I’m Back, BAY-BEE! (Or; Re-Launching A Flimsy Plan)

Ugh. Really? That’s the title I’m picking for this post? “I’m Back, BAY-BEE”? I mean, I am back, this is a wildly accurate statement, but yikes on bikes! (Yikes on Bikes is also not a great thing for me to write… this is all starting to make me sound like I’m a mom who is not at all cool but thinks they are cool. Sorry, non-existent children.)

Okay, let’s start again.

I’m Back, Blogging Again!

(Using commas wildly since 1986.)

It has been so long that I’m sure some of you are wondering where I’m even back from. Truly, this space has been somewhat abandoned, but I am coming back in hot. Let me first lay out some details about where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, all that good stuff. I’ll wrap it up with some vague promises about what this space will look like moving forward. You know, standard Erin stuff.

I’m Back! – I Started My Master’s Degree

Admissions Letter from my Master of Education program
(Forgive all the white space where I cropped identifying information… out of my Master of Education acceptance letter!)

That’s right, in July of 2019, I took two weeks off from work. This was not for vacation. This was to attend a summer intensive and officially begin my M.Ed in Educational Research, specialization in Adult, Community and Higher Education. (So many words.) It is a distance program, designed to be done while working full-time, and is mostly delivered online via D2L and Zoom. (Yes, I was zooming before it was cool!) It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and I cannot believe that I am already in my third last semester. This year has gone by so quickly and I’ve learned so much.

I’ve also been mentally a little bit destroyed. Lots of reading, lots of writing, lots of discussion and lots of time spent looking at a computer screen to get all of this going. We were meant to have another summer intensive in July of 2020, which would have been such a wonderful break from living behind a computer. Like many things in 2020… that was not to be. Summer was rough. The course content was rigorous, there was a ton to do, and it was also heavy material- full of tough topics, lots of political/societal implications and often not a lot of answers about how to make things better. With the current state of the world layered on top of our course material, I think my entire cohort walked out of those summer discussion boards ready to sleep for a few months.

Not a lot of mental energy leftover to write about theatre and fun things I do in Calgary! But we’re getting into the home stretch now, we’re starting to focus our course work on our research and I’m ready to find a little balance with the rest of my life.

I’m Back – I Have a Baby Niece!

Rylee at the Zoo
(Yes, I got her parents’ permission before posting this super cute picture of Rylee at The Zoo.)

Meet Rylee! Those who have been reading for a long time, or follow me on Instagram, may remember my brother, Bryan, and his partner, Darci. Rylee is their nine month old baby.

Look, dudes, sometimes I just want to hang out with this little baby. (And by “sometimes”, I mean every single Sunday. My siblings and I cook dinner together, play with Rylee and do some gaming). We took her to The Calgary Zoo recently. She really wanted to be on the ground to walk herself. (She cannot walk yet.) Then we put her down and watched her be so annoyed that she was sitting on grass.

This is the baby content you can enjoy these days!

So, what else?

Honestly, I feel like those might be the only two major changes to my life in the past year.

Fair enough! So what’s next?

Look, I know that the world is very different than it was when I last wrote in this space. I know there is a lot of upheaval and many people are in very tough times. Basically, the world is a dumpster fire.

I won’t be writing about that here.

I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy on societal topics. There is a lot of discussing, thinking about and learning about these things in my school and work life. A Flimsy Plan is my outlet for fun and fluff, and I hope that those who are looking for that kind of space will find it here.

So get ready for discussion of what theatre companies are doing to make art right now! For needless life challenges (and maybe a few very good ones)! For way too many positive book reviews!

Thanks for coming back, everyone, I’m glad to have you.

Rambling Reflection on 2018

Erin laying on a bed, engaged in reflection

On this day, this day just following one of the most reflective and challenging Yin yoga classes I’ve ever taken, and the last day of 2018, indulge me in a little bit of reflection. Let’s talk about how this year has gone by so quickly, as years seem to the older I get, but also how this single year feels like it has taken ten years to pass. Last January feels like eons ago.

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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 of Verona 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

Wait Until Dark – Vertigo Theatre

Vertigo Theatre - Wait Until Dark poster

(As always, poster image stolen directly from the Vertigo website. The volunteer ushers were super engaged last night and warning people about using their cameras in the theatre. And then I knocked my program onto the floor and it was almost gone forever – like, literally, a man almost stole it from the floor until my mom swiftly said “oohhh, thank you so much for picking that up, she knocked it on the floor!” so he stole someone else’s instead – and that was just way too much program-ness.)

Guys, I’m having all the anxiety about not blogging. The problem is, lately I haven’t really been doing anything new and fun. I pretty much exclusively go to Cibo or Earls during Happy Hour if I’m going to read a book and drink wine. I go to barre or yoga classes (I’m actually doing a challenge at Junction 9 right now and it’s taking up a lot of my time). I write a play with my friends. It’s a busy and fun life that I have, but it’s pretty repetitive.

So, I’ll work on changing that up for you, dear readers. And in the mean time? I have a play review!

Last night, I hit up the Opening Night of Vertigo Theatre’s Wait Until Dark. Those of you who have read my blog before will know that I can be a bit bratty when it comes to dealing with bozos, so you can probably guess that I love opening nights. Minimal bozos, just lots of members of the theatre community and theatre enthusiasts! (Also, there is usually food after the show. Last night I got to eat a soft pretzel and a shooter glass of Village Ice Cream’s Salted Caramel ice cream. It was awesome.)

I’ll start by being honest and admitting that I always get I’ll Be Back Before MidnightWait Until Dark and Gaslight confused. Which is actually kind of nice, because even though I’ve seen all these plays before, I never remember which plot elements belong to which show and it’s always like seeing a whole new show. Woo hoo! For the record, Wait Until Dark was adapted into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn and involves a blind girl and the criminals who try to take advantage of her after luring her husband out of their shared apartment.

I feel like my description of the show is super creepy – and the show is super creepy, in an environment-setting, suspense-building, slow burn kind of way. The play was written fifty years ago but it really does feel like a modern thriller. So, I think I’ve alluded to the fact that this play is produced fairly often and that begs the question – why see this production?

1) This is a new adaptation! So cool! I actually didn’t realize this until I was reading the program last night – because my reading comprehension is good, I guess? And I didn’t notice the words “adapted by” in anything I read earlier? Anyway, Jeffrey Hatcher wrote this adaptation, transferring the era from the 60s to 1944 and adding a few other twists and turns along the way. Pretty cool for any viewers who feel like they aren’t interested in seeing a story they’ve already seen – and the era change absolutely works. Admittedly, I get this plot confused with other plays so I may not be representative of a truly educated viewer, but for myself, at least, I wouldn’t have thought that the show didn’t originally take place in the 40s if I hadn’t read it.

2) This is the most Calgary show that ever Calgaried and it makes me so happy. Simon Mallet did his MFA at U of C right around the time that I did my BFA and he has put together a team of Calgary-based talent – people I know and love, including one of my former campers from the Pumphouse DDC in her professional theatre debut! I’m just so proud of this entire team and it warms my heart. (Yes, I’m even proud of the people I only know because I’ve seen them in lots of shows. Shut up. I feel like I know them. It counts.)

… I’m sorry I told you to shut up.

3) Anna Cummer is so wonderful as Susan. She really has to carry the show and she’s so sassy and spunky and wonderful. I spent the entire show rooting for her and knowing she could put it together and save herself… even when she wasn’t quite there yet. I can see how there might be a tendency to play this role as overly weak or tragic but it doesn’t go there at all. She is such a wonderful heroine.

It’s a strong showing from Vertigo Theatre. The show runs until February 19th and tickets can be purchased by visiting their website or calling (403) 221 3708. Do it, yo!

BOOM – Theatre Calgary

boom-final-rgb

(Note: This image comes directly from the Theatre Calgary website, as a girl can only take so many pictures in the semi-darkness of her wine and program in her theatre box before it gets weird and her readers get tired of looking at it.)

Much like Theatre Calgary’s first offering of the season, BOOM crazy surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I did a little reading on the TC website, as well as a little exploration of Rick Miller’s Official Boom website prior to seeing the show and I just felt like I couldn’t get a grasp on the show. The description made me think of a theme park variety show and, to my mind, did not do it justice.

Of course, I was wrong. Why do I even try to read about shows beforehand? The reason I love theatre is because it hits you in a visceral way, touching something inside you, that is hard to put into words so why do I expect copy written for a website to communicate that?

BOOM is a tapestry, not a variety show. It is a mixture of the sweeping world history between 1945 to 1969 and the personal stories of important baby boomers in the playwright/actor’s life. It is a collection of music, stories, imitations, news clips, advertisements, cultural touchstones. I personally don’t truly have a baby boomer in my life – my mom was born in 1961 so she didn’t remember any of the events referenced in the show, but my grandparents were already well grownup and established by 1945 – but I do love history and I was able to give myself over to the three characters that were growing up over the twenty years the show covers.

I don’t know that I can truly put into words what seeing BOOM is like any better than the Theatre Calgary website can – the show is running until October 29th, though, and tickets are available on at Theatre Calgary. I highly recommend seeing this one for yourself, I can guarantee it is like no other show you’ll see at Theatre Calgary this year. When picking your seats, I would pick ones in the centre section of the theatre (even in balconies) rather than any of the side boxes – though I loved being away from the riff-raff, I felt like I missed the full experience of some of BOOM’s projections from my angle.

Disclaimer: I know it sounds like I love every show I see. This is not the case… I just prefer to write about the shows that I love so that I can get other people to see them which thus gives me someone to talk to about them. I’m really terrifically selfish in that way.

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.