Who Killed Spalding Gray?

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daniel macivor

Halifax is very fortunate to have the premiere performance of the newest Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks collaboration here as part of the Magnetic North/ Stages Festival. Who Killed Spalding Gray? plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre until June 28th, 2014.

On January 11, 2004 Spalding Gray, a renowned American actor who worked with Richard Schechner’s experimental theatre company The Performance Group in 1970, went on to co-found The Wooster Group in 1975 and then became a celebrated solo theatre artist specializing in Monologue storytelling and went on to play Fran Drescher’s therapist on The Nanny (1993), committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry in New York. At the same time renowned Canadian playwright and solo theatre artist Daniel MacIvor was in California having “an entity” removed from his body by a “psychic surgeon” under warnings from an ex boyfriend that this entity was trying to kill him. Throughout the play MacIvor melds the story of Gray’s depression and suicide with his own experience in California and tells the story of a man named Howard who also plans to kill himself, but is too afraid of failure to try. The result is a building of the stories we tell ourselves on the stories we are told and an examination of how “we search for significance wherever we can find it” and that, with faith, this significance informs and changes the story we tell, which changes the pathways of our lives. We can find connections everywhere, if we go looking for them, even ones that seemed to be unintentional or coincidental, and the same can be said for this play. It is left up to the audience to piece the bits together to try to build a meaning or an epiphany if that is what we seek, or they can be left to reflect the randomness and chaos of life.

MacIvor says that his work has often been compared to Gray’s, a connection that he questions and resists, likely because he isn’t sure whether he even likes Gray’s work. On the surface the form of their theatre appears similar- both told stories that often sound like truth to audience members- although there are many profound differences in the ways that they go about telling and performing and layering these stories. Gray’s work is infused with his perspective as an American WASP who lived in New York and connected ardently with the neurosis of someone like Woody Allen, while MacIvor’s work is swathed in his experience as a Gay, Catholic Cape Bretoner, which is quite a disparate experience. Yet, this quote from American Theatre Director Jonathan Demme about Gray could also be said about MacIvor, “[His] unfailing ability to ignite universal emotions and laughter in all of us while gloriously wallowing in his own exquisite uniqueness will remain forever one of the great joys of… performance and literature.” MacIvor also explores the perceptive of Helena Bonham Carter, another person who has a challenging, haphazard connection to Gray, since her husband (Tim Burton)’s film Big Fish, which she starred in, was the last film Gray saw before he boarded the Staten Island ferry and ended his life. The last lines of the film are “A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal.”

Does it matter if the stories we tell ourselves are true? Does believing the story we tell ourselves make it true? Was Daniel MacIvor saved because he believed that the entity trying to kill him was slain? Does an audience respond to a monologue more ardently if they believe it to be true? Is the monologue any less compelling if it turns out to be false? Does the truth about whether the story is fact or fiction matter if an audience believes in it regardless? Why doesn’t Robert Cushman, theatre critic of The National Post that MacIvor references in the play, care about the answers to these questions when the tension and delicate balance inherent between the performer and the audience is so informed by what we believe to be truth in the theatre and what significance we give to it. We are complicit in these stories by being active listeners- how we hear the story we are told is as much part of the theatre as what the performer says.

There is so much in this play to consider- the layering of MacIvor as MacIvor and MacIvor as Gray for example and the way that Brooks swathes the stage with intense light and intense dark rapidly and the drinking of the water, as harkening to Gray’s signature table with a glass of water and notebook and microphone, with allusions to swimming and to drowning, to the ferry, to MacIvor’s earlier work Never Swim Alone, to drunken benders and healthier choices and the very sustenance that MacIvor needs to stay alive. There is also the question of where this “entity” that was expelled from MacIvor came from, and where it went, and what (or who) it was, and who else is present here onstage or in the theatre that we cannot see. It also suggests that whether or not you believe in planes of existence, or “entities” or ghosts or spirits or the theatre, if Spalding Gray is the story and Daniel MacIvor tells us the story then, in a way Spalding Gray is living on inside of us and that knowing this has the potential to be both significant and transformative for all of us… or it could just be a very captivating lie.

Who Killed Spalding Gray plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre as part of the Magnetic North/ Stages Theatre Festival at the following times:

June 27 at 7pm

June 28 at 9pm 

Tickets for all shows are available at TicketPro either by phone (1-888-311-9090) at TicketPro outlets in Halifax, at the show’s venue prior to the performance or online at this address.  

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. 

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. 

Pink is the New Black & MacIvor & Brooks Are Back.

daniel macivor

“Daniel MacIvor may be a little late…” Charlie Rhindress says before the greatly anticipated playwright/performer sheepishly appears at the back of the house wearing a jaunty-looking cap and clutching a Venti Starbucks cup. This Is What Happens Next, in the newest Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks co-creation, a Necessary Angel Production which runs until November 25th, 2012 in association with Eastern Front Theatre at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre.

MacIvor, speaking as “the playwright” immediately launches into a saga to excuse his lateness, blaming the two women ahead of him in line for ordering enough beverages to caffeinate a small army and blaming the baristas for their inability to properly count the number of shots for each drink. MacIvor is, as he freely admits, a bit of a “blamer.” So, the play begins with our playwright exuding heaps of his signature self-deprecating charm as he tells us that he’s been working on “being a better person” and all the soul searching and constant judgement and skepticism that comes from such searching… and all that entails. He is simultaneously searching for proof of an eventual happy ending while pleading with us: “let’s just be here now,” and yet, of course, still inquiring about what will happen next.

As a writer Daniel MacIvor has an exceptional talent for capturing the most ordinary moments of the human experience with profundity and poetry and weaving incredible connections between ideas and experiences that at first appear haphazard, which come to evoke an enriched sense of our relationship to one another and the world around us. This play especially has the ability to speak so specifically and personally about one man’s journey, while reflecting a much larger communal experience. This Is What Happens Next is a layering of storytelling not unlike MacIvor and Brooks’ earlier collaborations, but what makes this play stand out is that it is not a collection of clear, tightly-woven narratives hurdling toward the definitive climax at the end. What happens next is that the playwright begins to examine himself. Why is he writing such a twisted and cynical play? Do happy endings automatically negate complex characters and cheapen insightful stories? How can an artist seek to find balance in the world, to heal his past wounds and live a positive, healthy life without reducing his art to tales about kittens and puppies who sing and dance with merriment in constant sunshine? This Is What Happens Next revels in the journey of searching for the story as the playwright seeks to shine a bit more light into a previously pitch-black room.

As an actor Daniel MacIvor is exquisitely unstoppable. In this play he launches himself between seven sharply distinct characters with precision and vigour and gives seven formidable performances. First we are introduced to Warren, an angry man who has been rattled down to his soul following the collapse of the relationship between him and his boyfriend. Warren wants his stuff back: his winter jacket, his boots, a book on philosophy, his John Denver CD- he just wants his stuff. Susan is Warren’s brutally honest lawyer, a part that MacIvor plays with delightful feistiness and, most impressively, that he manages to portray without resorting to mediocre stereotypes. Susan has a tentative third date scheduled with Aaron, an astrologer who is keeping a substantial secret and Aaron has an extremely impressionable and vibrantly imaginative seven year old nephew named Kevin, whose voice MacIvor captures magnificently. MacIvor is also particularly effective as Kevin’s alcoholic father, Mike, who is in a dangerous cycle of articulating exactly what needs to be done to change his life, but leaving all instigating action until an elusive tomorrow. Will is at the heart of everything, the acrid, self-loathing, selfish Know it All who simultaneously seems bored to tears and scared to death. MacIvor gives so much depth to each role, but I found the relationship between Aaron, Kevin and Mike to be particularly heart wrenching and beautifully captivating.

Daniel Brooks’ direction is characteristically seamless, so much so that it gives the illusion of effortlessness. Richard Feren’s soundscape adds a rich texture to the stories and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting has the power to eerily transform MacIvor’s appearance, which adds a magical element to his switching from one character to the next. The result is, what MacIvor calls “a scary fairy tale with a happy ending;” it is a story about addiction and the giant demons that terrorize us and those who love us as the demons grow wildly larger and our lives spiral beyond the force of our will. It is an immediately captivating theatrical journey that can evoke laughter, stark contemplation, horror and relief in harrowing succession. The happy ending represents a modest hope for redemption, forgiveness and for what happens next, while the Playwright can’t quite quell his urge to remind us that with that there is always the potential for tragedy, for disaster and for the end to come too quickly and to sweep our life away.

For this moment though, we watch a play. Daniel MacIvor is back in Halifax telling stories in all his grandeur and the audience revels in the power of the room and of the now.

Necessary Angel and Eastern Front Theatre’s production of Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks’ This is What Happens Next plays at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) Thursday November 22- Saturday November 24th at 8:00pm with 2:00pm matinees on Saturday November 24th and Sunday November 25th. Tickets are $20.00 (adult), $15.00 (Student/Senior), $10.00 if you call (or visit) the box office and say the code (DANIEL2012). Tickets can be purchased at the Neptune Theatre Box Office in person (1593 Argyle Street), by calling 902.429.7070 or online at this website. For more information please visit this website

This is What Happens Next will say farewell to Toronto at Factory Theatre December 1-9, 2012- for more information please visit this website and then it will end its run forever at the Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary January 23-February 3, 2013. Catch the “Kingdom of Kevin” before it is gone!!

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