Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I'd Like to Watch in Winnipeg at the Fringe This Week

OK, Winnipeg I know you like to watch and I wouldn't want you any other way.  Winnipegers are great audiences.

How I wish I was at home this week seeing friends and family and hanging out and catching shows at the Winnipeg Fringe.

The Winnipeg festival is markedly different than Toronto.  Far more touring shows play Winnipeg ( and points further West) than Toronto and this gives Winnipeg Festival goers an opportunity not only to enjoy the fine local talent pool but performers from across the country and around the world.

I'm mostly going to talk about road companies here as I am not as plugged into what Winnipeg artists are doing at the festival this year.

If I were in Winnipeg, this is some of what I'd be seeing this week:

Bruce Horak in THIS IS CANCER because it is one of the best shows I've ever seen anywhere by anyone, period.  It's an unforgettable theatre experience. Get a ticket and go.

Ken Brown and Theatre Public are in Winnipeg with ANATOLIA SPEAKS about a Bosnian conflict survivor relocated to Canada.  A passionate script from a fave writer and skilled director combined with a great performance by Candice Fiorentino make this a must-see.

MAGIC UNICORN ISLAND is written and performed by Jayson Macdonald ( GIANT INVISIBLE ROBOT, FALL FAIR) and that's more than enough to get me in the theatre.

FAKE NEWS FANGIRL by Sharilyn Johnston is an utterly original well delivered monologue about late night talk shows, fan culture, intelligence, fear and ambition.  I've seen this show twice.  I loved it both times and I learned something.  Directed by Laura Anne Harris (Pitch Blonde).

THE CANTEBURY TALES by Erik de Waal who is a great storyteller.  The chocolate-voiced spell-spinner always takes me on a magical trip. Erik also has AFRICAN FOLK TALES with him if you've got children to entertain this year.

SOUND and FURY brings HAMLET and JULIET to Winnipeg.  The divine madness of this bunch of talented fools always leaves me smiling.  Go have a laugh for me.

Shelby Bond is so delightful as a performer and this year he's doing ONE MAN BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Tim C. Murphy is doing a story called THE HOBBLING BUDDHAS about a 10 day silent meditation retreat. I've seen Tim before and he always takes me someplace I've never been before.

SAM MULLINS is in Winnipeg this week.  I finally got to see him at NSTF here in Toronto last winter. That monologue was picked up for broadcast by NPR.  Go: you're in for a real treat and you'll be able to say you saw him when.

I saw SEX, RELIGION and OTHER HANG-UPS in Toronto and it was fabulous.  James sold out here and I bet he'll sell out in Winnipeg when word gets out about how touching, honest and flat-out hilarious this show is.  Chris Gibbs directed. Need I say more?

PENNY ASHTON is doing a Jane Austen mash-up called PROMISES and PROMISCUITY.  I love Penny and from all reports this is good show from the talented satirist and cheekily entertaining performer.

CRUMP was inspired mayhem and a ton of witty fun and I'm sure NO TWEED, a drunk detective satire of 70's television icons featuring Ryan Gladstone will be a hoot.

Two shows that I didn't get to see last week in Toronto but that had great buzz and are in Winnipeg this week are AIDEN FLYNN LOST HIS BROTHER SO HE MAKES ANOTHER by THEATRE HOWL from Saskatoon and Mark Shyzer in GREAT BATTLES IN HISTORY which had great press about both the writing and the performance.  I'd be checking them out.

Christel Bartlse is getting married this summer but that hasn't kept her from Fringe touring.  She's a very charming performer and she's brought a relationship comedy SIGNIFICANT ME to Winnipeg.  I hear she's already got a 5 star review for it, so I'd get a ticket fast.

RibbetRepublic is doing BEST PICTURE with a massive cast of Fringe stalwarts including Jon Patterson, a man who can do no wrong on a stage.  This should be a blast.

DIE ROTEN PUNKTE is back with EUROTRASH.  Words fail to describe how sad I am to miss two of my favourite musician/clowns.  Go laugh for me and will someone please bring me back a banana t-shirt?

Like roller derby?  Want to see a funny, feel-good show?  Check out Nancy Kenny in ROLLER DERBY SAVED MY SOUL. I saw it last week and the audience was eating out of her hand.

Kim Zeglinski and Heather Witherden, my old BREAST FRIENDS buddies both have shows this week.  Kim is talking about love, life and parenting and career  mid-life in a solo show, MITTELSCHMERZ.  I'm sure a lot of you will be able to relate to the material. Heather's show is called CHUBRUB and knowing Heather, it will be naughty and fun.

Chris Gibbs, Randy Rutherford, Keir Cutler and Rob Gee are all reprising hits.  If you didn't see LIKE FATHER,  LIKE SON, SORRY (or if you're like me and there's just never enough of Chris' brand of humour to go around) or you missed FRUITCAKE (or you just need a Rob Gee fix) or SINGING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (a show I love) or you've never seen TEACHING SHAKESPEARE (Keir's first hit) they are all worth seeing.

Mike Delamont is back with GOD IS A SCOTTISH DRAG QUEEN: THE SECOND COMING. I'd be back to see Mike in a flash.  Few performers made me laugh as hard as he did last year.

Martin Dockery is doing THE SURPRISE which I missed in Edmonton.  Insiders say it is his best show and from the five-star solo performer, that's saying something.

As I mentioned before, JEM ROLLS has a great show this year also.

Finally, my beloved ex, John D. Huston is doing THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS.  John is the bomb at this kind of literate satire and I'm sure this show will rock.  I'd go see him and I hope you will too.

Have fun Winnipeg.  I'll be home in December to workshop a new theatre/dance piece I'm developing with Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers.  More on that later.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who Needs TICKETS? Previews for Winnipeg and a review of the 2014 Toronto Fringe

The Toronto Fringe ended on Sunday night as it always does, with a party.

I always feel sad the next day.

Like Christmas, an event that takes place in a fortnight is planned and saved for and worked for much of the year and seems to be done in an instant.

I saw most of what was on my list, made some happy discoveries and missed some things I heard great news of and wished I'd seen. I got to eighteen shows which was not bad for a week in which I worked full time.  The shows below were a few of my favourites.

The two best happy accidents: TRUE by Rose Laborde.  My friend and I were on our way to dinner at the Drake when we came a cross a line-up outside a show.  "I've heard good things about this," I said.
"You wanna go?"  he said.  It was sold out.  A man in the line came up to us and said, "Do you want to buy my tickets?"  My friend bought them for us and we went and I'm very glad we did.  It was one of the best written, best acted, best directed new plays I've seen in Toronto this year. Five actors in a tiny (30 seat) site specific venue did a galvanizing show about three siblings (and  one of their spouses) coming to terms with a messed-up parent and an ugly past.

The play cut so close to the bone I walked out of the theatre in tears.  I sure as hell didn't have that dad, but I  have loved people who did and I saw what it did to them.  I hope some artistic director in town will pick this show up for a remount. One of the ADs from the Factory was in the line-up the night I was there.  Fingers crossed.

The second was a beer tent happenstance.  I sat down with Fringe goddess Alex Dallas, Jem Rolls and a couple from New Zealand I had never met.  The couple were doing MR AND MRS ALEXANDER, SIDESHOW and PSYCHICS. Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman were very charming and fun and invited me to see their sold out show on Saturday night.  Winnipeg, get your butts over to the West End Cultural Centre.  These two are a total treat and this show is unlike anything I've seen at the Fringe in many years.  Part magic, part mind-reading, part mystery and all fun.

If you're in Winnipeg also check out WHO KILLED GERTRUDE CRUMP? Tara Travis has charm and aplomb to spare and she made a byzantine plot and twelve characters in a PBS style British murder mystery (Agatha Christie makes an appearance but I'm not telling you anything else) come to life on a lovely set.

I enjoyed THE DEVIL'S CIRCUS,  by Winnipeg-based, The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company who did a pop-rock musical about Orpheus and Eurydice with trick marionettes and lots of music.  It's a fun take on an old story and really gorgeous to look at. They're coming home with this. It's well worth a look.

Jem Rolls may be in the best show he's ever written, with JEM ROLLS ONE MAN TRAFFIC JAM and that's saying something.  Brilliant writing, full of thought provoking ideas and luminous imagery is coupled with Jem's trademark flat out performance.  Jem is also in Winnipeg this week.

Two shows not coming down the road I thought were good were POTOSI and PARALLEL PLAY.

POTOSI takes place in a Canadian-run mining town in a corrupt outback somewhere. It was a thought-provoking and compelling drama and it was well worth seeing though the tone was uneven and the woman lawyer character is a bit problematic as she's currently constructed.   I hope they get a chance to twig it with a good dramaturge and remount it somewhere, because it certainly has good bones.

One of my other favourite shows was PARALLEL PLAY (also not touring alas) a really smart sketch  comedy show that made me laugh and wince in recognition. Elvira Kurt and Megan Fahlenbock are fine writers and terrific performers.  It was a really enjoyable show.

This was a great festival.  There was a lot of  good work, some great parties and as usual, the Toronto Fringe was well run and well-organized.  Props to the staff and volunteers on a great job.

The only fly in the ointment this week was the "new and improved" ticketing system which was great for the festival, which now makes $2 out of $12 on every advance ticket and gets to keep the pass money that patrons pay in advance, up front, if the patrons can't use their passes because the shows they wanted to see were sold out.

I get that the festival needs money and I get that this can be an advantage to hot-selling shows, though it isn't much of one really.  I have produced two five-star sell outs, one here and one in Winnipeg and  50% tickets available at the door didn't hurt me one bit.  I still sold out. Yes, patrons with passes paid me less than patrons who just paid for a ticket.  I'm fine with that.  The pass holders come back year after year, like subscribers who also get a deal. Is there a theatre in town who doesn't want more subscribers?

I have no problem with making 100% of the tickets available in advance, but a big problem with penalizing the most dedicated paying audience members for buying a pass by refusing to take those passes at the box office for advance tickets.

The festival really put a lot of spin on this new system: "better for performers" and "the same as Edmonton" and "lots of other shows to see today, folks" but we all know what it has done is penalized the audience to improve the festival's bottom line and effectively raised the price of a seat and kept the raise for the festival as opposed to passing it on to the performers.

No matter what you call it ( a box office surcharge) or how you want to spin or slice it, 100% of the box office no longer goes to the performers.  $2 of every advance ticket goes to the festival. Yes Edmonton does it but what it really means is Edmonton and now Toronto both gets fees from the performers ( about $700 a show) as well as chunk of their box office.

The Winnipeg Fringe takes discounted passes at the box office for advance tickets. So does TIFF.  Come on TORONTO FRINGE, don't punish our best customers by offering them a back-handed deal.  Take advance passes at the box office, forego some revenue ( and yes, the performers will get $8.80 instead of $10 for a ticket to a sold-out show) and play fair with your patrons.  The performers and the festival both absorb the cost of VIP tickets because those patrons donate money or in-kind service to the festival.  Those pass-holders can get advance tickets with their passes.

Also if the festival is going to go to this system of taking a box office fee, it needs to STOP saying ALL the box office revenue goes to the performers when it solicits audience donations because it is no longer true.

I get that the festival needs money to operate but it needs to do it in a way that is honest and doesn't suck for its most loyal audience members. I'd rather you charged us all $1 per drink more for alcohol.

Have fun at the Winnipeg Fringe, my Western readers.  I'm sad to not be there this week.  Maybe next year.