Into the Abyss With Nasstasia Yard

22 01 2012

It comes as a mixed blessing that Nasstasia Yard’s debut EP “For Someone Else” occupies a mere centimeter or so of spooled analogue tape. While the beatific beauty manifest in each of these four songs leaves us craving more, the most casual listen also confronts us with a distilled, monstrous form of melancholy that few dare to observe, much less confront. But with “For Someone Else” Yard stares at her monster’s bared, bloody teeth and proceeds to embrace him with broken arms; lucky listeners are the beneficiaries of her enormous bravery.

The darkness Yard confronts on “For Someone Else” is mirrored by its cover. A child’s face is shrouded by darkness; a silent scream bursts from open lips. The look in the child’s eyes, a disturbing alloy of terror and rage, does not extend a glimmer of comfort or hope. We don’t simply observe her pain; we are responsible for it. These songs were composed for someone else, after-all.

Yard channels the child’s silent cry with “Generate”, the album’s tiny first track, which recalls Elliot Smith’s earliest lo-fi recordings. While completely devoid of hope, Yard’s voice is strikingly beautiful in its vulnerability. Yard promises that if she “could keep generating more to give” she’d keep going; just as the song comes to premature halt. We are forced to follow Yard into the abyss.

For the rest of the album, Yard’s weary voice somehow summons the necessary strength to plod through a haunting territory of textures which include dropped pennies, shattered wine glasses and wire brushes. When the play button pops up at the end of side two, we are relieved though undoubtedly our instinct is to turn the tape over for another go.

A musical equivalent to a Lars von Trier film, Yard tastefully conveys a darkness that is tragically ignored in our cheap and shallow North American culture. The album is not intended to the weak of heart. But I urge you to summon the necessary courage, listen, and listen often. You will be rewarded.

http://nasstasiayard.bandcamp.com/

To read more of Nick Lyons’ writing, check out his blog here.

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Sing, Sing a Song

28 08 2010

Sometimes a castle just isn't enough, as you'll find out in Happily Ever After?

If it seems like there’s a lot of musicals at the Fringe this year, you’re right. I count eight—Smalltown, 13, Z-Day, Phil the Fluter’s Ball, Joe’s Cafe, The Cardboard Castle, Mahagonny Songspiel and Happily Ever After?—with another five if you add in the music-heavy likes of Canning Season, Reckless Daughters, Die Roten Punkte, Route 66 and Breakfast in Vegas. Maybe it’s the Glee factor, maybe it’s the fact that there’s a growing appreciation for this oft-criticized theatrical genre, but whatever the reason, it’s nice to hear a few more songs filling out the Fringe lineup.

But if you can’t get into Z-Day—where the combination of positive buzz and an enormous cast seem to be packing them in—and you’re hampered by the 6:00 timeslot of Smalltown, why not check out the likes of Happily Ever After? at one of this year’s new venues, Langham Court.  Talking to one of the cast at Fringekids this afternoon (where an unexpected appearance by Ariel, Belle, Cinderella and Snow White was enough to cause a mini-mob scene by the under-12 set), it sounds like there’s a lot to like in this charmer about life after fairy tale endings. And, while they were regularly selling out their houses at the Edmonton Fringe (and garnering 3.5  to 4.5 star reviews), their first show here only played to about a half house. Another good reason to go is that their run wraps up early, playing daily only till Tuesday. S0unds like a good bet for an unexpected fave to me. Just be sure to leave the young ones at home—while it may look like Disney, word is there’s more to these princess diaries than you’ll find in the cartoons.

—John Threlfall





Who Wants Candy?

27 08 2010

Fringe veteran TJ Dawe dishes on noisy candy wrappers, mid-show texting and other audience no-no's

For anyone who caught Thursday’s opening night performance of Lucky 9, the latest (and possibly most intellectually engaging) autobiographical monologue by Fringe deity du décennie TJ Dawe, one moment will linger longer than whatever Ennegram type you might be: the intrusive crinkling of a candy being unwrapped—a sound that literally stopped the show.

Given Dawe’s trademark intricately woven subplots, it came as a bit of a shock when the action crinkled to a halt mid-anecdote so he could directly engage with she-with-the-candy. “It’s just as loud if you do it slowly,” he offered, giving the now-chagrined gal the chance to finish unwrapping. He even went so far as to quote past Quirks and Quarks host Jay Ingram’s book, The Science of Everyday Life, where the audio dynamics of crinkling plastic have been investigated.

The show did go on, of course, but the momentary intrusion really brought home the importance of those obligatory front-of-house speeches Fringe audiences so enjoy. (Quick sidenote: Who’s gonna be the best front-of-houser at this year’s Fringe? My money’s on Kelly Hudson at University Canada West, Venue 16, but let’s see who can challenge her!) It also made me wonder how often a touring demon like Dawe has to put up with poor theatrical manners.

“Crinkly candy wrappers are distracting for sure, but there’s an added layer to it when someone’s unwrapping one carefully—they’re genuinely trying to be quiet and not interrupt anything,” says the creator of past Fringe hits Totem Figures, The Slipknot and Labrador. “And it always amuses me that an actor can prepare for years, doing vocal training, doing whatever they can to make sure they’re audible right to the last row, and all it takes to completely upstage them is crinnnnnnkle . . . crinnnnnnkle . . . crinnnnnnkle . . .”

So how does Dawe deal with it? “Having worked with performers like Chris Gibbs [The Power of Ignorance] and Charlie Ross [The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy] for years, I’ve learned that if anything happens that the audience notices, the worst thing you can do is ignore it,” he explains. “To acknowledge it, make a joke out of it or especially to weave it into what you were saying anyway—like when I described the Enneagram Type Two, the Helper, and offered the sneezing woman a Kleenex—the audience loves it. It proves the performer is really in the moment, and reacting to exactly what’s happening right there and then. That’s one of the things theatre has to offer; no TV show or movie or novel will do that.”

But are candy wrappers the worst thing he’s had to deal with? Not a chance. “The most annoying interruption from an audience member isn’t even what most people would think of as an interruption. Cell phones, candy wrappers, I can handle that. Texting—that’s irritating, especially because the texter doesn’t seem to realize their screen LIGHTS UP and attracts the attention of anything sitting beside them or behind them, much less the performer on stage who can see them texting. But the one that really gets me is people who put their feet on the stage.”

Of course, this is only a problem in venues where the front row is close enough to a low stage (not a concern at Venue 12, Fairfield Hall, this Fringe, where he’s playing on the floor . . . at floor level . . . ah, you know what I mean). So, feet up on the stage—just ignore it and go on? Not if you’re TJ Dawe.

“I asked a woman in the front row in Orlando to please take her feet off the stage, and she did, but sat there shooting daggers at me for the rest of the show, with her arms folded,” he says. “And in Edmonton just last week, my venue was set up in a way that looked like people might do it, so I wrote and printed off little fortune-cookie sized pieces of paper, saying, ‘Out of respect for the performers, please keep your feet off the stage’—and then attributed each one to a different person: Amelia Earhart, Sugar Ray Robinson, Margaret Laurence, Annie Lennox, Mel Torme, Marshall McLuhan, God.”

And?

“It worked.”

Hmm, wonder what God would have to say about candy wrappers?

—John Threlfall





You Wanna Sit Where?

27 08 2010

Christel Bartelse in Oneymoon (foto by David Bukach)

Top tips for a Finer Fringe

Veteran Fringers likely already have a game plan and know the festival ropes, but if you’re relatively new to the whole Fringe scene, here’s a few handy tips to help make it a better experience for everyone.

• Plan ahead. Take the time to peruse the schedule and do your best to plan which shows you want to see when. It’s always better to see productions by A-listers like Jem Rolls and TJ Dawe the first week, when the line-ups are shorter.

• Dress in layers. If the wind is up, it can be bloody chilly standing in line, but boiling hot once you get into the venue. Dressing in layers gives you the option of not needing to strip naked to cool down, and unintentionally becoming part of the show. (Unless it’s The Human Body Project, in which case your nudity may be appropriate.)

• Pee before the show. Really—if you have to leave during a show, you won’t get back in. And it’ll give you something to do while you’re waiting in line.

• Take a water bottle. There’s not always a cafe or store handy, especially later at night.

• Take a snack. Depending on how many shows you’re going to, you might need the staying power. Just don’t open it during the show, especially if it’s crunchy or comes in a crinkly wrapper.

• Take a small pillow. Some of those chairs are killers, and if you’re seeing multiple shows in a single day, your lower back will love you for it.

• Take a pen. At some point, someone will recommend a show to you and it’s always easier to make a note right there than try to remember it later.

• Take something to read. If you’re Fringing solo,  it’s always good to be able to pass the time somehow: a book, a comic, a magazine, whatever—we suggest a copy of Monday Magazine, of course.

• Go high tech. For those technologically inclined, check out the snazzy iPhone Fringe app. And be sure to take the Fringe survey on the way-more-snappy iPad . . . especially if you haven’t used one yet.

• Spread the word. Tell your friends about great shows (just not during the show, of course, as texting during a production is a definite no-no), talk to strangers in line-ups about what you’ve seen, or want to see.

• Get on your bike. Most Fringe venues are within a short cycling distance of each other,  and it’s way easier to park a bike than it is a car—especially if you’re in a hurry. And Intrepid has introduced increased bike parking at key venues this year as part of a greener Fringe.

• Think about where you want to sit. If you’re freaked out by audience participation, don’t sit in the front row. Some venues have risers, which can afford a view above the crowds. If you’re very short, sit close; if you’re very tall, sit at the back. And if you’re very weird, don’t sit by me.

• Have a back-up plan. Some shows sell out quickly; having another option already chosen for that time slot will help you avoid disappointment. Failing that, consider buying advance tickets; sure it costs a bit more, but you won’t have to worry about not getting in.

• Thank the volunteers. The Fringe couldn’t run without all the volunteers who help keep it all together, so be kind to them and say thanks. (And remember, it’s not their fault if you’ve forgotten your Fringe button.)

• Write your own review. Think all those critics are full of shit? Jump on The Craig and have your own say. (Critics, sheesh—what do they know, anyway?)

• Remember how it all works. All the money from ticket sales goes to the artists, while the money from your Fringe button goes to host company Intrepid Theatre . . . who definitely aren’t trying to stick it to you with extra costs.

• Blame the provincial government. Don’t like the fact that show tickets are slightly more expensive this year? Blame the BC Liberals, who introduced the HST and forced ticket prices up.

—John Threlfall





Hot Night, Hot Shows

26 08 2010

It was a hot time in the Event Centre (aka Fringe Venue 5) last night when a more-than-packed house sweated out the two-hour madness that is the annual Fringe Preview Night. Fringe organizers Intrepid Theatre asked me to host the event—no pressure there, mind you, getting a theatre critic and journalist to emcee for a room full of actors, directors and audience members eager to see this year’s crop of talent (good thing no one was reviewing my performance!)—but things clipped along fast and furiously, with nearly 40 of this year’s 60-plus Fringe shows offering two-minute snippets of their productions.

And while you hate to play favourites (Die Roten Punkte, anyone?), the beauty of the Fringe Preview is that it lets you get more a sense of the various shows on tap than you can by just reading the program guide. For example, Christel Bartelse and Jimmy Hogg’s ONEymoon (A Honeymoon for One) played far more hilariously on the stage than it reads on the program page and has suddenly shot up my list of shows to see.

Similarly, the post-Disney musical Happily Ever After? by Edmontonians Poeima Productions couldn’t help but grab audiences—hard not to when you’ve got princesses Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Belle and Cinderella singing about their lives after their respective princes have come. And no, it’s not just another Sondheim rip-off; clearly, these ladies are out to prove there’s more to fairy tale deconstruction than Into The Woods.

Hey Snow, how's life without dwarves? Find out in Happily Ever After? (foto by David Bukach)

Local talent was in fine form too, with strong performances by the likes of Missie Peters (Public Confessions of a Public Servant), Ingrid Hansen and Elliott Loran (Ginger Ninjas, as directed by Fringe veteran Britt Small), Dave Morris (Dave Morris is an Asshole), Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson (Peter n’ Chris Save the World), and a chunk of the cast of Theatre SKAM’s Smalltown: A Pickup Musical. And speaking of musicals, there’s a lot of them this year, with last night’s snippet from Z-Day: Anthem for the Post-Zombie Apocalypse looking particularly, uh, tasty; anyone who’s keen on the burgeoning undead musical genre (which now includes shows like Once More With Feeling, Evil Dead, Ride the Cyclone, Young Frankenstein, Rocky Horror and, arguably, even Forever Plaid) should try and catch this one.

Past Fringe faves Elliott Loran and Ingrid Hansen return with the Britt Small-helmed Ginger Ninjas (foto by David Buckach)

In the colour-me-intrigued category, chalk up the likes of Reckless Daughters (the Carole King/Carly Simon/Joni Mitchell team-up featuring Laura Harris of Pitch Blond fame), The Human Body Project (less a scripted show and more a naked conversation about, well, whatever comes up), Canning Season (with its just plain weird demonic children’s music), Gonads and Gametes (enthusiastically described by creator and performer Jeff Leard as “a jizz-filled splooge-fest”) and the frenetic Tokyo pop that is A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup.

It all topped off with the annual flying-of-the-freebie-tickets air show, which saw Intrepid staff and volunteers winging colourful paper airplanes into the house, each of which was good for a pair of opening-night tickets for various shows. Here’s hoping we didn’t put anyone’s eye out with a poorly aimed plane!

Intrepid honcho Janet Munsil with an armload of freebie-ticket airplanes ready to launch (foto by David Bukach)

Finally, a tip of the hat to perpetual funnyman Nile Seguin (Fear of a Brown Planet) for taking a few good-natured jabs at my emceeing . . . and my beard. Hey, if it was worth making fun of, I couldn’t have been to bad!

See you in the lineups.

—John Threlfall





Welcome to Monday’s 2010 Victoria Fringe coverage

26 08 2010

Our Fringe flyer collection so far...

The temperatures are cooling, the breezes are a bit more blustery and the leaves—and show flyers—are starting to dot the ground; it must be time for the 2010 installation of the Victoria Fringe Festival. As usual, we here at Monday are going to do our darndest to provide you with the most comprehensive coverage we can. Our team of reviewers—myself, John Threlfall, Robert Moyes, Otiena Ellwand, Mike Vardy, E.G. Anderson, Chris Felling, Robyn Cadamia and Jay Morritt—will be reviewing all 65 (or 64, with the new program changes) shows on offer at the 24th annual Fringe, which is the biggest one yet. Plus, keep your eyes here on the Monday blog, where we’ll be posting quirky Fringe dispatches throughout the festival. Read the rest of this entry »








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