Magic Show Returning to Sussex After Festival Win

Sawyer Stanley knows a thing or two about turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

“My mom used to leave chore lists out on the table,” said the 19-year-old magician from Sussex, New Brunswick. “The magic tricks were kind of way to get those chores done faster. They started out like life hacks almost, and then turned into magic.”

In those early days, Stanley was learning magic from YouTube videos. Among the magicians Stanley was watching on YouTube were Criss Angel, David Blaine, and Shin Lim (who won this year’s America’s Got Talent). Eventually, the young magician moved away from YouTube to books.

“You get so much from one book,” Stanley said about the transition. “Plus, it’s not as common. People aren’t learning tricks from books anymore. You’re learning things that aren’t out there.”

Stanley booked his first public performance last December at a local restaurant. He performed tableside magic for guests. “It went great. I went back a couple times to do it.”

At the start of 2018, Stanley’s mentor Tabraze Sheikh (of The Modern Mind Readers) encouraged him to apply for the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John.

“He said you should put your show in. I ended up being the fourth name drawn for the regional acts, so that was awesome”

That show was (Extra)Ordinary Day.

With help from his mentor, Stanley developed (Extra)Ordinary Day after reconsidering his approach to magic performance.

“I had to find a niche, that was the first thing,” said Stanley. “I was doing shows, but it was tricks thrown together.”

Stanley asked himself: “If I had magic powers for real, what would those powers entail?”

The answer? Practical magic.

“You’re never going to see something in the show and go, why did he do that?” Stanley said. “There’s no, why did he pull a bunny out of a hat?”

(Extra)Ordinary Day stages a day in the life of a magician. The show is a “mix between a magic show and a theatre show” where “every trick has its place” in the story.

Before its run at the Fundy Fringe Festival, (Extra)Ordinary Day premiered at home in Sussex. According to Stanley, the debut “didn’t go exactly as planned,” but he learned something valuable from the experience.

“I was kinda bummed about it after the show,” Stanley said. “Everyone still seemed to enjoy it. It was a big lesson in perspective.”

Undeterred, Stanley reworked the script and added a new routine to the show.

(Extra)Ordinary Day won the Fundy Fringe Festival’s Fan Favourite Award.

“It was incredibly flattering, “ Stanley said about accepting the award. “I had nothing [to say] because I didn’t expect anything, so I said thank you a bunch of times and sat back down.”

(Extra)Ordinary Day returns to Sussex on December 29th. The show will be presented at the All Seasons Inn and Restaurant (Banquet Room). Tickets are $12 or $10 with a non-perishable donation (in support of the Sussex Sharing Club).

The bar opens at 6:30pm. Show starts at 7:30pm.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at the venue.

To learn more about Sawyer Stanley: https://www.facebook.com/sawyerstanleymagic/

Local Playwright Raising Awareness About Opioid Crisis in Miramichi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Notes Returns to the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Returning this year to the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival is Patrick Toner’s Grace Notes. Grace Notes was first presented last summer as part of NotaBle Act’s Play Out Loud series, where new plays in development are given public readings. Audiences can catch Grace Notes at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, July 26-29.

Directed by Clarissa Hurley, Grace Notes tells the story of Sergeant Grace Neil (Leah Holder), a recently demoted member of the military police. She is given the ‘easy’ assignment of Junior Pipe Band Instructor in the Territories. The band is comprised of young Tribe followers. There is a deep mistrust by the West towards those who follow the religious teachings of Tribe, with Tribe being unable to fly on airplanes as just one example.

There, in the Territories, Grace is reunited with her sister Magda (Caroline Coon). She also becomes acquainted with Solomon (Warren Macaulay), the pipe band’s drum major. Solomon is a Tribe activist guided by dangerous ambition. He pressures Grace to question the truth of everything the West has told her, and many others like her, about Tribe. Grace eventually opens herself to Tribe teachings as she becomes more involved with life (and Solomon) in the Territories.

A lot is broken in this world that Toner has crafted, with clear inspiration from the state of global affairs today. Solomon carries the weight of a traumatic childhood, memories of occupation. What motivates the character to push towards despicable acts is the immutable narrative that has emerged from the Territories. Solomon is frustrated by the fact that nothing has changed, only worsened. There are drones now that fly overhead and are capable of massive destruction. And the local people have become accustomed to air raids, heading into underground shelters when the sirens blare. The possibility for peace through diplomacy has long been ruined for Solomon; violence begets violence.

Grace Notes offers its audience interesting commentary not only about the world at broad, but also the treatment of ‘others’.  One of such key moments is when Captain Boisclair (Joel Diamond) informs Grace that her pipe band has been invited to play in the West. Grace recognizes the invitation for what it is: propaganda. It is a clear demonstration of the way in which (typically) marginalized groups of people are used by institutions to publicly convey and reaffirm their values, then are discarded and forgotten once their temporary purpose has been fulfilled.

On a similar note: given the real-world parallels here, kudos to Hurley for not attempting to play up the ‘foreigness’ of the Tribe characters.

Toner’s ambitious scope is certainly worthy of praise, but it is too bad that the characters are underdeveloped. More could be done to explore and reveal the struggle of these characters trapped at the mercy of powers beyond them. And it is frustrating when there are glimpses of where Toner might peel away layers only for him to rush through the emotions and move onto the larger story at play. (Toner should consider expanding the play into two-acts). Imagery of bagpipes and food steal focus from characters in a play stuck on a higher metaphorical level.

Thankfully, the production is gifted with a talented cast that help enrich the human factor of Toner’s play. Holder expresses her character’s shifting loyalty through subtle movements that speak volumes. She really has that capacity to take a character through an emotional arc. Macaulay’s back and forths with Holder’s Grace are fascinating to watch. He is a great antagonist with his ability to make words creep and crawl, planting seeds of doubt along the way. Holder and Macaulay are a strong pairing. A recent graduate from Brock University’s Dramatic Arts program, Coon brings a subdued intensity to Magda that she knows how to use to its fullest effect. So, it is a shame that there is not more Magda (see paragraph above) in the script because Coon shows promising range. (And what a singing voice!) The same can be said for Diamond who really only gets to play towards the end, where he’s not delivering exposition. Devin Luke plays the minor role of a lawyer, a character put in to help advance and frame the plot.

Back to Hurley’s direction, she manages very well with the numerous scene jumps that take the audience to different locales in the past, the future, and the present. The actors travel across the stage fluidly and with clear intentions that help establish space. There could be some restraint on animated projection images in the background (ex: grainy aerial footage) since the detailed play-by-play from the characters stand on their own.

Mike Johnston’s set design is very conscious of the demands of the play. As a result, the set pieces are mobile and dynamic. In one scene, the set pieces are used as bus seats; the next, they form a wall and the entrance to an underground shelter. Chris Saad’s lighting work in the play’s final moments make for an exciting conclusion. There is effective sound design by Mike Doherty who delivers a robust sound for the action sequences. Costume designer Sherry Kinnear gives Macaulay a military jacket that has strong hints of ‘revolutionary’, very fitting for his character’s appetite for justice – justice as he defines it.

Grace Notes is relevant today in a world where our collective future grows more and more uncertain everyday. Although thought-provoking, the play struggles to bring together its big ideas in a way that connects on a deeper, more personal level.


Patrick Toner’s Grace Notes runs July 26 – 29 at the Black Box Theatre, 7:30PM nightly.
For more information about the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, including tickets and the complete schedule: https://nbacts.com/the-festival/