Rhinos and rainbows

Unknown.jpegLast night I went to see Rhinoceros at the Bader Centre for the Arts.  I knew several friends who were in it but had no idea what it was about.   I was a bit disoriented at first, not sure where it all was heading or why.  Tied together by the notion that there were a few rhinoceroses seen about town and they presented both curiosity and perhaps even threat, the rest of the night was a series of vignettes – monologues and poems and dance and music – that were largely written and performed by local people.

As the evening wore on I could better understand the thread.  Basically it was a comment on diversity in our community and on our streets and, in the long run, we are all unique and in some way a rhinoceros to others.   We need to be tolerant and open in seeing new people or people that differ from us in whatever way.

Now this sounds a bit preachy but that was not how it came across. It was a bit of a grab bag and some of the performances were a bit awkward but all were heartfelt. I was not bored for a minute.  There were so many ideas and thoughts coming at me that at times I felt I needed a bit more time to reflect on what I had just heard.

My friend and I talked about it for an hour after the show and today I ruminated on the theme several times.   This is a great credit to the production.  Theatre can both entertain and cause reflection.  This one did both.

Dave and rhinos 2.jpgAs the actors called out that they had spotted a rhinoceros on the street,  I was reminded of a trip to Uganda in 2013 with my friend, Dave Kay.  We went to a rhino sanctuary where we were out with a guide looking for a few of the (huge) rhinos that lived in the forest there.  We came across a few.  Dave was more brave than I was to get a look at them.  I hung back with my camera – if the rhino charged it would get Dave first.  And our instructions were, if the animal charged to climb a tree.   Can you imagine me scrambling up an acacia with a rhino snorting down on me?  The guide said that when they charged it was usually a false charge and they would stop short.  Usually was the operative word in that sentence for me.   We survived.

Pride 3And to fit the diversity theme, this happens to be Pride weekend in Kingston. Today there was a parade down Princess Street with lots of colour and gaiety in the old sense of the word.

I remembered the first summer I lived in Kingston, there was an article in the Whig Standard with a photo of a same sex kiss-in on the steps of City Hall.  This was seen to be provocative and somewhat astounding.

One report of this incident reads: “Although the ceremony itself lasted only fifteen minutes, it attracted over 400 onlookers and was described as “a kiss that reverberated throughout Kingston.” The public’s responses to the kiss ran the gamut from curiosity to outrage. Most of the crowd applauded, but some showed their disapproval by booing.”

Today there were hundreds of brightly clothed celebrants of diversity in the parade down our main street.  Kids, families, soldiers, church groups, members of parliament.

The rainbow seems to have replaced the rhinoceros.

Pride one

 

 

 

A Kick and Push Grand Slam

The lead line in the Kingston Kick and Push Festival programme booklet says “This will be no ordinary theatre festival…”  They were right! I was excited earlier this year to see that Kingston was to host a summer festival of five theatre pieces scattered I both time and venue around the downtown core.  I vowed to see them all and this weekend I fulfilled my goal.

All of the theatrical events (not quite right to call them all plays) had interesting production features and all told stories in varied ways.

A Chorus Line is a fairly typical Broadway-type musical that lends itself well to be presented by young aspiring singers and dancers.  I have always enjoyed the productions mounted by Blue Canoe, the company that put this show on at the Grand Theatre in mid-July and this was no exception.  Lots of enthusiastic talented young folks giving a polished set of personal vignettes as they audition for a dancing role in a show.  A most enjoyable evening.

Jacob James and Sophia Fabiili in a scene from Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

Jacob James and Sophia Fabiili in a scene from Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

Shipwrecked is a three-actor tall-tale about an adventurous life on the high seas.  I really liked the imaginative presentation that immersed the audience in the story.  The audience was literally washed over by a huge wave,  flooded with ping-pong ball pearls, taken to meet south seas natives and introduced to a very friendly dog named Hugo.  Kudos to Brett Christopher who directed this show for his creativity and to the small cast that included my friend Jacob James who returned home to Kingston for this show. A delight.

IMG_8006

Zahshanne Malik, Audrey Sturino and Zachary Arndt in a scene from Totally Nana’s Ride – one of the Autoshow playlets.

Autoshow was a series of ten minute short plays that happened in and around cars in Market Square.  I particularly like the one called Totally Nana’s Ride that happened by an old Dodge parked beside the Bank of Montreal.  Some of these playlets were better written than others. Three of them ended with death, which was a bit of a downer.  The street noise sometimes made it hard to hear the dialogue sometimes.  Some of the plays actually had one or two people get right into the car where the action was happening.   At one point a homeless woman passing across the square wandered into the middle of the action and for a couple of minutes actually joined our small audience  group to peer into the back of the car where the action was happening.  This, of course, added to the whole presentation, rather than take from it.

IMG_8008Tall Ghosts and Bad Weather is a play with some historical background and was presented after dark outside in the graveyard beside St Paul’s Church on Queen Street – the same graveyard where Molly Brant is buried.  It was a curious mix of modern day and a hundred years ago, all intricately entwined as actors from both vintages came in and out of the mix, sometimes almost bumping into each other as they moved past one another, seemingly oblivious to the presence of each other.  The atmosphere was great and the actors did a good job of presenting the story.  A particular credit to them was that, despite three of them being in Autoshow, which I had seen an hour earlier, I did not recognize them in their transformed characters in the graveyard.  The Stone Cellar group that produced this play is a local troupe that specializes in historical dramas.  Will look for more from them.

My favorite, however, was Ambrose, a personal journey through nooks and crannies inside and outside the Grand Theatre, once again with a series of vignettes all revolving around the theatre magnate Ambrose Small, who disappeared mysteriously in 1919.  His ghost, it is said, still haunts the theatres he owned, one of them being the Kingston Grand.  In this theatre adventure, audience was taken one at a time through one of two tracks of stories.  I spent ten minutes alone with a psychiatrist, lying on a couch and answering questions about my deepest secrets, had a drink at an abandoned bar in the lobby with a sexy distraught woman who managed the theatre, read love letters with one of Ambrose Small’s showgirl paramours, watched as a young masked woman talked with me about taking risks then proceeded to scale part of the wall inside the theatre, huddled under a blanket with a slightly crazy recluse in a creepy dark machine room, and got tied up by three young phantoms after climbing down a fire escape into the  alleyway outside the theatre.   Could you ask for more in an interactive theatrical production?  I understand that some folks actually bailed out at some points, finding the personal involvement too intense.  But if you were willing to immerse yourself in the improv nature of this show it became just so much fun.

Earlier in the summer I also enjoyed the Salon Theatre’s Walking in John A’s Footsteps that runs twice daily downtown throughout the summer.

I was disappointed to see  the audiences for these many fine productions so small despite the most expensive ticket being $25.   How can we expect to have this wonderful, creative, immersive theatre in our community if we don’t support it.  I didn’t see anyone I knew in the audience any of the five nights I attended the different shows. Where were you?

With photos shamelessly lifted from the Kick and Push Facebook page!

“August” is over

The stage has been cleared. Set dismantled. Moustache shaved off.  Kings Town Players production of August:Osage County is over.

What a great run we have had.  This is the best production that I have been in.  The play is very well written and keeps the audience engaged throughout. It is intense and emotional and funny and relatable.

I was going to say that the cast and crew have worked like family to put this production together. But given the dysfunction in the play’s family, that may not be an apt analogy. We have worked like good friends. A real ensemble of cast and crew.

Dinner's readyTheatre is a team effort. For it to work, we need to trust and rely on all the other members of the team to do their part and sometimes rescue us if we goof up, forget a line or are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We all pulled together to mount a show we are all proud of.

I dont understand this meannessOne of the sad and wonderful things about live theatre is that every production, every performance, in fact, is unique. And once it is done, it is done.  Unlike a movie that you can watch over and over again, the theatre play exists only for the couple of hours that it is presented and then it vanishes.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with my K.T. P. friends to bring this magic to life in August:Osage County.

AOC 2014

Kings Town Players - August:Osage County September, 2014

Kings Town Players – August:Osage County                 September, 2014

 

 

Being me

My barber has been after me for some time to colour my hair. A few years back he convinced me to sit with a tight bathing cap thing on my head as he tugged strands of hair through and dyed them a darker colour. He called them “lowlights”. They made me feel like a skunk. After a couple of episodes of this torture I happily gave up on it and reverted to my natural white.

As Father in The Stone Angel

As Father in The Stone Angel

This month he was delighted when I told him that I thought, for the role I am currently playing in August:Osage County, I should have my white hair toned down a bit so it does not attract so much attention in the stage lights. For my role as Father in Stone Angel last spring it was appropriate. As Charlie Aiken, I thought I should look a little less domineering.

So last week he coloured my hair with a product he told me would gradually wash out over a few weeks, thereby being less noticeable as my white roots grow back in.

At first, the dye job proved a bit darker than I had anticipated and there was such a discrepancy between my hair and moustache and eyebrows that I had to have them done too.

For the role of Charlie it has been great. It has allowed me to feel like a totally different person and inhabit the character. The down side is that , for the next few weeks, I will be looking in mirrors and not recognizing myself. Friends pass me on the street, not knowing who I am.

Me or Ned?Others look at me with a glance of curiosity. Some of them ask me, “Got a new girlfriend?” Others are more direct. “You look like you should be in porn movies.” ” You look like one of the Mario Brothers.” “Ned Flanders” “Tennessee Ernie Ford”. “If you put conditioner on if and leave it in for a bit, it will wash out faster.”

No one seems to think that it is me. Nor  do I. I am blessed with a thick head of healthy white hair and I am 67 years old. Why would I want to pretend to be someone I am not? I am not ashamed of my age. Why should we have  a preoccupation of trying to look younger than we are? Stella McCartney show, Spring Summer 2014, Paris Fashion Week, France - 30 Sep 2013Do I want to end up looking like Paul McCartney – a 70-year-old face with 30-year-old  hair?  He may look good from the back but from the front, the effort to hide his age (that everyone knows anyway) is kind of pathetic.

My hair dresser told me “White hair says ‘old’. People don’t notice you if you have white hair, you are overlooked.”  Baloney.  Tell me that no one notices Bill Clinton or Anderson Cooper or Richard Gere.

Excuse me dear

“Scuse me, dear, Can I trouble you for another beer?”

When this show is over, I will put Charlie Aiken away and within weeks will be back to the real me. Pretending is for theatre and I absolutely love doing that. But in my real life I am not going to try to cover up who I really am. It is too much work. And it would make me feel like I am somehow not satisfied with myself. I think that would be a bit sad.

If I am cast in another play some time that requires a different look to take on the character I will be more than happy to do it again. Temporarily.

But if you overlook me simply because my hair is white … well, that is your problem, not mine. You don’t know what you are missing.

This is me.  Take it or leave it.

This is me. Take it or leave it.

 

Playing with friends

Remember when you were a kid and you used to pretend?  Cowboys and Indians (Native Americans)? Selling things from your “store”?  Or serving dinner with plastic veggies?

Well sixty years later I am still doing this.  Starting tonight, my Kings Town Players friends and I are dressing up and playing with each other and putting on a show for you.   I am having great fun playing the role of Charlie Aiken. Over the past few weeks,  I have gradually transfoimagermed myself into the dope-smoking, beer-swigging upholsterer from the southern U. S. A. who is caught up in one of the most dysfunctional families you can imagine.

August: Osage County is an award winning play that was made into a popular movie starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts last year.  I loved the movie but I think that the play has an intensity that can only be felt with live theatre.  We all can identify with the Weston family to some degree.  Are any of our families totally “normal”?  Or is this kind of dynamic more what “normal” is on some level?

Mattie Fay and Charlie Aiken in Kings Town Players production of August: Osage County

Mattie Fay and Charlie Aiken in Kings Town Players production of August: Osage County

There is a lot of very dark humour.  When we were rehearsing, I was almost embarrassed to laugh at some of the horrid things characters say to each other. The “ladies” are particularly foul-mouthed…and loving every moment of it.  We hope our audiences will relax and let go. You have permission to laugh out loud…in fact we are looking forward to hearing your guffaws.  Get ready for lots of startling moments as well.

The three-act play is also three hours long so come prepared to get your money’s worth.  You will feel like a voyeur, peeping through the windows of a family struggling with many demons.  Great live theatre.

We have worked hard to get this production ready. All we need now is an audience. Please join us for a dinner from hell.

August: Osage County runs Wednesday to Saturday from September 17 to 27 at the Rotunda Theatre, Theolological Hall, Queen’s University campus.  8 pm.  Tickets are $20 and available here ( http://www.kingstonboxoffice.com)or at the door.

Our revels are now ended.

One of the marvels of participating in theatre is watching a bare stage become washed in light and colour and sound and movement and then, when the production is done and the set struck, usually within a couple of hours of the last performance, the stage returns to blank walls and a bare floor. It is over. Never to happen in the same way again.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero says some of my favourite theatrical lines.

Legendary Canadian actor, William Hutt, at age 85, portrays Prospero in the 2005 Stratford Festival production of The Tempest.

Legendary Canadian actor, William Hutt, at age 85, portrays Prospero in the 2005 Stratford Festival production of The Tempest.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1

It is always bittersweet to put a theatre production to bed. Obviously Shakespeare knew this feeling, too. Like every minute of our lives, the words and actions and innuendos of every performance are unique and will never be repeated the same way again. Ever.

For the past few weeks I have been part of the King’s Town Players production of the Classic Canadian story by Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel, faithfully adapted for the stage by James W. Nichol.   It has been a pleasure to work with my theatre friiends to explore and interpret this piece, one that resonates with everyone.

Our final performance of The Stone Angel was last night. The stage is now bare and dark.  Revels ended. But the experience of participating in this drama has been enriching and hopefully our audiences found it a thought-provoking piece of local theatre.

Stage of The Stone Angel before the last performance and one hour after the show was done.

Stage of The Stone Angel before the last performance and one hour after the show was done.

Here are a couple of video montages of our production.

Here is how I imagined Jason Currie in front of his General Store in Manawaka, Manitoba in the late 1800's

Here is how I imagined Jason Currie in front of his General Store in Manawaka, Manitoba in the late 1800’s

Better late than never?

I have acted in amateur theatre on and off for several years but this week was the first time that I totally missed my entrance cue. I will backtrack a bit so you know the story.

20130420-103647.jpgImpromptu productions, a Kingston-based theatre company has taken on the difficult task of presenting two plays in repertory, alternating performances one with the other. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story that most people know well. Kingston’s Clayton Garrett has written Mercutio and his Brother Valentine, involving characters mentioned in Shakespeare’s classic and presenting a surprising back-story to the interactions between Capulets and Montagues in “fair Verona”.

My part is Prince Escalus. He is uncle to Mercutio and Valentine and has raised them after their parents died. He hopes one of them will be groomed to take over as Prince of Verona to succeed him but there are snags.

20130420-103627.jpgIn Romeo and Juliet, Escalus appears like bookends on the first half and at the end of the play. He has three entrances. In the first scene he comes in to yell at rowdy citizens to tell them to stop their bickering. Then he vanishes for about 90 minutes, only to appear again to exile Romeo for his part in killing Tybalt. At the end he shows up and says, basically “I told you something like this would happen”.

Of course, Escalus does make this all sound rather more complicated than it is. But that’s Shakespeare.

I decided that I would take my ipad to the theatre and while waiting for my three little entrances, would put together a video of photos that I had taken for both plays. I enjoy photography and also love to share the photos in different ways with friends.

So there I was in the hallway outside the dressing room trying to upload a video to YouTube when one of the stage managers hustled in and indicated that I was called to the stage. Usually we get five minutes warning to be in place. I assumed that I had time to pack up my iPad and get into position. I was wrong. It had been only when I failed to show up on the stage that they realized that I was not in place. My entrance was through a solid door at the back of the audience, the door hidden behind a black cloth. Unfortunately, in the dressing room which is in a totally different wing of the building, or even behind this solid door, it is impossible to tell what is happening on stage. I pulled the door open a crack to hear what was going on. Dead silence. What scene was this? Then someone pushed me from behind and whispered “Go Now”. The whole play had, at least momentarily ground to a halt. The next lines (and advancement of the plot) were mine. No wonder it was quiet on the stage. I regally appeared from behind the black cloth onto the stage to be greeted by one of my fellow actors who was looking at me with eyes that were like a deer in the headlights. Tybalt lay “dead” on the floor (likely wondering how he was going to get out of this one).

I am sure that there had been a very awkward silence and I owe poor Benvolio a beer. He would have wondered how on earth to get out of this situation if I never appeared. When something like this happens in front of an audience, seconds feel like hours.

I was able to jump right in and give my Blah Blah Blah, banish Romeo, tell them to drag the corpse away and confound the audience with the final line of the half – “Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.” Lights out. Applause. Intermission. An embarrassing story to tell. Live theatre.

Here is the video that I was uploading to YouTube while all this was happening. I hope it was worth it.

Mercutio and his Brother Valentine will continue next week at the Rotunda Theatre, Queen’s University, Kingston at 8 pm on April 24, 26 and 27. Romeo and Juliet will be at 8 pm on April 25 and 2 pm on April 27. I will try to make my entrances on time.