What’s The Buzz- April

Well, I was SO hoping to start this article in celebration of spring- going out, getting some fresh air, seeing some theatre, sipping some drinks on the patio- but it’s now mid-April and the flurries are still flyin’! What gives?!

No excuses, we still have a tonne of fabulous theatre to carry us through this! A summery drink or two might help as well, you know, suspension of disbelief? So mix yourself a refreshing G&T or a fruity Sangria and lets suspend our disbelief just a little bit longer!

Celebrating Women in Theatre

This month, stages across our province are packed with female playwrights, performers and theatre makers! April is serving up some serious game when it comes to female representation on stage- and that is literal in the case of ATP’s Glory!

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The cast of Glory, photo by  Barbara Zimonick

Check out our review for this jazzy journey back to the early incarnation of women’s hockey and if you can, get down to the Martha Cohen Theatre for their 2pm matinee on April 14th. Proceeds from that performance are going to the Humboldt Bronco’s GoFundMe campaign so grab your favorite jersey and let’s fill that house to the rafters!

Alberta Theatre Projects production of Glory plays at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts commons now until April 21st. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com 

 

Miss Caledonia- Lunchbox Theatre, Calgary

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Jamie Konchak and Aleksandra Danicic in  Miss Caledonia, photo by  Benjamin Laird

Miss Caledonia at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is a story not to be missed. Peggy Ann Douglas will steal your heart as she charms her way from farmer’s daughter to Miss Caledonia, Pageant Queen, in this heart-warming tale of female empowerment. We can’t say enough about this beautiful show, as evidenced by our glowing review, so get your tickets before it hits the road!

Miss Caledonia plays at the Lunchbox Theatre from now until April 21st. Tickets and info at www.lunchboxtheatre.com

 

Pretty Goblins- Workshop West, Edmonton

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Beth Graham’s Governor General Award nominated Pretty Goblins storms  onto Edmonton’s Backstage Theatre with a whirlwind tale of sisterly love. The relationship of estranged twin sisters takes a beating from addiction and loss, but when desperation brings them back together again, well, come see for yourself at this thrilling world premiere!

Pretty Goblins plays at Edomtnon’s Backstage Theatre from April 18th to 29th. Tickets and info at www.workshopwest.org

 

The Silver Arrow- The Citadel/Banff Program, Edmonton

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The participants of this year’s Citadel/Banff program sail in on their aerial ribbons later this month with local playwright Mieko Ouchi’s reimagining of Robin Hood as a female heroine. Not only does The Silver Arrow demonstrate ingenious acrobatic story-telling, but it champions diversity in gender and ability on stage through this ever-topical “from the rich to the poor” fable. Directed by Daryl Cloran with music by Hawksley Workman, this production is sure to be a night of breathtaking sights, sounds and story-telling!

Mieko Ouchi’s The Silver Arrow plays at The Citadel’s Maclab Theatre from April 21st to May 13th. Tickets and info at www.citadeltheatre.com 

 

The Secret Garden- Theatre Calgary

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Journey into the imagination of one little orphan girl in search for love, belonging, and magic. A classic broadway hit, The Secret Garden transformed the pioneering novel into a marvel for the stage with enchanting music and bewitching theatrics. What better way to welcome spring than a journey into a magical English garden!

Theatre Calgary’s The Secret Garden plays at The Max Bell Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons from April 17th to May 19th. Tickets and info at www.theatrecalgary.com 

 

Tosca- Calgary Opera

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Tosca may seem like yet another story of a woman living in a man’s world, and I would love one day to see more women in the cast list of a modern production, but this opera is a pioneering love letter to the fierce women of the arts realm. Our heroine, a famously beautiful opera singer loved by two very different men, is based on the singularly astonishing Miss Sarah Bernhardt. The visceral beauty of Puccini’s masterpiece is a perfect match for the passions of these and all strong women, in the arts and everywhere.

Tosca plays at the Southern Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary April 14th, 18th and 20th. Tickets and info at www.calgaryopera.com

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Glory- Alberta Theatre Projects, Calgary

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The cast of Glory, photo by Barbara Zimonick 

On Friday April 6th, hockey lovers in Calgary gathered in the Martha Cohen Theatre to celebrate diversity and equality in our best-loved sport. We all cheered for The Rivulettes; pioneering women of the 1930’s who loved the game and played against the odds, proving that hockey is for everyone. We shared a very Canadian story, united by our love of the game and our belief that it brings out the best in us. And that same night, 15 young people lost their lives.

We all wonder how we can help those effected by the Humboldt tragedy and how we as a community can cope with such immense sadness. In these times, theatre allows us to come together to share an experience that can bring some comfort or healing. For this and many, many other reasons, you should gather your hockey buddies and go see Glory. Share the experience, grab a drink after the show, and take some time to talk about these events.

Playwright Tracey Power says it best in her program notes: “We must continue to fight for glory in desperate times, against adversity and prejudice and racism”. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to find a way to make sure hockey is for everyone.

In the 1930’s, the depression had decimated the country’s economy and the terrors of the Second World War were close at hand. Facing job shortages, food shortages, shortages on courage and wherewithal, Canadians were desperate for comradery and entertainment. Perhaps that’s why we’re all so sentimental about this game; it’s been there for us through so many battles already.

Any play about hockey is naturally going to examine our collective Canadian psyche. Glory encourages us to ask why it’s taking so long to erase discrimination from the world of sport, but it’s also light and fun, with zippy choreography and upbeat jazz tunes that drive the delightfully inventive staging. The wooden boards that make up the set are scooted around the stage to form the shoe factory where the girls work, the train that takes them cross-country, the dressing room benches and of course, the rink. From rearranging the set to “skating” with no ice, dance and movement is a big part of the style and spectacle of the show, but it’s the characters you’ll fall head over skates for: The Rivulettes.

Hilda has the most experience. Her last minute substitution into a men’s pond hockey game is legend, even if she did pee her pants from fear! Calgarian actor Katie Ryerson brings both spirit and vulnerability to the team’s top scorer as we watch Hilda strive to overcome her self-doubt. Learning difficulties have held her back from the workplace, but her prowess on the ice and her passion as a team-player make her the perfect sportswoman- if she can only find a way to get paid to skate.

Her sister Nellie is the classic goalie, with memories of couch cushions tied to her limbs for her brothers’ target practice. Still waters run deep in Morgan Yamada’s portrayal, but Nellie’s very private struggles never hold her back from being there for her team, both between the pipes and in the dressing room. She is warm and caring, and as her personal challenges surface, we hope that the Canada of the future will allow Nellie to love and be loved for who she is.

Margaret “Marm” Schmuck, played with undeniable chutzpah by Gili Roskies, is fiercely proud of their Jewish roots, even though continuing discrimination is denying her acceptance into law school. When an anti-Semitic sign appears on the arena and misogynistic announcers pepper the game commentary with slurs and insults, she loses her temper.

Marm directs most of her rage at the Canadian-born German coach, the prickly Herbert Fach (Kevin Corey). Dared by a buddy into coaching a women’s hockey team, Fach provides essential on-stage representation for the men who feel threatened or confused by the idea of “the fairer sex” smashing each other into the boards and spitting blood on the ice.

The second Schmuck sister, Helen, proves that sports aren’t just for “Tom-Boys”. She loves to hit hard and play hard, but she also loves being a more “traditional” feminine woman and doesn’t want her muscles to get too bulky. Actor Kate Dion-Richard embodies every facet of Helen’s glorious complexity: she is goofy, charming, sexy, pragmatic, competitive, and for this reviewer, she is a triumph of female character development. Tracey Power’s writing paired with Dion-richard’s performance proves that a character who enjoys being “feminine” but also enjoys sport is not a contradiction.

Helen’s journey forces her to make tough choices betweeen her marriage and her team, between having a family and having personal ambitions, but that reality does not confine itself to the 1930’s.

I would have loved to see a portion of the play in a present day parallel to demonstrate what has changed and what we’re still fighting for. The Rivulettes dream of being drafted to the NHL, of having paid contracts, simply having equal access to ice time. Women’s hockey is more visible than ever before but it’s still fighting for equality on many of these age-old issues. Same goes for indigenous athletes, disabled athletes, athletes from poorer backgrounds or different cultures. We still have a very long way to go.

There are so many great stories about male atheletes. It’s about time we had a play like this to bring increased visibility to women’s sport, to inspire female athletes and encourage all of us to actively support diversity on and off the ice. Glory also champions women in theatre and I hope this play will encourage more female characters, playwrights, and creatives, marking a new era in women’s stories for the stage.

Glory plays at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons from now until April 21st. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com

 

Miss Caledonia- Lunchbox Theatre, Calgary

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Jamie Konchak and Aleksandra Danicic in Miss Caledonia, Photo by Benjamin Laird

When we think of “theatre”, many of us picture a cavernous stage inhabited by an elaborate set dazzled with lights. A sumptuous orchestra plays as the place begins to buzz with larger-than-life characters wearing glittering costumes. But sometimes, in a little black box theatre with your lunch on your lap, a very special story can take us on a journey richer than the Ziegfeld Follies with nothing but a chair, a fiddle, and a little imagination.

Lunchbox theatre’s latest show may be “bare-bones”,  but Miss Caledonia extends her hand and with a gloriously infectious smile, she invites us into her technicolor world- like suddenly finding yourself sat beside Judy Garland on the trolly in Meet Me in St. Louis, or watching the sun rise from Laurey’s farmhouse porch in Oklahoma.

Peggy Ann Douglas (our would-be Miss Caledonia) dreams of making it big as a movie star and figures her heroine Debbie Reynolds found the perfect way to do it; win the local beauty pageant, get a modelling contract and get scouted for the silver screen. Not so easy if you’re working the farm with your mum and dad out in 1950’s rural Ontario, but Peggy’s enthusiasm and pure joy is impossible to extinguish. She’s not necessarily a cock-eyed optimist, but her determination to live the life of her dreams is fuelled by unflappable positivity and gumption, plus a little help from her mum.

Mother-Daughter relationships run deep in this production and Melody Johnson’s script is its beating heart. Writing a play about your mother’s girlhood dreams could easily have been a sentimental sinkhole, but Johnson’s story dances joyfully into existsance with the perfect balance of heart, homage and humour.

Perhaps just as challenging is the job of directing such a treasured story. It would be all too easy to stifle the production, but Karen Johnson-Diamond has shown ultimate confidence in the material and the performers. She gently guides the story along, allowing it to breathe and come alive, showing deep personal connection to the soul of the piece.

Johnson-Diamond’s touch is particularly subtle in the relationship between our heroine and the only other performer, fiddle player Aleksandra Danicic. Danicic’s playing is beautifully sensitive to the movement of the story, but it is her attentiveness as an on stage presence which provides essential support for Jamie Konchak’s young Peggy Ann. Although it does bring to mind the old-time pianists who would have played along in the theatres while silent film stars graced the screen, her fiddle-playing is not just accompaniment. She is a sunrise and a rooster crowing, a dirt road after the rain, a confidante, a partner in crime, a shoulder to cry on, and all these sweet moments come with a simple look shared between the two performers. Not only does Danicic transport us to the place of the story, but she is also sister-like, and so is her music.

Konchak bewitches as the infectiously charming Peggy Ann Douglas. In the first five minutes, she takes time to connect with each audience member. Her big sparkling eyes lock with yours and instantly you’re taken to wherever she wants to show you next, and who she wants you to meet. Konchak’s Peggy Ann is silly, warm and clever, and every character she shares with us is thoughtfully drawn. Not a single personality is short-changed by cheap caricatures. Each is exquisitely detailed and specific, from the love-sick milk truck driver to the big city hotel clerk to the Joan Collins-esque modelling class instructor. Konchak skillfully brings dozens of characters to life, and none so lovingly as Peggy Ann’s mother. The warmth between mother and daughter is hearty and wholesome without being cliché. They work together to make the best out of a farm life that can be tough (especially without indoor plumbing!) and their investment in each other’s happiness is shown in some truly touching moments.

It’s quaint to look back on the worlds of our mothers and grandmothers, but this kind of nostalgia also reminds us of the timeless support that women must remember to give each other as we work towards our dreams. The reality of life as a woman in Peggy Ann’s day is perfectly brought into perspective as the Miss Caledonia Pageant goes into the question round. Peggy Ann’s best friend is asked, “Which historical figure do you think the most of”? She replies with a story about the Person’s Case, when “The Famous Five” women from Alberta took the Supreme Court to task over whether women were considered “Persons”. In 1928, it was ruled that they were not.

Within Peggy Ann’s life time, women’s rights advanced considerably. Even the Miss Caledonia Pageant was beginning to look at personality and talent rather than just perfect measurements, stacking ups hands on girls’ legs like hands on a Clydesdale. These mother/daughter stories are not just sweet domestic scrap books, but reflect our collective story as women, generation helping generation, sharing wisdom and showing support for one another’s dreams, whatever they may be.

Following public performances in Calgary, Miss Caledonia will tour to senior’s facilities as part of the Lunchbox To Go program. Connecting the theatre with those women who lived like Peggy Ann and her mother is an incredible initiative from Lunchbox. Not only does the “bare-bones” approach serve this play well, it also allows the story to reach as many audiences as possible, proving that the creative team on this project has a collective heart of gold, just like Peggy Ann, and every aspect of this stellar project delights and fortifies.

Miss Caledonia plays at the Lunchbox Theatre from now until April 21st. Tickets and info at www.lunchboxtheatre.com