Toronto Fringe: Wedding planning mayhem & big LOLs in Morro & Jasp: Save the Date

Heather Marie Annis (Morro) & Amy Lee (Jasp). Photo by Alex Nirta.

 

Jasp is getting hitched and you’re invited to come along as she and Morro get ready for the wedding! Our favourite clown sisters are back at Toronto Fringe, this time with Morro & Jasp: Save the Date. Created and performed by Amy Lee and Heather Marie Annis, and directed by Byron Laviolette, with clown coaching by John Turner; the show is running in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace.

Things are abuzz at the sisters’ house as Morro (Heather Marie Annis) and Jasp (Amy Lee) get ready for Jasp’s wedding. Clown shenanigans and audience participation ensue as the sisters visit a dress shop, first for Jasp’s wedding gown and later for Morro’s sister of the bride dress; have a cake tasting; go out clubbing with the girls for the bachelorette party; and more! And, best of all, Morro’s creating a DIY veil for Jasp! [Spoiler-ish alert: Look out for the nods to Carol Burnett, Marge Simpson and Meghan Markle.]

Of course, with Jasp getting married, Morro will be left at home alone; and Morro’s gradual realization that she will be left out of her sister’s life tugs on our heartstrings. But, in the end, nothing—not even marriage—can break the bonds of sisterly love.

Morro & Jasp: Save the Date continues in the Tarragon Mainspace until July 15; check the show page for exact dates/times. Not going to lie to you, these guys are selling out big time, so you must book in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Preview: Keeping it real, present & loving when Mimi met Tara in delightfully funny & touching Blind Date

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Julie Orton & David Benjamin Tomlinson in Blind Date – photo by Tanja Tiziana

Every person in the room is trying not to get caught staring at your beauty. – A complementary compliment from Blind Date

When Blind Date creator/actor Rebecca Northan announced that her famous clown/improv/audience participation piece would be getting its first time ever gay make-over at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I was one excited gay lady. And it was a dream come true for those who’d chatted with her on this very subject after performances of Blind Date during its run at Tarragon Theatre last season (I saw a performance and was one of those people).

Northan collaborated with Buddies A.D. Evalyn Parry on this queer couples run of Blind Date, which includes a girl/girl version and a boy/boy version, featuring actors Julie Orton and David Benjamin Tomlinson, directed by Northan. Orton is on this week, as Mimi dating women; next week, Tomlinson appears as Mathieu, dating men; they alternate performances for the final week. Check the show page for the full schedule. I saw Mimi on a girl/girl date in a preview last night, which was followed by a talkback.

Before the show starts, Mimi circulates the bar, chatting with women (including my friend Dee and me; but, alas, we were ineligible because I was there as media) in search of a date selection for the evening. Once inside the packed theatre space, Parry welcomes the audience and gives a brief introduction as we anxiously anticipate the start of the show. Who will Mimi choose?

We find Mimi, a lovely and lively young French clown, drinking a glass of white wine on a café patio, waiting for her blind date to arrive. For two hours! The audience empathizes, feeling bad for Mimi and annoyed at her no-show date. But, a trouper and not feeling like going home, Mimi decides to select a date from the crowd. And she picks Tara. Some brief ground rules: all Tara needs to do is be herself, be honest, including times when she chooses to not answer questions, and project so the audience can hear. Mimi’s job is to take care of her date. Either can call a time out; in this case, they’ll take a break from the play and move down stage right to the time out box, to clarify or sort out any issues that come up.

Orton is adorably charming as Mimi; equal parts playful, bashful and irreverent – and always supportive, complimentary and positive with her date. As the date unfolds, Mimi and Tara, a Gestalt therapist (who we learn in a titillating and fun revelation used to sell sex toys), get to know each other in a natural, organically unfolding way that is lovely to watch. They talk about their day, moving into discussion of family, coming out and their families’ reactions. Though Tara is admittedly nervous at first, Mimi puts her at ease, and the two find real connection through mutual trust and a sense of being present. All while being served by a hilariously surly French waiter (Bruce Horak), who is overseen by the affable, accommodating manager (Tomlinson).

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Julie Orton as Mimi (left) in Blind Date – photo by Connie Tsang

Moving from the café to Mimi’s car, things get wacky as they interact with a police officer, and then continue on for a nightcap at Mimi’s uncle’s apartment, where the scene becomes more intimate and easy-going – and Tara tells an awesome and funny story about a teenage concert outing to see Guns ‘n Roses at the CNE Coliseum. Then the audience gets to choose whether they continue the date or fast-forward to five years into the future. We chose the latter (apparently most audiences do) and we find them in an open marriage, getting ready for bed after a long work day, with even more revelations to come. And all the while, we’ve been falling in love with Mimi and Tara.

The post-show talkback revealed some interesting similarities and difference between the straight and queer versions of Blind Date. Horak noted commented that the constant, universal experience is “the joy of watching two people connect;” guards gradually come down and the “theatre becomes a sacred space” as they get to know each other. Orton mentioned that it’s always a “delicious, delightful challenge” keeping the show going and making the date comfortable.

Having trained at Loose Moose (alongside Horak) with Keith Johnstone (creator of Theatre Sports and Life Game), Northan said the concepts of being present, telling the truth and telling stories – especially in Life Game – became the inspiration for Blind Date. When asked why the noses, Tomlinson said the noses give permission to be open, go bigger and still be safe; it’s a reminder that it’s a play, and it keeps the action playful and prevents things from getting creepy. They also like to think they’re bringing the sexy back to clown.

Northan said she got schooled during her queering of Blind Date – that it wasn’t simply the same deal as the straight version, just with two women or two men. Parry concurred; there was a discovery process. Northan marvelled at how straight audiences tended to be suspicious of the offer of a compliment (served on a slip of paper from a tray during the pre-show mingling), while queer folks dive right in, even asking what the paper colours meant and if this meant they’d be chosen as the date. She also noted that the women had a natural back and forth rhythm to their discussion, asking questions and empathizing with situations; during straight dates, Mimi would ask her date question after question, but it usually took him a while to ask her anything. And, most importantly, situations that straight people would take for granted as a safe space, like being asked by a cop if they’re on a date, becomes a different thing when it’s a same-sex couple. It was a lesson in power dynamics, and they realized they need to be sensitive to situations like that – and, for both straight and queer productions, especially if the date is a person of colour.

Tomlinson commented that sharing and coming together with stories is particularly important and timely right now. And an audience member noted that the storytelling is based in personal experience and how everyone’s story is different – there’s no one way to be queer. Orton (who is a lesbian) noted the differences in her experiences doing the straight and queer versions. As Mimi, she draws from her own life as she gets to know her date and her date gets to know her; and she had to edit, change pronouns and leave out parts of her story during the straight dates. This became problematic for a show about being present, open and truthful. Last night, she shared a story of a secret high school girlfriend for the first time, which was lovely to watch and liberating for her. As for Mimi’s date Tara, she had a great time. She had no idea what she was in for when she came to see the show with a friend, but had been wanting to go on a first date and had even been looking into doing an improv class. Just goes to show you: the universe is listening and delivers.

Rebecca Northan’s baby grows up to be queer in the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s production of Blind Date. Keeping it real, present and loving when Mimi met Tara in last night’s delightfully funny and touching preview.

You can read Orton’s post about Mimi and Tara’s date – and like Blind Date – on Facebook.

Blind Date continues at Buddies until October 9; I’d highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance to avoid disappointment: online or by phone (416) 975-8555.

Still wondering what it’s all about? Check out Rebecca Northan’s CTV News interview about Blind Date, taped for its Tarragon run last year when she was playing Mimi:

Toronto Fringe: Possession! Sharks! Ukulele! Spooktacular fun with Mullet’s Ghost Story

mullet_scared-printEveryone’s favourite vegan zombie clown Jean-Paul Mullét (aka Mullet) is back at it again at Toronto Fringe, this time in the spooktacular Mullet’s Ghost Story. Written by Ron Fromstein, Allan Turner, Bruce Hunter and Hilary Jane Hart, and directed by Bruce Hunter, the show is currently running upstairs at Harbord House.

This tale finds Mullet as a struggling actor/waiter with a mean boss and ineffectual agent, toiling away upstairs at Harbord House and late for his shift. And as if that’s not scary enough, Mullet takes some time away from his serving duties and sharing personal anecdotes to produce a thick, dusty old book containing some very special ghost stories. Adding to the fun: the ghost stories get personal with the appearance of a lovely someone from Mullet’s past (Hilary June Hart).

Possession! Sharks! Ghost stories! Plus a charming and entertaining host with loads of LOLs and scary good fun up his sleeve in Mullet’s Ghost Story.

Mullet’s Ghost Story continues at Harbord House until July 10. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

When Richard met Mimi – all the nerves, humour & excitement of a first date in magical, sassy Blind Date

BlindDate_Final_webAfter recently seeing Rebecca Northan perform her solo show Troublemaker at this year’s Soulo Theatre Festival, at long last, I got to see the full-length version of her play Blind Date at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace last night. I’d fallen in love with Northan’s character Mimi and the show when I saw its 10-minute premiere at The Spiegeltent at Harbourfront Centre during World Stage in 2007, but the 90-minute version had eluded me. Well, no more my friends. And it was marvelous, brave, sexy and inspiring.

Blind Date begins in the lobby before the house opens, as Mimi circulates among the incoming audience members in search of her date. There are information alerts in the program and on signage regarding “consent to be romanced” – audience participation in the show, especially the individual chosen and his loved ones – and “consent to be videotaped/recorded.” The atmosphere of anticipation starts well before the show gets under way, as we wait and chat with our drinks, receiving welcome and a slip of paper containing a compliment from our handsome and affable scenographer/host (Kristian Reimer), and our lovely and attentive scenographer/server (Christy Bruce). Who will Mimi choose?

Blind Date goes beyond your standard on-the-fly improv show in that Mimi’s date is selected from the audience – a civilian, if you will. Oh, yeah – and Mimi is a clown. Not a circus clown, but a sexy French lady clown in a red dress and fishnets; a clown from the classical school of clown. Some stupid bastard has stood her up, leaving her waiting alone at the restaurant for two hours – and being the resourceful and proactive gal that she is, she finds herself a replacement date.

Last night’s selected date was Richard, a fit, married, 70-ish tax planner and South African by birth who likes to work out and once raced sports cars. His wife wasn’t with him last night, but he and the two friends who came with him were sure that she’d be okay with him going on this imaginary blind date. Before they get started, Mimi instructs him about the world of the play and the time-out space (either Mimi or her date can call a time out and move to a taped off corner of the stage to take a break from the world of the play, ask questions or strategize). She also tells him that, other than pretending to be single, he is to be himself. Blind Date may be a play of make-believe and improv, but it is rooted in truth and honesty.

Throughout the course of the date, we learn more about him as Mimi gently encourages him to share things about himself. A man who likes to live life on the edge, though not for some time, he espouses the philosophy that one must live life to the fullest. Mimi is extremely adept at coaxing information out of Richard, but far from a one-sided dynamic of sharing, Mimi also speaks of her life – real-life moments gleaned from Northan’s own life. In this case, some delightful coincidences emerge – just like in a real date. Mimi is charming, sassy, gently seductive and vulnerable. And truthful and honest, and very attentive to the comfort of her date.

Rebecca Northan as Mimi in Blind Date
Rebecca Northan as Mimi in Blind Date

The date travels from the restaurant to Mimi’s car (her uncle’s vintage car, actually) and an eventful and hilarious drive to her place (featuring a very funny performance by Reimer) to the condo (also her uncle’s) where she’s staying. At one point, Richard is left alone in the living room while Mimi goes to freshen up; he takes the opportunity to explore while he waits, and finds a copy of Henry and June, as well as some interesting items in a decorative box, on a side table. Game and a bit bashful at times, Richard did a marvelous job onstage. Who among us would be brave enough to kiss a stranger in front of a theatre full of strangers? And Mimi’s astute observation that he deflects uncomfortable moments with humour was spot on, as was her noting that this kind of response indicates that he was emotionally moved somehow in that moment.

They only took one time out. In this case, it was called by Mimi in order to set up how they were going to proceed: continue with the date or jump five years into the future. This choice is left up to the audience, who overwhelmingly choose the five-year jump, a choice that has been consistent throughout the seven-year, 400+ dates run of the show. Five years later, Richard and Mimi are living together, but not married – and she has a surprise for him.

A remarkable, entertaining, gutsy and moving piece of theatre. My friend Daria and I had a blast, and had a chance to chat with Northan after the show, where we found her chatting with a group of delighted Tarragon Theatre subscribers (the bar re-opens after Friday night performances, giving audience members the opportunity to chat with the cast). Blind Date always has Mimi paired with a male date (and there are five women trained to play Mimi now, including one who identifies as lesbian). Who knows? If Buddies in Bad Times decided to do a run of Blind Date – in Tallulah’s, say – Mimi would have the chance to kiss a girl. And she might like it.

With shouts to the design team of Brandon Kleiman (designer) and Jason Hand (lighting designer); and to SM and sound improviser Jamie Northan, and the lighting crew.

When Richard met Mimi. All the nerves, humour and excitement of a first date and beyond in Rebecca Northan’s magical Blind Date.

Blind Date continues on the Tarragon Mainspace till October 4 – check here for the full schedule and tickets. Christy Bruce, who also acts as the Mimi alternate, will take on the role of Mimi during weekend matinées, with Northan acting as the scenographer/server. Also please note some special events corresponding with the show: Blind Date Talkback Week (Sept 15-20) and Tarragon Tasting Night (Sept 25).

You can follow Blind Date on Facebook and Twitter, and check out the trailer on YouTube and the CTV interview with Northan.

Go see this – and see it again. It will never be the same show twice. Take a look at some audience reaction from opening night:

Toronto Fringe: Puberty in all its awkward, tragic & baffling glory – Morro and Jasp do Puberty

Morro and Jasp do Puberty - photo by Alex Nirta
Morro and Jasp do Puberty – photo by Alex Nirta

Getting your first period. Shaving your legs. Hair removal cream/bleach. Growing boobs. Boys. School dances. Kissing. Feeling funny “down there.”

All the female pubescent highlights are shouted out in Up your Nose and In your Toes (U.N.I.T.) Productions’ Morro and Jasp do Puberty, by Heather Marie Annis, Amy Lee and director Byron Laviolette, which opened to a packed house on the Tarragon Theatre mainspace on the first day of the Toronto Fringe Festival last night.

Clown sisters Morro (Annis) and Jasp (Lee) are tweens locked in the throes of puberty and all its accompanying changes, but couldn’t be more different. Morro is a rough and tumble, soccer baseball champ and badass tomboy who wants nothing to do with boys. Jasp is more cerebral, refined and girly, a diary-keeping daydreamer who longs for a date to the dance. And when it comes to the first onset of “that time of the month,” that “visit from Aunt Flo,” Morro is mortified and perplexed when she sees red while sitting on the toilet. Jasp has been anxiously, and happily, awaiting this rite of passage into womanhood since infancy.

It’s puberty for girls in all its awkward, tragic, baffling (and gross) glory – with all the feels. Brilliant, charming and poignant performances from Annis and Lee, accompanied by some big, bright, colourful costume and set design, and a bang-on soundtrack.

Morro and Jasp do Puberty pees your pants and warms your cockles. And you’ll never look at a tampon the same way again. I can’t wait till these guys do menopause.

Morro and Jasp do Puberty continues on the Tarragon mainspace until July 11 – see their Fringe page for exact dates/times. Advance booking strongly recommended.

After this, they’re taking the show to Edinburgh Fringe and have launched a crowdfunding campaign in support of their trip. Please consider donating to their Indiegogo campaign, open till July 15. You can also keep up with the Morro and Jasp shenanigans on Twitter.

SummerWorks: Joy, energy & pathos in If Hearts Could Bloom

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Amy Wong & Tamara Kailas

Another delightful group of young actors opened their SummerWorks show at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night: the Sears Drama Festival production of Bur Oak Secondary School’s show If Hearts Could Bloom, written by James Croker and Cameron Ferguson, inspired by a story by Preston Lam.

Directed by Ferguson, with choreography by Ferguson, Croker and Christel Bartelse, and film directed by Cody Clayton, If Hearts Could Bloom combines clown, comedia and physical theatre to tell a story that tackles some serious issues: individuality/conformity, bullying/courage, sexism and harassment, ageism, greed and power, and gender identity.

A short, silent film sets the stage for the social order of this world. A Mad Scientist (Jeremy Chong) creates clowns with yellow hearts, but when he tries something different – a purple heart that makes the clown behave differently than the others – Corporate Greed Man (Jeremy Tremblett) responds with an emphatic No! The Mad Scientist caves in, apparently needing the money, and goes back to using yellow hearts. And off we go, into the live onstage journey of a special young clown, born with a purple heart.

There are some truly lovely moments in this show: the sweet, fast-paced meeting, courtship, marriage and arrival of a baby for Everyperson’s Mom (Kainaat Rizvi) and Dad (Cody Clayton) – and the delivery scene with the Doctor (Shareesa Haniff) was hilarious. And Everyperson (Tamara Kailas) and Everywoman (Amy Wong) had an equally adorable meet cute at a children’s birthday party, where Everywoman is the only kid who doesn’t think Everyperson is a freak; the two actors did a lovely job with this bashful, burgeoning relationship. I also loved the school bus bit and the clown Elvis (Bianca Dias, who also co-directed the film segment) at the variety show, as well as the squeals of delight from Everyperson’s rubber chicken bit – the laughter was contagious. This is a show that keeps the audience engaged and attentive, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Ultimately, this is a show about love and courage.

If Hearts Could Bloom is a hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and thought-provoking multi-media clown show, featuring a bright young cast who bring all the joy, energy and pathos.

If Hearts Could Bloom continues its run for two more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman: tonight (Fri, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and Sat, Aug 16 at 1:30 p.m.

SummerWorks: Spellbinding, trippy good times in Against Gravity

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Mind of a Snail: Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner

One of the things I love about SummerWorks is the unique multi-media and multi-disciplinary work it features. I had the great pleasure of seeing Mind of a Snail’s Against Gravity last night – on at the Theatre Passe Muraille back space.

Mind of a Snail is a duet of fun gals from Vancouver: Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel. Against Gravity is part shadow puppetry, part live music, part human-generated sound effects, part clowning – an all big fun for kids of all ages!

Gabriel mostly handles the puppetry – in this case, using an overhead projector and transparencies (in some cases, using multiple transparencies to create cool animation effects) – and even becomes a shadow puppet of sorts herself. Ziner mostly handles the music and sound effects, using electric guitar and looping to create character and atmosphere. And the audience is welcomed – and encouraged – to create sound effects too!

The story in Against Gravity is an entertaining adventure of discovery and following one’s heart – but warns against letting your heart become imprisoned by emotions once you catch up with it.

Against Gravity is a spellbinding, trippy good time, with excellent work from Ziner and Gabriel. The show runs until Sat, Aug 16. Check here for date/time details.

You can also find Mind of a Snail on Facebook – and check out the Against Gravity trailer vid:

Department of Corrections: In the original version of this post, Ziner’s and Gabriel’s roles were reversed; this has been corrected.