Sunday, January 31, 2010

PuShing Further

Since Thursday, I've attended two world premieres and one remounting at the PuSh Festival.

First up was The Passion of Joan of Arc, a screening of Carl Th. Dreyer's acclaimed 1927 silent film (starring the incomparable Renée Falconetti as the nationalist martyr) in Christ Church Cathedral, accompanied by a newly commissioned score by Stefan Smulovitz, and featuring soprano Vivane Houle singing text by poet Colin Browne. The place was packed (this was a one-night only event), and the energy in the Cathedral was electric.

The performance did not disappoint. On its own, Dreyer's film, with its famous close-ups and what my colleague Laura U. Marks (who was in the audience) would call its "haptic" qualities, overwhelms the senses. Add in Smulovitz's brilliant new score, and especially the auratic counterpoint he creates between strings and wind instruments, and the effect was positively spine-tingling. Christ Church's grand cathedral organ helped in no small measure, in this regard.

On Friday it was over to the Cultch to take in the opening of Rimini Protokoll's Best Before, another commission by PuSh. Berlin-based RP is famous for working with local "experts" to create their community-based shows. In this case, the group decided to build a piece around the Lower Mainland's video gaming industry, bringing in computer programmer Brady Marks, game tester Duff Armour, traffic flagger Ellen Shultz, and former politician and Railway Club owner Bob Williams to aid in the construction of the piece, and to guide us in the audience in our interactivity.

The animating concept of the show is an on-line world called Bestland, in which audience members are given an avatar based on where they are sitting in the auditorium, and which they then manipulate via an individual console attached to their seat. Based on a series of questions posed by our experts, we get to choose our sex, gender, and various other aspects of our identity, as well as the general social, political, economic, and ethical framework for the type of society we think Bestland should be.

As a concept, the piece is brilliant; however, the practicalities of its interactive execution still need some refining, it seems to me. First off, the piece is too long: two-plus hours with no intermission. Second, our on-screen avatars are difficult to keep track of. Brady showed each of us our positions, and pointed out the "Drop" and "Jump" buttons we could press to keep track of where we were on screen. But the general indistinguishability of the avatars (they are triangle-shaped blobs of varying colours that attain different props as the show progresses), and the chaos of movement on screen as audience members hit their console buttons with mad abandon, made it difficult to figure out where one was during several crucial moments when key questions were being posed to us. Then again, it struck me that these questions were the real crux of the performance: we were told repeatedly by Duff that it was just a game, and that we could make whatever choices we wanted, choices we wouldn't normally make in life. But, of course, in games, as in life, there are always consequences, and with each additional question posed the burden of decision became that much more fraught.

Vancouver is the first test audience for this audacious show, and I have no doubt that as it travels to Brighton and Seattle and Toronto and various other cities and festivals in the coming year it will become even more complex and intriguing. For now, I was simply thrilled to be part of its unveiling.

Finally, last night we took in the final show of Rumble Productions and Theatre Replacement's Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut at Performance Works on Granville Island. First shown at the 2008 PuSh Festival, the show concerns performer James Long's discovery, in 2005, of a suitcase full of photo albums in the alley near his East Vancouver home, and the theatrical narrative he and his collaborators proceeded to construct around the documents. When, however, the family behind the photographs gets wind of the idea, they threaten legal action, and the play becomes instead at once an hilarious and deeply moving rumination on the documentary process and the ownership of memory. All of this is revealed slowly and cannily via various visual means in the production, in a manner akin to time lapse photography, with the suck-in-the breath moment coming at the end of the performance when one realizes that all along Long had really been talking at a displaced remove about his own family. There's a lot of humour in the work, but also a great deal of self-loathing, and the first clue in this regard should be the bunny suit.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Two More PuSh Reviews: Jerk and poetics: a ballet brut

I haven't kept up, but I went through a phase where I read everything by Dennis Cooper, the American author who writes brilliantly affectless prose about alienated gay punks and the predatory older men--often serial killers and rapists--to whom they're attracted. Cooper's work is so powerful and disturbing in part because you're never quite sure if the dark nihilistic plots he writes about actually take place, so elaborately framed is the narration (see, for example, the photographic hoax at the heart of Cooper's best-known work, Frisk).

I was reminded of this stylistic quirk of Cooper's as I sat in a starkly lit studio space in VIVO on Main Street last Sunday to take in the final performance of Jerk at this year's PuSh Festival. Jerk, a novel by Cooper that I haven't read, is actually based on real-life events, told from the point of view of David Brooks, the younger accomplice of Texas serial killer Dean Corll, who was convicted of killing more than 25 teenage boys in the early 1970s. Still, Gisèle Vienne's arresting dramatic adaptation of the novel, created in collaboration with Cooper (text and dramaturgy), and performer Jonathan Capdevielle, makes effective use of its own hyper-theatrical framing techniques. Indeed, the play's central conceit is that we in the audience take on the role of a psychology class visiting Brooks in prison, who then proceeds to tell us his story in two parts, and by various aesthetic means. First we are given a bit of text to read. Then Capdevielle, playing Brooks, performs a puppet play of what we've just read. Then, while Capdevielle momentarily exits the stage, there's a longer text to read. When Capdevielle returns he eschews puppetry for ventriloquism, doing a series of characters' voices in a bravura performance that is as eery as it is captivating.

An excavation of the recesses of Brooks' psyche, the oral/aural effect is to plant some of that horror in our own heads. After an emotionally eviscerating 55 minutes, you could hear a pin drop, so gripped was the audience by what it had just witnessed.

Last night it was to the Roundhouse to see the premiere of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma's poetics: a ballet brut. Reminiscent of The Show Must Go On (down to employing a cast of local performers for parts of the piece, several of whom were also in The Show's cast), poetics is both a deconstruction and reconstruction of dance. Directly soliciting the audience's involvement on numerous occasions, and with an engaging main cast of performers who have no formal dance training (Anne Gridley, Robert M. Johanson, Fletcher Liegerot, and Elisabeth Cooper), poetics demonstrates how a repertoire of movement can be built, piece by piece, on an ever-expanding series of pedestrian gestures (combing one's hair, offering a greeting of affection, tossing in one's sleep). The structure of the piece is also based on a steady accretion of revelations, which to disclose here would ruin the show for those who haven't yet seen it. Suffice to say that the work will make you look at classical ballet--and the pop culture contributions of Men without Hats--in entirely new ways.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Edward Curtis Project and The Show Must Go On Redux

I'm trying to stay on top of the shows I'm seeing at PuSh with this blog, although one consequence of that will likely be that the posts get shorter and shorter.

Yesterday afternoon it was The Edward Curtis Project at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. The talent alone brought together for this project is astounding: playwright and co-director Marie Clements; photojournalist Rita Leistner; dramaturg Paula Danckert (currently with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa); co-director Brenda Leadley; and a cast that includes Kathleen Duborg, Stephen E. Miller (also a noted novelist), Kevin Loring (himself a GG award-winning playwright for the recent Where the Blood Mixes), and Tamara Podemski (a talented singer and actress who has appeared on Broadway and film and television on both sides of the border).

However, the "project" is mostly a unique collaboration between Clements and Leistner. Leistner's recent photographs chronicling the survival of Aboriginal peoples in the Americas serve as a contrast to Curtis' photographic archive purportedly devoted to their "vanishing" in the 19th-century, featuring as slides in the play and also comprising an accompanying exhibit in the Presentation House Museum adjacent the theatre. Against this visual backdrop, Clements' play stages a transhistorical encounter between the ghost of Curtis and a contemporary Aboriginal journalist, Angeline, traumatized by a tragedy she witnessed while serving as a correspondent in the Arctic, and who is given a copy of a coffee table book containing several of Curtis' photographs by her psychiatrist sister as part of her convalescence.

The play, which still feels to me like it is evolving (though apparently a publication with Talonbooks which will also include Leistner's photographs is imminent), avoids the too-easy castigation of Curtis, who, despite his misguided sentiments and ethics, was deeply committed to his photographic project. However, I also feel that its concomitant focus on survival and on the need for "love" within and across Aboriginal communities is a way around asking some harder questions on both sides.

Nevertheless, the 90 minute production is intense and emotionally powerful, and the story of Angeline evokes definite parallels, as my student Alex notes over at Performing Vancouver, with George Ryga's Ecstasy of Rita Joe. You can read Alex's take on the play here.

After the post-show talkback at Edward Curtis it was a mad dash back to Vancouver via the seabus, as I was on promo and fundraising duty for the last performance of The Show Must Go On at SFU Woodward's last night. I'm not sure how my pre-show pitch for dollars went, but it was a treat to sit through another performance of the piece, and to observe more intently this time the reactions of the audience.

Last night's crowd seemed more muted (no singing during Imagine, one walkout that I observed), although by the time we got to Celine Dion's Titanic theme everyone seemed completely on side. And with "Every Breath You Take" and "I Want Your Sex" people were clapping and dancing in the aisles with general abandon. The thunderous applause the cast received at the end seemed more than genuine.

I'll be curious to see what my students have to say tomorrow in my Performing Vancouver class; all were required to take in this show, and I saw at least three of them at last night's performance. Alex gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up when I asked him his thoughts at Edward Curtis, and David and Shawn and Melissa have already posted initial enthusiastic reviews here and here and here.

I'm thrilled my students have embraced so enthusiastically the PuSh aesthetic, and I can't wait for tomorrow's class discussion.

Tonight we're off to the final performance of Jerk at VIVO on Main. Bobbi, our Fundraising Manager, said to make sure to watch something really funny when we got home!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

White Russians

Akhe Theatre's White Cabin, playing at Performance Works on Granville Island as part of this year's PuSh Festival, defies adequate description. But this visually stunning and fantastically surreal show sure makes for magical theatre.

It begins with a woman sitting alone at a table upstage right, a notebook open before her, and a small film projector displaying a series of black and white images on a white T-shirt pinned to the backstage curtain. The lights dim and the woman gradually moves downstage centre, where an empty chair awaits, positioned with its back to the audience. The woman sits down, and observes with us as two clown-like figures enter, one kitted out in newspapers and chewing bubble-gum, the other with a halo of incense sticks glowing from atop his head. Thereafter a series of non-narrative scenes unfold: the chewing gum becomes a cat's cradle; a ping pong ball floats magically across the stage; wine and champagne bottles are opened and drunk from in increasingly unique ways; the woman is tied up, untied, and then "entwined" with each of the men in a series of physical tableaux; and many many cigarettes are lit (and occasionally smoked).

All of this culminates in three white cloth panels descending from the rafters, each with its centre square cut out to reveal a Russian doll-like configuration of theatrical mises-en-abŷme. As the three performers (Maxim Isaev, Andrey Sizintsev, and Natalia Shamina) continue to stage their mad and madcap encounters with each other and the myriad objects in their possession within and between the panels, Oleg Mykhailov's video installation (a mix of designed and found footage, including many black and white archival images) is projected onto the panels, creating a beguiling and dream-like visual palimpsest of live and mediated images.

We are reminded, necessarily, of the piece's opening. And I am reminded, in this regard, that Eisenstein's great experiments in montage, perfected on film, actually began in the theatre. Eisenstein knew a thing or two about the detritus of Russian history, and exiting the performance space last night, the studio stage littered with the remnants of Akhe's latest "engineering" project, I thought that only theatre--a medium whose sole artifact is disappearance--could represent so powerfully what gets left on the cutting room floor.

White Cabin runs for two more performances today only: at 4 and 8 pm. Don't miss it.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Purloined Poe

At the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island last night for the premiere of Catalyst Theatre's Nevermore, a co-production between the Arts Club, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, and the 2010 Cultural Olympiad.

Catalyst is an Edmonton-based theatre company known for its bold and visually stunning musical adaptations of classic literary texts. Two years ago they brought their Frankenstein to the Cultch. This time around, they move from text to author, focusing on the "Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe." All the trademark Catalyst elements are there: the narrational/expositional structure (rhyming verse recounting EAP's life, in a mix of spoken word and recitative song, with feature numbers at key points); the seamless integration of movement and choreographic sequences into the plot and mise-en-scène; the eye-popping costumes; and a supremely talented ensemble of seven actors (including stand-out Scott Shepley as Edgar and the fine-voiced Ryan Parker in a succession of roles) whom you only realize at the end have collectively played more than 40 separate roles.

Unfortunately, another trademark feature of Catalyst's style (at least to judge by the two productions of their work that I've seen) is also on display in Nevermore: prolixity. Frankenstein, as I recall, was more than three hours long. And while this production clocks in at a modest 2 hours, 5 minutes (including 20 minute intermission) by comparison, it nevertheless drags on, and could benefit from judicious cuts, especially in the first act (which only brings us up to age 15 for poor Edgar). Catalyst Artistic Director Jonathan Christenson's narrational approach to his material provides the company with its trademark musical storytelling conceit, but dramaturgically it also hamstrings them, because Christenson seems to feel he has to tell the WHOLE story--or at least frontload much of the story onto the beginning and opening set-up. In the case of Nevermore, this mostly means we get far too much time devoted to Edgar's actress mother, Eliza. Consequently, in the second act the last 25 years of Edgar's life--including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm--has to be squeezed into 40 minutes.

Then, too, I'm not sure why the biography is hewed to so closely in this production. The references to Poe's literary output are surprisingly fleeting, and rarely incorporated into the lyrics of the songs. What references we do get to classic stories like "The Purloined Letter," "The Tell-Tale Heart," or "The Fall of the House of Usher," or even to the famous poem that provides the piece with its title, are telegraphed rather obliquely, again via references to Edgar's life, and the occasional visual cue. I'm sure Christenson and production designer Bretta Gerecke had a reason for concentrating on the biography rather than the fiction, but for the life of me I can't quite figure it out.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Show Went On!

According to my sources at PuSh and SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts, it was touch and go, with chairs for the audience to sit on being assembled and installed up until 5:30 pm. But last evening's launch of the 6th PuSh International Performing Arts Festival at the new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward's went off without a hitch.

In fact, the buzz was amazing. It started in the courtyard, where people assembled to gaze upon Stan Douglas's stunning new photographic mural, a massive reversible C-print that looks like stained glass, and that lends the revivifying project that is the entire Woodward's complex a distinctly sacred air. The buzz continued into the atrium of the theatre, where a line-up snaked around the room to collect tickets, and where le tout Vancouver arts scene was in attendance giving each other spontaneous hugs and shout-outs. The theatre itself is a stunning space, like no other in the city in terms of size and design, and I look forward to seeing many many more shows there over the years to come.

As for the show itself, Jérôme Bel's The Show Must Go On, what can I say? Not much, as it turns out, or else I will spoil the surprise for future attendees. What I can say is that as a concept piece, it was the perfect show to launch this year's PuSh Festival--in that space, in the heart of that community. Because the whole show is about producing an audience.

And last night's audience responded with enthusiasm and generosity and lots and lots of love to that call.

On with the rest of the Festival shows--starting with Nevermore tonight at the Arts Club on Granville Island. Hope to see you there.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


A little video offering that came about as my contribution to a class exercise over at Performing Vancouver that asked students to use Michel de Certeau's famous essay as the impetus for their own walkings of the city.

In my case I used my mini-DV camera to retrace two partial routes I took back in February 2009 and September 2008 as part of separate site-specific performance works in the DTES, and about which I have previously blogged here and here.

As de Certeau suggests, my attempts at capturing and recording a "nowhen" that has long since passed me by, was an interesting exercise in forgetting.

"It is true that the operations of walking on can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths (here, well-trodden, there very faint) and their trajectories (going this way and not that). But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by. Surveys of routes miss what was: the act of passing by. The operation of walking, wandering, or 'window shopping,' that is, the activity of passers-by, is transformed into points that draw a totalizing and reversible line on the map. They allow us to grasp only a relic set in the nowhen of a surface of projection. Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice. It exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten." (Michel de Certeau, "Walking the City," 97)


Performing Vancouver Link: Helen on the South Granville Flagwalk

Rather than importing all my students' fabulous posts from the Performing Vancouver blog, I think from now on I'll just provide appropriate links.


Friday, January 15, 2010

A Greekified Rome

We're reading de Certeau's "Walking the City" for Monday's Performing Vancouver class. Students are being encouraged to engage in their own détournements. This from Suzanne Hawkins from a previous course she took, with Debord's "psychogeographical" approach to the city here complementing de Certeau's construction of the pedestrian as tactician:

A few semesters back I made a short stop-motion film, A Greekified Rome, based primarily on Michel de Certeau's "Walking in the City, and Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. The film depicts a Vancouver dérive, a consideration of the political construction of space through passive movement, or drift. Here is a brief theoretical introduction followed by the film.

non possum ferre, Quirtes, Graecam Vrbem
(my fellow citizens, I cannot stand a Greekified Rome)

Juvenal, Satire III

Michel de Certeau, in “Walking in the City” writes of New York: “Unlike Rome, New York has never learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts. Its present invents itself, from hour to hour, in the act of throwing away its previous accomplishments and challenging the future. A city composed of paroxysmal places in monumental reliefs. The spectator can read in it a universe that is constantly exploding (91).” Certeau’s New York, unhinged from its history and renewed in its cyclical immediacy, is by Debordian measure a “state [that] can no longer be led strategically” (20). New York, “the city,” is decaying. The city proper is manifest in both the “urbanistic system” – the totalising discourse that seeks to produce a rational space resistant to threatening “physical, mental, and political pollutions,” to substitute “a synchronic system” for regressive mores and traditions, and to create itself as “a universal and anonymous subject” – and “urban life” – the “swarming activity” of everyday practises (Certeau 94-95). However, the city in decay is manifest exclusively in the urbanistic system, more accurately, in the paradoxical failure of the urbanistic system, which “repeatedly produces effects contrary to those at which it aims” (95). For Certeau’s New York, such failure has “transformed [the city] into a texturology in which extremes coincide – extremes of ambition and degradation” (91). The city in decay – “simultaneously the machinery and the hero of modernity” – like the Debordian spectacle – “both the result and the project of the existing mode of production” – is an unreal reality (95/Debord Fragment 6). The short stop-motion film, A Greekified Rome (2008), formally and thematically enacts the city in decay as spectacular unreal reality, transposing Certeau’s New York on pre-Olympic Vancouver.

Note: The text featured in the film is from the poem "Vision Quest 2020," by Sachiko Murakami (from her collection The Invisibility Exhibit).

Fear and Loathing at the Cultch

Diana and I caught Blackbird Theatre's current mounting of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Cultch's Historic Theatre last night. The show justly merits the critical kudos it's been receiving. If this production doesn't quite obliterate for me Mike Nichols' iconic film version, with Liz Taylor and Dick Burton slugging out their own relationship on screen, nor the recent Broadway revival with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin (in a devastatingly intense performance as George that was a revelation, if only because it succeeded in completely superseding my previous image of Irwin as an acclaimed commedia-trained clown), it still packs a mighty emotional wallop. And all four performers--Meg Roe and Craig Erickson as the in-over-their-heads Honey and Nick, Kevin McNulty as a seethingly acerbic George, and especially the great Gabrielle Rose as a braying and suitably blousy Martha--are excellent. Rose's pitch-perfect enunciation, which betrays her character's own thwarted academic ambitions, is worth the price of admission alone--though one does wonder why none of the characters slurs even once over the course of the play's three acts and as many hours, especially given how much alcohol they consume.

One thing I had forgotten about the play is George's humanist attack on biologist Nick and the new race of superhuman blond, blue-eyed athletes he and his colleagues are going to produce via their test tubes. Pretty prescient stuff for 1962, and remarkably current in terms of our own bio-engineered and biopolitical age. Of course, Albee's play can--and I think should--be read as a complete attack on heteronormativity, with George's murder of his and Martha's non-existent son the more humane, and arguably resistant, solution to the sort of mass extermination that the Nicks of this world will soon perfect. As Martha notes at the end of the play, we should all be afraid, very very afraid.

Unfortunately, an otherwise very enjoyable night at the theatre was marred somewhat by some unnecessary annoyances. Diana and I had arrived early, hoping to have a drink and some nibbles at the just-opened wine bar and cafe. This we proceeded to do, but not before asking if we could pick up our tickets first. No, we were told, the box office wasn't open yet (at least not officially); we would have to come back at 6:30 pm, and line up outside in the rain with everyone else. Why? And why have only one ticket booth open on a night like last night, with the line snaking up to Victoria, and heaps of Cultch staff wandering around inside with seemingly nothing to do? Then, too, the kitchen staff might want to get a few more items on their menu. The charcuterie offerings are relatively slim, with two of the listed items last night selling out after we had ordered--and we were the first customers!

But none of this matched our collective dismay at finding ourselves seated behind a woman who, throughout the performance, laughed and snorted in a cacophonous combination of Martha and Honey's grating tones, mostly at the most inappropriate and emotionally intense moments.

But don't let any of this stop you from hurrying to catch the remaining four performances of this excellent show (it closes Sunday evening). Blackbird, like many arts groups in the province, is in dire straits right now, and as a theatre company devoted to producing works from the classic repertory to the highest professional standards, it deserves our full support.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Colin James at the Orpheum...

My students over at Performing Vancouver are amazing. Here's Shawn's post on his trip downtown last night to see Colin James perform at the Orpheum:

As I said in class, the only time I really visit Vancouver (living in Maple Ridge) is for the music scene, whether its an arena show at GM Place, a drunk-fest at the Commodore, or a metal show at the Croatian Cultural Center, I've seen a wide range of bands and audiences and this scene is what keeps me connected to the city. If you've heard of Colin James, it's probably "Just Came Back to Say Goodbye" or "Freedom", and though he's not a huge name in rock and roll, his career has lasted over 20 years and his sounds range from old-time blues to mainstream pop to rock ballads. I'd seen him twice before this show, once at the Burnaby Blues Festival at Deer Lake Park and the other at the Red Robinson Show Theatre for New Year's 2009, two very different venues and atmospheres that allowed me to seen the range of his work as well as the crowds that he attracts.
I hadn't been to Granville street since last October for VIFF, and I probably don't have to tell most of you that the change between now and then was noticeable and impressive. There was definitely what you would call 'Olympic buzz' and I was interested in how much the general vibe in the city had heightened since my last visit, from all the advertisements and decorations to the fact that Granville st. had been finished and was once again populated without the confinements of construction. Although I usually feel like somewhat of a tourist when I'm in Vancouver for a show, last night I approached the city in the mindset of someone who was visiting for the Olympics and completely new to the atmosphere and sights, paying close attention to the aspects of the city that were created for the image that the city wants to project for all the newcomers. Those traditions I have picked up on in Vancouver in the past were still all there: the beggar on Granville who asks specifically for 35 cents, the 'hipsters' in the coffee shops and Cafe Crepe, the varied ethnicities sharing the sidewalk, the general laid back attitude. But on top of all that was this 'Big City' image and hype for the Olympics that in a way destroys the humble image I had of Vancouver from past visits (maybe 'humble' isn't the right word but I'd never seen the city boast about itself the way it does now, feel free to disagree :) ).

As for the show itself, I won't turn this into a concert review but I will tell you that Colin James is a fantastic musician that alw ays impresses, no matter what type of crowd he's playing for. Last night's audience was probably one of the tamest I have ever experienced, made up of mostly 40-50 year olds but with a few younger people like myself to round it out. Maybe it's because James' music is so 'feel-good', or maybe it's because most of the people attending the show come from a more considerate day and age, but I have to mention that the bathroom line was the most polite I had ever been in, a major contrast from the metal show bathrooms I have endured in the past. What intrigues me the most about live shows is that I get to have a special experience with people that, in most cases, I'd never know in my day to day life and it is this aspect of the concert scene that makes me believe that live music is Vancouver's true public space, bringing people together from different age groups and cities and allowing strangers to share and connect over one common interest: the band on stage.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Vancouver Burlesque Community

And this Performing Vancouver import is from Megan Prenty, who like me is a fan of The Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society here in Vancouver:

Vancouver has a semi-underground performance community within the burlesque community. Since 2004 this Vancouver community has been thriving, and now hosts many burlesque, and boylesque, troups as well as courses, festivals and fashion!

May of 2010 will again host the Vancouver International Burlesque festival. This festival is organized by local burlesque performers and volunteers to help platform Vancouver's (and North America's) underground Burlesque world. It hosts performances, classes and workshops all allowing people to interact with, experience and explore this unique performance art.Information can be found at:

Local troupes such as sweet soul burlesque have studios and various themed shows around the city. ( The intention of creating these performances are to "Sweet Soul strives to break the mold by creating fun, ground-breaking burlesque events that are of high production value and unequaled sassiness. The troupe works together to inspire each other and other women / lovers of women to enjoy themselves and their sexuality and to rekindle their sense of playfulness and confidence." (as taken by the website)

Sweet Soul Burlesque isn't the only performing troupe in Vancouver either, its simply one of many. Some Vancouver troupes are less vintage-style burlesque and more about challenging modern sexual identities, for other troupes a revival of cabaret performance style.

A Vancouver production company -Screaming Chicken- holds various classes for Burlesque exposure such as pastie making classes, burlesque aerobics and a training course for " becoming burlesque. Info can be found at

Burlesque Yoga classes are available in Vancouver and Burlesque fashion has increased in popularity particularly among designers around Main street in East vancouver with its focus on vintage fashion styles.

It is a growing performance community in Vancouver, all and all its jolly good fun!

Wild Things - SFU Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue Fall 09

Another guest post from Melanie, courtesy the Performing Vancouver blog:

Last semester, I participated in the Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue program at SFU. The program adopts a different theme every semester and last FALL 09 semester was entitled, Art in Community: Creating Cultures of Ingenuity and Innovation. Fancy, yes? And pretty amazing.

"A group of sixteen Simon Fraser University students were given less than 48 hours to come up with an idea for and choreograph a public performance using choral or spoken word. This flash mob style piece was performed on the Seabus from North Vancouver around noon on Friday, October 23 2009 to a surprised ferry of passengers."

Enjoy the performance! Our singing is a little off key, but I think we make it up with enthusiasm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Where's the Square?" design idea competition

Another imported post from Performing Vancouver, this one by Melanie Shim on the lack of public space in Vancouver:

If you did not already get the idea, I am an advocate for Vancouver's own public space/square/etc. Public squares are not only places for debate, or social change; they are also places where citizens socialize to foster a sense of community, to come together with or without purpose.

In 2008 (and lasting until September 2009), the Vancouver Public Space Network held "Where's the Square?", a design idea competition for Vancouver's own public square. Over 100 design teams signed up and a total of 54 entries were submitted, with the possibility of winning two awards: Jury's Selection and People's Choice.

Vancouverites were encouraged to submit their vote via online or at the various public events held during the competition.

The jury consisted of six members, including Lance Berelowitz, author of Dream City and Yosef Wosk, professor and director of the Interdisciplinary Programs in Continuing Studies at SFU.

The design that won the Jury Selection award was called "The Band." Submitted by Mark Ashby Architecture & Greenskins Lab, the concept was relatively simple: "To create a square specific to Vancouver, the traditional square is "unbundled" and reassembled in a linear space edged with public institutions. The combined public square is programmed sequentially by each institution in turn."

In other words, the public square would be a boardwalk-esque structure, connecting what the design team deemed to be some of Vancouver's essential institutions. The band would start at the intersection of Robson and Homer, then linking the VPL, the CBC, BC Place Stadium, the proposed new location for the VAG and finally to the False Creek seawall.

If you want to learn more about the competition, including information on the other winning designs, visit the Where's the Square? website.

Image from The Vancouver Public Space Network

Monday, January 11, 2010

"reclaiming a landmark"

In the coming months, I'm going to be importing a number of guest posts from students in my "Performing Vancouver" course at SFU, which has its own blog of the same name here.

Here's the first post from Adam Lougheed:

The new Woodwards "W" was unveiled yesterday, capping the ambitious reclamation of an important vancouver historical landmark. In terms of performance, the new "W" is another prominent symbol of eco-efficiency; lit with LED lights, it consumes 95% less energy than its predecessor.

this photo, courtesy of @Atomos via Vancouver is Awesome