Next Folding Theatre Company Says Goodbye with Songs of the Seer

From science fiction to steampunk, Songs of the Seer is the latest (and final) Creative Collaboration from Next Folding Theatre Company. The main company consists of 10 theatre artists who, in addition to performing, are credited with writing and directing Songs of the Seer. The production features a supporting cast of five actors, and cameos by NFTC alumni.

The Provincial Union of Jorn has occupied the Territory of Huff. The territory sits on a rich deposit of Aether, an energy source highly sought after by the Icarians. The occupation is depicted through scenes that explore different sides of the war, from Huffian revolutionaries to the Icarian inner circle plotting a final solution to ordinary people trying to survive another day.

Don’t expect a lot to be explained in this collection of steampunk short stories. The basic premise is fairly straightforward, but the mythology is dense to the point of being an obstacle. Which is too bad since the play seemingly wants to discuss colonization, marginalization, and the nature of conflict. Instead, Songs of the Seer unloads a lot of information and hopes its audience can keep track of character names, their affiliations, and how they play into the larger scheme.

There are bright moments in the show. In Act One, a Huffian father (Miguel Roy) is visited by a friend (Alex Rioux) who has come to recruit the man’s only child (Esther Soucoup) for the war effort. It’s an emotional scene that presents a character who, despite their best efforts to hide, finds themselves personally affected again by the conflict. The opening scene of Act Two focuses on two Icarian guards (Brianna Parker-Tarasco & Scott Shannon) who go back-and-forth about morality. The scene does a good job of mixing humour with the play’s major themes. Later, an Icarian maid (Melissa McMichael) tells her co-worker (Shannon) about the sinister plans she overheard late one night and how she plans to run away. The maid is caught speaking against the Provincial Union and sentenced to death, sacrificed in a ceremony that the staff had been preparing only moments earlier. It’s a chilling scene.

Still, the production has difficulty justifying its approximate runtime of two hours and 30 minutes. And then, it abruptly ends with characters from NFTC’s Fred Nebula crashing the play. That’s right, NFTC has established their own ‘cinematic universe’. It’s totally absurd and hilarious, well if you saw the show last year and aren’t wondering who these characters are (played by Elizabeth Goodyear, Robbie Lynn, Michael Holmes-Lauder).

Costume Designer Kat Hall integrates masks and capes into the production with good results. Samuel Crowell’s set and prop design is simple but strikes the right tone for this steampunk fantasy.

Presented at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Songs of the Seer is the Next Folding Theatre Company’s final production.

Next Folding Theatre Company’s Songs of the Seer ran March 14 – 16 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 

Main Company (Writing/Directing/Acting:

Brennan Garnett
Kat Hall
Alex Rioux
Miguel Roy
Esther Soucoup
Hannah Blizzard
Melissa McMichael
Corenski Nowlan
Briana Parker-Tarasco
Scott Shannon

Supporting Cast (Acting):

Gregg Everett
Jenn Flewelling
Neomi Iancu Haliva
Greg Shanks
Julianne Richard

Elizabeth Goodyear
Robbie Lynn
Ian Murphy

Be…In Outer Space: Next Folding Theatre Company’s Fred Nebula is Purely New Brunswick

Fred Nebula is the latest production from Next Folding Theatre Company, and it’s really something different. The play is set in the vastness of outer space, and yet the characters are purely New Brunswick. It’s New Brunswickers…in space! With aliens, robots, and space cougars.

Presented inside St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, Fred Nebula is a collaborative effort by eight writers, seven of whom also perform on stage. The episodic play, directed by Ryan Griffith, stages life on board a spaceship where the crew are beginning to miss home. Turns out that the novelty of space travel gets old after enough time away from friends and family. And so, the crew try to get along with each other because, well, who else are they going to spend time with?

The play’s opening scene sums up Fred Nebula very well. In it, members of the crew are seated around the table listening to Steve (Madeline Whalen / Rebekah Chassé) share a ghost story. Even in the far future people are not only still afraid of ghosts, but they also still like to tell stories.

Where Fred Nebula succeeds is the humanity at the core of its science fiction setting. Characters like Gabby (Kira Smith / Tilly Jackson) are grounded by common troubles. She is secretly in love with Eric (Corenski Nowlan) and wishes she had the courage to tell him. (Also, Eric is a robot). And then there’s the whole issue of eating the same meal day after day. Gabby doesn’t care if the crew’s meals follow Canada’s Food Guide, no one should have to eat the same meal over two hundred times.

Science fiction is no stranger to social commentary, look at Star Trek or episodes from The Outer Limits. Here, the prejudice is against citizens from Aia’s conflict-ridden home planet. When some of the crew members learn that Aia is from that planet, they suddenly start to see her differently and wonder if she’s just like “them” or an exception. What gives the scene impact is when Steve and Aia, away from the other crew, start to talk about their families. There’s a realization by Steve that they share a lot in common, leading the character to stand up for Aia when she’s not around.

Again, the strength of Fred Nebula is its focus on the human even in extraordinary circumstances. The main theme here is some things never change. Like peoples’ desire to belong or to feel respected, as one crew member shares during a team building exercise. The emphasis on community and ideas about belonging makes us think about where and who we are now, and the direction we are headed in. There’s a lot being said not only about communities in New Brunswick, but also life on our Pale Blue Dot. 

That doesn’t mean that Fred Nebula isn’t also delightfully weird. At one point, a character talks about adding a third samosa stand at the Farmer’s Market; the next there’s a dangerous space anomaly that threatens the crew. There’s even a fresh and hilarious take on the enduring New Brunswick cougar myth – a great scene by Whalen and Melissa McMichael who plays the Captain. So, there’s a refreshing mix of serious commentary and oddball humour.

Alien interference causes the human crew members to have new bodies when the play resumes in the second act, hence the dual credits for certain characters. The crew members, now being played by a different set of actors, are totally not okay with the changes. It’s a fun and clever way of fitting all 19 actors on stage.

Unfortunately, Fred Nebula‘s second act feels less cohesive and engaging than its first. The love triangle that emerges is an interesting development, but potential sabotage by one of the crew members? Oddly placed near the end of the play, so it feels inconsequential. Which really sticks out in a play that runs long at 2h 15min (excluding a 15-minute intermission). It’s too bad since the character dynamics from the first act are worthy of revisiting. 

The production embraces the vibe of a low-budget space opera, almost ideal for the type of stories staged here. Holmes-Lauder’s atmospheric light and sound design produces a feeling of travelling the stars. The cast’s acapella performances during scene transitions give the feeling of an intense serialized sci-fi drama (think Captain Kirk vs. Gorn). The spaceship, prop and set design by Samuel Crowell, feels as though this vessel has seen better, more vibrant days – like a certain province. Costume Designer Katherine Hall (who plays Sam, along with Telina Debly) delivers a great cheesy robot costume for Nowlan. It’s simple black clothing with thin material glued on to give the appearance of a metal body. The crew’s outfits are kept simple, as well, with plain casual clothing, which helps accentuate the more sci-fi elements of the production.

Fred Nebula is a space adventure that manages to be both fun and relevant to our current stardate.

Next Folding Theatre Company’s Fred Nebula runs March 2 – 4 at the Black Box Theatre.

Cast & Writing Team

Amelia Hay…Writer/Aia
Tilly Jackson…Writer/Gabby
Lee Thomas…Writer/Communications
Elizabeth Goodyear…Writer/Garrett
Neomi Iancu Haliva…Writer/Advisor Lexus
Madeline Whalen…Writer/Pilot
Kira Smith…Writer/Gunner
Alex Rioux…Writer
Jenn Flewelling…Ambassador Kardoso
Heather Stuckless…Overseer Jutuun
Rebekah Chassé…Steve
Telina Debly…Sam
Corenski Nowlan…Eric
Arianna Martinez…Jean
Robbie Lynn…Louis
Katherine Hall…Security
Melissa McMichael…Credits Music Composition/Captain
Michael Holmes-Lauder…The Second One