Andrew Snowdon

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

2011 Prix Rideau Awards, My Irresponsible Speculations on

In Uncategorized on Sunday 4 March 2012 at 15:17

Is there any pleasure in life to approach that of speculating about entertainment industry awards?

I sure hope so.  But it is a unique pleasure; at least half of the fun of these things is agreeing or disagreeing with nominations, the rationale of the categories, and guessing who’s going to win for what—and for what reason.

Although I didn’t get to attend this year’s Prix Rideau Awards nomination announcements—not because they were in Gatineau, but because I was working a little too late to have any hope of getting there on time—I did follow along on Twitter.

(Okay, I took a nap on the bus and then caught up with the feed afterwards.  Close enough.)

A quick look over the nominations confirms three things: everyone and everything that was nominated deserved to be, I still don’t see enough French theatre (remarkably, I did see Retour à Pripyat at the 2011 Ottawa Fringe Festival, and I’m glad it got a nod) so I can’t comment intelligently on the French categories, and I really should have seen Under Milk Wood.

I’m not entirely sure what will win, although I have my ideas as to what I’d like to see win (which I will keep mostly to myself, as I intend to continue to be welcome at parties).  I’m glad to see Roller Derby Saved My Soul nominated in several categories; I had a few glimpses into the creative process along the way so I know it was a difficult baby to birth.  I also know it was well worth it; even the most critical of critics approved and said glowing candid things.  Then there’s Sounds from the Turtle Shell, which I added to my (packed) Fringe schedule on the strong recommendation of Catriona Leger.  I don’t regret it.  Then there’s glitch… which I thoroughly enjoyed—maybe as much as I enjoyed Bifurcate Me.  I did miss the other two Fringe nominees, but it’s mathematically impossible to see everything and the beer tent is so convenient and social and tastes of apricot.  It’s good to see The Shadow Cutter get the recognition it deserves, too.  Andy Massingham has the lion’s share of the love this year; perhaps it’s partly due to his dancing at last year’s awards gala afterparty?  I kid.

Right away, I think the Design award is Ivo V. vs. Mr. Valentik (although I’m still listening to Fauré’s Requiem thanks to AL Connor’s intricate sound design for Little Martyrs).  Valentik’s set designs for Speed-the-Plow and A Midwinter’s Dream Tale were based on a similar stark white, exaggerated perspective aesthetic, but developed in two decidedly different ways.  I’m partial to the Speed-the-Plow set myself.
It’s a pleasant surprise to me to see Strawberries In January nominated for Outstanding Production.  Keen eyes will notice it’s not nominated under any other category; with four lovely, professional actors, a masterful translation that kept the francophone flavour intact, and a simple but effective approach to design and direction, no one element stands out.  And that’s as it should be in a winter romantic comedy.  Conversely, The Lavender Railroad, while nominated for Outstanding Direction, was not also nominated for Outstanding Production.  It was, however, nominated for Outstanding New Creation.  It’s bound to win something, but what?
As I hoped they would, both nominated productions Little Martyrs and Lavender Railroad have aged well in my memory.  This seems to be a characteristic of Evolution Theatre shows; whatever one’s immediate opinion of their productions (and I’m by no means suggesting it’s likely to be an unfavourable opinion), they seem to improve over time.  I think this is at least partly due to their strong visual aesthetic.  You remember the pictures.  I don’t quite know what this says about sense ratio, memory, and theatre, but if some postgraduate student would please apply themselves to researching the subject, or at least musing upon it, I would be immensely grateful.
The Outstanding Performance, Male category is troublesome.  Setting aside the three Andys Massingham for a moment, the two other nominees pose a similar question: what about their partner?  It’s not Richard Gélinas alone, but Gélinas and Zach Counsil that performed very much as one in The 39 Steps; in the case of John Muggleton and Chris Ralph in Speed-the-Plow less so, but why Muggleton and not Ralph?  This is a question that has come up before.  The Rideau Awards’ rules are much more rigid than the Capital Critics’ Circle, who were able to award all three of the cast of Heroes their equivalent award.  Sometimes common sense triumphs.  Once again, the Rideau Awards really need an Duo/Ensemble Cast category.  In fact, they need it more and more every year since as the theatre community matures and evolves and actors and directors become more familiar with each other, the tendency is towards mounting ensemble productions.
Outstanding Performance, Female is personally troublesome because—I don’t know if I mentioned, but I didn’t see Under Milk Wood, so I can’t compare Annie Lefebvre’s performance to the other nominees.  And I can certainly agree with the rest of the nominations.  If I say that nobody was left out, I’m sure I’ll get some dirty looks.  So: everyone who was nominated should have been, and that other one you’re thinking of should have been, too.
I’m baffled by the rationale used by the Prix Rideau Awards in classifying something as an adaptation or a translation.  The Ottawa Shakespeare Company’s inaugural production, Hamlet 2011, was neither.  It was Hamlet, pure and simple—Hamlet with strong directorial choices, but Hamlet you could read along with.  They didn’t even cut the First Player’s speech (usually the first thing to go).  Is every modern-dress presentation of Shakespeare an adaptation now?  Likewise, Antigone was a fresh translation, yes, but given that they kept even the Chorus (again, you could follow along with Sophocles in hand; it’s pretty close) what makes it an adaptation?  Even the Shakespearian mashup A Midwinter’s Dream Tale is stretching all sorts of definitions.  Maybe The Fan will win, and I can pretend it’s because one of the characters breaks into Trololo at an opportune moment.
The Emerging Artist category is one I really do wish everyone could win.  How, for example, do you separate Nancy Kenny’s breakthrough as a playwright from Tania Levy’s breakthrough as a director?  And is Pierre Ducharme’s spectacular set design for Little Martyrs better or worse than Mishka Lavigne’s translation?  And Katie Bunting’s a delight on stage.

I think the Prix Rideau Awards need a name for the award.  Prix Rideau Award is just too cumbersome to say, or to type.  I mean, the Academy gives out Oscars, there are Grammys and Emmys and Tonys so there should be some equivalent familiar term for the Prix Rideau Award.  I’m sure someone can think of a suitable bilingual name.  I mean, I guess we could call it a “Rideau” but that seems too easy, somehow.  Let us not follow the lead of the Junos and call it the “Rido.”  Please, no.

The award gala will be held at the Shenkman Arts Centre this year.  I’m still embarrassed that this will be my first time visiting Shenkman (I really, really should have gone to see Under Milk Wood), but it’s just so far away, living as I do sensibly close to the NAC and what I consider the basic necessities of civilization (an Herb & Spice, a Staples, and The Manx).  Then again, I understand it’s convenient by bus at all hours.  I still wouldn’t want to be making my way back to Gatineau or the west end afterwards.  Then again, they’re holding the Junos at Scotiabank Place, which is practically in Bancroft, so what do I know?

Enough nitpicking.  The Prix Rideau Awards gala is the best party in town, hands down.  It’s a theatrical event in and of itself, promotes dialogue between the English and French theatre communities, and keeps people thinking and talking about the productions they’ve seen.

Besides, when else can you win at theatre?

Oh, alright.  Everybody always wins at theatre.

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The Little Things (You Do Together)

In Uncategorized on Friday 2 March 2012 at 11:48

This week I did something that I don’t usually do.

I went to the theatre for pleasure.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit facetious.  I always go to the theatre for pleasure, but usually I’m also reviewing, so it’s not purely for pleasure.  There is a distinct difference between going to the theatre as a regular paying audience member for entertainment and going with a secondary objective in mind.  As much as I try to minimize that difference (I believe the kids call this “keeping it real”), it does exist.

What we went to see, and I am compelled to recommend, is l’Opéra de quat’sous.  I keep promising myself and the world at large that I will get out to see more French theatre.  It has, generally, an aesthetic flavour entirely different to most English-language theatre, and I happen to love it.  Honestly, though, I have wanted to see Brecht’s Threepenny Opera so badly that I would have gone whatever language it was in.  Then again, I’m happy that I was able to understand it.  This is a new, contemporary Québec French translation and it’s entirely appropriate for the material.  It seems closer to the spirit of the original than the Blitzstein English version, but that’s based on my very scant knowledge of basic German.  In any case, despite clocking in at two hours and thirty minutes with no intermission, it’s a wonderful show.  Did  I buy a poster?  Maybe.  I also bought a copy of the chantier dramaturgique, which provides fascinating insight into the process behind the development of this production.  I’m excited that director Brigitte Haentjens is  succeed Wajdi Mouawad as AD of the NAC French Theatre, not least because she’s such a fan of Henrich Müller.  Maybe we’ll get to see Médée-Matériau?  A man can dream.

Speaking of shows I desperately want to see, Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre is opening their production of Company, directed by Dave Dawson, on March 15.  As a bit of a Sondheim fanatic, I’m both looking forward to this and preparing to scrutinize it intensely.  Word is, they’ve hit a bit of a snag, and are looking for a number of competent musicians on very short notice.  I can only speculate as to the circumstances, but if you are an Ottawa (or Ottawa-convenient) musician, or you know one, you should get in touch with Sock ‘n’ Buskin pronto.

Dave Dawson is just about the busiest man in Ottawa theatre this month.  Not only has his production company Black Sheep Theatre brought Bremner Duthie’s ’33 (a Kabarett) (reviewed here) to the Gladstone this month, but also three other productions as part of a “Black Box Set.”  These late-night shows (with a curtain time of 10:00 pm), each about an hour long with ultra-short weekend runs, are frequently talked-about darlings of the Fringe circuit.  We have Jayson McDonald’s Giant Invisible Robot and Paul Hutcheson’s Third Time Lucky to look forward to in coming weeks, but this weekend (that’s tonight and tomorrow only, folks) you can catch The Last Goddamned Performance Piece.  Given the very real risk that my review will not go up before the show closes, and they could easily fit another hundred people in the theatre, I’m taking the time to recommend it.  I saw a previous incarnation (and reviewed it) a couple of years ago; it’s improved since then and is right at home on the Gladstone stage.  Also written by Jayson McDonald, it’s performed by Ben Meuser and Celine Filion.  Go see it.  (I still regret the fact that I never got to see either Nancy Kenny or Jodi Morden in the role Filion plays; but one can’t see everything, right?)

Also in attendance at The Last Goddamned Performance piece was 2011 Prix Rideau Award nominee Katie Bunting, which gave me the chance to congratulate her in person.  Now I just have to get to everyone else.  I’m still working on my detailed reaction and analysis of the nominations that were announced on Monday; I promise to speculate wildly on who might win, at least in the English categories.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get me uninvited from any parties.