In memoriam: Ed Rosing

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Ed Rosing – during a break in scenic painting on The Lady’s Not For Burning at Alumnae Theatre

Ed Rosing

March 11, 1929 – September 12, 2016

Ed Rosing (aka Eddie, Eduardo) was a creative soul with a quick, sharp wit, and a great love of classical music, opera and theatre. He played piano, was an original founding member of Cabbagetown Theatre, and worked as a respected interior decorator (into his late 80s, he still had two clients!), as well as a theatre set and lighting designer, scenic artist and director.

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Ed and Cody Boyd, working on the lighting for The Lady’s Not For Burning at Alumnae Theatre

I met Ed at Alumnae Theatre and got to know him during a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, where he was the lighting designer and I was playing Cecil Graham. His gorgeous lighting plot included a gradual sunset during the opening scenes and a lovely fireplace lit room for Lord Darlington’s apartment (a cast and audience favourite). After that, I had the pleasure of painting sets he and others designed, as well as his apartment at PAL Toronto, and being directed by him in a New Ideas Festival reading of Jamie Johnson’s Falling.

He was a good friend, and a generous and knowledgeable mentor – and I will miss him.

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Ed & Bailey at Kensington Hospice – photo by Brett Guenther

Memorial donations can be made to Kensington Hospice, where Ed spent his final days, surrounded by loving friends and family (and even a dog or two), and caring staff and volunteers. A home away from home, Ed appreciated the comfortable and beautiful surroundings – and especially enjoyed the food – listening to classical music and watching movies and TV shows on Netflix (Murdoch Mysteries was a favourite).

Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s already coming up with ideas to make it even more startlingly beautiful.

Below are some snaps I took of some of his Alumnae Theatre sets: Cosi, The Drowning Girls, The Lady’s Not For Burning and Blood Relations:

 

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Picasso & Einstein walk into a bar; art, science, women & philosophy ensue in hilarious, surreal Picasso at the Lapin Agile

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Dylan Evans (Picasso) & Will King (Einstein) in Picasso at the Lapin Agile – photo by Erika Downie

Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar.

This is the set-up for Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Seven Siblings Theatre’s current production, directed by Seven Siblings co-founder Erika Downie, which opened at Kensington Market bar venue Round last night.

It was my first time at Round, a vintage-inspired cabaret-styled bar space and a perfect immersive venue for this production. The Lapin Agile barkeep Freddie (Dylan Mawson) set the scene as the audience entered and settled, opening the bar on the playing space and jovially interacting with the audience, at least one of whom mistook him for the venue bartender (you can purchase beverages before the show starts).

Set in a bar in 1904, we find the two titans of innovation in their mid-20s and both on the brink of greatness. Einstein (company co-founder and previous production director Will King) is slogging away on his book on the theory of relativity, and Picasso (Dylan Evans) is in his blue period, struggling for instantaneous alignment between his ideas and the act of drawing them. At the top of the play, barkeep Freddie (Mawson), his sweetheart and co-worker Germaine (company co-founder Madryn McCabe) and regular Gaston (Jamie Johnson) are already pondering life, art, women and love when Einstein bursts in; and it’s not long after Picasso’s arrival that the scientist and the artist get into a heated argument that turns into a duel of science versus art.

Add to that mix an assortment of opinionated patrons and friends – a lover, friend and admirer (all played by Erin Burley), an art collector (Erik Helle), an inventor (Andrew Gaunce) and a surprise visitor (Maxwell LeBeuf) – and you have some hilarious, thought-provoking discussion and debate, as well as some predictions about the burgeoning 20th century. There is a restless, anxious and hopeful atmosphere in the bar as these characters adjust to the new century. Sparks of brilliance and absurdity abound – and it’s all big, goofy surreal fun.

Equally big fun is the sharp and engaging ensemble. Portraying the two young men on the edge of great things, King and Evans bring passion, drive and intelligence. King’s Einstein is bubbling with energy and ideas, shifting between stillness and silence and bursts of movement and thought; and Evans’ Picasso is smooth, sexy and charming – an infuriating player, but a talented and sensitive artist you can’t help but feel drawn to. And the upshot of their argument is that both men discover that they have more common ground than they thought – and that art and science are no so different after all.

Mawson’s Freddie is a great combination of affable and irreverent, and clueless with an occasional brilliant observation. Beneath the beautiful barmaid exterior, McCabe’s Germaine is insightful, astute and self-aware; her passions are her own to direct – and she has the most accurate predictions about the new century. As Gaston, Johnson brings a touch of wistful nostalgia to an otherwise grumpy older man. Saying aloud what Germaine already knows, Burley’s Suzanne (one of Picasso’s forgotten lovers) is a bright young woman who ultimately falls for Picasso with her mind, in spite of physical attraction and in spite of herself. Helle’s Sagot is flamboyant and shrewd, with an eye for important art and a mind for marketing – which affords engagement in his own artistry as a photographer. Gaunce’s self-important inventor Schmendiman is hilariously buffoonish, with a Daliesque quality to his verbal outbursts; and LeBeuf’s Visitor is a smooth, cool crooner with an interesting take on the world and its response to greatness.

The play crackles with ideas and conversation, with moments of breaking the fourth wall – even acknowledging that it’s a play – it’s a big ideas party and everyone’s invited.

Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar, and art, science, women and philosophy ensue in Seven Siblings Theatre’s wacky, surreal and immersive production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile continues at Round until Feb 28; please note the 7:30 p.m. curtain time (it’s not cool when the stage manager has to hold the house for audience showing up when the show’s supposed to be starting). You can get advance tix online – strongly recommended.

You can keep up with Seven Siblings on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In the meantime, check out the show’s trailer:

Love, death and the magic of the theatre in wistful, otherworldly then, then.

Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. - photo by Jonathan Harvey
Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. – photo by Jonathan Harvey

A community theatre becomes more than an artistic refuge in Messy Kween Collective’s premiere of Kyle Capstick’s then, then. – directed by Evan Harkai and running at Majlis Art Garden (163 Walnut Avenue).

Part indoors/part outdoors, Majlis Art Garden is a magical place all on its own – and it’s been transformed into a community theatre space for then, then., with audience placed along two sides of the playing area (onstage and off) and the house tented along the sides with white silky fabric, reminiscent of a parachute, and a protective tarp above. The sounds of Billie Holiday fill the space during the pre-show, as our eyes adjust to the fading natural light around us.

As then, then. unfolds, a rehearsal for a new play about a pair of star-crossed lovers becomes a backdrop for personal exploration and revelations as the players practice their craft and explore their inner demons and desires amidst the intermittent, menacing noise of aircraft above. The vintage pop music and sounds of planes overhead (identified as “friendly” or “enemy”), coupled with the costuming (40s for the actors within the play, using Elizabethan costumes for the play they’re rehearsing) give a WWII flavour, but there’s an otherworldly, alternate universe quality to the play that defies time and place. The effect is a curious combination of disorienting and fascinating, and places the focus on the characters, and their memories and responses to events they witness and in which they participate.

Lovely work from the cast in this raw, visceral work – each tapping into his/her vulnerability to bring heart-on-sleeve emotions to the fore. As the company’s director Jack, Jamie Johnson gives a kind, gentle performance; extremely protective of the group, especially his young nephew and ward Brian, Jack soldiers on despite feeling his age as he struggles with his own fears – of safety and of being too old for love. Madeleine Brown is adorably rambunctious as the bright, imaginative, plane-loving Brian; he notices and understands things beyond his years, and reveals them with the earnest frankness of a child. Karie Richards gives a compelling performance as Miriam, a woman of a certain age, and intimidating in her seriousness and professionalism; possessing of a quick, wry wit, she doesn’t suffer fools (or ingenues) gladly, and she has the haunted edge of loss about her, concealing a big heart. Is it just her youth she mourns or is there something else?

Michelle Lewis is lovely as the ingenue Abigail; playful, even coquettish, she is a girl on the verge of womanhood, full of spunk and longing, with an enormous curiosity about love and death. As the young male lead Chris, Jonathan Walls brings a great sense of inner conflict and frustration; undone over a stage kiss that misses the mark, he struggles with a heaviness he can’t put his finger on – and one gets the feeling that he’ll jump out of his skin if he can’t sort things out. As Paul, Nicholas Surges gives us a nuanced performance as a young man who takes in a lot as he watches from the wings; he feels much and uses his sharp, mocking sense of humour to cover his feelings – and it appears he’s secretly in love with one of his colleagues.

With shouts to the designers: Johnny Cann (sound and lighting) and Lindsay Dagger Junkin (costumes) for their beautiful work in creating this world.

Love, death and the magic of the theatre as a company of players mines emotion to uncover individual tragedies in the wistful, otherworldly then, then.

then, then. continues at Majlis Art Garden until September 27; click here for advance tickets.

Photography by Jonathan Harvey

Toronto Fringe: A moving, entertaining & eye-opening look at LGBT life in Salvador

salvador.web_-250x250Living in Canada, it can be easy to take our rights and freedoms for granted, and sometimes we need to be reminded that people in other countries are still struggling and fighting – and this is especially true for the LGBT community.

Salvador, written by Rafael Antonio Renderos and directed by Sam Graham, is one such reminder – on now at Toronto Fringe. A Young Man (Renderos) travels to his family’s homeland, El Salvador, to research gay rights violations. There, he interviews Joaquín Caceres (Jamie Johnson), an HIV+ gay man, human rights/LGBT activist and founder of Asociacíon Entre Amigos, and he learns of the history of horrors and routine rights violations suffered by LGBT people, all the while repressing his exuberant gay self.

Appearing throughout the play is the Spirit (Jaime Hernandez-Lujan), a stunningly beautiful and vivacious drag queen. Through verbatim theatre (the interview), storytelling and drag performance, the journey unfolds as the Young Man corresponds with his lover back home in Toronto. And he ends up learning much more than he expected – mainly, about himself.

Renderos is beautifully idealistic, curious and open-hearted as the Young Man, struggling with his own sexual and gender identity even as he hears about Joaquin’s fight. Johnson gives Joaquin a strong sense of passion and drive, tempered with good-humour and warmth; this is a good man risking his life in the fight for human rights. Hernandez-Lujan (also known as drag performer Lucinda Miu) gives a lovely performance as the Spirit, going from flirtatious, entertaining and whimsical to tender and melancholy throughout her various numbers, as she plays various characters, including Joaquin’s mother. It is as if the Spirit is the Young Man’s true self come to life – and when he puts his own internal repression and fear aside, he lip syncs and dances with such release and joy that I couldn’t help but be brought to tears.

Salvador is a moving, entertaining and eye-opening story of LGBT cultural and self-discovery.

The show continues at the Annex Theatre until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times.

Judy! Judy! Judy! Kimberly Roberts’ powerhouse performance in The Get Happy Hour with Judy

Get Happy HourThe late actress/entertainer Judy Garland is beloved on an international scale, and especially so among the LGBT community. And no one does Judy Garland quite like Kimberly Roberts.

I first saw Roberts appear as Garland in the The Judy Monologues at Toronto Fringe – and was struck by how much Roberts was able to convey of Garland throughout a completely silent performance.

I had the great pleasure of seeing Roberts perform in The Get Happy Hour with Judy, in the second of two World Pride 2014 Toronto opening night shows at Revival Bar last night, and it was the first time I’d heard her speak onstage.

Written by Roberts and Sephera Giron, and directed by Sarah Strange, The Get Happy Hour with Judy is part multi-media theatre/part cabaret/part TV show. Roberts plays both a Garland impersonator named Kimberly Williams and Garland herself in this largely one-woman show. Jamie Johnson plays the affable Bartender and accompanist, and Stuart Park guests as the Drunk and the Announcer. The action shifts from Williams chatting with the bartender about Garland and her cancelled TV show, and the two share an appreciation of her work even as they ponder the tabloid reports of self-destructive behaviour. Williams chooses to see the positive side of Garland, though, and imagines how successful her TV show would have been if it had been set up as a happy hour, with people talking, drinking, performing and enjoying. Complete with vintage black and white TV commercials, and a slide show of Garland family photos.

This is where Roberts really gets cooking. From there, the show launches into the TV program that never was, imagined by an actress sitting in a bar, chatting with a bartender over a martini: The Get Happy Show with Judy. Garland tells us about her early days in the business and shares stories about family, highlighted by the song choices (which Roberts expertly lip-syncs), including some rarely heard gems that will thrill Garland fans.

It’s more than the fact that Roberts is a remarkable look-alike. Every expression, from the mouth to the eyes, every gesture is nuanced and precise. The warmth and vulnerability behind the powerful voice and stage presence is palpable. And that’s why people love Judy Garland. Roberts doesn’t play Judy Garland – she channels Judy Garland.

You have two more chances to catch The Get Happy Hour with Judy during its Pride run: tonight (Wed, June 25) at 7:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. You can also follow and like The Get Happy Hour with Judy on Facebook.

If you’re heading over to Revival Bar, you might also consider getting there early and taking in JJ Marie Gufreda’s Left Hander in London: The Earthquake, based on Gufreda’s book about her transition from a “Joe to a Jane,” which is touring with The Get Happy Hour with Judy and has performances at 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on June 25. I caught the end of the show last night – and it promises to be a funny and poignant experience.

p.s. – Love how The Get Happy Hour with Judy gang includes their favourite Judy Garland song in their bios. Mine is “The Man That Got Away.” What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

Falling – final rehearsal

Our last rehearsal yesterday. Tweaking rhythm. Tone. Transitions.

Falling is a work in progress – not sure what draft playwright Jamie Johnson is on – and it’s important to present it as best as we can so the work can continue.

Constance (I’m playing her at age 48) is a very complex character – and every time I read her, I peel back another layer. And with four versions of her, facets of the same stone, we each look for similarities between ourselves and our younger selves. Now at 48, how is she the same as she was at 30, 18, 12? How different?

I’ve been pondering these questions myself since, in this rare instance – after years of playing younger or older, often younger – I’m playing close to my own age for a change.

We polished. We fine-tuned. We’re ready.

With thanks to Victoria Shepherd, who isn’t able to make it to the reading, for being our thoughtful and enthusiastic one-woman audience.

Next up: a minimal tech rehearsal the morning before the reading, adding music and lighting. Then we read for an audience.

The reading of Falling has one performance only – on Saturday, March 9 at noon. Tickets for New Ideas readings are pay-what-you-can, so there are no reservations. The box office opens at 11 a.m. – CASH ONLY.

The New Ideas Festival opens with the Week One program on Wednesday, March 6 and runs until Sunday, March 24 – up in the studio at Alumnae Theatre (Toronto).

Falling rehearsals – we got rhythm

We got rhythm.

Saturday’s rehearsal – in the studio again – was about rhythm and nuance. Mostly, it was about rhythm.

Director Ed Rosing, who was reading for Cora (who got stuck having to do a training session at her new job that day), was also an orchestra conductor of sorts – suggesting a quickening of the pace during certain sections, then returning us to more thoughtful, even languid, rhythms elsewhere. Playwright Jamie Johnson was there too, slipping us a script insert page to help smooth out the flow of a section of dialogue that had been bugging him. And sound designer Rick Jones was in attendance as well, at the sound board setting up the music that will be played behind the fairy tale sections of the play.

The music is lovely, and Ed remarked that Ruth’s rhythm – while she was reading the fairy tale near the beginning of the play – organically fell into step with the Chopin Nocturne. A more modern classical piece — I can’t recall the title – will play behind the fairy tale storytelling at the end. It really is remarkable how the music can affect you in the context of reading a play. It certainly ups the emotional ante. While the text will predominate, the music will play subtly in the background – a “mist” behind the dialogue.

And, at the end of rehearsal, Pat McCarthy (one of the two co-artistic directors for NIF) dropped by to see how we were doing and pass along info about reservations for the festival. With the cast and creative team of each play working in isolation, we pretty much just pass each other coming in and out of the rehearsal spaces, so it’s nice to connect with one of the festival’s organizers, as well as have the opportunity to say “hey” to the other actors, directors, playwrights and SMs that we cross paths with.

One more rehearsal for Falling coming up this weekend and then the public reading a week after that. In the meantime, Jamie loaned me an earlier, longer version of the script – this includes lots of back story on Constance, and other moments from her life, that I’d like to take a look at. What does “love” mean? How does that definition differ in each relationship? And how do you find good love after so much bad? So many facets to this character – and we see her at four different ages – a strong, complicated and damaged woman. She’s not a particularly nice person – or an easy person – but I like Constance a lot.

For those of you trying to book NIF tickets by calling the box office, you’ll be hearing the old message for A Woman of No Importance; I’m assured that this will be updated today.

Otherwise, you can now book tickets online via the link on Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival page

I should also mention that the Saturday readings (of which Falling is one of three) are pay-what-you-can (cash only) and there are no reservations; arriving at the theatre early is strongly recommended to avoid disappointment. The box office opens at 11 a.m. on the Saturdays of the New Ideas Festival and the readings start promptly at noon. There will be a talkback with the playwright, director and cast following each reading.