Self-discovery & reconnecting with the land in the delightful, magical, thought-provoking There is No Word for Wilderness

Shaquille Pottinger, Lisa Hamalainen, Jack Comerford, Joe Recinos & Morgan Johnson. Costume design by Beatriz Arevalo. Mask design by Alexandra Simpson. Puppet design by Patricia Mader. Dress rehearsal photo by Producer Rebecca Ballarin.

 

Animacy Theatre Collective and Arts in the Parks present Lisa Hamalainen’s interdisciplinary, land-based theatrical nature walk There is No Word for Wilderness, directed by Alexandra Simpson and running at Earl Bales Park (4169 Bathurst St.), Picnic Area #5. Mask, puppetry and music combine in this delightful, magical and thought-provoking journey of self-discovery, inner healing and wisdom gained as a young woman ventures into the forest. With the help of some unexpected guides, she reconnects with the land and finds her true heart. The inclusive and informative post-performance Anishinaabe ceremony and teaching, facilitated by Shelba Deer, adds context and depth of understanding of the piece.

When a Young Woman (Lisa Hamalainen) finds herself stranded on a rural highway, she finds an unlikely guide in a talking Hare (Shaquille Pottinger, puppet designed by Patricia Mader)! As they make their way through the forest, they encounter other animal guides along the way—a wise Owl (Joe Recinos), a sly Fox (Morgan Johnson) and a drowsy Fish (Jack Comerford)—and a walk in the woods becomes a journey of self-discovery, inner healing, and reconnection with the land, air and water.

We are led from scene to scene by stage manager Zoë Ruth Fairless (who also plays the ukulele) and accompanied by composer Anders Azzopardi on trombone, making our way in a counter-clockwise direction on a circular path as we follow the Young Woman on her journey. As you walk between scenes, you become aware of the sights, sounds and smells of the forest: the crunch of the gravel path beneath your feet, the aroma of leaves and wood, the brilliance of green trees against a blue sky—and, later, crickets chirping as the light wanes and darkness falls upon the campfire circle.

Pottinger is a delight as Hare—our jovial guide and narrator—who is ready for his close-up; his reactions to unknown human trappings like cellphones and reception are a reminder that our machines are not as vital to our lives as we think they are; and are kind of silly, when you think about it. There’s more than meets the eye to Hamalainen’s fastidious, driven, professional Young Woman. While she’s caught in the rat race of a job she despises, she’s no soulless cog in the corporate machine; her compassion and love of nature make her open to this journey and the self-awareness and wisdom it brings.

Recinos brings a graceful majesty to the wise, enigmatic Owl; his words of wisdom are like a puzzle for the Young Woman to solve. There is no word for wilderness in his language—for him, home is wherever you are, where your heart is. Johnson combines woodland animal cuteness with an edgy trickster vibe as Fox. Don’t let her adorable appearance fool you; she’s a savvy, sly one—and sees more than just a fellow creature of the forest when she looks at Hare. Comerford does double duty, with two sharply drawn contrasting characters: Young Man, the Young Woman’s self-absorbed, hyper-ambitious jerk of a co-worker; and the joyful, curious and cheeky Fish. Magically able to move about on land for a time, Fish reminds us that our discarded plastic bottles, bags and trash create horrific, dangerous conditions for the creatures of the water, not to mention the water itself.

Hare
Hare (manipulated and characterized by Shaquille Pottinger). Puppet design by Patricia Mader. Dress rehearsal photo by Producer Rebecca Ballarin.

The performance is both complimented and highlighted by the beautiful, imaginative puppet (Patricia Mader), mask (Alexandra Simpson) and costume (Beatriz Arevalo) designs—utilizing fabric, wood and recycled items. Azzopardi’s composition incorporates vocal and instrumental music to great effect; and we’re even invited to join in.

Following each performance, the audience is invited to stay seated around a campfire (back at the starting point) for Anishinaabe ceremony and teaching with Shelba Deer. Relating traditional beliefs, and spiritual and healing practices, Deer’s teaching offers a deeper understanding and context for the performance we’ve just witnessed; sharing the wisdom that—Indigenous or settler—we are all human beings walking this Earth, partaking of Mother Earth’s bounty. And each of us has a spirit and a heart—the awareness and acknowledgement of which will help us discover our true paths.

Like the lanterns we carry throughout this journey, we are all small points of light energy on the Earth. And even if you live in the city, standing on concrete, you’re still standing on the Earth—living, breathing, drinking and eating on this planet. We are not separate from the land; we are a part of it. So we’d better take good care.

There is No Word for Wilderness continues in Earl Bales Park on September 19-21, 24-26 and 28 at 6:00 p.m., with rain dates on Sept 22 and 29; admission is free. There will be an ASL interpreter present for Shelba Deer’s post-performance ceremony and teaching on Sept 26. Check out Animacy’s Facebook event for more info.

Directions: Earl Bales Park, Picnic Area #5. For travel directions (by car or TTC), scroll down on the show’s web page. Look out for the flagpole with the Canadian flag at the end—there will be Arts in the Parks canopy and banners to mark the spot.

All performances are relaxed performances (for more info on accessibility, relaxed performances and the ASL interpretation, scroll down on the show’s web page). Come dressed for cooler evening September temperatures and wear comfy walking shoes. Bug spray is also a good idea, especially along the forest trail; if you forget, show staff and volunteers have some to share.

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Otherworldly, funny, poetic rock & roll fairytale – Trout Stanley

TroutStanleyPoster CRT WEBSm
Poster design by Meags Fitzgerald

Last night, it was out to the Storefront Theatre for Severely Jazzed Productions’ Trout Stanley, written by Claudia Dey, directed by Daniel Pagett.

With the help of the Storyteller (Dan Jeannotte), we learn that Ducharme twins Grace (Tess Degenstein) and Sugar (Hannah Spear) were orphaned as young adults and live an isolated life on the outskirts of a mining town. Sugar has been unable to leave the house since their parents died and, having built a world of their own, the two have created an unusual dynamic, with Grace in the traditional husband role and working at the town dump and Sugar being the stay-at-home ‘wife.’ Their daily domestic routine is turned upside down and sideways when Trout Stanley (Colin Munch) arrives on their birthday, lost and in search of closure as he travels to see where his parents died. Everyone has a secret.
The language of the piece is party poetry, part soap opera, part bedtime story – all with an undercurrent of rock and roll. The world is both harsh and beautiful – and in some cases, it all depends on how you look at it.

Pagett has an excellent cast for this trip. Spear brings an adorable and poignant combination of wide-eyed and haunted, yet optimistic and day dreamy child to the fragile, introverted Sugar; shy and reserved, and so full of longing for she doesn’t even know what, but overshadowed by Grace’s reputation as ‘the pretty one.’ Degenstein’s Grace is a ballsy extroverted rockabilly pin-up girl – and knows it – but beneath the vain exterior is a good, strong heart willing to go to any lengths to protect her sister. Munch gives Trout an edgy lost boy quality, tempered with a sharp wit, poetic soul and an aura of mystery. Like the sisters, Trout has suffered family tragedy and, while he is very likeable and claims to be unable to lie, he is hiding something. As the Storyteller, Jeannotte is a wry-witted, charismatic narrator, ushering – even directing – the scenes and joining in at times on the dialogue. He tells us the story of Trout Stanley with a twinkle in his eye, but with a commitment to the action that goes beyond a generic storyteller.

There’s some highly entertaining and effective staging afoot. Highlights include the sisters’ and Trout’s dance break to Heart’s “Magic Man” near the top of the show is both impressive and funny, especially Trout’s perfect execution of the classic David Caruso CSI Miami sunglasses flourish. The playful, cartoon-like quality of Trout’s late night visit to the twins’ house, sneaking in under cover of darkness to steal food and drink. During intermission, the Storyteller remains seated at his desk, wearing a cone-shaped party hat and flanked by a red balloon while he has a snack and reads a paperback. And who wouldn’t want to have a rock guitar exclamation every time you entered a room, just like Grace.

With shouts to the design team: Hanna Puley (set/costumes), Melissa Joakim (lighting) and Daniel Maslany (sound). The white set and props – particularly the shelves of Sugar’s figurine creations – and the slender birch trees on either side, coupled with lighting effects, give the space an ethereal, almost weightless quality. The wooden desk and chair, which is the Storyteller’s space, is like a link from our world to the world of the twins – and the Storyteller is our guide. The poppy, soft techno pre-show soundtrack, followed by rock riffs and remixed Heart tracks during the course of the action serve as sonic echoes of this world’s beauty and brutality.

Trout Stanley is an otherworldly, funny, poetic and moving rock and roll fairytale featuring a stand-out cast. Get yourselves out to see this.

Trout Stanley continues at the Storefront Theatre until June 6; you can get advance tix online here.

You can follow Severely Jazzed on Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, check out the show trailer: