What do you know now that you didn’t know on March 12? 12thnight asked theatre artists

Kristi Hansen and Sheldon Elter rehearsing the online Sterling Awards in their back yard. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“It’s been a learning curve.”

Once more, with feeling. Since March I’ve heard the line from theatre artists too many times to count. And it’s been delivered in every intonation and cadence: exasperation (sardonic or direct), rueful sigh, make-the-best of-it-shrug, plucky chin-up show-must-go-on vocal smile, bright exclamatory brio.

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Ever since the devastating moment four-and-a-half months ago live theatre suddenly ceased to be a matter of real live people sharing a room with real live performers, theatre artists, who are after all trained in the art of social non-distancing, have been learning new skills, complicated screen technologies, new ways of rehearsing and performing and thinking about their industry (not to mention new ways of paying rent with no money). And, coupled with the critical momentum of Black Lives Matter, they’ve had time to think about theatre itself, what they value, what should change.

What do you know now that you didn’t know March 12? That’s the question I asked a selection of theatre artists. Their thoughts about what they’d learned were very different. Some were hopeful about ‘digital theatre’; some were not. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Sheldon Elter in Métis Mutt. Photo by Ryan Parker.

Sheldon Elter (actor, playwright, musician):

“I didn’t realize how important our jobs were until everything was shut down. We are more vital than we think we are as ‘live performers’. There’s only so much Netflix a person can watch before you’re craving a live experience you can share with other people: friends AND strangers. I love the idea of people trying to do something: Zoom performances, backyard shows…. But I really do miss being close to a stranger in a seat next to me. Sharing laughs. Hilariously, the ‘infection’ of laughs and joy and tears is important. It’s what truly brings us together as audiences. And we are affected by each other when in CLOSE proximity.”

Kristi Hansen (actor, director, co-artistic director of Azimuth Theatre, leaving to make room for young BIPOC talent; co-artistic director of The Maggie Tree):

“March 12 is the day we did the dress rehearsal of Candide for Edmonton Opera in the morning. I went home and had a nap and when I woke up it was cancelled. I don’t think I’d even clocked that a shutdown was possible. And now, four months later, I’m very aware that CERB is coming to an end and artists need to start getting paid to work. Safely. And that our rights as theatre workers ARE workers’ rights: health and safety, pay equity, anti-racist policies in action…. Now is a great time to examine HOW we work instead of always defaulting to ‘the show must go on’.”

Playwright/performer Josh Languedoc. Photo supplied by Thousand Faces Festival.

Josh Languedoc, actor, playwright, improviser, Indigenous storyteller (Rocko & Nakota), newly appointed Youth and Education Coordinator at Workshop West Playwrights Theatre:

“A few random thoughts that jump out at me: One thing I didn’t know was how human the theatrical experience is. Not only do we create art for the public, we desperately miss being around them! Almost as if the tribal gathering of people in a theatrical space means more to the artists than the act of creating art itself. In short, digital theatre just isn’t the same!

I didn’t know how to stream shows over the internet. Frankly this is still something I don’t know a ton about. But through my work with FringeLiveStream I’ve been able to understand streaming platform basics something like OSB software. Still feels confusing but it’s interesting at the same time!

I was also surprised to see the federal government support the arts as much as they have during this pandemic. So many grants and programs made available to artists that allowed them to create. Conversely it’s NOT surprising our provincial government has done the exact opposite — slashed funds and cut off significant revenue sources to artists. This switch has genuinely surprised me!

In general, I’ve also realized how desperately we need each other. We truly are social beings who crave social spaces.

I’ve also come to seek wisdom in these times. I’ve learned really strong art is made in times of transition. And when people create from a place of ‘unknowing’ some really powerful material can be made. I cannot wait to see what strong narratives of culture, resilience and community come out of these strange times!”

Helen Belay, Cinderella, Globe Theatre Regina. Photo by Chris Graham.

Helen Belay, actor (The Blue Hour, Vidalia), storyteller, member of Citadel Theatre Associate Artist summer team:

“The digitization of our form is possible. Technology is so advanced now, and what I’ve noticed is that when we lean into the form of whatever we’re using — a recent and brilliant example is Gender? I Hardly Know Them’s httpeepee — you can make something really special. And beyond performance too — workshopping new works and auditions? Also possible. That being said, I miss sharing experiences and stories with other bodies and hearts in space. There is something incredibly magical about that….

Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Belinda Cornish, Helen Belay, Chris Pereira in Vidalia, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

The times we’re in right now have also made me realize that while I have lived experience and a decent base of knowledge around race and race politics, there are people smarter than me who have years of experience, study and vernacular…. So I’ve been reading up and thinking deeply on that. The book I’m currently chipping away at is Reni-Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race … and am planning to follow that up with Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act…. I think striving for specificity of thought and action in the context of history and politics is needed to effectively tell the stories we want and need to tell in this era of social change.

I’ve also been relearning how to simply be. I think a lot of us forget how to — because, hello!, children can whittle away the hours with ease AND enjoy it AND feel accomplished after the fact.

FINALLY … for years, I have thought I might never learn how to play barre chords on the guitar. But with a slow and steady effort, built out of a few minutes a day, I’ve found hope.

Mac Brock. Photo supplied.

Mac Brock, playwright (Boy Trouble, Tracks), actor, producer (Amoris Projects):

There’s been a slow yet constant thudding feeing tugging at me for the last few months. Our industry prides itself on adaptability and open arms, but it feels even now like we’re sitting on our hands, waiting for the few at the helms to make space for new creators, new stories etc. What I’ve been learning is that there’s a brilliant next act bubbling through his intermission: one of young, or long-underseen, creators flipping the tables and making the space they wish to see in the city.

I miss liveness. I miss audiences. I miss the joy of a really good idea done really well. But I don’t look forward to it returning to normal. I look forward to seeing how a new generation transforms how we make theatre magic. And oh, will there be magic!

  

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Portrait of an Indigenous artist in a Fringe-less summer: Todd Houseman

Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona in Whiteface. Photo by Emily Randall.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

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A summer without Fringes? Without real live audiences to test new material?

“It’s been a deeply reflective time,” says Todd Houseman thoughtfully, of the four months-plus since in-person performances suddenly vanished from the land. “A time for creativity, revolutionary protests….”

Todd Houseman. Photo by Maxime Côté.

The formidably versatile Indigenous actor/ playwright/ filmmaker/ Rapid Fire Theatre improv star, is on the phone, across the country from home in Montreal, where he’s one production short of his impending acting degree from the National Theatre School.

The co-creator and co-star of Whiteface (with Lady Vanessa Cardona) and Folk Lordz (with Ben Gorodetsky) has found the time productive. “In a time of hardship, there’s more of a motivation I guess,” he muses, of his work as a writer. “It comes out way faster; it seems more fuelled….”

Had times been different, this is the year that the film version of Whiteface, a 2018 Fringe hit adapted for the screen by award-winning Indigenous film and theatre artist Everett Sokol, would have been touring film festivals. The play and film have a sharply honed edge of satire about cultural misrepresentation; it couldn’t be more timely, as you might surmise. Cardona, a Colombian refugee, and Houseman, who’s Cree, perform in white masks, in a demo, as Houseman has put it, of “the real price of cultural appropriation, how it feels to see your face misrepresented: a very conscious stereotyping of the White Face.”

Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky in Folk Lordz. Photo by Curtis Comeau.

“This has been a time to look at film-making and performance,” Houseman says of the hiatus in theatre and film production. He’s currently editing a theatre school film project with masks. “Film can add a certain level to storytelling….” It’s something that particularly interests Houseman. Original new forms of storytelling are the inspiration for Folk Lordz, a unique long-form improv which pairs  Houseman’s skills in the Cree oral tradition and Gorodetsky’s heritage in Russian folk tales and literary character drama.

Of necessity, this has been a time for “making art at great distances, in a short time.” He and Cardona have collaborated on a 10-minute piece for the Citadel’s Horizon Series. And they’re working on a digital version of Whiteface, spun from the same techniques and insights. We’ll see it as part of the Edmonton Fringe’s upcoming online incarnation, alongside an interview by Fringe director Murray Utas.”I love talking to Murray! I’m really looking forward to that!” 

He’s struck by the coincidence that the pandemic has left them both locked into place “on very important land,” meaningful to both their identities. “North of here,” he says of Montreal, “is where my Cree ancestors are from.” Cardona is trapped on location in her home country of Colombia. “Our ultimate goal is to create a very loose cabaret … like Whiteface in its bite but loose enough for anyone to join.”

Black Lives Matter has been an inspiration for people to re-examine their relationships with people marginalized by race, colour, gender, sexuality. Houseman, too,“as a cis hetero man,” has been pondering the implications. As an Indigenous artist frequently consulted for insights on the Indigenous experience, he’s wanting to spread the attention around.

“A learning experience,” he says. “There are newer and braver emerging voices that I’ve wanted a chance to listen to…. People should be listening to the Tiny House Warriors, the Beaver Hill Warriors.”

As for improv, “most of the skills are transferrable” to the Zoom world, thinks Houseman, who’s about to teach improv online to people  in Vancouver. Zoom can satisfy “a need for validation and a sense of play” with other performers. But as with film, the question of the audience is more problematic. “Who’s there? It can seem almost an echo chamber.”f

Meanwhile, Houseman the writer is making isolation work for him, enhancing his film skill set as he goes. As for the material hardships as Fringe cancellation season rolls on? “I’m OK for now…. I’m used to a  ‘for now existence’. After that … “I don’t know.”

  

    

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A Telethon kicks off the strange summer when the Edmonton Fringe went online

Fringe director Murray Utas. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Everything that’s happening is changing the landscape…. Let’s make our own destiny!” — Edmonton Fringe director Murray Utas

The Fringe, Edmonton’s beloved August giant of a theatre festival, and a game-changer for this town in every way, needs some audience participation.

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At a time of major heartbreaking might-have-been’s here’s a seminal one. Next Wednesday (by tradition a theatrical red-letter day), the Fringe box office would have opened and tickets would have gone on sale for this year’s 250 (or so) Fringe shows. But the 39th annual Fringe, alas, has been cancelled. Instead, The Fringe That Never Was is holding an all-day Telethon Aug. 5 (phone lines at 780-448-9000 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and livestream on Fringe TV 12 to 4 p.m.). Tears, Beers & Tickets You’ll Never Use is the first event of its kind here — and the kick-off to the digital version of the Fringe that will take the annual festivities online to Fringe TV Aug. 13 to 23.

The goal of the Telethon is to raise $1 million for the festival, of which 30 per cent will go to an endowment fund for artists, for emergency services in times of need — like this one, which continues to be devastating. And 70 per cent will go to the continuing operations of a festival that will suffer a punishing $3 million loss this year of cancellation, with a view to ensuring its return in August of 2021.

It will feature a live assortment of theatre artists and musicians, with Fringe faves and guest celebs taking pledges. And, says Utas, it’s exactly the artist/community interaction that’s always been at the heart of the festival.

“I’m asking everyone ‘do you really care?’ Can you imagine Edmonton without the Fringe? In a year when the Fringe can’t be there for the community, what can the community do for the Fringe? It’s our time of need!”

And this city owes. The Fringe has changed the face of Edmonton theatre (and its profile), and kept our artists here, and creating, all year round. It’s a magnetic force field for community cohesiveness. The biggest Fringe in North America, and the prototype for the rest, is probably Edmonton’s brightest, most influential idea. And there’s this: beyond the $1.5 to $1.6 million in ticket sales that go directly back to 1600 or so Edmonton Fringe artists, the festival is “a major economic driver that’s not happening this summer. Eateries, shops, mercantile….” as Utas points out. The estimated spin-off is in the $15 to $17 million range annually.

The Fringe is inviting Fringees to donate their yearly Fringe budget — what you’d spend every year on shows, on the program, on beer and green onion cakes — to support the festival that has given Edmonton so much. “Buy a beer you won’t be drinking,” says Utas. “Buy a ticket for the show you won’t be seeing.… We’re close to the bone here. And beyond the Now, how do we keep this going?”

“People need us. People need joy. People need something to look forward to.”

The Telethon is the kick-off. While they won’t have a Fringe to go to this summer, the people will have an online Fringe to experience, as Utas explains. “We needed to honour the dates.” Every night of The Fringe That Never Was (except Sunday), starting at 5:45 p.m., there will be digital programming, including performances, conversations, interviews with artists, audience members, volunteers. And since the Fringe community is “inclusive, and international,” there will be surprises, Utas promises.

Performances by theatre stars like Farren Timoteo, Andrea House, Todd Houseman will be accompanied by meet-the-artist conversations with Utas about their work, the impact of COVID on their lives, their plans-in-progress, their thoughts about theatre, their dreams.

“I ask everybody three questions,” says Utas. “Why is the Fringe important to you? What do you love about the Fringe? What will you miss most this year?”

With the participation of FringeLiveStream, the lottery-drawn showcase of Fringe shows that continues through the country’s cancelled fringe festival circuit. our viewing entertainment includes The Collapsing Future Cabaret (with artists of every stripe from four continents, Aug. 20 and 21, 6 p.m.). You’ll see new Fringe contributions from Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cordona (creators of Whiteface), and the innovative Vancouver puppet company Mind of a Snail (Aug. 13 and 20, respectively, 7 p.m.). You’ll see digital adaptations of shows by Josh Languedoc (Rocko and Nakota: Tales From The Land) and The Coldharts (The Unrepentant Necrophile), Aug. 13, 14, 18, 19, 20. 

Says Utas, “I’ve had to call in a ton of favours! I don’t have a budget for artists, but I gave them what I do have!”

The IBPOC Circle Conversation (Aug. 18, 6 p.m.) features some of the country’s most exciting young talent. There’s episode 3 of Fringe Revue (Aug. 15, 7 p.m.). To combat your festival wistfulness, the Virtual Wine Tent comes to you with a half-hour of live music from local talent at 8:30 p.m. nightly. And, yes (in answer to your implied question about Fringe tradition), the Friday night Fire Show, featuring an international array of inflammable street artists, is happening (Aug. 21, 7 p.m.). And so is the Fringe’s Late Night Cabaret (Aug. 22, at the non-insomniac hour of 7 p.m.).

“Come and go as you like, just like the Fringe,” says its exuberant director. “And it’ll stay online after the night. But if you tune in live, there will be stuff just for you on the night!  Come join us and it will be worth your while!

Check out the digital venue, Fringe TV, for the full schedule of dates and times. And the 12thnight.ca interview with the multi-talented Indigenous theatre/ film artist Todd Houseman is coming up soon.

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Live theatre: has it found a footing on a platform instead of a stage in Zoom-laden times?

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare By The Bow, Hit & Myth, Theatre Calgary. Screen shot.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A lifetime ago (March 25, 2020 to be precise), Malachite Theatre’s resourceful artistic director Benjamin Blyth explained to me that the company had borrowed an interactive online platform from the business world for a new venture.

On Shakespeare Sundays, an international assortment of artists and audience members would gather for a Zoom reading and discussion of a Shakespeare play, starting with Richard II.  Zoom was a word we were destined to hear over and over, noun and verb. 

Two weeks earlier, live theatre here and everywhere had shut down completely — with bone-rattling immediacy, sometimes mid-run, even mid-rehearsal. Along with its traditional raison d’être as a kinetic interaction of real people occupying a real space together, theatre artists (actors, directors, writers, designers, artisans, backstage crew) lost their jobs and their livelihood to the pandemic. Productions, festivals, whole seasons got cancelled, or punted into the distant future. 

Faced with this (continuing) industry-wide devastation, our theatre practitioners, ever-resourceful, were amazingly quick to wrap their wits around the challenges of exile from their usual shared habitat.

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As the Fringe and an ever-expanding coterie of site-specific artists have always demonstrated, live theatre can flourish in all kinds of spaces, from specially designed theatre venues to public streets, parks, parkades, church halls, clubs, hotel rooms…. Who knew, though, that live theatre would find itself trying to find its footing on a platform instead of a stage? Or that the video screen would be a theatre venue, and not just a design element or a prop in a production? 

Since that fateful moment in March, like you I’ve seen all kinds of video-ed performances, staged readings, rehearsal shots, workshops, seminars, out-takes, cast reunions, highlight excerpts, sing-alongs, chat-rooms, interviews — all online. You have to admire the questing spirit in every case; theatre artists have had to learn as they go. But some, I have to say (under the cone of understatement), are considerably more engaging than others, and more inventive at using digital platforms. And, increasingly, as theatre gets the hang of working on unfamiliar terrain and grapples with the un-theatrical  concept of distancing, more are playful, ingenious, provocative.   

As the weird prospect of a Fringe-less August approaches, it’s a moment to reflect on some of Edmonton theatre’s most intriguing experiments in tapping the shared imagination of artists and their audiences in new and unfamiliar ways.

The most successful, I think, find some resonance in using the online platform (in all its fits and starts) to explore the alienating effects in modern culture. Mac Brock’s Tracks, which ran in May, was one. Specially created for an interactive digital platform, it was live-streamed each night of the run. So: nine young artists, in home “theatres” rehearsing alone on Zoom, filming themselves in solo scenes of their own device, casting light at a variety of oblique angles on what it means to make art.

A home set-up for Tracks. Photo supplied.

As its title suggests, the show, put together by director Beth Dart, was an audience adventure in choosing a route, and putting the pieces together into a sort of group portrait. Fascinating — not least since the play actually was in synch with the constraints of the platform: the isolation of artists, solitary in their individual habitats, was part of the point. 

 The ongoing Citadel’s [esc] Series is an invitation to E-town theatre artists to explore online storytelling. Pitch, Please, in June, was set by its collaborators Paul Blinov, Christine Lesiak, Suzie Martin and Andrew Paul in the pandemic world, constructed of a hilarious series of panicky brainstorming phone calls between two pals. They’re struggling madly to come up with the digital performance piece they had blithely pitched as “a multi-disciplinary synthesis of harmony and discord that dramatizes comedy and finds dark humour in grave stoicism, bringing together parodic reimaginings of both precise order and careful chaos as it separates its permanence from the concept of impermanence itself.” Very funny. Their rejects are a hoot.  

Double-Bubble, a three-part rom-com (from Amiel Gladstone, Rachel Peake and Amy Lynn Strilchuk) was set in, and about, the pandemic age of online wine and dinner dates. It followed the awkward romantic fortunes of two mid-period people whose lives are complicated not only by distancing but by the intrusion of other generations. The quartet of actors, incidentally, included two stellar theatre family pairings, George Szilagyi and his daughter Rain Matkin Szilagyi, and Kate Ryan and her mother Maralyn Ryan.   

Girl Brain. Photo by Brianne Jang, BB Collective Photography.

Via the fractured-screen landscape of Zoom, Die-Nasty re-worked its ‘golden age of vaudeville’ season as an online radio show for all its episodes, from mid-March on. The online world was both the playground and the frequent target for the queer comedy duo Gender? I Hardly Know Them in their recent online sketch show httpeepee. The new series of Girl Brain YouTube videos are comedy sketches about, and set in, dating and relationships in the tech-fraught socially-distanced Age of Zoom. Since online dating has always been a prime target of their sassy humour, adding another frame so that we watch them onscreen watching their cellphone dating apps, is a natural (have a peek at Plenty of Men With Fish on their YouTube channel.

You have to be resolute to ignore the possible oxymoron in the term ‘online festival’. Nextfest, the influential celebration of emerging artists at Theatre Network, moved its entire 25th anniversary edition online, with mainstage shows that (mostly) favoured the monologue over dramatization).

The mighty Edmonton Fringe, prototype for all the North American fringes, pulled the plug mid-April on its no-longer-upcoming 39th annual edition. To console us they’re producing a monthly (then quarterly) series of Fringe Revues, variety/talk shows featuring assorted Fringe artists in performance and conversation (episode 2, a blend of live and pre-recorded segments, opens Saturday night).

Rapid Fire players, rehearsing on Zoom from their own homes.

Matt Schuurman, artistic director of Rapid Fire Theatre (a notable video designer himself),  long our most online-savvy company, mused to 12thnight in April that success in the pandemic theatre world won’t come by trying, however valiantly, to reproduce traditional stage plays on screen — even if you could figure out how to rehearse them at a safe distance. It’ll come by playing with and enjoying the things that video-conferencing does make possible — close-ups, magical entrances and exits, changes in setting. There is fun to be had, he argued. And RFT has the archive of experiments to prove it.

Watching an hour-long online Romeo and Juliet (Theatre Calgary, Shakespeare by the Bow, Hit & Myth) last night, (the actors are distanced, in Edmonton and Calgary) I was reminded of Schuurman’s advice. Haysam Kadri’s modern-dress emerging artist production starts with the thought that R&J is a tragedy of crossed wires. Shakespeare’s lovers are not just star-cross’d, but message-cross’d and screen-cross’d, in a plague-riddled world of mixed signals and distanced communications gone awry. And the show plays with a whole arsenal of technology to match — texting shorthand and emojis,  Facetime, Zoom-like split screens of Romeo and his buddies Benvolio and Mercurio in their respective bathrooms getting spruced up for a night out. “Where are you?? Dude? At your father’s house?” @benvoli_bro wants to know, via text. The eight-actor cast (there’s a cameo by Mayor Nenshi, and Hawksley Workman does the Prologue) are  distanced, in Edmonton and Calgary.

The Capulets’ masked ball is … masked. And the removal of masks (after hand-sanitizing) for a real kiss (the excellent Zach Running Coyote and Anna Dalgleish are real-life partners) becomes that rare thing in R&J productions, genuinely monumental, irreversible, fateful.

The fight scenes are virtual-reality cartoons. There’s detailed work in connecting gestures across screens, so a ring tossed in one is caught in another. The plague and quarantine, not “ancient feud,” provide the stakes. But the trouble with cellphone technology in any Romeo and Juliet is, of course, that it fatally breaks down the storytelling. In a culture of messaging, why on earth is there a tragic problem in relaying the crucial info about Juliet’s sleeping potion? What, are all cellular networks down in Mantua? Why is someone delivering print info? Anyhow, apart from that the production is inventive, entertaining, and savvy.   

As you’ll doubtless have discovered by now, full-bodied screen versions of productions, large or small, that actually capture live theatre energy and dimensionality aren’t a dime a dozen. Dimes have nothing to do with such starry, big-budget multi-camera affairs as the free offerings from the vaults of London’s National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, or in this country the Stratford Festival. Here, that kind of money (or prescience) for multi-camera fully-directed productions hasn’t been available. Without it, filmed versions of stage productions can look awfully flat, inert, stop-gap, a bit like vegan cheese, so to speak.

The Old Vic, incidentally, has opted for a different kind of solution. Witness a recent revival of Lungs, a two-hander performed by stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith on its bare stage in the empty theatre. The distancing of the two actors onstage was a perfectly judged reflection of the emotional distances of two people in a flawed world. 

Anyhow, four months (and counting) into this strange Zoom-laden time, the appetite for live theatre can’t quite be satisfied in onscreen transplantations. And theatre artists, our specialists in creative solutions, are devising platform hybrids, and welcome live antidotes to screen fatigue.

Nicole St. Martin, Michael Bradley and son Luc in Chamber Obscura, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

Can you be homesick for going out? At the Found Festival, always a repository of bright ideas, Chamber Obscura had a theatre family trio (Michael Bradley, Nicole St. Martin and their son Luc) performing a 15-minute gothic folk tale for you live as a drive-in — for and your COVID vehicle-mates, one car at a time.

Lodestar Theatre will deliver a production from their menu direct to your backyard (they started with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in July, and are adding a double bill every two weeks). Similarly, in Road Trip, the Citadel will bring you and your distanced friends, live, a 40-minute set from one of three pairs of Edmonton musical stars (Farren Timoteo and Jennifer McMillan, Oscar Derkx and Jameela McNeil, or Chariz Faulmino and Steven Greenfield).

It takes thinking big to make theatre small. When live theatre returns, those lessons in distanced intimacy (an oxymoron for our time) won’t be lost. 

  

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The Fringe That Never Was comes to you, with Fringe Revue episode 2

Gordie Lucius, Fringe Revue, spieode 2. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The fateful moment of the Fringe-less August approaches in the distance (OK, let’s not think about that right now). I know I know. You can’t actually go to the Fringe this year. But The Fringe That Never Was, edition #39 of Edmonton’s massive festival success story, is alive, and coming to you instead.

The second episode of Fringe Revue, the Fringe’s new digital variety show — a blend of music, theatre, comedy, dance, storytelling, spoken word, conversation — arrives online Saturday night July 25, from the Westbury Theatre at Fringe headquarters. It’s hosted by Rapid Fire Theatre improv stars Joleen Ballendine and Kelly Turner.

As you know if you caught the debut edition in June, the inspiration is the Fringe’s hit late-night cabaret, with its what-just-hit-me? collision of satire, concertizing, games, dance, theatrical performance, And other stuff: Episode 1 even came with its own reviewer. Paul Blinov, Rapid Fire’s master of deadpan, reviewed The Pandemic, running at BYOV 57, as an interactive, point-of-view experience. And he pointed out (I think quite rightly), the serious limitations of the cellphone as a theatrical device. 

In the spirit of the mighty Fringe itself, Episode 2 is at the intersection of a wide and unpredictable diversity of talents. Fringe faves Mind of a Snail, the brilliantly off-centre Vancouver shadow puppet company that’s brought us such original hits as Caws & Effect and Multiple Organism, is creating something especially tailored for The Fringe That Never Was. We’ll see the dance troupe Cuban Movements in performance. Ditto actor/escape artist Miranda Allen, who recently wowed Penn & Teller in their Fool Us season with her death-defying escape from chains in a locked barrel full of red wine.

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Theatre artists Amber Borotsik and Jesse Gervais return for another edition of the dance break segment, a kooky Fringe work-out that will be part of every Fringe Revue. The Currently Current, which artists create live from the headlines of the week, is assembled this time out by actor/spoken word artist/ activist Nasra Adem. The musical guest is Jay Gilday; the house musician is the versatile Jason Kodie.

FringeLiveStream, Jon Paterson’s bright idea of an online fringe festival of uncharted uncensored performances, will do its August draw for weekly slots on the show. What also gets drawn on Saturday night’s show is the winner of the BYOBT (bring-your-own-beer-tent) contest, which starts Monday.

Yes, the Fringe (along with Big Rock Brewery, Special Events Rentals, Chianti, ATB Financial) will bring to your backyard or deck or back 40, etc. Aug. 14 to 17 an actual beer tent with all the trimmings, including booze, food, a live artist performance, decorations, “yard games.” Answer daily clues on the Fringe’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts, or fill out the BYOBT form at fringetheatre.ca

“Watch at your leisure!” says Utas of Saturday’s new episode of Fringe Revue, with its weave of interviews, performances and salon conversations that amplify them, fun facts, interviews, musical interludes from “a virtual wine tent series.”

Production values are up from episode 1, declares Utas the director. “We haven’t got the money to do everything live. But we’re looking to phase out the pre-recorded.” Designer Tessa Stamp creates a series of sets.

And — this is important to Utas — the artists all get an honorarium. “Artists deserve to be paid for their work!”

PREVIEW

Fringe Revue Episode 2

Theatre: Edmonton Fringe Theatre

Directed by: Murray Utas

Where: fringetheatre.ca

Running: from Saturday July 25

 

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Theatre Six Pack 2021

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s happened for two decades, and it’s always sold out in a flash. One of Edmonton theatre’s perennial bright ideas is a subscription series that’s a cross-section sampling of the work of this town’s theatre companies.

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The Theatre Six-Pack gathers a sextet of productions, one each from six theatre companies — and the tab is a bargain ($135). All six in this year’s season of shows happen in 2021. And since physical distancing is de rigueur in these pandemical times, there are only 250 of the packages available this time around.

What’s in this year’s six-pack?

First up (Jan. 14 to 31) is Northern Light’s The Look by the Australian American playwright/ screenwriter Alexa Wyatt. The protagonist, an aging supermodel who’s the former face of Estelle Cosmetics, has been reduced to training younger women to work on the new campaign. Linda Grass stars in Trevor Schmidt’s production.

The Mountaintop (Jan. 20 to Feb.7), by the young American playwright Katori Hall, is Shadow Theatre’s six-pack offering. Named for one of Martin Luther King’s most celebrated speeches, it is spun from the interaction of King and a mysterious housekeeper. As artistic director John Hudson announced in March, Shadow is bringing in Rosebud Theatre’s production of the play, by the young American writer Katori Hall. Directed by Morris Ertman, it stars Ray Strachan and Patricia Cerra.

The protagonist of John Anderson’s The Boulder, set in the American Old West, is a nomadic hangman who travels town to town dispensing justice. Walterdale Theatre’s production runs Feb. 3 to 13.

Teatro La Quindicina, who transplanted their entire 2020 summer season to 2021, revives Stewart Lemoine’s 2006 comic mystery Evelyn Strange, a thriller of the Hitchcockian persuasion, May 27 to June 12. Shannon Blanchet directs.

Speaking of mysteries, there are two unknowns in the six-pack. One is Workshop West’s contribution, yet to be finalized, May 13 to 23. The other is a production from one of Edmonton’s plentiful supply of theatres, yet to be announced.

Six-packs are available at TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca). If any of the producing companies cancels or reschedules, refunds and credits are available from that source. 

  

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Gender? I Hardly Know Them: the queer sketch comedy duo zooms back with a new online show

Sydney Campbell and Elena Eli Belyea of Gender? I Hardly Know Them. Photo by Mike Tan.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

How do you capture a sense of humour in words? On the eve of their new (mostly) live web series httpeepee, launching Tuesday, the queer sketch comedy duo Gender? I Hardly Know Them is brainstorming on a description.

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One of Elena Belyea’s favourite sketches is about a bank stepping up to Queer Pride … while trying to get you to buy their rainbow credit card. 

“We like stuff that is political, and engages with the complexity of what it is to be human in the world today!” says Belyea, half of the duo that made their debut last summer with a hit Fringe show. “Political and queer theory, mixed with dad jokes and stupid bum joes that make us laugh,” says Sydney Campbell, the other half of Gender? I Hardly Know Them. “A very funny mix…. We love to make each other laugh.”  

“We like ridiculously over the top,” Belyea continues. “And Syd and I have a deep, encyclopedic knowledge of The Office (the U.S. version).… ‘Michael? Michael?’” They both appreciate and reference Tim Robinson’s Netflix sketch comedy I Think You Should Leave.

We’re backstage with Gender? I Hardly Know Them. Which is to say I’m at my computer, Belyea is in Calgary at her partner’s family’s place, and Campbell is in their tiny Edmonton one-bedroom apartment. Suddenly, Belyea’s head turns into a hamburger, loaded. And then, voilà, she has a tiny dog on her head. 

In one way they’re a study in contrasts. Belyea is an actor/playwright, National Theatre School-trained, of experimental stripe and sharp edges. Witness such Tiny Bear Jaws productions as Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable, a solo show that explores apocalyptic anxiety, and Cleave, a multi-character play that explores gender anxiety. Campbell’s background is improv, as a Rapid Fire Theatre performer, mentor, and teacher.

Elena Belyea in Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable. Photo by Laurence Philomene.

Belyea’s experience tilts her towards the intricacies of the text (“why this word and not that word? or, the second part of that line isn’t doing anything to advance the sketch…”). Campbell’s experience is weighted in favour of embracing the performance moment and its spontaneous inspirations: “we’ll just figure it out when we get onstage….”

Gender? I Hardly Know Them was, for both, a sketch comedy debut. “So we’ve able to develop our own process together,” says Belyea. “When I started writing comedy, my sketches were 10 pages long!” She credits Rapid Fire’s sketch/ improv star Paul Blinov with pointing out, “in his gentle way, that if the joke is in the last five lines, maybe the sketch is only five lines long.” Forget exposition: “No no! Get in, tell the joke, get out.”

The pair met in Tiny Bear Jaws’ production of Everyone We Know Will Be There, a site-specific play set at a teen house party in the suburbs. Campbell was one of the assistant stage managers. And they were assistant director of Cleave. “It turned out we have the same humour and we love laughing together,” says Campbell.       

Things were starting to happen for the pair at Fringes and comedy festivals when the pandemic struck. “We were at the Toronto Sketch Festival, and the pandemic was declared the day before we opened,” Belyea says. Twenty people came anyway, and the second (and last) night, 50. “Which felt good but….” She and Campbell had just finished shooting the pilot for a web series, under Telus’s Storyhive initiative. Gigs at upintheatre’s rEvolver fest in Vancouver and several other live dates, including the commission from the Pride Centre in Edmonton that turned into httpeepee

Elena Eli Belyea and Sydnee Campbell of Gender? I Hardly Know Them. Photo by Mike Tan.

With httpeepee, Gender? I Hardly Know Them moves into the online alter-ego world of theatre, learning as they go. They ventured forth onto Zoom via TikTok, one video a day for much of April and May. “Love it or loathe it, it’s easy to edit and use,” says Campbell. “Some are great; some are duds,” says Belyea of their TikTok archive. “But even if it’s a dud, it’s (a case of) ‘I learned this new thing’…. And once we got into the rhyme of it, the audience response was very positive very quickly.”

Their sketch comedy mentor and director is award-winning Toronto-based Second City alumnus Rob Baker. “He has taught us so much, in such an extraordinarily short period of time,” says Belyea of his comedy ministrations. “We’re very excited about working with the constraints of being in a digital container instead of just working against them….”

It’s a crash course in what is possible, and Belyea and Campbell are grateful. Everyone who’s worked on the show, including assistant director Caleigh Crow and technical consultant Toni Morrison, gets a dramaturgy credit.

They’ve created scenarios that embrace the platform — friends talking over Skype or Zoom, for example, or a sketch that’s actually set on Google Docs. And “the rhythm is really fast,” says Belyea of httpeepee, with its non-skimpy offering of 18 sketches and 20 scenes in less than an hour (their Fringe show had 25 sketches). “Momentum is so important to comedy…. We struggle with the medium but try to make that struggle part of the show.”

As Campbell puts it, “we’re trying to ask how we can be excited about how this is a completely new platform.” One thing they’ve learned is that perpetual motion is the way to go. “If we’re sitting, it feels terrible,” says Belyea. “We try to find as many opportunities as we can to stand, and have full physicality…. By the end we’re always pooped!”

What comics are bound to miss is the validation of audible laughter and the more intangible kinetic charge any performers get from a live audience. But “if we can’t have a live audience, what are the things we can do in this medium that we can’t do live?” Belyea says. “For example close-ups; the audience can see the minutiae of my face,” eyeball to eyeball. Or quick changes of “venue,” room to room. 

They hope their audiences will react via the online chat boxes that accompany every performance. Says Belyea, “hearing the ping-ping on the chat box is the best way we can feel an energy exchange; you need an audience to tell you if it’s working….”   

Contingency plans are de rigueur, she says. “What if something goes wrong? We try to make it as slick as possible but be transparent and honest about knowing that in every show something will go wrong…. If one of us freezes, the other has to do something they hate, to entertain the audience in the meantime.… I might have to eat something disgusting, say.”

The form is a challenge. As for the comedy itself, the pair cite the CBC sketch show Baroness von Sketch and the Australian comic Hannah Gadsby as inspirations. The question for Gender? I Hardly Know them is “how do we make sure queerness is never the butt of the joke. Queer people are centred; they’re never the butt. They’re being bolstered.”

The spine of their Edmonton Fringe show was six short monologues, surrounded by jokes about growing up queer in Alberta, which is, as billed, “not for the faint of heart.” The narrative arc of httpeepee is built on monologues from Campbell and Belyea about their first Pride Parades.

Says Belyea, “If I did my monologue onstage it would resonate differently than if the audience is sitting at their computers while watching…. There are enough queer stories that orbit trauma. We do get into shit. But we really try to make it complex rich territory … in an optimistic way.”

In the end the mantra is “follow your joy,” she says. “I only want Syd to do things that are gonna make them happy, make them laugh. Not just what’s gonna get us more followers…. That would be an excellent way to lose your voice.” 

PREVIEW

httpeepee

Theatre: Gender? I Hardly Know Them, in partnership with Tiny Bear Jaws and Rapid Fire Theatre

Created by and starring: Elena Eli Belyea and Sydney Campbell

Where: Zoom

Running: Tuesday through Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets (come with Zoom invitations): pay-what you can — $0, $5, $11, $23, $50, at rapidfiretheatre.com

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The spirit of mirth, brought to you live: Lodestar Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Jackson Card and friend, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“I have had a most rare vision,” says Bottom, a stage-struck weaver with boundless enthusiasm for theatrical pursuits, late in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I had one of those, too. Friday night I dreamed I found myself, masked, ensconced on a folding chair, swatting a mozzie or two, in someone’s front yard. Other people were there, too, at a distance, on blankets or lawn chairs. A contagion had driven us all outdoors; we could see houses, close at hand but unapproachable, from which the characters might possibly have been expelled. And we were watching an exuberant 75-minute production of Shakespeare’s great romantic fantasy (and most produced play).

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Directed by Max Rubin, the show is the first item on Lodestar Theatre’s summer “garden theatre season” menu. And its delivery is Skip The Tickets for pandemical times. The company of travelling players will undertake to bring Dream to you. At your place, front- or backyard, they’ll do a performance for you and as many of your theatre-starved guests as can populate your outdoor “theatre” at a safe distance.    

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

Rubin’s production, an amusingly ingenious adaptation for six extremely busy human actors (and two impressively selfless puppets) launches a seasonal menu that will include two double-bills in the next couple of weeks, with more plays to follow. Lodestar is a company, transplanted from the U.K., with an archive that goes back a decade and a half and includes a Shakespeare festival in Liverpool.

Ah, summer Shakespeare: planes, cars, kids, the odd dog buying in to the casual vibe of the occasion. What we get to see courtesy of Lodestar is a raucous, high-energy high-speed scramble into the outdoors — and characters buffeted by the permutations and reversals of love.

OK, this isn’t one of those Dreams of the existential reverie persuasion. Or some Freudian excursion into the unconscious. Or a political exploration of exile or an exploration of sexual ambivalence. Nope. This is comical cavort, at farcical speed, full of pratfalls, in which the quartet of questing young lovers  are nearly as funny as the hilariously earnest rustic artisans, scene-stealers for the last 400-plus years, who decide to put on a play about thwarted love.

It is a measure of the giddy sense of humour of Rubin’s production that Hermia, the object in the text of many jokey references to her petite stature, is played by a puppet, with scarlet lips and a striking blonde Rapunzel braid. Jackson Card plays both Lysander and Demetrius, with the former sometimes played by a puppet with an inexplicable Joisey accent. “Hoymia, follow me no moah!” Why? Hard to say, really, but then “the spirit of mirth” is according to Dream “both pert and nimble.” And this is a production that scores big on both. 

Garden rehearsal for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

The props are simple enough to be fun. Fairies get pointy ears. Emily Anne Corcoran dons spectacles to play Helena, who goes from being the girl who doesn’t get the guy to being the girl who gets two, and despises them both for mocking her. The four-way brawl for two actors that is the climactic outcome of a crescendo of frustration and bafflement — “quick bright things come to confusion” — is a tangible demo of how bravely puppets enter the fray. They really fling themselves into their work. 

The troupe of eager rustic thesps preparing a production of Pyramus and Thisbe, a tale of “tragical mirth,” do have a director, Peter Quince (Caitlin Kelly) the carpenter. But try as he might to exert his authority, he’s no match for his take-charge sublimely over-confident star Bottom, the bossy weaver who magnanimously offers to take on all the parts. Bottom is played, with a certain unsquelchable swagger and  histrionic zeal, by Hayley Moorhouse, like her cast-mates a recent acting grad from the U of A. And she is very funny. 

Braden Butler’s Flute, the shy bellows-mender, rises reluctantly to the demands of his role as Thisbe — and then gets bitten by the theatre bug as we watch. The death scene is, well, operatic.

The fairies aren’t the quixotic sprites of many a Dream. Amusingly they’re earthbound and phlegmatic. Hanging out with mortals has made them sullen. Far from being a “merry wanderer of the night,” as self-billed, Puck the fairy king’s personal employee, has in Sheldon Stockdale’s performance the general demeanour of a server in a dive where (as long experience has taught him) tipping is minimal.

The sound effects and music are live, and created by the cast during the fleeting moments the actors dart behind a free-standing red curtain. There’s an improvised craziness to the whole enterprise that doesn’t go amiss in a comedy-within-a-comedy. The characters  are never quite sure whether they’re awake or dreaming. The likeable cast never stops moving, and they remind you, if it ever slipped your mind, that live theatre has its own kinetic energy. After all, as the Duke says, casting about for a suitable live entertainment for his own back yard, “how shall we beguile the lazy time, if not with some delight? Good point, Duke. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now available, with more productions to come in Lodestar Theatre’s garden theatre season. Production details, and price list ($250 to $450 depending on cast size), are at lodestartheatre.org.

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Hungry for theatre? Lodestar Theatre delivers … to your own back yard

Garden rehearsal for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. In this unpredictable and isolating moment, which has sent live theatre into lockdown exile on screens, Lodestar Theatre is its own creative resistance movement.

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The rep company, originally from Liverpool in the U.K. and relocated here since 2017, will deliver live theatre safely to you — on your doorstep, right in your front or back yard.

You choose the production from Lodestar’s ever-expanding “garden theatre” menu. On seven days notice you can choose the date, and a curtain time between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. (midnight shows by special arrangement) to suit. You choose the location. And you assemble the guest list (according to current safety rules governing gatherings): a gaggle of theatre-hungry pals perhaps, a block-party assortment of neighbours, or a princely private performance for one. The Lodestar price, ranging from $250 to $450, depends on the size of the cast.

First up is a six-actor 75-minute version of Shakespeare’s great al fresco romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream which takes its characters, fairy and human, on a wild cavort beyond the court and through the woods, with magical interventions. As Lodestar director Max Rubin says of this debut offering, opening in his own front garden garden Friday, the play “doesn’t just work beautifully, but could almost have been written” for garden theatre. 

“The online stuff is wonderful,” he says of the ingenuity with which live theatre here and everywhere has adjusted to online technology.  “But it just reminds me how much I miss the liveness and communion of theatre….” He thinks that  “when we come back we will come back with a roar. People will remember how important theatre is in our lives.”

In the meantime Lodestar does deliveries — of live adaptations of the classics, or offerings from the more modern repertoire, comedies or dramas, with thoughts of including new Canadian plays in future. After Dream, the next addition to the menu, available from next week, is a double-bill of 19th century comedies, Chekhov’s sparkler The Proposal and Shaw’s How He Lied To Her Husband. Then Lodestar adds another double-bill by July 25, a pairing of Chekhov’s The Bear and a 1912 suffragette comedy, Evelyn Glover’s Miss Appleyard’s Awakening. “By the end of the month we’ll have four or five shows,” says Rubin. “The idea is to provide a range.”

Range was built into Lodestar’s identity from birth, in 2006 in Liverpool. That’s where Rubin met his actor-wife Ruth Alexander, Londoners both, doing a show at the Liverpool Everyman in 1999. “We fell in love with (that city) and with each other … and stayed for 20 years,” says Rubin. “Brexit told us we had to leave…. It was our view of Canada that brought us here; we thought it was somewhere that would suit us.”

When the Tories got in, in Britain in 2010, “it became evident to us that we could carry on with our company, but we’d be spending 11 and a half months a year raising money…. It seemed, to us anyhow, that Canada was a more optimistic place, with far more generous and sensible arts policies than back home. Easier there to make things happen.” They sought out Edmonton so Rubin, “a director with an eye on teaching,” could do an MFA in directing at the U of A, a degree he required in order to teach at Canadian theatre schools. He graduated last year with a modernist production, by all reports gripping, of Shakespeare’s Richard III. 

Ruth Alexander and Julien Arnold in Two, Edmonton Fringe 2019. Photo by Mat Simpson

Edmonton audiences have seen Alexander, a principal on the TV series Coronation Street, onstage in such Lodestar shows as Two (at last summer’s Fringe) and Pinter’s The Birthday Party (in 2019), and in Wild Side Productions’ The Children just before the pandemic lockdown in March. For the current venture she’s in charge of musical arrangements and prop-building. 

“I desperately wanted to start a company here, to re-establish Lodestar in a new way for Edmonton,” says Rubin. “I know it’s an extraordinary time and hard to plan anything. But I do hope we can continue to grow it, perhaps using this new model of working…. Come the end of September perhaps we may be able to do things inside, if it’s safe.”

“Ideally, we’d have half a dozen plays on the go…. Maybe if we could find other local companies with shows ready to go, we could ‘host’ their productions….”

Garden rehearsal for A Midsummer Nights Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

His Midsummer Night’s Dream cast of six consists of recent BFA acting grads from the U of A. Of that ensemble, three will be in each of the double-bills that follow. Rubin is happy they’re undertaking theatre work. “I found it particularly heartbreaking for these kids to come out into the world and for this to be their first year…. How miserable for them.” Needless to say, they’re eager: “they’re so passionate about working; they’re ‘give me more plays and I’ll learn them’. Wonderful,” says Rubin.

They rehearse, several plays at once, in his back garden. “When it rains we go into my garage, which I’ve emptied out. It’s not glamorous!”

“We do the loud bits at half-voice. And our neighbours have been very understanding,” although (as he reports, laughing), the moment when Bottom the weaver, transformed into an ass, re-appears to his shrieking thespian buddies,  “they figured we were being attacked. We had to reassure them.” 

Director Max Rubin rehearsing A Midsummer Nights Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

The actors rehearse in masks, mainly, but will perform without them. “We decided at the beginning as a company to form a (COVID) bubble,” says Rubin. “We’ve had to down tools once when one of our actors came in indirect contact with someone with COVID, and we waited for the all-clear…. We’re doing all we can to be as careful as we can.” Distancing is a great challenge in rehearsals, of course. “There are bits where we just can’t avoid proximity.” 

The size of the audience (masks not mandatory but recommended) is up to the customer, regulated by COVID guidelines and the size of the yard. “When we started, the maximum for an outdoor gathering was 15. Now things have loosened up a bit; 100 people can gather so long as distance is observed. We’d be equally happy doing the show for an audience of one…. Most of the people who’ve booked are expecting 20 or 30 people, so I imagine that’ll be the norm.”

Bookings have been coming in already. “I’m delighted to say that so far the idea seems to have gone down well!” says Rubin. “And we’ve done no marketing to speak of, except word-of-mouth.”

The cast size of six puts A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Lodestar’s top-price top-ingenuity category (with correspondingly smaller prices for two- and three-hander plays). The $450 Dream tab, divvied up, means about 50 bucks apiece for cast and crew, “with a bit left over for gas.”

It’s a busy show for the actors. The only one who doesn’t have several roles is Sheldon Stockdale as Puck, the fairy king’s valet. The quartet of young lovers, played by two actors, is assisted by puppets for the big fight scene in Act III. “What started out as necessity has become one of our favourite parts of the show,” says Rubin.

PREVIEW

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Theatre: Lodestar Theatre Company

Directed by: Max Rubin

Starring: Braden Butler, Jackson Card, Emily Anne Corcoran, Caitlin Kelly, Hayley Moorhouse, Sheldon Stockdale

Where: your front or back yard

Running: from Friday

Further information on the Lodestar lineup, and to book a performance: lodestartheatre.org

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The fun of real live theatre (socially distanced, of course): Chamber Obscura at the Found Festival

Nicole St. Martin, Michael Bradley and son Luke in Chamber Obscura, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Special occasion: tonight was the night I got to see real live people in real live theatre. It felt so … radical. So cool. So Zoom-defiant.

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The play is Chamber Obscura, a 15-minute gothic folk thriller, with Depression era musical trimmings, delicious and eerie as performed by a theatre family trio: Nicole St. Martin, Michael Bradley and their 10-year-old son Luc.

Chamber Obscura, Found Festival 2020.

We drove into a Strathcona alley, up to the front of a dark tent; we watched through the windshield of our car and heard the three multi-talented performers through the car radio. “Brother can you spare a dime?” meets Gymnopédies. Ingenious and fun — and proof, if you needed it, that theatre artists may be daunted by these socially distanced, isolating times, but they will not be defeated.

Chamber Obscura runs evenings through Sunday, on the half hour, as part of Common Ground Art Society’s ninth annual Found Festival. And since there’s only one ticket to be sold for every performance — one car, one Covid pod — you need a reservation, on the Found Fest website. 

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