I had so much fun last night at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. My husband Dave was working as a volunteer so I decided to strike out on my own. The first play I chose was Juliet’s Revenge at the Kings Head Pub. Luckily I’d headed over early to get my ticket because it quickly sold out. When I walked in the door I was surprised to see my cousin Lynne and her husband Rod were also in attendance. I sat with them, and Rod, the consummate gentleman that he is, quickly bought me a glass of white wine and then invited me to help them eat a delicious plate of nachos. So I was in a pretty good mood before the play even started!
But oh my word Juliet’s Revenge was so funny and entertaining. My cousin and I were laughing out loud. Have you ever wondered why William Shakespeare killed off so many of his female heroines by having them commit suicide? Cleopatra, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Ophelia? Well, the Shakespearean women are out to get revenge on the bard and rewrite their stories with different endings and they do so in the most comedic and delightful way!! Actress Carly Pokoradi was astounding as she jumped back and forth between the no-nonsense persona of Lady Macbeth, the sweet flighty Ophelia, and the regal Cleopatra.
Pippa Mackie played Juliet and her face during the bedroom scene with Romeo told a whole story in itself without her uttering a word. Lady Macbeth and Juliet mimed rowing a boat together as they tried to save Ophelia from drowning and we sat in awe at their physical comedic abilities. They got the audience involved at a couple points too. When the women were chasing around the theatre looking for William Shakespeare I suddenly heard Lady Macbeth’s Scottish brogue in my ear asking me if I knew where he had gone. I pointed to the stage where William was brandishing his book of plays.
If you get a chance to see Juliet’s Revenge by all means go. It’s great!
The second play I saw which also sold out was I Lost on Jeopardy. I had read the article in the Winnipeg Free Press about George Buri the Winnipeg history professor who against all odds made it on to the game show and then lost on the Final Jeopardy question. George has written a one-man show in which he describes his Jeopardy experience in an interesting and entertaining fashion. One of my favorite parts was where he demonstrates how he practiced quick action on the Jeopardy buzzer using a toilet paper roll dispenser.
George wraps up his performance by telling us a little bit about his fellow contestants and sharing the important life lessons he gleaned from his failure to win on Jeopardy. I Lost on Jeopardy was a solid hour of entertainment. George Buri, history professor turned actor, lets you know that putting on a Fringe play, like being on Jeopardy, is one of the risks he’s taken to make his life hope-filled and meaningful. His play encourages us to follow suit.
I had a fabulous Sunday night at The Fringe and look forward to seeing more great plays during the coming week.
A Dedicated Fringe Volunteer
Oh To Be A Kid At The Fringe Festival
Take It Easy But Take It
I’ve made it to four fringe plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. I decided to look for one or two valuable insights or ideas from each play.
My husband and I when we had just started dating
How My Light Is Spent
Relationships are what keeps us truly alive and visible in this world. Work hard to maintain your current relationships and don’t be afraid to foster new ones.
With my two brothers at an Easter family gathering in 2010
The Merkle Sisters
Your siblings are a great gift to appreciate.
Zip Lining in Costa Rica- I was pretty terrified.
The quality of the last third of your life is in many ways dependent on your attitude and your willingness to take risks, try new things and deal positively with health problems that come your way.
Marching in the Pride Parade in Steinbach. Photo credit- Grant Burr
Hot Thespian Action
It is a good idea to clean your purse regularly. Don’t be duped into buying things and services you really don’t need. Think carefully about what social justice issues you will support. You can’t support them all.
Oh To Be A Kid At the Fringe Festival
A Roof With A View
Lessons from Leonard
On Friday and Saturday I worked in the Winnipeg Art Gallery tent at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. The kids section of the festival is set up just beside Old Market Square. What a fun place it is to be. There are expert face painters on hand and there is a giant snakes and ladders game. You can play four-square, hang out and read books in the Winnipeg Public Library space or do a little movement and dancing and drama with talented and entertaining instructors. There are all kinds of tossing games to play and of course you can visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery tent and make some art. On Friday we made paper bag puppets and on Saturday the children were doing water-color paintings. One little girl did ten paintings in a row all so creative and colorful. It was great fun getting to know the children and helping them with their art. On Saturday my colleague Marion made a water-color painting of me.
Marion my colleague from France
Marion is from France but has been working at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for the last four months. In a few days she heads off to the Yukon on the next leg of her Canadian adventure I will miss her.
I had never visited the children’s area of the Fringe Festival before. I am glad I got to work there and see all the kids have such a great time.
Olympus Inspired Art
A Children’s Masterpiece
He had a sign on his guitar that said This Machine Kills Fascists. He was a writer and a radio personality. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and many other great musicians have acknowledged his influence on their music.
Those are some of the new things I learned about Woody Guthrie when I attended the Winnipeg Fringe Festival show Woody Sed. Before hearing the very talented Thomas Jones take on the personas of almost twenty different characters from the music icon’s life I only knew Woody Guthrie was Arlo Guthrie’s father and that he had written the song This Land is Your Land.
From the excellent play Woody Sed I learned Woody had a tumultuous life. He inherited Huntington’s Disease from his mother and passed it on to two of his children. He lost a sister and a daughter in separate fires and his father was also injured in a fire. Due in part to his disease and his need to wander and try new things none of his three marriages lasted. He fought in World War II. He was often penniless and homeless and spent the last decade of his life in health care institutions.
Despite his troubled personal life Woody is considered one of the most significant figures in American folk music. A quote from Woody Guthrie that Thomas Jones repeated numerous times throughout his fringe show was “Take it easy but take it.” I am not sure in what context Woody said this, perhaps in a song he wrote, but to me it means ‘Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Live life to the fullest.’
The Guess Who on the Wall
Connecting With Burton Cummings
All That Jazz in Kansas City
Filed under Music, Theatre
What great stories! My husband Dave is a Fringe Festival team leader this year and I just love the interesting stories he comes home with each night about the variety of co-workers and theatre patrons he interacts with during each shift. He could write a fascinating play about all the experiences he’s had. One night for example a homeless person came by needing money for what he said was a life or death situation and Dave gave him ten dollars. A theatre patron watching the interaction reimbursed Dave. Dave has had to call the police, administer first aid and listen to lots of interesting life stories. However his long volunteering hours means we haven’t fringed as much as we usually do during Winnipeg’s Fringe Festival.
We have seen a few plays however.
FOR centered on a dining room table where two couples reveal more than the audience might have hoped they would about themselves during dinner. It reminded me a bit of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Nicely acted and entertaining although the subject matter is pretty heavy, it starred my boss Grant Burr, the editor of the The Carillon where I write a regular column.
Channeling Kevin Spacey is about a hapless young man whose life is pretty grim. He gets through the day mimicking actor Kevin Spacey in his various movies roles, till halfway through the play when he decides to make a character change to Al Pacino. Good acting but if you aren’t familiar with Spacey and Pacino’s film roles you might be left a little bewildered.
I loved Tara Travis in her last fringe play about Henry VIII’s wives but this year’s offering Searching for Dick: A Paranormal Comedy was too personal, too strange and didn’t showcase the actress’ talents enough for me, although the black light stuff she did was cool. Tara baked brownies during the play for us to eat but I didn’t have any. Her venue wasn’t air-conditioned and I desperately needed some cool air by the end of the play and couldn’t wait in line for my treat.
The Telephone was a light-hearted operatic treat. I knew all the cast members through hometown connections. I took my 86-year-old Dad who wanted to have a fringe experience and he enjoyed it too. Although set in the 1950s the play’s lessons about the use of phones and their interruption in our personal lives was certainly current. The performers were all professional and talented.
Other posts about plays…...
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter
The St. Boniface Basilica was a brilliant choice as a setting for the musical Quo Vadis. I attended the performance on the night of July 22 which just happened to be the forty-six year anniversary of the tragic fire that nearly completely destroyed the huge Winnipeg cathedral in 1968. All that remained of the old church after the fire was the majestic front piece. That stone facade which is now more than a century old, provided the backdrop for the Fringe Festival production of Quo Vadis.
This was not your regular fringe play. It had a huge cast with many trained and talented musicians among them. The story is taken from a Polish novel by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz. It is set in 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. It recounts the love story of a military man and a young Christian woman, who along with others of her faith, is slated for death because of her beliefs.
The musical was written by Olaf Pyttlik. Olaf and his wife lived in my condo building this last year while their home in Wolseley was being completely gutted and renovated.
Not only did Olaf have that project on the go, but in May he opened a new restaurant in the Exchange District called Across the Board. Pyttlik also owns and operates a successful audio production company called daCapo. And somewhere in between remodeling a house, opening a restaurant and running a business, he found time to write a musical and stage it at the Fringe Festival. Does this man ever sleep?
The performers in the Quo Vadis production obviously loved what they were doing. The music was beautiful and inspiring. The storyline was easy to follow. It was a great evening of entertainment made all the more special because the music we were hearing was brand new and was having its debut at the Fringe Festival. An added bonus was that we were outside on a lovely Manitoba evening. The breeze was dancing in the actors hair and birds were calling and winging overhead.
If you haven’t already seen Quo Vadis- go! If it’s sold out, you can just sit down on the Basilica grounds and listen to the wonderful music.
Note: The musical mentioned Christians being devoured by wild animals in the Colosseum. When I toured the Colosseum in Rome our guide told us that never happened. Quo Vadis also made reference to Christians hiding out in the catacombs.
Our tour group in the catacombs
When we visited the catacombs in Rome our guide told us that’s just a myth too.
Other posts about the Fringe Festival……
Small Affair A Big Success
Godspell and Shadow Spaces
Not So Dandy
The first 2014 Winnipeg Fringe play we saw was Dandy. There were some dandy things about it. Bremner Duthie the solo performer is enthusiastic and puts his whole heart into his show. He’s backed up by three talented young men from the jazz program at the University of Manitoba. Bremner’s voice is obviously a well-trained one. He knew his material well and the audience found his ode to an item of clothing called a ‘dickie’ especially humorous.
There were some things however about the show that weren’t so dandy. Bremner had trouble always singing in tune. The narration didn’t really tell a connected story. I did figure out that the main character lost the love of his life and then lost himself in alcohol. The message of the performance was not clear. Bremner waxed eloquent about the way the clothes we wear can transform us and can impact the way people see us. However he also talked about the importance of inner beauty.
Bremner was sarcastic about the clothes the audience members were wearing and chastised my husband who was fooling around with his flashlight. Flashlights had been handed out to the audience so they could use them to shine a spotlight onto Bremner.
There were several too long sections where Bremner just sat looking in a soulful way at the audience and a couple fairly long off stage costume changes.
By the way Bremner thinks the ultimate fashion sin is wearing sweat pants, so if you don’t want him to poke fun at you don’t wear them to the show.
Bremner does strip down at one point and I was a little nervous everything would come off but I need not have worried. He kept his Superman underwear on.
Great fringe shows I saw last year……….
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter
Fringing Some More
Without a doubt Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter was the best show I saw at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year. It engaged me completely and left me in tears. Alison Wearing is a gifted writer and captivating story teller and in her Fringe show she uses photographs, music and movement to share her memoir. When she was twelve Alison learned that her father, a Trent university professor, was gay and was moving out of their home. It certainly wasn’t easy for a young adolescent girl in the 1980s to adjust to such a major change in her family life but Alison tells her story without a sense of victimhood. Her mother supported Alison’s father in his desire to continue to play a major role in their children’s lives, something commendable when one considers that it wasn’t till 1996 that the federal government passed Bill C-33 which added discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to the Human Rights Act making it illegal in Canada. In two successive anecdotes about Christmas, Alison suggests sometimes life was more normal and traditional with her Dad than with her Mom.
Alison loves both her parents and speaks with pride of their gifts and accomplishments as well as her gratitude that they have allowed her to share their family’s story so publicly. She clearly admires her father’s courage in ‘coming out’ when he did and is glad he has found happiness in a partnership with another man that has lasted for many decades.
Her stage play is a re-telling of the first section of her book published by Alfred Knopf. I am looking forward to reading it. As a teenager Alison went to great lengths to hide the fact her father was gay. She expressed her happiness that times have changed so much her own son doesn’t have to give a second thought to his grandfather’s sexual orientation and can talk about it freely.
I saw the last performance of Alison’s show in Winnipeg but she is moving on to the Saskatoon Fringe and if you live there I encourage you to go.
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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – The First Play
Fringe Festival- Second and Third Play
Fringing Times Four
I went to my first Fringe Play last night. It was Thom Pain written by Will Eno and performed by Grant Burr, who just happens to be the editor of The Carillon the regional newspaper I’ve worked for as a weekly columnist for many years. Check out my thoughts on my Destination Winnipeg blog.
I’ve been to my second trio of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival now.
I went to see The Tempest because of personal connections. I got to know my husband while working on a group project about the play in my first year English class at university. I saw the play at London’s Globe Theatre in 2005 and went to Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins production in 2001. I was especially interested in the Fringe Festival show because it was put on by young people. When I taught grade four in Mitchell, Manitoba I staged The Tempest with my students several years in a row using a simplified script I had written. When Bev Ridd, who I work with on a Project Peacemakers committee, sent an e-mail saying her grandsons were playing the roles of Caliban and Prospero in the Fringe production I decided to go. I greatly admired the young actors. They had put so much work into learning their parts and performed with passion. The sets and costumes were great! However I thought the production was far too long, running almost 90 minutes. Especially since it was billed as a play for children it should have been no longer than 45 or 50 minutes. Several young families walked out before the end. The advertising does say babes in arms are welcome, but during the show I attended, a baby started crying and didn’t stop. It took a long time before the parent decided to exit the theatre with their wailing infant and I felt sorry for the young actors who had to soldier on despite the fact the audience was mightily distracted. I thought it was wonderful that the performers had mastered all that Shakespearean language so flawlessly and executed their lines with a dramatic flair that made it evident they knew exactly what they were talking about. However I’m not sure the audience always did. I think some adaptation to a more modern English would have gone a long way to engage the children watching the show. I’d give this production a 2.5 out of 5.
The actors in Teaching Hamlet are professional and with the exception of a unecessarily long and supposedly funny opening scene where Joe, played by Keir Cutler is trying to set up a video camera; the pacing was great and kept the audience’s attention. The title is misleading, because except for quoting Hamlet several times, the play isn’t about Hamlet at all. It is about a lonely man named Joe who heads up a society he and his mother founded, that is trying to promote the idea the Earl of Oxford and not William Shakespeare wrote the bard’s plays. Joe enlists a mercenary actor named Conner Hamilton to help make a video to promote his ideas. The show is really about getting a glimpse into the lives of the two main characters and finding out what kind of people they are. We watch them develop some empathy for one another. Ultimately that is why the show is satisfying because it reminds us how many truly lonely people there are in the world and encourages us to reach out to those around us. It prods us to see beyond people’s outer facade and to realize we may have something in common with men and women who appear very different from us. I’d give this play a 4 out of 5. The fact this show is in the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s comfortable venue adds to the viewer’s enjoyment.
Veryalyn Warkentin’s play Mary and Martha has not received good reviews but I went to see it anyway with my friend Wendy, because I had personal connections with the story. It is about Mennonite young women who came to Winnipeg from rural Manitoba to work as housemaids in the homes of wealthy city folks in order to earn money to pay back their families’ travel debts following their immigration to Canada from Ukraine. This happened all over Canada in the 1930’s and 40’s. My mother-in-law Anne worked for a wealthy family in Leamington, Ontario. The Mennonite Church established homes in several Canadian cities called Maedchenheims (girls homes) as a clearing house and refuge for young Mennonite women working in the city. I once did a feature story on five women who were ‘city girls’ in their youth. This last year I also read Dora Dueck’s book This Hidden Thing which tells the story of one of the Mennonite ‘city girls.’ I enjoyed Mary and Martha because of my personal interest in its story although I thought some of the actors seemed to slip in and out of their accents and they did too much explaining and informing and not enough acting. The lengthy family memory the main character Helen Epp shares at the end of the play had me in tears, because I have heard almost identical stories from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, but audience members without that kind of personal connection probably found it too long and somewhat disconnected from the plot of the play. I’d give Mary and Martha a 3.5 out of 5.
I already have tickets for another trio of plays so look for at least one more blog post about the Fringe Festival.
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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – Part 1