White Rabbit Red Rabbit

rabbit rabbit

rabbit

White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour is a play with no rehearsal and no director that can only be performed by an actor who has never seen the script before once. DMV Theatre has been presenting White Rabbit Red Rabbit, with a different actor each evening, since Sept 24th, 2013. In my experience, having seen the play with four different actors over the last week, I strongly recommend that audience members go into the experience, and it is an experience more than it is a play in the conventional sense of that word, as blindly as the actor does. So, with that said, if you have not seen White Rabbit Red Rabbit I would advise you to stop reading this “review” now and come back to it after you have had your first experience with the play. That is just a suggestion; however, your choice is up to you.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written by an Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, in 2010 at a time when Soleimanpour did not have a passport, and therefore could only leave Iran through the words of his play. Since simultaneously being produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with dramaturgy by Ross Manson and Daniel Brooks, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been performed in venues all over the world and has been translated into fifteen different languages.

My experience with White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating one. I have seen four performers tackle Soleimanpour’s script: Samantha Wilson, Rhys Bevan-John, Kathryn MacLellan and Ann-Marie Kerr and each evening it has come alive in a brand new way that the audience experiences together. It is vulnerable and communal and Soleimanpour is present in every line, dramatically and unexpectedly. There is an element of danger implicit in the text and it reminds us that even though we have become conditioned, as Canadian citizens, to feel safe, that danger is actively all around us. We are all in the process of dying, after all. We are encouraged to understand that just because we, at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are very certain that there is nothing to fear, that we are able to trust the conventions of our society, our city, our theatre and our country, that this is not the same for all people everywhere and will not necessarily be the same for us in the future.

The play works on a beautiful metaphorical level. It is about theatre as much as it can be seen as being about the constructions of our societies. It encourages us to question our conventions of authority, our own willingness to be obedient, to be passive, to do what is expected of us, and also how far we trust those that sit with us in the theatre, who share our community, who make the decisions or climb toward leadership. These are not necessarily the ideas of Nassim Soleimanpour, he has just provided us with the framework, with the potential for something powerful to happen and for deep discussions to emerge. The way that each audience member interprets his story of the white and red rabbits will be different, and does not necessarily capture the playwright’s intention. Or, perhaps it was his intention to facilitate endless possible explanations.

For me the play draws connections between the playwright’s words being the authority of a text and the actors who have been conditioned to submit to this authority. The audience are the passive witnesses, who watch the actors carry out the playwright’s plans. This can be seen as being a metaphor for how a government, or any hierarchy of power, works in most societies in the world. How complicit are we, the silent majority, in the actions that our Prime Minister makes? Is it partially my fault, for example, that Tarek Loubani and John Greyson are still being held without trial in Egypt?

While watching White Rabbit Red Rabbit the first time my mind was spinning with thoughts of how this play mirrors societal constructions and I focused ardently on Soleimanpour and wondered about his life in Iran and tried to compare my imagined sense of his experience there with my own experience here. While I felt very connected to Soleimanpour in all four performances, while watching Rhys Bevan-John and then Kathryn MacLellan and then Ann-Marie Kerr my focus began to shift from my experience in the audience toward the experience of the actor standing before me. I realized that White Rabbit Red Rabbit also exposes the process of the actor to the audience. Watching the way the actor engages with the script, with the playwright and with the audience reveals so much about the vulnerable and complex ideas that each particular actor has about his or her role in the creation of the theatre. This is also intrinsically linked to each actor’s own distinct personality and psychology. Therefore, White Rabbit Red Rabbit can be seen as an exploration of our societies’ relationship to authority and the audience’s relationship to a play, and also an exploration of the actor’s relationship to a performance text and the actor’s relationship to the audience.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating theatrical adventure for me. Each time I experience the anxiety of not knowing so beautifully inherent to the theatre and I remember that, really, we never know anything in life for certain either. Any moment could be our last, although we are fairly certain it won’t be; the possibility of the unexpected and the unknown, like an envelope with a script in it that we’ve never seen before, is always there. Ultimately, that is what makes each moment so vividly alive.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit plays at 8pm at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) until October 5th, 2013. Tickets are $15.00 and available at this website or at the door. There will be a different actor for each performance and the remaining artists are: Chris Shore, Susan Stackhouse and Pasha Ebrahimi. If you come more than once all return tickets are only $5.00. Come join the experience. 

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The 2012 TWISI AWARD WINNERS

It is time once again for my end of year TWISI Round Up! This year I wanted to reinstate the TWISI Awards and to use this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of some of the incredible theatre artists whose work I felt privileged to see this year. I have gone through all the reviews and theatre notes that I have written from the last twelve months and come up with this list of TWISI AWARD WINNERS. Each winner receives exclusive TWISI Award Winner bragging rights, a swanky gold star badge for their Facebook page and all my gratitude for giving me such a glorious gift of talent and theatrical bliss this year. Thank you from the bottom of my bottom (to borrow from Betty White).

The 2012 TWISI AWARD WINNERS ARE:

  1. Gold Star to HELENA PIPE (Actor in In This Word, Halifax Theatre For Young People/Super Nova Festival)
  2. Gold Star to BRUCE HORAK (Performer/Creator of This is Cancer, Eastern Front/ Super Nova Festival)
  3. Gold Star to MICHAEL MCPHEE (Actor in Bone Boy, Frankie Production)
  4. Gold Star to TIA ANDRIANI (Actor in Little Women, Metro Non Profit Housing)
  5. Gold Star to TANYA DAVIS (Performer/Creator of Nonmonag and the Gray Scale Dwellers, Queer Acts Festival)
  6. Gold Star to KEELIN JACK (Actor in Touch, The Doppler Effect/Queer Acts Festival)
  7. Gold Star to STEPHANIE MACDONALD (Actor in Short Skirt Butch, Queer Acts Festival)
  8. Gold Star to KEITH MORRISON (Director of Twelve Angry Men, Lions Den Theatre)
  9. Gold Star to VANESSA WALTON-BONE (Actor in Blood & Quick Silver, Doppler Effect, Atlantic Fringe Festival)
  10. Gold Star to MARK ALLAN (Actor in Sweeney Todd, Neptune Theatre)
  11. Gold Star to MONIQUE MOJICA (Actor in Hawk, Onelight Theatre, Prismatic Festival)
  12. Gold Star to HEATHER RANKIN (Actor in Bingo, Mulgrave Road Theatre/Neptune Theatre)
  13. Gold Star to DANIEL MACIVOR (Actor/Writer of This is What Happens Next, Eastern Front Theatre/Necessary Angel Theatre)
  14. Gold Star to DANIEL BROOKS (Director of This is What Happens Next, Eastern Front Theatre/Necessary Angel Theatre)
  15. Gold Star to SUSAN LEBLANC (Actor/Creator of The Debacle, Zuppa Theatre)
  16. Gold Star to ANN-MARIE KERR (Director/Creator of The Debacle, Zuppa Theatre)
  17. Gold Star to CHRISTIAN BARRY & ANTHONY BLACK (Directors of The Story of Mr. Wright, 2b Theatre/ Eastern Front Theatre)
  18. Gold Star to MARK UHRE (Performer in Elf, Neptune Theatre)
  19. Gold Star to RAOUL BHANEJA (Performer in Hamelt (Solo), Neptune Theatre)
  20. Gold Star to RHONDA BAKER (Dancer in Stir & Wish Desire Vow, (LiveArt Dance/Votive Dance, Atlantic Fringe Festival)

TWISI is also pleased to be bringing back the TWISI PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS.

I would like to encourage people across the country to think of someone in the Canadian theatre community (this includes anyone in cast, crew, volunteer, producer, front of house, community theatre director, high school drama teacher- also in Improv, Performance Art, Sketch, Stand Up, Cabaret and dance- theatre in its broadest terms etc…) who is deserving of special recognition this year. Think in terms of someone whose work in whatever way is helping to shape and foster the Canadian theatre or someone who inspires you specifically. You can nominate someone who is Canadian who is working outside the country. You can nominate people who aren’t Canadians but who work mostly in Canada. Please nominate people who are Canadian and who work in Canada.

Then, I am encouraging you to nominate this person for a TWISI People’s Choice Award by creating something that celebrates them and introduces them to TWISI’s readers. It could be a blog that you write. It could be a poem. It could be a song. It could be a video. I encourage you all to think creatively. For more ideas of what I am looking for check out these awesome guest blogs from Sing Out Louise.

Then send all submissions to me at amandacarol.campbell@gmail.com between January 1st, 2013- January 30th, 2013 (the email I sent missed the 0 on 30th. You have all month to participate, but try to submit early so they are spread out over the month and not all plunked down at the very end)! 

All throughout January I will post all the submissions that I receive. Everyone who is nominated wins! We can celebrate the awesomeness that is the Canadian theatre all January long!! Join the Facebook Event Here!

Have a Very TWISItacular Holiday Season. I look forward to serving up lots more theatre reviews, interviews and special features in 2013. See you all there and thank you so much for visiting TWISI. 

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The Debacle

sue leblanc

By Tamara Smith, Special to TWISI 

“Remember?

We were at the lake.

 You found a clear patch in the ice. You looked down and you saw a frog… frozen in its situation.

 As if he was trying to say something.” –The Debacle

Co-Written by director Ann-Marie Kerr and Susan Leblanc, Zuppa Theatre’s The Debacle shows a woman who is, like the frog, frozen in her situation. Unable to cope with her sister’s death, Margaret (Leblanc-Crawford) can’t move forward: she can’t even answer the increasingly insistent rings of the beige rotary-dial telephone. Instead, she has retreated to the attic of her childhood home, where she tries to stave off the inevitable loss by literally freezing her memories in ice-filled mason jars.

Throughout the play, Margaret’s frantic attempts to hold on to memories of her sister contrast with visual reminders that it is impossible to do so in any meaningful way. Crammed into glass jars, music is muffled, fire is suffocated, and apples cannot be tasted. And some things just don’t fit. All the while, fragile stacks of glass jars teeter precariously on the edge of a six foot drop, threatening to smash and spill their precious cargo with every move that Margaret makes.

Leblanc has an amazing ability to string together contrasting moments, snapping seamlessly between desperation, nostalgia, tranquility, and humour. Throughout these sometimes manic shifts, she maintains an honesty of emotion that makes her character’s journey equally understandable and poignant whether she’s describing the pain of losing a loved one or singing Total Eclipse of the Heart as a duet with a dead frog.

Like much of Zuppa’s recent work, The Debacle is inseparable, not only from the virtuosic performance of its star, but also from the beautifully realized space in which it plays out. Andrew Cull has designed a set for this touring version of the 2011 show that is both cozy and claustrophobic, elegant and cluttered. It interacts beautifully with Ingrid Risk’s lighting, which emphasizes visual metaphors and reflects Margaret’s shifting emotions without being too obvious or distracting.

The Debacle is a challenging piece, and audiences accustomed to more conventional representations of reality might find the external manifestation of Margaret’s internal struggle difficult to latch onto. And yet, for those willing to let go of the literal world and follow Margaret through grief and memory, The Debacle offers a uniquely moving experience. It’s fitting that a few minutes after leaving the theatre I found myself sitting in my car, scribbling frantically on the back of my program, trying futilely to hold on to everything I had just seen. Some things, you just can’t keep.

The Debacle closed on November 18th, 2012. 

Sooooo… What About Heart?

andrew chandler, amy reitsma, garry williams
Two years ago I was blown away by DaPoPo Theatre’s original musical offering for the 2009 Fringe Festival, a last-minute song cycle So… What About Love written and performed, almost accidentally, by Andrew Chandler, Amy Reitsma and Garry Williams when their initial performance plans fell through and they decided to throw caution to the wind and create a show from scratch instead. The first show was a triumph, the perfect mixture of quirky, contemporary songs, poignant and humorous monologues and a sweet, endearing heart that beat steadfastly through it all. The vague conceit of So What About Love returns to the Neptune Studio Theatre this week as part of Eastern Front’s Supernova Festival, and while much that was initially great has gotten better, it has sadly lost a lot of the heart that once made it so beautiful.
If you have never seen So What About Love in any of its other incarnations, I think you will be impressed by the panache of its songs and the sometimes brilliant intricate lyrical construction. You will likely be entertained, and maybe a bit steamrolled, by the back-to-back jokes, one more outrageous than the next, and, especially if you have never seen her before, you will likely fall in love with Amy Reitsma. All good things! There is still a lot that works in this musical, beginning right from the strong Opening image (enter, the company, from stage left in their underwear). The song “I Just Want to Have Sex With You” is still delightful and Ann-Marie Kerr’s creative staging of it exemplifies a perfect mixture of endearing heart, odd awkwardness and wry mischief that I wish was indicative of the entire show. Reitsma sings this gorgeous jazzy, bluesy Ella Fitzgerald type number, my favourite in the show, which almost sounds out of place because it is so professionally polished and not pastiching itself. The Ninja Song is still a hilarious and fun romp that also captures and attacks our frustrations surrounding love unrequited and lost and once again, Kerr’s staging has made something that worked well in the Fringe shine even brighter.
What struck me most about this rendition of the show, and this also could be exacerbated by the fact that it was Opening Night, was how hard it seemed that Chandler and Williams and Reitsma were trying to make it hilarious. I felt that a lot of time, they were playing the punch lines rather than relaxing into their characters and their stories and trusting that the laughs would immerge organically from both. This was a little frustrating for me to watch because in the Fringe production, the show’s humour was all there, just intrinsically, but this one has lost a lot of the depth of the characters in the vignettes and much of its poignancy at the expense of really overt attempts to make the audience crack up.
I also think that the main conceit of the show, that dream where you show up unprepared and in your underwear, may be holding back the show’s potential to grow. As I said, there is one song of Reitsma’s that is a perfectly polished, beautifully constructed song that sounds like it belongs in the repertoire of the professional musical theatre. A lot of the other songs are written to sound improvised, bumpy, half-forgotten and awkward to fit the overall concept. I wonder if they allowed the complexity and intricacy of the songs to grow as the play progressed (as though they were learning and improving as they went along), ending, perhaps, with something written to be accompanied by an orchestra, if this would give a more ardent arc to the show and allow these emerging songwriters to keep the self-consciously written less than perfect gems in their score, but also carve out a place for the songs it is clear they are capable of writing that are more refined.
The most curious aspect of this show to me was the choice to have Garry Williams and Andrew Chandler acting so far out of their various elements. Williams isn’t Groucho Marx, Chandler isn’t Humphrey Bogart. Why aren’t they writing material for themselves that showcase their strengths? Amy Reitsma ends up standing out in this incarnation of the show, not because she is “more talented” but just because the material that she has given herself to work with is perfectly tailored to what she is able to do as an actor, as a singer and as a performer. Taking risks and stretching yourself is admirable, of course, and I don’t want to push Williams and Chandler into a comfort zone box at all, only that I think we miss out in this show of seeing Chandler and Williams being perpetually at their best and we miss it.
So What About Love, especially musically, is still one of the most exciting musical theatre shows I have seen come out of Halifax, I still recommend you going to see it, especially if this is your first time, but overall, ironically and oddly, the material seems to not trust its actors inherent ability and likability enough, and it really should, because they’re terrific.

Week Two: May 24-29: Dedicated to the Revolutions, So…What About Love?, …and stockings for the ladies andWeeTube.

Tickets are on sale at the Neptune Theatre Box Office. Adults $25, Seniors/DND/Arts Workers $20, Students $15. *Same day, multiple show discount. We encourage you to catch a double (or triple or quadruple!) header. Your first ticket is full price, however if you purchase tickets for a 2nd, 3rd or 4th show on the same day, those tickets are 50% off.

In person: 1593 Argyle Street. Phone: 902-429-7070. Online. All prices include HST. Neptune service charges for phone and online orders not included. Check out the full schedule here.

The Carleton Music Bar and Grille on Argyle is the SuperNova Festival HotSpot. You’re invited to mix and mingle with the cast and crew every night after the final performance. Take your Supernova ticket stub with you and get 10% off your order.

See you at the Supernova!

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