TST’s world premiere of No White Picket Fence finds beauty in devastation

13 02 2017

by Laura-Beth Bird

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Theatre St. Thomas’s No White Picket Fence tells the stories of tell women who grew up in the foster care system and are now living well. Set Design by Robin C. Whittaker and Chris Saad, Lighting Design by Chris Saad, and Costumes by Cheryl Lee Watts. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders

Theatre St. Thomas’s original production No White Picket Fence finds beauty in devastation. This verbatim piece chronicles the struggles of young women in the Maritimes and their experiences in the foster care system. The project is created through the joint efforts of lead researcher Dr. Sue McKenzie-Mohr and her team along with creative director Dr. Robin C. Whittaker.

The play retells moments from the lives of 10 young women from Atlantic Canada. The women share stories of the mental, physical, and sexual abuse that led to their entry into the foster care system and the subsequent events that followed. This 95 minutes of heart wrenchingly honest theatre pulls the audience into a world very few talk about. The work successfully sheds light on the world of the foster child, giving firsthand accounts and opinions from people who are still living with this reality. These are stories that need to be told.

With the heavy content in mind, before the show the cast takes time to speak to the audience about the topics that will be addressed and the fact that these are true stories. This not only lets the audience relax but allows them to connect with those on stage. There are no grand costumes, no tricks of makeup, just the real faces of women you could walk right past on the streets of Canada.

The stage is designed with bare city streets painted in thick white lines on the floor and miniature houses that have lights switch on and off. The actors sit upon the houses, changing their perches between acts to visually reinforce the transient nature of a child in foster care. Alongside this cityscape is shelving that references the office in which the original interviews took place. The actors also have a hand held video camera which projects actions such as cooking meth in dark corners and garbage bags of children’s clothes being unpacked on a television screen. This not only reinforces the message, but also adds another dimension to work.

True to form, Kira Chisholm as Kari gives the audience a stunningly honest performance, and Naomi McGowan as Brooklyn tugs at your heartstrings as she tells her story with the innocence of a child. It is clear that all the actors approach the verbatim scripts with care, careful to honour all the mispronunciations and turns of phrase of the real subjects.

No White Picket Fence has the potential to fall flat, but through the dedication of Whittaker and McKenzie-Mohr, Theatre St. Thomas has produced a beautiful and gripping work that leaves the audience literally crying.

This is yet another feather in the cap of this company and another fantastic creative collaboration to come out of Atlantic Canada.

Theatre St. Thomas’s No White Picket Fence ran February 1-th, 2017 in The Black Box Theatre at St. Thomas University.





TST’s No White Picket Fence tells stories of girls who grew up in the foster case system, verbatim

13 02 2017

by Emma Wilkes

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Alisha (Becca Brooke) speaks about her love for fine arts in Theatre St. Thomas’s world premiere of Robin C. Whittaker and Sue McKenzie-Mohr’s No White Picket Fence. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders

Theatre St. Thomas’s world premiere of No White Picket Fence explores the experiences of women who have lived their lives in foster care and have come out on the other side with a story to tell.

The play is a verbatim piece written by Robin C. Whittaker and Sue McKenzie-Mohr, taking the transcripts of interviews conducted with real youth in care and piecing them together to make a powerful statement—and an emotional 95 minutes.

Ten women portray the roles of Lotus, Kari, Kris, Emma, Emily, Amanda, Alisha, Lisa, Brooklyn, and Mary respectively. While there stories are all different, they have something in common: their strength and resilience through foster care. The play deals with everything from illness to drug abuse, rape, and neglect. Some found that despite being taken from their birth parents, they may not have been happy or safe in their new living situation. Lisa (Elizabeth Matheson) delivers a truth that is both poignant and hard-hitting: after being taken from her childhood home due to her father’s abuse, she asks “why don’t they take him away?”

Each monologue and moment is delivered truthfully; because the play is verbatim, every “um”, “uh”, and instance of bad grammar is included in the text. (Perhaps most memorable is Amanda’s use of “tooken” instead of “taken”). Each woman takes turns filming, acting as the interviewer, or interacting with props.

At the beginning of each show, the actors mingle with the audience, talking until it is time for places (a choice that often makes both actors and audience uncomfortable, but seemed to work for the piece).

The set is striking. Each actor sits on a miniature house with lights in each window. The actors are lit with a single spot during their monologues. The floor is painted like a roadmap and the characters follow the roads moving from house to house, literally and figuratively, as their stories progress. A sheet hung over a laundry line displays the title of each scene, and a television screen shows footage, creating a sort of documentary style throughout the piece. Sound design, while present, was not integral to the production (in fact, I don’t remember any of it).

While many creative risks paid off (such as having cast members “film” the character being interviewed), some did not. In particular, the set made use of a number of shelving units stacked with books to represent a social worker’s office; while from certain angles it would have been aesthetically pleasing, in some moments it blocked much of the audience from viewing the actor who was speaking.

While there is not always a “happily ever after” for everyone, each woman believes herself to be living well, in her own terms.

Produced by Theatre St. Thomas, Whittaker and McKenzie-Mohr’s No White Picket Fence ran at STU’s Black Box Theatre from February 1-4, 2017.





Theatre St. Thomas’s No White Picket Fence enlightens and engages in world premiere at Black Box Theatre

3 02 2017

by Paige Kynock

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Lisa (Elizabeth Matheson) speaks of when she was removed from her home shortly before her sixteenth birthday because of her father’s abuse and asks, “Why don’t they take him away?” while Becca Brooke films in Whittaker and McKenzie-Mohr’s No White Picket Fence. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders

Theatre St. Thomas’s No White Picket Fence is heartbreaking yet hopeful from start to finish. Co-written by Robin C. Whittaker and Sue McKenzie-Mohr, the show runs 95 minutes. After each performance there is a short talkback with Whittaker (who also directs the production), McKenzie-Mohr (whose research inspired the production), and a few actors. TST’s premiere of this verbatim play is a world premiere for the piece.

This play follows the lives of ten women telling the stories of their lives as children in the foster care system. Each character has her own distinct stories, and yet each goes through common problems with the system. It is set up in a documentary style with each character sharing her own perspective. The story is told both through the use of monologues and interviews and it deals with topics such as: abuse, assault, neglect, and mental illness. Each woman has gone through a series of problems and yet the audience watches each one tell her story with a surprising amount of positivity.

No White Picket Fence is breathtakingly beautiful. It is raw, emotional, and authentic. The actors are committed to their roles and give believable performances. Lisa (Elizabeth Matheson) is vulnerable as she talks about the issues that she faced when she tried to go to the police about her sexual assault. Emma (Jessica Murphy) is captivating to the point where it is easy to get lost in her words. Kris (Maddi Downs) gives a relatable and heartbreaking performance. The entire ensemble works together seamlessly, and Whittaker’s directing choices really pay off.

The set is cleverly designed to look like a city, with roads between the houses and an interview office in the corner. The design elements work together with the actors to create a sombre feeling as the play progresses, and the use of music and sound effects adds to the atmosphere. The stage allows the characters to be in different locations as they tell their different perspectives. It all ties together nicely in order to make the play flow from one character’s story to the next.

The audience is left with a sense of hope at the end when we learn that these stories are those of women who now consider themselves at a good place in their lives.

This play is a series of creative risks that create something that is unforgettable. Although at some points due to the blocking it is impossible to see who is speaking, this does not take away much from the overall production.

The play is enlightening as well as entertaining from start to finish. The audience is left with much to think about, as well as a new perspective.

Robin C. Whittaker and Sue McKenzie-Mohr’s No White Picket Fence, produced by Theatre St. Thomas, runs at STU’s Black Box Theatre Feb 1-4, 2017.

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Kris (Maddi Downs) speaks of the impact of her mother’s illness on her life as Esther Soucoup films in No White Picket Fence. Set and video design by Robin C. Whittaker and Chris Saad. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders





MacIvor’s In On It is existential and unpredictable in the hands of Nasty Shadows

3 02 2017

by Alexander Rioux

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This One (Scott Shannon) and That One (Michael Holmes-Lauder) reflect on childhood in Daniel MacIvor’s In On It at UNB’s Memorial Hall. Photo Credit: Michael Holmes-Lauder

Nasty Shadows Theatre Co.’s production of Daniel MacIvor’s In On It at UNB’s Memorial Hall offers an emotional story with a complex presentation that makes for a night of pondering existential dread, in the best way one can.

The show begins with cheery music that transforms into an opera as the audience waits for the show to begin. On the floor in a spotlight is a suit jacket. This One enters and puts it on. He delivers a monologue about driving and the horror of it because one doesn’t know the blood alcohol level or mental wellbeing of the other people on the roads. Naturally, this monologue ends with a collision. But, when the lights go out and the next thing heard is, “Do you really wanna start it like that?” the play becomes a lot less predictable.

The design of the show is minimal. The only set pieces used are two black chairs. The use of the chairs in the space is handled well. You never see the chairs in the same configuration unless there is intention behind it. However, the chairs themselves feel strange. Since these are the only pieces of set that are used, it would have helped to be a little pickier about their appearance. I got the feeling that they were plucked from somewhere in the venue and were thought of as sheer utility rather then part of the production. It was the only set they had, and it felt wasted.

The lighting aids in forgetting about this slight design issue. The show itself jumps between a play, the discussion This One and That One have about the play, and the depiction of the history between the two. While in the play the two are hit with spotlights, exchanging lines, they never look at one another; then there is a general wash when This One and That One have their “rehearsal”; finally, there is a dreamy blue and pink lighting when they’re reliving their past together. The lighting is a guiding hand, helping the audience to navigate a fragmented storyline, keeping each setting and timeline easily distinguishable from the next.

Michael Holmes-Lauder and Scott Shannon are an electric pair. Holmes-Lauder (That One) brings a bouncy enigmatic energy expertly contrasted by Shannon’s (This One’s) stuffy and prudish characterization. This One and That One take on several unique roles—young and old, man and woman—and put these personas on seamlessly.

It’s the type of honesty one needs, especially for such an intimate production.

Daniel MacIvor’s In On It, produced by Nasty Shadows Theatre Company at UNB’s Memorial hall, ran January 12-14, 2017 before touring to Saint John and Moncton.





Nasty Shadows gets Fredericton In On It

3 02 2017

by Emma Wilkes

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This One (Scott Shannon) is, at times, fabulous in Daniel MacIvor’s In On It. Photo credit: Michael Holmes-Lauder

Nasty Shadow Theatre Co.’s production of Daniel MacIvor’s In On It provokes heartache in the best way possible, while masterfully exploring three interweaving stories.

In On It tells the story of two men navigating their relationship issues while rehearsing scenes from a play. The narrative includes flashbacks and self-referential moments to convey its theme of control. This two-person play, directed by Matthew Spinney, utilizes basic staging to effectively show how life is out of your control; it is left completely up to the decisions of others.

The stage is bare save for two chairs, and the only prop used in the show is a grey jacket passed between the actors.

The story is perhaps the best part of the show: That One (Michael Holmes-Lauder) questions the choices This One (Scott Shannon) has made while writing his play. They take turns playing the role of Ray King, a terminally ill man attempting to navigate his final days while being affected by the choices of the people around him. There is silence as the audience realizes that the end of Ray’s life is finally affected by his own choice, but controls the fate of another, the driver into which he crashes. The pair, through multiple flashbacks, shows the buildup and dysfunction of their relationship. In the end, there is a sense of poignancy as That One’s life is taken in the same way as the driver in This One’s play. The show ends as the play began: a bare stage, save for a grey lambswool jacket and a single spotlight.

Despite some slightly awkward scene transitions, the script manages to resonate with the audience. Shannon’s and Holmes-Lauder’s physicality and ability to move between characters is impressive. They manage to make the audience feel for every role they inhabit. Not once is the illusion broken.

One moment that stands out is an awkward booty call in which This One mistakenly invites That One over to make love. They both realize the mistake in a long moment of awkward tension before This One invites him in anyway. The moment is expertly played by Holmes-Lauder as he goes from excitement to embarrassment when he realizes the invitation was not meant for him.

Clarification between each individual moment is achieved by lighting: a general wash for This One and That One’s discussions about the play, spotlights for moments inside of the play, and distinct colour washes for the flashbacks. The sound design for the production is excellent, the most memorable moment being the realistic sound of a baseball being tossed back and forth despite no prop actually being thrown. The use of music was moving and managed to heighten emotional moments throughout the show.

Daniel MacIvor’s In On It, produced by Nasty Shadows Theatre Company, ran January 12-14, 2017 at UNB’s Memorial Hall.

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This One (Scott Shannon) ponders the jacket in Daniel MacIvor’s In On It, produced by Nasty Shadows Theatre Co. Photo Credit: Michael Holmes-Lauder





Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream warms your midwinter cockles

3 02 2017

by Robbie Lynn

St. Thomas Early English Drama Society’s (STEEDS’) production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream grasps the essence of the play and expands on it with clever and creative additions to the script.

In one of his most famous comedies, Shakespeare weaves together three story lines in Athens: The king and queen of the fairies, Oberon (Jordan McAdam) and Titania (Brianne Durant), have fallen out of love; in the woods, “the mechanicals,” a troupe of players, are rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe, later to be performed for the nobles; among the nobles are four lovers who run to the woods to lose themselves in love.

The play’s program offers clues about the character of this production. If looked at quickly, both program and play could be written-off as “amateur.” There is no glossy paper or colour-printing here; the set and lighting are minimal. But after reading the director’s notes and the biographies, it is obvious that there is a lot of honesty and personality in this production.

Assistant director Alexa Fae McDaniel candidly states, “I won’t pretend that we’re professionals,” but goes on to describe how important STEEDS is as a community for first-time theatre artists. In their humility and their love for the material, the theatre, and their community, this cast has created something that encapsulates the nature of this show better than any “professional” company could hope to do.

In a nice director’s note in the program, Louis Anthony Bryan admits he feels a personal connection with the character Peter Quince (Thomas McDougall), the director of the mechanicals. In what is the most genius addition to this play, Bryan adds a scene for the mechanicals after their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. Despite the snobby nobles being turned off by the mechanicals’ strange, unorthodox, and admittedly bad performance, Quince expresses great pride in the production and admiration for Bottom’s honest performance. The addition of this scene is so meta that McDougall and Laim Browne (as Bottom) reach an impressive level of sincerity equal to their characters.

STEEDS’ production seems inspired by these mechanicals to make bold choices and have fun. The choice to have Browne’s Bottom belt out Bowie’s Life on Mars? is bizarre yet perfect. To include in the program a Facebook conversation justifying why actor Sekou Hendricks (Demetrius) failed to submit a bio could be a blemish, but it’s hilarious. Choices like these make this production unique and far from professional in the best way possible. The hard work of this whole cast and crew is evident, but they make it look easy with their improvisational jokes and nods to the audience.

Bryan’s writing and directing produces a vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that accents the parallels between STEEDS’ production and the mechanical’s play, creating a work of metatheatre that is smart and heartfelt; however, the parallel ends with the fact that this play is thoroughly enjoyable for its audience.

STEEDS’ production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ran January 12-14, 2017 at 7:30pm in the Ted Daigle Auditorium.





TNB’s The Snow Queen a menagerie of anthropomorphic delight

23 12 2016

by John Matheson

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Gerda (Miriam Fernandes) meets The Crow (Andrew Broderick) in the premiere of Thomas Morgan Jones’s stage adaptation of The Snow Queen. Costumes designed by Sherry Kinnear. Masks designed and made by Denise Richard. Photo Credit: André Reinders

Theatre New Brunswick’s (TNB) production of The Snow Queen is a fantastic adventure for both young and old that is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the amazing costume design to the fantastical characters, this show is a sight to see.

In this rendering of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale, adapted for the stage by TNB artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, the evil and demonic Snow Queen (Michelle Polak) swoops away a young boy, Kai (Antoine Yared), to her ice palace and renders Kai unable to see beauty or feel love. The story follows Kai’s best friend, Gerda (Miriam Fernandes), on her inspiring journey across the icy tundra to save her friend.

Michelle Ramsay (lighting designer) and Nicky Phillips (composer & sound designer) do a great job conveying the mood of each scene. Lighting and music are used perfectly to tell the audience what they should be feeling before the scene even begins. The colour of the hued lighting from upstage conveys what season the scene takes place in, cutting down the need to explain the characters’ surroundings with dialogue.

The sound effects are used wonderfully, making some of the scenes feel as though they are actually happening inside a house.

The set, designed by Jung-Hye Kim, is simplistic and pristine, like freshly fallen snow. The set changes are quick and do not distract from the rest of the production.

At first the acting seems over-exaggerated, but as the production proceeds it becomes clear that this is intentional, directed by Jones to fit the atmosphere of the play. The main characters are children, and it is a children’s story. The exaggerated emotions, large mood swings, and jutting movements of the characters make them feel like children, and not just adults in children’s clothing. The cast is made up of five actors who play a crew of characters numbering almost twenty (Polak alone plays six different characters).

The real beauty of this production lies in the costume design by Sherry Kinnear, with mask specialist Denise Richard. The dress of the children in the play echoes the origins of the traditional Scandinavian and Germanic fairytale. There are many anthropomorphized animals in the play and the costumes used for these characters are grand and terrifying creations that remind one of drama in the high middle ages. The crow (Andrew Broderick) has a large dark beak that protrudes from his face and features wide flapping wings that make his movements look as though he’s dancing. It is clear that the actors who play the animals studied how these animals move in real life to reflect these movements in their performances.

TNB has created a truly beautiful production worthy of being called art. The executive decisions made on the part of Jones are spot on. Every aspect of the production comes together perfectly to emphasize the mood of the play: childlike bliss and the protection of innocence.

After seeing this production you will feel like a shard of the Snow Queen’s evil mirror has been washed from your heart. You will see beauty again like it’s the first time.

Thomas Morgan Jones’s stage adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen premiered at the Fredericton Playhouse December 15-17. 2016, produced by Theatre New Brunswick.

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Gerda (Mariam Fernandes) fights off magical animals in TNB’s The Snow Queen. Costumes designed by Sherry Kinnear. Masks designed and made by Denise Richard. Photo Credit: André Reinders








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