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.

 

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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.

Amish Patel - Headshot
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.

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.

SoulOTheatre’s SOULO Theatre Festival is coming (May 21-24)!

2015-soulo festBig treat coming up for you theatre fans: Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre are back with an awesome line-up of solo shows with the 2015 SOULO Theatre Festival!

Running May 21 – 24, SOULO Fest opens with a gala performance of Rebecca Northan’s Troublemaker at Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum. Workshops and panels, and the remainder of the solo show run take place at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Here’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.

Progress is coming! Final, revised lineup announced for international fest of performance & ideas Feb 4-15

ProgressLogoTransparentSummerWorks announced the updated lineup for the inaugural SummerWorks/Theatre Centre production of Progress: an International Festival of Performance and Ideas, running February 4-15 at The Theatre Centre. Progress is curated by SummerWorks, The Theatre Centre, Why Not Theatre, Volcano Theatre, Videofag, FADO Performance Art Centre, Dancemakers, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre.

“Progress is bringing together a series of essential conversations being had by some of our city’s vital thought-leaders in performance. This is a festival led by a collective desire to collaborate in how we think about performance in Toronto and the result is a staggeringly unique and diverse program of work.” – Michael Rubenfeld, SummerWorks Artistic Producer

New to the lineup is Novorossiya: No One’s Land (Ukraine), by Pavel Yurov and Anastasiya Kasilova, directed by Pavel Yurov. Here’s the full final roster of shows for this exciting and intriguing new international performance fest, which will also include workshops and community dialogue:

Novorossiya: No One’s Land (Ukraine) – Curated and presented by SummerWorks
Reading performed in English, translated from the original Russian and Ukranian.
A documentary-style piece based on writer/director Pavel Yurov’s experience as he was taken into captivity by pro-Russian separatists. “Part journalistic experiment, part theatre, this remarkable project asks the painful question: how did the place Yurov once called home become his captor?”

Marathon (Israel) – Curated by SummerWorks, and co-presented with The Koffler Centre for the Arts, supported by Spotlight on Israeli Culture, the Embassy of Israel and the Israeli Consulate (Toronto).
Performed in English – a North American English-language premiere.
Three runners, running in a circle in a physical, psychological and emotional marathon in a deep dive into the Israeli consciousness. “Combining dance, text, theatre and grueling physicality, Marathon uses the autobiographical stories of the performers to reflect a state of constant emergency. Who will survive? And how?”

The Messiah Complex 5.0 (Canada) – Curated by Videofag
Performed in English.
A performance-lecture, multidisciplinary work that incorporates ritual, the piece uses the Harlow experiments – which were used to study infant/mother relationship by placing newborn monkeys with cloth and wire surrogate mothers – as a jumping off point for an examination of religious evolution. “The multidisciplinary work culminates in the creation of hybrid images, videos, diagrams and texts from pop culture, ancient religion, Freudian psychoanalysis, archaeology, queer theory and anthropology.”

D-Sisyphe (décisif) (Tunisia) – Curated by Volcano Theatre, generous support from Why Not Theatre and The Goethe Institute.
Performed in Arabic with English subtitles – North American premiere.
A construction worker, alone and estranged from his family, a social reject and deserted by God, ruminates about his life as he spends the night alone at the construction site as he tries to find hope in the ruins of his life. “Tunisian actor, dancer and playwright Meher Awachri performs his acclaimed interpretation of the ancient myth of Sisyphus, offering insights into contemporary Arab society and the idea of what revolution entails – all through spoken word and choreography.”

Margarete (Poland) – Curated by SummerWorks, supported by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto.
Performed in English or Polish.
Sixteen audience members. One creator/performer. Sitting down to have coffee or tea. “With humour and irony, [Janek] Turkowski recounts his experience uncovering and constructing stories based on a set of private 8mm films he discovered at an outdoor market in Berlin. The performance is a reflection on the lost and found, through memory and the legacy of silent film.”

Cine Monstro (Brazil) – Curated and presented by Why Not Theatre, with the support of Department of Canadian Heritage
Performed in Portuguese with English subtitles.
A Portuguese-language adaptation of Daniel MacIvor’s Monster. “Brazilian actor and director Enrique Diaz … transforms himself into a series of MacIvor’s characters, from a young boy who tells the story of the neighbour who hacked up his father in the basement to quarrelling lovers or a filmmaker who never completed his epic film, these characters are separate yet eerily related.”

Silent Dinner (Ireland/Canada) – Curated and presented by FADO Performance Art Centre
Performed in English and ASL.
Over the course of an eight-hour performance, 10 people – “a combination of Deaf, CODA (children of Deaf adults) and hearing artists, performers and non-performers from Toronto” – make and eat dinner in silence. After the show, the audience is invited for dessert and a chat with creator Amanda Coogan and colleagues; ASL interpretation will be provided.

But wait – there’s more! Workshops, discussions and panels:

Make. Make Public. – Curated by Dancemakers (workshop)
Creation workshop led by Dancemakers curators Emi Forster and Benjamin Kamino, with people “from any artistic background, with any level of experience are invited to join in collaborative, dance-derived processes.” The public will be invited to see the result and engage in a talkback.

Dancemakers will also curate Dance as Metaphor, Language and Lens, a conversation featuring Progress artists Aharona Israel and Meher Awachri, and Dancemakers’ resident Zoja Smutny.

The Republic of Inclusion – Curated by Alex Bulmer and Sarah Garton Stanley
Part of The Collaborations at Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre
“Alex Bulmer and Sarah Garton Stanley call for a rigorous and provocative discussion about the state of inclusion in our theatre community. A conversation for theatre makers, audiences, leaders, funders, all those in the performance world, and those who are being left out. Progress: it’s about accessing the arts and about the arts being accessible.” The event will be live-streamed through http://www.SpiderWebShow.ca

Workshop: Intelligent Body and Seeing Through Movement

Additional artist talkbacks and panels to be announced.

Check out the trailer:

A marvelous evening @ Mini-Soulo Festival, ft. Bits & Pieces by Diane Flacks & Katie Ford

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Diane Flacks & Katie Ford (front), Tracey Erin Smith (back) – photo by Shy Alter

Last night’s program for Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre’s Mini-Soulo Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre was a multipurpose, big fun event that combined theatre fundraiser, love-in and new solo works.

Smith played auctioneer throughout the evening, calling out fabulous items that included a ukulele lesson from Jodi Pape (who serenaded us before the festivities began), one night’s rental at Red Sandcastle Theatre, a photo shoot with Shy Alter and a surprise last-minute offering of a year’s membership at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, courtesy of Savoy Howe.

Solo show class student Sara Armstrong kicked off the night’s performances with her show Tripping on the Way out of Town. Featuring personal stories of her life, spanning childhood memories to experiences of sexuality, and bookended with camel rides, Armstrong’s show is unflinchingly frank, and a strong commentary on the assumptions and expectations of others. Peppered with humour and dance breaks, the serious subjects are matter-of-fact and avoid the slide into maudlin. Funny and poignant, keep an eye out for Armstrong and this piece.

For the main event, Diane Flacks and Katie Ford performed a reading of their two-person solo show Bits and Pieces, which received dramaturgical support from Smith. Part stand-up, part monologue, part dialogue between two good friends, Flacks and Ford take us on a trip of life, love and resilience.

From the opening back and forth on everyday things we should just stop doing, to personal experiences of fear and courage, the piece is equal parts autobiographical, inspirational and motivational. Whether performing in character, like Flacks’ hilarious self-involved but present hot yoga instructor, or presenting personal anecdotes – Ford’s musings about a fledgling relationship and whether to keep it at a safe arm’s length or dive right in, and both share heart-wrenching accounts of experiences with death – Flacks and Ford make us laugh, cry and think.

Ultimately, Bits and Pieces is about finding your authentic self, getting back up when you get knocked down – and just staying present. Life really is too short after all. And what if, like Ford’s dog Ollie, you thought the whole world was your friend?

Bits and Pieces is a funny, moving, joyful ride through life’s experiences, and a reminder to stay present and not give up. A work in progress, I look forward to see where Flacks and Ford go with this piece. In case you missed it, check out the cowbell interview with Flacks and Ford.

The Mini-Soulo Festival wraps up this afternoon (Sun, Nov 30) with workshops and a public reading at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Congrats to Smith and SoulOTheatre for winning NOW Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Small Theatre Company!

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Interview with Diane Flacks & Katie Ford – coming to Mini-Soulo Festival with Bits & Pieces

LobsterComing soon to several theatre spaces around Toronto: Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre present the Mini-Soulo Festival (Nov 27-30), with workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre, and performances at Factory Theatre, Panasonic Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Featuring in the Mini-Soulo Festival on Nov 29 at Buddies in Bad Times is a staged reading of the play Bits and Pieces, written and performed by Diane Flacks and Katie Ford, with dramaturgical support from Smith.

Emmy, Gemini and Dora-nominated writer/performer Diane Flacks is no stranger to writing and performing in solo shows (her own shows Myth Me, By a Thread, Random Acts, and Bear With Me, as well as writing Luba, Simply, Luba for Luba Goy) or intimate two-handers (her work with Richard Greenblatt on Sibs and Care). Flacks is also a featured parenting columnist in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, as well as on CBC radio, and her book Bear With Me, What They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy and New Motherhood was adapted into a solo show, which she toured across Canada and performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Fest. Most recently, she’s been working as a writer/producer on the critically acclaimed NBC/Global sitcom Working the Engels. Flacks is Nightwood Theatre’s 2014 playwright in residence, developing Unholy, a play about women and religion; and her new two-act drama Waiting Room will have its world premiere at Tarragon Theatre January-February, 2015.

Best known for her work on hits like the film Miss Congeniality and TV sitcom Family Ties, writer/producer Katie Ford more recently wrote the Emmy-nominated TV movie Prayers for Bobby. Starting out as a stand-up comic at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto, Ford went on to become a playwright – and her play Out in America was produced in New York and Los Angeles, where it was voted as one of the best plays of the year by the L.A. Times. Ford is currently the executive producer of Working the Engels.

I had the opportunity to interview Flacks and Ford about Bits and Pieces – here’s what they had to say:

LWMC: Hi, Diane and Katie. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me about Bits and Pieces, and its upcoming reading at the Mini-Soulo Festival.
KF: My pleasure.
DF: Me too!
LWMC: Bits and Pieces is described as a “two-person, one-person show.” What is the show about?
DF: We’re calling it a theatrical conversation. Two stories that echo and reflect each other, and end up pushing each other to reveal something unexpected. Just like one of those great, surprising conversations with a good friend.
LWMC: And what can you tell us about the genesis of Bits and Pieces, and how the two of you came to work together on it?
KF: Diane and I are good friends and when I moved back to Toronto a couple of years ago, I wanted to write a show for her to do – a one-person show. At the same time, I started performing again (I had been a stand-up at the beginning of my career at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto). Diane and I both performed onstage for a benefit and each did a monologue about ‘fighting;’ it was so fun to be onstage with her – there was such an ease and camaraderie there, I for sure wanted more of that. So we just started developing pieces – writing separate pieces for ourselves that we would read the other and then the other one of us would develop a piece that would be compatible.
DF: And I adore Katie’s writing and performing voice, and wanted to see more of that! We have a unique chemistry and we both are interested in similar themes. We are both provocateurs, but funny. And nerds. It’s such a joy to share a stage with someone you admire and who has your back.
LWMC: Diane, you’ve written and/or performed in several solo shows over the years, as well as some lovely two-handers and intimate smaller cast shows, including a very successful run of Lois Fine’s Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week at Buddies recently. How has that experience informed the storytelling for Bits and Pieces?
DF: A friend of mine says that he always ends up writing to his obsessions. After all these years, I still write and act about the things that obsess, outrage or tickle me. When normal people are disturbed by something, they go to therapy or directly try and resolve it. People like me try and make art out of it. Or at least make people laugh.
LWMC: Katie, you’re more known for your work behind the scenes, creating, writing and producing for some notable hits in film, television and theatre. What’s it been like for you as you prepare to act in this piece?
KF: I know – it has been a lot of years writing/producing and not stepping on stage. But it has been great – having spent many years doing stand-up, when I got back on stage it felt like home. I also took an improv class with Kate Ashby, which was amazing – worked with great women in that class. Bold, funny and they have your back – what more could you want? So it’s been nice. It’s not really acting, as I don’t consider myself an actor, it’s more stand-up pieces with a literary bent.
LWMC: Writing and performing a piece can be a challenge in terms of division of labour, time and energy. Have the two of you been continuing to write and re-write as you rehearse – or are you focusing more on performance at this point? How has the process unfolded as you create this piece?
DF: We’re constantly re-writing! It’s really fun to approach this both as writers and performers at the same time. And of course, it’s much easier to have perspective on someone else’s work than your own. And since these two pieces are echoes or reflections of each other, in a way, when we help re-write each other, we help ourselves, if that makes a weird kind of sense. We really don’t have to worry about division of labour. It’s a labour of love.
KF: True dat.
LWMC: And how did you come to join forces with Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre?
KF: Tracey came to see us do the first performance of this piece. And she was so amazing and so receptive, and really saw what we were trying to do.
DF: She’s also fascinated by solo performance and stretching the boundaries – this is a pretty good example of that. She’s got great vision and is so generous.
LWMC: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Bits and Pieces?
KF: Really just that I can’t wait to share it. And share the stage with Diane. And that it is a work in progress…but fun, hopefully.
DF: I have a feeling there might be snacks…
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?
KF: I love the name of your blog/mission statement of “Life with more cowbell.” Nice.
LWMC: Thanks! And thanks again for chatting with me. All the best with your final prep for this performance of Bits and Pieces – and break legs at the reading!

mini-soulo festYou can register for the Mini-Soulo Festival workshops online and follow SoulOTheatre on Twitter.