It’s starting to really feel like summer, as it usually does in the mid to late spring, so people will be going out more in the days and evenings and, due to the continuing curfew, staying home at night. With that in mind, we’ve got an in-person artistic residency, a new album and stuff from local artists you can order online.
Let’s get started:
PC the Infamous Releases the Visionary Wonderland Album
Montreal-based rapper, producer, singer, songwriter (and also actor) PC the Infamous has done quite a bit since hitting the local music scene seven years ago. He has produced and performed eight albums and now his ninth, Visionary Wonderland, was just released, following two singles and two music videos.
PC the Infamous performs in both English and French and his style incorporates everything from classic rap to trap to indie rock, techno pop, synth wave and emo rap. Here is the latest video that premiered along with the release of the album:
The MAI’s Et si on réimaginait le monde II Continues
The MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) has always had a strong commitment to sharing and facilitating access to its resources and it’s in the middle of doing just that. Et si on réimaginait le monde II is a paid residency series focused on artists with visible or invisible disabilities, deaf, hard of hearing, neurodiverse, living with a mental illness, or with different abilities or physiques which began April 26 and runs until June 4.
Two of the four shows, Le magasin ferme and Fragments have already concluded, but you can still catch Troubleshoot by Mathieu and Simon Renaud and then Cartographie : Les eaux intimes, a dance show guided by Georges-Nicolas Tremblay with Marie-Hélène Bellavance, Ariane Boulet, Anthony Dolbec, Simon Renaud and Alexandra Templier from Corpuscule Danse.
Troubleshoot runs May 17-21. Cartographie : Les eaux intimes runs May 24-28 and May 31 – June 4 at MAI, 3680 rue Jeanne-Mance. Info available on the MAI website
Puces POP is Back Online for Spring
While things are still looking up for a full-on (or as full-on as possible) in-person POP Montreal this September, Puces POP, the quarterly local market, will once again be an online affair this spring. The changing rules on venue capacity made an in-person market difficult, so they decided to try and repeat the success they had in the winter with a virtual version.
The catalogue launched today. It features arts and prints, clothing, jewelry, treats and more, all from local artists and companies, just like the regular Puces POP.
The Puces POP Spring 2021 Catalogue is now available at PucesPOP.com
Featured Image from Le magasin ferme, courtesy of MAI
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Mylène Chicoine is no stranger to horror. She founded Festival de la Bête Noire as a way to share what helps her to de-stress.
While some turn to comedy and laughter, for Chicoine and those like her, it’s horror and horror-themed art that allow them a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from their demons by confronting them head on.
Festival de la Bête Noire is a horror theatre festival that normally has hosted shows that audiences take in on site and in-person since 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the arts.
Theaters are closed, and gatherings that would allow for live shows are banned for now. For those needing to keep art and culture alive, the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures have presented a lot of challenges and the name of the game has been adapt or die.
Festival de la Bête Noire has decided to go online this year and I spoke with Mylène Chicoine about what that means.
“We’re not doing in it an actual physical space,” she said. “It’s a multimedia online event from people’s living rooms. We’ve removed the physical aspect completely.”
In order to keep the authenticity of live theater consistent with the spirit of past festivals, Chicoine and her team decided to have as little postproduction as possible, meaning that recorded shows should try to minimize editing and video effects after recording.
“We are NOT a movie festival, we are a THEATRE festival. We still want to see theatre, and performance, and live art even though it’s technically not live.”
When asked about the response to the change in format this year, she said most of the responses have been extremely positive, admitting that Bête Noire almost didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. The festival happened because of the outpouring of support from the theatre community and its fans.
“We had a lot of demand from the community: Are we doing it this year? Are we doing it? Is it going to happen? We need it. The biggest motivation for the team was the community wants it so we’re going to give it to them.”
Festival de la Bête Noire has 16 shows this year. Two of the shows are mixed shows featuring separate performances within a single show.
The virtual festival has a few alumni, including the The Malicious Basement, Quagmire Productions, and Marissa Blair. In the name of transparency, I myself am acting and handling design for Quagmire’s Poe in the Snow.
Chicoine says that festival alumni were given an extra week to apply knowing that they are faithful participants who have provided good content in the past.
“We like to have repeat performers because it gives them a name and a platform that they need.”
The virtual format has not been without its challenges. Many artists expressed concerns about the ban on post-production, claiming that the festival was trying to restrict their art.
“We don’t want to restrict their art, we want to restrict their technology, that’s the big difference. If you’re in a venue, you’re not using a green screen, you wouldn’t use one in your living room either. We don’t want to make it look like a movie, but of course we’ve had to be a bit more flexible, especially with the new lockdown.”
Chicoine says the festival’s limits on technology this year were among some of the biggest challenges for performers. It forced performers to stretch their creative muscles and think outside the box.
Other challenges for the Festival de la Bête Noire were unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. People involved with the companies and performers or their loved ones were exposed to the virus and either got sick and/or were forced to self-isolate. The pandemic itself resulted in some theatre companies dropping out of the festival entirely.
“We understand completely that these things are going to happen and we have had production meetings with every company that has required one to formulate a different kind of plan, whether it’s an extension, being more flexible on technology, but unfortunately we did lose a couple of companies to COVID.”
Most of the companies that dropped out were outside of Montreal and could not participate due to the pandemic, while some participants even got sick and died. It has been really upsetting for everyone involved with Bête Noire, but Chicoine and her team anticipated this happening.
Festival de la Bête Noire 2021 is fulfilling its mandate by giving artists and performers a platform to explore the horror genre by performing, creating and watching, and being a part of something, bringing people together in a socially distant way.
When I asked Chicoine if there were any advantages to going virtual, she pointed to fact that it allowed for more international entries, speaking of participating companies in the US and as far away as Japan. Chicoine mentioned The Peony Lantern by The Yokohama Group, a multimedia performance that takes place in the World Peace Theatre in Kawasaki, Japan.
Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Mylène Chicoine is preparing for disaster, but it has not dampened her excitement for the shows on offer this year. When asked if there were any shows she was particularly excited about, she mentioned Pento by Mad Paradox, a show about mental health issues.
As for the technicalities regarding the accessing the shows, Chicoine and her team demurred from using sites like YouTube and TikTok because they’re too restrictive. In order to avoid the censorship that comes with those sites, all ticket holders will be sent a Google Drive link to their show which gives them one week to watch it at their convenience. Viewers don’t need a Gmail account to access the link.
Festival de la Bête Noire is running virtually from February 17, 2021 to March 15, 2021. For more info check out LaBeteNoirFest.com
The snowstorm seems to be done and the weather for the next few days promises to be nicer, but we still can’t go outside at night or hang out in groups during the day. Fortunately there are Montreal shows you can check out this week from the comfort of your home.
Let’s get started:
Geordie Theatre’s The Little Mighty Superhero & Celestial Bodies
2021 marks Geordie Theatre’s 40th year of performing plays in schools as well as original youth-oriented works for the general public. And they’re not about to let the pandemic cancel their birthday party.
The Geordie Theatre Fest is back! It started yesterday with staged readings exclusively for schools, but this weekend, everyone can enjoy some virtual theatre that is good for the whole family.
On Saturday, they will be streaming live performances of two original plays:
The Little Mighty Superhero, written by Marie Barlizo and directed by Liz Valdez is “a heartwarming journey of a young boy’s quest in rediscovering imagination and memory in the face of fear and the unknown.”
Celestial Bodies, written by Jacob Margaret Archer and directed by Geordie Artistic Director Mike Payett, is “one girl’s cosmic journey to truly owning, literally and metaphorically, the space she occupies.”
The 2021 Geordie Theatre Fest runs Saturday, February 6th with The Little Mighty Superhero at noon and Celestial Bodies at 3pm and 5pm. For more info or tickets, please visit geordie.ca
Virtually Visit the Wheel Club with A Devil’s Din
Montreal-based psychedelic rockers A Devil’s Din will be playing The Wheel Club in NDG this Friday. More specifically, the band will be performing at The Wheel Club, but the audience will attend virtually via Facebook Live.
This isn’t just a chance to see a band playing in 2021 in a traditional real-world venue instead of from their homes, it’s also helping to keep the venue afloat so they can re-open to the public when the pandemic subsides. It’s free to watch, but the audience are encouraged to donate to the venue and the band.
Think of it like going to a show with no cover, then putting something in the hat when they pass it around between sets. Also, you can use the money you save by buying your drinks at the dep to give a little more to the venue.
A Devil’s Din Live Webcast at the Wheel Club starts Friday, February 5th at 8pm. To watch free and for info on how to donate, please visit the Facebook Event Page
Featured Image from Celestial Bodies courtesy of Geordie Theatre
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We are in the midst of a global pandemic. With death rates on the rise and public gatherings of more than ten people banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19, performance artists and festival organizers are trying to make the best of a bad situation despite cancellations of their events.
One of the artists trying to make the best of things is Amy Blackmore, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal, The MainLine Theatre, and Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe…This Is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative, socially distanced theatre festival developed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the annual Montreal Fringe Festival.
The Fringe was postponed rather than cancelled because this year would have been the festival’s thirtieth anniversary. Given that participants are chosen by lottery, the artists set to participate in the now-postponed festival were offered the option of formally withdrawing along with a refund of their participation fee or have their participation deferred to next year’s event.
I had the opportunity to speak to Blackmore about This Is Not a Fringe Festival on the phone earlier this week. As I suspected, it was developed as an alternative to the regular Fringe Festival.
“The Fringe just means so much to so many folks and we don’t want to abandon our community,” she said, adding that This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not meant to replace the St-Ambroise Fringe. “We’re not pretending to be the Fringe. You can’t Fringe without all the artists. It just doesn’t work,” she laughed.
In the spirit of Fringe, Blackmore and her team, which includes Kenny Streule, the event’s producer, put together a lineup to satisfy fans of the festival and “fill that Fringe need.” Unlike the regular Fringe, the lineup of This Is Not a Fringe Festival is smaller and a lot more curated, selecting artists based on their experiences running past St-Ambroise Fringe Festivals.
Where the Fringe often has over a five hundred artists participating, This Is Not a Fringe Festival only has about 150 artists involved. The festival was developed and curated paying close attention to what’s been happening online since the theatres have closed due to the pandemic.
The artists for the event were found via a couple of calls for submissions as well as through people Blackmore and other organizers met over the years of running Fringe, mainly festival alumni.
Like Fringe, This Is Not a Fringe Festival has a wide variety of programming. They divided it into a series of strains, with the main one being the Signature Series: a series of events in the evening running from June 11th to the 21st with one or two shows a night.
Performances include an opening concert with Paul Cargnello, Crowd Karaoke and Being Brown is my Superpower in partnership with Fringe Live Stream. Another exciting event is the Fringe fundraiser Lip Sync Bingo in collaboration with House of Laureen. Some of the events are free, others are pay-what-you-can.
“It’s very open this year in terms of money because everyone is in a slightly different situation, we’re finding, so we’re trying to be flexible with that.”
When I asked Blackmore how payments to the pay-what-you-can events would be facilitated. She explained that it would vary from event to event, and that in many cases, just like the now-postponed Fringe Festival, audiences will be able to buy tickets through the MainLine Theatre website.
“Every event has its own needs, so instead of having a blanket approach to everything, we’re trying to really honour that,” Blackmore said, explaining that because This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not as large as the regular Fringe, they are actually able to do that.
In addition to the Signature Series, This Is Not a Fringe Festival also has a strain of events called The Daily Dose in which every day at 11am audiences can get a daily dose of Fringe as the festival release a series of videos. Said videos include a contemporary dance video, a magic act, storytelling videos in collaboration with Confabulation, as well a series of online activities and challenges organized by the Festival Tout Tout Court. Blackmore affectionately refers to this strain as “art in small packages” that people can take in when it’s convenient for them.
As a recent participant in Festival de la Bete Noire’s last Sunday Night Live Scream before the summer, I was curious as to whether the event would be a series of videos submitted by artists or whether it would be live streamed events. Blackmore explained that it would be a combination of both, with, for example, The Daily Dose as a series of videos submitted to them, and some of the events are live streamed. The festival will be a combination of Facebook live streams, YouTube, and Zoom Hangouts depending on what they are.
“I think what people can expect is the spirit of the Fringe, the spirit of our event. I’m expecting folks to participate and have conversations with us,” Blackmore said, mentioning a series at This Is Not a Fringe Festival called The Transformation Series, five talks Blackmore is facilitating on the five current topics including what it’s like to make art during a pandemic, green theatre-making, and work-life balance.
When I asked Blackmore what she felt the overarching theme of the event is, she spoke of resilience and hope.
“It’s an ode to a festival that never was.”
Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe / This Is Not a Fringe Festival is running from June 11 to 2020 in participation with Fringe Live Stream, MainLine Theatre, and Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE. Tickets and info available through montrealfringe.ca
Even though the 30th Edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival won’t happen until June 2021, MainLine Theatre hopes to remain engaged with the community during these difficult times. With that in mind, they are planning This Is Not a Fringe Festival.
“Just because we’re pressing the pause button on the Fringe doesn’t mean that we can’t gather. I’m looking forward to encouraging artists and audiences to connect in new and exciting ways,” said MainLine’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore about the upcoming festival.
In the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, this online socially distanced art festival will take place from June 11-21, 2020. Full programming, which will include micro-dance videos, storytelling events, theatrical parties, community art projects, mail-in art and more – will be announced on June 1.
When I think of galas, I typically think of old rich people trying to get money from other old rich people for a charity that will use most of the money on itself rather than the people they claim to help. This was not the case at Festival de la Bête Noire 2020’s opening night gala.
In the lobby of the Mainline Theatre on Saint Laurent, snacks were laid out, souvenirs on sale, and festival programs available. A group consisting of performers and fans gathered to celebrate theatre and horror.
Amidst the cheap chocolate of the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, Festival de la Bête Noire is a nugget of heaven for anyone waiting for next Halloween.
The festival is the brainchild of Mylène Chicoine, its Executive and Artistic director who founded it in 2018. She created it because she uses horror to de-stress the way others use comedy. In the months before the festival she and her team picked from among tons of submissions to ensure a variety of shows celebrating the many facets of horror and performance.
The opening night gala is a lot like Montreal Fringe Festival’s Fringe for All. Many people behind the festival’s participating shows have an opportunity to present a skit from their productions to entice audiences to buy tickets.
Unlike Fringe for All, there’s a little more to see. In addition to the skits by performers in the Festival, audiences were treated to storytellers and performances that weren’t part of a larger show.
The Emcee for the evening was one John David Hickey, a professional storyteller. That night he was in the persona of The Professor, a kind of scruffy Steampunk Victorian wise man in top hat, long coat, and vest.
In addition to announcing the acts with all the gusto and humor his role required despite the poorly written list he was given, Hobbes also treated audiences to ghost stories. He told one at the beginning and a couple more in between.
His style is so compelling and fun and the stories were spooky but not over the top gory or violent. He was the perfect choice to emcee this event and I hope to see him do so at the festival next year.
Another compelling storyteller that night was Stéfan Cédilot, who was there to recite a snippet of his one-man show Slasher with Théatre Sans Fonds. Slasher is about Cédilot’s love of slasher movies. He’s funny, sincere, and such a treat to watch and listen to, I put down my pen so I could give him my full attention.
Some of the best comedy and horror for me is about contrast, and no one did this better than Marissa Blair and her co-star Jeroen Lindeman. Blair’s show Triptych is about BDSM, but instead of presenting a bit from it, Blair plugged the show dressed as a patient while her ‘surgeon’ worked on her.
When she dies on the operating table amidst Blair’s signature spurts of blood, her doctor began sobbing loudly. As Blair popped up and in an obnoxiously chipper voice began teaching the audience how she cleans up fake blood, Lindeman continued wailing in the background. It was hilarious.
Kay Komizara came on stage with a giant to promote her show Monstrologyka carrying a giant papier mâché goat. It seemed a little cute at first, but then you realized she was talking about how she planned to ‘kill it’ in her show. It was brief but fun and a sure sign of things to come.
One notable dance performance was by Calixta Starr, who’s show Hotel Purgatorio is a dance performance of part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. As she swirled and moved hypnotically to a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire I was riveted.
Among the performers who did not have shows in the festival was Seeley Quest, a transgender disabled performance artist. He read some flash fiction and non-fiction on stage.
While the stories themselves were interesting, I wished he had projected and varied his tone a bit more. It was a bit lulling for me – a tad too soothing and soft for so late in the evening.
Another performer was Tommy Toxic who did a form Japanese dance called Puto. In zombie makeup to a recording that seemed more sound than music, his moves were dramatic and interesting but a little artsy. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d seen by the time he walked off stage or if I even liked it, but it was certainly unique.
Festival de la Bête Noire 2020 is over but there’s another festival next year. Whether you’re into horror or not, it’s worth checking out. There is truly something for everyone.
Featured image of Trout Lily Theatre Collective by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire
It must be said right off the bat that I am a tad biased towards Festival de la Bète Noire. A multidisciplinary horror theatre festival, it runs from February 19-23 at MainLine Theatre. I have the honor of being the illustrator for one of the festival’s shows, Quagmire Productions’ How to the Kill Your Baby 101, a one-woman show about post-partum depression.
Festival de la Bète Noire was founded in 2018 by Mylène Chicoine, who is now its Executive and Artistic Director. It features a wide variety of live performances from solo shows to storytelling to stage plays to dance shows, though it welcomes everything from puppetry to burlesque to shows Chicoine cheerfully refers to as “unclassifiable”. I had the opportunity to sit down with her to talk more about the festival and why she started it.
When Chicoine founded the festival she immediately got to work collecting a team. Among them are Tyla Webster, Assistant Director and Artist Liaison, Technical Director Eric Wrazen, Christian Menard, Finance and Director and “Professional Boring Guy”, and their Administrative Assistant Robin Friedman.
I’m not a horror fan so I was curious as to whether Bète Noire is truly for everyone. Chicoine says that it’s for anyone who wants to experience something truly unique.
“Part of the reason I put this festival together is because I use fear the same way other people use laughter. For me it is a form of therapy, it is a form of catharsis, it’s a way to deal with those deep dark hidden things inside that you don’t want to deal with but then you put it on the stage and you deal with it together.”
She compares the Bète Noire to the Montreal Jazz Festival, noting that you rarely actually hear any jazz at the Jazz fest. She points out that horror is a huge and diverse genre that includes everything from murder mysteries to psycho thrillers to ghost stories and not just blood and gore.
When asked if there would be blood in these productions, Chicoine admits there will be blood and maybe guts, but nothing will be sprayed on the audience. She also adds that there will be content and trigger warnings and things that are meant to push boundaries, adding that some shows are scarier than others.
“But once you do it, you did it, and you survived.”
The Festival’s offerings this year include the aforementioned How to Kill Your Baby 101, Marissa Blair’s BDSM horror piece Triptych, The Malicious Basement’s Maintenance on cyberspace, Kay Komizara’s Monstrologyka about monsters and witches and many more. You can see the full lineup on the festival’s Facebook page.
The shows vary in length but are generally about an hour long. Chicoine said that she has not seen the shows yet. Her and her team selected participants based on the overall message and boundary pushing.
“Something that’s a little out of the ordinary as opposed to ‘here’s some horror’.”
Applications took place online, with people submitting a blurb of about 25-50 words. Though she admits the team knows some of the artists and has seen their shows, the overall criteria was interest with her team taking votes on what to include in Bète Noire.
In addition to the shows themselves, the Festival includes open mic Fright Nights, the Opening Night Horror Gala featuring horror skits, an art exhibition throughout MainLine theatre, as well as horror trivia night – about ALL horror, not just movies. Originally started as fundraising efforts to cover the costs of the Festival, these events adjacent to the festival have become a way to bring the community together.
When I asked Chicoine if there’s one thing she could say to prospective audiences, she invited people to join her on this journey.
“Go check it out. Go fight your demons. Go love them. Go embrace them. That’s what the Festival is for.”
How do you describe a show you can’t see? Do you go by the sounds? The scents? The sense of motion? Or do you pretend to be like the heroes in eighties and nineties martial arts films and try to “see without seeing”?
I was invited last Thursday to experience two scenes from the play Camille with other members of the local media. The brainchild of Concordia professor Audrey-Anne Bouchard, it’s a multi-disciplinary show specifically designed for those with visual impairments.
Bouchard lives with Stargardt’s disease, a rare macular disorder. After the media preview I had a chance to sit with Bouchard so I asked her about what it is and how it affects her, for when I first saw her, she seemed to have perfect sight.
“I don’t have the gene in my body that eliminates Vitamin A so Vitamin A accumulates itself on my retina and it blocks a part of my sight which is exactly at the center of both my eyes so I use my peripheral vision,” she explained. “I’m quite fortunate that I’m still very autonomous because my peripheral vision is good and I can see and I work with my sight a lot. The hardest is really to read, like to focus on the details. When I go see a show, for example, if I’m not in the first row I will most likely miss an actor’s head or a part of the image – I always miss a part of the image. The closer I am the easier for me it is to put all the pieces together.”
Unfortunately for Bouchard, there is no treatment for the disease yet. In order for Bouchard to see, she has to rely on her peripheral vision, explaining that if she wanted to see into my eyes, she will train her sight a little over my eyebrows because focusing on the center would make them fall into the dead spot of her vision.
Bouchard created the show after speaking with people who were completely blind as they confided in her that they were always feeling that they were missing part of the experience when they went to a dance or a theatre piece. She created the show with the goal of having an experience where people with no sight won’t miss anything and it will be interesting for them.
“Everything is conceived not to be seen. The language that we created is transmitted through the other senses.”
The project started three years ago when the team met with seven people who have different visual impairments and asked them if they would be interested in a show like this. For Bouchard, it was important to have this adventure but only if those for whom the show was created would want to experience it.
The show is multidisciplinary, meaning that it includes multiple forms of art such as dance, theatre, music, and they’re all intertwined. Instead of having one theatre scene, one dance scene, and so on, they are all one “in the language of the show”. The choreography, by Laurie-Anne Langis who is also a dancer and massage therapist, does not just involve dancing to music, it also involves how you approach someone to guide them. The interaction between spectator and performer is part of the choreography of this show.
In order to develop the choreography, the team worked with people with different kinds of visual impairments, some fully blind, some with partial sight. This was important for Bouchard, for despite her disorder, she relies on her sight and works with it a lot.
Over the three years developing the show they had thirty different people come into rehearsal – whom Bouchard refers to as their ‘experts’ – to tell the cast how they would like to be guided. The team also underwent training in partnership with the RAM – the Regroupement des Aveugles et Amblyopes du Montreal metropolitain and they gave the team training on how you guide someone who cannot see, as there are certain specific techniques involved. They even organized activities for the team including a dinner in the dark with other blind people so they got to experience what it was like and get their feedback.
To experience the show, those with sight have to wear a blindfold. Given how much visual impairments can vary, I asked Bouchard how severe would they have to be to wear the blindfold for the show.
“If you can see anything – light, movement, color – you have to wear the blindfold. It’s only if you can see nothing that you won’t wear a blindfold.”
I got to experience two scenes from Camille as part of this media preview. They taught me two things: the first is that we take our sight for granted when humans have so many other senses by which we can process information. The second is that you can still experience theatre without sight.
Prospective audiences should know that there are parts of the show that might make you a little dizzy, and that in order to guide you, the cast will touch you a little during performances, but nothing inappropriate or weird.
I saw Lesbian Speed Date from Hell this past Sunday and having experienced the emotional rollercoaster of the piece, I was curious as to how it all came about. I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s producer Christina Saliba and she gave me some fascinating insights.
The show was originally submitted to be part of Festival De La Bête Noire, Montreal’s first ever horror-themed festival. One of their writers had an idea for a piece about speed dating.
Saliba’s own experiences with lesbian speed dating events at the popular queer hangout Notre Dame des Quilles and the interesting date encounters she had at them really helped the story come together.
Saliba explains that when she saw the call for submissions for Festival De La Bête Noire, she jumped at the opportunity not only to present something queer-centric, as many working on the production identify as queer, but also to present horror comedy.
“Horror-comedy is a genre that is not commonly seen on stage. The horror aspects of the show are boundary pushing, not only for the audience but for the artists involved. Horror allows you to sit within your fears and anxieties and face them in a safe and controlled environment. There certainly may be some triggering moments for some audience goers as it is a show that tests limitations. However, the comedy aspect to it provides that relief and comfort. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition of genres and a fun medium to work in.”
Many people primarily associate horror comedy with The Evil Dead movies starring Bruce Campbell, so I was intrigued as to what it meant to someone putting on a show of that genre.
“I would say it is more outlandish, over the top, and hysterical rather than gore, terror, and horror. The comedy takes you out of the horror fantasy.”
The cast of Lesbian Speed Dating came from diverse backgrounds including comedy, sketch, improv, TV, and film. For Saliba, this diversity of perspectives elevates the show. While auditions were held, some of the show’s talent were deliberately sought out because of their unique talents.
“The structure and the script are there, but they are all so talented that they bring in the occasional ad-libbing and improv. Half of the team falls under the queer umbrella, as authenticity, particularly with our leads, was essential for me.”
Though the show only ran for two nights during Festival De La Bête Noire, Saliba couldn’t let it die. She had her sights set on it being part of Just for Laughs and a cast member suggested it be part of Pride’s programming. Saliba hopes to eventually take the show on tour internationally.
The theatre is dark, the rules are announced, and the band breaks into America the Beautiful as a solitary figure in a blonde wig and cape approaches the stage. Waiting is the band and a drag king in leather jacket, denim, and do-rag, with the sad-downcast eyes of a domestic abuse victim. The figure approaches the mic and in a reveal reminiscent of FranknFurter in the Rocky Horror Show, the cloak is opened to reveal a facsimile of the Berlin wall, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s title character breaks into the show’s first song Tear Me Down.
Following a successful run in November 2018, In the Wings’ Promotions’ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was invited to be part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. As director and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal put it:
“The show is so iconic in the community, that it’s the perfect fit for Pride.”
The venue has changed from Cabaret Mado to Café Cléopatre, but aside from a few enhancements, the show is every bit as riveting as during its first run.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is the brainchild of actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask, who developed the off-Broadway show which then became a cult film and from there a Broadway show starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show is about a slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin and is a blend of glam and punk rock, politics, and gender bending, with tunes so catchy even the biggest curmudgeon will be dancing in their seat.
Trask was a major part of the first Montreal run, sitting on dress rehearsals and answering Hannibal’s texts as needed. The result is a show that’s more than just pretty makeup, gender-reversals, and catchy tunes.
In my review of the show’s first run, I noted that the relationship between Hedwig – played by New York based actor Andrew Morrissey, and Noelle Hannibal’s Yitzhak was interpreted as one of domestic abuse. In this rendition that portrayal is enhanced with more passive aggression by Yitzhak – there are muttered curses, and spitting, and Yitzhak’s eyes seethe with the hatred of the powerless for their oppressor.
Morrissey’s Hedwig contains more deference for Yitzhak’s talent, as if the abuse comes from the recognition that her talent is no match for Yitzhak’s and she can only shine by putting him down. It provided more nuance to the characters from a script that by Hannibal’s own admission, had very little to guide them.
Morrissey’s Hedwig is much improved from the November run. Though his German accent is on and off and his voice is occasionally pitchy, you see more madness behind the makeup, more sincerity behind the line:
“I’ll laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.”
With this more nuanced portrayal is all the sass and sex the part requires, and Morrissey pulls that off beautifully.
As important to the production as its stars are the band and costumes. Hedwig undergoes multiple costume changes during the show and designer Sig Moser clearly understood what the show is all about.
“He was very familiar with the show and the film version and brought in some fantastic ideas that would work with our extremely tight, indie budget. He can whip up a dress in an hour,” said Hannibal, whose own costumes were tweaked to work better for this run.
The outfits are an amazing mix of showmanship, denim, leather, lace, and sequins, a true nod to music genres you’ll live during the show.
The band, made up of Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione, are not passive background musicians, but people who must actively interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak on stage. Though I wished the tempo of Tear Me Down was a bit quicker, the band did not disappoint. Decked out in punk rock pieces and colored hair, they are an amazing accompaniment to a show that features glam and punk rock in all its glory.
That said, the show is iconic for a reason, so come with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed!
The current run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch finishes tonight. Tickets available through HedwigMontreal.com
A Brief History of Time is a show with a daunting task. It aims to present a heavily abridged history of physics in just an hour. The snippet I saw at Fringe for All gave me high hopes for the show and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s creator and Artistic Director of Théatre du Renard, Antonia Leney-Granger. She said the show was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time and that all the scientific theories in the show are accurately presented.
She added that the portrayal of the historical context of the discovery of those theories should be taken with a grain of salt as they were tweaked to make the show more funny and relatable. Though the show is very educational, Leney-Granger admits that her background isn’t in science or teaching.
“I’ve always had a very curious mind and bucketloads of hobbies and interests: I’m interested in learning the basics of pretty much everything, from pottery making to quantum physics! A Brief History of Time started me off on a path that became the mission of my company, Théâtre du Renard: disseminating complex or seemingly inaccessible ideas to a variety of audiences through the playfulness and poetry of object theatre.”
For those unfamiliar with object theatre – sometimes referred to as object puppetry – it’s a kind of theatre where objects are used to create a story with characters. In the case of A Brief History of Time, Leney-Granger uses everything from troll dolls to paper lanterns to magic eight balls to teach the audience about Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Hubble. The ensuing show is informative, funny, and enlightening.
I asked Leney-Granger what her target audience is and she said it was created with adults in mind, but she has also performed the show for high school groups and even kids age ten and up. She has had physicists and scientists come to the first shows and aside from a few vocabulary changes, they were very happy with it.
It should be noted that there is some content in the show that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for younger audiences. There are mentions of alcohol and orgies that may make parents think twice about letting their kids see it. If Leney-Granger has a tweaked version that leaves these things out, the show will be a definite hit among groups looking for educational entertainment that’s fun, engaging, and available in both official languages.
You won’t just see a woman playing with toys on stage, you’ll receive an education on the theories about our universe, the philosophers and scientists that developed them, and the hidden figures that contributed to their development but were never credited. In addition, the setup of the show is fairly light technically, so it can be done in a variety of settings.
What makes A Brief History of Time particularly special is its timing and use of sound. There is no wasted time in the piece and the audio jokes and pop culture references are everything you’d hope they would be.
Though Montreal Fringe is over, Théatre du Renard is planning to take A Brief History of Time on tour in Quebec and internationally, so you may have a chance to check it out.
Whether science, history, or physics are your thing or not, go see A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.
The Moaning Yoni was a show I was prepared to hate. While I’m all about demystifying women’s bodies, health, and sexuality in fiction and non-fiction, I find the idea of a show devoted entirely to a single body part repugnant. I was however, pleasantly surprised when I finally got to see it.
The show is the brainchild of Joylyn Secunda, an actor, dancer, and singer from Vancouver, who created the piece out of a desire to create a solo show that expressed something personal.
“At the time I had just came out as asexual and was thinking a lot about how I fit into society as an ace, female-bodied person. I began to explore different characters and developed the show through a lot of experimentation and play.”
The show follows the heroine Zoë through a journey of self-discovery during a “Yoni Healing Circle”, a sort of yoga class devoted to honoring and nourishing “sacred feminine organs”.
Secunda, clad in red harem pants and a matching long-sleeved crop top, plays almost all the characters in the play, including Crystal, the class instructor, Zoe – the show’s protagonist, Zoe’s “Yoni”, Zoë’s promiscuous college friends, and the men she’s dated. The only character she doesn’t play is a male voiceover done by voiceover performer Adam Bergquist, who clearly represents the condescending patriarchal voice of ‘reason’.
At the beginning of the class, the Crystal hands the students a magic elixir and asks them to apply a small amount to their vulvas. The effect causes Zoe’s yoni to talk, resulting in the first pleasant surprise of the show.
The Yoni in question is portrayed by Secunda as a Yenta: a shrill, nagging, opinionated old Jewish lady. I grew up with women like this, so while I appreciated the portrayal and found it hilarious, those unfamiliar with Jewish culture and Yiddish expressions might not understand all the words expressed by the Yoni in her anguish and irritation with Zoë.
The struggle between Zoë and her Yoni was fun to watch, as it even included a dance with a giant tampon.
The show is unfortunately not without its flaws. Secunda sings a few songs in the show that go on far too long without contributing to the story. The ice cream song about sex with frat boys and the multilingual song praising mother earth were repetitive and could easily have been cut in half without sacrificing the play’s message of self-love.
Where The Moaning Yoni really shines, however, is in its merciless attack on all the things a woman navigating her health and sexuality has to deal with. Everything from sexual assault, to online dating, peer pressure, to bad kissers, to toxic masculinity, to oral sex, to snake oil peddlers selling dangerous vaginal insertion devices – the latter clearly a dig at Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, to pubic grooming is mercilessly lampooned by Secunda during the show.
There are parts of the show that are triggering so sexual assault survivors might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s still worth watching. Secunda is incredibly talented, with her supremely expressive face and body carrying much of show. If Jim Carrey is the male rubberface, Secunda might just be the female equivalent.
Secunda hopes that audiences walk away thinking about the nuances of their own genders and sexuality and the affect it has on their relationships. Some men might have reservations about seeing the show as she pulls no punches in her descriptions of negative heterosexual male behavior. When I asked her about it, she said the show is as much for men as it is for women. Her message to potential male viewers is that:
“Toxic masculinity hurts men just as much as it hurts women and non-binary people. I hope by watching Zoë’s journey in the play, you might have a better understanding of an experience that is different than your own. It’s a really fun comedy for anyone, no matter your age, gender, sexuality, or culture.”
The Moaning Yoni is a piece with a lot of potential, and if anyone is wondering whether Joylyn Secunda can carry a whole show, the answer is yes. She just needs to do a little trimming.
The Man Behind the Curtain is a hard show to review. Inspired by magic, the show is cramped, unpredictable, and uncomfortable, but it’s also fast-paced, hilarious, and intense.
The venue is set up in the apartment of co-writer and director Sam Jameson. Anyone who feels squeamish about attending a performance in someone’s home is missing out on a great show. Productions Presents describes the show as:
“A series of fantastical vignettes that are all tied together by the theme of magic… The show consists of the performance itself, the physical space around you, and the how the physical space changes over the course of the show. “
The Man Behind the Curtain stars Erik Leisinger and is directed by Sam Jameson who met on themet on the set of Glam Gam’s Fringe Production, Peter Pansexual, when Sam was director and Erik was a performer. They worked together again last year on Glam Gam’s Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story – currently the highest grossing Fringe play of all time.
In 2018, Jameson and Leisinger founded Productions Presents, a company for the work they produce together. When I had the chance to speak to them, the question on my mind was whether Jameson or Leisinger were actually magicians, given the show’s magic theme.
“Neither Sam or Erik are professional magicians, and quite frankly can’t really do magic to save their lives. Fortunately, Erik Leisinger’s childhood friend, Erin the Magician is a hotshot magician from the west coast and has helped us throughout the process.”
You will see magic tricks in this show, but they’re nothing spectacular, and as a viewer, you really won’t care because you’ll be too busy laughing. Unlike the classic theatre setup where audience and performance spaces are separate and distinct, The Man Behind the Curtain is immersive theatre, a type of show where “the entire performance area is a part of the show, and the audience has far more freedom to interact with the performance environment and the performers themselves.”
As audience members you won’t be picked on by the performers, but you will be expected to participate a little. That said, the venue has extremely limited space, with a maximum capacity of ten people.
Shows are often sold out so get your tickets in advance. You won’t be disappointed!
The Man Behind the Curtain runs through June 15. Tickets available at montrealfringe.ca
The Montreal Fringe Festival is a festival for the underdogs. As Fringe Spokesperson and Board President Helene Simard said at the festival launch, Fringe is a place for people who want to put on a show but have always been told “no”. Whether you’re a female artist, an artist of colour, a non-binary artist, or on an LGBTQI artist, “Fringe always has room for you.”
The Montreal Fringe Festival is huge, with hundreds of artists putting on shows from May 27th to June 17th. With so many shows to choose from, it’s hard to pick what to see.
One way to choose is to go to Fringe for All, an event that takes place on opening night of the Festival. At this event, anyone with a show at the Fringe can take the stage for two minutes to give prospective audiences a taste of what their show is about.
It’s an endurance test, as some of the snippets you see confirm every negative stereotype about independent theatre. But if you’re willing to tough it out, you’re going to find some real gems.
I’m here to help. Below you’ll find some of my pics for the best shows at Montreal Fringe 2019. Please note that I have tried to offer recommendations in a variety of genres and languages.
Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?
There is something inherently funny about a cutesy character behaving like an awful human being, and if the snippet I saw is any indication, the R’Iyeh Theater Company’s Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?is going to be a blast.
A man came on stage in a clown costume with a blanket over his head, screaming angrily. Then he pulled off the blanket, revealing a clown wig and red nose, handed an audience member an apple, and pulled out an axe.
It was short but hilarious, and by far the best snippet of the night.
Les Plaisirs Interdits
Some of the best comedy is about contrast, and like my last recommendation, Productions Belle Lurette’s Plaisirs Interdits offers just that.
The characters presented were prim and proper and in period costumes– a nun, a priest, a maid, and a very conservatively dressed upper crust man and woman. I was about to roll my eyes… and then they opened their mouths, and what came out was a slew of hilariously lascivious songs about sex and sexuality.
It’s a French language production, so if you have a poor grasp of the language you might not get all the jokes, but if you can manage, check it out!
House of Laureen Presents: Mx. Queerdo MTL
If you love drag, you need to check out Mx. Queerdo. Presented by House of Laureen, a Montreal-based drag family. The show stars Uma Gahd, and is all about a pageant, Mx. Queerdo.
If the snippet I saw is any indication, it’s going to be a blast!
I’m not much into dance shows, but if I were to see one at Montreal Fringe, it would be Eva Kolarova Danse’s show Re-Imagined. The twenty-five-minute show explores loneliness and relationships with contemporary dance.
Their two-minute bit at Fringe for All featured a dance at once graceful and erotic, portraying without words the complexity of human relationships.
Happy-Ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling
In the era of so much anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec, Happy-Ish is a show worth seeing. Vadim Gran’s solo storytelling show is about a Russian immigrant trying to navigate life in Canada.
The bit I saw featured an angry bearded Russian man holding a smiley balloon while trying to smile to make himself more approachable… And failing spectacularly. It was hilarious and a good indication of things to come.
One thing Fringe heavily encourages is seeing a kind of show you never have before and opera is certainly outside the box for many.
Though the art form has a reputation for being more for rich old people, the snippet of Opera Reviens-Moi I saw was approachable and funny, and the actors certainly have the pipes befitting the genre. It looks to be a marriage of the classical and modern and a good way to introduce people to opera.
Fairy Fails is the story of a fairy who can’t fly. Starring House of Laureen’s Dot Dot Dot, it looks to be a treat for anyone who loves glitter, twinkles, twirls, and fairies.
A Brief History of Time
This play specializes in presenting complex concepts in a simplified, approachable format. Their presentation at Fringe for All used a variety of toys and props to explain astrophysics.
If you’re interested in the unknown but don’t feel like opening a book, check out A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.
L’Appel du Vide
Anyone who ever went through a witch phase in high school will want to check out L’Appel du Vide. It’s the story of a grieving witch who decides to perform a ritual to bring about the end of the world.
It looks hilarious and the bit I saw told me it will have all the theatrics a witch story needs.
The Aventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca
Following a successful award-nominated show last year, Philo 14 is back with an English sequel to their French language puppet show Les Aventures de Humphrey Beauregret.
Director Marissa Blair assures you that there will be blood in Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood, but it’s blood that will wash out. An immersive theatrical experience featuring a cast of characters as interesting as they are creepy, it’s play written by philosopher Antonin Artaud while developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.
Though the snippet at Fringe for All was mostly disclaimers about the kind of blood in the show, it looks to be a sure thing for people wanting something a little different.
The 2019 Montreal Fringe Festival runs May 27-June 19. Full Schedule: MontrealFringe.ca
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.
I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.
Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.
Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.
“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”
Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.
There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:
“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”
The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.
“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”
As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.
With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.
For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.
On a chilly night in November at Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, a band takes the stage. At a microphone on one side is a drag king, looking somber and sad as a solitary figure in a cloak covered in stars and stripes walks on stage to the tune of America The Beautiful.
Suddenly the figure, seemingly a blonde woman glamorously made up, turns, grabs the central mic and breaks into her number Tear Me Down. It’s the opening of In the Wings Promotions production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its title character, Hedwig, has just taken the stage.
This is not your typical play. Based on the so-called “off off off off-Broadway show” and film by John Cameron Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask who was present during opening night for a post-performance Q&A). It’s the tale of a “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who gets a sex change in order to marry an American soldier and cross over to the ally-controlled Western side of the city at a time when the Soviet Union restricted access.
It is not a play featuring many characters played by many actors, nor are there elaborate scene changes. The story is told almost entirely by Hedwig while she and her band, the Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak, perform across from a venue where her last spurned love, the star Tommy Gnosis, is playing to crowds of adoring fans. Her storytelling is interrupted by the show’s numerous songs, including the famous sing-along Wig in a Box.
Andrew Morrissey plays Hedwig. He does a fine job showing her struggles with her sexual identity, finding love, and peace with herself in America. His makeup, wigs, and costumes, done by Jess Beyer and Sig Moser, are faithful recreations of what people have come to expect of the character: black leather, denim, and studs that are staples of eighties and nineties rock outfits, Hedwig’s blonde curls with their signature center part, and the garish blue eye shadow, penciled eyebrows, and red lipstick.
Morrissey is unsteady in his high heels at times and his singing is occasionally pitchy, his German accent ranging from pronounced to non-existent. That said, he has the stage presence and the emotion the character requires. In the parts where Hedwig is coming unglued, you never doubt the sincerity of it.
It is not, however, Hedwig that steals the show in this production, but rather her second husband, Yitzhak, played by producer Noelle Hannibal. Clad in the beard and shapeless clothing of a drag king, her portrayal conveys the depression, fear, and passive aggressiveness of someone in an abusive relationship.
You feel it in every gesture, in every insult muttered under his breath, and in every passive reaction to Hedwig yanking the microphone from his hand when his powerful feminine voice breaks through hers. While Morrissey’s performance was very true to form, it is Hannibal’s portrayal that I remember the most clearly from that night.
The band, known as The Angry Inch never misses a beat (despite some issues with the sound system that night). Though they are clearly musicians first, they do have some acting talent and interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak throughout the show.
The show also featured animations by flash animation artist, StickdudeSeven. While they lacked colour and were less stylized than the animation in the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie, they did suit the material well. Unfortunately, the stage was not set up to truly do them or the projected lyrics for the sing-along justice. They were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage that was so low to the floor that Hedwig, standing in front of the stage, often obscured them. A set up that was higher or ever above the stage would have been easier to follow.
All that said, the play is a lot of fun. The story is sincere and relatable to anyone struggling with gender identity, domestic abuse, artistic expression, or just finding oneself. The music is catchy and uplifting with the occasional hint of guttural sex. Check it out.
* Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays Wednesday, November 21 and Thursday, November 22 at 8pm at Cabaret Mado, 1115 Ste-Catherine Est. Tickets available through In The Wings Promotions