After an acclaimed run at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2021 and the Edmonton and Montreal Fringes this year, Everybody Knows returns to its creator’s hometown and the Vancouver Fringe Festival. In this semiautobiographical, one-woman musical set to nine covers of Leonard Cohen songs, Rita Sheena creates a spiraling narrative using contemporary dance, post-modern quirk and the haunting melodies of First Aid Kit.
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In 2015, Jem Rolls brought his one-man show about Hungarian Jewish physicist Leo Szilard, The Inventor of All Things, to the Vancouver Fringe Festival. This year, he’s back with another show about a forgotten Jewish nuclear physicist – Lise Meitner. The Walk in the Snow: The True Story of Lise Meitner explores how a shy Austrian, who only graduated high school at 23, opened so many doors and achieved so much; how she pushed against age-old sexism and murderous antisemitism; how she was the first or second woman through a whole series of doors; and how she was one of the very few physicists to refuse work on the bomb.
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Vancouver-born, Jewish writer and performer ira cooper of Spec Theatre stars in the one-man show mr.coffeehead, which is arriving at the Vancouver Fringe Festival after a series of successful premières at the Winnipeg, Victoria, Edmonton and Montreal Fringes. In Montreal, the “foot-fueled, slapstick tragedy about bikepacking, dreaming big and giving up in your 30s,” which was written by cooper, was nominated for Outstanding Clown Show.
Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue (photo from Bema Productions)
Bema Productions, directed by Zelda Dean, is bringing the play Peace Talks to the Victoria Fringe Festival, Aug. 25-Sept. 4. Performances will take place at Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue’s Black Box Theatre, 1461 Blanshard St., pictured above.
Written and performed by Izzy Salant and Ryan Dunn, this run will be a world première of the work that saw a virtual staged reading in early 2021. Since that time, the playwrights continued to develop their play and raise the necessary funds to meet their goal of touring the show to university and college campuses in both Canada and the United States.
Peace Talks addresses the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Noam watches helplessly as his best friend Andrew dies in an explosion right in front of him in a hookah bar in Israel. Noam believes he was responsible. After the catastrophe, Andrew’s bereaved American brother James sets out on a revenge plot against Israel and against Noam, as he also believes Noam is responsible for Andrew’s death. He puts his plan into action, actively sabotaging Israeli advocacy and promoting anti-Zionism to anyone who will listen, ultimately attempting to attain his true goal: to kill Noam.
James and Noam find themselves in a bitter internal and external struggle with Israel, Zionism, death, human rights, and Andrew’s memory. As they clash, they both discover some harsh realities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and that it is a world that isn’t as clear-cut as they thought.
Ariel Martz-Oberlander wrote and co-stars in on behalf. (photo from Julia Lank)
In the Aug. 20 issue of the Jewish Independent, there was a short article on the Vancouver Fringe Festival show A Coveted Wife of East Van, which “tells the story of Samantha Cohen as she navigates friendship, men and dating apps while making some very bad decisions along the way.” Playing at the Picnic Pavilion venue on Granville Island, the creative team includes Jewish community members Marn Norwich (poet), Ariel Martz-Oberlander (director), Itamar Erez (musician) and Hayley Sullivan (actor). Martz-Oberlander is also involved in the show on behalf, with fellow Jewish community members Tamar Tabori and Julia Lank (co-stage manager). And there are other Jewish community members to watch in this year’s festival, as well. Here are the broad strokes of the productions that were in touch with the JI.
Martz-Oberlander’s on behalf is a conversational, humorous and lyric conversation between a young woman (Martz-Oberlander) and an ancient goddess (Tabori).
“on behalf challenges assumptions about what it means to survive and to be a survivor,” said Martz-Oberlander. “Rather than framing ‘healing’ as an individual, linear journey, the show frames it as a collective political and cultural act – messy, strange, circular, ancestral, shattering, transformative and ongoing. Our identities affect our visions of justice, and diaspora shapes our ability to find belonging on stolen land and within a system that views justice only as punishment.”
The inspiration behind on behalf came out of Martz-Oberlander’s own healing journey, and lack of a road map. She began looking back into her own cultural inheritance and to mine the stories of women who have survived dispossession and sexual assault across time and space, with bravery, creativity and the strength of rituals.
After three years in development, on behalf has shifted in focus and form many times. Now in a filmic state at the Fringe, it moves again. Shot in a single take with a shifting camera, the show runs less than 20 minutes. The film format invites audiences to engage with the tactile and sensory experiences linked to traditional ritual work – like handwashing and bread baking – to highlight how healing extends beyond the individual, because our wounds too extend beyond the individual experience.
on behalf is a digital presentation and can be watched anytime during the Fringe.
In this semi-autobiographical, one-woman musical, set to nine Leonard Cohen cover songs, Rita Sheena creates a spiraling narrative using contemporary dance, post-modern quirk and the haunting melodies of First Aid Kit’s Who By Fire album, which was released earlier this year.
Everybody Knows is the latest work from Sheena’s Come Emote With Me theatre series. It opens in a bright, primary-coloured hotel room. When we meet the smug captain, we are reminded that “everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed, and everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost….” Next, we meet a woman in a 1960s-style secretary dress who answers every telephone call ringing for death with “… and who shall I say is calling?”
Cohen enthusiasts will appreciate the esoteric nuances that Sheena emotes. Folks who love dance and movement artistry will enjoy the unique style of storytelling.
Everybody Knows is at the Revue Stage on Granville Island Sept. 11-18.
A Toast to Prohibition
International performer Melanie Gall comes to the Vancouver Fringe with her new historic musical, A Toast to Prohibition. Her previous shows include Piaf and Brel and off-Broadway’s Ingénue.
Celebrate the 101st anniversary of Prohibition with flappers, gin fizz and a speakeasy cabaret. Join Gladys in her secret gin joint, the Tipsy Sparrow, as she tells the story of when intoxicating liquor was forbidden and lawlessness ruled the day. From secret cellars and doctor-prescribed alcohol to a teetotaller attacking saloons with a hatchet, there’s a song about it! This show features, among other songs, forgotten 1920s hits “Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine” and “Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar.”
Performances of A Toast to Prohibition take place at Performance Works Sept. 10-19.
The Fringe Festival runs until Sept. 19. For tickets and the full schedule, visit vancouverfringe.com.
Janoah Bailin in SpinS. (photo from Janoah Bailin)
In anticipation of this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, which runs Sept. 5-15 at various locations throughout the city, the Jewish Independent interviewed some of the Jewish community members participating in the festival – Janoah Bailin, Erika Babins, Jed Weiss, Zach Wolfman, Melanie Gall, Susan Freedman and Shane Adamczak. They hail from as far away as Australia and their shows are vastly different, but they all have the same goal: to draw you into their world, perhaps allowing you new insights into yours.
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SpinsS, at the Nest:“A wildly dizzying whirl of juggling, giggling, magic and movement, puppetry, PJs, circus and socks, totally tangled together! A unicyclist careens on stage, unpacking a quirky world of clothespin towers, erratic toothbrushes and gargantuan grins. Objects swirl into chaotic creation as Janoah constructs a performing-partner puppet from piles of props!”
Clothespins are “a recurring object in the performance,” Janoah Bailin told the JI. And so are, from the looks of it, some dangerous manoeuvres. But looks are intentionally deceiving, in order to entertain.
“I’ve actually never been seriously injured doing my work!” said Bailin. “Some stubbed toes and scraped elbows, sore wrists from catching myself, but nothing major. The worst is taking a pedal to your shin. When you learn unicycle, you learn falling. It just happens, you develop an innate sense of what you can and can’t comfortably do. I know how to fall and it happens all the time and I get up, shake it off, try again.
“This show plays with limits and bringing the skills to their limits – I expand or contract juggling patterns until I physically can’t hold them anymore and there’s a spin I do on the unicycle that spirals in on itself until I fall. So, falling is inherent in the show and I need to know how to do it well.
“I think I forget that audiences don’t know this,” he said about his being safe during his act. “So they are a lot more scared for me than I am, which is part of the magic of circus: faking instability, making something seem more chaotic than it is. The most dangerous stuff is long-term: keeping your body healthy through the strain of performing every day, the bipolar energy of performance – being totally on for an hour, all your energy focused on that one thing. The solutions to this are getting really good at physical self-care: know how and when to rest and stretch. The hardest work is taking care of my body in the long run.”
Bailin understands the use of the word “escapism” to describe his show, but said his goal is to bring audiences into his world for an hour, and “that seems like incredible presence, not escaping.”
Playful is another common description of SpinS.
“One of the aspects of my show that I’m incredibly proud of is that even fellow performers find the show playful,” said Bailin. “A lot of circus can start to look similar in the tricks and how they’re presented and, in certain ways, I aim to break those forms and I think I’m successful.
“Play is so important, and I mean play in the sense of creating space, pushing boundaries, trying things out. In my opinion, getting locked in routines is quite dangerous and play is a solution to this. Circus can seem quite playful, but it’s incredibly repetitive, the tricks are so hard they take an incredible amount of practice, so, by learning them, we make ourselves routine. I try to counterbalance this by choreographing at the edge of my ability – I can’t comfortably do all the things I do on stage, so they remain alive because I need to concentrate and there’s a very real danger that they won’t work and then I need to find a different solution – and also by choreographing through games, playing games on stage – how can I unpack a suitcase without getting off the unicycle?”
Bailin started juggling when he was 10, so he’s been at this for some 20 years now.
“I’m at the point in juggling and unicycling where I’ve mastered the basics and get to develop my own style,” he said. “So, I’m watching and feeling myself do the skills and how I can integrate my personality into them…. Also, I am continually excited about the challenge of piecing together shows, taking all the bits and fitting them together into something cohesive through all the disciplines I work with: circus, dance, puppetry, storytelling, magic.”
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Lift, at Firehall Arts Centre:“Lift is a contemporary musical set in London’s Covent Garden Tube Station. The elevator ride takes one minute, but the journey inside takes us through eight lifetimes, allowing the characters to see and say things that might not otherwise … come up.”
“As a company, Awkward Stage is always looking to tell stories that haven’t been heard yet and, like many of our productions, Lift will have its Canadian première with us at the Fringe,” choreographer and Awkward Stage Productions artistic associate Erika Babins told the JI.
“I think what drew us all into this story was the way that it was told. It intrigued us, the way the play bends reality and imagination. Our setting never changes but changes constantly, the characters are all rich relationships yet are strangers. We are constantly playing with those dichotomies in rehearsal.
“The script leaves a lot of room for interpretation and we’re so lucky to be working with a cast of brave and intelligent actors who are making discoveries with us as we build this show. Plus, the music is beautiful; it’s been stuck in my head for months.”
Choreography is integral to the show. It helps delineate the imagined settings to which the elevator riders take us. “The jostling of a train, warming up at a ballet studio, being at a strip club. It also helps to blend the lines between reality and the imaginings in the Busker’s mind,” said Babins. “The choreography in this show is quite integrated into the storytelling – there aren’t any ‘dance sequences’ per se, the movement weaves itself into the text and music.”
Jed Weiss plays the Busker, who he describes as “the quintessential introspective artist.”
“This leaves him both capable of deep insight as well as myopic self-centredness,” explained Weiss. “His arc is largely around learning and accepting that he has to be more considerate of the needs and lives of the people around him, leading him to a profound personal growth that his self-centred introspection could not achieve. This connects with the theme of the piece as a whole, highlighting the need to be brave in the face of vulnerable social interaction, to make meaningful connections with those that are important to you.”
The character, he added, “shines light on the shortcomings of the artistic male archetype we so often see in rom-coms and other media. Instead of following the stereotypical path of a tortured artist pining after a muse until she falls for him, it shows that real growth comes instead from practising sympathy towards the needs of others, not a commitment to romantic obsession.”
“I am playing Tall Dark and Handsome (TDH), a psychiatrist, and an American tourist,” said Zach Wolfman. “TDH is the dating avatar for Bright Young Thing (BYT) and represents BYT’s online persona. The American tourist is lost and looking for directions in London, hoping to bump into the Queen and visit Buckingham Palace.”
For Wolfman, the character he plays allows him “to explore the dissonance between the face we show online versus how we act in real life. Getting to embody that daily interaction we all engage in online is fun for me.
“The play as a whole is very dynamic,” he said, “and I really enjoy the fast pace and shifts we make between different settings. One minute, we’re in a lift; the next, we’re in a club or a chat room. Lift definitely highlights the different masks we wear at work, online and in our relationships. How vulnerable are we and how willing are we to open ourselves up to those who are close to us, or simply strangers in a lift?”
“I hope the audience leaves the theatre with a little wonder,” said Babins. “I hope they wonder about what happens to the characters after the moments we meet them in, but I also hope they wonder about themselves, and the connections and disconnections they have every day.”
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Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, at Firehall Arts Centre: “Judy is an icon – loved as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But, in the 1930s, Deanna Durbin was a far bigger star. A favourite of Roosevelt, Churchill, even Mussolini, her first kiss was front-page news. At 27, she disappeared to a life of obscurity in France. The true tale of the lifelong friendship and rivalry of two great stars of Old Hollywood.”
“I’ve always loved Deanna’s music and her movies. We have similar voices and look vaguely the same. Also, Deanna is a Canadian movie star who has almost completely been forgotten,” said Melanie Gall. “Her legacy is one well worth saving, and I hope that my show will help preserve her memory for old fans, and will introduce her and her music to a new generation.”
Always fascinated with history and with historic music, Gall has written and performed shows about Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, George Gershwin, and First and Second World War knitting songs. In creating a new work, she said, “First off, I think about the music. What are the songs I’d like to sing, and which songs will stay interesting and relevant to me after over a year of touring?
“I then look at marketability and if a topic I’m considering will have commercial appeal. I then ensure that it has not been done before, or that it has not been done in a similar way to how I plan to present the topic.
“I also try to find a topic I feel passionate about and that I’d like to share through a theatrical piece.
“Finally, I try to judge if I’m the best person to present the topic. Do I sing in the correct style? Can I do the topic justice?”
For Ingenue, said Gall, “I was performing another show of mine, Opera Mouse, Off-Broadway in New York. After performing each day, I went to the New York Performing Arts Library and dug through historic clippings, notes and scrapbooks. I spent days combing through crumbling articles and building a comprehensive biography of Deanna Durbin. Researching Deanna’s mannerisms and speech involved tracking down and watching all of her movies, most of which are actually very hard to find.
“Researching the music involved listening to and playing through dozens of songs to choose the tunes for the show. Then, with the help of pianist and recording engineer Bennett Paster, I arranged and recorded the backtracks, maintaining historic integrity, while creating original arrangements. Much of the script is taken directly from interviews and articles about her life, and several sentences are accurate historic quotes. So, it’s a lot of work, but it’s work I love doing.”
Preserving history is a passion. “So much wonderful music and stories are in danger of being lost or forgotten, and I have devoted my life to preserving them. Although Deanna Durbin wasn’t Jewish, the producer and director who made her a star, Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster, were Jewish – they arrived in Hollywood after years of working in the Berlin Universal studio, fleeing in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Also, the composers of most of Deanna Durbin’s songs were Jewish. So, there is a strong connection.”
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Old-ish, at the Havana Theatre:“It’s about aging and death only WAY funnier! Susan’s fifth one-woman comedy travels the hilarious, rocky road from denial to grudging acceptance of getting older.”
“I guess I’ve been ‘collecting data’ for this show for a long time,” said Susan Freedman, 77. “For about the last five years, whenever I hear news about my contemporaries, it is mostly not happy! The realization finally dawned that people do get really sick at my age and, yup, they die at my age too. I always write about issues and events that are important in my life and I always hope that my stories will resonate with audiences who may be experiencing similar events and feelings.”
The show is structured around events in Freedman’s life that lead into one another thematically and more or less chronologically.
“I have had so much fun working with my son (Alan Silverman) on this show,” she said. “This is the first time he has directed me, though he is an experienced film director. He is smart, he’s a great writer and he has a terrific sense of humour. Do I sound like I’m his mother?
“I have worked with my husband (Bill Galloway) on all five of my shows. He is stage manager – calling the lights and music – on this show and he has been stage manager or slide projectionist on the others. He’s a huge help and support for me and, as I travel across the country with my shows, I get to have him as a roommate on the road! We have a great time traveling together.”
This Fringe marks Freedman’s 20th year of writing, producing and performing solo Fringe shows. When she did her first show, in 1999, she said, “my mother was still alive and I was sure she would live forever, so I certainly didn’t think of myself as old. I am frankly shocked that I’m the age I am. Like most of my friends, I have no idea how the years could have raced by so fast! There are lots of changes as we age, but there are still so many things we can do and enjoy and so much that makes life worthwhile. I am enjoying the good luck of being healthy, although I’m aware that can change on a dime.”
Admitting that she was nervous “about doing a show on aging and death,” she said, “but we are all aging and, if we’re lucky, we will get old. Critics are saying the show is uplifting. So, even though getting old can certainly present us with plenty of problems, it’s always good to laugh – right?”
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Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl, at Revue Stage:“… love, loss, heartbreak, growing bad ginger beards and everything in between. Think of it as a cross between a rock concert and group therapy.”
Shane Adamczak actually has two shows in this year’s Fringe. “Zack Adams got through because I won the lottery and The Ballad of Frank Allen is a one-off performance that the Fringe asked us to do as part of their Pick Plus season, where they bring back popular shows from previous years,” he explained.
The Ballad of Frank Allen, which is on one night only, at Performance Works, is “about a janitor named Frank who is accidentally shrunk in a science lab and ends up living in another man’s beard,” said Adamczak. “Yes, that is really what it’s about. It’s an exploration of masculinity in these modern times and what it means to be a ‘good man.’”
Adamczak uses music to tell his stories.
“I find it is such an accessible medium for people,” he said of that choice. “You’re so hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love some music at least. It’s also a way for me to live a rock star wannabe fantasy out on stage but using music as a theatrical device to tell stories.”
Both of these shows, he said, “are labours of love and very close to my heart for different reasons. If you love music, good storytelling and to laugh your ass off, please do come along.”
Naomi Vogt performs in Big Sister, written by her real-life sister, Deborah Vogt. (photo from Fringe)
The Vancouver Fringe Festival has started and there are (at least) a few shows that readers should try to fit in around the High Holidays. Jewish community members Deborah and Naomi Vogt, David Rodwin and Gemma Wilcox are presenting very personal works that examine issues with which we all deal, such as self-esteem, family relationships, finding and losing love, and the search for meaning. And they do it with humour and energy.
Local playwright Deborah Vogt and her sister, actor Naomi Vogt, “are still making tweaks” to Big Sister (Revue Stage), Deborah Vogt told the Independent. “However, I’m not sure if there will ever be a ‘final version,’ given that the script is a reflection of our ongoing conversation as sisters attempting to learn more about each other. Additionally, Naomi loves to ad lib and so the play will be slightly different every evening depending on who is in the audience. However, the dream would be to take it to other Fringe festivals, especially Edinburgh (the world’s largest Fringe Festival – and my personal dream). There is something very special, however, about premièring this show in the city that we grew up in and the community that we know and love.”
The idea for the show came up last summer at the Edinburgh Fringe. “Over there, I saw so many beautiful, personal solo shows that tread the line between monologue and standup. I thought, ‘I would love to do this, but I can’t act. Who do I know that could perform a solo show that I could write?’ The answer was obvious: my sister. We spent two weeks traveling together shortly after the Fringe, where we brainstormed ideas for shows in between hikes and wine bars. We abandoned most of those ideas when we realized the only story we could honestly tell was that of our relationship as sisters, and specifically how our relationship has changed over the last few years in the wake of Naomi’s 75-pound weight loss.”
Camp Miriam makes an appearance in Big Sister, said Vogt, “because my sister Naomi went there for a few summers as a preteen and our mother went there for many, many years when she was younger…. The show focuses on Naomi’s weight loss, and talks about what being a fat kid at camp was like. Naomi loved Camp Miriam, but we also acknowledge that no camp experience is easy if you don’t look like the other children.”
Naomi Vogt performs the whole play. “For the most part,” said her sister, “she is playing herself, but the version of herself that I have written through my perspective. And, on occasion, she plays me as well. I just have to sit in the audience every night and hear the ways she’s manipulating my words. Part of the joy of the show is the various power dynamics at play – as a playwright, I have shaped Naomi’s personal story but, as an actor, she is able to change my words at any moment.”
There were many challenges to writing Big Sister, said Vogt. “First of all, it was difficult trying to find the balance between Naomi as my real human sister and Naomi as a character. We wanted this show to be entirely truthful, while still presenting a piece of theatre. And this show touches on painful aspects of both of our lives (in a funny way, of course), so trying to write that without overstepping my place or lying to the audience about what actually happened (two sides to every story, right?) was difficult to manoeuvre.”
In a nutshell, the show is about weight loss. “It touches on how being heavy can affect all aspects of life, and particularly sibling dynamics,” said Vogt. “Both of us have lost weight … but Naomi’s journey was far more significant than mine. Through telling her story of weight loss, we’ve learned a lot about each other, our childhoods and the community we live in.”
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“F* Tinder is 100% autobiographical,” said David Rodwin. “Only the names have been changed. But I only have 75 minutes to talk about dating 120 different women over two years, so there’s a lot I have to leave out. But every story I tell, I do so as accurately as I can recall – with a theatrical flourish.”
F* Tinder: a love story (Performance Works) began as a book, when a friend who was writing his first book challenged Rodwin to do the same.
“I’d moved to San Francisco after my last serious relationship ended in L.A. and, over a year and a half on Tinder and other apps, I’d experienced some bizarre and noteworthy experiences in the lawless dating wilds of the Bay Area,” he said. “So, I had an unorganized collection of short stories I’d been developing…. Around that time, I met the one woman I truly fell in love with. That inspired me to write like crazy. But (spoiler alert), when she dumped me, I got writer’s block for the first time in my life.
“Though I wasn’t able to continue sitting alone at my desk typing out these tales, I couldn’t stop telling them to friends and in storytelling shows like The Moth, which I’ve done for years. Finally, it became clear that, rather than just a bunch of short anecdotes, this was a full evening of stories with its own narrative integrity…. And though I’d written half the book, I threw out everything and started over because I find that writing with my mouth creates a more natural, humorous and vibrant live performance than when I type something, memorize it and recite it.
“It’s a thrilling and terrifying process for me each night, not knowing quite how it’s going to go and I hope it creates a more visceral, authentic and deeply intimate experience. And it’s a technique I inherited from my mentor Spalding Gray. But it’s meant that the show has changed a lot over time. The first version was 60 minutes long, then it grew to 90 minutes. Now, it’s 75 minutes. But there have been multiple versions of each one…. I’m also able to adjust certain sections to fit specific audiences. I’ve even added a curling joke for my Canadian audiences, making fun of Americans’ inability to understand the sport.”
Rodwin continues to work on the book F* Tinder and, later this year, he said, “I’ll begin directing a web series of F* Tinder set in San Francisco, and also a feature film of my previous show set in Los Angeles, called Total Novice. That one has an even edgier narrative than F* Tinder, if you can believe. Let’s just say I was a ‘nice Jewish boy’ who went to Princeton and I was a very late bloomer who became fearless (and occasionally stupid) in my pursuit of things that I considered off limits when I was younger.”
F* Tinder includes Jewish elements, said Rodwin, “because they directly affected how I look at relationships.”
In the show, he shares how, on one Shabbat, while chanting prayers he’d said for 30 years, he stopped midway through the V’ahavta, “when I said, ‘And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.’ It suddenly hit me that I didn’t have children, and I couldn’t fulfil this prayer in a literal way. I always thought eventually I would. But, at 45, when I read that, I fell silent, contemplating how I’d lived my romantic life in such a way that I was childless. And what it meant for me. And what I should be doing with the woman I was in love with. And it directed my next choice in how that relationship went.”
Rodwin shared another touching, and Jewish, element of his show.
“The woman I fell in love with told me she could tell I was falling for her and I shouldn’t do that because she’d already decided we weren’t going to work out in the long term, and she didn’t want to hurt me. So, she told me to build a wall around my heart, or she wouldn’t see me again…. I agreed to do so because I was afraid if I told her the truth, that I was already hopelessly in love, I’d never see her again. Now, I’m not a biblical scholar, but the next morning a piece of Torah came to my mind, out of the blue, while she lay sleeping next to me. Deuteronomy 30:6 – I’d studied it eight years earlier with Rabbi [Sharon] Brous and I didn’t understand it, so it stuck in my mind. The phrase, ‘You must circumcise your heart … so that you may live,’ baffled me. But, that morning, it suddenly made sense to me, and I decided I had to circumcise my heart and careen it against the wall around her heart until I either broke through or I broke. And people can come see the show, to discover the surprising ending.”
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There are many twists and turns in Magical Mystery Detour (Studio 1398) by Gemma Wilcox. Set in the United Kingdom in 2012, the action is prompted “by a letter from her dead mother, [and] the protagonist, Sandra, and her dog, Solar, take an unexpected car journey from London to Land’s End, Cornwall, at a pivotal and sensitive time in her life.”
Created in the summer of 2012, Magical Mystery Detour premièred at the Boulder, Colo., Fringe Festival that year.
“It is a semi-autobiographical piece, heavily based on aspects of my life at that time,” Wilcox told the Independent. “I wrote this show very shortly after the death of my mother and the ending of a very significant love relationship with a man I thought I would marry and have children with. It was inspired by the tender and vulnerable process of dealing with and letting go of my mother’s death, the getting over and releasing this powerful love relationship, as well as some of my magical journeys through the sacred, beautiful landscape in the southwest of the U.K.
“The show reflects some of the themes I was fascinated by and exploring at that time in my life,” she continued, “such as learning how to trust and surrender to the detours that happen in life, when we think our life is going in a certain direction, but then it dramatically changes. I was also interested in exploring how we can find and trust our own centre when those we love are not there anymore, and when we feel lost or that life is too chaotic or not going the direction we want it to.”
Wilcox was born and raised in London, and moved to the United States in 2001. She has been based in Boulder since 2004. “I moved to the U.S. to explore yoga and embodiment practices, was in the Shakespeare Company in Austin, Tex., for a couple years, and found my theatrical/creative family in Boulder, as well as touring across the U.S. and Canadian Fringe festival circuit every summer for the past 11 years,” she said.
Magical Mystery Detour is one of a handful of shows that Wilcox and director Elizabeth Baron have worked on together. In creating it, said Wilcox, Baron was incredible, advising “me on how to stay both open and vulnerable as a performer, whilst also staying protected and safe and able to show the many shades and subtleties of a character.”
Wilcox writes comedy-dramas. “I find that it is highly important to balance the ‘light’ material with the ‘darker’ material, humour with seriousness – for me as a performer, and also for the audiences,” she said. “It is easier to receive and digest more poignant or shadowy material when juxtaposed in appropriate moments with humour and lightness. Humour is a huge aspect of my work – humour that comes from identifiable and sometimes embarrassing situations or honest admissions.”
Jewish community member mia amir is the dramaturg of Wypsa, which is at the Fringe Festival until Sept. 16.
While the plot of Wyspa may bring to mind William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the book was not a direct inspiration for this work, co-writer and director Julia Siedlanowska told the Independent.
The creation of the play, which opened at the Vancouver Fringe Festival Sept. 7, began with the reading and discussion of an original story written by Siedlanowska and Kanon Hewitt.
“Our team includes five collaborators between the ages of 11 and 16,” said Siedlanowska. “They have all been involved directly in the creation of this piece through world-building, research, writing text, improvisation, creating soundscapes, costumes and props. They are all also performing in the piece.”
Siedlanowska and Kanon’s story “tells the tale of a walled-in community that has sustained itself through oil extraction for centuries,” Siedlanowska explained. “When fires start raging within the walls, the mothers of the community make the decision to send their children away through the only opening to the outside world – an opening to the ocean.
“After days of drifting, they finally arrive on an island. Here, they must decide whether they will live by the rigid rules of their old society or create their own.
“We separated the experience into three worlds,” she continued. “The home world, the world of the boat and the world of the island. From there, we collectively decided the specific circumstances of each of these, including what rules apply in the home world and the island world. The youth created their own characters and decided on each of their relationships to each other. Text and movement were all generated by the collaborators, with myself and Kanon making decisions about the show structure with the help of our dramaturg mia amir. There are some improvisational aspects – much of the show takes place within an improvised structure with scenes changing depending on the audience.”
The end result came from research of instances in which children were removed from their homes during the Second World War, said Siedlanowska, “including Japan after the Tokyo bombings and the Kindertransport of Jewish children in Europe, as well as the Sixties Scoop in Canada.
“One piece of literature that I did directly mention in the initial phases of brainstorming was the story of King Matt the First, written by Polish-Jewish playwright Janusz Korczak. Korczak ran an orphanage in Second World War Poland. He was a pedagogue, writer and children’s rights activist. The orphanage was called Our House, and the children living there published their own newspaper and held their own court when conflicts arose among them. King Matt the First was about a child who becomes king, and what might happen if children were rulers.”
However, the idea of the story first arose, she said, “from questions around the rise in domestic violence in Alberta as a result of the economic downturn and job loss in the oil and gas industry. This violence is predominantly towards women.
“This then led to questions around how raising youth within rigid gender identities might enforce these patterns of violence. Instead of writing what we think youth might have to say about these themes, we decided to ask directly. In relation to climate change, we also wanted to ask the question, how do we – as an adult audience – react to dialogue around the climate crisis when those who will inherit the planet stand directly in front of us?”
Wyspa is being presented as part of Generation Hot, a mentorship initiative of the Only Animal and the Fringe Festival, which presents the work of seven writer-directors between the ages of 17 and 24. This year’s program is called Waterborne. “Each participant has found a personal response to a chosen site on Granville Island and the theme of water,” explains the press release. “Two programs of these short works will run in rep during the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival…. Wyspa is paired with Citlali: A Fantastic Tale About Water by a Mexican Poet by Brenda Muñoz.”
Wyspa runs Sept. 8, 10, 13-14 and 16, 8 p.m., at Ron Basford Park on Granville Island. For tickets ($12) and the full Fringe schedule, visit vancouverfringe.com.
Jewish community membersGina Leon and Michael Germant co-star in Island Productions’ presentation of Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Vancouver Fringe Festival Sept. 8-17. (photo by Jayme Cowley)
Playwright Rajiv Joseph describes Gruesome Playground Injuries as being “about missed love, it’s about pain and regret. These are things that almost everyone in humanity has some experience with.”
Jewish community member Michael Germant, who co-stars in Island Productions’ presentation of Gruesome at the Vancouver Fringe Festival with fellow community member Gina Leon, also highlights the universal elements of Joseph’s play.
“Everyone has either wanted to be in, or has been in, or has come out of a relationship, therefore, there is something for everyone to relate to,” Germant told the Independent. “The show is rich in humour, empathy and tenderness. Internal and external pain are a measure of everything vulnerable when it comes to intimacy, timing and love.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries is part of the Fringe’s Dramatic Works Series celebrating playwrights of Asian descent. Germant said that he and Leon – who together produced and performed the play A Weekend Near Madison in the 2015 Fringe’s Dramatic Works Series – “had read Gruesome Playground Injuries a few years ago and I think it’s always been in the back of our minds to do it one day, and so this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.”
The press material calls the play “a harrowing and humorous story about love.” The description reads, “Over the course of 30 years, the lives of Kayleen and Doug intersect at the most bizarre intervals, leading the two childhood friends to compare scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together.”
It seems like pretty heavy fare for the Fringe, or is it?
“The foundation of the Fringe usually is to do experimental and challenging work,” said Germant. “Gruesome Playground Injuries’ non-linear structure, raw subject matter, and bloody and bruised characters – both figuratively and literally – we feel are representative of the aims of the festival. We chose the play because of the way we felt about this unique perspective of a love relationship. The play is realized through humour and drama.”
The humour, which is dark, “is expressed through the naivety of the characters and the comedy of misconnection,” he said.
In his remarks on Island Productions’ website, director Mel Tuck notes that the play “demanded much from the actors.”
“The demands of the play are numerous, reconnecting with a prism of memories,” Leon told the Independent. “What’s it like to be a child, a teenager, a young adult; how does one authentically play it? This part is close to the bone for me, and giving myself permission to be vulnerable – really vulnerable, and go to all the places I need to, to bring Kayleen to life – that’s scary and exciting.”
For Germant, “I’ve never experienced the physical injuries of Doug, but I do have emotional and psychological parallels. My challenge has been to open myself up to express these psychological and emotional injuries.”
Working on his character, said Germant, “has caused me to confront my own behaviour and address some of my foibles. I’ve learned to laugh at myself.”
Both Leon, who was born in Johannesburg, and Germant, who was born in Moscow, know what it is like to be an immigrant, to straddle more than one culture. They can relate to Gruesome’s theme of alienation.
“Growing up in Montreal as a Russian-Jewish immigrant, I realized very early how different and apart I was,” said Germant. “As such, I viscerally know alienation and separateness. Doug is experiencing being separate and alienated throughout the play – we play these characters from ages 8 to 38 – and he suffers from self-esteem issues because of it. He feels obligated to perform for approval, which, in his case, causes gruesome injuries.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs at the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab Theatre Sept. 8-17. For tickets ($14) and the whole Fringe lineup, visit vancouverfringe.com.
Seattle comedy couple Clayton Weller and Sophie Lowenstein are bringing Naturally to the festival. (photo from Amanda Smith)
Fear of death, making comedy and fighting prejudice are but a few of the topics Jewish community members will be exploring in their productions at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, which runs Sept. 7-17.
Seattle comedy couple Sophie Lowenstein and Clayton Weller are bringing Naturally to the festival. It’s not one show, but two, with audiences deciding which they want to see: the one about grief, which also contains a dating scene, “the worst theatrical audition ever” and more; or the one about what sketch comedy is, how to make it – and why to bother making it.
“We have a variety of choosing activities at the top of the show, which culminates in the audience throwing paper airplanes at the stage for the show they’d most like to see. It’s going to be bonkers,” explained Weller. “As far as seeing both shows – how flattering would that be?! – the final two performances we’re locking in which show will happen.” So, Good Grief (Heart) will be on Sept. 14 and Understanding Sketch (Head) on Sept. 16; for the other performances, you’ll have to take your chances. Though, having seen them on video in preparing for this interview, it’s not much of a risk – both shows will have you laughing, and crying. There is a reason they dub Naturally “serious comedy.”
“As a duo, this has always pretty much been our style,” said Weller. “We’ve both done a bunch of plays, both serious and completely frivolous…. We thought that a laugh never feels as good as after you’re done crying. The contrast makes both the dark and light pop out more.”
“I would also say that we find a lot of beauty in that line between joy and pain because it’s not a very thick line. It’s blurred and sometimes nonexistent,” added Lowenstein, who is part of the Jewish community. “When you’re working with comedy, experiencing other emotions besides happiness while you laugh is sort of taboo – at least rare. We play in that playground. I think, individually, we are both curious about people’s emotions and we investigate them in our own ways, so we came together to run a joint study.”
According to the press material, Lowenstein and Weller have been performing comedy together for more than 12 years.
“Sophie and I went to the same college, University of Puget Sound, and both got cast in our college sketch comedy group,” Weller told the Independent. “We performed in several shows before we actually started living together as roommates, then we started living together, with feelings and stuff. Humour and comedy definitely permeate every part of our lives. Lots of laughter keeps our hearts light.”
With the comedy group Ubiquitous They, the couple produced about 15 shows. However, said Weller, the group “is more of an alumni network at this point. Several members have moved on to work in L.A., or across the country. We produced really regularly from 2007 to 2014, but, for the most part, it’s more of a club that hangs out every couple of months, and goes, ‘Wow, it’s tough to be an adult, am I right?’”
For the past few years, Lowenstein and Weller have been focusing on their performances as a duo. “Basically, Naturally is the only comedy project Sophie and I do now,” said Weller. “We’ll do a variety show or small play here and there on our own, but, because our lives are so crazy, we’ve pared the work we do down and this is where we put our real artistic push. I’ve never made work I’m more proud of than what I’m currently making with Sophie. She’s awesome. (Secret: This is all just an excuse for me to hang out with her more!)”
“Other secret: I feel the same way about him,” added Lowenstein. “He makes this process happen.”
In addition to Naturally, Weller runs two performance venues – the Pocket Theatre and the Slate Theatre – and Lowenstein works as a nurse practitioner.
“I look at it like this: some NPs have kids and they can do it. I have theatre and I can do it,” said Lowenstein about balancing her careers. Her recipe for success? “Save as many of your nights for rehearsals as possible. Dinner no earlier than 10 p.m. most nights. Make sure the other member of your group does all the administrative stuff and keeps you motivated when you’re dragging your butt and snarling. And, if the project doesn’t give you deep joy, don’t do it.”
In one of the Naturally shows, Weller mentions that he once had a lucrative high-tech job that he gave up for comedy. Does he have any regrets?
“I started a company called Freak’n Genius in 2012,” he said. “We made animation software, and we raised over half a million dollars in financing. At first, I was working with cool creative people and helping them make awesome things – then we slowly turned into an iPhone app for tweens. I learned a ton, but I 100% do not regret leaving. I give about three hours a week’s worth for tweens. Not the 60 hours a week I was putting in. Artists are who I really care about!”
About how he became one, or at least got into comedy, Weller said he had terrible stage fright until eighth grade. “I decided I was tired of being scared, and did improv comedy. After the first laughing crowd, I got bit by the bug, and I’ve been doing it ever since. There’s no better way to make friends than to make art together. Our relationship is proof to the point! I’m super lucky.”
For her part, Sophie said she first got into comedy “by loving that feeling of making my friends laugh. So, I practised how to do that more and more. I also had very funny friends. Now, I’m friends with the funniest human I know, and he also has a heart and mind. Bonus. As for the theatre part, I started performing when I was a little kid then throughout school: musicals, Shakespeare, etc. Stuck with it.”
The couple has been doing Naturally for a couple of years now. “After every performance,” said Weller, “we can’t help but do the ‘Oh man, next time why don’t we blah blah blah.’ The script is never permanent, and every remounting of the material we go through a rewrite and punch up all the scripts. Also, finding new ways to fit it together is a whole other way to make the thing new for us. Mostly, we just like hanging out and this is a great excuse.” Lowenstein agreed.
Naturally runs Sept. 8-16, at various times, in the gym at False Creek Community Centre on Granville Island. The 55-minute show is rated 14+ for coarse language and sexual content. Running Sept. 7-17 at the Firehall Arts Centre, also at various times, is the Canadian première of Cry-Baby: The Musical!, which is being presented by Awkward Stage Productions. It, too, is rated 14+ for the same reasons.
Jewish community member Erika Babins, who is artistic associate of Awkward Stage, choreographed the Fringe production, which features “a cast of 16 emerging artists” and runs 90 minutes.
“It’s 1950s Baltimore, the conservative squares face off against the leather-clad delinquents in this rockabilly musical based on John Waters’ cult film,” reads the press release. The 2008 Broadway show was nominated for four Tony Awards, including best choreography, and won a Drama Desk Award for outstanding choreography. So, where does Babins begin?
“I start my choreographic process by obsessively listening to the music of the show so that it can live in my body,” Babins told the Independent. “Before we start rehearsals, I’ll meet with the director and we’ll talk through the shape of the show so that we know what purpose each song serves in the show, where we’re coming from and where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.
“Then, when I get the cast in the room, I can take the story I know I’m going to tell and use them to tell it, using movement and music as my storytelling techniques. If I’m really stuck about how to tell a part of the story, I might look up a video or two on YouTube to see how a different company made something work, but I’m careful to only watch it once so that it only ever is for inspiration and I don’t accidentally steal something.”
Awkward Stage decided to mount Cry-Baby for several reasons. “Awkward has made a tradition out of presenting hilarious, and culturally relevant, full-scale musicals at the Fringe Festival,” said Babins. “Cry-Baby: The Musical came to us via artistic director Andy Toth. He brought it forward as a show that features a mostly young cast, great music and a lot of interesting and fleshed out female characters. Not only that, the messages in the show about systematic prejudices, classism and living your own truth so long as it’s not hurting anyone else, are still so relevant today.”
This is Awkward’s eighth musical at the Fringe Festival. “In that time,” noted Babins, “we’ve won three Pick-of-the-Fringe’s and the Joanna Maratta Award. We are committed to bridging the gap for emerging artists coming into the professional theatre scene in Vancouver and paying our artists for their efforts.”
For the full Fringe schedule and tickets ($14), visit vancouverfringe.com. (Note: a $5 Fringe membership is required for all shows.)
Jewish community member Erika Babins co-stars in How to Adult: The Musical. (photo from Coffee & Screaming)
As with the Jewish community Fringers profiled in the last issue of the Jewish Independent, the performers interviewed this week seek not only to entertain audiences but to spur self-reflection and even societal change. And they do so in a range of styles – musical, vaudeville and drama.
How to Adult: The Musical opens Sept. 8 at the Cultch Historic Theatre. It features three 20-something roommates who are trying to get their lives in order.
It is Amy Dauer’s writing debut and it is directed by Eleanor Felton, whose Eurydice received critical acclaim at last year’s festival. Dauer and Felton know each other from university.
“Last year, during the Fringe Festival, I told her she should write me a show to direct. And so she did,” Felton told the Independent. “It’s fantastic because Amy and I are also roommates, so a lot of what is in the script are things I recognize from our lives. I love the mixture of hilarity and disaster that feels very close to my life. And I love that, above all, this show is about the relationships between the characters rather than the events that are going on in their lives.”
Being a new musical, however, posed some challenges, the biggest of which, said Felton, “has been working with an evolving script and score. Peter [Abando] and Amy have worked really hard and the actors have been incredibly flexible, which was a huge blessing in the process.”
Jewish community member Erika Babins plays Imogen.
“Imogen is your textbook introvert,” explained Babins about the character. “She works from home on her computer all day as a graphic designer and, when she’s done, all she wants to do is curl up on the couch and watch Doctor Who on TV. When her friends suggest they go clubbing for her 25th birthday, it’s the worst thing imaginable. She finds it hard to stand up for herself and voice her opinions and usually defers to the judgment of her outspoken and confident best friend and roommate Holly. Throughout the course of the play, you see her getting frustrated with constantly being talked over and her ideas being vetoed, especially with Holly, who’s always been the alpha in their relationship, but with their other roommate Rosie and her brother, Graham, who suddenly reappears in her life.”
Babins can relate to her part.
“When I first read the character description, I joked that I was being type cast in this role. I even wore my Doctor Who shirt to the audition,” she said. “Like Imogen, I would rather stay home and read than go to a club or a party. I’ve also been able to bring my experiences with anxiety and panic attacks to the role, which has been both enlightening and really hard to explore. I’ve definitely had many moments in the five years since I graduated university where I’ve seriously sat down with myself and thought, ‘What is the point here? What am I actually doing?’ The big difference between Imogen and myself is that, unlike her, I have an amazingly strong support system of family and friends who I know I can talk to and who will either give me great advice or complain and berate the universe right along with me.”
A strong support system is also at the heart of Bella Culpa, where Portland-based circus theatre duo A Little Bit Off – Amica Hunter and David Cantor – must rely on each other, as their comedy shows are not just vaudevillian and slapstick but acrobatic, as well.
Bella Culpa, which opens Sept. 9 at Waterfront Theatre, is set in an Edwardian-era manor house, and Hunter and Cantor play two servants who are trying to finish (unsuccessfully) all of their chores before a big dinner party.
“We tend to approach our work from many angles at once,” Cantor told the Independent about their creative approach. “Once we have an idea for a show, we think of the overarching theme, the props we want to use, the characters, and we tend to approach all of those areas by playing games, or doing exercises. Through the games, we find things we like, which we take and apply some structure to. Once we have a few well-crafted bits, then we start weaving them together and making things flow together, to grow and expand out into a full show.”
Cantor – who is first cousin, twice removed of famed vaudeville and film actor Eddie Cantor – met Hunter at the Circus Centre in San Francisco in 2013.
“We were inspired by many of the same artists, so we started working together,” he said. “When the opportunity arose to travel to Europe and perform in some festivals, we jumped at the chance, and A Little Bit Off was born.”
About the enduring popularity of vaudeville and slapstick, Cantor said, “Language can be a very useful tool when it comes to conveying ideas to other people, but it can also be a mask. While it lets us connect on an intellectual level, it also distances us. Having our work centre around the body, it gets closer to what makes us all human. It’s a way to speak across any language barrier, any generational gap, any cultural differences. Our work is very much about tying people to their humanity and giving them a shared experience with the temporary community that forms any time you see a show in a theatre.”
As to the physicality involved in their performance, Cantor said, “All art takes risks. Our risks are sometimes with our bodies. We take care to use good technique, which mostly protects us, but there is an element of chaos that we choose to include, that makes the slapstick a bit more real, and the audience can see that, and we hear it in their reactions. They gasp at the falls, and then there is a laughter that comes with the relief of tension, as they realize that it was part of the shtick.
“We, luckily, to this point have avoided any serious injuries from our slapstick. We have had other show mishaps. In our last show, Beau & Aero, we use a tambourine as a prop. We were nearing the finale of the show and Amica stepped on one of the tambours, the little metal cymbals, that had fallen off, due to the abuse we put the prop through in the show. It was razor sharp and sliced Amica’s foot open quite badly. She left bloody footprints all over the stage and on my costume as we finished the show with an acrobatic number. Luckily, the footprints were up my back and, hence, not visible to the audience. We left immediately after the show to a pharmacy to get superglue and glue her foot shut. Had we been in Canada, with proper health care, we could have gone to the ER, but we do what we have to.”
Moving from health policy to the environment, climate change is front and centre of the program Generation Hot, which features nine “young artists responding to the climate crisis through new performances.” Guided by The Only Animal co-founder Eric Rhys Miller and mia susan amir of The Story We Be, the mentees have created various works. Divided into three programs, local Jewish community member Ariel Martz-Oberlander’s The Lilacs that Come a Month Early are Still so Beautiful shares Program C with Cosmic Justice by Nelson Ellis and Howard Dai. Program C opens Sept. 10 in the Anderson Street parking lot.
“This piece is vitally personal, there are parts that are deeply vulnerable and, therefore, risky to present publicly,” Martz-Oberlander told the Independent about her play. “I believe strongly that the personal is political, and that we can only talk successfully about large-scale issues by addressing the specific ways these issues are experienced in the small details of the day to day. For this piece, I am working with a cast of six enthusiastic, intelligent actors who fully bring their own worlds to this piece in such a rich way.”
The play’s description reads, “A grandmother, millennials, a woman coming to terms with abuse and ‘The Last of His Kind’ all share the stage. What is the everyday normalcy of climate change, or the deep abnormality of ignoring a crisis so large it already affects everyone? The characters struggle to hold on to the answers even as a world that ended five minutes ago slips away.”
“In the play,” said Martz-Oberlander, “the last of an unidentified species struggles to curate a message that will illustrate the urgency of the situation; however, the vignettes presented always get away from him, and the result is bittersweet.”
She added, “Jewish viewers will recognize a twist on the traditional Passover seder scene halfway through the play, as a young girl struggles to bring social justice to her family table.”
Jolene Bernardino is among the cast of Deborah Vogt’s Carry On: A Musical. (photo by Landon Shantz, graphics by Braden Neufeld)
How many hours do you think you’ve stood around baggage carousels waiting for your luggage? Were you able to do something productive with your time? Or was it luggage limbo? Waiting for luggage becomes the backdrop of one of several plays with Jewish connections at the Vancouver Fringe Festival this year.
When Deborah Vogt and her team in Smackdown 2015 (a 24-hour musical theatre competition) picked “YVR Baggage Claim” out of a hat last year, the brainwave was immediate.
“I think that we were all inspired by the limbo of baggage claim: the idea that you’ve finished your flight, you’ve gone through customs and you just want to finish your journey, yet you’re stuck and powerless while waiting for your bags,” she told the Independent.
“As emerging artists, this feels unsettlingly close to home. We’re at different stages of our careers, but all somewhere in between school and working full time as artists. Do we commit, with the hope that eventually what we’re waiting for will come true? Or do we acknowledge that maybe our bags are lost and go home? And, more importantly, how do we stop and breathe and enjoy our surroundings in the meantime?”
Thus, Carry On: A Musical was born, in which the audience gets to examine the type of people we encounter in baggage claim areas; their physical and emotional baggage.
“Each of our characters is dealing with one kind of baggage or another – the fun part is watching how different people cope with what is lost, damaged, deep-seated or brand new.”
While this is intended to be a fun, silly show, it also addresses real conflicts that people live with every day, Vogt said.
“An important theme for us is the idea that there is no ‘right’ way to live life. Everyone has baggage, and that’s OK. Just like in an airport, there are many directions to take. It’s OK to make mistakes or accidentally get on the wrong flight, because that’s all part of the journey.”
* * *
Enjoying the journey is a key message in writer/performer Randy Ross’ The Chronic Single’s Handbook. In it, Ross addresses the issues of relationships, examining why he’s single, whether some people are meant to be single and whether we should always hold out hope for that oxytocin-creating state we call love.
Based on a book that he’s been working on for seven years, called God Bless Cambodia, Ross places his quest amid a world tour where he strikes out with women on several continents but gets lucky (in many different ways) in Cambodia.
The play is not without its controversy. Because of its raw sexual exploration, some critics have called the work “misogynistic,” while others sing its praises. (It’s rated 18+.)
“The narrator’s trying to figure out why he’s still single,” Ross explained. “He tells stories of past relationships that failed. One is a domination scenario/date. Another is with a sex tourist in Cambodia who gives him a tour.”
In the end, you won’t please everyone, he said.
“My mother has seen the show – twice. She just says, ‘Boys will be boys,’ and we’re New York Jews, so this is our sense of humor. If you look at the whole Clinton/Lewinsky investigation, you could call most of the United States hypocrites.”
In the end, one key thing Ross discovers is that being single may be who he is. It’s a story of acceptance.
In the 35- to 54-year-old crowd, he said, one out of seven has never been married, so marriage is no barometer of mental health.
“Where I live in Boston, most of my friends are in their 50s and have never been married. And that number was comparable for women. You have 70 good years in your life, get on with your life.”
At the same time, Ross believes we are actually meant to be in some type of relationship – whether it’s marriage or not – and that everyone should experience the effect of the “cuddle drug.”
* * *
Following from her previous Fringe performance Uncouth, San Francisco–based Windy Wynazz (aka Wendi Gross) is back as co-writer, producer and performer in Rich and Famous, co-written and directed by Deanna Fleysher.
“I’ve built on what Uncouth was last year, but I’ve made it more personal,” said Wynazz. “I make a deal with the devil and undergo a transformation through the play. The theme is similar to making it in showbiz.”
Wynazz said she was interested in exploring what success is at different times of our lives.
“I’ve reevaluated what ‘making it’ looks like,” she told the Independent. “It was even reflected in the intense creation period with Deanna. She prods and provokes to bring out the most juiciest and most enjoyable. But, at one point, she said to me, ‘Well, you didn’t make it, Wendi. How does it make you feel?’ I feel tied up in performing, it’s what I love to do. So, that’s success as well. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
While Rich and Famous is more linear and verbal, as well as less raunchy, than Uncouth, the audience might still expect some coarse moments, given that Wynazz describes the character as a mix of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Lady Gaga.
“People will be dancing with delight when they leave,” said Wynazz. “The idea is that it’s positive and uplifting.”
* * *
Continuing with the theme of self-discovery, Vancouver’s Theatre Terrific jumps into the mix with The Hidden Stories Project.
Inspiration for the play comes from the poem “We are These” from the book In Honor of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival, authored by Garry Gottfriedson and Reisa Smiley Schneider, with artwork by George Littlechild and Linda Dayan Frimer.
“With Hidden Stories, we used a Cree medicine wheel,” said artistic director Susanna Uchatius. “Each actor is put in a process determining which direction they are connected to. Whenever you start to build something like this, it’s a bit of chaos and a lot of fog. We walk through everyday life and the face we give to the public is actually our mask. Working through the medicine wheel, identifying our animal spirit … and putting on a mask allow the actors to really express who they are.”
Setting this play apart are a number of features.
First, it’s site-specific, taking place outside near the lagoon on Granville Island – rain or shine.
Second, Theatre Terrific includes actors of all abilities. “We have in our group people with autism, cerebral palsy and Downs syndrome,” Uchatius explained. “We bring people together who would normally not come together and unite as ensemble to speak in a common voice.”
It’s also very accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, as there is a lot of imagery but not as much verbal communication.
“What they’re doing refers to hope and fear. It’s a lifecycle: you’re born, you eat, you speak, you love, you dance, you die. Many people will be surprised to identify with what they see. We deal with basic issues that matter to everyone.”