Roller Town is an Excellent Source of Potassium

mark little & kayla lorette

According to this bittersweet interview with Andrew Bush and Mark Little from Toronto Standard, Roller Town, the multi award winning first feature length film from Halifax’s own Picnicface, may be the sketch troupe’s last project as a unified collective. I definitely recommend heading to your local movie theatres across the country and checking it out.

Roller Town, written by Bush, Little and Scott Vrooman and directed by Bush, is a pastiche of the roller disco films popularized in the late 1970s, including Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A, which have since achieved cult status with audiences in the nostalgia and uber-cheese department. The film centers on a young orphan named Leo, played by Little, The King of the Roller Disco, who falls in love with a classically trained skater named Julia (Kayla Lorette) and together they fight to save Disco from being murdered by a gang of powerfully connected thugs seeking to brainwash the young with video games.

Andrew Bush has captured much of the campiness and the trademark antics of the roller disco film in Roller Town, while shooting it in vivid, bright colors, which accentuate the characters’ amazing wardrobes of short shorts and tube socks, while the special effects and cutting together of most of the more stylized aspects of the film are intentionally rough, abrupt and often animated in classic 1970s two dimensions. This is also a familiar trademark of most of Picnicface’s Internet and television sketches. It is interesting that, within the pastiche context, many of the conventions the troupe has been using since 2006 fit here quite naturally and actually make more sense as a stylistic choice.

I don’t think that Roller Town is supposed to be a serious satirical commentary on the state of humanity and it certainly isn’t, but I do think that it revels in its own silliness in a very endearing and playful way, often reaching for the absurd but sometimes touching, albeit gently, on more solemn issues. The love story, for example, between Leo and Julia is allowed some genuinely touching moments so that the audience is led to root for their eventual triumph over her repressive parents and the gangsters poised to kill them both. Delving a little deeper, while Roller Town does poke fun at the heightened naivety and innocence of the Disco Age, it also plays on the same nostalgia that draws so many to films like Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A. At the very core of Roller Town there is a certain wistfulness for a simpler time. After all, the war in the film is ultimately waged between a social physical activity from the past and an isolating computer-generated sedentary experience that has become so much of the fiber of our present. Of course, whenever solemnity persists beyond a moment, as in The Muppets, someone quickly rectifies the situation with a swift kick of ridiculous. Keeping faithful to its Disco ForeDogFather’s, the balance between the solemn and the insane is always in check.

There are some great performances in Roller Town. Mark Little is delightful as Leo; he is just good hearted enough to win sympathy while still being a complete doofus. Kayla Lorette is adorable awkwardness at its very best as Julia, who largely reacts (or doesn’t react fast enough) to Leo being a doofus, while still managing to develop some chemistry and real affection for him. Brian MacQuarrie has some great bits as Julia’s belt-crazed Grampa. Scott Vooman’s straight superciliousness as classically trained King of the Preppies, Davis, while at the same time always managing to look seconds away from crying, is beautifully ridiculous. Andrew Bush has a wonderful cameo as a Forest Hobo who becomes the Yoda to Leo’s Luke. Pat Thornton is essentially Bobo the Bear from the Muppets humanized as the moronic villain sidekick Beef, but Thornton’s comic timing is excellent and, like Bobo, by the end you almost feel sorry for the guy. He just wants to read his book on How to Eat Jam in peace and he IS having a pretty crappy day.

While I thought the film was well cast, both using the strengths of the troupe and bringing in guest artists from both the Halifax and Toronto theatre and comedy scenes, I thought that the talents particularly of Bill Wood, Evany Rosen and Brian MacQuarrie were not used to their full comic potential. I think that the film could have benefited from either developing these three characters further or having Wood, Rosen and MacQuarrie play multiple secondary and cameo characters. I was sad to see that Wood’s brick throwing nymph was almost completely cut from this more streamlined version compared to the one screened at the Atlantic Film Festival a year ago and the cuts left the film with some strange loose ends and spurts of stark randomness.

The entirety of Roller Town exists in the same realm as the very last moment in Grease when Danny and Sandy’s car suddenly lifts off and they fly on into their future together, the realm where the crazier the premise, the more likely it is to materialize. It also remains quite faithful to the dynamic and the brand of comedy that Picnicface has developed on YouTube since its inception eight years ago. If this is truly the troupe’s last project together (and I hope that it will not be), it is a worthy place to end this adventure and, as for Roller Town, I think it is well on its way to becoming a cult classic in its own right. But, don’t wait for the videotape release, head to your local movie theatre and check it out today!

Roller Town is playing in movie theatres across Canada. Please check your local listings or visit this website.

Sunday Comedy: Atlantic Fringe Edition

bill wood, brian macquarrie & andy bush

While in Toronto one of the ideas that I was interested in with TWISI was helping with a movement that several performers had started which attempted to bring the comedy community and the theatre community together to allow cross pollination of audiences, performers and encourage the development of work that was a hybrid of these often disparate worlds. That is why I am so thrilled that there is so much from the comedy community in the Atlantic Fringe Festival this year in Halifax because in having Bill Wood host an event like the Atlantic Fringe Comedy Night, which brought six wonderfully strong stand up artists to what is predominately a theatre festival is simultaneously showcasing these fantastic comedians to a new audience of Fringe goers, while also introducing a comedy audience to the Fringe. Win/Win for all, thank you Bill Wood.

Bill Wood is a delightful host and he does this type of show every Sunday at Gus’ Pub in Halifax, so if you had fun at Rowe Heritage Hall on Sunday, or if you missed it and are kicking yourselves, you can catch a very similar edition at Gus’ in the very near future. Bill has this lovely aura of ease and politeness when he stands in front of an audience, which makes people feel immediately safe and welcome, which I think is really important. He begins each stand up session with an interview segment, which allows the audience to get to know the comedians a little better and forces the comedians to stray off script a little. Wood is a consummately gracious host and the audience gets the sense that “we are all friends here” and even if this is a blatant lie, it helps the evening run smoothly and essentially endears all the guests to the audience.

Brian MacQuarrie kicked off the evening with a bang and a really strong stand up set. I have seen MacQuarrie multiple times in sketch comedy, Improv and on a few occasions acting in theatre, but this was my first time seeing him do stand up and it certainly will not be my last. I think Stand Up is often at its best when it is very specifically and deftly constructed storytelling. MacQuarrie has mastered the art of sharing strange or interesting things that he has experienced with maximum hilarity. If you love Brian in Picnicface or have never seen him before, his stand up act is one not to miss!

Andy Bullman is one of the most adorably sheepish, endearingly awkward comedians I have ever seen. She hails from Prince Edward Island (the heart of the World) and she is terrifically funny in a very nonchalant sort of way. Bill Wood responded to her set saying, “What a doll!” and I had the same reaction. Go see her if you can!

Andy Bush, who is all exuberance and “THIS IS AWESOME”ness in his stand up act told this amazing, harrowing and hilarious story about this time that him and a buddy decided to do shots of 151 alcohol and also light them on fire. The strength of Bush’s stand up is that it is not just what he is saying that is funny but also the way that he says it. His stories become dramatic re-tellings of events where he is able to combine his talents as comedian, writer and actor into one excellent performance.

Bryant Thompson rounded out the evening and brought a huge crowd with him, which was fantastic. He has a swaggering stage presence, a little cockier than the others, but not enough to find off putting. His set is strong enough to warrant the attitude and also helps his jokes about defending the Tall Ships to smug Americans and only fucking mildly with a huge dude named Binkey land even more hilarious and solidly. I would definatley seek out Thompson’s act to see a wider breadth of his material.

In all, my favourite aspect of Sunday Night Comedy: Fringe Edition, was getting introduced to some of the local comedians who are working in Halifax at the moment. With floating venues (and floating performers who oscillate between here and Toronto) it is often hard to know where to go in the city to see our city’s best stand up shows, so it is fantastic of Bill Wood to have rounded so many of them up and brought them to the Atlantic Fringe Festival. I will certainly be popping by Gus’ Pub for more in the near future and I hope you will too.

Face the Picnic: Sketch Genius that is 100% Reliable

There is this apathetic myth that tends to circulate among Haligonians from time to time that I would like squash right now. It is the myth that nothing cool ever comes from Halifax and nothing cool ever happens in Halifax. So frequently it seems like the general public in Halifax looks wistfully toward Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and laments that it has been short sided. This is not necessarily so and I am not talking about the fact that as I type these words Paul McCartney is hanging about our fair city (in the glorious sunshine and mild summer heat) readying for his concert tonight in the park where we have all played Frisbee, walked our dogs, jogged, rode our bikes and sunbathed. No, I am referring to the success of some of Halifax/Dartmouth’s own talents, specifically the popularity of a little video sketch called Powerthirst.
Powerthirst currently has 15, 414, 516 views on youtube (a number of hits that this blogger only dreams about!) and Picnicface, the Halifax-based sketch comedy troupe that has been running like Kenyans since 2006, has garnered fans across North America and around the world. Although Picnicface has reached Internet celebrity and their youtube videos have joined Sidney Crosby and Ellen Page as being household names across HRM, if not throughout the province, what many people don’t seem to realize is that living in Halifax gives you a huge advantage over the hoards of other Picnicface fans living elsewhere, because every second Sunday the Picnicface boys and girls do a live show for just five bucks at the Paragon on Gottigen Street.
On July 5th I found myself at the Old Marquee Club, now known as Paragon, in a slowly gentrified strip of Gottingen Street, surrounded by young hipsters in skinny jeans, sipping soy beverages and seeking Halifax’s small (but mighty) Independent Theatre scene. It became apparent that a large number of the audience that filled Paragon for the newest Picnicface show avidly attended the shows and were familiar with the troupe’s style and their sketches. Although, I was a little surprised by how easy it was to snag a seat in the relatively small venue considering the live shows are biweekly and this troupe is internationally known. I was thrilled, however, that the show boasted of entirely new sketches that you cannot see anywhere else.
The Picnicface Troupe, made up of Andrew Bush, Kyle Dooley, Cheryl Hann, Mark Little, Brian MacQuarrie (who was MIA in the July 5th show), Evany Rosen, Scott Vrooman and Bill Wood, are masters at creating the ultimate succinct, clever, absurdist sketches which always seem to walk the line between sketch and improvisation. There is this laissez-faire ambiance surrounding Picnicface which suggests that at any moment an unexpected hullabaloo could ignite, and Little and Bush would calmly and wryly catapult its hilarious elements into the show. When the sketches are particularly incredible, it seems as though they are being created spontaneously and the audience is prone to wondering whether particular moments emerged organically or were deftly scripted by the troupe.
Highlights from the July 5th show included Kyle Dooley’s remarkable 1940s gangster voice, Andrew Bush’s exuberant shoe/jacket salesman, the sophisticated witty word artistry displayed in Bill Wood and Kyle Dooley’s scamply radio play, the cleverness of the Scott Vrooman/ Mark Little sketch which reflected on the marvel of the evolution process from babyhood to adulthood, Bill Wood’s disgruntled crazy employee, and Mark Little’s cartoon-like Agent Buttburger. There was a clear sense of continuity between the sketches as there were recurring characters sprinkled throughout as well as referential sketches. At the end of the show a multitude of familiar characters crowded into one sketch which provided a clever sense of conclusion. Despite some technical glitches, Bush and Little’s comic timing and sense of confidence turned any hitch into a source of glee rather than irritation.
After an intermission where patrons were encouraged to pay visit to the bartender, the Picnicface gang treated the audience to some Improv, which was quite basic, but ultimately entertaining. The highlight of the Improv was Andrew Bush’s rap about racism. It’s interesting to note that the members of Picnicface have recently returned to Halifax from Edmonton where they were performing at Improvaganza at the Varscona Theatre. This proves to me why I think it is so important for the theatre community in Canada to be aware of the events and the talented performers all across the country, because ultimately we are all connected, and so often our worlds collide and our talents are given opportunities to overlap. Improvaganza is the perfect example, as members of Rapid Fire Theatre (which includes many members of Teatro la Quindicina) played host to Improvisers that I blog about frequently in Toronto as well as Picnicface from Halifax. I love seeing artists from across the country playing and learning from one another and I hope that these opportunities will only increase in the future!
Next Sunday, July 19th, 2009 will be Picnicface’s last show before they go on hiatus for the summer, so I encourage you all to support these talented folks and head over to Paragon (2037 Gottingen Street) at 8:00pm for the show. It costs an incredible mere $5.00 and is well worth its weight in the power of 500 babies.

PROJECTproject COMBUSTIONfestival: for people who seriously dig anything remotely awesome.

By Meghan Hubley
Thursday night at the Comedy Bar could have easily been one of the liveliest, joyful, and ridiculous nights I have experienced there. (And that, TWISI-ites, is saying something; I mean the place is called COMEDY BAR for cryin’ out loud.)
CRUSH (NYC) was up first. Imagine eight bodies of energy and wit playing as a team, riffing for a good 45 minutes on one simple suggestion from the audience: ‘foot.’ Their 8 voices melded together and played off each other creating ocean waves and a Broadway show, their bodies becoming submarine sides, boat masts, and giant under water spiders. I was completely in love with the crew, (Brandon Lisy, Brian Bockrath, Steve Horak, Chet Siegel, Nick Kanellis, Frank Bonomo, Lauren Olson & Taylor White… directed by Christian Capozzoli) not even 10 minutes in. Our hosts for the evening warned us that CRUSH was going to “rock your pants off.” And metaphorically I was embarrassed, because I sure was not in my skinny jeans by the end of this set.
Next on stage were “improv royalty” from Winnipeg, CRUMBS. Lee White & Steve Sim, riffing on audience suggestions of ‘popsicle’ and ‘respiratory therapist.’ The two were joined by live improvised music that ranged from a country-western creep to epic Nintendo-sounding super hero music. It is astonishing to see these two men onstage together; building with what the music is giving them and completely in tune with their counterpart. They created the basement of a hospital so vividly with just the two of them, I felt like I was reading ‘The Bell Jar.” I have no words to describe; really, my mind was blown out of its skull. The Facebook event said, “Miss this show and hate yourself.”DON’T WORRY GANG…you, too, can love yourself by coming out at 9pm tonight to see CRUMBS perform once more.
The 9:30 pm show began with 4TRACK (Christian Capozzoli & members from CRUSH [NYC]) who got the suggestion ‘cheese.’ Nothing is more enjoyable to watch than artists taking care of each other and becoming completely engrossed in sense of play. There were dinosaurs. There was a horrific director on a film set. There was picture day in Hicksville, where the kids’ skin is so shiny it causes glare on the camera. There was magic, absolute magic.
The evening wrapped up with one of the coolest projects I’ve heard of. It was a gigantic movie project; directors and improvisers filmed different beginnings of a film, ending at cliff-hangers, the stakes held high. As they ended, different improvisers, doppelgangers, rushed onto the stage and had to pick up where the clip had ended. The movies themselves were hilarious, and the after effect of people forced into monkey suits, T arantino-esque living rooms, and outer-space, was fantastically funny. This is one amazing (PROJECT) project, indeed.
TONIGHT is your last night to catch the COMBUSTION festival. At 8: The Kid is Hot 2night showcase:“After an intense audience-choice long form elimination tournament that started in February with more than 64 improvisers, only 6 are left standing. And they are here to play for you. Find out who made it all the way…” All this is to be followed by some amazing HALIFAMOUS improvisers and writers, MARK LITTLE and ANDY BUSH from Picnicface. They hold a special place in my heart because Andy taught me at Neptune Theatre many years ago and Mark helped whip my high-school improv team into some sort of shape when I was a wee teenager. Now they are here in Toronto being exceptionally awesome and you should PROBABLY HEAD OUT to see them!
9:30 tonight is when, as I said, CRUMBS will be up once more, and then the festival explodes to an ending with Samurai Davis Jr. & Dim Sum’s Super Mega Happy Fun Time Improv Show. Facebook says; “This improv/Japanese game show/edible gross-out sensation from Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage Theatre (Amber Nash, Chris Blair & special guests) will destroy you. With laughter.”
There’s not much to say, readers. Just do your heart a favor and get out to the Comedy Bar (945b Bloor St. W.) tonight! $8 for one show, $12 for two shows on the same night – available at the door.
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