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Posts Tagged ‘electric company theatre’

Today my friend and colleague Kat Fournier and I launched the very first episode of Just Another Gala: Your Ottawa Theatre Podcast. Ottawa’s theatre scene has exploded in the last few years, and we feel that some thorough on-air discussion is in order. Join us!

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Okay, that’s a lie. I’m actually leaving on Air Canada. But that doesn’t sound half as romantic, and the plane will probably be late, and there will be all sorts of complications, and I’ll lose my suitcase, and there will be jet lag and general nausea…

I mean, yay! traveling!

This Sunday I am leaving Ottawa to do some research in Western Canada for my MA thesis. In case you’re not familiar with my academic work, I am currently studying at the University of Ottawa in the new Master of Arts program in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy. That means lots of writing.

My thesis examines the role of festivals in the consecration and distribution of new works. I’m researching three different companies – Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, the Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary, and Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver – and looking at how their productions have developed through the process of touring and participating in festivals. Here’s hoping it’ll be awesome and revolutionary; or at least that I’ll pass the program…

Here is my itinerary so far:

  • EDMONTON – January 10 to 17
    Purpose: visiting with Catalyst Theatre and attend rehearsals for Nevermore. Also visiting with the Artist in Residence at the Citadel Theatre. Oh, and freezing to death in the street.
  • CALGARY – January 17 to 28
    Purpose: seeing shows at the High Performance Rodeo (long-running international festival created by members of One Yellow Rabbit) and getting the general vibe of the event. Hopefully visiting the workspace of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
  • VANCOUVER – January 28 to February 7
    Purpose:
    seeing shows at the PuSh Festival (newer international festival) and meeting with Norman Armour. Also visiting the Electric Company Theatre and finding out more about their first show Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla. I’ll be seeing the following shows at the PuSh Festival: Joan of Arc, Clark and I…, Passion Project, Edward Curtis, Sonic Genome, Nevermore, Best Before, and Kamp.

I will try not to have too much fun because this is supposed to be a research trip for academic purposes and I’m going to be working really hard. At least that’s what I’m telling the university…

Check back on this blog for more details: I’ll be posting reviews of shows, sharing travel stories, and disclosing fun theatre gossip. Stay tuned!

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While my loyalty still lies with the Ottawa arts scene, sometimes it’s fun to take a short trip and see what’s happening in other wonderful Canadian cities (if only to drop off a handful of flyers for a show I might happen to be publicizing…). I spent a glorious couple of days in Montreal this past weekend for the Festival TransAmérique, which showcases some of the best and most interesting theatre, dance, and performance from across Canada and around the world. In my short time there, I managed to treat myself to a smorgasbord of shows, consisting of the following:

Andrew Wheeler as Muybridge / Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Andrew Wheeler as Eadweard Muybridge Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Studies in Motion from Electric Company Theatre (Vancouver, BC)

This ECT production is a fine introduction to the life and work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. I had trouble recognizing the name at first, but soon realize that this is the man that photographed all those horses in motion and then moved on to capturing the movements of humans and other creatures. This led to some significant scientific developments. The Vancouver company has a real knack for bringing focus to historical figures that, while they may not be household names, had a major impact on the world as we know it — as seen in their flagship production of Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla.

These leading figures are also depicted onstage as isolated characters, which, in this case, makes for a fascinating character study, but also makes it difficult to connect emotionally with the central character. In fact, the emotional relationships between all the characters (Muybridge and his ex-wife; Muybridge and his son; Muybridge and his colleagues) feel a bit like an afterthought, as if the conflicts were secondary to the visuals. Watching this production, I felt like there was a real barrier between the stage and the audience (I resist using the out-dated term “fourth wall”), a real sense of look but don’t touch. It was almost like wearing 3-D glasses, offering a new perspective but always at a distance.

ECT is well-known for its use of stage technologies, as seen in this new production’s impressive use of several layers of scrim throughout the performance. This was used to display grids and various photographs and to hide or reveal different parts of the stage. The transitions from one scene to the next were sharply orchestrated, keeping spectators’ eyes busy and never distracting from the action onstage. It was surreal watching Muybridge’s photographs come to life onstage (sort of like seeing Georges Seurat’s painting come to life in Sunday in the Park With George) as nude men ran across the set, or on the spot, as natural and incidental as in a Walt Whitman poem.

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Photo Credit: Guy L'Heureux

Photo Credit: Guy L'Heureux

Not Waterproof created and performed by Julie Andrée T (Montreal, QC)

After watching this show, I have realized something profound: I love watching pretentious performance art crap. The more self-indulgent the better! I get a real kick out of watching a performer onstage doing as much weird stuff as humanly possible, and yet somehow managing to hold the attention of every single audience member. Oh, except that one person who walked out halfway through the 1-hour performance.

Within the first 15 minutes of the show, choreographer/performer Julie Andrée T has already puffed on four cigarettes that were graciously given to her by various audience members and has downed an entire bottle of wine, some of it dripping down her once perfectly white shirt. While she is doing these things, she chats casually with the audience, pointing out a couple of familiar faces. She says that if anyone is bothered by the second hand smoke, they are very welcome to leave.

After that introduction, she begins playing an electric violin with her back turned to the audience. She plucks a string from the violin and uses it to stretch her face into strange contortions. Then she paints her mouth bright blue and methodically inserts large black-white feathers into her hair. She stands up tall and then collapses her upper body as if she were beginning a sun salutation. Then she comes back up and collapses again. She repeats this motion again and again, more and more vigorously until, soon, all the feathers fall out of her hair. Next, she rips a large blue panel of fabric from the back wall and stuffs it up the back of her shirt, making her look like a hunchback. Later on, she paints her elbows and her knees bright red and then balances herself with these body parts on 4 glass jars for a few minutes. She ends the performance by lighting a single hair on fire.

Meanwhile, there are hanging lamps with jars covered with ice beneath them. As the performance progresses, the ice begins to melt and fall into these metal basins below with a loud clamour.

My professor informed me afterward that this type of performance was very 60s. Well, I wasn’t around in the 60s, so my hunger for this type of onstage weirdness has yet to be fully satiated.

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L’Opéra Paysan from Compagnie Béla Pintér (Budapest)

This was a Hungarian folk opera. Need I say more?

A shotgun wedding couple, a home wrecking orphan, a sensual mother clad in a leopard dress, a cowboy with a huge phallus — and all of them singing dramatically about their melodramatic lives. It was incredibly funny, especially because all the characters took themselves so seriously. Also, the story, while very silly on the surface, was also remarkably complex with a number of subplots that all link together perfectly, and the ending has a fantastic twist.

Some people asked me how I could understand the show if it was in Hungarian. As with many live operas today, surtitles are featured in the top left hand corner of the stage in both French and English. It was certainly possible to follow the story while still focussing on the onstage action. I know the NAC French Theatre is going to be presenting a number of international shows this season, so they’ll be making use of this technique.

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This festival is back in Montreal next year with another dozen new shows from all around the world!

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