Drip, Drip, Drip: Vertigo Theatre Wades Through The Turn of The Screw

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Myla Southward and Braden Griffiths in Vertigo Theatre’s The Turn of The Screw. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Henry James’ 1898 ghost story The Turn of The Screw is steeped in ambiguity. Are there spirits alive in the countryside or are the demons more psychological in nature? Both explanations are terrifying, but unfortunately the terror of James’ tale is watered down at Vertigo Theatre.

Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher, The Turn of The Screw tells the story of a young governess (Myla Southward) hired to take care of two orphaned children living in their uncle’s country home. The children’s uncle (Braden Griffiths) asks the governess not to bother him in London with any sort of communication. Given total charge, the inexperienced governess does the best she can with Miles, a troubled boy discharged from school, and Flora, a young girl who chooses not to speak. Strange events begin not long after the governess’ arrival, namely the appearance of ghosts. The housekeeper Mrs. Grose confesses that the previous governess, Miss. Jessel, died on the grounds, along with her lover Peter Quint. Fearing the children’s safety, the governess tries solving the mystery of the apparitions before evil overtakes the household.

Common to ghost stories, the wilderness hides many evil things, and here it is no different. The supernatural lurks in the garden and outer limits of the estate. Set designer Scott Reid has constructed a unique set where the gothic estate shares space with a flooded downstage area. The presence of live water works marvelously in showing the encroaching wilderness, or darkness. Narda McCarroll’s striking lighting work adds layers to the water by making it appear soft and still in some moments, then hard and violent in others. Yes, the actors become absolutely drenched by the end of it, and that’s delicious symbolism for any English majors in the audience. The trouble is, the inventive staging does little for Hatcher’s weak adaptation.

Hatcher’s stage adaptation calls for only two actors, with the male actor taking on multiple roles. Griffiths plays the uncle, Miles, Flora, and Mrs. Grose. Griffiths goes on his knees to play schoolboy Miles, then leaps up to play Mrs. Grose, a shrill old woman. The actor’s character transitions are more comical than anything, winning (perhaps) unintended laughs from the audience. They also become messy as the narrative nears its climax, since now all the characters come into play together.

And with fewer players, the narrative’s possible outcomes become limited too, taking away some of James’ original ambiguity.

Director Ron Jenkins keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, but even still the story never quite hits its groove. Hatcher’s adaptation has difficulty bringing together all its elements in a cohesive, compelling manner. The payoff rests in the spectacular visuals than in the plot. Nonetheless, Jenkins displays a good eye for blocking actors and producing frights.

Southward delivers a strong performance as the young governess thrust into a world of spirits, demons of the past. A little water does little to stifle Southward’s intensity as her character’s own sanity starts to crack under pressure. Transitions aside, Griffith plays the menace well here with his deep, booming voice. He stalks and creeps like a shadow.

Hatcher’s adaptation suffers from a limited cast of actors, and a loose delivery of James’ classic ghost story. Vertigo Theatre’s production of The Turn of The Screw delivers in the visual department, but fails to produce intrigue worthy of a visit.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Turn of The Screw runs March 12 – April 10 at Vertigo Theatre (The Playhouse).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/mystery-series


A Knockout: Cseke’s The Fight or Flight Response Enters The Ring

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Verb Theatre presents The Fight or Flight Response by Col Cseke, March 10-19 at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre. Pictured, L to R: Justin Michael Carriere and Nathan Pronyshyn. Photo Credit: Rob Galbraith.

On its surface, Col Cseke’s The Fight or Flight Response is about two guys trying to escape their unfulfilling lives.

By day, Kevin (Justin Michael Carriere) is an Assistant Manager at Subway; by night he is a mixed martial arts fighter training for his first professional MMA fight. On the verge of turning thirty, Kevin sees the fight as his last first experience ever, a thought that motivates him even more to win and climb the professional ladder.

On the flip side, Kevin’s long-time friend Doug (Nathan Pronyshyn) is struggling to get away from the MMA scene altogether. Doug’s problem is that he has very little experience with anything outside of fighting. Before working full-time at Mohammed’s MMA Gym, the thirty-two year old slung coffee at Tim Hortons. Doug knows he wants to do something else with his life, but he just doesn’t know what that something else looks like. Paralyzed by fear and indecision, Doug hopes for some external force to move him in one direction or another.

This Verb Theatre production is staged inside the Joyce Dolittle Theatre, a small but malleable space. Costume and Set Designer Victoria Krawchuk has transformed the space into a MMA gym, equipment and all. The theatre’s brick walls add to the grittiness of the space, and the drama that unfolds during very real and brutal fight sequences (Fight choreography by Karl Sine with Pronyshyn and Carriere).

As mentioned, Cseke’s play is in some parts about these two friends trying to turn their lives around, but really the play is about the many problems with traditional masculinity, namely the emotional disconnect that young men experience. Traditional masculinity dictates that young men ought to keep their emotions bottled inside, that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. About the nature of fighting, Kevin muses that guys like fighting because it’s the only time when human contact between men is acceptable. Guys can’t touch other guys otherwise, he says, unlike girls who can make contact with other girls whenever. And so, following these lines, young men remove themselves emotionally in two ways, from the self and from others.

So, it’s no surprise that the men in Cseke’s play have such a hard time not only describing what they’re feeling, but then sharing that with someone else. For them, the only thing that makes sense is fighting, knowing that someone wins and someone loses at the end of a match. Support, not competition, it’s a novel idea.

Director Kelly Reay pursues this awkwardness between Kevin and Doug by having both actors never quite engaging each other directly, not until the heated finale anyway. Maybe the best way to describe Reay’s direction is by comparing it to when people walk aimlessly around their homes while on the telephone. The actors play or distract themselves with the various equipment laying around the gym while digging deep into their character’s emotional well. It’s a funny thing at first, but then we realize that these distraught characters would need to distract themselves in order to be so open about their emotions. And the actors are most usually talking to each other from afar, growing that emotional distance even further. Excellent direction by Reay who succeeds in pulling the actors and action together at the end.

Pronyshyn and Carriere display tremendous vulnerability in this raw, engaging production. The actors speak volumes through their movement alone. It’s fascinating just how much non-verbal communication is expressed during the training periods, and other blows exchanged between the two. What’s exciting, too, is the sense of immediacy that the actors draw from their characters’ seemingly hopeless lives. The big life changes, they have to happen now or never. Time is not something people can fight, but only accept.

A riveting piece of work by Cseke, and a knockout production from Verb Theatre.

Verb Theatre’s The Fight or Flight Response by Col Cseke runs March 10 – 19 at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre (Pumphouse Theatres).

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.verbtheatre.com/season/


Hijinks Galore: Suite Surrender Lands At Stage West

Diva Wars

Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender runs Feb 12 – April 17 at Stage West. Pictured, left to right: Chantal Perron, Charlie Gould,  Kevin Hare, Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan, and Trevor Rueger. Photo Credit: John Watson.

The war comes home when Hollywood rivals Claudia McFadden (Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan) and Athena Sinclair (Chantal Perron) land at the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender.

That’s what Bernard Dunlop (Kevin Hare), the Palm Beach Royale’s general manager, fears at least, that total war will break out with Claudia and Athena staying in the same hotel. The two divas are at the Palm Beach Royale for a USO fundraiser, and have been given separate rooms, on separate floors, on totally opposite ends of the hotel. All good and well until Bernard realizes that, through some mix up, Claudia and Athena are booked to stay in the same room, the presidential suite.

Uh oh.

Trying to keep the two singers out of each other’s sight is a Herculean task, one that drives Bernard nearly mad. To make matters worse, the Navy is run amok in the hotel, setting ‘small’ fires in the lobby among other mischief. The USO’s fundraiser sponsor Mrs. Everett P. Osgood (Susan Johnston-Collins) tells Bernard to let the boys be, that they’re just blowing off steam. Not exactly what Bernard wants to hear, especially when bumbling bellhops Francis (Adrian Sherpherd) and Otis (Scott Olynek) are doing little to help the situation.

Suite Surrender is a breezy comedy of errors that demands a lightning-fast pace, and director J. Sean Elliott brings exactly that and more to this excellent Stage West production. Once all the pieces fall in place, the show takes off like a fighter jet and delivers non-stop laughs. In fact, the energy is so overwhelming that the set, designed by David Smith, wobbles almost every time a door is shut.

The set has four doors: two for the bedroom, one for the closet, and then the entrance door. As the show’s stakes escalate higher and higher, so does the movement on stage. The actors run in and out of the doors, shutting the doors firmly behind them. The first mishap comes when Hare’s Bernard breaks the closet door, with an unconscious Dora Del Rio (Natascha Girgis) behind it, taking the door off some hinges. The second mishap, one of the bedroom doors is shut and causes drinking glasses to fall high from the adjacent shelf, resulting in broken glass onstage. Very strange that no one thought to better secure the glasses given the onstage action.

The ensemble deals with the mishaps very well, a testament to their talent. Unfazed, the ensemble continue delivering superb performances. Tarhan and Perron are exquisite in their respective roles, each a force to be reckoned with. Perron’s man-hungry Athena pulls attention everywhere she goes with her sultry voice, while Tarhan’s Claudia commands attention with her booming voice and dominating presence. Trevor Rueger’s meek Mr.Pippet, Claudia’s assistant, is a hilarious contrast to Tarhan’s character. (Tarhan, Sherpherd, and Rueger share a great “this is not what it looks like” moment). Hare plays Bernard, the anchor to all the madness, with great delight as he descends further and further into desperation.

Olynek and Sherperd make a great pair together, and always shine in their scenes. Athena’s assistant Murphy is played with a sweet demeanor by Charlie Gould, an actress with great facial expressions. And let’s not forget about the cute dog who plays Mr. Boodles, barks and other dog noises provided by sound designer Michael Gesy, and behaves without issue.

McKeever’s Suite Surrender is a real gut buster. Audiences looking for an uproarious evening at the theatre will not want to miss its run at Stage West. Under Elliott’s direction, the ensemble deliver a whirlwind experience where big, hearty laughs escalate to the kind of laughs that leave people gasping for air.

Stage West’s production of Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender runs Feb 12 – April 17.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/suite-surrender/


U of C’s SCPA Knocks Molière’s The Learned Ladies Out of The Park



The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts presents The Learned Ladies by Moliere, runs Feb 16 – 27. Pictured, left to right: Vanessa Wenzel, Vanessa Jette, Pryscil Daigle, Connor Pritchard, and Logan Teske. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

Everything about the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies is big, bright, and savagely funny. A master of the form, comic dramatist Molière’s scathing satire of pompous academics and pretentious learning finds a home in the most appropriate of places, a university. And here, inside the University Theatre, the laughs are plentiful, and the social commentary as sharp as a fine blade.

Directed by Inouk Touzin, The Learned Ladies tells the story of Henriette (Natasha Strickey), a young woman whose ‘learned’ family makes her life unbearable. Henriette’s sister Armande (Vanessa Wenzel) is obsessed with cultivating her mind through books and philosophy. Armande becomes furious at her sister when Henriette tells her she plans to marry Citandre (Andy Weir), or give into base desires as Armanda sees it. Henriette’s overbearing mother Philaminte (Onika Henry) disapproves of the marriage, preferring instead that her youngest daughter marry Trissotin (Connor Pritchard), a haughty scholar and poet revered by Philaminte and her sister-in-law Bèlise (Vanessa Jetté).

Henriette’s father Chrysale (Logan Teske) and his brother Ariste (Dylan Forkheim) are her and Citandre’s only allies in the household. Unfortunately for the young lovers, Chrysale is more mouse than man, especially when it comes to dealing with his wife Philaminte.

Molière’s disdain for so-called intellectuals brings to mind Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall. In the film, Allen’s character Alvy Singer retreats away from a stuffy cocktail party to watch the Knicks on TV, telling his  wife later: “it’s one thing about intellectuals, they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant, but have no idea what’s going on.” Molière’s intellectuals in The Learned Ladies are exactly that, brilliant but unable to see what is right under their nose. Bèlise – who ironically wears a telescope on her head – thinks that Citandre telling her that he is in love with Henriette is some sort of ruse to hide his true feelings for her, despite him repeatedly telling the desperate woman otherwise. Armande is unable to understand why Citandre stopped courting her and then fell in love with her down-to-earth sister Henriette. Armande fails to see the incompatibility between herself and Citandre, displaying a lack of emotional intelligence on her part.

Touzin stages a fun BDSM affair between Chrysale and Martine (Pryscil Daigle), a house servant. Philaminte charges into the garden, angry that Martine is still around after committing such a severe crime – a crime worse than theft. The crime? Bad grammar. Here, Teske’s Chrysale shows great relief that Philaminte doesn’t know about the scandal right in front of her, and also frustration (sexual and otherwise) that such a capable servant is being dismissed for illegitimate reasons.

April Viczko’s gorgeous set and costume design, an explosion of colour “designed in punk-rococo style,” reflects Molière’s cautious attitude towards the pursuit of knowledge. Not all learning is bad, Molière argues, but not all teachers are right. On the outside, the pursuit of knowledge is a glossy, wonderful thing – which is why so many young people are encouraged to attend university, even if it’s not for them – but once inside, it is filled with insufferable frauds, like Trissotin who has more interest in money than poetry, and self-important people. Viczko’s bright costume colours mask the ugliness of learned people whose true colours are yet to be revealed.

Under Touzin’s robust direction, the ensemble brings to life madcap garden antics that elevate Molière’s satire. Henry brings a larger-than-life presence to matriarch Philaminte, a woman who none in her household dare defy, making her and Teske dynamic all the more hilarious. Dressed with a comically-sized unibrow (the hungry caterpillar, anyone?), Jetté’s physical comedy shines in every scene as she animates Bèlise with sickly, exaggerated expressions that win big laughs from the audience. Daigle is a real treat to watch onstage as she plays Martine with a mix of flirtatious poise and unyielding resolve. Daigle, too, brings plenty of bite to the character by speaking Chiac – a major contrast to the learned ladies’ elegant, grammatically correct French.

Pritchard plays Trissotin with the most hateful arrogance, animating the despicable character as someone who celebrates every single thought they vomit into existence. Pritchard’s portrayal is like a nightmare between Lady Gaga and that annoying know-it-all freshman student whose ‘genius’ is misunderstood.

Strickey’s Henriette is considerably less of a loud-mouth than the learned ladies around her. Still, Henriette is not afraid to speak her mind, and Strickey delivers the heat with cool confidence. Wenzel demonstrates a needed insecurity behind Armande’s snobbish behaviour, as Armande is the most ‘human’ of the learned ladies – the other two are largely caricatures. Armande’s insecurity really comes when Wenzel and Weir’s Citandre clash. Weir does very well playing the audience’s outlet for their frustration towards the pseudo-intellectuals.

Brilliant direction, visually striking design, and strong performances make the SCPA’s production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies a smashing success.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies runs Feb 16 – 27 at University Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/learned-ladies


Ground Zero Theatre Summons The Force For ‘Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook’

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Karl Sine and Christian Goutsis in Stephen Massicotte’s The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook, presented by Ground Zero Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Forty years after the original movie’s release, and Star Wars continues to dominate our galaxy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh and latest entry in the sci-fi series, has smashed box-office records, earning $2 billion worldwide, and proved that the cultural phenomenon is not going away anytime soon.

Given the recent awakening of The Force, Ground Zero Theatre could not have picked a better time to stage Stephen Massicotte’s The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook, running now at Vertigo Theatre’s Studio.

The year is 1977, and The Kid (Christian Goutsis) has just had his mind blown away by Star Wars: A New Hope. Star Wars is all the 10-year-old can talk about, much to the annoyance of his mother. Lucky for him, his obsession with Star Wars makes him a new friend in detention. James (Karl Sine) and The Kid bond over their love of Star Wars, recreating the movie the best they can with burlap sack jedi robes, cardboard tube lightsabers, and other junk laying around.

For anyone familiar with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), imagine almost exactly that but with Star Wars. Goutsis and Sine win howling laughter from the audience as they blow through just about every iconic scene from the original movie, voices and all. The madcap action is brilliantly directed by Ryan Luhning, artistic director of Ground Zero Theatre.

Massicotte’s play is not just about Star Wars, of course. The play is largely a coming of age story about a lonely boy who survives moving to a new city and going to a new school with help from The Force. Massicotte goes beyond Star Wars as a cultural juggernaut and explores why so many have fallen in love with the franchise. For The Kid, Star Wars is not just a movie, but a world he can escape into where the good guys win. A needed escape from the trials and tribulations of grade 4.

The second half sees James and The Kid now in junior high. Junior high is a different beast altogether, as boys and girls are going around town. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is just around the corner, but this time James and The Kid have company. Kerry (Amber Bissonnette) and Mandy (Sarah Wheeldon) ‘bump’ into the boys at the movie theatre, later inviting them to go roller-skating for a (disastrous) double date.

The young romance is all kinds of sweet and awkward, as the characters dance around the obvious. (Jedi training doesn’t say anything about first kisses!).

The genius of Massicotte’s play is its universality, despite being grounded in Star Wars fandom.  Audiences will likely be thrown back to their own wonder years, for better or for worse, by this fun, compelling story about friendship and growing up in an era far, far away. Children, too, will enjoy this wildly imaginative production that bridges generations of Star Wars fans together.

Sine’s fight choreography is made even more epic by JP Thibodeau’s striking lighting design. (Yes, that scene between Darth Vader and Luke happens, and it is glorious). The choreographed fights are a sight to see, along with the creative use of different materials to re-construct big set pieces from the movies.

With something for everyone, including young padawans, The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook is a must-see.

Ground Zero Theatre’s The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook runs Feb 11 – 21 at Vertigo Theatre’s Studio.

For more information about the show, including how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.groundzerotheatre.ca/


It’s Always Wine O’Clock at Book Club


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The cast of Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club at Lunchbox Theatre. Pictured (left to right): Anna Cummer, Cheryl Hutton, Kira Bradley, Arielle Rombough, Kathryn Kerbes. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Moms go wild in Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club.

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Book Club stages a group of moms who meet weekly to talk about some book no one ever bothers to read. The thing about book club, it’s just an excuse to have a glass of wine (or two) in the afternoon. Everyone’s in the loop except for Ellen (Anna Cummer), an uptight helicopter parent whose children follow a strict gluten-sensitive diet.

This week’s meeting is hosted by Lisa (Cheryl Hutton), an easy going mom with a not-so-easy time cleaning up her house for the ladies. Ellen arrives with her mother Mary (Kathryn Kerbes) just as Lisa finishes cleaning the kitchen floor with baby wipes. A very pregnant Kathy (Kira Bradley) arrives soon after, a relief for Lisa who can’t tolerate Ellen’s bragging about her perfect children. To the group’s surprise, Jenny (Arielle Rombough) is late. Supermom Jenny is never late.

A couple of drunk texts later from Jenny, and the women are off to find their missing friend in all of the unlikeliest places – a strip club, a tattoo parlour, and the airport.

Taylor-Parry’s Book Club is a comedy of familiarity, of knowing nods and quiet agreement from its mainly female audience. Lisa’s frustration at trying to tidy up while keeping an eye on her mischevious children draws big laughs as it’s one of those “yup, been there, done that” moments. For Taylor-Parry, however, it’s not just about showing the stresses of motherhood, but also talking through them, no matter how difficult the conversation.

Beneath the play’s rich humour are layers of anxiety and insecurities towards motherhood. Even Ellen doubts her parenting, and she does everything by the book, or whatever research study is trending. As the women discover, there is no manual for mothers and mothers-to-be. A lot of it is trial and error, that’s how it was for Mary whose “old school ways” were exactly that. With this uncertain territory comes a need for support, ideally in the form of friendship and maybe not a glass of wine (or two) in the afternoon.

Taylor-Parry’s serious concern for mothers and their mental health is beautifully expressed by Rombough in the play’s last moments. Rombough’s erratic, party girl behaviour is anchored by a genuine sincerity that offers plenty reflection on the work-life balance some mothers struggle with daily.

Director Shari Wattling is gifted with a truly outstanding cast for this book club meeting that’s anything but boring. There’s plenty of great things going on, from Cummer’s signature hyper-neuroticism running against Kerbes’ elegant maturity to Hutton’s splendid talent for physical comedy. Add in Bradley’s hilarious maneuvering of her comically-sized belly (costume design by Deitra Kalyn), and the laughs are non-stop. Watting’s snappy direction gives the actors room to play, while also being mindful of the final destination. Excellent direction for a ‘journey play’, which can sometimes drag and lose the audience along the way.

Scenic & Lighting Designer Anton de Groot’s versatile set changes from messy kitchen to strip club to rough street area with ease. Allison Lynch’s robust sound design brings the club alive with heart-pounding beats.

A brilliant script, strong direction, and outstanding cast make Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club worth signing up for.

Meredith Taylor-Parry’s Book Club runs Feb 8 – 27 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/book-club


#ThisIsLife Explores Ups and Downs of Social Media

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective's #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

Trying to explain social media is difficult. No really knows why they need minute-by-minute updates from just about everyone and anyone. Why anything goes viral is a mystery, even for so-called social media ‘gurus’. And who knows why people obsess over how many virtual affirmations i.e. Likes and Hearts they receive online. If there’s at least one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that social media, for better or for worse, is simply fascinating.

Presented at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife journeys through the world of social media, exploring its ups and downs along the way. The multi-media production incorporates the use of video screens to help seek out and examine the various impacts of social media on daily life.

After the show’s big opening number “Dress Rehearsal”, choreographed by Kelsea Fitzpatrick, Lauren Miholic’s “Bros” takes the stage. There’s no doubt that social media has dramatically changed the way friends and family communicate. Miholic’s brisk, light-hearted piece focuses on social media as a tool to collect and store memories, staging four friends who connect online as well as offline. The piece ends on a happy note as the friends are able to take that connection from the online to the offline.

Next, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak’s “Troll” stages an urgent message about cyber bullying. In this piece, one group of dancers are dressed in red – Hate – with the other group dressed in white – victims. The piece is set to Shayne Koyczan’s “Troll.” There’s this strange idea that the online and the offline are two separate worlds, that whatever is posted online has no real world consequences. Cromwell-Krywulak’s piece argues against the idea. Her dancers in red physically dominate the others, pushing them around until one dancer in white is pushed too far, taking her life as a result. The choreography is powerful in its ability to clearly communicate its narrative, while stirring reflection on tragic cases of cyber bullying e.g. Amanda Todd.

Christen Terakita’s “Parallel Play” explores another recent phenomenon, our careless disconnect with the physical world. The dancers walk onstage, distracted by their smartphones – their hands are cleverly illuminated by handlights. The choreography sees some dancers performing distracted, while others are more focused on the task at hand, switching periodically. Terakita’s choreography works marvelously in making its point about just how glued people are to their screens, even during moments where their attention is needed most. Although the dancers eventually realize they ought to pay more attention at the end, they soon go back to their old habits, or the new normal.

Katherine Mandolidis’ “Chatter” stages two friends trapped in a miscommunication caused by posts made to Facebook. Dancers fill in the space between the friends, who are standing far apart from each other on stage. The choreography is something like a modern game of telephone, where neither end is receiving the same message. Mandolidis’ piece ends as these type of disputes should: the two friends meet face-to-face and clear their miscommunication, laughing it off as the lights go down.

The first act ends with a steamy cabaret number based around popular dating sites and apps like Tinder – the “hook up” app. Susan Rowland’s “Crazy For You” stages a playful dance of seduction that proves no matter the method, the rules of the game never change.

Janelle Rae Ferrara’s “#filterthis” is all about the major impact of photo manipulation, popular on platforms like Instagram, on women and their self-confidence. Rather than search for imperfections, Ferrara argues women ought to celebrate their bodies, for they are beautiful just the way are. Ferrara’s piece is strongly reminiscent of a Beyoncé music video. The five dancers certainly channel their inner Queen B with their stunning performance that has the audience whooping and hollering by the end of it.

Misha Behnia brings the terror of cyberstalking to the stage with “Find You.” Someone has been obsessing over a young woman’s online activity recently, leaving comments that disturb her. While her stalker is anonymous, she suspects it’s someone close to her. Behnia has chosen slow renditions of You’re The One That I Want and One Way or Another to create a frightening atmosphere onstage. The lyrics to One Way or Another (“I’m gonna get ya”) take on a whole new dark meaning in this piece as a terrified dancer runs for safety amidst a sea of people, any of which could be her stalker. Behnia’s slow build in tension is genuinely unsettling.

A much lighter piece, Katherine Wilson’s “Just 5 More Minutes…” looks at the struggle of falling asleep at night now that the internet is just at our fingertips. Wilson’s piece starts with a young woman who decides to watch cat videos before going to bed. A rabbit hole, if ever there was any. The young woman soon finds herself surrounded by dancers dressed as cats, ears and all. The piece is absolutely hilarious as it goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. The young woman finds herself searching for more videos to watch, landing on Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” Dancers come out to recreate Jackson’s popular dance moves. The piece ends with our tired friend getting barely a second of sleep before her alarm goes off. (The struggle is real).

Mandolidis’ “Distraction” focuses on the deadly phenomenon of distracted driving and its aftermath. “Distraction” is an emotional piece, evoking a strong sense of grief and hurt as one dancer watches her friends lose their lives to an urge to always be connected, no matter the situation.

The night’s last number is “Count on Me,” choreographed by Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland. The final word about social media is that social media is not some strange, otherworldly entity, but something created by people, for people. When used responsibly, social media can benefit people in a lot of different ways.

While not clearly linked by an overarching narrative, the show’s dynamic multi-perspective look at social media is compelling nonetheless. The format makes sense considering social media is so versatile and elusive in its identity. Trying to cover the various dimensions of social media through some patchwork story would likely be disastrous. Here, each dimension is allowed to breathe and take on its own character to full effect, like Behnia’s “Find You.”

Through 11 choreographic works, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife taps into the pulse of modern life, delivering a fun, insightful production surrounding the impacts of social media on daily life.

En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife runs Feb 4 – 6 at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre.

For more about the information, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca/#!-thisislife/c72f

Dress Rehearsal

Choreography: Kelsea Fitzpatrick
Music: Bonnie McKee – Bombastic
Filming and Editing: Kelsea Fitzpatrick and Valerie Stretch
Performed by: All Cast


Choreography: Lauren Miholic
Music: Wolf Alice – Bros
Performing by: Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kiersten Penny, Kimberly Johnson


Choreography: Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak
Music: Shane Koyczan – Troll
Performed by: Allison Benson, Ashley Green, Erica Price, Jordana Trauh, Kiersten Penny, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron, Tasha Leibel

Parallel Play

Choreography: Christen Terakita
Music: Izzi Dunn – Oblivious
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Katherine Wilson, Lauren Miholic, Stephanie Fuhurman, Susan Rowland


Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Joywave feat. Kopps – Toungues
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Misha Behnia, Shannon Sherston


Choroegraphy: Tasha Leibel
Music: Twenty One Pilots – Goner
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Jordan Wallan, Julia MItchell, Karen Vito, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Misha Behnia, Nicole Wasylenko, Shannon Sherston, Stephanie Ballie, Susan Rowland

Crazy For You

Choreography: Susan Rowland
Music: Adele – Crazy For You
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Christina Robertson, Emily Neuheimer, Katherine Wilson

Mark My Words

Choreography: All Choreographers
Director/Concept: Susan Rowland
Film Editing: Valerie Stretch
Performed by: The Choreographers of #ThisIsLife and the En Corps Board of Directors
Music: Justin Bieber – Mark My Words


Choreography: Janelle Rae Ferrara
Music: HWLS – 004
Performed by: Brianne Martin, Jordan Wallan, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Tasha Leibel

Something in The Water

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer
Music: Pokey Lafarge: Something in The Water
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Karen Vito, Katherine Wilson, Nicole Wasylenko, Susan Rowland

Find You

Choreography: Misha Behnia
Music: Until The Ribbon Breaks – One Way or Another, Lo Fang – You’re The One That I Want
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Allison Benson, Ashleigh Cerny, Chelsea McEwing, Erica Price, Jordana Traub, Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Kimberly Johnson, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Nicole Wasylenko, Stephanie Ballie, Sydney Suffron

Just 5 More Minutes…

Choreography: Katherine Wilson
Music: Tick Tock Jungle, Meow Mix Song (EDM remix – Ashworth, Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation, Hans Zimmer – Tick Tock.

Performed by: Allison Benson, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Erica Price, Kiersten Penny, Madison Dixon, Naomi Lawson-Baird, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron


Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Grace Potter and The Nocturnals – Falling or Flying
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Jordan Wallan, Jordana Traub, Kimberly Johnson, Misha Behnia, Odessa Johnston, Stephanie Ballie, Tasha Leibel

Count On Me

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland
Music: Bruno Mars – Count On Me
Performed by: All Cast

Ready to Make Her Mark, Serenella Sol Launches SeSol Dance Projects


Dancer & choreographer Serenella Sol, founder of SeSol Dance Projects. Photo Credit: Wojtek Mochniej.

Until recently, SeSol Dance Project’s debut production, which premieres this February, was simply titled Project 001. Now, the show’s full title has been revealed, and it is a title that resonates strongly with 26-year-old Serenella Sol.

Project 001: Coming of Age.

“There was something about turning 26 that you feel like, okay I’ve danced for a couple years and have done my own works. What’s the next thing I need to do?” said Sol who created SeSol Dance Projects as a vehicle for her choreographic work. “I just felt like it was time…I’ve been wanting to do it for a couple years, but it never felt right. This time felt like yes, I’m going to do it!”

With the support of W & M Physical Theatre, SeSol Dance Projects aims to create performance opportunities for contemporary dance artists in Calgary, and reach out to audiences who may not regularly engage with contemporary dance.

“Most of the good dancers [in Calgary] are gone, and the rest are working at Lululemon,” said Sol. “It’s a duty for me to create opportunities for talented dancers. The good people want to leave because there is nothing going on here. It’s really hard here in Calgary, but I firmly believe that if we fight and keep going the city will be different in ten years. And it’s going to be different because of artists like me and so many others who are trying to make something from nothing. We just have to keep going.”

Sol says that SeSol Dance Projects is a first step towards realizing her big dream, running a small company of her own. Her company would not only create job opportunities for dancers, but also contribute to the city’s cultural image.

“This is just, I feel like people should be excited about this. We are creating culture, people like me and so many other artists. We are creating Canadian culture. We are creating Calgarian culture.

“We’re more than the [Calgary Stampede], cowboys, and horses. I’m sick of it. That’s not us, we are more than that. I feel like it’s so important for me to be a part of that process. [I want to] be forty and be like, we have a better city because we struggled so much.”

“I’m not there yet, but that’s where I want to be,” said Sol.

Born in the United States, Sol grew up in Venezuela where she started dancing ballet at the age of three. Sol says she quit her ballet classes after Venezuela’s political landscape began shifting. “When I was thirteen, the political situation in my country switched, and that really influenced my upbringing in my teenage years. I was really politically involved in my country. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to become a lawyer.”

Sol’s parents applied for permanent residency, a process that can take between two to three years, when she was fourteen. At the age of seventeen, Sol and her family moved to Canada.

In Canada, Sol, still intent on becoming a lawyer, continued studying political science, but felt that something was missing in her life.

“I was really depressed for a while. I didn’t know why,” said Sol about living in Vancouver. “One day, I saw a sign for ballet classes [at Harbour Dance Centre], and I’m like maybe I should join. I hadn’t taken ballet classes for two years. I took a class and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped. I realized that was the thing I was missing.”

“In Venezuela, you don’t see yourself – you cannot be a professional dancer,” said Sol. “There are no companies. There are no choreographers. It’s not even a possibility. For me, growing up, it was not even a possibility to become a choreographer. When I came [to Canada], it was actually a possibility to become a choreographer.”

In 2013, Sol graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Minor in Dance. Although she had changed her mind about becoming a lawyer, graduating from U of C’s Dance program would have taken longer than she preferred. “It was going to take me a longer time to finish dance than political science, because they took some courses I had in Venezuela.”

“[I thought] I don’t need to stay one more year. I don’t need a degree in dance to be a dancer. I just wanted to move onto the next stage of my life,” explained Sol.

After graduation, Sol traveled to Europe where she planned to begin her dance career. “I just wanted to go to Europe, that’s all I wanted to do. I wasn’t even focused on doing a career in Canada.”

She returned to Calgary after auditioning abroad did not go as planned.

“I came back and was super depressed. I had to get an office job. I was like, I’m going to quit dance! I hate this! The first couple months were really rough,” said Sol about the situation.

And then one day, Sol received an e-mail from Melissa Monteros about an opportunity with W & M Physical Theatre.

“I’m not a religious person, but that was one of the biggest moments in if my life that I was like if there is a God, that this was sent by him. Because I never saw it coming,” said Sol.

Sol met W & M Physical Theatre co-founders Monteros and Wojtek Mochniej while at university, as a student. Monteros’ e-mail came as a total surprise, Sol said, because she never considered herself as someone who stood out in their classes.

“To be honest, I never even thought they saw me as someone they could mentor, because they never cast me in any of their pieces,” said Sol. “I never saw it coming, because you see in class, you know, preference for students. You always kind of smell it. They like this person. I never felt anything like that with Wojtek and Melissa.

“I [am] very privileged, because Melissa and Wojtek have so much experience. They’ve been doing this for 40 years already. It’s amazing to have access to their brains. I’m really grateful for that, for sure.”

Sol has danced with W & M Physical Theatre since Spring 2013, appearing most recently in the company’s latest work “Waiting Rooms in Heaven.”

About her own choreographic pursuits, Sol says she feels her craft is something that can only improve through consistent practice. “Creativity is not a talent, it’s something you have to practice.”

“I see it as a more structure and repetitive thing. You need to do it several times to get better,” said Sol, explaining her own process. “For me, speaking and words are kind of hard, especially in English. So, I do better with movement…Even though there are no words, I can see the feelings. That’s also something I’m really interested in, finding new ways to move different things and see what reaction it has in you from the inside.”

“For me right now, I’m just trying different things and just exploring my own, you know, process and creativity,” continued Sol. “I feel like right now I should try different things and approaches, and then time will say what’s my style. I’m a young person, so I have a long way to go.”

If she has learned anything on her dance journey, Sol said, it is that young artists such as herself need to take their work in steps. “You don’t have the experience yet to know how to bring out [big, conceptual ideas] very well. My philosophy as an artist right now is to try and focus, [asking] what do I want to try and learn this time with this piece?”


The Ensemble, SeSol Dance Project’s Project 001: Coming of Age. Photo Credit: Stephanie Leann.

Looking back and now ahead to Project 001: Coming of Age, Sol says the title is fitting given her experiences as an emerging artist and the novel on which the project is based on – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1847.

While the book forms the foundation of the piece, Sol says that the novel and its themes will be interpreted, not staged “scene by scene,” for the production. Project 001: Coming of Age will explore the novel’s rebellious tone, asking the audience to consider a variety of contemporary social and political issues.

“You see how she grows, as a woman,” said Sol about Jane Eyre. “Always struggling with feeling complete and loved, but also independent. At that age, she was such a rebel. She spoke her mind, both the character and author.”

Sol says the novel, considered a feminist classic, is appropriate given that all eight dancers are women. The dancers were each invited to apply for the show. Some are dancers whom Sol has worked with in the past, like Valentia Dimitriou; others are U of C dance students who stood out to her while assisting Monteros last year.

“I just want to say that, I just want to be a choreographer and dance and be able to create,” concluded Sol, grateful for the generous support she has received so far. “I really believe the arts make a better society. And I really want to be part of Calgary making more art.”

Project 001: Coming of Age runs February 19-20, 7:30pm, at the Big Secret Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online here.

For more information about Serenella Sol & SeSol Dance Projects, visit: http://www.serenellasol.com/

For more information about W & M Physical Theatre, visit: http://wmdance.com/

Naughty But Nice is A Fun Fling, Despite Some Flat Notes

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The cast of Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice. Pictured: Scott Olynek, Selina Wong, Katherine Fadum, and Ahad Mir. Photo Credit: Kristian Jones.

There are only so many times a person can listen to the same holiday album before wanting to tear their hair out. Sorry, Sinatra. What’s worse is that nowhere seems to be safe from the classic jingles, not even the local Safeway. So, what remedy is there for the jaded listener this holiday season, besides becoming a total shut-in? Well, there’s always Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice, running now at Lunchbox Theatre.

Directed by JP Thibodeau, Naughty But Nice is a musical revue that lampoons the holiday season with original songs from Canadian and international composers. The songs are performed by Katherine Fadum, Ahad Mir, Scott Olynek, and Selina Wong. Although fun and certainly sassy, the show falls flat at times, despite great performances from its cast.

For sure, the evening’s highlight is Dan Perrott’s Requiem for the Corporate Christmas Party. It’s no secret that the oil slump has forced companies to significantly scale back their christmas parties. What were major events are now, essentially, paper bag lunches. How’s that for getting into the Christmas spirit, eh? Perrott’s lyrics certainly hit a nerve given the downturn, but is it ever hilarious.

The ensemble sing in ridiculous French accents, with cigarettes barely hanging from their mouths. Lauren Thompson’s choreography sees the actors do a weird sort of full body wobble as they lament the current state of affairs. Everything about the number is deliciously over-the-top and wonderful.

Not all the toys in Santa’s bag are winners, though. For every batmobile, there’s a pet rock.

Frank Loesser’s Baby It’s Cold Outside, arr. musical director Joe Slabe, is given the naughty treatment by staging it as a blooming threesome. The “say, what’s in this drink?” line takes on a different meaning when we realize that Mir is being seduced by Fadum and Olynek, a couple looking for a third to join them. The number is funny enough, but it just feels too easy considering that some already think Loesser’s song is ‘creepy’ to begin with. (That’s a whole other discussion).

Then, there’s Matthew Hardy & Robert Maggio’s Bling, a song about Christmas bling. Wong breathes life into an otherwise forgettable song. Another forgettable number is Grant Tilly’s Thank You, Christians, a song about atheists and non-Christian faiths who see Christmas in an entirely different light.

The problem is, some of the songs feel too tame for a show titled Naughty But Nice. Perrott’s Requiem works great because it is definitely naughty to write and perform this type of song during a downturn, but he doesn’t go too far crossing the line. People can laugh without feeling (too) bad about doing so. The other songs come off as either kind of cheesy or just not very memorable, because they lean too much on the ‘Nice’ side of things.

The show picks up when the ensemble take the stage individually to deliver some really funny monologues.

Fadum destroys Hans Christian Anderson’s The Match Girl, a super depressing book she can’t believe parents read to their children. It’s a glorious takedown by Fadum as she gives us a play-by-play of the story, while angrily waving the book around like a ragdoll.

The War on Christmas is real, and Wong lights up the stage as she rages against red seasonal cups and people who wish her ‘happy holidays’.

Olynek recounts the very funny story of how he found out Santa wasn’t real and, at the same time, learned about the bees & the birds.

Mir, playing Jesus, tells us why it sucks to have Christmas and your birthday fall at the same time, and how it feels to be overshadowed by Santa Claus every year (“The Original Headline Act”, Edward Bell & Richy Hughes).

Perrott’s Requiem is the show’s bread and butter, with everything else being generally hit or miss. Thibodeau’s direction brings plenty of earnest zest to the staging, but the show never quite lifts off. And if it does, the show dips right back to square one, or somewhere awfully close to it. Some audience members may, in fact, find themselves asking, unenthusiastically “okay, what’s next?” after songs end.  If nothing else,  Naughty But Nice is a fluffy distraction from the winter weather.

Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Naughty But Nice runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Dec 8 – 20.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.fortemusical.ca/#!upcoming/cfvg

Theatre Calgary’s A Christmas Carol Summons Good Cheer Amidst Downturn

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The cursed ghost of Jacob Marley (Robert Klein) visits Ebenezer Scrooge (Stephen Hair). Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

Let us not sidestep reality, times are tough for many Calgarians right now. The economic downturn has severely interrupted this holiday season’s jubilations. And so, given the current situation, there could be no better time to stage Charles Dickens’ hymn for goodwill, A Christmas Carol.

Now in its 29th year at Theatre Calgary, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Stephen Hair), an elderly miser who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. (Allison Lynch and Graham Piercy return as the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present, respectively, with Joe Perry playing the Spirit of Christmas Future). Just before the spirits arrive, the ghost of Scrooge’s dear friend and business partner Jacob Marley (Robert Klein) warns him to heed the spirits or else face dire consequences in the afterlife. Scrooge’s journey with the spirits transforms him into a man of charity, kindness, and friendship after he sees the errors of his ways.

For many, A Christmas Carol is familiar territory. There is good reason the story has endured so long, because its message still remains true today, especially now when charity is needed most.

Everyday life leaves no room for charity, because there never seems to be enough time. Someone else will help the hungry, we tell ourselves, shedding any responsibility. Time is, of course, a luxury, and some only have so much time, like Tiny Tim (Annabel Beames). It is only until we step back from our daily business, as Scrooge does thanks to the spirits, that we realize both how how precious time truly is and the urgency of charity.

Dickens calls on us to help those in need as much we can, not only for their benefit, but the benefit of everyone. For charity is not just about helping others, but strengthening the social fabric we belong to as just a single thread among many others. In difficult times, a strong sense of community is vitally important to all as hardship can affect everyone, no matter who they are.

It is this message that makes this production of A Christmas Carol immensely moving during these difficult times. Amidst the turmoil, Calgarians have embraced the spirit of giving by doing what they can to not only help those affected by the downturn, but also refugees entering Canada. And it is not out of fear from spirits, but a passion for community, for laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow.  Charity enriches us all, the ultimate lesson from Scrooge’s journey.

Simply put, Theatre Calgary’s production of A Christmas Carol is pure magic. Director Dennis Garnhum stages the sheer terror and joy of this classic tale with gusto. The audience is taken through a marvelous journey, full of singing, dancing, and skating in the park, that moves like a reader eagerly flipping the pages of a book. Patrick Clark’s fantastic sets, in fact, have something of a pop-up book feel to them, giving Victorian England a vibrant look. The imaginative production is a feast for the eyes that will dazzle even the most hardened audience member. Audiences will be enchanted by the grand scale of this adaptation, rich with effects, staged inside the Martha Cohen Theatre.

The playful, yet sinister ghouls that haunt Scrooge’s manor look absolutely wonderful thanks to great costume design by Kevin Lamotte.

Hair, entering his 22nd year as Scrooge, is a magnificent talent. The actor is simply enchanting in this role of a man who, after many years, learns to laugh and cry. Piercy is lively as the spirit of Christmas Present, as he should be considering the spirit’s essence. Piercy has a wholesome laugh and bounce to his step that makes it all the more poignant when the spirit’s life draws to an end (the Present only lasts so long). Karl Sine plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s overworked and underpaid employee, with the sort of sweetness that makes our heart go out to such a defeated, yet optimistic character.

For nearly three decades, Theatre Calgary has staged this classic tale for Calgary audiences, and this year seems more important than ever in keeping the tradition alive. Good cheer is alive through and through. Rarely does a production offer relief in the way this adaptation of A Christmas Carol does. Audiences will be enthralled by this profoundly stunning production of A Christmas Carol by Theatre Calgary.

Theatre Calgary’s A Christmas Carol runs Nov 26 – Dec 24 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://www.theatrecalgary.com/2015-16/a-christmas-carol