Amazing peeps and artists at RAW’s electric, eclectic VERVE artist showcase

DSCN2208Had an awesome time at the opening night of RAW Natural Born Artists VERVE showcase, which featured artists, music, fashion, makeup, accessories, film and performance art — with music by Tony Smart and hosted by Jack. This show runs two nights only (closing tonight) at Mod Club.

I chatted with artists Brenda Clews (who does beautiful, vibrant, erotic work), Jennifer Radford (whose portraits range from poignant to spooky) and Alfredo Galvan (who paints gorgeous fine cars), and photographer Ian G. McIntosh (who loves to bend reality with his cool, at times super close-up shots, where the everyday becomes remarkable). Fantastic art work all around, including the dark, disturbing work of Razmig, haunting photo-realistic images by H. Jordyn Taylor and cool tattoo illustrations by Lindsay Rose.

Caught some great performances as well, including Brenda Clews doing a multimedia poetry performance that included pieces using mask and Medusa wig; and some entertaining, tight acoustic music performances from Chantelle Hope and Trevor Dubois from Charlie the Kid.

So much to see — and the place was packed last night. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole night, but I can say you’ll find amazing peeps and artists at RAW’s electric, eclectic VERVE artists showcase. Catch the next roster of artists tonight before the showcase closes; doors at 8 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took last night:

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Epic good times & kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II: Callaghan! & SwordPlay

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I think we can all safely say that last night’s opening of Sex T-Rex’s World Tour II production of Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords was the sweatiest fun Sex T-Rex show yet. At Unit 102 Theatre for a two-night run before heading east, the Sex T-Rex double bill will be the last show running in the Unit 102 space – and Unit 102 Theatre Company is in the process of looking for a new home. Both shows are directed by Alec Toller, with fight choreography by Kevin MacPherson.

Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly, written by Seann Murray and Colin Munch, is a hilarious, action-packed homage to the relic hunting Indiana Jones genre. The opening scene finds the gruffly handsome, leather jacket clad Jack Callaghan (Danny Pagett) seated with three disreputable characters, playing Russian roulette in St. Petersburg (where they just call it “roulette”); he’s lost everything he holds dear and he gives no f*cks. Even in his despair, he can’t resist when his burley, fly by the seat of his pants friend Sal (Connor Bradbury) shows up with one last job. They must find the Hunab Ku, an ancient Mayan relic with untold power, before the evil Dr. Klaus Von Handerstopp (Seann Murray) does. As they set upon their mission with their loyal nerd tech support guy Walt (Julian Frid), memories of their lovely, game and resourceful colleague Muriel (Kaitlin Morrow) haunt Callaghan’s every waking moment. During the nail-biting, side-splitting climax, Callaghan comes face-to-face with Von Handerstopp – and must make a hard choice.

Bang-on, hysterically funny characterizations; evocative exposition via brilliantly written narration; and playful, improv-inspired action that uses imaginative props – all delivered with Sex T-Rex’s signature comedic, cinematic and high-energy stylings – Callaghan! is one big kick-ass fun adventure. All this and one helluva dance break (choreography by Robin Henderson).

SwordPlay: A Play of Swords borrows from some swashbuckling favourites that include nods to The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones, as well as 1980s video games. I saw SwordPlay in an earlier double bill back in March (with Watch Out, Wild Kat! at the Storefront Theatre) – and had just as much big fun the second time around.

Epic good times and kick-ass adventure in Sex T-Rex’s Callaghan! and SwordPlay World Tour II double bill.

Sex T-Rex continues their Callaghan! and the Wings of the Butterfly and SwordPlay: A Play of Swords double bill with one more show in Toronto at Unit 102 Theatre tonight (Sat, Aug 20) at 8pm and 9:30 pm, respectively. Then, they’re off to the following cities/venues:

Thursday, August 25 at 8pm – Academic Hall, Ottawa, ON

Friday, August 26 at 8pm – Montreal Improv, Montreal, QC

Sunday, August 28 at 8pm – The Black Box Theatre, Fredericton, NB

September 2-11 – Atlantic Fringe Festival, Halifax, NS

You can keep up with all things Sex T-Rex on Twitter and Facebook.

The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees!

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Laura Larson (as Anastasia Petrov), Dov Mickelson (as Tracey Doyle) & Aisha Jarvis (as Sally Styles) – photos by Joseph Hammond

Better late to the party than never – I finally got out to see the Hogtown Experience at Campbell House Museum last night. And what a party it was!

Written by Drew Carnwath and Sam Rosenthal, and directed by Rosenthal, assisted by Nicola Pantin, the Hogtown Experience is an immersive, site-specific theatrical event that puts you in the middle of the action, which includes over 30 actors and live music, as you rub elbows with politicians, union muscle, gangsters, speakeasy girls, temperance ladies, party girls, moonshiners, a lady doctor and a baseball star.

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David Rosser as Sam McBride

When you arrive at Campbell House (I’d suggest getting there half an hour before show time), you may wander the grounds and the house. Catch some jazz in the basement speakeasy or get an early introduction to some of the characters on the front lawn, where the Temperance ladies are protesting the evils of drink, and mayoral candidate Sam McBride (David Rosser) and his wife Fanny (Kirstin Rae Hinton) are greeting and glad-handing, and the small-town Busch brothers (Matthew Bradley and Tim Ziegler) are anxiously anticipating a meeting with Delacourt to pitch their moonshine. Or wander towards the back, where the Schwartz brothers (Scott McCulloch and Jorge Molina) talk business and the wily, opportunistic Tracey Doyle (Dov Mickelson) inspects his girls before they start their shift – one of which (Anastasia, played by Laura Harding in last night’s performance) makes an appointment with the friendly, socially aware local doctor Libby Prowse (Lori Nancy Kalamanski) for her friend/co-worker Maddy (Lea Beauvais). And there’s a rambunctious, playful and strange little girl (Claire Frances Muir) running around there too.

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Dana Fradkin (as Ronnie McBride) & Drew Carnwath (as Ben Stein)

Newspaper man Ben Stein (Carnwath), who’s dating the McBride’s daughter Ronnie (Sappho Hansen Smythe,* who has been playing the role this summer), gives us an introduction and some ground rules. We are here for a party at the home of union boss Bob Delacourt (David Keeley) on the night before the 1926 municipal election, where the conservative, tee-totalling, penny-pinching incumbent Mayor Thomas Foster (Jerome Bourgault) is up against the more progressive, alcohol-friendly and forward-thinking McBride. From there, the audience is divided into three groups, and each group is guided to a room in the house to start their rotation of three scenes. You may speak to the characters, but only when spoken to.

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Jerome Bourgault as Thomas Foster

My group was first taken upstairs to the ballroom, to a meeting of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union, led by the imperious President Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale), where we hear anecdotes of personal family tragedy that resulted from intoxication. We were then treated to a lively and intense dining room scene, where the McBrides and their supporters – including Delacourt, who remained eerily silent and stone-faced – toasted their good fortune, and a surprise guest made an appearance, decidedly spoiling the good cheer. Then it was down to the games room, where our cheeky hostess Katie (Siobhan Richardson) took all bets, including one from the jovial Police Chief Draper (Robert Clarke); and over to the speakeasy for drinks (cash bar, where you can order wine in a teacup or a can of beer in a paper bag) and music, overseen and kept running smoothly by the tough, but gentleman-like Donato Granta (Conrad Bergschneider).

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David Keeley as Bob Delacourt

From there, where you go and what you see is up to you. You are encouraged to give rein to curiosity and follow characters, open doors – and see what you may find. Young love. Backroom deals upon backroom deals. Desperate, last-ditch efforts to win a race. One of the speakeasy girls in trouble. You won’t be able to catch everything, and you may want to see the show more than once; to this end, keep your program (handed out as you leave) and that will serve as your discount voucher for your next visit. And with all the election and boozy shenanigans – not to mention the red hot jazz – you may want to take them up on that deal.

An outstanding ensemble and fabulous music, creating a unique, intriguing and engaging theatrical experience, and a colourful taste of 1920s Toronto. This humble scribe had a marvelous time at the pre-election soiree at Campbell House last night. The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees – go see it!

The Hogtown Experience runs until August 28 at Campbell House Museum; performance info and advance tickets here; otherwise, it’s cash only at the gate.

In the meantime, you can keep up with Hogtown on Twitter and Facebook; and check out the show trailer:

* Department of Corrections: The role of Ronnie McBride, previously attributed to Dana Fradkin, was actually played by Sappho Hansen Smythe. Due to the scope of the show and the size of the ensemble, there is a rotating cast, so some characters are played by different actors, depending on when you see the show.

SummerWorks: Caught in a web of deceit & love in the exquisite, heartbreaking Mr. Shi & His Lover

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I caught the closing performance of Mr. Shi and His Lover, a Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic contemporary Chinese music theatre co-production, a special SummerWorks presentation at the Theatre Centre Mainspace. Inspired by the real-life love affair between a Chinese opera singer turned spy and a French diplomat, the show is performed in Mandarin with Chinese and English surtitles, with text by Wong Teng Chi, surtitle translation by Derek Kwan, music/music direction by Njo Kong Kie and direction by Johnny Tam.

A love affair between opera singer Mr. Shi (Jordan Cheng) and French diplomat Bernard (Derek Kwan) ends in scandal and imprisonment when it’s discovered that Shi is a spy – and a man disguised as a woman.

Lovely, nuanced and moving work from Cheng and Kwan – in moments of revealing solitude and in powerful, evocative two-handers. With a masterful combination of movement, gesture and voice, Cheng brings a beautiful balance of delicacy and strength to his performance as Shi; although Shi lives for, and revels in, a life of performance, he’s not prepared for getting caught in his own lie. Kwan gives Bernard a great sense of tension; his corporate sense of propriety and manners belie the deep love of ideal beauty and the heart of a romantic. As rational and logical as Bernard strives to be, he cannot explain love away when his ideal woman turns out to be a man. Mining the layers of public and private persona, betrayal, revelation, and attempted forgiveness and redemption, both must admit to real love. And in the end, each man ultimately becomes his own judge and jury.

Njo Kong Kie (piano) and Carol Wang (percussion) create a two-person orchestra for the production; positioned upstage on opposite sides, scoring and underscoring the story of Shi and Bernard’s life together and apart. The music and lyrics draw inspiration from Peking opera, pop music and modern-day music theatre; revealing the inner workings of these characters and heightening the poignant tragedy of their relationship.

Identity, perception, intrigue, scandal – and most potent of all – love; this story has it all. A performer and a diplomat caught in a web of deceit and love in the exquisite, heartbreaking Mr. Shi and His Lover.

Mr. Shi and His Lover closed its SummerWorks run at the Theatre Centre Mainspace yesterday afternoon. Keep an eye out for future productions on the show’s website.