Two Gentlemen of Verona – Theatre Thursday


(“Two Gentlemen of Verona” Poster Image, as always, lovingly stolen from Theatre Calgary. Their site is always adding more incredible, informative material about their shows, please take the time to explore it.)

First off: I probably should have written about this show a month again. Actually, if I were really good at my job, I would have seen the show early in it’s run and written an actual review to actually encourage my readers to go see it. But long-time readers know that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here for ruminating on things for far too long and then vomiting my thoughts about important theatre onto this blog. And today? The #importanttheatre that I’m talking about is #ShakesBow‘s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

What’s #ShakesBow?

Shakespeare by the Bow is our forever evolving summer outdoor Shakespeare theatre in Calgary, Alberta. It’s varied in format over the years – sometimes two shows running in currently, sometimes just one… sometimes allowing experienced actors to work with those of all levels, sometimes emerging artists being allowed to tackle amazing roles. They have partnered with different theatre organizations in town and recently rebranded from “Shakespeare in the Park” with their most recent partnership with Theatre Calgary. ShakesBow has even experienced variety in its performance spaces when flooding in 2005 and 2013 damaged their usual space at Prince’s Island Park. (Note: this is an incredibly vague and non-detailed history. Don’t come at me.)

However, one thing that has remained consistent over the years is that ShakesBow offers donation-based, accessible classical theatre. It is Shakespeare to help people who maybe only ever read Shakespeare in high school – if that – “get it”. It is equal parts fun and touching. Above all else, it is completely understandable. (Note: Again, don’t at me. Anyone can understand Shakespeare when it is done well and ShakesBow does it.)

So, what makes Two Gentlemen important?

Aha! Great question! After all, why am I writing about this show over a month after it closed?

I don’t love Two Gents. Part of it may be that I saw an insane musical adaptation of it almost a decade ago. (Seriously. It was over the top. I thought I had an old livejournal review of it somewhere, but I couldn’t find it and also I don’t want anyone reading my old livejournal from a decade ago.)

A bigger part of it is that I don’t love watching Julia, who is spunky and fun and takes action, chasing around Proteus who immediately falls in love with his best friend’s girl. I don’t love that Proteus and Valentine are big ol’ dummies and Valentine volunteers to “give” his girl to Proteus. I know, I know, it’s a different time and potentially Shakespeare’s first play but I’m still allowed to not love it.

Unless…?

Unless. (tm. McElroy brothers)

ShakesBow does the play. And doesn’t actually change the dialogue, but completely reclaimed the play for the women. With a look, blocking and a very specific song choice, our heroines realize the boys are bozos and truly become heroines.

You guys. It was so good.

I love Shakespeare.

Bonding in Musicals – Theatre Thursday

wicked

Here’s a fun picture of the time I did Popular for a talent show thing in high school. In my defense, it was 2003-2004 and incredibly timely and not overdone at that point. Musicals!

I feel like sometimes when I write about theatre topics (especially some of the more serious ones like fear in theatre or auditioning for shows), the most important thing about why we do theatre doesn’t come across. Creating something is fun. It’s scary and exhausting and hard work, but it’s also fun. I find theatre especially remarkable because it is a collaborative creative experience, when so much creation is very solitary. Recently, someone commented to me they enjoyed doing musicals more than straight plays because they found that the cast bonded better during musicals.

Well, huh. That stopped me in my tracks. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a musical – I love them, but this girl does not sing, like to the point that when I have auditions that require singing, I sing Sing from A Chorus Line… wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, it’s been a long time since I did a musical but, in my experience, that actually is a pretty true statement. But why?

Is it because the rehearsal period for a musical is typically longer? (There’s so much more to learn – not just lines, blocking and motivations but choreography and songs as well!?)

Is it because choreography so often leads to touching each other? (Okay, that sounds creepy… I just mean that you need to get comfortable with each other pretty quickly because trust is important and… okay, you get it. I think.)

You know, I actually do think it has to do with the choreography and the songs. Not the touching or the time it takes, but the process of learning something together. Theatre is so collaborative but when you really think about it – only the actor learning the lines actually learns those lines. You can run your lines with your co-stars, they can help you, but at the end of the day it’s all on you. The way that we learn the things that are specific to musicals – song and dance? Those things happen together and they can’t be performed without each other.

But damn, what is out there for those of us who sing Buffy the Vampire Slayer songs because Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a singer either and they wrote the songs for her?

I’ve figured it out. Collective creation. Write a play together. Completely create something from the ground up. This is what my theatre company does and it’s amazing.

We may have a little project in store for the 2018-2019 theatre season and I’ll track the journey here. Watch this space.

Fear In Theatre – Theatre Thursday

First Theatre Thursday of 2018, ya’ll, and I’m treading onto some probably already well tread ground… fear. And Theatre.

You Mean Stage Fright?

Now, I don’t mean stage fright – I think most peoples’ minds immediately pop to stage fright when they think of acting, but it’s a totally different fear. “Oh my gosh, I could never do that, I’m so afraid to talk in front of groups!” you say. I hear it all the time.

Like a jerk (or like most actors), I’ve never suffered from that fear, though. At my day job, I take literally any opportunity to talk to the class… you need someone to give exam instructions? I’m your girl. And I’ll probably think I’m hilarious while doing it. That being said, I’m not going to pretend that I’m not nervous before I go on stage. Of course I am, even when I feel confident – I want to do a good job and I think when you stop feeling a little bit nervous about a big project, that’s when you stop caring about what you do.

Acting In a Play Isn’t Like Delivering an Exam Spiel Though, Is It?

You’re right, it’s not. I free-style my exam instructions like crazy, when I’m in a play we spent approximately 1-2 hours rehearsing for every minute that takes place on stage. Combine that with a lack of fear of public speaking, and you get nerves, but not fear… because all the big risks happened during rehearsal!

For instance, I’m in a show right now. (When am I ever not in a show, am I right?) Tonight was the first night that I put my script down and delivered my lines completely from memory. My script is my security blanket, I will hold it until the last possible second even if I’m not actually reading from the book in my hand. It’s a real crutch.

So, tonight I put the book down. And it was terrifying. I was anxious all day. Even though there was a support system – our stage manager had the script in front of her and I could say the word “Line” at any time, at which time she would tell me what line I had forgotten – I still didn’t want to do poorly. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of my well prepared colleagues who didn’t make the mistakes I made.

Obviously, I love to overthink things.

But I took the risk, I swallowed the fear and I did it. And it was fine.

So, What DO You Mean By Fear?

I may have tipped my hand by talking about taking risks in the previous section… but the fear in theatre is wrapped up in the vulnerability actors need to experience to be successful in theatre.

When you see an actor sobbing, screaming or laughing on stage, they truly go somewhere inside themselves that allows them to experience that emotion.

When you see a ridiculous piece of physical humour, the actor had to test out that physicality in rehearsal. They had to try something out, make a big offer and know that maybe this huge thing they were trying wouldn’t work. The thought might have crossed their mind that if it didn’t work, they would be embarrassed – or something deeper – in front of their colleagues.

No wonder actors drink right? J/k, j/k. (Maybe not j/k…)

In a good rehearsal hall, you take the risk. You make the big offer and if it doesn’t work, you make another big offer and keep trying until something works. It doesn’t matter because you know your colleagues are right there with you – you will just all keep working together to make the show amazing.

I’ve been lucky enough to always be in good rehearsal halls.

Ophelia in Shakespeare's Heroines

I’m In a Play – Secondary Cause of Death – Theatre Thursday

secondary cause
(Caption: This is the face of a girl who slept for four hours during the daytime on Tuesday because she was sent home from work, and went on to kill it at the theatre that night. This is the magic that theatre does.)

I’m in a play!

Let me be real here – this is not a review for the play that I am in. Mostly because I think the show is pretty great but it is nigh impossible to be objective about a play that you are in. This also isn’t really an advertisement or promotion for the show that I’m in – I’ve been doing a ton of that on social media, even including a “tech week selfie” game with Claire since we always seem to manage to be in tech week at the same time. So, what is this? I guess it’s really more of an ode.

I can’t remember the last time I was so thrilled to be in a play – maybe when I did Scorpio Theatre’s world premiere of Blood of the Red Queen, had a role rewritten for me and knew that I was a part of something that was going to just take off? I don’t know… I’m always pleased to be in a play and I always love it (otherwise I wouldn’t do it), but this time I’m just thrilled.

Part of it may be that I was asked to step into this show to fill a role once they lost an actress after rehearsals began – I hadn’t met the director before so I did do a bit of an audition, though nothing like the ones I’ve written about before – and it’s always nice to be needed/wanted.

Another part of it may be that I’m really getting to stretch myself as an actress. I am playing the type of role that I often get cast in (lovely and graceful) but the process hasn’t been “easy” by any means, and I appreciate that. I swing towards bubbly when I act and I’m playing a character who is on the older end of my age range so there is absolutely no room for bubbly. The show also takes place in England in 1939 (and is very British murder mystery in feel) so accents are imperative. I went to U of C, I haven’t learned accents! But I can do one now…

I think the biggest part of it, though, is that I just feel like such a part of things doing this show. I am a shy person by nature (which people always seem to mistake for my being a bit of a bitch and not just rampantly socially awkward) but everyone in this show has just made such an effort to make me not feel like the “new girl” since Day One. There is a camaraderie in the dressing room that I haven’t actually felt since university (other than during Full Circle Theatre shows, but that’s really just me gathering my friends together and going “let’s make a play!”) and I love it, even when I just sit quietly and listen to everyone else. I absolutely trust every person on that stage to pick me up and save me if I forget a line. (Oh gosh, that better not happen… knock on wood!)

I’m in a play. And even though I am going on vacation the day after it closes, I’m going to miss it when it’s done.

If you would like to see the play that has inspired such gushing from me (and hear my sparkling dulcet tones), Simply Theatre’s “Secondary Cause of Death” runs until October 1 and tickets can be purchased by calling 587-575-656 or by visiting http://www.simplytheatre.ca Come see it. It’s worth it. (This is not a promotion, I’m just happy.)

Fluffy Theatre – Theatre Thursday

Beach Hat
Guys, I get to go to the beach tomorrow. I’m so excited! I love nothing more than reading a light girl-gets-the-guy book in the sun with a cool drink and maybe a giant hat. Beaches are few and far between in Calgary, though, unless you live in a lake community. (Which my parents actually do, but that means hitting up the beach involves convincing one of my parents to go with me, which is just so uncool.) So that means, even though this is one of my favourite things, I haven’t actually gotten a solid beach day since my trip to Cabo in February 2015. I’m so out of the loop!

Speaking of which, anyone have any suggestions for some good light beach reads? I spent a couple of days earlier this week delving into my Meg Cabot collection, but, unsurprisingly, it’s not going to hold up to a second read within a week so I need something new to borrow from the library (aka: download to my e-reader).

My search for some beach reads got me thinking about theatre, though. Mostly about “fluffy” or “light” theatre. I know I’m not the only girl who is perfectly able to accept some fluff in her literature – as long as the storyline isn’t problematic and the heroine exhibits an appropriate level of unique perspective, we don’t mind if we know from page 32 that she is going to end up with that Or even with tv… we always knew that Mindy and Danny would eventually end up dating, the question was how?

So why don’t we accept the same lightness in our theatre these days?

I feel like we are always asking for a story to be special, for it to be something that needs to be told because no one else has ever told this story before and now it can change the world if the right person hears it. Which is absolutely true of some theatre, some movies, some tv shows and some books. But sometimes you just want a pretty, spunky heroine who has the exact life you always wish you had in your dreams. Or you want the mismatched set of friends who are just like your group of friends only with slightly better references. We accept this in all our media, why not theatre?

My brother once wrote what was essentially a buddy comedy, taking place in a crappy apartment with an eccentric cast of characters including neighbours, a handyman and a landlord. It had a cute little plot, but was essentially a sketch comedy just intended to make you laugh for an hour or two and forget your life. We took a reading of this show to a festival and were just lambasted by a newsboy-cap wearing, muttonchop having, pretentious audience member who couldn’t understand why we chose to make such a thing a play and demanded that Kevin rewrite it so it could be a black commentary on sitcom tropes.

Why couldn’t it be pure entertainment?

I once took a group of girlfriends to see Neil Labute’s Reasons to be Happy and after the play they said to me “Wow, I didn’t know that plays could be like that! They were real people, like us!” I mean, Reasons to be Happy isn’t exactly fluff, but I still think that means there is an untapped market in the theatre community. We want it to be for everyone, let’s make it for everyone!

Which is why my girlfriends and I are working to create a play that takes place in a ladies’ washroom at a club. It’s going to be awesome.

Post-Show Blues – Theatre Thursday

post-show blues

For this week’s Theatre Thursday, I’m addressing what should be a crazy topical post, considering I closed a show less than a month ago. The Post-Show Blues… what they are, how to combat them, whether you even should… (Btw, I was just doing a little casual googling about this topic and apparently the Post-Show Blues are a thing in the fitness world too. It makes sense, but… who knew?!)

I’ve actually been putting off writing this post for a few weeks, because I’ve been waiting for the blues to hit. After all, I was just a large role in a super-fun show where I got to fight with a super close friend… shouldn’t I be singing the blues? But I’m not, and at this point I don’t think I’m going to. I’m cool with it, and I’m starting to think that maybe you don’t get them as much with age and experience, but I’ll chat about that below.

What Are They?
Honestly, the term “Post-Show Blues” is pretty self-explanatory, I think, but I’ll dig into it anyway. The Post-Show Blues are the malaise that you hold after your show closes, the general doldrums, the feeling of missing every beautiful and difficult moment of working on the show and all the beautiful and difficult people you did it with. The sense that your real life isn’t nearly as exciting as the rush of the stage, the lights and the audience.

High school kids feel the Post-Show Blues really intensely – in part because they feel everything really intensely, in part because the amount of shows they can do are so limited. Most teenagers can only do the shows at their school, which rehearse for a longer time period than the typical community or professional theatre, and there are only so many shows at a high school.

I know I really felt the blues while at university too, again because I was so young and because there were only so many options for shows I could be in. Now, there are so many different shows I can audition for (I mean, I get to be picky about what I audition for!) and there is always a new opportunity on the horizon. Yes, I will never do that one show I just closed again, in the same way, but like I wrote in Monday’s post, I’m beginning to accept that “nothing will be never-ending”. Every experience is fleeting so I have to accept them for what they are.

How Can I Combat Them?
Personally, I think I may have beaten my Post-Show Blues for good by accepting that experiences are beautiful, fleeting and there are always new ones around the corner (to quote myself, naturally).

So that’s a great thing to keep in mind – you can always do another show and it will be just as fun in a totally different way.

I also was running on so much adrenaline during my show, I was doing so many things in addition to the play, that when I was done I was just so ready to relax, visit with friends and kick back with the newest season of Orange is the New Black. My liver, pocketbook and sodium levels were also ready for a bit of a break. When the show is over, luxuriate in your free time and treat yo’self a little, yo.

My friend, Megan, who played the lead in the show I just closed, went straight from our show to writing and acting in her own play. I doubt she’s had any time to feel any blues yet either, though I’m sure she’s about due for a big ol’ crash once her current show closes… so I don’t know if that’s the best of solutions but it certainly is a solution.

Should I Combat the Post-Show Blues?
There’s always the opposite option too – lean into your emotions and really feel them. I once was speaking to one of my friends from the barre studio and she told me that the grieving process was like facing down a wave. You can run straight-on into a wave but it’ll drag you down and thrash you around. The other option is to dive into a wave, dive right under it, and you’ll emerge on the other side… a little wet but none the worse for wear.

Or maybe you could just write a blog post addressing them, just like I had planned to do. That works too!

Do you get the Post-Show Blues? Let me know in the comments section!

Sherlock Holmes – Theatre… Tuesday…?

Two Thursdays ago my mom, Bryan and I went to see the opening night of Vertigo Theatre’s season closer Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily. Normally this would be a weird time to write about it – the show is still on but it would only have a week to go so it may be hard to get out to see it. However, this show has actually been so well received (it just won a Critter award!) that it has been extended until June 18 (which incidentally is also the day my show closes…)

Sherlock-Holmes
Program Image belongs to Vertigo Theatre

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily was a bit of a revelation to me. I’ve seen the team of Haysam Kadri and Karl Sine play Holmes and Watson before, and I’ve seen Haysam in a variety of roles over the last nine or so years… but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Haysam be quite so funny. He – and the entire cast, really – was obviously having a blast onstage, and the enjoyment is infectious.

If Sherlock Holmes isn’t necessarily your jam, you still may love this show because it is peppered with real historical Victorian London references and characters. Paul Welch’s Oscar Wilde looks astonishingly like the real deal and lights up the stage with his witticisms. The script tends to stick to Wilde’s more popular works for its referential humour so even casual fans will be “in on the joke”.

I can’t imagine that I’m in the minority when I say that I love clever humour that throws around cultural references. This past month of theatre in Calgary has absolutely fed into this love and I hope that it is a trend that will stick around for awhile.

And if you’re on the fence about Holmes at all, let me just say… I was offered a ticket to see it again last Friday and I deeply considered it. I decided not to take it though so someone who hadn’t seen the show could have the opportunity. Soooo…

(Please note: This show did just win a Critter award for Best Direction of a Play so that may increase interest in seeing it. You can get tickets by visiting the Vertigo Theatre website.)

(Double please note: I know today is Tuesday… Thursday is the day before my show opens and if I thought I was stressed before… At least Tuesday still alliterates, guys!)

How Do I Get Into Plays? (Auditions) – Theatre Thursday

Today, I really feel like a super grown-up. My house was built in 1990, which is not old at all though it is older than my roommate for the summer, but the fixtures in the bathroom are original and the water is super hard in Calgary. So there’s a lot of calcium build up in the tub. So as I type this blog post up, I’m doing a CLR soak in the tub, on the shower head and on the faucet. Not a thrilling thing at all, but apparently I am one of those annoying people who wants backpats any time I do anything remotely grownup. (But, guys? CLR works SO WELL. Like, so well. Like my stuff almost looks brand new. I’m impressed.)

Anyway, while my really thrilling cleaning progresses upstairs, it’s time to dash out another Theatre Thursday post on another incredibly common question – “Well, how do you even get into plays?” This question, I think, is usually followed either secretly or actually outloud by “Because I think I would like to do plays!” The follow up comment is super easy to respond to – yes, you would like to do plays, they are real fun and we always want more people involved – so we’ll focus on the original question.

script

Auditions
Generally speaking, you get cast in plays by auditioning for them. Think of an audition as a job interview – you have to make the people in charge of making the decisions (usually the director, sometimes there is a producer or artistic director of a theatre company involved) want to work with you and show them that you can do what they need. Yes, even big stars have to audition to prove that they are the right person for a role… especially if they want to play something that is outside of their usual types of roles.

Auditions are all about making a good impression and standing out. There is an old, possibly apocryphal, story that floats around the theatre community about a young, unknown Barbra Streisand coming in for an audition while chewing a huge wad of gum. As the story goes, she came into the studio, stuck the gum under her chair and proceeded to nail the song… and when the director got up to remove the gum from the chair, there was no gum there. It was acting all along!

What Happens at Auditions?
Auditions fall into two basic types – a general audition and a show specific audition.

Theatre companies may choose to hold what they call “general” auditions which allows actors to audition for an entire season’s worth of shows at one time. General auditions usually take place in the spring, just after a company has released their upcoming season, and are attended by a company’s Artistic Director so they may make recommendations to the individual directors of each show moving forward. Sometimes an actor might be cast directly from a general but most often, they will be asked to come to a second audition (a “callback”) for a specific show and character. At a general audition, an actor wants to show off both their best work and a range of emotions – they may do two contrasting monologues, a monologue and a song or just one killer monologue depending on what the company requests. This is often how professional companies run their auditions.

Individual directors may also choose to hold independent auditions for their specific show – many indie/community theatre companies exclusively work with this model of auditions since their directors are like contractors who are not directly affiliated with the company. Show specific auditions can take a range of different forms.

The director may ask the actors to prepare a monologue or two, just like for a general audition, though they may request that the monologues reflect the feeling of the show. Actors also may choose their monologues very specifically to reflect a specific character and subconsciously – or very consciously – put themselves in the director’s mind for that role.

Alternatively, a director might ask their actors to prepare short scenes from the actual show, known as “sides”, so they can actually see them in the world of the play. The actor may be given the sides ahead of time, or they may be handed the side in the audition in what is known as a “cold read”. The actor may read a scene with the director/stage manager/someone behind the audition table or they may read the scene with another actor who is onstage with them and also auditioning for the play. They may just read the scene once or the director may give them something else to keep in mind when reading the scene again or they may even read the same scene a bunch of different times with a bunch of different actors reading opposite them.

An audition may even look like a combo of all of the above, where an actor does an initial audition with a monologue and then comes back for a callback to read sides for the character(s) that the director saw them as after the first audition!

My CLR needs to be rinsed off and I realize that I could talk about auditions for pages and pages so I think I will leave it there for today… And save more rambles for more Theatre Thursdays.

What Type of Theatre Do I Do? – Theatre Thursday

This is probably the second most common question I get asked, usually right after I say that I don’t do film, just theatre. (Note: I probably would do film, given the opportunity, but theatre has always been my focus. In part because I love to do the entire journey in one go, in part because I love the energy exchange that comes with having the audience right there with you while you do the work.) I suspect that what most people are asking, even if they can’t put words to it, is “Do you do musicals, Shakespeare plays or just plays?” I usually try to break it down a little more than that, without getting too ramble-ly because, really, who wants to get lectured by someone they just met? But lemme break it down for you.

Shakespeare
The Midsummer Night's Dream
I do love Shakespeare. There is something so freeing about telling big stories and feeling big emotions in a way that never seems appropriate to do in “real life”. I mean, how often do you actually get to keen in your day-to-day? How often do you get to make pithy sexual remarks or craft oddly specific insults or choose the perfect Classical reference to describe exactly how screwed over you are? It’s like a puzzle, finding all the nuance and allusions in Shakespeare’s lines and then figuring out exactly how to communicate that to a modern audience who isn’t sitting in the audience with a dictionary and a mythology reference book.

It is important to remember, though, that Shakespeare isn’t the only classical playwright in the world and there are other plays out there that are just as bombastic, descriptive and stirring. Classical Greek playwrights like Sophocles and Aristophanes wrote comedies and tragedies about great women and men in Greek “history” who met their fate in spectacular ways – Oedipus gouging out his eyes after discovering he had murdered his father and slept with his mother, anyone? You could also take in a tragedy written by Christopher Marlowe – one of Shakespeare’s rivals who was largely considered the greatest tragedian of their time and is rumoured to have actually written Shakespeare’s plays. Or you could read a George Bernard Shaw play and luxuriate in his descriptive stage directions. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there.

Contemporary Theatre
What Pushes Are We Wenches Driven To?
On the flip side, I have a real soft spot for theatre that’s been written in the past 20-or-so years. I saw Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things when I was 16 years old and it just blew my mind that theatre could be like this. It was raw, it was immediately accessible… the lines were simple but there was so much underneath them. Like good tv, good contemporary theatre is like your life but elevated. Only the good parts are picked out. There are absolutely still epic, sprawling plays being written (and Classical works are being adapted all the time) but, as my current director put it at rehearsal last night, there is an ever growing trend in theatre of plays being written like movies – all smash cuts from one scene to the next and real life playing out right in front of your eyes. The air in the theatre is electric during the climactic scene.

Good contemporary theatre makes me feel the way every 14 year old theatre kid feels when they discover Rent for the first time.

By the way, The Shape of Things is also a film starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz – people tend to either love the show or think it is terribly overrated, so watch it and decide for yourself.

Collective Creation
Shakespeare's Heroines
Collective creation – a bunch of theatre artists get together with some sort of inspiration (A vague concept? A piece of literature? A striking photograph?) and write, move and brainstorm to create a show together. There could be a cohesive storyline or it could be a serious of snapshotted moments. There could be music, dance, improvisation, projections, it could even tour through different locations. A collective creation can look like anything the creative team imagines it to look like… that’s the beauty of theatre.

My theatre company does a ton of collective creation work. I know so many beautiful, talented women, and we can never find a pre-existing show with enough good roles for ladies that speaks to us the way we want it to. So we make our own plays. Maybe they aren’t always as polished or good as The Shape of Things or A Midsummer Night’s Dream but they are ours. They are honest, they are raw, and they are genuine. And they are always getting better.

So. As always, this is not a comprehensive list, it is wildly personal, but that’s the type of theatre I do. If you ask me in person, I’ll try to give you the short version. If you ask me on the internet, I may just refer you to this blog post…

What types of theatre do you love the most? What do you wish you could see done more?

Yep, I’m an Actor – Theatre Thursday

You know when you have to introduce yourself to new people and find a clever way to sum yourself up so they understand what you’re all about? No? Just me? There’s a very real tendency when we meet someone new to immediately ask “What do you do?” as if that defines them as a person. And I know for some people it does – some people have jobs that they’ve been working towards for their entire lives or where they do something they absolutely love. But I know that for myself, even though I love my day job, it gives very little insight into who I am or what I love… there are so many different personalities and types of people who work my position.

So? When people ask, I generally tell them that I am an actor. (Or occasionally a theatre artist, but you’ve really got to read the room on that one because it can sound a little snooty-patooty if you don’t nail the tone.) Being an actor is such a part of my identity and knowing that I am going to keep theatre in my life even while everything else fluctuates and changes has been such a touchstone for me. However, I struggle with this because 9 times out of 10, people don’t actually know what being an actor is all about and they immediately jump to questions that they mean to show genuine interest like “Oh, what movies have I seen you in lately?” But if I don’t identify as an actor, I find that people don’t appreciate how big a part of my life acting is and how much it defines me… I once had an ex-boyfriend say to one of his friends “Oh no, she’s not actually an actor. She doesn’t do it for a job, it’s just her favourite hobby”. (By the way, ouch. And when you are dating someone who doesn’t get you on a really core level, you should probably get out way earlier than I did.)

Anyway, I know that the “What movies have I seen you in?” question comes from a place of kindness and also from a lack of knowing. Everyone knows Hollywood, not everyone knows about all the other levels of acting that are out there. I figure it’s time to put my fancy education degree to use instead of just complaining when people ask totally logical questions because they just don’t know any better. So, my newest series in “Theatre Thursdays” is going to be a casual exploration of what all is involved in being a non-professional actor in Calgary – at least what’s involved in it for this girl.

What Pushes Are We Wenches Driven To?

I’m going to kick off this whole series by talking about four different shows I’ve seen in 2016 that I can use to demonstrate the different types of theatre companies that make up our diverse and exciting theatre scene in Calgary.

Theatre Calgary – The Little Prince
Little-Prince-poster-17th-Feb
The most recent show I saw at Theatre Calgary was actually Bad Jews, their currently running production, but for fairness to the other companies I want to talk exclusively about shows that are already closed. Little Prince had a huge cast. It had high production values with bikes on stage, a lamplighter performing a “ballet” in a giant wheel and more actors playing roses onstage than you could fill a bouquet with. I don’t know if you remember The Little Prince the book, but it was super weird and this world premiere musical stage adaptation was equally weird. But it was kind of awesome to see Theatre Calgary do something new, even if it didn’t quite land for everyone. (I personally had some difficulty understanding everything that the Little Prince sang in her lyric soprano and the plot was a little thin… but the great thing about theatre is not everyone needs to like everything about everything they see.) Professional theatre companies often have to walk a fine line between putting on shows that will appeal to their subscriber base, shows that will bring in a wider and newer audience and shows that will challenge their team to do something different artistically. Sometimes all these shows come together in one!

Other major professional theatre companies include: Vertigo Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Junction, One Yellow Rabbit

Ground Zero Theatre – The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook
Boy's Own Jedi Handbook Poster
Ground Zero Theatre is actually also a professional theatre company, but it is smaller than those in the first category. The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook is a contemporary script, written by Canadian actor and playwright, Stephen Massicotte and the production starred a small and rampantly talented cast of four actors (most of who played more than one role). The set was minimal but innovative, relying on projections, acting and many neutral but easily transformable boxes to set each scene.

Budgets may be smaller for these smaller, newer professional companies but like we were fond of saying in university “constraints facilitate creativity”. The smaller professional companies also often do not have their own performance spaces, instead renting various spaces around town for their shows. They also may have shorter runs. For example, The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook was performed in the Vertigo Studio Space and only ran over two weekends… the end of the run actually snuck up on me and I ended up seeing the closing “night”, a Sunday matinee. Most of these companies do have their own rehearsal spaces, though.

Other examples of smaller professional theatre companies include: Downstage Theatre, Sage Theatre, Verb Theatre

Simply Theatre – She Kills Monsters
She Kills Monsters Poster
She Kills Monsters was truly community theatre at its best. A group of talented people were brought together and put on a show – some with post-secondary training in theatre, some fresh out of high school, some who just love the stage. There were incredible performances and earnest performances and both shone. There is a stereotype floating around out there that community theatre is a lot like “Waiting for Guffman” or full of wannabes who “couldn’t hack it”… this stereotype could not be more untrue. The people who do community theatre are passionate about what they are doing, work hard and put out some solid productions. Calgary even has its own awards ceremony for community theatre, the CAT Awards.

Oh, and if you follow that link to the Simply Theatre site for “She Kills Monsters”, for set design it says “hehehe… yeah right!!”. That’s not inaccurate… sometimes you run into budget constraints and you have to focus your resources on building a Beholder and some crazy awesome dragon heads. It’s all good.

Other examples of community theatre companies (specifically ones that I’ve worked with) include: Morpheus Theatre, Scorpio Theatre, Workshop Theatre

Theatre Transit – Basically Twins
Basically Twins Poster
There a bit of a nebulous area between community theatre and professional theatre that I’ve been proudly referring to as “Indie” theatre ever since that was the term Scott Roberts used while we held auditions for Full Circle Theatre’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2012. Young and upcoming theatre artists band together to create their own work and opportunities while they work to “make it” professionally. Theatre Transit is a great example of “indie” theatre – Basically Twins was a one-night only improvised show created by sisters and artists Carly and Anyssa McKee and last year they put on the show that put Mindy Kaling on the map, Matt & Ben – rad, right!?

Generally speaking, actors/artists doing indie theatre don’t get paid (though that is always the end goal once the bills get paid) and they do new or little known shows – often collective creations – or they may take a classic script from the public domain and put their own twist on it. It’s a ton of fun. Also, lots of the smaller professional companies in category two started as indie companies so…. You do the math. 😉

Other indie theatre companies include: Chromatic Theatre, Major Matt Mason Collective

A couple notes: This is not a remotely comprehensive list of theatre companies in Calgary, you can check out Theatre Alberta for that. Also, this is a pretty opinion-heavy list and your mileage may vary – you may stick a company that I put in one category in a completely different one. No judgement intended for any of the examples I spoke about, I am just so thrilled that there is so much theatre in the city I live in. I blatantly stole poster images from the official theatre company websites so please do follow the links for more information and to see some awesome upcoming shows. And I pretty much exclusively do shows that fit into the third and fourth category right now, but we’ll talk about that more on a future Theatre Thursdays.