Date: 2008 December

December 30, 2008, by
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When in doubt, make a numbered list. That’s at least part of the thinking behind Praxis Theatre Director of Marketing Ian Mackenzie’s recent guest post at The Next Stage theatre blog: 10 things I learned about theatre in 2008.

Quasi-cantakerous, painfully obvious, or productively blunt?
You decide.

Please check out the full list of 10 at The Next Stage, here.

December 29, 2008, by
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Take It Back
Who: Solid State Breakdance
Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace, Toronto, Canada
What: A combination of the high physicality of B-boying (Breakdance) with the partnering structures of Lindy Hop (Swing) and the aesthetics of Contemporary Dance.
Why: Asks the question: “Why don’t we dance in couples anymore?”
Web: Solid State Website.
Hype: “So organic and fun-loving that it manages to invent a dazzling new vocabulary, make statements on gender roles, and get the audience members whooping like they’re at a full-blown battle.” Straight.com

L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs
Who: Beth Marshall
Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace, Toronto, Canada
What  A troupe of vagabond performers their band, tell the tale of a clown’s journey to become a real man through an explosion of song, dance, puppetry, clowning and use of a BIG FRENCH BEAR!
Why: It’s a clown show derived from a synthesis of Henry Miller and Herman Hesse.
Web: L’Ange Avec Les Fleurs MySpace Page.
Hype: WINNER: Best Production, Acting and Set – Orlando Fringe

December 26, 2008, by
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“Pinter restored theatre to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles”

Nobel Academy on why it awarded Harold Pinter the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005.

The absolute evisceration of pretense will almost certainly be the cornerstone of the ideas that will define Harold Pinter’s legacy. He simply had absolutely no patience whatsoever for bullshit. On stage it made for bad theatre, and in the international arena it had catastrophic human consequences.

Pinter’s Nobel lecture had very little to do with theatre and everything to do with being one of the quintessential critiques of the Bush administration and post-WWII US foreign policy.

Above all things, it is a call to arms for citizens to defend truth in the public sphere. For Pinter, although truth can be many shades of malleable grey in art, there is a central truth that all inhabitants of earth share. It is the job of intellectuals to defend this truth against the manipulations of self-serving often murderous interests:

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

You can read the full text of Harold Pinter’s Nobel lecture to the Swedish Academy here.

Harold Pinter
Master artist and unflinching social justice and peace activist
1930-2008

December 22, 2008, by
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Theatre is Territory will be Just The Facts-ing all eight entries in the second edition of Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival.

The highly competitive juried festival plays winter Ying to the un-juried Fringe Festival’s summer Yang. To be considered for The Next Stage you must have had a previous production in a Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals festival. It runs January 7th to 18th 2009, and takes place exclusively at the two venues of the Factory Theatre.
Practically speaking, all of the shows selected are either previous Fringe hits being remounted with increased resources and rehearsal, or new works by companies that have several Fringe hits under their belts. It’s easy to see why this all adds up to a very good idea for the independent theatre community to support.
Download the full pdf of the brochure for the festival by clicking here.
Buy tickets online by clicking here.
Yichud/Seclusion

Who: Convergence Theatre
Where: Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto, Canada
What: A one-act play in three parts that examines intimate moments surrounding the arranged wedding of a young Orthodox Jewish couple, and the impact their union has on their families.
Why: Three words: Live Klezmer Band
Web: Convergence Theatre Facebook page.
Hype: Previous fringe productions AutoShow and The Gladstone Variations were runaway must-see hits garnering numerous accolades.

First Hand Woman
Who: Fire Up Co-operative
Where: Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto, Canada
What: A play set within a woman’s heart and mind. It is a journey through heartache and healing told by the stages of grief: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.
Why: CAUTION: Show contains spontaneous simulated Orgasms!
Web: Playwright/Performer Sarah Michelle Brown’s website.
Hype: WINNER: Chapters “Best Text Award” Montreal Fringe
Don’t Look
Who: Steady State Theatre Project
Where: Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto, Canada
What: Daniel and Ariella, Star-of-David-crossed first cousins, whose innocent shiva makeout session forces them down a path of shame and regret. When they are finally pushed to the limits of their defenses, Daniel and Ariella find themselves face to face with everything they’ve been trying to avoid.
Why: Only play from the “incest-comedy-drama” genre in the festival.
Web: Don’t Look Facebook event page.
Hype: Toronto Fringe Outstanding Production: NOW Magazine

December 16, 2008, by
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Introduction: A long look at a really big idea
by Michael Wheeler

After much thought and talk about the lack of content about content on this blog and several others, this series will be an attempt to create an online discussion about the process and product of a massive theatrical undertaking. It is my hope that this will translate to something approximating content about content:

Volcano Theatre’s Africa Trilogy

With some funding from the generous folks at Theatre Ontario, I will be training with Volcano as an Artistic Producer on this project. It’s a really great opportunity to see and share how something of this magnitude goes from an inception to incredibly ambitous production.

Ideally, this series will follow the project to its conclusion for the next year and a half and will have multiple authors representing many of the different perspectives the trilogy will encompass. Volcano Artistic Director, Ross Manson, has been generous enough to be all for me organizing something like this. Thanks Ross.

Volcano’s website describes the project as:

“An international trilogy of plays that will focus on the West’s relationship with Africa.

The three playwrights come from three regions: Africa, Europe, North America. The directors come from different countries within these three continents, thus making the project a six-country, three continent effort.

The theatre artists joining the project are relatively young, and formally experimental – mid or early-career innovators, already with national or international reputations. The starting point is the 2005 series of Massey Lectures given by Stephen Lewis, United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006.”

Stephen Lewis speaks about The Africa Trilogy at The Gladstone Hotel
The Playwrights:

Binyavanga Wainaina is the winner of the 2002 Caine prize for African literature, and the founding editor of Kenya’s only literary journal, Kwani?. He is one of the most important literary figures of his generation in Central Africa.

Roland Schimmelpfennig is the winner of the 2002 Vienna Nestroy Prize, and the Schiller-Gedächtnis Prize (awarded yearly in Germany for an outstanding literary contribution by a young dramatist). He is one of the most prolific and heralded young dramatists in Europe.

Christina Anderson was identified by American Theatre magazine as one of only fifteen US artists under 30 “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.”

The Directors:
Josette Bushell-Mingo was recently awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work in theatre in the UK. She is the founder of PUSH, an organisation set up for the promotion and development of Black British Theatre, and currently runs the Tyst Teater in Sweden.

Liesl Tommy grew up in a township in Cape Town, South Africa. She studied at Oxford and the Claire Davidson Drama Centre in London, then earned her MFA from Trinity Rep Conservatory in the USA. She has been hailed as “eccentrically imaginative” by the New York Post, and a “standout” by the New York Times.

Ross Manson is a Dora and KM Hunter award-winning theatre director based in Toronto, whose work won the 2006 “Best of Edinburgh” prize at the world’s largest theatre festival. His international award-winning company, Volcano, has been identified by NOW magazine as the “best independent theatre company in Toronto”.

The entire team is currently working with a cast of 10 workshoping the first draft of their three scripts at the Lower Ossington Theatre in Toronto. These workshops are actually the fourth stage of the process following a planning meeting at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel in November 2007, a research trip to Rwanda and Uganda in March 2008, and a weekend of follow up meetings with the playwrights in New York City in June of 2008.

There is another workshop to follow in the spring of 2009 at Theatre Passe Muraille, and likely much more work between then and when it opens as part of Toronto’s Luminato festival in 2010.

So there should be lots to talk about. Stay tuned for more posts on this project from many different collaborators.

December 3, 2008, by
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Part 2 of an English-speaking-ex-pat acting primer for Tokyo
By Benjamin Johnson


JAPAN – In Japan they speak Japanese. So I shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of English theatre. But perhaps the problem is not the language barrier, but the arts industry, and perhaps the very business practices of the second-largest economy on the planet.

The largest English theatre company in Tokyo (their website says this will be their 112th season) is Tokyo International Players. They have four shows in their current season spanning a year, but unfortunately, each show only runs for four days… And the short run is a regular phenomenon with English and Japanese shows in Tokyo. They’re also actively seeking volunteers for all positions, which translates as: there is no money in English theatre in Tokyo.

As for Japanese theatre, the average run is also four days, with more high-profile shows (including casts of TV stars) running a scant two weeks. They appear to be heavily subsidized by sponsors and donations, with most non-Broadway Musical shows concentrated in the small area of Shimokitazawa. The economics of rehearsing for a couple weeks to do four performances is mysterious at best, and indicates that theatre audiences have not been developed as much as in western society.

A recent article in the Japan Times points to a company that has begun premiering shows in the UK to try and help sell their shows at home. The same strategy seems to work for the big musicals (Wicked, Annie, Lion King…), but says little for the potential growth of homegrown shows.

On the opposite end, the (“Broadway musical”) The Drowsy Chaperone opens in Tokyo this coming January (possibly with English subtitles for tourists…). Originally premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001, after eight years and a successful New York run, it’s finally crossing the other pond.

As for making a living as an actor in Tokyo, or as an artist of any kind for that matter, “difficult” does not begin to describe the scene. As I mentioned in the previous post, agencies provide the actor with a “garauntee” of how much a specific job pays. But no one actually knows how much the agency makes, and I’m told by everyone I meet that asking is considered impolite, and could lead to less or no more jobs. So much for actor’s rights…

Japanese signing idol Ami Suzuki was the biggest music star in Japan in 1999, selling millions of CD’s and DVD’s, but despite this she made very little per month, plus less that half of one-percent of CD sales. When the president of her recording company was subsequently indicted on fraud charges, and details of her compensation exposed in court and reported in the news (despite threats), she was blacklisted by the industry and is just recently making a comeback as an independent artist, eight years later. And this is not an isolated phenomenon…

Moving further into mainstream, a recent article in the New York Times exposes a more sinister problem in the fabric of Japanese society, which is that Japan’s success as an economic force may be built on the back of the unpaid overtime of it’s entire work force. The article also points out that the practice of, “working oneself to death”, is so common in Japan there is a word for it, karoshi, and it’s not just an expression that means “to work a lot”.

Back to theatre, it would seem that the culture of unfair business practices towards artists (and employees in general), a potential theatre market that’s too busy working unpaid overtime, and a general complacency about the whole situation, has left one of the most intimate and personal forms of artistic expression, theatre, relegated to the side-lines. There is however, always hope.

An article in the Washington Post points to a growing movement in the younger Japanese, who are not interested in job promotions, or marriage, or taking on more responsibility of any kind, as a reaction to the suffocating atmosphere of the Japanese business culture, and that sad character: the salaryman. (Not to mention that Japan chose not to ratify the International Labour Standard of equal compensation for women). But perhaps the winds of change are coming to Japan, and a silent revolution could be brewing as we speak. Theatre, for it’s part, could play a vital role as a window on society, and a voice for the chorus of silent protesters, but book your tickets early, as it may only run for four days…

On a final note, perhaps there is a solution to the language barrier of English theatre in Tokyo, and that is: to reflect the reality of life in this city. English signs are everywhere, and every Japanese studies English in high school, although not enough to really understand well, but it presents the option of mixing the languages, (as most of my conversations are on a daily basis). Outside of the language, theatre is communication, and maybe that quintessential struggle should be on stage, as it is in the street…