon

From the play information: “Jehanne, a nineteen-year-old girl, sits in a prison cell talking to the disembodied Voices who guided her there. You may know this girl as Joan of Arc. It is 1431. She has been imprisoned by the English for over six months already and now her trial has finally begun; regardless of the outcome the imprisonment will soon be over. The Voices who she believes are angels sent from God counsel her.”

This is a thoughtful, interesting look into the mind of a determined, devout woman. Katherine Teed-Arthur has written a compelling play and character that asks so many questions about devotion, the importance of life and belief, dreams, memories, staring down bullies and the longing for home. Katherine Teed-Arthur gives a strong performance as Joan.  

www.hamiltonfringe.ca

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From Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

This Spring, Mike Nadajewski, gifted theater actor, singer, theatre creator, took The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and had his impish, imaginative way with it for on-line viewing.

He adapted the play into delicious bits in which the viewer (audience) watches scenes from the play, acted by Nadajewski and his equally talented wife Glynis Ranney, with many opportunities for the audience to decide how the play should proceed. Nadajewski did not ‘change’ the play. He just gives the audience options to pick how the play should continue.

For example, Jack Worthing (Mike Nadajewski) is in love with Gwendolyn Fairfax (Glynis Ranney) and she with him. He wants to propose but she has a problem with his first name. She doesn’t know his name is Jack. He uses the name Earnest. (Don’t ask…it’s Wilde, go with the flow). She likes the name Earnest. She confesses that she could not accept the proposal of a man named “Jack.” So two boxes appear on the screen and the audience must chose how to proceed. Box 1 says “I must get married at once” and Box 2 says “I must get christened at once.” Depending on how the audience choses, that is the scene that plays next strictly according to Wilde’s text. There are three kinds of proposals from which the audience chooses. It’s great fun, and certainly when you can go back and watch Episode One again changing your choices.

The scenes are filmed in a tasteful drawing room with both Nadajewski and Ranney in elegant garb appropriate for the play. The acting between the two is ‘chaste’ and proper but there is an underlying current of sensuality. As Jack, Mike Nadajewski is the soul of good manners. He looks like a shy puppy as he expresses his love for Gwendolyn. Glynis Ranney, as Gwendolyn is a master of looking demur and batting her eyelashes for full effect. Her side-long looks away from Jack only drive him wilder (every pun intended).

The endeavor is clever, funny and masterful in every way. I trust more episodes are on the way but do check out this first one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJtQRlZEDOU

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IMPACT 21

by Lynn on July 21, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

This is a fantastic festival of local, national and international work that will take place this Fall in Kitchener.

Announcing the Lineup for IMPACT 21!

This year’s festival launch was unlike any other as we shifted online to present the lineup for our first-ever hybrid in person and online IMPACT 21 festival. We welcomed a record number of attendees to our virtual brunch table who shared in our excitement of IMPACT’s biennial return. You can rewatch the launch event here.
Introducing IMPACT 21
Festival Launch Trailer
Theatre is here. Both virtually and in the community, we present 12 days of thought-provoking and immensely creative theatre with brilliant performances from all over the world. With 4 International, 4 National, and 6 Local works, we invite you to join us from September 28 to October 9, 2021, for theatre that challenges, inspires, and connects.
View Our Festival Website Here!
Festival Highlights
Get Your Festival Pass Here!
Industry Conference: How Do We Begin Again?  What if we brought everything back to relationship, and stripped away titles but respected and honoured lived experiences―in ourselves and in each other? What if we could forge connections not out of necessity, but to truly understand one another and build a bridge? 

This year’s IMPACT Co-Instigators are devising an experiment to explore these concepts during the festival. Industry professionals from a range of perspectives will be invited to participate in an exchange that will involve documenting the journey of a relationship stripped of titles, centering lived experiences, and bridging gaps of awareness. We invite you to join us as a witness, as an Instigator, or as someone looking to shift the sector one person at a time.
 
Register Now!
IMPACT Festival Bar – “Face to Face” 
With the help of our friends at TWB Co-operative Brewing, we will be hosting a pop-up outdoor Festival Bar, equipped with a variety of beverages and food trucks, open every night of the festival. Wrap up a night of theatre with good drinks, good food, and great conversation! 
For those unable to join in person, we invite you to unwind with us at our virtual Festival Bar where you can pour yourself a virtual drink and mingle with friends and colleagues from near and afar. Our virtual bar enables you to have close-knit conversations and pop in and out as you desire. 
 
Neruda Closing Night Street Party
As per tradition, MT Space will be partnering with sister organization Neruda Arts to host the IMPACT 21 Closing Night Party! Expect great live music, good hospitality, and the company of old and new friends made throughout the festival. This night will be the celebration of theatre, music, and art that we all need. 

Stay tuned for details! 

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Live and in person until July 31, 2021. Stratford, Ontario. Under the Canopy at the Festival Theatre.

Curated and directed by Thom Allison

Conducted by Laura Burton

Lighting designed by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Peter McBoyle

The Singers:

Alana Hibbert

Gabrielle Jones

Evangelia Kambites

Mark Uhre

The Band:

Conductor, keyboard, Laura Burton

Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, George Meanwell

Acoustic Bass, Electric Bass, Michael McClennan

Drum kit, David Campion

This is the second of four cabarets that are programmed at the Stratford Festival, each playing for two weeks, each with its own theme.

Why do we love musicals? What is their allure for so many? Thom Allison, the gifted curator and director of You Can’t Stop The Beat—The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre and his exemplary cast, explain it all for us in words and songs.

Musicals have provided a magic world in which our imaginations can soar. When there were years of war and strife, depression and hard times, there was the musical with its up-beat story, cheering us, getting us to move on and be resilient. The musical can deal with difficult subjects and engage the audience, often better than straight plays can. Enduring musicals have dealt with such tough subjects as: racism and intolerance (South Pacific), xenophobia (Oklahoma), wife-beating (Carousel), racial intolerance (The King and I) and the rise of Nazism in Germany etc. (Cabaret).

Any good musical sets the tone and atmosphere in the first five minutes and You Can’t Stop The Beat is no different. The sassy, classy cast of Alana Hibbert, Gabrielle Jones, Evangelia Kambites and Mark Uhre establish the pulse and throb of the endeavor with their rousing singing of “Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story. Starting slowly but barely containing the pent-up energy of the song, they then explode into full throttle, each with their own body language that moves the song.

In the world of imagination, one might say that Don Quixote was delusional, lost in his own muddled thoughts. But you would be hard-pressed to believe that after hearing Mark Uhre sing “I, Don Quixote” from Man of La Mancha with such conviction and vigor.

Love gets great representation in the world of the musical—all those sweeping chords and heart squeezing words. Thom Allison  has created a medley of love songs in which the cast shine in their own way: “Twin Soliloquies” from South Pacific sung beautifully by Alana Hibbert and Gabrielle Jones, “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma sung by the whole cast, “If I Loved You” from Carousel with Mark Uhre doing the honours, “Mr. Snow” from Carousel  sung beautifully by Evangelia Kambites.

Musicals and Merman naturally go together. Gabrielle Jones does an impressive impression of how Ethel Merman might have started off singing “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes—full-voiced and unvarying in the force of it. Fortunately, Jones eased into singing the rest of the song, in her own powerful style but with shading and variation.

There is a constant flow of easy banter between the cast as they tease, chide and josh each other. Gabrielle Jones is reminded “Gab we cut that part.” And she replying “But I put it back in ‘cause I wanted a bigger break before my next song.” They are attentive to each other when they sing and listen and that makes the audience do the same.

Thom Allison introduces the sobering nature of musicals by including “Suppertime” from As Thousands Cheer (1933) written by Irving Berlin. The song is sung by a mother who struggles with how she will tell her children that their father and her husband will not be coming home because he was lynched by a racist mob. Alana Hibbert was heartbreaking and tender singing that song. Do we listen to the song in a different way because a white composer/lyricist wrote it for a Black character? Is this cultural appropriation or a gifted musical creator who can express the heartache and inner life of a character that we can all experience? I am glad of the questions.

“Suppertime” provided a natural way into exploring the serious nature of musicals, looking at flawed, damaged, raging and troubled characters. And nobody covers that territory better than Stephen Sondheim.  We have the plucky, darkly funny “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd sung with impish style by Mark Uhre and Gabrielle Jones about the variations one can bake into a meat pie; the company sings “The Little Things We Do Together” from Company itemizing the good and annoying things that make a relationship; Evangelia Kambites does a masterful job of “Getting Married Today,” from Company breathlessly and frantically explaining why she won’t be getting married today. And in a wonderful change of pace, Thom Allison throws a stunning curve ball by having Mark Uhre sing “Could I Leave You” from Follies, a song usually sung by a woman whose marriage is failing. Mark Uhre sings it with biting emotion and cool contempt. It makes us listen to that song in a different way but it leads to the same conclusion. Loved that curve ball.

This wonderful, joyous, thoughtful concert concludes with the cast singing the anthem-like song “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray in which you also can’t stop tapping your toe thanks to the music, the cast and the solid band.  

You Can’t Stop The Beat—The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre plays at the Stratford Festival until July 31, 2021.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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On line—on Demand- from the Hamilton Fringe Festival until July 25, 2021.

Written/directed by Steven Griffen

Lighting by Nathan Bruce

Cast: Gwen Gorman

Megan Legesse

Tom Lute

The described premise of the play is so intriguing: “An ambitious reporter. A crumbling news station. A dream interview. A destructive secret that threatens it all!…Black Deer in Blizzard is a story exploring trust, ambition, truth and what we’re willing to do to achieve our dreams.”

Beverley Campbell has been toiling at the poky little news station in this poking little town for five years, but dreams of getting hired by CNN and moving to New York City. She thinks her time to move up might be established by an interview she will have with a reclusive but celebrated young artist. But things are not what they seem. Does she act with integrity and cancel the interview and cancel her chances for CNN? Or does she act ruthlessly and go ahead? Her colleague Tim, the Station Manager, always went for the truth. Tim and Beverley are at odds. Who will win?

Playwright Steven Griffen has created a fascinating premise for a play with lots to chew over regarding integrity, the news, ambition and truth in spite of the many holes in the story and the execution of the production: the stakes are not high with Beverley’s decisions because it’s obvious from Griffen’s writing of her character, that she’s a mediocre reporter and a weak interviewer and would never be hired by CNN; Tim leaves in disgust so one wonders who is filming the interview if there were only the two of them at the station. Still, the premise leaves one to ponder larger issues outside of this play.  

Produced by Fly the Nest Productions.

Plays at the Hamilton Fringe until July 25.

boxoffice@hamiltonfringe.ca

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Performed live and in person under the canopy at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Curated and directed by Marcus Nance

Music Director, Franklin Brasz

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Peter McBoyle

The Singers: Neema Bickersteth

Robert Markus

Marcus Nance

Vanessa Sears

The Band: Franklin Brasz (conductor/keyboard)

Kevin Ramessar (acoustic guitar, electric guitar)

Jon Maharaj (acoustic bass, electric bass)

Dale-Anne Brendon (drum kit)

Why We Tell The Story: A Celebration of Musical Theatre is the first of five different cabarets that will celebrate music, song, lyrics and resilience that are performed outdoors under the canopy at the Festival theatre. I love that this show, the first of the 2021 rebounding Stratford Festival, officially opened on Tuesday, July 13, 68 years to the day that the Stratford Festival opened in 1953 under a tent. Love that symmetry.

Why We Tell The Story: A Celebration of Black Musical Theatre is curated and directed by Marcus Nance. In his gracious, open-hearted program note Marcus Nance writes: “The songs and poems you are about to hear, written by Black artists and allies, all speak to the Black experience. Black stories, Black history, the experiences of my parents, those of my ancestors and most importantly my own personal experiences have always been part of my creative instinct. Now that I have the opportunity to tell this chapter, I couldn’t think of doing it without including others….I hold great admiration for the extraordinary Black artists and allies with whom I share the telling of these stories, on this stage.”

Marcus Nance shares the stage with these gifted artists: Neema Bickersteth, Robert Markus and Vanessa Sears.

The show is composed of poems from Black poets such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, and songs from various Broadway musicals that would have been sung by black artists and allies. I appreciate the inclusive embrace of Marcus Nance regarding ‘allies’, white composers, lyricists and performers in tune with and sensitive to the Black experience. I am grateful to Marcus Nance for his generosity and sense of inclusion of all voices in this endeavor. Poets Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou are Black and write about that experience in such poems in the show as: “I, Too,” “Democracy,” “The Negro Mother, “I Dream A World,” “As I Grew Older” all by Langston Hughes; “Human Family” and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.  Many of the composers and lyricists of the musicals selected were Black telling their stories: Fats Waller, Andy Razaf and Harry Brooks, who wrote “Black and Blue” which is part of the score of Ain’t Misbehavin, Lebohang “Lebo M” Morake, one of the creators of the glorious song “They Live in You” from The Lion King, Charlie Smalls who wrote “Home” from The Wiz, Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray who are part of the composers/lyricists who wrote the stirring ‘anthem’, “I’m Here” from The Colour Purple.

Nance also includes the work of white composer/lyricists who illuminate the black experience in their work: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Once on this Island), George and Ira Gershwin (Porgy and Bess), Cy Coleman (The Life), Roger Miller (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Georges Bizet and Oscar Hammerstein II (Carmen Jones), David Bryan and Joe DiPietro (Memphis) Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II (Show Boat) for example. In our changing world, do we listen differently to these songs because of who composed them? Do we embrace the story? Marcus Nance got me thinking about all of it.   

The whole enterprise was a terrific adventure. Marcus Nance opened the cabaret with a stirring reading of Langston Hughes poem “I, Too.” It’s a poem of hope, inspiration, and delicate, but firm instruction, to those with blinkered vision. This is one of the stanzas:

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes,

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.”

While the theme of the evening is the idea of “home” and the power of love and the human heart, Nance reading the poem in his resonant baritone voice set the tone—one of pride, patience, perception and resilience. The cabaret is divided into telling sections: Life, Pain, Family, Faith, Love, Hope and You. That last, You, includes the audience in the journey of telling the story. Each one of the 27 songs in the Cabaret forwards the various themes. Each singer gets to shine in his/her own way.

Neema Bickersteth sings a glorious rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Vanessa Sears is world weary and hilarious singing “the Oldest Profession, from The Life. Robert Markus sings an impassioned version of “Change Don’t Come Easy, from Memphis about changing intolerant ways of thinking. Marcus Nance shows his comedic chops when he sings “Big Black Man” from The Full Monty when the only Black character in the show perceptively tells of his powers with women, and he does it with ease. When the quartet melds in such songs as “They Live In You” from The Lion King or “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime or “Why We Tell The Story” from Once on this Island their voices blend seamlessly, the result is soul-stirring.

As I said, it was a terrific adventure because ‘Mother Nature’ got involved. Neema Bickersteth was singing “Dat’s Love” from Carmen Jones—a modern version of Bizet’s opera, Carmen. I saw in the distance, a dark ‘wall’ quickly rolling towards the canopy. And then the rain clouds opened and sent a torrent of rain pelting down on the canopy so forceful and violent it sounded like the end of the world. The pelting reminded me of the ‘old’ Tom Patterson Theatre with its uninsulated roof and the banging of the rain.

That torrent on the canopy canvas could not overpower Neema Bickersteth’s singing. She stared down ‘Mother Nature’ and smiled and kept on singing, the sound rising up to meet the rain. Fearless. Nobody moved while they listened to her intently. A glorious adventure.

Why We Tell The Story: A Celebration of Black Musical Theatre plays at the Stratford Festival, under a canopy at the Festival Theater until July 21.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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