The impact of image on memory, identity & social change in the remarkable, moving, visually epic Reflector

Abraham Asto, Louisa Zhu, Michelle Polak & Michael Spence. Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

 

Theatre Gargantua celebrates its 25th birthday with the world premiere of Reflector, conceived and directed by Jacquie PA Thomas, and written by Michael Spence—opening last night in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace.

Starring Abraham Asto, Michael Spence, Michelle Polak and Louisa Zhu, Reflector is a multimedia, multidisciplinary journey of sight, sound, memory and emotion as the storytelling explores the impact of image, tricks of the light and the perceptions of the mind’s eye. Combining physical theatre, poetry/spoken word, scenes and monologues with evocative soundscapes and a kaleidoscope of images, Reflector features projection and lighting design by Laird Macdonald, a set designed by Macdonald and Spence, sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne and costume design by Melanie McNeill.

We follow the interviews and experiences of three patients of psychologist/neuroscientist Dr. Haddad (Asto): photojournalist Declan (Spence), who took a Pulitzer prize-winning photo of a little girl who was killed among the charred ruins of her war-torn neighbourhood, and who now can’t identify everyday objects; Roula (Polak), a woman with hyperthymesia, who remembers every minute detail of everything she’s ever seen; and Kelly (Zhu), an Internet phenomenon who’s been living her life almost exclusively online, until one day she stopped doing so. All are poets; and this is reflected in the lyric language of monologues, rapid fire rap and spoken word, and the way these characters see the world, including themselves. Secret thoughts and inner conflicts emerge—even for Dr. Haddad, whose love of science is equalled only by his love of a childhood fascination with an art that at first betrayed him.

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Michelle Polak & Michael Spence (foreground); Louisa Zhu & Abraham Asto (background). Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

The pacing and tone shifts back and forth, playing out opposites in a rich audio/visual tapestry of conflicting thoughts and emotions: calm and storm, light and shadow, break-neck speed and Sunday drive, fluid and erratic, soothing and jarring, cerebral and visceral. Movement matches sight and sound in evocative, innovative—and at times disturbing—ways.

Outstanding performances from the entire ensemble here, as the performers play out this story in a physical, vocal and emotional marathon. Asto brings a nice balance of warm, thoughtful professional and curious, child-like fascination to scientist Dr. Haddad— who gets an equally warm, child-like send-up from the other characters in a hilarious scene of self-reflection. Spence gives the tortured, frustrated Declan a fierce internal boil beneath the fragile, vulnerable surface. Polak’s Roula has a puck-like, wise-cracking frankness that belies inner turmoil and terrified grasping for identity. And Zhu’s got mad rapping skills, her mouth shooting words like a semi-automatic; then shows great debating chops as Kelly makes her argument for her virtual life—a life interrupted, but by what?

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Abraham Asto & Michael Spence. Lighting & projection design by Laird MacDonald. Set design by Michael Spence & Laird MacDonald. Costume design by Melanie McNeill. Photo by Michael Cooper

The impact of image on memory, identity and social change in the remarkable, moving, visually epic Reflector.

Reflector continues at TPM until November 18; get your advance tickets online .

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Rich tapestry of image, sound & dance tells a powerful story without words in remarkable Century Song

Neema Bickersteth in Century Song—photos by John Lauener

 

Nightwood Theatre partners with Volcano, Richard Jordan Productions UK and Moveable Beast Collective to present Century Song, opening last night in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Theatre’s home at Streetcar Crowsnest.

Created by soprano/performer Neema Bickersteth, choreographer Kate Alton and director Ross Manson, the multimedia, multidisciplinary Century Song tells the stories of women throughout the past hundred years, incorporating the music of composers Sergei Rachmaninoff, Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Toronto’s Reza Jacobs; and including accompaniment by Gregory Oh (piano) and Ben Grossman (percussion, computer). The show also includes stunning projected images—black and white, and colour portraits, visual art pieces, and evocative landscapes, cityscapes and environments—projection design by Torge Møller and Momme Hinrichs from Germany’s fettFilm; and featuring the works of numerous photographers and artists.

This is a show unlike any I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a lot of theatre—so how can I describe to you this beautifully moving, powerful and innovative piece of storytelling that is really best experienced on an emotional and visceral level, as opposed to a cerebral level (though it does leave you with plenty to think about).

Opening in 1915 with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, we see a woman corseted and engaged in repetitive action, evoking housework and an agricultural setting. Moving into the 1920s/1930s, she is now clad in a sleek golden gown, placed in a magical forest—the setting, sound and imagery changing as time shifts into the 1930s and 1940s, with increasingly intense and horrific renderings of social and economic upheaval, and the devastation of war.

Century_Song_7With projections covering both the back wall and floor, the zooming in on images provides the illusion of movement. This technical aspect takes on a playful effect as we journey from the 1950s through 1978, where we see multiple Bickersteths as a variety of characters in various living room settings. And it’s particularly cool when she returns to the stage, joining her projected, life-size selves.

The landscape gets intense again, as we’re whisked up a skyscraper and onto the roof where we see a vast, endless cityscape before us. It’s dark and stormy. Now dressed in a business skirt suit, she is caught up in a frenzy of chaos and speed—overwhelmed by the pace and bleakness of it all.

Century_Song_6Returning to a quiet moment, Bickersteth closes with Vocalise for Neema by Reza Jacobs, a piece commissioned specifically for Century Song; with a haunting, yet soothing, lullaby quality that shifts into bluesy and playful tones, it promises to bring some to tears as we return to the safe confines of the theatre space in the present time.

Bickersteth is a wonder up there, bringing a powerhouse performance that combines operatic vocals and dance. Taut and precise, flexible and present, her work is masterfully fluid and evocative as she travels through time and space—presenting the lives of these women, with all their joys, fears, challenges, successes and expectations as they play out their roles.

With shouts to the design team: Camilla Koo (set), Rebecca Picherack (lighting) and Charlotte Dean (costumes).

A rich tapestry of image, sound and dance tells a powerful story without words in remarkable Century Song.

Century Song continues at Streetcar Crowsnest until April 29; advance tickets available online. Get out to see it—this is theatre like you’ve never seen.

Department of Corrections: The original post contained a typo in director Ross Manson’s surname; that has since been corrected.

Interview: Leanne Ferguson

Galaxy Photoz is a new photography service that puts clients in touch with professional, vetted photographers. Featuring nine types of photography, Galaxy Photoz wants to make the photographer search safe, easy and on demand. For photographers, it acts like an agency, promoting their work and connecting them with clients. It’s like Uber for your photography service needs. I interviewed Galaxy Photoz CEO and founder Leanne Ferguson to get the scoop on this new service.

LWMC: Hi Leanne. Thanks for reaching out to chat about Galaxy Photoz. What can you tell us about the genesis of this new photography service?

LF: It’s an app and it saves you time and headaches. Similar to UBER, it’s a middleman that connects customers to photographers within minutes. You can book for same day or future dates.

LWMC: The service covers photographers specializing in nine photography types. What are those types? Do you find that any are in greater demand than others?

LF: The nine types of photography we currently provide are: Maternity, Newborn, Cake Smash, Headshots, Engagements, Weddings, Events, Model Portfolios and Portraits.

The top three are events, last-minute headshots (I don’t know why!) and maternity photo shoots. A lot of midwives and doulas promote us to their clients.

LWMC: One of the things Galaxy Photoz sets out to do is make the photographer search a no-hassle and safe process. What types of issues have you seen people run into with photographers?

LF: Photographers disappearing with deposits. One of my closest friends got married five years ago and still hasn’t received her images. She spent $4,500! I’ve also heard many times about photographers not showing up or just botching the job completely.

LWMC: Galaxy Photoz acts as an agent of sorts for photographers, with a select roster to feature and promote. How does Galaxy Photoz go about vetting and selecting photographers for inclusion on the service?

LF: Good question! There is a two-step process. The photographer has to pass a test, mainly around camera literacy. Then they have to upload images for approval.

LWMC: Can you describe the process for clients who are looking to hire a photographer?

LF: There are five easy Steps to Book:

  1. Select a category
  2. Select a location
  3. View portfolios
  4. Send request
  5. Accept a pro!

LWMC: What are the benefits of the service for photographers? And how do they get in touch to apply to get on your roster?

LF: The photographers are handed pre-paid shoots that pay well. There are no upfront costs for joining and less competition.

LWMC: Although you’re located in Toronto, you’re looking to broaden the scope of your service—and you’re launching an Indiegogo campaign to get Galaxy Photoz on its way. What is your vision to reach out globally?

LF: The vision is to remove the lack of trust from the photography industry worldwide with an easy-to-use platform. We’ll be in multiple cities across North America by year-end. Right now, the waiting list for photographers to join is at www.galaxyphotoz.com/photographers

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

LF: You can get a free photo shoot! When you sign up for free, you’ll get a link that you can share. Every time you refer a customer, you both make $5 and you can compound it to pay for an entire photo shoot.

LWMC: Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word?

Seriously…. LOL that’s my favourite word, “Seriously.”

What’s your least favourite word?

“Can’t,” because Yes I can! Wait… Am I only supposed to say one word? #Oops

What turns you on?

Huh?

What turns you off?

Hmmmmmm….

What sound or noise do you love?

I’m in love with Tory Lanez’s recent song called “Luv”… Does that count as a sound? 😉

What sound or noise do you hate?

My next door neighbour’s dog barking.

What is your favourite curse word?

Me? I don’t swear… Just kidding that’s a F*cking lie :–)

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?

Acting… Growing up I always wanted to be a movie star.

What profession would you not like to do?

I wouldn’t like to be an astronaut; I’d like to stay here on earth.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Hello my daughter…”

Thanks, Leanne!

You can follow Galaxy Photoz on Twitter and Facebook—and be sure to check them out on Instagram!

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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SummerWorks: Capturing the humanity & quirks of Toronto’s west end in Face Value: West

FaceValueWest-400x300One woman. Six photographs. Limitless possibilities.

Still black and white images of west end Toronto life come alive in a wonderful, collaborative work by actor Tracey Hoyt and photographer Kate Ashby, directed by Melody A. Johnson and Rick Roberts, in Dorothy Mae Productions’ Face Value: West – now running at the Theatre Centre Incubator space as part of SummerWorks.

Brilliantly conceived and performed, with sharply-drawn characters, Hoyt is the orchestra, and Ashby’s west end Toronto photographs are both the sheet music and the conductor. Combining improvisation with personal storytelling, Hoyt responds to each photograph that appears onscreen by acting out the scene and using this as a jumping off point for anecdotes of moments and memories from her own life.

A woman sitting by herself outside the ROM, her back to us, sits across the sidewalk from a solitary man – their postures informing the tone of the characters as the story takes an unexpected, comic turn. A sign taped to the window of a bar, advertising a  karaoke night hosted by Maria creates a multicultural/multilingual cast of characters that incorporates the audience and includes a shy would-be performer who longs to sing “Edelweiss.”

People out on the street, some of them homeless. A shirtless old man sitting on a stoop, cigarette in one hand as he gestures with the other, becomes “The Captain.” A guy and a girl panhandling on the sidewalk, the girl eating an ice cream cone with a dog snoozing under her outstretched legs, becomes a family, each member with very different priorities. A young man with a parrot becomes a licensed street busker. And a scene of a woman and two men sitting side by side on the subway unfolds into moments from a disappointing second date witnessed by a watchful secret admirer. In the end, all six photos appear – and each of these fictional, improvised moments and lives are wrapped up with a final word from the characters.

Funny, poignant and observant – Face Value: West captures the humanity and quirkiness of everyday folks hanging out in Toronto’s west end. All in all, a delight to watch.

Face Value: West continues at the Theatre Centre Incubator until Aug 16 – see the show page for exact dates/times.

SummerWorks 25 is coming!

sw_logo1Hey kids! I’ve been away from the blog for a bit, busy with summertime family and social gatherings, and getting some R&R in before the next big wave of events. And can you believe it’s August already?

Being August also means it’s time for SummerWorks, a juried, multidisciplinary performance festival which opens tomorrow (Thurs, Aug 6) and runs until Sun, Aug 16.

Like Toronto Fringe, SummerWorks uses multiple spaces/locations and each show runs at different times throughout the fest – check the 2015 festival schedule for what’s happening when and where; venues include The Theatre Centre, Factory Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille, among others.

SummerWorks turns 25 this year, hence the SummerWorks 25 moniker – so that’s not a typo you’re seeing in the Twitter #SW25 hashtag.

I’ve decided to go minimalist this year and focus on theatre performances. I picked up my media pass yesterday – and here’s what I’ve booked so far:

An Evening in July
Better Angels: A Parable
Face Value: West
Lac/Athabasca
The Living
The Tall Building
Tough Guy Mountain: a play

To be confirmed:
Seams

So what are you planning on seeing at SummerWorks this year?

Reminder that cowbell is an unpaid, part-time, one-person operation; in addition, I don’t have time off my f/t office job during SummerWorks, so I’ll see as much as I can. If you’re working on one of the productions this year and if I can’t make it to your show, please keep in touch for your next production.

Toronto Fringe: An enjoyable history what-if in charming, entertaining Exposure

Craig Walker, Laurel Paetz & Christopher Blackwell in Exposure - photo by Greg Wanless
Craig Walker, Laurel Paetz & Christopher Blackwell in Exposure – photo by Greg Wanless

I also saw another enjoyable history-inspired piece yesterday at Toronto Fringe: Undershaft & Lazarus Productions’ world premiere of John Lazarus’s Exposure, directed by Kathryn MacKay – running at the Robert Gill Theatre.

Inspired by Louis Daguerre’s ground-breaking photograph of a man getting a shoe shine on the Boulevard du Temple, Paris, Exposure fills in the blanks as it theorizes who that man and shoe shine woman could have been.

Mme. Brillante (Laurel Paetz), former actress and now a purveyor of shoe shines and fortunes, and Daguerre (Craig Walker) are unexpectedly reunited on the Blvd. du Temple outside his theatre as he’s rushing off to present his new invention at the Académie Française in the hopes of getting a development grant. His invention: a camera that captures images on a glass plate; however, his street scene exposures are currently unable to capture people and other moving subjects. Some time later, Mme. Brillante encounters Anonyme (Christopher Blackwell), a young man disappointed in a failed attempt at an acting career now bent on drowning himself. In an effort to prevent his suicide, she persuades him to stop for a shoe shine.

Lovely work from the cast in this historical what-if play. Paetz is intrepid and upbeat as Mme. Brillante, whose years of name changing and acting serve her well as she puts on a cheerful disposition when she needs to; she has a quick, sardonic wit and a kind heart. Walker gives Daguerre a nice combination of brilliance and anxiousness – a man of clockwork habits who is ambitious and driven, at times uncertain of his own talent, but not above accepting assistance. A hard-working artist and scientist, he has not entirely abandoned his humanity for his work. As Anonyme, Blackwell has an affable but entitled air about him; a young aristocrat, he has the flair of nobility in his dress and carriage, but not the snobbery. His treatment of Mme. Brillante, a street vendor, indicates that he judges people by their actions and not by their station in life.

Shouts to set designer Bill Penner and director MacKay for the costume design.

Exposure is a charming and entertaining history-inspired piece on love, art and science, featuring a fine trio of actors.

Exposure has two more performances at the Robert Gill Theatre: July 9 at 9:15 p.m. and July 10 at 4:30 p.m.