A Knockout: Cseke’s The Fight or Flight Response Enters The Ring

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Verb Theatre presents The Fight or Flight Response by Col Cseke, March 10-19 at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre. Pictured, L to R: Justin Michael Carriere and Nathan Pronyshyn. Photo Credit: Rob Galbraith.

On its surface, Col Cseke’s The Fight or Flight Response is about two guys trying to escape their unfulfilling lives.

By day, Kevin (Justin Michael Carriere) is an Assistant Manager at Subway; by night he is a mixed martial arts fighter training for his first professional MMA fight. On the verge of turning thirty, Kevin sees the fight as his last first experience ever, a thought that motivates him even more to win and climb the professional ladder.

On the flip side, Kevin’s long-time friend Doug (Nathan Pronyshyn) is struggling to get away from the MMA scene altogether. Doug’s problem is that he has very little experience with anything outside of fighting. Before working full-time at Mohammed’s MMA Gym, the thirty-two year old slung coffee at Tim Hortons. Doug knows he wants to do something else with his life, but he just doesn’t know what that something else looks like. Paralyzed by fear and indecision, Doug hopes for some external force to move him in one direction or another.

This Verb Theatre production is staged inside the Joyce Dolittle Theatre, a small but malleable space. Costume and Set Designer Victoria Krawchuk has transformed the space into a MMA gym, equipment and all. The theatre’s brick walls add to the grittiness of the space, and the drama that unfolds during very real and brutal fight sequences (Fight choreography by Karl Sine with Pronyshyn and Carriere).

As mentioned, Cseke’s play is in some parts about these two friends trying to turn their lives around, but really the play is about the many problems with traditional masculinity, namely the emotional disconnect that young men experience. Traditional masculinity dictates that young men ought to keep their emotions bottled inside, that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. About the nature of fighting, Kevin muses that guys like fighting because it’s the only time when human contact between men is acceptable. Guys can’t touch other guys otherwise, he says, unlike girls who can make contact with other girls whenever. And so, following these lines, young men remove themselves emotionally in two ways, from the self and from others.

So, it’s no surprise that the men in Cseke’s play have such a hard time not only describing what they’re feeling, but then sharing that with someone else. For them, the only thing that makes sense is fighting, knowing that someone wins and someone loses at the end of a match. Support, not competition, it’s a novel idea.

Director Kelly Reay pursues this awkwardness between Kevin and Doug by having both actors never quite engaging each other directly, not until the heated finale anyway. Maybe the best way to describe Reay’s direction is by comparing it to when people walk aimlessly around their homes while on the telephone. The actors play or distract themselves with the various equipment laying around the gym while digging deep into their character’s emotional well. It’s a funny thing at first, but then we realize that these distraught characters would need to distract themselves in order to be so open about their emotions. And the actors are most usually talking to each other from afar, growing that emotional distance even further. Excellent direction by Reay who succeeds in pulling the actors and action together at the end.

Pronyshyn and Carriere display tremendous vulnerability in this raw, engaging production. The actors speak volumes through their movement alone. It’s fascinating just how much non-verbal communication is expressed during the training periods, and other blows exchanged between the two. What’s exciting, too, is the sense of immediacy that the actors draw from their characters’ seemingly hopeless lives. The big life changes, they have to happen now or never. Time is not something people can fight, but only accept.

A riveting piece of work by Cseke, and a knockout production from Verb Theatre.

Verb Theatre’s The Fight or Flight Response by Col Cseke runs March 10 – 19 at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre (Pumphouse Theatres).

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


#ThisIsLife Explores Ups and Downs of Social Media

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective's #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

Trying to explain social media is difficult. No really knows why they need minute-by-minute updates from just about everyone and anyone. Why anything goes viral is a mystery, even for so-called social media ‘gurus’. And who knows why people obsess over how many virtual affirmations i.e. Likes and Hearts they receive online. If there’s at least one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that social media, for better or for worse, is simply fascinating.

Presented at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife journeys through the world of social media, exploring its ups and downs along the way. The multi-media production incorporates the use of video screens to help seek out and examine the various impacts of social media on daily life.

After the show’s big opening number “Dress Rehearsal”, choreographed by Kelsea Fitzpatrick, Lauren Miholic’s “Bros” takes the stage. There’s no doubt that social media has dramatically changed the way friends and family communicate. Miholic’s brisk, light-hearted piece focuses on social media as a tool to collect and store memories, staging four friends who connect online as well as offline. The piece ends on a happy note as the friends are able to take that connection from the online to the offline.

Next, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak’s “Troll” stages an urgent message about cyber bullying. In this piece, one group of dancers are dressed in red – Hate – with the other group dressed in white – victims. The piece is set to Shayne Koyczan’s “Troll.” There’s this strange idea that the online and the offline are two separate worlds, that whatever is posted online has no real world consequences. Cromwell-Krywulak’s piece argues against the idea. Her dancers in red physically dominate the others, pushing them around until one dancer in white is pushed too far, taking her life as a result. The choreography is powerful in its ability to clearly communicate its narrative, while stirring reflection on tragic cases of cyber bullying e.g. Amanda Todd.

Christen Terakita’s “Parallel Play” explores another recent phenomenon, our careless disconnect with the physical world. The dancers walk onstage, distracted by their smartphones – their hands are cleverly illuminated by handlights. The choreography sees some dancers performing distracted, while others are more focused on the task at hand, switching periodically. Terakita’s choreography works marvelously in making its point about just how glued people are to their screens, even during moments where their attention is needed most. Although the dancers eventually realize they ought to pay more attention at the end, they soon go back to their old habits, or the new normal.

Katherine Mandolidis’ “Chatter” stages two friends trapped in a miscommunication caused by posts made to Facebook. Dancers fill in the space between the friends, who are standing far apart from each other on stage. The choreography is something like a modern game of telephone, where neither end is receiving the same message. Mandolidis’ piece ends as these type of disputes should: the two friends meet face-to-face and clear their miscommunication, laughing it off as the lights go down.

The first act ends with a steamy cabaret number based around popular dating sites and apps like Tinder – the “hook up” app. Susan Rowland’s “Crazy For You” stages a playful dance of seduction that proves no matter the method, the rules of the game never change.

Janelle Rae Ferrara’s “#filterthis” is all about the major impact of photo manipulation, popular on platforms like Instagram, on women and their self-confidence. Rather than search for imperfections, Ferrara argues women ought to celebrate their bodies, for they are beautiful just the way are. Ferrara’s piece is strongly reminiscent of a Beyoncé music video. The five dancers certainly channel their inner Queen B with their stunning performance that has the audience whooping and hollering by the end of it.

Misha Behnia brings the terror of cyberstalking to the stage with “Find You.” Someone has been obsessing over a young woman’s online activity recently, leaving comments that disturb her. While her stalker is anonymous, she suspects it’s someone close to her. Behnia has chosen slow renditions of You’re The One That I Want and One Way or Another to create a frightening atmosphere onstage. The lyrics to One Way or Another (“I’m gonna get ya”) take on a whole new dark meaning in this piece as a terrified dancer runs for safety amidst a sea of people, any of which could be her stalker. Behnia’s slow build in tension is genuinely unsettling.

A much lighter piece, Katherine Wilson’s “Just 5 More Minutes…” looks at the struggle of falling asleep at night now that the internet is just at our fingertips. Wilson’s piece starts with a young woman who decides to watch cat videos before going to bed. A rabbit hole, if ever there was any. The young woman soon finds herself surrounded by dancers dressed as cats, ears and all. The piece is absolutely hilarious as it goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. The young woman finds herself searching for more videos to watch, landing on Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” Dancers come out to recreate Jackson’s popular dance moves. The piece ends with our tired friend getting barely a second of sleep before her alarm goes off. (The struggle is real).

Mandolidis’ “Distraction” focuses on the deadly phenomenon of distracted driving and its aftermath. “Distraction” is an emotional piece, evoking a strong sense of grief and hurt as one dancer watches her friends lose their lives to an urge to always be connected, no matter the situation.

The night’s last number is “Count on Me,” choreographed by Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland. The final word about social media is that social media is not some strange, otherworldly entity, but something created by people, for people. When used responsibly, social media can benefit people in a lot of different ways.

While not clearly linked by an overarching narrative, the show’s dynamic multi-perspective look at social media is compelling nonetheless. The format makes sense considering social media is so versatile and elusive in its identity. Trying to cover the various dimensions of social media through some patchwork story would likely be disastrous. Here, each dimension is allowed to breathe and take on its own character to full effect, like Behnia’s “Find You.”

Through 11 choreographic works, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife taps into the pulse of modern life, delivering a fun, insightful production surrounding the impacts of social media on daily life.

En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife runs Feb 4 – 6 at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre.

For more about the information, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca/#!-thisislife/c72f

Dress Rehearsal

Choreography: Kelsea Fitzpatrick
Music: Bonnie McKee – Bombastic
Filming and Editing: Kelsea Fitzpatrick and Valerie Stretch
Performed by: All Cast


Choreography: Lauren Miholic
Music: Wolf Alice – Bros
Performing by: Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kiersten Penny, Kimberly Johnson


Choreography: Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak
Music: Shane Koyczan – Troll
Performed by: Allison Benson, Ashley Green, Erica Price, Jordana Trauh, Kiersten Penny, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron, Tasha Leibel

Parallel Play

Choreography: Christen Terakita
Music: Izzi Dunn – Oblivious
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Katherine Wilson, Lauren Miholic, Stephanie Fuhurman, Susan Rowland


Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Joywave feat. Kopps – Toungues
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Misha Behnia, Shannon Sherston


Choroegraphy: Tasha Leibel
Music: Twenty One Pilots – Goner
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Jordan Wallan, Julia MItchell, Karen Vito, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Misha Behnia, Nicole Wasylenko, Shannon Sherston, Stephanie Ballie, Susan Rowland

Crazy For You

Choreography: Susan Rowland
Music: Adele – Crazy For You
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Christina Robertson, Emily Neuheimer, Katherine Wilson

Mark My Words

Choreography: All Choreographers
Director/Concept: Susan Rowland
Film Editing: Valerie Stretch
Performed by: The Choreographers of #ThisIsLife and the En Corps Board of Directors
Music: Justin Bieber – Mark My Words


Choreography: Janelle Rae Ferrara
Music: HWLS – 004
Performed by: Brianne Martin, Jordan Wallan, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Tasha Leibel

Something in The Water

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer
Music: Pokey Lafarge: Something in The Water
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Karen Vito, Katherine Wilson, Nicole Wasylenko, Susan Rowland

Find You

Choreography: Misha Behnia
Music: Until The Ribbon Breaks – One Way or Another, Lo Fang – You’re The One That I Want
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Allison Benson, Ashleigh Cerny, Chelsea McEwing, Erica Price, Jordana Traub, Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Kimberly Johnson, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Nicole Wasylenko, Stephanie Ballie, Sydney Suffron

Just 5 More Minutes…

Choreography: Katherine Wilson
Music: Tick Tock Jungle, Meow Mix Song (EDM remix – Ashworth, Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation, Hans Zimmer – Tick Tock.

Performed by: Allison Benson, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Erica Price, Kiersten Penny, Madison Dixon, Naomi Lawson-Baird, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron


Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Grace Potter and The Nocturnals – Falling or Flying
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Jordan Wallan, Jordana Traub, Kimberly Johnson, Misha Behnia, Odessa Johnston, Stephanie Ballie, Tasha Leibel

Count On Me

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland
Music: Bruno Mars – Count On Me
Performed by: All Cast

Ready to Make Her Mark, Serenella Sol Launches SeSol Dance Projects


Dancer & choreographer Serenella Sol, founder of SeSol Dance Projects. Photo Credit: Wojtek Mochniej.

Until recently, SeSol Dance Project’s debut production, which premieres this February, was simply titled Project 001. Now, the show’s full title has been revealed, and it is a title that resonates strongly with 26-year-old Serenella Sol.

Project 001: Coming of Age.

“There was something about turning 26 that you feel like, okay I’ve danced for a couple years and have done my own works. What’s the next thing I need to do?” said Sol who created SeSol Dance Projects as a vehicle for her choreographic work. “I just felt like it was time…I’ve been wanting to do it for a couple years, but it never felt right. This time felt like yes, I’m going to do it!”

With the support of W & M Physical Theatre, SeSol Dance Projects aims to create performance opportunities for contemporary dance artists in Calgary, and reach out to audiences who may not regularly engage with contemporary dance.

“Most of the good dancers [in Calgary] are gone, and the rest are working at Lululemon,” said Sol. “It’s a duty for me to create opportunities for talented dancers. The good people want to leave because there is nothing going on here. It’s really hard here in Calgary, but I firmly believe that if we fight and keep going the city will be different in ten years. And it’s going to be different because of artists like me and so many others who are trying to make something from nothing. We just have to keep going.”

Sol says that SeSol Dance Projects is a first step towards realizing her big dream, running a small company of her own. Her company would not only create job opportunities for dancers, but also contribute to the city’s cultural image.

“This is just, I feel like people should be excited about this. We are creating culture, people like me and so many other artists. We are creating Canadian culture. We are creating Calgarian culture.

“We’re more than the [Calgary Stampede], cowboys, and horses. I’m sick of it. That’s not us, we are more than that. I feel like it’s so important for me to be a part of that process. [I want to] be forty and be like, we have a better city because we struggled so much.”

“I’m not there yet, but that’s where I want to be,” said Sol.

Born in the United States, Sol grew up in Venezuela where she started dancing ballet at the age of three. Sol says she quit her ballet classes after Venezuela’s political landscape began shifting. “When I was thirteen, the political situation in my country switched, and that really influenced my upbringing in my teenage years. I was really politically involved in my country. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to become a lawyer.”

Sol’s parents applied for permanent residency, a process that can take between two to three years, when she was fourteen. At the age of seventeen, Sol and her family moved to Canada.

In Canada, Sol, still intent on becoming a lawyer, continued studying political science, but felt that something was missing in her life.

“I was really depressed for a while. I didn’t know why,” said Sol about living in Vancouver. “One day, I saw a sign for ballet classes [at Harbour Dance Centre], and I’m like maybe I should join. I hadn’t taken ballet classes for two years. I took a class and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped. I realized that was the thing I was missing.”

“In Venezuela, you don’t see yourself – you cannot be a professional dancer,” said Sol. “There are no companies. There are no choreographers. It’s not even a possibility. For me, growing up, it was not even a possibility to become a choreographer. When I came [to Canada], it was actually a possibility to become a choreographer.”

In 2013, Sol graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Minor in Dance. Although she had changed her mind about becoming a lawyer, graduating from U of C’s Dance program would have taken longer than she preferred. “It was going to take me a longer time to finish dance than political science, because they took some courses I had in Venezuela.”

“[I thought] I don’t need to stay one more year. I don’t need a degree in dance to be a dancer. I just wanted to move onto the next stage of my life,” explained Sol.

After graduation, Sol traveled to Europe where she planned to begin her dance career. “I just wanted to go to Europe, that’s all I wanted to do. I wasn’t even focused on doing a career in Canada.”

She returned to Calgary after auditioning abroad did not go as planned.

“I came back and was super depressed. I had to get an office job. I was like, I’m going to quit dance! I hate this! The first couple months were really rough,” said Sol about the situation.

And then one day, Sol received an e-mail from Melissa Monteros about an opportunity with W & M Physical Theatre.

“I’m not a religious person, but that was one of the biggest moments in if my life that I was like if there is a God, that this was sent by him. Because I never saw it coming,” said Sol.

Sol met W & M Physical Theatre co-founders Monteros and Wojtek Mochniej while at university, as a student. Monteros’ e-mail came as a total surprise, Sol said, because she never considered herself as someone who stood out in their classes.

“To be honest, I never even thought they saw me as someone they could mentor, because they never cast me in any of their pieces,” said Sol. “I never saw it coming, because you see in class, you know, preference for students. You always kind of smell it. They like this person. I never felt anything like that with Wojtek and Melissa.

“I [am] very privileged, because Melissa and Wojtek have so much experience. They’ve been doing this for 40 years already. It’s amazing to have access to their brains. I’m really grateful for that, for sure.”

Sol has danced with W & M Physical Theatre since Spring 2013, appearing most recently in the company’s latest work “Waiting Rooms in Heaven.”

About her own choreographic pursuits, Sol says she feels her craft is something that can only improve through consistent practice. “Creativity is not a talent, it’s something you have to practice.”

“I see it as a more structure and repetitive thing. You need to do it several times to get better,” said Sol, explaining her own process. “For me, speaking and words are kind of hard, especially in English. So, I do better with movement…Even though there are no words, I can see the feelings. That’s also something I’m really interested in, finding new ways to move different things and see what reaction it has in you from the inside.”

“For me right now, I’m just trying different things and just exploring my own, you know, process and creativity,” continued Sol. “I feel like right now I should try different things and approaches, and then time will say what’s my style. I’m a young person, so I have a long way to go.”

If she has learned anything on her dance journey, Sol said, it is that young artists such as herself need to take their work in steps. “You don’t have the experience yet to know how to bring out [big, conceptual ideas] very well. My philosophy as an artist right now is to try and focus, [asking] what do I want to try and learn this time with this piece?”


The Ensemble, SeSol Dance Project’s Project 001: Coming of Age. Photo Credit: Stephanie Leann.

Looking back and now ahead to Project 001: Coming of Age, Sol says the title is fitting given her experiences as an emerging artist and the novel on which the project is based on – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1847.

While the book forms the foundation of the piece, Sol says that the novel and its themes will be interpreted, not staged “scene by scene,” for the production. Project 001: Coming of Age will explore the novel’s rebellious tone, asking the audience to consider a variety of contemporary social and political issues.

“You see how she grows, as a woman,” said Sol about Jane Eyre. “Always struggling with feeling complete and loved, but also independent. At that age, she was such a rebel. She spoke her mind, both the character and author.”

Sol says the novel, considered a feminist classic, is appropriate given that all eight dancers are women. The dancers were each invited to apply for the show. Some are dancers whom Sol has worked with in the past, like Valentia Dimitriou; others are U of C dance students who stood out to her while assisting Monteros last year.

“I just want to say that, I just want to be a choreographer and dance and be able to create,” concluded Sol, grateful for the generous support she has received so far. “I really believe the arts make a better society. And I really want to be part of Calgary making more art.”

Project 001: Coming of Age runs February 19-20, 7:30pm, at the Big Secret Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online here.

For more information about Serenella Sol & SeSol Dance Projects, visit: http://www.serenellasol.com/

For more information about W & M Physical Theatre, visit: http://wmdance.com/

Like A Bucket of Spilled Paint: One Yellow Rabbit’s ‘Calgary, I Love You’ is Colorful, but a Total Mess

Members of the Ensemble in One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, But You Are Killing Me. Part of the 30th High Performance .jpg

Members of the Ensemble in One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me. Part of the 30th High Performance Rodeo. Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

If the city of Calgary has a soul, it’s a strange one. If nothing else, that’s what audiences can expect to take away from One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me.

Written and directed by Blake Brooker, ‘Calgary, I Love You’ is a musical journey through the soul of a city largely defined by oil and the frontier. The show sets out to paint a broader, more detailed picture of Calgary, from both the inside and outside. And while fun and insightful at times, the production is ultimately like a bucket of spilled paint, colorful but a total mess.

One Yellow Rabbit was founded in 1982, and the performing ensemble has called the Big Secret Theatre home since the late 80’s. In other words, the company has been around a long time, so if any group knows a thing or two about Calgary, it’s the Rabbits. Here, Denise Clarke and Andy Curtis are joined onstage by guest artists Karen Hines and Jamie Tognazzini. The artists are accompanied by musicians Kris Demeanor, Jonathan Lewis, and David Rhymer.

The show opens with various stories surrounding Calgary’s origins, starting with a creation myth told by Clarke. Curtis dismisses the fanciful story for something a little more ‘textbook’. He tells a story about early settlers – led by Joseph Tomato, a Mormon-inspired figure – who took were given the land by the native people. Hines’ account claims that aliens first populated Calgary – which would explain the politics.

No matter how the city was founded, there is no denying that Calgary has become a “city of ideas,” a magnet for many in search of opportunity. Sometimes, though, life throws us curveballs.

Tognazzini plays Kyla, a young woman who lives in a condo, but can’t afford her most recent purchase, a MacBook. She tries returning the computer to the store, then later selling it online, but with no luck. The credit card bill is fast approaching, and Kyla is in serious need of funds. The ensemble tell Kyla, through catchy song and dance, to “get a job” and that she shouldn’t ashamed of moving back in with her parents. There’s a strong sense that Kyla’s Calgary dream has burst as a result of the recent economic turmoil, and that her damaged ego is specific to someone who migrated out west from, let’s say, the maritimes. (Migrating out west has almost become a rite of passage for young people out east).

The ensemble stage a hilarious scene where different residents share their favourite places in Calgary to have a panic attack. The scene is fitting given that Calgarians are reported to work the longest hours in Canada, and also binge drink more than other Canadians. (The show’s title is perhaps more literal than anyone expected).

Hines offers a different and humorous perspective of Calgary as a Torontonian. As Hines sees it, the frontier spirit has escalated to beautiful wealthy hipsters living in lavish condos where they enjoy all sorts of ridiculous luxuries. Are they happier than the rest of us? Probably, she says.

Somewhere in this show that runs 120 minutes (with a 15 minute intermission), there lies a great concept, waiting to be executed with much more precision. The few scenes highlighted above feel as though they serve a purpose, that they say something about the character of Calgary and the complicated relationship its citizens have with their city. And then, there are scenes that outright miss the mark. For example, why do we need to hear about some guy, played by Demeanor, who avoids being robbed at the liquor store he works at because he was busy masturbating in the bathroom? Sure, the scene’s crassness is funny, especially with the way Demeanor tells it, but how does it serve the greater narrative?

Calgary’s nuisance animals later take the stage in a rather unusual scene. Clarke and Curtis play a magpie (misunderstood birds, by the way) and squirrel, respectively, and Hines plays a gopher. And that’s about it, really. The scene wins howling laughter from the audience, and then just keeps on going, not satisfied until its milked every bit of Clarke’s screeching magpie – “I’m a positive magpie!”

The audience is later subjected to a scene where Curtis plays a horse whisperer, and a horse, played by Lewis, sings his inner monologue to the audience. Also, Hines plays a landscape, and Clarke is the horse’s bottom half. The scene feels better suited for a David Ives play, than this show that tests the audience’s patience.

At least the ensemble present these scenes with a lot of zest and commitment to the silliness. Even so, the gallery of scenes feel inconsequential, fit for the cutting room floor.

One Yellow Rabbit had the chance to say something meaningful about Calgary, a city that they have called home for over thirty years, but instead they have chosen to squander it on cheap laughs. The disappointment is made greater by the fact that there are glimpses of brilliant wit and humour that run through the show. Unfortunately, the production suffers from a significant lack of polish, resulting in a lengthy, disjointed mess of ideas, each clamoring for attention.

Theatre goers at the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo can skip One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me.

One Yellow Rabbit’s Calgary, I Love You, but You’re Killing Me runs Jan 12 – 23 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons), as part of the 2016 High Performance Rodeo.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/calgary-i-love-you-but-youre-killing-me

Dave Kelly Shines Bright in Epiphany



Dave Kelly’s Epiphany runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 23. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Webster’s Dictionary defines epiphany as “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” What Webster’s leaves out is that the road to epiphany is not always easy, in fact it can be really, really challenging. And what could be more challenging than trying to survive the holidays?

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Dave Kelly’s new comedy Epiphany tells the story of Steve, played by Kelly, a middle-aged father whose world is turned upside down when he learns that his only daughter Amelia is pregnant. See, Steve isn’t ready to be a grandfather, not yet anyway. For one, he and Amelia don’t really get along, and then there’s the fact that Steve’s just too young to be a grandfather. In Steve’s mind, he’s still the young, promising musician who rocked the Ugly Buffalo so many moons ago with his buddy Danny (Tim Williams).

To add more stress to the holidays, Steve volunteers to play Jingle Bells at his wife Ruth’s Christmas pageant. The thing about that, Steve can’t actually play the whole song from start to finish. He’s lucky if he can play the first few notes!

There’s something very Canadian about this story that Kelly tells about a family who could very well be our own neighbors. A major reason for that feeling is the honesty of Kelly’s storytelling. In any other hands, Steve might fall under the tired ‘bumbling father’ trope, but here Steve’s shortcomings are presented with heart. Although he may not have everything all figured out, Steve tries anyway to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t always pan out. There’s something to admire about that sort of devotion in a person, and in a father especially.

It’s easy, isn’t it, to think of our parents as having all the answers when really, they’re only human. And that’s really what Kelly animates in this holiday comedy. Some audience members may go back and understand differently moments where they were at odds with their parents, or children. While no one is perfect, the best thing we can do is try, and always keep each other close. The life lesson is punctuated by delicious musical interludes from Williams, an accomplished blues musician, on guitar.

Director Christopher Hunt eases Kelly’s character transitions well enough considering the number of characters that make an appearance. Costume designer Rebecca Toon treats the audience to a real doozy of a pageant costume that makes the show’s finale all the more hilarious. (Seriously, the finale is a real hoot).

All in all, Epiphany feels like sitting beside a crackling fireplace on a cold winter’s night. There’s a lot to enjoy about a show that uncovers gems of truth through genuine, heartfelt humour. It’s no surprise that the show is almost sold-out, because audiences know Kelly is a charming and formidable storyteller. Audiences will not be disappointed by Kelly’s latest offering.

Dave Kelly’s Epiphany, with music by Tim Williams, runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 30.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/epiphany/ 

A Worthwhile Tradition: The Mousetrap is Set At Vertigo Theatre


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The cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, playing now at Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts and Photos, 2015.

Vertigo Theatre has a long history with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Since 1980, the company has returned time and time again to Christie’s classic murder-mystery. This season, The Mousetrap returns for its 14th production at Vertigo Theatre, where the play was last staged in 2008.

Directed by Kate Newby, The Mousetrap finds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Anna Cummer, Devon Dubnyk) waiting for their guests to arrive at Monkswell Manor, a newly opened guest house in the country. Just before any of the guests arrive, the radio reports that the police are still searching for the killer who recently claimed the life of a local woman.

One by one, the guests arrive, beginning with a young, free spirited man named Christopher Wren (Geoffrey Simon Brown). Mrs. Boyle (Laura Perken) is instantly displeased with Monkswell Manor, and argues she was misled by Mollie and Giles’ advertisement. Major Metcalf (Duval Lang) arrives just behind the unpleasant woman, and fortunately he is far more jovial than her. The last scheduled guest is Miss. Casewell (Genevieve Paré), a well-travelled, yet reserved, woman. Mr. Paravicini (Cam Ashcroft), a strange man whose appearance seems disingenuous, joins the party after his car overturns in a snowdrift.

The guests are trapped indoors by a violent snowstorm, leaving no one able to get in or out. The only person able to reach the manor is Sergeant Trotter (Stafford Perry) who arrives by skis. The policeman is there to protect the guests, he reveals, as police have reason to believe the killer is on his or her way to the manor – if the killer is not already in their midst. When one of the guests is murdered, Sgt. Trotter must find out who among them is the killer and stop them before they strike again. And with no contact with the outside world, there is no time for anyone to withhold any secrets from the investigation.

By now, the whodunnit genre has been well-played, but there is something to appreciate about the classics. And here, we are not involved with just any mystery writer, but the Queen of Crime herself. Christie’s ability to build intrigue is second to none, and her attention to detail is impeccable – the radio report on the mechanics of fear comes to mind. The fun of a good mystery endures in this thrilling play where isolation pulls tension to the surface.

Newby’s lively, but measured, direction makes this production feel like an exciting game of Clue. There is almost a hint of camp, and that is not a stretch by any means. Via Mr. Paravicini, played by a very funny Ashcroft, the play already pokes fun at itself and the logic common in murder-mysteries. Christie had a good sense of humour about her work, and Newby emphasizes that for an audience well-familiar with the tropes Christie helped establish during her career.

If grizzly murder were not afoot, set & lighting designer Narda McCarroll’s gorgeous Monkswell Manor would be the envy of any traveller. The snow falling outside the spacious manor’s large window adds very nicely to the atmosphere. Add in April Viczko’s colorful costume design, and the audience is fully absorbed into the period.

The evening’s tension is heightened by Perry’s furious commitment to apprehending the killer. Perry’s Sgt. Trotter is intent on leaving no stone unturned during the investigation. Unfortunately, the guests are less like stones and more like boulders. Brown’s enigmatic, oddball Wren delights as he makes a joke of the whole thing, making everyone in the manor feel uncomfortable while doing so. Brown gives Dubnyk’s stuffy Giles more than enough reason to dislike him. Cummer’s Mollie tries desperately to keep the house running smoothly, while also trying to keep the peace between the guests. Cummer knows how to make small physical moments sing. Perken’s aristocratic Mrs. Boyle stirs the house like a witch at her cauldron. Paré plays Miss. Casewell with a firmness that stands well against Perken, and that cuts through much of the swirling around by the other guests.

There are some projection issues, as in the audience strains to hear bits of dialogue, but the cast is largely on point delivering the material. The accents could use some differentiation, however, as they all sound just a touch too similar to each other, an odd thing considering the guests come from all over.

The production has a vibrant energy surging through it, from start to finish. And the same energy carries during intermission and after the show where the audience buzzes about all the various clues. There is a seriousness to it all, which Newby is interested in exploring, but the show is mainly a lot of fun thanks to the strengths of its cast.

Ultimately, Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap reminds us why Christie is the master of mystery, and why the company keeps returning to this classic play.

Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap runs Nov 14 – Dec 13.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/the-mousetrap/


The Far, Far Edge of Theatre: Nadia Ross Talks What Happened to The Seeker



STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker opens next Wednesday (Nov 25) at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Nadia Ross, STO Union is a multidisciplinary art and performance company that explores new methods of theatre creation and production by bringing together artists from a variety of mediums. For their latest show What Happened to The Seeker, the company has brought together exhibition, video, and live performance to stage an experience unlike any other.

“We are the far, far edge of theatre,” Ross says, “even to the point where we’re not even sure theatre critics can review it…[but] that’s what STO Union does is explore, what else can you do in a venue? What are other ways to communicate? It’s bringing up questions we want it to bring up.”

What Happened to The Seeker tells the story of a middle-class, North American woman who embarks on a personal journey to reclaim the ideals of her youth. The journey is based on vivid experiences from childhood, intertwined with the history of the Seekers – youth of the 1960s who travelled the world to find spiritual enlightenment. The performance triptych, encapsulating the era from 1965 to 2010, takes the audience on a journey of their own as they piece together the story of the character’s fragmented life.

“There’s an underlying franticness in her because of her search, her desire to find some sort of place where she feels okay in the world,” says Ross about the character. “There’s also this huge underlying – it’s subtle, but it’s there – level of disappointment because there was so much anticipation, so much hope, so much belief. I mean, they were talking about climate change in the sixties. They were talking about plastics. They were talking about all of this stuff.

“[The character] realizes that change is very, very slow. She did not expect that by the time she was in her fifties that women would be still be paid so much less than men. She thought they would be equals, that’s what she assumed was going to happen.”

Ross adds that part of the danger when talking about the sixties is the nostalgia surrounding the period. “A lot of people say, that was the highlight, and we’ve gone downhill since then.”

The internationally acclaimed artist explains that the show’s structure is inspired by changes currently developing in the communication revolution. “I think with the internet, Facebook, and all that, it’s changed how we look at things. We’ve become far more visual. It’s all about the image. Language is sort of deteriorating.”

“What I did with this show is I’m trying to imitate what happens when you go online,” says Ross about bringing together three mediums to tell a story. “One minute you have this; the next you have that. You have totally different formats that you are exposed to very quickly. We don’t do it as fast as online, but that’s why we give you very different experiences. So, one moment you feel like you are in an art gallery, then the next moment you are watching a puppet movie, eating popcorn.

“So, it’s sort of an experiment into, can you do that? Can you pile things on top of each other that are different forms and still, in some way, have communication with the audience? [Can you] still keep that red thread going through the whole thing?”

Even with all our progress, Ross believes that what will always remain true about human beings is our desire not to change what is there in order to feel better. “Our search [for spiritual enlightenment] is like, buy your lotto ticket and get your million dollars.”

“[The character] goes through hundreds of boyfriends,” she says. “She goes through different things at work. She’s just kind of tearing through life in hopes that she’s going to find it, find that sweet spot… that’s what we want to look at, that eternal desire for something else, for something more, for something that’s going to hit the spot, and how we never find it.”

Although the show may be far from traditional, the experiments that are being staged may one day affect the mainstream. Ross hopes that people who are curious about what is on the horizon will come see the show when it opens next Wednesday at Theatre Junction GRAND.

STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker runs Nov 25 -28 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/what-happened-to-the-seeker/

STO Union’s website: http://stounion.com/

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/ 

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin Travels a Dark, Compelling Path

How far would you go in search of the truth? How well do we know our limits, our boundaries that keep us from being consumed by a hungry darkness? Ryan Gray explores these questions in Beneath The Skin, a thriller/mystery that boldly ventures into the abyss.

Directed by Jenna Rodgers, Gray’s Beneath The Skin stages reporter Carmin Morgan’s (Justine Westby) exclusive interview with convicted murderer Colton Cassio (Justin Michael Carriere), better known as the Portrait Killer. Colton’s long violent history – a history that started at a young age – fascinates Carmin who will stop at nothing to learn as much as she can about him and his victims. Carmin quickly learns, however, that is just not Colton’s crimes that make him a dangerous man, but also his charisma which threatens to take her down a path she never intended to travel.

The focus of Carmin’s interview is centered around Erin (Claire Bolton), Colton’s first victim whom he fell deeply in love with. Via flashbacks, the audience sees how an awkward 20-year-old Colton (Jacob Lesiuk) eventually came to befriend and then murder Erin while away at university.

Gray skillfully creates tension between Colton and Carmin by rarely letting one person hold power too long between them. While Carmin sees herself locked in a game of wits against Colton, Colton sees the two engaged in a more emotional game, a game of wills. And that is what makes Colton so dangerous, he has nothing to lose; he has given himself over to the darkness that calls him inside. Yet, victory is not so assured, Colton comes to realize, as Carmin’s determination for the truth reveals itself to be something more than a professional obligation.

Colton and Erin’s young love, though sometimes a bit too sweet, is crafted very well by Gray. There is a certain sadness in knowing Erin’s eventual fate, but never dulled anticipation. The interplay between the past and present delivers just enough information to maintain our attention. And then, Gray hits the audience with the inevitable which is both very creative and disturbing. (The audience gasps in horror as the scene becomes obvious).

Where the production fails the script is in its blocking. Noticeably challenged by the limited space available inside the Motel Theatre, the rising tension of the play breaks periodically when Carriere and Westby have to stand and carry the table and their seats to the side in order to make way for a flashback scene, sometimes while fully lit. The whole business seriously throws off the established atmosphere.

Despite the proximity of the audience to the actors (the Motel Theatre has a 50 seat capacity), there is no warning for the audience about the use of live smoke. The sudden inhalation of cigarette smoke distracts from the play’s dramatic conclusion.

Carriere and Westby are truly a force together. Carriere displays an unsettling, yet alluring confidence that make very real the presence of danger, to which Westby responds to with an exhilarating tenacity. Westby is truly firm in her character’s resolve, and that makes her performance all the more exciting to watch.

Bolton and Lesiuk share a pleasant chemistry on stage. Bolton is very easy to like as the cheery, good-natured Claire. Lesiuk plays the young, unassuming Colton with ease. There is a bit of a strain, though, when Lesiuk’s character begins to embrace his more sinister side, but the script is more at fault here than Lesiuk. Lesiuk’s performance during his final scene will have audience members abuzz in the lobby afterwards.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin is a thrilling piece of work that leaves an impression on any who dare step into the darkness.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin runs July 22 – July 28 at the Motel Theatre as part of the Common Ground Festival. The full festival runs until Aug 1st.

For more information about the Common Ground Festival, visit: http://www.commongroundyyc.com/

Radioheaded Three Rocks The Big Secret Theatre

Radioheaded 3

The Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) watch carefully over Denise Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists. Photo credit: Diane + Mike Photography.

Created and directed by Denise Clarke, Radioheaded 3: A Listening Party to Watch stages a vivid, politically charged interpretation of Radiohead’s 2003 album Hail to The Thief.

In its first few minutes, the show makes clear who its opponents are. Its opponents are the Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) – a trio of “capitalist assholes” in suits. Before he takes his seat, the group’s leader calls the audience a bunch of hippies “who probably voted for the NDP.” Yes, the three men are not far removed from the current political landscape.

A mad frenzy ensues as Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists enter the theatre. Almost immediately, the artists rush the audience in an effort to sell Happiness. “I need to fill my quota,” says one of the desperate artists in her sales pitch.

Corporate greed, social injustices, they are all fuel for rebellion, but no such uprising takes place here. Worked to the bone, the artists have no energy to revolt. Control and routine have subdued their anger, a fact the Authorities cherish.

Although, one man (Thomas Poulsen) holds out hope that change is possible. Trying to revive their spirits, he asks the artists not to give up and give in to the powers at hand. His efforts, however, are in vain. The one artist who rises up (Pamela Tzeng) is swiftly hammered down.

As the full album plays, the lyrics to every song are typed out on a large projection screen. Designed by Wil Knoll, the projected transcriptions feature typos, corrections, and other imperfections which complement the production’s overall raw qualities.

Though raw, the production never feels too loose, or out of control. Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists are a tight ensemble who demonstrate fearless commitment to the movement. (At one point, Poulsen’s bed spins wildly in circles centre stage with Tzeng hanging on one of its sides).

Where the production is weak is in its neon/glow-in-the-dark effects. The tape used to illuminate/outline the artists and props during one particular scene works only for a few, leaving some artists in the dark entirely. (Think of a series of bulbs where a handful are burnt out). So, while the idea is interesting, its execution leaves something to be desired.

Nonetheless, Radioheaded 3 is a visually exciting show that explores Hail to The Thief’s dread towards the future. Clarke holds a mirror to the audience and asks us to reflect on the conditions that make young people today feel so apprehensive about their futures.

Clarke’s Radioheaded 3 holds a tight grip on its audience from start-to-finish with its inspired movement that calls for action.

Produced by One Yellow Rabbit as part of Sled Island 2015, Denise Clarke’s Radioheaded Three: A Listening Party to Watch runs June 24 – 27 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: http://oyr.org/