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All the world’s a stage: from campus theatre to New York, and now across the pond

U of T alumni direct and take their play, zounds!, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

All the world’s a stage: from campus theatre to New York, and now across the pond

Veronika Gribanova and Jacob Levitt are both U of T alumni, and were heavily involved in the theatre scene during their years on campus. Now, they are transferring their love of the arts and their directorial skills across the pond this summer to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ⁠— the world’s largest festival for arts and culture. 

They sat down with The Varsity to discuss their show, zounds!, their directorial relationship, and the jump from campus theatre to New York. 

The Varsity: Firstly, what is zounds! about? 

Veronika Gribanova: zounds! is a comedy about the Greek gods during the Trojan War, set in the present. In the ninth year, when Aphrodite is injured in battle, Zeus puts the gods under house arrest on Mount Olympus.

Jacob Levitt: Think Big Brother: Greek Gods edition. It features 13 gods, Helen of Troy, and a Greek chorus, and is a political comedy about power, love, and (literal) sacrifices.

TV: That sounds brilliant. I bet it was fun to write. Can you expand on the creative process of how zounds! ended up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

VG: I wrote it for my company in New York, Floor Five Theatre Company. We knew we wanted to put on a show with a large cast, because the company had 27 people at the time, so I wrote this 18 person play — which was a bit insane. I mean, everyone kept telling us this was a stupid thing to do. But our company is nothing if not strong-willed, so, against all odds, we premiered the show in the Atlantic Stage 2 and had a sold-out run. Then, because that wasn’t difficult enough, we said: “let’s take it abroad.”

TV: You are both co-directing zounds!. Did you know that you would be taking on this massive project when you first met on the U of T campus stage?

JL: We knew from the moment we first worked together that our dynamic was of a nature one might call “productively dysfunctional.” So we pushed that dynamic to its logical limit and did as many shows as we could together.

VG: With Jacob and I, it was hate at first sight. So we thought it would be funny to keep working together. I directed Jacob in Trojan Barbie for the Victoria College Drama Society, then we directed Jesse Eisenberg’s Asuncion for The St. Michael’s College Troubadours. 

JL: Then we took our talents to the Toronto Fringe Festival with Veronika’s own piece, Lover Lover.

VG: And now we’ve arrived at my play zounds!. I’ve since moved to New York and mostly work there, so I had to convince Jacob to not only come to Edinburgh but to come to New York for the rehearsal process.

TV: Other than U of T campus theatre, what else have you done to help get you ready for the Fringe?

VG: I’ve actually worked on a few shows for the Toronto Fringe. Those were a good warm-up for this… although I don’t know how much we can really be prepared. The Edinburgh Fringe has over 3,000 shows each day and is the largest arts festival in the world. That’s a bit daunting.

JL: It is truly massive, and trying to find our foothold in it all will probably be our biggest challenge, second only to the rehearsal process itself! But it is an occasion to which we are willing to rise. So yes, daunting, but also exciting.

TV: What has the transition from campus theatre to theatre in the big, real world been like?

VG: People don’t yell as much in the professional world. That’s something that surprised me when I left university. Campus theatre has a lot of stressed-out people yelling. At one point, I was one of them! My lovely stage manager Shashwat Sharma told me to stop freaking the actors out. Everyone is quite calm on professional productions and on shoots. The other big difference is that now I have to fund my own work. I miss that campus funding, yo!

JL: It’s also refreshing to work with a cast and crew that is almost if not entirely made up of people dedicated to establishing their own career in professional theatre. Also funding.

TV: Can you describe your directorial journey? What steps have you taken from directing campus shows at U of T to directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

VG: Well, besides our show Lover Lover in Toronto, I’ve been working on productions in New York for the past few years. I’ve mostly been writing, acting, and producing, but doing a bit of directing as well, primarily on film. 

I wrote and directed a web series called Art is Dead that’s now being released (also co-produced with Berenice Odriozola), and wrote and directed a short called November Burns Red that’s now in post. And I recently graduated from Atlantic Theater Company’s 2.5-year conservatory program ⁠— the training and teachers there were really spectacular. So I feel as prepared as I can be for something as big as this.

JL: For me, it started with a job at a summer camp as a creative and cultural director, where I had to help write, produce, and direct half a dozen shows over the course of a summer term. Throw in some directorial roles with Veronika, a few avant-garde performative murder mystery events, and one might call me a bit of a directorial journeyman.

TV: How did taking zounds! to the Fringe Festival come about?

VG: After I finished the Toronto Fringe in 2017 I said, “I’m never doing another Fringe Festival!” And I actually don’t remember how this happened. I know someone in my company suggested it sometime last year. Then, when we closed our production of the show in December, we felt it wasn’t the end and wanted the play to have another life. So our team of three producers ⁠— including myself, Berenice Odriozola, and Ana Guzmán Quintero ⁠— applied this winter, and were accepted by theSpaceUK to perform in one of their venues.

TV: Why is community in theatre so important? 

VG: In our individualistic and ego-driven culture, collaboration and connection are rare. I’ve been blessed with these challenges in my artistic life. And it is a challenge. Collaboration, connection. It is sitting in a room with the 25 other artists in your company and remembering why you decided to come together. It is remembering to meet each other again. It is listening. It is killing your ego. Every day is a new chance to fail at all of the above challenges, and I feel lucky to have this chance.

JL: The size of an ensemble production like this one can in a way form its own microcosmic theatre community. The characteristics of a successful production can then mirror the characteristics that one should want and expect in a theatre community as a whole. Trust and respect, while buzzwords, are at the heart of any good production. I know I like to see bravery in the decisions actors make, while in equal measure seeing their restraint and support of the cast and crew around them.   

TV: And what about the cast and crew? 

VG: As for our cast and crew ⁠— we have a talented pair of sisters in our cast! Ana Guzmán Quintero plays Athena and is also one of the producers, and Luisa Guzmán Quintero joins the cast as Helen. Ana studied alongside me at the Atlantic Acting School and Luisa studied at The Lee Strasberg Institute, which teach pretty much opposing acting techniques. I’ve always found it funny that they chose such vastly different schools. I’m so excited to have both of them on the team! I’m also especially grateful for Berenice Odriozola, who is acting as Demeter, for producing the show and acting as Head of Marketing for the whole company. She’s the busiest lady I know but wears all her hats so well. 

TV: Are you nervous for the Fringe? Excited? Awestruck? Tell me all of your feelings… but only in three words.

JL: Only three words. That’ll be tricky. Three words? Okay. Got it. First word: “Inspiring.” Second word: “Huge.” Third word: “Once-in-a-lifetime.”

VG: What he said.

TV: How can tickets for zounds! be bought? When is it being performed?

VG & JL: Tickets can be bought here! It’s being performed from August 2 to 10 (blackout August 4) in Edinburgh at theSpaceUK.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What it means to be Out at School

U of T professor turns research project into play for Pride Month

What it means to be <i>Out at School</i>

The Nexus Lounge, located on the 12th floor of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) building, is intimate in size but offers breathtaking views of downtown Toronto. The room is encircled by large glass windows, which allow the sun to linger over the stage set in the middle of the space. In this setting, the stage itself feels closed off from the outside world, yet simultaneously above it.

At the Lounge, I recently viewed U of T Professor Tara Goldstein’s latest “performed ethnography,” titled Out at School and put on as part of Toronto Pride celebrations. According to promotional materials, Out at School is “a verbatim theatre piece based on interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) families about their experiences in Ontario elementary and secondary schools.” 

The play took place on a hot Saturday evening in June, in the middle of Pride Month, and highlighted the narratives of 37 families interviewed by Goldstein’s team. This research project took the experiences of these families and wove them together into dramatized production, resulting in a story of hope.

When I first entered, the room was humming with the noise of multiple conversations amongst the various families, friends, and peers who had just finished watching the afternoon performance of the show. I was immediately struck by a feeling of familiarity and welcomeness ⁠— it felt as though I had stepped into a family gathering. Professor Goldstein and her partner tended to a table of refreshments and chatted with attendees, and I was immediately greeted with hugs and multiple offers to grab a snack. 

Following the show, I inevitably realized that this was exactly how Out at School is supposed to make you feel: as though you belong. And although I did not know many of the people in the room, I noticed that the audience was largely composed of large groups of families and friends of the performers, which made the show all the more intimate. 

Goldstein and her team successfully built a safe and positive space for all, regardless of background, and invited the audience to simply listen to what her research had to say. What really fascinated me was how this play was a product of the intersection between scholarship and creativity: a product of Goldstein’s own academic pursuits but expressed in a way that is easily digestible by anybody. As simply put in the program for the play, this was “where theatre meets research.”

This was an intentional and tactful choice. As Goldstein told me, the play “is what we call a verbatim play because we only use the words [from] the interviews [with LGBTQ+ families].” They, of course, edit and thematize the interviews in the process of adding music and images. Nevertheless, she explained that “Every single one of those words [was] spoken by one of our families.”

In highlighting the voices of real Ontario students and families, this play offered a refreshing addition to Toronto Pride ⁠— one made all the more political in light of Doug Ford’s cutbacks to the Ontario education budget and changes to the sex education curriculum.  

When they introduced the play, the directors explained that it was a “relaxed performance.” This was an apt description. It felt like listening to a friend talk rather than a staged event: there were no microphones, and the stage was empty, save for chairs arranged in a semicircle and a slide show behind the cast that displayed original artwork for each scene. This also made each scene feel like a support group.

Performers sharing their stories on stage. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAR WELLS

I was fond of this idea because it reflected how personal the stories in the play really were, and emphasized that verbatim accounts were being used. Furthermore, the use of direct quotes from the interviews conducted in Goldstein’s research project powerfully conveyed the honesty and personality in the stories shared onstage. 

Out at School highlights the shortcomings of the Ontario education system in supporting LGBTQ+ students and families in a meaningful way. In an interview after the show, Goldstein explained how her research particularly reflects this. “We heard a lot of parents talk about making strategic decisions of when to come out or not,” she told me. “To be out means you can talk very directly with the school system about how to support your family. On the other hand, if you think you’re going to be rejected you may choose not to come out.” 

This means that the choice to come or not depends heavily on the school culture, which in turn is fostered by the educators and the curriculum they teach. For example, Goldstein explained, “We’ve had some students talk about how during elementary school everybody knew they came from a family with two mums, but when they changed to high school they would wait and see if there was a social cue that made it safe for them to talk about their family.” 

The stories I had the opportunity to hear were not just about hardship and pain, but resilience and advocacy. Although this kind of advocacy might work in small ways, the minute changes made can come together to make a real difference in the lives of many in the community. This is the message that Goldstein not only tries to convey in her writing, but also incorporates in her own way of teaching here at U of T. 

As she told me, “When you’re working with teachers, if you do this work with one teacher, you could have an impact, if they’re in elementary school, on 30 [students] and families, and if they are a secondary school teacher you could have an impact on 150 to 200 students and family lives.” She explained that although schools constitute the locus of her activism, she also wants “the issues to be talked about outside of schools and [her] own classroom.”

After all, she told me, that desire to reach a wider community informed their decision to stage the research project as a play, and is why they are considering putting the play on in Ontario schools. 

This demonstrates how the changes Goldstein and other LGBTQ+ advocates hope to see must begin with smaller, localized communities. Furthermore, safe spaces need to be a reflection of the population around us. From there, larger-scale reforms can be staged to make schools more comfortable places for everyone.

This is the kind of change Goldstein witnessed while teaching at U of T. When asked about the connections between the play and the university, she recalled the multiple progressive changes that have taken place at U of T in recent years. “I have watched the growth of the sexual diversity program at the U of T from the very beginning,” she told me.

“As the program grew and students started to join [it], they were the ones who advocated for more resources.” She smiled. “A number of people here today are looking out the windows of OISE, and noticed the Pride flag and the trans flag flying at Varsity Stadium; that meant a lot to people because they hadn’t realized U of T would celebrate Pride in that way ⁠— big and proud.”

“Big and proud” is the message of hope echoed at the very end of the play. Movingly, each member of the production stood up and said what they hope to see change in the future. A desire for change has been expressed in many different ways during the past few months, given the actions of the Ford government. With budget cuts that threaten the current education system, Goldstein highlighted the 2012 Accepting Schools Act as something more hopeful.

As she explained, “Despite Doug Ford’s ideas about curriculum, we still have the 2012 [Accepting] Schools Act, which requires all schools and all teachers to keep all kids safe.” Goldstein paused, then continued. “If that’s going to happen, we have to talk about LGBTQ+ lives.”

Disclosure: Hemrajani is a St. Michael’s College Director for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). 

Editor’s Note (July 30, 1:00 pm): This article has been updated to disclose the author’s affiliation with the UTSU. 

Theatre Review: VCDS’ Mamma Mia!

Gimme Gimme Gimme another run of this fun show

Theatre Review: VCDS’ <i>Mamma Mia!</i>

Mamma Mia! is canon of musical comedies, rocket-fueled by sheer thrum and pulse of toe-tapping, sing-along-tempting ABBA. It’s fun. Whether it’s Sophie’s impossible goal to bring together three men, any of whom could be her biological father — strangers Sam, Bill, and Harry — the idyllic Greek island setting, or any of the flamboyant supporting characters, this is a fun musical. And above all else, beyond its foibles, the Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) production of Mamma Mia! was fun in turn.

VCDS’ production, which ran from March 7­–9 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, was directed by Ronan Mallovy. On March 9, the theatre was packed with the usual audience composition of parents, friends, and theatre fans — likely jealous that they weren’t themselves members of the chorus. The audience’s tone was upbeat as the musical began slightly late, and there were occasional cheers and shouts as fan favourites and friends took to the stage.

The production was largely carried by a few standout performances. Lisean Henry brought a palpable vibrancy and momentum to her performance as Donna, Sophie’s fiercely independent mother and former lover of her three potential fathers. Alexandra Palma as the seductive, vain, and reliably lively Tanya had an unmistakable energy and stage presence that proved a nice foil to the performances of Lisean Henry and Elizabeth So, who played Donna’s other friend Rosie.

Gianni Sallese, a familiar face in campus theatre, played one of Sophie’s potential fathers, Sam Carmichael. His recognizable physical presence and movement, as well as natural humour, was on full display. Kody McCann (Bill Anderson) and Leo Morgenstern (Harry Bright) were also excellent additions to the named cast. The chemistry between the three fathers was amusing and they maintained high energy throughout their time on stage.

Special mention must also go to Carter Holmes as Pepper, staff member at the small hotel Donna owns. He brought a spring and comedy to the stage that managed to stitch together the scenes we all wished would hurry up a bit until the next big number.

The music direction, led by Emma Wallace, kept the tempo of the show moving along at pace and brought a swollen sound in all the right places for the big numbers. The tight proximity of the band to the actors on stage, at a close stage left, added to the casual tone of the performance generally.

However, while the set design was on theme and the fly-set window panes and plants were a nice touch, the cast’s interaction with the set pieces was lacking overall. When they did interact heavily with the set, there was a sense of clumping and some issues with voice projection in the conversational elements of the musical. In the more dramatic scenes, there was little interaction with the set at all, and the space taken up by the set could have been better used by the well-choreographed cast.

In addition, perhaps to the end of showcasing the admittedly solid vocal talents of the leading cast, the fact that some of the greatest tunes of the musical, namely “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen,” were performed by a small ensemble was a real and regrettable shame. Whenever the cast and chorus at large were on stage as one, the energy in the room was tangible and electric. When they were absent, there was a real question of how there could be so little energy on stage with so many people waiting in the wings undoubtedly wishing they could join in.

The performance largely underused the cast and chorus for the big vocal performances. While the leading cast were impressive, songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” are meant to be belted aloud and put the crowd under a spell. Instead, the energy in these teasingly low-tempo performances fell starkly flat.

The best part of Mamma Mia! was the end — and this isn’t meant in a snarky, holier-than-thou critical sense. The finale of the show is well-known: a full-ensemble performance of the biggest show tunes to, usually, a standing ovation, as was the case on March 9. The end felt like the very first time the energy level in the room was absolutely cranking, and songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” had me mouthing the lyrics, whereas their performances during the core show had me somewhat distracted.

All in all, it would be a good wager that most, if not all, of the audience left Mamma Mia! having had fun. And beyond careful and persnickety critiques, if that isn’t a worthwhile goal of campus theatre, then what is?

Theatre Review: Hart House’s Hair

As their 2018–2019 season comes to a close, Hair graces the stage

Theatre Review: Hart House’s <i>Hair</i>

In 1968, the musical Hair took the Broadway stage by storm with its representation of the counter-cultural, anti-war, hippie movement. Featuring powerful rock anthems, crude language, fluid sexuality, and of course, the infamous nude scene at the end of “Where Do I Go?”, it seemed to be almost as controversial as it was likeable. Now, on its 50th anniversary, Julie Tomaino’s directorial take on the show is as moving today as it was back then.

Hair, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermont, takes the audience into the “Age of Aquarius,” following a group of long-haired, love-loving, drug-consuming teenagers in their fight against the rising political conservatism of their time. As high-school dropouts, these teens fight against conscription into the Vietnam War — joining the resistance through the anti-war peace movement of the 1960s. The central conflict of the show follows Claude (Christian Hodge) as he wrestles with the decision of whether or not to resist the draft as his fellow hippie friends have.

Though tentative at first, Hodge’s depiction of Claude was breathtaking; Claude transformed from a young, selfish boy to a complex man before our very eyes. His goofy movements in “Manchester England” vastly differ from the contemplative young man questioning “Where Do I Go?” by the end of the first act.

There truly was not a weak member of this cast. Berger (Andrew Perry) hilariously kicked us off with “Donna” removing his pants and breaking the fourth wall, making the audience feel strangely comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable scenario of being seen in a crowd full of people. Marisa Dashney’s portrayal of Sheila, a political activist and lover to Berger, was beautiful and heartbreaking. Her moving performance of “Easy to Be Hard” resonated with the audience on a whole other level in the shadow of the #metoo movement.

But what makes this show stand apart were the smaller pieces of the puzzle; the ensemble. This “tribe” brought the energy of the room up with their colourful costuming, hilarious depiction of drug use, and their nailing of intricate harmonies in songs like “Aquarius” and “Hair”—  I have to take a moment to mention Kevin James Doe’s show-stealing depiction of old woman, Margaret Mead in one of the most memorable scenes of the show — the audience will be thinking about his long note in “My Conviction” until the end of time. Although the content of this show is inherently political, it is also jam-packed with comedic moments thanks to the supporting characters’ high energy, literally.

Thinking about the message of the show, it’s strange how a show about hippies and the Vietnam war can speak to a contemporary audience. Hair stripped all of the modern fear of offensiveness away — again literally — to say something unfiltered. With songs like “Coloured Spade,” “I’m Black/Ain’t Got No,” and “Three-Five-Zero-Zero,” this show speaks to the realities of its time period in the most authentic way it can – proclaiming “I’m black,” “I’m pink,” and “I’m rinso white” in an entirely unapologetic manner.

The audience literally jumped when Claude made his pivotal entrance in full army getup and short hair, and when he is repeatedly shot by a gun on stage. Hair is striking in the risks that it takes, but I think those risks paid off. I know they did.

This short escape into the “Age of Aquarius” may be just what we all were looking for: a little more peace and some good old fashioned legal marijuana.

Theatre Review: A Perfect Bowl of Phở

From U of T’s Drama Festival to Factory Theatre, Nguyen’s play doesn’t miss a beat

Theatre Review: <i>A Perfect Bowl of Phở</i>

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Halfway through fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company’s production of A Perfect Bowl of Ph, actress Kenley Ferris-Ku appears onstage as a waitress in war-era Vietnam. She delivers a monologue that is informative and sincere, telling of how she served ph to American soldiers by day and hid Vit Cng soldiers in the attic by night. It is a monologue about the Tet offensive and the legacy of the restaurant that hid those soldiers. It is also a monologue about ph itself. For this reason, it serves as a good entry point to the show, and it is as near to perfect as this ‘ph show’ gets. Ferris-Ku’s performance is confident and firm, and playwright Nam Nguyen’s dialogue is no less powerful.

The scene is also unlike anything else you’ll see in a show filled with meta-theatrical gags, lightning-fast rap numbers, and dialogue that jackhammers at the fourth wall.

Ph is not so much a distinct narrative as it is a variety show honouring the eponymous dish, with every cast member skillfully juggling several roles, occasionally even trading places with one another. Tying it all together is the arc of the playwright himself, played — mostly — by a wry and witty Kenzie Tsang, as he works out the show from its inception to the final product.

The audience is made to feel like what it is seeing is a work in progress, which isn’t entirely false. First showcased at U of T’s 2017 Drama Festival, fu-GEN’s production is the third iteration of the show — each one markedly different from the last. Questions of what the show is even about and whether it’s getting its message across are discussed openly onstage.

Yet, rather than bringing in new dimensions, these moments can read as overly didactic lessons on dramaturgy and do more to bar the audience from engaging fully and critically with the show. As someone who knows admittedly very little about Vietnam, I think the show would benefit from more scenes like Ferris-Ku’s, and fewer tangents into self-doubt.

In a show that does a brilliant job of being simultaneously entertaining and educational on the subjects of Vietnamese culture and history, Ph triumphs when it is sure of itself.

Watch as an extremely outgoing little girl (Meghan Aguirre) unleashes a lyrical torrent about bringing ph to school for World Cultures Day and you can’t help but be mesmerized. Watch as a white devil of a trendy ph chef (Brendan Rush) tears off his shirt to squeeze lime juice over the pentagram on his chest and you’ll be peeing yourself with laughter. Watch — or more accurately, read — an unflinching experiment in exposition as a gruesome story of Vietnamese refugees set adrift is projected onto an otherwise motionless stage and you will marvel at the risks that this show is willing to take with its material.

Despite its occasional missteps, there is no denying that A Perfect Bowl of Ph is a compelling piece of experimental theatre that you don’t want to miss. This latest iteration is the strongest yet — a good sign for the future if it’s as much of a work in progress as it claims to be. This show may indeed be well on its way to becoming a perfect bowl of phở.

A Perfect Bowl of Ph and Fine China are playing as a double-bill at the Factory Theatre until February 10.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Art

Friendships are akin to art: they help fill the voids within us

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Art</i>

Rating: 3/5 stars

Last weekend, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) performed Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art. The play, set in Paris and written in French, premiered in 1994 and was quickly adapted and translated, before making its way across the Atlantic and onto Broadway in 1998.

Performed at Trinity College’s George Ignatieff Theatre, curator Liana Ernszt made a conscious effort to integrate the performance with a gallery of boundary-pushing student artwork, providing an altogether more interactive experience.

By presenting opportunities for more direct engagement, Ernszt encouraged audiences to step outside of their comfort zones and provided a more visceral account of the play’s major themes: drifting friendships, weak bonds, senses of taste, and identity. This challenged audiences to consider the value and purpose of art and greatly enhanced the communication of Reza’s message in art.

Art follows three friends, Serge (Ezera Beyene), Marc (Kody McCann), and Yvan (Brendan Rush), who’ve unwittingly grown apart and suddenly find their friendship under considerable tension. Catalyzing the end of their friendship is Serge’s wildly exorbitant purchase of a painting that, rather humorously, is just a completely white canvas with white lines.

Marc disparages the painting, and it is this disagreement in taste between Marc and Serge that forces Yvan in the middle. Naturally, this devolves into a no-holds-barred contest of mockery, cynicism, and disillusionment, ultimately spiralling out of control and into referendums on taste, character assassinations, and a pervasive mood of indifference. Just when it’s most important for them to pull together, they instead push themselves even further apart.

The play, directed by Ryan Falconer, brought out a unified and true-to-form communication of Reza’s Art. The production was well-orchestrated with timely, effective lighting and use of the stage to entwine the audience in an intimate affair of theatre and drama. The band, with Shreya Jha on keyboard and Mira Riselli on bass, helped execute seamless transitions of scenes, building and releasing tension to complement the mood of the cast.

The cast succeeded in captivating the audience by effectively conveying the emotional rifts between their characters. Beyene’s performance of Serge as an eccentric art connoisseur left the impression of a focused approach to his role, by projecting his emotions not impulsively but sincerely. This was nicely juxtaposed by McCann’s performance of Marc, whose condescending demeanour and language really broadcast a sort of austerity that reached beyond the confines of the stage and into the minds of the audience. This contrast worked especially well in heightening the tension between the two characters. Rush’s performance of Yvan was ambitious and intense, though certainly not lost because his character was the most difficult to portray. Rush successfully supported the unfolding interactions between Serge and Marc, which would unravel even more to crash down like a game of Jenga.

The more salient point in Art and the blank canvas is not the trivial senses of taste, but the understanding that friendships are to be nurtured and not taken for granted. As with anything that is abandoned or neglected, if we lose sight, we also stand to lose clarity and, ultimately, the confidence of our friendships.

Friends are a sort of artwork in themselves; like art, friends help us overcome times of adversity and suffering by making light of dark situations. They fill the voids within us to cure our emptiness.

Ultimately, I wish to congratulate Falconer and the TCDS on a great show and laud their commitment and passionate dedication to storytelling, art, and the audience.

UC Follies’ B-Side rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

The show’s creator discusses making a show about records in the digital age

UC Follies’ <i>B-Side</i> rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

From November 30 to December 1, the UC Follies will be at Hart House for a two-night performance of B-Side: A Rock Cabaret. The show is a grand musical experience that will take you back in time with classic rock records you love and lesser-known songs for you to discover and fall in love with.

The Varsity wrote to Jocelyn Kraynyk, the show’s creator, about her inspiration for the show, nostalgia for rock music, and listening to records in the world of online streaming.

TV: So many people listen to music digitally, on Spotify and Apple Music — why did you decide to create a show about records instead?

JK: The simple answer as to why I created a show inspired by records is that I find digital means of listening to music passive. Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with my iPod and I might actually die without my Apple Music, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how easy it is to become complacent about listening. Many a time, I have found myself in a playlist loop where I don’t realize I’m listening to music that I don’t really like or care about. With records, the act of listening becomes so active. You carefully choose what record you want to listen to. You engage with the music in the ceremony of putting the record on and the needle down. If your mind is focused on other things, the record waits for you to reengage at the halfway mark. I think that level of immersion lends itself well to a theatrical endeavour.

TV: Where did you get your inspiration for B-Side?

JK: I was so thrilled when the Follies asked me to create a show and I celebrated by going to my favourite record shop and picking up a heap of new music. When I got home, I put on my new Pat Benatar and rocked around my living room basking in the amazing vocals and bopping tracks. Two things happened while I listened to that record: 1. I found a couple songs that I had never heard before but fell totally and completely in love with, and 2. I heard songs that I forgot that I loved and it felt like coming home. That is how I found the concept for this show — thanks Pat. For me, B-Side is all about celebrating the songs of amazing artists that don’t get the same amount of play as other classic rock, as well as celebrating better known songs that were put on the B-Side of their record. Some of the songs in this show are ones few people will know — but everyone will love — some are songs everyone will know and can sing along to, and some are songs that people will hear, be flooded with memory, and fall in love [with] all over again. 

TV: How did you choose what songs to include in the show and why did you choose rock music?

JK: Listening to hundreds of classic rock songs to find the perfect setlist was torture — just kidding, I was in my glory. I love that shit. I ended up deciding to centre this show around songs that explore young love and relationships – the good, the bad, the ugly, the horny. It connects every song and performance and reined me in — if I didn’t have that connecter, the show would be hours long instead of the sleek 55 minutes it is now. B-Side has an unclockable flow and energy. It’s dynamic. It’s energetic. It’s magnetic and it demands to be seen!

As an artist and a consumer, I love the feeling of nostalgia. For me, it serves as escapism and when I perform or listen to music from or reminiscent of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The flow and intensity of it allows me to let go and live in its palpable energy. That feeling is what I want for my audiences and that is why I gravitate towards rock. 

TV: What is a song or performance in the show that stands out to you? 

JK: As far as what song or performance stands out, I’m going to give a pageant answer: every single song and performance stands out. When creating this show, we wanted to make sure that every performer got their moment to shine, and shine they do! We have been incredibly fortunate work with this incomparable group of people. Every single one of them owns the stage and I challenge anyone watching not to be warmed to the core by the joy and energy that radiates off of them when they sing. They are a beautiful unit. Hart House is an intimidating space. It is huge and can be daunting for performers — I say this from experience: that stage is scary — but we don’t fear the stage, we dominate that stage. The passion and excitement from our cast fills the theatre from the dressing rooms to the very last row. 

 

Theatre review: Hart House’s The Penelopiad

Atwood successfully captures the unheard voices of Homer’s The Odyssey

Theatre review: Hart House’s <i>The Penelopiad</i>

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Since 2002, Hart House Theatre has staged a Shakespearean production every winter, alternating between a comedy and a tragedy each season. This tradition was replaced, or simply suspended, this year, but it is a loss that is noticed minimally, if at all, if only for the reason that Shakespeare has been replaced by a more contemporary bard: Margaret Atwood.

Atwood’s The Penelopiad is a drama on the level of Shakespeare. It is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from a female-centric lens: that of Penelope, wife of Odysseus and the titular character. In typical Atwood fashion, audiences receive the story of The Odyssey through Penelope’s voice and experiences.

The Penelopiad is composed of an all female-identifying cast of 13, and a mostly female-identifying production team. They are a wonderfully large and diverse troupe, who tell the story of Penelope’s life, her marriage to Odysseus, his absence for 20 years, his eventual return, and its implications.

At the beginning of the play, Penelope, who often speaks to the audience in a painfully honest fashion, reveals that her 12 maids were murdered and that she is to blame. The remainder of the play seeks to expose the culmination of such an event, in turn questioning female agency and the importance of female narrative, and perhaps most importantly, the silencing of women. This play is saturated with typical Atwoodian motifs and themes; it is a wonderful replacement for the often male-centric drama found in Shakespeare.

Apart from Amanda Cordner, who plays Penelope, almost all members of the cast play multiple characters. Each is both one of Penelope’s maids as well as a male character, such as Odysseus himself, or a minor character, such as Helen of Troy. The multiplicity of roles for each actor not only challenges typical gender stereotypes, but reinforces the multiplicity of narratives that Atwood emphasizes in her feminist retelling of this myth.

Director Michelle Langille’s staging of The Penelopiad is unsurprisingly exciting and inventive. Soft and dreamy background music can be heard almost constantly throughout the play, an unusual detail that perhaps emphasizes the uniqueness of the female voice. The set itself is mystical and well-occupied by the large cast, who move about frequently, employing props, such as large ropes, which at one point are used to mimic Penelope’s famous weaving.

Hart House Theatre productions almost always make excellent use of the entire theatre, not just the stage, and this production is no different. Even the lighting is memorable and even physical at times, used to blind the audience in an unusual and powerful effect.

Ultimately, The Penelopiad is an excellent production and well worth seeing. Stand out performances include Cordner, whose strength and dedication to her character truly carry the show. Much of the rest of the cast are appearing in their Hart House debuts, and one can only hope that they will be on this campus stage again soon.

Of course, one can also hope that the U of T alum herself has seen this excellent production. As a U of T student myself, it is particularly exciting to see such an epic work written by an alum and staged in a campus theatre. If such pride is not enough for you to enjoy the show, its own merits should do the trick.