Romeo and Juliet Redux at the Gladstone

October 13, 2016 11:40 am
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Photos and poster art supplied by production.

There is always something magical that happens when you hear the first words uttered in a Shakespeare play. You are transported into a whole other world, one that requires your thought, attention and full focus. The rhythm of his language, the cadence and the beauty of it is mesmerizing. So I always find it a shame when his plays are cut and reduced to save time in our busy world.

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Romeo and Juliet Redux cast.

In his current production, director David Whitely says he borrowed inspiration from other sources to create a new Romeo and Juliet — hence the addition of Redux to the title. The set is minimalist (white draping around the theatre and haunting lighting) and definitely works. So does the “live soundscape” which is manipulation of electronic instruments that are not pre-recorded. It is a great great complement to the drama on stage.

There are only four actors to try and convey the complexities of the various characters in the play and the transitions were bumpy so it is not always clear which character is which all the time. It is distracting so beef up on the play before going in and don’t rely on your grade 10 English class memory.

But Romeo and Juliet is such classic theatrical wonder you will still get it all, of course, and feel the agony of the star-crossed lovers as they deal with family loyalty versus love. Death, as you may recall is the ultimate winner in this beautiful tragedy.

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Photo by Andre Gagne.

roju-poster_no-bleed-3Mekdes Teshome makes her debut on the Gladstone stage and she pulls off a beautiful Juliet supported by the rest of the cast and there is a palpable tenderness between her and David daCosta who plays Romeo.

The duelling scenes were particularly fantastic to watch with the gymnastics involved to pull them off without props (with the exception of one dagger).

As a theatre junkie, it is always good and to feel the energy that is created in live theatre, to feel the passion of actors throwing themselves into their work. That is definitely the case in Romeo and Juliet Redux.

It plays at the Gladstone until October 15th.

Let The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble draw you in

September 30, 2016 6:31 pm
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At last week’s opening night of the GCTC’s current production, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, by Beth Graham, Artistic Director Eric Coates stated that plays are meant to stir the soul and heart and make you think. I am paraphrasing of course but it’s true and this is one play that does all of that and so much more. In fact, there isn’t a dry eye at the end of this incredibly powerful and extremely a-propos piece of theatre.

It delves into family dynamics as three adult children (Iris, Peter and Sarah) and their mother Bernice grapple with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Bernice is young to have the disease, a mere 59-years-old, and the play follows how everyone comes to terms with the new reality, beautifully analyzed by Bernice and narrator Iris.

The divisive question of dying with dignity is a plot component and while the play touches on the horrors of Alzheimer’s, it does so in a respectful and solemn way. This play has tender moments, funny ones and heart-breaking ones that will move you to your core.

The dialogue flows beautifully and the characters are all wonderfully created and developed. How the disease changes them and their relationships demonstrates how a horrible thing like Alzheimer’s can divide but also present the opportunity to come together. Because of the incredible acting, which is absolutely brilliant, and character development, you can fully feel the perspective of each one.

All four actors effectively communicate all the emotions of their characters and make everything real.

Do not miss The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. It runs until October 9 at the GCTC.
NB: On Sunday, October 2nd at 1pm before the matinee performance, the GCTC is hosting a panel discussion (comprising Dr. Frank Knoefel Physician, Bruyère Memory Program, Harlene Walker, Caregiver and Jaime Constable, Manager Partnerships, Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County) to encourage a deeper engagement with the play and the themes involved. In partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County, and moderated by GCTC Artistic Director, Eric Coates, panelists will speak from personal experience and delve into the effects of living with Alzheimer’s and memory-related conditions.

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Theatre Thrives at the 1000 Islands Playhouse

August 31, 2016 9:23 am
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All photos/graphics courtesy of 1000 Islands Playhouse.

The 1000 Islands Playhouse sits where local culture and some of Ontario’s most breathtaking views meet. Right now, the Gananoque theatre is gearing up for its 35th season and 10 performances that promise love, mystery, music and unforgettable performances.

The playhouse operates out of two buildings in one of Ontario’s most beautiful settings. The Springer Theatre, the playhouse’s original home, sits right on the edge of the St. Lawrence River. The building was constructed in 1909 to house the Gananoque Canoe Club, but was then renovated into the Playhouse in 1981.

The second building, known as the Firehall Theatre, has been the Playhouse’s second stage since 2004. It sits directly above the Springer Theatre, on street level, with a wide view of the St. Lawrence and a comfortable spot on the edge of Gananoque.

This year’s seasonVioletThePilot boasts the widest variety of shows the playhouse has ever put on. The season launches with a touring production of Violet’s the Pilot, presented by The Young Company from April 25 to July 3. A fun plot paired with environmental commentary, Violet’s the Pilot tells the story of a girl on the cusp of becoming the world’s youngest pilot, at least until she’s faced with a tenacious protestor.

The action-packed season goes until October 16, and Violet’s the Pilot will be followed by nine other brilliant productions. Their variety showcases almost anything you might want to see, from one-man-plays, musicals with deep lessons, supernatural stories and emotional productions examining family and love. During this season, the 1000 Islands Playhouse will also be hosting the world premiere of In a Blue Moon by Lucia Frangione. Watch the mastery and creativity unfold while each production brings its viewers insight, laughter and joy.

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The Playhouse will also be hosting a series called Studio ‘S,’ presented by Eric Friesen. Friesen is a renowned music writer and host who guides the musical journey, hosted on select Monday nights throughout the summer. In Studio ‘S,’ audience members will embark on a night of sophisticated and culture-filled music in the beautiful Springer Theatre.

The 1000 Islands Playhouse experience is always exciting and unique. From the waterside views while taking the parkway there, to the locally organized, authentic plays, there really is nothing like it.

You can find out more at 1000islandsplayhouse.com, and see below for a full list of shows.

Violet’s The Pilot – Touring Show

(April 25 – July 3)

The Young Company presents a thrilling, interactive experience while delivering a strong message about young people doing big things. When a conflict strikes, it is the audience who gets to decide what the outcome will be. Join the young and talented up-and-coming stars in this wonderful production.

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline – Springer Theatre – Musical

(May 20 – June 11)
Production in Association with the Western Canada Theatre
Directed by Daryl Cloran

Starring Alison MacDonald, this production beautifully tells Patsy Cline’s rise to the spotlight. The play explores everything from Patsy’s life in small town Virginia all the way to Carnegie Hall.

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Blithe Spirit – Springer Theatre

(June 17 – July 16)
Production in Association with the Western Canada Theatre
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran.

When a novelist named Charles meets with medium Madame Arcati while researching for his upcoming book, he finds a lot more than history. His life is turned upside down when he discovers that his first wife is haunting him and his new bride. Comedy erupts throughout the whole play as Charles’ poltergeist wife tries to ruin his new relationship.

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Assassinating Thomson – Firehall Theatre

(July 5 – July 17)
Created and performed by Bruce Horak, Directed by Ryan Gladstone.

With only limited vision, Bruce Horak shares the vivid images in his mind with the audience while looking deeper into the murder of the unofficial eighth member of the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson. The one-man-play is captivating and interactive as Bruce does a live painting of his audience during each production.

Beneath Springhill – Firehall Theatre – Musical

(July 19 – July 31)
Created and performed by Beau Dixon. Lyrics and music by Rob Fortin and Susan Newman. Directed by Linda Kash.

This multi-award winning show explores the emotional events of the Springhill mining disaster of 1958. The one man play, starring Beau Dixon as the African American “singing miner” Maurice Ruddick, is breathtaking as he captures the nine days that Ruddick spent underground. The play addresses the disaster’s effects on rural Canadian society, economy, community strength, hope and racism.

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Into the Woods – Springer Theatre – Musical

(July 22 – August 13)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran.

Many different fairy tales intertwined together show what happens when happily ever after doesn’t go quite as planned.

 

In a Blue Moon – Firehall Theatre – World Premiere

(August 12th – August 28th)
By Lucia Frangione, in Association with Western Canada Theatre and Arts Club Theatre Company. Directed by Daryl Cloran.

A story of family and love tenderly emerges from tragedy when six-year-old Frankie and her mother move in with Frankie’s Uncle Will after her father passes away. The story is steeped with emotion that will move you.

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A Grand Time in the Rapids – Springer Theatre

(August 19 – September 17)
By Stewart Lemoine, Directed by Ron Pederson.

This fierce comedy unravels romantic secrets and is everything but mundane. When Thalia gets caught up in a mess, Ted and her boyfriend Boyd are there when her secrets are unleashed. 

Das Ding (The Thing) – Firehall Theatre

(September 9 – 25)
By Philipp Löhle. Translated by Birgit Schreyer Duarte, produced in association with Theatre Smash, Toronto, ON and Canadian Stage, Toronto, ON. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran.

This fast-paced comedy brings problems and characters from all over the world to get a wider view of our global economy. With five actors playing 14 characters in nine different locations, you won’t be bored for a second.

You Are Here – Springer Theatre – Musical

(September 23 – October 16)
Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram. Book by Brian Hill, produced in association with Acting Up Stage Company, Toronto. Directed by Robert McQueen.

This gripping one-woman play surrounds self exploration when the main character walks out on her husband in search for a fuller, more exciting life. With no real problems in her past, she leaves it all behind with the anticipation of adventure.

The Fantastic Phoenix Players

March 30, 2016 3:18 pm
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Now in their 14th season, the Phoenix Players have been thrilling audiences with their entertaining and thought-provoking productions since 2001.

The Players are a community theatre group on a mission to produce quality and an accessible theatre experiences for all. The group offers the opportunity for anyone to join the world of theatre, one that the troupe describes as a world full of creativity, enjoyment, entertainment and connection.

In the past, the Players have taken on large productions that have been met with success and praise. The Players’ 2014 production of The Diary of Anne Frank was epic and very well received, attracting a young and new audience to theatre.

“When you listen to our audience, they say they like all of our plays. They tell us every time that the play they just saw was the best play we’ve ever done,” explains Player Ellen Clare O’Gallagher.

Theatre, of course, can be a moving experience for both the performers and audience. O’Gallagher recalls an emotional response from the audience after a past production of the comedy “Dixie Swim Club.”

“At the end of that play, looking out over the audience in the last scene, all the women and men in the first row had tears streaming down their faces. For the actors,” O’Gallagher says, “we could hardly get the words out, it was so touching.”

The Players offer the opportunity for not only actors, but also those interested in backstage work, to assist in stage productions.

The group welcomes anyone and everyone looking to try their hand at the world of theatre and acquire a wide range of skills along the way. Prior experience is not required. The Players offer workshops for that. Past sessions have varied, including voice, theatre safety and directing. All are open to the entire theatre community. Not only that, The Players are supportive its auditioning for other companies.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the Player’s next big production, The Staff Room. Directed by André Dimitrijevic, the play examines the challenges, difficulties and small triumphs a high school community endures. You can catch the shoe at the Gladstone Theatre from April 22nd to the 23rd and the 26th to the 30th.

May The Fringe Be With You

March 14, 2016 1:55 pm
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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Okay, actually just over a decade ago in Kamloops, British Columbia. But for Canadian actor Charles Ross, originator of the Off-Broadway hit One Man Star Wars Trilogy life certainly can feel like you’re in another galaxy sometimes.

It all started back in 1971 when a young, ambitious filmmaker named George Lucas started forming an idea for a western set in outer space. Cut to May 25, 1977 when that film, now named Star Wars, became the biggest film of all time and made Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader household names. The film and following sequels came to become stitched into the fabric of many a childhood and spawned off a franchise that is still blasting through box office records with staggering “Force.” The recently released Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens skyrocketed to the top of the highest grossing list faster than the Death Star blew up Alderaan.

Related: “The Force Awakens” Fulfills Old Promises, Makes New Ones

The original film cost $11 million to make, was filmed in Tunisia, the US and at Mayan Temples in Guatemala, with a cast of dozens and revolutionary special effects. If you’re Charles Ross, however, you don’t need all that. You just need, well, Charles Ross and a little bit of imagination.

May The Fringe Be With You - Image (4)Ross, who had seen the original trilogy over 400 times by the age of 10, single-handedly performs the original three films. That includes all of the characters, battles, sounds and even songs done by just one guy with Jedi like talent in about 75 minutes. He premiered the show in Toronto back in 2001 after a trail at the Pavilion Theatre in Kamloops and since then Ross has certainly utilized that encyclopedic knowledge of the trilogy. He’s performed the show over 4000 times!

“There are shows I have absolutely no memory of, others I do,” says Ross. “The first shows are still the most memorable, because like the first memories of a child they were all so new.”

The show debuted Off-Broadway in 2005 to critical acclaim and praise from critics and fans alike. Conan O’Brien called it “immediately accessible” and Spin said the show was even “funnier than you could possibly imagine.”It has played more than 500 cities and the entire ship, complete with lightsabers, Sith Lords, Wookies, Ewoks and all will land in Ottawa for a benefit performance for the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

“We’ve wanted to bring One Man Star Wars to Ottawa for some time now,” says festival Communications Manager Greggory Clark. “Charlie’s show is an exceptional piece of Fringe theatre which has gone on to have super international success.”

Funds raised from the event will go to the coming 20th Ottawa Fringe (June 15-26). Fringe performers keep 100% of their ticket sales, so the fest needs funds to offset the venues and staff costs.May The Fringe Be With You - Image (1)

“We could not put on the Fringe Festival if it weren’t for fundraisers, plus volunteers, grants and donations,” says Clark.

Clark, a fan of the films himself, looks forward to the show and was impressed by the fact that Ross has the entire original trilogy of films converted to memory.

“Charlie is an exceptionally talented actor and couldn’t pull this off if he were not. The man stuns audiences by playing every character with perfect impressions. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything but glowing reviews.”

Ross has performed the show so many times it’s hard for him to miss a beat and be thrown off his focus. This includes even when “Forces” of nature try to intervene.

“An earthquake happened during the middle of the show in San Francisco. I didn’t even notice it! Talk about clueless dedication,” he says.

For Ross, the release of the often-maligned prequel trilogy and the slew of new films on the way since Lucas sold the franchise to Disney have only given him new beginnings and attracts new fans.

“I don’t know where the story is going- and that’s a gift. Star Wars has its own way of giving. Of course, the tickets aren’t free, or the toys, but I can live with that.”

The One Man Star Wars Trilogy Fringe Festival benefit performance takes place on March 23rd at Centrepointe Theatre. Tickets are on sale now online.

Rocking with ‘Boom’ at the NAC and Orpheus’ ‘A Chorus Line’

March 10, 2016 10:59 am
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A scene from ‘A Chorus Line.’ Photo courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre Society. 

There are only two days left to catch Boom at the NAC and three days to catch A Chorus Line, Orpheus Theatre’s latest show now on at Centrepointe Theatre. Time is of the essence.

In Boom, award-winning solo performer Rick Miller brings to life dozens of politicians, writers, activists and entertainers with magical results. Covering the years 1945 to 1969, he captures the music, culture and history of that time period in magical and stunning ways.  It’s a fascinating take on the time period, offering perspectives from various characters who live through it. Some characters are based on family, others on public figures involved in the events.  In Boom, you get to experience the global events as they unfold: the Cold War, McCarthyism, Beatlemania, Trudeaumania, JFK, MLK, Mao, Vietnam.  Regardless of whether or not this is a history lesson or a walk back in time, this show will blow you away.

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Rick Miller in ‘Boom.’ Photo by David Leclerc.

Miller is a pro and he seamlessly pulls it all together with the help of some amazing stage technology. This multimedia production is visually captivating and it’s clear Miller worked with Robert Lepage’s studio team in Quebec City to make it work.

Boom is a theatrical experience worth seeing while you can.  It’s great for kids 13+ and is a fantastic way to bring history to life for them.  Miller’s acting is impeccable.

Orpheus’ A Chorus Line is an entirely different kind of theatre experience and it too runs until this weekend. One of Orpheus’ most beautiful aspects is that it is run by a company of amateur actors. Orpheus Musical Theatre Society has been around a long time. In fact, it’s the second longest-running organization of its kind in North America.  It’s been around in Ottawa since 1906.

The society’s latest production is the famous Broadway musical that follows the trials and tribulations of dancers trying to make it into a show. It is like watching a 2-hour audition, as you feel the anxiety of the characters as they tell their stories and dance their guts out, desperate to be chosen for the show.

It is not intended to be a glitzy production. In fact, there is only one costume change during the show. The only props are mirrors behind the dancers that have a beautiful effect, reflecting all of the dancers’ moves.

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A scene from ‘A Chorus Line.’ Photo courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre.

Listen to the dancers’ stories, feel their pain, excitement and anticipation as they put themselves out there, exposing their vulnerability. The dialogue is moving, the songs recognizable and the dancing is great.

As is the case with big productions, the quality of the dancing, singing and acting varies, but none of that takes away from the experience.  Orpheus puts on solid shows and this one is no exception.

Boom runs until Saturday, March 12, find out more at nac.ca. A Chorus Line runs until March 13, (orpheus-theatre.ca/).

Theatre-Inception at the Gladstone – Anton in Show Business

February 26, 2016 2:23 pm
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Photo courtesy of Three Sisters Theatre Company.

From now through March 5th, theatre-inception is happening nightly at the Gladstone Theatre. (Theatre-inception? What’s that – a play within a play?) Anton in Show Business – a satirical comedy billed as “Seven women. Thirteen characters. Two scripts. Mayhem.” – is an insightful and highly entertaining look into the culture of theatre in relation to modern society. For my fellow non-theatre majors – yes, it is a play about making a play, and no, “theatre-inception” is not proper theatre jargon, so I wouldn’t recommend using it to try to impress your friends. Whether you’re a seasoned Gladstone subscriber or a first-time patron, this show will give everyone a good laugh.

Anton in Show Business plays on stereotypes to create relatable humour for all audience members. Gender clichés? Check. Race stereotypes? For sure. And the biggest one: the typical performer persona – poor, usually out-of-work actors who have disappointed their parents by following their dreams.

Some of the funniest moments arise when Joby, an “audience member,” interrupts the production to point out these character exaggerations and plot holes. By having actors on the other side of the fourth wall (i.e. the invisible line that typically divides characters from patrons), the audience’s level of engagement is intensified – you feel like you, too, have a role in the show.

I’d argue, however, that the success of a theatre production comes down to the talent of the cast – and this group of women nailed it! From the dynamic character changes, to the variety of accents, to the careful balance of light and dark humour, these actors were outstanding.

With 13 characters and only seven cast members, actors were switching between roles quickly, even within a single scene. The transformations were so well done that if I hadn’t known there were only seven actors in total, I would have sworn there were more. The switch I found most mind boggling was Laura Hall’s transition between characters Kate and Ben. Ms. Hall was unrecognisable, even while Ben’s plaid shirt was incorporated directly into Kate’s costume.  

The element of the play that my theatre companion found most impressive was Rachel Eugster’s seemingly natural ability to take on different accents for her characters Ralph, Wikéwich, and Joe Bob. Ms. Eugster did this all while crossdressing and seamlessly dealing with a runaway moustache (to the younger patrons’ delight).

Lastly, Robin Guy’s portrayal of Casey Mulgraw was remarkable. Ms. Guy was able to create a delicate balance between light and dark by dealing with her character’s misfortunes through self-deprecating humour.

Anton in Show Business offers shows in the evening Tuesday through Saturday and matinees Saturday and Sunday at the Gladstone Theatre. For information about tickets and show times, please visit: http://www.thegladstone.ca/anton.html.

A New Paradise On Stage

February 2, 2016 1:04 pm
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Actors rehearsing for the new ‘Paradise’ play. 

Ottawa lawyers continue their fight for social justice outside the courtroom. Turning from the podium to a stage, members of the local legal community are coming together through theatre to raise money for The Ottawa Mission.

Officers and civilians at the Ottawa Police Service have also hopped into the spotlight, eager to help fundraise.

PosterThe play, A New Paradise, has five shows at the Ottawa Little Theatre between February 3 and 6. It was written and produced by Ian Stauffer in partnership with his wife, OPS Sergeant Cathy Brown. Stauffer is a civil litigation specialist at Tierney Stauffer LLP who dedicates his spare time to the arts and community outreach.

“It may not be the most efficient way to raise money but it certainly has its benefits,” explains Stauffer. “The police community and law community are sometimes cast in adversarial positions. This is a good chance for people from different worlds to rub shoulders.”

Sergeant Brown agrees.

“People need to know charity work doesn’t have to be a sacrifice,” she says. “Pick something that you love doing and find out how to incorporate that into raising money.”

A New Paradise is a comedy set in a law firm. Taken over by terrorists, there is a question as to who these “people” are and what they want. It touches on subjects of terrorism, alcohol, solar farms and love. Not necessarily in that order.

This play marks the third and final installment in Stauffer’s Paradise series – all of which have been staged as fundraisers for various charities. The 2013 show raised more than $50,000.

This year’s causes are Ottawa Lawyers Feed the Hungry and The Mental Health Supports Program. Both are operated out of The Ottawa Mission.

Lawyers Feed the Hungry programs fight hunger throughout the year in Toronto, Barrie, London, Windsor and Ottawa. Stauffer and fellow lawyer, Jonathan Richardson, formed the local chapter in 2010. It works to put on meals twice a month at The Ottawa Mission for vulnerable individuals in the area.

“It really is about as basic as you can get to feed people,” Stauffer says. “I won’t pretend it is going to save the people or have a dramatic impact on their lives, but there is no question that they need hot food from time to time to keep their bodies and spirits up.”

The Mental Health Supports Program is a new partnership between the Ottawa Mission and the Canadian Mental Health Association. It provides individuals using The Mission’s services with mental health support through assessments, counseling and coordination with outside service providers.

“I really like the fact that we are giving some of the money to the mental health outreach program because ironically, I think the play has mental health benefits on the officers involved,” explains Brown. “It’s a nice outlet and gets the other side of your brain engaged.”

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Volunteers at the Ottawa Mission.

Another member of the OPS involved is Inspector Paul Gallant. He plays the role of Offman.

“I love playing the character and can appreciate the type of individual that he is, but he and I have very different approaches to life, and shall we say, the management of people,” Gallant says behind a smirk.

Gallant has been acting since his late teens, but took a break until three years ago when he was asked to audition in Still Looking for Paradise – the second play in the trilogy. The officer explains that his passion for the art brought him back onstage for an encore.

“On stage, it is a giving and a taking. You are giving to the audience and taking in their energy and hopefully their appreciation for what you are doing,” Gallant says. “The process itself creates a positive environment that is extremely good for the soul.”

The performers have been rehearsing since September. During this time Gallant has built up significant respect for the cast and crew in terms of their talent and generosity, especially for the playwright.

“He is definitely one of the most accomplished actors and writers that I have ever worked with,” Gallant says about Stauffer. “Whenever he is on stage everyone around him is better because he is there.”

Other members of the Ottawa Police Service who are involved with A New Paradise include Sergeant Peter Jupp, Constable Peter McKenna, Heather MacDonald in communications and Kim Trites in mail services. Sergeant Cathy Brown contributes both on and off stage.

“People should come and watch the play because I think it is a nice escape to go out and experience live theatre with real people,” says Brown. “Also, February is a ‘blah’ month and the show is funny! I laugh out loud at certain scenes every time.”

To purchase tickets, call the box office (613) 233-8948 ex.1 or visit the Ottawa Little Theatre website at ottawalittletheatre.com. Tickets range in price from $25-$50. Charitable receipts for $25 are available for those buying $50 tickets.

Ho! Ho! Head to the Theatre!

December 9, 2015 12:08 pm
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A scene from Anne and Gilbert, The Musical. Photo courtesy of the NAC. 

Christmas is always a great time to grab the kids and head to the theatre for a family outing.  There are two shows on in Ottawa right now that fit the bill perfectly. Anne and Gilbert, The Musical is playing at the National Arts Centre and you can also find Angel Square at the GCTC.  Both are very different but each provide a fabulous night out.

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Ellen Denny (left) as Anne Shirley. Photo courtesy of the NAC.

Anne and Gilbert, The Musical follows the story of Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe as their relationship progresses and their lives move from teaching in Avonlea to heading off to university. If you are an Anne fan, this is a must see.  Even if you aren’t at the moment, you will become one after seeing Ellen Denny bring the fiery Anne Shirley to life. It’s an energetic production, always moving and you won’t even notice the 2 hours and 45 minutes pass by. In addition to Ellen Denny, Robin Craig (playing Rachel Lynde),  Alison Woolridge (Marilla Cuthbert) and Brieonna Locche (Diana Barry) are particularly magnificent.

The music is phenomenal and the story is endearing, leaving you warm inside at the end.  The set and costumes take you back in time for a night of pure magic with (or without) your children. That said, it’s ideal for children over eight-years-old.

Angel Square is a mystery set in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood in 1945. When the play begins it’s Christmas time in Angel Square, a place where Jewish, Irish and French Canadian kids meet to duke it out. 12-year-old Tommy, the main character, is on a mission to find out who struck down his best friend’s father. He knows that the answer lies somewhere in the cultural divide of Angel Square and with a group of friends, he sets out to find answers.

Angel Square is more suited for kids a little older, 11 or 12 +, as the play’s themes include some difficult concepts such as racism, growing up and love.  My 10-year-old daughter found it a bit hard to follow and some scenes even frightened her.  Adults on the other hand, and older children, will love it and find the play charming, even as it touches on those darker themes.

Mary Ellis, Robert Marinier, Kristina Watt and Bruce Spinney in Angel Square at GCTC. Photo by Andrew Alexander

A scene from Angel Square. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Kristina Watt, who takes on many different roles in the play, shines brightly. However, she is greatly assisted by the chemistry between all four actors (Watt, Mary Ellis, Robert Marinier and Bruce Spinney). All actors are adults, but they pull off their various characters with the required innocence and rawness of the children they play.

Have fun with your kids and take a walk back in time with either of these great plays.

Anne and Gilbert, The Musical nac.ca runs until December 19 while Angel Square gctc.ca runs until December 20.

The Fantastic Phoenix Players

December 1, 2015 10:58 am
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Founded in 2001 and now in their 14th season, the Phoenix Players are an unstoppable force in Ottawa’s theater community.

The Players are a community theater group on a mission to produce a quality and accessible theatre experience for their members and audiences. The group offers opportunities for anyone to join the world of theatre, one that the troupe describes as a world full of creativity, enjoyment, entertainment and connection.

In the past, the Players have taken on large productions which were met with success and praise. The Players’ 2014 production The Diary of Anne Frank was spectacularly well received, attracting a young and appreciative audience.

“When you listen to our audience, they say they like all of our plays. They tell us every time that the play they just saw was the best play we’ve ever done,” explains Player Ellen Clare O’Gallagher.

Theater, of course, can be a moving experience for both the performers and audience. O’Gallagher recalls an emotional response from the audience after a past production of the comedy Dixie Swim Club.

“At the end of that play, looking out over the audience in the last scene, all the women and men in the first row had tears streaming down their faces. For the actors,” O’Gallagher says, “we could hardly get the words out, it was so touching.”

Becoming a Player has plenty of advantages. The Players offer the opportunity for not only actors, but also those interested in backstage work, to assist in stage productions. The group welcomes anyone and everyone looking to try their hand at the world of theater and acquire a wide range of skills along the way.

One great aspect of becoming a Player is that previous experience in both thespian and backstage work is not required. Without having previous acting experience, past Players have auditioned and landed lead roles. Meeting actors, directors, artists and theater fanatics that are eager to share their knowledge and passion for theater is a great benefit, too.

The troupe is always looking for those who would like to have a theatre ‘home.’ Being a part of this home means those Players can work with the troupe both on stage and off. The Players do not restrict staff from auditioning for plays put on by other companies. The Player is welcomed to take on other responsibilities such as backstage work, serving on the Players’ executive committee, working on publicity, or in some other capacity.

The Phoenix Players 2015 winter season is heating up with a knee-slapping Christmas offering, So This is Christmas… The two adult comedy shorts, directed by Jo-Ann McCabe, will be running from December 1 to 5 at the Gladstone Theatre, with matinees showing at 2:30PM and nightly shows starting at 7:30PM.

The first play, “Sleeping Indoors,” tells the tale of a family who takes a homeless man for dinner one Christmas Eve. The other, “The Christmas Tree,” is a story about the last available tree one Christmas Eve. A man and a woman spar with each other, using stories to determine who will leave with the tree.

To learn more about the Phoenix Players, you can visit their website phoenixplayers.ca.

Theatre: ‘The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God’

November 5, 2015 3:06 pm
1©AndréeLanthier_Aventures_Ensemble

All photos by Andrée Lanthier.

There are two days left to catch The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the NAC.  If you have the chance, it’s definitely worth it. Book your whole night off thought because the show is very long. It runs two hours and 45 minutes.

This is an epic play. A cast of 22 gracefully float onstage with beautiful dancing and movements accompanied by their magnificent singing. This incredible play and its winding plot feeds your mind just as much as the choreography and voices fill your ears and eyes.  

The story follows Rainey Baldwin Johnson, a country doctor who traces her lineage back to Negro Creek, a small 200-year-old Black community in Western Ontario. Following the tragic death of her daughter, she has turned away from her husband (the local minister), her practice and her faith. Meanwhile, Rainey’s elderly father, a retired judge who Rainey discovers has only a few days left to live, mobilizes a group of proud septuagenarians to conduct heists against symbols of racism, to uphold their dignity and honour the town’s rich history. The gutsy group steals the show with their humour, their tenderness and their hilarious antics.  3©AndréeLanthier_Aventures_R.Webb,L.Francks,W.Borden,B.Barnes-Hopkins,J.Richardson

There is also a lot of depth to the play and it delves into many different themes, including questions of faith and responses to situations that can shake it, such as racism, tragedy and death.  It looks at love and its various forms. There is a lot going on in Adventures to justify its length.

After its Toronto debut in 2002, the play was nominated for six Dora Mavor Moore Awards, and rightfully so. It is also largely based real events.

All the members of the cast are superb. Walter Borden lights up the stage as Rainey’s father, Abendigo. Quincy Armorer is fantastic as Rainey’s estranged husband and Lucinda Davis radiantly shines as Rainey. However, singling them out isn’t entirely fair because everyone is electric on stage.

It runs until November 7, you can find out more at nac.ca.

Jake’s Gift is for Everyone

November 4, 2015 12:00 pm
Julia Mackey as Jake • Jake's Gift • Photo by Tim Matheson_9

All photos by Tim Matheson.

During this season of remembrance, take your kids, your parents, your friends, your school to the Great Canadian Theatre Company to see Jake’s Gift by Julia Mackey. For some people, it may be the most moving Remembrance Day experience you ever have. 

The play has a simple plot and follows the development of an unlikely relationship between a 10-year-old French girl, Isabelle, and Jake, a Second World War veteran.

Julia Mackey as Grande Isabelle • Jake's Gift • Photo by Tim Matheson_7  In it, Jake returns to Juno Beach for the first time since the war for the battle’s 60th anniversary commemorations. In some ways, he is a broken man with baggage who has come to Normandy to make peace with his past. Isabelle lives in Bény-sur-Mer and lives a life of gratitude for the soldiers’ efforts.  With the sort of selfless caring that only a child can truly provide, she breaks through Jake’s tough exterior and touches his heart.

Against her grandmother’s orders, who is also names Isabelle, little Isabelle approaches Jake on Juno Beach as he stands there looking out at sea and strikes up a conversation with the veteran, who seems reluctant to talk. Over the next 48 hours, they develop a strong friendship.

Through monologues from both main characters (played brilliantly by Mackey herself) and through their conversations, we learn of the lives both have led and with a few twists, how their lives were connected without them knowing it.Julia Mackey as Grande Isabelle • Jake's Gift • Photo by Tim Matheson_3

There is tenderness to this play that will warm the heart of everyone who sees it and quite frankly, everyone should.  It is an incredible vehicle in the run-up to Remembrance Day to educate children on the relevance of Canadian efforts but it is also a lesson on the gentleness and kindness that people, generations apart, can share. By the end you will be in tears.  

This is definitely a play not to be missed and is family friendly (minus a few expletives on Jake’s part). Jake’s Gift runs just over an hour and you can catch it until November 15 (with special performances in French on November 10 and 12).  Find out more at gctc.ca.

Introducing the African Film Festival of Ottawa

October 23, 2015 9:52 am
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All photos courtesy of Aboubakar Sanogo

The African Film Festival of Ottawa (AFFO) is the first of its kind to hit the city.

Held over two weeks, from October 16 to 18, and October 23 to 25 2015, Carleton University is the inaugural festival’s host.

The festival is the brainchild of Carleton African Film Studies professor Aboubakar Sanogo. While Sanogo has been bringing his students films from African filmmakers, he saw the need for a festival dedicated solely for public viewing of these films.

The selected films celebrate emerging voices from across the five regions of the African continent, as well as its historical diaspora. Sanogo specifically chose films from new African filmmakers.

The featured films have been screened, won awards, or entered for nomination at FESPACO (Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou), the Durban International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, The Berlin Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, the American Film Institute Film Festival and the Academy Awards, among others.

The festival has been a triumph for Sanogo, but it has also been a challenge.

“Putting together any festival takes a lot of time. The additional logistical investment such as the search for funding required some work. We thought about the best formula for the festival, and we decided upon working with the Canadian Film Institute as the best way forward,” says Sanogo.

CFI’s already existing infrastructure helped greatly with getting the festival off of the ground.

Sanogo says that while CFI has shown multitudes of films from around the world, an African film festival has been very absent.

“We really wanted to bring together cinema that people aren’t used to seeing on a daily basis. The idea was to expose people to a different tradition of filmmaking that has contributed a lot to cinema today.”DSC_0479

Another partnership that made the festival possible was the African Group of Ambassadors and High Commissioners. This partnership encouraged Sanogo to represent all of Africa, as well as Haiti, in the films shown.

Sanogo says that the goal of the festival was to engage dialogue about the films, as well as expand the cinematic palate of Canadians. Many students who take Sanogo’s African Film Studies class have only ever watched one African film before.

“There are also those who have never encountered an African film or a film course. This festival is to compensate for that absence.”

Two of the strongest films being show at the festival are “Lumumba” and “Of Good Report.”

On Saturday October 24, “Of Good Report,” a film by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, screens at 7:00 pm. It is a film that Sanogo describes as one that is beautifully made, and an adaption of Lolita in a South African context.

Another is the festival’s closing film. “Lumumba” is a film directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. Set in the Congo, Sanogo says that it is one of the most beautiful films screened at the festival. “Lumumba” will be shown at 4:00 pm on Sunday October 25.

After the first set of viewings, Sanogo says that people have been approaching him about where they can buy the films and if they could contact the filmmakers or distributors for more information.

“In the first weekend alone, we noticed that there is a desire for this film to create discussion and thought.  Our mission was already accomplished in the debut weekend.”

To learn more information about AFFO, please visit the Canadian Film Institute’s website.

Cory Carlick and the Undersigned

October 9, 2015 1:02 pm
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A shoot from The Undersigned. Photo courtesy of  SKYCRON.

Cory Carlick has been working in broadcasting since the age of 15.

He started his career at CJOH-TV, now CTV Ottawa. Carlick was experimenting with shorts and visual effects when broadcast legend Max Keeping and producer Scott Hannant discovered him. Soon, Carlick was invited to join CJOH to work on television commercials. Both mentors eventually helped Carlick create his own network, Ottawa-based SKYCRON.

Shoot by Julie Laurin.

Shoot by Julie Laurin.

After CJOH, Carlick went on to study Classical Animation at Sheridan College, ultimately working with Disney properties. After opening up an office in Toronto (and subsequently in Montreal in the late 2000s), Carlick decided in 2013 that it was time for him to come back home to Ottawa. The offices in Toronto and Montreal were amalgamated and SKYCRON’s current Ottawa location was born.

The Undersigned is a series created by Carlick and has most recently been picked up by ABC (Central New York). The story revolves around three street-smart and intelligent women in abusive relationships who find themselves homeless. They are given a second chance when the Syracuse Police need a special unit to catch white collar criminals. The women are hired to recover stolen funds from these criminals under investigation.

“I wanted to create a show like the kind I grew up watching in the late 1980s and early 1990s like MacGyver, Stargate SG-1 and Alias. These were fun shows that had a lot of spirit. They were serious, but not too serious… silly, but not too silly.”

As the story progresses, Carlick explains, the women have to learn how to control temptations of revenge from their newfound position of power.

Having three women as the leads for the series was a conscious decision made by Carlick. Each character has a unique personality, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Carlick has worked with survivors of domestic violence and rehabilitation in the past. He notes that the content has encouraged people to reach out to him and share their stories.

“We’ve been amazed and very touched at how people have been pouring their hearts out to us and telling their stories. It also means that it’s our responsibility to make sure that our portrayals are respectful. We want to make sure that we are doing justice to people watching. In some ways, we are functioning as a voice and there are responsibilities [that come with doing that].”

FINAL_BlackAndWhiteundersigned-abc_v1Carlick believes that media’s portrayals of domestic violence are often simplified.

“It is a tricky topic to get right. Get the balance wrong and it can come off as insincere. We chose to concentrate on the work our main characters do behind the scenes and the effects of their decisions.”

Much of The Undersigned was filmed on location in Ottawa, and later in Syracuse, NY. Other locations include Aylmer and Smiths Falls.

Carlick’s goal for the series is that it will begin to bring some light to the issue of domestic violence by putting it into the mainstream. The series will also be donating $2 of all poster sales for the show to Vera House. Vera House is a non-profit organization based in Syracuse, NY, that aims to end domestic abuse and sexual violence. The group also aims to empower abused women and children, as well as promote equality and respect in relationships.

“We adomestic violence victims. We hope to do other screenings of the show that can helpre hoping to collaborate with other organizations for as a fundraiser to put money in their pockets. Any Canadian broadcaster that wishes to air the show will be provided with the master without a license fee.”

SKYCRON and Ottawa’s beloved theater The Mayfair are partnering for The Undersigned’s premiere screening. The screening will take place on October 25th and tickets can be purchased online (see link below) for $15.

You can learn more about SKYCRON by visiting their website. You can connect with Carlick and The Undersigned on Facebook and buy tickets for the Mayfair viewing here.

Opera Lyra’s Barber of Seville : Clear-Cut Case of Greatness

October 2, 2015 2:39 pm
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Photo courtesy of Opera Lyra.

When it comes to opera, The Barber of Seville is a fun, light, entertaining singing sensation.  Gioachino Rossini’s compositions are recognizable to many, in part, thanks to Bugs Bunny, and Opera Lyra’s current production of The Barber pays homage to that reality in a very funny way. That sets the tone for interpretation of the opera and from the opening scene, you know you are in for a fun evening.

The opera is set in a 1940’s movie studio in Seville, Spain and follows the love triangle of Count Almaviva who is in love with movie star Rosina. He arrives on set to serenade her but she does not bite.

Figaro, the effervescent barber arrives on the scene and chats it up with the Count who fills him in on his love for Rosina.  Figaro tells him the vile studio owner, Bartolo, a not-so-scrupulous kind of guy also has his eyes on Rosina, well, more accurately, her money.

Almaviva will stop at nothing to win and takes on various guises to get to Rosina, with the help of Figaro. Along the way, he bumps into Bartolo, who never clues in that the disguised Almaviva is actually the Count, and the amusing conversations that entail are entertaining. Bartolo for his part concocts ways to stop the real Almaviva from getting to Rosina. And lots of funny twists and turns occur but in the end all’s well that ends well.

In terms of performances, Isaiah Bell was riveting as Count Almaviva. Reminiscent of an operatic version of screen actor Eddie Redmayne, Bell is definitely one to watch.  Marion Newman who plays Rosina is also fantastic as is Peter McGillivray who brings Bartolo to life. While they are fantastic, Joshua Hopkins steals the show as Figaro.  He perfectly captures  the clever, playful, devilish nature of Figaro.  He lights up the stage.

The set and costumes of this fully-staged production are also impressive.

There is only one show left, on Saturday night.  Grab tickets at www.Operalyra.ca

Get Your Politics On With Generous at the GCTC

September 25, 2015 10:56 am
Kristina Watt (Maria) and Drew Moore (Alex). photo by Pascal Huot

All photos courtesy of Pascal Huot

The Great Canadian Theatre Company is opening its season with a solid hit of political theatre. Generous, by award-winning Canadian playwright Michael Healey, is a great play to see at any time, but it’s a special treat during an election campaign.

Generous at first appears to be four individual stories dealing with power, sex and politics but are, in the end, all linked. It opens with a prime minister and his cabinet ministers in hysteria over losing a budget vote with hilarious, witty discussions and outrageous reactions. Another plot involves a judge who has an affair with a young, naive law clerk, who happens to know the judge’s estranged daughter. The fourth involves a ruthless, philandering oil executive’s journey from the private sector to politics. Each story explores some of the great and flawed sides of human behaviour and leaves it up to you to decide which comes out on top. In an interesting twist, the powerful characters in control (with the exception of the prime minister in the first scene) are women.

Matt Cassidy (Richard), Katie Ryerson (Lily) and Adam Pierre (Scotty Nguyen). Photo courtesy of Pascal Huot.

Matt Cassidy (Richard), Katie Ryerson (Lily) and Adam Pierre (Scotty Nguyen). Photo courtesy of Pascal Huot.

The sharp dialogue is fantastic, as can be expected from Healey (who won a Dora Award for Generous). All four plots include some raw elements and some risqué content, not for the faint of heart but nevertheless entertaining. However, one may be left with a sense that something is left undone, or that the plots end up disjointed or disconnected in some way. Regardless, it is still a great play.

The whole cast offer superb performances. Marion Day is brilliant as ruthless, yet somehow likeable, oil executive Julia. Katie Ryerson is, as per usual, fantastic. In Generous, she plays Lily, Judge Maria’s strong-willed daughter. Her frosty cold mother Maria, in turn, is brought to life beautifully by Kristina Watt. The male actors also deserve kudos. In particular, Drew Moore is perfectly annoying as naive, self-absorbed law clerk Alex.

You can catch Generous until September 27. Tickets available at gctc.ca.

Chatting with the NAC’s Jillian Keiley

August 12, 2015 3:34 pm
Scene from BOOM, daved Leclerc

Photo credit: David Leclerc

If the federal election already has you wanting to look elsewhere for theatrics, cast your eye to the National Arts Centre. Have you wondered how the plays at the NAC are chosen? I have so I jumped at the chance to ask the NAC’s English Theatre Artistic Director, Jillian Keiley.

It turns out it is quite a process. She said together with Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, she watches well over 100 shows to see what’s going on across Canada.

“We see all kinds of work and if we see something resonating in another city we ask for a video.” She explains that after that, the team narrows it down to the best picks. “I don’t choose the plays on regional concern or through quota or anything like that. My task is to educate myself on what is out there then ask, what does the play represent? How does it represent the country? How do we engage with Canadians? Artistically is it stellar?”

Her job is not easy. There is a lot of fantastic theatre being produced in Woman YellingCanada. Consideration also must be given to which play will work in which NAC space, given there is the large Theatre and the more intimate Studio.  The result is two series: the Theatre Series and the Studio Series. Keiley is particularly excited to bring Djanet Sears’ The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God to the NAC.

“It will be incredible,” she says. “I think it is one of the best shows I have ever seen.” Logistically speaking, it is a hard production to mount. “There are 21 people on stage. Making that happen, well, it just doesn’t happen that often. This is a masterpiece that hasn’t been seen enough.” It will open the season in October.

While the 2015/2016 season was announced earlier this year, here is a recap of what you can expect.  A special holiday production of Anne & Gilbert, a musical sequel to the ever-popular Anne of Green Gables will follow Adventures. Keiley will then direct an inventive production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, as imagined by Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Rick Miller’s one-man smash hit BOOM hits the stage and the series wraps up with an English-language adaptation of the Michel Tremblay classic, Belles Soeurs: The Musical.

The Studio Series delivers other storytelling experiences as members of the 2015/16 Ensemble take on Colleen Murphy’s The December Man (L’homme de décembre). The series also features a powerful work out of Australia, Jack Charles V The Crown, and closes with an Ottawa production of Jordan Tannahill’s much lauded Concord Floral.

As for Keiley, her interest in the stage began early. While growing up in Jillian KeileyNewfoundland, her first theatrical experience was watching the pomp and ceremony of nursing school graduations. “My mother used to teach at the nursing school and I would go with her to the ceremonies, I would watch that but I was fascinated with the red roses and the uniforms and I would watch them get their degree. That really was my first theatrical experience.”

She tried her hand at acting in high school and later auditioned for the National Theatre School. “I didn’t get in.  Now I am glad because when I went university, I started directing my work right from then and I was hooked.”

Keiley’s warmth, humour, enthusiasm and dedication to bringing quality theatre to Canadians are clear.

“Theatre is the best way in the world to share our stories and this season is full of the kinds of stories that invite our audience to recognize the deep and complex truths of being human, of being a part of these times, and of being Canadian,” Keiley says. With her and Stanley at the artistic NAC helm, the season will no doubt deliver all that and much more.

You can find out more about tickets and showtimes at nac.ca.

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