News From Around the Barrio

tantrum 620

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc

Multi-talented and multi-hilarious Edmontonian actor/playwright/singer/director/improviser/producer Jocelyn Ahlf sets her four year old daughter’s tantrum to music and gives it the operatic relish it deserves on The Irrelevant Show! Listen here! The Irrelevant Show is in its fourth season on CBC Radio One and every week core performers Mark Meer, Donovan Workun, Jana O’Connor, Marianne Copithorne, Neil Grahn (head writer) and Leona Brausen bring hysterical sketches and songs to the nation’s airwaves and a live studio audience in Edmonton. Musical guests include Jocelyn Ahlf and Jan Randall and Sheldon Elter and Ryan Parker. Writers for the show include the gifted cast members as well as Chris Craddock and Dana Andersen. For more information, check this website out, and tune in weekly to The Irrelevant Show!

Dags and Laz

laz & dags

How do you sum up in a neat little package the combined wealth of creative prowess, comedy and theatricality of Adam Lazarus and Melissa D’Agostino? They act, they direct, they do clown and bouffon and on Saturday Evening in Toronto they are the hosts of Springtime For Dags and Laz, featuring a little music, comedy and debauchery. The lineup includes: Comedy and Mayhem with Sandra Battaglini, Beautiful absurdity with Phil Luzi, a new theatrical piece by Sean Dixon, another new piece by Elena Belyea, Sweet sweet music from Scott Maynard, Music extraordinaire from Waylen Miki and Ethel Rosenbaum and Deena Lieberman. The evening also includes 40 shots (40 of Toronto’s most fascinating  performers get one minute to perform something rad before the lights cut out on them). Check out this link for more info! PWYC. 8:30pm. Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement. (6 Noble Street, Toronto).


marcus nance

For four Sundays in April Toronto is being treated to two of my favourite things simultaneously: Cabaret and Brunch! The Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria Street) presents Divos and Divas with Marcus Nance. Offering a mixture of jazz, musical theatre, opera and cabaret Nance will be joined by a wide array of guests each week including many of the best singers from both Toronto and New York and accompanied by the incomparable Michael Barber on piano. April 7th musical guests include Jeremy Kushnier, Melissa O’Neil, Jenny Lee Stern and Gavin Tessier. Marcus has recently returned to Toronto from New York where he played Caiaphas in the Stratford/La Jolla/Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar and hosted the Cabaret Marcus Nance and Friends at the Metropolitan Room. Other credits include La Boheme (Broadway), Kismet, Of Thee I Sing (New York City Centre Encores!) Four Saints in Three Acts (Chicago Opera Theatre), Porgy and Bess (Toronto Symphony) and Cinderella (New York City Opera). Check out this link for more info. Doors open at 11:30am, show begins at 12:00pm. $15. The Jazz Bistro. Toronto.


Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton’s Longest Running Improv Theatre, brings audiences Bonfire: a Festival celebrating Long Form Improv at the Citadel Theatre (9828 101A Avenue, Edmonton) April 9- 14! According to Artistic Director Amy Shostak, “A bonfire is a place where we share stories with loved ones, and the 2nd annual BONFIRE Festival will continue this nocturnal tradition, bringing people together to share ideas and laughs.” Rapid Fire Theatre is dedicated to innovation and collaboration in Improv and here are some of the great features of the 2013 Bonfire lineup: IMPROVISED VINYL CAFÉ: Stuart McLean’s Canadiana like you’ve never seen it before, The Underground Tap & Grill presents: RFT News and Slippery Sounds, ELECTRO ACOUSTIC SET: an avant garde collaboration with local musicians, LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP: an improv show over Skype, featuring Outside Joke from Winnipeg and The Mercer Tavern presents: An Epic Quest and Trubodour. Festival passes are only $30 and are available at Tix on the Square. For more information, visit this swanky site!

Toronto’s own funky soul disco pop princess Maylee Todd has dropped her second record, Escapology, which is available on ITunes, on CD AND ON VINYL. Check out her music video for the album’s first track “Baby’s Got It,” which is a beautiful mixture of the joyful, the beautiful, the absurd and the weird.

Season Two of Space Janitors premiered on April 2nd! “Space Janitors is a comedy/sci-fi web series created by Davin Lengyel and Geoff Lapaire. It chronicles the lives of two janitors, Mike Chet (Pat Thornton) and Darby Richards (Brendan Halloran) who serve aboard an evil iconic Space Station.” It also features the talents of Evany Rosen, Tess Degenstein and Scott Yamamura. Check it out!   

Can ya dig it?

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.

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.