Fruit Machine Premieres at NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival



Fruit Machine is one of two Mainstage productions at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. Pictured, left to right: Lucas Tapley, Samuel Crowell, Kira Chisholm, Esther Soucoup, and Dustyn Forbes. Photo Credit: Matt Carter.

Alex Rioux and Samuel Crowell began working on Fruit Machine in 2017. At the time, Rioux and Crowell were members of the Solo Chicken Productions’ the coop ⁠— a platform for contemporary artists to create original works of physical theatre. In May of last year, a work-in-progress showing of Fruit Machine ran before another production from the coop, A Record of Us.

Fast forward to this summer: Rioux and Crowell, in collaboration with members of the coop, have developed Fruit Machine into a full-length production, and it is one of two Mainstage productions at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

Presented at the Black Box Theatre, Fruit Machine explores the decades-long purge of gay men and lesbians in the Canadian military and RCMP. The ‘fruit machine’ was a device designed in the 1960s by Frank Robert Wake, a psychology professor from Carleton University, to detect homosexuality in subjects, who were unaware of the machine’s true purpose. Cold War paranoia motivated the witch-hunt as officials believed gay personnel could be blackmailed by Soviet spies, effectively making them threats to national security. 

What unfolds in Fruit Machine, which uses physical theatre to interpret historical texts and quotes, is a story of betrayal. We meet men and women who are betrayed by their peers, their families, and their country. We enter a world of secrecy, of coded language, and hidden intentions. It is a dark chapter of Canadian history that is almost too hard to believe, especially from the perspective of a young millennial.

Rioux and Crowell present moments that express the same kind of disbelief. These are moments that could appear in any episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. One standout moment is when the actors shuffle across the stage while holding newspapers to their faces (no eye holes). It is entirely comical, again straight from a cartoon, because this period of history seems so outlandish from a young person’s point-of-view. Seriously, a man couldn’t drive a white convertible car or wear a ring on his pinky finger without people thinking he was gay? We are soon reminded that these seemingly trivial actions had life-altering consequences.

Fruit becomes a powerful image in the play. It is an object that holds a lot of significance for the characters and their relationships with others. Fruit is something to be discarded. Fruit is something to be destroyed. Fruit is something to be embraced. Fruit is something that connects people. The inanimate objects are transformed into characters, and the actors respond to them accordingly. The result is beautiful storytelling told through eloquent movement.

Rioux’s direction smartly crafts an intimate atmosphere with characters weaving in and out of the action on stage. There are moments where the connective tissue seems loose, leaving the play and its network of characters feel a bit disjointed. Still, the scenes manage to be effective on their own. The director stages scenes of palpable heartbreak and tightening dread.

The company — Lucas Tapley, Dustyn Forbes, Kira Chisholm, Esther Soucoup, and Crowell — proves versatile with every scene. The actors jump effortlessly from the physical demands of the play to its segments that are more documentary-style. 

Fruit Machine is emotionally devastating. A must-see.

Fruit Machine ran July 23 -25 at the Black Box Theatre as part of the 2019 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

For more information about the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival:

Old Burial Ground is Subject of New Site-Specific Work

For the last six months, local playwright Greg Everett has been busy researching and writing about the Old Burial Ground in Fredericton. The site, located downtown between Brunswick and George, is the subject of Everett’s site-specific work Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place. The play “explores the history of the Old Burial Ground itself, the personal histories of the people at rest there, and the relationship that people have with the space today.”

On Friday, May 31st, Everett will present a public reading of his new play at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Photographs of the site and commentary from the playwright will accompany the reading. The free event will start at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

I spoke with Everett, whose project was made possible through a Creation grant from artsnb, to learn more about the site-specific work.

How did your project benefit from the grant?

The grant has, in a broad sense, provided me with the time and headspace I’ve need to tackle this project. It’s my first full-length script, which is a challenge in itself, and it’s the most research heavy, community relevant piece that I’ve ever undertaken. Before artsnb awarded me the grant, I was working three different casual jobs in order to be able to earn a living while still having enough control over my schedule to pursue my career as an artist. The money has gone toward my subsistence and bills for the six months of the project duration, and I’ve been able to rent a small space at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in which to write; those two things have made a world of difference in my ability not only to focus on my research and my craft, but also to work on my professional development as an artist. Part of the mandate of artsnb’s Creation grants is to help artists reach the next stage in their career and I can unequivocally say I am achieving that through this project.

What did your research for this project look like? What kind of sources were you looking at to learn more about the Old Burial Ground?

When I made the proposal, I set a timeline with two months of research and four months of writing. But almost as soon as I started working on it, that idea of two distinct phases went out the window. The play itself is an anti-chronology wherein histories, eras, stories, voices, all overlap; its an effort to reflect the idea that all of the tangibles and intangibles and ephemera representing a place pile up in a very real way. The whole project quickly began to reflect this idea as well, and so instead of approaching the research as piecing together the straight-line story of the Old Burial Ground from 1787 to 2019, in essence I started to root around in the pile and collect a few things in order to convey an authentic sense of place. So while I was reading the ubiquitous Loyalist histories that mention the Old Burial Ground, and historian Lousie Hill’s catalogue of the plots and stones, and newspaper archives, and genealogies, I was also just plain talking to people about their feelings, their memories, anything they had to say about the site. And that created a feedback loop where I was researching and writing in an ongoing cycle. For instance, one thing that came up with a lot of the people I’ve spoken with is the idea that there are no bodies in the Old Burial Ground, and that the stones were moved from somewhere else. Naturally that lead me to try and find out anything I could about that story (spoiler alert: it’s just a rumour), which opened up another avenue of traditional research that I wouldn’t have otherwise explored and subsequently written about.

What is about the Old Burial Ground that captured your interest?

The Old Burial Ground is almost like its own monument; a crumbling, grim presence that denotes the remains of a dead thing. I’m definitely drawn to that aesthetic. But what really fascinates me is the way that the burial ground has obstinately squatted in the heart of the city for two hundred and thirty years while Fredericton has grown up around it. On top of that, it’s very much alive in the ways that people come into contact with it at present: there are always people cutting through to get downtown, there are often people checking out the graves, some just hanging around, kids there to sneak cigarettes, drunken escapades after the bars, etc. etc. etc. It’s an anachronism, in a couple of different ways, and the more I thought about that, the more I wanted to explore it. And in a very self-indulgent way, I knew that no matter what shape the project took, I would be able to write about ghosts. I would say one of the defining qualities of all of my work is an earnest attempt to create a world where ghosts and monsters and revenants are all direct embodiments of buried stories and experiences that have unburied themselves to trouble the present. The Old Burial Ground allows me to manifest all of that in my site-specific efforts.

Can you tell me about the decision to create a site-specific work? Why do you think it’s necessary to bring an audience to the site?

I’ve been interested in site-specific theatre since the final year of my undergrad (around 2013), but it’s only in the past year or so that it’s become a big part of my artistic sphere. I feel that, for me, at this point in space and time, it’s the answer to an ever-present question: how do I make meaningful art? The notion of place and landscape, and their visceral connection to identity and self, have long been central themes of my work, but always at a great distance; generally I bring a simulacrum of rural New Brunswick to the stage. And I’m still doing that, but as a next step in my career, I’ve been looking toward more ambitious projects.

With site-specific theatre, I’m not working in imitations or simulacrums, and I’m not trying to manufacture a feeling or a reaction. I’m allowing those things to develop organically from the audience’s interaction with the site. I’ll here quote from the book CROSSFIRING/MAMA WETOTAN, which originally inspired my interest in site-specific art and which has helped to form the theoretical framework for my play: “the site-specific form invites spectators to encounter the site with a heightened awareness and to develop connections among themselves in relation to the space used, to the inherent notion of temporality, and, of course, to the artworks presented.” Part of what the makes the Old Burial Ground so compelling as a site is that so many people already have some sort of connection to it, even just as a cut-through between Brunswick and George, and that’s an integral part of the play as well: the relationships that people have with it today.

One of the central tensions regarding the site, and thus in the play, is the question of public access, and so a site-specific performance goes beyond addressing that tension through themes to confronting it directly. Again I’ll quote someone who can say it better than I can, in this case Nick Pearson in his book Site Specific Performance: “Site specific performance describes a way of being in place and has the capacity to reshape locales that are considered fixed and immutable.” Ideally, this script, and eventually the performance of the play, will help people approach the Old Burial Ground in a state of mindfulness about all that it has been, and all that it is, and ultimately begin to write the story of what the site will be going forward.

Friday, May 31st: Join playwright Greg Everett for a public reading of Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place. The free event starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 

Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story Shines Light On Canadian Hero

Beau Dixon as Maurice Ruddick in Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story. Photo Credit: Nicole Zylstra

Beau Dixon as Maurice Ruddick in Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story. Photo Credit: Nicole Zylstra

October 23rd, 1958.

On this day, the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia experienced a terrible mining disaster. A collapsed mine, triggered by a ‘bump’, would claim the lives of 74 men.

The story of Maurice Ruddick and the five men who he saved, however, would live on.

In Beau Dixon’s one-man show Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story, Dixon celebrates Ruddick’s unyielding spirit in the face of disaster. A beautifully woven tale of heroism, Dixon skillfully pays tribute to a man whose music and faith gave him the strength to inspire others.

A husband and father of 12, Ruddick works as a coal miner to support his family. Though his dreams of being a musician have long been put to the wayside, Ruddick is not shy to share his passion for singing with his co-workers. Unfortunately, Ruddick, an African-Canadian, is not always welcomed by the men he works with.

When news of the mine collapse breaks out, Dixon imagines what Ruddick’s 10-year old daughter Valerie experienced when watching live television coverage of the event. The coverage is hosted by a CBC reporter who Dixon also plays.

Trapped at the bottom of the mine with six other men, Ruddick is compelled to keep their spirits high until the rescue teams reach them. He does so by singing and leading the men in various hymnals. Even though the men’s morale drops with each passing day, Ruddick is firm in his resolve.

Beneath Springhill is a moving piece of drama that succeeds in portraying Ruddick as a man who did not see himself as a hero, but someone simply doing the right thing. Someone guided by not only their faith, but their basic humanity. (The real-life Ruddick would go on to play down his hero status).

Ruddick’s admirable character as a family man and a hard worker is, in fact, what drives the emotional impact of the play.

Dixon never allows us to forget how easily Ruddick could have lost all hope. It is truly gut-wrenching to watch the trapped men resign themselves to death while Ruddick pulls what little energy he has left, setting aside his own fears in the meantime, to maintain their morale. And all the while, who is Ruddick? He is just a simple man who risks his life on a daily basis to put food on the table.

Nor does Dixon allow us to forget how Ruddick was later rewarded for his courage. Because of segregation at the time, Ruddick’s invitation by the Governor of Georgia to a luxurious resort is sent under the condition that he and his family stay in a trailer park, away from the other survivors.

Under the hot theatre lights, we can see that this production is not easy for Dixon who plays a wide range of characters. Yet, despite the furious pace at which these transitions happen, Dixon somehow manages to not lose control of the distinct voices and mannerisms he has crafted, especially those of the five coal miners trapped with Ruddick.

Also, Dixon does well to keep the play moving forward by framing the central action with scenes of Ruddick’s daughter and the CBC’s coverage. Despite Dixon’s mixed performance as a 10-year old, seeing the disaster through a young girl’s eyes is still heart-breaking. And the CBC’s (rather pessimistic) coverage of the event reminds us just how great the odds are/were against Ruddick and the other coal miners.

A story about hope, family, and humanity, Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story pays its respects to a Canadian hero who inspired strength in others. Audiences will find Dixon’s performance as incredible as the emotional story he brings to life.

Beau Dixon’s Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story runs at Lunchbox Theatre Jan 12 – 24, 2015. 

‘Beneath Springhill’ is co-presented with the 25th Annual High Performance Rodeo.

For more information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit:

For information about this year’s High Performance Rodeo, visit:

Maurice Ruddick was featured in a Heritage Minute which can be seen here:


WORLD PREMIERE: Theatre Calgary’s Liberation Days Is a Sentimental Look at the Past

The war is over. Celebrations erupt across Europe. This victory, though, has come at a great cost. And for the Netherlands, the fight is far from over.

David van Belle’s new play Liberation Days is more than a lesson in history, it is a meditation on perseverance in the face of extraordinary struggle. Although, despite its strong performances and stunning set design, Theatre Calgary’s latest production fails to leave a lasting impact.

The bulk of the play centers around the romantic relationship that develops between Canadian soldier Alex King (Byron Allen) and Emma de Bruijn (Lindsey Angell), a young Dutch woman. The language barrier is not the only thing that stands between them. Emma’s mother Aaltje (Valerie Planche) strongly disapproves of her daughter’s relationship with the Canadian. And if that were not enough, there is also the problem of Emma’s fiancee Jan van Egmond (Jonathan Seinen) – a Dutch soldier presumed to be dead by his community.

Meanwhile, the Canadian forces struggle to gain the trust of the locals they have been assigned to help with rebuilding. The clash between the two cultures plays out between Cpt. Miles Cavendish (Garett Ross) and the village’s religious leader Dominee Herman van Egmond (Duval Lang).

The play is narrated by Marijke Bos (Kelsey Gilker) – the village outcast who dared fall in love with a German soldier during occupation. Continue reading

“There are no black cowboys”: Ellipsis Tree Collective Impresses With World Premiere of John Ware Reimagined

For playwright Cheryl Foggo, history is not just about dates and facts. Presented at Lunchbox Theatre, Ellipsis Tree Collective’s John Ware Reimagined is an intelligent drama that offers audiences more than a lesson in Canadian history.

Written by Foggo and directed by Kevin McKendrick, John Ware Reimagined tells the story of Joni (Kirsten Alter), a young African-Canadian girl growing up in 1960s Calgary. Continue reading