Solving a mystery, being Hamlet, streaming a play, climbing a mountain, and other theatrical pursuits this weekend

S.I.S.T.E.R., The Fox Den Collective. Photo supplied

By Liz Nicholls,

In a puzzling world where much has gone way wrong, cause and effect have gone their separate ways, and logic has gone AWOL, there’s satisfaction to be had in collaborating with others to consider evidence and solve a mystery.

And, yes, among the possibilities for your weekend entertainment in this theatre town, there’s a theatre ‘experience’ for that. S.I.S.T.E.R., an interactive online mystery presented by The Fox Den Collective, is back after an sold-out run last fall. It’s one possibility, and there are others — streamed plays, an audio theatre participation adventures (no kidding), digital solo interpretations of classics, an audio song cycle…. Here’s a selection.

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•Trust theatre artists, whose ingenuity has been taxed beyond all reasonable limits by the pandemic, to come up with a virtual “play” — part-improv, part-game — that you (stuck at home, possibly alone, feeling your powers of deduction atrophy by the minute) get to be in. And not only that, you get to discuss this “play” as it’s happening, with your team-mates (a nightly audience of 25 is divided into five five-person teams).

S.I.S.T.E.R. is named for the investigative team (Squadron for the Investigation of Sorority Transgressions, Evil-Doing, and Rapscallionism) you join when the most valuable artifact belonging to Gamma Gamma Gamma vanishes from that sorority house on the University of Edmonton campus one night.

Who stole the ceremonial mace? Thursday night I had the fun of meeting up with people I didn’t know to try and find that out, and nail the culprit. We got to sift through links emailed to us earlier in the day. When show-time came, each team repaired to a Zoom break-out room, and we were visited in turn by the suspects. We got to ask questions, listen, discuss our reactions and our deductions, discuss what we thought was being revealed and what concealed by the characters, sort the clues from the red herrings, devise more questions to ask….

I was lucky to be with quick-witted, smart people who reacted in different ways to the suspects’ answers and evasions. One thing I did deduce was just how much the pandemic has robbed us of the fun and liveliness of unexpected, improvised encounters.

Another deduction: mysteries are devilishly tricky to construct — layers of information, what to let slip when, what to hold back, what to leave to actors to hint at, as alternative possibilities. S.I.S.T.E.R. is cleverly done.

Directed by Carmen Osahor, the production stars Jessy Ardern, Michelle Diaz, Chariz Faulmino, Sara Feutl, Marina Mair-Sanchez and Kristen Padayas. This return run lasts through June 5. And since this is an entirely online investigation, you can team up with friends and relatives from afar, or you can do what I did, meet some quick-witted strangers. Tickets: Check out the 12thnight interview with Jessy Ardern last October here.      

•This is the night Kiana Woo, the second of Thou Art Here’s weekly series of six Hamlets, appears (on your screen) to reveal to you the Prince of Denmark’s existential anxieties, solitary self-doubts, ruminations on mortality and meaning. All very Of This Moment, don’t you think? Hamlet in Isolation, an experimental mini-series from the “site-sympathetic” Shakespeare company, starring diverse Alberta performers who have never been Hamlet before, runs through June 25 on Friday nights.  Tickets: (pay-what-you-will). 12thnight talked to Thou Art Here’s Andrew Ritchie about the series here.

Lora Brovold in The Ugly Duchess, Northern Light Theatre. Photo by Epic Photography.

•This is the finale weekend for Northern Light Theatre’s streamed production of Janet Munsil’s The Ugly Duchess. So … your last chances (through Sunday) to catch a smart, confidential, and affecting performance from Lora Brovold in creating a multi-dimensional portrait of the intrepid 14th century Countess of Tyrol  reputed to be the ugliest woman in history. Trevor Schmidt’s production, beautifully designed and lighted, lingers in close-ups on “the goddess of ugliness,” an outsider in a man’s world where her wealth and strategic location make her an eligible catch. Give Darrin Hagen’s original soundscape a particular listen; it has narrative implications. Tickets: Check out the 12thnight preview interview with Lora Brovold here, and the review here.

Helen Belay, Like This, Transformations Project, Concrete Theatre. Photo supplied.

•The national Transformations Project hosted online by the National Arts Centre offers two new short videos by Edmonton artists, commissioned by Concrete Theatre, to address the question of what it would take to change the world.

Actor/dancer/choreographer Richard Lee, a witty skeptic, wonders about the question in Side Shave: “a reflection on collective experiences, hope at the end(s) of the world, and dancing like an idiot.” In the light of the distorted pseudo-universality founded on  colonialism, able-ism, late-stage capitalism, etc. what in the end do people share as common experience — except “gravity, the passage of time, and a body”? It is enough to work with, he says. “It is a lot.”

Richard Lee, Side Shave, Transformations Project, Concrete Theatre. Photo supplied.

Helen Belay’s lyrical Like This is inspired by an immigrant inheritance, and finds in the beauty of the natural environment, the seasons, the feeling of being enclosed but open to the world, a continuity that crosses all backgrounds. “It’s like this,” she says “It’s just like this.”

You can catch the videos on the NAC website through Tuesday, and after that at Concrete Theatre. Catalyst’s trio of commissioned Transformations videos (from Chris Dodd, Kristi Hansen and Rebecca Sadowski) continues too. 12thnight talked to the three here.

Mountain Goat Mountain, Theshold. Photo by Lakshal Perera.

•The Australian innovators from Theshold have contributed an ingenious piece of “audio theatre” to this year’s virtual MainStage lineup at the 40th anniversary International Children’s Festival of the Arts, which starts next week. You and your family at home are the cast of Mountain Goat Mountain; the digital prompts set you forth on an adventure. “You can work up a sweat!” promises co-creator Tahli Corin, in a 12thnight preview. Tickets: now available here till June 6 and good for 30 days.

•Have you seen Asha and Ravi Jain’s A Brimful of Asha or Tai Amy Grauman’s Métis version of Mary’s Wedding yet? The Citadel productions continue streaming, the former through Monday and the latter through November 30. Tickets: 12thnight has reviewed both: A Brimful of Asha and Mary’s Wedding. Tickets: citadel theatre.   

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