Saturday, October 10, 2009

But Where's the Art? - Commenting on 'The Soloist'

Last week, I rented a movie to watch while waiting for the theatre to clear out so that I could go home.

There was a poster on display for what looked like a great film; The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.

It is the real-life story of a music prodigy, a cellist named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Foxx), and his relationship with a newspaper reporter, Steve Lopez (Downey). Lopez discovers Ayers as an adult, a homeless schizophrenic who plays an old two-stringed violin, and claims to have been schooled in classical music at Julliard. Lopez sees a story in this homeless man, and their unlikely friendship begins.

Lopez uses his L.A. Times column, Points West, to highlight the mentally ill musician, and eventually, to try to give the artist a second chance at a life off of the streets, performing. What he finds is that, while the streets are a problem, taking Mr. Ayers off of the streets is not the cure. Mr. Ayers is not ill because of homelessness; he is homeless because he is ill.

So we have the elements of a fabulous movie; top-notch, talented actors, a highly compelling story, limitless opportunities for conflict and pathos, brilliant music (Bach, anyone?), and a gritty urban backdrop.

The stars of the movie gave restrained, dignified, brilliant performances. There were some sparkling moments from minor characters during the interviews that Lopez had with in the shelter where Ayers kept his gifted cello. I wanted to see much more of them.

In a show about a classical musician, I expected a soaring score and was disappointed there. The cello solos that underscored the movie were probably meant to represent the illness, but they were relentlessly dark, and used in a heavy-handed manner.

The cinematic choices were also heavy-handed. "That is what you call a Kodak Moment," I was told, as two pigeons flew straight up with the diminishing rooftops of LA behind them. It was not the only cheesy shot in the film, which went back and forth as a visual depiction of the rough streets of LA and a flight of fancy and idyllic memories. Maybe I just learned more about schizophrenia, and that is more representative of the illness. My usual method is to try to get lost in the story. It was a conceit that I could have done without, and I think that the movie would have been better off without those moments.

Unfortunately, the treatment of the story was so uneven that a documentary would have been a better choice. It seemed as though the director could not decide between having an 'important' film, or an entertaining one, and failed to do either. Of course my recommendation, unsolicited as it is; please decide to entertain us. Yes, the plight of the homeless is terrible and needs a light shone on it, however, if the ultimate (hidden?) goal of the movie is to do that, then the film must be entertaining enough to develop a very large audience.

These are two real larger-than-life characters, and a larger-than-life story, brought down to a mundane level in a film that tried to be a message about homelessness and mental illness without looking like it was a message. The actors certainly delivered on their art. The art of the story was sacrificed on the altar of realism, while the art of the cinematographer was sacrificed to the gods of dramatic visual underscoring. Ultimately, it ended up looking like a feature-length commercial for Mr. Lopez' book about Mr. Ayers.

I don't know the reasons or pressures on director Joe Wright to make the choices that he has made, but he had the sensitivity to create a beautiful version of Pride and Prejudice, so I know it's in him. Maybe there were too many other voices to placate in this one.

Such a shame, because this is a story that an audience could really sink their emotional teeth into. We are prevented from doing so by a style of story-telling that turned out to feel like emotionless reporting.

Unfortunately, The Soloist is flat.

Anne Marie

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blame it on Rodriguez

So, we have decided to make a film, and granted that we have no experience, but we do have what the Cylons on Battlestar Gallactica have; a plan, sort of. Being a big fan of the first half of Desperado, I read up on the young director. He had said that (and I'm paraphrasing) to fake a big budget film when you have a small budget, shoot from many different angles with one camera. So, a few years pass and then with digital cameras and editing systems being so cheap, we decide to enter into the film forest. We decide to do a genre film, a horror film, because you don't need stars. You don't do it for the Oscar. And then we decide just before shooting that we should use green screen to control the lighting and the backgrounds, and a turntable to fake panning shots. And also, I hated the idea of doing a story board so we canned that. I'm lazy. As we have a theatre, we turned the space into a studio. Problem was the actors hated the green screen, and nothing seemed as real, so we ended up doing a lot of location shots. We filmed for three weeks and probably as of now have thirty percent of our film shot. The scheduling was awful, trying to get the actors together, because of real paying jobs or vacations or school in other cities, but in our hiatus we discovered Rodriguez's ten minute film school which I think is much longer than his five minute film school. This gem was on youtube.He was saying that you don't need a story board, and green screen can cover up for impossible schedules, Even if the actors never meet each other, they can be edited into the same scene via green screen. With Sin City and Terror Planet, it was primarily green screen. He also had a cheap looking turntable which inspired us to build one. Where once Hollywood would use big studios, big stages, they then moved toward locations, and now we have come full circle. You can do fantastic work in tiny stages with green walls. The studio is back. We're not the brightest light bulbs because we can't think of a name for our horror classic. It has something to do with Satan and claustrophobia and madness, oh yeah and blood and gore, but we can't think of a name for our film. From Dusk til Dawn is already taken, but it would be appropriate because it is during the night shift when things start to claw at our characters' sanity. So if anyone out there can come up with a name for our film we would be very grateful, and we would even put your name in the film as the person that thought of the title. We have lots of room. Our crew is very small. No one stands over five foot six.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Til The Boys Come Home

Our November production is a production of Charles Robertson's play; 'Til The Boys Come Home' which is a look at the dark clouds hanging over small town Canada when war is declared in 1939. The play follows the lives of teenaged boys and girls who are affected by the ultimate dramatic conflict. The story is told in six scenes by the ensemble cast. There is music, dance, and warfare to go with the acting. It is easy to think with teenage actors that they are age inappropriate, too young to play the parts of soldiers and young working women, as Hollywood tends to use older established stars to play the parts of soldiers. But many young Canadians gave their lives before they had even started living, before they had a chance to get married, have kids and careers. I suppose that with death as the ultimate event in everyone's lives, glory on the battlefield allows one to choose their last act. Today most of the veterans who survived the war have gone on to join their comrades, to renew acquaintances in the Elysian Fields. The play will take place at The Wellington Street Theatre in Kingston Ontario, which has a military base; CFB Kingston and The Royal Military College for Officer training. Kingston also is the home of Fort Frontenac which was a French military base set up in the late 1600's and Fort Henry which was built in the 1800's as a response to the growing threat of American military might, and was used in the Second World War as a prisoner-of-war camp. The play will take place during Remembrance day week from November 9th-15th, a particularly poignant time, with Canada's young men and women serving now in Afghanistan. Whatever one's opinions on today's wars or wars gone by, the one constant is the extreme sacrifice so many young people make in serving their country. They are willing to pay the highest price.

You can purchase the play on

Monday, September 14, 2009


Using the resourcs of Bottle Tree Productions and The Wellington Street Theatre, we have been filming a horror film with spiritual overtones. There has been lots of blood and screams and as befits any horror film, stupid decisions by the characters. We have a young talented cast who for the most part have theatre backgrounds. There are deaths and maimings, and creepy spirits. Once the kids go into the basement though they have been warned by everyone not to,the mayhem begins. David Ajax and Adam Elliot have been our camera operators. We think the religious take on good and evil gives the film its darkness and light. Our editors James Robertson and Anne Marie Mortensen have been hard at work editing a trailer. Tom Sinclair is composing music. The release date should be some time next year around Hallowe'en. What we need for our film is a name. Anyone out there witha good name for a our horror film, please mail us at info (at)bottletreeinc dot com.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

YTV and 'Survive This!'

Camera Crew from YTV's 'Survive This' is coming to The Wellington Street Theatre Wednesday July 16, at 2 p.m. to film Aladdin and in particular Michela Kaduck who is one of the the top twenty finalists for this survivor series for kids. Tickets are $15/adults and $12/ seniors, students and kids.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ten Tips for Acting

You can improve your acting, dramatically on your own, or with a friend, by doing some simple, easy-to-do-things, and they won't cost you a thing. First and most importantly:

* Consonants - Learn to speak clearly. Practise your consonants. That is the single most important and dramatic way to improve your acting ability. Enunciating clearly does not just reflect the language of newscasters and aristocrats. it allows a person to transcend their local unintelligible dialects. Dropping consonants is a casualty of daily interaction, lazy shorthand with friends, family and colleagues. Consonants give shape to the emotional resonance of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds coming from the actor suggests the feeling inside and consonants let the audience know what that feeling is. Consonants are like the frame of the house. They give it shape. Learn to exaggerate those consonants.

It may sound highly unnatural at first, but after a while, it will become more natural, and will become a ready-to-use and important tool in landing roles. You should practise hitting the consonants in the middle and ends of words. Playing spaces can vary in kindness to the ear. For instance, the sound in the theater might not travel. It might reverberate. It might be perfect. Film, and television can have varying qualities in the sound equipment and sound mix. With certain films at a key point, I've had to play that moment over and over again to make out what the actor said. Be kind to the aging and hearing impaired. Speak clearly. Practice it everyday. Don't think that by dropping consonants you are being real or true to your art. Instead, you are being hard to hire.

* Imagination - Get your imagination in fighting shape. Look at a play and use your imagination to get inside the character's head, inside their heart, inside their soul. Your imagination is a powerful tool we all share. We might be different physically, in looks and talent but we can all harness that power of imagination. If a writer is portraying life on the streets, then use your imagination to find that character within you. If the character is the president of the United States then use your imagination to pick up the ticks and tricks of the trade. Imagination is the single most important tool you have to get inside the head of another character. It is the single most important tool you have to inhabit the world of the play. Having all the talent and the tools in the world will not mean anything if you lack imagination.

Your imagination can only be fed by learning as much as you can about the world around you. Read novels, history, and see films and plays, listen to music and play games. Imagination can take you places where technique and talent can't. It allows you to walk with kings and queens across moonlit desert sands. It allows you to close a drug deal in a back alley. Imagination allows you to breathe life into words on a page and translate them into a living world for the audience to see. Flex the muscles of your imagination, spread your wings and soar above the earth like Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

* Projection - You need to be heard. While not so important in film and television, it is important in the theater, and theater is an easily accessible way to get into acting, to acquire the skills needed to succeed in other mediums. Theater is the best way to make connections that can help further your career, so learn to be heard. Don't be shy. It is your right to be heard. Go in a big room, open your mouth and aim your voice at the back wall. Focus on that back wall and your voice will travel there, even in a large room. Use your diaphragm, the muscle under your ribs to push the air and the voice out. Most people speak with shallow breaths. They talk so not to be heard. Talk to be heard. Check out books by Patsy Rodenburg. Her books are goldmines of technique for improving your acting ability with regards to speaking.

* Nouns and Verbs - Nouns are the subject of the sentence. The noun is the thing, the person, or the place that you are talking about in a sentence. The audience needs to know who that person is, where that place is, or what that thing is that you are talking about. Learn to track down the primary nouns and secondary nouns in a sentence.

Say the lines out loud with an emphasis on the nouns. Play with the relative importance of the nouns and pronouns (he, she, him, her, they, you, and so on) Get different meanings out of a line by switching the importance of various nouns and pro nouns. The verb is the active word driving the line to its conclusion. It is essential for an audience to hear what actions are happening in a line. Don't fall in love with pretty descriptions so much that you give adjectives and adverbs precedence over nouns and verbs. Adjectives and Adverbs describe the nouns and verbs. They are less important. Don't make them more so. Let the audience in by letting them know what you are talking about. Nouns and verbs are essential to that communication between performer and audience. If you ignore that, you are going to find it that much tougher to get roles.

* Upward Inflections - This is another important tool for the actor. Many inexperienced actors throw their energy into the beginning of a line, but as they run out of air, the ends of their lines are dropped vocally, which is completely at odds with natural speech. In natural speech, the speaker organizes his thoughts to say that he or she is going to do this, or to go there. What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? These are questions that the last word or two in a line answers. If you pump all your energy, adrenalin and breath into the beginning of your line, then you have nothing left for the end of the line, nothing left with which to answer those questions.

A rush of energy at the beginning of a line, while perhaps exciting for the actor becomes monotonous to the audience. It becomes a predictable succession of vocal peaks and valleys, where the beginning is loud and the end of the line quiet. Do that for too long and the audience will be checking their watches. They won't have a clue what you are saying. Learn where to breathe in your lines, and pay attention to punctuation breaks. Find ways to keep the energy up at the end of a line. Don't plan to leave tired-endings for the other actors to pick up. If you end a line with a word supported by breath, it transfers energy to the next line. It keeps the energy of the play crackling.

* Monologues - A monologue for the purposes of an audition can be a soliloquy, a private speech between actor and audience, or it can be part of a conversation with another character. It should be about two minutes long and be uninterrupted by other characters. Find some monologues that you can use for audition pieces. Look in real plays for these monologues. There are many free monologues on the internet, but many of them are not going to help you land parts. It will probably be useful to have two classical pieces, one comedic and the other dramatic. Shakespeare is usually a good choice because you can find recordings or movies that have those monologues in them. Then you should search for a modern dramatic and comedic monologue. Search for these monologues in highly regarded plays, plays that have been on Broadway for instance or those that have been turned into movies. The reason for that is that you will have better luck researching them and finding recordings for them.

But before you listen to any recordings, or watch any filmed versions, you should do your own work, your own investigation into who the character is and what he is doing, what he is feeling, and what he is thinking, where he has come from and where is he going. The monologue has to travel from the beginning to the end, and you should map whatever change in emotions there might be, when the tempo picks up or slows down. Does the monologue grow in rage? Does it trail off in despair? Find the drama, the irony, the comedy and it's timing. Find the humanity in the piece. You should learn the character inside and out. Learn these monologues so well that you can do them spontaneously. Don't give yourself an excuse for not getting a part with a poorly-prepared audition piece. Blend your thoughts, your emotions into the character's thoughts, emotions and words. Read as much as you can about the character and then listen to a recording or watch a filmed version. You will now understand the character and so hearing or viewing this monologue will give you additional ideas and insight.

* Study other people - Be a student of people. Be a student of people from all walks of life, the rich, the poor, the young and the old. Study their physicality. Watch people walk and listen to them talk. Listen to the rhythms of their speech. Watch people when they sit, when they stand, when they are passionately trying to communicate something or when they seem disinterested, when people are happy, or sad or angry or sleepy. What body language do they use? Imagine what goes on in people's heads. Find two similar looking people and look for clues to their personalities by their posture, by how they move, look for physical clues that might suggest why one ended up one way and one another. How much does nature and nurture have an influence on human beings? Watch what people are doing when they are listening to each other. What do they do with their hands? What do they do with their hands when they speak? Be a student of body language. Shakespeare said that the actor must hold a mirror up to nature. To act, you must reflect what real human beings do. As an actor you are interpreting the human condition, the poetry and music of human emotions, thoughts, actions and communication.

* Read - Read plays, read books about acting, read about famous actors, read acting biographies, read anything. A well-rounded knowledge is essential for an actor. Not only is it important to know about acting, but it is important to know history, religion, psychology, geography, science, so read, read, read. Reading gives you your own credible insight into lines written by playwrights and screenwriters. People who write, read a lot, and to gain insight into these characters, you must read a lot. One casualty of theatre schools is the ability to understand the world. There is not enough contextual knowledge provided in these schools devoted only to acting. Know the world and you will know how to act.

* Get in shape - Treat your body as a temple. Eat right and exercise. Plays and films can be demanding physically. The more you can ask your body to do, the better physically you can fit into a part. If you have a certain physical trait that your character needs, you need to be able to achieve that. Physical activities, like dance, or karate, or running, or yoga, or sports of various kinds can help you prepare physically for demanding roles. There could be dancing, sword-fighting, and other acts of physical exertion needed, while all the while being able to deliver lines supported by breath. Your mind and your body, voice and movement, are the tools of the actors trade. Take care of them.

* The Internet - There is a lot of free information on the Internet. There are many acting tips that are available for free. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. There are a lot of really helpful suggestions for actors out there. Most of the free information is really geared for beginning actors and many of them don't identify technique or different methods in more than a superficial method. But more advanced information can be found in things such as Google Books. The more research you do, the more information you can unlock on the Internet.

Obviously, there are scams out there. There are scams everywhere, and would-be actors are targeted in the real world as well as on the Internet. The more homework you do, the better, and as long as you realize that if you have drive, and are willing to work for what you want, that there are no short-cuts, then you have a good chance for success. But anything you read can only be reinforced by working with others. You cannot act in a vacuum. So to truly succeed you need to be working with other like-minded individuals.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Theatre and Religion

Much of theatre, and its descendants, film and television came out of religious rituals.

Show business was originally, in its infancy, story-telling around the campfire, or choral work at religiously significant events. Music, theatre and dance were all used as methods of harmonizing religious beliefs, or to create organized dialogues with different deities.

Human beings search for answers to existence, destiny and what their small thread on the tapestry of existence meant. We seek meaning in everything. We find patterns. We are organizers. We need form out of chaos. We need to understand.

But perhaps we don’t really need to understand. Perhaps what we really need are comfortable patterns. Perhaps our need for comfortable patterns over rides our desire for truth. Truth, being relative, is elusive anyway. Human kind needs to be part of a hierarchy to feel comfortable. We need the big bang. We need creation. We need someone to not be asleep at the switch. While religion and early theatre gave comfort to the masses with the creation and reinforcement of patterns, such as the choral work at fertility rites in ancient Greece, rituals which would please the Gods and ensure good harvests, there were those who questioned this belief in a patterned existence. Lore has it that one of the chorus, one of the religious collective stepped out and asked the chorus; The Gods, questions. Thespis was speaking for mankind in the guise of an actor.

In a chaotic world without faith or understanding, there is only fear. We need to understand, and if that understanding is only a simple framework that is in place only for now, to be supplanted by something later, so be it. Newtonian physics being supplanted by Einstein’s intuitions. Happens all the time.

Theatre can be a provocative form that poses questions, and many times it does not supply the answers. Theatre is Thespis stepping outside of the chorus and challenging that chorus with his questions.

Theatre peeks at the chaos outside of our comforting patterns. Theatre can also do nothing of the sort. It can reinforce existing assumptions. It can be mindless, or it can be immersed in patterns of its own, such as the patterns inherent in a money-maker, a hit.

One thing church and theatre still share in all cases is the communion shared by priest and performer, minister and musician, rabbi and rabblerouser, with their congregation.. Both are concerned with the human and spiritual condition. Both can inspire, and both can move. Some of the greatest art is created in the service of religious institutions, and some of the greatest spiritual events happen inside the theatre. Form out of chaos. Patterns out of incoherence. My theatre happens to be in a church.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In the Beginning there was the Word

In the beginning there was the word, and for actors there is no show without the words -- you can argue that but basically it is true. No words; no play. You can have plays without words, but not many. It's difficult to write a template for a show without words.

The words are the key to the action, to the thought, to the feeling, to the relationships, to the world that is to be created by the actors. The word is the single most direct tie to the artist that created this work and it is so horribly abused.

You walk out on the street, through the poorest, most deprived areas, and you hear the richest poetry. Emotions, relationships, feelings, thoughts spill out on the guttered sidewalks like bullets.

Get an actor up on stage to recite epic poetry or gritty modern day drama, and they flatten everything out. They are not married to the word. They are married to their idea of acting.

Schooled to become a generic beast, actors become pale copies of their source material; a lie within a lie

Actors should learn to use the words, to trust in them. The words guide the actor through the dramatic battleground. The words are weapons, they are shields, they are sniffing dogs. Words are the keys to character.

There are twenty-six letters in our alphabet and they are our linguistic binary system. We code and recode to form the words that we want, a simple and elegant construct, or a wordy convoluted structure that reveals more of the character than what he wants to say.

Words are keys to action; words make you laugh; words make you cry.

Interestingly, many actors would rather cry during their performance than cause the audience to cry. I suppose they feel that the actor is more important than the character and if Sally, who is playing Juliet, really cries, then the audience will be really moved and impressed by her display of authenticity. Of course its not authenticity - it is merely Sally taking time out from playing Juliet to feel wonderful about herself.

The word is a link in a chain and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. How can you hold a play - a world - together, like Atlas did, with weak links? Shakespeare creates his Verona in Romeo and Juliet with beautiful words, words that paint the audiences' imagination with hot dusty streets, young torrid love, and violent battles. David Mamet's earthy and poetic painting of a real estate office uses four-letter words to hold up Glengarry Glen Ross. You gotta say it like it's written.

Young actors tend to try to reinvent the artistic wheel, because they are young. Because they feel that they are expressing themselves, they try to twist that wheel into a square, or an oblong. They are rebelling against the world and its representative art, but in doing so, they are only dragonflies, skimming the surface, looking at their reflections in the watery glass. They see themselves in the art. They congratulate themselves for being artists, for lifestyle rather than life. They rebel against being slaves to the constructs of the art.

They rebel against the word.

Many theatre companies are shepherded by young people. They are finding a new way to use art as an expression of their feelings to rebel against the status quo. In this, they are unique, just like everyone else.

Great writers stand the test of time because of their brilliance, their talent of marrying the commonplace to the cosmic. Words and actions are the only clues they offer to tell us who these characters are. Misuse those words and you break the key. The actor offers the audience one half of the key and the audience completes it with their half. Broken words and broken keys litter the world of modern acting.

Shakespeare, and many dramatists before him, gave the actor a soliloquy to show the character's true feelings. Without a soliloquy, the writer might give the character a monologue, which can be like a confessional to another actor. But sometimes things are not so direct. Words and actions often only hint at what lies beneath the mask which the actor presents to his fellow actors, to the audience. As Shakespeare said, you may smile and smile and be a villain. We need the words to open the door to the villainy behind the smiling mask.

Actors are often left inventing their character's interior but they still have the words and the actions of the playwright for clues, and cues to action.

Drama is conflict and often times the words are the only weapons. These weapons have to be sharpened with practise and skill. Was that a thrust or a parry?

In the English language we have inherited words shaped and tested against time from the early mists of Anglo-Saxon England. English being a foster language, it adopted many orphaned words from other languages along the way. Greek, Roman, French, German, Dutch; we have a mongrel language that is fluid and that changes all the time. It is a living language. Words that meant one thing fifty years ago mean something else now. People are always inventing words and phrases and forever shifting the ground under our linguistic feet.

This makes the task of the actor a daunting one. He must find what the words mean. The farther into the past he goes to find that meaning, the less likely he will be one hundred percent correct. An additional problem is that modern academic interpretations of old words take precedence over the artistic ones. These interpretations conspire to help flatten the actor's interpretation. Not to abuse poor old Will Shakespeare too much, but artistic interpretations of his masterpieces do not exist in the footnotes. And thus the modern actor must fight through the fog of imposed academic bonds. No wonder the poor bard has difficulty in taking flight in modern productions. Poetry gives way to prose. Modern flattened sensibilities are imposed on epic earth-shaking tragedies, or modern cartoon sensibilities derail classic comedies.

Be true to the word, and it will be a beacon illuminating the path that leads to the genius in the script. Somewhere in there, you might even get to know and make peace with the writer.

Words are the only tools in the writers' hand. Tools to forge a living breathing character.

Actors use those tools to find and refine their ch

Monday, June 1, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood opened on Thursday May 28th. While it is perhaps pure entertainment as opposed to being filled with life lessons, or a message, it has a high degree of performance art in it. The actor-singer-dancers are required to stretch themselves in all three fields of Triple Threat. Dancing, singing and acting. We give the kids two weeks to get their show up to give them a taste of what professional theatre is like. The leads have mics(courtesy of Sound Works) and the music by Steve Furster is very infectious. Megan Ready-Walters as Red is hilarious as the vacant lead character. She is probably the most talented performer in all three fields, with a beautiful singing voice. Hannah Smith is both funny and pathetic as the lonely wolf who has been abandoned by her wolf pack. She is a great singer and actor. Katherine Noyes as the Weeping Willow is very good at all three disciplines. The Weeping Willow is the focus of a lot of really bad tree jokes, such as (To the dog) "You're barking up the wrong tree!" to "I can't leave. My roots are here." Newcomer Paige McNeely is a blast as Red Riding Hood's dog Scrufy, the badly-trained, but loveable dog who opens the show with a rap song called: "Scruff-Doggy-Dog". There are other forest animals that pop in for a visit, as well as The Big Bad Woodsman (Claire Morgan) the assistant woodsman (Simon Derome) who doubles as a random salesman for fairy-tale life insurance. Julia Foster plays various grumpy woodland creatures. Shannon Broekhoven and Allyson Foster round out the cast as Mother and Grandmother respectively. These kids are very busy performers as they are constantly involved in shows around town. From singing lessons, to music lessons, to dance lessons to acting lessons, these kids are highly-trained and their performances show it. We look forward with great anticipation to next year's Triple Threat Class.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing for Kids

I have taught drama for approximately 15 years for different theatre companies. And one thing that I have run up again and again is the poor quality of the scripts that are available for children. They are usually two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. While they are generally insulting to the intelligence levels of kids, they are also boring for the kids to act out. There is nothing so despondent as a group of kids being handed something that has been written by someone without the slightest clue about what kids are like and what they can accomplish. Sanitized, lifeless pieces of paper, that cause the kids to stoop down, not stand up and reach. I have read hundreds of kids scripts and the vast majority of them produce very bad theatre. If you write for children, remember that they are highly-intelligent creatures, some of them are geniuses. Obviously some kids struggle with reading, but theatre provides a voice for these kids. I think of theatre as great literature. It has to be, it only has the words to recommend it. But it is literature from the inside, looking out. Theatre takes actors and changes them into the characters that inhabit the page. As an actor, you are looking out from the pages of the play. When you read a novel, all the characters become part of your world, and you learn to know them well. To an audience, while watching a play, the actors create a three-dimensional world, where the actors are like pop-up characters that come to life. An actor gets to be one of these living characters, and painlessly, they find themselves speaking the words of the great authors, and bringing an imaginary character, a construct of words to life. Usually it helps not to be taught about these great authors in school. There is nothing like dwelling on the rules of literature to kill any interest in a subject. Children can speak Shakespeare without much problem, as long as they have not been inhibited by the fear that it is supposed to be great literature. Once kids learn that they feel inadequate to the task. My latest Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is eleven years old and brilliant. Kids bring a passion, a poetry, a sense of play, and a willingness to learn, and when scripts deny them those things, it demeans them. It dries them up creatively. Shakespeare, Moliere and Checkov, wrote plays for the actors in their casts, and I realized that I would have to write plays for the kids in my casts. The kids come up with ideas, improv some possible scenes and then you have it, inspiration for a play for children. Out of chaos comes creativity. The process of creativity can be chaotic, and you don’t need to control the kids to create good scripts. You only need to harness their energy and creativity with the written word. A succession of written words form the order that is the play. You need characters, conflict and resolution with a good dose of the kids humour thrown in for good measure. Another thing that is important is to teach them, bring what’s inside out. They have potential, bring it out, instead of trying to control it. Let them participate in the creation of their own play. And while you are teaching them about facing out, and stage left and stage right, and to stop upstaging each other, and to open their mouths while they are talking, and to stop pulling Sally’s hair, you can also stretch their vocabulary by giving them words and concepts that they have to reach for, words and concepts that are the foundation of any play. The eleven-year old girl who is playing Puck for me, at eight years old was playing a mouse with a huge vocabulary. She only knew the meaning and the pronunciation of half the words. By performance time, she knew them all and had stretched as a performer. Playing Puck is one more step in her development.. So, instead of looking for scripts online, write your own script, and write a script that the kids can help create. Just remember to have a beginning, a middle and an end, characters and conflict. In the end a resolution. Write them something that teaches and enriches. Write them something that allows them to grow as actors and as people. Children need to be creative. Help them create.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Community: What Actors Really Need

Actors are a rare breed of people. They are shy but bold, introverted yet welcoming, open and closed at the same time. To say that actors are emotionally conflicted is an understatement.

On stage, actors are bold, confident, self-assured. They come across a huge gulf and reach out to strangers in order to communicate an idea, a character, an emotion. Actors long to take you with them on their adventure. Yet, to know an actor is to know someone who is painfully shy, who is certain that no one remembers them, and who, themselves, never forget a face.

We train actors to project their voices and their character's personalities. We teach them how to turn so that the audience can see them. We teach them how to interact with other characters on stage, how to get themselves and their castmates out of trouble, how to be on time... all of those things. And actors can accomplish this inside the structure of the production and inside the structure of the theatre, but rarely do they do this in their day to day lives. It does not come naturally to them.

Actors are not accustomed to being accepted by the mainstream, and it shows. The successful, genial actor will develop a 'public character' (as we all do, to a certain extent) in order to get by in life. The difference between actors and the rest of us is that actors are usually aware of the role they play in real life and the rest of us are not.

Actors are the sensitive kids who either stand out or feel as though they stand out from their peers... and not in a good way. They are unaccepted, easily hurt, reluctant to join in. Girls are often painfully shy, and very bright over-acheivers. Boys are often in trouble for speaking out, being the class clown, and known to be hard to handle. Normally, there are only one or two per class like this, usually only one boy.

These kids try soccer, hockey, Scouts, Girl Guides, and a myriad of other organised sports or clubs, to no avail. Their natural tendancies toward shyness and an imaginary world, or toward boldness and attention-seeking don't often meld well with those sorts of things. The child is again an outcast, or in the case of girls, has cast herself out.

So what do actors need?

They need the same thing that everyone else needs. They need what hockey-players and Girl Guides and the Church Women's League needs.

Actors need community.

Amateur productions usually rehearse from four to six weeks in advance of opening night, some more, some less. Profesional productions normally rehearse for two intense weeks. During that time, but especially during the run of the show, the cast can form close bonds, become friends, and share a common goal. They form a community. They become a team.

For someone who is not used to being a welcome addition to most teams, this is a very gratifying and emotional experience, although it is short-lived. When the show is finished, they experience a huge sense of loss; loss of friends, loss of work, and loss of self. Actors are aware that their community may only last for six or eight weeks, and many will only be cast in one show per year. It can be heartbreaking for them to realise that their sense of belonging is so fleeting.

It is important for actors to take charge of their own happiness. They really can build community around them, even if they are not working on a production. The inspiration behind this article is Tony Babcock, who is an absolute go-getter. When he is not being paid for acting, he is calling his contacts and making arrangements to get together to do scene work, to tweak some technique, to run a monologue past them.

Tony understands that he needs community, not just to keep himself working, but to keep himself happy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Theatre Superstitions

This is an informative (if incomplete) list of superstitions associated with theatre. Until you are told about the do's and dont's of theatre, you run the risk of jinxing yourself or an entire production.

1)Don't say the name of this play. It rhymes with MacDeath. *coughAllisoncough*

The most serious superstition is that you are not allowed to say the name of the play that Shakespeare wrote that involved all those Scots and the fighting. You know, it's the one that gave us the phrase 'Lead on, MacDuff'.
From now on, you will only refer to it as 'The Scottish Play', or 'the Bard's play'.

The repurcussions of uttering this name inside a theatre are huge, and come in threes. The curse on this name is so strong that real theatre people won't say it under any circumstances, except during the performance of the play, while saying their lines. Not anywhere. Not anyhow.

If you have done the unthinkable and spake that name in a theatre, you must immediately go outside, spit, swear, turn around three times, and beg permission to be allowed back inside.

Some sources say that this play is unlucky because it was traditionally used as a last-ditch effort to sell seats to patrons. If a theatre company was having a bad year, they would perform this show, thinking that it was a 'sure thing'. So the performance of the play became associated with a theatre company in financial crisis.

2) Never wish a theatre person 'Good Luck'.

Many superstitions go toward the tendancy of people to want to feel comfortable and prepared. Part of what makes actors good is a feeling of not-quite-being-ready. So if they are comfortable and believe that now it's up to fate (luck) their performance will suffer.

Wishing them 'break a leg' is a way not to jinx the performer because it reminds them in a backhanded way that something bad can always happen, and it's also a term used for bending a knee in a bow. So they have to earn the right to break a leg. Convoluted, innit?

Also, theatre folk are aware of spirits, both good and bad, and sprites in particular are oppositional, so if they hear you wishing for something, they are likely to try to deliver the opposite.

3) Whistling inside a theatre is bad luck.

Back when sandbags were used to counterbalance heavy curtains, and flys, a whistle from below would indicate the 'all clear' and be the stage manager's signal for the crew in the catwalks to let the bags or scenery drop.That can get you killed.

4) Mirrors, and real jewelry on stage are bad luck.

Stage lighting is intense, and a mirror or shiny jewels can reflect light in ways that the lighting designer did not intend - like into the eyes of an oncoming or outgoing actor, causing them to fall... you get the picture!

Also, mirrors can break, and broken mirrors are seven year's bad luck, and theft is a real problem in theatre, where all eyes are on stage. There is opportunity for unscrupulous people to nick a necklace!

5) Peacock feathers in a theatre and on stage are bad luck.

For theatre-folk, those peacock feathers represent the evil eye.

In greek mythology, Argus had a hundred eyes, and was given the task to watch over Hera's priestess, Io, when she had been transformed. Argus was slain by Hermes, but his eyes were transferred to the tail of a peacock. Bad luck to be slain. Bad bad luck.

6) A light should always be left burning downstage centre.

This 'ghost light' is important to keep ghosts from inhabiting the place. It also allows people who are the last out and the first in to see if there is anything on stage that could cause them injury. Sets, props, costumes... you can't see them in the dark!

7) A bad dress rehearsal is a good omen for opening night.

The idea is that if the dress rehearsal is bad, then the next performance (opening night!) will be good. All of the bad vibes will have been used up, and the actors and crew will be on high alert because they will not want a repeat of the previous night's show.

8) Cats are lucky... but sometimes not, depending on what you believe.

Cats are considered to be magical creatures in many traditions, not the least of which, in theatre, where they serve as useful members of the crew. Cats keep down vermin which ruin costumes and props and they are attuned to 'otherworldly' happenings.

Cats crossing a lit stage, on the other hand, foreshadowed bad luck. as they were more comfortable being in the semi-darkness offstage.

There is an opposite reading for that as well, that being that cats on stage are always lucky, because if they are present and content then all is well in the supernatural world.

9) The colour blue is unlucky.

Many superstitions of theatre are connected to finances. Blue used to be a very expensive colour to reproduce, so any theatre company who used blue fabrics or paints was spending a lot of money that it needn't spend. Never in history have theatre people been terribly well-off, so it was (and is) very important to be conservative in costuming and decorating a set. Blue things meant that the company was spending a lot, (usually in an attemtpt to show off, therefore gambling that the audience would show up) and would likely go bankrupt.

However, if silver is added to the blue (like a silver threading or silver ornament) the bad luck is lifted, as this meant that there was a wealthy backer who could afford to pay for the show.

10) Flowers presented before a performance are bad luck, but after a performance are fine.

Again, you don't want to incur the wrath of the sprites, who want to turn everything on its ear. Presenting flowers to an actor before the show is a little too cocky for those sprites, and they will see to it that bad things happen during the performance.

Wait until the curtain falls, then send the bouquet backstage, that way, you are not jinxing the performance.

11) Candles should never come in threes.

Paint, costumes, poor lighting, busy people, and OPEN FLAME are not usually a good combination. Before the electric light, candles were de rigeur for lighting a room. HOwever, a combination of three candles was considered bad. The person nearest to the shortest candle was either going to be the next to die, or the next to marry. OUCH!

12) The last line of a play should never be spoken until opening night.

Theatre is not complete without an audience, so to prevent disaster, the last line is not uttered until an audience is in the house.

13) The first audience member to enter the house must have a paid ticket.

Like any business, theatre is about making money. It is a bad omen to start off a show with an 'empty' cashbox. Many house managers will ask comp ticket holders to please wait to be seated, until a paying customer has entered the house.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hey! We rank!

I think Charles must have submitted our blog! Cool.

Bottle Tree Productions at Blogged

We rate a solid... 'B' I think.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theatre Blog Directory

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cruising on the high seas

Anne Marie and I were getting ready for a rehearsal of our Performance Plus class version of Puss In Boots. The kids are aged from 11-17. Very motivated. A young woman named Courtney Cook dropped by. She had worked backstage with us a few years ago before she headed off to Sheridan College. She was now the Production manager for Cunnard lines; a cruise ship company. She graciously agreed to talk to the class, about life for performers on a cruise ship. Starting salaries work out to about 1700 to 2000 dollars a month but you don't have to pay for accomodations or food. Cruise lines seek triple threat performers which of course means, dancing, singing and acting. Actors are hired for things like mcing events and anything that requires talking to crowds of people about either performances or narrating the sights that passengers are seeing. It is a good chance to see the world when you are young, when you are unencumbered by marriage and jobs. Sheridan College is a good recruiting zone for cruise lines because of their very strong triple threat program. One thing Courtny emphasized is that there tends to be a three strike rule in show biz. Miss or be late for rehearsals three times and you're gone. Show up on drugs or alcohol once and you're history. Another interesting point she brought up was that a lot of jobs in theatre were had by being in the right place at the right time, by having your number on someone's cellphone. People tend to call the people that they know so networking was very important. She impressed on the kids that it was hard work but very rewarding. She told the kids to look at one another because those were going to be people who would remember them from this class and this show and they were the people that would be able to help them out if an opportunity arose for a job in the performing arts. You can check for Cruise Line jobs on the appropriate company's websites.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Blog Catalogue

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Timing is Everything - Delivering on Comedy

Rehearsals have been underway for a few weeks now and Puss and Boots is shaping up very nicely. Our Performance Plus class is doing a remarkable job of refining the show, adding the songs, and getting that ever-important comic timing down pat.

During rehearsals, I am very mindful of the generation gap that is developing between me and the young people who we direct. While they are smart, much smarter than I am, or was, or will be, and while they have a vast knowledge of music, including 'classics' that I am very familiar with, we have a big gulf in communication when it comes to what is funny. I read an interview of Martin Short last week. He said that comedy is generational, and that it has to be... maybe that is true. But how do you explain comic timing to someone who has never seen the old shows that you grew up on?

My generation had the 'benefit' of less affluent television stations. They could not pay for new movies. We got black and white movies from the stone ages. You know, movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or the Keystone Cops. The Little Rascals was a primer for comedy.

Teaching comedic timing is very difficult, but watching it is easy - if you get good comedy. Just as we watch dramatic actors and learn their techniques and methods, we need to be sitting our kids in front of some of the solid comedians that have come and gone, and learn their lessons.

Try some Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges, some Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball, some Jackie Gleason, some Jack Benny, some W.C. Fields and Mae West, some Groucho Marx and his brothers.

Didn't they teach us that funny stuff happens in three beats? Didn't we learn from them that if your inflection rises during a line, and you put a beat before the next word, then it's funny?

Mae West's, "Come on up and ... see me sometime."
Don Adams had brilliant delivery in Get Smart, "Aand... llloving it."
Bugs Bunny, "Ehhhhnnnn... what's up, Doc?"

Can you imagine those lines without the build?

Comedy is slow. Anticipation is the most delicious aspect of it. Lucille Ball eating chocolates off of an assembly line is one of the most famous moments of television. The thing that made that a brilliant comedic piece instead of a disgusting show of gluttony or an alarming pathetic tragedy is all in the timing. Compare that to 'Just for Laughs: Gags' and tell me that things have not slid in a downward spiral on the small screen.

More recently (although not yesterday!) Ellen Degeneras and Tia Leone also are excellent comic actors. Bob Newhart... I am trying to name people who are not profance or inappropriate for young people in hopes that they will get seen by actors who can benefit from a good laugh and an entertaining lesson.

Too often, shocking behaviour, creative use of foul language and zany antics are accepted as comedy. There is a pleasant way to learn about comedy. Be a consumer of the 'good stuff'.

Treat your family to some vintage films and watch the masters at work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Valid Pay Pal button code for XHTML 1.0 Transitional

This is markup for PayPal's 'Add to Cart' button. It will not validate as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Here are the changes that you will need to make your button validate. These changes will not affect how the button works.
Valid markup is important, and my assumption is that PayPal designed its code generator for older HTML, and has not updated, so we need to fix the button code manually! This is some code from our Drama Classes page.

When you get button code from Pay Pal, it looks like this:

<form target="paypal" action="" method="post">
<input type="hidden" name="cmd" value="_s-xclick">
<input type="hidden" name="hosted_button_id" value="#######">
<tr><td><input type="hidden" name="on0" value="Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)">Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)</td></tr><tr><td><select name="os0">
<option value="8-10 years old">8-10 years old $126.00
<option value="11 & 12 years old">11 & 12 years old $189.00
<option value="Teen">Teen $246.75
</select> </td></tr>
<input type="hidden" name="currency_code" value="CAD">
<input type="image" src="" border="0" name="submit" alt="">
<img alt="" border="0" src="" width="1" height="1">

Here's why this code will not validate:

1) Lack of Closing Tags
XHTML requires that all tags be closed with a '/'. The button code generator does not add the '/' to tags that are self closing, like <img/>, and< input/>. So, add a '/' before the last pointy bracket and that takes care of some errors. For some reason, the button code generator entirely leaves out the closing tag for <option> so, you have to add a closing tag </option>.

<input type="hidden" name="on0" value="Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)"> Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)

should look like

<input type="hidden" name="on0" value="Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)"/> Stage Right Drama Class (Spring 09)
<img alt="" border="0" src="" width="1" height="1">

should be
<img alt="" border="0" src="" width="1" height="1"/>


<option value="8-10 years old">8-10 years old $126.00
needs a closing tag added like this:
<option value="8-10 years old">8-10 years old $126.00</option>

Check all of the tags, close them if they are self-closing, or add a closing tag if they modify text that is displayed.

2) Input tag does not support the attribute "border".
You are given this:

<input type="image" src="" border="0" name="submit" alt="">

Make it this:

<input type="image" src="" name="submit" alt=""/>

While you're at it... put the 'alt' attribute to use!

<input type="image" src="" name="submit" alt="This is a button that will submit your choices to Paypal's shopping cart.">

3) Special characters like '&' are not coded properly.
***NOTE!!!!*** You should change the code in PAYPAL as well as the code on your site for this error***
The button code generator accepts the user's special characters as if they are normal characters. When you tell the button generator that you are creating an option to order classes for "11 & 12 year olds", it posts exactly that to the HTML code.

In order to ensure that you are not breaking a button, change the code in PayPal so that is it exactly the same as the code that you have on your webpage:
- Access the paypal Merchant page, click to create a new button
- Find and click on the option to go to your saved buttons
- Find the button that you are correcting, click 'edit'
- Make and SAVE your changes.

so.. this

<option value="11 & 12 years old">11 & 12 years old $189.00

ends up like this:

<option value="11 &amp; 12 years old">11 &amp; 12 years old $189.00

Remember to validate your code! It is an excellent way to learn more about XHTML.
My next battle: Getting CSS to display properly in IE. (I use Firefox!)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Acting from Adversity

Theatre can be many things to many people. Spiritual, emotional, funny, witty, and just a plain adventure when disparate forces collide and produce something we hope is theatre. But another thing theatre can do, as can sports, is to provide inspirational stories as well. Gold medalist Donovan Bailey had one leg shorter than the other yet became the fastest man on earth. I think many people succeed because of adversity, not despite it. My son Justin has dyslexia, and at 22 years old has never read a book. He was misdiagnosed three times by the testing agencies of the Catholic and Public School Boards. They thought he was just slow. That isn't the kid that I know. It took Doctor Don Richardson to diagnose him, and to provide the support that he needed. Through a collusion of events Justin got the lead in Miss Julie. He is on stage practically the whole time, and he worked his butt off to make sense of the words, that would at one moment make sense and then the next, disappear into alphabet soup. I don't think he will fool anybody into thinking he studied at The Stratford Conservatory, but his acting is very real, very convincing, and I am amazed that this kid who basically can't read or write is onstage for 90 minutes spouting Strindberg. I think for many kids, theatre is a way of living great literature from the inside. All it takes, is heart, imagination, hard work and a dream. Anything is possible.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Theatre: Interactive Magic

If you want to be an actor, there really is one thing that you have to do - you have to get in front of an audience.

Seems simple and obvious, doesn't it?

Ok, but there is more to it than that. You have to get in front of an audience, and you have to show them a story. While you are showing them, you have to find ways to invite them into that story with you. You have to connect with the audience and allow them to connect with you.

What is connecting? It's magic. It's magic that flows both ways, from the stage to the audience, and from the audience back to the actors. It's the art of theatre.

Magic is fickle. Connecting is not always easy. There is a certain critical mass that you need to enable the magic to flow back to the stage. Audience members need each other to feel sufficiently anonymous, so that they are safe and can be open to the magic. It's pretty potent stuff. Not for the faint of heart.

Audiences can sill get a 'good show' without the magic. They just can't get a great show. Without magic, they will come away being entertained. They will have understood the story, but they will not have an emotional response to the work. Masterful, competant technique can tell a good story, but only magic can allow someone else to live it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Artists and Genius

If you have 20 minutes, this is well worth watching.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

In fact, it's worth saving 20 minutes of your life to watch it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How Drama Can Become Abusive

How many times do we tell our children to be careful about their own personal space? How often do schools enforce the 'keep your hands, your feet, and your unkind comments to yourself' rule? How many times do we worry that our children will not be able to say 'no' to someone who has more power than they have?

My bet is that parents will all be nodding vigorously in sympathy to those questions. "I know! I know!"

We teach our children that it is polite to shake hands by way of introduction. We would never suggest that they rub bodies together instead.

Have you ever heard of 'trust' games? They are very much like the games that couples play in groups at Buck and Doe showers. You know the kind. You hold an orange between your chin and shoulder, and you have to pass it around from person to person without it falling. Or, you have to pass a playing card from person to person using only the suction power of your mouth. You know, those psuedo-sexual games meant to embarrass people who would otherwise just shake hands and keep a polite distance. Certainly they would not come lip-to-lip with a mere acquaintance.

Did you know that pedophiles use 'games' to groom their victims? It is a way to override a child's sense of right and wrong by masking the action. A pedophile would not likely come right out and say 'Hey, touch me.' Instead, the invitation is 'Let's play a game. I have a piece of gum. You turn around and I will put it in one of my pockets. If you can find it in three tries, I will give you a whole pack of gum. If you don't play, then all your friends will be mad at you.'

Likewise, in positions of power, pedophiles will encourage or demand that the young people under their care play these games with other, so that they can watch. Creepy, innit?

Isn't that what we encourage our children to say 'no' to?

Let's make no mistake that trust games are intended to break down inhibitions. You will hear claims of 'it allows them to bond, to trust each other on stage'.


What teaches child actors to trust their fellow actors is to rehearse. Does the other person show up on time? That builds trust. Does the other person know their lines? That builds trust. Does the other person know their blocking? That builds trust. Does the other person help me out when I forget a line? That builds trust.

What trust games do is to enforce the power of the 'director' over the actor, over their choices. They teach kids that their gut instincts can be ignored.

Parents have to watch out for their kids. Know what is going on and speak out if you see inappropriate touching, inappropriate clothing, inappropriate language - anything. If you would not tolerate it in real life, you should not tolerate it on the stage. And I am not talking about subtext. I am talking about actual physical and emotional impropriety. And this happens with emotions as well, but that is another post.

Do not abdicate your responsibility to your child by 'trusting' the teacher, or the director. Do not falsely reassure yourself 'well this is theatre, it's all just acting'. Do not think that public school drama classes are not guilty of this. It is standard procedure, taught to the teacher by University, and they don't give it a second thought. They should.

My bet is that the schools will get a complaint about sexual harassment based on these types of games.

Do not let 'art' be an avenue to make your child vulnerable.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Miss Julie and sex

It seems often these days that in theatre great scripts are subverted by a director to be relevant or to be meaningful for today's masses. Afraid that great acting cannot hold an audience's attention, they seek titilation or sensationalism. They move the setting. They cross-gender parts. Miss Julie is a wonderful script for an actress to show off her ability. It doesn't need sex on stage. It needs great acting. Unfortunately actresses, these days are often compelled to leave their part on the playwright's page and to give life to some weaker vision and concept that ghettoizes women as sexualized creatures. I would think that women have it tough enough trying to make it in acting without being forced to compete with the ladies-of-the-night. It's not freedom to act that way, it's confinement, confinement as a stereotype. Miss Julie is a power struggle, between a man and a woman, between the classes, between rich and poor. But it is also about something else, incapable of touching each other in public, the man and the woman use words to seduce and destroy. They don't touch. Often directors chase each other's concepts instead of the truth of the word, afraid of not understanding the art, they choose to make it carnivale, and hence when Earnest Jones abused Shakespeare with Freud's oedipal complex in the scene between Hamlet and his mother, it was passed down from generation to generation as the truth, so we get Olivier and Gibson, distracted from the truth by psychobabble. As David Mamet would say, just do the damn script! Second rate minds can't leave anything alone.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


We've been getting some very positive feedback on our poster for "Miss Julie". I wanted to make sure that credit is given where it is due.

David Ajax is the artist behind the image. David is a quiet man who comes to the theatre and goes about his work professionally and quickly and with results that speak for themselves.

Thanks, David. We very much appreciate your talent.

I am still looking forward to giving some tickets away for this powerful show!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Canadian improv showcase

The Wellington Street Theatre is pleased to be hosting the Canadian Improv Games from Toronto, on May 7th-9th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20/adults and $15/seniors & students.
They are a family-friendly improv group that shies away from inappropriate language which is refreshing in this day and age. One of the members of this troupe is from the Odessa area. Tony Babcock is an extraordinarily funny performer, who can change characters as fast as Robin Williams. Tony and Krock radio host Sideshow, who is also very funny, used to perform their shtick together, when they were younger. Tony has performed for Theatre 5, Domino Theatre, Bottle Tree Productions and Slackwood Players in Selby. With good friend Jacqueline Luney, Tony created Recensio, a story of light and dark, a multi-media production, that was very funny and moving. Anybody who has ever come in contact with Tony has to be impressed with his drive and his talent. He has done t.v. and film while in Toronto, while keeping his comedy skills sharp with The Canadian Improv Showcase. He can turn a phrase in any era, having excelled as Bottomg in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Algernon in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and eight different characters in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. I have a script in front of me with Tony's name on it for a drama class production of The Titantic. It has Tony's name scrawled across it. He was eight years old. It will be good to see him again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Win free tickets

I am going to give away a pair of tickets to Miss Julie to each of the first three people to post to this blog. You have your choice of the first three days (Thursday, Friday or Saturday) Feb 19, 20 or 21.

Miss Julie is an August Strindberg play about an aristocratic young woman who disagrees with the class system in which she lives. Her family's valet, John (Jean), strives to overcome his lowly position while Miss Julie longs to climb down to a more earthy level.

Strindberg uses naturalism to show the similarities and differences of the struggle between the classes and the sexes.

The show stars Hannah Smith as Julie, Justin Robertson as John, and Claire Notman as Kristine. Izabella nap understudies the role of Kristine, and appears in selected performances.

Run date is Feb 19 - Mar 7, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm at the Wellington Street Theatre.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New! 2009 Season, our Site and ... stuff, yeah.

So since Snowdrops for Katya, we've been busy - there was that holiday thing or two in there before January- and Charles and I both survived.

Our 2009 Season has been announced and we've been sending order forms out by email. This year, because of the economy, we are giving people a wider choice of season tickets. We developed a family ticket, so that if you are only interested in seeing the musical fairy tales Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, and Aladdin, you can buy a $20.oo ticket and basically get one show for free (for adults buying this tickets, it's an even better deal, working out to one and a half free shows!).

Miss Julie, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Cole's Notes are on the Three For Me ticket for $45.00 (yep, one show for free!). And we still offer the full pass with all six shows for $60.00 and $65.00.

Drama classes are going strong, we have three great groups every Saturday and Mark and Hannah are fabulous teaching the Stage Right classes. The kids love them.

Also on the update front, I have changed the home page of the website last weekend and just now checked it in IE... blarg. It doesn't show properly in IE, but it looks great in Firefox at a 600 x 800 px resolution! ;) *hint* Aaanywayyy when I get a moment I will fix that problem, but for now, IE users, please enjoy the Adsense universe that is the Bottle Tree Productions' homepage.

Also also, I've created a 3D rendering of the stage in Google Sketchup. So, if you want to install some nifty FREE software, you can download the CAD drawing to open in Sketchup from Wellington Street Theatre. This excites me very much! Imagine, you can now develop your set accurately and see it from all angles BEFORE you buy any lumber or make any cuts.

Theatre bookings for The Wellington are going strong and the next month is getting fabulously busy. February kicks off with The Vagina Monologues (Feb 5, 6, 7) then Miss Julie (Feb 18 - Mar 7). In March, SHOUT is offering the play Anne Frank, then in April we have Puss in Boots!

Check the next post to find out how to win some FREE THEATRE TICKETS!

..It's time to make the doughnuts...