A delightful, insightful evening with Oscar in the witty, thoughtful Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class

Red Sandcastle Theatre A.D. Rosemary Doyle has teamed up with Jennifer Watson and Dorian Hart to launch The Wilde Festival, which opened with its inaugural production of Neil Titley’s one-man show Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class at Red Sandcastle’s storefront space at Queen St. East and Logan, Toronto last week.

Hart sets the tone for Titley’s intimate performance with a pre-show selection of beautiful nocturnes by Irish composer/pianist John Field, who invented the Nocturne. Field’s work served as an inspiration for Frederic Chopin’s compositions—and Chopin was a favourite of Wilde’s.

Introducing Mr. Wilde is performed in three parts. When Titley first appears onstage, it is as himself—in affable, accessible lecturer mode. Engaging and entertaining, he offers up a brief history of the show—which has been performed all over the world and to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival—and a quick timeline overview of Wilde’s life. In particular, we track Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour to Toronto; and Titley found the only venue still standing, not demolished or destroyed by fire, is Niagara Falls. And Wilde was apparently unimpressed by the great wonder of nature. Perhaps he only saw the American side.

Then, something truly remarkable happens. Titley transports us to 1898, to a Paris café where he shifts from himself as 2017 lecturer to Oscar Wilde, a year after he was released from his two-year prison sentence. The transformation is remarkable, both physically and vocally. As Wilde, he regales us with thoughts and anecdotes—with razor sharp wit, charm, unapologetic irreverence, and disdain for the mediocre and disingenuous. It’s not all fun and satire, though. There is an impassioned, deeply moving account of his experience in jail; and combined with that keen observation and ability to poke fun at society, it makes for a lovely nuanced, mercurial and poignant performance. Titley masterfully evokes the energy of Wilde; so much so, you can feel you’re sitting in the room with him.

Through it all, even when times are at their roughest, we see a man intent on pursuing a life of pleasure, art and beauty. Sucking the marrow out of life, even in his final days of penury and failing health, Wilde is the soul of wit to the end—a man who made the most of his life until his death at 46 in a Paris hotel.

We then return to 2017 to a short Q&A with Titley, during which one audience member asked if it was true that Wilde’s final words were “One of us has to go,” referring to the wallpaper in his hotel room. It’s highly likely. However, there is some question about his death bed conversion to Catholicism; it’s possible that his gesture in response to Ross’s query to bring a priest was misinterpreted—and he wasn’t signaling affirmation, but rather reaching for a cigarette. So his conversion could have been entirely accidental.

This is a must for all Oscar Wilde fans—or even if you’re just curious about the man. Whether you know a lot or nothing about him, it’s an entertaining and informative ride. I hear Titley is heading out on a cross-country train trip next week. If VIA Rail is smart, they’ll let him perform the show on the train.

A delightful, insightful evening with Oscar in lecture and first-person musings in the witty, thoughtful Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class.

Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class continues at Red Sandcastle until Jan 15; reserve your spot in advance by emailing redsandcastletheatre@gmail.com or by calling 416-845-9411.

Keep an eye out for future Wilde Festival productions; the website is under construction (look out for it at thewildefestival.com). In the meantime, check out this interview with Doyle about the The Wilde Festival in Xtra.

Photo: Neil Titley – by Jennifer Watson.

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Interview with Vanessa Smythe on Outside the March collaboration for 100 Outside Voices

vanessa smythe
Vanessa Smythe

“Maybe a city is not just a place, but a suggestion of what we place in our hearts.” – Vanessa Smythe, 100 Outside Voices

Outside the March (OtM) asked Toronto actor/poet/spoken word artist Vanessa Smythe to compose a 100-line love letter to Toronto. The resulting piece, 100 Outside Voices, will be performed and recorded by 100 OtM Artists, each reciting one line, and unveiled in the Fall. I last saw Smythe during her very busy – and successful – summer 2015, performing her spoken word piece In Case We Disappear at the Toronto Fringe, which she took to the Edinburgh Fringe later that summer. She recently appeared in the Canadian Stage production of Domesticated back in December. I asked her about 100 Outside Voices and how she came to be involved in the project.

LWMC: Hey busy lady, congrats on this exciting commission from Outside the March. How did you come to be involved in 100 Outside Voices?

VS: Hey thanks! Yeah, Mitchell Cushman approached me and asked if I could write a 100-line poem that could double as a love letter to our city, and a bit of a manifesto for why we tell stories, especially in a site-specific way throughout Toronto. It would celebrate the 100 artists Outside the March has employed, and also be an inventive way to invite fundraisers for the campaign. Much of my poetry is about personal experience, so it was nice to look outward for this one, wonder about something bigger.

LWMC: What can you tell us about the genesis of the piece and your writing process? Any particular inspiration(s) or impetus?

VS: I’ve often come to Mitchell when I’m creating or developing new work. He acted as an ad hoc director to me for my solo show In Case We Disappear, and he’s always been very encouraging of my writing and exploring. For this one, I was intrigued, but had no idea where to start. How could I speak on behalf of everyone who lives in Toronto, who cares about it? How could I capture all of that in one poem? I felt I couldn’t possibly capture everything, and on the day I started writing it, I was actually feeling really down, really uninspired. I ended up wandering around the city, walking my favourite places, riding streetcars with no destination in mind, just getting close to the city – spending time with it, seeing if I could gaze at it, listen to it. I ended up recalling the people and memories that are borne out of the city. The things that animate and give the city its life and its breath. It became about the things we care about – how traces of that care are all over our city, and how if all of it vanished – what we’d lose. It’s not meant to speak on behalf of everyone, but is instead an offering of love to the city and the people who care about it.

LWMC: How and where it will be performed? And can you tell us about any of the actors you have onboard?

VS: 100 artists are each assigned one of the 100 lines. And they’re not just actors. Designers, writers, all of OtM’s artists. They go to their favourite place in the city, and speak the line (recording it with their phone). We stitch them all together so the poem literally becomes this 100-person offering – all of us celebrating our mutual playground.

LWMC: The big, multimedia reveal will be this Fall. When and where will folks be able to see the full piece?

VS: Outside the March tends to operate with an exciting bit of mystery. I’m not sure the details of the reveal yet. My guess is it’ll be some kind of gesture. Something that celebrates the multiple voices of our city.

LWMC: 100 Outside Voices is also a fundraiser for Outside the March – and folks can donate on the project’s Canada Helps site. Anything else we should know about 100 Outside Voices?

VS: 100-voices.com is the website for all the details. It’s funny too, since writing the poem, I’ve had more thoughts about our city, more layers that I wish I could’ve explored in the poem, which – though frustrating at times – is such a nice reminder of the uncountable parts of where we live, and how even our act of celebrating it – though never finished – makes us curious to keep learning about it, keep listening to it.

LWMC: I like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word?

VS: Yes. Home. Please.

LWMC: What’s your least favourite word?

VS: I like a lot of words. Maybe “your,” spelled wrong.

LWMC: What turns you on?

VS: Kindness. Being physically present. People talking about what they love. People not giving a f*ck. Spontaneity.

LWMC: What turns you off?

VS: Rudeness. Piercing, complaining voices.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you love?

VS: Computer keys being tapped really fast. My nephews laughing. Rain falling on the lake. When you’re walking through a forest and you can hear the water nearby before you see it.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you hate?

VS: People filing their nails. The sound of the dance floor on a Saturday night at 2am at a bar I used to work at. The sound would be murderous.

LWMC: What is your favourite curse word?

VS: Fuck.

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

VS: I’d like to start a company that did something good, helped young people feel free, more themselves.

LWMC: What profession would you not like to do?

VS: Sell used cars. Unless it was just for a day, and I could be really bad at it.

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

VS: Hello again, my friend. Hello.

Thanks, Vanessa!

Keep an eye out for Outside the March’s production of Vanessa Smythe’s 100 Outside Voices in Fall 2016. In the meantime, take a look at the teaser trailer:

Toronto Fringe: Beautiful, lyrical, engaging storytelling in Vanessa Smythe’s In Case We Disappear

in_case_we_disappear-web_1-250x250So many great storytellers at Toronto Fringe this year – and I was very excited to see Vanessa Smythe’s solo show In Case We Disappear at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space last night. I’d seen her perform excerpts of the show, and this was my first time seeing it in its entirety.

Standing with the microphone, Smythe tells us about the boy who made who love poetry, an imagined conversation with a guy at Shoeless Joe’s, her little brother’s grade 8 graduation and a drunken Facebook booty call, among others.

A present and engaging performer, Smythe weaves her words through spoken word rhythms and sing song musical stylings, taking the audience right along with her. We forget that that one story was an imagined conversation. And we cry with joy over her big sister’s pride and support – and with how it’s always a little bittersweet when the young people in our lives grow up. (Or is that just me?) My point is – Smythe’s words affect you. Deeply. The stories resonate, inspire and move – and make you laugh.

Part spoken word, part storytelling, In Case We Disappear is a poignant and fun collection of stories, and a beautiful, lyrical and genuine performance from Vanessa Smythe.

In Case We Disappear is another show that’s set to head to Edinburgh Fringe. The show has two more performances in Toronto Fringe: July 10 at 12:00 p.m. and July 11 at 1:45 p.m. It was sold out last night, so book ahead for this one.

Toronto Fringe: Danger, romance & chimps in Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

adventures_of_a_redheaded_coffeeshop_girl-web-250x250The adventures of our favourite coffeeshop girl continue in Rebecca Perry’s Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, directed by Matt Bernard and running now at the Annex Theatre for Toronto Fringe.

When last we saw our intrepid Joanie Little (in Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl – and you needed have seen this to join in the fun of Adventures of a…), she’d just found the man (Marco) and job (interning with Dr. Jane Goodall) of her dreams. Bad news: the dream job is located at the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania!

Trekking from the urban jungle of Toronto to the actual jungle in Gombe National Park, Joanie joins Goodall, and other interns and staff, to study chimps in the wild and assist with preparing the sanctuary chimps for the wild. In addition to the challenges of the work and conditions, and navigating a long-distance relationship, being a pale-skinned, redhead has its own difficulties – and our feisty gal isn’t always sure she’s up to it. But if you didn’t know it already, you’ll soon learn that there’s nothing small about Joanie Little.

Masterfully shifting between multiple characters and dialects – including Goodall; Joanie’s male Scottish tent mate, also a redhead; and the African park security chief – Perry incorporates music (with live sound cues signalling character changes) and storytelling to take us on an entertaining and moving ride. And, just as she gave her human coffeeshop patrons animal attributes as she studied them from behind the counter in Confessions of a…, she anthropomorphizes her chimp charges, and discovers an interesting emerging dynamic between the dog-like Fetch and sanctuary tenant Cora.

Also a lovely crooner, Perry can serenade like nobody’s business, charming the sold out house with standards and Celtic roots-inspired ballads, accompanied by Da-Rell Clifton on percussion and Quinton Naughton on keys. Her performance of “Caledonia” is particularly beautiful and heart-wrenching.

With shouts to set/props designer Claire Hill and costume designer/makeup artist Ellie Mac.

Rebecca Perry has done it again, this time giving us danger, romance and chimps in Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl. Joanie Little is an anthropological warrior princess!

Perry is remounting Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl at Brampton’s Rose Theatre July 9-11, then taking that show to Edinburgh Fringe. You can support her efforts by purchasing a CD of songs from Confessions and Adventures, and more – available after each Fringe performance or on Bandcamp.

Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl runs at the Annex Theatre until July 12; check here for dates/times. Definitely pre-book your tix for this one – last night was sold out and it’s sure to sell out again.

You can also follow the Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.

Toronto Fringe: Twisted good times with Chelsea Manders in Don’t Tell My Dad

dont_tell_my_dad.web_-250x250Chelsea Manders will sure have a whole lotta s’plainin’ to do if her Dad ever sees this show.

Don’t Tell My Dad, directed by Hayley Gilgan, is Manders’ one-woman explosion of songs and stories, taking the audience on a wacky trip through time, from her supportive middle-class upbringing in Victoria, B.C. to the delightfully fucked-up Toronto gal we see today.

A one-woman showboat, Manders changes up music styles, as well as costumes, in this big fun, naughty show. Hilarious observational humour abounds in twisted songs like “So You Want to Be a Princess” and “Little Existential Baby” – not to mention totally nailing it with a satirical jab at Bountiful, B.C. Manders can blame it on all the poor life choices and tequila she wants, but this gal’s got chops and sass!

Don’t Tell My Dad is a ballsy, storytelling, folk singing bundle of energy and warped, dirty fun.

The show just wrapped its Toronto Fringe run at the Theatre Passe Muraille main space, but you can check out Manders’ upcoming gig schedule, which includes Edinburgh Fringe, and purchase music from the show online.