Stage Write: David Mamet’s RACE at Canadian Stage

We just love going to the the-a-tah. Last night, we were thrilled to attend the buzziest opening night of the 2013 season, the much-anticipated Canadian
Stage
production of RACE. In fact, we loved it so much, you should probably stop reading this and go book your tickets now (pro-tip: check out Canadian Stage’s Facebook ticketing app to score $10 day-of rush tickets between 10 a.m. and noon). Seriously. It was intense, controversial, very well-acted and the 90 minute production flew by.

A new Canadian production featuring some of this country’s top talent (*cough* Jason
Priestley
*cough*) take the stage in this provocative drama written by David Mamet (who you may know as the outspoken and award-winning playwright who wrote classics like Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna, or as the father of Girls star Zosia Mamet).


Brandon Walsh goes from sweet to gritty. We like.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage.*

Sharply written with wit and incendiary dialogue, Mamet
crafts a social commentary on race relations, prejudices and gender politics. The play
is bound to spark plenty of debate, as well-off white guy Charles Strickland (Matthew Edison) embarks on a legal
battle
after being accused
of raping a young black woman.



The cast feeling some tension in RACE.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*



The one act play takes place in the office of cut-throat interracial legal team Jack Lawson (played by Priestley), Henry Brown (Nigel Shawn Williams) and legal associate Susan (Cara Ricketts), as they find themselves the attorneys of record on a controversial case that no other lawyer in town will touch with a ten-foot pole. As the case unfolds, it exposes much more than a vicious crime. 

Jason Priestley and Nigel Shawn Williams command 
the stage as legal duo Jack and Henry.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*

The dialogue-driven drama delivers heavy subject matter (with some quite spicy language) in a way that is thought-provoking and challenging without being intimidating. The incredibly talented cast knock it out of the park under the guidance of director Daniel Brooks
Don’t miss RACE at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 5.
Image courtesy of Canadian Stage*
One of the best moments from opening night happened after the show – you may have heard about a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother on which Priestley appeared as a guest star. In the episode, he fantasized about a strawberry jelly doughnut stuffed with a chocolate Timbit as his dream doughnut. The restaurant responded in a savvy way by tweeting a photo of a mock-up doughnut they created. A win, all around. 
As a surprise for Priestley last night, Canadian Stage got a few The Priestleys made and presented to them to the visibly surprised star of the show. He took a bite and pronounced it delicious. A sweet surprise to cap off an amazing evening!
Tickets for the show start at $22, and will be on stage now until Sunday, May 5 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. 

*Production photos by David Hou. Set design by Debra Hanson.

Stage Write: Winter Theatre Lineup

We’re feeling dramatic (again) so the lovely Christine Gresham of Theatre Isn’t Dead popped by the Fourth Floor to share her theatre picks for the upcoming chilly months. 


We’re well on our way in 2013 and so far so good. We made it through the end of
the Mayan calendar unscathed, it’s (usually) cold enough that we can adorn our winter
duds without fear of an onslaught of slush from a passing car, and we’re in the
thick of the winter theatre season.

Obviously one of your new year’s
resolutions (the one that you’ll actually keep) is to see more theatre. And like
a good personal trainer, I’m here to help.

Here are some shows that will exercise your theatrical chops; none are too laborious and all will leave you
feeling invigorated and healthy. You may even wipe some sweat from your brow in
the process.



Clybourne Park, a Studio 180 production as part of the Off-Mirvish series. 


Now through Sunday, March 3 at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.)


Prize-winning theatre started at the Panasonic Theatre on February 12. As part of the Off-Mirvish series, Tony, Olivier, Evening Standard and Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park will undoubtedly knock your socks off. The Studio 180 production is back for a second time after a critically acclaimed run last spring at Canadian Stage. I missed it in NYC and I don’t intend to do so in T.O. The uniformally rave reviews and the stellar word-of-mouth buzz ensure that this play will be the talk of the town.


Tickets: http://www.mirvish.com

Cast of Clybourne Park.

Sem Mim & Ímã by Grupo Corpo, part of Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage program.

Now through Saturday, February 23 at The Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay W.)

Sem MimÍmã features two brilliant dance productions by the Brazillian dance troupe Grupo Corpo. Part of Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage, Sem Mim merges the rhythm of the sea with medieval Portuguese-Galician chants, while Ímã takes inspiration from the law of magnetism. The performances beautifully combine classical ballet technique with a contemporary take on Brazilian world dance.


Brazilian Grupo Corpo dancers perform Ímã. 


Gabriel Prokofiev: From Chamber to Electronica, an Art of Time Ensemble performance. 


Friday, February 22 to Saturday, February 23 at The Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay W.)

If you’re like me, you don’t experience
classical music enough – mostly because it can be hard to find an entry point
and can also be a BIT snoozy (just being honest). Cue Art of Time Ensemble’s
latest gig in February. 
London DJ Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of
Sergei) comes to the Art of Time Ensemble to continue the family tradition of
reinventing modern music. Prokofiev will add some spin to legendary modern
classical composers Gavin Bryars and Jonathan Goldsmith (BAFTA Award-winning
Canadian film composer) instrumentals. Prokofiev performs DJ sets between
performances, the type of classical music I can get into. Plus, the
creative/marketing campaign is amazi
ng.


Tickets: www.harbourfrontcentre.com 

Poster art for Art of Time Ensemble’s Gabriel
Prokofiev, created by Monnet Design.

Spotlight Japan, presented by Canadian Stage. 

Tuesday, February 26 to Saturday, March 2 at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) 


For something completely different, I’m
into Canadian Stage’s Spotlight Japan. The series features a selection of
dance, drama and music from Japan’s leading arts innovators, and to be frank,
the entire line-up sounds unique and exciting. 
You can catch two double-bills: Haptic and Holistic
Strata
(double bill one) or Sayanora and I, Worker (double bill two). See one or see them both, because you aren’t likely to
see anything similar around these parts for a very long time.



Tickets: https://www.canadianstage.com 








Hiroaki Umeda in Holistic Strata. Photo by Ryuichi Maruo (YCAM). 


For a dose of classic theatre, check out
Soulpepper’s Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead and for
contemporary Canadian drama, see Tarragon Theatre’s mini-festival of Hannah Moscovitch’s plays (until March 24). If you haven’t heard of her already you will soon, so get on the bandwagon while there’s still room.

With this regime you should be sufficiently
theatrically worked-out until spring, when you can flex your brain for the
summer festivals. A theatre-goer’s work is never done.

Bonne chance!

Stage Write: The Arsonists

Life on the fourth floor can get pretty dramatic (urgent request! interview cancelled! event emergency!), so we love the opportunity to sit back and watch the theatrics unfold on stage, rather than in our everyday lives. Last night we hit the opening night performance of  Canadian Stage‘s wickedly funny farce, The Arsonists, on stage now through December 9 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.


 The Arsonists set, designed by Ken MacDonald. Photo by Bruce Zinger


The play is set in an unnamed town plagued by a group of arsonists who charm their way into houses and then burn them down. Biedermann (Michael Ball) is a well-to-do homeowner whose evening is interrupted when a mysterious and burly stranger named Schmitz (Dan Chameroy) knocks on his door. Cunningly praising Biedermann’s humanity, the stranger appeals to his humanity (or guilt) and is invited into the home.



Schmitz soon invites his even stranger friend Eisenring (Shawn Wright) to join him and the pair move into the attic, blatantly setting the stage for a fire. They up the creepy factor as Eisenring cackles about setting up detonators and purchasing fire starter. Biedermann,  suspecting (or maybe even knowing) the strangers are arsonists, chooses to ignore the signs, even as they become indisputable. Neither Biedermann nor his wife, Babette (Fiona Reid) want to risk offending anyone or igniting the spark that will (literally) blow up the entire house.

Shawn Wright and Michael Ball. Photo by Bruce Zinger
What makes the play most interesting is the context. It was written by Max Frisch, a Swiss writer, less than a decade after the second World War. As Biedermann and his wife Babette watch the arsonists set up camp in their attic and are too mannerly, afraid or self-conscious to pass judgement or do anything about it, the parallels between Swiss neutrality, or even a modern contexts where people stay silent or complacent when faced with evil, are unmistakable.
The cast of The Arsonists

Now, don’t let the serious message or the fact that the script was written in 1953 fool you: written as a political farce, the play is funny. Actually funny, we promise. We were laughing out loud, and there are plenty of smart (albeit dark) jokes during the performance.

Shawn Wright and Dan Chameroy. Photo by Bruce Zinger



We especially loved the on-stage musicians, led by local songwriter Justin Rutledge, who act as a chorus throughout the play. The music has a Brit-rock feel, and provides a fun and unique narration between the scenes. Have a listen:





The set is the beautiful home where the Biedermanns and their maid (Sheila McCarthy) whisper about the arsonists from their living room, while you watch the arsonists (up to no good) in the adjacent attic. The changing lighting on the backdrop reflects the activities outside the house, and the sound of distant sirens echoes throughout the theatre, reinforcing the atmosphere of fear and chaos in the town.


We highly recommend the play for a night out. The show runs until December 9 and tickets begin at $24 (available by phone 416.368.3110, in person at the box office or online at canadianstage.com). Also, Canadian Stage has just introduced a ticketing app that lets you buy tickets – and reserve seats for your friends – through Facebook! To celebrate, they are offering $20 tickets for tonight’s show, and buy-one-get-one-free tickets for shows this weekend. Only available to Canadian Stage’s Facebook friends, so “like” that shit! 

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Sheila McCarthy in The Arsonists. Photo by Bruce Zinger.



City Living: Shakespeare in High Park

We recently had the pleasure of viewing Canadian Stage’s production
of William Shakespeare’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Richard Rose.
This production marks the 30
th anniversary of the much-loved
tradition of outdoor theatre in Toronto’s
High Park. Our verdict? Loved by all!



This is the seventh time Canadian Stage has performed this particular play, and it’s easy to see why. The outdoor setting, in combination with a lovely midsummer night’s evening, adds a magical element to the experience. 

The production features a talented local cast (including the delightful Tamara Podemski, a dear friend of the fourth floor). The actors are charming and funny, dressed in modern attire. Although they stick to the classic script, the play is accessible and easy to follow as the staging gives the classic light-hearted comedy a unique Toronto twist.

Tamara Podemski and Dmitry Chepovetsky
The 90-minute production had us out laughing out loud and vowing to return with friends who didn’t make it to the first outing. The event is pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $20. The production runs until September 2Tuesday through Sunday
at 8 p.m. with gates opening at 6 p.m.

Here are a few of our tips to enhance your experience:
  • Arrive early and pack a picnic basket. The amphitheatre fills up fast, so enjoy your dinner while waiting for the play to start. We brought a baguette, cheeses, greek salad and strawberries. Nom, nom, nom.
  • Wine isn’t *technically* allowed; however, if you bring plastic cups and a tetrapak no one will complain.
  • Bring a blanket to sit on and a pillow for your back.
  • Bug spray! They weren’t bad while we were there, but better to be safe than sorry.
  • Turn off your cell phone, relax and enjoy the hilarity of the play and the opportunity to experience one of Toronto’s best summer traditions.

City Living: Best Arts Programmes

We love attending as many events around the city as possible, but a busy social calendar can be a strain on the wallet. That’s why we take advantage of the amazing discount ticket programs that many arts organizations in our fair city offer patrons under 30 years old. Over 30? Find your youngest friend/cousin/colleague and tag along as his or her companion. Several of these organizations will give you the deal, too.

Opera for a New Age

COC’s Tosca
 
Image source.

The Canadian Opera Company reserves 150 seats at each performance for its Opera for a New Age program. If you’re 29 or under, tickets to each performance are only $22. If your companion is over 30, this program allows you to purchase a ticket for him or her as well, regardless of age. Tickets for the spring calendar, featuring The Tales of Hoffman, A Florentine Tragedy / Gianni Schicchi and Semele, go on sale March 31. Don’t wait too long, because the discounted tickets sell quickly.

C-Stage

The Game of Love and Chance
Image source.

$12.50 will buy you a ticket to see live theatre, courtesy of Canadian Stage’s C-Stage program. Tickets are available to purchase two weeks before the performance, and you must be a registered member of the C-Stage program to take advantage (registering is free). Your companion must also be under 30 to qualify for a discounted ticket. Tickets to Dark Matters are currently on sale, while The Game of Love and Chance goes on sale April 1.

DanceBreak

The Sleeping Beauty 
 Image source.

The National Ballet of Canada offers its DanceBreak program for people 16 to 29 years old. Join the free membership program, and you are eligible to purchase $30 tickets on the day of the performance. Over 29? You can still find affordable tickets through the Rush Tickets program. Beginning at 11 a.m. on the day of an eligible performance, tickets are available for $35 each at the box office. We’re especially excited about The Sleeping Beauty, running March 10 to 18.


tsosoundcheck

Image source.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra offers $14 tickets for patrons under 35 through the tsosoundcheck program. Spend an evening listening to live classical music by great composers like Brahms and Beethoven, or experience more modern fare with the Pops series. Tickets typically go on sale a week before the performance, so check the website for upcoming concerts. Subscription packages for the 2012/2013 schedule are on sale, with tickets as low as three concerts for $66. We already have our eye on West Side Story with Orchestra in May 2013, a screening of the movie accompanied by a live performance of the musical score.
 

Operatix

Armide
Image source.

Have you fallen in love with the arts through these programs? We thought so. Now get your arts fix with Opera Atelier’s Operatix program. Opera Atelier performances are a unique blend of theatre, opera and ballet, and people under 30 may purchase discounted tickets to any performance for $20. The next show is Armide, playing April 14 to 21.

Fave 5: On stage

Even though we talk a lot about fashion, beauty and events, we also love a good dose of culture on a regular basis. There’s always tons of great theatre happening in Toronto, but here are five of the shows we’re most looking forward to seeing over the next few months. 

1. Kim’s Convenience: We love the premise of this production – a glimpse into the life of a Korean family that owns a convenience store in Regent Park. We’re hoping for a slice of Toronto life that many of us are familiar with and can relate to in some way. Based on the excellent reviews that this play has gotten, we think our hopes will be fulfilled. It’s sold out through it’s original February 11 run, but it was recently announced that it will return to the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts from Thursday, May 17 to Saturday, June 9. 

 In rehearsal: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Clé Bennett, Wenyi Mengesha. 
Photo by Sian Richards.
2. Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff: Even if we weren’t helping with publicity for this play (full disclosure) we’d be extremely excited for it. More than a few of us are serious Potter fans, and this is one of the first productions to come out of the internationally popular series. It’s a fun and funny play that has two guys – Dan and Jeff – perform all characters, from each of the seven Potter books, in 70 minutes. They’ve been compared to Monty Python, and we’re suckers for some good British humour. Playing at the Panasonic Theatre from Saturday, February 11 to Sunday, March 4. Buy tickets here
 
 
Jeff Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff
3. Cruel and Tender: We’re big Atom Egoyan fans (and well, who isn’t, really?) so were very excited when a few of us got to check out a preview of the show. It was definitely not theatre for the faint of heart – there are heavy hitting themes, scenes and monologues. Egoyan’s wife, Arsinée Khanjian gives a strong performance as the wife of the General, dealing with an absent husband and the truth about his actions while at war. Go see it if you want a challenge – those of us who’ve not been yet will see you there! At the Bluma Appel Theatre until Saturday, February 18. Tickets here.
 Thomas Hauff, Arsinée Khanjian and Abena Malika in Cruel and Tender
Photo by Bruce Zinger.

4. Hughie: A short but powerful production in the west end that we’re excited to check out (another client – full disclosure). Hughie has played internationally – notably by Al Pacino back in ’96 – and depicts the conversation between alcoholic gambler Erie and hotel nightclerk Charlie set in a 1920s NYC hotel. The one-act play makes for a perfect way to start our evening with a 2-man cast and intimate audience. And if you’re looking to give back, they’re donating 100% of their proceeds of their Feb 20 performance to Anaphlaxis Canada. At the Theatre Centre Toronto from Wednesday February 8 until March 3. Tickets available at 416.538.0988  

5. Penny Plain: Plays with puppets seem to be popping up all over in Toronto as of late (War Horse, Avenue Q) and we’re most intrigued by this marionette production about Penny Plain, a blind old woman sitting in her living room, listening to news about the end of the world and interacting with a host of complex characters. We’re told that many Kleenexes are needed to sit through this play, which is by turns sad, uplifting, funny and serious. We love a good evening running through the gamut of our emotions, so we’ll be there, tissue box in hand. At the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes until Sunday, February 26. Tickets here.
 Penny Plain.

Rave: Stage magic at Red – an insider view

You may have noticed us tweeting lots of interesting facts and quotes about Mark Rothko lately, or seen our cryptic images with ExperienceRed.ca hidden somewhere in the photo. 

We’ve been excited about working with Canadian Stage on their very cool production of the Tony Award-winning Red, a play about the notoriously cranky, temperamental, talented Abstract Expressionist painter, Mark Rothko. 

If you haven’t seen the show yet, you still have a week to catch it – it ends this Saturday. In the meantime, we took a trip backstage to get some inside scoop about the magic used to stage this captivating performance.

Photos of the set of Canadian Stage’s Red. Designed by David Boechler.
The actors drink the liquid in the Johnnie Walker bottle each night, but it is caramel-coloured water, not booze (it really does seem like scotch while they’re drinking). In addition to drinking it, the actors have used it to put out smoking cigarettes during a scene – a quick fix to a potential on-stage problem.

Jim Mezon as Mark Rothko in Red. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

The cigarettes are vanilla herbals – Jim Mezon as Rothko smokes multiple herbal cigarettes per show (and butts them out on stage). 

The set was created to look just like Rothko’s real-life studio. Almost all the prop pieces and details were distressed and painted to look as though they’ve stood the test of time.
All the tools and props in the entire set were chosen based on research about Rothko’s style of painting and how he worked.
This goes for costumes, too. Over the course of the play, the stage/set pieces get even more authentic because the actors use real paint on stage.

There are three different types of “paint” used in the show (all of it theatricalized):

1. Paint for painting the canvas on stage (there are several scenes where Rothko and his assistant paint live): it’s designed to be vibrant and like paint, but is actually thinned/mixed so that the actors can paint a giant canvas in under two minutes.

2. Paint for the “blood” scene (no explanation, lest we spoil it for you!): as this paint is used on the actors, it is mixed heavily with laundry soap so as not to stain/ruin their costumes.

3. Paint used to mix on stage: uses real painter’s pigment with other substances to mix the right shade of red in the show – this can get tricky, because some of shades of red can look pink or orange on stage.

There is also a paint mixing station backstage, and the crew is always on call to touch-up, clean up or re-mix any of the paint types used by the actors on stage. It’s a messy job.
The actors also get covered in paint splotches during various scenes, but have to do crazy quick changes backstage, in the dark, in 30 to 60 seconds… so, they could be covered in red paint, but have to change an outfit, clean their face, then get back out on stage for a scene that is “six months later”.

Each costume worn by the cast has three duplicates (Rothko wears three to four outfits, with three versions of each outfit) to ensure that paint doesn’t stain; ironically, a few of these costumes were purposefully paint stained.

The record cases are of the actual records of the songs played on stage – it is all about the details. But the record player needle never actually touches the record itself. All the sound cues are called by the stage manager from the booth, where they control the sound and lighting of the show, at the back of the theatre. As the actors move and speak on stage, the stage manager watches and calls cues based on their activity, while for the audience, it seems as though it is happening in real time. 

There are so many nooks/crannies of each of Rothko’s tool tables, that some aren’t even seen by the audience. The “Cleaning Solvent” is one of these – it just exists for authenticity or in case a set piece is turned and someone gets a glimpse. Who knew?

Make sure to catch this thought-provoking, arty production before it’s too late. Hint: if you visit the ExperienceRed.ca site and try your hand at being Rothko’s assistant, you’ll find a code at the end that let’s you save 20% off tickets. 

Finally, watch our @rockitpromo Twitter feed today for a chance to win tickets to closing night. #experienceRed