Fringe Festival

Quo Vadis- Talk About a Perfect Setting!

What Next?

st. boniface basilicaThe  St. Boniface Basilica was a brilliant choice as a setting for the musical Quo Vadis. I attended the performance on the night of  July 22 which just happened to be the forty-six year anniversary of the tragic fire that nearly completely destroyed the huge Winnipeg cathedral in 1968. dave at basilicaAll that remained of the old church after the fire was the majestic front piece. That stone facade which is now more than a century old, provided the backdrop for the Fringe Festival production of Quo Vadis. 

Quo Vadis Cast- Photo Winnipeg Free PressQuo Vadis Cast- Photo Winnipeg Free Press

This was not your regular fringe play. It had a huge cast with many trained and talented musicians among them. The story is taken from a Polish novel by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz. It is set in 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. It recounts the love story of a military man…

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Godspell-Third Fringe Play- Shadow Spaces- Fourth Fringe Play

What Next?

godspell castGodspell was a very entertaining show. Definitely worth the admission price. Enthusiastic talented young performers. I’ve seen Godspell many times. Both my husband and son have been in community and school productions in the past. I know the music well and this show had me wanting to sing along. I have a feeling Godspell songs are going to be queued up on my I-Pod this week. godspell headshots
Maybe not as polished and professional as other productions I’ve seen- some singers struggled a  bit with diction and pitch- but still a very enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre and music. Highlight for me was Sam Plett’s rendition of On the Willows. Sam played Judas and he has one heck of a beautiful voice!

shadow spaces

We went to see Shadow Spaces at 10:30 last night and I have to say it is not exactly a put- you- to sleep bedtime story. In fact the…

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A Small Affair is a Big Success

ticket to a small affairI loved my second Fringe play of the season A Small Affair.  It was funny and fast paced. The story takes place in a rehearsal space where actors in a new television drama are preparing for the filming of their show.  a small affairWe meet the stressed television director, the self-centered female star of the show, and the laconic maintenance man who wanders in and out of the rehearsal space to make comments while fixing an electrical problem in the bathroom.
tiffany and rhonda in a small affairTwo of my colleagues at the Winnipeg Art Gallery were in the play.  Tiffany played a confused newspaper reporter and Rhonda was a feisty and outspoken cleaning lady. They both put on great performances and gave their characters such distinctive personality. I heard someone behind me say as they exited the theatre, “the cleaning lady was the best!”

three ladiesThese three white-haired women stumble into the rehearsal space by mistake and capture the audience’s hearts with their humour. They are potential contestants on another television show called Make A Fool of Yourself. shoestring playersThere are plenty of other off-beat characters who entertain the audience with their  antics – an aging actor struggling with alcohol problems, a no-nonsense stage manager, a jealous co-star and an emotional actress with a difficult husband. a small affair 2

This was a good performance of a well written play. I laughed out loud several times as did many audience members. A good drama needs quirky, interesting characters who change. Plenty of conflict is required as well . And of course humour always helps! This play had them all in my opinion.

A Small Affair is a big success!

The photos in this post are courtesy of the Shoestring Players Facebook page

Other fringe plays I’ve seen this year……

Dandy

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Not So Dandy

bremmer duthieThe first 2014 Winnipeg Fringe play we saw was Dandy. There were some dandy things about it. Bremner Duthie the solo performer is enthusiastic and puts his whole heart into his performance. He’s backed up by three talented young men from the jazz program at the University of Manitoba. Bremner’s voice is obviously a well-trained one. He knew his material well and the audience found his ode to an item of clothing called a ‘dickie’ humorous.
bremmer duthie 2

There were some things however about the show that weren’t so dandy. Bremner had trouble always singing in tune. The narration didn’t really tell a connected story. I did figure out that the main character lost the love of his life and then lost himself in alcohol. The message of the performance was not clear. Bremner waxed eloquent about the way the clothes we wear can transform us and can impact the way people see us. However he also talked about the importance of inner beauty.

Bremner was sarcastic about the clothes the audience members were wearing and chastised my husband who was fooling around with his flashlight. Flashlights had been handed out to the audience so they could use them to shine a spotlight onto Bremner.

There were several too long sections where Bremner just sat looking in a soulful way at the audience and a couple fairly long off stage costume changes.

By the way Bremner thinks the ultimate fashion sin is wearing sweat pants, so if you don’t want him to poke fun at you don’t wear them to the show

bremner duthieBremner does strip down at one point and I was a little nervous everything would come off but I need not have worried. He kept his Superman underwear on.

Great fringe shows I saw last year……….

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

Fringing Times Four

 

 

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Confessions of A Fairy’s Daughter

confessionsshow

 

 

The final Winnipeg Fringe Festival show I saw was without a doubt the best. Check out my review on my blog What Next.

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Fringing Times Four

Quilters (Shoestring Players) Two women who are my colleagues at the Winnipeg Art Gallery were acting in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival production of Quilters. Tiffany and Rhonda pictured here were part of an impressive cast that provided a moving and meaningful performance rich with music and story. A woman is making a legacy quilt for her daughters and as she creates each quilt square a story unfolds. The stories are told in different ways. Some are sad. Some are funny. But they give us a window into what life was like for pioneer women. We get a glimpse of church life, school life, family life, community life and the many hardships faced by women trying to raise children and eke out an existence in hard times. In an era before birth control, equality for women and many of the modern conveniences we enjoy, their lot was not an easy one. It made me think about what life must have been like for my grandmothers. I was in tears at the end of the show as the cast sang a hymn. The CBC only gave this show 2 stars but discriminating Fringe goers ignored that. There wasn’t an empty seat in the Warehouse Theatre at the performance I attended.

Threads (Tonya Jone Miller - Photo by Gina Bixby)Tonya Miller, the sole actor in the play Threads wants us to think about how one event in life can change everything. In the case of the heroine of Tonya’s story, who just happens to be her mother,  that event was landing in a course about the history of Asia by default during her first year at college. That leads to a trip to Vietnam where she meets Tonya’s Vietnamese father and becomes involved with a little boy in an orphanage who hides threads from her clothing in his hands. It’s a heart wrenching tale about love and loss and how the war in Vietnam impacted Tonya’s mothers’ family. Staged at  Cinematheque Threads is a sell out most performances. I only got in because I went to a 10:45 pm. show. 

Hot Thespian ActionI attended a show by Hot Thespian Action at last year’s fringe and once again I was impressed by their impeccable timing, amazing mime skills and professional presentation.  They do a series of sketches that pass commentary on modern life.  I enjoyed three especially. One was a spoof on those home decorating reality shows. It depicted a make-over of a bachelor pad. Another was an ad for an agency that Rents a Son to help older parents handle technology. The agency contends that many parent child relationships are ruined by the parents’ constant demand for help with texting, smart phones and television remote controls. Rent a Son will provide a substitute child to help parents with technical difficulties so they can enjoy a normal relationship with their own offspring.  The third sketch that struck a chord with me was about a woman unable to find her phone in a messy purse. She ends up diving into her purse and discovering all kinds of interesting ‘treasures’ inside. The line up was long at the Gas Station Theatre for this show and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. 

stranger next doorThe Stranger Next Door at Alloway Hall was a little strange and over the top when it came to drama.  It’s plot has been translated from a French story and perhaps lost something in translation. A lovely elderly couple just starting out retirement in a the country home of their dreams has their life totally transformed, and not for the better, by the doctor who lives next door with his mentally unstable wife. Some of the events were quite implausible and we lacked enough background knowledge to really care or connect with the doctor or his wife.  The acting was good, but the play dragged a bit in spots. I thought some of the story instead of being told as a narrative by the elderly gentleman who is the main character, might have been more effectively conveyed through dialogue and action. Still it’s thought-provoking to consider how our interactions with one person can completely change the kind of person we become. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – The First Play

Fringe Festival- Second and Third Play

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Fringe Festival – Second and Third Play

till death do us part tara travis winnipeg fringe festivalWhat would happen if Henry VIII’s wives all met in heaven and St. Peter told them they needed to decide amongst themselves which one gets to spend eternity with the famous monarch and husband they all shared? Although there are seven characters in the show Till Death Do We Part– the six wives and the great Henry himself- there is only one actress, the remarkable Tara Travis who plays all the roles. Each wife, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boylen, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr have their own accent, body language and personality and Travis slips effortlessly from one character to another sometimes in an instant, while having conversations, participating in arguments and telling stories. It was always easy to know which of the seven characters she had become. You learn plenty of British history from the play but it’s never boring. The answer to the question of who spends eternity in royal heaven with Henry is answered in an unexpected but satisfying way. The show is at the University of Winnipeg’s Asper Theatre .Crumbs winnipeg fringe festival

I’ve seen the CRUMBS improv team perform before and they can be very funny, but last night was not one of their best nights.  I felt they were struggling to find humour while creating a drama based on what was a very funny suggestion from the audience. A woman told a story about how her parents met while hitchhiking in Scotland. Her Dad picked her Mom up. They were both teachers, he American and she Canadian. They married and raised five kids, three of them a set of triplets. There was lots of potential there but the story veered off into a tale about murdering Scottish sheep and two detectives chasing the American teacher for some unknown crime. The intermittent thunder from the storm outside could have been fodder for some great jokes but again things didn’t click. I guess improv teams all have less than stellar nights. I’m sure tomorrow’s show could be hilarious and I’d go back just in case it was, because I know from the past these guys are talented and can definitely make you laugh. They are playing at the Kings Head Pub. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – The First Play

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival- First Play

A cardboard cutout of the single character in Thom Pain adorned the stage

A cardboard cutout of the single character in Thom Pain adorned the stage

I went to my first Fringe Play last night. It was Thom Pain written by Will Eno and performed by Grant Burr, who just happens to be the editor of The Carillon the regional newspaper I’ve worked for as a weekly columnist for many years.

The play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been performed to great acclaim in cities around the world.  It reminded me of a stream of consciousness poem. The sole character reflects on his childhood, a romance gone awry and life in general. Existence has been tough for Thom as his last name suggests and we are forewarned about the darkness of the play when the lights fail to come on during its first few minutes. The script does have its funny moments and the small audience responded well to the humorous bits.

It must have been quite a feat to memorize this sixty minute reflective and erratic rant on how painful and fearful life can be. Talking to Grant later he said he’d taken holiday time off work to prepare and intimated that he wasn’t always able to deliver the script word for word the way it is written, although I thought he performed admirably without any discernible lapses in memory. 

One question in the play really got me thinking. “When did your childhood end?” A fellow play attendee told me after the show she thought her childhood had ended when her mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was just ten years old.  I think mine ended when I realized my parents weren’t perfect, although I can’t say exactly when that was. My husband told me his childhood has never ended.

Several references in the play reminded me of a poem by Raymond Carver called Fear which I studied with my high school students.  I wonder if the playwright Will Eno had read Carver’s poem. 

I liked the script’s reference to the overuse of the word ‘whatever’ in our modern-day as a way to express our tolerance of things we perhaps shouldn’t tolerate and the general laissez-faire attitude of much of society. This despite the fact a recent poll says ‘whatever’ is the phrase in the English language found to be the most annoying to people. 

Thom Pain can be uncomfortable to listen to because you feel sorry for the protagonist and at times perhaps can identify a little too closely with his story. One reviewer warns that ecstatically happy people shouldn’t attend this play. It is at the Red River College (RRC) Theatre, the alma mater of the play’s sole actor, Grant Burr.  He studied drama at the University of Winnipeg and Creative Communications at RRC. 

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Belgian Ambassadors- Winnipeg’s Folkorama

Thin Air Writer’s Festival- 2012

Winnipeg Fringe Festival-2012

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – Part 2

I’ve been to my second trio of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival now. 

I went to see The Tempest because of personal connections. I got to know my husband while working on a group project about the play in my first year English class at university. I saw the play at London’s Globe Theatre in 2005 and went to  Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins production in 2001.  I was especially interested in the Fringe Festival show because it was put on by young people. When I taught grade four in Mitchell, Manitoba I staged The Tempest with my students several years in a row using a simplified script I had written.  When Bev Ridd, who I work with on a Project Peacemakers committee, sent an e-mail saying her grandsons were playing the roles of Caliban and Prospero in the Fringe production I decided to go. I greatly admired the young actors. They had put so much work into learning their parts and performed with passion. The sets and costumes were great! However I thought the production was far too long, running almost 90 minutes. Especially since it was billed as a play for children it should have been no longer than 45 or 50 minutes. Several young families walked out before the end. The advertising does say babes in arms are welcome, but during the show I attended,  a baby started crying and didn’t stop. It took a long time before the parent decided to exit the theatre with their wailing infant and I felt sorry for the young actors who had to soldier on despite the fact the audience was mightily distracted. I thought it was wonderful that the performers had mastered all that Shakespearean language so flawlessly and executed their lines with a dramatic flair that made it evident they knew exactly what they were talking about. However I’m not sure the audience always did. I think some adaptation to a more modern English would have gone a long way to engage the children watching the show. I’d give this production a 2.5 out of 5. 

The actors in Teaching Hamlet are professional and with the exception of a unecessarily long and supposedly  funny  opening scene where Joe, played by Keir Cutler is trying to set up a video camera; the pacing was great and kept the audience’s attention.  The title is misleading, because except for quoting Hamlet several times, the play isn’t about Hamlet at  all. It is about a lonely man named Joe who heads up a society he and his mother founded,  that is trying to promote the idea the Earl of Oxford and not William Shakespeare wrote the bard’s plays. Joe enlists a mercenary actor named Conner Hamilton to help make a video to promote his ideas. The show is really about getting a glimpse into the lives of the two main characters and finding out what kind of people they are. We watch them develop some empathy  for one another.  Ultimately that is why the show is satisfying because it reminds us how many truly lonely people there are in the world and encourages us to reach out to those around us. It prods us to see beyond people’s outer facade and to realize we may have something in common with men and women who appear very different from us. I’d give this play a 4 out of 5. The fact this show is in the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s comfortable venue adds to the viewer’s enjoyment. 

Veryalyn Warkentin’s play Mary and Martha has not received good reviews but I went to see it anyway with my friend Wendy, because I had personal connections with the story. It is about Mennonite young women who came to Winnipeg from rural Manitoba to work as housemaids in the homes of wealthy city folks in order to earn money to pay back their families’ travel debts following their immigration to Canada from Ukraine. This happened all over Canada in the 1930’s and 40’s. My mother-in-law Anne worked for a wealthy family in Leamington, Ontario. The Mennonite Church established homes in several Canadian cities called Maedchenheims (girls homes) as a clearing house and refuge for young Mennonite women working in the city. I once did a feature story on five women who were ‘city girls’ in their youth. This last year I also read Dora Dueck’s book This Hidden Thing which tells the story of one of the Mennonite ‘city girls.’  I enjoyed Mary and Martha because of my personal interest in its story although I thought some of the actors seemed to slip in and out of their accents and they did too much explaining and informing and not enough acting. The lengthy family memory the main character Helen Epp shares at the end of the play had me in tears, because I have heard almost identical stories from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, but audience members without that kind of personal connection probably found it too long and somewhat disconnected from the plot of the play. I’d give Mary and Martha a 3.5 out of 5.

I already have tickets for another trio of plays so look for at least one more blog post about the Fringe Festival. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival Part 1

 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival- Part 1

Dave and I have always been Winnipeg Fringe Festival aficionados but this is the first year in a long time we are in Canada for the entire Fringe Festival and…… we’re now living in a condo right downtown just behind the main festival box office. All 30 venues are within walking distance of our home. 

Dave decided to really get in the spirit of things this year by becoming a Fringe Festival volunteer. He will work four shifts selling tickets and ushering. So far we have seen three plays but have already bought tickets to many more. 

Our first play Body Language  was at the Gas Station Theatre.  The performers are Hot Thespian Action, a comedy sketch team from Winnipeg. They have quite the reputation! We were at their first show of the Fringe Festival and it appeared to be SOLD OUT!  It was easy to see why. Their performance consists of a series of vignettes that either make you chuckle because they hit so close to home, make you think, because they deal with relevant topics, or make you admire the versatility and flexibility of the performers. Especially enjoyable was a musical number called Boomerang about young adult children who move back in with their parents because they lose their job, end a relationship, or decide to go back to school. I must admit not all the Hot Thespian Action troupe have strong singing voices but the material engaged the audience despite this. I was throughly entertained by sketches about new mothers having a shouting match over whose life is more difficult, a scene in a computer warranty office and friends trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind the words ‘Wanna have lunch?’ in a text message. A game show sketch called ‘IS HE GAY?’ was staged in such a clever way that rather than be offensive, it actually poked fun at people who like to stereotype others. I learned something new at this show. One vignette was called ‘Ghosting’ and it took place at a party where a guy was creeping up close to women. I had never heard of ghosting before and looked it up on the internet when I got home. I found out ghosting is also known as personal space invasion. Someone who ‘ghosts’ tries to invade another individual’s personal space for the longest period of time without that person noticing. Body Language was thought-provoking and funny. I would definitely recommend it and give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Our second play was The Greatest Guitarist in the World. It wasn’t really a play though. It was a concert. The premise was interesting. Colin Godbout had chosen six famous guitarists and played their music in three ‘matches’ or ’bouts’ pairing off one guitarist against another. Gypsy musician Django Reinhardt against country western’s Chet Atkins; rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix versus Canadian jazz legend Lenny Breau and finally two British rock musicians Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Godbout is a great guitarist and its worth going to the show just to hear him play while enjoying a drink at the tables in the dimly lit basement of the Johnny G’s restaurant. However his attempt to add a little theatre to the show by donning different hats and providing philosophical patter between numbers seemed contrived and was frankly hard to follow. I give this show a 3 out of 5. Go for the music. 

Last night we saw Antigone. I was especially interested in this show because I taught the Greek tragedy by Sophocles in my sophomore English classes for years and know the story well. I have seen several excellent film versions of the play and have written an e-zine article called Antigone An Inspiration . Although it was clear the theatre students performing the drama at the Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre on Albert Street loved the play, the modern garden party setting where they chose to place the drama seemed incongruous with its serious themes, hardly the place for dealing with an act of anarchy. Since they changed the setting to the present day, perhaps they needed to change the language as well to something more colloquial. I liked the way the part of the chorus shifted between different people and especially enjoyed the performances of the messenger and Antigone. Creon seemed too suave and debonair for his stately role, more a playboy than a leader. The audience nearly filled the venue and was enthusiastic. The young performers had lots of friends and family there in support which was great to see. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Our Exchange District location definitely makes fringing easier. We feel like we are at the heart of the theatre action.  What next? Well we have tickets to Medicine, The Holy Land, The Tempest, Choose Your Own Adventure and Guernica. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival Part 2

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