I had a very invigorating experience at the Bus Stop Theatre last evening attending the one night only of Halifax’s First Ever Soloicious Solo Show Festival. Firstly, the energy in the crowd was one of the most electric that I have seen in Halifax. They were boisterous and pumped up, continually hurling positive energy toward the artists onstage. What also fascinated me about the crowd is that it was primarily made up by people that I haven’t seen out at the theatre before and it is exciting to know that these people are out there and that they are clearly so excited about this type of performance style that perhaps with the right marketing tools they could be enticed to attend more of the great stuff that is produced in the theatre community here.
Soloicious reminded me a lot of a recent venture during the Summerworks Festival in Toronto called the Performance Bar, where Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld brought together a cornucopia of artists from different disciplines such as visual artists, performance artists, dancers, musicians, improvisers and theatre performers and allowed them to share one performance space where they interacted and collaborated in spontaneous and often very imaginative ways.
Here at Soloicious, Festival Creator Sebastien Heins brought together multidisciplinary artists that would very rarely get the opportunity to perform in a show with one another, and whose audiences generally do not crossover. Unlike at the Performance Bar, the focus for Heins is on each one having the opportunity to showcase themselves as a solo act, yet the arc of the evening still encourages and fosters the coming together of people who may not know one another and inspiring the public to get to know the various talents that exist in this city.
The biggest revelation of the evening for me was spoken word activist El Jones, who I had never heard of before I saw the poster for Soloicious, and who every single person in this city NEEDS to see in action. I cannot stress enough how brilliant and smart, empowering and honest, poetic and truthful this girl is on the stage. She has an entrancing mixture of humility and strength as a performer. She is all poise with a soft, melodic voice from whence comes a building momentum of tight rhyme and brilliant word play condemning the racism and misogyny that we encounter every day in every area of our lives, but that most of us choose to ignore. She leaves you feeling filled up with the light and the hope of our future and inspired that we all should be as informed and impassioned about how we can work to do right by the world. Check it out!
It was interesting to see Jones perform immediately before Sebastien Heins’ Hip Hopera, as both used words spoken to a beat, commenting on hip hop and encountering its inherent misogyny and commentary on, or stereotypes of, race. Heins threw 400% of himself into the performance of his Hip Hopera, the story of two rapping brothers whose sense of brotherhood gets lost in the lifestyle so often depicted in such rhymes. Heins inhabits and brings to colorful life the world of hip hop that Jones denounces, but uses it as a form to subvert many of its messages of violence and drugs and sexual promiscuity in a way that is full of humour and with a beat that immediately draws you in. It’s fascinating to watch Heins play both the brothers and to keep the specificity of their movement and all the mimed actions of the surrounding world while travelling, it seems, at a thousand miles per minute. The brothers’ voices prove a little bit of a challenge, as the differences between the two are subtle. There are a few moments where the distinction between them gets a bit murky, but overall it is a very engaging performance that I think has a lot of potential to be expanded into a longer solo work.
Similarly, Wayne Burns’ vocal masque on addiction was a fantastic whirlwind of characters and scenes, many of which were extremely funny and unique. There was this one scene about an engagement party for Cocaine, with cameo appearances by party guests Cannabis, Yoga and Caffeine, among others, that was particularly inventive and beautifully crafted. Burns has an amazing physical vocabulary, all of his characters move and carry themselves with razor sharp precision in a myriad of intricate and evocative ways. It’s exciting to know that he has only just finished his first year at the National Theatre School of Canada, because I think there is an additional depth that he will settle into in the near future as he works to bring as much range of voice as he has range of movement to his characters. He is one to watch for, for sure.
We were also treated to dance performances by Lisa Phinney Langley and Veronique MacKenzie, which could not have been more different. Langley’s piece was largely dance based and conjured up a lot of imagery of the loon to tell a story about love and loss. It was brilliantly danced and continually unexpected, which I loved. She kept thrusting herself in the opposite direction of where the audience thought they were being led. It was a very interesting piece that I wish I could see again to delve deeper into the story. Veronique MacKenzie’s piece was an endearing mixture of dance and clown, exploring how we feel about ourselves, the vulnerability of being onstage and how the audience has the power to help create our performative identity. I wished that her dance sequence had been longer, just because it was so charming and well performed, but I loved the clownish aspects of the set as well and how easily she interacted with the fully engaged audience.
I would have liked to see more overlap between the performance aspects of the evening with the visual art by Annalise Prodor, Nick Bottomley and the music by DJ KDZ (Kyle McCracken). There seemed to be a natural environment for collaboration there. Although, I did find it fascinating to watch DJ KDZ as a solo performer, as he has this intrinsic magnetic charm about him, and you are not often given the opportunity to watch the DJ so intensely when you’re on a dance floor.
There was so much that I loved about Soloicious and that I hope we will be able to begin to build a trend in this city of bringing together multidisciplinary artists and to encourage a crossover of audiences. From there, the possibilities are endless.