Foolish destruction & a chance for redemption with a contemporary twist in the haunting, playful The Winter’s Tale

Back to front: Richard Lee & Eponine Lee. Scenography by Claire Hill. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Back to Withrow Park last night for more outdoor Shakespeare excellence, as community-connected, entertaining and accessible Shakespeare in the Ruff opened their adaptation of The Winter’s Tale last night. Adapted by Sarah Kitz with Andrew Joseph Richardson, and directed and choreographed by Kitz with assistant director Keshia Palm, this haunting, playful production gets a contemporary twist. When a king’s jealous suspicions get the better of him, he destroys his family and a childhood friendship—and while those around him navigate the fallout, there may be room for redemption as Time passes and hearts change.

winter's tale 2
Tiffany Martin & Jason Gray. Scenography by Claire Hill. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Jealousy and suspicion come to a boil in the mind of King Leontes of Sicilia (Richard Lee, in a passionate, compelling performance as a powerful, yet fearful man), and he convinces himself that his wife Hermione (a regal, heartbreaking Tiffany Martin) and visiting childhood best friend King Polixenes of Bohemia (an affable royal turn from Jason Gray) are lovers—and the child she carries isn’t his. He orders his servant Camillo (Kaitlyn Riordan, in a role that showcases her nuanced adeptness with comedy and drama) to poison Polixenes; troubled by her King’s directive and unable to carry out the deed, she and Polixenes flee Sicilia. Hermione is imprisoned and gives birth to a daughter, which loyal courtier and friend Paulina (played with fierce, grounded kindness by Jani Lauzon) presents to Leontes, in hopes of melting his heart. Unmoved, he banishes the infant to the wilderness. Hermione is put on trial by and found innocent by the Oracles; but in the meantime their son Mamillius (Eponine Lee, adorably precocious and haunting in this role) dies and, overcome with heartbreak, she too dies. Left alone with no heir, his family’s blood on his hands, and his best friend and ally forever severed from him, Leontes falls into despair.

The second half takes us forward in time, 16 years later, where Bohemian Prince Florizell (Giovanni Spina, bringing tender bashfulness and resolve to the romantic young suitor), son of King Polixenes, woos and marries the young shepherdess Perdita (played with independence and resilience by Andrea Carter). Polixenes and Camillo witness the wedding in disguise, and Polixenes reveals himself to soundly forbid the union of his son to a peasant; once again, the tender-hearted Camillo comes to the rescue and helps the young couple flee to Sicilia. As all gather in Sicilia, the two halves of this story converge— bringing revelations, and a chance for reunion and redemption.

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Andrea Carter & Giovanni Spina. Scenography by Claire Hill. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Lovely work from the ensemble in a production that is as playful and entertaining as it is powerful and poignant; incorporating a live soundscape of Time’s tick tock, bell toll rhythm; and a beautiful lullaby shared between mother and son that becomes an eerie refrain as the young boy continues to observe the proceedings even after his death (sound design, composition and lyrics by Maddie Bautista). Everyone does multiple roles here, with the comic antics of Lauzon (Old Shepherd) and Richard Lee (Clown), and Martin’s loveable scallywag servant Autolycus—not to mention Eponine Lee’s Bear—bringing the necessary comic relief to these otherwise intense and tragic events. And Martin delivers a heart-wrenching, inspirational account of a woman’s struggles, resistance and resilience as she travels far from home and back again—an everywoman’s voice throughout the ages that resonates—inspiring us to view this tale through a contemporary lens.

A cautionary tale of how suspicion and fear can turn an otherwise good leader into a tyrant; and how those who care about him can have the courage and wisdom to try to make things right.

The Winter’s Tale continues at Withrow Park, running Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. until September 2, including a special Labour Day performance on September 2. Advance tickets and lawn chair rental are available online; otherwise, tickets are pay what you can (PWYC) at the park on the night of the performance.

Click here for accessibility info. And you can get rain updates here on their Twitter account.

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Truth & reconciliation through music, one step at a time, in the inspirational, intersectional I Call myself Princess

Marion Newman & Aaron Wells. Set design by Christine Urquhart. Costume design by Snezana Pesic. Lighting design by Kaitlin Hickey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre join forces with Native Earth to present Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess, directed by Marjorie Chan, with associate director Keith Barker and music direction by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. History, biography, opera, and truth and reconciliation combine in this inspirational, intersectional tale of two Indigenous opera singers connecting across time and space in a journey of discovery, identity and bridging the gap between peoples one step at a time. The show opened to a packed house at the Aki Studio last night.

When opera student William (Aaron Wells), a gay Métis man, moves from Winnipeg to Toronto to study on a scholarship, his work on a production of Shanewis (The Robin Woman), 100-year-old “Indian Opera,” turns into a journey of discovery, revelation and mystical connection. Dropping clues into his path is the spirit of Tsianina Redfeather (Marion Newman), whose life and experience inspired and informed the opera, written by white composer Charles Wakefield Cadman (Richard Greenblatt) and white librettist Nelle Eberhart (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster).

Borrowing from Indigenous music, filtered through the colonial lens of well-meaning, but unaware white artists, the opera seems hokey and embarrassing by today’s standards in terms of its cultural appropriation, and romanticized, homogenized presentation of Indigenous culture. And as he delves deeper into its history—consulting mainly the works of white academics—Will finds himself increasingly uncomfortable rehearsing it. His numerous calls to the Dean falling into a voicemail black hole, he reaches out for support from his boyfriend Alex back home (Howard Davis)—who’s overwhelmed with shift work, business school and looking after his family—and finds he’s on his own. Until Tsianina appears. An Indigenous opera singer from the past, she shows him the path she chose and the part she played in putting Shanewis on the stage.

Lovely, compelling work from this cast, featuring some impressive vocal chops. In an artfully balanced performance that features soaring mezzo soprano vocals, Newman’s Tsianina is playfully mischievous and possessing the wisdom of an elder; part colleague, part spirit guide on Will’s journey of identity and expression. Understanding that sharing truth and effecting change take time, Tsianina is patient and circumspect as she works on the opera—growing and earning respect as an artist, but holding back as she gauges what her non-Indigenous colleagues and audiences are ready for. Turning down two opportunities to perform at the Met, sees her work as a balance between self-expression and truth-telling—and making connections, step by step. Wells adeptly navigates Will’s inner conflict and serves up passionate, robust vocal performances. Personal and professional challenges collide, and Will struggles to be truth to himself and his drive for artistic expression and career, and his Indigenous heritage as he struggles with the content of the opera.

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Richard Greenblatt, Aaron Wells, Marion Newman, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Howard Davis. Set design by Christine Urquhart. Costume design by Snezana Pesic. Lighting design by Kaitlin Hickey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Rounding out the intersectional angle of the piece are Greenblatt’s Charles, a gay man navigating his personal and professional life during a time when being out was suicide; and Ch’ng Lancaster’s Nelle, who like Tsianina must keep the public’s preparedness (in her case, for a female librettist) in mind. Greenblatt and Ch’ng Lancaster do a commendable job with Charles’ and Nelle’s personal arcs—going from well-meaning, but patronizing and largely clueless in their support of Indigenous peoples to more respectful and thoughtful allies. And Davis’s Alex, a Black gay man who doesn’t read as Black due to his light skin tone, and who must deal daily with the outside perceptions and assumptions in a largely white population. In a performance that shows both strength and vulnerability, Davis gives us a loyal, passionate man who sacrifices much for those he loves, but must come to terms with the fact that, despite his best efforts, he can’t be all things to all people, all the time.

You can tell that a lot of love, work and thought went into the production design. The fringe on Christine Urquhart’s set, combining colonial and Indigenous elements, mirrors that of Tsianina’s costume; designed by Snezana Pesic, and built by Kinoo Arcentales (Yana Manta), with beading by playwright Jani Lauzon (who delivered the moccasins last night after working all night to finish the beading). And Marc Meriläinen’s sound design—drawing from Shanewis (The Robin Woman) and classical opera, as well as original compositions by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate and Jani Lauzon—immerses us in this world of music, cultural intersection and history.

Truth and reconciliation—step by step, in each connection, each collaboration, each brave act of expression.

I Call myself Princess continues at the Aki Studio until September 30. Get advance tickets online and go see it.

Just Lift Your Feet – interview with actor/playwright Heather Allin

S3lgwNs8bmvaHRI5RnMpjysm3SA20iBRu2--D1NuG5kJust one week away from the opening of the Toronto Fringe Festival, my friends, and I had the pleasure of interviewing actor/playwright Heather Allin, who took some time amidst a super busy pre-Fringe schedule to answer some questions over email about her upcoming one-woman Fringe play Just Lift Your Feet.

LWMC: Hi, Heather. Thanks for taking the time to speak about Just Lift Your Feet. What is Just Lift Your Feet about?

HA: It’s the story of a woman, a creative woman, who has lost her connection with herself. Fear, loss and failure have arisen. She heads off to the forest, hoping to leave the judgments behind to try to reconnect. She fails miserably. In so doing she “gives up,” opening her world to the non-ordinary experience. There she meets a Goddess and a Doe who vie for her creativity, one who wants to consume it, while the other wants to help her reconnect. In the format of the traditional Hero’s journey, Morgan, the lead, is shown the path she took and relearns how to be connected with what matters, and at the end of her fantastical journey, she reconnects with those two sides of herself, goddess and wise woman, to be able to create again, for the joy of creating.

LWMC: Just Lift Your Feet had its genesis in a SoulOTheatre solo show workshop intensive with Tracey Erin Smith. Can you tell us a bit about that process and how you came to find this story?

HA: I loved that workshop. In it there were four other fantastic women, each of us with stories to tell. Tracey was like a guide in the dark helping us to find creative impulses and stories that were meaningful to us, that she would hear, spell bound. Presenting that piece to an audience gave me a focus to craft a play and the opportunity to see if it was of interest to friends and strangers. From that I decided I wanted to continue to develop it. This version is very different that that one. Yet the threads of what I wanted to talk about: fear, and how debilitating fear can be; the power we all have inside ourselves to be creative and contributing and connected humans with self, others and everything around us. I was fortunate to have my friend and dramaturge Jani Lauzon to help guide me along the path as a writer of a play. SoulOTheatre was the kick-starter to this play. Tracey helped to inspire me and to keep me going when the fear of failure arose – as it still does.

LWMC: Had you written anything before?

HA: I have written many an essay, speeches, president’s messages, scenes and a short play, but this is my first full-length play.

LWMC: How did you manage to navigate your dual writer/actor role during the dramaturgical and rehearsal process? Did you find one hat more challenging to wear than the other?

HA: I feel like I’m wearing about 15 hats. Letting go of ‘writer’ was probably the hardest, because it’s also the newest. If I’d known how much work it all is, I might have thought twice, but probably still chosen to do the show. I had to learn to triage, to delegate, and when that didn’t work, I had to let some things not get done, and be okay with it.

LWMC: You also have scenes where you’re playing multiple characters in various relationships to each other. What’s that like? What helps you ground yourself in each character throughout as you shift back and forth?

HA: I’ve put together a fantastic team: voice, movement, fight and of course my director and stage manager who can be that outer eye, and help me figure out the gesture, the voice, the breath, the stance and the power. All of which went put together, create characters on stage being played by one woman. My set, lighting and sound designers support the story, and my performance. My communications team have put together a beautiful and integrated branding of the show that evokes the play.

LWMC: Dennis Hayes is your director for the Toronto Fringe production. How did you find each other? Did he also assist with dramaturgy?

HA: Dennis is incredible to work with. He knew my two co-producers and they recommended he be the right person for this script. Jani Lauzon has been working on the dramaturge of the script with me since last summer. She’s helped me learn how to tell a story dramatically and theatrically. Dennis has helped to sculpt those intricate moments.

LWMC: Any revelations – personal or professional – that came about during your time writing, editing and rehearsing that you care to share?

HA: When I began thinking of writing, I thought I didn’t have anything to say. Then I realized I had so much to say I couldn’t begin. And so I followed my heart, and at each step of my journey the right people arose to help me get to the next step. There are stories in each of us. It takes a lot of bravery to start and even more to finish, but step by step you move forward. If it calls to you, follow your heart.

LWMC: At this point, do you have any plans for Just Lift Your Feet beyond the Toronto Fringe run?

HA: Well, we frequently refer to “in the Mirvish production,” while recognizing we’re in the Fringe Festival. In my quiet moments, I hope I can develop the play to its next level, and that it will find spots in a theatre company’s season. I also think it could travel. So yes, but right now I’m focused on this stage, and this time.

LWMC: Do you have any other projects in the works?

HA: Right now, this is my focus.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

HA: I encourage everyone to find your own creativity. I ask you all to support the arts and, in particular, artists. Watch us, so that theatre lives vibrantly. Pay us, so we can afford to bring you new stories. Enjoy theatre, and what it offers. I am fortunate to have some very talented and dedicated artists working with me on this project. The team that surrounds me and supports the creation of Just Lift Your Feet are amazing to work with. I thank them.

Thanks, Heather!

For those of you on Facebook, check out the mention of Just Lift Your Feet in 2013 Toronto Fringe Picks by Derrick Chua.

Just Lift Your Feet runs July 3-13 at the Robert Gill Theatre:

Show Code

Length

Show Time

Venue

903

90

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 – 10:30pm – Thursday, July 4, 2013 – 12:00am

Robert Gill

909

90

Friday, July 5, 2013 – 5:15pm – 6:45pm

Robert Gill

917

90

Saturday, July 6, 2013 – 7:30pm – 9:00pm

Robert Gill

928

90

Monday, July 8, 2013 – 3:00pm – 4:30pm

Robert Gill

937

90

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 – 8:30pm – 10:00pm

Robert Gill

940

90

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 – 2:00pm – 3:30pm

Robert Gill

966

90

Saturday, July 13, 2013 – 10:30pm – Sunday, July 14, 2013 – 12:00am

Robert Gill