Toronto Fringe: Party like a sumo wrestler with Robin F*cking Black in the gutsy, inspirational Enjoy the Hostilities

Robin Black. Photo by John Laszlo Bruce.

 

Pressgang Theatre takes us on a wild, wisdom-filled storytelling ride with its Toronto Fringe production of Enjoy the Hostilities, written by Robin Black and Graham Isador, directed by Isador and performed by Black—running now at The Bovine.

Part personal journey, part edgy TedTalk, the storytelling is frank, unapologetic and authentic as the hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-partying Black takes us from his life as the frontman of the glam rock band Robin Black and the Intergalactic Rockstars, to fighting in the UFC cage, to becoming a professional MMA fight analyst. Turning his life around from a deadly diet of drugs and alcohol after waking up to a drug-induced seizure, Black set his sights on becoming a professional fight commentator—but, first, he had to become a fighter. Knowing full well that larger goals are made up of smaller goals (a system of goal achievement he learned from his dad), this meant training, studying—and overcoming his previous reputation as an eyeliner-wearing rocker with big hair and tight pants, to gain respect in the cage.

Black’s determined, fighter spirit goes super nova in this gutsy, inspirational solo show—and there’s genuine gratitude, joy and excitement to be making a living doing what he loves.

Enjoy the Hostilities has one more performance at the Bovine: July 15 at 6 pm. Last night’s show was jam-packed, so advance booking strongly recommended.

Want to check if the show you want to see is sold out? The Toronto Fringe folks have set up a page for sold-out shows, updated daily.

 

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Strength, struggle & identity in funny, brave & poignant HERStory Counts

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Top (l to r): Kelly Wilk, Tennille Read, Sundance Nagrial & Evangelia Kambites. Bottom (l to r): Janet Romero-Leiva, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Susan A. Lock & Jennifer Neales (photo by Jenna Borsato)

Seven performers. Three nights. One theatre project just getting started.

 

Artistic producer/project founder Jennifer Neales had been frustrated about the lack of diverse voices in theatre – particularly womyn of colour – for 10 years; that is, until she decided to do something about it. And that something is the HERStory Counts theatre project, which opened its inaugural performance at Red Sandcastle Theatre for a three-performance run last night.

Neales joined forces with some kick-ass creators and actors to put together a show featuring seven autobiographical monologues, where the actors were also the playwrights. Along with Neales, the creative team includes Jenna Borsato, Melanie Hyrmak, Franny McCabe-Bennett and Melissa Major.

Each monologue transitioning seamlessly into the next, this HERStory Counts program moves like a game of theatrical tag – playful, challenging and inclusive. The actors remain seated onstage throughout, participating with active listening and engagement – and an occasional declaration of sisterhood. Here’s a taste of the program, in order of appearance, including the unofficial (and very fitting) monologue titles, provided by Neales.

Tennille Read – Oranges are Green in Trinidad. Part memoir, part journey of discovery, Read takes us on a series of childhood and young adult visits to Trinidad, where she has a close bond with her grandfather. When she’s a child, he teaches her the alphabet, and instills in her an appreciation of education and curiosity; as an adult, she finds they have very different, culturally-informed views of education as she struggles with his response to her decision to study theatre at university instead of science. Her challenges continue as an actor, with casting choosing to only see the “exotic” possibilities of her appearance, while ignoring what makes her a unique individual. Oranges in Trinidad are green on the outside, but still orange on the inside – and it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Kelly Wilk – Captain Grief. Finding herself a widow in her mid-30s with young son to raise, Wilk takes us on a heartbreaking and hilarious journey of loss, grief and acceptance as she finds a unique way of coping – one that includes a cape. Bold, irreverent and outspoken, Captain Grief says what Kelly cannot say, faces what she’s reluctant to face and goes boldly forward into life without a beloved wife. Learning to be her own hero, Kelly finds she is Captain Grief.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson – Focus, Balance, Priorities, Selflessness. An actor, wife and mother of two daughters, Stephens-Thompson ignores the naysayers and doesn’t doubt that she could be an actor and a good mom as she breast-pumps during rehearsal breaks and takes calls from her kids during auditions. The constant rejection and racial stereotyping in casting (she’s Black) are discouraging, though – enough to make her quit acting for a while. Then, a breakthrough moment of encouragement and clarity changes her perspective and brings her back to a career she loves.

Evangelia Kambites – Strong Black Womyn. The title says it all. Kambites was brought up to be a strong Black womyn, and finds that identity challenged when she’s faced with a fight or flight choice in a confrontation with an aggressive and racist attacker, where verbal assault becomes physical. Living with PTSD and depression, she finds compassion and empathy for her assailant, who she learns is mentally ill himself, and discovers that she can still be a strong Black womyn in spite of it all.

Janet Romero-Leiva – Perfect Baby-making Body. Romero-Leiva and her female partner wanted to have a baby and decided to do it the old-fashioned way – with sperm in a cup. What follows is a frank, funny and moving journey through the IVF process of sperm donor selection, hormone supplements and pregnancy. The doctors told her that she embodied perfect baby-making conditions – but, then, nothing is ever really perfect, and she and her partner have a hard decision to make.

Susan A. Lock – Good Hakka Daughter. Lock is a smart, hard-working, good Hakka daughter with smart, hard-working, good Hakka parents. As a teen, she finds herself anxiously, but bravely, coming to terms with her high school course nemesis, chemistry, which despite her best efforts, she is unable to get. Intrepid and self-aware, she realizes her limitations and breaks it to her dad so she can get permission to quit the class. Academic pressures become more serious in university, where she must choose between her health and the possibility of disappointing her parents.

Sundance Nagrial – The Birthday Club. In elementary school, Nagrial is a bright, happy ray of sunshine and the chief party planner for her classmates’ birthdays. At home, there is no birthday party for her, but an ongoing battleground where she fights to protect her brother and mother from her abusive father, as her mother bears the brunt of the family violence. A startling and heart-wrenching reminder that you can’t always judge a book by its cover – you never know what’s going on beneath the larger-than-life personality that someone reveals to the world.

The storytelling is engaging, entertaining, deeply honest and moving. In facing personal obstacles and tragedies, each of these womyn finds reserves of strength she didn’t know she had. On the road to self-discovery, each finds what’s really important and what she’s capable of.HERstoryCounts

With shouts to multitasking stage manager Jenna Borsato and Neales’ wife Helen Tweddle, who worked front of house.

Strength, struggle and identity in the funny, brave and poignant HERStory Counts.

HERStory Counts has two more performances at Red Sandcastle: tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Tonight is sold out, but there may be some seats left for Sunday’s show. Please note the early curtain time.

Keep an eye out for future productions. Like I said at the top of this post, this is just the beginning.

You can keep up with HERStory Counts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And check out my interview with Neales.

Here’s the promo video from this production’s Indiegogo campaign:

 

NSTF: A jaunty, jolly & jarring good time on the Thames in hilarious, entertaining Three Men in a Boat

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Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak & Scott Garland in Three Men in a Boat

I rarely resort to alliteration in my headlines, but in the case of Pea Green Theatre’s production of Three Men in a Boat, I was inspired to break with convention. Based on an 1889 travelogue by Jerome K. Jerome, adapted for the stage by Mark Brownell and directed by Sue Minor, Three Men in a Boat is a remount of a very successful Toronto Fringe 2014 production, back to delight audiences at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF) at Factory Theatre.

In an attempt to break free from general lethargy and ennui, three hearty young bachelors decide to undertake a two-week boat excursion on the Thames, complete with all the provisions of civilized British society, a canvas to keep out inclement weather and a dog named Montmorency. Despite warnings of rain and thunderstorms ahead, they embark on their journey. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, disaster and hilarity ensue – along with some great period storytelling, hysterical physical comedy and some bang-up three-part harmonies that would make Gilbert and Sullivan proud.

The marvelous cast features Matt Pilipiak (Jay, the fastidious and sensitive narrator), Victor Pokinko (George, the saucy, slap-dash musician) and Scott Garland (Harris, the burley whisky connoisseur – and also an excellent mini-cast of incidental characters along their journey). With shouts to costume designer Nina Okens for the fabulous period costumes.

It’s a jaunty, jolly and jarring good time on the Thames in hilarious, entertaining Three Men in a Boat.

Three Men in a Boat continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Jan 17, with a talk back following this afternoon’s (Jan 10) performance at the Hoxton. Advance tickets are strongly recommended – last night’s performance was sold out.

Check out this vid of the opening sequence and you’ll see why:

To book tickets in advance, call 416-966-1062 or purchase tix online; or you can purchase tickets in at the box office, which opens one hour before the first show of the day. Click here for full ticket/pass info.

SummerWorks: The beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North in To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500For my final SummerWorks production, I returned to Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to see the closing night performance of Evalyn Parry’s To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0. You can read the post about my visit to the installation here.

The table of objects and remembrances of visitors’ experiences of the North has been moved to the side of the space to accommodate chairs for an audience. The stage is set against the back wall, designed to look like a wall of ice.

Frank, the studio cat, lounges upstage right and eventually wanders about during the course of Parry’s performance. This is his space, after all, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he inserted himself into the show.

Weaving history, songs, personal anecdotes and images of her trip to Greenland with Students on Ice, along with some visitor interview excerpts recorded during the installation’s residency at SummerWorks, Parry takes us from the Franklin expedition to the present day, winding through exploration, a brief history of the Dominion’s early and shameful relationship with the Inuit, to her own personal thoughts and experiences of the North. The performance has a kitchen party quality to it, especially when we are invited to turn our chairs around to face the map, with Parry’s soundscaping and singing continuing throughout, in a crystal clear and soothing, mantra-like celtic folk style. Parry’s father David, who was a folk singer and member of The Friends of Fiddlers Green, also features prominently in the performance – and To Live in the Age of Melting may be as much an homage to him as it is to the landscape.

History, geography, ecology, politics, art and culture merge in this moving and enlightening performance. And although the SummerWorks installation and performance is now over, this is just the beginning of Parry’s exploration. She plans to continue honing this work, and will go on to conduct a similar examination of Northern views of the South.

Evalyn Parry’s To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 is the beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North.

Keep an eye out for Evalyn Parry and To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 – and its continuing evolution and addition of Northerners’ perspectives.

Installation kitty
Frank, the Pia Bouman studio cat, lounges on Parry’s t-shirt on the exhibit table

 

SummerWorks: Installation & audience contribution leading up to performance of To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500It was a chillier than usual August night in Toronto last night – and I found myself purchasing hot chocolate and wishing I’d brought a jacket, which felt odd – but it was what it was. To be honest, I’ve really been enjoying this cooler summer. I had some time before my next show, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop by Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to check out Evalyn Parry’s work in progress – with fellow creators/performers Elysha Poirier and Laakkaluk Bathory Williams – for OutSpoke Productions’ To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0, part of this year’s SummerWorks Live Art Series.

The first phase of To Live in the Age of Melting is part installation, part viewer participation, as Parry collects objects and images from patrons of their experiences of the North, and asks people if they’d like to be interviewed about their thoughts and perceptions of the North.

Featured prominently when you first enter the space is a giant map of Canada. Visitors are invited to share how far north they’ve been – and Parry’s assistants (in my case last night, SummerWorks volunteer Pauline and Aidan) will plot your destination on the map, from start to finish, using pins and colour-coded string/thread. In my case, it’s the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), Ontario to North Bay, Ontario; my thread is black, as I took the trip by car (with my family when I was around 10-12 years old, when my mother’s sister and her family lived in Callendar, ON).

I also took the opportunity to be interviewed. Since I’m not down with spoilers, I won’t mention the specific questions Parry asked me, but I will say they were extremely thought-provoking and interesting. A reminder of relative perspective – when I think of “North,” in terms of perceived geography, I think of it as starting around North Bay – but that’s the farthest I’ve been, so that will be different for someone who’s been to NWT, Yukon, Nunavut or Iqaluit. It was a pleasure chatting with Parry, and I look forward to seeing the work come together in the performance this weekend.

The assembled personal artifacts and interviews will contribute to the final performance piece, which will also be a work in progress (as the installation and viewer contributions continue daily from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.) – with performances running Aug 15-17 at 9 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took of this work in progress last night:

 

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In the meantime, check out NOW Magazine’s piece by Glenn Sumi, where he speaks with Parry about, among other things, her two SummerWorks projects: directing Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions and the genesis of her work on To Live in the Age of Melting.

Niagara on the Lake – some places I like

So here’s a brief photo tour of some of my favourite spots in Niagara on the Lake – besides the Shaw Festival, of course. I also ate at The Stagecoach (http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/242/1690746/restaurant/Ontario/Stagecoach-Family-Restaurant-Niagara-on-the-Lake), The Irish Harp pub (http://theirishharppub.com/) and Corks (http://corksniagara.com/), had breakfast at the Charles Inn (http://www.niagarasfinest.com/properties/charlesrestaurant/) and stopped by Cows (http://www.cows.ca/) for ice cream.

The Charles Inn – with details of the painting & bouquet in my room (the Sunflower Room) & the 2nd floor veranda (see thumbnails).
Viking Shop – one of my favourites because of all the awesome wind chimes & shiny/stained glass hanging things.
Irish Design & Irish Tea Room – shop in the front with tea room & patio in the back (tea room is licensed!).
Husbands, boyfriends & others not into/tired of shopping can take advantage of the many “husband benches.”
The Shaw Cafe – nice & a bit fancy, but relaxed. Make sure you visit the George Bernard Shaw statue just outside (see thumbnail).
No trip to NotL would be complete without getting some fudge – I always go to Maple Leaf Fudge.
Fan of movies & movie memorabilia? Check out The Silver Screen.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride. You’ll find them waiting by the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Also not far from the Prince of Wales Hotel, the town Cenytaph.

Ottawa trip – museum visits

Hey all – realized I hadn’t done my final Ottawa trip post and I’d better get on it, ‘cuz there’s Pride and Toronto Fringe stuff coming up.

After staying with my friend Lesley and her son in Ottawa, I met up with Mum at my aunt and uncle’s place in Carp, which is a bit west of Nepean. From there, we travelled to Gatineau, Quebec one day to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization (which I hadn’t been to since I was a teenager): http://www.civilization.ca/home

Canadian Museum of Civilization – totem pole
Canadian Museum of Civilization – totem poles (west coast)
Canadian Museum of Civilization – petroglyph detail
Canadian Museum of Civilization – ceiling mural detail

We saw an amazing IMAX film Mystery of the Maya, and wandered about the various exhibits, from first peoples, to religious beliefs/iconography, to a history of the postal service in Canada and a great exhibit on people who were instrumental to Canada’s evolution. Here are some snaps I took there.

A couple of days later, Mum and I took a tour of the Diefenbunker (aka Canada’s Cold War Museum), which is located in Carp (I know!): http://www.diefenbunker.ca/  Also check out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diefenbunker  This was set up to protect the Canadian government – house the prime minister, his cabinet and a mini army of military, medical, admin and even CBC personnel – in the event of a nuclear missile attack. And you may recognize the entry tunnel from the movie The Sum of All Fears. The closest they came to emergency use was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was an interesting – and rather sobering – experience, so I’m going to shut up and just show you some highlights.

If you’re ever in the Ottawa area, check these museums out.

Diefenbunker – portrait of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker
Diefenbunker – entry tunnel
Diefenbunker – detail of the O.R. in the hospital section
Diefenbunker – instruction booklet in the hall outside the computer room (the old computers are huge!)