Andrew Snowdon

Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category

Clearing the Backlog

In theatre on Wednesday 22 August 2012 at 16:52

I seem to have accumulated quite the backlog of things I really should be talking about.*  Let’s see how much I can cover at once:

  • I’m not the biggest fan of outdoor theatre, mainly because my lumbar region likes a seat with a back, and I’m not fond of bees, wasps, or falling leaves that might be bees or wasps.  However, in Ottawa we’re blessed with two theatre companies that produce such perennially good work that it’s worth a bit of private discomfort to always catch their productions.  A Company of Fools toured their production of Shakespeare’s Henry V through parks in the region this summer, complete with tennis balls and a fabulous cast (including, but certainly not limited to, Margo MacDonald in the title role).  I was impressed with their ability to make a historical play—it may contain one of Shakespeare’s most moving speeches, but it’s a historical play—engaging not only for the regular theatregoer but for everyone, and especially for children.  I caught the production one of the evenings it was in Hintonburg Park, the former monastery site behind the exquisite St. Françoise D’Assise church, which was an excellent setting.  Speaking of excellent settings, Odyssey Theatre‘s permanent location on the banks of the Rideau River in Stratchona Park is one of the most breathtaking spots in Ottawa, especially at night.  I quite enjoyed this year’s production, A Game of Love and Chance; there are still a few opportunities to take it in (until the 26th) and if you are in the mood for some light entertainment I highly recommend it.  Masque is very liberating; even those performers whose styles I’m not familiar with seemed particularly uninhibited.  The performances dwarf the text, but who wants a heavy, ponderous, complicated story in the middle of the summer?
  • Nancy Kenny wrote and performed a great (Prix Rideau Award–winning) one-person show called Roller Derby Saved My Soul a couple of years ago, under the direction of Tania Levy.  If you’ve seen the show, or if you’d like to see the show, Ms. Kenny has an Indiegogo campaign to finance a 2013 cross-country tour of the show that is in its final week.  I consider both Nancy and Tania my friends (I hope it’s mutual!), but I wouldn’t be letting you know you could bankroll their project unless I thought it had artistic and entertainment merit, which this does.
  • Speaking of Tania Levy, I hear the latest Fringe show she directed, Vernus Says SURPRISE! (written and performed by Ken Godmere) is doing quite well out west.  I’m not, er, surprised.  It’s a simple yet intricate piece of mime—although it’s”just” Ken on stage, there are about two dozen Ottawa voice actors credited in the program—that’s heartwarming and family-appropriate.
  • Each year for the past couple of years, thanks to the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation and the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area, we’ve been treated to remounts of local Fringe favourites as part of the Summer Fling festival.  I had a feeling (and I’m sure I said or tweeted it somewhere) that one of these two shows would be it this year: Alien Predator: The Musical or Space Mystery… From Outer Space!  I was wrong.  Instead, it’s both.  It is an honest-to-goodness science fiction double feature: a zany musical take-off on 80s science-fiction action thrillers, and an equally (yet differently) zany take-off on 50s science-fiction with a film-noir flavour.  Is it “high art”?  Hell, no.  But it’s entertaining, and you get to see both shows for only $12, which is more than worth it.  This will be a short run, from August 30th to September 2nd, at Arts Court; shows start at 8:00 and run for 60 minutes each with a half-hour intermission between them (not indicated on the press release, but I asked).
  • September 2nd is, coincidentally, the day the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation’s operation of the performance spaces in Arts Court ends.  What happens next?  Apartment 613 will be covering the latest developments in that story over the next couple of weeks.
  • The Gladstone Theatre just officially launched its 2012–13 season (although the lineup’s been public for some time now).  I’ll tackle the launch and the season itself in greater detail elsewhere (i.e. Apartment 613) but I want to let you know about a party.  John P. Kelly, the Artistic Director of SevenThirty Productions, is best-known in Ottawa as a director who specializes in Irish theatre (although that’s not all he does; I’m especially looking forward to seeing how he tackles Mamet this year).  This season he’s directing Stones in His Pockets at the Gladstone, which will feature Richard Gélinas and Zach Counsil (who were a dream duo in The 39 Steps last season).  He’s also directing Fly Me To The Moon later this autumn at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, which will feature Margo MacDonald and Mary Ellis (that’s a pair that promises to be at least as entertaining).  Both of these plays were written by Irish playwright Marie Jones.  Not only, therefore, are the GCTC and Gladstone/SevenThirty offering a special price for a package to both shows, but there will be a party at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (at Wellington and Holland in historic Hintonburg) on Tuesday, August 28th from 5 to 7pm (5-à-7s are the most wonderful kind of party) featuring a “script-off” between the members of both casts.  There will, of course, be Irish beer, food, and music to go with the Irish theatre.

That about brings me up to date.  If you think I’ve missed something, feel free to leave a comment.

*This is partly due to my having been finishing up the contract I’ve been working on for the past year.  If you’re interested in education and literacy, especially as a parent or an educator, have a look at Wordly Wise 3000, the product I was working on, and the other excellent educational software put out by School Specialty.  No, I’m not being paid to say that; I just really liked the software (and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s effective).


The Tao of Theatre: SubDevision and The Extremely Short Play Festival

In art, Ottawa, theatre on Friday 11 May 2012 at 13:40

So tonight I’m going to see King Lear at the NAC. I’m pretty excited; ever since the season launch when it was announced, it’s been on my mind. I want to see it; I want to see what transposing it to an Aboriginal context adds to (or takes away from) this timeless classic.

But I don’t think it’s the most exciting thing going on theatrically in Ottawa right now.

Actually, there isn’t a most exciting thing going on theatrically in Ottawa right now.

There are two.

Taoists will be unsurprised.

Another show I was waiting for since it was announced was New Theatre of Ottawa‘s Extremely Short Play Festival. It’s hard not to get excited about something when (NTO artistic director) John Koensgen is talking about it; his eyes genuinely light up whenever he talks about a project he believes in. I even briefly considered submitting an extremely short play (defined here as under ten minutes in length) myself; I quickly discovered what a challenge the short form really is when you’re not just writing a one-gag sketch. I wondered what level of quality the submissions would have.

Now, I didn’t get out to see this until the second week, which I sort of regret since it far exceeded my expectations both as to the quality of the writing and the quality of the production itself. There were plays from known A-list playwrights like Pierre Brault and Lawrence Aronovitch (whose Late made me both glad I had abandoned one particular piece I was working on and eager to pick it up and rework it), as well as those known primarily for other genres of writing or acting, Dan O’Meara (yes, of Ottawa’s celebrated Manx Pub) and Geoff McBride, and emerging writers (Jessica E. Anderson, Kelley Tish Baker, Andrea Connell, Adam Pierre, Tina Prud’homme and Kevin and James Smith) with considerable potential. Then, the actors interpreting the work were top-notch: Kristina Watt’s effortless versatility, Brian Stewart’s arresting stage presence, Kate Hurman’s comic grace, and Adam Pierre’s freshness and energy infused the characters and situations with life. I was impressed with the lighting, the sound, and John Koensgen’s direction. I was also glad that on the soggy, stormy night on which I went, the house was well over half-full.

So there is hope for traditional playwriting; there are established writers who continually turn out interesting work, there’s a wave of new writers cutting their teeth, and Ottawa is the place they all come home.

Then, there’s the other kind of theatre: that writ not in a chair, but wrought from thin air.

Just down the street (Daly Avenue) from NTO’s home at Arts Court Theatre is a church at the corner of Cumberland that Ottawa theatre faithful will recognize as Mi Casa Theatre’s near-regular off-the-beaten-track venue, St. Paul’s Eastern United Church.

Usually Mi Casa rents out the basement, and puts on a show or throws a party (the distinction is debatable). This time, not only Mi Casa but seven other theatre companies are spread throughout the church—the basement, yes, but also the kitchen, the wheelchair elevator, the sanctuary chapel with its majestic pipe organ and towering stained-glass windows that face the setting sun, and a few nooks and crannies besides.

The event is called subDevision. It’s a crime that tickets are only $20, and a sheer act of treason that it’s only on for three nights, one of which is now in the past.

SubDevision is not a typo, but a clever portmanteau: the venue is subdivided into multiple performance areas, and the works are all devised works, created collaboratively within and inspired by the space. The event itself was inspired by Vancouver’s HiVE co-creation space, and its genesis took place in the same fertile ground that gave us the undercurrents Festival two years ago: a Backyard BBQ attended by the Ottawa theatre community’s core creative elite.

Site-specific devised theatre isn’t an entirely foreign concept to Ottawa, although so far it’s been on a smaller scale. Six: At Home, for example, was wildly successful at the 2010 Ottawa Fringe Festival, despite being located at Laurier House—a long, hot summer’s trek away from the main venues. It’s no surprise that several of the performer/creators who were involved in that production are also members of companies taking part in subDevision.

From a logistical perspective (i.e. how to see which show when) subDevision is a bit confusing at first glance. The performers seem to have been given pretty much free rein with their timing, so not everything fits neatly into a schedule grid. Some shows take eight minutes, some take thirteen, some take twenty, one takes eleven, but they let one person in every eight minutes—and then things start selling out. Then, of the two shows in the sanctuary, one is only before dark and the other only afterward. So there’s a little arithmetic and planning involved; even more than at the Fringe, and with greater urgency.

Attendees can pick and choose performances, and there’s an incredible variety on offer. From women in slips adoring the sun from atop church pews, to a multilingual acrobatic wake, to intimate cocktails in an elevator, to revolutionary yoga, to physically philosophical comedy on the steps outside… the whole defies description (rather, I don’t want to give any of it away) and must be experienced. [Visitorium has done us all the favour of staying up until three in the morning to write his useful take on subDevision. Give it a go.]

There is some overlap between the performance spaces, giving a dreamlike quality to the experience: as you are led up a staircase by a robed figure holding a lantern, you are implored by performers splayed on the steps to join the party in the other room. At times, however, sounds from an adjacent performance intrude on the one you are in (the Bluesfest effect).

When I spoke with the organizers last week, they mentioned with pride the skill-sharing sessions that have been a part of the subDevision creative process, where the members of the different companies share their methods and tactics for overcoming blocks in collaborative creation. There’s definitely been some creative cross-pollination as a result; I noticed May Can Theatre, perhaps unwittingly, use a technique that I recognized from both The Missoula Oblongata’s The Daughter of the Father of Time Motion Study and Mi Casa Theatre’s Live from the Belly of a Whale. I don’t think it goes as far as being derivative, and it’s not a cliché—yet. It does serve to highlight the way in which a particular aesthetic or set of techniques develops organically in such an environment.

Analysis aside, it’s a bloody party.

There are, as always, theatre productions going on—there’s Lear, and there’s Death and the Maiden at the Gladstone Theatre, and next week the Great Canadian Theatre Company will wrap up its season with Circle Mirror Transformation. There are others. They’re each a worthwhile night out. And none of them would exist without some combination of the two kinds of creative process showcased by the Extremely Short Play Festival and subDevision.

Anyway, you don’t have much time left to see them, and you ought to. Theatre, like life itself, is evanescent. The best and most satisfying art often has the shortest shelf life of all.

Leave Me My Name: Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers, and The Crucible

In theatre on Friday 13 May 2011 at 16:09

A couple of years ago, when Dr. Vincent Lam won the Giller Prize for Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, he thanked a number of his influences, including a high-school English teacher named Steve Durnin.

Like Lam, I too attended St. Pius X High School on Fisher Avenue in Ottawa (not the more famous one in Montréal), and had the pleasure of two consecutive years of English class with Mr. Durnin. The stories I could tell about Mr. Durnin would fill, if not a novel, at least a booklet.

Some English teachers are pretty neat, and some are stellar. One of the things that put Mr. Durnin squarely in the latter category was his treatment of theatrical texts. There are so many teachers that suck the life out of Shakespeare by concentrating too hard on the meaning of each dirty word, that treat every play as an extended short story composed merely of dialogue. Mr. Durnin really brought it home that a play can be appreciated on many levels: as a work of written literature, as poetry, as a theatrical performance—and that in many forms: simply read aloud, played live, or on the television or cinema screen.

By happy synchronicity, as we were studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the film adaptation (starring Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor and Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams) came out in theatres. We took a field trip (and I’m not even sure it was a sanctioned field trip; Mr. Durnin tended to teach in spite of the rules rather than in strict adherence to them) to the World Exchange Plaza to see it on the screen.

I think we did better reading it out loud in class.

When I found out that Patrick Gauthier would be directing The Crucible for the twelfth annual GCTC Lawyer Play, I was thrilled… and a little scared, too. Pat clearly loves the play; when I visited him at home for an interview late last year, he was deep in research, reluctant to leave it and quick to return to it. I have confidence in Pat as a director and as a writer. But I didn’t know what to expect from the lawyers—even though I was assured that many of them had participated in many previous Lawyer Plays and were accustomed to working with a professional director in this setting.

A merely competent actor (someone capable of committing their lines to memory) can be coached out of a few bad habits by a decent, patient director. A bad actor, on the other hand, taxes even a heroic director (who, if so saddled, does better to concentrate on the starfish that can be saved, rather than achieve stunted mediocrity). We may joke that lawyers are ipso facto good actors, but not all lawyers are criminal defense lawyers; most work behind the scenes, in offices, and such. (I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this, but lawyers are apparently also generally very good-looking people! No wonder everyone picks on lawyers; they have intelligence and aesthetic appeal.) So there are no guarantees, right?

In my opinion, you should go to the theatre primarily to see good theatre, not to “support the arts” or make a charity donation. Thank goodness you don’t have to make a choice here; you can do all of the above at once. There’s no need for me to say “but it’s for a good cause” because the production’s great.

However, if you need a little help over that $100 ticket hurdle: You receive a $50 tax receipt for your charity donation. The money goes to the GCTC and a partner charity, in this case Operation Come Home. Operation Come Home is an organization that reunites street youth with their family or guardian, or gives them the support they need if that’s not an option. Personally, from what I’ve heard it’s a great social service; it gives these kids the chance to produce something to earn money, encouraging productivity and independence rather than dependence. They’re squarely in the “teach a man to fish” camp, and that I can get behind.

So how do you turn over a dozen (busy) lawyers into credible actors? Apparently you start with a good text, a director who loves and understands that text and who has a vision for it, give them a brilliant set, lighting, and costumes, and make sure the actors learn their lines. Then you coach them.

Here’s where the musical swell at the end of a scene, which technique I marked with a frowny-face in my review of Hamlet 2011, works: when you have actors who, though quite competent, are not overwhelmingly stellar, it doesn’t hurt to underscore their action and motivate them with strong musical (and lighting) accents. When I say “quite competent,” I mean, for example, that Daniel Hohnstein was a far better John Proctor than Daniel Day-Lewis at the very least. I could go through each cast member and tell you why I liked what they did, but I will save that for the Ottawa Theatre Confidential podcast. It’s not really an ensemble cast so much as it is a set of good individual performances that dovetail well.

I do feel much more willing to pay for legal services after seeing the play.

I recall that The Crucible had made a profound impression on me in high school, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why until I saw it again: the theme of the play is personal integrity, which is a very important philosophical, moral, and ethical concept to me (never mind whether or not I actually live a life of personal integrity). The Crucible is thus also a play about religion, or in a religious setting. Both law and theatre have their origin in religious practice; the law from the practical application of religious doctrine, and theatre from the ritual enactment of mythology. The Crucible highlights what happens when the word of the law becomes superior to the spirit of the law, or when mob mentality overwhelms an individual’s common sense. In that way, it is very much like Antigone, or some of the lighter writing of Ayn Rand.

No wonder Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller. He was a damn good playwright.

Anyway. I found the 2011 Lawyer Play to be a great production of a text that has meant something to me for half my life. It’s the only time I’ve seen it live, and it’s probably the only time I’ll see it live. I’m glad it was done well.

You have tonight or tomorrow night to see it. If you can, do so.

Get tickets here.

Quality versus Popularity

In art, Ottawa, theatre on Wednesday 9 March 2011 at 17:57

Thanks in part, I’m sure, to craptastic weather conditions in Ottawa over the weekend, a spirited discussion of the nature of theatre, audiences, marketing, and economics erupted on Twitter early Saturday morning and continued well into Sunday (when we finally decided on the #OThChat hashtag to dispense with the immense block of @s and keep things “organized”). I hope it continues to continue.

The discussion touched briefly upon a fact which, although it seems self-evident, frustrates the hell out of people who make a living (or aim to) out of creating art: quality and popularity are independent quantities. In other words, just because it’s “good” doesn’t mean it will sell.

Quality and popularity are independent quantities.

There is a fair amount of subjectivity involved in the assessment of quality, to start with. I’m of the opinion that aesthetic value, like any physical measurement or other perception, depends on the observer, that which is observed, and the act of observation. These things are variable. But there is such a thing as technique, and even if it cannot be objectively measured, some value can be established by consensus. We all agree, I hope, that an actor standing two feet to the left of his mark (and well out of his light) is bad quality—the craft is lacking.

Popularity, on the other hand, can be measured by attendance or box office revenue with a fair degree of accuracy. If a show sells out, it is popular; if there are blocks of empty seats, it is unpopular. It’s not that it rained or that there was no parking; unless you kept your show a secret, it’s unpopular, by definition. (Could it have been made popular? Very possibly. But that’s not what we’re talking about right now.)

Here’s where it falls apart: something can be very good, very well-done, yet be unpopular. This is less of a problem in the “durable” arts (the plastic arts, literature, recorded music—anything you can put in a box and save for later) than the performance arts, since tastes may change over the years and decades (unfortunately the creator often dies first).

If the critics are doing their job, the good stuff gets critical acclaim.

We have evolved critics ostensibly to determine what is good, and ideally they will laud high-quality theatre. When the public doesn’t know any better—and they can’t, really, in advance—they must turn to the critic for an opinion with which to compare their own. The critic walks a tightwire strung between public opinion and the accepted (in some cases centuries-old) wisdom as to what determines quality in a given art form. Criticism is, in one sense, the art of thinking about art, and the art of articulating that thought. The role of the critic is, ideally, to attempt to rotate the “popularity” axis counterclockwise so that it more closely approximates the “quality” axis.

Popular theatre is profitable theatre… one hopes.

Since popular means that people showed up and (presumably, or what are you doing?) paid, it follows that popular productions are financial successes (hopefully, they made a profit). The definition of a financial success is an accounting question rather than an economic one, and it’s muddled somewhat by the issue of grants. You can always, however, peek out from the wings and see how many seats are full. Popularity, all other things being equal, can depend upon such factors as appropriateness for season (try producing an intellectually-charged tragedy in the middle of winter) or local relevance. It is rarely influenced by the rain.

Now here’s the diagram that’s going to piss everyone off (with any luck). These are the regions of the graph we might expect professional and community theatre to occupy.

Professional vs. Community Theatre: what we might expect

Let me start by saying that I love community theatre. For one thing, it’s pretty much the only way, in a market like ours here in Ottawa, that we will see plays with a cast of more than four characters on stage. Also, perhaps also because of the state of the market, some of our community theatre is pretty good quality.

On the other hand, I also think that the people who produce/create a product should, if they so desire, be paid in accordance with the perceived exchange value (with society) of their contribution to the product. That means, if you consider that theatre has value (and why are you reading this if you don’t?), then actors (and crew, and everyone else involved with a production) deserve to be paid. Unless, of their own free will, they waive that pay.

Can community and professional theatre co-exist? Certainly. But there are certain conditions that must be met for that to happen.

My Inaccurate Rideau Awards Predictions

In theatre on Tuesday 1 March 2011 at 7:45

Last night at the Atomic Rooster on Bank Street, the nominations for this year’s Rideau Awards were announced to a room packed to the gills with, well, most of the Ottawa and Gatineau theatre community. I kind of feel sorry for the regular patrons who may not have had any idea what was going on. But then, who’s at the Atomic Rooster at 5pm on a Monday?

The Rideau Awards Gala is just over a month away, so it’s probably not too early to speculate as to the winners. The trouble is, I somehow failed to see everything that was nominated for last year. Despite promising myself after last year’s Rideau Awards to see more French theatre, I managed to miss every single one of the nominated French productions. Je débordes de chagrin honteux. Of the English productions, I did not see: Swimming in the Shallows, Heroes, Twelfth Night, They All Do It, Macbeth, Trouble on Dibble Street, Facts, The Danish Play, The Radio Show: It’s A Wonderful Life, or It’s Just a Stage (for which I apologize to Ken Godmere each time I see him in person, which is not nearly as often as I’d like). These glaring omissions will not, however, stop me from making some violent stabs in the dark; at least for the English-language awards.

Here, then, are my predictions for this year’s Rideau Award winners for English-language productions (please visit the Rideau Awards site for the full list of nominations; I didn’t feel like copying it out in full):

Outstanding Production
Wow, I missed over half of these. Shame on me. I’m personally leaning toward Turn of the Screw, but I heard so many good things about Heroes that it may just get it. I’m awfully glad Blackbird was nominated in this category; I was afraid it would be overlooked. Now I don’t feel so bad bringing it up as an example so often.

Outstanding Direction
Did I only see two out of five of these, too? Oh, wait, that’s because it’s basically the same list; just swap out Facts for Twelfth Night. This is a bit tougher. Okay, how about Patrick Gauthier for a brilliant site-specific staging of Turn of the Screw, and Heroes can have Outstanding Production? Does that work? I think it works.

Outstanding Performance, Female
Oh, I am torn. The only one of these I didn’t see was They All Do It. Now, if we were talking about Sarah Finn‘s latest go at Shadows during the undercurrents festival, that would be my pick. But we’re not; we’re talking about the original run at the 2010 Fringe—still a stellar performance, mind you. Sarah McVie‘s Rita was great, but I don’t think it was great enough to take this category (we’ll have to wait and see if her adorable Sophie from Strawberries in January makes next year’s list). Kristina Watt exceeded expectations (and shut a few people up) in Blackbird, but then Catriona Leger crafted a set of characters in Someone For Everyone that basically made that show (I think I called it The Catriona Leger Vehicle at one point, in private). Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t see They All Do It, or I’d be split five ways. Watt or Leger will likely take it, and I’ll put my money on Leger, ever-so-glad that no actual money is involved.

Outstanding Performance, Male
This is interesting. If I recall correctly, the Capital Critics Circle had such a hard time deciding who merited their version of this award that they jointly awarded it to Paul Rainville, Peter Froehlich, and John Koensgen, for their performances in Heroes. Sly move, and probably well-deserved. The Rideau Awards Committee doesn’t allow itself such deus ex machina, however. To complicate matters, Koensgen is nominated rather for his performance in Third Wall’s Blackbird. Oh, and then we throw Kris Joseph into the mix for good measure. DON’T MAKE THIS EASY OR ANYTHING. I would take a gamble and say that rather than choose Rainville over Froehlich (or rob Peter to pay Paul; either way), it’s going to be a battle between Koensgen and Joseph (for Screw), and Kris Joseph‘s going to take it, if only because he played 697 characters to Kate Smith‘s one and did sound effects.

Outstanding Lighting Design
Guillaume Houët is bound to win something. He’s up against Jock Munro in the English nominations, so he may not sweep lighting entirely, but if he doesn’t win in English, he’ll win in French. I unfortunately didn’t see what Lynn Cox did with Swimming in the Shallows, but if it was as good as what she did technically with Shadows, she’s a viable contender too. Every single one of the shows I did see had remarkable lighting. This is a tough call. Despite the fact that lighting made The List, and was integral to the characteristic feel of Vimy, and Houët’s masterful crafting of darkness itself in Blackbird was breathtaking, Turn of the Screw was probably the most difficult and unusual lighting challenge of them all, and depended on crackerjack lighting direction so thoroughly that it was virtually a third actor. So I’m picking Screw.

Outstanding Set Design
I only saw Vimy? What was I doing? And why isn’t The List on here? Maybe I’m the only one, but I really liked the set of The List. I am hideously unqualified to even guess, so I’m crossing my fingers and saying Vimy. I hope I’m right, or I missed a set that was better.

Outstanding Costume Design
Shadows. Vimy was accurate (although I’m still not sure about nurses wearing boots, but the research I did suggests that they were issued boots) but there’s not much room to get creative with a well-defined military setting: you either do it right (which they did), or not at all. Turn of the Screw was simple, and if I recall correctly (from hearsay), Macbeth was minimalist costume as well—both of which are eminently suitable costuming choices… but not award-winning. Judith DeBoer created a whole wardrobe for two characters centred on one colour scheme, with costume changes an integral part of the action and essential to straightening out the timeline. Add to that the plays within the play, and she should get this award. But that’s just my opinion.

Outstanding New Creation
I am most sad that I didn’t see Airport Security (although I did read every one of Kris Joseph‘s tweets from the stage). However, I would kind of like Six: At Home to get this: for being innovative, creative, and “christening” the Laurier House space. If Shadows, for some reason, doesn’t win anything else, it will probably win this. And here I thought They All Do It was an adaptation of Cosi Fan Tutte, rather than a new creation. I guess I stand corrected.

Outstanding Adaptation
I bet Heroes will take this. It’d be nice if A Flea in Her Ear did, but I don’t think it’s likely.

Outstanding Fringe Production
The way I forgive myself for not having seen It’s Just a Stage is by remembering my Fringe mantra: You can only see 53 out of the 60 shows, so see stuff from out of town first. It’s kind of a cumbersome mantra, but it works. I am so overjoyed that multinational gRape corporations got nominated. I can feel the toilet-paper bouquet as clearly as the day I caught it; I kid you not, I dreamt of it the other night. The Last Goddamned Performance Piece was good, although I would have liked to see the Nancy Kenny night for comparison’s sake. Probably Shadows will take this category, but it would be really cool if Six: At Home did.

Emerging Artist Award
I’ve got an idea! Instead of having an award, why don’t we have Anna Chambers and Hilary Nichol co-stage-manage a production starring Nathan Ings, Cari Leslie, and Guy Marsan? I would totally pay good money to see that. Those poor judges have to choose one? I do not envy them their task*. Well… Anna’s done pretty damn well this year, even if you don’t count her being Natalie Joy Quesnel‘s eyes, ears, and right arm for the Fringe Festival. I can’t go to anything—media call, opening night, random theatre party—without Ms. Chambers popping out from behind something. That’s what emerging means, right?

Technical / Stage Management Award
Oh, look! I is nominated for something. Why is it only one thing? Never mind: I pick it. That was a technically difficult show and set, with lots of props and pretty near 40 people moving around. But mostly because I should win the one thing for which it was nominated.

So, on April 10th, we’ll find out just how wrong my “predictions” are. In the meanwhile, I have to find a date… and some wings.

* I actually do envy the judges their task. And hard.

More thoughts on Language and the Arts

In art, language, theatre on Wednesday 23 February 2011 at 8:00

In my copious free time, I’ve been trying to pick up a bit of Ancient Greek.

There are a few reasons for this. The recent Ottawa University (La Comédie des Deux Rives) production of Iphigénie en Tauride (Iphigenia in Tauris), and the upcoming Third Wall remount of Antigone put the idea into my head. I’ve also been working on a play (that I don’t expect will ever see the light of day) that has its basis in Greek mythology, and I find it helpful to get as close to the source material as I can.

The more fundamental philosophical reason I occasionally choose to pick up the basics of a new language, however, is that it changes the way one thinks.

Many, if not most, human beings are verbal thinkers. This shows up in language itself; the English word logic comes from the Greek word λόγος (logos) for “word”, suggesting that all thought is, or can be, expressed in words (and conversely, that all words express thoughts). A few major religious philosophies, Zen Buddhism being a notable example, concern themselves heavily with divorcing thought from the limitations of language.

Language does define, to a certain extent, the way one thinks about certain concepts. Once you’ve gone beyond naming things and actions that we can all agree upon (cat, for instance, or kick), languages diverge markedly when it comes to “higher”, less tangible, concepts (love, peace, serenity). An oft-cited example is “I am hungry”. In English, it’s a state of being. But in French, it is “J’ai faim“; as in many other languages of more direct Latin descent, it is a condition one has. This is a subtle difference. More dramatically, in Japanese, a (polite) request may be phrased a number of different ways: social hierarchy is built into the language, such that one implores a social superior to “hand down” something, but a social inferior to “hand it up”. There are countless examples across many different languages.

The utility of being familiar with how a similar concept is expressed in different languages, or through different artistic disciplines, is one of perspective. Knowing more than one language can free one from thinking about things in one or the other language entirely. The awareness of there being more than one way to express a concept in words permits one to recognize that no one system of words “perfectly” captures that concept, and that concepts can exist independent of symbols.

We can look at the artistic disciplines as a set of languages insofar as they are different ways to express similar ideas. You can take an idea (democracy), a feeling (hopeless bleak despair), or an event (the Spanish Civil War), and one person can paint it, someone else can turn out a song about it, someone else could write a poem, another could write a play, make a sculpture, do a photo montage; each one of these is a valid, valuable interpretation. Each of them is different, even if based on the same inspiration.

Is there a parallel benefit, then, to appreciating more than one artistic discipline?

I certainly believe so. There is no doubt that an appreciation of theatre is increased by the study of literature or dance. Likewise, an appreciation for visual art and sculpture often go hand-in-hand. There is a fantastic trend in the “new media” (primarily electronic- and computer-based) arts to combine sculpture, visual elements, motion, and music in ways that defy categorization.

Science-fiction author Robert J. Heinlein once wrote that “specialization is for insects.” As much as it applies to the rest of human endeavour, I would say that it applies especially to the arts, and we are provided our richest aesthetic experiences by works that cross disciplines.

One day, I may even be able to say that in Ancient Greek.