U of C’s SCPA Knocks Molière’s The Learned Ladies Out of The Park



The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts presents The Learned Ladies by Moliere, runs Feb 16 – 27. Pictured, left to right: Vanessa Wenzel, Vanessa Jette, Pryscil Daigle, Connor Pritchard, and Logan Teske. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

Everything about the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies is big, bright, and savagely funny. A master of the form, comic dramatist Molière’s scathing satire of pompous academics and pretentious learning finds a home in the most appropriate of places, a university. And here, inside the University Theatre, the laughs are plentiful, and the social commentary as sharp as a fine blade.

Directed by Inouk Touzin, The Learned Ladies tells the story of Henriette (Natasha Strickey), a young woman whose ‘learned’ family makes her life unbearable. Henriette’s sister Armande (Vanessa Wenzel) is obsessed with cultivating her mind through books and philosophy. Armande becomes furious at her sister when Henriette tells her she plans to marry Citandre (Andy Weir), or give into base desires as Armanda sees it. Henriette’s overbearing mother Philaminte (Onika Henry) disapproves of the marriage, preferring instead that her youngest daughter marry Trissotin (Connor Pritchard), a haughty scholar and poet revered by Philaminte and her sister-in-law Bèlise (Vanessa Jetté).

Henriette’s father Chrysale (Logan Teske) and his brother Ariste (Dylan Forkheim) are her and Citandre’s only allies in the household. Unfortunately for the young lovers, Chrysale is more mouse than man, especially when it comes to dealing with his wife Philaminte.

Molière’s disdain for so-called intellectuals brings to mind Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall. In the film, Allen’s character Alvy Singer retreats away from a stuffy cocktail party to watch the Knicks on TV, telling his  wife later: “it’s one thing about intellectuals, they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant, but have no idea what’s going on.” Molière’s intellectuals in The Learned Ladies are exactly that, brilliant but unable to see what is right under their nose. Bèlise – who ironically wears a telescope on her head – thinks that Citandre telling her that he is in love with Henriette is some sort of ruse to hide his true feelings for her, despite him repeatedly telling the desperate woman otherwise. Armande is unable to understand why Citandre stopped courting her and then fell in love with her down-to-earth sister Henriette. Armande fails to see the incompatibility between herself and Citandre, displaying a lack of emotional intelligence on her part.

Touzin stages a fun BDSM affair between Chrysale and Martine (Pryscil Daigle), a house servant. Philaminte charges into the garden, angry that Martine is still around after committing such a severe crime – a crime worse than theft. The crime? Bad grammar. Here, Teske’s Chrysale shows great relief that Philaminte doesn’t know about the scandal right in front of her, and also frustration (sexual and otherwise) that such a capable servant is being dismissed for illegitimate reasons.

April Viczko’s gorgeous set and costume design, an explosion of colour “designed in punk-rococo style,” reflects Molière’s cautious attitude towards the pursuit of knowledge. Not all learning is bad, Molière argues, but not all teachers are right. On the outside, the pursuit of knowledge is a glossy, wonderful thing – which is why so many young people are encouraged to attend university, even if it’s not for them – but once inside, it is filled with insufferable frauds, like Trissotin who has more interest in money than poetry, and self-important people. Viczko’s bright costume colours mask the ugliness of learned people whose true colours are yet to be revealed.

Under Touzin’s robust direction, the ensemble brings to life madcap garden antics that elevate Molière’s satire. Henry brings a larger-than-life presence to matriarch Philaminte, a woman who none in her household dare defy, making her and Teske dynamic all the more hilarious. Dressed with a comically-sized unibrow (the hungry caterpillar, anyone?), Jetté’s physical comedy shines in every scene as she animates Bèlise with sickly, exaggerated expressions that win big laughs from the audience. Daigle is a real treat to watch onstage as she plays Martine with a mix of flirtatious poise and unyielding resolve. Daigle, too, brings plenty of bite to the character by speaking Chiac – a major contrast to the learned ladies’ elegant, grammatically correct French.

Pritchard plays Trissotin with the most hateful arrogance, animating the despicable character as someone who celebrates every single thought they vomit into existence. Pritchard’s portrayal is like a nightmare between Lady Gaga and that annoying know-it-all freshman student whose ‘genius’ is misunderstood.

Strickey’s Henriette is considerably less of a loud-mouth than the learned ladies around her. Still, Henriette is not afraid to speak her mind, and Strickey delivers the heat with cool confidence. Wenzel demonstrates a needed insecurity behind Armande’s snobbish behaviour, as Armande is the most ‘human’ of the learned ladies – the other two are largely caricatures. Armande’s insecurity really comes when Wenzel and Weir’s Citandre clash. Weir does very well playing the audience’s outlet for their frustration towards the pseudo-intellectuals.

Brilliant direction, visually striking design, and strong performances make the SCPA’s production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies a smashing success.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies runs Feb 16 – 27 at University Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: https://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/learned-ladies


Join The Club: MacIvor’s Inside Examines Modern Life

Inside 0003 NB1_6928.jpg

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts presents Inside by Daniel MacIvor. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s Inside is far from optimistic about modern life.

Directed by MacIvor, Inside stages nine characters whose lives are set to collide minutes before midnight at a high-end nightclub. The urban dwellers are hopelessly lost in a world disrupted by social media – a network of mirages. The authentic is bled dry for fame and followers; presence in the 21st century. The search for belonging in the age of Web 2.0 has led the characters to form difficult, and sometimes harmful, relationships.

MacIvor has adapted the play’s narrative and characters to suit the student actors cast in this production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts,. The collaboration makes for an interesting blend of cynicism towards modern life. At some points, the cynicism seems to come from a Millennial’s viewpoint while at other times from the viewpoint of Generation X.

Take for example, the young, self-loathing activist Todd (Brandon Huszti). Todd sees a lot of problems with his generation, particularly the rise of selfies and artifice. Todd wants his generation, and everyone else, to look up from their phones, and he plans on achieving that with his devices (that won’t hurt anyone, he claims). The thing about Todd’s objective is, the objective seems concerned with returning to some sort of idealised past that Todd has never known, but only studied – like a freshman enlightened after taking one Philosophy course.

Then, there is Sana (Keshia Cheesman) and her sister Kara (Onika Henry). Kara, a lawyer, believes the only way to create meaningful change is to go through the proper channels. Kara believes that working from the inside is the most effective way to make change happen, while Sana stands firmly beside her method of making noise from the edges. Sana’s stance is not surprising given her obsession with social media, particularly its capacity to affect the offline e.g. produce celebrities like Kim Kardashian.

Sana and Kara’s argument boils down to this, what is the effectiveness of social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter? The skepticism of Generation X towards the influence of digital campaigns, versus traditional ‘analog’ methods, is well represented in Kara. Kara sees her younger sister as being naive for thinking that action without presence could have any impact.

Another interesting thread running through MacIvor’s play is the friendship between Jeanie (Paige Thomas) and Violet (Bianca Miranda). The emotionally abusive Jeannie exploits Violet’s kindness in order to satisfy her own interests. While Violet recognizes that Jeannie is not very nice towards her, she also recognizes that Jeanie is her only friend. Jeanie and Violet’s friendship is very much an exchange, as opposed to something founded upon mutual respect. It is a very cynical view of friendship that MacIvor presents us.

It is unclear what exactly MacIvor wants the audience to take away from Inside. MacIvor points out a lot of flaws about modern life, specifically emotional disengagement, but does little in the way of providing possible solutions. MacIvor’s concern for this road we are traveling down together is essentially a series of observations and thin arguments that land heavy without much subtlety. The play’s unrelenting cynicism makes it difficult for the audience to identify a common ground with the characters. The finale ultimately proves unsatisfying as it ends on a cheap moment of optimism that begs to be taken seriously.

MacIvor tries bleeding the scenes into each other with club music and dance, but the transitions feel hard nonetheless. The narrative’s episodic nature interrupts the steady momentum he tries to sustain in this ensemble piece. Fortunately, there is not much to move during transitions (set design by Skylar Desjardins) as the actors only have to move tables and chairs.

Anton de Groot’s edgy lighting design with Alex Allan’s pulse pounding sound work transform the Reeve Theatre into a nightclub, the evening’s hub for misery.

Thomas is absolutely vicious as Jeanie, a young woman abusing her disability leave. The audience is nearly on the verge of hissing at Thomas as she cuts into Miranda’s heartbreaking Violet without remorse.

Cheesman plays Sana confidently, as does Henry with Kara. The pair demonstrate that the sisters are, more or less, two sides of the same coin, even if they think otherwise.

Nick Wensrich delivers an eerie performance that burns slowly as Mason, a former soldier disturbed what he saw on deployment. He brings out the character’s manipulative personality that lays deep underneath his guise as a total schmuck. Vanessa Jetté emotes well Audrey’s vulnerability as a reluctant prostitute, hired by Mason.

Dylan Forkheim plays the nightclub’s manager Brian with the sleaziness most, if not all, nightclubs attract, though Brian’s sleaziness is punctuated by sadistic tendencies.

Kris Vanessa Teo’s free-spirited performance as Todd’s girlfriend Mary is a strong and much needed contrast to her boyfriend’s pseudo-intellectualism, played well by Huszti. Miranda’s Violet, pregnant, and Huszti’s Todd, on the way to enact his plan, play a rather touching scene together in the second act where the merits of modern life are debated.

While the ensemble manages well enough with MacIvor’s script, issues and all, there is a strong sense that the ensemble could go further with their performances. The ensemble might benefit from a more intimate space, because here the Reeve Theatre feels somewhat vacant, lacking in presence.

Overall, MacIvor’s Inside leaves much to be desired in terms of a narrative worth investing in. Audiences will feel disengaged by this play steeped in cynicism towards modern life. An underwhelming production that strays far from the SCPA’s usual fare.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Inside runs Nov 24 – Dec 5 at the Reeve Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: https://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/inside


U of C Grad Student Working to Bring The Arts & Social Sciences Together

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can't Cross a Bridge.

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can’t Cross a Bridge.

Sherryl Melnyk’s new play Can’t Cross a Bridge was read aloud publicly for the first time this Monday night at the University of Calgary’s F.R Matthews Theatre. The staged reading was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work.

But whereas much of the work in the annual student festival has been largely fictional, Melnyk’s play differs in that it is rooted in real women’s stories of abuse.

Can’t Cross a Bridge tells the story of Velma and Lizzy, a mother and daughter estranged for 16 years. One day, a surprise call from the RCMP informs Velma that her daughter has returned. But hanging over their reunion are secrets from the past, painful secrets that Lizzy can no longer keep inside.

Melnyk is completing her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, combining studies in English, Drama, and Women’s Studies/Sociology. Can’t Cross a Bridge is one component of her PhD dissertation.

The first component, the social science component, saw Melnyk interviewing 21 women about their sexual histories. From that research, Melnyk chose three of the stories that she thought fit together the best, then synthesized them for the play. The last component comprised of theory, discussions around the creation of the work.

Melnyk says her work is focused on bringing the arts and social sciences together, disseminating research through the arts as a means of creating meaningful dialogue surrounding social issues.

“I think what happens to a lot of research is that it’s wonderful research, but it’s lost in journals,” said Melnyk. “No one really reads it but other academics. I think a better combination of the arts and social sciences working together is going to make it more accessible to the public at large.”

And of course, her research could not have been possible without participants willing to share their lives openly with Melnyk.

“I started out my research trying to understand if women are kind of moving beyond the traditional view of women in sexuality; Woman as part of the male gaze, woman in pornography, woman as victim…How have women’s stories changed, that’s how I started my interview with all the people that participated.”

“I think what was really interesting about all of the women I interviewed was the fact that they wanted to tell their story. They want people to hear it. They want women to be empowered through their stories. All different ages sat down with me and spoke. Some of them were an hour, and some were two and half hours about their life history.”

For Melnyk, the intimacy theatre grants between audiences and ideas is necessary for not only bridging the arts and social sciences, but also bringing these women’s stories to the community.

“I think you could see it tonight in the gasps and the reactions of the audience. The sadness, the laughter, the drama that is created through theatre. I think it speaks more to our heart and soul than reading an article.”

Melnyk hands in her dissertation on April 24th, then defends it later next month.

The staged reading of Sherryl Melnyk’s Can’t Cross a Bridge was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work. The festival runs Mar 31 – Apr 11th, 2015.

For more information about the festival, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/taking-flight-festival-student-work


Lizzy – Jacqueline Dyment
Velma – Val Campbell
Lester – Brian Smith
Andrea – Courtney Charnock


Director – Dawn Mari McCaugherty
Stage Directions – Siobhan Cooney

U of C’s SCPA Clowns Around, Impresses With Creative Take On Brecht’s Man Equals Man

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht's Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok.

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Inside the University Theatre, a troupe of clowns dressed in military uniform await their audience. The clowns juggle, sing, and crack jokes to warm the audience up for the night’s main event: the transformation of an ordinary citizen into the perfect soldier.

Directed by Tim Sutherland, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man is an uproarious spectacle of slapstick and danger.

Set in British Colonial India, Man Equals Man stages the story of Galy Gay (Natasha Strickey), a lowly porter, who is thrust into the ranks of the British Army by three incompetent privates. Needing someone to pass off as their fourth man during roll call, Uriah Shelly (Andy Weir), Jesse Mahoney (Ahad Raza Mir), and Polly Baker (Onika Henry) enlist Galy to be their stand in for the night, whereafter he will no longer be needed. But when their comrade Jeriah Jip (Connor WIlliams) goes missing indefinitely, the privates set out to turn Galy into the soldier they need him to be.

Despite the presence of firearms, there is little violence that actually takes place on stage. And that is the point. For Brecht, it is not firearms, but rather political ideologies that pose a grave threat to all persons of the world. After all, a gun cannot fire without someone to pull the trigger.

Here, what Brecht specifically fears is the influence of state propaganda on citizens. Though he resists at first, Galy is eventually won over by a narrative that glorifies the soldier as an inherently noble figure worthy of many rewards. Over time, the narrative digs deeper under Galy’s skin where it re-positions his values to align closer with those of the state and its armed forces. Galy’s identity effectively becomes estranged from his biography. And it is from this metamorphosis that violence emerges as Galy becomes a soldier on the front; a weapon of the state.

Accordingly, Sutherland’s circus positions war as an elaborate production. Translated within this context, a soldier’s uniform becomes nothing but a costume that anyone can wear, even a clown. By highlighting how persons and groups assign meaning to the mundane, as opposed to the mundane possessing an inherent value, Sutherland undermines the symbolic authority of the uniform.

And despite changing into costumes (e.g. ninja attire) that suggests otherwise, the clowns remain British soldiers throughout the entirety of the play. This contradiction in appearance emphasizes Brecht’s concern over the sort of false realities that ideologies construct and attempt to present as truth in the face of actuality.

This is a furiously high-spirited circus that engages on all fronts through physical humour, music and dance. And everyone in the cast is on board here, even the actors in the background who are giving as much as those leading the scenes. There is a lot of great character work on display, a varied mix of personalities and antics. The ensemble’s total commitment to the piece truly elevates this production to something quite fantastic.

Strickey displays a great amount of quirk and charm which makes her an absolute joy to watch on stage. Her facial expressions and mannerisms read very clearly from the stage. Along with her comedic timing, Strickey is also adept at capturing the dramatic tones of the play.

Weir, Mir, and Henry share a delightful chemistry together. Although, the actors would benefit from better enunciation and projection as sometimes we lose their dialogue, particularly with some of the accents at work.

Set and lighting designer Anton de Groot’s work is visually exciting and very much in tune with the eccentric quality of the production.

Funny, thought provoking, and certainly unique, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Brecht’s Man Equals Man is a lively experience that both entertains and challenges its audience.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man runs at the University Theatre, Feb 17 – 28, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to purchase tickets,
visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/man-equals-man

W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven Reflects On The Life (Not) Lived

W & M Physical Theatre's Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Pictured: Laura Henley and Wojciech Mochniej. Photo Credit:

W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Pictured (left to right): Valerie Campbell, Laura Henley and Wojciech Mochniej. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

Presented at the University Theatre, W & M Physical Theatre’s preview of its latest work in development Waiting Rooms in Heaven summons poignant reflections on life and the life (not) lived.

The piece takes place inside a room decorated with pristine white chairs. The only exit is a door atop some stairs, but out this door are a flock of birds that obscure the sky. This place is nowhere exact or well-defined. It is a metaphysical space whereupon eight unfortunate individuals enter into without any answers nor any clarity. Regrets from the past soon reemerge and make heavy the souls of those trapped in this mysterious unknown.

There is woven into this piece this desire that life choices were not so permanent. It is an idea that repeats itself as a wish that life were written in pencil than in pen, that one could go back and do things differently. It is an idea, however, that removes the opportunity to not only learn, but to also experience life in the moment. After all, what is a life stripped of its spontaneity? What is a life interrupted by fear and anxiety?

Driving this idea of doing one’s life over again are the “what ifs” the adult characters of this piece find themselves trapped within. Repeated again and again are what the characters wish they could have done differently if only ‘this’ or ‘that’. It is fitting then that the there is an almost violent sense of control in the movement. As if trying to change the outcomes of some past scenarios, the dancers attempt to manipulate and bend to their will the other. Their efforts are in vain just as wondering “what if?” is a futile attempt at changing the past. Where they manage to exert any sort of “real” control is in throwing the rows of chairs into one large pile. Of course, what meaningful impact does such a destructive action have in the grand scheme of things?

The company has incorporated in this piece four actors who range from 10 to 60 years old. It makes sense that the two adult characters would carry some baggage as they certainly have had the years to accumulate such burdens, but what about the little girl and teenager trapped in this room with the others? How do they, who appear to be brother and sister, fit in this place? Perhaps their baggage is of the second-hand kind, the kind handed down through the generations. If this is the case, then perhaps their wish is not to have lived life differently, but to have been born into a whole different life altogether.

The piece ends on a hopeful tone when the door is opened once again and, this time, soaring birds greet the characters. It is an invitation to let go and move on, to fly away and live a life unrestrained.

Here, the company’s latest work explores the idea that the gravity of our burdens are only as great as we allow them to be. While the current circumstances of our lives may be cemented as a result of choices made, the life not yet lived remains to be written. And this life that waits for us relies upon on the right state of mind which, in the end, makes all the difference.

With this only being stage one of development, it will be interesting to see how the piece evolves and what it will ultimately resemble when W & M Physical Theatre brings Waiting Rooms in Heaven to Calgary again in 2016.

W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven ran at the University of Calgary’s University Theatre Jan 22 – 24, 2014. The piece was presented as part of U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Dance Pro Series.

Choreographed by: Wojciech Mochniej with Melissa Monteros
Performers: Wojciech Mochniej, Laura Henley, Rufi O. Rodriguez, and Serenella Sol
Guest Performers: Valerie Campbell, Valerie Pearson, Griffin Cork, Ruby June Bishop, and Kent Brockman (bass)

For more information about the show, visit: 



20 Years Later, W & M Physical Theatre Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

W & M Physical Theatre's newest work, Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

W & M Physical Theatre’s newest work Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

This week, W & M Physical Theatre previews Waiting Rooms in Heaven, their newest dance work, at the University of Calgary. The presentation coincides with the company’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

Founded in 1994, W & M Physical Theatre’s story begins in Poland where Melissa Monteros and Wojciech Mochniej, the company’s founders, met at Silesian Dance Theatre.

“They were just starting the very first professional contemporary dance company [Silesian Dance Theatre] in Poland. The wall had just come down. This was 1991,” Monteros recalls. “[Wojciech and I] made our first work together in 1993. We launched our company at the end of ‘94.”

The company left Poland in 2000 after financial struggles made it clear that a move was necessary, Monteros shares.

“We started the company in Gdansk. We were there for a long time, six or seven years before we felt that funding was never going to happen. I had a house. I sold my house. I put half of my salary into the bank so I could pay the Polish dancers. It was a big struggle…Wojciech and I finally decided that it was too big a struggle. We also wanted to be working in one place because we would be going back and forth between Poland and Canada. It was expensive and difficult.”

20 years later, Monteros and Mochniej’s commitment to the company has not wavered.

Balancing responsibilities at U of C, where Monteros and Mochniej both teach, with a professional commitment to making art with the company is a matter of making time, says Monteros.

“I think we are relentless. Some people criticize us for it, some people shake their heads. Other people maybe admire us for it…there is a big part of the university job that is committed to research, so that’s a huge support, but it’s true that there isn’t the time. You have to make it happen.”

And with that time, W & M Physical Theatre has been busy developing Waiting Rooms in Heaven which Monteros says has been a great opportunity to revisit themes and questions from old works.

Waiting Rooms in Heaven sets out to explore how we experience life, that is if we are truly living rather than waiting for life to happen.

“Really, the piece overall is not about leaving life. It’s about, are we really experiencing life? Maybe, is this heaven? If it is, why are we sitting in the waiting room and not doing anything about it?”

And though she likes to ask big questions in her work, Monteros says that she “would never try to find the answers for somebody,” preferring instead that the audience discover the answers for themselves.

After its preview in Calgary, the company will tour their new work across Poland for a month in the spring. There, as they have done here with this production, the company will integrate local actors into the performance in what Monteros says will be a “very short, intense rehearsal process.”

The piece will then return to Calgary in 2016 as a fully-developed work.

With a rich history behind it, W & M Physical Theatre has plenty to celebrate on its 20th anniversary as it moves forward into the future with new, exciting works.

U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Dance Pro Series presents W & M Physical Theatre’s preview of Waiting Rooms in Heaven Jan 22 – Jan 24, 2015 at the University Theatre.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/pro-series

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

Coming Out Swinging: The SCPA Takes on West Side Story

The American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall), are ready to rumble in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

The American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall, front), are ready to rumble in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

The latest production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, West Side Story impresses with its musical score and social themes that are as relevant today as they were when the musical was first produced in 1957. Even with its great choreography and sound, however, this production of the classic Broadway musical leaves much to be desired when the music stops.

Based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story trades the Capulets and Montagues of fair Verona with warring street gangs fighting over territory in New York’s Upper West Side.

Set in the 1950s, the American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall), and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernando (Rufi O. Rodriguez), plan to hold one last, decisive fight between the two teenage gangs. Riff calls on a reluctant Tony (Ahad Mir) to come support the guys one last time. Tony agrees to help. Although, the situation becomes complicated when Tony meets and falls in love with Maria (Jocelyn Francescut), Bernando’s sister, at the school dance. When he sets out to stop the rumble at Maria’s request, Tony soon becomes more involved than he ever wanted to be.

Dispersed across the theatre audience are five actors who open the show with the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet. The ‘Greek Chorus’ returns again, this time in black clothing, to close the first act, then the second with the Epilogue. It is a largely unnecessary addition to the musical considering this is not Romeo and Juliet. It may have been inspired by the Bard’s play, yes, but it is its own story that speaks to a whole different set of issues like immigration, racism, and at-risk street youth. Not to mention that the actors speak their lines out of sync with the others.

While visually appealing, the colorful graffiti designs painted across the set are not period-appropriate. The graffiti is reminiscent of what came out of the hip-hop culture explosion of the 1980s. As such, it sits oddly against the very 50s feel and setting of the musical.

Melissa Monteros and Wojciech Mochniej’s choreography is brilliant. The “Dance at the Gym” and “America” numbers see a lot of flair and excitement. The movement during the rumble and other fight scenes is sharp. There is certainly an edge to Monteros and Mochniej’s choreography. And thankfully, the students, alumni members, and community members involved in the production are up to task and dance wonderfully. (Although, not without some near collisions along the way).

Leonard Bernstein’s memorable musical score is beautifully interpreted by Maestro Wendy J. Freeman and her orchestra. The orchestra plays superbly, giving us a very full, expressive sound.

Unfortunately, in between musical numbers, the show runs a bit flat due to some uninspiring performances. Besides stand outs like Hall and Kayla Mackenzie who plays the fiery Anita, the remaining cast, for the most part, is lackluster. It is not until the second act that the ensemble seems to truly connect with the piece.

Francescut gives an astounding vocal performance. Her voice is powerful, easily capable of filling the theatre, and simply beautiful in its clarity. It is too bad then that Mir’s own vocal performance never quite rises to the same level as his scene partner.

Overall, the SCPA’s production of West Side Story is a strong effort. Audiences will find much to enjoy here, despite some areas that are lacking.

 The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of West Side Story runs from Jan 8 – 15, 2014, at the University Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/west-side-story

West Side Story
Based on a Conception of Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Staging a Classic: U of C’s SCPA Brings West Side Story to Calgary

Something’s coming.

This week, the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts will be presenting the hit Broadway musical West Side Story.

For Colleen Whidden, the artistic director of U of C’s Music Theatre company, the decision that West Side Story should be the SCPA’s first show was an easy one to make.

“It’s West Side Story! Classic story…amazing music, every song…and from a dance point of view, it’s so dance intensive,” said Whidden. “There’s just so much area in the music for amazing creativity in the dance.”

“When we were bringing together the dance, drama, and music departments we said what would be a great first show for us to do together. It was sort of a no-brainer that [West Side Story should be it] because every department could really flourish, could really shine through this particular musical.”

Based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story stages the heated gang rivalry between the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks in New York’s Upper West Side during the 1950s. Caught between the conflict are two young lovers whose relationship is threatened by the hatred and violence that surrounds them.

And despite the almost 60 year gap between this production and when the musical was first produced in 1957, Whidden believes that the story and its themes have not lost any of their relevance over the years.

“Even in 2015 now, we still can relate to it,” said Whidden. “Is it a story we don’t see anymore? No. We see it everyday. We probably just read about it in the paper…we see it in our own community, across our country and abroad. Maybe even more now we need to hear that story of resolution of coming together and bringing…divisive parties together.”

Tony (Ahad Mir) and Maria (Jocelyn Francescut) in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

Tony (Ahad Mir) and Maria (Jocelyn Francescut). Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

This spirit of coming together is also reflected in the collaborative nature of the production which Whidden says has benefited the students, alumni, and community members involved.

“We’re coming together as the School of Creative and Performing Arts…with four of us from the drama, music, and dance departments each of us [can] bring our strengths.”

This has made West Side Story a great learning experience for both Ahad Mir and Jocelyn Francescut who play the lead characters Tony and Maria, respectively.

Mir, a fourth year U of C drama student, praises the collaboration, saying that he feels it has fostered plenty of opportunities to learn from his peers in the dance and music departments, and vice versa.

Likewise, Francescut, a music graduate from the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, says she has learned a lot through working with other disciplines in what she calls her first acting role ever.

“This has been a huge challenge for me since I haven’t done a lot of acting [but] I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the process,” said Francescut. “Sometimes it’s been hard, but it’s been so rewarding.”

Delivering such a well-rounded experience means that the level of what is expected of students in the future will only go up, Whidden says. She is confident, however, that students will meet, if not exceed, those expectations.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of West Side Story opens Thursday, January 8th at the University Theatre.

Performance Schedule:

Jan. 8 – 10, 13 – 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.
Jan. 14 at 12 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for Adults and $15 for Students/Seniors. Tickets can be purchased on-line (http://www.ucalgary.ca/tickets/) or at the door.

For more information about the show, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/west-side-story

Award-Winning Playwright Trina Davies Talks The Bone Bridge

For Canadian playwright Trina Davies, staging a public reading of a new work is an invaluable part of a play’s development.

“This is the first time I have had the chance to have a wide audience present [which] is a totally new experience for the play,” said Davies. “I’ve learned so much in a very short period of time from the audience’s reactions tonight.”

This November, Davies was announced the winner of the 2014 Uprising National Playwriting Competition for her play The Bone Bridge. A joint initiative between Downstage and the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary, the annual competition recognizes plays that “dynamically [engage] with social and political issues and/or [promote] peace, social justice and human rights.”

Set in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, The Bone Bridge follows several characters who struggle to move on with their lives and reconcile with both family and neighbors. When the charismatic ‘Leader’ is captured and charged with war crimes by an international tribunal, the characters are called to confront the past and testify at the trial. Relevant and insightful, The Bone Bridge is a poignant reminder of the invisible damages of war.

Davies shares what the research process looked like in developing the play which is based off real people and events.

Playwright Trina Davies

Playwright Trina Davies

“[I read] books on…the Bosnian conflict and the post-conflict. And then, I pulled trial transcripts from The Hague. I actually went through them and watched pieces of the trial. Then, I went broader. I looked into the social psychology of war and peace, reading on people who have worked in conflict resolution and have published [on] what they’re finding around the world.”

For first place, Davies’ play received a two-day workshop, followed by a public reading which was held at U of C’s F.R Matthews Theatre on Dec. 12th.

“I always sit in the back [because] I feel like I get the best read on how the audience is reacting,” said Davies. “It’s an energy you feel from the audience. If there’s fidgeting, something’s gone on too long. So, you get a good read on what’s hitting, what’s working, and what’s not working.”

After the reading, the audience was invited to ask Davies questions and to share their responses to the piece. Audience members were later invited to a reception where they could speak with Davies one-on-one.

The actors who participated in the workshop and reading, Davies says, were also very important in terms of feedback.

“The first day [of the workshop] was very discussion based,” said Davies. “We did a read of the play, and then we had a really engaging discussion about what their personal response was to it, and then their character response. And then we went from that and moved into a second read of the play [where] we talked about technical specifics like structure and image.”

The input from both the actors and the audience have helped give Davies an idea of how she wants to move forward with the script, but still, she says, the play’s future remains uncertain.

“Right now, I don’t know where this play is going to go next. It’s a bit of a tough play. It’s a large number of characters and well, it’s not Mary Poppins. So, it is something that will have to be a labor of love and a passion for the theatre who agrees to take it on.”

But Davies says the audience’s response from the reading has left her feeling encouraged.

The staged reading of Trina Davies’ The Bone Bridge was held at the University of Calgary’s F.R Matthews Theatre, December 12th, 2014.

Paul Cowling – The Leader
Valerie Planche – Mevla
Ellen Close – Ankica
Dawn McCaugherty – Blanka
Kevin Rothery – Dragan
Shawna Burnett – Danika
Brian Jensen – Judge/Male Voice/Husan

Director: Simon Mallett
Assistant Director: Azri Ali

Competition Director: Dawn Mari McCaugherty

For more information:
Trina Davies – http://trinadavies.com

Downstage – http://downstage.ca/
The Consortium for Peace Studies – http://www.ucalgary.ca/peacestudies/

SCPA’s Bloody Poetry Is A Tense, Fascinating Affair

The poet – an elusive figure whose voice demands to be heard; a visionary with ideas that challenge the status quo. But the poet and his or her new realities labor against the weight of the world – and their own humanity.

Directed by Brian Smith, The School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Howard Brenton’s Blood Poetry is an engaging spectacle supported by strong performances.

Brenton’s Bloody Poetry follows the strange company of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg), Mary Shelley (Fatima Zaroual), Claire Clairmont (Onika Henry) and Lord Byron (Connor WIlliams). The scandalous nature of their private lives – Percy abandoning his wife Harriet Westbrook (Bianca Miranda) for Mary – has made them social outcasts of 19th c. English society. Starting their lives anew in Switzerland, the crusaders for revolution chase their vision of utopia. What ensues in the following years, however, is failure and disappointment – crushed spirits and broken hearts.

Brenton is mindful of historical accuracy, but, at the same time, he is not afraid to push those limits to explore serious questions about the relationship between poet and society.

Percy concerns himself with writing about social injustices, supporting the people’s struggle through verse; he thinks himself to be the voice of the people. But of what value is the poet in a world so cruel, where massacres continue and the people bleed for revolution? Ideas, talk, (words, words, words) – what the world needs is action.

Interestingly, Brenton shows us the early blueprints of what will eventually become one of Mary’s most famous works – Frankenstein. A thematic reminder of the poet as reject, struggling to find his or her place in the world.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg) Spirals Into Madness. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Brett Tromburg) spirals down into madness. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Lighting designer Kerem Cetinel’s work is phenomenal. The set – designed by Patrick DuWors – is clean and effective for the theatricality of the piece.

The company uses a long white sheet to simulate ocean waves. The sound of crashing waves though overpowers the actors who are shouting to be heard. In the process, we lose some of the actors’ dialogue – an unfortunate shortcoming of an otherwise great scene.

Where the technique is particularly effective though – as Miranda and Tromburg demonstrate – is when the sheet serves as an extension of the body – a visual representation of the character’s inner turmoil.

Williams captures our attention with his entertaining rock star flair – no doubt inspired by Keith Richards. Given that, Williams’ dark eye makeup feels unnecessary given the already dominant presence of the character. Tromburg is commanding in the play’s second act, although his anger rings hollow at times. Zaroual and Henry are hesitant with their lines when we first meet them. Fortunately, the pair come to hold their own as the play goes on. Zaroual stands out with her quiet intensity – which makes one of her character’s final moments hit especially hard.

On a whole, the actors work very well off each other. They commit themselves to the demands of the script and, together, bring an edge to Brenton’s already sharp script.

SCPA’s production of Brenton’s Bloody Poetry is sure to entertain with its brilliant script, visuals, and strong ensemble.

The School of Creative and Performing Arts production of Howard Brenton’s Blood Poetry runs Nov. 25-Dec. 6, 2014 in the Reeve Theatre (University of Calgary Campus).

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/bloody-poetry