The story behind the story of our Fringe Play “Never Fall in Love With A Writer”

I usually have trouble making decisions. I like to weigh all the pros and cons and explore all the possibilities before choosing. I can spend many hours, or
sometimes even days, mulling over even a fairly mundane choice. When Sterling offered to write a new play for me for the 2013 Ottawa Fringe Festival he tried to narrow down my options to help me out.

“Which of my short stories do you think would make a good Fringe play?” he asked me.

He even went so far as to suggest that The Experience Machine might be a good starting point ripe with theatrical possibilities. However,  this time, I already knew the short story I wanted him to adapt: Never Fall in Love With a Writer

So, of all Sterling’s short stories, why did I choose this one?

Well, I wanted a show that had an accessible theme.  Never Fall in Love With A Writer’s premise is easy to relate to. A woman describes her feelings of jealousy that were inspired by a writer (Samuel) obsessed with his work. Her rivals are not other women but the instruments of his craft and his obsession with writing.

The love she holds for Samuel is rooted in a love for his written words. Here’s the kicker. Despite the story’s title, the narrator is in fact a writer herself. She tells us this story through her own writing.

I love that kind of depth. I felt it would make great fodder for a play. Jealousy of someone obsessed with their art combined with the protagonist’s own fervent desire to express herself through art.

I was right. It did make a great play! Now I look forward to the challenge of directing  and producing it. This is a new direction for me. I have never directed a solo performance before.  Fortunately, Sterling has written a great little play to work with.

You can read the play here:

For those interested, here is Jennifer Capogreco (the star of our show) doing a cold read of Sterling’s original short story:


Back in the Director’s Chair?

It’s hard to believe that two years have gone by since I last directed/produced Prisoner’s Dilemma (written by Sterling Lynch.) I had intended to follow up that production with Home in Time in August(2010). Unfortunately, time constraints and a prolonged period of unemployment meant that I was unable to pull it off. 2010 was my worst year ever financially. In fact, I went into debt for the first time in my life. For these reasons Home in Time was shelved. It sucked to bail on the show, but it was the right decision.

In 2011, I finally found steady work and applied for the Ottawa Fringe Festival; however, entries to this festival are determined by lottery (a system I fully endorse). Unlike in 2010, my name was not pulled from the hat. I opted not to go for the Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) option, where the artist(s) finds their own space to perform their show at the Fringe. Why? The short answer is that it takes a lot more work and it is much harder to draw an audience to these venues. With two failures  at producing Home in Time, I decided to shelve that idea/script for awhile.

For most of 2012, a combination of laziness, an unfortunate accident, and a general disinterest in theatre (my interest in most things is cyclical) kept me away from the director’s chair. In 2012, I didn’t even apply for Fringe. I completely forgot about the deadline. Clearly, theatre has not been in the forefront of my mind this year.

Then earlier in the month, over beer of course, I asked Sterling about another play of his, Paris is Dead, and what he thought should be done with it. This three act play Sterling considers his best work.  After more discussion (this time over email and social media) we discussed the possibility of  me taking it on as a director with Sterling as the producer.  We came to the conclusion that before we could commit to this creative project we would have to do a read-through. Sometimes a never produced, original, script works better on the page than on the stage. Having actors read it out loud is crucial to get a sense of a play’s potential. Clearly, we would have to find some exceptional actors to help us out.

We got lucky! I was very excited when talented actors: Ray Besharah, Tess Mc Manus, Jen Capogreco, and Emma Godmere agreed to give us a hand with the read-through. Tomorrow night for the first time this play will be read aloud by actors in my living room. If all goes well, it might mark my return to the director’s chair!

Lord of the Rings Comes To The National Arts Centre

Last night I set off to the National Arts Centre to see Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring performed by 200 musicians and singers (including the NAC orchestra).  I was curious to see if the film would either distract me from the live performance or vice versa. I am pleased to say that overall both aspects complimented each other very well. I was particularly blown away by the multitude of voices in the choir (over 100). This made for a particularly powerful experience. The emotional power of the score performed live seems to raise the stakes of the action taking place on the screen. The battle scenes in particular are quite enhanced.

 I  think it’s great that the NAC is encouraging patrons to come in costume. In fact,  they have provided a special area for photo taking, including some props (helmets, staffs, etc.) to for people to dress up in (if they desire. ) This certainly makes for an accessible family friendly show and is a great way to introduce younger audiences to the orchestra.

 I have one suggestion for future performances, since at times the volume of the live performance overpowers the dialogue on the screen, it would be nice to have subtitles in both languages (currently they are in French only). This would make the narrative easier to follow for those who are less familiar with the film.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this production and I fully recommend buying a ticket. It’s a rare treat to see and hear so many performers on stage! I left the theatre humming parts of the score with a desire to go on a quest.  Well done NAC orchestra and friends!

Postcards from the 2012 Fringe Part 3

The Fringe festival closes today. Congratulations to all the volunteers, artists, and organizers for making it such a success! For those of you who still want to catch a show, it’s not too late. Along with the regularly scheduled shows, at 9:00 p.m. tonight there will be a bonus show for the productions that sold the most tickets during the first four days of the festival. Here’s a link to this years Best in Fest winners!

Of the winners, I particularly enjoyed Wanderlust by Martin Dockery.  Dockery is a compelling story-teller who tells tales from his travels in West Africa. It’s funny, energetic and intelligent. Well worth seeing.

I was also very impressed with Vernus says SURPRISE created by Ken Godmere. Choreographed to a soundscape, Godmere plays an octogenarian in search of a gift for his granddaughter. Godmere’s timing is impeccable. Vernus is unquestionably a technically well executed production.

Yesterday, I finally got around to seeing Hip-Hop Shakespeare by Melanie Karin, David Benedict Brown. I’m glad I went. Both Karin and Brown  know their hip-hop and their Shakespeare very well. If you are into either check this one out today at 4:30 p.m. or when it goes on tour!

Tonight is your last chance to catch some shows! Make it happen!

Postcards from the 2012 Fringe Part 2

It happens every year at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, for many reasons some shows fall below the radar and are not as talked about as much as others early on. Usually by this point (with 3 days left to go), word has gotten out that these productions are very much worth seeing.

Here are a few of these below the radar shows:

White Noise: Created by Margaret Evraire and Christina Bryson, tells the story of Nadia Kajouji, a Carleton University student who committed suicide in 2008. The play is largely a movement piece and recounts the last days of Nadia’s life. Originally I was going to give this production a pass.  Plays based on relatively recent true life events can be very challenging to handle with appropriate sensitivity.  The buzz in the beer tent, however, was positive so I decided to go. I’m glad I did. After the performance ended, the audience (myself included) was very slow to get up and leave the theatre; obviously very moved by the play. I was also very impressed by the sophisticated staging and sound design. Make sure you see this one!

White Noise (photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival)

Gametes and Gonads:  This one man show created, by Jeff Laird, is a high energy whirlwind of a show in which he takes on a multitude of characters (seriously there are like a couple million sperm alone!). Laird skillfully handles all these roles and the show never loses its coherence. Gametes and Gonads is billed as Star Wars meets your genitals. It’s clever and fun. The last show is at 11:00 p.m on Saturday (June 23). Go see it!

Trashman’s Dilemma: Set in a dystopian future this play by (Bruce Gooch) delves into complicated themes revolving around language. Can agency/freedom exist without the words to express it? As an interesting twist the three member cast rotate the roles for each performance. The last chance to catch this show is 3:00 p.m. on Saturday (June 23)!

There are only three days left in the festival! If you haven’t done so already, buy a fringe pin ($3) and check out a play(s) for ($10/ticket).

2012 Postcards From the Fringe Part 1

The 2012 Fringe festival is well under way. This is definitely my favourite festival of the year.  It’s a chance to see some great theatre, dance, and story telling at a bargain price. It’s also an opportunity to meet new friends, catch up with old ones, and drink plenty of beer outside under the open sky! What could be better?

This year, I intend to see approximately 30 shows and I will tell you about  my adventures over a series of three articles featuring brief postcard reviews.

At Fringe, I spend a lot of time in the beer tent and this year is no exception.  As a reviewer, I get asked this question a lot: “What are your top picks for the festival so far?”

While I haven’t seen everything yet (I’ve attended 11 shows so far), here are two must see shows:

  1. Little Orange ManThis is a brilliantly whimsical one woman show, created by Ingrid Hansen and Kathleen Greenfield. It’s about Kitt, a high energy 12 year old girl who likes to recount folk tales told by her Danish grandfather. Kitt uses puppets in variety of different forms, some of them are even made out of her lunch, to tell her stories. It’s a really special show. Go see it! I recommend getting there early and sitting as close to the front as you can since the sight lines in her venue, St. Paul’s Eastern United Church, aren’t the best.

Ingrid Hansen in Little Orange Man (photo courtesy of SNAFU dance)

  1. Heterollectual: Love and Other Dumb Ideas– This is a contemporary dance piece by an emerging Toronto dance company (Pollux Dance). Artistic Director Leslie Glen describes her show this way “It makes fun of love; it exposes sadness; it impersonates the irrational ways in which human beings behave.” It’s a special treat to be be able to see such a talented group of dancers for $10. I was impressed by this company’s athletic ability, grace, and skill.

Photo courtesy of Pollux Dance

Another show I really enjoyed, but that won’t have as broad appeal as the two shows mentioned previously, Is Garkin productions’ Lonely Bear Written by Ray Besharah, this one is dark, quirky, with a sense of humour. Smart, sharp, eccentric writing. Very much worth seeing.

So there are three shows to get you started. Check out to read about the rest of the shows featured in this year’s festival.

Circle Mirror Transformation

Thursday May 24, was the opening night for the GCTC’s production of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at the Irving Greenberg Theatre. Baker’s script has received high praise from critics and won an OBIE award for best new American play in 2010. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about so I set off on opening night to check it out.

Baker’s play takes place in the small town of Shirley, Vermont, at a creative drama class for adults. Those who have ever played drama games, will be able to get the jokes where Baker pokes fun at these exercises. Many will also be able to relate with one character’s frustration when she asks “are we ever going to do any real acting?”

The play unfolds in short quick scenes that span a five week run of classes. Over this period, many details are revealed about the characters lives. Unfortunately, in Baker’s script these revelatory moments are for the most part fairly banal and the narrative unfolds in a very predictable fashion. Even when Baker attempts to deal with a very serious issue (sexual abuse), it is handled  in such an offhanded manner that it trivializes rather than explores the issue.  I was very disappointed in the script and its trajectory. Baker has very little to offer her audience and after awhile the drama game gags wear a little thin. I found the whole thing two dimensional and rather trivial, but  it had a few funny moments.

That being said, I was particularly impressed with the performance of Catherine Rainville (Lauren) and I look forward to seeing more of this talented actress in future. Sarah Mcvie (Theresa) had some fine moments as well.

For more information on performance times for Circle Mirror Transformation click here.


Virtual VS. Real Networks: Where is the Balance?

Those who read my blog know, I’m very rarely the first in line to embrace a new technology. My first cell phone was purchased only two and a half years ago. I was also very late to join Facebook.  Once I do adopt a new technology, it is usually because it benefits my life substantially. At that point, I tend to become a total convert. I now spend a large amount of time networking, sharing, and interacting in various ways on social media sites and in 2010 I made the conversion to a smart phone and haven’t looked back since. Life without it would be unpleasant.

 This weekend I was out with two friends. We were engaged in fairly mundane activities (watching a hockey game, consuming fatty foods, and drinking beer.) The night was fairly typical for us. The first part of the night, we got caught up on what each other were doing had various discussions about politics, work etc. Then later on in the night as the game got kind of boring, and there was a lag in conversation, my other friend, let’s call him “R” and myself began to turn to our smart phones. This is now as natural to me as breathing. My third friend, “J” got cranky and felt that cell phone use (while fairly minor) was a violation of “face time” with him.

 I was reminded again how we are in a period of transition. Though clearly the writing is on the wall and the overlap between real and virtual social networks will continue to expand. This divide, between those who are plugged into online connections and those who are not, for the short-term, will create friction between the two groups; however, the latter group is shrinking very rapidly.  I suspect in a few years those not plugged in will be considered an oddity (maybe we’re already there?)

Now certainly everyone is entitled to live their lives as they choose, but I can’t help but remember that hanging out in a bar watching a game, at one time, would have been considered anti-social. “Why hang out with other people if you are just going to watch TV?” Society has changed and we now recognize that we can also socialize while using this technological device. Simply put, social interactions never stop.

The same is true of smart phones. They are not making us less social, if anything they are making us more social.  This is basic human nature and it’s not surprising that a technology that has expanded the ways we connect with others has been so successful and widely adopted. Fighting this trend is futile. It’s the present not the future.

 Here is another thought: while it would be rude to constantly be talking with individuals who are not physically present (and ignoring those in real time around you) it is equally rude to force someone to ignore those individuals who are not present and completely monopolize their time because you are currently in their physical space.

 Obviously a balance has to be struck.  Where do you think this balance is?

The show that should have not been included in Undercurrents

Undercurrents 2012 is long over but I’m happy to report it was once again a success. Congratulations to Patrick Gauthier, and the GCTC, for running a great event!  This festival is a great addition to the Ottawa scene.  I would love to see it continue to grow and nurture local talent.

Undercurrents celebrates “theatre below the mainstream” and for the most part it does this very well; however, this year there was one show that I felt didn’t really fit in with the spirit of the festival: Blue Box written and performed by award winning Carmen Aguirre and directed by Brian Quirt. 

This show was sold out early and received praise from critics so why do I think it shouldn’t have been included? What I like most about the Undercurrents festival is that it gives an opportunity for independent and under celebrated artists (independent theatre often flies below the radar) to showcase their work in an established theatre. Aguirre’s Blue Box, however, is not in this category.

Who is Carmen Aquirre? This Vancouver-based actress/playwright is an impressive figure on the Canadian cultural landscape.  She has numerous film and TV credits (30+) including a lead role in Quinceañera  (a Sundance Festival award winner).  She has written/co-written 18 plays.  She was playwright-in-residence at The Vancouver Playhouse from 2000 to 2002 and was also playwright-in-residence at Touchstone Theatre in 2004. She is deserving of all this success and is firmly a part of established theatre/film professionals in this country and has been for over a decade.

Blue Box was directed by Brian Quirt. For those who don’t know, Quirt is the former associate artistic director of the GCTC and the current president of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. In fact, he has directed two shows recently at the GCTC.  In 2011, he directed Whispering Pines  and in 2010 The List. Both these shows played on the Irving Greenberg (GCTC) main stage as part of the GCTC’s regular season.

Quirt’s company Nightswimming has produced over 25 shows and has been in operation since 1995. Perhaps this is why he was able to attract such high profile talent such as Aguirre to work with.

 In every way possible, performer/creator, director, and company, Blue Box is not theatre “below the mainstream.” For this reason I do not think it should have been included in this year’s Undercurrents festival. I think the only question is why did the GCTC not choose to include this show as part of its regular season given the show’s pedigree?

Patrick Gauthier has an excellent eye for theatre and I enjoyed his (and the GCTC’s) programming of the 2012 Undercurrents festival. That being said, next year, I hope Undercurrents returns to the 2011 format that celebrated/promoted the work of independent non-established artists. There is a very real need for this kind of independent festival in Ottawa and it is what makes Undercurrents special.

Undercurrents So Far

The Undercurrents festival is well underway at the Great Canadian Theatre Company and this weekend I was finally able to get out and see some shows.  The first, was the Friday Feb. 10th opening of,  Falling Open by Luna Allison.   

In Falling Open, Allison has taken on a very difficult subject, one family’s experience with sexual abuse,  skilfully and with appropriate sensitivity. The script is sharp and hard-hitting while avoiding the typical clichés of victimization.  While certainly strong in places, on opening night, her performance was slightly uneven and her voice was a little quiet. This was compounded by the fact that she had to compete with the whir of the fan of a projector used for the audio-visual elements.  I have mixed feelings about the audio-visual elements as a whole, there were instances where they worked and served the narrative, but in others they were a bit of distraction.  Despite these technical failings, Falling Open is still very much worth seeing because of the strength of Allison’s script. I recommend it!

Saturday February 11, I attended two shows. First, was Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show by Architect Theatre (a resident company of Theatre Passe Muraille.) This is an ambitious project that deals with the themes of environmental degradation/reclamation all wrapped up in a love story. The piece is a blend of fiction and verbatim theatre (dialogue taken from interviews with people in the community.)  I think this kind of theatre works best when the stories of the community interviewed are brought to the forefront. In the case of this production, the verbatim component is merely used by the artists as a backdrop for their own fictional narrative. I feel that is a missed opportunity.  That being said, both Georgina Beaty and Brendan Mcmurty-Howlett put in very strong performances.

The second half of my theatrical double feature was Live From the Belly of the Whale by Ottawa’s Mi Casa. This show was sold out early and it’s easy to see why.  Emily Pearlman and Nick Di Gaetano are both charismatic performers. They make a great team with Pearlman providing clever dialogue and Di Gaetano creating the music. It’s a great combination and both are compelling to watch as they tell this fantastical story about the relationship between a brother and sister (complete with journeys to the ocean and to the moon).  It also features exceptional set and props design by John Doucet. The only drawback to the performance was the fact that the keyboard occasionally overwhelmed the singing voices of the actors. Live From the Belly of the Whale finished it’s run last night, but I’m hoping Mi Casa will release the soundtrack for purchase. It’s a winner!

So far it’s been a great festival. I hope you get a chance to go out and see a show before it ends! By the way, a special feature of this festival is you can bring your drink with you into the theatre space. If you see Weetube 5400 you can also get free popcorn and cookies. How about that for an incentive?