Trained Seals at Big Top Fringe


For the record, I am happily willing to concede that I am prone to outrage.


There are very few things in this day & age which shock me, but I still find myself outraged pretty much on a daily basis (often several times a day): off-leash dogs; TV ads; TV shows; newspaper headlines; willful stupidity; sexism; racism; classism; intolerance (including, especially, my own)…


Having said that, any of you who follow SIR’s twitter feed will have noticed that I’ve become a bit obsessed with a review of “Shakepseare in the Ruins’ Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet” written by professional comedian Al Rae.


In Al’s review, and in his subsequent clarifying comments, he asserts that Shakespeare never wrote anything that was funny, and that anyone who laughs out loud at a Shakespeare comedy is pretending to enjoy his or self in order to appear more… (what? cultured?intelligent? cool?!) than they actually are.  He claims that audiences who laugh out loud at Shakespeare have merely been “trained” to do so “like rather dim seals”. 


Pretentious, dim, trained seals.  


(To read Al’s review and comments in their entirety, go to the CBC Website, find their fringe coverage and click on our show title.)


So here’s another thing that fills me with outrage: a professional comic who uses his forum as a fringe theatre reviewer to make sweeping, insulting generalizations about millions of people in order to show everyone how much cleverer he or she is than everybody else.


As a fan of ironic discrepancies (arguably a junkie), I delightfully point it out once more:


Al’s attempt here is to show the world how much cleverer he is than they by claiming that, for over 400 years, theatre audiences have been PRETENDING to like Shakespeare’s comedy in order to show the world how clever they are.


Again, this does not shock me.  To be shocked by a professional comic’s use of a sweeping, insulting generalization in order to make him or herself seem clever would be akin to feigning shock over the Conservative government’s efforts to eliminate the CBC’s public funding: it’s simply part of what they do (and it’s an easy, lazy way to win over the majority).


It does, however, strike me as a bit outrageous.







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We open tomorrow night…

Producing for the Fringe Festival is a more or less all-consuming endeavour.  Little spare time for blogging.  Nevertheless: here I am!


As most of you will know (because you've purchased your tickets in advance, right?) we open tomorrow night at 10:15pm.  The past week and a half has been nuts, and I can't say enough good things about the cast: hard-working, easy to work with, and exceptionally talented.  (They seem to trust me, too, which could end up going either way.)


Having performed twice previously in this production (once as Romeo/Lady Capulet, once as Juliet/Mercutio), it has been a unique pleasure to be able to sit in the audience and watch it unfolding this time around.  In all honesty, and with very little credit to myself, this is one of the most entertaining shows you will ever see.  (Much credit to Michelle Boulet, who originally adapted R&J to the Stripped-Down format and directed the first 2 productions.  Not to mention Maureen Petkau, who designed and built the gorgeous costumes.  And Rob Borges, who choreographed the sword fights.) 


There's something about Romeo and Juliet that particularly lends itself to the stripped-down treatment.  For one thing, it is very much a comedy for the first three acts, so the laughs we earn through hysterically quick costume changes & boys in dresses feel like part of the story being told, rather than being obstacles, or appearing to take the piss out of the thing.  The commitment of the actors' performances takes it beyond the realm of parody.


Also, the PACE at which the events of the play transpire, and the energy with which the characters all seem to go about their business ("too like the lightning which doth cease to be ere one can say 'it lightens'…'') are inherent to the play as a whole, so that trimming it down to a 60 minute running time (giver or take), in watching it, seems like the most natural thing in the world. 


Even at  60 minutes, you still get 5 sword fights, a dance, and some of the world's most famous and memorable depictions of youth, in all its hormonally euphoric and tormented glory.  Not to mention the several portraits of adults, in all their foolishness and wisdom, struggling to be good parents to their children (biological parents, like the Capulets, and adoptive or community parents like the Nurse and the Friar).


The fellas are coming over in about 20 minutes for a backyard stumble-through, I'll stop in my tale against the hare (I would else have made my tale large, and if you don't understand that reference, come see the show and you'll remember it for as long as you have memory).


Please do yourself a favour, and come see this show!



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The final week played out beautifully…

Well, as my dad says: "It's all over but the crying…".


The final week played out beautifully, weather-wise, show-wise, house-wise and otherwise, much to our relief.  All in all Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 was a criminally under-attended production, and this Tuesday's Board & Ensemble meetings will no doubt be occasions for soul-searching, hand-wringing and head-scratching.  Those who did attend were (from the majority of reports) well entertained and well pleased, including our school matinees (which actually managed to exceed projected attendance).  The introduction of "What-You-Will Wednesdays" proved extremely popular, as did our Saturday matinees, so perhaps things have simply become financially tighter among the theatre-going public.


Whatever the case, I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished with this production, and grateful to all involved.  Particular congratulations are due once more to Sarah Constible for the outstanding job she did of combining the two plays into one cohesive, coherent, and extremely engaging story.


Next up: SIR at the Fringe! 


Yep, I've gone ahead and taken personal responsibility (with the blessing of the Board, the Ensemble and management) for bringing Shakespeare in the Ruins' Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival!  The name of the show: "Shakespeare in the Ruins' Stripped Down Romeo & Juliet".  The name of the producing company is Will & DeSIRe.


The cast will be coming over for a read-through and some table work this Wednesday evening, rehearsals begin a week from today, and we'll open the following week!  It's going to be a whirlwind process, and it's going to be a whirlwind show!  For anyone who hasn't seen it, this is an all-male, four-(and a half) actor version of R&J performed in traditional Elizabethan costumes in one hour or less!  It's one of three shockingly entertaining touring productions that SIR has been touring to high schools for the past six years, and (in my opinion) it's about time it was introduced to a wider audience.


The exciting cast includes Andrew Cecon, Tommy Keenan, Ray Strachan and Glen Thompson (with a few cameo appearances from stage manager), with yours truly directing.


You can actually buy your tickets RIGHT NOW by visiting the FRINGE WEBSITE!  Hope to see you there!



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Second blog in 3 days?! What’s going on?

Well, I've decided that it's high time to pay high tribute to our dear friend Jack Falstaff, and his contemporary, earthly incarnation: David Warburton.


For the past two years, SIR and (in my humble opinion) the City of Winnipeg have been given an incredible gift: the opportunity to witness (in the opinion of many less humble than myself) Shakespeare's finest creation in the living flesh, inhabited by an actor for whom the role might have been written (all things Shakespearean existing, after all, on a cosmic plane indifferent to the restrictions of time and space).


I had the incredible good fortune of directing David in last year's The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the moment at which I was assured that he would, indeed, like to be my Falstaff, I knew that my relatively inexperienced ass had for the most part been covered. 


It's not so much that David is Falstaff, though they share a great many traits (and when, on the battlefield, Falstaff demands "Give me life!", it's David that I hear).  It seems to me that the role of fat Jack has been specifically tailored by Shakespeare to suit David's strengths and depth as an actor: a keenly intelligent sense of mischief, a vernacular of poetically bombastic aggression fueled by a genuinely tragic insecurity – a fear of growing old and dying.  To see him tackling this role (which in our case incorporates Falstaff's greatest moments from both parts of Henry IV)  is to witness a date with destiny.   David's work is so fine that, when I watch him, I actually forget Orson Welles in Chimes At Midnight (which, if you've seen it, you will recognize is a feat).


It could easily be another fifty years before Winnipeg audiences have another opportunity to see the great Sir John Falstaff on stage, and it's unlikely ever to be performed as adroitly, as thoroughly, as deeply, and (you should pardon the expression) as ROUNDLY again.  





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Last Saturday night the show officially hit its stride.

Last Saturday night the show officially hit its stride.  I myself had, and also heard among several of my cast-mates, a number of those incredible moments (which leave an actor feeling, in equal quantities, both frustrated and elated) in which you find yourself performing a scene and wondering why you hadn't been doing it that way since the beginning.


To be fair to myself (and everyone else) there are at least two simple answers to that question.  One reason is that those discoveries must occur organically, and are the result of a kind of ease and confidence with a scene which one can gain only through the repeated experience of living that scene more often than practical restraints allow for in rehearsal, and which (unless the scene is a soliloquy or a monologue) also depends upon your scene partner(s) being on the same journey with you and actively searching for a similar discovery.


Another reason is that often these discoveries only reveal themselves once a mutually healthy relationship has been established between the performer and the audience: an exchange of trust and confidence, an affirmation and assurance that the performer knows exactly what they're after, is totally committed to achieving it, and is going to make damn sure their audience knows it too; in exchange for which leap of faith the cherished ideal audience assures the performer that they are there (as our director Christopher Sigurdson put it so well) to serve as witness to this struggle, to actively share this journey with the performer, and that they will make damn sure that the performer knows when they are (or are not) fulfilling their end of the agreement.


This exchange between artist and audience is (in my humble opinion) the only reason art exists, and a clear (though in many cases indescribable) expression of a profound truth (whether it be a "simple" truth, a complex truth, or even an ambivalent truth) is what should define "great art".  The live performing arts (including theatre, dance, live music, stand-up comedy, etc.) are unique, in that the exchange between artist and audience is immediate, of the moment, and usually palpable and quantifiable. 


If the audience laughs at the funny parts, you know instantly that they're on your side, and seeing things from your point of view.  If they clap, or holler, or get up and dance, you know they're accepting what you're giving away and want to give something in return.  Sometimes this assurance, or vote of confidence, is as simple (and undefinable, though no less palpable or quantifiable) as an exchange of focus and energy: an unmistakable sensation that the audience is with you.


Of course, I say unmistakable, but most performing artists will admit to having completely misunderstood or underestimated an audience's level of commitment and enjoyment: those shows where you find yourself backstage (sometimes onstage) muttering to yourself about "morgues", "mannequins", "oil paintings", "stuffed shirts", etc., only to receive a thundering ovation at the end, and shouts of "bravo".  Some audiences express their appreciation and offer their support with an exchange of energy that is internal and more soft-spoken than others.


All of which is to say that my own experience of last Saturday night's show was that of an ensemble of artists and an audience who were meeting one another on equal terms: a full-spirited, fully committed, outspoken exchange of energy and mutual confidence (on a gorgeous, mosquito-free late Spring evening) channeled into the act of bringing Shakespeare's sublime world to vivid life before our very eyes.


That's why Shakespeare in the Ruins exists.



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Well, we’re open!

Well, we're open!  And the old war-horse is now well in harness and galloping apace.


Great to see so many people out for opening, filling the tent with warmth and welcome, on a night that saw baseball-sized hail fall on much of the rest of the province.  A wonderful reception with delicious appies from Terrace 55, delicious St. James Pale from Half-Pints, and good fellowship with friends both old and new.


Also, how about Pat Migliore and her loyal, hardy crew of volunteers?  Astonishing to see how many of them arrived at our Wednesday evening preview to watch the show and sign up for their shifts, on a night so cold, windy and wet that we actually chose to cancel the tech run in favour of an indoor "Italian".  They only make 'em like that in Manitoba!


Our student matinee audiences have been incredibly attentive and responsive all week, which is always a prime indicator of a successful production: if the kids don't get it, then neither have we.  By George, I think we've got it!


It's probably not too early now to say what a pleasure this entire cast has been to work with.  A very talented, committed, hard-working, fun-loving bunch.  This play presented a number of enormous challenges for everyone involved, and had there been a single diva, slackass or jackass in the mix, it may have proved impossible.  My hat is off and my glass is tipped to all.


Speaking of tipped glasses, I would also like now to reach out with a hearty backslap for our magnanimous and magnificent manager in general, Matt Moreau: for his boundless energy, endless patience, disturbing attention to detail, and refusal to be ground under by the ever-turning millstone that is independant theatre in Winnipeg.





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What a week!

Seeing the tent in all its full-sized, three-poled, twelve-paneled glory for the first time was a stirring occasion: really quite impressive.  (The new Children's Playground next door to us is equally impressive, as is the parking traffic: all are recommended to arrive early, secure a place to park, and enjoy a stroll or a picnic!)


Seeing the entire cast decked out in its costume finery is also something wonderful to behold: a technicolor dreamscape (all the more enchanting bathed in the glow of the stage footlights [there's really nothing quite like footlights for evoking that "theatre magic" feeling]). Grant Guy, Maureen Petkau and their crew of cutters and stitchers have (as usual) outdone themselves.


Seeing the path to our proposed (outdoor) first act location swamped in mud and water and therefore unusable was, although disappointing, a blessing in disguise, as we will now make be able to make full use of Grant's intimate, deep thrust stage design, and provide (slightly) more climate control for you, our audience. 


Make no mistake: it's still outdoor theatre!  Hot will be hot, cold will be cold, wet will be wet.  BUT… we will be mud and straw-bale free!!!


Seeing (and hearing and feeling) the company tighten the show last night by fifteen minutes(!) between tech runs was thrilling, and I feel confident enough to state in (electronic) print that this show is going to entertain the hell out of people!!!  A huge round of applause goes out to Sheena Sanderson and Jessica Freundl (our stage management crew) and our production manager Rob Rowan for rolling with the punches and pulling all of the practical/technical elements together.


Should also mention that Sarah, Michelle and Tommy Keenan have written (and will be performing) some incredibly beautiful music for this show.




By the way, anyone who was able to attend the Shakespeare in the City production of "Hamlet" last Wednesday will attest to what a special evening of theatre this continues to be, and what a valuable program SITC has become.  Longtime SITC member Jenn LaRiviere introduced the show with a beautiful, personal statement of how her involvement in theatre has improved her life, and the show was a perfect example of just how accessible and affecting Shakespeare's words can be (for EVERYONE).  Congratulation to the whole gang, and deepest thanks to Claire Friesen for making it happen year after year.


You can read more about SITC and some of its participants in this article on CBC's Manitoba Scene Website



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Happy Victoria Day!

Short day today, what with it being a holiday and all (though every day at SIR feels like a holiday!).  We're told that the tent is erect and set pieces are, as we speak, being transported out to Assiniboine Park.  The cast seems refreshed by their 30-hour respite, and raring to get down to the nitty gritty (which, as any SIR veteran knows, doesn't really begin until you're out in the open air, contending with wind, sun, rain, trees, insects, birds, squirrels, foxes, Harleys, dump-trucks, trains, planes, seniors, teens, and whatever else Mother Nature and the City of Winnipeg has to throw at you: it's a good idea to be off-book).


More great news is that it looks like we'll be serving libations by the good people at HALF PINTS BREWING COMPANY (as well as wine and non-alcoholic beverages) throughout the run of our show!!! Very exciting indeed!


If you haven't ordered your tickets yet, you should do it soon!  We have a small, intimate house size, so available seating won't grow on trees!  The forecast looks mighty good for June and, thanks to the tent, weather is really a non-issue: if you wait too long for hot weather, you may get left out in the cold… 


By the way, this Wednesday, May 25, 2011, at 7:30pm


Shakespeare In The City 


will be presenting


Stripped Down Hamlet


The show takes place in the Colin Jackson Theatre, here at Prairie Theatre Exchange, and admission is free with a donation to the Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank. We are all encouraged to bring an item with us to the show. There will also be a reception following  the show, in the theatre.


These SITC productions are consistently among the most impressive, fun, moving performances of Shakespeare you will ever see, and living, breathing proof that the Bard is for everyone.  It would be great to see you all there!



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Day 6 of rehearsal already!!

Day 6 of rehearsal already!!  The show is blocked, the wardrobe fitted, the set underway, all my lines have been scanned, highlighted, punctuated, and even spoken out loud!  All that remains is to memorize, then "suit the word to the action, the action to the word…"


Sarah has done an incredible job integrating these two plays into one, and the cast is champing at the bit to have our way with it: all killer, no filler!  Less talk, more rock!  Grant's design is gorgeous, period-specific splendour. 


This show's got everything: tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical- pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical, pastoral-tragical… these are the only men (and women), or so Rumour has it!  (it even has a character called Rumour!)


It's back to work for me now, but I suggest you buy your tickets in advance…



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Here’s what you probably didn’t know until right now

Kevin Klassen, one half of your intrepid Artistic Chair here, taking a break from the Twitter page to announce official casting for HENRY IV, PARTS 1 & 2 (including additional roles that you won't find on our home page)!  If you've been paying attention at all, you already know that David Warburton (Merry Wives of Windsor, Strong Poison, etc.) is coming back to play Falstaff (hooray)! And if you've been seeing much theatre in the past few years, you may have recognized Toby Hughes (The Skriker, Remember The Night, etc.) as Prince Hal in our promo image! 



Here's what you probably didn't know until right now:


Kevin Anderson (Blue Kettle, Saint Joan) will perform the title role, as well as that of Wart (which would also make a great title).


Michelle Boulet (Ensemble Member) will make her 24th(!) appearance with SIR as resident whore Doll Tearsheet, as well as Fang, Blunt, and many more.  (To clarify, this is her 24th appearance with SIR, not her 24th appearance as resident whore.)


Andrew Cecon (Ensemble Member) will be playing the King's right-hand man the Earl of Westmoreland, and Falstaff's loudmouth crony Pistol.


Sarah Constible (Ensemble Member) will take up the mantle of Mistress Quickly (which was so indelibly wrought by her man-friend Rob McLaughlin in last year's Merry Wives of Windsor), and will also provide the sounds of Silence.


Brock Couch (whose name, which perhaps you've never heard, you will certainly never forget) will make his exciting professional stage debut with SIR as Hotspur.


Tom Keenan (of Tom-Tom Theatre fame) will play Hal-pal Poins, as well as making an attempt at Feeble (though not a feeble attempt), and you can also get caught up in his Snare.


Finally, I myself will appear as the saucy, villainous Earl of Worcester, while also plumbing the depths of Shallow.


All in all, an impressive assemblage of thespianism!  To secure your opportunity to witness the outcome, go now to our Tickets page and order yours!

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