Toronto Fringe: Exorcising inner demons in the part self-help, part stand-up, all heart Personal Demon Hunter

Velvet Duke. Photo by Tyra Sweet.

 

The Velvet Duke faces off with our inner demons in Velvet Wells’ Personal Demon Hunter, running in the back room on the main floor at the Imperial Pub. Part self-help workshop, part stand-up and all heart, personal storytelling, improv and music combine to create a casual, open-minded space where audience members are gently invited to share their personal demons.

Motivational speaker Velvet Duke (Wells) welcomes us into the space, a workshop designed to address our inner demons–and also, as his puppet friends suggest, our angels. Diving into family history, lived experience and the ongoing inner voice we all possess, Duke shares his story, through anecdote and music—accompanied by Alan Val, Wells’ partner in the band OverDude, on electric guitar, doing some musical improving; and stage manager Alan Leightizer on laptop—and invites us to share ours.

Wells is a totally relatable and approachable presence, finding common ground as he shares personal stories that resonate; and ever so gently inviting consensual audience participation. His ultimate message: You are enough and you don’t need growth to be a person of value because you already are a person of value.

Father issues, self-doubt, unhealthy family dynamics, imposter syndrome, toxic workplaces—the space and its occupants are open-minded and open-hearted during the sharing. And saying it out loud, naming the demons, is a good step toward exorcising them. Angels and demons in our everyday lives—around us and within us—our outer and inner voices of positivity and negativity. Wells encourages us to push those negative influences and voices aside, and find and keep positive connections—whether it’s on stage behind a microphone or at our jobs, wherever.

Person Demon Hunter continues at the Imperial Pub for four more performances: July 11-13 at 8:00 and July 13 at 3:00; check the show page for advance tickets.

Wells and Leightizer are also cast members of The Dandies, who rock Star Trek-themed improv in Holodeck Follies.

Portents & prophecy as science meets spirit (or does it?) in compelling The Queen’s Conjuror

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Tim Walker, Joshua Browne & Sochi Fried in The Queen’s Conjuror – photos by John Gundy

Circlesnake Productions opened its production of Joshua Browne and Alec Toller’s The Queen’s Conjuror in The Attic Arts Hub (1402 Queen St. E., Toronto) on Thursday, directed by Toller. I caught the show last night.

A new star has recently appeared in the sky and Queen Elizabeth I (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) wants to know its meaning – particularly if it has any bearing on her reign. Scientist, magician and astrologer John Dee (Tim Walker) has been tasked with discovering the star’s meaning. He enlists the aid of scryer Edward Talbot (Joshua Browne), who is able to commune with spirits – primarily an angel called Uriel (John Fray) – who speak to him and supply him with visions.

Dee and his wife Jane (Sochi Fried) invite Talbot into their home, and find that he’s able to translate a series of strange symbols that appeared to Dee in a vision – and they begin to connect the pieces of a prophecy that seems to relate to the new star.

Their work is confounded by the torture Talbot endures during his sessions with the spirit world, as well as the suspicious, ever watchful eye of Lord William Cecil (Fray), the Queen’s advisor, who’s been set as a watchdog over the project. Working relationships evolve into friendships, and come to include Talbot’s wife Joanna (Roberts-Abdullah). How far will they go to complete the puzzle? And are Talbot’s spirits angels or demons?

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Joshua Browne & John Fray as Uriel

Lovely work from the cast in this intimate period drama, full of eerie spiritualism and ritual, signs and symbols, and the ancient science of divining from the stars, along with a touch of political intrigue. Beyond the quest for the meanings of stars and visions, The Queen’s Conjuror is about how people interpret the information they’re given – and how their subsequent actions impact on their lives.

As Dee, Walker mines the layers of a curious, learned and sharp-witted man with a passion for the truth and an eye on the Queen’s court. Possessing a logical scientific mind, he is capable of both kindness and cruelty in his pursuit; his resolve only shaken when their endeavours touch his life in a negative way. Browne gives Talbot a great combination of humility and entitlement; a gifted scryer, the price he pays for messages and visions is searing physical and emotional pain. And even he wonders if his spirit messengers come from God or the Devil. Fried’s fiercely intelligent and ambitious Jane is in the unique position of being her husband’s professional equal; a partner in his scientific and academic pursuits, she displays a quixotic passion that outstrips Dee’s. And her concern for, and care of, Talbot during his moments of collapse reveal notes of tension – of something more, something shared.

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Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Elizabeth I, with Tim Walker & Sochi Fried

Roberts-Abdullah’s Elizabeth I is regal and warm, imperious and magnanimous; she giveth and she taketh away with dispassionate efficiency. As Talbot’s wife Joanna, she is an observant, self-possessed and creative woman juggling her own work as a poet with her household duties; a nurturing, neglected wife and mother fighting for her marriage. As Uriel, Fray is menacing and manipulative; whispering secrets into Talbot’s ear and observing him as cruel child regards a distressed bug he’s been torturing. And his Cecil is a chilly and cunning authoritarian beneath the polite, charming courtier.

Portents and prophecy as science meets spirit (or does it?) in the compelling period drama The Queen’s Conjuror.

The Queen’s Conjuror continues at The Attic till Nov 20. You can get your tix in advance online – recommended, as it’s an intimate space; perfect to be a fly on the wall as the story unfolds and lives are forever changed.

Pamela Williams’ photography brings us In the Midst of Angels

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Paris Nude – photograph by Pamela Williams

I visited another stunning art exhibit last night: photographer Pamela Williams’ In the Midst of Angels at Sunderland Hall (First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto at 175 St. Clair Ave. W. – St. Clair W./Avenue Rd.).

I first became aware of Pamela’s’ work years ago in a newspaper piece – possibly NOW Magazine – about her upcoming appearance at the annual summer outdoor art show in Nathan Phillips Square. The piece included an image of “Siren,” a reclining nude woman. It took my breath away. And it was a cemetery monument.

When I went to that show, I met Pamela and her mum, who often comes out to keep her company at her booth, and had a chance to chat. I purchased one of her photography books – which, as a then struggling actor working part-time, was all I could afford – and vowed that I’d purchase a print of “Siren” one day. Years later, I did – and have since added “Herald” and “Water Nymph” to my collection. And it was through Pamela that I met artist/filmmaker/animator Patrick Jenkins, who also happens to be her life partner.

Pamela has travelled to Europe (Paris, Rome, Pisa, Genoa, Vienna) and Buenos Aires, touring old cemeteries, capturing images of monuments in black and white. The marble sculptures are so detailed and beautifully wrought, the resulting photographs are alarmingly life-like. You can almost see the figures breathe. In “Reflection,” the lace of the woman’s veil is so precisely rendered, you feel that if you touched it, you’d be touching fabric. The rose on the woman’s lap in “Rose,” its petals so delicately carved, you can imagine the soft satin feeling. The fine detailing of angel wing feathers, like in “Herald” from Vienna. “Water Nymph” is one of the few pieces that is not a monument, but a fountain in the cemetery Pamela visited in Buenos Aires. Some of the figures are inviting (the angel cradling the toddler in “Comfort”), grief-stricken (the inconsolable angel in “Grief”) or tormented (the reclined angel in “Genoa Angel”), while some appear to be relaxed, at peace, content. “Paris Nude” is marble, but looks like she’ll get up and walk around. You can find many of these images in the book In the Midst of Angels, one of a few printed volumes of Pamela’s work.

Pamela Williams exhibits regularly at the Terrace Gallery and various outdoor art shows around Toronto, and also give digital photography classes, as well as slide show lectures about her work and travels. Drop by her website, get on her mailing list – and keep an eye out for her.

This is the final week of In the Midst of Angels – up in Sunderland Hall until April 21. Hours: Tues & Wed 5-9 p.m., Thurs 7-9 p.m., Sun 12-3 p.m. The show closes on Sunday with a Meet the Artist from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

If you miss this one, Pamela has another exhibition coming up at Yorkminster Park (1585 Yonge St. – north of St. Clair, at Heath, Toronto), from May 1-29 – opening on May 5 (12:30 – 2 p.m.). Hours: Mon – Fri: 10 – 2, Sat: 12-4 (Pamela will be there on Saturdays 2-4 p.m.).