Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Objecthood of Chairs at SFU Woodward's: Sept. 8-18

I've mentioned this before, but as our opening is just over two weeks away, I'll mention it again:

I’ve written a play. What’s more, it’s actually being produced! As this conjunction of events is unlikely to happen again any time soon, I’d love for readers of this blog to come and see the show. I realize this is easier said than done for those of you not presently in Vancouver. But should you be passing through at the beginning of September, or should you know folks in the city who might be interested in attending, here are some details…

The Story

The Objecthood of Chairs is about the romance between two men, as told through Western culture’s historical romance with chairs. We follow the men as they meet, move in together, and eventually part as the result of a freak accident. Along the way, and in a largely presentational style, we are provided various “object” lessons in: modernist chair design; Shaker asceticism; the revolution in sociability and sexuality inaugurated by the Thonet café chair; the inherent cruelty of childhood games of musical chairs; and Buddhist sitting practices. The text draws on architectural theory and art history, industrial design and neurophysiology, poetry and pop culture to think through the relationships and resistances between bodies (and objects) as they move through space, and to reflect on the necessary loss of autonomy that comes with asking for, and offering, unconditional support.

The show runs without an intermission and is approximately 80 minutes long.

The Players

My script is just one component of a larger interdisciplinary work of physical/dance-theatre, a multi-media collaboration with colleagues from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts that also features original choreography by Rob Kitsos, video projections by Rob Groeneboer, music by Martin Gotfrit, lighting by James Proudfoot, costumes by Florence Barrett, and direction and dramaturgy by DD Kugler. Our amazingly talented performers are Victor Mariano and Justin Reist, graduates from SCA’s Theatre and Dance programs, respectively, who have immersed themselves in each other’s discipline specifically for this piece. Additional SCA faculty, students, and staff have been working behind the scenes for months on technical direction, stage management, film production and editing, visual and sound effects coordination, publicity, and the like. All of them have helped make my words look and sound infinitely better than they ever would have on their own.

The Venue

An added bonus of The Objecthood of Chairs is that it will be the inaugural production in the new SFU Woodward’s Studio T. Many of you have already had the opportunity to attend a performance at the spectacular Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, on the lower level of the Woodward’s building. With the School for the Contemporary Arts’ relocation to the complex now a reality, many of the smaller performance spaces are being opened to the public. Studio T, located on the second floor, is a wonderful black box space that seats approximately 100, and our production will take full advantage of its bells and whistles.

SFU Woodward’s is at 149 West Hastings, between Cambie and Abbott Streets—although the main entrance to the complex is actually through the courtyard off Cordova.

Pick up your tickets in the lobby, and then proceed up one floor to Studio T, on Level 2.

Dates and Tickets

Performance dates are September 8th-11th and September 14th-18th, at 8 pm.

Tickets are cash only at the door: $20 regular/$15 for students and seniors. Reservations can be made by phoning 778-782-3514.

I hope to see you at the show.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Casualty of the BC Arts Cuts

Kudos to Jane Danzo for taking a principled stand in resigning as Chairwoman of the BC Arts Council.

Citing the deep cuts in core funding and gaming grants to arts organizations across the province and, as crucially, the lack of consultation on the recent Arts Legacy Fund announcement (i.e., throwing money at youth-oriented "spirit festivals" rather than restoring core funding to existing arts organizations), Danzo said that the Council's was hamstrung by a lack of independent voice from the provincial government. She said she was "stepping down" in order to "speak up."

Kevin Krueger, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, said that he accepted Danzo's resignation with regret, but offered no further comment.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mike Daisey's "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs": A PuSh+ Event

A friendly public performance announcement in my capacity as Fundraising Committee Chair of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival Society...

So maybe you missed out on those Cirque de Soleil tickets. Or just found them insanely expensive. Consider the following performance option instead:

Mike Daisey's The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Thursday, September 2nd, 7 pm (doors open at 6 pm)
VanCity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street
Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
Tickets: $40, available online from the VIFF Box Office: click here to purchase

Mike Daisey is a celebrated solo performer, monologist, and social commentator in the tradition of Spalding Gray. He is especially well-known for his satirical reflections on corporate American culture, from Amazon (21 Dog Years), to Microsoft and Wal-Mart (Monopoly), and now, in this latest show, Apple. Here's an excerpt from the press release that PuSh Communications Manager Kara Gibbs has circulated:

Mike Daisey reveals the fascinating story of Apple CEO Steve Jobs--a real-life Willy Wonka whose deep obsessions have shaped our modern age. Tracing his meteoric rise Daisey shows us how, in our lifetime, controlling our interface has become the key to controlling the world itself-and how the digital tools we use every day change us as they tell our stories.

Breaking free of the virtual, Daisey follows the trail all the way to China where millions of workers toil in factories to create iPhones and iPods in a world we pretend does not exist. A darkly hilarious tale of pride, beauty, lust, and industrial design, Daisey illuminates the war to control how we see the world, and the human price we are willing to pay for our technology.
The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is a PuSh+ event (one outside our normal Jan-Feb festival dates) that is also doubling as a fundraiser. To this end, we'll also be raffling off an iPad at the reception following the show, where guests will get a chance to meet Mike and director Jean-Michele Gregory. All proceeds from tickets and raffle go to support programming at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

For more information, click here.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Richard Hatfield: The Opera; Bricklin: The Musical

Harry Somers' brilliant Louis Riel notwithstanding, I've always thought the Canadian politician who would make the best subject for an opera was New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield. The outsized ego, the New York City rentboys, the marijuana in the luggage, the public spats with Pierre: it's all there.

I admit to being somewhat biased. My Dad was born in the same small town as Hatfield: Hartland, N.B., home of the longest covered bridge in the world. That fact alone could inspire infinite arias, not to mention a potentially amazing set design.

Well, if we have to wait a while longer for the definitive Hatfield opera, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that at least there's now a Hatfield musical. Or at least a musical in which Hatfield plays a key role.

I'm referring to Bricklin, a new work by Allen Cole and Paul Ledoux about the futuristic 1970s car (it of the gull-winged opening doors fame) designed by US entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin that he somehow convinced Hatfield to sink tens of millions of New Brunswick taxpayers' dollars into, and that went bust soon after it was first unveiled in 1975. According to an article in today's Globe, the musical--subtitled "An Automotive Fantasy"--is apparently playing to full houses at the Fredericton Playhouse in a co-production with Theatre New Brunswick directed by the very talented Alisa Palmer (whom until now I did not know was a fellow Maritimer).

I remember once getting a glimpse of the Bricklin at a science and technology museum in Ottawa, and my Dad telling us the story of its production, likening its failure to a Canadian industrial tragedy as disastrous as that of the Avro Arrow. I didn't really know what he was talking about at the time, and I wasn't much interested (as boys my age were meant to be) in cars anyway, but I do remember thinking those flying buttress car doors were pretty cool.

I'm still not much into cars. But I do love musicals. And, though I never met the man, I can't help thinking that Hatfield and I, two sisters with deep Hartland roots, share a spiritual connection of some sort. Here's hoping the show becomes a bona fide New Brunswick hit in a manner much more wickedly camp than PEI's Anne: The Musical!

That would definitely be something worth going home (and homo) for.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Henry V at Bard

It only took 20 years, but last night I finally made it to Bard on the Beach to take in Henry V on the Studio Stage. I've never thought Shakespeare to be the ne plus ultra of theatre in the first place (and, indeed, I've seen more bad Shakespeare in performance than good), and the quirky, crunchy rusticity of its outdoor seaside setting that BOTB promotes as part of its west coast charm has never been a huge selling point for me. Plus, while the company showcases the work of some very fine local performers year-to-year, I also think it retains some lesser lights for not altogether sound repertory reasons, and could be a bit more adventurous and diverse in its casting.

However, I put aside those reservations this year. Partly this had to do with the fact that I had taught Henry V in my Intro to Drama course earlier this spring, which was organized around the theme of war. Having unpacked--with the help of the Chorus--the jingoism of some of Henry's speeches, and asked my students whether, based on his actions in the play, we should consider Harry a hero or a war criminal, I was interested in seeing director Meg Roe's take on the play's martial masculinities, and how she treated the rather dubious reasons promulgated by Henry and his advisors for going to war with France (what to do about those tennis balls, for example...). The fact that Roe had cast her husband, Alessandro Juliani, in the title role also helped. I'd long been a fan of Juliani's work as the traitorous Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica, and his starring role as Frog in last year's stupendous production of after the quake only confirmed my opinion of his acting chops. Finally, my colleague Rob Kitsos--and collaborator on The Objecthood of Chairs--has contributed original choreography to the production. So, really, it was the the right alignment of elements that found me under the smaller of the two tents at Vanier Park last night.

First of all, Roe's production is a miracle of concision. Any mounting of the play that can get us all the way through to 4.1 and the crucial pre-Battle of Agincourt scene pre-intermission needs to be applauded. What might be sacrificed in terms of plot and character complexity (especially regarding the Archbishops' opening discussion of Henry's surprising switch from wayward rebellion to pious devotion to duty upon the death of his father and his assumption of the throne, and equally in terms of the Archbishops' own conspiring reasons to convince Henry to invade France) is made up for in terms of a swift pacing that recognizes that the play really only gets going once Henry and his men reach the gates of Harfleur. Then, too, Roe takes the Chorus at her word when she says at the outset that the "wooden O" of a theatrical stage cannot do their story proper justice in truly representing the scale and scope of a story that moves between England and France, that features pitched battlefield scenes, and a cast of literally thousands of characters. Heeding the Chorus' advice for us in the audience to use our imaginations, Roe plays on the intimacy of Bard's Studio Stage, using simple design effects to turn the upstage entrance into the prow of a ship or the gates to Harfleur, and having her actors switch between their doubled roles as soldiers of France and soldiers of England by making some clever signals in costuming.

As the Chorus, Colleen Wheeler brings great stage presence and a suitable gravitas to the role, anchoring us in the story, if not exactly trying to colour our interpretation of that story, as in some revisionist productions. And here is where I would say my only real criticism of this staging comes in: this most political play is for all intents and purposes devoid of politics. Roe certainly does not shy away from showing us the brutality of war, and the scene where the Welsh Captain Fluellen (an excellent Andrew McNee) enters carrying the brutally murdered young Boy (a preternaturally poised Joseph Gustafson) is gut-wrenching. But at the same time there is little to no questioning of Henry's motives for going to war in the first place, nor of some of the decisions Henry makes in the name of war: the executions at Southampton of the traitorous Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge; the execution of Bardolph for his looting in France (an act that while interestingly performed on stage in this production had curiously little effect/affect on this viewer in terms of how we're meant to interpret the King's treatment of his former friends); and the order of the slaughter of the French prisoners, an order that's crucially given in Shakespeare's text before Henry knows of the French massacre of the young boys attending the English luggage).

Granted, I have not seen Bard's production of Falstaff, the reworked version of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 running in rep with Henry V, so I can't say exactly what continuities and/or changes in character we witness in Prince Hal/King Henry over the course of the two plays. And yet while I appreciated Juliani's naturalism in the title role, I didn't get much of a sense of him wrestling with his conscience regarding the justness of his war, nor in his arguments with Williams in 4.1--and in the soliloquy that follows--a sense of just what is at stake morally and ethically in his adherence (despite the sins of his father and grandfather and great-uncle) to kingly duty and ceremony. Whatever gender politics one might also discern in the final love scene between Henry and Katherine (a winning Amber Lewis) tend to be likewise obscured by the overt playing of this scene for comedy--which, in the expert hands of Juliani, did work, I have to say.

Where I think Roe takes the most risks in this production is in her approach to movement on stage. She correctly recognizes that this is a very physical play, and does not shy away from representing the labour of war. Which is where Rob's contributions come in, using a combination of dance choreography and martial arts moves to both abstract and literalize the kinesthetics of medieval battle, with its strange and heavy weaponry (swords and crossbows), its close proximity (ie, mostly hand-to-hand combat), and its interminability (pitched battles that go on for days). All of this is aptly signaled in the heaviness of the men's backwards and forwards steps, in the massings of bodies on stage, in the repeated and exchanged gestures that telegraph futility and exhaustion among the rank and file. Showcased on its own at select moments throughout the play, especially during the climactic Battle of Agincourt, Rob's choreography allows the audience a pause from the text, but by no means from the action represented in/by the text. Indeed, in daring to show us what the combat we hear about actually might look light, Roe and Kitsos also suggest that this battle isn't going to be won, as the Dauphin (an energetic Charlie Gallant) thinks, by superior steeds on the French side, nor even, as Henry thinks, by the hand of God guiding the English, but rather by which side has the most men left standing at the end of the day.

And therein lies the politics of this play: in its movement.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Is Vancouver the Gay-Bashing Capital of Canada?

It's been a quiet BC Day so far chez nous, which is just fine by me.

In fact, it's been a fairly quiet long weekend all around. Yet, as the city's downtown core slowly recovers from its various bacchanals--the final night of fireworks on Saturday, the Pride Parade yesterday, and the Powell Street Festival both days--and as Metro Police no doubt let out a collective sigh of relief that no major violence occurred, it's worth pausing to consider the following article recently published in the Globe and Mail.

No matter how you crunch the statistics, define tolerance, or credit the suburban thesis, it's still a sobering assessment.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Singin' Under the Stars in Stanley Park

It seemed appropriate that on Friday night, nearing the end of what has been the driest July in Vancouver in nearly a decade, Richard and I should be at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park for Theatre Under the Stars' 2010 production of Singin' in the Rain. As TUTS producer James Cronk announced just before the start of the show, the only rain we'd be seeing over the next two hours and twenty minutes would be on stage.

And, indeed, the classic Gene Kelly title number from the MGM film is reproduced faithfully to close out Act One, with Lindsay Sterk's Don Lockwood exuberantly tapping out his love for Kathy Selden (Lauren Bowler) as the rain pours down and he uses his umbrella to whirl himself from puddle to puddle rather than to keep himself dry. A reprise of the song, featuring the entire company in bright yellow slickers and hats was a fine send-off to a very enjoyable evening. TUTS's more than 40-year commitment to staging the classic American musicals in this spectacular outdoor setting is one of the highlights of late summer in Vancouver, and there's nothing like walking out from the trees surrounding Malkin Bowl to rediscover the downtown skyline twinkling in the distance. It's one of the great city vistas, made all the more spectacular (quite literally) when one approaches it humming and dancing to a classic Broadway tune.

Singin' in the Rain, enacting like many a backstage movie musical before it, a dialectic between stage and screen, is made all the more self-reflexive by its focus on Hollywood during its transition from silent to sound cinema. The silent movie partnership between Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (a note-perfect Cailin Stadnyk in this production) is about to be eclipsed, the plot-lines and outsized acting of their costume melodramas as unsuitable as Lina's grating Brooklyn accent to the new realism demanded by the talkies. Enter Kathy Selden, a bit player at the studio where Lockwood and Lamont work, whose free spirit and melodious voice captivate Don and set the wheels in motion in the mind of Don's piano-playing buddy Cosmo Brown (Neil Minor, who seems to channel the spirit of Donald O'Connor from the film to an uncanny degree here). Cosmo has a plan for how they can rescue Lockwood and Lamont's first talking picture: turn it into a musical and dub Kathy's voice over Lina.

Singin' in the Rain is interesting as well for the way in which it conforms to what Robert Altman, in his book The American Movie Musical, has identified as the doubled marital/entertainment telos of the genre. That is, Don and Kathy's romance not only provides the requisite heterosexual ephithalium, but in this case also saves Don's studio from going under. In the Hollywood musical, marriage and entertainment are good business.

Except that in the case of Singin' in the Rain, and other backstage musicals like it (including many starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), there is as part of this equation also usually some sort of homosocial remainder, the buddy like Cosmo who at once orchestrates and oversees the progression of heterosexual romance and cannily inserts himself within its menage. Remember, there are three people who go over that couch in that famous scene at Don's house where Cosmo first hatches his scheme to save "The Dueling Cavalier" by turning it into "The Dancing Cavalier"--just as there are three people in the famous poster for the 1952 movie (see above). Remember, too, that Lina, as the face to Kathy's voice, and in her steadfast belief in the truth about what the gossip magazines print regarding her relationship with Don, likewise remains a spectral celluloid presence in the lives of our stage couple.

The TUTS production subtly played up these homosocial elements, with Cosmo and Don's "Moses" number (in which they parody the elocution lessons the studio requires of Lamont and Lockwood) providing for me not just the musical highlight of the evening, but also the telling evidence that, after studio boss R.F. Simpson (Fred Galloway) and his simpering assistant Rod Steele (a very charismatic Daniel White), these two bachelors are the real old marrieds on this studio lot. This was mirrored in the bosom (again, quite literally) relationship between Lina and her best friend Zelda (Lori Zondag), whose shared air kisses were a marvel to behold.

Don and Kathy might be the ostensible stars of the show as it unfurls on stage, but it's Cosmo and Lina we remember long after in our screen memories.