SummerWorks: Kick-ass rock & ongoing disruptive shenanigans @ Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest

armygirlsMusic and intentional performance disruption at Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest, with opening act Omhouse, at a one-night only SummerWorks performance at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night.

Omhouse brought a kick-ass set of trippy rock, playing in front of a large projected illustration of the four-member band.

For the main event, Cara Spooner started to shake things up even before Army Girls (Carmen Elle of DIANA on vocals and guitar, and Andy Smith on drums) started playing, reversing the audience and staging spaces, setting the scene for ongoing shit disturbance and shenanigans throughout the duration of the band’s kicky, indie rock sound set. Spooner’s impish antics were both fascinating and hilarious, keeping us all on our toes – a woman after my own heart.

The Failure Fest title comes from the fact that Army Girls set out to play “orphaned” songs, once thought awesome and now abandoned as embarrassing shit. And with Spooner moving with the music, beside and through the scene – and moving the microphone, sound equipment and even the drum kit (piece by piece!) – the band and audience can’t help but have a new perspective.

Makes me wonder how Army Girls feels about these songs now.

Here are some snaps I took last night:

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SummerWorks: Brave & sharp memoir in Women Who Shout at the Stars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA straight-talking, no-nonsense cockney woman, a former scullery maid turned nanny. A vivacious, suicidal socialite mother who loves gin and the works of Dorothy Parker. A sensitive and creative young woman, raised, influenced and loved by both of these women.

Women Who Shout at the Stars, written and performed by Carolyn Hetherington, and directed by Kathryn MacKay, with dramaturgy by Judith Thompson, is a journey through the lives and loves of three women, intersecting and weaving together across time and an ocean, played out on the Theatre Passe Muraille main stage as part of SummerWorks.

Told through monologue, anecdote and correspondence, Hetherington’s three real-life characters each shift from first-person to second-person narrative, morphing into each other, at times interacting in dialogue. The stage, with its two arm chairs and side tables, a red silk jacket hanging between them upstage, separate the two worlds of mother Gwen and nanny Edie, with Hetherington crossing between them – and as them – and into her younger self. The atmosphere is intimate, and the audience is taken into the confidences of each woman as thoughts, feelings and secrets are revealed. You feel like you’re sitting across from each of them, sharing a cup of tea or a glass of gin as each reminisces aloud. Now in her early 80s, Hetherington is remarkable in this performance, with its range of emotion and storytelling – not to mention stamina.

These three women have a lot of story to tell – and I wonder how a pared down version would hone the focus of the storytelling. Still, Women Who Shout at the Stars is a bittersweet, sharp – at times archly funny – memoir.

The show runs at the TPM main space until Sun, Aug 17 – check here for exact dates/times.

SummerWorks: Engaging, poignant & funny storytelling in Graceful Rebellions

Graceful RebellionsSaw another engaging and entertaining solo show at SummerWorks last night: Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions, directed by Evalyn Parry (who also has a show in the fest: To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0).

Playing across time, space and culture, Latif plays three Afghan women with interwoven lives: a 14-year-old serves tea and candied almonds at her older sister’s engagement party, and dreams of her own wedding day; a young woman lives and works as a boy to support her mother and sisters; a 17-year-old gay Afghan-Canadian girl pleads her case to the school principal. We later see the first young woman, grown up and living in Canada – and planning a surprise engagement party for her gay daughter.

Latif is a delightful performer, using a chest of costumes to make her character transformations, from the sweet, precocious 14-year-old, to the tough, pragmatic young woman/boy, to the extroverted, outspoken and out high school student. Each is searching for identity in the midst of their very different circumstances and environments; each is expected to be lovely and compliant – and each experiences her own version of attraction to women. And each embodies a strong sense of self and of love, resilient and adaptable, even as each faces her own battles, from war-torn Afghanistan to the bully in the hallway of a Canadian high school.

Graceful Rebellions is a charming, poignant and funny piece of storytelling, running at the Theatre Passe Muraille back space until Saturday, August 16. Check here for exact dates and times.

SummerWorks preview: A magical, imaginative & entertaining piece of storytelling in Yarn

HERO-Yarn_photo1-small1I spent a lovely evening at the Majlis Art Garden last night, for a preview performance of the SummerWorks production of Alex Eddington’s one-human show Yarn, directed by Tyler Seguin and Helen Juvonen.

It’s a covered outdoor space with chairs set up in a semi-circle around a stage that sits in the nook of what sort of looks like an open-sided garage, but used to be a welding studio. Sitting in the cool summer air before the show started, breathing in the smell of cedar chips and taking in the smiles of fellow audience members as we listened to Eddington’s sound check, I had the opportunity to chat with Trisha, whose home is part of the building, about the space. A seasonal performance space in the Queen West neighbourhood, Majlis Art Garden gets its name from the Arabic word “majlis” – meaning “a place to sit” – the space’s name inspired by the “majalis” of the golden age of 10th century Spain, salon-like gatherings featuring music, dance, poetry, philosophy and debate.

And, then, Eddington begins to spin his Yarn.
My brain loves stories.
My brain loves words…

If Eddington didn’t have me already – and he did – he had me with these lyrics.
Based on a true story, Yarn is the story of a young man’s journey to the Isle of Mull, Scotland in a quest to find his voice. He gets a job as a chambermaid, and plans to spend his free time seeing the sights and composing. Told through song, wordplay, music and digital looping, storytelling and a puppet named Buttercup, Eddington weaves his tale, a one-human cast of several characters, not all human.

Ancient mythology, superstition, wishful thinking and unexpected adventures abound, with Eddington’s goings-on running parallel to that of the young man in the story within his story. As he mixes traditional storytelling and musicianship with modern technology – playing music on both standard and found object instruments – the effect is quite enchanting. And the bodhrán that hangs up centre doubles as a screen for shadow and light play, as well as a looking like a full moon, presiding over the mystic landscape. And I love the purple trombone.

LIfe is what happens when you’re trying to come up with your story.

Yarn is a magical, imaginative and entertaining piece of storytelling. Go see this – check out details for dates/times here. And be sure to check out upcoming arts events at Majlis Art Garden.

Time lapse video of Lisa Anita Wegner Transformation @ STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night

Hey all – A quick second post to follow up the slide show of Lisa Anita Wegner’s opening night of her STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? Transformation event at The Black Cat Gallery: Wegner’s time lapse video of the evening’s metamorphosis, including GoPro cam footage of stylist Wanda MacRae’s perspective.


Some sympathy for the devils in StageWorks Toronto’s Assassins

Assassins colourized alley“Attention must be paid!” This line from The Death of a Salesman is used as a major talking point by John Wilkes Booth in Assassins. Not able to achieve recognition by regular means, there are some people who will go to extreme measures to be noticed, undertaking the death of another.

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Assassins – music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman, and directed by Lorraine Kimsa and Michael Yaneff, with music direction by Tom Kerr – takes us through a history of nine American assassins, from the 1860s to the 1970s.

Starting at a carnival in limbo, the Proprietor introduces eight of the assassins, arming each with a period appropriate handgun. Spinning the Wheel of Presidents, the Proprietor starts it all off with Booth in 1865 – the father of American presidential assassinations. Our trip through history is not a chronological one, and each outcome is interwoven with various scenes of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore on their comic, bumbling road to their target Gerald Ford. And throughout, the Balladeer adds musical moral commentary on the situation at hand.

It’s not all dark comedy fun and games, though – the final assassination presented – the most affecting historically and personally for America – is nurtured to its horrible fruition by Booth and the others as they coax Lee Harvey Oswald to pull the trigger on John F. Kennedy from that Dallas Book Depository window.

Overall, an excellent cast, serving up some strong vocals – with some stand-outs. Luke Witt is very effective as the devilishly seductive Proprietor, while Hugh Ritchie is beautifully bright and soothing as the Balladeer – the devil and the angel on opposite shoulders of the collective assassins’ consciousness. Rich Burdett is remarkable as Booth, combining a striking, commanding presence and powerful vocals – and his scene with Oswald (played with great passion and inner conflict by Nicholas Arnold) is particularly chilling. Will van der Zyl delivers a hilarious and poignant performance as the crazy Santa Samuel Byck, in his tape recorded letters to Leonard Bernstein and Richard Nixon, outlining his plan to fly a 747 at Nixon in 1974. Laurie Hurst is lovably kooky as Moore and Christie Stewart is adorably deluded as Fromme – and Stewart does a lovely duet, “Unworthy of Your Love,” with Mike Buchanan (nice work as the sensitive, but extremely troubled John Hinckley Jr.), a love song to their celebrity obsessions Charles Manson and Jodi Foster.

Collectively, the Ensemble (Anthony Botelho, Stephen Flett, Lauren Lazar, Suzanne Miller and Peter Nielson) give a lovely, moving performance of “Something Just Broke,” presenting first-hand citizen accounts of where they were when they heard about their president’s death, led by especially strong vocals by Lazar. And the assassins do a great job with “Another National Anthem” and the finale “Everybody’s Got the Right” – hymns of the disenfranchised and marginalized, left behind economically and in some cases dealing with mental health issues. Eerie in light of ongoing current events in the U.S., where everybody’s got the right to own a gun, but not everyone has access to mental health care or equal opportunity – and the deadly, tragic combination these can make.

With shouts to set designer Michelle Tracey, and lighting designers Karen Brown and Paul Harris, for the aesthetically pleasing, very effective multi-level creepy carnival in limbo, with great use of back-screen projection for the footage of the Kennedys making their way from the airport and through Dallas to that shot that was heard around the world. And the use of balloons on set to create the gunshot sounds was both clever and spooky.

Everyone needs to be loved and everyone needs to matter. But not everyone goes about it by deciding to kill the President of the United States. And rightly so. For a couple of hours, we hear their stories, their reasons – and perhaps we can offer up some sympathy. But in light of a deadly, final outcome, we can only feel so sorry for these poor devils.

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Assassins is a rousing, darkly entertaining and moving piece of musical cautionary storytelling. Attention must be paid.

Assassins continues its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre until July 27.

Beautifully candid & vulnerable – Angela Saini’s “Something Like I’m Beautiful” music vid

Just released today, Angela Saini’s new music video “Something Like I’m Beautiful” is a lovely visual realization of the song, from her latest CD Leap. It’s one of my favourite songs; beautifully candid and vulnerable, it speaks to a feeling that every woman has had at some point – and, in some cases, all too often. No matter who she is, a woman can always use a reminder that she matters and that she’s beautiful.