Dr. Wendy Freeman Talks Conducting and Building Trust with the Ensemble

In her senior year of high school, in Grandville, Michigan, Dr. Wendy Freeman auditioned for the position of drum major. She won the position and enjoyed a successful year with the band, which performed all across the state of Michigan. While Freeman had always loved music, practicing flute from an early age and singing in the church choir, it was this leadership opportunity that sparked her interest in music as a conductor.

“I actually thought I was going to be an architectural engineer,” says Freeman, speaking on the phone from Westmount Charter School in Calgary. “After I realized how much I enjoyed being at the helm of the music, that sort of took over my scholarship applications and my dreams.”

Today, Freeman is the music director at Westmount, where she conducts students from grades 5 to 12. She is also an adjunct professor for the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. (Freeman received a Master of Music in Conducting Performance from U of C.)

“I teach the undergraduate education students interdisciplinary learning,” says Freeman about her duties at the Werklund School. “I’m a field instructor, so I’ll watch the student teachers teach and give feedback on their lessons.”

And at the U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, Freeman helps with the Music Education courses.

“I’m a pretty busy gal.”

“I decided early on that I didn’t want to just be a tenure track professor,” Freeman says. “I wanted to have a farther reach. Part of that for me is seeing young people grow their technical capacity and being able to influence future teachers.”

When I ask about the work that takes place before rehearsal, Freeman tells me there are two essential things that happen: “picking repertoire that suits the ensemble well” and rigorous score study.

“Before you can get on the podium and lead a group, you have to be able to sing every possible part,” Freeman says. “You have to know the music inside and out, and you have to have a vision for how you want it to go.”

Score study is important for building trust between the conductor and ensemble.

Respect is earned, says Freeman, when it is clear that a conductor has studied the score and they can deliver feedback that helps make the music sound better.

“I think in adults, anyway, it garners a certain amount of respect.”

With younger people, it’s more about “communicating effectively.” When a change is made, Freeman helps her ensemble to listen to the sound result. “We always refer back to, do we like that better? And if so, why?”

But building trust can also happen outside of rehearsal. “I try to know as much as I can about my musicians and who they are as people. I think it’s about caring for the whole person.”

“And when they do trust you and you have a journey in a concert that goes well, there’s also that sense of shared joy. If you can get to a place of shared joy, I think that’s really important.”

“And also [shared] disappointment. It’s how we handle the challenges that teaches others who we really are as people. You could be a crazy conductor with horrible stick technique, but if you are a lovely person who cares about the people in your ensemble and you can show empathy and you can be a kind person off the podium I think that goes a long way for adults and children.”

What advice does Freeman have for young conductors?

“Breathing with the musicians,” says Freeman about conducting orchestral and/or wind band musicians. “That’s really key for young conductors to remember, that they want to take the same breath with the musicians to start each phrase, to start each piece or to start each new entrance as they would use to play their own instrument.”

“If you breathe with the musicians, they will breathe with you. You will get a much more beautiful attack or start to the phrases. That’s something that young conductors often forget, to breathe with the musicians. It’s weird, because we don’t actually play. The baton isn’t making the music. We have to remember to breathe, because when we breathe with them they also take a nice breath.”

And practice self-assessment: “In my master’s journey, I videotaped every rehearsal.” Later, Freeman would go back and think about what gestures were helpful (or not) for musicians. She also considered the effectiveness of what was said to members of the ensemble.

Freeman also recommends watching videos of the great conductors and “going to a lot of symposia over the summertime.”

What does Freeman find rewarding about music?

“What I love about music is that it breeds a feeling of community and belonging. Whether you are in an orchestra or a wind band or a school band, you belong to something greater than yourself.”

“We always hope that the end performance will be the best time that we’ve ever run the work and we often do find that it is. To me, the hard work, the best work, and the most rewarding work is done in your eight rehearsals that led up to the concert. That’s where the team really grows.”

That brings Freeman to her last piece of advice for conductors.

“When you take a bow at the end of the concert, you are also doing that on behalf of the players that made the music. After the concert, I think it’s really important, no matter what age level, to say thank you.”


The Calgary Wind Symphony will be presenting Starry, Starry Night on Sunday, December 16th at 2:30PM. The concert will be held at the Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall (Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary). 

About Starry, Starry Night: “A collection of music to highlight the best parts of a Canadian winter, including the endless night sky.”

Dr. Wendy Freeman, an associate musical director with the CWS, will be conducting part of the concert.

Tickets are $20 (12 & under free) and can be purchased online.

Float Comfortably with Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River

Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is like that chocolate chip muffin that turns out to actually be raisin. It’s still a muffin, so yay, but raisin? Well, okay.

Part of Theatre New Brunswick’s 50th anniversary season, Come Down From Up River is a world premiere production from The Foster Festival. The production, running at the Fredericton Playhouse, is directed by Patricia Vanstone.

Come Down From Up River stages a family reunion between Bonnie Doyle (Amanda Parsons) and her uncle Shaver Bennett (Peter Krantz). The two haven’t seen each other in 23 years, and Bonnie has been perfectly okay with that. Bonnie’s wife Liv (Kirsten Alter), on the other hand, thinks it’s sad that Bonnie wants no kind of relationship with her uncle. After all, doesn’t family stick together, no matter what? Well, Bonnie doesn’t think so, even though Shaver is all the family she has left.

Why is Bonnie so cold towards Shaver? She won’t tell. All Bonnie will say about Shaver, a logger from up around the Miramichi River, is that he’s a lout who will strongly disagree with Bonnie and Liv’s interracial, same-sex marriage.

And that’s all we know about Shaver until he steps foot inside their home.

Surprise, Shaver is actually an okay guy.

In fact, Shaver is super likeable. Maybe too much, though. Every time he cracks a joke, you wonder what messed up thing Shaver did for Bonnie to hate him. Was he part of a hate group? Did he kill his sister in that drunk driving accident? You can’t help but feel a kind of dread for the big reveal that Shaver is a monster.

Well, turns out Shaver didn’t accept guardianship of Bonnie after her mother’s death.

That’s bad, obviously, but not exactly everything Bonnie made him out to be.

Yes, Foster’s misdirection makes a point about stereotypes, but the way Foster just so weakly tackles racism and homophobia is disappointing.

The hate doesn’t come from inside the house, but the law firm where Bonnie works. She isn’t made partner because the firm’s biggest client has a ‘moral conflict’ about her and Liv’s relationship. Seriously fucked up, right? This news prompts an emotional speech from Liz about facing racism and homophobia everyday. Instead of walking around it, Liv says, she walks through it.

Walk through it? The play glides through it. Bonnie and her colleague decide to resign and start their own firm. That’s it. Bonnie doesn’t even drop her resignation letter into the hands of her employers. Instead, she tells Liv, it was their personal assistants who felt her wrath.

Cool?

Well, at least the playwright got to tell us how bad hate is.

If you want a fun two hours of characters trading quips, look no further than Come Down From Up River. It’s a funny play that happens to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick. Picture a combination of Ron Swanson and Uncle Buck, that’s Krantz as Shaver. He’s hilarious. And Alter, she’s fabulous in the role of Liv, a person who needs to know details even if it annoys the other person. It’s like a game of squash when Krantz and Alter share a scene together. It’s hit after hit after hit, with the walls vibrating with laughter. Parsons does a fine job of playing Bonnie, the tough one. Of course, she isn’t always tough. Bring a tissue.

Stage right, there’s a table and some bar stools, with a Moosehead sign just behind on the wall. Stage left, a hospital waiting room. And right in the center, it’s Bonnie and Liv’s living room with a couch and table where family photos are on proud display. It’s a simple set from Set and Costume Designer Peter Hartwell.

There’s a lot of sitting and talking, though it doesn’t feel like a lot. Vanstone breaks it up with some movement, just enough so the banter keeps from going stagnant. She keeps the play grounded in effective simplicity, wonderful for those emotional highs that come late in the play.

If you don’t think about it too much, Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is a comfortable comedy.


Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River runs Nov 8 – 10 at the Fredericton Playhouse.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/come-down-from-up-river/

Any Given Moment is Marvelously Reassuring

Ever feel the totality of existence weighing down on you? Emma (Claudia Gutierrez-Perez) feels that way. The 21-year-old barista has big questions but no answers. And lately, it’s become too much for her.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick (a co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre), Kim Parkhill’s Any Given Moment is marvelously reassuring — like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.

No, Parkhill doesn’t solve life’s greatest mysteries nor does she pretend to be ahead of everyone else. Any Given Moment is about finding clarity through the support of other people.

Directed by Natasha MacLellan, Any Given Moment stages three strangers trapped inside a church after police initiate a lockdown. The lockdown is put in place after Emma, armed with a plastic gun, calls 911 on herself. To escape the rain, Emma runs inside the church where she finds Lisa (Alexis Milligan), busy preparing a benefit concert, and Bill (Wally MacKinnon), an older man experiencing homelessness.

Despite being strangers, Emma and Lisa think they have each other all figured out. How? Well, Lisa’s affluent lifestyle is all the proof Emma needs to know that she has the perfect life. Kids, husband, and a “McMansion” — what does Lisa have to worry about? And Emma’s diary is all Lisa needs to know that she is a troubled left-wing teenager ready to commit a mass shooting. If Lisa actually listened to Emma, instead of relying on what the news tells her, then maybe she would see things differently. 

It’s easy to think the world and other people are shit when the news (credible or not) is everywhere, all time. It’s hardly surprising that Lisa discovers all sorts of rumours about the lockdown when she logs onto the internet. Any Given Moment reminds us that we live in a time where people can know everything and nothing —  the double-edged sword of Web 2.0.

No matter how much the world changes, however, people can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters. And it starts with listening — a simple, yet powerful act of kindness. It’s only when Lisa learns to truly listen, with help from Bill, that she can not only see the hurt and confusion in front of her, but also make a real impact on someone’s life.

Keeping true to the play’s lesson of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, costume designer Cathleen McCormack has the actors dressed in extremes. Gutierrez-Perez is dressed kind of like Wednesday Addams if she were the lead singer of a 2000s Emo band — torn denim skirt, black leggings, and black boots with black and white socks. Milligan has a neater, more approachable look — a white t-shirt with brightly coloured yoga pants. And MacKinnon is dressed with a dirty face, plaid jacket, and old jeans and sneakers. McCormack leaves no room for ambiguity, these costumes invite preconceived notions. 

Inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre, Katharine Jenkins-Ryan’s set features what look like stained glass windows, an elevated staging area and two benches downstage (one on each side). The way Ingrid Risk lights the back of those windows is beautiful, especially when MacKinnon sits alone with the Virgin Mary.

And those delicate piano notes from sound designer Aaron Collier…!

Gutierrez-Perez brings an energy that feels like a mix between Daria and the Warped Tour. She is fiercely compelling as Emma, an angry young woman who feels powerless against, well, everything. Milligan channels every awful Minions meme that has ever been posted unironically on Facebook. She is brilliantly infuriating as Lisa. Versatile, too. Milligan manages to take us from rooting against Lisa all the way to making us feel bad for her. It’s a solid performance.

MacKinnon is hilarious as Bill. He has a warm presence that makes us wish others could see Bill’s golden heart.

Any Given Moment reassures us that we do matter, no matter how big the world might feel at times. A must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s production of Any Given Moment by Kim Parkhill ran September 12 – 16 at TNB’s Open Space Theatre. A co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/any-given-moment/

Opi-Void at the Black Box Theatre

Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void is part of an anthology project called Sunny Corner Stories, which consists of stories about the playwright’s hometown on the Miramichi River. Robbie Lynn, playing The Narrator, performs the opening monologue from Sunny Corner Stories as an introduction to Opi-Void — presented by Herbert The Cow Productions at the Black Box Theatre.

With a beer in hand, the Narrator tells the audience all they need to know about Sunny Corner. The area has seen better days. There are potholes everywhere and hardly any plows to be seen in the winter. Of course, a lot of that changes once election season comes around. Then, rural communities all of a sudden matter.

And the young people are moving out west, leaving home far behind. So as graduating classes shrink, the older generations are left to wonder what will become of them.

About the young people who do stay, The Narrator tells us that many of them are drug users.

The character’s monologue comes not only from a place of concern, but also of feeling hopeless, if not totally defeated. It’s hardly an attempt to garner pity from the audience. The Narrator, standing in for the community at large, only wants to be acknowledged and understood. He isn’t looking for the “luxuries of the bigger cities,” only what’s necessary for the local people to live. It seems, unfortunately, that to be acknowledged, let alone understood, is a luxury.

Directed collaboratively between Nowlan and the actors, Opi-Void is about three friends trying to determine a solution after their friend Chris overdoses in their home. With Chris’ body in the other room, the friends go over all their options. Scout (Brianna Parker) insists on getting a truck and taking Chris’ body to the dump. Coley (Kat Hall) strongly opposes the idea, arguing that clearing a path in the snow would draw suspicion. At the same time, Scout and Coley are trying to help Johnny (Nowlan) come down from a bad trip.

Scout tries placing the blame entirely on Coley, since she was the one who poured the drinks. When Johnny runs outside in the cold, Scout wonders what would happen if he died out there and they later blamed him for everything.

The way Scout sees it, “addicts” disappear all the time. So, who would care if Chris went missing from their community? Disgusted, Coley reminds Scout that Chris has a family. Chris being a drug user doesn’t erase the fact he had people who cared for him and that he cared for in return. Coley wonders if Scout could seriously face Chris’ sister everyday, knowing she dumped her brother’s body somewhere.

Opi-Void asks its audience to think about the ways society marginalizes people who use drugs and to question our own biases. 

Nowlan’s commentary on the opioid crisis in Canada is delivered with fervor, although sometimes to its detriment. Watching the gears turn in Parker’s head as she takes Scout from ‘solution’ to ‘solution’ is fun. Hall’s Coley is unwavering in her defense of Chris’ humanity. Hall is dynamite as the friend who calls people out on their bullshit.

Nowlan’s high-energy performance overpowers and takes attention away from the dynamic that develops between Hall and Parker’s characters. Which raises the question, why include Johnny at all? Opi-Void feels like it could easily be a two-hander. Or at least, find something better for Johnny to do early on. Johnny’s interruptions are really distracting.

Opi-Void offers insightful commentary about the opioid crisis and its impact on small communities.


Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void, presented by Herbert The Cow Productions, ran September 13th at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre.

Meet Nora, One of Canada’s Most Creative ASMRtists

Although you may have never heard of ASMR before, it’s possible you have experienced it at some point in your life. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it’s often explained as a tingling sensation caused by specific sounds and visuals. Some common ASMR triggers include page-turning, soft speaking, and tapping. One important thing to know about ASMR is triggers are not universal, meaning what may trigger ASMR for you may not do the same for someone else.

In recent years, ASMR has become an internet phenomenon. Search ‘ASMR’ on YouTube and you’ll find a lot of people, known as ASMRtists, creating ASMR videos. And it’s not just individual creators producing ASMR content, but also major businesses like IKEA and W Magazine. Since 2016, W Magazine has been inviting celebrities like Alessia Cara and Salma Hayek to experiment with ASMR on their YouTube channel. Yes, ASMR has come a long way from the small corner of YouTube it once occupied.

Even if you don’t experience ASMR, watching ASMR videos on YouTube is still really interesting. ASMRtists regularly find new creative ways to create ASMR videos. One such way is the integration of ASMR with storytelling.

Which is something that Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR does very well.

“I was a viewer myself for years,” says Nora, the Nova Scotian ASMRtist behind Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR. “I would watch it every night before bed and sometimes just during the day to chill out.”

“I’ve always been someone who is super shy and I was embarrassed by my own voice too, but by 2016 I had grown a lot more confident and I realized those ASMR people are just like me. I could totally try doing it too!”

The positive feedback Nora received on her first video made her feel “really excited” and motivated to continue making videos. Since uploading her first video in 2016, Nora’s YouTube channel has garnered almost 100 thousand subscribers and nearly 20 million total views.

“I’m so happy my viewership has grown and people actually like my content,” Nora says. “It feels so good to know that I’m helping people. It gives me something to look forward to every day and I’ve made so many amazing friends through this. I love it!”

For people unfamiliar with ASMR, Nora explains it as “a lovely feeling that induces relaxation.”

“ASMR videos can make you really sleepy and it also helps to reduce stress, anxiety, insomnia, or just get a nice tingly feeling!”

Nora’s character roleplay videos are popular with viewers. In these videos, Nora plays different characters  — which have so far included an alien, a dragon, a vampire, and even the viewer’s phone — in a variety of situations. “A big inspiration for my characters is just character tropes in anime.”

“So basically take a monster/animal/object, turn it into a girl and hurray you have a weird and interesting (and sometimes funny) character,” Nora says. “I’m also really inspired by internet culture, memes, and the horror/mystery genre.”

To help bring her characters to life, Nora spends time “[messing] around with makeup and props.”

“I just do what I think will suit the character,” Nora says. “The great thing about YouTube is that you don’t have to buy or make a full costume because it’s mostly just your shoulders and face that are shown!”

Among the things Nora has learned since she began creating ASMR videos has been managing her taxes as a full-time, self-employed ASMRtist. “It’s more complicated than when you work for a company.”

“Also since I do character roleplays and stuff, I learned SO much about video editing and filming/audio equipment, it’s always so fun to try new things,” says Nora.

And while the work that goes on behind the scenes can be “time consuming,” Nora says none of that matters when “it’s something you love to do.”

“I guess one thing about making ASMR videos,” Nora says, “is that it’s a very personal and intimate experience so it’s really common to get viewers who become a little too involved.”

“I’ve…learned that there are a LOT of troubled people out there, and they choose to express themselves in different ways. Some just watch and let it make them feel better, some message me about all their troubles like a diary, some become too emotionally attached and say gross creepy things, some express anger and resentment.”

“Most are good people though, so if you can give them some patience and kindness it will likely be worth it in the end,” Nora says. “I learned patience, understanding and keeping a cool head is one of the most important things in the world, to me at least.”

When Nora is not creating ASMR videos, she can be found making digital art for fun and taking her dog to the park.


Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR YouTube

Local Playwright Raising Awareness About Opioid Crisis in Miramichi

Last month, Corenski Nowlan’s one-act play Opi-Void premiered at the Miramichi River Community (MRC) Theatre Festival. Opi-Void addresses the prescription drug epidemic in Miramichi, an area that has “seen significant economic and cultural changes; none of which have been for the better.”

“There’s a lot of addicts in my hometown, a lot of pain and depressing stories. It’s heartbreaking,” Nowlan says. “I love my home. I’m proud to be from the Miramichi but I’m also deeply concerned and legitimately afraid for the area.”

While opioid abuse and addiction has been declared a major public health crisis in Canada, Nowlan says a local perspective is needed to understand how the opioid crisis impacts small communities like Miramichi. Nowlan views Miramichi as a “bubble culture” and distinct within the province. “I think people there understand the world in a very different way than people in New Brunswick’s southern cities; and their understanding is extremely localized,” Nowlan says. “The Miramichi area, and specifically the smaller rural settlements, are all about community.

Everyone knows everyone and everything you do can effect [sic] someone else. If you’re an addict, you’re hurting other people in your community, people you might not even think about, in ways that you probably didn’t think about. In a small town it’s a domino effect. When something bad happens, it happens to the whole community.”

Writing Opi-Void was “very easy” for Nowlan thanks to the playwright’s first hand experience and knowledge. Still, Nowlan says Opi-Void challenged and caused him anxiety because he was writing something “so true” and “so close to home.”

“Opi-Void is about a group of three friends, three addicts, who are in over their heads,” Nowlan says. “They’re trying to make sense of their lives from this insular small town perspective. They’re in a bad situation and I think they want to do the right thing, they know what the right thing is… but it’s a real struggle for them.”

About Opi-Void’s premiere at the MRC Theatre Festival, Nowlan says “[the] Miramichi audience watched this play and the characters were people they knew.”

“Theatre is a very special medium for storytelling, especially a story like this,” Nowlan says. “There’s lots of information out there about the opioid crisis. People know what the medical community says, what politicians say… but theatre provides a different perspective.”

“I want to tell stories about my home. I want to raise awareness to the problems there, start a dialog. Show people that these struggles are real and they are not alone.”

Opi-Void, presented by Herbert the Cow Productions, will run for one-night only at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre on September 13th, 7:30PM. Admission is Pay-As-You-Will.

Double Bill: Carrion Birds, Casualties at the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

This year’s winners of the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s playwriting competition in the Acting Out category are Greg Everett (Carrion Birds) and Alex Pannier (Casualties). Everett and Pannier’s one-act plays are running as a double bill at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial Hall until August 4th. Carrion Birds and Casualties are being presented as workshopped productions.

Directed by Robbie Lynn, Everett’s Carrion Birds is set along the Tobique River Valley where Rona (Kat Hall) and her uncle Corbin (Ryan Griffith) live and work in solitude. The relationship between Rona and Corbin is tense, to say the least. Rona resents living with Corbin who demands a lot of her. She would leave if it were not for her birthright — the land Rona’s grandfather poured (someone else’s) blood and sweat into hundred years ago. Birthright or not, Corbin needs to know Rona deserves to inherit the land, that she is willing to sacrifice just as he has.

When a shale gas surveyor (Kyle Bech) trespasses on their land, Rona and Corbin act quickly to make sure he doesn’t tell anyone about their whereabouts. The surveyor, blindfolded and tied up, soon finds himself involved in a dark and deadly ritual.

The play is set in rural New Brunswick, so what else could the personal conflict really be about than what it means to live a good life? Right, it’s not just that Rona hates taking orders from Corbin. Corbin despises his brother — Rona’s father — for abandoning their land for the suburbs and only returning whenever he thought he could make money off the property. And the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, because Rona perks up when the surveyor suggests he may have found something on their land. Of course, Corbin didn’t lose an arm — which has been replaced by a crow’s arm (credited to Kyle Brewer) — just so his niece could spit on the family legacy. For Corbin, he would rather lose his arm all over again than work under someone and live in a home he doesn’t truly own.

To spice up familiar territory, Everett has thrown in some supernatural elements, among which is a ghost story that’s closer to truth than fiction.

Still, Everett’s Carrion Birds feels better suited for a collection of short stories than the stage; It’s something you would read in the late hours of the night.

Lynn’s direction sees the play move at a brisk pace, evading much emotional complexity along the way. The performances are loud with meaningful or thoughtful pauses seldom appearing — too bad considering the themes of Everett’s drama. So, the ideas move, but they don’t necessarily connect.

Hall and Griffith do a fine job convincing us that neither Rona or Corbin would be a welcome sight out alone in the woods. Griffith delivers a fanatical, lyrical intensity while Hall’s Rona is dangerously mischievous and cunning. Kudos to Bech for the physicality of his role (at one point he’s thrown to the ground by Hall), he sells it well.

The set features big logs of wood downstage left and three screens upstage where video projection (crow painting by Darshini Moonesawmy; video editing by Gavin Alexander Reid) displays crows on branches. The video projection adds a nice touch of dramatic flair to the woodland scenery.

***

Directed by Jean-Michel Cliche, Alex Pannier’s Casualties sees siblings Andrew (Lucas Tapley) and Elaine (Sharisse LeBrun) thrown back and forth in time by memories of their painful childhood. Addicted to pills and alcohol, Elaine and Andrew’s parents are the absently present. Neither adult is capable of responsibility, nor are they able to see the consequences of their behaviour. Elaine and Andrew are left to fend for themselves, leading to a strained relationship between brother and sister.

Pannier’s play brings to mind the Philip Larkin poem “This Be The Verse” where Larkin tells us plainly in the first line “they fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Following Elaine and Andrew closely on their journey through memory is a Monster (Alex Fullerton, wearing a mask that could belong to a killer clown) who sometimes represents addiction and anger and other times the family relative who sexually abused both of them.

Casualties is a brutally honest exploration of abuse and emotional fallout. And it is wonderfully directed by Cliche who translates the vulnerability of Pannier’s writing to the stage with great care.

Part of what makes Casualties an exciting, yet purposeful production is the measured theatricality of Cliche’s direction. To portray the parents, LeBrun and Tapley wear masks that are stylistically similar to those found in commedia dell’arte. The actors, upon donning these masks, become almost manic with big, exaggerated movements and heightened voices; it’s a collision between tragedy and comedy, but no one’s laughing. So while mom gets tangled up in the phone cord, LeBrun’s Elaine is trying to find some way to release the pain she feels inside. Cliche gives these harsh character moments time to breathe before the clowning starts up again.

With the Monster, Cliche has him behave as a puppet master, pulling the family’s strings. Fullerton’s Monster moves in a taunting manner, as if taking pleasure in watching the family fall apart. He is an ominous presence on the stage.

The set is clean and accommodating of movement. In the center, there is a large bed, with a white and black wall behind it that looks like a QR code. Downstage on both sides are big wooden cubes with an E and A written on them, respectively. The sides of the cubes have key images from Elaine and Andrew’s childhood.

LeBrun and Tapley, who can really turn on a dime emotionally and physically, make a fantastic pairing. 

The final minutes of Casualties are chilling. While Elaine and Andrew wonder if they will turn out like their parents (“what will I be?”), the actors walk slowly to the bed, put on their masks, and sit up in bed looking out into the audience. It’s a frightening transition that says so much about how children can be affected by trauma.


Carrion Birds by Greg Everett and Alex Pannier’s Casualties run August 2 – 4 at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial, as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

For more information about the festival, visit: https://nbacts.com/