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.

Handsome Alice Theatre Looks Out From The Tall Building


Handsome Alice Theatre presents The Tall Building by Jill Connell, September 9 – 17. Pictured (Front to Back): Genevieve Pare, Geoffrey Simon Brown, and Telly James. Photo Credit: Tim Nguyen, Citrus Photography.

A city is threatened by fire and wild coyotes in Jill Connell’s play The Tall Building. For three strangers living high above in an apartment building, however, it’s not the fire or coyotes that concerns them – it’s each other.

Presented by Handsome Alice Theatre, Connell’s The Tall Building is a strange, yet intriguing play about modern life. Boy (Geoffrey Simon Brown) seems more interested in his neighbor Sulla (Geneviève Paré), who lives across the hall, than the fire growing uncontrollably outside. Unfortunately for him, Sulla has no interest in speaking with him or anyone else. The young boy is determined, however, to interview Sulla for his citizen newspaper. Watching them from afar is a boastful Assassin (Telly James) who eventually introduces himself to Sulla and Boy, perhaps only so he has an audience.

Two unnamed radio personalities periodically broadcast lives updates on the developing crisis, until one of them goes off-the-air without warning.

The Tall Building brings to mind Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros as the number of coyotes running wild in the streets seems to increase as time goes on. Where Ionesco was concerned about conformity, Connell’s concern is the isolation and indifference created by urban development – of cities growing taller than communities growing wider. Questions of identity emerge as the situation worsens for the last remaining humans of what seems like the new status quo. Hints of this new status quo can be seen in the way Boy praises the 7-Eleven for how well it provides him with everything he needs, much like a parent. He seems more connected with a corporate franchise than other people; the worst nightmare for anyone who likes independent bookstores and coffee shops.

Appropriately, Hanne Loosen’s set is gritty and bleak. The scenery of a tall, less than glamorous apartment building suggests floors upon floors of broken dreams and failed promises. Lighting Designer Nicole Olson Grant-Suttie casts the stage in glum, moody tones, with few bright colours. There’s a strong sense of urban and moral decay, it’s almost like a film noir movie.

The play benefits from Denise Clarke’s vibrant direction as sometimes it gets too caught up and tangled in its own concerns, sprawling outwards like a city overwhelmed by development. Clarke takes advantage of the space available to her inside the Big Secret Theatre by using movement to express the stress of urban life, loneliness, and melancholy. The use of movement strengthens the play’s introspective nature by providing deeper insight into the psyche of these off-beat characters.

Although much older than the character he plays, Brown takes on the qualities of an inquisitive young boy/citizen journalist very well. It’s fun to watch the energetic Brown play a character who is the complete opposite of Sulla, a young woman hardened by abandonment (although we later learn the two characters have more in common than they think). Sulla’s character arc is well-articulated by Pare who plays her with an aloofness that gradually melts away. James is charismatic as the assassin who everyone knows is an assassin. The actor’s snake-like slithering makes us unsure of what his character will do next. The cast draw us into Connell’s surreal world by embracing their characters’ idiosyncrasies.

Although sometimes it loses its way, Connell’s The Tall Building is an insightful play about city life in these modern times. Handsome Alice Theatre’s production of The Tall Building shines thanks to strong direction and design.

Handsome Alice Theatre’s production of The Tall Building by Jill Connell runs September 9 – 17 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons).

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

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries Looks At A Life in Transition


Top to Bottom: Barbara England and Jill Henis in Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries. Imaged provided by Jill Henis.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries is an original contemporary dance work informed by the writings of Jeanette LeBlanc, with the concept, choreography and sound design by Jill Henis. This site-specific piece is staged inside Henis’ downtown studio space, located inside a building where the top two floors accommodate working artists. Performed by Henis and collaborator Barbara England, PrimorAgator Diaries is a deeply intimate look at a life in transition.

Once the audience settles into their seats, Henis, lying nude on the floor, awakens. She is caged by three walls and a curtain of light fabric (that separates her from the audience). England, dressed with black heels, enters the space as Henis retreats away against the back wall, keeping herself hidden behind fabric. Roaring white noise is projected onto the walls (projection & visuals by Greg Debicki). England is ferocious with her movement, stomping loudly with her heels as she moves across the space.

Afterwards, Hennis, now dressed, takes a large roll of aluminum foil and rolls it out like a carpet. Carefully, she tries walking to the other end without wrinkling the foil or creating a disturbance of any kind. Anyone who has used foil before knows how tricky the material can be when handling. Henis’ effort doesn’t fare well.

The imagery created by the large studio mirror stage left is very striking. There’s this great triangular symmetry when Henis walks downstage (diagonal) on the foil. She comes down from the peak to the base, to the audience; she comes out of isolation.

England joins Henis in a ‘four-legged race’ to stage left, to the mirror. The dancers shuffle forward, becoming more and more competitive as the race goes on. So competitive, in fact, that England and Henis are soon grappling each other. What’s really funny are these moments where the two break and smile at the audience, like they were friends and this is only friendly competition, despite their contrary actions. We wonder, though, why these “friends” are tearing each other down rather than helping each other achieve their mutual goal? Is this a race towards self-improvement, where envy rules the roost?

The dancers enter a club where they enjoy loud, pumping music. There’s a big splash of colorful lights that hits the room as England and Henis lose themselves in the music. The scene is so very different than the ones before. Where the others were filled with anxiety and self-consciousness, this club scene is loose and without inhibitions.

Naturally, however, the party ends. (The party always ends). There’s an air of “what now?” between England and Henis.

Ultimately what happens to Henis is that England wraps her, from head to toe, in bubble wrap. A recorded interview with an old man plays, with this line jumping out “Have you thought how you want to spend the rest of your life?” Sure, Henis is safe in her bubble wrap cocoon, but she’s also trapped. She can’t move, her body at the mercy of England who starts to dance with the cocoon.

Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) begins to play. England drags Henis, still in the cocoon, across the floor as Henis softly repeats the lines of the song.

In these chapters of PrimorAgator Diaries, there’s an underlying fear and vulnerability that rises to the surface. Henis’ choreography observes someone trying to come out of their shell and connect with others while capturing some notion of self. In pursuit of trying to please other people, however, the self becomes lost, perhaps overtaken by this intense desire for belonging. And there seems to be no happy medium, or at least a capacity to reach some sort of in-between. Henis’ character is impeded by self-doubt, whereas England’s whole persona breathes confidence; the road map to this latter destination is non-existent.

Debicki’s projection work in this tight (unventilated) space really throws the audience into the frenetic headspace of the work, not to mention the audience’s close proximity to the dancers. The mirror that reflects the inner duality, conflict of Henis’ choreography is a strong visual element. It opens the space creatively, and Henis’ keen eye conjures great visual dynamics.

Henis and England are a dynamite team. They display great versatility (and some fun character work) in this piece that really feels like flipping through a diary, with all the juicy pieces coming alive. And what commitment in such a hot space, especially Henis whose breathing is restricted within the cocoon. Kudos to them for their visceral energy in this bold piece by Project 404.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries ran June 13 – 18.

Theatre of Consequence Makes Its Debut with Wagner’s The Monument

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Theatre of Consequence presents Colleen Wagner’s The Monument at the Motel Theatre, June 15 – 18. Pictured: Jonathan Molinski (Stetko) and Karen Johnson-Diamond (Mejra). Imaged provided by Theatre of Consequence.

Winner of the 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, Colleen Wagner’s The Monument is a dramatic play about the nature of war, conflict, and justice. Although set in an unnamed country during an unspecified time, the distinctly Eastern European flavour of Wagner’s drama bears many similarities to the Bosnian Conflict (1992-95). What makes Wagner’s dramatic work so powerful, however, is its relevance today in Canada.

Presented by Theatre of Consequence at the Motel Theatre, The Monument tells the story of a soldier named Stetko (Jonathan Molinski), a young man set to be executed for his heinous crimes. Stetko is guilty of raping and murdering 23 women, all of whom he buried in a forest. While awaiting his execution, Stetko is offered reprieve by a local woman named Mejra (Karen Johnson-Diamond) who demands he obey her unconditionally for the rest of his life, otherwise he can die in prison. Stetko accepts Mejra’s offer, despite not knowing what her intentions are, and goes to live her.

Director Conrad Belau has added a third character, played by Caitlyn O’Connor, to Wagner’s two-person drama. The Girl is neither seen or directly addressed by the characters. She is an unseen, but unshakeable presence in the show. In one scene, O’Connor plays a large rock that Mejra wants dug up from the garden; in another, she is the pet rabbit that Steko comes to care for above himself. She comes and goes like a painful memory from the past.

For Wagner, war is not so black and white like a game of Chess. There are opposing sides, yes, but the pawns thrown into battle are everyday people. Stetko tells us that if he had disobeyed orders to join the army, he would have been labelled a sympathizer, and likely killed as a result. Stetko’s obedience to authority is what has kept him alive, but has also pushed him to commit unspeakable crimes, condemning him for life as a war criminal. And while he recognizes that he is a criminal, Steko also believes himself to be a victim of war. Before the war, he lived a normal life with his family and girlfriend, both of whom he loved, but then all that changed when he was drafted. 

Mejra has no sympathy for Stetko. In fact, she has no respect for him as a human being, going so far as to cutting off his ear and viciously beating him (fight choreography by John Knight). Knowing full well that the world will forget what happened in her country, Mejra seeks out justice for herself and her daughter, one of Stetko’s victims.

What is justice, though? There is justice as defined by the legal system, and then there’s justice as defined by the court of public opinion. The Jian Gohemshi trial showed us that these definitions of justice can arise simultaneously, but that they cannot co-exist without issue. Mejra sees justice for the murdered women as Stetko not only confessing to his crimes, but also helping her make sure that none of the murdered women are forgotten. She makes him dig up all the bodies that he buried in the forest and help build a monument in memory of the 23 murdered women.

Here, the monument is a patchwork of dresses that rises above the dirt where they were buried. The image immediately brings to mind The REDress Project, created by Jamie Black. The monument is Mejra’s answer to the indifference of global politics and systemic oppression that marginalizes violence against women. It is all that Mejra feels she can do as an average citizen.

For Mejra, this is only symbolic justice. She nearly murders Stetko before realizing that violence is not the answer. Stetko proposes forgiveness, that maybe he and Mejra can live together since neither one of them has anyone else. Wagner leaves the future uncertain.

Belau displays a strong understanding of Wagner’s play and its universality, regardless of its parallels to the Bosnian Conflict. It is clear that Belau knew exactly what he wanted this production to achieve and say about violence against women, and that sort of confidence is key to such an impactful and challenging text. The end result is, a thoughtful, well-staged production grounded in today’s headlines.

Molinski and O’Connor are two actors that really ought to be on everyone’s radar. The actors share this very disturbing scene where Molinski recalls in painstaking detail the final moments of his most memorable victim, played by O’Connor (with her hands tied by rope, suspended in the air). Molinski unleashes something very dark in the character as he tells Mejra, with sinister glee, everything about that night. O’Connor’s heartbreaking terror and helplessness makes us want to retreat away from this emotionally charged scene. It is a truly fearless and mature performance from both Molinski and O’Connor.

Johnson-Diamond ventures into vast emotional territory as a sorrow-stricken mother whose moral compass is confused after meeting Stetko. Her vengeance is motivated by immense hurt, and not so much a thirst for blood, which is important given the character’s arc. It is a steady performance punctuated by moments of sheer brutality that Johnson-Diamond plays very well.

Theatre of Consequence’s debut production is a must-see.

Theatre of Consequence’s production of Colleen Wagner’s The Monument runs June 15-18  at the Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about Theatre of Consequence, including how to purchase tickets, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/theatreofconsequence/?fref=ts



2016 Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards: Nominees Announced


The 2016 Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards will be held on June 6th at Commonwealth Bar & Stage (731 10th Ave SW). The public awards ceremony starts at 8:00PM.

Calgary Theatre Critics, Stephen Hunt formerly of the Calgary Herald, Louis B. Hobson of Postmedia, Rodrigo Flores of Joyful Magpies and Jenna Shummoogum of Downtown Calgary Association are pleased to announce the nominees for the fifth annual Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards.

Nominees were chosen from any production performed in Calgary between June 2015 and May 2016, with the exception of Broadway Across Canada performances. The winners will be announced at a free public awards ceremony. The ceremony starts at 8pm on June 6th at Commonwealth Bar & Stage, 731 10th Avenue SW.

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Jayne Lewis – Young Frankenstein – Stage West
Laura Gillespie – The Wizard of Oz – Rosebud Theatre
Louise Pitre – The Little Prince: The Musical – Theatre Calgary
Tracy Michailidis – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Dana Jean Phoenix – The Wedding Singer – Stage West

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Tenaj Williams – The Paper Bag Princess: A Musical – StoryBook Theatre and Forte Musical Theatre Guild
Andrew McGillivray – The Wedding Singer – Stage West
Andrew Legg – The Wizard of Oz – Rosebud Theatre
David Keeley – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Michael Torontow – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Amy Burks – Romeo and Juliet – The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions
Sasha Barry – Of Mice and Men – Spirit Fire Theatre
Julie Orton – Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) – The Shakespeare Company, Handsome Alice and Hit & Myth Productions
Conni Mah – Ching Chong Chinaman – Iglesia Productions
Brianna Johnston – The Money Shot – Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Ryan Luhning – Romeo and Juliet – The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions
David LeReaney – Of Mice and Men – Spirit Fire Theatre
Karl Sine – The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook – Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Stafford Perry – In On it – Lunchbox Theatre
Joe Perry – The Circle – Alberta Theatre Projects

Best Touring Show

Life, Death and The Blues – One Yellow Rabbit & Alberta Theatre Projects
A Theatre Passe Muraille Production, in association with Hope And Hell Theatre Co.
evalyn parry’s SPIN – One Yellow Rabbit & Theatre Calgary
Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! – Lunchbox Theatre, Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt
Jack Charles V. The Crown – ILBIJERRI Theatre, Toured by Performing Lines and the High Performance Rodeo
Who Killed Spalding Gray? – One Yellow Rabbit and reWork Productions

Best Set Design

Scott Reid – The Turn of the Screw – Vertigo Theatre
Jennifer Behie-Ratzlaff – Shadowlands – Fire Exit Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Cameron Porteous – The Crucible – Theatre Calgary
Jennifer Arsenault – Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) – The Shakespeare Company, Handsome Alice Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Julia Wasilewski – Matt & Ben – Theatre Transit

Best Technical Design

Jamie Nesbitt – Calamity Town – Vertigo Theatre
Sean Nieuwenhuis – The Little Prince: The Musical – Theatre Calgary
Benjamin Toner, Lisa Floyd and Aidan Lytton – The Only Good Boy – Theatre BSMT
JP Thibodeau – The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook – Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Matthew Waddell – Window – Ghost River Theatre & the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts

Best Creative Concept

What Happened to the Seeker – Theatre Junction
Berlin Waltz – Devon More – The Calgary Fringe Festival
The Fight or Flight Response – Verb Theatre
Concord Floral – Theatre Junction
Taste – Ghost River Theatre, Vertical City Performance and the River Cafe

Best Actress in a Musical

Anwyn Musico – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Susan Gilmour – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Jamie Matchullis – What Gives? – Lunchbox Theatre
Cassia Schramm – The Wizard of Oz – Rosebud Theatre
Elicia MacKenzie – The Wedding Singer – Stage West

Best Actor in a Musical

Louie Rossetti – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Aidan Desalaiz – The Wedding Singer – Stage West
Adam Brazier – The Little Prince: The Musical – Theatre Calgary
Ahad Mir – Naughty but Nice! – Forte Musical Theatre Guild
Scott Olynek – Naughty But Nice – Forte Musical Theatre Guild

Best Solo Performance

Elinor Holt – Shakespeare’s Will – Sage Theatre
Trevor Campbell – Baggage – The Calgary Fringe Festival
Jamie Konchak – The Floating Mouse – Green Fools Theatre
Cheri Maracle – Paddle Song – Lunchbox Theatre
Cliff Cardinal – Huff – High Performance Rodeo

Best New Script

Book Club – Meredith Taylor-Parry – Lunchbox Theatre
Calamity Town – Joseph Goodrich – Vertigo Theatre
Mercutio & Tybalt – Val Duncan and Celene Harder – The Calgary Fringe Festival
Benefit – Matthew MacKenzie – Downstage
The Circle – Geoffrey Simon Brown – Alberta Theatre Projects

Best Actor in a Play

Joel Cochrane – Shadowlands – Fire Exit Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Tyrell Crews – Benefit – Downstage
Chris Austman – Of Mice and Men – Spirit Fire Theatre
Nathan Pronyshyn – The Fight or Flight Response – Verb Theatre
Paul F. Muir – Outside Mullingar – Rosebud Theatre

Best Actress in a Play

Allison Lynch – Romeo and Juliet – The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions
Anna Cummer – Macbeth – Vertigo Theatre, The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions
Chantelle Han – Medea – Chromatic Theatre
Heather Pattengale – Outside Mullingar – Rosebud Theatre
Lois Anderson – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Alberta Theatre Projects

Best Director of a Musical

Michael Shamata – The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary
Valerie Ann Pearson – The Paper Bag Princess: A Musical – StoryBook Theatre and Forte Musical Theatre Guild
Morris Ertman – The Wizard of Oz – Rosebud Theatre
Dennis Garnhum – The Little Prince: The Musical – Theatre Calgary
Tim French – The Wedding Singer – Stage West

Best Production of a Musical

The Wedding Singer – Stage West
The Paper Bag Princess: A Musical – StoryBook Theatre and Forte Musical Theatre Guild
The Wizard of Oz – Rosebud Theatre
The Little Prince: The Musical – Theatre Calgary
The Light in the Piazza – Theatre Calgary

Best Director of a Play

R.H. Thomson – The Crucible – Theatre Calgary
Paul Welch – Of Mice and Men – Spirit Fire Theatre
Craig Hall – Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily – Vertigo Theatre
Morris Ertman – Outside Mullingar – Rosebud Theatre
Kelly Reay – The Fight or Flight Response – Verb Theatre

Best Ensemble

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) – The Shakespeare Company, Handsome Alice Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions
Calamity Town – Vertigo Theatre
King Kirby – Sage Theatre
Book Club – Lunchbox Theatre
The Mousetrap – Vertigo Theatre

Best Production of a Play

The Crucible – Theatre Calgary
Of Mice and Men – Spirit Fire Theatre
Outside Mullingar – Rosebud Theatre
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily – Vertigo Theatre
Romeo and Juliet – The Shakespeare Company, Hit & Myth Productions

In addition, the critics will be handing out the Evans Award, a special award recognizing outstanding contribution to the vibrancy of the theatre community in Calgary. The award recipient will be revealed on the night of the event. 

To attend the Calgary Critics’ Awards please RSVP to critterawards2016@gmail.com as soon as possible as there are a limited number of spots available. Doors open at 7pm, the awards will begin at 8pm and the celebration will continue until they kick us all out.

The Only Good Boy Scrapes The Surface, Misses The Mark


Left to Right: Wendy Froberg and David Sklar in Theatre BSMT’s The Only Good Boy by Chelsea Woolley. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes Photography.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre BSMT, Chelsea Woolley’s The Only Good Boy stages a tense reunion between 23-year-old Jacob Stevenson (David Sklar) and 43-year-old Monica Winters (Wendy Froberg). After finding her online on a dating website, Jacob invites Monica, a former school teacher, over for supper at his place. Jacob’s place, Monica notices, is very dirty as he’s in the middle of moving to Florida, so he says anyway. Monica ignores it, turning the discussion towards her outfit, then Jacob’s family. Years of hurt and regret surface as the two catch up.

Jacob tries and tries and tries to push Monica to recognize the trauma he has been burdened with for 10 years. He wants Monica to acknowledge that what happened between them was real and it ruined his life, but she dodges any mention of the past, running away from the truth she knows deep down inside. There is no major confrontation. Jacob and Monica call it a night, leaving Jacob painfully unsatisfied and Monica distressed.

Within the play’s first fifteen minutes or so, the nature of the traumatic experience that ties Jacob and Monica together reveals itself through subtle clues in the dialogue. The truth landing with a big thud soon after. Woolley’s handling of the subject matter is less than elegant. What is the playwright’s intention? Is it to shock? If it is, Woolley certainly succeeds in that with Monica’s three (uncomfortable) monologues that act as a window into her damaged psyche. Beyond that, however, what is the audience supposed to take away from this dramatic meeting between victim and perpetrator?

The characters operate independently from each other, trapped in their own minds. Jacob and Monica’s meeting almost seems like an excuse just for these characters to talk at us; to drop ideas and themes. Yes, the play focuses on the varied consequences of abuse and neglect, but that’s only one part of the equation. Dramaturgically, why are these characters meeting each other right now, right here other than to dance around the conflict at hand?

There is a very real and serious issue in Wolley’s drama, winner of the 2016 BSMT Dwellers Playwriting Competition, but unfortunately the playwright scrapes the surface of familiar territory. Not to dwell on what the play could be, but there is a sense that the play might function better as a slow-burn than a drama where all its cards are played prematurely.

All that aside, however, the construction of Woolley’s dialogue is fascinating. The rhythmic quality of Woolley’s dialogue hits home the desired emotional effects. While the play’s structure may be lacking, its dialogue certainly is not with its menace driven by the almost musical repetition of key phrases.

Thankfully, director Kyle Schulte has a sense, too, of the rhythm in Woolley’s dialogue as the show is well-paced.

There is menace, too, in Benjamin Toner’s set that sees Jacob’s living space, its walls lined with dirty moving boxes, collide with a floor full of mulch. Seriously. The entire floor is covered in mulch, which Sklar’s Jacob aggressively digs into over the course of the play, at one point finding old birthday cards from Monica. Sound Designer Aidan Lytton produces real anxiety in these revealing moments. There is a real serial killer vibe – like corpse stuffed inside an oil drum – given off by Toner’s swampy set, and Lisa Floyd’s brooding light work.

That’s also perhaps because Sklar delivers an unsettling performance as Jacob, switching back and forth between friendly and unhinged on the fly. Although, the unhinged side to Jacob is always present in the actor’s performance, but uncomfortably restrained. A strong performance. Froberg, too, finds these moments where she walks a fine line between Monica’s facade (an airhead) and her real self. She digs into a dark place for her character’s disturbing monologues with great success. Both actors make it difficult to know what exactly to make of their respective characters.

Although not explosive, Woolley’s The Only Good Boy is a worthy new drama of staging. There are elements that fall short, certainly, but then there are elements that really, really work. And Theatre BSMT demonstrate that they are the right company to stage the premiere of this play with their strong, articulate production.

Theatre BSMT’s The Only Good Boy by Chelsea Woolley runs May 17 – 21 at the Motel Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) Roars With Wit and Humour

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Left to Right: Allison Lynch (Desdemona) and Julie Orton (Iago) in Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),  presented by The Shakespeare Company & Handsome Alice Theatre & Hit & Myth Productions. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photography.

Co-presented with The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions, Handsome Alice Theatre, formerly known as Urban Curvz Theatre, makes its debut with Anne-Marie MacDonald’s 1988 play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama, the Canadian play applies feminist theory to the works of William Shakespeare, namely Othello and Romeo & Juliet, critiquing academia and the patriarchy while doing so.

Directed by Kate Newby, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) tells the story of Constance Ledbelly (Ayla Stephen), a doctoral student who believes Othello and Romeo & Juliet were originally intended as comedies. Her theory is based on the Gustav manuscript, a mysterious document that Constance has yet to decipher. Constance’s dissertation is ridiculed by Professor Claude Night (Mabelle Carvajal), whom she has a crush on. Professor Night’s news that he has accepted a position at Oxford University, the very same Constance was hoping to land, devastates the lowly academic. Heartbroken, Constance loses all hope for both her romantic and academic aspirations, deciding right there and then that she will die alone, forgotten by Professor Night.

From here, the play plunges straight down a rabbit hole, dropping Constance first into Othello then Romeo & Juliet. Our hapless heroine embarks on a quest through her subconscious to find her identity, meeting the characters of Shakespeare’s plays along the way. Constance’s presence, however, changes the plays from tragedies to comedies, fulfilling her theory, albeit with unintended results as she becomes too involved in the plots.

What stands out most in MacDonald’s subversive play is the influence of the male gaze on Shakespeare’s female characters. For one, Constance refers to characters by what male academics have written about them, which creates some dissonance when she actually meets them. And then, there’s Shakespeare himself who sees Desdemona (Allison Lynch) as a possession for Othello who has her life in his hands, not unlike Professor Night with Constance. Juliet (Geneviève Paré) is prepared to die for Romeo (Julie Orton), her self-worth tied to romantic love with a man, again not unlike Constance and her love for Professor Night.

And so, Constance’s journey of self-discovery is about reclaiming her identity from patriarchal subjugation.

MacDonald’s play is very funny, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also very smart. The text is rich in commentary about sexuality, the glass ceiling for female academics, and male-centric interpretations of English literature, all of which the Canadian playwright delivers with a deft hand. Thankfully, the play’s quirky humour is able to breathe through all these layers. Sometimes, comedic plays with big ideas fall flat as they are neither very funny or very insightful, effectively crushed under the weight of their ambition. MacDonald’s play rises to the task of producing smart, entertaining theatre.

Under Newby’s direction, the production is wild and delightfully weird. The director has chosen to stage the play in the 1970s, the era of funk and free love. The production is certainly funky with its collection of disco tunes, like Do The Hustle (Anton de Groot, Light and Sound Designer). The era is appropriate given the gender-bending that occurs with not only the presence of an all-female cast, but also Romeo and Juliet’s cross-dressing to win Constance’s favour; liberation from the status quo.

Julie Arsenault’s set is simple, yet effective. A two-tiered structure sits in the middle with two trap doors on its top. There is a balcony at the back of the theatre. At first glance, the floor – and the balcony wall – has normal flooring tiles, but then upon closer examination the tiles are actually pages of text from Shakespeare’s plays! Arsenault’s detail really establishes the Shakespeare wonderland Constance finds herself in.

In this wacky wonderland, we have an all-star female cast firing on all cylinders. Orton is a genuine scene stealer, and that’s a tough statement given that the comedic talent here is simply astounding. Even Orton’s most miniscule physicalities as the scheming Iago are hilarious. Her knack for physical comedy is no doubt from her years of improv experience. And then there’s Stephen who plays the Constance as if she were a cat hoarder days away from appearing on some TLC reality show. It’s an understated performance that fits marvelously with the surrounding absurdity. Lynch channels her inner Xena, warrior princess, for Desdemona, and it’s fantastic. Paré plays the death-obsessed, if not suicidal, Juliet with zest – o happy dagger indeed! Carvajal plays brings plenty of meaty machismo to the male characters of Professor Night, Othello and Tybalt.

Handsome Alice Theatre’s debut production is ferociously funny. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a near-perfect introduction to this company dedicated to unleashing the female voice.


The Shakespeare Company & Handsome Alice Theatre & Hit & Myth Productions present Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Anne-Marie MacDonald, May 12 – 21 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/goodnight-desdemona-good-morning-juliet/

A Tale of Imaginary Cities: Ordinary Objects Come to Life in Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities


Olivier Ducas in Theatre de la Pire Espece’s Cities. Photo Credit: Mathieu Doyon.

Normal everyday objects can and do say a lot about a person. Think about a bookshelf, sometimes people look at a someone’s bookshelf to gather an idea of that person. Or, consider what photos people take the time to frame and put on display in their homes. Objects carry meaning, and they form a larger narrative, curated by the individual.

Presented by Theatre Junction, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is a series of imaginary cities, as conceived by writer/director Olivier Ducas and scenographer Julie Vallée-Léger, dissected onstage. The cities are organized in seven categories, from Sand Cities to Pocket Cities to Dual Cities. Ducas presents each city’s story to the audience by using a camera to focus on particular aspects of a city, supposedly revealing its soul in the process.

The city of Myriam, for example, has plans to replicate into near-infinity, seemingly with no originality in its plans. The main concern is growth, governed by conformist policies. Ducas starts with two red blocks, embedded vertically in a box of sand, then begins to place mirrors around the blocks to create the illusion of infinity.

For the city of Maxine, which is labelled under Ghost Cities, Ducas takes out a large wooden block with tall, slim blocks compacted together. He uses semi-opaque dividers to transform the cities’ towers into different graphs of data, explaining what each set of data says about the people living in Maxine. However, the city, Ducas tells us, has chosen to present only positive data, keeping less-than-favorable statistics about its residents hidden – at this point, a light turns on at the block’s base to reveal a negative bar graph.

The objective is subjective.

An idea of interest given that the federal government is currently asking Canadians to complete the national census, or else face fines and/or jail time. Data can be manipulated to tell or support any number of narratives. Human bias cannot be separated from the equation.

Even Ducas’ presentation of these imaginary cities is corrupted by human bias. The audience is only ever given Ducas’ interpretation of what he considers the true nature of these cities. What reference does the audience have to confirm the truth any of what Ducas says? None, not only because the cities are imaginary to begin with, but also because the audience has never visited these cities. The show should be seen as a collection of tourist propaganda, so to speak, not inherent truth.

Setting aside the problematic notion of objective truth, Cities is interesting as there is no dramatic tension that develops. The show is a journey through one man’s collection of imaginary cities. And yet, the show is oddly compelling. One reason for that is the spectacle of assembling regular objects, like sugar cubes and coffee beans, to create an intimate portrait of a city, but another is the psychology behind collecting that Ducas discusses in monologues. Why do people collect? What happens when collections are completed, when the seeking ends? Ducas suggests that for some people, collecting is less of a hobby and more of an activity in purpose seeking and fulfillment.

Interestingly, the majority of Ducas’ cities have female names (Cassandra, Gloria, Scarlett, Sylvia, Cathy, and nearly a dozen more). What comes to mind are sailors who, lonely at sea, would name their ships after wives or girlfriends. Thinking about that, what assumptions can we make about Ducas and his mostly female cities? The very same we make when we enter someone’s apartment for the first time and analyze their walls and shelves for information.

Profoundly imaginative, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is an intimate journey through the alleys of human rationality and emotion.

Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities ran May 4 – 7 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/cities-2/

Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! Earns All The Badges


Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! by Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt runs May 2 – 21 at Lunchbox Theatre. Pictured, left to right: Trevor Schmidt (Fawna) and Darrin Hagen (Flora). Photo Credit: Ian Jackson, EPIC Photography.

Given that I participated in Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip!, I figured I break away from the usual third-person to write about this hilarious, although very emotional comedy playing now at Lunchbox Theatre until the 21st.

Created by Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt, with Schmidt directing, Flora & Fawna’s Field Trip! is everything I wish my years in Cub Scouts had been. Hagen and Schmidt play two pre-teen girls named Flora and Fawna, respectively. Upset by the mean girls in their Girl Guide’s troop, Flora and Fawna have taken it upon themselves to form their own group called the NaturElles. The NaturElles is an all-inclusive group that welcomes everyone, except mean girls – like “Louise Hobson!” The only other member is Fleurette (Chris Enright), a young Francophone girl.

The audience participates in the NaturElle’s first membership drive, as a group and otherwise. I was pulled from my seat by Fawna to play a trivia game about wilderness survival, where I answered two of three questions correctly. What I learned from the experience is that I’m not very good at choking the chicken – we used rubber chickens as our buzzers.

Before this, Flora and Fawna asked the audience to take the friendships bracelets from the bags handed to them before the show and tie them around each other’s wrist. The circle widened, and it continued widening as the girls’ activities – like learning how to pee in the woods – brought everyone together through laughter, like laughing-so-hard-it-hurts laughter.

The show is a lot of like camp, well it’s more like the version of camp that adults promise you before shipping you off for the weekend. Personally, I hated my time in Cub Scouts, primarily because I was bullied by the other boys. Sure, we were asked to adhere to a set of golden rules, principles, and values, but none of that mattered when the adults weren’t around.

But it’s not just kids who are mean, but also adults. There are revealing moments that suggest that all is not right in Fawna’s home with her mom and step-dad. If you want to talk about risk, let’s talk about how Hagen and Schmidt, after nearly an hour of sexual innuendo and quirky humour, end the story on a very heavy note. There’s a place where fantasy and reality meet, and the two take the story there, on the precipice of adulthood.

And so, the show is about several things, but it’s mainly about the fantasies kids create to escape their problems. The NaturElles is a very real group for Flora and Fawna, because they need it to be.

Lunchbox Theatre has a knack for staging plays that hit something very real deep down inside, and Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip! is no different. Hagen and Schmidt have created a show that speaks to the kids inside all of us, and let’s us escape into a world of play. A must-see.

Darrin Hagen & Trevor Schmidt’s Floral & Fawna’s Field Trip! runs May 2 – 21 at Lunchbox Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/flora-and-fawna/


Bellissima: A Lonely Heart Finds Home in Theatre Calgary’s The Light in the Piazza

The Light in the Piazza RODRIGO2

Left to Right: Susan Gilmour and Anwyn Musico in The Light in the Piazza, playing now at Theatre Calgary. Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

For its last show of the 2015/16 season, Theatre Calgary whisks audiences away to Italy with the Tony award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza.

Based on the 1960 novella of the same by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of 26-year-old Clara Johnson (Anwyn Musico) and her mother Margaret (Susan Gilmour) who are away on holiday in Florence, Italy. While out exploring the city with her mother, Clara runs into a young Italian man named Fabrizio Naccarelli (Louie Rossetti), and it is love at first sight. Margaret pulls Clara away from Fabrizio, insisting that the two go their separate ways. In what seems like destiny, Fabrizio runs into Clara and her mother twice more, eventually inviting them to meet his family for tea.

At every turn, Margaret insists that Clara does not get involved with Fabrizio. Fabrizio’s father Signor (David Keeley) sees nothing wrong with their relationship, even if it is all very sudden. What Fabrizio’s family doesn’t know about Clara is that a head injury sustained on her 12th birthday negatively affected her mental and emotional development. Margaret fears that if Fabrizio were to find out the truth about her daughter, he would run away just like all the others, which would devastate Clara. Margaret is conflicted, however, when she sees how happy Clara and Fabrizio are together, and how taken the Naccarrelis are with her.

With the musical opening a week away from Mother’s Day, Margaret’s conflict over letting go of her only child is particularly relevant. Margaret wants only the best for Clara, that is she wants to see her daughter happy. The problem is, there are a number of risks in allowing Clara to be with Fabrizio. Is it her decision, though? When, if ever, do her responsibilities as a mother end? What if the doctors were wrong about Clara, says Margaret to her husband Roy (Christopher Hunt) over the phone.

Meanwhile, Clara is eager to fly free from her overprotective mother and live a fulfilled life, like any young person her age.

What’s interesting about the musical score (music and lyrics by Adam Guettel) is the presence of both English and Italian in the lyrics, with some songs sung entirely in Italian. The book (by Craig Lucas) also features both languages, although with broken english from the Naccarelis added into the mix. As well, the score is majorly influenced by opera, borrowing elements for a less than traditional musical.

For those wondering, there are no translations provided. The lack of translations may seem intimidating, but director Michael Shamata’s effective staging makes clear what the Italian-speaking characters are expressing.

The musical score is magnificently interpreted by musical director Jonathan Monro, who also plays piano in the band. The band is positioned onstage, behind the actors, for a concert feel. The score captures the wonder and innocence of young love, and the pains of old love, splendidly; It’s like a candlelit dinner on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking of which, the production is a feast for the eyes. Set designer Christina Poddubiuk has seemingly airlifted the splendor of Florence into the Max Bell Theatre. The stage rotates to create the illusion of walking along the streets of Florence, and to allow for fluid scene changes. Lighting designer Alan Brodie hits Poddubiuk’s set with an array of warm lights, casting the stage in a romantic softness.

Audiences will fall in love with Musico as the bright-eyed Clara. The young actress brings tremendous vibrancy and vulnerability to her character. Gilmour succeeds in playing a variety of shades as Margaret, a parent who acts only out of love. Rossetti has a lot of fun as Fabrizio, a harmless puppy in love. His charming smile can be seen rows and rows away from the stage. Rosetti and Musico share a delightful chemistry together, making for an adorable stage couple.

From its beautiful musical score to superb performances to strong aesthetics, there’s a lot to love about Theatre Calgary’s production of The Light in the Piazza. The story of a young American woman whose heart finds a home in Italy is told with such grace and elegance that it should not be missed.

Theatre Calgary’s The Light in the Piazza runs April 26 – May 22.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: