The Man Behind the Curtain is a hard show to review. Inspired by magic, the show is cramped, unpredictable, and uncomfortable, but it’s also fast-paced, hilarious, and intense.

The venue is set up in the apartment of co-writer and director Sam Jameson. Anyone who feels squeamish about attending a performance in someone’s home is missing out on a great show. Productions Presents describes the show as:

“A series of fantastical vignettes that are all tied together by the theme of magic… The show consists of the performance itself, the physical space around you, and the how the physical space changes over the course of the show. “

The Man Behind the Curtain stars Erik Leisinger and is directed by Sam Jameson who met on themet on the set of Glam Gam’s Fringe Production, Peter Pansexual, when Sam was director and Erik was a performer. They worked together again last year on Glam Gam’s Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story – currently the highest grossing Fringe play of all time.

In 2018, Jameson and Leisinger founded Productions Presents, a company for the work they produce together. When I had the chance to speak to them, the question on my mind was whether Jameson or Leisinger were actually magicians, given the show’s magic theme.

“Neither Sam or Erik are professional magicians, and quite frankly can’t really do magic to save their lives. Fortunately, Erik Leisinger’s childhood friend, Erin the Magician is a hotshot magician from the west coast and has helped us throughout the process.”

You will see magic tricks in this show, but they’re nothing spectacular, and as a viewer, you really won’t care because you’ll be too busy laughing. Unlike the classic theatre setup where audience and performance spaces are separate and distinct, The Man Behind the Curtain is immersive theatre, a type of show where “the entire performance area is a part of the show, and the audience has far more freedom to interact with the performance environment and the performers themselves.”

As audience members you won’t be picked on by the performers, but you will be expected to participate a little. That said, the venue has extremely limited space, with a maximum capacity of ten people.

Shows are often sold out so get your tickets in advance. You won’t be disappointed!

The Man Behind the Curtain runs through June 15. Tickets available at montrealfringe.ca

Spurt of Blood is NOT production for the faint of heart. It will make you uncomfortable physically and psychologically, but if you can tough it out I guarantee you a theatrical experience like you’ve never had before.

I had a chance to speak to Director Marissa Blair about what audiences should expect. She informed me that they are active participants as well as observers.

The layout of the performance is not your typical theatre layout. The audience is brought into a room with an oval of chairs surrounding the stage area, with only a couple of gaps to allow the cast in.

Each audience member is handed an LED light and instructed to turn on the light and swirl it above their heads if they decide they want to leave. Should they decide to do so, there will be no re-admittance and no refunds.

Disclaimers out of the way, the stage area’s only door is sealed with black duct tape and the lights are dimmed.

Spurt of Blood was written by philosopher Antonin Artaud when he was developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.

“The show is what Theatre of Cruelty calls for, an attack on the senses. It is aggressive, and I take some risk in creating sensations – the Cruelty is the body’s necessary response. An audience member will hear, see, smell, feel, and possibly taste. It’s primal, and very effective.”

True to what Blair said, it IS an attack on the senses. Audiences are left in the dark half the time, with only flashlights, lit matches, or video projectors allowing us to see what’s going on.

You’ll hear recordings of music, and of noise. You’ll see images and videos projected onto the ceiling. And you’ll hear a variety of languages from French to English to Dutch and some you may not recognize.

There will also be riveting performances; Kathy Slamen was particularly powerful as the spotlight illuminated her harrowing tale of being diagnosed with cancer. Later in the show, she sang along to The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again with the vocal prowess that would make Annie Lennox proud. Tofunmi Famotibe was beautiful as the joyful, dancing seductress in a red dress.

Some performances will make viewers uncomfortable. Jeroen Lindeman was so effectively creepy, his performance led to a couple of viewers raising their LEDs. He remained perfectly still as the lights went on so they could be led out of the room, before it was re-sealed, the lights dimmed, and the show went on.

Marissa Blair warned me that audiences should expect to be splattered with non-toxic washable stage blood, purchased from a small company in Chicago, Illinois. What she didn’t say is that the venue only has one bathroom, and the blood is VERY sticky – “a wonderful sensorial experience!” but only if you like being covered in syrup.

Some audience members – myself included – embraced being sprayed with blood, for in the moment it feels great and you truly feel part of what’s going on. Unfortunately with nowhere to clean off after the show, those considering seeing it should invest in a pack of wet wipes or pray that it’s raining when you’re out of the venue.

I had sticky fake blood in my hair, on my clothes, and all over my hands and arms. I marched straight from the theatre to the nearest shower as fast as I could.

What the author’s notebook looked like after the show

Though the massive spurts of blood were a truly climatic moment, the show continued, something I felt was unnecessary. The spraying blood was so powerful why not end on a high note?

That said, I had no idea what to expect when I went into Spurt of Blood, and I found myself enjoying the mindf*ck it gave me. If you’re afraid of the dark or squeamish around blood, don’t see this show. But if you’re feeling brave, and you have a raincoat and wet wipes, check it out!

Just don’t wear white.

Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood plays at the Montreal Fringe until June 15. Tickets and info: montrealfringe.ca

Photos by Samantha Gold

The Montreal Fringe Festival is a festival for the underdogs. As Fringe Spokesperson and Board President Helene Simard said at the festival launch, Fringe is a place for people who want to put on a show but have always been told “no”. Whether you’re a female artist, an artist of colour, a non-binary artist, or on an LGBTQI artist, “Fringe always has room for you.”

The Montreal Fringe Festival is huge, with hundreds of artists putting on shows from May 27th to June 17th. With so many shows to choose from, it’s hard to pick what to see.

One way to choose is to go to Fringe for All, an event that takes place on opening night of the Festival. At this event, anyone with a show at the Fringe can take the stage for two minutes to give prospective audiences a taste of what their show is about.

It’s an endurance test, as some of the snippets you see confirm every negative stereotype about independent theatre. But if you’re willing to tough it out, you’re going to find some real gems.

I’m here to help. Below you’ll find some of my pics for the best shows at Montreal Fringe 2019. Please note that I have tried to offer recommendations in a variety of genres and languages.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

There is something inherently funny about a cutesy character behaving like an awful human being, and if the snippet I saw is any indication, the R’Iyeh Theater Company’s Why Are You Afraid of Clowns? is going to be a blast.

A man came on stage in a clown costume with a blanket over his head, screaming angrily. Then he pulled off the blanket, revealing a clown wig and red nose, handed an audience member an apple, and pulled out an axe.

It was short but hilarious, and by far the best snippet of the night.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

Les Plaisirs Interdits

Some of the best comedy is about contrast, and like my last recommendation, Productions Belle Lurette’s Plaisirs Interdits offers just that.

The characters presented were prim and proper and in period costumes– a nun, a priest, a maid, and a very conservatively dressed upper crust man and woman. I was about to roll my eyes… and then they opened their mouths, and what came out was a slew of hilariously lascivious songs about sex and sexuality.

It’s a French language production, so if you have a poor grasp of the language you might not get all the jokes, but if you can manage, check it out!

House of Laureen Presents: Mx. Queerdo MTL

If you love drag, you need to check out Mx. Queerdo. Presented by House of Laureen, a Montreal-based drag family. The show stars Uma Gahd, and is all about a pageant, Mx. Queerdo.

If the snippet I saw is any indication, it’s going to be a blast!

Re-Imagined

I’m not much into dance shows, but if I were to see one at Montreal Fringe, it would be Eva Kolarova Danse’s show Re-Imagined. The twenty-five-minute show explores loneliness and relationships with contemporary dance.

Their two-minute bit at Fringe for All featured a dance at once graceful and erotic, portraying without words the complexity of human relationships.

Happy-Ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling

In the era of so much anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec, Happy-Ish is a show worth seeing. Vadim Gran’s solo storytelling show is about a Russian immigrant trying to navigate life in Canada.

The bit I saw featured an angry bearded Russian man holding a smiley balloon while trying to smile to make himself more approachable… And failing spectacularly. It was hilarious and a good indication of things to come.

Opera Reviens-Moi

One thing Fringe heavily encourages is seeing a kind of show you never have before and opera is certainly outside the box for many.

Though the art form has a reputation for being more for rich old people, the snippet of Opera Reviens-Moi I saw was approachable and funny, and the actors certainly have the pipes befitting the genre. It looks to be a marriage of the classical and modern and a good way to introduce people to opera.

Fairy Fails

Fairy Fails is the story of a fairy who can’t fly. Starring House of Laureen’s Dot Dot Dot, it looks to be a treat for anyone who loves glitter, twinkles, twirls, and fairies.

A Brief History of Time

This play specializes in presenting complex concepts in a simplified, approachable format. Their presentation at Fringe for All used a variety of toys and props to explain astrophysics.

If you’re interested in the unknown but don’t feel like opening a book, check out A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.

L’Appel du Vide

Anyone who ever went through a witch phase in high school will want to check out L’Appel du Vide. It’s the story of a grieving witch who decides to perform a ritual to bring about the end of the world.

It looks hilarious and the bit I saw told me it will have all the theatrics a witch story needs.

L’Appel du Vide

The Aventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca

Following a successful award-nominated show last year, Philo 14 is back with an English sequel to their French language puppet show Les Aventures de Humphrey Beauregret.

The theatrics in The Adventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca seem to have been taken up a notch, but the drama and humour and puppets are still there, proving that puppets aren’t just for kids.

Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood

Director Marissa Blair assures you that there will be blood in Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood, but it’s blood that will wash out. An immersive theatrical experience featuring a cast of characters as interesting as they are creepy, it’s play written by philosopher Antonin Artaud while developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.

Though the snippet at Fringe for All was mostly disclaimers about the kind of blood in the show, it looks to be a sure thing for people wanting something a little different.

The 2019 Montreal Fringe Festival runs May 27-June 19. Full Schedule: MontrealFringe.ca

Featured Image via Montreal Fringe on Facebook