ONE to be Resurrected at Toronto's Factory Theatre

Ghost River Theatre

The iconic Factory Theatre in Toronto recently announced their 50th Anniversary - 2019-2020 Season, and Calgary’s Ghost River Theatre is thrilled to be included with their production ONE, which will run April 1-19, 2020. Read the Factory Theatre 50th Anniversary Season announcement in the Toronto Star here!

In curating the upcoming anniversary season, Factory Theatre’s Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino selected “a lineup of new and existing productions that honour the Factory’s past as well as its future.” ONE was last performed at Factory Theatre in 2011 as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival, and the stunning work has remained a favourite of Aquino’s. For that 2011 run, Ghost River Theatre’s Eric Rose won SummerWorks’ Canadian Stage Award for Best Direction.

A free-association on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, ONE follows the desperate journey of Philistine, an impassioned librarian searching for the love of her life, George, an astronomer who’s been lost at sea. Her devotion takes her beyond the fabric of the living world and into the strange and all-consuming world of the dead—a realm suffused in memory, imagery, sound and fragments of language. Through stunning visual imagery, highly stylized movement, poetic language, and evocative soundscape, ONE delivers an experience that is at once an engaging narrative and a sensory adventure.

ONE will also be performed in Calgary next season and is available for booking.

ONE (2020)

Playwright Jason Carnew
Director Eric Rose
Set, Light and Costume Designer Snezana Pesic
Starring Amber Borotsik

Behind the Scenes: Audio Descriptions and Touch Tours

Inside Out Theatre’s Good Host Program works with Calgary theatre presenters to facilitate a selection of accessible performances. Curious to learn more about touch tours and audio descriptions for patrons with vision loss, I recently chatted with Inside Out Theatre’s Artistic Associate Ashley King. Ashley was an avid theatre participant as a youth and when she lost her vision at age 19, she thought she would never participate in theatre again. Later, as a journalist, her serendipitous interview with Inside Out Theatre’s Artistic Director Col Cseke led her back to theatre with a renewed passion. She now assists in coordinating and consulting on Good Host Program touch tours and audio descriptions.

A theatrical audio description is a verbal description of visual elements of a play provided between dialogue, typically transmitted through radio headsets. Props, emotions, and physical actions which impact the understanding of a story are described. “Simon’s jaw drops in surprise.” “Simon reluctantly hands Max the pen.” The great thing about audio descriptions provided by Inside Out Theatre (as opposed to, say, the pre-recorded descriptions available on Broadway) is that they are given in real-time by actors following the pace of the play so any overlay with dialogue is avoided.

Inside Out’s team of audio describers are professional actors/directors with specialized training. Their process is involved. They receive a play’s script and then watch the live play 2-3 times, developing their own audio description script and learning the play’s flow.  Depending on the nature of the play, the audio description required can be quite brief as with Lunchbox Theatre’s radio-play staging of It’s a Wonderful Life. On the other extreme, Ghost River Theatre’s GIANT integrates complex puppetry and physical and visual narrative, and required pages of strategically developed script by Mark Hopkins. As the audio describers’ consultant and someone with visual loss herself, Ashley provides valuable feedback during their process.

I ask Ashley if the audio describers ever bring their own personality to the part. She responds that it’s a question of matching the tone of the play. The best audio descriptions provide consistency with the play’s emotional journey, floating in and out as part of the play. If the moment is tense, the audio describer should sound tense. For GIANT, which tracks the life of professional wrestler André the Giant, Mark Hopkins had fun taking on the voice of a sports announcer while describing matches.  

The idea of an audience member keeping track of characters and action without visual references sounds daunting to me as someone with sight. Ashley agrees. “The play keeps moving, so you can’t stop and think about what is going on or what was said.” Thus, audio descriptions are a careful balance of clear, descriptive, and salient. “The actor moves upstage” doesn’t contribute meaning. “The woman sassily moves towards Simon” does. “The cat is massive” is vague versus “the cat is the size of a car.” Enter touch tours. Touch tours, which are preshow tactile tours of the set, costumes, and props, are great opportunities for patrons to internalize characteristics of production elements.  

Towards the end of our conversation, Ashley mentions the emerging movement of fully integrating communications such as ASL or audio descriptions into plays themselves rather than treating them as separate entities. Having heard much about the recent, celebrated ASL/English bilingual Prince Hamlet by Why Not Theatre, in which actor Dawn Jani Birley signs her lines, I understand what Ashley is referring to but hadn’t thought of this concept in terms of audio descriptions. If phrases like “I will hand you this pen now” were written directly into the script, then a separate audio description could be redundant. For Ashley, such integration would be the ultimate experience. It’s an exciting time right now, at the intersection of Canadian theatre and artists/patrons with disabilities, and Inside Out Theatre is at the centre. Check out http://www.insideouttheatre.com/good-host.

Bringing Sparkling Imaginations to Life

Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) constantly navigates the power differential between adults - who create plays and performance environments - and young audiences. Adults can impose their values within the TYA work they create rather than, for example, encouraging imagination and play. They can also deliberately or inherently set behavioural expectations for children watching live theatre, limiting their ability to naturally engage with it. (Think, the school-gym setting.) 

Enter Most Imaginary Worlds. Created by artists with disabilities in collaboration with children with disabilities, this sparkling new work overcomes power differentials. The play brings to life worlds which are free of barriers as imagined by its young collaborators. The vignettes, images, and characters living and thriving in these imaginary lands speak to the Social Model of Disability, which asserts that ‘disability’ is caused by the way society is organized rather than a person’s impairment or difference. They contain hope, hilarity, battles with equality, and triumphs of the human spirit. Ultimately, the production gives voice to the most vulnerable in our society and creates successful outcomes for its young collaborators.

The performances will also be relaxed, meaning kids can be themselves in the audience.

Most Imaginary Worlds is created and performed by Inside Out Theatre’s resident company, the point of view ensemble, and directed by Col Cseke. It is yet another brilliant example of Inside Out Theatre’s holistic ethos and progressive approach to creating and discussing equality in our society.

Presented by Quest Theatre, performances will take place on May 3 and 4, 2019 at cSPACE King Edward, and are best suited for children, ages 8 and up. Information is available at questtheatre.org.

The Rave Reviews Are In!

We who engage in the arts should take pause when a production like Ghost River Theatre’s Giant premieres. Giant is the cumulative result of established, innovative collaborators David van Belle and Eric Rose taking time over four years, securing Canada Council for the Arts New Chapter funds, and engaging an amazing cast and creative team around them, to bring their magnificent vision of Giant to life. I’d like to take this moment to appreciate their collective genius and achievement, by sharing quotes from each of this week’s reviews!

 From Lori Montgomery, Theatre Reviewer for The YYScene:

“This is everything I love about theatre — it doesn’t try to be the stage version of the HBO biopic. It’s oblique and elliptical and leans heavily on metaphor.”

“…the concept is executed with passion and energy that makes it impossible to look away.”

From Jonathan Love, Theatre Reviewer for CBC Radio:

 “…genius stagecraft…”

“…Ghost River was able to exhibit size and scale in so many creative ways, it was mesmerizing.”

 “…what was over the top amazing was the wrestling.”

“…what I appreciated was the creators’ ability to give it the time and the space that it needed, and the full force of the entire team’s creativity to find the right way to tell the story.”

“It’s the story of a man who didn’t fit within society told in a way that doesn’t fit within conventional storytelling.”

“…I really marvelled at how the scale and talent really hit home just like a pile driver. This was a singular production just as André was a singular human.”

From Louis B. Hobson, Theatre Reviewer for The Calgary Herald:

 “From concept to execution, Ghost River Theatre’s Giant is an awe-inspiring achievement.”

“…a show that dazzles with its inventiveness, originality and theatricality.”

 “(Van Belle and Rose) keep amazing with their innovation.”

“It is an achievement worthy of its title.”

Amen to that!!

World Premiere of Ghost River Theatre's Much Anticipated GIANT

I have looked forward to the world premiere of devised theatre company Ghost River Theatre’s Giant since I first heard about this latest epic by award-winning collaborators Eric Rose and David Van Belle. A boisterous alternative to the traditional biopic, the show tracks the life of wrestler André the Giant from his discovery in France to his rise to stardom in the early Coke- and cable-fueled days of the World Wrestling Federation, simultaneously examining his struggles with gigantism and otherness.

True to their aesthetically-driven points of view, the creators invite audiences to experience the spectacle and raw physicality of a wrestling match during the show. They masterfully integrate stunning imagery, as well as animated objects in an exploration of scale in composition. Calgary’s strong wrestling and puppetry cultures - unlikely bedfellows - will be merged!

During the process of working through André’s life and the hyper-masculine world of professional wrestling, it became apparent that a female lens, including the narrational perspective of André’s daughter, would best capture a multiplex view of André’s extraordinary life. Ultimately, Giant casts five female actors.

Recipient of a Canada Council New Chapter grant, Giant is the third GRT production in a loose trilogy, so to speak, of epic storytelling exploring ambition, tragic flaws, and what it means to be extraordinary, by Rose and Van Belle – following The Highest Step in the World and The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. Anticipation of Giant within the theatre community is evidenced by the many presenters trekking to Calgary to see it and the keen previews appearing in local publications – here are a couple which highlight different aspects of Giant:

Preview and Interview with AD Eric Rose, by Louis B. Hobson in the Calgary Herald

Preview by Global News with video

Ghost River Theatre’s Giant runs March 12-24 at the Grand Theatre in Calgary, presented by the Festival of Animated Objects.