What this blog is about

It's an art blog.
Mostly about theatre... but also a healthy dose of pop culture, politics and shameless self-promotion.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday updates and gifts

Introducing Adrian Ellis -- new composer for SuperHeroLive.com

I blogged several days ago about having a new development grant in for Superhero Live! Well, as you may imagine, developing SHL! while me and Mike are in Toronto and Shaun and John are still in Edmonton would be a bit tough. So, after much discussion, Shaunny and Johnny have released their music to be adapted into a new iteration (dependent on funding). Our new composer: the brilliant and multi-faceted Adrian Ellis.

A new iteration you say? Well, yes. We're adding singing. We're going into a full on Rock Opera, instead of "spoken-word-rock-opera." After the holidays, I'll go into more detail about the reasoning for our new direction for the show... but for now, I'd like to share a gift from Adrian to all of you.

Adrian has recorded a number of alternative Xmas songs everyone to listen. Click here to download or stream 5 excellent tunes that will put a smile on your face during the season. My personal favourite is "It's Christmas and I'm drunk."

Happy fourth day of Channukah and Merry Xmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

To project or not to project

More random thoughts on multimedia theatre…

CHEECH, Edmonton 2005, courtesy MichaelCowie.ca

Starting with, “What the hell does multimedia theatre mean anyway???”

It’s one of those lovely bits of language that gets used all the time but nobody really has a handle on its actual definition… just more of a sense of the kind of reaction it’ll produce. Like “physical theatre” or “new media.” Or, “group think.”

Let’s do a quick Google search, shall we? According to Whatis.com, when multimedia is used in live situations it can be “the use of a speaker or actors and ‘props’ together with sound, images, and motion video.” Or, if you check out Scala.com, “The term multimedia describes a number of diverse technologies that allow visual and audio media to be combined in new ways for the purpose of communicating.”

A slide show? A film strip? With (gasp!) sound design??? … yah ok. But nowadays, more likely than not, we’re talking computers. The last few shows I’ve been involved in, a good portion of the production was run off of a Mac laptop. Most young indie producers and designers I’ve recently met own a Mac laptop. Which means more and more shows will continue to incorporate multimedia elements, whether they are designed to fall under the umbrella of “multimedia theatre” or not.

Accessibility is wonderful. But just because my sound design is collection of mp3 tracks played during blackouts, I’m not going to label my show a multimedia production. In fact, few artists would describe a piece as multimedia… even if they’ve included digital projections or other elements... because there is a negative perception that persists.


Maybe we should look at artists who would rather describe their productions as multimedia than not (… and I’m going to grossly over-generalize here, so please bear with me). I’m going to wager that any theatre artist that labels his/her work as “a multimedia production” has either made a huge error in marketing the piece, or is generally much more concerned with form rather than content. Or, (if I’m more charitable) said artist is more willing to experiment with form… but still at the expense of its substance.

This is a problematic approach. I mean, yes, there is a market for experimentation. But it’s a small one. If you’re okay with that, then go hard. But don’t expect the general public to swarm to your show. An audience’s greatest fear in checking out new works of art is to be made to feel stupid. Experimental theatre usually makes a lot of smart people feel stupid.

I believe in experimentation in theatre. However, I don’t believe in experimentation for the sake of experimentation… unless you’re in school or (maybe) if you’re workshopping a piece. The difference lies in approach. Are you asking, “How can I incorporate multimedia into this work?” You should rather be asking, “What do I need to tell this story?”

A cynic would answer, “You don’t need anything except an audience.” Which I suppose is true, in a kind of fundamentalist point of view. But the key to the question lies within the artist who’s asking, “What do I need?” Because any story will speak to each artist differently, and each artist’s approach to communicating an impression to an audience will be just as unique. S/he is only limited by what tools are available for use.

… Am I then saying that some artists are more predisposed than others to incorporate multimedia elements into their productions? Of course I am. Just as some dancers are more predisposed towards contact improv rather than ballet. And some directors are more predisposed to Shakespeare rather than collective creation. And so on.

As much as my career thus far has generally played out on the sunnier side of experimental theatre, I may be more conservative in my approach than one might guess. While performing in Edmonton, I labeled myself as an actor specializing in physical theatre and collective creation. This didn’t necessarily mean I was always looking for a way to incorporate those elements into my work. It was more of a call to likeminded souls who saw the world in similar ways. It meant that the questions were larger than "How do we incorporate physicality into the work?"; rather, the questions revolved around “What do we want to talk about/ what do we want to create?” Content was key. Form -- experimental/ physical/ collective/ whatever -- was intrinsic.

Now, again, our mistake was less about approach (in my humble opinion) but rather in marketing. (… And, to some extent, execution, but that’s another issue altogether…). We advertised under those labels: ‘collective creation,’ ‘physical theatre’ and even ‘experimental’. And, somehow we were shocked when throngs of people weren’t lining up to buy tickets. Go figure.

Anyway, enough about me: I was talking about incorporating multimedia into theatre, and ended up somewhere along the lines of audience stigma and perception. And marketing. Why on earth does every blog entry always end up about getting bums in seats???

My point is this: multimedia will be used in theatre more frequently because it’s easy to use and increasingly accessible. Does it signify a grand shift in theatrical style? Maybe. Will it lead to larger audiences coming to check out theatre? Probably not – but, as with anything else, it depends on the specific production.

… Is it necessary?

It depends. Start here instead: Who are you?

Pause, Edmonton 2004, courtesy MichaelCowie.ca

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wolverine preview

I'm sure those of you who've been waiting for this movie have already seen this trailer. Those of you who haven't, enjoy!


Monday, December 15, 2008

The Force is strong with me

Photo courtesy MichaelCowie.ca

"You WILL give me funding for my multimedia production"

I wasn't planning on writing about multimedia in theatre until much later... when my thoughts had coalesced and formulated a thoughful thesis on the subject. But the world has conspired to get me typing sooner than I anticipated. (Which is fine, as I'm a terrible procrastinator and usually need a good kick in the pants to get moving.)

Namely, the recent announcement of STAR WARS: A Musical Journey, aka. the musical-but-not-really-a-musical stage show. From the PR:

The show features an extensive selection of Oscar-winning composer John Williams' unforgettable scores from all six
STAR WARS movies into an extraordinary two-hour musical event that features scenes from the movies, live narration and, at The O2, the 86-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and choir.

Lucas' foray to the stage didn't really get me thinking about theatrical form because of its "innovative" structure. Personally, I think that Lucas is banking on the success of Video Games Live, to build a pre-existing market for his musical journey.

Er... other than the legions of STAR WARS fans that will throw down cold hard cash at whatever scheme Lucas concocts to further milk his signature franchise. (Myself included.)

Rather, I got thinking about form because what Lucas is doing is similar to what I want to do with my own pet project Superhero LIVE! (A little background about SHL! can be found on this blog here, and here.) I even have a couple of grants submitted for development.

Now, I don't pretend to imagine that I can amass the same kind of budget for my piece like Lucas can. And, after the '07 Edmonton Fringe run of SHL!, I had pretty much given up on any further evolutions of the play as "too damned expensive." Until I went to the Aurillac International Street Theatre Festival earlier this year and saw a piece called Run For Love (clik link and scroll down for You-Tube links and pics from the show). It was an outdoor concert/multimedia performance co-created and produced by the Betontanc dance-theatre company and Matej Andraž Vogrinčič, with live music by EZ3kiel. It was inspired by that scene in The Battleship Potemkin (S. Eisenstein) and featured live-feed video of dancers filmed in front of a blue screen with their images imposed against prerecorded film, projected onto 2 large screens.

Oh yah... it also had 7,000 slinkies crawling down a 2-story raked plynth.


What inspired me was less the content of the piece but rather its spectacle, its popularity at the festival, and the fact that they actually got it done. I'm sure that they spent at least a third of their budget on the slinkies, and yet, the idea of producing something in a similar format... well... it just doesn't seem as impossible anymore.

So this post is less about multimedia theatre theory, but rather about possibility. It is possible. And, judging by shifts in the theatrical world around us... hell, it may be more and more probable.

As long as Lucas doesn't f@#k it up for the rest of us.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Star Wars: The Musical.

Hm. I'm guessing it'd cost double Teymour's Spiderman musical (... if it was true, that is).

Thanks to Daniel Martin for pointing it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I just stumbled upon a nice little profile at the G&M of One Yellow Rabbit's Denise Clarke.

Even though we come from nearby stomping grounds, I’m not as familiar with OYR’s work as I am with their enviable reputation. Namely, how they’ve taken a mandate to create and produce experimental theatre and, somehow, made it sexy. Not just among fellow artists (although OYR is adored for their artist outreach and training initiatives, like their annual Summer Lab Intensive.) They’ve been around for over 25 years, and their annual High Performance Rodeo is one of Calgary’s signature festivals. People flock to OYR’s weird little shows, and I’m envious and grateful for this all at the same time.

Sexiness is a state of being. For theatre, it’s not just the responsibility of a single performer, although a performer’s state of mind, confidence and physicality can definitely help. But it’s more than just the performers. It’s an entire image – it’s a brand. OYR is one of the few theatre companies that actively court sex appeal as a part of their overall raison d’être (maybe not in it’s official mandate, but…). As such, it also courts an audience that sees itself as ‘sexy’ by association. Which is really cool.

… And smart as hell.

In January 2006, I was especially lucky enough to participate in the first ever Interrium project, offered by Springboard Dance, listed as an “adjacent festival” to the HPR. (I say “especially lucky” as it was the one and only year that it paid artists to participate rather than the other way around.) During week 2 of the project, we got to work with Denise. I don’t know about the other artists, but I was very intimidated to meet her. OYR’s sexy brand can also be intimidating – we associate “sexiness” with “hardness”. The moment I did though, any apprehension I had just melted away. She’s an incredibly warm and giving person beyond just being a talented artist. I learned a tonne from her. I hope to work with her again someday.

If you’re in Toronto and you have a chance, check out some OYR shows at the Young Centre for Performing Arts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Et tu, Ignatieff?

It’s the fashion these days for directors to set a new production of Shakespeare in an alternate historical timeline. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is a little tired of these productions, especially as each new interpretation seems to be more and more of a stretch. So please don’t read the rest of this post as a ringing endorsement of the style (…er, fad).

However, for argument’s sake… and because my little art blog seems to be all wrapped up in politics right now, anyway… if you were to apply Shakespeare’s political tragedy to our own Canadian one, who would you cast in the titular role: Stephen Harper or Stephane Dion?

The answer, of course, depends on your point of view – pro-coalition or not. I imagine if you are a Conservative supporter, then your pick would be Harper. The idea of the greatest leader of the Roman Empire assassinated by his own government via multiple stab wounds to the back is probably more than fitting to your view of Canada’s current political crisis. This would probably also serve to keep your blood boiling hot.

However, considering the Conservative party’s current stance on culture, I’m tempted to assume that an ardent Harper supporter has neither read nor seen Julius Caesar. As such, s/he wouldn’t know how minor a role Caesar actually has in the play. (I do: I’ve played him.)

Stephane Dion is a more apt choice – especially if you replace the Roman Empire with the Liberal Party of Canada. (Considering how many years the Liberals have governed the country since confederation, this is actually not that much of a stretch.)

The real question then becomes how to cast the true main characters in the piece: Brutus and Marc Antony? Does Michael Ignatieff become Brutus – the man who ended up leading the assassination plot (albeit reluctantly) for the good of the Empire, and takes power? And does Bob Rae become Antony – the well spoken orator who rallies against Brutus, and ends up defeating him by setting up a triumvirate government with Octavius and Lepidus (read coalition government with Layton and Duceppe).

Hm. This is kinda fun. I can see why directors can be lured to this approach… However, my focus is not in producing Shakespeare, so I won’t be looking to produce this any time soon. Feel free to use, if you like.

I’d buy a ticket.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prorogation official

Harper gets his wish.

On the National Post's live blog of the event, this comment basically sums it up:

12:02 Kenny Yum: In the House, Speaker has adjourned the sitting. Some cheers, some jeeers. CPAC goes blank.

"They blew it"

... is what my wife said to me as the grainy, Youtube quality video of Stephane Dion was broadcast over some national stations. I sighed, and then agreed.

Hard to disagree. While this whole battle for hearts and minds of the Canadian public may not make a whole hooey of difference to what's happening now over at Rideau Hall, but if the GG does grant prorogation to Harper, then this video will haunt the coalition's quest for legitimacy.

Harper's an idiot. While he stokes the fires of his man-made political crisis into a national unity crisis, he would have a helluva an easier time convincing the nation that the coalition is unstable due to incompetence more than anything else.

Mr. Dion, if you want to quell fears that you're not staging a coup d'etat, then it might help if you avoided making your video look like it was filmed by Al Qaida. For goodness sake: you have the ENTIRE CULTURAL COMMUNITY BACKING THIS COALITION... you could've probably gotten one of us to help you.

Well... I should probably calm myself down. All is not lost, of course. As an artist, I know what's like to occasionally fail miserably (scroll down, you'll find me). However, like Andy Field sez, "don't fear failure."

Here's an excerpt:
So what do you do when the dust settles on a show like that? After the polite and slightly pained smiles and thank-yous? What did (Orson)Welles think, standing there in the darkened theatre, after the acrobats and the stagehands and the chorus line had gone home? Did he agonise over what could have worked better, what he could have changed, how he might have worked harder? More likely, he was already charging blindly on to the next project; the songs and the dances and the collapsing scenery already a forgotten memory.

Onward friends. Onward.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dark Oscar

Okay... enough with the political theatre. Let's get back to some geekdom here.

Check out this unofficial campaign to get The Dark Knight nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Nice. It has my vote.

Executive Power

In one of my previous blog post, It's in the Governor General's hands now..., I wrote that the GG has to act in the best interests of Canadians.

Whoops! Scratch that, I'm totally wrong.

The GG is not (supposed to be) a political office, just an exectutive one, and a highly symbolic one at that. She's supposed to act on the advice of the Prime Minister, except in only very very very VERY rare circumstances.

However, now that Harper will ask the GG to prorogue Parliament (as early as this afternoon), he has basically brought politics to the office, where none should exist. He is asking her to make a political decision -- either prorogue Parliament, which favours the Conservative agenda, or let the vote of confidence proceed, which favours the Coalition.

Under the guise of democracy, he's basically giving the British Crown a legitimate hand in governing our nation again.

This is a lose-lose situation for the GG. She cannot help but take sides in this mess.

She has a third option: to prorogue Parliament but restrict the powers of government to the most mundane daily operations. By doing this, she still follows the advice the of the first minister, who still hasn't officially lost the confidence of the House, but refuses Harper's governence until he actually earns that confidence. She also manages to keep the powers of her own office -- an unelected position -- at minimum.

While this would probably be a wiser move on the GG's part to retain some semblance of sanity within our constitutional monarchy governance system, it will also be the absolute WORST decision for the country because it handcuffs the government from taking any action on the economic crisis until the House resumes.

So, while politics are not supposed to be a part of her decision, nor are the interests of the nation (beyond those that apply to constitutional law) supposed to be part of her decision... how can they not be? She's only human.

I don't envy her decision at all. But I will be watching...

Nice little Q&A over at the G&M about the GG and constitutional procedure.

Here's an interesting and intriguing tidbit:

David Mordecai from Toronto Canada writes: Given the editorial in The Globe and Mail yesterday, I was wondering if the Governor-General can suggest to the Prime Minister that he step down in favour of a different leader of the Conservative Party?

Bob Beal: Hi David: You asked a question that I have not seen raised in the miles of copy on this story, and it is a good question.

The answer is most definitely yes. The Governor-General has a right, and a duty, to advise her prime ministers. I don't know how often it happens today in Canada, but something the public is not aware of is that prime ministers usually meet often with governor-generals, or in Britain, prime ministers with the Queen. This, of course, used to happen much more frequently. Queen Victoria was regarded as a bit meddlesome, and she played favorites between prime ministers.

But as the great British constitutionalist Walter Bagehot wrote: "The sovereign has ... three rights -- the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More constitutional info...

Courtesy of the Globe & Mail.

Still don't know whether or not the government will fall. Very tricky indeed...


A very detailed analysis of all of the government's options to avoid falling can be found here at the G&M (Andrew Steele again).

While all the talk has been about proroguing the House, if I were a betting man, I would go with Option #1 as being the Conservatives "nuclear option," conveniently also the most fitting with their typical playbook.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's in the Governor General's hands now...

Uh-oh, did someone say "prorogue"???

A lot can happen in a week. Unlike the Department of Culture, I'm not quite ready to bestow victory on the coalition government yet. Look at all that has happened in the last week, hell, the last 3 days. December 8th is still a long way away.

However, despite the Conservatives' best efforts, it looks like the Liberals-NDP-Bloc coalition is ready to go, for at least 18 months and at least two federal budgets. It's really quite remarkable that these parties managed to shelve their differences (at least for the last week) in order to get this thing together. No matter what anybody says (secret deal or not), this was a HUGE mountain to climb for all involved.

But. The government has yet to fall. Harper does have one procedural 'out'. He could try to prorogue the House. In short, this essentially means that he ends this session of Parliament before a vote of non-confidence can be made, until January 27th. If he does try this (highly unlikely) procedural tactic, it will be difficult to maintain his argument that the proposed L/N/B coalition government is undemocratic.

As unlikely as this scenario might be, well, this seems to be the week for unlikely political scenarios. In any case, whether the government falls or Harper attempts to prorogue the House, the end result is that the final decision about the future of our government will be the Governor General's responsibility.

(For a detailed description why proroguing the House still means that the GG has final say, check out Andrew Steele's blog over at the Globe & Mail.)

But let's assume that the government falls on December 8th. If so, Harper must go the GG and tell her that he has lost the confidence of the House. He will then, presumably, ask her to hold another election.

The Conservatives are not going to roll over on this one. They are fighting, and will continue to fight, tooth-and-nail to get public opinion on their side. This is important because the GG is obliged to act in the best interest of Canadians. If she feels that the Canadian public is not being represented properly by the coalition government, she will call for another election.

Alot of the material I've read so far has noted that the GG will be facing a lot of pressure to let the coalition take a shot at governing because the current Parliament has barely lasted two months, and it's too soon for Canadians to go to the polls again. However, if the Conservatives can persuade her that more Canadians believe that the government has been "stolen" by the coalition, or that it's somehow undemocratic that coalition should govern, then the writ shall fall.

And again, let's consider also the tools the Conservatives have to wage this war:
1) Stephane Dion: Not only was he the least popular leader in the last election, but he's also stepping down in May. The Conservatives will argue that Liberals' leadership problems are not only destabilizing, but even less democratic because Canadians will not have had an opportunity to vote for the next PM of our country.
2) The economy: Again, let's talk optics. The stock market fell more that 9% (the worst since "Black Monday") on the same day the terms of the coalition were announced. This had more to do with the United States admitting that they're already in recession, and some ridiculous commodity fluctuations, but that's not going to stop the Conservatives from using this story to their own advantage.
3) Michaelle Jean: (This one is dirty, but I've already seen it start to surface on forums and comments sections.) Remember back when Ms. Jean was appointed as the new GG after Ms. Clarkson, and ugly rumors about her husbands separatist past began to surface? Well, they're coming back up again, and the spin this time is that the GG will only let this coalition government fly because of her sympathies for Quebec separatism.

My personal opinion is that all of these arguments are somewhat desperate. At the same time, it matters more what the rest of Canada thinks... or to be more specific, what the GG percieves what Canada thinks. It's really all in her hands.

And she's currently in Europe. Her information is coming from her advisers and from the media. So, really, no one really knows what her state of mind is at the moment.

What do we do about it?

The DofC asked us to write our MPs. Great (please continue) but maybe we need to take it one step further. Write the Governor General. If you want this coalition to happen, let her know how you feel about it. Here's how:

Comments, questions and suggestions may be sent by e-mail at: info@gg.ca.

The full title of the Governor General is:

Her Excellency
the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General of Canada

The title of the Governor General's spouse is:

His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond, C.C.

If you are writing to the Governor General, address the letter to:

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A1

(no postage necessary)

You can write to His Excellency at the same address.

In either case, the salutation is: Excellency

If you want to write to both of them, address the letter to:

Their Excellencies
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
Governor General of Canada
Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond

The salutation is: Excellencies

One more thing. According to the National Post, the GG does have one other option. She could just say "no." As in no coalition and no election. As in, go back and figure it out. Make it work.

Again, I think this is a stretch. What the NP seems to be arguing for is an end to our political party system, and have each member be allowed to have a free vote on an issue by issue basis, so that the PM doesn't need the confidence of the House.

A free-vote system is an interesting way of doing things... but it's not the way our parliamentary democracy has been built. That's more in line with the American system and, unless I'm mistaken, no Canadian really wants any part of that.


Trouble in paradise... looks like the Liberals are not the only party with internal problems.

Check it out.

Thanks to Department of Culture for pointing it out.

Here's another one...