When it comes to Halloween for adults in Montreal, there is no tradition more sacred than Rocky Horror. For over twenty years, the city has featured two ways to get one’s Rocky Horror fix every October: The Halloween Ball at the Imperial, and Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show at the Mainline Theatre.

The Halloween Ball usually featured a costume contest, followed by an interactive screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with actors pantomiming on stage at the same time. The Rocky Horror Show at the Mainline is quite a different beast, with actors acting, singing, and dancing the musical play that lead to the movie.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2019 and both events were cancelled, with the Mainline’s show going on hiatus for nearly three years. The organizers of the Halloween Ball tried to make up for public health measures with an online screening, but their charging full price admission kept people away.

Though public health restrictions have mostly been lifted, the Halloween Ball has been postponed until September 2023, so people will have to go to the show at the Mainline to get their Rocky Horror fix. Regarding demand, the ticket sales are proof enough, for the Mainline run sold out before its premier on October 20, 2022.

I’ve been a Rocky Horror devotee since my mid-teens. For me, a social outcast, the events signified freedom from alienation where no matter how you presented yourself the cast and crowd were there to welcome you.

For the director of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show at Mainline, Amy Blackmore, Rocky Horror represents home, nostalgia, and escapism:

“I think folks love that when you walk in and sit down you can forget everything else…I think that in our case we have fun with it, it’s campy, and above all, it’s the callbacks.”

For those who have never seen the show or attended the Halloween Ball aka “Rocky Virgins”, the callbacks are heckles in response to the actors. While throwing things is not permitted at the Mainline show, audiences are encouraged to use common callbacks you can find easily online, or invent your own. Blackmore encourages fans of the Halloween Ball and movie to see the live musical.

The Rocky Horror Show came first. They’re two different experiences but they’re familiar nonetheless….For anyone who’s never seen the live version, I highly recommend it because it can just augment your love and appreciation for Richard O’Brien’s work.”

Though public health restrictions have been largely lifted, COVID-19 is still very much part of life so I was curious as to how Amy Blackmore ensured the safety of cast and crew during the production. Blackmore welcomed the question, talking about the show’s regular hand washing and use of masks, only going without them during the week of the premier.

She spoke also of how health concerns affected the intimacy direction of the show, and how the floor show performers were reduced from the fifteen of past shows to seven, and their physical interaction with the audience was more limited. While audience members are encouraged to wear masks, the Mainline isn’t making it mandatory.

For regular attendees of The Rocky Horror Show at Mainline, myself included, I was dying to know what else had changed from past runs. Blackmore was coyly evasive.

“There’s definitely some fun new little secrets that’ll be revealed. What’s exciting is that we have decided to bring back most of the cast that we all love, Steph (Stephanie McKenna) as Frank, Megan Vera Starling who won the META Award for Outstanding Supporting Role in our production of 2018, and of course Kenny (Streule) as the narrator…We have a new Rocky this year, which I’m pretty thrilled about. It’s a different take! You’re gonna have to come and check it out! We can’t reveal all of our secrets!”

Though my love of Rocky Horror is unconditional, it saddened me to hear that the mostly white cast of past runs was coming back, especially given the ever present need for more diversity in all areas of life. Blackmore admits that because this year was a remount of the pre-pandemic show, they didn’t bother to hold auditions. She encourages people of all backgrounds to come out and audition for future runs.

Mainline presents Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show at Mainline Theatre from October 27 to October 31, 2022. Though the show is sold out, be sure to check out future runs!

Summer in Montreal means many things for many people. Dirty old men trolling for much younger partners at Grand Prix weekend, The International Jazz Festival, Francofolies, Just for Laughs, and the torrent of construction that torments pedestrians and motorists alike.

For me one of the highlights is Shakespeare in the Park, a chance to take in some fresh air and culture, courtesy of Montreal’s own Repercussion Theatre. After a nearly three year hiatus due to the COVID19 pandemic, they were back with a vengeance, resuming a tour of that went to parks across Montreal and as far outside the city as Morin Heights from July 14 to August 6, 2022.

The play on offer this year was part original play, part medley. Titled All Shall Be Well, the show was a discussion of the Plague in England and Europe during Elizabethan times and how it may or may not have affected Shakespeare’s writing.

There were history lessons and science lessons, all helped by a cast as easy on the eyes as it was diverse, with the actors slipping into simple but effective costumes for when they acted out scenes from Shakespeare’s various works that may have contained subtle references to outbreaks of the bubonic plague.

All Shall Be Well was a fine play, but in many respects it was a disjointed one.

The first half of the show focused heavily on the science and history of the pandemics during Shakespeare’s time, acted with a child-like enthusiasm that felt very much like an after school special. Most notable in this part was Samantha Bitonti who played adorable and excitable in a way that would easily fit among the cast of The Wiggles or any other children’s program.

The second half of All Shall Be Well was closer to what I expected of Shakespeare in the park: passionate lovers, lyrical language, some bawdiness, and portrayals of authority and grief and despair, masterfully played by Tiernan Cornford, Anton May, Andrew Joseph Richardson, and Thomas Vallières. The second half focused more on scenes from Shakespeare’s works and less on the historical context.

It’s as if the play was written knowing full well that most attendees who had brought their kids were going to leave at intermission, leaving the real Shakespeare fans behind to watch the rest. Had I known this in advance and were not there to review it, I probably would have only come for the second half of All Shall Be Well. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first part of the show; it’s that I was acutely aware of the fact that I was not its target audience.

Though All Shall Be Well was fun, I do hope that next summer Repercussion Theatre will stick to more traditional material like Shakespeare and Molière and employ theatrical tricks within them to keep young kids interested, as they have in the past. In the meantime, this would be a fitting piece to tour schools with during the colder months.

For now, I can’t wait to see what they’ll put on next summer.

The weather these days may be failing us, but two Fringe Festival shows are definitely delivering, especially if you have a penchant for time travel.

Comedian/Storyteller Al Lafrance, who has been appearing at the festival for a decade now, returns to the stage with a reflective piece entitled Is This Yours? at Café Campus. As the title suggests, Lafrance is often curious about the items he finds at yard sales and thrift shops and what they say about the complex lives we lead. Old photos and handwritten letters have granted him the opportunity to step into the past, crash hundreds of weddings and enjoy beach vacations with families he’ll never meet.

Al Lafrance

Sure, it may sound a little creepy to speculate on people’s lives based on the random fragments they’ve donated or discarded, but as the affable Montrealer explains, he’s always been fascinated by the legacies we leave behind. Especially those of “weirdos with passion projects”.

It’s that very fascination that led him to investigate a particularly unusual discovery – a handmade board game about hitchhiking – and seek out its creator in order to understand how it came to exist in the first place. The answer to that question forms the backbone of this show, which touches on the strange twists and turns that can happen along the way to our ultimate destination.

Energetic and unassuming, it’s easy to see why Lafrance is a two-time Just For Laughs Award winner. His cleverly-woven tale soothes and satisfies, like a warm cup of tea after an especially pleasant dinner party. So, grab a bite to eat on The Main, head on over to his show and prepare to be transported.

Speaking of pleasant journeys, this year’s edition of Fringe features an astonishing one-woman show that revisits the remarkable ups and downs of Josephine Baker’s legendary life. Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play stars Tymisha Harris as the titular entertainer – no pun intended – who broke down barriers as the first black woman to star in a major motion picture.

Having already appeared Off-Broadway and toured around the world with this act, Harris couldn’t be more comfortable in Baker’s skin – or her own, for that matter – and is clearly having a ball strutting her stuff. That confidence permeates the show in the best way possible, letting you know from the moment the performance begins that you’re in for a real treat.

Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker

This piece covers Baker’s ascent to stardom as a sexy, banana-clad dancing sensation in Paris, her work as a spy during World War II, the various romantic entanglements that popped up along the way and finally her activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s a startling history made all the more vivid by Harris’ elegant and enthusiastic delivery. Baker remains a beloved icon and Harris takes visible pride in portraying the nuances of her dazzling and daunting life.

In spite of being born in St. Louis, Baker was rejected by racist audiences upon her return to the States in the ‘30s. The pain of that rejection is reflected in the songs (Strange Fruit, The Times They Are A-Changin’) which Harris delivers with a powerful, unwavering voice. Special credit must be given to her sound technician, who manages to keep her vocals from deafening the audience. Goosebumps, however, are unavoidable.

Biographical one-person shows can sometimes struggle to maintain their momentum, but Harris paces herself well, jumping from song to dance to witty remark with the inexhaustible spirit of a seasoned performer. In spite of the show’s tight structure, she still manages to be playful and improvisational in her approach.

Magical flickering fingers and a knowing smile compliment her array of eye-catching costumes hidden amidst the boudoir-themed set. Harris even goes through the trouble of including a small statue in tribute to Baker’s pet cheetah “Chiquita”, regardless of whether audiences will even spot it – again, no pun intended.

From the smallest detail to the biggest flourish, Josephine dazzles. It stands easily as one of the best shows to ever play at the Montreal Fringe Festival and is, quite frankly, a must-see.

With the festival wrapping up this Sunday and tickets selling out fast, make your way over the Fringe website to secure your seats and swing by Josephine’s website for more information on the play.

The press release for What About Albert? had me at hello:

An absurdist comedy. A Godot inspired fever dream! Pick and Pod are two helpless part timers trapped in a restaurant that may or may not exist…

And the website offered the following advisory: Content Warning This show may depict existential dread and gore.

Be still my heart.

If Waiting for Godot is nihilism dressed in the somber, tattered suit of Chaplin-era tramps, this is a self aware romp of quick wit, wearing the face paint of a fast food franchise spokes-clown.

The script is artfully fast paced, like Gilmore Girls or Aaron Sorkin. No easy feat for writer Xander Chung or performers Jordan Prentice (Pod), Fanny Dvorkin (Pick) and Joseph Ste-Marie (Billy – puppet by Samantha Gold); it’s a trick that only shines when everyone’s on the same page, and here, they certainly were.

The stars delivered so much while their characters, by design, did very little. I was impressed by their performances: it was a lot of range to flex, and if they’d slipped up on the tosses and catches of the linguistic acrobatics, the whole thing would’ve collapsed. A risky prospect that succeeded wonderfully.

I definitely laughed more than expected, and the absurdly strange plot turns did not disappoint. There were truisms hidden in plain sight too, deep fried and ready for consumption.

When Pick says “Appetite and fries are all I have”, maybe I felt it a little too hard; in the end, it’s tasty experiences like this that add flavor to the weird ride we’re all on. Go check it out while it’s hot and fresh.

What About Albert? runs at the Montreal Fringe until June 19th. Tickets at MontrealFringe.ca

Photo by Joseph Ste-Marie, courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

To say that it’s wonderful to finally have the Fringe Festival back up and running would be a serious understatement. There’s a palpable sense of gratitude every night, as eager audiences and passionate performers exchange smiles of appreciation in venues up and down The Main.

After a two-year drought, we’re clearly desperate for some live entertainment, but that doesn’t mean any old thing will quench our thirst. Montrealers are a discerning bunch, so with that in mind, we offer the following reviews of shows currently featured in the festivities.

Tango on the Pointe (photo Andrew Clark)

Even those unfamiliar with dance will find themselves swept up in the enchanting Tango, to the Pointe – a sensual and spellbinding show that fuses Argentinian tango with classical ballet stylings to thrilling effect. Director/choreographer Alexander Richardson and partner Erin Scott-Kafadar bring the language of love to vivid life through movement in this eye-catching production, the Company’s fifth thus far.

It opens with an edgy number lit by LED lights before gradually progressing into more traditional tango territory. The dynamic duo slink across the floor to the sounds of spoken word, guitar and eventually accordion accompaniment, the likes of which causes legs to unfurl into dazzling spins.

Their crisp movements and astonishing flexibility early on give way to a softness and vulnerability that pulls you in during their third routine of the evening, set to pleading piano music. Tango, evidently, can be about more than simply building and releasing tension.

Mark Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar (photo Mark Ruddick)

Humor starts to creep in around the halfway mark, with Richardson playfully encouraging the crowd to marvel at his muscles before dancing a deconstructed tango with two wooden poles in the place of a partner. Scott-Kafadar busts out some unexpected moves all her own, including a moonwalk en pointe and a feat of strength so startling it’s best left unspoiled. By the time she’s twirling around with one foot in a pointe shoe and another in a stiletto, you’re likely to believe there’s little she can’t effortlessly handle.

It all comes together in a breathless finale punctuated by lifts that will leave you cheering and wanting more. This blend of tango and ballet is the dance equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter – a combination so satisfying you’ll never want to see them separately again.

The only complaint possible is that the final Montreal performance of Pointe is apparently already sold out. Luckily, their next stop is the nearby Ottawa Fringe festival, where they’ll dazzle audiences for six performances between June 16th and the 25th.

Isabel Fuentes and Alexander Cruz (photo Rana Liu)

Considering what’s unfolding in the United States right now, the timing couldn’t be better for an insightful piece of theatre that explores the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Regrettably, A Little Bit Pregnant, which plays at Mainline Theatre, misses the mark by a whole lot. This meandering play from Concordia student Kate Lavut recycles a series of well-worn cliches leftover from sitcoms long since departed in its depiction of two couples reacting to the news that one of them is with child.

The script skips over the crucial step of establishing compelling characters and jumps straight to the agonizing and hand-wringing over what must be done. Unusually long pauses punctuate the leaden dialogue, which consists of gems like “I wanted someone to want me!”, “I love to love you!”, “it was different then!” and the obligatory “my uterus – my choice!” By the third reference to “making love”, you’ll start to wonder if the playwright constructed this piece from fragments of an old Dynasty script.

What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in unintentional laughs. Alexander Cruz, dressed in a grandad sweater and perpetually fussing with his hair, brings welcome comedic energy to the role of Shane, particularly when blathering on and knocking over plants. He has zero believability as baby daddy to Isabel Fuentes’ Tasha, mind you, but her natural charisma and confident delivery are almost enough to help you forget that pesky little detail.

A Little Bit Pregnant Cast (photo Rana Liu)

The likeable Sarah Durocher (Maya) and Sanjeev Mannan (Tony) are given so little of consequence to do, they’re upstaged by their costume changes and a concealed bag of popcorn, respectively. It’s a real shame their character arcs are all as flat as a pancake because with material better suited to their strengths, it’s easy to imagine this cast carrying a more memorable piece fully to term.

That’s the charm of Fringing: sometimes you wind up seeing something polished and perfect, and sometimes you see emerging talents before they’ve fully found their footing. Either way, at these ticket prices, you’ll still spend less than you would at the multiplex. So, head on over to the Montreal Fringe website for more information and enjoy the remainder of the festival, which we’ll continue to cover here at Forget The Box.

The 2022 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs through June 19. Tickets and info at MontrealFringe.ca

From June 9th through the 19th, the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival will feature over 500 performances by 250 artists in 11 venues. That’s something that happened every June, until it didn’t.

For the past two years, the first event of Montreal’s festival season has only been able to offer completely virtual or hybrid versions. Now, as an early sign of things getting back to normal, the Fringe is back to full force.

With that in mind, here are some potential highlights:

What About Albert? A dark and absurdist comedy about fast-food workers? Hot-button topic meets Godot? That’s exactly what The Malicious Basement Theatre Company has in store for Fringe audiences with What About Albert?. Full disclosure: FTB regular contributor Samantha Gold did the set and costume design for this one, so that’s how it got on our radar, but we’re sure glad it did!

Velvet’s Greatest Tits Given this city’s love for all things burlesque, book your tickets to Velvet La Touche’s new show in advance. The talented Montrealer not only strips but plays classical piano at the same time. Two types of thrills for the price of one sounds like a good time, doesn’t it? Velvet’s Greatest Tits plays at Cafe Campus, though we’re happy to report she’s not the only sexy number in this year’s lineup.

Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play The story of famed entertainer Josephine Baker comes to life in the one-woman, bilingual musical act entitled Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, at La Chapelle. Co-creator and star Tymisha Harris has been touring all over with this piece, which debuted in 2016 at the San Diego Fringe Festival and also appeared Off-Broadway in 2018. Hailed as “a triumphant homage to a life worth remembering” by CBC, this is likely to be a surefire hit.

The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery Fringe Fest offers all sorts of intriguing delights, such as The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery – a one-man puppet piece from Adam Francis Proulx playing at Le Ministere. Having already won awards at the London and Orlando Fringe Festivals, this one seems certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Who doesn’t love puppets?

Featured Image: What About Albert? by Joseph Ste. Marie Courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs June 9-19 at various venues. For tickets and info, please visit MontrealFringe.ca

It’s a rare and precious thing when an audience at a live show can’t even bring themselves to clap. People sitting in rapt attention and refusing to disrupt the what’s unfolding before them is a very good sign. Terrible productions always get tepid obligatory applause at regular intervals. Terrific ones paralyze.

All this to say, if you found yourself overwhelmed partway through Act One of Contact Theatre’s chilling production of Next To Normal, trust that you were not alone. The Pulitzer Prize-winning piece has packed a serious punch since it first debuted on Broadway in 2009, but this new production brought audiences even deeper into the drama thanks to the sensitive direction of Debora Friedmann, who also choreographed the piece.

Friedman and co-founder Ally Brumer, whose company is focused on staging musicals that “grapple with heavy moral issues and question the status quo”, have taken on one of the all-time heavyweights and proven they’re more than up to the challenge. The plot of Normal follows a suburban mother whose struggles with depression and the medical system reach a breaking point.

As uncomfortable a narrative as that may seem, Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics are overflowing with the kind of honesty and humor that make the exploration of such deep wounds extremely cathartic. Tom Kitt’s Tony-winning rock score, meanwhile, carries you through all of Diana’s ups and downs with soulful energy, especially when performed by a band as talented as this six-person group, under the guidance of gifted Musical Director/Pianist Giancarlo Scalia. It was worth the price of admission for the concert alone, but thankfully this production had much more to offer.

Making clever use of every inch of Studio Hydro-Quebec at Monument National, the creative team gave Diana’s family both the framework of a two-story home in which to grapple with their emotional problems and a large abstract space just beyond its walls, where all bets were off. The audience surrounded this area, getting an up-close-and-personal view of the performers.

Scenic Designer Nikki Mabias Melchor capitalized on this intimacy through the use of a platform that unmoored from the house and served as both a prison and an escape for the struggling heroine. As Diana dealt with therapy sessions or found herself literally torn between her husband and son, Friedmann – with assistance from lighting designer Christopher Wardell – used this cage to create a sense of movement and chaos, as well as some striking visual tableaus. It’s clear an abundance of thought was put into the staging of this production and the end results spoke for themselves.

Diana (Lisa McCormack) and the shadow of Gabe

The cast of amateur talent, meanwhile, cast serious doubt on the fairness of the term “amateur”. There were some truly great vocalists here, beginning with McGill law student Hannah Lazare (Natalie) and Dawson College theatre graduate Jake Cohen (Henry).

Between Normal and Carrie over at Mainline Theatre, Montreal stages seem to have had quite a few compelling young couples entertaining us lately. This duo’s acting chops helped flesh out Natalie’s journey as the daughter of a severely ill woman who is unable to relate to her.

Those familiar with Normal surely appreciated this production’s emphasis on the parallels between Natalie and Henry’s burgeoning romance and that of Diana and Dan, which has frayed to the point of breaking.

As the loyal and helpless husband, Joel Bernstein brought serious pipes and an impressive beard to his portrayal of Dan, who tries to keep his wife’s illness from swallowing them all up. Anyone who has had to watch from the sidelines as a loved one deteriorates could relate to his frustration and determination, which Bernstein delivered with conviction.

Lisa McCormack decidedly had some of the most challenging scenes in the piece, having to play multiple emotions at once while singing a score that proved daunting even for Broadway icon Alice Ripley. She managed well enough and connected in the big moments where it counted most, but – like Diana – was bolstered considerably by the strengths of those around her.

McGill graduate Cathal Rynne, for instance, almost singlehandedly fueled the piece as Diana’s confrontational son Gabe with his powerful belt and deceptively appealing nature. Rounding out the cast was Daniel Wilkenfeld as the various Doctors attempting to help Diana. His comedic flair and confident voice brought a lot to the party, even when his characters warned that “at times, it does hurt to be healed.”

The cast

After having their production of Chicago abruptly cancelled by the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, Contact Theatre has bounced back beautifully with a show that’s sure to linger the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to have seen it.

Alas, Next To Normal only ran for one week, wrapping up its final performance yesterday evening. It truly deserved a longer run and has certainly proven that there’s an abundance of talent within Montreal’s English-language musical theatre scene, even when there’s sometimes a lack of financial support.

Perhaps it’s time for us all to make a little bit more noise – if not during a captivating performance, then afterwards, once the goosebumps have subsided – so that a company as capable as Contact can get the funding they require to reach as many live entertainment-starved Montrealers as possible. In these challenging times, good art can truly be the best medicine.

For more information, please visit ContactTheatre.ca or reach out to show your support via social media

Images courtesy of Contact Theatre

“Doesn’t anybody ever get it right?”

It’s a question the betrayed and broken-hearted Carrie White has been asking since 1988. And audiences have been right there with her.

Stephen King’s classic horror story about a tortured telekinetic teen made for a thrilling novel in ’74 and a chilling, Academy Award-nominated film in ‘76, but few believed it could succeed as a musical when Lawrence D. Cohen – who’d written the screenplay for De Palma’s movie – teamed up with FAME composer and lyricist Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford to try and tell the story through song. Carrie: The Musical was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in February ‘88 and landed on Broadway that April with a thud.

Critics on both sides of the Atlantic eviscerated the piece for its over-the-top theatrics, spastic Debbie Allen choreography, inexplicably Greek toga-themed costumes, weak special effects and incompetent storytelling. It closed in New York after 16 previews and five performances, losing 8 million dollars and earning the reputation of the flop to end all flops.

Nevertheless, elements of the score captured the hearts of musical theatre fans, who circulated bootleg recordings in the hopes that Carrie could somehow rise again. Those grassroots efforts compelled the creative team to revisit their wayward child in 2012, when they retooled the piece into something less outrageous and more true to the spirit of the book. That Off-Broadway incarnation rehabilitated Carrie’s reputation somewhat and even inspired the CW’s Riverdale to theme an episode of their show around the musical.

Now, the revised Carrie has made its way to Mainline Theatre thanks to the efforts of In The Wings Promotions, who must be credited for not only bringing this rarely-produced misfit of a show to Montreal audiences for the first time, but also for assembling a compelling cast of local talent.

Mary-Francis Kobelt steps into the challenging title role with charm and vulnerability. Though she begins as a quiet, hunched figure on the outskirts, her passionate vocals hint at the hopeful spirit trapped inside the body of a girl tormented by classmates and abused at home.

In the wrong hands, Carrie can come across as a cloying, one-note victim, but Kobelt takes care to make her portrayal a nuanced one, so you can root for her as she builds up her confidence and starts letting her guard down. Hers is a Carrie you half expect will make it through the prom unscathed.

It helps that she has the support of such an affable escort. As Tommy Ross, Jonathan Vanderzon brings an easygoing nature and sweet, clear voice to the often thankless role.

If it never quite made sense that a popular High School guy would agree to take an outcast to prom at the behest of his girlfriend, Vanderzon somehow connects those dots, effortlessly embodying that rarest of creatures: a genuinely nice guy without an ounce of ego or insincerity. The Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville native has clearly made good use of his training in the Big Apple and seems destined for great things.

Tommy Ross (Jonathan Vanderzon) and Sue Snell (Maya Lewis)

Similarly, Maya Lewis floats through each of her songs as the aforementioned Sue Snell, whose attempts to help Carrie ultimately end up backfiring. By the time she and Vanderzon sing the act two duet You Shine, they’ve all but walked away with the show.

Maria Del Real puts up a good fight, however, as the spunky and lovable Miss Gardner, who does double-duty as gym teacher and therapist to insecure Carrie. Though the revised version of Carrie still insists on having Gardner fill Carrie’s head with far-fetched fantasies of finding true love, Real mines Unsuspecting Hearts for humor, winning over both her doubtful student and the crowd with her can-do attitude and pleasant Mexican accent. If Carrie has typically been light on laughs, this cast at least knows where to find them.

It’s the thrills and chills that seem to be noticeably absent. Much of the fear factor in the original came from Tony Award winner Betty Buckley’s terrifying portrayal of a religious parent gone berserk. One could easily argue that her legendary, no-holds-barred interpretation of Margaret White is what kept the show from being completely dismissed and forgotten altogether.

Producer and costar Noelle Hannibal approaches the plum role of Margaret with noticeable hesitation, denying Carrie the tormentor it needs to justify its heroine’s emotional scars. There is no vocal belting or physical beating, and the show is weaker for it.

Aly Slominski throws herself more willingly into the role of mean girl Chris, with Dylan Stanley along for the ride as bad boy Billy, and though the two have fun, they simply don’t have as many opportunities as Margaret to give the show its edge.

Margaret White (Noelle Hannibal)

Musical director Ian Baird and his merry band of musicians (Gregory Kustka, Kevin Bourne and Colin Gé Pigeon Edwards) nearly compensate, delivering on the creepy, rock-inspired score with precision and gusto. Unfortunately, Carrie’s powers seem to have triggered a plethora of technical problems behind-the-scenes for Bruce Lambie’s sound design on opening night.

Microphones frequently crackled, popped and cut out randomly. For a space as intimate as Mainline, one would think it would suffice to do away with malfunctioning mikes altogether, especially since the cast is apparently able to sing out even while wearing face masks, as is presently required.

They cannot, however, be heard over the obnoxiously loud audio clips which punctuate the show with unwelcomed frequency. Simply put, some adjustments need to be made.

The staging, meanwhile, resembles more what you’d expect to see in a rehearsal space than an actual production. Black curtains and boxes are used to suggest Carrie’s home and the schoolgrounds, with precious few props handy to bring those environments to life. The presentation suffers as a result.

In And Eve Was Weak, for instance, Carrie’s mother is supposed to violently lock her daughter up, either in a basement prison, as seen in the Broadway show, or a closet, as depicted in the film. Here, Carrie is simply ushered to the back of the stage and left to kneel, as an ambiguous sound effect vaguely suggests the locking of a door. Audience members unfamiliar with this plot point were left puzzled.

Later, Carrie is supposed to dramatically reveal her powers to her mother by willing windows to slam shut during a thunderstorm. It would be a simple enough effect to pull off, but having provided no windows, set designer You Chen Zhang and director Nadia Verrucci leave their star to simply nod towards the audience as more sounds blast through the speakers, attempting to compensate for what should be happening in the theatre.

Two practical effects are employed early on to illustrate Carrie gaining control over her powers and they work rather well, but once we get to the prom scene – the scene that for many is the sole reason to watch any adaptation of Carrie – the creative team seems to simply throw in the towel. Astonishingly, lighting designer Alexander Smith opts to employ black lights during Carrie’s climactic meltdown in lieu of, say, red lights. Or better yet, plain old stage blood.

For a smaller scale production to cut corners is understandable. To deny Carrie audiences a blood-soaked finale is not, especially after the Broadway original and subsequent revivals were heavily criticized for the very same thing. Blood is very much at the center of the story being told, so even when working within the tightest of budgets, it’s worth prioritizing.

Having said that, one can’t help but hope Carrie will work out some of these kinks in the coming performances, because – thanks to its brave cast – there’s a real pulse behind this production that deserves to be celebrated. After two years of lockdowns, we’ve had precious little live theatre to enjoy, least of all unconventional theatre.

So even with its tragic elements, Carrie remains a curiously uplifting experience. Good or bad, right or wrong, love it or hate it – it definitely makes for a night you’ll never forget.

For tickets, please visit the MainLine Theatre website. Carrie runs through May 14th. For more information on the history of Carrie: The Musical, listen to the Out For Blood podcast, which chronicles the show’s fascinating development through interviews with its creative team and fans worldwide.

Images courtesy of In the Wings Promotions

Since the beginning of our collective Covid-19 nightmare, so many industries have struggled to stay afloat, perhaps none more than live theatre. After all, a big part of what makes taking in a show so special is the communal aspect of the experience.

There’s something therapeutic about sitting down with a bunch of strangers, listening to an overture and instantly being transported. How transported can one possibly feel, though, when just being in a crowd is cause for alarm?

Pandemics and live events simply do not mix. Thankfully, we seem to be easing our way out of the worst of it (touch wood), and as restrictions lift, Montrealers are slowly start trying to resume normal activities.

Are we really ready, then, to return to theatres? To sit amongst one another for over two hours and forget our problems? And crucially, are there any theatrical characters even capable of both reassuring and dazzling us?

Apparently, Jellicles can and Jellicles do. That’s right kiddies: CATS, the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history is on tour and in Montreal this week, heralding a return to our habit of regularly playing host to popular Broadway shows.

Remember when Come From Away stopped by in 2019? Or The Book or Mormon in 2017? Remember how nice it was when we could expect the latest hit show from the Great White Way to swing by for a visit? Well, like a friendly tabby rubbing its nose against your elbow, this classic is back to remind us everything will be alright, and frankly, it’s not a moment too soon.

On the one hand, CATS is musical theatre comfort food in more ways than one. The show has a playful and varied score by none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, with arguably one of the best musical theatre ballads ever as its crown jewel. It is also, of course, bursting at the seams with inventive choreography.

For this tour, the work of the late, great Gillian Lynne has been reimagined by Andy Blankenbuehler, meaning those who have seen CATS before can look forward to some slightly different moves this time around. There’s just something innately fun about watching dancers transform into felines right before your eyes, using little more than unitards, legwarmers, makeup and artistic expression.

For many, CATS has been a gateway drug to the magic of theatre and power of dance, so those experiencing it for the first time are sure to come away inspired. The show has a free-flowing narrative structure, having been based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and as such demands little more from those in attendance than a willingness to surrender to its unique tone. Bottom line, audiences of all ages tend to get a kick out of this one.

On the other hand, though, there can be no denying that the public’s love for the material has been seriously tested by the lingering stench of the 2019 film adaptation. It’s difficult to think of a recent movie musical more universally loathed by the masses (sorry, Dear Evan Hansen).

Instead of taking its cues from the stylized costume designs that first took the world by storm in 1981, CATS the movie tried to go literal and use visual effects to transform the likes of Dame Judi Dench, James Corden, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson into bizarre human/animal hybrid creatures. The end results were both laughable and disturbing.

The picture struggled to make its release date and then, after being rightly criticized for having shoddy CGI, sent out a modified cut with corrections days later. It was truly an unprecedented fiasco, and yet, it must still be said that director Tom Hooper was fighting a losing battle from the get-go.

CATS is one of those “out-there” concepts whose success depends entirely on the sensation of witnessing it live. People acting like cats up on a screen is not the same as people acting like cats around you in a theatre.

The suspension of disbelief is far greater when you know you’re being told a story in person and can feel the energy it creates. It also helps that at least in person, there can be no terrifying CGI blunders to take you out of the moment.

So all things considered, this tour is really serving two purposes. It will hopefully erase the flop film adaptation from our collective consciousness by reminding us what CATS is really all about, while also inviting us to return to our seats, so we can remember just how healing and joyful live theatre can be.

And it’s been a long time coming, considering this show was originally slated to entertain Montrealers in March 2020, only to be rescheduled for August 2020 and then delayed for an additional 18 months.

It’s a safe bet the energy from the audiences this week will rival that of the performers on stage, and why shouldn’t it? We’re overdue for some communal celebrating. Whatever new challenges may come in the weeks or months ahead, it’s definitely high time for the memory of brighter days to live again.

CATS runs at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier from March 8th to the 13th. Visit Evenko.ca or catsthemusical.com for ticket information

Wretch is a work of art. The show is the brainchild of The Malicious Basement’s artistic director Alexander Barth and director Marissa Blair after numerous discussions between them about theatre and philosophy.

“I thought he was working on a ‘Goldilocks-type’ story, and then he came back with Wretch,” Blair says in an email.

Wretch debuted at Festival de la Bête Noire’s virtual theatre festival in February 2021, and will be part of Montreal Fringe 2021. The theatre community has faced particular challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most have opted to go virtual or spend the time working on projects they’ve been neglecting. This created particular challenges with Wretch, with actors having to wear masks the whole time, and Blair and cast developing a culture and characters that fit CNESST safety guidelines and their personal comfort zones.

Festival de la Bête Noire had production rules that restricted any post production or cutting. In order to work around this, Blair created a fourth character, the Voyeur, who would act as the audience’s eyes, “able to roam around the stage space (in the round) deciding what was important to see – to work as an invisible entity, or a ghost-like figure walking amongst the other characters.”

Other challenges came with Quebec’s (soon to be lifted) curfew, as it created additional limitations regarding rehearsal times. As to what it was like filming a play as opposed to preparing something for the live stage, Blair says it’s completely different, “like asking a baseball player to join a cricket match. Not everyone can do it, or should do it.”

If you’re looking for a play that follows a straightforward format with an introduction, denouement, and conclusion this is not the show for you. If you are uncomfortable witnessing physical and emotional abuse, this is definitely not the show for you. An abuse survivor myself, the show made me squirm in a lot of ways and I was grateful that a friend agreed to watch it with me – socially distanced and masked.

The best way to describe Wretch is as a study, an insight into the kinds of abuse that typically happens behind closed doors. There is blood, one of Marissa Blair’s signatures, and there is some other liquid my friend and I thought was either bile or feces, all fake, of course.

There is also emotional abuse, bondage, pain and mutilation. What makes this piece a standout is how accurately it portrays how an abuser can go from mundane affection to brutal physical and emotional abuse. More importantly, the gender dynamic is flipped, with Lila Bata-Walsh as the abuser and Jordan Prentice the abusee.

The tale of a woman being abused is a tale we’re all familiar with, but situations where a man is abused by a woman are still taboo. Wretch forces this dynamic out into the open, with Jordan Prentice’s riveting portrayal of a man trying to navigate his partner’s abusive, violent mood swings and actions, and yet so accustomed to both that he cannot bring himself to leave despite being given every opportunity.

Playing off of him, Lila Bata-Walsh is scary, portraying the shifts between childlike anger and romantic yet maternal love, perfectly playing the violent aggression and mood swings that so many abuse survivors are all-too familiar with. The third player in Wretch is the one whom I sadly had the greatest issues with. Jacqueline Van De Geer plays Mother Bliss, a dominatrix “topping” both Bata-Walsh and Prentice, and while she did hit all the marks one would expect of a domme, her movements and delivery were too stylized, rendering them insincere.

Van De Geer’s Mother Bliss doesn’t seem like an actual dominatrix at work, but rather an actor playing a dominatrix at work. I would have liked to see a Mother Moon that was more relaxed, with a quieter kind of intensity than what I saw in Wretch.

If you want a true insight into domestic abuse, with a little BDSM thrown in, you need to see Wretch. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also captivating.

Wretch is playing online June 1st to 20th as part of the hybrid 2021 Montreal Fringe Festival. Tickets available through MontrealFringe.ca (currently only the 20th is displayed)

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:

Visionary Wonderland by PC the Infamous is available on multiple platforms

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

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

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

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

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.

For more information, please visit montrealfringe.ca

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 Professor, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

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.

Triptych by Marissa Blaire, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

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