FireWorks Festival: Fairy tale favourites collide with a contemporary feminist twist in the hilariously charming, bawdy If the Shoe Fits

 

Erik Mrakovcic & Marina Gomes. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

 

Alumnae Theatre launches the final week of its FireWorks Festival with Genevieve Adam’s If the Shoe Fits, directed by Heather Keith—opening last night in Alumnae’s Studio Theatre. Fairy tale favourites collide, with a contemporary feminist twist, in this hilariously charming, bawdy deconstructed Cinderella story—and an inside look at what really happens after the “happily ever after”.

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Chris Coculuzzi & Erik Mrakovcic. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Hosted by our glittering Narrator (Eugenia De Jong, with a twinkle in her eye and an arch in her brow) as she interacts with both audience and characters, we’re introduced to the intrepid Sir Eglantine (Chris Coculuzzi), who’s been tasked by the Prince to find the young maiden who fits the pretty size 7 glass shoe that was left behind at the ball. He’s been at it for over two years with no success, and is at his wit’s end—until he learns of a simple pig farmer Ned (Erik Mrakovcic) who has a sister that he believes may be the one. Having raised his sister and run the family farm since they were orphaned as children, Ned is incredulous at first—especially as his sister is a rough and tumble kind of gal—but the possibility of a life of wealth and comfort for Nora (Marina Gomes), and a plumb position as the Royal Hog Supplier, convinces him to let Sir Eglantine try. And the shoe fits!

Meanwhile, at court, Felicite (Sophie McIntosh), Amandine (Jennifer Fahy) and Virginie (Chantale Groulx) share laughs and woes over a good sisterly bitch session (think Desperate Housewives of the French Court); all have either neglectful or beastly husbands, and all are engaged in affairs to varying degrees—in some cases, for economic survival.

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Jennifer Fahy, Sophie McIntosh & Chantale Groulx. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Upon his arrival at court with Ned and Nora, Sir Eglantine finds himself in hot water with Virginie after sending no word while he was away for over two years. Amandine has her eye on some fresh meat: Ned, who has also recently been fitted with some fancy court clothes (big shouts to costume designer Margaret “The Costumator” Spence for the stunning—and surprising—period wardrobe). Felicite is charged with training Nora to be a lady, with hilarious results as Nora navigates court fashion, manners and deportment. Enter a young court violinist (Mark McKelvie), who is not all he seems, who has been watching Nora with great interest. Plots, plans and unexpected alliances ensue; and even the Narrator seems at a loss about what to do. Will tattered marriages be mended—and will the Prince have his mystery sweetheart for his wife?

Excellent work from the ensemble in this fast-paced, sharply funny fairy tale for modern times that incorporates issues of gender, class, marriage and consent in candid, provocative ways. Coculuzzi rounds out Sir Eglantine’s loyal, fastidious sense of duty with a soft, romantic heart; this plays nicely against Groulx’s sharp-tongued, cynical and pragmatic Virginie, a desperate, neglected wife and mother who longs for love and security. Mrakovcic gives an amiable, but opportunistic, turn as the homespun pig farmer Ned, who has quite the eye-opening when he becomes Amandine’s boy toy; putting the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. Fahy is deliciously arch and saucy as Amandine; as experienced in the ways of love as she is in revenge, Amandine is tougher than her powdered, ribboned exterior would suggest. Gomes is extremely likeable and feisty as the rough, independent Nora; with a Puck-like agility and sense of irreverent fun, Nora plays along with her courtly transformation—but finds she’s got a big decision to make. McIntosh infuses Felicite’s poignant sweetness with a determined sense of resolve and virtue, even when she’s in doubt of what to do. And McKelvie gives the ridiculously handsome and adorably awkward Prince a boyish naiveté; entitled and sheltered, the Prince has no idea about the world outside the castle, especially when it comes to meeting women.

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Mark McKelvie. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

The knights and princes who save the damsels, or use the damsels save them from themselves, or find the mysterious girl who fits the shoe she at the ball, all feel entitled to own these women through marriage—all the while calling it “true love”. But who says the women were in distress, or wanted to save a cursed man from himself, or marry a prince?

The shoe may fit, but she doesn’t have to wear it.

If the Shoe Fits continues in the Alumnae Studio Theatre until November 24; get tickets online, by calling 416-364-4170 (ext. 1) or in-person at the box office one hour before curtain time (cash only). There will be a post-show talkback with the director, playwright and cast following the Saturday, November 23 matinée performance.

 

Amazing peeps and artists at RAW’s electric, eclectic VERVE artist showcase

DSCN2208Had an awesome time at the opening night of RAW Natural Born Artists VERVE showcase, which featured artists, music, fashion, makeup, accessories, film and performance art — with music by Tony Smart and hosted by Jack. This show runs two nights only (closing tonight) at Mod Club.

I chatted with artists Brenda Clews (who does beautiful, vibrant, erotic work), Jennifer Radford (whose portraits range from poignant to spooky) and Alfredo Galvan (who paints gorgeous fine cars), and photographer Ian G. McIntosh (who loves to bend reality with his cool, at times super close-up shots, where the everyday becomes remarkable). Fantastic art work all around, including the dark, disturbing work of Razmig, haunting photo-realistic images by H. Jordyn Taylor and cool tattoo illustrations by Lindsay Rose.

Caught some great performances as well, including Brenda Clews doing a multimedia poetry performance that included pieces using mask and Medusa wig; and some entertaining, tight acoustic music performances from Chantelle Hope and Trevor Dubois from Charlie the Kid.

So much to see — and the place was packed last night. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole night, but I can say you’ll find amazing peeps and artists at RAW’s electric, eclectic VERVE artists showcase. Catch the next roster of artists tonight before the showcase closes; doors at 8 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took last night:

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The Queen of the Parade @ Nuit Blanche Toronto – interview with Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart

Artist/filmmaker/performer Lisa Anita Wegner and designer/costumer/fashion artist Vanessa Lee Wishart have joined creative forces to create the Queen of the Parade, one of the featured exhibits of the curated Parade exhibition series for Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013, on this Saturday night (October 5) from 7 p.m. till 7 a.m. on Sunday, October 6.

LWMC: Hi Lisa and Vanessa. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview on your upcoming Queen of the Parade exhibit at Nuit Blanche. How did the two of you connect initially?

VLW: I met Lisa through my boyfriend Dennis Painter, who composed the sound for Lisa’s Pixel Paint the Night installation for Nuit Blanche 2012.

LAW: … He went above and beyond and created a breathtaking interactive soundscape to go with my live art making at The Revue Cinema. His music score tied Pixel Paint the Night together exquisitely. Dennis said, “You should meet” – and, boy, am I glad I did.

LWMC: Did you come to work together with a specific project in mind, or did your collaborative work evolve more organically after your initial meeting?

LAW: I had just met Vanessa when I had the idea of a huge dress with a screen on the front – about a year and a half ago. By then, I knew Vanessa’s fashion artistry, and liked her sensibility and her previous work. She had already taken home multiple Nuit Blanche Fashion awards in previous years. If there was anyone to make this gown, it was Vanessa.

VLW: The installation began as an idea Lisa had, where Disney princesses and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding inspired her. She originally wanted a gown to wear for Nuit Blanche 2013. I changed the design and suggested that we go bigger, and use various fabrics to get the “gypsy” feel.

LWMC: Tell us about the Queen of the Parade installation for Nuit Blanche 2013. What sparked or inspired the concept for the Queen of the Parade?

VLW: We wanted to explore the aspect of the role of females and the femininity within society.

LAW: I had been fascinated by the UK reality series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I was mesmerized by their fashion – I love over the top, huge, bright clothing and genuinely appreciated the sense that nothing was too much. I was horrified by the options for role models behind the clothes: Disney Princess or Pop Star or some combination of the two. I remember having this in my head and walking my dogs one night while listening to Lady Gaga. With the huge dresses dancing in my head and the song “Marry The Night” playing, I remember the moment this idea was born. I came home and did the two sketches that I sent over with the pictures. First working title was the obvious Marry The Night, second was I Fuck Like A Man (after I’d been told that) and the third working title (which we originally submitted to Nuit Blanche) was That Kind Of Woman. At that point, the video content on the skirt was going to be commentary based on my experiences of being told I was not a good example for women because I act like a man. That was the spark.

LWMC: The Parade exhibition for Nuit Blanche subverts the traditional notion of “parade” in that it is the spectators who are moving through the spectacle, as opposed to the parade moving past the crowd – and the audience becomes part of the exhibit instead of passive observers. How, if at all, did/does this curatorial vision for the exhibition influence the work as you’re preparing for Nuit Blanche?

LAW: When we were brought into the vision of Patrick McCauley’s Parade, we simplified the idea. The content on the screen became walking legs to give the illusion of the parade moving. And the dress got bigger. Originally, I thought I would be on the ground with a three-foot screen. The Queen is now 20 feet tall and the screen is 10 feet tall. For [the] look, we researched parade queens from all over the world.

VLW: Through the use of projections, the “Queen” will appear to be moving, even though she is stationary. The viewer will have an impression of a traditional parade, while experiencing something new.

LWMC: The Queen of the Parade explores depictions and perceptions of femininity, in particular, regarding the concept of “the queen,” a traditional/historical position of power across cultures, but often viewed as being a lower status than a king. Since this is your first collaboration together, how did the two of you navigate the process of envisioning, then executing, the work?

LAW: Once we were brought on to the Parade, we both did separate research on Parades, Parade Queens, Queens and wedding gowns from all cultures. We shared research and the same images resounded with both of us, and I was happy with the very first sketches that Vanessa showed me. I felt like we are on the same page and I trust her creatively. We found the same virgin/whore theme in the parade queen research.

VLW: Lisa and I researched the role/history of the Queen within parades. We found that they are the highlight of the parade, the ultimate of feminine ideal. Kings within parades are usually of little or no importance. The Queen is symbol of royalty and power. Within North America, the Queen represents the most beautiful, pure and innocent. In South America, the Queen represents not only the most beautiful, but female fertility and sexuality. The Queen is an ideal many women try to attain.

LWMC: Lisa, when we were initially in touch to book this interview, you mentioned that you have a special part to play in the exhibit. I’ve seen your photos and sketches – and they look amazing – but I’m hesitant to put any spoilers out there. What can you say about it – or do you want folks to be surprised when they see it?

LAW: I kind of like that people – even after seeing process photos – really don’t have a sense of what this is going to be. And let’s keep it like that. The City chose, for PR, only to use a corner of my mock-up image. So as to not spill the beans.

LWMC: Vanessa, did you engage live models for the exhibit – or do you want that to be a surprise on the night? Will visitors have a chance to speak with you at the exhibit?

VLW: There are two live performers for the exhibit. I will be at the installation at various times during the evening. I would love to hear from the public.

LWMC: What do you hope folks will take away with them when they see the Queen of the Parade?

LAW: I hope the experience of the Art Parade will feel as exciting as a parade did for me when I was a kid – I am very interested in experiential art. The absurd proportions and playfulness of the installation, I hope invite the audience in – and from seeing our installation, people might reflect on why in 2013, with all the choices for women, two images offered repeatedly are a princess/bride/virgin and starlet/vamp/whore.

VLW: We want the crowd to feel that they were “in the parade” and involved.

LWMC: Any plans for continuing with this project or remounting it? Any plans for further collaboration on other work?

LAW: We are intending to take this Queen to other Nuit Blanche; we are keeping her afterward. I would love to take her to New York and Vanessa would love Paris. I feel certain that Vanessa and I will continue to work together. An upcoming installation of mine (working title) is Neverwet on White and it requires a white dress, and Vanessa is the one I want to make it. Vanessa also made me a nifty Wonder Woman corset to wear when I did the “Art Saved My Life” talk as part of WonderFest past year.

VLW: I would love to work with Lisa again, and I hope that this exhibit will be remounted in the future.

LWMC: Cool! Any other upcoming events/exhibits that either of you want to shout out?

LAW: Vanessa is opening a show the same night as Nuit Blanche, she can tell you about it. I have a whole array of installations in the works, but the Queen is my current focus.

VLW: I am currently working on Night of the Living Dead: Live! at Theatre Passe Muraille, as well as Evil Dead: The Musical at The Bathurst Street Theatre. Come see it! If you would like to view more of my work, please visit my website. Please contact me at vlwishart@gmail.com

LWMC: Thanks again, ladies! Looking forward to seeing The Queen of the Parade on Saturday night.

You can also check out Lisa Anita Wegner’s work on her blog, MySpace page and YouTube channel.

Be sure to come out and experience The Queen of the Parade at Queen St. West/University this Saturday night. Here’s a sneak peek, images courtesy of Lisa Anita Wegner:

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The Queen of the Parade – Queen adjusting
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The Queen of the Parade – Queen underthings
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The Queen of the Parade – sketch 1
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The Queen of the Parade – sketch 2