The best kind of political activist is the kind that puppeteers. If you don't believe me, then you haven't heard of Bread and Puppet Theatre. If it wasn't for the company's coming appearance in the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival, I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to gleefully examine their work but, now that I have, I can invite all of you to join me in celebrating founder, Peter Schumann, for his accomplishments in puppetry and performance art.
Schumann was a dancer in Germany before he moved to New York in 1963. It was there that he founded The Bread and Puppet Theatre Company wherein he would conjure political puppetry shows whilst distributing fresh baked bread (Schumann was also a baker) to his audience. The show became a means of creating a political spectacle and the bread became a means of creating community (he was pretty left of center, which kind of scares me but I'm going with it because I like his puppets). Interestingly, Schumann tells this anecdote about the founding of the company:
"In the winter of 1961-62 I met Richard Tyler, uraninan ambassador and super of the tenement in which we lived. Consequently Dick and his team of uranian philansterers became the dancers and musicians of the Dance of Death, performed on the occasion of the anti-nuclear “general strike for peace” at the Living Theater, Judson Church, and at the Putney School in Vermont. These masked chair and rope dances resulted in the Putney School’s denial of my application to teach dance, and prompted me to offer puppetry as an extra-curricular activity instead." (taken from http://breadandpuppet.org)
Indeed, revolt founded the company. Meanwhile, communion continues to comfort its members and audience. Most importantly, dance, music, narrative and puppetry support every mission.
It isn't unusual for performers to begin writing their own work. "I used to act" is ordinarily the start to the candid biography of your average playwright. However, most of us regret our first project: The solo show we were meant to only debut in but later realized that no one else in the world could perform the piece because it is poorly written, ergo we move on to larger writing projects. If we fail (not everyone does but it's almost a right of passage), we do so because we forgot to approach playwriting as a medium-specific craft. Writing for the theatre means writing theatrically. It is therefore necessary to write with more than just the performer in mind, an exercise that newbie solo artists may forget to do. But, some people get it right. VERY right. REWARDINGLY right. One such person is Pamela Mala Sinha.
Hopefully you recognize Sinha from her most recent (2013) performance of Crash, her first piece, which championed a sold-out run at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. If you missed it, you really missed it. Seamless, enchanting and yet horrifying, the piece investigates the post-traumatic stress of a victim of sexual violence. Based on personal experience, the show could have very easily fell into the "this-is-a-monologue-about-my-life-please-listen-while-I-cry-for-an-hour-on-stage" trap, but oh dear me no it absolutely didn't. The imagery and poeticism of the piece keeps it far from flat. This show is a story in full bloom and it requires a fully dedicated company, the attention of everyone working on it, to keep the production on par with the text. It is magic. It is necessarily heartbreaking. It is, simply, good writing. Not to mention, incredibly.
Tonight, Factory Theatre's Wired 14 series is featuring Sinha's newest piece Happy Place, a piece about six women who share their experiences suffering from depression. The piece serves as a companion piece to Crash. For her commitment to writing for women, about mental illness and with as much windy-whimsicality as possible, we appreciate Pamela Mala Sinha as today's playwright of the day.
For information on tonight's reading click here.
We write plays for a love of theatricality.
We write plays because, not only do we love stories, but we love presenting these stories, making our stories visual, giving them movement and sound, life.
We write plays because we believe that stories are physical both for the performer and for the audience.
This week, at the Toronto Festival of Clowns, we've had the opportunity to watch as performers manifest what they are presenting, insisting on a live emotional and physical vibrancy throughout the theatre. Clowns, more than anyone, rely on theatricality to, not only amuse us, but to promise us a connection.
In honour of our week with the clowns, we've chosen Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, founders and creators of Cirque Du Soleil, as today's Playwrights of the Day.
Laliberté and Ste-Croix began as street performers in Bale-Saint-Paul, Quebec. With a fearless commitment to performance, spectacle and (our favourite) theatricality, they began touring Quebec in 1980. Since then, they have redefined circus as a human-driven, character-centric, narratively strong, interconnected whirlwind of generosity. If you honestly don't know what Cirque is, understand that things happen on stage which you never knew could happen to and with the human body. The show overflows with innovation. Cirque Du Soleil defines contemporary circus. Contemporary circus is Cirque Du Soleil. These two invented it and, since invention, they've created over thirty shows together, been awarded countless accolades and, paved a path for acrobats, clowns and storytellers across the globe.
Check out their crazy website for show information and dates.
Until I saw Mark Correia perform, I didn't believe in magic. Not this kind of magic. Not the kind where he pulls a string out of his eye and wows me to the point of my jumping to my feet and yelling "YOU'RE A FREAK!". It was one of the most magical theatrical moments I had experienced in a long time. Which is great. Because, he's a magician.
Merely 18 years old, Correia is one of the youngest up-and-coming performers I know. He's been performing magic for over twelve years, booking his first professional gig at age six. "I believe the first time I was funny was when I was ten", he muses. "I think it was a Thursday." On that day, at age ten, Correia made a coin disappear and everyone laughed. Now, literally now, as in this weekend, you can see him in the student soiree on Sunday night in the Toronto Festival of Clowns.
This Sunday, Correia will be performing a stunt entitled Straitjacket Escape wherein he does just that. The act is a little teaser to his biggest project yet, a fundraising stunt called Escaping Parkinson's, a project Correia took on to raise money for Parkinson's Disease with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In this weekend's act, he'll be performing elements that he's never done before. The trick will be thrilling for both Correia and the audience as he honors his love for performance in this first-ever escape trick.
After this weekend's festival, Correia can next be seen in Escaping Parkinson's with the Michael J. Fox Foundation happening this July 7th to the 21st during which he will spend two whole weeks in a straitjacket setting the world record for longest amount of time in one ever. At the end of the two weeks he will attempt an escape.
Follow his stunt via video blogs and twitter! www.markcorreia.ca Twitter: @Mark_Correia
For ticket information on Correia's upcoming appearance in the Toronto Festival of Clowns click here.
"It's pure joy, bro".
That could have been the entire interview with these two. If you watch their act, 2-MAN NO-SHOW, you'll know what I mean. Joy becomes them as they play for the audience in complete vulnerability and trust, taking us on an improvised journey to an unknown destination. Unsurprisingy, joy also becomes the audience as we unite with Kessler and Hall in exhiliration. It is one of those shows where time stands still and you're just so happy to be part of it the "how-did-we-get-here" ending is satisfying and personal.
I was first exposed to their manic delivery of endearing lunacy at last year's Toronto Fringe Festival but Kessler and Hall perform together at venues all over the city throughout the year including Comedy Bar, Second City and Social Capital Theatre. They have won critical acclaim across the continent including Toronto's best improv troupe by Now Magazine and a nomination for the 2012 Canadian Comedy Award.
Currently, 2-Man No-Show-3D is currently running at The Toronto Festival of Clowns. Ticket information here.
Additionally, the comedy duo is happy to announce that they will be performing together in this year's Toronto Fringe Festival in the Theatre Passe Murraille backspace. Don't miss them in and around Toronto all year!
As an art form, theatre exists on a spectrum. All the way in the left, we have the perhaps-too-"Artistic"/introspective-to-comprehend-without-extreme-analysis works of exploration and experimentation which are filled with thoughtful questions that are maybe never answered or maybe never even clearly posed to us as spectators who are generally sitting in a gerbil-cage type basement or garage or perhaps (perhaps) a studio (See yesterday's entry for lefty-pro August Strindberg). All the way in the right, we have the show-business-flashy lights-easy-pleasing-light-flakey large productions, usually musicals, lately usually movies-turned-musicals, perhaps with a famous songwriter as composer and most definitely something coming to a theatre near you. True writers on the right, the far, far right, will be commissioned for one show (Mary Poppins, maybe) and lose the time they would have spent working on their own stories. The two sides are fierce competitors. But there is a happy middle. Rare and revered, those who balance square in the middle of the spectrum see successes over and over again because writing a large show that is valuable both commercially (Broadway dollers) and intellectually (timeless genius) takes a particular kind of brilliance. Joseph Stein (May 30, 1912 – October 24, 2010) was one of said writers. Today, in memorandum, we honor his birthday and, with it, all of his epic theatrical accomplishments.
You best know Stein from his work writing the book for three-time Tony award winning Fiddler on the Roof (1964). I am only stating my displeasure in watching musicals to highlight the fact that Fiddler is an exceptional example of one because it optimizes the medium more than most of the pieces that have premiered in the past twenty years. Fiddler balances music with narrative. One is never more important than the other. The music in the show conjures an entire world, culture, organismic structure in the small Jewish town of Anatevka, Russia. Set in 1906, the characters live through this culture, supported entirely by the music, to bond with one another during the Tsarist eviction of the Jews. Such a beautiful marriage of musical composition and narrative style is rare but it is incredibly satisfying. Stein also penned the book for the movie (1971) which, if you haven't seen it, is an absolute treasure.
Though perhaps his most successful, Fiddler wasn't Stein's first success. He's written over 10 timeless Broadway shows including Enter Laughing (1963), Zorba (1968) and The Baker's Wife (1989). His first major success was a show called Plain and Fancy (1955). After his Broadway debut with the revue Lend An Ear (1948), Stein was asked to write a show that would promote Pennsylvania the same way that Oklahoma! promoted its namesake. Stein delivered. Plain and Fancy, a show about the ups and downs of Amish living, still runs every year today in a local theatre in Indiana and in 2010 surpassed 3000 productions. It's likeable. It's a likeable show. Amish people like it because it is clean and family-friendly. Stein approached the show with pretension and still with incredible integrity. He wrote a great show without having to walk along any edges and, at the end of it all, that's what made Stein such a gem among writers: He wrote thoughtfully but not dogmatically, intense but never humourless, and he focused on story, story, story as if it were that easy.
Today, on his birthday, we celebrate the memory of Joseph Stein and thank him for years of dedication to the center of our theatre spectrum.
Naked Comedy expert Butt Kapinski cruises out of "sleazy little black boxes in Hollywood" to perform in this year's Toronto Festival of Clowns
"You are funnier naked", she promises, "metaphorically speaking", of course. Teacher and practitioner of Naked Comedy, a multivariate performance art form including clown, bouffon, physical theatre and improv, Deanna Fleysher (aka Butt Kapinski) has caught our eye as she storms in from Los Angeles to engage Toronto audience at the Toronto Festival of Clowns for the first time ever.
Fleysher discovered her inner clown at age seven midst a humble first performance. As she recalls in the most adorable show business anecdote ever:
"My first acting teacher was a clown, when I was seven. He would throw us on stage and yell SMALL at us, and we would have to be SMALL. He would yell TINY, we would be TINY. Then he would yell MINISCULE!!! I remember being especially MINISCULE!!! and the people watching me were laughing, and I did not know why. But I figured, well, if they are having fun, I must be doing something right. At the very least, I must be really really small. "
From that miniscule seven year old grew a tremendous powerhouse performance act and coaching phenomenon. Fleysher resides in Los Angeles where she directs the Naked Comedy Lab. Unstoppable, she is currently teaching and touring on tour across the continent. In fact, she just arrived from teaching one of her Naked Comedy workshops in Texas, during which she coached performers in "an enticing blend of clown, bouffon, physical theater and improv". The workshop is guided by her core performance principles which are listed on her website and well worth reading. While reading these guidelines for performance, I was actively assessing and motivating changes in my own comedy act so, I want to impress her influence strongly towards you. Her practice is dedicated to the audience, a principle that is so simple and yet, so easy to forget. Now, Fleysher exercises these principles on stage as Butt Kapinski, "an award-winning, noir-loving, gender-troubled clown who wears a trenchcoat and a streetlight strapped to his/her back and goes into crowds and solves mysteries".
You can check out the trailer for her show below. Come see her at this year's Festival of Clowns in Toronto or catch her at the Calgary and Edmonton Fringe Festivals this August as well as The Clutch in Vancouver and UBC Kelowna in October.
For information on her Toronto performances this weekend click here.
Whenever anyone describes anything as "surreal", I think of August Strindberg. Known by many as the father of modern Swedish literature, he is one of the original art-farting weirdos. Amongst other writing accomplishments, Strindberg's career spanned over four decades during which he wrote nearly sixty plays. He wrote about everything. And everything was weird. Impressionistic, surrealist, weird. Ahead of his time, we're celebrating him as today's Playwright of the Day in particular honour of the 1889 world debut of his show Hemsoborna.
You may know Strindberg from his most famous play Miss Julie (1888) or perhaps for his even more radical Dream Play (1902) but, in honour of its anniversary, let's talk for a second about Hemsoborna (1889) a play which, though I only really understand it superficially, is interesting both for its narrative and for its theatrical format. The play is an adaptation of Strinberg's original novel and in follows the lascivious ongoings of a couple whose marriage is less than perfect. Let's leave it at that. No spoilers but they do have sex beside a church so...what? Again, ahead of his time (Remember, it's 1889), Strindberg tells the story with absolutely no interest in narrative structure. In true impressionistic form, Strinberg throws caution to the winds of his character's emotional journeys and leads us everywhere. Don't expect to know where you are or what is happening.
As a true testament to his wacky "what-is-happening"-ness, Strinberg's plays weren't always well received. Though the drama of his plays was naturalistic, he rejected, adamantly, all naturalistic form. He was a major contestant against all things hyper-real and he, very rightly and quite thankfully, changed our acceptance of new theatre forms forever. For his fearlessness and maybe even his arrogance, Strindberg is today's Playwright of the Day.
Special shout out to all of our art-farting friends at the Toronto Festival of Clowns right now Adam Lazarus, Butt Kapinski, Jon Lalchlan Stewart, Ben Wheelwright, Two Man No Show and so many more!
Through the Gaze of a Navel combines yoga and story-telling to take us through the "big questions" about life's biggest questions
The trouble with summer theatre can be that few people have the urge to sit for an hour or more when the weather is beckoning us all towards activity. Emelia Symington Fedy's Through the Gaze of a Navel has found a fortified solution to the summer-stay-out-all-day-and-refuse-seated-entertainment issue. Part yoga-class (if you choose to participate) part story-telling, Fedy has invented a completely new kind of solo show: One where she is not necessarily the sole performer.
Not only is the show innovative, it's also infused with comedy. Fedy is a self-professed self-help expert. By her own confession, she's been sucked into an array of schemes, plans and otherwise strategically motivating disciplines. Now, in this newest piece produced by The Chop Theatre, Fedy intelligently pokes fun at her addiction. Similar to her previous shows, Fedy uses her comedic tilt to explore darker terrain and, as a testament to her love for performer/audience relationships, she charms her way out of being stuck in an uncomfortable-exploration-of-artistic-insecurities rabbit hole.
Through the Gaze of a Navel originally opened in Vancouver in May and is currently running in Toronto at the East End Performance Crawl.
Show and Ticket Information can be found here.
Yes, yes, yes he's a choreographer and, as humble playwrights, we (perhaps over time) become ever-grateful to choreographers for teaching us that narration comes from the body as much as it comes from the voice. Don't believe us? Watch today's Playwright of the Day, Savion Glover, in the most badass video ever (below) and tell us that you (the playwright) don't want to jump directly into a pair of tap shoes to "express yourself" and improvise along with him as he taps out rhythms that are true to whatever the hell he feels like telling that day.
You'll recognize him from his work on Broadway in Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk (1994) and today marks the debut of his off-Broadway hit Savion Glover/Downtown (1996) which starred members of his then-recently formed company Not Your Ordinary Tappers. He's also known for his work on past projects including Keep Banging (1999) and Foot Notes (2001).
We especially love Glover for founding The Hooferz Club School of Dance where they believe that every child has a right to an artistic education and an expressive upbringing. For spreading the love of performance to young people of all types, we're honoring Savion Glover as today's Playwright (honorary playwright, choreography, whatever: GENIUS) of the day.
For an additional treat, check out Glover's early appearance on Sesame Street here.