Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Richard Rose & Neil Armfield: Separated at Birth

I've believed these two directors have been separated at birth ever since I heard Neil talk about process in NY and realized I had heard the same thing from Richard when I studied with him. Both are brilliant directors with similar styles and I would be honoured and privileged to call them mentors. (Also on the mentor wish list: Simon Phillips of the Melbourne Theatre Company and Declan Donnellan of Cheek by Jowl.)

It's been my dear wish that the two of them should meet. I think a collaboration between the two would be world-shattering. Maybe they should jointly tackle Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, with Tarragon producing one part and Company B the other, with each company touring to the other theatre to produce their half. Of course, that's probably too expensive for either company, and I don't know how to deal with the third part of the trilogy, but both directors are at their best when they're working on an epic scale with large themes.

Which leads me to the link that connects them. I've just found out that Company B produced Scorched this past July using the Linda Gaboriau translation that was done for Tarragon and premiered in February 2007. It's definitely a play in both director's wheelhouse, and reviews for both productions have been outstanding.

According to this article, Neil was turned on to the show after the executive producer of the Sydney Opera House saw it. Was it in Toronto or when it went to the NAC? To get the rights, did Neil have to talk to Richard, since the translation premiered there? I'm hoping he did.

Maybe more cross-promotion could happen. I've always thought Inexpressible Island would be perfect for Neil, and I'm sure some Company B shows would work for Richard - maybe a Louis Nowra piece. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Umbrella Spoke...What do you drink on opening night?

It's a festive time right now, so in the spirit of holiday cheer, we'd like to recap what 17 playwrights said on Umbrella Talk when asked "What do you drink on opening night?"

"It depends on the bar of the particular theatre. Ideally - a vodka and tonic about half an hour before the curtain goes up, and then a glass of wine at interval and several after the show. Noel Coward liked 72 dry martinis but I haven't reached that stage - yet." Justin Fleming

"My addiction is Coca Cola. The real thing... and when it's time for an opening I'm not goin' near none of that Coke Zero, Diet Coke stuff." Mark Leiren-Young

"Double rum and coke. And I have about five. After that, I'm good." Andrew Moodie

"Water only, and maybe a glass of wine once it's all done. I'm a cheap drunk." Nicolas Billon

"Champagne. Is that a trick question?" Marcia Johnson

"Usually jamiesons whiskey (after the complimentary red wine runs out)." Robert Chafe

"Before or after the play?
Coffee.
Then anything with alcohol." Jon Lachlan Stewart

"Champagne, if someone will buy it for me." David Copelin

"Pre show it's usually water. I'm usually a little beside myself for anything else. Then intermission i'm usually onto the alcohol after the nerves have settled down." Ben Noble

"A) I resent the insinuation that all writers drink excessively on opening night.
B) Absinthe & Red Bull " Brendan Gall

"Water to ease my dry mouth. After the show I drink ginger ale or or something to make it look like I'm drinking vodka and seven. I can't imagine getting smashed on opening night." Stephen Massicotte

"Water. Lots of it. Critics dehydrate me." Daniel MacIvor

"Sleeman's beer. And if Sleeman's not around, anybody else's beer." Norm Foster

"Scotch before and red wine during - to cope with lobby-shyness more than show-nerves." Janet Munsil

"Tea with caffeine. Unfortunately or fortunately, I am a teetotaler, but I can usually find something or someone to get me high." Linda Griffiths

"I don't really drink, so nothing really. I can't drink water, or I will have to pee every ten seconds. I can't drink coffee or I will spazz out. Some gum?" Marjorie Chan

"Usually I drink anything and anyone under the table....closing nights are usually better for me...Long Island Iced Teas have got me into a lot of trouble!" Alex Dallas

"I usually hide behind a bottle of Stella." Mark Brownell

If you wish to read each playwright's entire Umbrella Talk, please click on their names on the right side of this blog or the label Umbrella Talk. If you are a playwright who has been produced a few times here in Canada or elsewhere and would also like to talk to us, please send us an e-mail to obu@web.ca.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thinking on creativity and a new venture

Recently on Facebook, I've been seeing people posting links to a YouTube channel called TEDtalks:
TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers are invited to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes -- including speakers such as Jill Bolte Taylor, Sir Ken Robinson, Hans Rosling, Al Gore and Arthur Benjamin. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, politics and the arts.
I've only started to explore the lectures there, but I found two I wanted to share.


This is Larry Lessig, one of the founders of Creative Commons, talking about the new creative culture and the need for a new approach to copyright.


Sent to me by Robert Chafe, this is Sir Ken Robinson, a crusader for transforming education to encourage and promote creativity, talking about why a change is needed.

While going through the channel, I found other interesting talks that tied into my interest in personal development and spiritual growth. I thought about including them here but it really doesn't fit into what this blog is about. So I created a new blog, called In Process, where I'll be sharing interesting resources I find in these areas. You're welcome to come and check it out. I won't promise it will be regular as my first duty is to this blog, but it is my hope that it will be a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Winter's Tail

On Sunday night, I went and saw A Winter's Tail, the holiday burlesque show put on by Les Coquettes, a local burlesque troupe. Burlesque has really taken off in the city in the past few years, led by this group and Skin Tight Outta Sight. I had been meaning to see them for a while, but what tipped the balance for me was that one of their special guests were the Rumoli Bros, who I'm a huge fan of. (I still mourn that they no longer host the Fringe late-night show.)

Someone described the two groups at intermission this way: "These guys are very professional. Skin Tight is more let's just try something and see what happens." I know that one of the driving force behind Les Coquettes, the woman who go by the name Lilli Bubalotovitch, is an professional actor and from what I saw on stage, I'd guess most of the troupe are either professional dancers, singers, acrobats or actors.

The show followed a variety format although most of the numbers were burlesque, or at least designed to be naughty. Besides the troupe, there were a couple of "man props" and many special guests. The show moved at a fairly good pace, the only pacing problems being sometimes a too-long setup between acts. It had a vaudevillian feel to it, incorporating almost every type of performance - the finale of the first act was an arialist, the last thing I expected to see in a bar.

The things that made the greatest impression on me (besides anything to do with the Rumoli Bros) was the carol that opened the show, the classic 30s fan dance of special guest Mina La Fleur (who I'm sure I've seen before), the twisted nativity set to the song Halos and Whores, the routines from two members of the Boylesque T.O. troupe (a new all-male burlesque troupe), a bondage Rudolph routine, Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend from guest Sonya Jezebel Côté, and a very interesting take on the sugar plum fairy dance.

As for the Rumolis, I hadn't had a chance to see them for a while and I was happy to see that their routine still felt fresh. They added in a new bit of wordplay that went on much longer than these things usually do, yet they kept it up. The people sitting behind me were blown away. Hopefully the boys will be doing more appearances in the near future.

Their next show is on February 22nd and I'd highly recommend checking it out if you're in the Toronto area. The show sold out tonight and the buzz around the room was so great that I'm guessing that soon they're going to need a bigger venue. They do sell advance tickets but you'll need to be either on their mailing list (which you can access from their website) or join their facebook group.

It's really nice to see this art form returning to prominence and being embraced so readily. I have to admit, watching them having so much fun made me want to try it myself. Just don't expect to see me on a burlesque stage anytime soon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Food for thought

Check out this article on a study being done to map out future economic prosperity for Ontario, using the idea of the creative class. Thoughts?

I find the idea fascinating but I do wonder about protecting what is referred to as the "service class". Since most artists find ourselves in this position when we start out, it seems we need to pay attention to how this pans out. And it will be interesting to see how they plan to support artists in this economic makeover.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Umbrella Spoke: "What inspires you?"

It's been almost five months since we've launched Umbrella Talk with playwrights from Canada and elsewhere on the one big umbrella blog. We've chatted with 18 playwrights and now have a rich collection of responses that are often witty, insightful and honest to the same 10 questions that we ask each playwright on Umbrella Talk. We thought it would be fitting to take this week and highlight some of the responses to one of those questions: "What inspires you?"

"Music and history are two of my muses." Mark Brownell

"I am inspired by overheard conversation on the bus, by my childhood, by the true stories of family and friends, by terrible boyfriends and passionate love affairs, by my daughter, by the utter stupidity of mankind, by the bizarre and the trifling, by minutae and by great ideas. And by the many wonderful talents that have come before me. Luckily I was raised in the UK and I am inspired every day by the amazing sense of humour that exists there. Everyone you meet is funny, sarcastic, bitter, fantastic and truly inspiring!" Alex Dallas

"So many things. I am curious about Chinese history, but also how our world works, how people behave in different situations...so many things. My favourite work and inspiration comes when I care, when my heart yearns to tell the story. So things that do that." Marjorie Chan

"Courage. People rising up in the face of terrible odds. I’m a sucker for cheesy movies on this subject. Sometimes I cry. Whenever someone is shit on and doesn’t go down the tubes, that is inspiring. " Linda Griffiths

"Books, art, actors in rehearsal. I like to make pilgrimages to the places historical figures in my plays lived, or see the artifacts of their daily lives. Relics and haunts are magical and profound to me - a painting, a street, a lock of hair - or a skull and the iron rod that passed through it - nothing will top that. Well, I almost licked the door frame of John Keats' bedroom, but was glad I didn't when I went downstairs to the gift shop and realized they had surveillance cameras. " Janet Munsil|

"Good writing. Good theatre. Good movies. Anything that has a ring of quality to it." Norm Foster

"In no particular order: music, books, newspapers, blogs, overheard conversations in restaurants, cashiers, waiters, shamen, killers, dentists, doctors, vets, dinner parties, fairytales, the Bible, hotel rooms, how people treat animals, mistakes, coincidences, bar fights, death, biology, birth, fanaticism, apathy, sugar, pipe fitters, bank tellers, greed, kindness, people's various concepts of "God", dreams, going to the gym, the faces of people on public transit, my family, misery, joy, autumn, teenagers, children over the age of 5, the elderly, people's search for romantic love, divorce, mid-level government workers, the search for meaning, my friends and being asked questions." Daniel MacIvor

"Everything inspires me but particularly non-fiction books - history, bio, ideas. Wikipedia. The news. I get very inspired by seeing particularly good theatre and particularly bad, movies good and bad... I get awfully inspired by going to art galleries. I think if I could have an alternate career it'd be as a painter. Travelling is inspiring. I sometimes wish things were less inspiring. It gets noisy in my head with all these plays clammering around wanting to be written." Stephen Massicotte

"Deadlines." Brendan Gall

"The stupidness of mankind. The need to be the storyteller. " Ben Noble

"Good stories, good wine, good friends, and Stephen Lewis." David Copelin

"Madness.

The anomaly.

Love." Jon Lachlan Stewart

"newfoundland. the people who live here. love." Robert Chafe

"People who have their act together, especially at a young age." Marcia Johnson

"People, mostly. What we do, what we don't; how wonderful we can be, and how horrible. I'm obsessed with our potential to be great and our constant failure to achieve it." Nicolas Billon

"Everything and everyone." Andrew Moodie

"Life. People. The news. A lot of my writing tends to be inspired by something that really pisses me off or stories I think people should be talking/thinking about... But I write different pieces for all sorts of different reasons." Mark Leiren-Young

" Most forms of audacity. The company of brilliant people. The coming together of big ideas and big emotions. New and exciting directors. Vodka and Tonic. Red wine. And bold enterprises like one big umbrella." Justin Fleming

If you wish to read each playwright's entire Umbrella Talk, please click on their names on the right side of this blog or the label Umbrella Talk. If you are a playwright who has been produced a few times here in Canada or elsewhere and would also like to talk to us, please send us an e-mail to obu@web.ca.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Umbrella Talk with playwright Mark Brownell

Welcome to this week's Umbrella Talk with playwright Mark Brownell. Mark tells us why he doesn't write about personal family stuff; why he's not immune to both criticism and praise; and what two muses inspires him.

A little more on Mark Brownell

Mark Brownell is a Toronto-based playwright and co-artistic director of the Pea Green Theatre Group with his wife and partner Sue Miner. Awards: Nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for his play, Monsieur d'Eon. He also received a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his libretto Iron Road and a Dora Mavor Moore Award Nomination for Medici Slot Machine. Other work includes The Barbecue King, The Martha Stewart Projects, Playballs, High Sticking - Three Period Plays, The Chevalier St. George, The Storyteller’s Bag and The Weaving Maiden.


Umbrella Talk with Mark Brownell

What do you drink on opening night?

I usually hide behind a bottle of Stella.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
Sue Miner has always been my coolest director. If she were to finally come to her senses and leave me then I would love to work with Robert Lepage.


What scares you? What can't you write about?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper scares me. But I’m not afraid to write about what a douche bag he is. I never write about personal family stuff. I've seen a few writers dig a little too deeply into their personal lives with embarrassing results.


What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Well, I have this really cool new idea for an opera that's set in…oh wait. I see what you are doing. Nice try.


If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

It would probably be one of those dreary kitchen-sink Canadian dramas where characters break out of their naturalistic environment to deliver earnest, exposition-stuffed monologues directly to the audience. And if that were the case then I would walk out of my own life play well before intermission.


How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Both are ego traps. Too many Canadian artists look to others for approval. It's pathetic and I am not immune to it. With regard to criticism I believe John Gielgud put it best: "A bad review can spoil your breakfast, but you should never let it spoil your lunch."


Where would you like your work to be produced?
In the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.


Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I write in a quiet little closet that is not in my house. I use a desktop PC. Laptops drive me crazy. If you ever see me using one in a Starbucks please shoot me on the spot.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I'll just be happy if they spell my name right.


What inspires you?
Music and history are two of my muses.


Thank-you again for reading Umbrella Talk here on our blog. We invite you to revisit our past Umbrella Talks with playwrights such as Marjorie Chan, Linda Griffiths, Norm Foster, Daniel MacIvor, Janet Munsil, Justin Fleming, Brendan Gall, Mark Leiren-Young, and many more who have talked to us here since July. If you are a playwright who has been produced a few times here in Canada, or eleswhere, and would like to talk to us too, please send us an e-mail to obu@web.ca. Please also join our blog network on facebook at http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blogpage.php?blogid=70497


Friday, December 5, 2008

Great Link

At Nsaa, there's a great post on diversity with regards to directors. I especially recommend one of the through links, Empathy for the Devil.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Atomic Vaudeville, Sylvia Plath Must Not Die, and new laptops

The big news in my life is that I've purchased a baby laptop, an Acer Aspire One, henseforth known as Baby. It is my hope that I'll be better able to keep up with things. One of the nice things about Baby is that I can start writing impressions of shows I've seen while on my way home. The first draft of this post was written on the subway and at the bus station.

Unfortunately, it appears that Rogers Wireless doesn't want me to connect to Blogger, so I've had to wait until I got a LAN connection to upload this post. Since one of the things I wanted a better handle on was blogging, I'm going to have to talk to some people.

Sunday I finally got to experience something that's been a staple in Victoria for years now, Atomic Vaudeville. Out of this monthly cabaret grew a show, Legoland, which is currently playing at Theatre Passe Muraille. They took this opportunity to have most of the regular cast do a one-night only Atomic Vaudeville show in Toronto. It was billed as a combination of "theatre, comedy, music, dance, and puppetry with a healthy dose of vulgarity". I certainly saw all these elements during the evening. The pre-show was music and in the process I was introduced to an really cool band originally from Victoria, The Human Statues. I hope to catch them really soon - I'm told they play a lot around town.

The show itself used as a through line the idea that Jesus had decided to get out of the saviour business and was now taking care of his nana, who is Satan, who would rather watch Coronation Street rather than pay any attention to him. The show was anchored by a few larger set pieces that sometimes would encompass multiple acts within it. There was a bit with a blissed out host who uses bass music to punctuate his introductions to some really bad acts. He talked about being a "virtual activist", which made me laugh in self-recognition.

The closing number was Spiderman The Musical, written by Bono (which is actually in development). Rod Peter Jr. had impressed me all night with his physicality and during this finale he was perilously hanging off the TPM railing throughout the beginning. Lots of Bono jokes later, the ending tied back into the framing device, uniting Bono and Jesus in love. There were a lot of other small comedy bits, some more successful than others. And lots of Mormon jokes.

But my personal favourite was Batman Bollywood. Imagine a bare-chested Batman, a reclining matchmaker of a Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker busting Indian dance moves, and you'll have a hint of what it was all about.


There's another touring company in town, One Yellow Rabbit. They're doing two shows in rep and last night I saw Sylvia Plath Must Not Die. I've seen two of their previous shows, Thunderstruck (at Magnetic North) and Dream Machine (at TPM). Dream Machine was the first part of what the Rabbits call their "typewriter trilogy", with this show being the second. (The third, Doing Leonard Cohen, is the other show in rep.) I wasn't a big fan of Dream Machine, but I suspected it was because I'm not a fan of the beat poets.

Turns out I was right because I really enjoyed Sylvia Plath. Using the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton to give a sense of their lives and the men that played a large part of them, the show intertwines dance (I'm pretty sure it was Foxtrot they were doing), recitation and occassional dialogue. I liked the moodiness of it all and being exposed to the poetry of famous names I had heard of but never read. Plath's work left me cold but I would like to read more of Sexton at some point. And hopefully I'll be able to catch the Leonard Cohen piece before it closes next weekend as well.

It was great to see work from the other side of the country. I hope I get a chance to see more soon.


I want to thank everyone for the responses to the last white paper post. It's been useful hearing people's thoughts and I'm hoping more people will join in. I'd like to see some forward movement, not have everything just lapse. I had a discussion with someone at Canadian Heritage yesterday and she strongly suggested that I find out more about what is already being done and work off of that instead of trying to create something new. So my question to you readers out there - what is already out there and how effective is it?

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