Tag Archives: GCTC

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.


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.

The Two shows I’m Most Looking Forward to At Undercurrents

Last year, the Undercurrents festival launched at the GCTC and was one of the theatrical highlights of the year. The festival’s aim is to promote independent boundary pushing theatre or “theatre below the main stream.”  Last year’s line up was terrific and I saw every show.  Undercurrents 2012, opened yesterday and I’m once again looking forward to seeing more independent theatre!

In fact, I’m on record, and have been quoted in marketing material, saying this about last year’s festival:

I hope this festival becomes a regular feature of the Ottawa theatre scene and that the GCTC will sponsor even more independent theatre productions in the future.” 

As a strong supporter of this festival, I thought I would take some time to tell you about two of the shows I am particularly looking forward to this year. I think I would be remiss if I also didn’t tell you about the one show I feel should not have been included this year and why, but I will save that for another blog post.

Here are two recommendations!:

At the 2011 Ottawa Fringe Festival, Luna Allison premiered Falling Open in a very original venue (her bedroom.) Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to catch this one at Fringe. Her home was a little off the beaten path and, to be completely honest, the play’s subject matter (one family’s experience of sexual abuse) scared me off a little too. That being said, those who saw it raved about this show. I’m told Allison treats the subject matter with appropriate sensitivity and puts in a powerful performance. While I’m sure this one will be challenging, Falling Open is top of my list to see at Undercurrents 2012.

Highway 63: the Fort Mac Show, looks like an interesting piece of verbatim/documentary theatre, bringing to life the stories of the people who live in Fort Mac, Alberta. I love when communities use theatre to tell their stories. I’m also a fan of the verbatim movement so I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

So if you don’t know what to see, those are the two shows in the festival that I am most excited about. Get your tickets soon!

Sleeping Dog Theatre’s Blood on the Moon

Pierre Brault as Whelan- photo by Lydia Pawelak

Last Thursday, I set off to see Sleeping Dog Theatre’s (in association with the National Arts Centre English Theatre) Blood on the Moon  at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (GCTC).  Written by Pierre Brault, this show was selected as a last-minute replacement for You Fancy Yourself by Maja Ardal cancelled due to Ardal’s severe illness.  Blood on the Moon features Brault as the ghost of James Patrick Whelan, an Irish  immigrant who was found guilty of assassinating D’arcy McGee, retelling the story of his trial. Those who are familiar with Brault’s work will not be surprised that this is a one man show with Brault playing all the characters.  Brault has built his reputation with these kinds of performances and once again does an admirable job juggling all the roles.

I am always pleased when local writers make an effort to tell Ottawa’s stories and Brault has done a nice job of telling Whelan’s story in Blood on the Moon. I particularly enjoyed the way he weaves in modern local references that Ottawa residents will relate to along with the historical facts of the trial.

Martin Conboy’s lighting design is also quite effective. The various scenes in the play from jail cell, to courthouse, and finally the gallows are all depicted through the use of clever lighting techniques.

Blood on the Moon is a local story skillfully told. It’s a show definitely worth seeing.

It’s important to remember that this show started 13 years ago as an Ottawa Fringe Festival show before touring Canada and Ireland extensively.                                                                      

This is not surprising, in fact, with so few opportunities to catch independent theatre on main stages, the theatre festivals have become the breeding grounds for the best of independent theatre in the country.

On that note, I’m very pleased that the GCTC is once again offering the Undercurrents festival in February. It’s a perfect opportunity to check out more independent Canadian theatre. Perhaps, some of the shows featured here will move on to main stages or, like Blood on the Moon, tour internationally.

For more information on show times and ticket prices for Blood on the Moon click here

A Review of The Shadow Cutter


Pierre Brault (left) and Andy Massingham (right) star in The Shadow Cutter (photo by Andrew Alexander)

Too often in this town we privilege the work of artists from other cities and dead playwrights above the writers who live and work in our community.  This is a shame– If we don’t support the telling of our own stories than who will? This is why, on Thursday night, I was very excited to head off to the world premiere of Pierre Brault’s The Shadow Cutter.

 I’m fortunate that I live a short walk away from the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC), because the weather that night was nothing less than wretched. The combination of melting snow and steady rainfall had turned the sidewalks and roads into rivers of slush. Whether you were traveling by foot, bus, or car the journey was unpleasant. And yet, as I entered the theatre it was a packed house. The worst of March weather in Ottawa had not in any way deterred audiences from making the trek out to see a play and the mood of the crowd was optimistic and upbeat. Simply put, everyone was excited to see a brand new “made in Ottawa” production.

As Brian Quirt, the GCTC’s associate artistic director, mentions in his message it is clear that audiences “want to support and champion our local artists.”  One can only hope that given this fact, local artists will be given even more opportunities to showcase their talents on the main stage in future.

The Shadow Cutter, a collaboration between Sleeping Dog Theatre and the GCTC, tells the story of Ottawa born magician Dai Vernon– a magician famous for fooling Harry Houdini.   Brault’s script focuses on Vernon’s obsessive quest to uncover the magicians’ ultimate sleight of hand secret “the center deal” and what this pursuit costs him.  The play aspires to bring the audience “into the world of magicians where secrets are currency and illusions rule supreme.”

There were a couple of moments where mirrors and lighting tricks were used quite successfully to convey this mood. I would have preferred to see even more of these techniques used to fully immerse the audience into this world.

Andy Massingham plays the role of Dai Vernon. This is a natural fit for Massingham, and he performs various tricks on stage (from cutting out silhouettes to sleight of hand card tricks) quite admirably.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Brault’s solo work, that he plays all the other parts in the play. It was a refreshing change to see Brault interacting with another actor on stage. Watching two actors engaging with each other is always more compelling (for me) than watching one, so I hope Brault continues in this direction.

Overall, I really enjoyed this play and would certainly recommend it. That being said, without revealing the surprise ending, I feel that this ending would have been better served if it was set up through out the play.  In other words, instead of “Carl the Conjurer” at the beginning I would have preferred if that character was replaced with Vernon’s son.

For more information and performance dates click here:

What I’m Looking Forward to at The GCTC in 2010-2011

Recently, I  checked out the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s launch of their 2010-2011 season. It was a fun event complete with chocolate fountain and champagne. Here are some of the shows that I am personally looking forward to in this upcoming season and why.

1. Sleeping Dog Theatre’s The Shadow Cutter: by Pierre Brault: This latest show, by the company that created Portrait of an Unidentified Man, tells the story of Dai Vernon, an Ottawa magician reputed to have fooled Harry Houdini, and the quest for the ultimate card trick. I had never heard of this bit of local lore and I think this kind of Ottawa story is the perfect choice for Brault and Sleeping Dog Theatre.  Get your tickets early for this one I have a feeling it will sell out fast.

2. Vimy by Vern Thiessen. This play is about a pivotal battle in WWI and a definitive moment for our nation. This is certainly an appropriate choice for this time of year ( November) given the subject matter. It’s also noteworthy that this production will be put on in collaboration with the NAC’s English Theatre Acting Company. It’s great to see theatre companies working together. I would love for more of this kind of collaboration to happen  in the Ottawa scene.

3. The Middle Place by Andrew Kushnir: This Project:Humanity Production looks like an interesting bit of verbatim theatre (theatre taken from interviews/dialogue with people). This award-winning work was created out of interviews and encounters with the residents of a youth shelter in a tough Toronto neighborhood. Sounds great.

I was also pleased to hear that the GCTC will be putting on a “repertory” festival in the studio space. Undercurrents: Theatre below the mainstream will give independent theatre companies an opportunity to present and develop their work. The festival will open with This is a Recording. This was one of the gems of the 2009 Ottawa Fringe Festival and should be an excellent show. I’m excited to see what else this festival will feature.

So those are the shows I’m personally looking forward to at the GCTC in 2010-2011. Maybe I’ll see you there as well. 🙂

Going Solo?

 Tonight I’m off to a media performance of The Syringa Tree at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. This is an award winning and internationally acclaimed play and it therefore seems a good way to begin the GCTC’s season. I will also be writing a review of this play for Cult(ure), and this time I decided to do a quick Google search to find out at little about the show in advance.  This is actually the first time I’ve taken this approach. I believe strongly that a play should be taken on its own terms. For this reason, I prefer to go into a show as “fresh” as possible. It’s worth noting that I still carefully avoided all the reviews of other companies’ performances of the play in an attempt to remain unbiased.

 Naturally in my Googling one of my first stops was Wiki. While Wiki has its issues, I find it pretty reliable for a very general synopsis.  Wiki had this to say about the play:

“The Syringa Tree[1] is a deeply personal memory play of a childhood under apartheid. Written and often performed by Pamela Gien it has received excellent reviews in New York and across the USA as well as in London.[2][3] Also very positively reviewed[4] in Dublin, the play has received several awards.

Originally, the play was intended for one actress only, with no props besides a swing and one costume. However, it can also be performed with two or multiple actors.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Syringa_Tree)

I find that last line particularly intriguing and I’m really curious to know if Pamela Gien has made that allowance in her script. I would suspect not, as she performed it solo in the original off-Broadway version. I think it’s fair to assume that she would have performed it the way she felt it should be performed. (I could be wrong.)

I fully understand, however, why a company might decide to add other actors to a Solo actor show.  There is something very compelling about “the chemistry” that happens between two or more actors when they perform on stage that is always missing from solo work.I usually prefer the performances of multiple actors over solo actors because I enjoy this chemistry so much.  

That is not to say that solo performances aren’t worth seeing. Many of them are quite excellent. Pierre Brault’s Portrait of An Unidentified Man, for instance, is a great example of one that did everything right. It was unquestionably one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

I’m not sure how I feel about converting solo actor scripts into multi-actor scripts, which brings us to Wayne’s question of the day:

Is it OK to take a script intended to be performed by one actor and turn it into a multi-actor piece? Judging by the Wiki entry, this is precisely what someone did at some point with The Syringa Tree.

 (Bonus points will be given to anyone who has read the play and can therefore illuminate us on whether Gien has actually made allowances for this in her script.)