fringe 2016

It’s approaching that time of year, where Saint Laurent Boulevard gets shut down, the theatre folk flock and it’s officially Fringe Festival. Each year Fringe comes by and there are an over-whelming amount of shows to go to. From drag shows to theatre to music to puppetry to burlesque, it’s hard to know where to go with a bevy of great options to choose from. But do not fret my friends because I’m here to narrow down your fringe choices to the best of the best. That way you can spend your cold hard cash on good shows and good times (by which I mean beer).

Here are my OFFICIAL recommendations of what you should check out at this year’s Montreal Fringe Festival:

Bedrock Burlesque

What’s that I hear? All your favorite characters from The Flintstones have come back with a little more bump n’ grind! Sitcom Burlesque takes you back ALL THE WAY!

We all know and love Bedrock, but what happens when the lights go out? Join all your favorite characters for a night of misadventure, music, dance and, of course, Burlesque. Think strip-tease with pterodactyl wings. It’ll have you shouting YABBA DABBA BOOOOOOOBS!!!  (Please Note: The author of this piece is part of the team putting on this show, but then again, who wouldn’t want to be) (tickets)

Grit 'n Gusto_Photo2_Fringe2016Messy Bitch

I personally love any show that’s telling me to drink whiskey and become my inner bitchy self (pretty sure I’m already there). That’s exactly what Jessica Rae does in her one woman show Messy Bitch.

Featuring humour, sass and two disturbing puppets, Messy Bitch is a 30 minute storytelling adventure about learning to give #zerofucks.

So grab yourself a bottle of whiskey, put your bitch face and join Jessica Rae in an extremely messy and all out ridiculous show. You won’t regret it. (tickets)

Sexpectations

Do you like to be confused, aroused and a little bit taken aback? Then this is the show you definitely want to go see. Five-time Fringe performer, Maxine Segalowitz is not only the human behind PHACHINAH but also probably one of the silliest performers you’ll ever witness.

Find out what exactly her first one-woman show has in store with a whole cast of different character every night. That’s right folks, you might just be in it. (tickets)

House of Laureen: Backdoor Queens

The drag house that brought you Laureen: Queen of the Tundra is back and ready to take you behind the scenes. Enter through the backdoor and discover the secrets of all that’s hidden in the wondrous world of drag. Leave your misconceptions at home and join these queens in a night of pure and utter naughtiness. (tickets)

The Mysteries of the Unseen World of the Clavis Argentum

Think dark theatre, magic, live music and all that you’ve been waiting for…. burlesque. The Mystical order of the Clavis Argentum is ready to envelope you into it’s world of secrecy. There’s a lot of surprises in this show brought to you by Jimmy Phule and Matt Risk. Prepare to be confronted and maybe a little disturbed. (tickets)

Ladies Advice For Ladies

ladies advice for ladies fringe

Are you a lady? Are you a gentleman? Are you none of the above/all of the above? Whatever the case come on down to witness the epicness that is Cafe O’Lait Cabaret. Ladies Advice for Ladies is a satirical cabaret for ladies, gentlemen and all who are both or neither. Brought to you by Marianne Trenka, Tessa J. Brown and Kendall Savage you’ll be in for a treat that has more surprises than you’re prepared for. (tickets)

Well there you have it folks, those are my backstage recommendations to all the goodies of Fringe. So grab yourself a beer (or ten) and find out just what this year’s Fringe Festival has in store for you. The mayhem awaits you…

Full schedule at montrealfringe.ca

Boom finals-59 (Photo Credit Paul Lampert)

The sign of any good show is when time flies by and you’re left wanting more. It’s even more impressive when a single performer is able to pull off this feat. With his new one-man play BOOM, native Montrealer Rick Miller charms and delights with his tribute to the baby boomer generation.

Guiding the audience through 25 years of baby boomer history, the chief way that Miller grabs your attention is his voice. He is simply put, a master of impressions. One moment he’s graciously welcoming the audience as himself. The next moment he’s transformed into his own mother recounting her days growing up in rural Ontario. The next he’s Elvis Presley. This idea may seem strange when you read it online, but live in the darkened theater, you see how each character comes alive and flows into the next seamlessly.

The stories are also key to BOOM’s success. Miller weaves personal stories of his family and friends who were alive at the time,with key moments in world history. This approach allows audience members of any age to appreciate the performance. Older people can relate to the stories presented, while younger audience members can learn what it was like to grow up at that time. For instance, this millennial never thought about how many baby boomer’s parents were alcoholics as a way of dealing with the emotional stress of living through the depression and Second World War.

Finally, BOOM wouldn’t be able to truly be the successful show that it is without its props. With one prop and a simple lighting cue, Miller transforms from a Russian soldier to Winston Churchill to Buddy Holly. Major kudos have to be given to lighting designer Bruno Matte on this production. Add the occasional vintage ad, scrapbook photo and present day video, and you have one man who over the course of 100 minutes brings an entire generation to life.

BOOM plays at the Segal Center until April 10th

* Photo Paul Lampert via Segal Centre website

alan rickman 2

Thursday we got news of the passing of theatre and film legend Alan Rickman, just days after fellow Brit artist David Bowie lost his battle with cancer, Rickman succumbed to the disease at the same age, 69.

The internet was flooded once again with tributes, condolences, anecdotes and information on lesser-known parts of Rickman’s legacy.

Emma Watson, one of his Harry Potter co-stars, tweeted about how sad she was to hear he had passed and how lucky she was to have met and worked with him. She also tweeted some of his quotes, including one on feminism:

That didn’t sit well with some who took to Twitter to argue that Watson was somehow exploiting Rickman’s death to push her own agenda. While these people are clearly trolls, they also don’t know Alan Rickman as much as they may think. He was a very mainstream movie star, but he was also quite vocal about his progressive politics.

Die Hard with a Social Conscience

For most people, Alan Rickman was and will always be Snape in the Harry Potter films. For me, though, he will always be Hans Gruber, the German leader of a group of high-tech thieves masquerading as terrorists in the original Die Hard (not going to say spoiler alert on a movie released in 1988).

This was also Rickman’s introduction to Hollywood film acting. At age 41, he was already an established stage actor and agreed to play Gruber for one main reason, which I first learned about yesterday: the film’s treatment of its black characters:

“Every single black character in that film is positive and highly intelligent. So, 28 years ago, that’s quite revolutionary, and quietly so.”
– Alan Rickman in The Guardian

Playing Gruber turned Rickman into a movie star, but becoming top Hollywood talent didn’t turn off his desire to do things artistically for the right reason, even if it meant not playing it safe career-wise. This became crystal clear in 2005.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

American-born Rachel Corrie travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2003 as part of the International Solidarity Movement. The 23-year-old was there to protest Israel’s illegal demolition of Palestinian houses. An Israeli soldier ran over her with an American-made bulldozer, killing her.

Two years later, Rickman and Katharine Viner, a writer and editor at The Guardian (now its editor-in-chief) compiled writings in Corrie’s diary and emails she sent back home to the states and turned them into a one-woman play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, which Rickman directed. It was a success when it first opened in England at London’s Royal Court Theatre and in other places including Haifa.

The New York Theatre Workshop had planned to stage the US premier of the play Off Broadway, but “postponed” it after pressure from Zionist groups. Rickman didn’t accept that and got quite vocal in the media:

“Calling this production ‘postponed’ does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled. This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences — all of us are the losers…Rachel Corrie lived in nobody’s pocket but her own. Whether one is sympathetic with her or not, her voice is like a clarion in the fog and should be heard.”
-Alan Rickman

alan rickman rachel corrieRickman and Viner, with support from Rachel’s parents Craig and Cindy Corrie, coordinated a global series of readings called Rachel’s Words. Full disclosure, I was part of the Montreal event which combined readings of Corrie’s emails and diary entries with a verbatim theatre retelling of what happened with the New York production.

My Name is Rachel Corrie did eventually open in New York properly in 2006 at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. It also ran in Montreal presented by Teesri Duniya in 2007 and the same production moved to Vancouver in 2008. It is still being performed around the world, the most recent staging happening in 2015.

Now think about this for a moment. The whole time that Rickman was busy editing, directing and eventually fighting for a play that he believed in by standing up for both a work of art and Palestinian solidarity, something that could cause him problems with some potential audiences, he was also starring in and doing promo for uber-mainstream Harry Potter blockbusters.

Talk about multitasking. Talk about dedication to a cause no matter what else is going on in your life. Rickman embraced his celebrity status but didn’t let it prevent him from doing the work he knew needed to be done.

While most will remember Snape, Gruber and his other unforgettable roles, it is important to also remember Alan Rickman’s work on My Name is Rachel Corrie and the fact that he was a man of principle who brought his progressive beliefs to his work. That’s what he would want us to remember.

RIP Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

Aftermath. by Andrea Dworkin. presented by Waterworks Theatre, Montreal.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Andrea Dworkin’s death. On September 26th, 2015 she would have been 69 years old. Opening on September 17th and running until the 27th, Montreal Theatre company Waterworks will be presenting a world premier full staging performance of Aftermath.

Based on a text written by Andrea Dworkin after her drug-rape in Paris in 1999. Her life partner, well known author and activist John Stoltenberg, found the original document on her computer.

“…what I discovered was a 24,000-word autobiographical essay, composed in twelve impassioned sections, as powerful and beautifully written as anything Andrea ever wrote. It was searingly personal, fierce and irreverent, mordantly witty, emotionally raw. It was also clearly not a draft; it was finished, polished as if for publication.”

The piece was edited and cut in half to about 90 minutes and directed by Stoltenberg and Dworkin’s longtime friend and collaborator Adam Thorburn. It was performed as a staged reading in New York by Maria Silverman in May of 2014. “At each step in putting this theater project together, I have wished I could talk with Andrea about it. I would want to tell her how the words she showed no one are now reaching and affecting audiences in live performance,” Stoltenberg writes.

The Montreal production is being directed by Waterworks artistic directors Tracey Houston and Rob Langford and being performed by Montreal actor Helena Levitt as Dworkin.

We’ve heard of this type of story before, more recently with the Bill Cosby allegations and Jian Ghomeshi spectacle where the victim’s creditability was brought into question. “If she can’t remember everything, then maybe it didn’t happen.” It was so long ago, maybe she’s a little sketchy on the details” ad infinitum.

In the text, Dworkin refers to the drug Rohypnol and GBH. “This isn’t an aspirin in your drink. It’s not like getting drunk. It’s not like getting high. This is so easy for the boy. This is so simple for the boy. This is foolproof rape. The gang who can’t shoot straight can do this kind of rape. You can do this hundreds of times with virtually no chance of getting caught. I think how easy this evil is to do.” She goes on to describe how powerless one is to fight back from this kind of rape even after the fact, when there is no memory to report or very little if any evidence left behind.

Aftermath is a very passionate, personal account of Dworkin’s life, family, work and thought process that very few people not familiar with her writings have yet to see or be aware of. Stoltenberg explains, “[Dworkin’s] stirring writing ranges dramatically over many themes—her aspirations when she was young, her erotic and romantic relationships, the marriage in which she was battered, her understanding of the connection between Jews and women, her take on President Clinton’s behavior, her deep commitment to helping women, her critique of women who betray women. And the fact that Aftermath is acted means audiences get to hear an emotional dimensionality in Andrea’s voice that in life she shared only with me and her closest friends—trenchant and oracular, as the public knew her, but also tender, sardonic, sorrowful, vulnerable, funny.”

Rob Langford and Tracey Houston, founders of Montreal’s The Waterworks Company (Palace of the End, Gidion’s Knot, Glory Dazed), a troupe committed to staging the best of contemporary playwriting by women, found out about Aftermath last year from Stoltenberg’s Twitter feed, Langford contacted Stoltenberg, proposing to give Aftermath its first full staging here in Montreal.

Aftermath runs September 17th to 27th, 2015, at the Centre culturel Georges-Vanier, 2450 Workman, Little Burgundy, a couple of blocks northeast of the Atwater Market. METRO: Lionel- Groulx.

A special première takes place on September 17th at 8pm; the show runs over the next two weekends Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm. Post-show talkbacks, with special guests, will take place throughout the first weekend.

Admission is $18 / $13 (buyer chooses price). Tickets are available, via Eventbrite, 
at waterworksmontreal.com, or at the door.

Nuclear Sky- The Experiment, Title 66- G. Jain 1-2

As part of the Printemps Numerique 2015, Title 66, the production company that brought Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil to the International Fantasia Film Festival to high acclaim, gave a limited run of their new piece Nuclear Sky: The Experiment at the Theatre Rouge du Conservatoire d’art dramatic de Montréal. I broke my self-imposed thesis isolation for an unforgettable evening of what turned out to be bold and innovative theatre.

Title 66 is a non-profit organization whose mandate is “to create innovative theatre by blending raw performances and striking aesthetics; evoking a stylized texture of the human experience.” That is exactly what they provided with Nuclear Sky. A week has passed and still images and songs from the show still reverberate in my thoughts.

Nuclear Sky, co-directed by Jeremy Michael Segal and Logan Williams, used Mother Courage and her Children by Brecht as a skeleton to build upon to which cast and crew added automatic writings as well as quotes and references from various essays and works of pop culture.

The set design was at once minimal but rendered dynamic by the use of projections and lighting and the reverberation of sound. Props were few – a giant black box standing in for a wagon – and the use of giant titles across the back were striking.

“Brecht’s play is set distinctly during war, with not one scene depicting killing or violence in the name of warfare,” writes Williams in the program. To bring the piece into conversation with contemporary realities, Nuclear Sky seeks to highlight the disconnect and distortion of experiences of war for those who know it solely through distorted media and narcissistic, almost pathological, use of social media.11201017_1008247122528087_3067619711538154452_o

“We were inspired by the archetypal nature of the characters and war itself: Filif (the soldier), Swiss Cheese (the child) and Kattrin (the woman),” dramateurg Gabriela Saltiel describes, “taking a page from Brecht, we elected to tell the story of these characters’ journey through a wasteland, depicting the effects of violent action on the types they each represent rather than approaching them as distinct individuals.”

Segal highlights the changes in the ways technologies have shaped the way we KNOW as well as what we know and the radical role theatre can have in this context: “Live performance inherently provides much of what we crave as social creatures that has been clicked away in the technological world: an extended experience in the immediate physical presence of others; a ritualistic gathering of society.”

“With this show,” Segal explains, “we aimed to extend the madness of the 21st century into a hyperreal world in which nature no longer exist; war is as ubiquitous as technology; and human connection has all but ceased.”

Standout performances include that of Arielle Palik who plays the mute daughter, Kattrin, and Gitanjali Jain, who plays the Mother, who must bear the wounds of war. To command such presence without words is a strong testament to the power of well wielded kinesics and to perform such unabashed devastation is to channel something fearless. It is the more nuanced messages within the play that resonate the loudest, the soliloquies of the automaton guards, clad in black and nameless, confessing their innards as they struggle against them.

If there is one criticism for this ambitious undertaking is that at times it is heavy handed on the messaging – although this is fitting with a Brechtian approach. There is a distinct fearless youthfulness to the play that drives its energy. That being said, from a critical perspective,  there may be need of further reflection and nuances at certain points of the piece to make sure that Nuclear Sky does not fall into the act of “playing war” or “playing dystopia” for precisely the reason of not having known war – the issue it is trying to highlight.

Dystopia is often used to highlight and criticize social phenomena by making the familiar unfamiliar. However, these sort of works often overlook the very fact that the dystopia they depict is lived realities for thousands and that the audience itself may be complicit in the production of these conditions. Nuclear Sky, at times, teeters on the level of its critique.

What Title 66 accomplished was pointedly breathtaking and boundary pushing. Using a potent blend of simple theatrical elements, allowing experimentation, sleek costume and set design, with technology ingenuity and artistry – Nuclear Sky signals the arrival of a new wave of theatre.

Shirley-Gnome-923x1024

Spoiler alert: Shirley Gnome is not mature, and she likes it that way.

This feisty musical comedienne from Vancouver makes her second appearance at the Montreal Fringe with a whole new set of songs to make you blush. This show is most definitely not for the prude or faint of heart. Gnome makes that abundantly clear when within the first two minutes of her show she’s singing a song about glitter in her pussy. “I took a peek underneath, what did I find/mystery glitter where the sun don’t shine.”

But don’t let that scare you off from buying a ticket. First off, the lady can sing. Her impressive singing chops are easily worth the price of admission alone. Even if she puts those vocal talents to use singing about dicks and things falling out of her vagina.

As the show progresses you start to realize that in between the ridiculousness are serious issues like the pain of denial, a broken heart, and gender equality. “You don’t need to buy me a meal or a drink to fuck me/no you never need to spend a dime/ to get your sexy vagina time/Instead if you could insist in your daily life/in any way that you can/to work towards a world where a woman gets paid the same as a man.”

It’s then you realize realize writing Gnome off as a frivolous Fringe act would be a mistake. Instead this sexually adventurous lady forces the audience to think about all the raw, emotional pain that comes from sexual relationships and realizes it’s mostly bullshit. Life is so much more fun when we can laugh through it, take a swig from a sparkly flask and move on.

Shirley Gnome: Real Mature plays at Le petit campus until June 21st. Tickets and info available on the Montreal Fringe website

tauberbach FTA

“Stay in control,” a distorted voice tells you time again throughout the 85-minute Tauberbach, brought to the Monument National theatre by the Festival Transamériques (FTA) for two nights of packed houses. It’s the kind of show that can only emerge from the lavishly state-funded alternate universe otherwise known as Northern Europe.

The German-Belgian dance theatre company Les Ballets C de la B, helmed by luminary director Alain Platel, is a major player in a part of the world that can afford to give a troupe of dancers three uninterrupted months to produce a piece collaboratively, and end up touring the world with a rider that includes 3000 kilograms of mass-produced clothing.

Strewn over the stage in piles from which Platel’s seven dancers emerge (and into which they disappear to comic effect), the three tons (yes, tons) of clothes become the props, set, and habitat for actress Elsie de Brauw and her six acolytes to play with. Teasing the audience with repeated scenes of decadent non-language (like that pan-cultural idiom that Cirque du Soleil clowns speak in, but more intelligible), the athletic characters combine and disperse in a world so artificial that their bodies seem to melt into the polyester. Often employing cinematic techniques of otherwise “cheesy” slow-motion or rewound gestures, the dancers transfix you as they play on a mobile heap of Apocalypse Apparel.

4_tauberbach_cr_chris_van_der_burght_7056“I did not shit this house / There are no more innocent people. There are only wise guys in reverse,” De Brauw’s garbage-picking crone Estamira intones. So this, in a world where refugees to Europe are drowned at sea like so much jetsam, where landfills are so overflowing that ships of garbage are sent to poor countries to handle the overflow, is meant to tell us that we are complicit in Estamira’s material oppression. We are sucked into the performers’ often slapstick physical comedy and then rebuffed by scenes that seem unnecessary or excessive: the artifice and violence of this filthy world – that is only symbolically filthy – appeals to the child within us while repelling our anal-retentive adult tastes.

Tauberbach is the opposite of the nicely arranged electronic music that so often accompanies contemporary dance; it is an indictment against the empty black (or white) stage with a lap-top on it. “What a blessing nothing grows,” we are told by the Beckett-like main character. If only we could say that of the extravagant quantities of man-made waste we dump into forests and oceans. Alas, no: the natural world recedes and the garbage keeps growing. And we dance in its wake.

Belonging to the generation of 80s legends that redefined “maximalist” choreography (Jan Fabre, Caterina Sagna, Carolyn Carlson, and the late Pina Bausch), Platel is a wizard of uncanny juxtapositions. While his last envoy to the FTA, Gardenia (2011), was an episodic character study of seven geriatric drag artists, Tauberbach takes inspiration from two artworks far removed from the realm of contemporary Tanztheater: Brazilian director Marcos Prado’s Estamira, about a middle-aged woman and her entourage who eek a living off a garbage dump, and Polish interdisciplinary artist Arthur Zmijewski’s film Singing Lesson 2 which features a choir of young deaf people singing well-known works by J.S. Bach. It’s a typical Platel chiastic of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

There’s a reason that this work of vocal, visceral, baroque dance theatre also manages to be a crowd-pleaser, well two reasons, really: Ross McCormack and Romeu Runa. The former with his up-close-and-salivating vocal techniques and muscular presence, the latter with his Ivo Demchev-like back-bending animalism, are like extraterrestrial siblings: complete control and complete abandonment. Bach in a garbage pile. Everything.

Brigitte Robinson, Luke Humphrey #3 (Photo by Daniel Plante)

The Segal Centre officially kicked off its 2014-15 season last Thursday with The Graduate. The play aims to be a fresh re-imagining of a young man going through an existential crisis after graduating from college in 1960s California. Despite some minor flaws, the play is was a stimulating production which confirmed the story of a ‘increasingly disillusioned’ generation has been going on long before millenials were ever taking selfies.

Video projection was used throughout the play for various reasons;  setting the mood, marking the passing of time, to emphasize a dramatic moment. Sometimes it worked, such as setting psychedelic and groovy mood of the sixties. Most of the time, though, it felt completely unnecessary and even took away from crucial moments in the story.

Luke Humphrey as Benjamin Braddock_Photo by Andrée Lanthier

 

In the climax of the film version of The Graduate, there’s several harsh zooms/cutaways to characters’ angry faces. The play attempted the same moment with video production, and it came off as silly. In the most important moment in the story, you could hear sounds of laughter in the audience.

The use of live musicians Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber, meanwhile, was a much more welcome addition. These two gentlemen so embodied the spirit of Simon and Garfunkel (who created the soundtrack to the film) that during the play you swear you’re hearing songs from the famous folk duo you’ve never heard before.

But in fact Rutledge and Barber composed completely original, Simon and Garfunkel-inspired tunes for The Segal Centre adaptation of the story. It’s an ambitious idea that helps more than any video projection to set the mood and tone of the 60s, but full two-three minute versions of their songs did drag down the story at times. It would be interesting if they edited the songs to one minute with full, downloadable versions available for consumption afterwards.

In the film version of the story, Benjamin Braddock is without a doubt the star of the story. Onstage Luke Humphrey does more than an adequate job in the role of Benjamin.

In fact, with his good looks, obvious talent and Stratford Festival experience, Humphrey could easily go on to become a huge theater star in the future. But in this production it’s Brigitte Robinson in the role of Mrs. Robinson who steals the show. Portrayed with such bravery, anger and intense sexuality, the character of Mrs. Robinson becomes a more vicious and developed character than you’ve ever seen before.

In a way, this version of Mrs. Robinson makes the May-December affair that ignites the story more believable. Instead of seducing Ben simply out of boredom, it becomes a calculated act of revenge by an alcoholic trapped in a loveless marriage. Warning to parents: this is not a show you bring the kiddies to, as Mrs. Robinson literally bares all for the audience onstage.

The Graduate plays at The Segal Centre until September 21st, tickets available through segalcentre.org

 

 

Headshot

One of the most intriguing moments during the The Segal Centre press conference for their 2014-15 lineup was the announcement of a new adaptation of The Graduate. This past summer the star of that show, Luke Humphrey, generously agreed to answer a few questions for us via email. Here’s what Forget the Box found out about Humphrey’s love of Shakespeare, being an American in Canada, and stepping into the iconic role of Benjamin Braddock.

Stephanie Laughlin: As someone born and trained in the States, what brought your career to Canada?

Luke Humphrey:  I’m actually the only American in a family of Canadians. Growing up I spent every winter and summer holiday visiting family, so moving here felt pretty natural.

I was at university at NYU when former Stratford Festival artistic director Des McAnuff saw me in a student production of A Winter’s Tale. We talked after and he invited me to join the season. My professional acting debut was in The Tempest at The Stratford Festival with Christopher Plummer. I played islander #3 in a skin tight lizard body suit. Ever since then, I have really fallen in love with Canada. I really believe the future of  both screen and stage is very exciting here, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

SL: What would you do if you weren’t acting?

LH: I love producing. I actually had a commercial production company for a while but acting took over and I had to step away. Though recently I have been really interested in becoming a truck driver, so maybe in another life I would do that.

SL:  What keeps drawing you back to the Stratford Festival?

LH: The Stratford festival is Disneyland for actors. There are classes, coaches, and workshops to explore and work on your craft and you get to work with some of the most talented people from so many fields. It is really supportive environment to be in as an artist. It was great to be able to start my career there, and I was able to just sponge off of so many great minds and talents.

SL: What’s your favourite Shakespeare play?

LH: That’s tricky. There’s plays that I love as an audience member, and plays I love as an actor. I have to say at this stage of my life, I’m very interested in Henry IV 1 and 2 into Henry V. I think it is a very human exploration of responsibility and duty and the search for greatness not from ceremony and title, but from action and deeds. I find myself mumbling those monologues as I walk down the street.

SL: What brought you to The Segal Centre for The Graduate?

LH: Lisa Rubin saw me in Taking Shakespeare with Martha Henry at Stratford last year and a couple months later I got a text message asking me if I would be interested in doing The Graduate. I thought it was too good to be true. I had heard a lot of great things about The Segal Centre both from audiences and artists who had worked there so was very happy to have the opportunity.  I had also been talking to Andrew Shaver about finding something we could work on together so when I found out he was directing I was overjoyed. I mean really, this whole project is a dream for me.

SL: How do you apporach a role like Benjamin Braddock, when it’s already been so iconically portrayed by someone else?

LH: Approaching something like this is very similar to approaching a Shakespeare play. You have seen it done and have an iconic image in your head, but you can’t just go out there and do an impression of the person who went before. You have to pick up the script and bring yourself to the part, allow your own qualities to colour the part in a way that makes it unique. It helps that the play is different from the movie, which is different from the book. While the story is more or less the same, the feel and tone is different enough where I don’t feel exactly like I’m walking down the same path that Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman created.

SL: What are your goals for the future?

LH: Right now I’m just thrilled that people keep allowing me to be in their plays. Down the road I want to combine my producing experience with my acting career and hopefully keep working on interesting projects with exciting people, I mean, that’s the dream.

The Graduate runs at the Segal Centre until September 21st, tickets available through SegalCentre.org

infringement festival 2014 poster

Since its inaugural edition in 2004, the Infringement Festival has offered Montreal audiences something unique. In a sea of big-name and medium to large budget events distinguished primarily by the art form they present, the Infringement has always opted for a different model.

With little to no budget and a team of strictly volunteer organizers (full disclosure: this year I’m one of those organizers as well as a performing artist and co-founder of the event), the Infringement presents acts from a variety of genres. There’s music, all types of music, theatre, visual arts, spoken word, video, guerrilla street performance, comedy, art in alleyways and much more.

The common thread? This is boundary-pushing, frequently activist and political art that challenges the concept of art as a commodity. Instead, it’s a labour of love.

The Infringement is not a stepping stone to the mainstream, rather a challenge to it (though, to be honest, some former infringers have gone on to mainstream success). Whether it’s a play in a bathroom challenging transphobia or a band who just wants to play a show and not have to go through red tape, there’s always a message.

This year is no different. The overall theme is Make Some Noise, a challenge to recent noise fines in the Plateau.

What is different this year is the length. The Infringement is focusing all the activity over five days and nights, call it an intensive dose of authentic culture.

Opening Night

The fest kicks off tonight (Wednesday) with the second-annual Recital Fractal hosted by Louis Royer at Labo de la Taverne Jarry on Jarry East. Expect an evening of French spoken-word and music. I attended the first one at last year’s Infringement and was impressed by the multiple talented artists crammed into just a few hours.

dumpster dive art drive
The Dumpster Dive Art Drive vernissage in 2012, this event is back again this year!

Thursday: The metro, dumpsters, dinner and open mic

There’s more music Thursday afternoon in George Vanier Metro. Yes, the Infringement is doing a show in the metro, busker-style. The event features Rebecca Anne Banks, Mr Saad and Richard Lahmy.

Thursday night the Infringement is in two parts of town, first in the Plateau for the Dumpster Dive Art Drive, always one of my favourite Infringement events. With art made from found objects and a vernissage with wine in a brown paper bag, how can you go wrong. If there ever was a challenge to the commodified model of art, this is it.

Next is the Infringement Feast. It’s a dinner celebrating both Infringement conceptualizer Donovan King’s birthday and ten years of the festival at first-time Infringement venue Caverne Grecque on Prince Arthur.

After dinner, the fest heads downtown, western downtown to be precise. Le Bull Pub near Atwater is the home of Jay Manafest and Eric Chevrier’s weekly open mic show Mic Check. This week, the mic is open to all Infringers.

Friday: Rock & Candyass

On Friday, the Infringement returns to familiar surroundings with a rockin’ night at the Barfly and the monthly Candyass Beach Party Cabaret at Cafe Cleopatre. Cleo is the venerable burlesque, drag and fetish performance venue with a strip club on the first floor that fought the city’s gentrification efforts and won. Candyass Cabaret is a sexy burlesque show that challenges stereotypes. A perfect Infringement match if you ask me .

The lineup at Barfly, in true Infringement fashion, is a medley of musical styles. There’s the sweet meaningful folk of Richard Lahmy and the wild, melodic punk of Crazy Knows Crazy, both Infringement veterans. We also get the trippy rock of Realms of Bliss and the experimentation of the extract, both Infringement newcomers.

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Crazy Knows Crazy performing at the 2013 Infringement, they’re back this year (photo: Hannah Hampton)

Saturday and Sunday: Infringement intensive in Old Montreal

In another first this year, the Infringement is going to Old Montreal. Le P’tit Cabaret on St-Paul is a multi-purpose performance space with a mission: to bring locals back to the tourist-dominated cobblestone streets of the old city. The Infringement is happy to oblige with shows on Saturday and Sunday.

Quite a few shows, that is. While there are two events on the weekend that take place elsewhere: the Candyass and King Red Light Walking Tour that starts in front of the now closed (sigh) Bar Midway on Sunday and the art exhibit at Usine 106U on Roy Street East which is running for the duration of the fest, the rest of the Infringement action is at Le P’tit Cabaret.

Melissa Campbell and Cat McCarthy of the Buffalo Infringement Festival (the largest fest in the Infringement circuit) will be performing The Painted Dress, an  interactive live painting, all day both Saturday and Sunday on the stage of the P’tit Cabaret’s first room. This is also where McCarthy’s Kitty Porn will be displayed. Yes, it’s an art exhibit featuring collages of hardcore pornography mixed with cute kittens.

McCarthy will also perform as part of the Buffalo Burlesque Collective on the main stage of Le P’tit Cabaret both nights (and will also be part of Friday’s Candyass Cabaret). This stage will also showcase performances as diverse as King’s Critical Report from the World Fringe Congress, Seven No-Name Comedians Doing Comedy, Infringement film screenings, a public reading of John Faithful Hamer’s Blue Notes and the Infringement Spoken Word Show hosted by Laurence Tenenbaum.

Le P’tit Cabaret will also be home to quite a bit of Infringement music including the second edition of the Infringement Hip Hop Show, this time featuring socially conscious rappers Jay Manafest, Nikolai Kush and Drop D and the always intensely entertaining PsynLangWage.

There will also be funk, jazz, rock, a bit of country and more in the form of Look, a fang!, Mona Lissa & The Brink, The Voodoo Shango ExperienceThis is not [sic] (full disclosure, I’m in this band, also, we rock!), Von Dalia, Richard Lahmy (his third show in the fest), Busker & Josephine and Jazzotopes.

You may want to note that I mentioned the acts at P’tit Cabaret in no particular order. That’s because the best way to experience the Infringement as a journey of discovery, an artistic scavenger hunt, if you will. Just know that there will be something to enjoy on Saturday and Sunday from three in the afternoon until the wee hours of the next morning and head out.

Of course, you could just consult the schedule at infringemontreal.org, but that’s kinda cheating, don’t you think?

The 2014 Montreal Infringement Festival runs June 18-22

Dear Armen (6)

To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t planned on writing a Dear Armen review. I had extensively interviewed co-creator Kamee Abrahamian and discussed who Armen Ohanian was and the motivation behind the play so I had planned on just publishing some pics of the show along with a paragraph or two about if I thought they had executed things well.

Well, a funny thing happened Sunday night. I discovered rather quickly that what I thought about this show could not be summed up in two paragraphs.

Armen’s remarkably mysterious story, although serving as the show’s main throughline, was only a part of the experience. The play cut back and forth between Armen’s highly embellished memoirs, voiced beautifully on a recording by Abrahamian, and co-creator Lee Williams Boudakian playing a very realistic researcher trying to find the real Armen.

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But it wasn’t as much about what she found as why she was looking for it and why the co-authors of the play were looking for information on a progressive, feminist, possibly queer voice in Armenian history. The answer is in the grandmother: the one Boudakian impersonated in character as the researcher and Abrahamian played but also the proverbial Armenian grandmother, or the matriarch who survived the unthinkable and was still clinging to the old ways.

Now, I don’t have such a figure in my life, but several of the people I’ve met over the years do and they’ve told me stories. Because of that, the portrayal of the grandmother in this play resonated with me and I imagine that it would resonate even more for someone whose family was closer to that of the fictional researcher.

The grandmother was also part of the comic relief and audience participation. Yes, you read that right, the audience is surrounded by the action in the play and a part of it, too, from the moment they enter the space.

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Dear Armen is audience immersive theatre. I wasn’t sure going in to what extent they would take that concept but am pleased to say that they didn’t hold back.

Can’t say I’m surprised. After all, Abrahamian has a burlesque background and Armen was a burlesque performer, too. There is a burlesque number in this show but it’s a little more Requium for a Dream than Lily St-Cyr. While burlesque certainly involves the audience, it’s not to the extent that this show did.

The creators of the piece are searching for answers and bring the audience into that process. This is a performance, but in addition to being a captivating one, it’s also a collaborative one.

Dear Armen is a work in progress and each new audience is invited to take part in moulding it into the next shape it will take. I, for one, am glad I had the opportunity to be a part of that process.

* photos by Melanie Kalinian & Chris Zacchia

* Dear Armen plays in Toronto June 7th and in San Fransisco October to November with other dates TBA, for more info, please visit DearArmen.com

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Just who was Armen Ohanian? No one really knows, and that’s essentially the point of Dear Armen, a new play premiering in Montreal this weekend.

“She was very careful in the crafting of her self,” noted Kamee Abrahamian, the show’s co-creator, adding that Ohanian “left behind a mysterious trail which her biographers, and now we, are still trying to decode.”

What we do know about this turn of the century artist is quite an impressive biography. She survived the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku and went on to have an international career as a dancer, writer and translator. Ohanian founded a theatre in Tehran, a dance school in Mexico City, wrote a collection of memoirs and had time for affairs with some of the biggest stars of the day.

“A friend of mine who runs the women’s resource center in Armenia told me about her a couple of years ago because she knew I was a burlesque performer and she thought I would be interested in the story,” Abrahamian recounts, “she was right, her story was completely inspiring.”

The first person Abrahamian called was Lee Williams Boudakian, who became her co-writer, co-performer and collaborator. Both are Canadian-based artists with Armenian backgrounds and they had found their muse.

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“Both of us were also really excited about the fact that we finally found such an enigmatic Armenian woman in history,” Abrahamian remembers, “I was drawn because of Armen’s performative work and nomadic life, Lee was drawn to the same I believe, as well as Armen’s supposed queerness.”

The product of this collaboration is described in their press release as “a blend of traditional Armenian dance, erotic performance, spoken word and live music.” For some, myself before this interview included, juxtaposing the term “traditional Armenian” with the word “erotic” clashes with some very prevalent preconceptions about Armenian culture.

Abrahimian is no stranger to the stereotype of a very conservative, religious culture, she’s dealt with it her whole time as an artist, as has Boudakian. In fact, it made things difficult for the pair as they started out as artists and, frankly, she’s tired of hearing it.

“It’s not just others who assume Armenians are typically conservative, but Armenians themselves fall into that cliche as well in their thinking and approach to family and culture,” Abrahimian argues, “I find these assumptions to be irresponsible, constricting and narrow minded – a trap that is heavily laden with learned habits and religious-patriarchal narratives, which is a subject that comes into focus in the play.”

“Our history is full of people who push the envelope like Armen Ohanian did,” she says, “Sergei Parajanov, Atom Egoyan – the fact that we chose to live in such derogatory frameworks, and why we don’t talk about the females who have been a part of these so-called progressive, avant garde movements in Armenian history, is proof that these traps exist. How about we stop referring to the Kardashians as the ambassadors of all Armenian people!”

Speaking of the Kardashians and pop culture (and admittedly reaching for a segue), Abrahamian is probably best know in this city for the Blood Ballet Cabaret, a show that took various pop culture tropes like fantasy/sci fi, high school graduation, Disney, video games, childhood fairy tales and slasher movies, infused them with some damn sexy and creative burlesque dancing and turned them on their heads. While that show may have been dormant for a while, it is coming back with shows as part of this year’s Zoofest.

Cher Armen is produced by Saboteur Productions, a company Abrahamian founded in 2013 with Blood Ballet alum Tiffany Golarz and Abrahamian hopes that the audience she has already developed will check out her new show, despite the different feel.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the BBC,” she comments, “it brought me to this point in my work today and I welcome the BBC audience to see Dear Armen for this reason. Yes, its a more thoughtful piece, but every art form has it’s own way of being clever or embodying a certain message. I’d like to think that we can be open to embrace and play with the different shapes these narratives take.”

The shape this particular narrative will take is one where the audience is expected to move around a bit. They’re calling it audience immersive theatre. The show’s venue was also a mystery for a bit (maybe not one akin to who Armen Ohanian was), one that has now been solved on the show’s Facebook event page.

If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Armen Ohanian and the daring original theatre created by Kamee Abrahamian and her team, there’s still time.

Dear Armen Trailer from Saboteur Productions on Vimeo.

Dear Armen runs one time only in Montreal Sunday, June 1 at 8:30pm (reception 8pm). Reserve your tickets through lorikamee@gmail.com

 

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Concordia University’s Department of Theatre will debut their production Attawapiskat Is No Exception, an original play conceived in response to 2011’s housing crisis at the Attawapiskat reserve in northern Ontario.

The play is influenced by the historical events and cultural practices of three northern First Nations communities: Sayisi Dene of Manitoba; Lake St. Martin, Manitoba; and Attawapiskat Cree Nation. It draws attention to the problems surrounding living conditions on northern First Nations Reserves, and enacts the troubled relationship between native leaders and non-native policy makers.

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Broad-based research about First Nations issues was carried out by all participants in the early stages of collaboration during the fall semester. Students involved in the production took a required course about First Nations dramaturgy, co-taught by Favel and Neuerburg-Denzer. In addition, Karl Hele, chair of First Peoples Studies at Concordia, gave an in-depth lecture on land rights, and participation in such activities as a visit to Kahnawake’ s Cultural Center, Mc Gill’s First Peoples Week, and the March for the Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women aided students in their research.

First Nations theatre is a new research field for Neuerburg-Denzer, whose area of study has focused extensively on emotion studies for performers. “Through the research and creation of Attawapiskat is No Exception, I expressly aim to help conserve and develop knowledge specific to Canada’s First People” she says, “so that the relations between native and non-native individuals and groups might be improved.”  Floyd Favel is a theatre and dance (contemporary and native traditional) director, performer, writer and teacher from Poundmaker Reserve in Saskatchewan. He is currently in writing and co-producing a feature length film, Sweet Cherry Wine, that will be performed entirely in Cree.

There will be a roundtable discussion after Saturday’s matinee performance about the issues raised by “Attawapiskat” and the ways the performance addresses the intersection between aboriginal and “western” playmaking strategies, including the special responsibilities of a predominantly non-native co-creative team. The roundtable will be moderated by M.J. Thompson (Art Education) with Floyd Favel, Ursula Neuerburg-Denzer, Karl Hele, Anik Sioui and Emilie Monnet of Odaya Drum Group, Chelsea Vowel (activist blogger and Cree instructor) and the student actors Tyson Houseman and Brefny Caribou-Curtin. A talk back session with the cast and designers will take place directly following the Friday night show.

Attawapiskat Is No Exception runs April 2 to 5 at 8pm, April 5 and 6 at 2pm at D.B. Clarke Theatre (1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West). Tickets ($10 regular, $5 student) available at the door or in advance. To purchase tickets, email  your name, phone number, number of tickets requested, and the date and time of performance.

 

Photo by Andree-Lanthier

As someone deeply passionate about the silver screen, most people assume I’ve seen every film ever made. While I’m confident that I’ve seen a far greater number and variety of films then my average contemporary, the 1992 adaptation of the David Mamet play Glengarry Glen Ross is not one of them. So going to a production of the play this past Saturday meant that I was able to view the story of the sordid dealings of a Chicago real estate office with fresh, un-tainted eyes.

Over the past two years that I’ve covered plays at The Segal Center  I’ve always been thoroughly impressed with the set design, and this time was no different. In a play your actors live in the limited environments you create for them, and it’s made me realize that set design is one of the crucial elements to a successful production. For mastering this I tip my proverbial hat first to the set and costume designer Michael Eagan.  In the first act we meet all the characters in a Chinese restaurant, designed in this beautiful deep red. Then the second act plays out in the cold, broken, over head lighting of the real estate office where the characters work. Even the chaos of the vandalized office was put together perfectly.

Having watched Road to Avonlea  as a child, I was most excited to hear that R.H Thomson would be in this production. His character Shelly Levene is supposed to be a once successful salesman who’s now down on his luck and desperate for good leads. Thomson made his Shelley more manic then pathetic and the profanity laced Chicago accent felt a little forced at times. Thomson was good, but I felt he was trying a little too hard to be great.

I was also a bit disappointed in MikePaterson’s performance. Perhaps I’m bias because I know how good he is at comedy and selling the audience on his loud, exuberant personality. So in contrast seeing Paterson as the timid client George Aaronow was a bit of a let down. I’d be curious to read what others thought of his performance.

For me the stand out performance of the night came from Graham Cuthbertson. As office manager Jon Williamson he was engaging without being showy, which I think is an impressive feat in a play; it’s tempting to be as over the top as possible on stage. The program says that Cuthbertson is a staple of Segal Center productions, so I’m excited to attend future productions that he’s involved with.

My final tip of the hat goes to the great man David Mamet himself. This production of Glengarry Glen Ross is not perfect, but absolutely worth seeing for an evening of professional actors reciting this amazing dialogue. Who could of thought that watching a group of alpha-males scream phrases like “You’re a cunt!” at each other for two hours could be so darn entertaining.

Glengarry Glen Ross runs until March 30th at the Segal Center. Get your tickets here.

Photo by Andree Lanthier.

Patrick Costello (Constantine) - Shannon Currie (Nina)_Photo by AndrÇe Lanthier

“When the curtain rises on that little three-walled room, when those mighty geniuses, those high-priests of art, show us people in the act of eating, drinking, loving, walking, and wearing their coats, and attempt to extract a moral from their insipid talk; when playwrights give us under a thousand different guises the same, same, same old stuff, then I must needs run from it, as Maupassant ran from the Eiffel Tower that was about to crush him by its vulgarity.”

With these words, Constantine taunts our inner skeptic, who yawns at even our most thespian of thoughts—us, the theatregoers. We sit and watch, season after season, waiting for that show or two worth watching. We eye-roll at this or that choice, lovingly palpate at another, glaze over too often. We smuggle Twix bars and corn nuts—a ration of respite from length, arduous rot, the same crap, yet again.

But also, and Peter Hinton and the Segal Centre’s production of The Seagull know this and blurts it out: theatre audiences are old. Dying, actually. My date to this Sunday’s performance couldn’t help but notice, as the rest of us younger folks do, how “Everyone is so ancient.” The play jeeringly estimated them at 60, or 65; the truth is they are more around 70, or older. Noticing this, she admitted she might have worn something slightly less enticing, had she known.

Meanwhile, though, and in keeping with Chekhov’s insistence, Peter Hinton’s brilliant adaptation pushed for something I had never seen before, and we were glued to every snarky bit of it from the first wink.

Tearing at the text’s original fabric, but surely with a remaining reverence for it’s time-tested bones, this Seagull is very much Canadian Theatre, and a very bright direction for it, too. It is, refreshingly, neck deep in the worries of our current artistic zeitgeist, namely with the binary that cordons that landscape and always remains relevant: the old vs. the young, the entitled vs. the green, the Us and the Them.

This, of course, is central to this bit of Chekhov, a kind of Russian aristocracy of dysfunction—more underhanded comments and wordy slaps in the face than you can imagine. The schitzoid and dystemic children are still overdramatizing; the embittered, entrenched elders are largely as condescending and selfish as ever.

But where we might have had heavy turn-of-the-century woolens and sombre lakeside mannerisms, we god square, regional, Ontarian middle-age, star-actress furs and thrifty, skinny duds. We got our own artsy tug of wars at a fever pitch. And where we might have heard of Nekrasoff, the royal theatres, and classical orchestrations, we got Jian Ghomeshi and Saturday Night magazine—the NAC, Stratford and Stevie Nicks

The final result could not, for me, be more stirring. Well acted, expertly crafted, terribly well adapted, and cheekily, subversively blocked—this latest production of The Seagull actually has me excited about Chekhov again. It’s heavy with the meaty stuff all of us artsy types ebb in and out of as we age and choose our communities. What’s more, it colours me very impressed at what the Segal Centre has managed to put together, still a few seasons from the end of its first decade.

Danielle Desormeaux, Michel Perron, Diane D'Aquila, Lucy Peacock, Marcel Jeannin, Krista Colosimo, Patrick McManus_Photo AndrÇe Lanthier

The result, ultimately, was that even the old folks in there with us were way into it. Nina, summoned by Constantine’s lamenting accordion for their theatrical unveiling, stands atop a haphazard pile of deckchairs in a white dress and a blue cagoule, and we are all transfixed. The actors, too.

The chairs have been—figuratively for us, literally for those in costume—pulled out from under us, but all our eyes are glued to this very strange display. The whole troupe sits akimbo and something new is happening. More questions are being asked than answered, as the play itself will gander. Theatre is being made, I’ll melodramatically insist, and even the septuagenarians are down with that.

And that’s what good, important theatre can make—something that changes. The “same” stuff imposing its new shapes. I hope to see it again, actually, and know it’ll be different.

Luckily, this production, uncharacteristically for these snowbird months—when many part-time Floridians are too far South to attend—is doing so well it’s getting extended through till next Wednesday, February 19. Sometimes, the good stuff does last.

See it, whether you’re old or young. Thank me later.

Peter Hinton’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull runs until February 19 at the Segal Centre.

Photos courtesy of the Segal Centre by Andrée Lanthier.

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The genuine enthusiasm and energy with which Alessandro Mercurio, the director of Concordia’s upcoming production of Tonight We Play “A Soggetto”, speaks about the show is palpable. It’s obvious that much care and effort has gone into creating a magical world where theatre, in its entirety, can be explored, expanded and celebrated.

Tonight We Play “A Soggetto”—or Questa sera si recita a soggetto in Italian—opens on Wednesday, February 12 at the F.C. Smith Auditorium. Written in 1928, it’s the final part of Nobel Prize-winning writer Luigi Pirandello’s “theatre within theatre” trilogy and is a script that Mercurio has much experience with. As a student at the Accademia Nazionale D’Arte Drammatica Paolo Grassi in Milan, he worked on the play with Massimo Castri, one of Italy’s most renowned Pirandello scholars. With Castri he spent months analyzing the script, something that has also been part of the process with his Concordia cast.

“The script for Tonight We Play ‘A Soggetto’ is a text that you have to change every time you work on it” he explains. “It’s very linked on the present moment. You have to understand who you are, who is your audience, what kind of society will see this show.”

“It’s the story about a company who is playing a play” Mercucio says. For this reason “every actor has to create two characters: the actor involved and that actor’s character.”

“The script is a celebration of theatre,” he continues. “I wanted to celebrate theatre not only as an art but as a physical space.”

The result is a translucent realm of visibility. The actors are always visible to the audience and to each other; their costumes are translucent and there is a transparent curtain which exposes everything behind it. The entire theatre is in want of the audience’s attention.

Mercurio also celebrates theatre by weaving a variety of theatrical forms throughout the show. Each scene will pay tribute to different cultural theatre traditions, such as Commedia dell’arte, German expressionist theatre and Indian shadow puppets.

In one scene, Mercurio uses a miniature puppet theatre and shadow play to subvert associations of largeness and grandeur that are often attached to the opera. This choice also explores another theme of the show: the permeable boundary between fiction and reality. The small-scale puppet theatre is a playful representation of an opera house, but the audience will still experience a display of abundance through the oversized shadows cast on the wall.

The F.C. Smith Auditorium is an intimate theatre, one that Mercurio says is ideal for this show. “The whole space is used. Theatre is the main character.”

Tonight We Play “A Soggetto” plays at the F. C. Smith Auditorium (FC Building, 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Loyola Campus) on February 12, 13 and 15, 2014 at 8 p.m., with matinee performances at 2 p.m. on February 15 and 16.