A Waltz With History: Devon More on What She Learned From Berlin

Devon More's Berlin Waltz ran July 31 - August 8 as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival. Photo Credit: Petrocker Photography.

Devon More’s Berlin Waltz ran July 31 – August 8 as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival. Photo Credit: Petrocker Photography.

For singer-songwriter Devon More, live performance offers an invaluable opportunity to plant new ideas.

“I have a very active brain. I love to research, and I love to learn,” said the Vancouver-based artist. “I find that a lot of media and entertainment that we are exposed to is quite hollow, and I think what a shame…because entertainment value is the perfect way to educate or teach someone.”

And with endless information at our fingertips, live performance is more important than ever in this age of Web 2.0, says More.

“It’s amazing if people give you an hour of their time in a world where seven seconds into a Youtube video clip if it’s not entertaining, then you’re onto the next page, right? So, a full hour of time seems like a wasted opportunity to bring people into a room without trying to give them something… [that they] can marinate on later.”

Last month, More premiered her one-woman musical comedy Berlin Waltz at the Calgary Fringe Festival. Through original music and puppetry, More staged Berlin’s history during the Cold War, from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

More felt inspired to develop Berlin Waltz after living in Germany’s capital city for four years.

“Everyone wants to know why I went to Berlin, but it was completely haphazard,” said More. “I had finished my first undergrad in Kamloops at Thompson Rivers University where I did a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Anthropology. So, naturally, I was still working a restaurant managerial job after I finished. And I thought, well I could do this somewhere cooler.”

“I had done a study exchange to the Netherlands years previous, so I already spoke Dutch. My slightly flawed logic was that German would be the next easiest language to pick up after that, and I could get a working holiday visa for Germany.”

With her best friend joining her, More set off for Germany. Upon arriving in Berlin, More and her friend attended an orientation session on how to navigate through German bureaucracy e.g. work permits, tax numbers.

“[We] figured we would probably end up getting seasonal work somewhere else in Germany, like at a ski resort. But when we got to Berlin, it was just…you could feel the energy of the city,” said More. “People are out and contributing to the city, taking part in the city. I just couldn’t think of a good enough reason to leave, even though unemployment at the time was at almost 20%. This was during the 2008/2009 Recession.”

Despite her limited German, More found work at a pub. Working and living in Berlin, More started to recognize something amazing about the city. Even after “witnessing all the extremes, all the worst possible outcomes” just decades before, Berlin still held the arts in high esteem.

“It’s the only place I’ve ever been where if someone asks you what you do, and you say I am an artist, their next question is not “What’s your real job?” It’s a very creative city,” said More. “And it’s a very beautiful thing as a creative person to be in a city that’s been basically slapped in the face by everything that happened in the 20th century and to see the priorities of the city be art and culture.”

More returned to Canada in 2012. Development on Berlin Waltz would begin after More’s 2014 fringe tour.

“The fringe is…I’ve never worked so hard for meager returns, but you know it’s amazing,” said More about the fringe experience. “Professional development pays for itself — so don’t make me seem like I’m money hungry! But you spend so much time on the fringe working, selling, trying to promote, trying to get people excited about your show…I just couldn’t…you really need to care about, at least I do, what you’re trying to sell to be able to maintain that level of involvement with it.”

With this in mind, More searched for a subject that she felt ready to invest all her time and energy into.

“In Berlin, I learned so much just by living there about what the sort of broad political, ideological ideas, terms, and decisions mean when they actually get down to the human level, to one person, to an individual. And it was a really important lesson for me to know that. And so, I thought, well that’s something i could spend a lot of time and energy on and feel good about.”

Although much of the show’s content comes from what she learned while in Berlin, More says research was necessary in order to accurately and properly contextualize the events that shaped Berlin and its people.

“Berlin is a very strange city. It’s contradictory, it’s not like most first-world capital cities,” said More. “If you don’t know why, if you don’t know what happened in history to create that, it’s kind of hard to understand, so I didn’t feel I could give people the broad strokes of Berlin without planting it in its history.”

More’s Berlin Waltz stands as a love letter to a city, an intimate encounter between biography and history, and also, a call for action. In her show, the artist encourages her audience to question actions taken by the Canadian government, specifically the introduction of invasive bills like the controversial Bill C-51.

“I learned a lot about the Cold War living in Berlin,” said More. “And then, I came back to Canada three years ago, and I was kind of astonished by what I felt like were some political mistakes we were making here. What happened in East Germany proved bad for the greater good. So, I was concerned. I thought, we already know this, we learned these lessons from history. We learned about intense surveillance of the population with the Stasi, and now that beast has morphed with online surveillance and all the beautiful implications of technology.”

More fears that the Cold War has become distant in the minds of Canadians, that the high-tension era which saw so much propaganda has “become history, rather than contemporary history.”

“At this vantage point of 25 years down the road after the victory of capitalism…of this quest for unlimited economic growth and what that entails for the environment and resources, it’s only really now that we know what that meant. I think rather than just blazing forward on the same path we’ve been on for 25 years since the wall fell, maybe it’s time to take inventory and say “could it be better?”…I think the answer is absolutely yes. We’re at a point where we don’t have enemies like the Soviets versus the US anymore.”

Looking ahead, More says she will perform Berlin Waltz again. She intends on using all the feedback she received to fine tune and polish the show. Ultimately, More says, she hopes to continue inspiring people to consider the parallels between what happened in East Germany and what is happening here at home.

Devon More’s Berlin Waltz ran July 31 – August 8 as part of the Calgary Fringe Festival.

Visit CBC Music’s profile on Devon More to learn more about the artist: http://music.cbc.ca/#!/artists/Devon-More

Devon More’s Bandcamp Page: http://devonmore.bandcamp.com/ 

A Pure Delight: Smee’s Secret Wins Over Audience at Calgary Fringe Festival


Smee’s Secret won Outstanding Production at the 32nd Annual Calgary One Act Play Festival. (Pictured: Olive (Emma Sinclair) and Pistachio (Kelly Malcolm) with Smee, their cardboard box friend) Photo Credit: Kathryn Smith.

What a task to describe The Tighty Whities’ latest show Smee’s Secret. For sure, the clown duo’s award-winning show is nothing short of wonderful.

The genius of Smee’s Secret lies in its deceptively simple premise: two clowns help their cardboard box friend complete his bucket list. One moment, Olive (Emma Sinclair) and Pistachio (Kelly Malcolm) are caught up in their child-like sense of wonder and imagination; the next their friend Smee feels very ill. Massage, medication, nothing the clowns try appear to help Smee. The total suddenness of it all drives the clowns to figure out something, anything. Uncertainty, desperation, anger, Olive and Pistachio’s emotional journey might ring familiar for any who have experienced loss in their own lives.

By dealing with the topic of loss under the guise of a silly clown show, Sinclair and Malcolm catch the audience by surprise, but it is not the sort of surprise that clunks the audience over the head. The reason is that Smee’s Secret is, at its core, a story about friendship. What does it mean to be a friend, especially during hard times? Olive and Pistachio learn that while everything else may fail, the strength of friendship always remains. Sometimes the most important thing we can do for our friends is simply be there for them. So, this is not a show about loss per se; it is a show about how we love and say goodbye to the ones we care the most about.

There is plenty of fun, too, in the mix. Through the power of montage (set to the tune of Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True), Olive and Pistachio clear the items off Smee’s list in no time. Outside help from the audience is required at one point as the clowns invite an audience member to sit down for a romantic date with Smee. Olive and Pistachio act as chaperones, giving the two pointers along the way in what is a charming little scene.

Olive and Pistachio are so easy to fall in love with because of the sincerity Sinclair and Malcolm bring to the stage. And so, it is no surprise that the audience send Olive and Pistachio off to their next adventure with enthusiastic applause.

Imaginative, magical, Smee’s Secret delights with its special blend of humour and heart.

The Tighty Whities’ Smee’s Secret ran July 31st – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about The Tighty Whities, visit: http://www.thetightywhities.com/

Trillo and Arnista’s Perpetual Wednesday Entertains


From left to right: Walter (Jacob Trillo) and Bruce (Anthony Arnista) are in big trouble after their magic act turns deadly in White Collar Crimes’ Perpetual Wednesday.

When two-bit magicians Walter (Jacob Trillo) and Bruce (Anthony Arnista) mess up, boy do they really mess.

White Collar Crimes’ Perpetual Wednesday, created by Arnista and Trillo, follows Walter and Bruce after a disastrous magic act where they may or may not have shot a man in the face. Walter insists it was all part of the act, that the audience volunteer is perfectly fine. Bruce isn’t so sure, after all the blood and the body he chopped up seemed pretty real to him.

Trillo and Arnista’s hyper-energetic act makes for a very sweaty performance inside the hot Lantern Church Sanctuary. Shadow theatre, dance, and off-colour humour, the actors’ amusing variety show has it all. Trillo and Arnistra’s showmanship is impeccable. The show, unfortunately, loses momentum once it dives straight into the rabbit hole.

One moment Walter and Bruce are the sort of sleazy magicians you might find at a Las Vegas lounge, the next it turns out they’re actually immortals who struck a deal with the ancient Egyptian god Anubis. The joke that Walter and Bruce were actually some of history’s iconic figures, while fun at first, becomes tired. The two in time come around to settle the matter of the dead man, but by then the whole ordeal has collapsed under its own weight. The audience is left with an abrupt, less than satisfying ending.

Ultimately, Trillo and Arnista’s Perpetual Wednesday entertains, despite some script issues that hold back its full comedic potential.

White Collar Crimes’ Perpetual Wednesday runs July 31st – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/476-perpetual-wednesday

A Woman of a Certain Age’s Honest Commentary Troubled by Script Issues

Wendy Froberg's A Woman of a Certain Age runs as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

Wendy Froberg’s A Woman of a Certain Age runs as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For playwright/actor Wendy Froberg, age is just not a number, especially not for women. The more a woman ages, Froberg argues, the more she becomes flawed in the eyes of society. Seldom are women allowed to grow old without their self-worth being diminished in the process.

Presented by Archetype Productions, Froberg’s one-woman show A Woman of a Certain Age chronicles the lives of six mature women as they deal with their families, marriages, and careers.

The play’s central character is Gwen Randall, a mother of two who is caught shoplifting at the local mall. The criminal act has seemingly come out of nowhere considering Gwen is an upstanding member of the community with a good career. All eventually comes to light as we learn more about Gwen’s hidden troubles at home and with her widowed mother who has dementia.

Around Gwen there are other women, too, trying to cope with aging, specifically the loss of status. Gwen’s mother, who lives in a nursing home, feels a loss of self now that her children are grown up with lives of their own, and her husband has passed on. No longer a mother, no longer a wife, what defines Gwen’s mother in her old age?

Froberg proposes that older women are defined by their appearance. Like Gwen’s mother, once women reach a certain age, they are largely ignored, that is unless they have aged well. But what does that mean, to age well? Here, Froberg defines aging well as not just being (normatively) capable both physically and mentally, but also being free of any signs that mark old age. Although, as she points out, women and men are not held to the same standards. Men grow old without worry, while women are pressured to be wrinkle-free.

Froberg’s commentary is derailed drastically by the analogy Gwen’s European Esthetician draws between North America’s “War on the Face” and World War II. The second World War, the Esthetician believes, instilled (all?) Europeans with socially progressive attitudes towards aging and beauty. Having never experienced any such trauma, North Americans are, therefore, incapable of recognizing inner beauty. (REAL blemishes are caused by artillery explosions). The whole scene is perplexing, and Froberg’s poor attempt at a “European” accent does little to help.

What else might confuse audiences are Froberg’s messy character transitions. Froberg is not up to task on presenting six, distinct characters. In fact, she may simply be working with more characters than necessary. Some of the other character storylines, like Gwen’s sister who has a son with special needs, wander aimlessly until the end where Froberg rushes to close them with a nice feel-good ribbon. The result is a play that know what it wants to say, but then tries to fit in as much else as it can, making for a very obvious one-hour run time.

Overall, Froberg’s A Woman of a Certain Age speaks hard truths about women, aging, and beauty, but not without some major bumps along the way.

Presented by Archetype Productions, Wendy Froberg’s A Woman of a Certain Age runs July 31 – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/468-a-woman-of-a-certain-age

Mercutio & Tybalt Impresses at Calgary Fringe Festival


From left to right: Tybalt (Celene Harder) and Mercutio (Val Duncan) bring their side of the story to life in Valour & Tea’s Mercutio & Tybalt. Photo Credit: Chris Tait.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has seen its fair share of adaptations and retellings, but none, Mercutio (Val Duncan) says, have come even close to the truth. For how many know that Mercutio and Tybalt (Celene Harder) were actually close friends? That is the premise of Valour & Tea’s newest work Mercutio & Tybalt, a hilarious reimagining of Shakespeare’s most popular play.

Written and directed by Duncan and Harder, Mercutio & Tybalt catches up with the titular characters in the afterlife. Still bitter about the fact that the story of two dumb, hormone-crazed teenagers has endured the last 400 years, Mercutio and Tybalt decide it’s time that they share their story with the world. What follows is an epic tale of bromance, full of puppetry and swordplay, that weaves in and out of familiar scenes from Romeo and Juliet.

Duncan and Harder stay true to the Bard’s style by performing the show entirely in iambic pentameter, with modern slang included in the mix. In doing so, Mercutio and Tybalt’s vaudeville-inspired antics are given a natural, if not musical, rhythm for the actors to follow.

Duncan and Harder have crafted a wildly fun show that works for both friends and acquaintances of the Bard. Harder’s bad-tempered Tybalt is the perfect foil to Duncan’s immature, yet sharp tongued Mercutio. The pair work brilliantly together, delivering a charming performance abundant in wit and attitude.

Mercutio & Tybalt captures the spirit of its source material, while delivering something fresh and vibrant at the same time. Audiences will find much to enjoy here, guaranteed.

Val Duncan and Celene Harder’s Mercutio Tybalt runs July 31st – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/464-mercutio-tybalt

Gomes and Haight’s Now What? Shows Weight of Relationship Dynamics

Brian and Marina

Now What? stages the key moments of Jared and Isabel’s (Brian Haight and Marina Gomes) relationship out of chronological order. Photo credit: Helen Tansey

How much does pain weigh? How light does love make us feel? These are the questions that Marina Gomes and Brian Haight’s play Now What? explores through a physical form of theatre known as Contact. Through contact acting, Gomes and Haight give weight to both the emotional and physical impact of relationships, delivering something unique in the process.

During their morning routine, Jared and Isabel, played by Haight and Gomes respectively, lean on and share each other’s weight as they brush their teeth. The couple perform the sort of acrobatics that only two people who love and trust each other would ever dare execute together.

When a car accident leaves Jared unable to walk, Jared and Isabel’s relationship becomes strained as they try to deal with the new dynamic between them. Isabel carries Jared on her back as she tries to complete their morning routine, but the weight of her unhappiness and Jared’s anger is too much. She and Jared fall to the ground.

Gomes and Haight stir a deep, emotional response with the simplicity and honesty of their movement. They successfully capture the sort of intimate connection that makes two lovers at a loss for words when they try explaining to friends what they share or how the other makes them feel.

However, while the play’s Contact elements are interesting,  the writing leaves something to be desired in terms of delivering a tight, cohesive narrative. Jared and Isabel are a means for Gomes and Haight to showcase what contact acting can achieve in terms of expressing the indescribable. Everything else exists only to help Gomes and Haight reach the brilliant concepts they have written the script around. The result is a weak script that tries in earnest to pull all its elements together.

Gomes and Haight’s Now What? displays exciting thought and perspective on the nature of relationships. Script issues aside, Gomes and Haight’s experiment with Contact is a serious effort that ultimately delivers its audience a powerful experience.

Presented by Girl Meets Boy Theatre Company, Marina Gomes and Brian Haight’s Now What? runs July 31 – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/466-now-what

Helmut’s Big Day Charges Forward, Stumbles


James Wade’s Helmut’s Big Day is one of 27 shows running at the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

The Empire is good, God is great, and the uncivilized, Cat-Demon worshipping Barbarians call the Barren Plain home. Sabir (Alan Johnson) knows these three things for sure, except…well, the Barren Plain is the one with the small bush, right?

Presented by Red Phone Theatre, James Wade’s Helmut’s Big Day is a satirical comedy that pokes fun at notions of empire and conformity. The play blends hijinks and philosophy for a breezy, though sometimes sluggish, critique of political ideologies.

Atop the wall separating the Empire from the Barren Plain, Sabir keeps a vigilant eye over the Great Plain which he is sworn to protect. While marching back and forth may not be glamorous, Sabir is compelled to serve the Empire because, according to the army’s manuals, God is watching – always watching. Lonely at his post, Sabir finds a friend in Helmut, a soldier’s helmet he converses with.

Sabir’s troubles begins when Helmut “asks” him to identify what the difference is between the two Plains. (After all, they’re both plain!) The question, at first taken with confidence, makes Sabir uneasy as what he actually sees, which is no discernible difference at all, stands at odds with the narratives fed to him by the Empire. As the contradiction disturbs Sabir, he suddenly spots riders approaching from both sides. Which is the enemy, which is the ally, the problem of the Plains worsens with every passing second.

The nature of Sabir’s blind loyalty to the Empire reveals itself further when Katar (Emma Sinclair) comes to check on her comrade. Also confused by the Plains, Katar proposes the idea that morality is subjective, that maybe the Barbarians see themselves as good and the Empire as evil. Either that, Katar says, or life is random and all action, like guarding the wall, is meaningless. (God, Cat-Demon, makes no difference in the end). Sabir dismisses Katar’s foolish ideas, despite being confronted by the falseness of the Empire head on.

What emerges from the total confusion of these two lowly soldiers is sheer buffoonery. Sabir and Katar’s ‘best’ judgement leads to disastrous results.

While fun, Wade’s expression of these philosophical ideas is largely cumbersome. The script has difficulty weaving the play’s big ideas and physical humour together without resorting to mouthfuls. The ideas land heavy and, as a result, interrupt Johnson and Sinclair’s comedic antics.

Director/Designer Kathryn Smith’s clean, simple set helps the action flow neatly. Smith’s remedies the sometimes stagnant pace of the script by employing the two wall borders to create and thrust the audience into the panicked frenzy shared between Sabir and Katar. The use of the wall borders to show different dimensions of both the wall and the action is smart.

The snappy chemistry between Johnson and Sinclair is enjoyable, though not so much until later in the show when the script gives the actors more room to play. Sinclair’s performance as the oblivious ‘wise fool’ plays well against Johnson’s condescending, but utterly foolish character.

Ultimately, Helmut’s Big Day satirical bite is bogged down by clumsy dialogue. The play delivers fun, physical humour, but its commentary struggles to have a sharp presence in the mix.

Presented by Red Phone Theatre, James Wade’s Helmut’s Big Day runs July 31st – August 8th at the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival. 

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/473-helmuts-big-day

Scared Stiff: Bare Bones Production’s Wilma-May and Her Tight White Socks Fails to Impress

Presented at the Alexandra Centre Society as part of Calgary’s Fringe Festival, Bare Bones Production’s Wilma-May and Her Tight White Socks suffers from an uninspired script that lacks direction, resulting in an exhausting, disjointed performance.

Written and performed by Jennifer Roberts, Wilma-May and Her Tight White Socks is a one-woman show that tells the story of Wilma-May, a woman who is afraid of everything. At the request of her therapist, Wilma-May joins an online support group to help overcome her recent emotional trauma which has made her a shut-in. The situation is dire, however, for Wilma-May as her supply of light bulbs has run out (and as you guessed it, she is terrified of the dark). In the next 12 weeks, Wilma-May must either overcome her fears or live the rest of her life in total darkness. Continue reading

Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s Paleoncology Delivers At Calgary Fringe Festival

How do you cope losing what was never really there to begin with? This is one of the questions Kira Hall explores in her poignant one-woman show, Paleoncology. Presented by Moon Dinosaur Theatre at Artpoint Gallery, Paleoncology, directed by Andrew Young, is a play that, at first, draws audiences in with its humour and charismatic lead, but then proves to be something more earnest under the surface.
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