Grit, determination & a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl

Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

 

Tracey Erin Smith and Soulo Theatre celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Soulo Theatre Festival, opening this year’s fest with an Opening Night Gala presentation of Savoy Howe’s Newsgirl. With direction and dramatury by Soulo Theatre A.D. Smith, Newsgirl ran for one night only at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club in front of an enthusiastic, sold out house—and a standing ovation—last night. The fest continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre tonight and throughout the weekend.

When Savoy Howe moved away from her home in New Brunswick in the late 80s to study theatre in Hamilton and later move to Toronto, she had no way of foreseeing what was in store—and the journey that would bring her the sense of strength, determination and empowerment that she would go on to share with women and trans people.

This is the story of Newsgirl, Howe’s autobiographical solo show that takes her from a tomboy growing up on a Canadian Air Force base, to her coming out, to training as a boxer and later passing on her knowledge as a boxing coach, starting the first women’s and trans-friendly boxing gym in Canada: the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. And, while it was a photo of a woman wearing boxing gloves that inspired Howe to take up the sport, it was a speed bag that made her fall in love with boxing.

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Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

Combining the physicality, strategy and philosophy of boxing with considerable stand-up and storytelling chops, Howe is an engaging, energetic and endearing performer. With Howe primarily telling her story from inside the boxing ring, the show is dynamically staged, moving her around the gym as she highlights discovery and work on the heavy bag and speed bag; and her rookie first entry into the ring is hilarious!

Newsgirls is a story of struggle, grit and a ‘don’t give up’ attitude that takes some rough, and sometimes violent, turns. Perseverance, a big heart and a curious, open mind—not to mention a hard-working, helping hand way of looking at life—make the wins and losses equal in value. Always learning, never backing down from a challenge, and enduring the deep-seated sexism and male aggression of this world, Howe is an inspiration. Newsgirl is a classic underdog makes good story. And it definitely packs a punch.

Grit, determination and a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl.

Check out this great interview in VICE Sports with Savoy Howe on how she got into boxing, opened Newsgirls, and how she and the gym are empowering women and trans people. You can also follow the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club on Facebook.

Howe is in the process of launching a crowdfunding campaign to keep the gym alive and serving the community; stay tuned for details on how you can help.

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Soulo Theatre A.D. Tracey Erin Smith in the ring at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club—photo by Dahlia Katz

Newsgirl was a one-night only performance, but no worries—there are lots more life-changing, life-affirming true stories to come tonight and this weekend at the fest, which includes solo shows and panel discussions. The Soulo Theatre Festival continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre till May 28; check out the full schedule and purchase advance tickets and get your festival pass.

Department of corrections: The original post for the show mentioned that Howe studied theatre in Toronto; it was actually Hamilton. The error has been corrected.

SOULO Theatre Fest: Hilarious & touching stand-up origin story in Finding Funny

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After seeing the Soulo Salon at SoulOTheatre’s 2016 edition of the SOULO Theatre Festival, I stuck around at Red Sandcastle Theatre to see Daniel Stolfi’s Finding Funny.

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Daniel Stolfi in Finding Funny

Set within the framework of an evening at a comedy club, Stolfi becomes a one-man line-up, playing the whole cast of characters, including himself. The awkward, uncomfortable host Mark Tipps tells bad jokes (all written by Manuel, who he keeps hidden in the back) and it’s a relief when he finally gets the guest performers onstage: an Italian comic with an intimidating wise guy edge; a fumbling razzle dazzle gesturing magician; a delightful classical clown music act; and a gay spoken word storyteller of few words and big, loaded facial expressions. In between acts, Stolfi (as himself) paces in the green room, trying to keep his overwhelming anxiety and the threat of explosive diarrhea in check as he tries to get his comic mojo back. He’s up last and hates his material – and is desperately grasping for the now elusive funny.

It is in these moments where the true magic happens. In the midst of all the self-doubt and self-torture, Stolfi finds himself back at the place where it all began: as a six-year-old in the schoolyard playground. This is when someone told him he was good at something. And this is where the first joke happened. And it wasn’t about himself or the glory of performing – it was for his audience. This is when he got the comic calling.

Stolfi shifts adeptly between sharply drawn characters, each one representing a facet of the entertainment industry in all its light, dark and seedy glory. The result is a funny, moving and extremely engaging and entertaining performance.

A hilarious and touching stand-up origin story in Finding Funny.

Finding Funny was a one night only performance, but no worries – there’s more SOULO Theatre Festival happening at Red Sandcastle Theatre this weekend (May 28-29). The fest includes solo show performances and workshops, see the full schedule here; and get your advance tickets/passes online here. Advance tickets strongly recommended; it’s an intimate venue and a very popular festival.

You can keep up with SoulOTheatre on Twitter and Facebook.

 

SOULO Theatre Fest: Four personal, poignant journeys told with courage & humour in Soulo Salon

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SoulOTheatre kicked off its fourth annual SOULO Theatre Festival on Thursday night at Red Sandcastle Theatre, hosted by the super positive, energetic and welcoming A.D. Tracey Erin Smith.

Last night’s early evening performance Soulo Salon included four solo shows by performers who’ve done Smith’s 10-week soulo show class – short, personal stories of adversity, growth and hope, told with candor, trust and humour.

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Morgan Joy

The Life Boat. Morgan Joy brings a playful, kid playing dress-up vibe complete with alter ego puppets: the child-like, positive Dot and the abrasive, negative grown-up Gloria as she plays captain, cruise director and entertainer in her life boat. Filled with artifacts of her family history, the life boat is a metaphor for her life – and as the water gets higher, the positivity becomes increasingly desperate just as hard truths are avoided. Until. Let go. Float. A beautiful, poignant journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Bedazzled. Silvi Santoso arrives in Canada as an excited newcomer with her husband and two children, with another on the way, taking on the challenges of learning a new language, searching for a place to live as doors close in her face and eventually getting a dream job as a federal food inspector as she works a can-do attitude. And when a double personal tragedy becomes too much to bear, despite all her positive personal milestones, she tackles that as well. The storytelling is part autobiography, part stand-up comedy – and Santoso brightens up her darkest moments, using comic songs and narrative, bedazzling her life and her outlook. Taking depression and blinging up its ass so it doesn’t hide her inner light.

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Silvi Santoso

Fat Shamed by My Mom. Amish Patel makes lemonade in his story of struggling with body image. A funny, engaging and warm storyteller, his personal history tour includes conflicting and confusing cultural takes on eating and body fat: in India, it’s a good thing, a sign of health and prosperity – but in Canada, it’s a source of disdain and disrespect. A chubby tween with boy boobs, his dream of being an actor is snuffed out in a moment of body shaming from his mother, and as he grows into adulthood, he adopts some unhealthy means of coping. Part confessional, part stand-up storytelling, Patel is frank and courageous as he trusts the audience with his revelations and personal evolution.

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Amish Patel

#grateful. Nicola Elbro’s story of love, loss and gratitude as she makes her way from heartbreaking break-up to post-break-up sexy times with an “amenity” in her new apartment, aka hot Brit dude in her building, and getting back out on the dating scene (in a hilarious dance club scene) while she works with young superhero cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital as she pursues an acting career. And even harder than the conflicting emotions of meeting her ex to clear out their shared storage unit are the moments when the kids are not okay – and some of them don’t get to go home. As you’re struggling with trying to keep it together, falling apart may be just the thing to help you mend. A lovely, tender and sharply funny performance.

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Nicola Elbro

Four storytellers. Four personal, poignant and funny journeys. Four brave, engaging and committed performances.

The Soulo Salon was a one night only performance, but no worries – there’s more SOULO Theatre Festival happening at Red Sandcastle Theatre this weekend (May 28-29). The fest includes solo show performances and workshops, see the full schedule here; and get your advance tickets/passes online here. Advance tickets strongly recommended; it’s an intimate venue and a very popular festival.

You can keep up with SoulOTheatre on Twitter and Facebook.

Come back to the cowbell blog this afternoon – I also saw Daniel Stolfi’s hilarious Finding Funny at the SOULO Theatre Festival last night.

Faith, hope & taming dragons in the funny, brave & moving Soulo Clergy Project

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Father Daniel D. Brereton, SoulOTheatre Artistic Director Tracey Erin Smith, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein & Reverend Shawn Newton in The Soulo Clergy Project – photo by Adam Large

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a theatre…

Two years in the making, SoulOTheatre Artistic Director Tracey Erin Smith’s dream of gathering professional clergy from diverse faiths together to share their stories came true yesterday, when The Soulo Clergy Project gave its debut performance to a sold-out house of friends, family, congregants and supporters at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

With its genesis in a workshop that originally had six students signed up, Anglican priest Father Daniel D. Brereton, Unitarian Universalist minister Reverend Shawn Newton and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein are the three who showed up on the first day and stuck it out. And as the workshop progressed, they discovered they had lots in common, and the three individual stories became a dialogue of shared experiences – this gave Smith the idea that, instead of having three separate solo shows, to weave the three stories together into one show. The result is an entertaining, engaging and insightful piece of storytelling.

Entering the theatre, we are welcomed as part of the respective congregations, and the space buzzes with conversation, last-minute service planning – the excitement and anticipation of community, meeting once a week in a holy space. When the show begins, the three clergy storytellers enter in their respective vestments, highlighting the theatrical quality of religious ritual and tradition. And wait till you hear the three variations on the light bulb joke.

Then, something truly wonderful happens. They each remove their clerical garments, revealing black clothing underneath; personalized t-shirts have their first names on the front, and their respective roles and a simple, humourous description of their guiding principles on the back. Daniel: Priest – What would Jesus do? Elyse: Rabbi – What would Moses do? Shawn: Minister – What would Sartre do? Setting the tone for what’s about to come, it’s a reminder that these three members of the clergy are not only defined by their roles, they’re people.

Daniel, Elyse and Shawn share their stories of how they were called to ministry and why they decided to go into the clergy, the challenges faced within their congregations, and life-changing moments of service in the midst of deep sorrow and pain. Told with candor, humour and compassion, they are frank about their personal joys and struggles in faith, some unusual circumstances where they just had to wing it – and even bend the rules – and the navigation of societal prejudice and inflexibility (Daniel came out to his congregation a week after he got married, and Elyse became a rabbi when there were no female rabbis in Canada). Living lives of service and community, they don’t take themselves too seriously and are aware that even tradition has room for change.

While each comes to the storytelling process from different religious beliefs and traditions, they have much in common: faith, hope, charity and a drive to serve their community and build relationships. They are brave, engaging and warm storytellers, each with his/her own flavour: Daniel with his boyish charm and twinkle in his eye; Elyse’s dry humour and chutzpah (and she does a mean Jackie Mason impersonation); and Shawn’s philosophical and introspective vibe.

When asked during the post-show talkback about why they decided to do this workshop and performance, the common thread that emerged was a desire to take a break from the routine of ministry and get in touch with why they chose to heed the calling and do this work. The workshop (which included writing and assembling the show – with dramaturgical support from facilitator/director Smith) provided a safe and respectful place for them to not only explore their lives as clergy, but also as human beings. In the end, The Soulo Clergy Project isn’t just about their roles as priest, minister and rabbi – it’s about their humanity.

Faith, hope and taming dragons in the funny, brave and moving Soulo Clergy Project.

The Soulo Clergy Project was a one-performance only event, but Smith and the three clergy storytellers are hoping for a remount. Keep an eye out for this remarkable piece of theatrical storytelling.

In the meantime, there’s lots more to come. Please join SoulOTheatre for more fabulous upcoming shows this month:

Project Drag Queen: Sun, May 22 at 8 p.m. at Church on Church.

The fourth annual SOULO Theatre Festival: May 26-29 at Red Sandcastle Theatre, including solo show performances and workshops, see the full schedule here; and get your advance tickets/passes here.

You can also keep up with SoulOTheatre on Facebook and Twitter.

When Richard met Mimi – all the nerves, humour & excitement of a first date in magical, sassy Blind Date

BlindDate_Final_webAfter recently seeing Rebecca Northan perform her solo show Troublemaker at this year’s Soulo Theatre Festival, at long last, I got to see the full-length version of her play Blind Date at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace last night. I’d fallen in love with Northan’s character Mimi and the show when I saw its 10-minute premiere at The Spiegeltent at Harbourfront Centre during World Stage in 2007, but the 90-minute version had eluded me. Well, no more my friends. And it was marvelous, brave, sexy and inspiring.

Blind Date begins in the lobby before the house opens, as Mimi circulates among the incoming audience members in search of her date. There are information alerts in the program and on signage regarding “consent to be romanced” – audience participation in the show, especially the individual chosen and his loved ones – and “consent to be videotaped/recorded.” The atmosphere of anticipation starts well before the show gets under way, as we wait and chat with our drinks, receiving welcome and a slip of paper containing a compliment from our handsome and affable scenographer/host (Kristian Reimer), and our lovely and attentive scenographer/server (Christy Bruce). Who will Mimi choose?

Blind Date goes beyond your standard on-the-fly improv show in that Mimi’s date is selected from the audience – a civilian, if you will. Oh, yeah – and Mimi is a clown. Not a circus clown, but a sexy French lady clown in a red dress and fishnets; a clown from the classical school of clown. Some stupid bastard has stood her up, leaving her waiting alone at the restaurant for two hours – and being the resourceful and proactive gal that she is, she finds herself a replacement date.

Last night’s selected date was Richard, a fit, married, 70-ish tax planner and South African by birth who likes to work out and once raced sports cars. His wife wasn’t with him last night, but he and the two friends who came with him were sure that she’d be okay with him going on this imaginary blind date. Before they get started, Mimi instructs him about the world of the play and the time-out space (either Mimi or her date can call a time out and move to a taped off corner of the stage to take a break from the world of the play, ask questions or strategize). She also tells him that, other than pretending to be single, he is to be himself. Blind Date may be a play of make-believe and improv, but it is rooted in truth and honesty.

Throughout the course of the date, we learn more about him as Mimi gently encourages him to share things about himself. A man who likes to live life on the edge, though not for some time, he espouses the philosophy that one must live life to the fullest. Mimi is extremely adept at coaxing information out of Richard, but far from a one-sided dynamic of sharing, Mimi also speaks of her life – real-life moments gleaned from Northan’s own life. In this case, some delightful coincidences emerge – just like in a real date. Mimi is charming, sassy, gently seductive and vulnerable. And truthful and honest, and very attentive to the comfort of her date.

Rebecca Northan as Mimi in Blind Date
Rebecca Northan as Mimi in Blind Date

The date travels from the restaurant to Mimi’s car (her uncle’s vintage car, actually) and an eventful and hilarious drive to her place (featuring a very funny performance by Reimer) to the condo (also her uncle’s) where she’s staying. At one point, Richard is left alone in the living room while Mimi goes to freshen up; he takes the opportunity to explore while he waits, and finds a copy of Henry and June, as well as some interesting items in a decorative box, on a side table. Game and a bit bashful at times, Richard did a marvelous job onstage. Who among us would be brave enough to kiss a stranger in front of a theatre full of strangers? And Mimi’s astute observation that he deflects uncomfortable moments with humour was spot on, as was her noting that this kind of response indicates that he was emotionally moved somehow in that moment.

They only took one time out. In this case, it was called by Mimi in order to set up how they were going to proceed: continue with the date or jump five years into the future. This choice is left up to the audience, who overwhelmingly choose the five-year jump, a choice that has been consistent throughout the seven-year, 400+ dates run of the show. Five years later, Richard and Mimi are living together, but not married – and she has a surprise for him.

A remarkable, entertaining, gutsy and moving piece of theatre. My friend Daria and I had a blast, and had a chance to chat with Northan after the show, where we found her chatting with a group of delighted Tarragon Theatre subscribers (the bar re-opens after Friday night performances, giving audience members the opportunity to chat with the cast). Blind Date always has Mimi paired with a male date (and there are five women trained to play Mimi now, including one who identifies as lesbian). Who knows? If Buddies in Bad Times decided to do a run of Blind Date – in Tallulah’s, say – Mimi would have the chance to kiss a girl. And she might like it.

With shouts to the design team of Brandon Kleiman (designer) and Jason Hand (lighting designer); and to SM and sound improviser Jamie Northan, and the lighting crew.

When Richard met Mimi. All the nerves, humour and excitement of a first date and beyond in Rebecca Northan’s magical Blind Date.

Blind Date continues on the Tarragon Mainspace till October 4 – check here for the full schedule and tickets. Christy Bruce, who also acts as the Mimi alternate, will take on the role of Mimi during weekend matinées, with Northan acting as the scenographer/server. Also please note some special events corresponding with the show: Blind Date Talkback Week (Sept 15-20) and Tarragon Tasting Night (Sept 25).

You can follow Blind Date on Facebook and Twitter, and check out the trailer on YouTube and the CTV interview with Northan.

Go see this – and see it again. It will never be the same show twice. Take a look at some audience reaction from opening night:

Toronto Fringe: Dark times become comic fodder as stand-up meets storytelling in hilarious A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare

a_nurses_worst_nightmare-web-250x250Saw another highly entertaining, and thought-provoking, solo show at Toronto Fringe yesterday: Zabrina Chevannes’s A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare at the Theatre Passe Muraille TPM) Backspace. I missed this show when it featured in the 2015 Soulo Theatre Festival in May, so was very happy to catch it on the Fringe program before I was totally booked up.

It’s a lemonade from lemons tale of taking some unhappy – and at times dark and desperate – circumstances (like Chevannes’s Jamaican dad does when her older brother lands in a Mexican prison – he learned Spanish!) and turning it into comedy. A married single mom (whose husband is little to no help, and struggling with perceptions of reality), Chevannes works as a nurse at a nursing home – and when she’s not dealing with advances from handsy old men, she’s coming up with hysterically imaginative explanations for her two young kids about the Tooth Fairy and menstruation. The nightmare comes in her struggles with her husband’s mental illness, navigating his increasingly dangerous delusional, paranoid behaviour while trying to help him and keep it all together at home.

Dark times become comic fodder as stand-up meets storytelling in the hilarious autobiographical solo show A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare.

Bad news: A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare closed yesterday. Good news: Chevannes is a local GTA gal (from Brampton), so keep an eye out for future performances, including the comedy show Things Black Girls Say.

Raw, honest & irreverently funny with no apologies – Troublemaker @ SOULO Fest

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Rebecca Northan is a big ‘ole Troublemaker

You can’t say you weren’t warned. Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre opened the 2015 SOULO Theatre Festival last night at Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum with a gala performance of the Toronto premiere of Rebecca Northan’s Troublemaker. And what a celebration it was!

Opening to a packed house with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation” blasting from the speakers, Troublemaker is Northan’s first autobiographical piece, taking us from her childhood and young adulthood in Calgary ‘hood Rundle to present day by way of memory, personal anecdote, family history, and pop culture and fairytale-inspired storytelling. Her brother’s cat Misty becomes her own personal Mr. Miyagi in her pursuit of bad-assery, she finds a kindred spirit for neighbourhood shenanigans, and discovers her inner dragon – the instigator, the heart of troublemakery – and finds a way to embrace it.

Northan’s performance is brave, frank and without apology. Engaging and entertaining, yet vulnerable and truthful, the audience can’t help but be her partner in crime on this journey.

Troublemaker is a raw, honest and irreverently funny piece of storytelling, full of magic, sardonic whimsy and sharp insight. Keep your eyes open for future productions.

A bit of SOULO Fest trivia: Northan directed Smith’s solo show mega hit The Burning Bush (Toronto Fringe 2006).

While you’re waiting for the return of Troublemaker, Northan’s own mega hit improv show Blind Date returns to T.O. this season at Tarragon Theatre (Sept 8 – Oct 4). I saw the show once, eight years ago at the Spiegel Show at Harbourfront – and loved it! I fell in love with Mimi and with Northan’s work. I’d love to go on a date with Mimi sometime. Sadly, she only dates dudes.

You can keep up with Rebecca Northan’s shenanigans on Twitter. And you must check out her humourous, insightful and honest TedxYYC talk examining state of fear behaviour, the rules of improv, her eureka moment connecting her experience performing Blind Date with how we behave when we’re madly in love, and the value of the arts in society:

SOULO Fest continues until May 24, with workshops and panels, and the remainder of the solo shows taking at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

SOULO_2015_POSTER-FINAL-668x1024Here’s the line-up:
A Tension to Detail (Gerard Harris)
A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare (Zabrina Chaves)
Fractured (Nicola Elbro)
The Archivist (Shaista Latif)
Love with Leila (Izad Etemandi-Shad)
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl (Rebecca Perry)
Lost in Lvov (Sandy Simona)
Killer Quack (James Brian Judd)

The solo show schedule also includes a PWYC Masterclass Showing.

Check out the Shows page for details on dates/times.

Advance tickets are available online. Reservations are strongly recommended – these shows get only one performance each, so book ahead to avoid disappointment.