Fresh Meat 4: What’s Happened and What’s to Come!

I don’t want to bore you any longer with how awesome I think the Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival is. You can read my preview of the first weekend of the 2015 festival here, and my reviews of past festivals here, here, and here. Instead, I’m going to throw these five, brand-new, twenty-minute theatre fillets straight on the grill and see what’s cooking.

Fresh Meat teaser image

Bee/see/together written and performed by Karen Balcome and Kara Nolte

This show tried some incredibly interesting things by playing with stagecraft and questioning how we traditionally watch and receive performance. To be quite frank, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this show until I sat down to write this review and really contemplated about what the performers might be trying to do to me as a spectator.  First, I started at the end of the piece or, rather, my frustration at the lack of ending, as it were.

My immediate, and very selfish, thought was, “why would these performers rob me of my opportunity to applaud?”. I went back further in the performance to search for more links: to the lone dance sequence accompanied by a shallow story about a nail salon in Alberta; even further to the mid-show talk-back with the performers providing no straight answers (or even answers at all); and finally back to the beginning of the show that kicks off with, what we are lead to believe (and this is important) is, an unplanned ringing cell phone. The ways in which the performers try to thwart the spectator’s attempt at creating any kind of meaning throughout the twenty minutes are admirable, though I am not certain that their choices (i.e. using handheld lighting devices around the audience or encouraging a steadily drinking audience to chat amongst themselves then revert focus back to the stage) always work in their favour.

Train Compartment presented by Disposable Theatre; written and performed by Mike Kosowan and Joel Garrow, directed by Adam Zimmerman

Any time the fellows at Grimprov get on stage to do something other than showcase their stellar improvisational skills, I get excited. In this case Train Compartment revolves around “two clowns attached as a chain gang” as they “struggle to keep their silliness a secret while riding a train”. Kosowan and Garrow have good chemistry and natural comedic instincts on stage, however, this show is still a bit rough around the edges.

The pre-recorded sound clips are well done and certainly add to the scene but the clowning itself is a little messy which ultimately causes the narrative to drop on a few occasions. Director Adam Zimmerman’s staging could use some cleaning up as the piece sometimes feels like a loose cannon ball in that it traverses from one extreme to the next (e.g. a dual suicide to biting off one’s own foot) and is never sure of where it’s supposed to end up. While it definitely drew some laughs from the audience, I think Train Compartment could sorely benefit from some more rehearsal time.

Stephen and Me presented by Egodeath; created and performed by Norah Paton in collaboration with Cory Thibert

Can we do something about getting Norah Paton a YouTube channel where she just explains political matters to us plebeians because I have never been more interested in hearing more about the Liberal sponsorship scandal of ’96 until I saw Stephen and Me. To be honest, the best part about this piece is that its political nature is only the surface. Underneath there is a rich exploration of how female sexuality develops and how your very first sexual awakening imprints itself in the human psyche as one continues to grow. The projections and video are equally impressive and hilarious as they present us with different clips from famous romance films juxtaposed with footage of Paton touring around (and by ‘touring around’ I mean ‘frolicking around and fondling’) the Parliament grounds with a most rapturous look on her face.

Stephen and Me, however, comes as a bit of a double edged sword. While its timeliness gives the piece an added and much more heightened significance just days before the big vote (“Vote for love! Vote for Stephen and me!”), come Tuesday morning the piece stands to lose all relevance. That being said, when I posed this conundrum to Paton she agreed but stated that it was not her express intention to remount this show post-#elxn42; though, depending on Monday’s results, it is not unreasonable (albeit terrifying) to think that we might see Stephen and Me pop up again next election.

Joseph and Amarise presented by Resounding Scream Theatre; Adapted and Directed by Catherine Ballachey; Performed by Chandel Gambles, Jake William Smith, Alain Chauvin and Danielle Savoie

Based on the real life chat transcripts of Jessica Dunfield, Joseph and Amarise is a play that delves briefly into the lives of two teenagers who explore their budding sexualities and raging hormones in a digital chatroom of sorts.  The advent of the internet and subsequently chatrooms presented teens growing up in the late 90s to early 00s with a relatively non-threating way to really start digging into what it means to be a sexual being and a means to learn how to interact with others in a romantic and/or intimate manner without having to suffer the potential extreme social awkwardness of courting someone face to face. It opened up so many doors for experimentation in this sense but, admittedly, also lead to some pretty nefarious incidences that, in turn, became responsible for the concept we now call “internet safety”. All this being said, however, I think there are still a lot of people who look back on their chatroom experiences with humour if not with a little chagrin.

The staging of this piece is particularly clever and Ballachey uses the four person ensemble to her advantage. The young lovers (played by Chauvin and Savoie) are the co-authors of a fantasy (see: Vampire) role-playing story that is then acted out by Smith and Gambles, who play the title characters Amarise and Joseph (respectively). The teens take turns moving and moulding “their characters” on stage arguing about what direction the story should take next, and in a few moments we see them become the very backdrop of the scene itself, holding props and set pieces, suggesting that the two are not only interested in creating figures but a whole fictional universe.  We watch as Joseph and Amarise become less and less important as the relationship between the adolescents continues to grow until the vampire story is all but forgotten about.

What is most enjoyable about this show, I think, is that despite the fact that both characters are only fourteen years old, Chauvin and Savoie both embody and portray them with a maturity that maintains the figures’ relatability in the sense that spectators who are not fourteen (see: most of, if not all of, the FM demographic) can still identify with both the feelings and the experience that these two young individuals are undergoing throughout the piece. Further, I don’t think you could have cast two better actors than Gambles and Smith to dramatize the romantic imaginings of youngsters.  This show is equal parts hilarious, well-acted, and thoughtfully staged and its contemporaneity makes Joseph and Amarise a real winner.

Mr. Eff created and performed by Jesse Buck with dramaturgy by Allen Michael Brunet

Reading Mr. Buck’s bio in the festival program is a little overwhelming: What is a Philippe Gaulier trained perfomer, who’s toured almost five years with Cirque du Soliel’s Alegria as a principal Clown, doing at the Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival? Does his inclusion in the festival perhaps take a platform away from a local theatre company/artist who may not have been so lucky yet to have “almost twenty-five years of performing experience in more than twenty-five countries”? These are important questions to ask a steadily growing curated festival (with a mandate to support local and independent theatre artists) that is garnering more and more notice each year.

I will still argue that having Buck in Fresh Meat 4 lends the festival more legitimacy than ever. Given his extensive experience working with other professional companies (such as Cirque, A Company of Fools and Odyssey Theatre etc) and the artistic and Equity structures that come along with working at a professional level, it is easy to understand a desire to want to create and experiment in a more underground  and independent scene. To top it all off, Mr. Eff is a fantastically grotesque piece of work that gives the audience a little taste of Buck’s bouffon style.

Although the playing space could benefit from having some more depth, Buck manages to fill the stage completely with a number of cartoonish props and set pieces that serve to colour Mr. Eff’s hysterical delusions. Each piece that’s utilized has something exciting about it (whether it is transformed or how it’s used on stage) which generates a certain anticipation within the audience. The video projections-despite a few small technical difficulties- are also very good and it is amusing, to say the least, to watch Buck interact with the animations on the screen during his “absurdist interlude” (“Damn you, Josh Brolin!!”).

Overall, this show is fun and exciting. Buck as an experienced performer adds yet another flavour to the Fresh Meat Festival that looks to support local independent artists in their experimental creative ventures. As an independent working artist, Jesse Buck’s Mr. Eff fits in just fine.

What can you expect from Weekend 2?

Overall, I was incredibly pleased leaving the Arts Court Studio Lobby Friday night. Whereas, in past years, I have only been able to pick out two or three works out of the entire programming that really turned my crank, it was a great surprise to have three solid pieces come out of the first weekend with much anticipation leading into the second weekend. That being said, the other two pieces in this particular roster are still so chock-full of potential that with some more rehearsing they have the ability to develop into something special.

So, what does that mean for weekend two? Well, I can tell you already that my excitement and enthusiasm is running on high and my expectations have certainly been set by the artists in this first weekend. Again, the programming for the second weekend appears to be just as strong and just as varied stylistically. You should expect to see some more familiar faces from past festivals.

THUNK! Theatre is back again with a new piece entitled Tolerance or THUNK!theatre Explains why It Is Important to be Kind to Every Fucking Thing on This Planet, which makes me wonder if there has ever been a Fresh Meat Festival without this company? The description in the program states that this piece will be performed by “everyone, and [they] me [sic] everyone in the goddamn audience!” and so I am interested to see how people in the audience react to this when traditionally most theatre goers are split down the middle when it comes to audience participation. How will the piece work if people decide not to participate and, conversely, how will they deal with individuals who might immerse themselves too fully?

Chris Hannay and Leslie Cserepy are looking to change your preconceptions about what improv is supposed to look like with their show Slow Burn. As it is a piece that is “written and directed as it is performed”, Hannay and Cserepy will be attempting a sort of improvisational realism that endeavours to hook the spectator’s emotional faculties rather than playing for laughs. The challenge will be in maintaining tensions and stakes while at the same time creating substantial character development.

Festival Media and Marketing Manager, Madeleine Hall, makes her second appearance at a Fresh Meat only this time without the red nose or co-star. Ethel is described as being a solo show about the “peculiarities of life, death, and time” and is also Hall’s “first foray into creating with words”. Hall was absolutely delightful in Fresh Meat 3’s Hannah & George (presented in co-creation with Strange Visitations) that eventually expanded into a relatively successful Fringe show this past summer. I look forward to seeing Hall taking on some heavier material.

Yet another familiar face takes the stage at Fresh Meat 4 in the form of Megan Carty and Cart Before the Horse with Mise-en-Abyme. I first took notice of Carty during Fresh Meat 3 with her piece Me and My Monster and how she moves on stage. Carty has great physicality as a performer (I believe she has some formal dance training under her belt if I recall correctly) and I am hoping that this newest piece will emphasize this aspect. It also features a live musical score- something we have not yet seen at a Fresh Meat Festival.

Last but certainly not least, two of the few newcomers to the Festival, Elise Gauthier and Alex Zabloski of Filament Theatre present Pan-dora. You may have seen these two performers towering over you as part of the Ottawa Stilt Union, but this coming weekend they will be trying to “discover what lurks inside Pandora’s box”. As a former classics major, I am a bit of a sucker for Greek mythology but having missed Gauthier’s sold out L’Ariagnee at the 2014 Ottawa Fringe has peaked my interest in this performance even more so.

If you are still (for some reason) on the fence about attending the  fourth annual Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival, I’m not sure what else to tell you. You, as the spectator, are given a rare opportunity to view and analyse brand new work from local emerging/independent artists. The intimate and socially driven nature of how the nights are structured allows you to approach the artists directly and encourages meaningful dialogue about the work being presented on stage. Since the artists are showcasing pieces that are still in development there is a demand (or a hunger) for discourse. You could play a crucial role in the creation processes of these pieces that have historically gone on to find success in larger arenas such as Ottawa Fringe, Undercurrents and NAC’s Fourth Stage. What other theatre festival in Ottawa gives the spectator that same power?

The Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival Weekend #2 runs October 22nd-24th

Ticket and scheduling info can be found here.

Preview: Fresh Meat 4 is Fresher than Ever!

October is practically bursting at the seams with the numerous theatrical events taking place in Ottawa this month. With the impressive Norman Conquests trilogy wrapping up at the Gladstone only a few days past and the remount of two wildly successful shows at the Fringe Encore happening this last weekend, we are now looking forward to the next two weeks of fresh new work from the local and independent theatre scene. With the first of two installments of Fresh Meat 4 literally only a couple of days away, the ‘steaks’ are high for these artists who are hoping to gain some creative momentum within the emerging theatre community.

 

In its fourth year running, the Fresh Meat DIY Theatre Festival is quickly solidifying its standing in Ottawa as the platform where local emerging artists can experiment and express their voices in a relatively non-competitive arena.  A curated festival that dedicates two weekends to showcasing ten new twenty minute pieces, Fresh Meat is unique in its desire to promote original work exclusively from resident artists who have little to no professional affiliations or standing. I have attended this festival since its inaugural year at Pressed Cafe and now, seeing it take place in Arts Court Lobby under the mentorship of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, I can’t help but feel excited about the direction in which Fresh Meat is going.

So, without further ado, here is what you have to look forward to Weekend #1 (October 15-17) at Fresh Meat 4:

Fresh Meat teaser image

Resounding Scream Theatre presents ‘Joseph and Amarise’

Taking real life online chat transcripts and adapting them for the stage, director Catherine Ballachey has assembled a crack team of performers to take on her new adaptation called Joseph and Amarise. Starring Chandel Gambles, Jake William Smith, Alain Chauvin and Hailey MastersonDanielle Savoie(edit: the ensemble was changed post-poster printing), it will be interesting to see what Ballachey does with the four bodies on stage in this relatively short period of time. I’m further fascinated by the content itself, being a child of the internet and having frequented many a chat room (don’t judge me), and how Ballachey will transpose online chat dialogue into a meaningful and provocative narrative on stage. Overall, I imagine that this piece will no doubt speak to the digital generation.

Egodeath presents ‘Stephen and Me’

Full disclosure: I have an immense artistic crush on this performer (who will remain unnamed) and it is incredibly exciting to see her back on this roster. If you’ve been to past Fresh Meat festivals, or even just around Ottawa, you may have seen this artist once or twice at such events like SubDevision and/or the recent Wrecking Ball installment. At Fresh Meat 3 she presented a piece about her experience at the Burning Man festival and the kind of sensory overload that these ‘transformational’ festivals are prone to. This year her piece could not be more aptly timed; taking place literally days before the federal election, Stephen and Me explores one woman’s ‘passion’ for a certain Conservative politician and the lengths she’s willing to go to in the name of her fantasy.

‘Mr. Eff’ created and performed by Jesse Buck

I have to admit, I am not familiar with the work of Jesse Buck with the exception of seeing him on stage in A Company of Fools’ Shipwrecked that was a part of GCTC’s 2014-2015 season. Doing a little research, however, guided me to many articles that speak to Mr. Buck’s expertise as a trained clown. Given that he’s had success touring with Cirque du Soleil for four years as well as respective critical acclaim for his show BUBKUS, some might question whether or not an artist (who could certainly be seen as a professional) fills the “Fresh Meat quota”. I would argue that programming Buck adds more legitimacy to the festival and further proves the need to have an arena dedicated to this kind of work. The Fringe is often too competitive (with 50+ shows) for a local artist to really experiment and make a success out of it (there are exceptions, of course, such as The Elephant Girls or Hip Hop Shakespeare: Live Music Videos). In any case, I would look forward to seeing what Buck has to offer and this seems to be an excellent opportunity to experience new work from such a high calibre performer.

Disposable Theatre presents “Train Compartment”

Speaking of clowns, Train Compartment, under the direction of local entertainer Adam Zimmerman, features Mike Kosowan and Joel Garrow (one half of Ottawa improv troupe Grimprov) as two clowns on the run who are trying to stay on the down-low by stifling their natural silliness. This is undoubtedly a strong comedic team and you will be hard pressed to stifle your own laughter. It is also always refreshing to see Kosowan and Garrow outside of Grimprov and working with different comedic and theatrical styles.

Bee/see/together created and performed by Karen Balcome and Kara Nolte

“You are invited to play” is the last of a mere three lines of text given to us in the program description for this piece and certainly the most intriguing. What does this mean for us as spectator? How will the performers immerse their audience in the theatrical event at hand? How will the fusion of dance, theatre, and text embody the concepts of “warmth” and “vulnerability”? Already this piece sparks your attention despite the description being only thirteen words long.

On the whole, Weekend #1 is shaping up to be incredibly entertaining with a variety of performance styles being advertised ranging from clown, to physical theatre, and to dance. Not only that, but the strong lineup of performers means that there is more than a good chance that you are going to get the most bang for your buck (sidenote: this isn’t to say you aren’t already getting a good deal- 5 shows for $20 = $4/show). All of this being said, we haven’t even touched on Weekend #2 yet which boasts an equally strong program. So, what are you waiting for? Skipping this festival would be a giant ‘mis-steak’ (I had to).

Fresh Meat Weekend #1 plays October 15-17 at Arts Court Studio Lobby

Doors/Bar @ 7pm

Shows @ 8pm

Tickets: $20 General Admission

 

 

“The Adventures of Red Rascal” has Potential to be Truly Exciting

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to be invited to the first ever script read through of The Adventures of Red Rascal, written by Jake William Smith and premiering at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival. I remember discussing with the other members at the table how the text was to only be the backdrop upon which fight choreography by National Stage Combat Training Partners (Ottawa Stage Combat) was to be prominently featured. I looked forward to seeing this show on stage because of its desire to showcase stage combat, and more specifically sword fighting, as the main event. While I think this show managed to do this with some success, it definitely has room for improvement.

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“pachiv!” is a Shallow Portrait of Romani People

Playing a character of a different cultural background requires actors to delve into that culture’s social and political contexts in order to play that character fairly without falling into caricature (unless that is the explicit point). A piece of art becomes problematic, however, when it chooses to adopt very a specific culture but ignores its contextual integrities and nuances (a famous example would be British director Peter Brook’s adaptation of the sacred Indian epic the Mahabharata). In its most extreme form we might call this cultural appropriation. While I don’t think that pachiv!, presented by Hymns and Hearses theatre at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, is by any means a display of appropriating culture it does come across as a very shallow portrait of the Romani people.

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“Hootenanny!” is a Comical Commentary on Children’s Entertainers

How do you resist a show that stars the local talents of Kate Smith and Will Somers and that’s also directed by Ottawa Fringe favourite Melanie Karin-Brown? The answer is you don’t. Hootenanny! remains a bit of an anomaly here at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival due to the fact that this is a show that has been having extreme technical difficulties (to the point of having absolutely no video during one particular performance – which is a huge element to the piece) and yet is still getting rave reviews. It’s not difficult to see why.

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