June is Fringe Month! Montreal & Ottawa Fringe Plans!

Montreal FringeThis coming weekend I am going on an adventure!  As a representative and reviewer for On Stage: Ottawa’s Theatre Arts Magazine I will be travelling out to Montreal and covering some of the shows taking place at Montreal Fringe this year. I’ll be in Montreal, alongside my buddy Sarvesh Kumar, seeing and reviewing shows from June 13 – June 15.

You can follow the adventures on Twitter @matthewschamp where I will be posting tweviews (Twitter Reviews) after each show. You can follow the full reviews over at On Stage or check out some of the reviews as we post them to our Facebook Page.

Ottawa FringeIf you’re in Montreal, I highly suggest you check out the Montreal Fringe, it’s always a great time and you’re guaranteed to see theatre that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world!

The following week I start my intensive coverage of Ottawa Fringe (June 19 – 29) which will also be hosted over on On Stage.

Fringe is one of my favourite times of the year… you get to see some of the best and some of the worst theatres ranging from the independents to seasoned professionals!

Happy Fringing!

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The Burden of Self Awareness – GCTC – A Theatre Review

GCTC-2013-14-posterloop-BurdenThe Great Canadian Theatre Company is finishing off their 2013-14 season with the world premiere of George F. Walker’s The Burden of Self Awareness. The play follows Michael (Eric Coates), a very rich man, who, after having an existential moment of self-discovery decides to give away his entire fortune to those in need. The only hindrance to Michael’s plan is his wife, Judy (Sarah McVie), who despite having signed a post-nup, plans on finding a way to keep all of the money for herself. Enter private detectives, hit men, screwy psychiatrists and escorts for what is one of the most absurd dark comedies I have ever seen on stage.

The Burden of Self Awareness takes a little while to really find its footing. As the show begins the audience finds Michael and Judy arguing about finances with Judy’s psychiatrist. The scene becomes increasingly maddening as the characters continuously talk in circles around giving money away vs. keeping money for themselves. The screwy psychiatrist provides no help and by the end of the scene Michael is offstage and Judy is taking off her panties and sliding onto Stan the Psychiatrist’s (Paul Rainville) lap.

Burden - Sarah McVie backlit with Eric Coates and Paul Rainville - Photo by GCTC Andrew AlexanderThis becomes the perfect setup for what the audience can expect content wise. It does have a mature content warning for a reason, but a lot of time there seems to be no real need for much of the crass and base content except for filler. It’s definitely not for character development, if anything; it’s for the degradation of each individual character, who transformed from deplorable to despicable very quickly.

While the characters were quite despicable the cast was actually quite talented. Eric Coates is an extremely skilled actor who was always engaging when on stage. Paul Rainville, another extremely talented actor, provided the few chuckles that I needed to stop myself from truly despising the content of this play.
Burden - Samantha Madely, Eric Coates, Sarah McVie with gun - Photo by GCTC Andrew AlexanderLike the stage setup (3 small columns that swivel) there was a lot of vacancy and free space in the production. The depth of each character was shallow and superfluous and each time there was remotely a connection to anyone in the play the audience is greeted to a 30 – 45 second black out between the relatively short scenes, which is where I instantly lost attention to what was going on with the distracting, overtly loud and ill-placed music that was meant to fill the time that each black out took.

Burden - Samantha Madely, Paul Rainville - Photo by GCTC  Andrew AlexanderThere is no ending to The Burden of Self Awareness. And while I can understand the use of the “not using or needing an ending” as a theatrical convention it doesn’t work in a play that is as linear and direct as this play is. This play definitely does not work on a theatre such as the GCTC’s and would probably find a better, and more forgiving, audience on a Fringe stage. God knows that without it’s unnecessary 20 minute intermission it could fit into a 60 minute time slot.

Overall, good acting can only take a play so far and The Burden of Self Awareness quickly becomes a burden to sit through.

Burden - Samantha Madely, Paul Rainville, Sarah McVie - Photo by GCTC Andrew AlexanderThe Burden of Self Awareness runs until June 22, 2014 at The Great Canadian Theatre Company.

You can find ticket information here.

Also check out the review for The Burden of Self Awareness by my colleagues at On Stage: Ottawa’s Art & Theatre Magazine who enjoyed it much more than I did!

 

Opera Lyra Presents Madama Butterfly – An Opera Review

Madama Butterfly posterOpera Lyra concludes its 29th season with the Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Before I really start to get into this specific opera I need to lay some groundwork here. I love the opera. I try to go as often as I can. Do I know much about the opera? The more I go the more I learn. If I see an opera that catches my eye I start to research, where did that opera get its roots, was there already a cultural folklore surrounding said piece, have there been any changes to the opera since its inception, if I liked this opera, what else might I like?

When talking about the opera it’s hard to really express ones sentiments in regards to whether you enjoy it or not because there are two very distinct aspects to each performance that you see: the performance itself, this encompasses the on-stage talent, the orchestral unit, the conductor and stage director, amongst many other off-stage talents; the second is that of the piece itself, this encompasses the story, the splitting of the acts, the character development and so on and so forth.

Madama Butterfly with parasol photo by Sam GarciaHere in lies the problem, there are some operas that are phenomenally well staged, yet the content is a little mind-numbing at times, while other times we may see the story to be grossly engaging, yet the stage presence lacking. Our hope in attending the opera is to have a story we can connect to and not feel like we’re rushing to a conclusion as well as be entertained by top level performers.

Madama Butterfly falls into the first category. Puccini’s opera, which was based on the play “Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan” by David Belasco, which originated from a short story “Madame Butterfly” by John Luther Long, which drew its foundation from a semi-autobiographical novel “Madame Chysantheme” by Pierre Loti. Set in 1904 Japan, Madama Butterfly becomes the watered down story of a young 15 year old former Geisha, Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), who, in the bindings of an arranged marriage to an American sailor in the Navy, B.F. Pinkerton, falls head over heels in love with him. Pinkerton, using Cio-Cio for his own physical pleasures never returns the feelings. Ultimately this tale of unrequited love leads to where most tales of the sort lead, tragedy, sorrow and death.

MB on Pinkerton's arm - photo by Sam GarciaMadama Butterfly is actually quite a simple tail, yet its extravagant deliverance may feel like too much. The first act, which unites Cio-Cio and Pinkerton together in marriage, drags on and on. A lot of the first act is foreshadowing the tragedy to come, yet it’s not until the second act that this opera really picks up. The second act features more of the Puccini that opera-fans love and adore, with a very tongue-in-cheek style to the script and a much needed comical scene to prepare the audience for the heaviness of the third act. The third act finds the audience grieving with Cio-Cio and trying to come to a forced understanding of Pinkerton’s behaviour that almost feels rushed and really betrays the depth of both characters.

MB standing behind sitting Sharpless - Photo by Sam GarciaWhen we look at Opera Lyra’s performance of Madama Butterfly we are introduced to the beautiful and talented Shuying Li (Cio-Cio), who holds the entire opera together and is captivating from the first moment she is on stage until the moment the curtain drops. Li received the standing ovation that she deserves. If there are any readers out there in either Shanghai or Colorado make sure to check out Flowing Water to the East and Madama Butterfly, respectively, where she will next be on stage. Two other artists who stole the show include Ottawa’s own Armine Kassabian, who plays Suzuki, Cio-Cio’s loyal maidservant and Statford, Ontario’s James Westman, who plays American Consulate Sharpless.

MB & Suzuki throwing flower petals - Phots by Sam GarciaThere’s much more than just the on-stage artists who make up an opera though. The artistic direction and stage management play a huge role in the overall experience, and they were executed flawlessly. There’s an iconic moment in Madama Butterfly where Cio-Cio and Suzuki are decorating the house with flower petals for Pinkerton’s return, and as they sing and twirl throwing flowers carelessly, flower petals start to rain down from the rafters onto the stage. The simplicity of it isn’t even thought of while the audience marvels in the cascading beauty. At another point as Cio-Cio faithfully waits for her husband’s return the orchestra is supposed to bring the audience through the evening, overnight and into the dawn before another word is sung, and what could have been dull to watch, was a beautiful scenery transition that also included Cio-Cio growing more and more despondent as time progressed.

MB waiting all night - Photo by Sam GarciaThe final piece of the puzzle was that of the orchestra. The NAC Orchestra is by far one of the best orchestra’s in Canada, if not the world, and having the full orchestra in tune with this phenomenal performance is the cherry on top. Tyrone Paterson, the artistic director and principal conductor, has many hats to wear, but helped create an experience that will not be forgotten any time soon. It will be truly exciting to watch him take the conductors role once more for the Opera Lyra performance of Tosca in September 2014.

opera_lyra_logo_REV_PMS877+border (1)The hauntingly beautiful Madama Butterfly runs April 19, 21, 23 & 26 at The National Arts Centre. For more information or information on how to purchase your tickets check out The Opera Lyra website!  

The GCTC – 40th Season Announcement

40th SeasonThe 2014-15 theatre season for The Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) will mark their 40th Season and Artistic Director, Eric Coates, is adamant that there won’t be just one particular theme throughout this season, but a plethora of in-depth and engaging themes which will encourage theatre-goers, the avid and the novice, to continue to fall deeper in love with Canadian theatre. The GCTC’s passion behind bringing Canadian content and Canadian talent to a unique Canadian stage is evidenced throughout the prolific season offered.

The Boy in the MoonThe line-up offers three world premieres and three Ottawa premieres. The season starts off with The Boy in the Moon, based on the New York Times Best Selling novel of the same name by Ian Brown, adapted for the stage by Emil Sher. This play is being developed in association with the GCTC and promises to be an exciting and eye opening account of a father raising a son with disabilities. The season adds an exclusive double bill to its stage with its following show Fish Eyes and Boys with Cars, both written, choreographed and performed by Anita Majumdar, a prolific Bollywood dancer and actress from Port Moody, British Columbia.

Pomme and RestesThe GCTC is teaming up with A Company of Fools for their seasonal show bringing back the beloved clowns Pomme and ‘Restes for an adventure entitled: Pomme and ‘Restes: Shipwrecked! On the Tempestuous Lost Island of Never! This finds the unlikely duo working on a cruise ship that runs aground on a desert island and of course leads to hilarity. If you haven’t seen the works of A Company of Fools this is one show you do not want to miss.

Moss ParkEntering 2014 the GCTC will host the Ottawa Premiere of Moss Park, written by George F.  Walker. Moss Park is a story where plans for big money collide with dreams and young love. Eric Coates will be directing the Ottawa Premiere of The Best Brothers starring Andy Massingham and John Ng as brothers who are coming to grips, after losing their mother to a gruesome death at a gay pride parade. The GCTC will finish their 2014-15 season with a collaboration with The Magnetic North Theatre Festival as they present The Public Servant, co-developed by Theatre Columbus, this play follows Madge, an enthusiastic civil servant who ends up going up against the bureaucratically run government in hysterical manner.

Best BrothersThe only other thing worth noting off the bat is the absence of Undercurrents, a festival that The GCTC has been hosting for years, featuring independent plays in a Fringe-like setting. Undercurrents will be following Patrick Gauthier who is leaving The GCTC to work full-time for Ottawa Fringe and will take place under the Ottawa Fringe banner in years to come.

Over all we have an exciting schedule in place and I can’t wait to watch it play out! Here’s to an exciting 40th Season at The GCTC!

Check out more information about the upcoming season at The GCTC here!

Underbelly – Black Sheep Theatre – On Stage in Ottawa

On StageExciting news on the Ottawa Theatre front: I will be taking in and reviewing Black Sheep Theatre’s Presentation of Underbelly this weekend. Underbelly is based on the contributions of Beat Writer William S. Burroughs to the literary world.

As with most of my theatre reviews my review of Underbelly will be written for On Stage: Ottawa’s Theatre Arts Magazine. My previous On Stage: Ottawa’s Theatre Arts Magazine reviews include: Detroit & This is War

Underbelly PosterMake sure you check out our production preview of Underbelly here.

Make sure you continue to check here for the review. It should go up by Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the latest.

Update (March 2, 2014). The review is live.

Thanks for supporting Ottawa theatre.

Opera Lyra – 30th Season – An Announcement

Opera LyraThose who were disheartened by Opera Lyra’s cancellation of its 2011-12 season which included the shows Tosca and The Flying Dutchman will be delighted by the 30th Season lineup which was just announced earlier today. Not only has Opera Lyra General Director, Jeep Jeffries, officially welcomed the Interim Artistic Director, Conductor Kevin Mallon, but he’s announced one of the most exciting opera lineups possible.

Tosca

That’s right; Ottawa’s Opera Lyra will be staging Puccini’s taut political game of deception and betrayal, Tosca to open its 30th Season from September 6-13, 2014, at The National Arts Centre.  The company will also be accenting Canadian talents including Soprano Michelle Capalbo as Floria Tosca, Baritone David Pomeroy as her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and supporting cast members Bass-Baritone Giles Tompkins, Baritone Dion Mazerolle and Tenor James McLennan. Hopefully by re-adding Tosca to its lineup we can hope to see Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman sometime in the future!

The Marriage of FigaroIn the spring Opera Lyra will be bringing a much lighter production to the stage full of mirth and merriment. Of course, that can only be Mozart’s greatest comedy: The Marriage of Figaro. Once again Opera Lyra highlights a predominantly Canadian cast including Ottawa locals Sopranos Wallis Giunta and Mirielle Asselin, respectively as Cherubino and Susanna. The Marriage of Figaro will be running at the National Arts Centre from March 21 – 28, 2015.

The Magic FluteOutside of their two feature length opera’s Opera Lyra will also be doing a family-friendly hour-long adaptation of Mozart’s fairy-tale The Magic Flute.  The company will also be hosting their Annual Garden Party this summer, Hockey Night at the Opera in October and their Winter Gala next February.

Madama Butterfly

While Opera Lyra’s 30th Season is exciting and I personally can’t wait for it, we should note that their 29th Season isn’t complete yet. One of the most famous opera’s, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a beautiful and haunting tale set in Japan in the 1800’s, is set to take the stage at the National Arts Centre from April 19 – 26, 2014. Madama Butterfly features Shu-Yung Li, Antoine Belanger, James Westman, Armine Kassabian, Joseph Hu, Valerian Ruminski and Gene Wu.

I hope to see you at the opera!

For more information on Opera Lyra and their upcoming season and events check out their website here!