Review: ‘KING’ at Winnipeg Fringe

Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry VIII, Emperor Nero. ’90s grunge. RENT meets Hamilton. What would happen if the biggest dicks in history were together to measure them?

These are all massive, legendary concepts, but you shouldn’t expect a similarly-styled show. It’s DIY. It’s duct tape and cardboard boxes, pickle tub drum kits and burlap and rope. It’s thrift store clothes and ripped jeans, Chucks and cheap beer. It’s not clean or polished; it has frayed edges and tears. It’s the feeling when you have a lunch of mini donuts – are there healthier options? Sure. But indulge yourself. This one tastes good.

Nominated for the Harry Rintoul Award for Best New Manitoban Play (created by stars Duncan Cox, Tanner Mason and Ben Townsley), this quasi-musical (more of a play with songs if you ask me – not that there’s anything wrong with that) explores the trials of these three kings/emperors/rulers if they had been forced to answer for their tyranny. It’s loud (very loud, actually, for the small space) and occasionally obnoxious, but that’s what these men likely were – loud, obnoxious, childish, and utterly human. We forget these imperfect qualities when they become legends.

Henry VIII as a Mick Jagger-meets-Christian Borle-as-Shakespeare type. Emperor Nero as a flamboyantly gay Kurt Cobain (although I would’ve liked to see him with hints of more of a chainsmoking Donatella Versace). Napoleon as a jean-jacketed womanizing-yet-lovelorn Tom DeLonge of sorts. All of these men are obsessed with their legacy, but what does that mean? Does it mean land? Property? An heir? Love? What’s left when you’ve been dead for hundreds of years? In the end, does it even matter?

KING and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

4/5 stars

Here’s how I’ll be starring all my Fringe reviews:

  • 5 stars = Astounding. I will physically push you in the direction of this show. Must see.
  • 4 stars = Very good! Highly recommended.
  • 3 stars = Well done. People interested in this genre/subject matter will enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.
  • 2 stars = Only people interested in this genre/subject matter will probably enjoy it.
  • 1 star = Not recommended to anyone.
  • 0 stars = Run in the opposite direction.

Read my other Fringe experiences:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
• Review: The Trump Card
• 
Review: Joe Job
• Recap: SLAM!
Review: Macbeth

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Review: Knavish Hedgehogs’ ‘Macbeth’

I love Shakespeare, I love innovative lighting, and I love weird theatre superstitions. After Knavish Hedgehogs reached out to me on Twitter when I was looking for suggestions, I knew I had to make their production of Macbeth (or as you say in the theatre, The Scottish Play) part of my Fringe schedule.

Here’s the elevator pitch: the original text, condensed to an hour or so, seven actors, and no sets, no costumes, and no lights. The cast is illuminated only by each other’s handheld flashlights.

It’s not hard to see or hard to follow. The cast has been expertly coached by director Ari Weinberg to be in the right place at the right time, moving so swiftly and carefully that they occasionally startled me when they flicked their lights on. Theatre doesn’t scare me a lot – it was a nice change. I actually purposefully moved closer to the stage so I could see faces, and I’m glad I did.

Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play and the Hedgehogs did it well. Daniel McIntyre-Ridd as the titular character was wonderful, not serving up the typical power-hungry-into-paranoid Scotsman, but instead making him anxious all the way through (which, admittedly, reminded me a little of Evan Hansen – which is a great thing; don’t give me an opportunity to talk about how much I love Evan Hansen because I won’t stop), giving new depth to the ancient character.

Lady Macbeth always steals the show, but Miranda Baran slayed. Pun intended. Also portraying one of the witches, she showed why Shakespeare ladies continue to be dream roles for any actor. She commanded the stage, commanded your attention, and got it. Deservedly.

I appreciate Shakespeare much more as an adult, and much more when acted instead of read, like it was intended. When you were first exposed to the Bard, you probably read it aloud in your ninth grade English class with kids who couldn’t pronounce “Fleance” without stumbling. This production is the opposite. The ending left me speechless. It is a masterpiece.

Macbeth and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

5/5 stars

Here’s how I’ll be starring all my Fringe reviews:

  • 5 stars = Astounding. I will physically push you in the direction of this show. Must see.
  • 4 stars = Very good! Highly recommended.
  • 3 stars = Well done. People interested in this genre/subject matter will enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.
  • 2 stars = Only people interested in this genre/subject matter will probably enjoy it.
  • 1 star = Not recommended to anyone.
  • 0 stars = Run in the opposite direction.

Read my other Fringe experiences:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
• Review: The Trump Card
• 
Review: Joe Job
• Recap: SLAM!

Recap: SLAM! at Winnipeg Fringe

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 10.43.00 AMI didn’t want to call this a “review” because I knew it couldn’t be: the poets rotate, the poems are different, the audiences are different – it would be impossible to give my thoughts on any given night because they are all different.

I’d never been to a poetry slam before, although I’ve always appreciated the art, I hadn’t built up the courage to sit in an audience and look performance poets in the eye as they bared their souls. My only exposure to poetry slams was that scene in An Extremely Goofy Movie (which is still an incredible modern-day classic, by the way). I figured that Fringe would be a risk-free opportunity to get exposed to some poetry. It felt excellent to dip my toes in that pool.

Here’s the way it worked: each performance that Winnipeg Poetry Slam has at the Fringe will feature four poets (out of eight, in a round robin tournament). Picked in a random order, they all perform one poem. The judges (picked from the audience) give scores out of 10. At “halftime,” the audience takes turns writing haikus. Here’s mine:

A haiku for Winnipeg Fringe:
Sweet mini donuts
I could eat two buckets, man
Wait, no. Big mistake.

The poets then each perform another poem, and are again scored. Depending on their standings, they each earn points, which determines how they rank. The top four poets will perform in the final, and will earn a real prize – money from ticket sales. You can check out the tournament standings on their website.

It was difficult to take notes during performances, because the rhythm and smoothness and passion that the poets exert is so difficult to describe in a word other than “poetry.” I wrote that down in my notebook: “How do I use a word that isn’t ‘poetry’ to describe poetry?” It’s an artistic expression of the human spirit, combining words and emotions and occasional rhymes and body movements to attempt to convey inside gut reactions that can only ever truly be felt, but the poets came close to portraying them effectively, as close as possible.

They covered topics like love, death, inner demons, and even Batman. It can’t be predicted what could come up next, but take my word for it – I’m hooked on poetry slams.

SLAM! and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

Read my other Fringe experiences on ChrisD.ca:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
Review: The Trump Card
Review: Joe Job

Ins & Outs of the Tony Rules

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The accountants from Grant Thorton at last year’s Tony Awards with host James Corden. Image via Zimbio.

I love award shows, and I love trying to predict them. I feel like there’s a science behind getting it right. However, I’ve never looked at the science behind those who pick the nominees and award winners in the first place – until now, that is.

On a lazy afternoon, I read through the 2016-2017 Tony Award guidelines (exciting!) and I figured out exactly what the process was, and I’m here to break it down for you.

Before I went in, I had basically one major question: what differentiates a revival from a transfer? I had always wondered this after Hedwig and the Angry Inch won Best Revival in 2014 even though it was the show’s Broadway premiere.

I also knew that there were separate processes for nominating and then for voting (i.e., the nominees weren’t a shortlist), and that the voters were generally kept a secret. The latter is not necessarily true, but I’ll explain all that now too. Come along, fellow data nerds, and let’s decipher this jargon together.

A Broadway House
For a theatre to be considered “on Broadway” and the shows inside to be eligible for awards, it has to meet the following criteria:
• Be located in the Borough of Manhattan
• Have 500+ seats
• Be used mainly for “legitimate theatrical productions”
• Or be deemed otherwise qualified by the Tony Awards Administration Committee

A list of currently eligible theatres is on page 21 of the rulebook.

Opening Night
The Tony Committee set a cutoff date every year (generally late April), and you have to have your opening night on or before that date. You have to all members of the nomination committee to “professional” performances (i.e., not the invited dress rehearsal, but previews and regular performances are fine) before the cutoff date.

In order for any actor to be eligible to be nominated in acting categories, they have to perform in that role on opening night (which is why it was such a big deal when Andy Karl got injured near opening). If the committee determines that the role you’re playing now is too similar to a role you’ve played before, you won’t be eligible – sorry, Glenn Close. Can’t win it twice.

Revivals vs. Transfers
There’s only a Best Revival of a Musical category and a Best Revival of a Play category if there are three or more eligible shows of each to choose from.

A revival is the following:
• Complies with the above rules about a Broadway house and opening night
• A show that’s deemed a “classic”
• Or has not been performed within three years of the eligibility date

That’s the difference between a revival and a transfer. Fun Home, Hamilton, Great Comet, and Dear Evan Hansen, in recent memory, all played Off-Broadway and then transferred. Shows like Hedwig died for years before coming to Broadway.

The Nominating Committee
The nominating committee is made up of anywhere between 15 and 51 people of the theatre community. They must meet the following criteria:

• Have worked in the theatre/theatre education before
• Represent a “range of expertise” in the theatre community, have knowledge of productions past and present
• See every show of the season
• Not be a working member of the press

These people are randomly divided into three groups, and serve for one, two, or three seasons.

Picking the Nominees
A date is picked after the opening night cutoff, and the nomination committee has a meeting (officially titled the “Tony Nomination Meeting”). The members of the committee have two hours to discuss the eligible performances, but they can’t take any informal straw polls or anything like that.

The committee then privately and secretly votes for the nominees. Each member of the committee gets the number of votes that there are nominees. For example, if there are four slots for Best Musical, then each member can give four musicals a checkmark for a Best Musical nomination.

If you’re related to someone in any category, you can’t vote in that category. Duh.

Picking the Winners
Members of the boards from each the Actors’ Equity Association, The Dramatists Guild, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and United Scenic Artists are all voting members. The nomination committee are also voting members. The following organizations also have voting members:

• Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of the American Theatre Wing (up to 75 people)
• Voting Members of The Broadway League
• Theatrical Council of the Casting Society of America (up to 16 people)
• Officers or Executive Board members of Musicians’ Local 802 (up to five people)
• Current governing board of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (up to 15 people)
• New York Drama Critics Circle (up to 25 people)
• Board/Council of the National Association of Talent Representatives (up to 10 people)

These people get free tickets to every show. They get a mail ballot from the accountants 14 days before the Tonys (at the latest), and can vote up to 50 hours before the Tonys. Nobody knows, except the accountants, who wins until the telecast.

Eligible productions can not campaign for votes. Anymore. This is most likely thanks to Avenue Q’s genius marketing in 2003 – and they won over Wicked. (Both shows are still running, albeit one show Off-Broadway and one show in one of the Broadway largest houses with still some of the highest ticket prices 14 years later, but there were no losers here). Eligible shows also can’t mention the names of other eligible shows in marketing campaigns (e.g., putting a quote like “I loved it more than [this other eligible show]!” on the marquee).

There are a lot more nitpicky rules – like tiebreakers, ho boy – that I’ve highlighted and you can review in the Tony Awards Rules PDF. There are also a lot of rules with the producers – they have to offer free tickets to the voters, sign agreements of eligibility, etc., etc., which you can also read about in the PDF.

Patti LuPone is a Bitch & That’s Why I Love Her

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Queen of My Life Patti LuPone at the Tony Nominee presser. Image via.

I thought it was a truth universally known that this is Patti LuPone’s world and we’re just living in it – that is, until recently, when she’s making the rounds doing press for War Paint and her seventh (SEVENTH) Tony nomination when some people on the internet are making comments.

I’m not usually one to feed the trolls, but I have to indulge them just this once. And Patti doesn’t need me to defend her honour, but in defending her, I feel like I’m defending myself.

Patti LuPone, for the uneducated, is a living Broadway legend. She originated the titular role in Evita (Tony #1) and Fantine in Les Miserables (Olivier), and has played countless other iconic characters – Mama Rose in Gypsy (Tony #2), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Maria Callas in Master Class – and I’m not even counting the things she did as part of The Acting Company. The woman has any actor’s dream career.

Patti also has a reputation of saying what’s on her mind. Check out this clip that Broadway.com cut from her recent Show People interview (on another note, why you censoring Patti, Broadway.com?!?! That’s not cool). She’s also famous for stopping her penultimate performance of Gypsy (during Rose’s Turn!!) to yell at an audience member taking photos (I’m getting “Who do you think you are?!” tattooed on my heart).

She recently made comments (after asked in an interview) about what she thought of Madonna’s version of Evita – and she didn’t like it. No shit. She said so. And now I have to deal with uninformed haters saying that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and that they are no longer listening to anything Patti is in because she made those comments.

I’m generally in the same boat – let’s be kind to each other. But she was asked by an interviewer, and she gave her honest opinion. Madonna is not going to suffer because of what Patti said and vice versa. Don’t try to censor this successful, powerful woman because she said something that isn’t nice. Women aren’t nice. Opinions aren’t nice. They don’t have to be. But they should be honest.

It’s not like she talks shit for no reason, or without being able to back it up. Patti said Madonna was good at what she does in pop music, but she wasn’t a good actor. Patti LuPone literally graduated from the first acting class at the Juilliard School and toured around the country earning her stripes before making it to Broadway. She still goes to a vocal coach and she’s 67. She has many acting awards, including the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award, which can only be won once in any actor’s lifetime. She admits that she’s still a student sometimes, but she’s also a theatre badass. She knows good acting from bad.

Let’s not ask women for their opinions and then shame them when they’re honest. Let’s stop saying that they’re hormonal or emotional because maybe, just maybe, they actually know what they’re talking about.

P.S. Patti LuPone could run me over with a car and I would say thank you. It would be an honour.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Opera

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Manitoba Opera presents Werther, May 2 and 5.

I have been to dozens of productions of musicals. I have been to “operas” (like how I describe Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 or Les Mis as an “opera” because there isn’t any talking in it) a handful of times. But I have only been to “the opera” (as in the “where’s the Met?”-Moonstruck-type opera) exactly one time: a year and a half ago, for Manitoba Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.

I’m heading back (finally!) tomorrow, for MO’s production of Werther (which is pronounced “vair-tare,” by the way, don’t make an ass of yourself like I almost did). I’m here to tell you that the opera is not scary! But it does take some preparing. It’s not the kind of lean-back-in-your-chair entertainment you might get from a movie or a jukebox musical. It requires you to be engaged and involved – but that makes it even more fun.

Here are some tips for your first (or second!) time at the opera.

Watch adaptations first
RENT is based on La BohemeMiss Saigon is based on Madam Butterfly. The story is always easier to follow when you have some frame of reference in mind, and since some operas are so influential and classic, lots of other artists have taken inspiration from them. Check out if the opera you’re going to see has any adaptations that you can enjoy first. It’s also fun to see if you can guess which character in the original turned into which character in the adaptation.

Read up
In the program of the opera, there’ll be a synopsis of the whole show. Read it. Characters usually introduce themselves when they come on stage, but it won’t necessarily happen. Even if you don’t want to “ruin it” for yourself, it’s better to know what’s going to happen, because you may not be able to follow along, especially if the show is in another language (which it usually is).

Follow the opera company on social media
Last summer, I won a free pair of opera glasses from Manitoba Opera for correctly identifying what a “libretto” is. They have contests and promos all the time, so connect with them on Twitter or Facebook to make the most of your experience (and your wallet!).

Stay hydrated
This isn’t some 90-minute one-act-and-done show. I’m not going to lie to you – operas are long. Three or four hours. Two intermissions. Get some water at concession beforehand and make sure you eat dinner before you come. It’s worth it, but you won’t be able to enjoy the show if you’re hungry!

Follow me on Twitter as I live-tweet Manitoba Opera’s Werther tomorrow, May 2, starting at 7 pm!

Finishing the Hat

book_photo_stackofbooksWell, here we are. It’s January 27, which means there is only one day more (har dee har) until my book is officially released. Pretty crazy, hey?

I’ve had a lot of people say that they could ‘never write a book,’ (which isn’t true, if any living human can do it, you, too, can do that thing) and I’ve found myself comparing to my friends who are undergoing massive projects and saying that I ‘just’ wrote a book. But dude, I wrote a book. That’s awesome.

My secret was to find a subject I’m passionate about – which was theatre, of course. If I had forced myself to write about something that I didn’t care deeply enough about to research and nurture, then I wouldn’t have. And my book would be garbage. But my book is not garbage (at least I hope not). I took the time to water it (metaphorically) and watch it grow (not quite as metaphorically) and others that I shared the story with did too. Now they get to see what the final product looks like – which is almost as exciting to me as having a book, period.

It’s scary to put yourself out there and tell everyone, this is the best I can do. What do you think? But it’s also the most artistically rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Nobody who I shared it with laughed at me or gave me comments that discouraged me. Every piece of feedback I got just fuelled me to want to make it better. And that’s what happens when you do something that you love.

One of my beta readers finished his comments with this: “Oh, also, congratulations. You fucking wrote a book. And that’s pretty fucking cool, I think.” And I did. I made a hat.

Tomorrow, my book launches at Books, Beers & Broadway: Son of Sondheim Book Launch at the King’s Head Pub. Sign up to sing some Broadway karaoke and have a good time. RSVP here.

You can pre-order my book here and I’ll personalize the inside with a message just for you.  You can pick it up at event night or I’ll ship them to you after the launch.