Power, connection & identity in the potent, magical, eye-opening Watah Theatre Double Bill

“A world without fairy tales and myths would be as drab as life without music.”—The Watah Theatre

The Watah Theatre presents a Double Bill of biomythographies, including an excerpt reading of d’bi.young anitafrika’s Once Upon A Black Boy and the world premiere of Najla Nubyanluv’s I Cannot Lose My Mind, running in the Studio at Streetcar Crowsnest.

Once Upon A Black Boy, written and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika, opens with a mother singing to her infant son. Rocking him in her arms as she sings, she tells him he is beautiful and loved, enveloping him with encouragement and protection. When he grows into an energetic, self-involved (what teen is not?) 6’ tall 15-year-old, she must call him out on the condition of his room, slacking off on his chores and changing out of his uniform before he comes home from school. Because, now, she is afraid for him. She is afraid that others won’t see a 15-year-old child, but a scary, big Black man—and she’s terrified that assumptions based on fear, prejudice and racism could get him killed.

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d’bi.young anitafrika

Told through spoken word, song and a cast of multiple characters, Once Upon A Black Boy is as much about Black motherhood as it is about raising a Black son—and how Black bodies are treated differently in the face of systemic and institutional racism. Joyful and hopeful, then exasperated and deeply concerned, anitafrika’s performance covers the complex array of experience of a Black mother—longing and hoping for the best, but bracing and preparing for the worst. The mother also fears what may happen when she’s not around, from having to be at work and, even more importantly, if she were to get sick. Her sister has just been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, which we see played out when the sister visits the doctor to check out a lump and is instructed to keep an eye on it and return in six months.

Moving, insightful and peppered with playful comic moments—and filled with music and sharply-defined characters—anitafrika’s storytelling is both compelling and entertaining. I look forward to seeing where this story goes.

I Cannot Lose My Mind, written and performed by Najla Nubyanluv and directed by d’bi.young anitafrika, chronicles a Black womxn’s* quest to be rid of depression. Discovering an inexplicable mutual connection with a kind and helpful Black female therapist, the womxn finds she must also put up with the therapist’s questionable colleagues: two white male doctors who are happy to push pills onto their patients, including a hilarious list of possible side effects—but, oh, they have additional pills to take care of those too. Experiencing a dreamscape of shared connections with a group of seven women, some of whom were also being treated for depression—and including the therapist and her sweet, elderly receptionist—the womxn finds a bigger world outside her day-to-day life. Trouble is, the doctors have also discovered these mythological connections and want to harness the womxns’ collective power for themselves.

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Najla Nubyanluv

Telling the story through movement, song and a cast of characters, Nubyanluv weaves personal experience, dreams and mythology, creating a landscape of magical connections with a larger community as the womxn navigates therapy, medication and health care practitioners who don’t have her best interests in mind. Dressed in a goddess-like white gown, Nubyanluv gives a fluid, playful and mesmerizing performance. Connecting with the audience on a personal level as the story unfolds, she draws us into this world. This is what it’s like to experience depression—and struggle to get better and get your life back as you try to make sense of an often senseless world.

Both of these biomythographies demonstrate how anitafrika and Nubyanluv walk the talk of some of the key principles The Watah Theatre teaches its resident artists: Who are you? How are you? And what is your purpose? Theatre-making as self-discovery: the artist coming to the work as a human being, connecting with their lived experience, and then sharing that discovery as they connect with an audience. Making their lives as the make their art.

These stories also highlight the intersections of oppression, particularly the health care system’s failure to treat women of colour with equal respect and diligence. During the talkback that followed the performance, anitafrika also mentioned the importance of recognizing how we all perpetuate stigma ourselves, and to turn our focus away from how we are oppressed in our daily lives to how we propagate oppression. We need to examine power, not just how it’s exerted upon us, but how we exert our own power on others. Are we using our power for support and allyship—or to oppress and demean?

Power, connection and identity in the potent, magical, eye-opening Watah Theatre Double Bill.

The Watah Theatre Double Bill continues in the Streetcar Crowsnest Studio till February 17; advance tickets available online.

*This is The Watah Theatre’s preferred spelling of woman/women.

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Community, conflict & discovery in New Ideas funny & poignant Week 3 program

NIF 2016It’s the final week of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (NIF),  and the Week 3 program features an extra bonus show: a lobby play. So get to the theatre early (around 7:30 p.m. to get a good spot in the lobby near the staircase to the mainstage) for this extra NIF treat.

The Nurse (lobby playby Francine Dick, directed by Mandy Roveda and featuring actor Margaret Rose Keery). A delightful short solo piece, and very meta as actor Keery plays an actor reluctantly preparing for a callback for Romeo and Juliet. She starts out being certain she’s not right for the part, but as she enlists assistance from the audience to read with her while she prepares – against her will – she learns something about the part and possibly about herself. Strong, engaging work from Keery.

Provenance (by Linda McCready, directed by Pam Redfern). Disillusioned chef Alicia (Fleur Jacobs) has high hopes when she makes a trip to Webster’s Falls with art professor Martin (Eric Edquist), who she hopes will authenticate a painting she plans to sell in order to fund her own Italian restaurant. Jacobs brings a lovely sense of sass and adventurousness as Alicia; and Edquist’s is adorkable as the awkward, precise and decidedly not outdoorsy professor. A sweet two-hander with some interesting and surprising discoveries.

Trying (by Norma Crawford, directed by Juliet Paperny). The double meaning of the title of this very funny and touching play becomes evident very quickly as three at-risk young adults wait for their yoga teacher (part of a mandated social services program). Great work all around from the cast: Michelle T. Baynton as the energetic, medicated handful Tracey; Adam Malcolm as the new guy Brent, conflicted and itching to get to the casino; Evan Walsh as the sweet, introverted misfit Jimmy; Susannah Mackay as the troubled, mysterious surprise guest Lily; and Annie McKay as their put-upon, prim teacher Beth. All are struggling to find their way – even the teacher.

Sick Kids Wanna Talk to You (by Carolyn Bennett, directed by Jennifer McKinley). A Sick Kids hospital street canvasser goes head to head with an irate passerby. Great combination of hilarity and devastating honesty, with a stand-out cast: Wendy Fox has excellent comic delivery and spunk as canvasser Makayla; and Lydia Kiselyk goes well beyond the straight man wither her performance of Joan, a woman of hawk-like intensity and focus, with more brewing beneath her tightly wound surface. As their initial adversarial dynamic shifts and changes, both come to important realizations.

Four Hours (by Joan Burrows, directed by Helen Munroe). An abduction? A carjacking? When a neighbour’s young child goes missing, local residents pull together and apart. Hoping for the best for the missing boy, residents can’t help but fear this is just one more example of how crime and safety have become critical issues in their area. The play pulls from the headlines (a very recent one, coincidentally) of amber alerts and discrimination, particularly against Muslim immigrants, as secrets and fears emerge among neighbourhood residents. Lovely work from this ensemble cast: Samantha Adams, Armand Antony, Nikki Chohan, Julia Haist, Mitchell Janiak, Tina McCulloch, Zachary McKendrick, Chris Peterson and Rebecca Wolfe. Stand-outs include Janiak, as young new resident Shu, the narrator of the story; and Chohan as Farah, the neighbourhood newcomer who’s forced to defend her own son against residents’ suspicions. Conflict, confessions and closure in this moving, insightful play.

Community, conflict and discovery in New Ideas funny and poignant Week 3 program.

The Week Three program continues to March 27, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 26 is the noon reading:  Omission (by Alice Abracen,  directed by Michela Sisti).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week 3 trailer:

 

Passion, perception & revolution in New Ideas thoughtful Week 2 program

NIF 2016Alumnae Theatre continues its 2016 programming for its annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) of short new works with an engaging Week 2 program in the Studio space this week. Here’s what’s happening this week:

Housekeeping (by Jean Koppen, directed by Anne MacMillan). Three cleaners find something unexpected in a wealthy client’s home and their everyday routine is thrown into disarray as they debate the moral and ethical implications of their discover and what to do about it. At times darkly funny, the play highlights the stark realities of class, precarious work and distrust of a justice system that treats the rich differently from the rest of society. Really nice work from the cast: Morna Wales is tough, but fair and circumspect as Arlene, the veteran on the team; Aleksandra Maslennikova’s Jo is sharp, wary and cunningly resourceful; and Behiwot Degefu does a great job with the wide-eyed, irreverent and strong-willed rookie Sweetie.

pose ball (by Caitie Graham, directed by Emily Nixon – presented as the first part of a longer piece). When Cata (Chelsea Muirhead) wakes up with an infected wound on her thigh, foggy memories of a Friday night gradually surface – and she discovers that her boyfriend Jules (Ryota Kaneko) and bff Isa (Jenna Daley) have very different accounts of the evening. Sexy, suspenseful combination of psycho-thriller and avatar gaming, featuring some cool projection design (Adam Evenden). Outstanding work from this threesome. Daley’s Isa is a complex character of contradictions; a super responsible, introspective gamer/computer nerd, there’s an edge of obsession and self-destructiveness about her. As Cata, Muirhead is a spitfire; an energetic, rowdy and loveable brat who enjoys living on the edge for reals. And Kaneko brings the sly and edgy swagger with undertones of dangerous as drug dealer Jules.

War and Peace: A Family Story (by Krystyna Hunt, directed by Rebecca Grace). An unusual family intervention as Sam’s (Joshua Morris) daughter Alison (Veronica Baron), sister Rita (Pat Hawk) and wife Molly (Reva Nelson) conspire and execute a plan to improve his health and well-being. Dark comedy ensues with some hilarious work from the cast, with Morris as the tough as nails former military man; Baron as his peace-loving, but equally tough daughter; Hawk as his wry-witted, health-conscious sister; and Nelson as his artistic wife.

Yeats in Love (by Anne Tait, directed by Jane Carnwath). The tumultuous love affair between William Butler Yeats (Jonathan LeRose) and Maud Gonne (Nina Mason) unfolds as passion, poetry and rebellion meet amidst a nation in turmoil. The two are fierce in love as well as political debate, with some lovely moments from LeRose as the sensitive, circumspect and somewhat pragmatic poet Yeats and the Mason as the fiery, impulsive activist Gonne, who Yeats sees as a modern-day incarnation of mythological figure Kathleen Ni Houlihan. Features some beautiful sound design (Rick Jones) featuring Celtic music.

Passion, perception and revolution in engaging and thoughtful New Ideas Week 2 program.

The Week Two program continues to March 20, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 19 is the noon reading: Curved (by Kristin Shepherd, directed by Rebecca Ballarin).

And there’s one more week of programming to come: Week 3 (Mar 23-27).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week Two trailer:

 

Connection, dissension & endurance in New Ideas compelling Week 1 program

NIF 2016Alumnae Theatre opened its annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) of short new works with a strong Week 1 program in the Studio space last night. Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

Stuck (by Stacey Iseman, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson). Polar opposites Joanne (Cathie Nichols) and Alice (Glenda Romano) get stuck in the elevator of their apartment building and make an unexpected connection. A funny and poignant two-hander, with some lovely comic and dramatic work from Nichols and Romano.

Prayers to St. George (by Andrew Lee, directed by Meg Moran). A mother (Anne Shepherd) loses her daughter (Lindsey Middleton) at St. George subway station, a broken piece of memory that returns again and again. Lovingly rendered storytelling using physical theatre, spoken word and flashbacks, featuring beautiful, moving performances from Shepherd and Middleton.

The Council (by Deanna Kruger, directed by Claren Grosz). An elementary school principle and parent council meet to decide the theme of the school’s upcoming Family Fun Night. Pitches and hilarity ensue. Spot on work on the cluelessness, ambition and political correctness of the situation. Excellent comedic work from this ensemble cast: Nora Jane Williams, Barbara Salsberg, Amanda Jane Smith, Martha Breen, Adam Bonney, Nicole Hrgetic and J. Todd Colley.

This Will Be My Last Transmission (by Natalie Frijia, directed by Zita Nyarady). When a storm traps three climbers just below the summit, the lead climber (Stacey Iseman) is faced with some hard decisions as she must work out a plan to get herself, Mira and Tina down safely. A remarkable piece of storytelling using monologue, memory and shadow play. Breaking gender stereotypes, bravery, endurance and camaraderie, featuring outstanding performances from Iseman as the stoic, conflicted lead climber Ella; Laura Piccinin as the tough-talking, retired ballerina Mira; and Laura Meadows as the optimistic, kick-ass adventurer mom Tina. With lovely supporting work from Francesco de Francesco, as Ella’s husband John, who beyond wanting her home safe, must hold it together as their Base Camp contact; and Katharine Stanbridge as Olivia, representing the next driven, fearless generation of climbers.

Connection, dissension and endurance in New Ideas compelling Week 1 program.

The Week 1 program continues to March 13, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 12 is the noon reading: A Better Place (by Ramona Baillie, directed by Chelsea Dab Hilke). Following the Week 1 program are two more weeks of NIF programming: Week 2 (Mar 16-20) and Week 3 (Mar 23-27).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week 1 trailer and you’ll see what I mean:

Bittersweet memoir of lost love in A Play on Passion

APoP 3-Creation Lab
Patricia Delves & Gabriel DiFabio in A Play on Passion – photo by Danielle Capretti

A young crime novelist meets with a grand dame of Canadian theatre to ghost write her memoir – and gets a lesson on love in A Play on Passion. Written by G.D. Corkum and Patricia Delves, and directed/produced by Danielle Capretti, the play is being presented as a rehearsed reading for two performances at the Blake Thorne Studio.

A renowned stage actress born and raised in England, Veronica Devereaux (Delves) is chilly and aloof with wordsmith William Adkins (Gabriel DiFabio) when he first arrives, put off that their publisher has sent a writer with no knowledge of the theatre to write her story. The two soon find some common ground in their mutual, dogged pursuit of their respective arts – against the odds and the will of their parents – and Veronica’s icy veneer melts as she discovers a kindred spirit in William. As Veronica’s stories veer from the professional to the personal, her retrospective of love and passion touches a chord in William, who is struggling in his relationship with his girlfriend. And shared stories become shared wisdom.

A Play on Passion is a lovely two-hander, written with heart, humour and insight. Delves is a delight as Veronica, giving her both a regal dignity and a devilishly playful sense of humour. An actress of advanced years with a razor-sharp wit and a passion for life, her curiosity and verve have been tempered by decades of experience in life and on stage, but she remains frank and unapologetic of her choices. Wounded, but not destroyed, by regret. DiFabio is full of youthful charm and drive as William, giving us layers of creativity, sensitivity and sexuality. His parents expected him to be a plumber, but he chose instead to mine the human psyche for its dark and light desires to create stories of noir intrigue. At a crossroads with his girlfriend, he finds himself at a loss, aware that this is something new and wonderful, but scared to death of what it all means.

A bittersweet memoir of lost love, served with the wisdom of hindsight, in the intimate, moving and witty A Play on Passion.

A Play on Passion has one more performance today (Sat, Nov 21) at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are PWYW (pay what you want) at the door. You can call ahead for reservations at 416-762-4364; seating is limited, so book ahead or get there early.

The Blake Thorne Studio is located at 720 Bathurst St., Suite 401 – it’s the warehouse turned office building just south of the Randolph and Annex theatres (right next to the elevator – see the door with the kick-ass art/signage on it).

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.