Calgary Fringe – Sideways – Big Rock – Sunfest – Burgers and Alzheimer’s

Everyone’s life goes sideways at times. Mine has and I’m sure so too has yours. Our journey is never what we expect but that doesn’t mean a change, of course, is a bad thing it just means we often end up in places we never imagined. And that’s what a lot of theatre is about. It’s not about when things are going well. It’s about when things go sideways. And so, I decided to spend Friday and Saturday at the Calgary Fringe Festival – hoping that maybe by immersing myself in that festival I’d gain some insights into my present and perhaps some clarification about my past. At the very least I was hoping to see some terrific theatre, hang out with some friends, and grab a brew and ponder life’s mysteries.

Source: Calgary Fringe – Sideways – Big Rock – Sunfest – Burgers and Alzheimer’s

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Life is an act

That’s the title of my blog here on WordPress. It’s also my Twitter handle. And I often think about what it means. Life is an act. An act of what? An act of love? An act of kindness? An act of bravery? Or is it all an act as in – we are never truly ourselves, but only acting out our parts in the social fabric of our community. I think it’s all those things, but I think what most resonates with me is the idea that we are acting in life instead of being genuine.

Have you ever noticed the familiar pattern of social interactions? I’m sure you have. We meet someone new and depending on the conversation there is already a catalog of conversations both us and our new companion have available for interacting. Mention a particular topic and then judging on their reaction and comment back we can banter mindlessly for ten minutes.

I often think that a lot of plays and movies fall into this trap as well. The writer sits down to write their scene and out pours the socially prescribed script. Not that that’s necessarily wrong. In fact, if social interactions didn’t follow some form of expected pattern we wouldn’t really know how to interact, would we? So, for example, a comment about the weather will elicit a comment back about the heat, or the rain, or global warming, or some other aspect of the weather from which we take our next cue. But, if someone responds too differently we fail to communicate.

And failing to communicate is, I think, what we do best. We don’t really listen because to really listen is exhausting. It’s much easier to put the automatic pilot on and just motor our way through the day. But what if you do that in life. What if you’ve been on autopilot your whole life? Well then hopefully before you reach the end you realize you’re on autopilot and you make a change. That’s the nice thing about being human – you can change. You don’t have to be on autopilot. You can choose to live more authentically if you want, of course, I suppose you could also just choose to stay on autopilot as well if you want.  Clearly, I need to give this more thought. In the meantime, I wonder, have you ever found yourself on autopilot, and if so what did you do about it?

Valentine’s Day at NewMarket National 10 Minute Play Festival

“We’ve received submissions from every province in Canada and from Canadians from around the world. We’ve received scripts from China, Tasmania, Australia, Ireland, many states throughout the U.S., and so on, and I think that Canadians are catching on to the idea that this is their festival.”

Michael Halfin, Artistic & Executive Director NNPF

“Telling and hearing stories keeps us in the emotional and intellectual company of one another. I think deep down, people desire to know they can rely on other people, and stories and theatre can offer that by creating a like-minded culture.”

Dale Sheldrake, Director Valentines’ Day

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I’m very excited that my play, Valentine’s Day, is one of twenty-four plays being produced at the 2018 NewMarket National 10 Minute Play Festival. The NNPF is a festival dedicated to Canadian plays and the diverse voices of this country and takes place forty minutes north of Toronto in Newmarket Ontario and runs until Sunday, July 29th.

The plays are grouped into four themed Pods with six plays being presented in each Pod. Tickets are just twenty bucks per Pod and each Pod is presented four times during the festival. Valentine’s Day which is part of the “off BALANCE” Pod is about Tom who remembers the day fifty years ago when he met the love of his life, Heather. The production is being directed by Dale Sheldrake and stars Dan Karpenchuk as Old Tom, Tiffany Deobald as Heather, Kyra Van Den Enden as Karen, and Ilya Iyashyk as Young Tom.

I talked with founder and Artistic Director of the NNPF Michael Halfin and to Dale Sheldrake the director of my play about this year’s festival.

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JAMES HUTCHISON

Michael, I understand you had retired but after eight months of retirement, you decided to create a national festival of ten-minute plays. Where did the idea for the festival come from, and why did you take on the challenge of putting the festival together?

MICHAEL HALFIN

I’ve always been fascinated by the ten-minute play format, and as a drama teacher, I’d found it to be a great format to teach students dramatic structure, acting process, characterization…really the whole package that full length plays offer. Moreover, I’d read these plays and sometimes find myself weeping at the end – and they were only 10 pages long! It wasn’t long before I was getting kids to write their own ten-minute scripts and inviting professional playwrights into my classroom to dramaturge with them. The results were outstanding. I knew this was a format for writers, actors, and audience, and so the opportunity to create a national play festival exclusively for Canadian writers would be so inviting to playwrights because of the format’s tight structure and huge dramatic pay off just seemed logical to me.

JAMES

One of the things I really like about the festival is the fact that people have a chance to see twenty-four original Canadian plays. What has been the response from the playwriting community across the country?

MICHAEL

We’ve received submissions from every province in Canada and from Canadians from around the world. We’ve received scripts from China, Tasmania, Australia, Ireland, many states throughout the U.S., and so on, and I think that Canadians are catching on to the idea that this is their festival. We don’t “theme” the festival. People can write whatever they want, and what we consistently find, is that Canadians tend to write scripts on the same themes in a given year. So, we select twenty-four and they just naturally fall into the six-pack pods we build around themes that are common in those six scripts.

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JAMES

Why should someone come to the festival?

MICHAEL

I think they should come for the plays! This is theatre for people who’ve never liked theatre. My 22-year-old son hates theatre, but even he likes this format. He said, “Dad, I know if five minutes in I don’t like the play, at least I know a new one is coming five minutes later. I don’t have to sit there being bored for two hours!” For experienced theatre-goers, the themed pods of six plays give them a full diet of what they’ve come for. We also build the festival around the plays. Last year, local visual artists curated an entire exhibition around our four pod themes, and we’ll be doing that again. We have 14 playwrights coming to do readings of some of their other work. We have director and actor talkback sessions, historical tours, and have built Buskerfest into our program so people have lots of live performances to see on the streets. It’s fun. It’s great theatre and it tells us who we are as Canadians. All of these activities are free. The only thing you pay for is your theatre ticket. Somebody tell me where you can get more bang for twenty bucks?

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One of the exciting things about having your plays produced at festivals is the chance to connect with the artists who are producing your play. I’ve made connections in England, and Australia and now in Newmarket Ontario.  A few weeks ago I connected with the director of my play Dale Sheldrake.

JAMES HUTCHISON

Dale, you’re directing four plays in this year’s festival. Which plays are you directing and what attracted you to each particular play?

DALE SHELDRAKE

I’m directing Hero by Peter Cavell, For the Love of Austen by Stefanie Curran, Pausing At The Fringe by David Healey, and Valentine’s Day. Each play has aspects of love involved in its story: the need for love, lost and found love, new love, old love, restricting love, freeing love. These aspects of love shift and evolve in each play and reveal how present and important love is to every person’s day, existence and lifetime.

I was drawn to these plays because they’re well told but also because three of them have messages of hope in them regarding love. That’s a theme I like to share with audiences when possible. Valentine’s Day is different because of its context, but still, the main character, Tom, reflects on how his life was more meaningful than he could have ever hoped for because of his love for his wife Heather.

JAMES

You’ve had a rich and successful career working in film and television on lots of different shows including The Handmaids Tale and Penny Dreadful. You’re a playwright and published poet, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, a singer and a musician. As a person deeply involved with the creation and telling of stories why do you think people have this deep desire to hear and tell stories?

DALE

People need and want social interaction, whether it’s in person or not. Stories tell us about each other and give us a lens to look at ourselves and our behaviour. Live storytelling, like theatre, brings groups of people together, entertains us, and lets us share in emotional experiences without being personally involved. It’s safe and it feels good to laugh with others, and shed a tear with these sudden communities and friendships. Telling and hearing stories keeps us in the emotional and intellectual company of one another. I think deep down, people desire to know they can rely on other people, and stories and theatre can offer that by creating a like-minded culture.

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The Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival runs from July 25 to July 29th. Tickets are just twenty bucks per show and there are four shows of six plays based on a common theme available to see. You can get tickets and check out the complete festival schedule at the Newmarket National Play Festival Website.

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This is a shorter version of a longer blog post at jameshutchison.ca and has been edited for length and content. You can read the entire blog post by following this link: NewMarket National 10 Minute Play Festival Celebrates Canadian Theatre

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Calgary Fringe 2018 – Ten Picks and an interview with Festival Director/Producer Michele Gallant

There are plenty of Fringe Festivals around these days. They vary in size but they all offer patrons the chance to see something new, something different, something funny, something thought-provoking, and maybe something offensive! But then that’s the Fringe Uncensored, Unexpected, and Unforgettable.

We’re only a few weeks away from the Calgary Fringe Festival and I’ve made my initial list, which you can see below, of my want-to-see theatre. This year’s festival runs from Friday, August 3rd to Saturday, August 11th and if you’re a frequent fringer then plan on buying a Superpass. Superpasses offer substantial savings and come in packages of five, ten, or twenty. You can buy superpasses, individual tickets and check out the entire fringe schedule at the Calgary Fringe Website. 

I spoke with the current Festival Director and Producer of the Calgary Fringe Michele Gallant about this year’s Festival.

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Calgary Fringe Festival Board VP, Jane Mackinnon and Calgary
Fringe Festival Director and Producer Michele Gallant out promoting The Calgary Fringe Festival.

JAMES HUTCHISON

What is it about the Calgary Fringe that you personally love and keeps you motivated to do all the work and organizing required to present the festival every year?

MICHELE GALLANT

I love the fact that the fringe is an all-inclusive, embracive, and that there’s no segregation. Everyone from all backgrounds of life can be involved and participate. All are welcome. I love that artists are free to choose what they want to perform, in what style, and on what topic. I love that patrons have a wide variety of acts to choose from, and how willing they are to take a chance on something new. I love the passion of our volunteers to support the arts and to have fun while doing it. I love that the artists support each other and that one-hundred percent of the artist set ticket price goes directly back to the artist.

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Festival Artist Mark Ikeda out promoting his festival show Sansei: The Storyteller – Calgary Fringe Festival 2014 – Photograph James Hutchison

JAMES

The Fringe festival couldn’t operate without its volunteers. What kind of volunteer opportunities are there for people who want to get involved with the Fringe?

MICHELE

There are so many and varied volunteer opportunities available. Everything from ushering to box office staff to concessions to Lounge monitor to fringe ambassadors to being on the Board of Directors or the Management Committee. If you have a specialized skill like marketing or legal services and you want to help support the fringe I’d love to hear from you. And we’re still currently looking for some volunteers to help out with this year’s fringe. You can find more information on our website.

JAMES

What advice to have to first-time fringers and what can they expect?

MICHELE

Expect the unexpected! Be open for anything. Leave no stone unturned! There’s something for everyone. The number one thing I consistently hear from patrons is how passionate the artists are about what they do and their shows. They may not always like what they see but that never deters patrons from seeing more shows, in my experience. You can expect to see some amazing shows, meet some great people, and feel good that the money you’re paying goes back into the artists’ pockets.

Frivolous Fools, Ian McFarlane, Ryan Reese, and Geneviève Paré out promoting their show The Hudson Bay Epic – Calgary Fringe 2014 – Photograph by James Hutchison

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It’s never easy to pick what you want to see and this year is no exception. I like to try and see a variety of shows and different styles of performance so I’ll build my list to include some mask or clown shows, dance if there is any, a monologue or two, musical storytelling and even a conventional one-act play if one is being presented. And then of course when you attend the festival certain shows will come to your attention through social media or when you meet some of the artists who are out and about promoting their own shows and sometimes that will be a deciding factor. But until I journey down to the Festival here for now, in alphabetical order, is my initial list of ten shows I’d like to catch at this year’s Calgary Fringe.

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Back Left

Description: Back Left, created and performed by Isabel Aguerreberre and Ezra LeBank, explores an ordinary day flipped upside down. Using intense physicality, partner acrobatics, and a pair of goggles, we invite audiences to discover new worlds hidden in daily activities. We will attempt this with humour, courage, and absolute attention.

Genre: Physical Theatre/Dance/Comedy

My pick because: The Fringe always provides you with opportunities to see different forms of theatre and so I try to include some physical comedy and dance in the mix.

Rating: PG (Age 9+, Educational Topics) Length: 50 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

 

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Balls of Yarns

Description:  A wild new world from Paul Strickland (2016’s BEST OF VENUE hit “AIN’T TRUE & UNCLE FALSE”) where creaky doors sing, libraries are separate from truth-braries, and extraordinary stories travel through yarn and tin-can. In short, David Lynch meets The Wizard of Oz in this musical comedy!

Genre: Comedy / Music / Storytelling

My Pick Because: I’ve seen Paul Strickland before and I want to see him again and hear what new tales he’s spun together for this year’s fringe – especially with a description like David Lynch meets The Wizard of Oz.

Rating: General Audience (Age 13+, Solo Performance) Length: 60 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

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Clarence Darrow

Description: Seadreamer presents Brian Jensen in David W. Rintels’ Clarence Darrow. Darrow was once the world’s greatest lawyer. To 1920’s America, he was the people’s hero, a defense lawyer that fought for the underdog, and a staunch opponent of the death penalty. From the Scopes Monkey trial to his own, see how Darrow shaped modern law and order through his life’s work.

Genre: Storytelling / Drama / Comedy

My Pick Because:  Well, first of all, I’m interested in Clarence Darrow. In this world of social media where the voice of unreason seems to have grown louder, I’m hungry for a reasonable and rational voice from the past. So I spent a little time reading about him and doing a little research of my own. This was a man who shaped history through the cases he took and the opinions he had. Spencer Tracy played Darrow in the movie Inherit the Wind which dramatizes the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Scopes Monkey Trial was a legal case where substitute high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating the state of Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach evolution in state-funded schools. Let me say that again – made it illegal to teach evolution – that’s a frightening thought and a doorway to the dark ages.

“The world is made up for the most part of morons and natural tyrants, sure of themselves, strong in their own opinions, never doubting anything” Clarence Darrow

Now the other reason I want to see this play is because it’s being performed by Brian Jensen whom I’ve seen and enjoyed on the Calgary stage. This one-man show is a perfect vehicle for Jensen’s dramatic talents and I’m excited to see his performance. When I read the description of the show and saw who was performing I immediately could see and hear Jensen in this role.

Rating: General Audience (Age 14+, Adult Language, Solo Performance) Length: 75 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

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Fake Gnus

Description:  Starcatcher Entertainment presents Tony Binns, Trevor Campbell, Shannon Leahy, and Oksana Porteous in Fake Gnus which weaves together a Daily Show Style current events satire with hilarious sketch comedy in a way that absolutely no one asked for, but we did anyway. This is a brand new show from “Obscene But Not Heard” writers Tony Binns and Trevor Campbell.

Genre: Sketch / Comedy / Satire

My Pick Because:  I like sketch comedy. I like political humour. I like to laugh and Star Catcher Entertainment has made the promise that this show has “hilarious sketch comedy.”

Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Adult Language) Length: 45 Minutes, Tickets: $ 11.00

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Forget Me Not: The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit

Description:  A murder mystery set on a dementia ward from comic, poet, playwright, performer and psych nurse Rob Gee. ★★★★★ “Smart, witty and razor-sharp!” CBC ★★★★★ “Hilarious and heartbreaking” Victoria Times Colonist ★★★★★ “Compelling!” Saskatoon StarPhoenix ★★★★★ “A triumph!” Winnipeg Free Press ★★★★½ “Fiercely funny, heartbreaking and very much a must-see” Edmonton Journal

Genre: Comedy / Spoken Word

My Pick Because: Because Rob Gee is brilliant! I’ve caught his previous shows and I’ve enjoyed his insights, writing, and frenetic performances. He’s completely unique and wonderfully profound. His stories come from his insightful observations and knowledge of having been a psych nurse but his shows are always rooted in a sense of humanity. This is one show I guarantee will sell out fast so get your tickets early.

Rating: Mature Content (Age 14+, Adult Language, Solo Performance) Length: 60 Minutes Tickets: $ 15.00

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Hushabye

Description: Sizzle & Spark are at it again. Playwrights and performers Jacqueline Russell and Jed Tomlinson present Hushabye – A Doomsday Comedy. The show is described as a dark comedy about the extremes we go to to have a perfect life and how easily it can all blow up in our faces.

Genre: Clown / Comedy / Physical Theatre

My Pick Because:  A Doomsday Comedy – heck Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite films – so can you blame me – they had me at Doomsday.   And then, of course, you have to take into account that Sizzle & Spark arent’ new to the Stage and have provided some of “…the funniest visual tomfoolery we’ve seen on a Calgary stage…” high praise indeed from theatre critic, playwright, and director Louis B. Hobson, of the Calgary Herald

Rating: Mature Content (Age 13+, Sexual Content, Adult Language, Smoke/Fog): Length: 75 Minutes Tickets: $ 15.00

 

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Magical Mystery Detour

Description: 20-Time ‘BEST-OF-FEST’ winner, Jemma Wilcox, returns with a new & exhilarating award-winning show, exploring the unexpected twists and turns of life, love and being on the road… 1 WOMAN. 23 CHARACTERS!

Genre: Comedy / Comedy/Drama / Physical Theatre / Multi-Character Solo Performance

My Pick Because: I like the title – Magical Mystery Detour – that sounds interesting. 20 Time Best of Fest Winner – well that must mean a record of success which is probably due to talent I would think. And then 1 Woman – 23 Characters – that sounds like fun and heck who wouldn’t want to hear about the unexpected twists and turns of life, love and being on the road.

Rating: General Audience (Age 13+, Adult Language, Solo Performance) Length: 60 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

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Marcus Ryan – ¿Hablas Inglés?

Description:  One Man. One Beard. One Backpack. One-way ticket. 17 countries. No idea! Wild adventures, hilarious mishaps, an epic adventure through Latin America. All created and presented by the man with the beard and the backpack Marcus Ryan.

Genre: Comedy / Storytelling / Multi-Media / Stand-Up Comedy

My Pick Because:  Sold out runs and high praise from other festivals so I’m interested in this man’s odyssey. Plus I think it might be a nice companion piece to The Magical Mystery Detour show being presented by Jemma Wilcox.

Rating: General Audience (PG Age 13+, Educational Topics, Solo Performance – the risk is you’ll be compelled to travel after seeing my show!!) Length: 60 MinutesTickets: $ 15.00

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Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land

Description: Meet Nakota. A young boy who is trying to write the greatest story ever. One day, his grandfather, 103-year-old Rocko, comes over for a visit. Next thing Nakota knows, he is whisked away into a world of stories that are right below his feet. Within the land. Written and performed by Josh Languedoc and an Ottawa Tonight Top 10 Pick at this years Ottawa Fringe.

Genre: Storytelling / Performance Art / Spoken Word

My Pick Because: Well, I love the idea of a grandson and grandfather story. There’s something universally appealing about the new generation and the older generation coming together and gaining insights about each other. And because this is an indigenous story I’m willing to bet much of it will be new to me and part of going to the fringe is the opportunity to hear and see stories told from a different cultural perspective. And hopefully, we’ll see more and more indigenous stories being told on the fringe circuit and on the Calgary Stage.

Rating: General Audience (Age 5+, Solo Performance), Length: 45 Minutes, Tickets: $ 11.00

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Terms and Conditions

Description: In this physical exploration of opposites attracting, watch breathtaking acrobatics and slapstick comedy merge in a hilarious homage to roommates everywhere. Lifting each other up – literally and figuratively – two young women navigate the awkward terms and conditions of female friendship and living together. Created and presented by Taylor Casas and Cynthia Price.

Genre: Clown / Dance / Circus

My Pick Because: Slapstick comedy. Yup, that’s it. Slapstick comedy. I love slapstick comedy. And apparently, slapstick comedy and breathtaking acrobatics merge in a “hilarious” homage to roommates everywhere. We need comedy it lets us laugh at the truth about ourselves and others. And I think since I allowed Clarence Darrow a comment earlier I’ll allow him one more.

“If you lose the power to laugh, you lose the power to think.” Clarence Darrow

Rating: General Audience (Age 7+), Length: 50 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

***

Okay That’s ten shows. So, why are there now eleven shows in my list? Because of social media. Now because social media artists are able to start promoting their shows before they even get to the fringe playwright and performer Erika Kate MacDonald replied to one of my tweets about the Fringe Festival and some of the shows I said I was looking forward to seeing.

So, I checked out Erika’s show. Which was easy to do because she has all her press releases and publicity photos ready to go and so I checked out Erika’s show and there are now eleven shows on my want-to-see list for the 2018 Calgary Fringe.Evacuated program image WITH TITLE 450X450

 

Evacuated! An Out-of-This-World Adventure Story

Description: When Erika was 17 years old she left small-town New Hampshire for the first time to spend a year living in Indonesia as a high school exchange student. Little did she know, nine months later, in May of 1998, riots and protests would force the struggling country’s then-president Suharto to step down, and in a terrifying series of events, Erika was forced to leave. Now, nearly 20 years later, she finally tells the story of her untimely evacuation. Evacuated! is an investigation not only of her own memory of these events, but also the nature of memory itself and its role in our identities and relationships with ourselves and others.

“A fascinating true story… sometimes dreamy and ethereal, sometimes terrifyingly real. Creatively presented and beautifully written, this is Fringe fare at its best.” – 5 STARS FringeReview.ca

Genre: Storytelling / Comedy/Drama / Travel Adventure

My Pick Because: Erika Kate MacDonald made me check out her show and when I did I found out it’s a fascinating story from a talented artist and that this show has won multiple awards and high praise. This is also going to be one of those rare highly personal small audience experiences. Evacuated is being presented at the Inglewood Fine Arts Gallery and seating is limited, but one of the things you’ll find about Fringe Artists is that they perform their show with the same level of emotion and impact regardless of whether or not they’re playing to a theatre of two hundred or a theatre of thirty. And if you’re one of those lucky people who get to see a small venue show like Evacuated, I guarantee you, it will be an amazing experience.

Rating: Mature Content (Age 13+, Solo Performance, Adult Language) Length: 60 Minutes, Tickets: $ 15.00

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Right, so those are my picks, but there are a lot of other shows you can pick from including the 5 Step Guide to Being German by Paco Erhard, She Was a Great Dad by Susan Jeremy, The Cockwhisperer – A Love Story by Colette Kendall, AMAZE – A Comedy Magic Show by David A. Eliot, and Squeeze My Cans by Cathy Schenkelberg. My suggestion is you check out the full schedule at the Calgary Fringe website and make your own selections. The festival runs for a week so there are plenty of opportunities to catch shows. You can head down on the weekend and spend the day fringing, drinking beer, hanging out with friends, making new friends, and seeing lots of different shows or you can always drop in during the week and catch a show and go for a meal. The Calgary Fringe is a friendly festival where the performers and volunteers make you feel welcome.

Happy Fringing!

This is a shorter version of a longer article at jameshutchison.ca if you want to read the entire article follow the link: Uncensored, Unexpected, Unforgettable Theatre: Calgary Fringe 2018

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Calgary Fringe Festival 2014 – Photograph James Hutchison

Kanopy – Kansas City Confidential, The Seven Samurai, and Chocolate Sundaes.

Kanopy

Have you heard of Kanopy?

Kanopy is a film library that you can access for free through your Calgary Public Library membership or any other library that’s a part of the network. If your library isn’t signed up you can let Kanopy know and that will set the wheels in motion, so to speak.

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Every month you get ten credits and you can play ten different films. They have documentaries and foreign films and quality dramas and a whole assortment of weird and wonderful stuff. Some of it’s mainstream. Some of it’s not. You have two days from the time you start watching a film to finish watching it. And once finished watching the film you can watch it again – as many times as you want during that two-day window.

I’ve used Kanopy a few times over the last couple of months but last weekend – the long weekend in Canada – where we celebrate Canada Day – I did a bit of a binge and watched a bunch of films including Kansas City Confidential.

Kansas City Confidential by Phil Karlson.

This 1950 film noir thriller has a decent plot and it’s fun to watch but nowadays the pace feels a bit slow and some of the tough guy stuff comes across as more comical than gritty. But still, a fun film and I love noir – The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart is still one of my favourite films. In fact, my play, Heart of Stone: A Jessica Quinn Mystery, is partly inspired by The Maltese Falcon. 

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John Payne in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Here’s the plot for Kansas Confidential from Kanopy: “In this noir-thriller, three convicts are contracted by a mysterious benefactor to pull a bank heist. The four men, having worn masks during the crime, are complete strangers and are anonymous to one another, but plan to meet up in Mexico to divvy up the loot.”

I love that plot – that’s why I watched it. I thought it was a cool idea. Nobody knows who the other members of the gang are. It’s a device that other filmmakers have no doubt used and it’s an idea I like. I might use it myself in some form. Always lots of possibilities when a group of crooks pull a heist and don’t know each other’s true identities. After all isn’t that what Reservoir Dogs is about to a certain degree? Or else maybe I’ll just write about a group of crooks who don’t know who Mr. Big is. I kind of like that idea better because then the story becomes the search for Mr. Big. It focuses the story. There’s always a Mr. Big, isn’t there?

My rating 3/5 stars

The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa.

Okay, why I’d never seen this film I don’t know. It’s a classic. Any film buff worth his salt would have seen this one. But in my defense, I have high blood pressure so I’m on a low sodium diet which gives me a legitimate excuse. Granted it’s a stupid excuse, but then aren’t most excuses stupid? Or maybe it just means I’m worthless when it comes to being a film buff. Yes, I like films but I’m not crazy about film – it’s not my life – and as I’ve gotten older I find it harder and harder to find stories that keep me entertained. It’s one of the penalties and benefits of getting older – you’ve seen more and heard more so sometimes you want more.

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Yoshio Inaba as Gorobei Katayama,Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo, Daisuke Katō as Shichirōji , Minoru Chiaki as Heihachi Hayashida, Isao Kimura as Katsushirō Okamoto, Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada, Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō

Anyway, I watched The Seven Samurai on Sunday and I loved it. It’s a long film clocking in at 207 minutes, but I never found it boring and maybe that’s because at its root it’s a story about survival in a hostile world. It’s primal. It’s not a kind depiction of man and it makes no attempt to humanize the bandits – who are terrorizing a small village. These men do evil things and therefore that makes them evil.

Here’s how Kanopy describes this 1954 classic: “One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, SEVEN SAMURAI tells the story of a sixteenth-century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. This three-hour ride from Akira Kurosawa — featuring legendary actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura — seamlessly weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into a rich, evocative, and unforgettable tale of courage and hope.”

It’s a brutal film. The fight for life and death ends in a torrential rain storm that turns the village into a muddy and bloody battlefield where the bandits are systematically slaughtered.

Do you like Superhero films? I’m not a huge fan mostly because no one ever dies in a Superhero film. Superman will never die – neither will the Hulk. Batman lives forever. And for me without the threat of death, there is no tension. The hero always wins. And that’s fine. I don’t want anyone to change their film for me. Superhero movies make billions so they’re doing something right.

But for me, since there’s no actual tension in watching the fights and chases the film needs to be entertaining through spectacle. Sort of like fireworks. Fireworks usually aren’t about story as much as they’re about creating a spectacular show. But even fireworks – can become boring.

Now here’s the funny thing. Even though I’m not a huge fan of Superhero movies I loved The Avengers Infinity War. I didn’t think I would. I liked the first Iron Man movie. Loved the first Deadpool. And I thought Ant-Man was terrific fun. But most of the other superhero movies don’t do much for me. So, when I saw Avengers Infinity War and enjoyed it – I was a little surprised but totally delighted. I had fun! Loved the villain Thanos because he was motivated from his understanding of good. He reasons that what he has to do is bad but that’s okay because it’s all for the greater good.

It’s sort of like that Star Trek episode Conscience of the King where Kirk thinks he knows an actor in a theatrical group is really the  Governor of a colony who had put 4,000 people to death. The reason – the colony was starving and so desperate action was required. So he did what Thanos did. He culled the herd because they would have all starved if he hadn’t but it was unnecessary in the end because the supply ships arrived. So, of course, he became a hunted man and went from mass murderer to Shakespearean actor. No greater fall have bequeathed a man. Anyway, I’ve gotten totally sidetracked. I’ll talk about Superhero movies, Star Trek and Shakespeare another time. The Triple S as it’s better known.

So, what did I think of Seven Samurai – it’s a great film and I can see how easily it adapted into the Hollywood western the Magnificent Seven. I like that movie too. But then I like westerns and I love all those old Spaghetti Westerns and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is one of my all-time favourite films.  And the Seven Samurai feels very much like a western where the gun was the law.

Another reason the film works so well, I think, is because there’s a cost to victory. Not all the Samurai live. And that makes it real. When everyone lives and there is no cost then the story feels false. In life, there is always a cost to victory – to everything we do. At a minimum whatever we do costs us time.

My rating 5/5 stars

Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa

So, having just watched 207 minutes of Japanese cinema I dived back in and watched Rashomon another film by Akira Kurosawa. I watched this film because my son told me about it when he’d seen it in a film class at University and he thought I’d enjoy it.

The film is told from multiple perspectives. Not unlike The Affair by Sarah Treem. Have you seen The Affair? The first two seasons are brilliant. The third I liked and the fourth has just started. And basically, the fourth season feels like it’s totally ignoring the third season. From what I’ve been able to gather – though I haven’t dived very deep – people didn’t like the third season as much as I did and in particular people weren’t as fond of one of the characters but I loved the third season. It worked for me. So, I was surprised to find season four having all the main characters moving forward in different geographic locations with little reference being made to the past season. There were two or three lines of explanation about the past and then it’s as if season three never happened. It felt sort of like a Bobby Ewing in the shower moment to me. But because I like the show – and I love the creators – I’m willing to give season four a chance. We’re three episodes in and I’m hoping it’s leading somewhere amazing.

Rashomon Poster

Anyway, Rashomon is a story told from different perspectives. The question is which story is true?

Here’s how Kanopy describes the film: “This riveting psychological thriller that investigates the nature of truth and the meaning of justice is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Four people give different accounts of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife, which director Akira Kurosawa presents with striking imagery and an ingenious use of flashbacks. This eloquent masterwork and international sensation revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema–and a commanding new star by the name of Toshiro Mifune–to the Western world.

Now here’s the interesting thing for me personally about watching this film. Last week I rewrote the opening to my play – Stories from Langford. The opening monologue needs to give context to the entire play and it wasn’t really doing that until the rewrite. Now the opening talks about the fact that you don’t ever really know people but at the same time, people probably don’t really know themselves either.

You see everyone has their own truth. Everyone is the hero of their own story. That’s why I liked The Avengers Infinity War – Thanos isn’t a villain. He’s a hero. He’s saving the Universe. Yeah, he’s killing half the beings in the Universe to do it but sacrifices have to be made, right? Anyway, I’m much happier with my play now that the opening monologue has been rewritten.

But what did I think of Rashomon? I liked it. It’s always interesting to see something that makes us think about our own truth and the reality we live in.

My rating 4/5 stars.

9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom

Okay, you’d think I’d be done after watching almost six hours of Japanese cinema but no I wasn’t. I decided to watch something a little more modern and a little more risque.

Have you ever heard of the film 9 Songs? It’s a film from 2004 where the actors who are in a physical relationship in the film actually have sex. Every so often a film comes along and tries to be naughty just for the sake of being naughty. I don’t know if that has much impact these days considering how so much graphic sexual content is easily available. But in 2004 I’m sure it caused a bit of a stir. And I’ve seen other films that have had graphic depictions of sex even though it wasn’t real. Last Tango in Paris, The Sailor Who Fell With Grace from the Sea, and Body Heat. But those films and in particular Body Heat use sex to move the story along.

So, here’s how Kanopy describes 9 Songs: “In London, England, love blooms between an American college student, named Lisa, and a British glaciologist, named Matt, where over the next few months in between attending rock concerts, the two lovers have intense sexual encounters.

The good thing about this film is that it’s only 68 minutes long at least according to Kanopy. According to Wikipedia, the film is 70 minutes long. It should have been 69 minutes long considering the theme. And maybe it is. Maybe Kanopy and Wikipedia just don’t want to make the juvenile joke. So, I made it for them.

The film gets a 24% from critics and a 34% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes so I’m not alone on this one – the film is – well rather dull. Boring actually. Because there’s really no story. We simply see this couple go to concerts over the course of a year and watch them make love. So, I wouldn’t recommend this one but clearly 24% of critics liked it and 34% of audiences liked it so if your particular tastes run in this direction enjoy. And I just noticed Rotten Tomatoes lists the running time as 69 minutes – how juvenile – who would make such a joke?

My rating 1/5

So, what got me started watching all these films this weekend. Is it the fact that I have no friends and I live in a bunker? No that’s not true. I don’t live in a bunker. Bunkers are just on my mind because I’m watching season 3 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but more on that another time.

No, the reason I started watching films last weekend is because I saw they had Lucky by John Carroll Lynch.

Lucky by John Carol Lynch

Lucky stars Harry Dean Stanton and I really like Harry Dean Stanton because he’s genuine. That’s the secret of all great actors. They are genuine. There are a lot of actors who put on the rubber nose and rage across the screen but I usually don’t find their performances genuine. They’re dramatic. Over the top. Sometimes laughable and fun to watch but they aren’t good acting.

Lucky 640

Kanopy describes Lucky as: “LUCKY follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his small desert town. Having out lived all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment.”

I liked Lucky. It’s a gentle quirky little film about an old man and his view on life and there are too few films reflecting the wisdom and foolishness of a life long lived. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little older myself and so I want to see stories about what I’m facing – you know death and diminishing health and an uncertain future.  You see all movies and plays and novels need a way for you to get into the story. Sometimes its hard to do that because the story is too different from you but because all stories are human and reflect some aspect of the human experience and if you can find a doorway into the story chances are you’ll learn something about yourself and what it means to be human.

Oddly enough the film reminded me of Five Easy Pieces by Bob Rafelson which stars Jack Nicholson. That’s a contemplative film about finding your purpose and meaning in life as well. Not sure why those two films separated by 47 years are somehow connected in my mind. Or not so much in my mind but in my gut. They both gave me a similar emotional experience. So, I liked Lucky – a good film to watch with a friend I think. I saw it alone because, as I stated earlier, I live in a bunker. A bunker with Wifi, fortunately.

My rating for Lucky 4/5 stars.

It’s terrific to have streaming services like Kanopy which feature a lot of different films from a lot of different countries. My watch list has 121 films and documentaries on it. That’s a year’s worth of viewing at 10 films a month. You see Kanopy gives you ten credits every month. You use a credit each time you watch a film and then you have two days to watch the film as many times as you want. I already said that at the beginning of this blog. If I had a good editor that would have been cut, but as a marketing person I know the importance of repeating the sales message.

Here’s a list of a few of the films on my to watch list:

The Blue Kite by Tian Zhuangzhuang

The most acclaimed and controversial film of the new Chinese cinema, THE BLUE KITE traces the fate of a Beijing boy and his family as they experience the political and social upheavals in 1950s and ’60s China.

L’avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni

Michelangelo Antonioni invented a new film grammar with this masterwork. An iconic piece of challenging 1960’s cinema and a gripping narrative on its own terms, L’AVVENTURA concerns the enigmatic disappearance of a young woman during a yachting trip off the coast of Sicily, and the search taken up by her disaffected lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend (Monica Vitti, in her breakout role). Antonioni’s controversial international sensation is a gorgeously shot tale of modern ennui and spiritual isolation.

We Live in Public: The Changing Role of Privacy and Technology in Daily Life by Ondi Timoner

In 1999, Internet entrepreneur Josh Harris recruited dozens of young men and women who agreed to live in underground apartments for weeks at a time while their every movement is broadcast online. Soon, Harris and his girlfriend embark on their own subterranean adventure, with cameras streaming live footage of their meals, arguments, bedroom activities and bathroom habits. This documentary explores the role of technology in our lives, as it charts the fragile nature of the dot-com economy.

Man Up by Ben Palmer

When Nancy is mistaken for Jack’s blind date, she decides to take a chance and just…go with it. What could possibly go wrong? Lake Bell and Simon Pegg star in this hilarious romantic comedy about taking chances and rolling with the consequences.

Manchester By The Sea by Kenneth Lonergan

In this Academy Award-winning drama, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, a depressed man must face his painful past when he returns to his Massachusetts hometown after the sudden death of his brother. Upon arrival, he finds that he has been made sole guardian to his teenage nephew — and that redemption may be possible from even the darkest regrets. “The sadness of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is the kind of sadness that makes you feel more alive, rather than less, to the preciousness of things.” – Ty Burr, Boston Globe

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So check out Kanopy. It’s free – with a library card – what else in life is free? Not much. And I figure if it’s free that’s only because the government or big business hasn’t figured out how to charge you for it yet. But they will. There will come a day when you pay a fee for the air you breathe.

So, now if you’ve actually read this entire blog – that’s insane – this thing is over 3000 words. You should be rewarded. So, go out and reward yourself. Go get yourself a chocolate sundae and then tell me about it in the comments section below because you deserve it. It’s hard work reading a rambling semi-coherent blog post. I want to know all about the place you went and why you went there and what the sundae was like. Or if you’ve been on Kanopy what films have you seen that you’d recommend? Happy viewing all.

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