CALGARY FRINGE FESTIVAL
Runs until August 20
Check listings for venues and times
Charming Puppet Productions
One of the few all ages Fringe shows comes from Calgarian Nadine Charman, who is directing and performing Milos Dream.
She describes the shadow-puppet show inspired by her dog Milo and using skills gained in a clown workshop as "a tongue-in-cheek spiritual quest. Milo is safe, warm and secure but he travels to all realms, meeting wacky characters and some scary creatures. You know the way dreams are with surreal landscapes."
Charman, her son Andrew Charman-Shea and two of his friends all act and provide the live music and soundscape. The band members interact with Milo. Charman says this gives the piece "a cheeky, youthful feeling." The black and strobe lights plus some violent storm elements might be scary for younger children, Charman cautions.
In addition to the four artists in the cast, two of Charmans clown classmates, David van Belle and Val Campbell, and friend Laura Stang, have helped in the development of the story and its presentation. Charman is grateful for those "outside eyes" and excited about being in the fringe with an opportunity to find out how audiences feel about her "magical shadow puppet play." (TC)
When Vancouvers Upintheair Theatre last produced Moxie, it was a site-specific installation in the basement of Best Cleaning Supplies warehouse and a fundraiser for the companys Walking Fish Festival. While its latest production in the Fringes Sanctuary venue may not afford it the same dark, recessed quality of its original staging, the play itself is teeming with enough black, comic energy to complete the transformation by itself.
Centred in the cell of a futuristic jail in which convicts are imprisoned for life, graded during their term, and ground into the facilitys menu if their rating falls below a desirable level, Moxie follows cellmates Curt and Pill as the latter deals with a devastating two star rating. Its an exchange heaped with physical abuse, co-dependency, paranoia and a variety of betrayals all punctuated by the sound of the grinder, a holdover from the shows first production.
"(Theres a) startup sound, and then it starts grinding, then it kicks out, and then it slows down," says Upintheair co-founder and cast member Dave Mott, describing the grinders sound. "And its always followed by the clanking of tin cups presumably the prisoners are very hungry."
Upintheair had originally planned to stage Moxie in Vancouver, once again, but a felicitous opportunity presented itself when the Calgary Fringes artistic director, Jason Rothery, put out a call for submissions, allowing the company to add another location to the shows tour. As Upintheairs former playwright-in-residence and Moxies creator, it seems appropriate that Rotherys work will now be showcased in his own festival. Though the venue will have changed, the sound of the grinder will be a difficult one to forget. (JK)
Burlesque, a late 19th/early 20th century theatrical style with elements of humour, parody and erotica, is being revived by BSide Productions at the Calgary Fringe Festival. The show, Caberlesque!, was initially created by actor and director Jeffrey Pufahl and an ensemble of Saskatchewan singers, dancers and musicians.
"The music selection informed the time frame," says Pufahl. Starting with the music of Kurt Weill and the cabarets of 1930s Berlin, the show moves through three eras of modern burlesque, from Depression-era Germany to the red light district of 1960s Amsterdam to the burlesque revival in present-day New York City. While burlesque started as a form of satirical comedy, it has gained many different connotations and spans different performance mediums, ranging from sketch comedy to dance. In the 20th century, the form gained erotic overtones, with performers stripping onstage and bringing sexual subject matter into burlesque.
"Burlesque is the art of the tease, the dances in burlesque are story-oriented," he says, describing burlesque as a process of "peeling off layers" and celebrating female wit. "There are also elements of the grotesque."
Pufahl has himself taken a long interest in burlesque and vaudeville, starting as a theatre student, and has travelled to clubs in New York and San Francisco to study the contemporary burlesque revival. Over the past year, he assembled an ensemble of actors and dancers to put Caberlesque! together, starting with the music before adding a storyline and script. During the process, members of the ensemble added on to Pufahls original script and began rehearsing in earnest last June, before premiering the show to a hometown crowd in Regina. From there, the show toured to Winnipeg, where it won The Best of Festival at the Winnipeg fringe, before heading to Saskatoon and Calgary.
So far, says Pufahl, the show has been well received, appealing to a range of audiences, from younger viewers drawn in by Burlesques racy image, to "the more regular theatre-going crowd, who appreciate the intelligence of the script they get a kick out of the naughtiness of it as well." (AM)
out of line theatre
Since the Fringe is the perfect place to put on a persona and try new tastes, PeepShow might be just the ticket. Promising to be both a ridiculous romp and psychosexual exploration, the show invites you to flirt with it by being "now a crowd, now a peeping tom, now a patron of a strip club, now a cinema-goer."
The performers, too, will be trying on roles. out of line theatres Ian
Mozdzen and Mia van Leeuwen play Hugo and Sabina, characters who spend the hour mining the queerest corners of their fantasies and acting them out. The role of the audience as voyeur is underlined by the presence of men with old-fashioned peepshow boxes. The action, too, is made to resemble the look of racy Kinescope shorts. PeepShows staging looks to be as polymorphous as its characters fantasies, employing music, film, slides and, by all accounts, killer choreography. Whether a genuine subversiveness emerges from all this is for you to decide. But hey, its the Fringe, a place where "mere" and "titillation" should never cohabit the same sentence. One blogger who has seen it confesses that watching it made him feel "naughty." What better recommendation can I give than that? (ML)
CHICKS LOVE GUIDOS
Chicks Love Guidos
Stephane Cappelini was at a house party several years ago when he witnessed a phenomenon that would later serve as an inspiration for a play.
His friend, a macho Italian guy who was standing next to him, suddenly leaned over and whispered, "You see that girl who just walked in? Shes crazy about me, I tell you. Watch, just watch."
When the girl brushed past him with a nonchalant "Hi," Cappelini felt embarrassed for his friend, but the guy was still convinced. "See what I told you?"
That was the inspiration for Chicks Love Guidos, a comedic commentary on love and relationships that pokes fun at Cappelinis own culture.
"In groups of young men there are always a few that are the macho types, the relationship problem-solvers who think they know all there is to know about women and what they want," he says. "A Guido is an Italian version of that."
Cappelini plays the role of Guido himself, as well as two other parts in this one-man show: nerdy Walter, whose mother is nagging him to get married, Mr. Macho, AKA Guido, who takes him under his wing and sells him seminars and CDs to listen to, and boorish rival Salvatore, AKA Booze Boy, who believes he has superpowers when hes drunk.
From pickup lines to playing hard to get and using sultry, alluring body language Walter gets to put them all into practice, but his interpretation of these techniques and exactly what constitutes an alluring body movement is, admittedly, a little "off-skew," says Cappelini.
"I hope that the audience gets to laugh a little bit, maybe even at themselves, at how ridiculous we can be sometimes. Its about poking fun at the male gender, myself and my culture as well." (BB)
THE VENUS OF MILO, AB
Centre Stage Theatre Company
Based on a collection of teenage love letters and some rediscovered diaries, The Venus of Milo is a collaboration between educator Bonnie Gratz who runs Centre Stage Theatre and songwriter and musician Mary-Jean Uszy. The two Calgarians, who have been friends since high school, wrote their autobiographical sections of the play separately. They found when they got together that they had a quite cohesive, quirky romp of a musical comedy.
Uszy says they found the boys, played by Josh Rimer, in their closets almost forgotten. Revisiting her diaries reminded her that her ideal man is still eluding her. And she still calls her mum for dating advice.
Some of the music is nostalgic, popular hits from the 80s, but Uszy wrote the majority of the plays score. As a teen in rural Alberta, she dreamt of being a rock goddess. Back then, Gratz had her eyes on a beauty queen tiara while the author of the letters had his eyes on her.
Whatever your dreams are and whether or not they came true, Uszy says she thinks everyone can relate to their show. "We all have those experiences of growing up and I guess this is about what (memories) we hold on to and how we change them to suit our needs."
Some lines in the play are word for word from Uszys diary and Gratzs letters. Who doesnt like to get into someone elses private stuff? (TC)
LIVING SHADOWS A STORY OF MARY PICKFORD
By the Clock Productions
We tend to think of silent screen stars the female ones, anyway as quaint, disempowered waifs. Mary Pickford, the most famous of them all, may have been Americas Sweetheart, but she was also a canny businesswoman who used her combination of little-girl looks and uncanny acting ability to forge one of the most impressive careers in Hollywood history.
Living Shadows uses the device of a meeting between a late-career Pickford and legendary director Billy Wilder to give dramatic focus to the too-oft bloated biography genre. Wilder did, in fact, offer Pickford the part of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and there are various theories as to why it didnt pan out. Some say she was morally outraged by the darkness of the script, while others say she was afraid it would spell the death of a career built on an image of sweetness and light. Living Shadows considers the power that image had over Pickford, and its ultimate cost.
The play won the prestigious Centaur Theatre Award for Best English Production of this years Montreal Fringe, and actor and playwright Tracy Power has been garnering praise across the country for her luminous but nuanced portrayal of this compelling, complex, Canadian-born icon. (ML)
THE ALEATORY PROJECT: AN EXPERIMENT IN FATE
Thought for Food
Aleatory is defined as "depending on the throw of die or on chance" (aleator is Latin for dice-player). I love it when art earns its big words, and this play does so in, er, spades. The action is literally determined by random tosses of a coin and draws of the cards, the result being that no two performances are ever the same.
A man and a woman are in a hotel room playing a card game that much is established. But they dont even know what characters theyre going to be until an initiating coin toss. Nor is the nature of their connection clear they might be strangers, they might be lovers, they might be one of many possibilities in between. This isnt improv, however there are 50 different scripted scenes the actors draw from depending on which cards come up throughout the show. There are, apparently, "an astronomical number" of possible variations, around 1500 trillion of trillions of trillions. This aint Cats. Its not a show that anyone, ever, including the performers, can say theyve done. Even the score is different each time, generated by randomizing software that responds to each blip of fate as it occurs.
The buzz says the plays cleverness outweighs its emotional depth, but that its a fascinating, engaging experiment nonetheless. People whove seen it strongly encourage going at least twice. (ML)
JOSIE WITH THE TOES
Recently dumped and living in a garbage can, Josie, she-clown and heroine of LoCo Productions Josie with the Toes feels she cant get any lower.
Armed with a red ukulele (that matches her nose), Josie embarks on a spiritual journey of sorts. Attempting to find meaning in her life, she contemplates religion, pop psychology and hurtin country songs.
"It sounds so sad but it is not because its a clown show," says performer and writer Lisa Olafson.
Along with the ukulele, Olafson has Abigail, a mean-spirited puppet who is somewhat of an alter ego for Josies chirpy character.
"She says all the mean things we say to ourselves in our worst moments," says Olafson. "She (Josie) has to quiet the voice that is Abigail."
Originally created for children, Olafson chose to reuse the character of Josie when writing a show for adults.
"She was in a childrens show, and she was crazy and fun and she still is, but in my adult show she is more brash and she swears," says Olafson.
"Im able to get away with saying things that without a character are not politically correct, but when you put a clown nose on you can walk a fine line about what you are allowed to say or what you can get away with."
Using puppetry, mask, physical theatre and music, Olafson may be a minimalist when it comes to props, but she is brimming with action, all of which is done in the confines of a trashcan.
"I tried to incorporate all the things that I have learned into my one 50-minute show. I have all the things I need for the show in the garbage can. Its very crowded," she says.
But no matter how crowded the trashcan gets, Josie proves that life may be tough, but sometimes playing the ukulele helps. (PM)
File this one under Safe Bets. P.S. 69 was a hit when it debuted in New York in 2000, and since then its travelled everywhere from Edinburgh to Maui to the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
Susan Jeremy plays 24 different characters in a New York City public school, and she slips from harassed teachers to anxious parents to hip-hopping fourth-graders with a ventriloquists ease. (Her rendition of a hilariously hopeless stripper is, by all accounts, a particular highlight just what are they teaching those inner-city kids?) The plays focal point is a character named Molly DeKowski, an uncertain young woman who wants to be a teacher. The whole thing was inspired by Jeremys own experiences as a sub in New Yorks notoriously underfunded school system (P.S. 69 is, in fact, a real place), so you know there will be a sturdy measure of truth behind the madcapping.
Jeremys first Fringe play was the award-winning Was That My 15 Minutes?, the story of her father, Frankie Lawrence, who taught America to mambo on The Fred Waring Show in the 1950s. With P.S. 69, Susan Jeremy might just have become reigning comedic queen of the Fringe. (ML)
AFTER HOURS WITH THE MOOSE
The last few years have been a bit unsettling for Loose Moose Theatre. In 2001 and 2002, it helped stage the previous Fringes in Inglewood, but soon after, it lost both the Gary and the New Dance Theatres as performance spaces. While the company was able to obtain temporary venues for weekly shows (Micetro Improv and Gorilla Theatre) it wasnt until this past November that a permanent theatre space was secured at the Crossroads Market. Artistic Director Dennis Cahill says Loose Moosers are "thrilled to be part of the 2006 Fringe" with its new improv spectacular After Hours with the Moose.
For the improv theatre novice, think of it as a new show every night with different characters, scenes and situations. Nothing is planned performers fail or succeed onstage by their wits and at the whim of the audience. While there will be three or four Loose Moose regulars on stage for each show (including Cahill), thats the only constant. To ramp up the element of surprise, Loose Moose is even open to inviting improv performers from other Fringe shows onstage.
Cahill says while there is "nothing planned in advance, improvisers can work together. They speak a similar language." Unlike their regular shows, its an open format where anything goes. Fringe goers can expect to "enjoy the experience of spontaneity," says Cahill. "Weve tried to make it like a party atmosphere." With the successes both the Moose and the Fringe have to celebrate this year, heres hoping that each performance has an audience there to party and play right along. (EK)
JIHAD ME AT HELLO
Obscene But Not Heard
The twisted minds that brought you Cirque Du So Lame and Fahrenheit 7-11 are back with possibly their most irreverent show yet. Obscene But Not Heard usually centres each show around a theme. This time, as OBNHs Peter Rumpel puts it, Jihad me at Hello will "take a big bat to all religions." For example, he speculates Catholics might have a problem with their re-imagination of the founding of their church picture the Twelve Apostles becoming upset because the crucifixion was not part of the original marketing plan.
Given the comedy background the four guys (and guest Nicole Zylstra) have, thats the least to expect: Hitler returns in Hells waiting room at that, waiting
and waiting. Rumpel says that "if people are uptight about anything, were gonna irritate them."
However, while religion is the focus, there will be other weirdness. If a published book of sausage recipes which was written in a novel format wasnt in itself strange enough, then read it in Christopher Walkens voice. Political correctness gets skewered with the PC-inappropriate Weather Guy ("40 per cent chance of gayness. Toronto who gives a fuck, and the Maritimes will be poor, stupid and dirty as usual").
Finally, beyond the sketches, Jihad me at Hello is a Calgary Fringe exclusive. While the troupe has done the Fringe circuit in years previous, you wont see this show in any other city. With OBNHs past hits both in Calgary and on tour, expect Jihad to be one of the more popular shows of this years Fringe. (EK)
DRINKING IN AMERICA
Fong Shui Productions
When David Trimble last took centre stage as the 12 characters of Eric Bogosians Drinking in America, he took away a Betty Mitchell Award for his performance and a Critics Pick at the Montreal Fringe. Eighty minutes of movement and character-swapping dialogue, all of it leaving both performer and audience breathless its hard to believe that this was Trimbles first one man show.
First produced in 1986, Drinking in America launched Bogosian onto Broadway with its dark satire, addressing American life through 12 characters serving as filters for the same vile liquid.
"It is a piece about Americans, but it transcends because it really is a comment on humanity," says Trimble. "And the fact that its 20 years old makes it stronger in 20 years, nothing has changed. Whether its invading Iraq, getting lost in a stream of alcohol abuse, or striving to keep up with the Joneses."
Certainly, Drinking in America proves that alcohol isnt necessarily required for the pedestrian failings of the excessive American life. Women, drugs, money and power are all fair game in a lifestyle that exalts consumption. Even religion, in its self-righteous condemnation of all things excessive, features in.
"It builds and it explodes," says Trimble of the shows tempo, that the New York Times Frank Rich described by saying that the show really had "no valleys." Sweat-soaked and dark, this is theatre for consumption, delivered fast and hard. Americana after all. (JK)
JESUS CHRIST: THE LOST YEARS
Religion is a mainstay theme of the Fringe circuit. The Edmonton Fringe, for one, places a pictogram featuring a cross, a Star of David, and an Islamic crescent signifying shows with religious content. But as Monster Theatres Ryan Gladstone points out, as he prepared to mount Jesus Christ: The Lost Years, what people think religious content means in the context of the Fringe isnt always accurate.
"One thing that I found interesting about the icons in the Fringe program is that its a marker for religious content, not a marker for blasphemy," he says. "We just want people to know that it has something to do with religion. We tried to make the show so that we would not offend people, though I dont think we quite succeeded."
Filling in the 18-year gap between his youthful synagogue preaching and his nomadic mission, The Lost Years follows Jesus from the day that he learns his true father is no simple carpenter. Performed by Gladstone and co-creator Katherine Sanders, the production sees the two cycling back and forth between roles, sometimes within the same character, without the aid of props or costumes. While Calgary audiences have already been treated to Monster Theatres unique brand of historically truncated satire, including brief histories like The Canada Show and The Big Rock Show, The Lost Years represents a departure in style, if not in tone. After all, blasphemy or no, theres comic gold in the story of historys most famous son.
"Theres a leper colony, he climbs Mount Everest, goes to the underworld. We take him on quite the adventure," says Gladstone. (JK)
The Fringe Film Festival offers an experience unlike any you may have encountered before.
For one, dont expect to be sequestered inside a silent theatre. Instead, the films are screened inside Melrose Café, where you can watch them on multiple big screen TVs while getting regular food and beverage service.
"The goal is to make it as social as possible," says Fringe Film Festival director and Calgary filmmaker Vern Wutzke. "Its kind of like watching a Flames game."
Rather than ranking production quality or calibre of acting, judges an independent panel of movie buffs as opposed to professional filmmakers looked at criteria such as what the films were about and what messages they were trying to portray.
"After watching the films, they were grouped into relevant themes," says
Wutzke. "Weve got a womens stories theme which includes a film about a pregnant woman with breast cancer who is told she will die if she gives birth to her child and a documentary about a suicidal teen girl. Weve got themes like disturbing subjects, comedies and guys films."
There will be 61 films screened at the festival, all produced after 2004. The shortest is one minute and 55 seconds, while the longest clocks in at two hours.
Entries for the festival poured in from all over the world, from Los Angeles to India, with several filmmakers coming to Calgary with cast and crew to host their production.
These are films that may not ordinarily get a chance to be featured in other film festivals, says Wutzke, whether its because of a genre that may not fit into the mainstream or because theyre competing with the sheer volume of entries.
Each screening includes between 100 to 120 minutes of films, ranging from short to mid and feature length. "Rather than watching six commercials and a feature movie as you would at the theatre, here you could watch six short films followed by the feature," says Wutzke.
"If you want to celebrate film and see whats on peoples minds, come out to the Fringe. These movies address social issues in a way you just dont see anymore." (BB)
According to actor Sara Corrigal, Kairos Divine is about "two people that
are in a battle of wits, almost. They are people that love to lie."
"Its also about how much you can get away with, and how many facades you can bring across when you first meet someone," adds co-star Jed Tomlinson.
Playwright Michaela Jefferys new work, directed by Whitney Huget-Penner, in part becomes about a game between new lovers. Kairos Divine also becomes a dance of deception between compulsive liars that could possibly lead to dangerous circumstances (the actors wont tell). The game for the characters is about what they can and cant get away with showing.
"The scary parts, to me, are when they are telling the truth, whether or not you know they are telling the truth. To me, it feels like thats when it gets heavy," Corrigal says, adding Kairos Divine "has a serious twist which Id rather not divulge.
"It was originally supposed to be Michaela Jefferys first undertaking of a comedy," she adds.
The secret Corrigal keeps can be seen as a metaphor of the secrets the characters shroud from the audience. Here, in the world of Kairos Divine, two people make up stories, thereby fabricating their identities. There is a poetic repetition in Jefferys text that at times makes the story light, at other times chilling.
"We all have stories in our life that have happened in the past, deeper secrets that we dont necessarily divulge to everybody," Tomlinson says. "So I think most people do have those experiences to an extent, how negative or dark depending on the person in the light. What happens in this play is it is a divulging of one of those secrets of someones past."
While at the surface it would seem a simple play two characters, one set, and dialogue the people in this tale create a complex situation of lies and truths, stories and counter-stories.
"I think part of the whole evening which this play is, is about creating a fantasy," Tomlinson says.
"Creating a fantasy or making yourself happy by living what you cant for at least a couple of hours, being the person you never could be," Corrigal adds. (JG)
Watch next issue for more previews. For the full lineup, dates and times, check listings, or visit www.calgaryfringe.ca.