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:

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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.

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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.

SummerWorks: Engaging, poignant & funny storytelling in Graceful Rebellions

Graceful RebellionsSaw another engaging and entertaining solo show at SummerWorks last night: Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions, directed by Evalyn Parry (who also has a show in the fest: To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0).

Playing across time, space and culture, Latif plays three Afghan women with interwoven lives: a 14-year-old serves tea and candied almonds at her older sister’s engagement party, and dreams of her own wedding day; a young woman lives and works as a boy to support her mother and sisters; a 17-year-old gay Afghan-Canadian girl pleads her case to the school principal. We later see the first young woman, grown up and living in Canada – and planning a surprise engagement party for her gay daughter.

Latif is a delightful performer, using a chest of costumes to make her character transformations, from the sweet, precocious 14-year-old, to the tough, pragmatic young woman/boy, to the extroverted, outspoken and out high school student. Each is searching for identity in the midst of their very different circumstances and environments; each is expected to be lovely and compliant – and each experiences her own version of attraction to women. And each embodies a strong sense of self and of love, resilient and adaptable, even as each faces her own battles, from war-torn Afghanistan to the bully in the hallway of a Canadian high school.

Graceful Rebellions is a charming, poignant and funny piece of storytelling, running at the Theatre Passe Muraille back space until Saturday, August 16. Check here for exact dates and times.

Fierce ambition & passion in Elizabeth Ruth’s third novel Matadora – book launch

First off, I need to admit some personal bias: I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Ruth’s writing, so I was thrilled to receive word about the launch of her third novel Matadora, hosted by This Is Not A Reading Series (TINARS) and Cormorant Books at the Gladstone Hotel ballroom last night.

The ballroom was packed – so much so, the Gladstone folks had to open up the panels that separate it from the café space. Not surprising, given that there’d been a line forming outside the ballroom, all the way to the entrance of the hotel, shortly after 6:30 p.m.

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Flamenco dancer La Mari

By the bar were some canvasses by Alex Flores, painted in a style reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, the portrait of a woman particularly striking. A slide show of Ruth’s trip to Spain flickered across a screen upstage, featuring stunning colours and sights, including images of a bullfighting ring and bullfighters. Introductions from TINARS and Cormorant Books, and then we were treated to the sights and sounds of Flamenco: dancer La Mari, with singer Maria Assunta and guitarist Juan Dino Toledo. A passionate spectacle, the music and voice haunting and powerful, the dance strong and proud.

The “main event” started with Anju Gogia interviewing Ruth about the book, discussing process and how the story evolved. Many of the points of discussion can also be found in this Quill & Quire Matadora piece.

The thing that struck me most was Ruth’s reference to “chasing your talent.” Even though a writer may not realize what exactly the book is about, and not know what he/she is doing, with time and practice – and, like her heroine Luna, ambition – the process of coming to the page to put these stories, these lives, on paper brings the journey to the book to its conclusion.

Ruth read a short piece from the book, then opened up the floor for a Q&A. I asked how her feelings about bullfighting had changed over the course of researching and writing the book. Earlier, she had mentioned that it was a book about bullfighting that wasn’t really about bullfighting, but about class, feminism and gender – and that universal longing and drive to rise above socially imposed limitations. In loving her subject, Luna, she found herself looking at bullfighting with respect and void of judgement. While bullfighting is blood sport to some, it is art form to others, with views divided along sociopolitical lines in 1930s Spain, where bullfighting eventually became associated with the Franco regime. But, like boxing, bullfighting offered an opportunity to rise from poverty – and, in Luna’s case, it was a chance to pursue her passion and ambition in a profession that was closed to women.

This was a fantastic, vibrant event – extremely well-attended and crackling with excitement. Whoever said Canadian publishing was dead sure would have changed their tune last night. I’m really looking forward to reading Matadora. As part of last night’s festivities, we got to see the book trailer. It was shot and edited by Erin Reilly Clarke, who I had a chance to chat with briefly after the Q&A. She’d seen a late draft of the book and was already in love with it and looking forward to reading the final product – and we both speculated on how Matadora would make an amazing feature. The trailer features actor Joanne Vannicola, with original music by Evalyn Parry:

If you missed the launch, you can catch Ruth reading from Matadora, followed by an interview with NOW Magazine’s Senior Entertainment Editor Susan G. Cole at the Toronto Reference Library in the Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium on May 15 from 7:00 – 8:15 p.m. Admission is free. In the meantime, you can check out Cole’s review of Matadora.