Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Telectroscope

There's this really interesting arts installation happening concurrently in London and New York right now. The "story" of the telectroscope is that it is an unfinished project from the Victorian era, lost to time but now being completed. Both Gothamist and Londonist have written pieces on the exhibit. This project is being produced by a group called Artichoke, who have been doing stuff like this in the UK for a long time now.

I just love large scale interactive pieces like this. I adored the installation Pulse Front by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at Harbourfront at last year's Luminato festival. (Press release quoted here.) Wish I could see this up close. Thanks to the internet, at least I now know it exists.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Influences: Tim Freedman

It all started in March, 2000. I was enjoying my last night of freedom before entering the whirlwind that was The Barbeque King (then making its first appearance as part of the New Ideas Festival, appearing this summer at the Toronto Fringe). A friend of mine suggested that I check out an Aussie band that had come to town.

That band was The Whitlams and it was the first time I laid eyes on Tim Freedman. He was raw charisma on stage. And the lyrics blew my mind. They gave away a sample tape that night and for the next few days I could stop listening to it, especially a song called Charlie No. 3. It spoke to my soul in a way few things in my life have. I quickly bought the album that had been released in Canada, Eternal Nightcap, and an addiction was born.

Once my show opened I spent hours trying to find out as much as I could about him, reading every interview I could find. I discovered a man with a wicked way with words, who took his craft seriously but not himself, a man who had dealt with an incredible amount of recent tragedy and turned it into emotionally honest, awe-inspiring art. Someone who lived life on his terms unashamedly.

Charlie No. 3 had a distinct effect on how I viewed staging. I was working on another show and was waiting for the set to arrive in the space. I threw on the album and when this song came on, I saw a story play out on the bare stage in front of me. A representational version of the story of the song, using dance and movement. For the first time I could see beyond the use of text, something I used a few months later when I directed storyteller Jean Bubba in her fringe show, Serendipity at Fifty.

Charlie No.3 - Tim Freedman (Live at The Basement)



I also went back to writing. Over the next 4 years, I wrote a few short stories (fiction and fanfiction), some poetry, and I wrote a book for a musical inspired by what I had experienced. (I'm still looking for a composer/co-lyricist for that project, which is stalled at the second draft until I do.)

I found myself drawn to him in a way I had never been drawn to anyone before. I met him briefly after the show that first night but nothing logicallly explained why this was happening to me. And thus my transformation was born. Over the course of the next 4 years, I found myself throwing out practically everything I had ever understood about myself and the world I lived in. No part of my life was left untouched - personal or professional.

It wasn't until my last trip to Australia that I finally understood what it was about him. I saw the band play at a special event at the Adelaide Festival and realized what I wanted was to be him. To be that alive, that present, that in the flow of creation and performance mixed up at once. All along Tim, by being himself, was showing me myself. And once I realized that, I could close the book on what I call "the Tim years" and move on with the next chapter of my life.

When I returned after that 3-month trip (that had me truly living on the edge), I couldn't go back to living the life I had before. I had to find a way to live in my art. I made the sacrifices so that I was no longing living a partial life but was being in the present and in the moment. (It's not always easy but I'm much happier in doing it.) Six weeks after my return, I met someone with whom I felt a strong connection (the thing I was missing the most) and he became a large part of my life for the next few years. I would check in on what Tim was doing every once in a while to keep up to date but that was about it.

The most recent album, Little Cloud, came out two years ago and I haven't even heard it (apart from the video clips and sound clips made available by mainstream media outlets). At the time, I was broke and had lost touch with the friend who used to supply me with Whitlams music. And while I was curious, that chapter in my life had closed. I wanted to hear it but I didn't need to hear it. I know I can download it but it doesn't feel right somehow. Partly because I know it's his own record company and I want him to get paid for his work. And I guess I want to hear it the way Tim intended it, with the lyric sheet in front of me and the album cover in my hand.

This week, I find I really want to get my hands on it. A few things have sparked this. One was finding out about the cd giveaway they're doing, which made me think about what is lacking in my collection (I'm also missing the video DVD).

Another is that this week has been in many ways about building a new vision of my future for myself without restrictions by looking at what really jazzes me, uncomfortable as some of those truths may be. And one of those uncomfortable truths is that Tim is still the one who inspires me. He may always be my muse, even though it's been four years since I've laid eyes on him and there's a good chance I may never see him again. I don't know what form it's going to take in the future. At the very least I suspect they'll be more Whitlams songs appearing as pre-show music, and I do hope that musical makes it one day. What I do know is he's had more of a hand in shaping who I am as a person and an artist than anyone else - and for that I am forever grateful to him.

I also came to the realization that I still hope that someday, somehow, we might actually be friends. That may not be the best way to interact with a muse (and with circumstances as they are I have no idea how that can even be accomplished) but the hidden dream persists. I find myself wanting him to read this blog entry and sees what I've become, the inspiration he continues to be.

I agonized on how to finish this post but decided to let Tim do it. This is Best Work from Torch the Moon. He wrote this song about his muse but the sentiments fit for me in so many ways.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Whitlams free giveaway

From the most recent Whitlams email newsletter:

The Whitlams are giving away over 700 000 albums.

Starting on Sunday June 1st in NSW's The Sunday Telegraph and rolling out through Victoria in The Australian, and Tasmania in The Mercury, newspaper readers can receive a free Live in Concert CD of The Whitlams and The Sydney Symphony.

In September 2007 nine composers and 82 musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra arranged and performed songs with iconic Australian band, The Whitlams over four nights at the Sydney Opera House. The result, a rich and delightful CD, is full of stirring moments from those concerts.

The exercise is the first time in Australia an established band has given away a full album on this scale.

Lead singer Tim Freedman said "We are proud of our orchestral shows and are very happy that so many people will get to hear them."

Music Editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Moran said, “The quality of the sound is amazing. We know our readers are going to love it.”


The Daily Telegraph has an article about it as well, featuring a lovely picture of Tim, as well as a video interview. This is incredibly exciting news. It's been killing me that I didn't get to see the symphony concerts so hopefully I can have a copy wing its way to me. And it's fantastically innovative of Tim to just give it away like that. As if I didn't admire the guy enough...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breakfast

Breakfast is a show I would have never seen if circumstances didn't conspire to get me there.

I won tickets at the TAPA trade forum a couple of weeks ago, and I rarely win anything. Then my initial date was booked and I was moved to last night. And then I felt really exhausted and was considering giving my ticket away but a friend dangled the possibility of a Jays ticket behind the plate, which was enough to get my butt on a bus until the ticket vanished. But I was on my way to the Theatre Centre.

I'm so glad I saw it. Its central premise of transformation through freeing your mind is right where I am at the moment. Usually when this topic comes up in the theatre, it's used as a joke and made fun of. What was amazing about this production was that I felt it was on the same wavelength as me. Yes, it uses humour a lot, but it was used judiciously and never took away from the central premise.

Louise Hay is thanked in the program for inspiration, and you can see signs of that influence throughout the piece. Her basic message is "The body, like everything else in life, is a mirror of our inner thoughts and beliefs. Every cell within your body responds to every single thought you think and every word you speak."

Our heroine Marnie, played by Karin Randoja, wakes up for yet another day. She puts in her daily affirmation tape, not knowing that this is the day for her transformation. As the tape begins to speak directly to her, she goes through the transformational stages: manifestation, facing childhood trauma, releasing anger, giving voice to one's deepest desires, finally turning the mind and physical reality into one, and finally, becoming your most powerful self while the universe cheers you on.

I loved how this was put on the stage, using Anna Chatterton as the female voice and a heavily voice-modulated Evalyn Parry as the male side. This duality allows the power of sexual energy to be used as the driving force in Marnie's transformation. An ingenious use of fish bowl takes us out of the physical reality into the world of the mind.

There really isn't anything else like this out there on a Toronto stage. The show runs until June 1st and really is a must-see.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Alias Godot

Brendan Gall must be smoking some seriously good stuff to have come up with the wild and wacky world of this play, now running at Tarragon.

As indicated by the title, this play is inspired by the famous Beckett play but this time we meet Godot and find he's trying to figure out where he is, who he is, and why it's so important to get back to a farm in France. Alon Nashman plays this character with his trademark vulnerability and wit. I especially like how he captures his God-like moments, showing compassion and transcendence, only to lose them a minute later.

Geoffrey Pounsett, the hardest workin' man in Toronto theatre (actor/director division), has one incredibly nasty (in a good way) monologue that made me cringe in admiration as he went further into it. His role is the most absurd of the quintet and he pulls it off beautifully. He continues to impress.

The other actors - David Ferry, Tony Nappo and Paul Braunstein - all find their sure-footed way in the absurd world Gall has created. This is a play that relies so much on comedic timing and the ability to turn from that to pathos on a dime, and all three navigated it effortlessly. All in all, it's an incredibly strong cast.

I also really liked what Richard Rose did with the direction. The relationships are believable and the production has his trademark clarity. The sound and lighting design had a huge part to play in this show and the designers - Teresa Przybylski, Rebecca Picherack, and Thomas Ryder Payne - all rose to the challenge.

Obviously, I had an immensely enjoyable experience and would highly recommend this show to anyone. There is one drawback though. The ending comes out of freakin' nowhere and I have no idea what the hell it is supposed to be represent. Brendan, help me out here!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A land Down Under

I'm currently messaging a friend in Wellington, NZ. It made me realize just how long it has been since I've been back Down Under and how long it probably will be before I return. I really want to keep connections with Australia and New Zealand but it's hard trying to keep track of everything going on.

One story I have been able to keep track of is the changing of the guard at the Black Swan Theatre in Perth. Kate Cherry has recently become the new artistic director and is looking to move the theatre back to its cutting-edge roots. (There a nice recent article about her here.) It's an interesting time in Western Australian theatre as the resident company in nearby Freemantle, Deckchair Theatre, also takes on new artistic leadership with Chris Bendall taking the reins. One of my favourite Australian playwrights, Reg Cribb, is also based there and his star is on the rise across the country. Perth has become flush with cash as prices for commodities continue to rise. It's definitely a place to watch.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

By request

A long time ago, I had a request from my friend Michael to write about the process of choosing a play for production. I don't know how other people do it, but for me it happens one of two ways. I either see a production, fall in love with it, and be filled with a desire to tackle it myself. That's how The Kabbalistic Psychoanalysis of Adam R. Tzaddik came to be. Or I read a script and something about it excites me enough that I want to bring it to life, which is what happened to Kingship de Facto and why Bare and Skin Tight are still on the boards despite the obstacles we've had in getting them off the ground.

This feeling of excitement is key because we have to live with the play for months. I've directed shows for the sake of getting a directing credit and I've found it hard to stay motivated for the length of the process. If it isn't something that both Kent and I really love, it's off the table.

As to what excites me, I'll try to answer that as best I can since people have asked me to define it. I gravitate towards plays that grapple with large ideas. Certainly a theme in my work is examinations of the nature of faith. Plays that explore spirituality will always get a look from me. So will plays that speak about love in a profound and uplifting way. I'm a history nut so I like plays that look at historical events or figures in a fresh way. I also like political plays that challenge accepted norms and prejudices without falling into polemics.

Plays that look at humanity as essentially unredeemable or hopeless, plays that show the dark underbelly of society, plays that are absurd in structure - no matter how well written, I'm not interested.

The next consideration is if it's within our means to produce it. The reality is that we are a small company still establishing a reputation, so our financial resources are limited. There are a few plays that I'd love to do but their scope is beyond our means at the moment.

Once we've determined that it is within our scope, we look at how we would approach producing it. It comes down to one of two variables: venue and casting. The two plays we haven't produced yet but plan to illustrate this. For Skin Tight, we've determined that its best audience is the Toronto Fringe, so that has left us waiting for the year that we win the lottery to gain a spot. For Bare, my conception of the production includes an touring actor I really want to work with, so it is a matter of making sure we can pay him enough to get him to stay with us for five weeks and to fit into his schedule.

From there it's all about the money, whether it's grants, fundraisers, donations-in-kind, our own pockets, or all of the above. Once all that falls into place, you have a show.

So Michael, was this post worth the wait?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Performing men I admire

Want to give a shout out to Charles Ross, who spent the weekend selling out (hopefully) The Metro, a 5,000 seat venue (at least during concerts, not sure what it holds with actual seats) in Sydney. It was considered hitting the big time when The Whitlams first played there and I'm tickled pink to think that he's playing the same venue that Tim Freedman frequents. They're both so fabulous and so important to me that I have this secret wish that they met up and got to know each other. Makes me wish I was back in Sydney.

I went to the baseball game today, enticed by the combination of a bobblehead giveaway of my second-favourite player, Aaron Hill, and a pitching performance by Roy Halladay. Was mesmerized watching him, even 10 rows from the top of the stadium. Still trying to figure out what entices me about him. Maybe it's the same thing that draws me to Tim Freedman, that charisma of being totally in their element doing their thing. And doing it extremely well, with style and grace - although I'm sure both would laugh at their performances being described as "graceful".

I guess charisma is contagious, since one of my favourite pictures of myself ever is this one, taken when I met him last fall. He's 6'6", so I made him sit down for this photo. Otherwise, I doubt we would have fit in the same frame. Isn't that smile absolutely wonderful?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jazzed by the possibilities

Today I attended the TAPA Trade Forum. A year ago, in a session on using social media given by Sean Howard, I was encouraged to start this blog as a way to open a dialogue with our audience. Some of the things talked about in today's session gave me ideas about what direction this blog, our website, and even the company might take. What I've come up with has got me really excited. Need to bounce them off Kent but hopefully he'll like them and I'll be able to roll things out in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

On another note, it's with mixed feelings that I found out that Sean Mee (who I can't find an online bio for) is stepping down as artistic director of La Boite Theatre in Brisbane. I've had the pleasure of meeting with him on both of my last trips to Australia and I'm incredibly grateful for his time and insight. I'm happy that he's moving on to different challenges. I'm incredibly impressed with his insight that it's time for the next generation to head up La Boite. But I'm sad that the next time I return I won't be able to look forward to another chat with him. He has always impressed me with his commitment towards Brisbane theatre and the community at large. I only wish the absolute best for him. He deserves it.

And my love of watching Roy Halladay pitch continues. I keep thinking what it is about him and my current theory is focused passion. All professional athletes are competitors (or they wouldn't make it to that level) but there is something extraordinary in his intensity that I can't quite nail down. A true artist indeed.

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