Sip ‘n Scrawl: Holiday ed.

If you’re looking for something to get you in the holiday mood AND check an item off of your holiday to-do list, then this event is for you!

HolidaySipnScrawl

A cozy night of old-school letter writing at Flapjack’s on Preston St. Letterpress Christmas cards, hot cocoa, and a stack of fluffy pancakes… A $10 ticket buys you a delicious cup of hot cocoa and everything needed to send someone a handwritten note they’ll love: a letterpress Christmas card that we printed on our antique printing press, an envelope, a pen, and even postage! Best of all, we’ll collect your letters at the end of the night and pop them in the mail for you! Buy your ticket at the door, cash only!

 

Idle Hands: Ultimate gift ideas for the contemporary consumer

This weekend Idle Hands 2015 will takeover St. Anthony’s Hall just off of Preston. Each year, this craft show demonstrates why it stands out in a sea of maker shows, craft shows, markets, and the like. A carefully curated selection of vendors, this edition is not to be missed. Here our editors have selected the vendors they’re most excited about and some suggestions to get your gift giving juices flowing. Go check out the event this Sunday, November 29th, from 10am until 5pm and get a jump on the holidays.


Unik Printshop Mix & Match Magnet set

UnikMagnets

For anyone with a fridge, someone you don’t know that well, or that person who is impossible to shop for.


Assembly Home Goods, cosy raw silk goose down pillows

Pillow

For trendy friends who take pride in their home.


The Sweetest Digs Cactus Print

Cactus2

For the cutesy, arty, plant lover.


 

Shirley Liu aka Bliue, laptop cover

Laptopcover

For anyone in your life with a laptop. Period.

TACTICS Opens New Season with Theatrical Double-Bill Addressing Hot Topics

TACTICS (Theatre Artists Co-operative The Independent Collective Series) opened up its second season with an interesting double bill, no doubt meant to spark discussion. (off) Balance and feelers gives audiences a chance to indulge in an evening of performance that features a fusion of dance and storytelling. Playing until November 21st at Arts Court Theatre, these two female driven pieces both address some of today’s hot topics though one does this more effectively than the other.

 

Pictured (L-R): Naomi Tessler and Amelia Griffin; Photography by Andrew Alexander
Pictured (L-R): Naomi Tessler and Amelia Griffin; Photography by Andrew Alexander

The night begins with (off) Balance written and performed by Naomi Tessler with direction and dramaturgy by Artistic Director and Series Curator, Bronwyn Steinberg. The piece is mostly biographical in nature and Tessler describes it as unravelling the “mud and magic” (show program) of her first year at the University of British Columbia. The narrative follows Tessler’s journey, her subsequent descent into depression and possible bipolar disorder, and her road to recovery. It focuses on dealing with mental illness, trying to find your spiritual path, and the courageous conversations we all must have as a result of these struggles.

To be honest, there are a lot of elements in this production that I find extremely confusing. The first is the overall framing device revealed at the top of the show where Tessler tells her audience that the stories of her grandparents, who committed suicide, are also woven into the story- her story- that she is about to tell us. Unfortunately, we don’t hear about her grandparents again until they are mentioned much later in the piece in a rather off-the-cuff remark, made by the character of Tessler’s father, when a doctor makes an inquiry about there being a history of suicide in the family. This is only the beginning of this play’s problems though.

Mostly, it seems that this play doesn’t know what it wants to say. It uses an unnecessary number of theatrical elements (live sound, pre-recorded sound, finger painting, audience participation, dance/movement etc) to somehow express the importance of this story, but it doesn’t appear to possess a significant through line- or a moral (what is this plays essence? It’s why?). (off) Balance in its first half appears to be a show about mental illness and seeking help (though mildly mocking the professionals in this industry and the arguably outdated and shallow methods used to diagnose these illnesses), but the second half brings in this concept of clairvoyance and getting in touch with one’s spirituality that complicates and confuses the overall message of the play.

Pictured: Tessler; Photography by Andrew Alexander
Pictured: Tessler; Photography by Andrew Alexander

To be frank, it is incredibly difficult to pull any sort of message out of the text itself when it is predominately made up of one sided conversations with invisible characters on stage. The only apt way I can describe this experience is by picturing someone on the telephone where you can’t hear the other half of the conversation. It also doesn’t help that many of the images that are found in this performance are hardly ever explained or motivated.

For example, the red fabric circle that Tessler plays in for the majority of the piece seems like an unnecessary limitation of space when group circle therapy is brought up towards the end of the play for a mere five or six lines. Similarly, the singing bowl, an instrument widely used as an aid to mediation and no doubt in many Reiki practices, is picked up once and used only briefly before being quickly passed off to live musician Lucila Al Mar, sitting just slightly offstage, never to be seen again. Finally, the white scarf/’blanket’ is unclear in its meaning as it is used as both a symbol (of the past depression in her family) but also as a way to denote different characters. It is difficult to discern whether the spectator should be associating these characters (i.e. her mother, counselors, psychiatrist, etc) with that history. I am then even more baffled by how this all fits in with the parts about mediating spirits.

While I certainly appreciate Tessler’s courage to put such vulnerability and honesty on stage, this particular performance doesn’t register for me as being incredibly fresh or exciting. In its current iteration it feels a little basic, and it doesn’t say anything new or compelling about mental illness or alternative healing practices. (off) Balance, unfortunately, left me wanting so much more.

Feelers, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. I have seen this piece in one of its earlier inceptions as part of a dance expose presented by Dark Horse Dance Projects. Choreographed by Amelia Griffin, it was one of my favourite pieces of that evening and, despite being almost completely different this time around (no doubt thanks to some dramaturgical assistance provided, once again, by Steinberg), continues to be so. A dance piece that addresses the level of street harassment women face every day, the performance is both thought provoking and provocative.

Pictured: Amelia Griffin; Photography by Andrew Alexander
Pictured: Amelia Griffin; Photography by Andrew Alexander

Though the piece is much shorter than its predecessor, it features a number of scenes that comment on the different ways women have to take their own personal safety into account in their day to day routine.  It starts off with a discussion about space: public space, personal space, and intimate space and how there is a flagrant and open disregard for women’s personal and intimate space. It examines how much women consider their outfits before leaving the house (“Do I look slutty?” “Will people say I’m asking for it?”) while recounting local stories of sexual harassment to the audience.

The choreography is powerful and explosive and my favourite parts are certainly the duet with the two female dancers, where the one performer (after having clearly depicted a violent assault on stage) sits on top of the other (in a defeated fetal position) and comments on having wanting to “experience it from the other side”; and one of the final scenes where the female and male dancer pair up in an incredible sequence driven by pre-recorded voice overs that highlight how patriarchy is destructive to all genders.

There are a couple moments that feel more drawn out and awkward than others. Such as the very long “costume changing scene” when the performers are commenting on one another’s fashion choices, trying to come across as natural, but feels a tad disingenuous and forced. Furthermore, the decision to have audience members come on stage and act as other patrons during a scene that takes place in a club seems superfluous and a little needless- are these figures really necessary in creating the image and atmosphere of a nightclub on stage?

However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons in the case of feelers. The self defense guide is as chilling as it is incredibly helpful. Barking like a rabid dog to scare off assailants? My immediate thought was: wow, that’s a handy tip. Maybe that sounds dramatic to some, but when sexual assault is a regular occurrence for women in many (if not all) parts of the world making yourself look like a wild and vicious animal in order to defend yourself doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all.

Overall, this is a show that makes strong and confident statements about real world issues. It expresses a story clearly by incorporating both text and dance into the piece that makes us question how we traditionally view situations of sexual assault. It is refreshing to see dance being included in the TACTICS season and if shows like feelers are any indication, I hope we see this trend continue.

 

 

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: Ottawa Fringe Encore Presents an Exciting Double Bill

Are you experiencing Fringe Festival withdrawal?

Do you find that there is just too long of a wait in between Fringe and Undercurrents?

Are you looking for something to do this weekend that doesn’t involve a self-induced turkey coma and/or PSLs?

Well, look no further because the Ottawa Fringe Festival has got your back with an exciting double bill of Fringe favourites being featured this week, October 8th-10th, at Arts Court Theatre.

 

Quickly establishing itself as the launching pad for new local (both professional and independent) work, the Fringe has taken it upon itself to bring back certain shows for encore performances allowing audiences that final chance to see something that might have sold out its run completely during the Fringe. This also makes a nice fundraiser (I’m assuming) for this organization where it can accumulate some funds off of the box office unlike at the Festival proper. Thus, by attending an event of this sort you are supporting both artist and organization which ultimately comes back (hopefully anyways) to benefit you, the spectator.

Artwork by Daniel Moisan
Artwork by Daniel Moisan

This year the Ottawa Fringe has invited back local artist and jane-of-all-trades Emily Pearlman as well as touring Fringe superstars Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle and their respective pieces, I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent and Moonlight After Midnight. The New Ottawa Critics had the pleasure of getting to review both of these shows during their world premieres and, in preparation for attending the shows a second time, we will be sharing both our initial reviews with you here now as well as brand new reviews this Friday.

I reviewed Moonlight After Midnight when it showcased at the 2014 Ottawa Fringe Festival and since then it has toured across North America to primarily rave reviews. Dockery and Quesnelle have become quite the powerhouse team in Ottawa and almost everything they touch sells out fast. Coming off of a successful cross-Canada Fringe tour with their show Inescapable, performed by Dockery with Jon Paterson and directed by Quesnelle, I look forward to seeing these two on stage together again.

You can expect a complex narrative structure that encourages an active sort of spectatorship when watching this piece. I originally described this production as “not a traditional drama with a conventional plot line; the complexity of the story combined with the excellent character work of the two actors allows this performance to engage both the mind and the soul”.  You can read my full review here. This time around, however, I will be reviewing Pearlman’s show and my compatriot Ian Huffam (who originally reviewed Boyfriend…Accent for the NOC) will be reviewing Moonlight, having not seen it previously.

As I said above, Emily Pearlman is a jane-of-all-trades in the theatre world: performer, producer, playwright, dramaturge, and even part-time teacher; if you don’t know who Ms. Pearlman is, you have probably been living under a rock for the last few years. In any case, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with her work as I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent is an introspective journey about romanticizing things and people that are different than you. Huffam points out that this show “asks its questions gently” and though it “may take a while for you to find your own answers for them […] that is exactly the point”.

Boyfriend…Accent is a relatively simple storytelling piece on its surface, supported only by the most minimal of power point projections. However the social and ethnic complexities that it investigates and explores offers up a safe space in which the spectator can reflect on his or her own attitudes towards the concept of the “exotic”. It’s a piece that vocalizes a number of thoughts that one might normally keep internally, hence the play’s secondary title: and other things you shouldn’t say out loud. Allowing us to feel a little relieved about these uncomfortable questions and feelings we sometimes keep contained within ourselves.

You can read the rest of Ian’s review about this “heavy-hitting” show here.

I absolutely recommend checking out both these shows if not to support the artists themselves, but to support the Fringe Festival which is easily the most attended theatre event/festival in Ottawa all year. Not only that but it’s a final opportunity to catch two previously sold out shows that really got people talking. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of the conversation.

Showtimes and ticket info can be found here.