Real-life ghost stories come out of the dark in the compelling, entertaining, thoughtful The Ghost Project

Karie Richards. Photo by Tanja-Tiziana.

 

Playwright/performer/producer Karie Richards opened the Toronto premiere of her documentary solo show The Ghost Project to a sold-out house in the BMO Incubator at The Theatre Centre last night. Originally directed by Jeff Culbert, The Ghost Project was a hit at the Fringe circuit, premiering at the Halifax Fringe 2018, and went on to the London Fringe and Winnipeg Fringe in 2019. Distilling 13 stories from 28 interviews with friends and family, Richards weaves a series of monologues, all told in the first person, from the storyteller’s point of view—capturing the gamut of emotional and rational responses; and exploring the thoughts, feelings and questions about what happens to us after we die. The result is a compelling, entertaining and thoughtful piece of verbatim storytelling.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever encountered one? While Karie Richards isn’t sure what she thinks, she believes the stories told to her by friends and family—personal experiences with spiritual manifestations that defy explanation and everyday frame of reference; and that ultimately make us question the nature of the afterlife. Each real-life character reveals their story, be it from their university days, childhood or adulthood, or even an experience their child had while they were present. People reacting and responding in the moment; and, in some cases, wondering aloud what it all means. Are these the actual souls or spirits of the departed, or the energy traces they left behind? Or are these encounters a chance look through a thin veil of everyday reality, providing a glimpse of another time or plane of existence while the one experiencing it remains rooted in their own?

Encounters with, and messages from, deceased loved ones; former homeowners looking in on new residents/guests; and unexplained events at a haunted theatre space (Alumnae Theatre folk and fans will be familiar) all come into play—with manifestations ranging from malevolent to friendly, frightening to calming, everyday to ethereal. Experiences of shadowy figures blacker than the darkness, a floating blue girl, a surprising encounter during an Indigenous ceremony, the comfort of a nurturing parental energy, and the high-spirited insistence of a youthful presence that evoked profound responses for the storyteller emerge in Richards’ performance. Navigating myriad emotions, from paralyzing fear, to grief and loss, confusion, relief and joy, each character is vulnerable, curious, wonder-struck and thoughtful. Do these spirits want to be noticed and acknowledged? Are they relieving boredom with their spooky shenanigans? Do they have something to tell us?

Deftly shifting from character to character—signified by the collection and return of a single costume piece or prop from a wardrobe, and remarkable adjustments to voice, facial expression and posture—with a gentle calmness and the care of ceremony, Richards conjures up each storyteller for us, presenting with nuance and profound sensitivity the experiences, reactions and thoughts of each. And her carefully, finely-drawn embodiment of each storyteller makes for a compelling and entertaining performance that goes beyond the storytelling itself. In many cases, it’s the first time the storyteller has revealed their experience to anyone—requiring a high level of trust in, and comfort with, Richards during the interview process that preceded the creation of the piece. The results are eerie, funny, deeply moving and thought-provoking.

Richards’ performance is nicely supported by Glenn Davidson’s minimalist, effective production design, as well as John Sheard’s haunting composition, and atmospheric sound effects supplied by Peter Thillaye and Steve Munro.

Whatever you believe, The Ghost Project engages as much as it challenges the audience to open up and reach out into the unknown—and entertain the suggestion that death is not the end of our journey, but the beginning of a new one. If you have the opportunity, stick around for the post-show talkback, where audience members are invited to ask questions and share their own ghost stories.

The Ghost Project continues in the Incubator space at the Theatre Centre until January 26, with evening performances at 7:00 p.m., and matinées on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available online, in person at the box office, or by calling 416-538-0988. It’s a very short run and seating is limited, so advance booking or early arrival is strongly recommended; please note the 7:00 p.m. curtain time for evening performances.

 

 

SummerWorks: Relationship wisdom from the mouths of babes in the playful, surprising & moving CHILD-ISH

Photo by Graham Isador.

 

Sunny Drake and the CHILD-ISH Collective present a work-in-progress presentation of CHILD-ISH, written by Drake, and directed by Alan Dilworth and associate director Katrina Darychuk—and running in the Franco Boni Theatre at The Theatre Centre. Exploring the theme of relationships from various angles, CHILD-ISH is a piece of verbatim theatre created by an intergenerational group of adult and child interviewers, dramaturgs, performers and facilitators—putting the words of children aged five to 11 into the mouths of adults, with hilarious, surprising and moving, as well as playful and wise, results.

Entering with a flourish, the adult ensemble (Walter Borden, Maggie Huculak, Sonny Mills, Zorana Sadiq and Itir Arditi) acts out interview chats and scenes on relationships—love, consent, old age, losing a loved one and bullying—based on the kids’ shared thoughts, ideas, stories and feelings, with subject matter projected upstage as surtitles. Playful, wise and surprising, the kids express—via the adults—flexible and innovative ideas about marriage and family units (e.g., if you were allowed to marry more than one person, it would make the division of household and outside labour more efficient). Thoughts about love, kissing and consent are savvy, matter of fact and exploratory—and fearlessly so. One kid mentioned that they’re non-binary, stating a preference for they/them pronouns; and how, while misgendering bugs them, they make allowances for people to get used to it.

The dialogue is frank, open and surprisingly insightful—and the thoughts and ideas emerge as playfully as in any physical game. Hilarity often ensues in the juxtaposition of adults speaking the words of children, but then once in a while, something catches your attention that makes a lot of sense. And you may find yourself wishing that adults could think and be more like kids sometimes. In contrast, the harassment and bullying experiences/responses are heartbreaking as you recognize that, even though adults are relating them, these thoughts and feelings are coming from kids.

Joined by three kids at the end (I’m guessing these are young facilitators Sadie Kopyto Primack, Elora Gerson and Owen Ross), the actor/facilitator group movement piece is both beautiful and moving. Following this, the audience is invited to join in reading the Kidifesto, also projected upstage. It was during these moments that I was moved to tears.

Joyful, curious, authentic and open—in laughter, pain and uncertainty—we could all learn a lesson or two from the wisdom of kids in CHILD-ISH and in our everyday lives.

With shouts to Director of Child Engagement Jessica Greenberg; young dramaturgs Eponine Lee, Sumayya Iman Malik and Ozzy Rae Horvath; adult dramaturg Brian Quirt; and young co-interviewer Mia McGrinder; as well as the small army of child collaborators, consultants, development partners and champions who made this presentation possible. I look forward to seeing where this goes next.

Child-ish has one more performance in the Franco Boni Theatre at the Theatre Centre: August 14 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets available online or in person at the box office; it’s a very short three-show run and last night’s performance was sold out, so advance booking is a must.

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.

Installation kitty
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.