Saturday, August 18, 2012

HUFF at Summerworks: Tragedy and Hope from one to watch

I saw a workshop of Cliff Cardinal's story of a dysfunctional and profoundly damaged family on the Rez back last fall. I was excited by the funny writing, the realistic and well-voiced characters, the great story-telling and by Cardinal as a performer.

HUFF arrived at SUMMERWORKS off good press from Winnipeg where it was part of the Fringe.
I wanted to see how Cardinal had managed to distill all that story and all of those characters (around 20, including a skunk and a dog) into a one-person show. With a tight story driven by a central character, excellent direction, a wonderful, atmospheric set and an astonishingly grounded and assured performance: that's how.  HUFF is bleak and blackly droll, sharply observed and excruciating to watch.

Huff is a euphemism for sniffing gasoline and other solvents.  It causes hallucinations which the show brings vividly to life. It also cause irreversible brain damage.

Cardinal the writer unrolls the story with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. Substance abuse and all of the ills that attend it, is rampant on Shit Creek reserve.  You can't grow up in Manitoba and not know a place like Shit Creek, you can't live in Winnipeg and not see the consequences of growing up the way Huff is growing up on Shit Creek.

Cardinal shows the legacy of inter-generational substance abuse and the awful despair and destruction that attends it as the Trickster's reign of folly. In less skilled hands, this would be another exercise in hand-wringing. Cardinal simply shows the audience what is and lets his characters have their own voices, their own power, their own tragedies and sorrows, their own dreams, their own hope.

There are places where things could use a little space between character shifts, a slight slackening of the pace:  just a little more room to breathe.  Cardinal's ease and confidence on a stage and his committed presence in the moment more than made up for any minor technical issues.

"The Creator gives everyone a gift".  Mr Cardinal has clearly been given a few gifts. He's still quite young. If this is any indication of what he's capable of at this tender age, I can't wait to see what he does next.

It was a fine night of theatre.  I hope it gets a remount and a tour across the country.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I Won't Hatch! and the mad road to Edmonton

On Wednesday night, I went to a fundraising preview of I WON'T HATCH! at the Alumnae Theatre here in Toronto.  A cast of 10 game young people is taking this comedy about fear, phobia and catastrophe to the Edmonton Fringe for a run in the festival.

It was a big hit here in 2009 and I could see why.

I had a great time the other night.  They are still in previews and it is fresh, tight, funny and well-observed.  The ensemble work, the staging, the design and the use of music are all terrific.

They are also taking a mad gamble. 10 people in a Fringe show on tour is financial suicide.

The reality of taking 10 people to Edmonton is this:  the performers pay $700 to be in the festival, they pay to get from Toronto to Edmonton, which cost me $400 last year so multiply that x10, they pay for posters, they pay for fliers and a set and costumes and a sound and lighting design (usually not much and often on spec) and they pay for ten people to eat in Edmonton. They have rehearsed for months for free.

The HATCH crew raised about $1600 plus the bar on Wednesday before expenses by my head count in the house.  I have no idea what they paid to rent the venue that night or if they got that as a donation.  That amount will fly 4 people to Edmonton and back, max. Even if they sell out their 300 seat theatre for their entire run, at about $10 a ticket, they will be lucky to break even.

"I hate one person shows" I hear from people who have never made one or done one, to which I want to say, "Really, you don't like Daniel McIvor? How about Elaine Stritch?  Or Ronnie Burkett?"

I generally restrain myself.  I generally say "Well, like every other show it depends on the acting, the writing and the direction" which is true.

I desperately want to tour a larger show with a cast of three. We would also need a stage manager.  I have talked to some great actresses and a good director and they are nervous but game.  I have a script I feel pretty happy about.  All I need is money. Right now, I think that money is 2 years away. I also know, and so do they, that we will be damn lucky to break even.

Here's the thing:  even when it's just you and the wonderful stage manager you pick up in whatever town you play in, you can still lose your shirt on tour. If there is just you and you have a hit, at least there's a chance you will come back with enough money to front your Fringe fees in October for next year and be able to live somewhere for the winter while you make your next show.

So for those of you complaining about solo shows on tour:  just try this, just once:  then complain. And by the way, a lot of them are pretty damn good.

As to the I WON'T HATCH  crew who got it together to take 10 people on tour: my hat is off to you.  You are brave and talented and maybe just a little bit crazy.

A few weeks ago I had someone say to me, "You're crazy! Talented but crazy! You need to be less crazy!"

I am not the kind of crazy he meant.  I don't need meds, I have a job, I pay my bills, I live somewhere and my psyche and soma are mostly in good balance.

I am of course, a kind of crazy. I need to be crazy to turn myself into another person in front of a room full of people who are crazy enough to spend a night watching me put my head and my heart and whatever skill I have on the line in order to share a story,

I need to be crazy or I'd take my next grant and march into a secretarial course and go get a proper job. Wait, I have a proper job.  I manage a store for people who are crazy enough to run a dance company.  They let me leave work to take gigs and write. I'm not too crazy for them or  for my many friends and family who support me in my mad choice to make theatre and film.

You have to be just a little bit crazy to try and do this for a living.  Sane people get business degrees and go to law school and then take their hard-earned money to watch us fools make them merry, make them sad, make them feel, make them think, make us be fully human and alive together in the communion of a theatre. We are the ghost conjurers, the shape shifters, the truth tellers, the dream weavers, the makers of magic.  It is our job to channel divine madness and share it with the people crazy enough to give us their hard-earned money.

So here's a toast to all the other crazy fools on the road this season from a fool who wishes with all her heart she was there with you.  May you be kissed by divine madness and may the Fringe Gods be with you! As soon as I've got the cash, I'm back out there right beside you.

If you are in Edmonton go see I WON'T HATCH!  The show is both divine and mad and they need your ten bucks.