A brush with celebrity in the electric, tantalizing, surprising Intangible Adorations: Experience the Icon

Ensemble with the October 15 guest Icon. Lighting design and effects by Carl Elster. 

 

Haus of Dada, Workman Arts, KC Cooper and Meek present Lisa Anita Wegner and Scott White’s electric, tantalizing and surprising Intangible Adorations: Experience the Icon as part of Workman Arts’ annual Rendezvous with Madness Festival, running in the Workman Arts Chapel. The multimedia performance piece is part film, part performance art, part social experiment—as it explores the allure of celebrity and its impact on celebrity mental health. Each performance, a different mystery celebrity appears as the Icon, disguised in a morph suit. Will they reveal themselves or choose to remain anonymous?

Featuring performers KC Cooper, Emily Gillespie, Amy Loucareas, Meek, Jane Smythe and Lisa Anita Wegner; and hosted by creators Wegner and Scott White, audience members are ushered into the space as VIP guests of a celebrity. You’re given a VIP tag with your host celebrity’s name (I was with Tilda Swinton’s group) and invited to be seated by group for a three-part immersive experience of performance art and brush with celebrity.

We’re introduced to the genesis of Intangible Adorations with a brief documentary film highlighting Lisa Anita Wegner’s history as an actor, producer and filmmaker; and the diagnosis of Complex PTSD that led her to set off on solo film projects and an exploration of identity, iconography and transformation—and to the genesis of the morph suit-clad Think Blank Human that served as inspiration for this current project. For Wegner, art saves her life every day.

Prior to the appearance of the Icon, an audience member is offered the opportunity to get a taste of celebrity by joining Wegner and White up front and centre, along with the ensemble. It is a strange and discomfiting experience for the volunteer, even though she’s an actor. We’re reminded that lots of celebrities and performers are actually quite shy of the spotlight when it’s focused on them personally, as opposed to when they’re in character or in performance. Many performers are, in fact, introverts.

Wegner and White move on to give us a few rules of engagement with the Icon. Hints are dropped at who the celebrity may be: a female pop star of great renown, a major celebrity. There’s some buzz in the audience that it’s Madonna. A respectful hush falls over the audience as White ushers her in; the white morph suit, worn with a deep purple costume over it, covers her from head to toe, making it challenging for her to see. We’re called up by group to line up for a photo and an autograph; and then invited to head across the hall, into the Red Chapel.

While it may have a Game of Thrones edge to the name, the Red Chapel is actually a place of celebrity adoration—the Church of Celebrity, if you will. Here, we may sit where we like as we watch the ensemble, now all dressed in morph suits and costumes, prepare the way for the Icon as they move and dance (music by Pink Moth) around the ornate wooden throne, set on a dais. It is here that we will have a brief audience with her.

The Icon arrives to sit on the throne; White hands her a microphone and, through voice modification to maintain her anonymity, she speaks to us. Sharing personal anecdotes of youthful adoration and a more recent fan girl moment with a famous actor she respects and admires at the Academy Awards, she is genuine, candid, vulnerable and circumspect. She goes on to share her experience of and response to being famous, including sessions with a therapist; her talk taking on a confessional tone. Humble, forthcoming and generous, she moves to reveal herself—and then, with apologies, decides against it. The second-hand celebrity gained by the audience at having spent time with her is less important than the revelation that we are all worthy and beautiful people in our own right.

And so our time with the Icon comes to a close. The buzz about her identity continues: too tall for Madonna. Katy Perry? Lady Gaga? As we head back into the first space to collect our coats, ensemble members, acting as reporters, ask us about our favourite celebrities and how our views may have changed as a result of this experience.

If you had any aspirations to be a celebrity, the experience may have you thinking otherwise. And the electric buzz about the possible identity of the Icon was, I’m sure, accompanied by skepticism about whether the guest was an actual celebrity at all. How does that change the experience? And how would a reveal have changed the experience? Were we more at ease, as she was anonymous, vulnerable—humanized, even? Come and see for yourself—you have three more chances.

Intangible Adorations: Experience the Icon continues in the Workman Arts Chapel until October 19, with performances on Oct 16 at 8:00, Oct 18 at 7:00 and Oct 19 at 2:00 (final performance to be followed by a Q&A). Advance tickets available online. Enter through the main entrance off of Dufferin St. (where the box office is located up a short flight of stairs); a member of the company will come to escort you to the performance space.

Here are some photos I took last night; lighting and FX by Carl Elster. Thanks to Scott White for the photo of me and the Icon. And thank you to the Icon for sharing her time and thoughts with us last night.

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Check out the trailer.

 

 

SummerWorks: The painful truth on the road to reconciliation in beautiful & compelling The Living

Cast of The Living, photo by Paul Lampert
Cast of The Living – photo by Paul Lampert

How can we move on if we can’t accept the impossible?

Brown paper, like fallen leaves, strewn across the floor – a struggling landscape. Two shrouded bodies, still, unbreathing – the dead. This is the sight on the playing area as you enter the Theatre Centre Incubator space – the stage set for the premiere of Colleen Wagner’s The Living, directed by Ines Buchli for the living project in this SummerWorks run.

The play is dedicated to the women and girls of Rwanda who Wagner met during her travels in Africa – and who asked her to be their storyteller. To tell of what happened after the genocide. The rebuilding. The caring for orphans. The system of transformative justice whereby “perpetrator” becomes part of the “victim’s” life in a new, positive relationship dynamic – healing, reconciling. And maybe even finding redemption and forgiveness.

Anita La Selva in The Living - photo by Paul Lampert
Anita La Selva in The Living – photo by Paul Lampert

Jacqui (Miriam Fernandes) and Henry (Kaleb Alexander) have known each other since they were children, and their memories of their times together take a brutal turn when, on opposite sides of the genocide, Henry becomes a “perpetrator” and Jacqui becomes a “victim.” Henry saves her from the killers only to become part of the rabid mob that kills Jacqui’s father and brother, and one man – a neighbour – rapes her mother (Anita La Selva), leaving her infected with HIV. But then something impossible happens. Henry and Jacqui fall in love.

The Living Beryl Bain Wayne Ward Stephanie Jung photo by Paul Lampert
Beryl Bain, Wayne Ward & Stephanie Jung in The Living – photo by Paul Lampert

The community is in a brittle, fragile state as formerly imprisoned men return home, some still harbouring anger and hate, simmering in their perceptions of the wrong-doing and culpability of the people they sought to exterminate. Three spirits– murdered teenage sisters – emerge on the scene. Restless. Living their deaths over and over again. Played with startling intensity by Beryl Bain, Gabrielle Graham and Stephanie Jung; like the Furies, they haunt, taunt, whisper and hiss for the truth.

Lovely work from this ensemble. Fernandes (luminous in her positive demeanour and fearlessness as Jacqui) and Alexander (repentant and sheepish as Henry, pushing beyond his deep sense of shame towards love) have beautiful chemistry, their conversations taking on a lyrical, poetic tone; two young people struggling to rebuild their lives after the horrors – striving, but hopeful to live in peace. La Selva is heartbreaking as Jacqui’s mother; sick and broken, waiting for death and afraid of facing it alone. As their neighbour Leopold, Wayne Ward brings a complexity of character; bitter and unrepentant after serving his time in prison, he hides with his fear at the bottom of a bottle, leaving his wife with the burden of being the household breadwinner. Cindy Block gives a poignant performance as his wife, a woman once abandoned by her husband’s violence and now abandoned by his hatred of the world, desperately trying to make ends meet as she lives in denial of her own horrid memories and suspicions.

Françoise Balthazar is marvelous and strong as the local barkeep, now running the business alone as her husband continues serving time in jail. Tough-talking and suffering no fools, she is hurt and lonely – and, like her neighbour, feeling the guilt and shame of not speaking up during the rampage to try and stop it. Richard Lee does a nice job with the layers of the town preacher, a  man who has chosen a life of religious service as his path to redemption. His words of love and forgiveness are not entirely selfless, though – including his interest in Jacqui, which while somewhat comical, has a dark edge to it.

And the multicultural casting has the effect of placing this story beyond the borders of any one country, any single ethnicity. The atrocities and the aftermath could happen anywhere.

With shouts to Shawn Kerwin (set and costume design) and Erika Batdorf (movement).

The painful truth on the road to reconciliation in Colleen Wagner’s beautiful and compelling premiere of The Living.

The Living continues at the Theatre Centre Incubator until Aug 16 – check here for the detailed schedule.

An entertaining, poignant love letter to roots, family & father in Paolozzapedia

 

Paolozzapedia Adam & Mask_horizontal photo credit  Lacey Creighton
Adam Paolozza in Paolozzapedia – photo by Lacey Creighton

 

Why Not Theatre’s 2015 edition of the RISER Project continued the final leg of its programming last night at the Theatre Centre with the opening performances of Mahmoud (which I saw on Wed. night – see the post here) and Paolozzapedia.

Written and performed by Adam Paolozza, who co-directed with Daniele Bartolini, and produced in partnership with Bad New Days Performing Arts, Paolozzapedia is described as an “auto-fictional-biography” – a personal, one-man trip across time, space and cultures in the search for meaning.

Paolozzapedia uses a delightful combination of personal anecdote, traditional storytelling and documentary. The performance tool box includes monologue, dialogue, songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, projected images and text (including English subtitles) and commedia dell’arte performance as Paolozza flashes back and forth in time and location, highlighting the moments that resonate. A personal history tour, mined for what the past can say about the present.

Evocative staging and pacing capture the imagination and take us along on this trip, starting with an easy-going, slow groove as Paolozza makes Italian coffee onstage, sending pre-made pots of coffee around the audience. It’s like we’re all hanging out in his kitchen as he sets up the story. A story of how a disillusioned and depressed young man decides to take a journey into the past – to his father’s hometown in southern Italy. Despairing of the present and anxious about the future – ever aware of the fleeting nature of time – he seeks to find some grounding in the present and the ability to move forward into the future. As he travels by train from the airport to meet a family friend who will drive him the rest of the way to his father’s town, the projected image of the moving train window makes us feel like we’re on that train with him.

The storytelling is both moving and fun and; serious and silly. The heart wrenching scene of his father’s family leaving for Canada on a ship – his father a small boy at the time – held up by his father as they stand at the railing, waving goodbye to the loved ones they leave behind. Punchinello makes an appearance, cheeky, full of fun – scrapping with Death by poking fun at seriousness in general and Paolozza’s pensiveness in particular. Even with the recognition of impermanence, Paolozzapedia celebrates life in its acknowledgement of nostalgia, memories of events both big and small – and reminds us to appreciate and cherish the sweet moments as they come.

Paolozzapedia is an entertaining, poignant love letter to roots, family and father. Go sit with Adam, have a coffee.

Paolozzapedia continues its run at the Theatre Centre Incubator space until May 24.

Be sure to check out these last two RISER Project shows; you can get advance tix online here.

 

Beautiful, brave & touching family storytelling in Stories We Tell

I was very happy to finally get to see Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell at the Varsity yesterday afternoon. And, like the real-life storytelling in the film, there will be different variations from those who attended the same screening as to what they saw and what they took away from seeing the film. Here’s mine:

Written or verbal storytelling – even of real-life stories – is filtered through the storyteller, so the same story is never told exactly the same way twice. Details or moments may stand out for one storyteller, to varying degrees, and some may have pieces of the story that others had not witnessed or noticed. In addition to including voice-overs of personal correspondence, family footage and re-enactment scenes (some done with actors), Polley interviews family friends, siblings, the dad she grew up with (Michael Polley), and her birth dad (no spoiler here) and his family, all adding pieces to the puzzle of her examination of how the story of the secret of her birth is told – from the family jokes that Michael wasn’t her dad, to her subsequent investigation, discovery and revelation of her actual birth father. And just as interesting is the exploration of the personality and life of her mother Diane, who died when Polley was 11 years old.

Some of my favourite scenes involve Polley and Michael in the sound studio, with Michael doing the voice recording – while being filmed – reading a piece (part letter, part memoir) he wrote shortly after she told him about finding and meeting her birth father. These scenes are both hysterically funny and extremely touching at the same time – the camera shifting between Polley and Michael – and tears come to my eyes again as I recall the love I saw on the screen. Love and such good humour in the face of such a difficult revelation.

There’s a lot we can learn about a person by hearing what others have to say about him/her and, although she’s no longer with us, we get a glimpse of Diane Polley – albeit mostly second-hand – from descriptions and stories told by those who loved her. Although, again, like all storytelling, any description of an individual personality will be filtered through the eyes – like the lens – of the storyteller. For me, this was also an exploration of a mother the filmmaker didn’t know for very long, relying on others to fill in the blanks of that narrative. It’s clear that Diane was a vivacious woman, a big, fun personality who was loved a lot by her family and friends. Again, told with love, respect and understanding – and even forgiveness – we see Diane’s story too, running in parallel with Polley’s exploration of her own story.

A beautiful, brave and touching film, Stories We Tell shows us the discomfort, pain and humour of this very personal family story, with re-enactment scenes so skillfully shot and edited into the narrative – sometimes with actors playing the family – that we feel like we’re seeing more footage from the family’s personal archive or, in some cases, getting a fly-on-the-wall point of view of some extremely private moments, which also include some quiet, reflective shots of Polley in the background on set. And like all good storytelling, the personal becomes universal in that we can all relate somehow – and laugh and cry and feel surprised as the story unfolds.

Stories We Tell continues its run in Toronto at the Varsity this week. Go see this. Here’s the trailer:

TIFF 2012

Can’t forget the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens on September 6 and runs until September 16. I seldom get out to this, since I’m usually pretty booked up in September – especially with theatre-related stuff – and often I’m working on a show (which I am, but not till a bit later this month – more on that soon).

Two movies that caught my attention this year:

The Lesser Blessed (based on a novel by Richard Van Camp, adapted & directed by Anita Doron): http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/tiff/2012/lesserblessed

Here’s an interview with the three young stars of the film, courtesy of Spartan Youth Radio:

Stories We Tell (personal documentary by Sarah Polley): http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/tiff/2012/storieswetell

Here’s the trailer:

I was able to get a ticket for The Lesser Blessed for this Sunday’s opening screening, but not quick enough to score one for Stories We Tell – so I’ll be looking for that film’s release after the fest.

For more info on film programming, scheduling and tickets, visit the TIFF website: http://tiff.net/

What are you seeing at TIFF?

Visceral beauty & spectacle @ Shinsedai Cinema Festival

Took a break from Toronto Fringe yesterday afternoon to stop by the Revue Cinema to see the Shinsedai Cinema Festival screening of The Naked Summer, directed by Kenji Okabe, with cinematography by Yutaka Yamazaki.

First up was film short Tsuki-Yomi, directed by Team Gatera, a 16mm visual feast of nature and transformation, both beautiful and repulsive, expressive and understated.

The Naked Summer follows a group of dance students – professional and amateur – through a summer retreat with butoh dancer Akaji Maro in an intense butoh dance workshop, living together and studying the movements and philosophy of the discipline.

Footage of Maro and his company’s performances are included in the film – beautiful, disturbing, fun and primal spectacles of this traditional Japanese dance. The retreat culminates in an outdoor performance in the Japanese countryside, and the dancers are naked except for tiny thong-like loin coverings and covered entirely in gold body paint, the women painted white on their faces and necks, and the men with shaved heads and eyebrows.

Both visceral and spiritual, it is an incredible piece to watch, the bodies trained into finely tuned instruments of butoh, moving in synchronization from fingertips to legs to faces. The performance takes place at night and torches twirl as part of the choreography as these shining gold buddha bodies dance with intensity, joy and total commitment. It is mythical in proportion – heaven and hell, birth and death.

If you ever get a chance to see The Naked Summer, please do. The Shinsedai Cinema Festival continues today, closing at 8 p.m. tonight with its final screening, Tentsuki. For more info, visit the festival’s website here: http://shinsedai.ca/