In the off-chance that some (or one) of you happened to read the previous blog post and went to see “Quo Vadis” at the Fringe Festival, only to discover that I have been replaced by the brilliant Ross McMillan due to health reasons, please let me assure you that I have since recovered from my little episode (the result of exhaustion and an extreme electrolyte imbalance), though I will not be returning to the show. For those of you who have expressed concern and/or wished me well: thank you. I appreciate it. For those of you who took no note or experienced indifference: no hard feelings.
“My present business calls me from you now.”
The Comedy of Errors, I.2
Now that the dust and feathers of The Comedy of Errors have settled, here’s a peek into what the next few months hold in store for some of our Artistic Ensemble members:
Michelle Boulet has spent the past 5 months in Vancouver assistant directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Bard On The Beach, and will spend the next 2 months working on The Winter’s Tale with the all-female ensemble Classic Chic Productions!
Andrew Cecon will be performing in The War and Peace Show (an initiative of Project Peacemakers) at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, which is also being directed by Debbie Patterson. Andrew also has a small part in the horror feature The Exorcism of Molly Hartley, and will spend August raising funds for a short film he is producing and performing in which will be shot in September (producer credits are available for the low buy-in of $1000)!
Sarah Constible continues to pursue her destiny in “Ford Nation”…
Kevin Klassen will be chewing up the scenic ruins of the St. Boniface Cathedral as “Nero” in the Fringe Festival production of Quo Vadis under the direction of Ron Jenkins (chief architect of The Comedy of Errors). Quo Vadis will also feature SIR Board Member Randall Payne! In September, Kevin will be performing in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Rachel Browne Theatre.
Toby Hughes will be appearing in two shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival: Outside Joke is a long-form musical improv company that weaves together narrative and song to bring a brand new hour-length musical to the stage every show. The DnD Improv Show combines the fantasy and dice rolling of Dungeons and Dragons with lavish costumes and live-action combat to create an over the top serial Fringe adventure. Toby will also be guesting with the Big Stupid Improv Show from time to time!
Arne MacPherson spent two weeks in Iceland in June acting as “B” cameraman and driver on Erika MacPherson’s MTS On Demand documentary Heim Thrall. Shooting will continue through September in Manitoba and possibly Vancouver. He spent July shooting a documentary about the theatre troupe Knavish Hedgehogs, and will work on post-production in the fall.
Now get out there and see some theatre!!!
For those of you who (like us) just can’t cram enough Shakespeare (or birthday cake) into your lives, our good friend (and actor soon to seen in The Comedy of Errors) Rodrigo Beilfuss is throwing another party next week, and YOU’RE INVITED!
Some of you may recall Rodrigo as “Bassanio” in our 2007 production of The Merchant of Venice, and he also played the “Scottish King” in our Stripped-Down Macbeth tour of the very same year! AAAAAND… he just got back last fall from studying Shakespeare at LAMDA!
In other words: we think he’s worth your time! So go and see…
“Shakespeare & Me: Beilfuss Bard Bash – a Birthday Show”
Had he been an immortal Jedi, Will Shakespeare would be turning 450 this April.
Curiously enough, that’s also Rod’s birthday month!
“Shakespeare & Me” is an informal workshop/reading of a one-man show actor/director Rodrigo Beilfuss has been working on, which covers a bit of biographical history and fun Shakespearean anecdotes, as well as performances of key monologues and scenes from the plays. The goal is to educate, celebrate, and perhaps to shed light on the mysterious man behind the words.
As the show is as much about Shakespeare as it is about Beilfuss’s personal relationship with his works, some of the speeches will be performed in English AND Portuguese – Beilfuss’s native language.
In a nutshell, “Shakespeare & Me” is a theatrical project that seeks to explore the works of William Shakespeare as the global artist he has become: multilingual and multicultural.
ONE-OFF Performance on Wednesday, April 30th at 8pm, at Ace Art inc: 2nd floor 290 McDermot Avenue. PAY WHAT YOU CAN AT THE DOOR!
“O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio’s dead!
That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,
Which too untimely here did scorn the earth.”
Romeo & Juliet, III.1
In my mind, although he made an indelible impression on many roles throughout his career as an actor (‘Bottom’; ‘Macbeth’; ‘Sir Toby Belch’; ‘MacHeath’; and ‘Claudius’ for SIR alone), Gene Pyrz was Mercutio. A gallant spirit. A dare-devil. An adventurer. A rock star.
He was charismatic, pugnacious, gentle, athletic, and exceptionally literate. He reveled in camaraderie, yet remained magnetically aloof and steadfastly private. He loved being at the centre of attention, and he achieved it so effortlessly as to create the illusion that it had been thrust upon him – that he remained there merely out of the grace and good nature of his heart. He could be an amazing friend, unobtrusively dispensing advice through metaphor, from a wealth of hard-won wisdom and experience.
(At the time when he and I were closest, Gene himself accepted advice from only three sources: William Shakespeare; ‘Country’ Dick Montana; and his ‘yogi’, Paul Scarnati. In his later years, he was incredibly lucky to come home to the amazing Ruth Louise Huff, and I can only hope and imagine that he had the good sense to follow her patient, unwavering guidance.)
To my detriment, I failed to take advantage of the opportunity to watch Gene perform in the early years of SIR (although I watched him in many shows besides), so I will leave it to others more qualified to describe his contribution as a founding member. Instead, I’d like to share a handful of my own personal memories of Gene and what he meant to me.
I first met Gene when we were cast together in the (short-lived) Manitoba Theatre Centre Acting Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet – my very first professional acting job. The cast was stacked with a majority of Winnipeg’s finest actors (Sharon Bajer, Ross McMillan, Megan McArton, Nancy Drake, Richard Hurst, Robb Patterson, Frank Adamson, Arne MacPherson) and, for me, at the top of proverbial Xmas tree stood Gene as, of course, Mercutio. Watching him and (briefly) sharing a stage with him was a lesson in commitment to the moment. In true Mercutian fashion, Gene was utterly unpredictable, fearless, occasionally reckless, and electric. When he was on the stage, he owned it.
But it was off the stage, in the green room, where I really managed to connect with him, and it was no accident. First, to offer an idea of the level of celebrity Gene held in my mind (and in the minds of many) – an anecdote. I was walking down Main St. on my way to rehearsal, and happened to pass by the window of what was then the office of Uptown magazine. Within sat a childhood friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, and noticing my wave as I went past, she motioned for me to wait and came out on to the street. She had seen in a media release that I was about to make my professional debut and, as I imagined, was going to propose doing a feature on me as an up and coming artist. After a barely respectable minimum of small talk and congratulations, she got to the point: they were preparing their Fall Arts Season issue, and could I please pass along a message to Gene Pyrz that they were hoping to feature his face on the cover and would like to arrange a photo shoot.
Rather than feeling jealous or insulted, I was delighted to have a legitimate excuse to approach Gene, and thought this would be the ice-breaker to a lasting friendship. It wasn’t. However, a few weeks later, I discovered my way in. Sitting around the green room, Gene and a few other cast members were discussing movies, and the subject of Dr. Strangelove came up. By coincidence, I had just finished renting and watching it the night before, and I pounced on the opportunity to share the vast and intimate knowledge of the film I had acquired from this single viewing. Gene (as I learned) was always excited to be talking about the things he was excited about, and over the course of the show’s run, I committed to memory several scenes from the movie which Gene and I would then act out, to our endless amusement. One day I brought in an anthology of famous movie scenes and monologues that I’d bought for university – among them were 3 scenes from Strangelove – and gave it to Gene. He was far more thrilled than he probably should have been and, after a moment of leafing through the book, he found the page he wanted and handed it over to an unsuspecting Richard Hurst, cajoling him into reading President Merkin’s one-sided conversation with the Russian leader Dmitry. Cackling with delight when Richard finished, Gene climbed up on to the green room table and crawling towards Richard quoted “I know how it is baby. Tell you what you do: you just start your countdown and old Bucky’ll be back here before you can say ‘blast off”!”
Weeks after the show had closed, I attended a fundraiser celebrating Richard’s 50th birthday and, standing in line in the bathroom I overheard Gene talking to James Durham, whom I hadn’t met at the time, about a show they’d worked on together and the fun he’d had doing “Strangelove” lines with James. He said “When we were doing R & J there was this guy, Kevin Klassen, I don’t know if you know him but he knows it pretty well too and… I kind of miss him, you know?”. My heart melted. I slipped past them out of the bathroom and never said a word about it to anyone until now.
Less than a year later I moved to Vancouver, and when I came back I’d fallen out of touch with Gene, bumping into him occasionally, until we were both asked to be in Hamlet - my very first show with Shakespeare in the Ruins. It was a very troubled time in my life, and Gene seemed a little out of sorts as well, and we somehow managed to bond over our mutual commiseration without ever actually describing to one another what it was we were dealing with. We had a great time working on the show together, but we each sensed the other had a struggle going on inside of them, and simply acknowledged it without saying much. Each night, when Gene (as Claudius) took me (as Laertes) literally down the garden path to account for Polonius’s death, he would offer me a little wooden goblet with just a single swallow of beer (“Don’t drink it if you don’t want it”) and we would briefly check in each other’s situation. We remained close friends over the next couple of years, drinking together occasionally during the Fringe Festival, hooking up whenever his band played in town, and especially while he was performing his Hank Williams show at the Royal George in Transcona. One night at Mona Lisa’s, after spending his entire break between sets listening to me and my problems, he dedicated Nick Lowe’s “My Heart Hurts” to me. At the end of the night I helped him load out and drove all over town with him dropping off the band’s equipment.
Once, when I was living by myself in Osborne Village, I walked into the Shopper’s Drug Mart to buy cigarettes and there was Gene, having come for the same reason but a few bucks short of a pack. I insisted on buying, and he, in a simple but (to me) enormously symbolic gesture of appreciation that was typical of Gene, insisted that I accept an American silver dollar that he had been carrying with him for luck. I still have it. Another item I still have is a compilation of Country Dick Montana and the Beat Farmers tunes that Gene and Paul put together for me, which they thought would help see me through the rough times. It is dedicated with the following quote from Country Dick: “Never be clear about anything except your genius and your worship-ability.”
Later, in a happier time, when my (now) wife and I were putting together a fundraiser at the Windsor Hotel for a show we were producing and were left at the last minute without a band, Gene agreed to play for us, and reunited with his Combo Combo mates for the occasion – the first time they’d played together in a very long time. They simply killed it. My god he was talented. A baritone as rich and deep as a gold mine: the voice of an operatic rockabilly romantic. When a play I had written opened at the MTC Warehouse, I was shocked and honoured backstage to be greeted out of the blue by Gene, who had made a special effort to attend.
The last time I spoke to Gene was at SIR’s 20th Anniversary celebration, and he seemed so proud and happy to be there it made my night. Of course, had I known at the time how little time he had left ahead of him, I wouldn’t have left his side. But, as they say, life goes on for all of us. Until it doesn’t.
I am so proud to have called Gene my friend. Perhaps, like Mercutio, a star of Gene’s brilliance can only burn for so long. How lucky we all were to bear witness to it before it went out.
“But that a joy past joy calls out on me,
It were a grief, so brief to part with thee: farewell.”
Romeo & Juliet, III.3
It is with immense sadness, and no small measure of anger, that I share the news (for those of you who haven’t already heard) that our great friend and colleague Glen Thompson has departed from this world.
Glen, as anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him will attest, was so young, so vital and healthy, so essentially good that there is no point in trying to rationalize or contextualize his death. It serves as a reminder that the universe in which we exist is a cold, meaningless vacuum of chaos and disorder but for the warmth, meaning, purpose and order with which we are able to fill it through our relationships with one another.
To dwell on the sense of grief and outrage which the injustice of Glen’s death can’t help but provoke is to stand at the slippery edge of a black, bottomless chasm and peer in. Far better to remember – to share and celebrate – the sense of meaning, purpose and joy with which he lived his life.
I first met Glen 18 years ago when we worked together on a PTE touring production of A Prairie Boy’s Winter. Glen played ‘William’: the gentle, thoughtful, infinitely patient older brother of the selfish, impulsive, impetuous ‘John’, played by me. At first glance, this might smack of typecasting, but for the one detail of William’s character which Glen always considered the greatest acting challenge of his career: he had to speak the line “I didn’t really like hockey”. I have far more fond memories of Glen from that tour than space will allow, but I will say that it didn’t take long to realize that he was among the most decent, reliable, hard-working, befuddling and fun-loving people I would ever know. Back in those days, we didn’t use cell phones, but instead relied on CB radio for communication between the two touring vehicles. I recall vividly that, as a fan of ‘The Simpsons’, Glen’s first transmission upon leaving city limits was “Baby to Marge! Baby to Marge! Wah! Wah!”.
That tour was the launch of Glen’s career as a true road warrior: he toured 3 times for PTE and 4 times for SIR, and never seemed to tire of it. 3 of his tours for SIR were with Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet in the roles of ‘Benvolio’, ‘Capulet’, & ‘Friar Laurence’, a track which he also played when the show was mounted at the Fringe in 2011. Each of these roles brought out aspects of Glen’s own personality in a way that was so genuine, yet so distinct – they were all very different, and they were all ‘totally Glen’. When Benvolio earnestly and urgently tried to stop Mercutio from fighting, or make Romeo forget about Rosaline, or broke the news of Juliet’s apparent death, you saw ‘good old Glen’ being the best friend a friend could ask for. When the Friar told us about the wonders of natural remedies, or let Romeo have it for threatening suicide, or tried get Juliet to leave her dead husband, you saw Glen the philosophical pragmatist, struggling to comprehend the illogical emotional extremes of ordinary mortals which (blessedly, like some Zen master) seemed for the most part to elude him. Then again, to watch his Capulet ping-pong between jolly good humour, despair, and insensate rage was to realize that perhaps Glen was more in touch with the flaring passions of the human heart than was his wont to let on.
This brings me to another specific anecdote, one out hundreds, which offers an example of how smart, clever, and quick on his feet Glen could be, particularly when on stage. We were in the throes of the well-known scene in which Juliet has refused to wed Paris, and Capulet urges in the strongest terms available that she reconsider. Glen had just come to the end of a long list of possible fates that will befall Juliet if she defies him: “…hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, nor what is mine shall never do thee good…”. At that precise moment, he was interrupted by a lengthy school buzzer but, rather than holding until it was over, Glen kept his mouth moving, creating the impression that the epithets he continued to hurl were so offensive they had to be ‘bleeped out’ by the censoring buzzer. Of course everyone in the gymnasium (except Glen) exploded into laughter, including the three other actors onstage, whom he immediately abandoned with his exit line. This, of course, was not the only time Glen was responsible for generating inappropriate laughter onstage, and he was his own victim as often as not.
It was also SIR’s privilege to have had Glen play ‘Demetrius’, ‘Bottom’ & ‘Puck’ in our first tour of A Stripped-Down Midsummer Night’s Dream. Once again, Glen managed to tap into aspects of his own unique personality for all three roles: Demetrius’ frustration with women; Puck’s anarchic sense mirth and mischief; and, of course, the maddening, insistent, glad-handed and good-hearted ‘actor as everyman’ Bottom, who is no more (and no certainly no less) put off by the forcible seduction of a Fairy Queen than by the notion that small-minded typecasting should prevent him from playing ‘Pyramus’, ‘Thisby’ and ‘the Lion’ too!
Glen was able to participate in two SIR Main Stage productions: The Merry Wives of Windsor in 2010 and Henry V in 2012. It was my great fortune to direct him as ‘Master Ford’ in the former, and he was just as outrageously funny playing out Ford’s mad jealousy, and his ridiculous alter ego ‘Master Brook’ (disguised in an eight gallon hat, broad Texan accent, and a preposterously fake, loosely adhered moustache) as I could have wished. To my mind, there are few things as inherently comical to me as Glen trying to be taken seriously in a silly situation – there was something in the way he set his jaw, combined with a confused look in his eyes that makes me laugh and weep just to think of it.
In Henry V he managed to bring military precision, wisdom and dignity to the role of ‘Exeter’, with the same apparent ease with which he instilled a touching blend of wistful tragedy and outlandish buffoonery in ‘Corporal Nym’. He seemed able to maintain complete command over his facial hair, dictating a different effect from the same moustache depending on what each character required of it.
Of course, Glen appeared in many plays for many different companies, as well as appearing in a number of movies as both an actor and a stunt performer. Among his claims to fame were appearing with a young Russell Crowe in For The Moment, and driving a motorcycle into a Santa Claus parade float in Beethoven’s Christmas.
And of course, beyond his work as an actor, Glen was simply an exceptional human being, and a very close friend of mine, as he was to an astonishing number of people. He was an accomplished house-sitter – so responsible, considerate and careful that it made you question whether he had ever actually been there at all. He was an athlete, who ran marathons and loved to play hockey EXACTLY as much as he loved to act. He was the beloved member of a close, supportive family.
He was a sharing, loving, giving, accepting member of a wide range of communities – the sort of person who helps bring meaning, purpose, and joy to the lives of everyone he knew. And although I am (we are) filled with grief and shock over how little time we were given to spend with him, I feel a sense of joy (past joy) in having had him in my (our) life at all, and I look forward to sharing and celebrating that time, with all of you, in the time that we have together.
“My present business calls me from you now.”
The Comedy of Errors I.2
As we draw toward an end with our 20th Anniversary Season, you might be interested in what our Artistic Ensemble members will be up to in the next few months:
Eric Bosse remains MTYP’s venue technician, and a member of Theatre Incarnate.
Michelle Boulet will serve as Assistant Director for RMTC’s The Glass Menagerie.
Andrew Cecon will be appearing in RMTC’s ChekovFest production of The Seagull as well as The Secret Annex. He has also, along with Sarah Constible, produced an ACTRA Member Initiated Project called Jump which will premiere at the ACTRA Film Festival in March. On top of all this, he is preparing to be “sworn in” as our new Artistic Co-Chair!
Sarah Constible, in addition to having her ACTRA Member Initiated Project called Jump premiere at the ACTRA Film Festival in March, will appear in WJT’s ChekovFest production of Ivanov.
Kevin Klassen will be performing in The Cherry Orchard, a co-production by TBTR & Echo Theatre for ChekovFest. He will also be helping to develop and stage a brand new play by Echo Theatre’s Charlene Van Buekenhout, while continuing to work on a new play of his own.
Arne MacPherson will be directing a production of the Judith Thompson play Such Creatures (Jan 2-5 at the Colin Jackson Theatre) before joining Sarah in Ivanov (in the title role). He will then direct the world premiere of Debbie Patterson’s Sargent & Victor & Me for TPM before moving on to direct PTE’s Homegrown. Come the Spring, Arne will epitomize the title role in Dry Cold’s A Man Of No Importance.
Debbie Patterson will be performing in the world premiere of her play Sargent & Victor & Me, shortly to be followed by another brand new work for Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. In the meantime, her Robert Munsch stories adaptation Portage & Munsch: 50 Below will entertain children of all ages throughout Manitoba, on behalf of PTE (with two other Munsch adaptations scheduled in Surrey, BC and Barrie, ON this summer).
What a talented bunch of busy bees we have to boast of!
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel” Hamlet, I.3
Another day, another opportunity to reevaluate life and its mixed blessings. How fortunate indeed are those of us with an abundance of friends to enrich our lives, and how sad (not to say enraging) when those friends are forced to confront challenges to their happiness, health, and even their lives.
Our friend Gene Pyrz, a founding member of SIR and a uniquely talented, charismatic fixture of Winnipeg’s theatre, film, and music community is now faced with such a challenge.
The lone positive aspect of this sad, enraging news is that it provides us with a valuable opportunity to affirm and celebrate our friendship with him, and a chance to offer our support and encouragement.
Please check out this link to a Benefit in Honour of Gene Pyrz and offer your support.
“It is to be all made of sighs and tears…
It is to be all made of faith and service…
It is to be all made of fantasy,
All made of passion and all made of wishes,
All adoration, duty, and observance,
All humbleness, all patience and impatience,
All purity, all trial, all observance”
As You Like It, V.2
“I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon than such a Roman.”
Julius Caesar IV.3
Usually, this is about the time of year when I let you know about all of the fantastic shows our Ensemble members are involved in for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. However, this year I am aware of only one, and it happens to be the one I’m directing!
Dog Act is a fantastically entertaining play by Liz Duffy Adams which wrings together elements of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, J.M. Barrie, Anthony Burgess, George Miller, North American First Nations folklore, Bessie Smith, Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Sophie Tucker, David Suzuki, the word of God as set down in the Old Testament, and much, much more! (It also comes with a language warning!)
All the information you might need to help you decide to buy tickets in advance can be found by clicking the links below:
In the meantime, I can assure you that the play itself is richly rewarding and very funny, the cast is top-notch, and the venue is spacious, comfortable, air-conditioned and easy to get to! COME AND SEE DOG ACT: you’ll be doing yourself a favour. In fact, see all the fringe shows you can.
“For Brutus only overcame himself, and no man else hath honour by his death”
Julius Casear V.5
What makes Brutus finally decide to kill himself?
In much the same way Cassius begins to lose faith in ‘Epicureanism’, Brutus eventually abandons his ‘stoic’ stance against suicide, and more or less does himself in (having someone else grip the handle of a suicide weapon while it’s being driven home is a wafer-thin equivocation of the fact). Why?
I firmly believe that Brutus is driven to kill himself by the haunting presence of Caesar’s ghost: his (self-described) “evil spirit”. He is wracked with guilt over the murder of Caesar, and interprets the death of his friends and allies (over and above the thousands of soldiers who perish in the war, more than 70 senators, including Cassius) and the success of his opponents as evidence that his decision to participate in the assassination was wrong.
More than the shame of being taken alive (after all, when he found himself on the losing side of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey he managed to survive the ordeal), I think Brutus is unable to live with the regret of having “struck the foremost man of all this world”, the death and carnage which ensued from that blow, and the fact that the fates appear to have taken the part of a man as (now clearly) dishonourable as Mark Antony.
By ending his own life, Brutus brings the war to and end, and is able to “still” Caesar’s restless spirit and his own guilty conscience.