Jun. 27, 2012 - Issue #871: Edmonton 2012
Edmonton on Edmonton
Some of the city's finest reflect on their most memorable artistic experiences
Last year at this time, Vue asked a number of our favourite Edmontonians to talk about the places within the city that made it feel like a home (rather than a place that merely houses you and your stuff).
The answers we received made up a lovely patchwork of insights into the overshadowed nooks and areas of the city that resonate with its residents. So, this year we've decided to revisit the concept with a slightly adjusted focus: rather than talking about the places that make Edmonton feel like home, we asked a number of the city's best and brightest to tell us about some of the most memorable artistic experiences they've had or seen in the City of Champions: the shows or performances that still resonate long after they wrapped up, permanently burned into warm memories by a gut-connection.
The answers we received back paint a lively picture of arts in the city: some of those we talked to mentioned their own triumphant projects while others raved about what they'd seen others getting up to. A curious number of them discussed relatively recent events, which in a way suggests that artists aren't just looking back but around and finding inspiration in what they see happening today. It also suggests that perhaps Edmonton's best artistic years are still forthcoming, or unfolding around us in the present day. Either way, it makes for a lovely patchwork of arts over the years.
Trevor Anderson (Filmmaker)
The Man That Got Away
[With The Man That Got Away]I knew I was biting off more than I could chew. It's an epic movie musical that tells the whole life story of my great uncle, [with] six original songs that start at the top of the parkade spiral and continue all the way down to the bottom. It's a whole epic movie-musical on a downward concrete spiral with a huge cast, a cavalcade of awesomes—I think a cast of 36, and then a crew of over 60. So certainly the largest, most ambitious film project I've ever attempted. And Edmonton really stepped up and helped me with the heavy lifting, and we got it done as a real huge group effort; friends from all sorts of different artistic communities helped and contributed. People from the theatre community, the film community, the music community ... and we only had three days [laugh]. It was really something that only could've been done by that many people working that hard. I'm really proud of the result, and it's doing really well internationally, and I think all of us can be proud of that, because it was definitely a major group effort.
Todd Babiak (Author)
The Exquisite Hour
Ten years ago, I went to see a Fringe play called The Exquisite Hour by Stewart Lemoine. I had seen Lemoine's plays before, of course. They were funny and terribly smart, arch, often screwball. This was different. There was a quietness and a gentleness about The Exquisite Hour, a quality of yearning I hadn't felt in any of his plays before—and it's a feeling I rarely feel in any theatre at all. The play was funny and sad at once. I can't remember if it was set in Edmonton but it felt like Edmonton so poignantly my wife and I wandered out afterward and stayed up until midnight in a hotel bar talking about its Edmonton-ness. Over mint juleps, I think, which we had never had before. A mint julep is a decidedly grown-up drink. The play was grown-up and the city felt grown-up, having Lemoine here thinking and writing in it. We were still kids, of course.
Marty Chan (Playwright/Author)
The Bone House
The one that springs to mind on a personal level is my play The Bone House.It was one of those plays where I'd been working for several years writing plays for the Fringe and a couple of mainstage shows. I noticed the kinds of audiences that came to see the shows I'd written were, y'know, over 40, 50 – 60. But with The Bone House, that was where I started seeing kids that I've never seen come to any of my shows before. These were Twentysomethings, teenagers. They were flocking to see the show and I thought that was an interesting change, because as I was working on that play, I kept wondering, "What kind of theatre is going to attract a younger generation to the Fringe, or to live theatre?"
VW: And what do you think it was? The Bone House has quite a reputation of being a genuinely unsettling show.
MC: I think it was one of those fear factors: people of a certain age like being scared, people over a certain age don't like being scared, or they get scared by other things. This was all pre-9/11, so I guess we were willing to be scared by slashers or serial killers.
Ellen Chorley (Theatre Artist)
A Midsummer's Lucid Dream
One of my favourite things I've seen for quite a long time was A Midsummer's Lucid Dream, which was by Thou Art Here productions. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream but they did it in the University. You had to come down to the LRT station, then they did the whole play roaming through the LRT station up the university, through HUB and then into the Fine Arts Building, and up and down the stairs in the Fine Arts Building. It was frickin' amazing. ... They had an audience member be Bottom—they didn't have anyone else in the show, it was just the Lovers and Tanya and Puck and Oberon and the Duke and Dutchess at the beginning.
For me, I've seen a lot of roving or environmental theatre that's started to work for me, but then it gets to a point where it doesn't work anymore for me. But for this show I felt for the whole time that everything that was environmental really worked. Like the fairies were all people that were working at the university—they were all in maintenance clothing, stuff like that, which was sort of magical but also was like, "I could actually believe that's what would happen here." It was honestly like I was seeing Midsummer Night's Dream for the first time in my life. That's how new it felt to me, and I got really excited by it, and I thought the direction and the performances also really really helped me to buy in to it. ... They're doing it again at the Found Festival in a different location, and I'm going to go again. Because I loved it so much.
Chris Craddock (Playwright/Performer)
When I was like 21, 22, I saw a trio of shows, all in one season, which I feel were seminal to my taste and direction as a theatre artist myself.
And they were Daniel MacIvor's House, which he was performing himself on I believe his original national tour. That was in the now defunct Casa theatre, and it was presented by Workshop West. It was the first real solo show I had seen, and obviously it was masterful. And I said, "I too will make solo show," because they rocked. They could rock. I could see that, and what he was doing was so athletic and challenging, and it just seemed like, y'know, the thing to do. Daniel MacIvor made it look good [laugh]. And I said, 'I too.'
I also saw Polygraph by Robert Lepage and Marie Besnard. That was their famous collaboration. Some say it's the show where we went, "Whoa, Robert Lepage, this guy, he makes the best shows." [laugh] 'Cause it was physical, and it was strange, and it had multimedia, and it had movement, and it was sexy, it had nudity, it was non-linear and yet it told a story. It was artistic and yet accessible. It made me see that innovation was important as well as content. And the third, Brad Frasier's Unidentified Human Remains ... along the same line, it was modern and sexy and profane, political. Those three shows really showed me what theatre could be, I think, and I tried to make theatre since then that was a combination of those experiences.
And I'll tell you what. They were all either produced or presented by Workshop West Theatre. Workshop West was kicking ultimate ass back then, and that season made me. [laugh]. Maybe it was over two seasons, but it was within short order. 'Cause I saw them all in the Casa Theatre, and it's a goddamn shame that they made it into a fuckin' air conditioner.
VW: Where was it?
CC: It was downstairs at the Jube. Calgary had one just like it and they both turned into fuckin' air conditioners.
Jessica Jalbert (Musician)
Edmonton I Love You
[Comedian] Jon Mick put on a going-away show at the Garneau Theatre: Edmonton I Love You. And that was like a nice big Edmonton-affirming show, and probably my favourite of at least last year, anyway.
Jon Mick did a really good job of curating it—it was great to see so much Edmonton talent all in one night. Some of my favourite bands; the night opened up with Field & Stream doing a cover of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," which is kind of life-affirming in itself. And then it just pulled form across so many different scenes in Edmonton. There were lots of comedians: Jon did a set, Mike Robertson, and a couple other guys, Craig Martel. ... There were some really great films being shown—a friend of mine, Giulliano Palladino had some awesome stuff, and there were some Felt Up sketches. And then there were a whole bunch of other musical acts that I thought were pretty amazing as well.
I'm never super proud of my own performances, so mine wasn't anything to brag about, but we did get to play as well. It was just a super-special night, and it was awesome to see so many people out to support so many things, and just a big huge pat on the back to the Edmonton arts scene basically.
Wilfred Kozub (Musician/Visual Artist)
I had to search my brain for this, but as far as my own live stuff goes, I'd say the most memorable gig we played was about a year ago. And we play so occasionally, and so sporadically that that's the only one that came to mind. That was one that we did at the Artery. The cool thing about that was I had an art show for the month in June about a year ago. Hardly any people came to the opening of my art show, but it worked out that it didn't really matter. At the end of the art show, the last week, I decided to put together Wilfred N and the Grown Men to play a show, so that I could close it out and play to my own paintings. And not that many people came to the gig either, but that didn't seem to matter because we had an awesome time. It was a really funny evening: people really had kind of a laugh riot.
But what happened was, I also do Royal Bison [Craft and Arts fair], and I would find that people would come to my Royal Bison table—where I was selling art prints and cards and CDs and vinyl and stuff like that—and say, "Oh, I saw these paintings at the Artery." And a number of times people said that: "Oh, I saw your show." And then people would come and say, "Oh, is that 'Thunder on the Tundra'?"—they would see the vinyl, which is one of our songs—and then they'd say, "Oh, I saw your show at the Artery." It kept on coming back to that, that there actually were people there who dug it, and then they were chuckled because it was an amusing evening.
So, for me, that's been a very small thing, but it seems to keep on coming back to me in little ways. Not so big in terms of people there, but there were people there.
VW: You said it was an amusing evening. Was there something that made it so amusing?
WK: Unlike earlier in my music career, when I was painfully shy onstage, I've become sort of a blabbermouth. And I tend to talk about stuff about our songs, little incidents, then my partner Jamie Philip joins in on it, too, and somehow I guess we're kind of entertaining.
Christine Lesiak (Clown artist)
This is Cancer
This is Cancer is the one that jumps to mind immediately. The way Bruce [Horak] walks the knife edge of comedy and tragedy. The boldness of the show. The structure merged with improvisation.
As an artist, it's inspirational to me, and one of the main reasons I was hell-bent on studying bouffon this year.
VW: When you say boldness, what do you mean?
CL: The audacity of having a character that personifies something as universally hated as cancer come out and seduce the audience. Knowing some people in the audience will want to punch you.
Craig Martel (Manager, Wunderbar)
I would say Joel Crichton's play, Twenty-Five: The Musical, that was at the Fringe last year really blew me away. I think it was the fact that, number one, we became a Fringe venue on a whim, and we were unsure about Joel's, cause the other [Fringe show at Wunderbar] was Jon Mick's play, and we were like, that's definitely going to work here. And with Joel's, there was a sincerity and professionalism that I wasn't expecting. And seeing a play that was named best in Fringe, and should've been, realistically, at some nice theatre somewhere, at some small sweaty room. It was just kind of endearing, and worked really well.
Other than that, I would say seeing Gobble Gobble play at the SOS Street Festival. That was a really unique experience, because you had everybody—young and old, you had homeless people, Hudson's douchebags, all out just dancing to CJ's insanity. I thought it was really cool that many people come together, and like something that is kind of quirky, and challenges you. It wasn't something that was easy, and you expected—honestly, I thought it was going to flop. And I just saw how well it worked. It was amazing.
The other experience was one semi recently, The Found Festival fundraiser at Wunderbar. When Distance Bullock closed out the night. It was one guy playing in our back room, everything running through his amplifier, and 50 people just sitting down around him on the dirty floor, not even whispering or breathing loud—nothing to ruin the mood of the whole thing. I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen that large a crowd engrossed by somebody they didn't know. Nobody knew him coming in. And he just came in and won over the room. If someone came in and were talking at even a quiet level, people were shushing them like, 'Don't, this is a moment. Then the people would go, 'Oh shit, this is a moment.' And you try to create those moments all the time, but it's really rare to achieve them, and sometimes you don't except them to be achieved. They just surprise you.
Katrina Smy (General Manager, Mile Zero Dance)
In terms of forward-thinking and innovation, I'd like to toot our own horn this time, and say that Mile Zero Dance's "Unplugged" Salon (January 2012) was truly daring and inspirational, and something I had not seen attempted in a theatre performance in Edmonton. Our infamous Art Salons (since 2005) feature short works from artists of all disciplines, and scan the range from emerging to professional, and boast both local and visiting artists, and are veritable smorgasbords of new work and experimentation. And experiment we did with 'Unplugged'! Staged at The Westbury Theatre, we generated the power in the theatre for sound, lights, and video, through bicycles.
Collaborating with the genius of Music Is A Weapon, who provided us with the bicycles and a bank of batteries (we provided the manpower), we created a groundbreaking theatre event, where the audience was divided into small crews who actually had to pedal for power to generate the next act in the show. Dylan Toymaker provided LED light design wizardry to create a beautiful, intimate, colour palette for artists to work with.
Going into this, we really weren't certain how effective it would be, or how much we may have to do without, in terms of light and sound. In the end, we were able to produce a really solid, fun show that looked great, and it was a good challenge for the artists involved too, to have to think outside the box a little, in terms of how they were going to stage and light themselves. The evening included works from Mump & Smoot's Mike Kennard, alternative puppeteer Simon Glassman, Azimuth Theatre's Apocalypse Prairie, Edmonton's poet-laureate Anna Marie Sewell, dancer Richard Lee, and an intimate, acoustic set from reggae band Souljah Fyah.
Our 2011/12 season "Off the Grid" was seeped in ideas about technology and performance, and most of the season's productions were about experimenting with cutting-edge motion technologies and audio interfaces used in performance. So with 'Unplugged', we went in the opposite direction, and looked at conservation and energy as a curiosity in art making.
As an independent dance artist working in Edmonton since 1995, I have always felt Edmonton to be a prairie city that is home to an incredibly talented and intrepid arts community. Pushing the boundaries of what is possible, while being grounded in a rich history, is part of what makes the Edmonton arts scene so exciting. And the audiences here are open to dialogue and possibility, and are willing to forge ahead with artists on innovative journeys. Well done Edmonton. Keep pushing the envelope of what is possible."
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