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Sleeping Beauty designers embrace challenges

November 7, 2013
The Sleeping Beauty canopy comes to life

The Sleeping Beauty canopy comes to life.

If indeed variety is the spice of life, Scott Penner must surely be in designer heaven these days. He has now created a second set for the Globe Theatre in as many Main Stage productions this season and the two couldn’t possibly be any more different. The scene of The Last Resort was a hotel lobby that was grounded in realism and pretty much stayed in place for the entire show. With the holiday offering of Sleeping Beauty, he finds himself immersed in the realm of the imagination, absorbed in fantasy, mired in magic.

“It’s a nice change,” says Penner, who has gamely embraced the challenge of taking us into three separate worlds, and within those worlds running the gamut from cottages to castles. The set is minimalist by necessity. This show has a larger cast, there are more switches in time and place, and, lest we forget, it features a puppet dragon that measures 26 feet in length. Penner’s solution was to make everything portable and mobile, so that the set pieces can be moved on and off the stage as required.

“We’ve kind of worked it all out,” he says modestly, describing a set that is painted white and will be accented with a sprinkling of colours, a set that was suggested by the Walt Disney movie in general and, more specifically, by the vine of thorns I’m sure you will recall vividly from that animated film. The structure was inspired by an image Penner found online of an impressionist wooden sculpture constructed by a Belgian artist from planks of wood laid on top of each other.

This, in turn, resulted in considerable challenges for Louise Guinand, who has designed the lighting. The fact that the pieces extend overhead made her task significantly more complicated. It dictated slightly different angles for the lights, and she was not able to utilize as many lights overhead as she normally would. Not to mention that the structure breaks the stage into smaller zones than is ordinarily the case. The whiteness itself was likewise cause for concern. “White is harder to isolate,” Guinand says, “because the light bounces around.”

This show brings all of the challenges together, but that’s fun, too … The stage becomes a canvas to play upon.” – Louise Guinand

Ruth Smillie’s singular adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is most definitely not what is known in theatre circles as a “lights up, lights down” show. In fact, Guinand calls it the “trickiest” of the 14 plays she has lit for the Globe, including a production of Proof that took place in a life-size gazebo and Beauty and The Beast with its assortment of looks.

“This show brings all of the challenges together, but that’s fun, too,” Guinand says. “It’s also a very colourful show. The stage becomes a canvas to play upon.”

The costume designer for Sleeping Beauty is Bonnie Deakin. “This is a particularly big show. It’s intended to have a sensory impact for the audience. We are creating things that aren’t standard – pleasurable things that suggest fun and play,” she says. “In terms of the costumes, I want it to be anywhere, anytime. Made-up land. Made-up world.”

The play is performed by a cast of 10. It requires at least two costumes for each actor. Some have three, some have four.

The costumes reflect a multi-cultural spectrum that includes Russian, German, Irish, English and Asian components. The designs arose from discussions Deakin had with director Courtenay Dobbie. Together, they went through each character individually, in great detail, discussing the specifics of every single one.

Deakin found it “very, very helpful” to have a hands-on director who is “exacting and articulate,” all the more so because Deakin herself hadn’t even seen the script when she agreed to design costumes for the show. “But that, too,” she says, “is part of the fun.”

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

Sleeping Beauty runs Nov. 20-Dec. 29. Buy your tickets for a preview performance on Nov. 16 (8 p.m.) or Nov 17 (2 p.m.) and get 15% off! For tickets, visit http://globetheatrelive.com/box-office/tickets.

The Theatrical Magic of Sleeping Beauty

October 31, 2013

This is the time of year when audiences come to the Globe expecting to be enchanted by theatrical magic as they participate in the tradition of the annual holiday show. Sleeping Beauty is the latest of these singular experiences.

Sleeping Beauty director Courtenay Dobbie.

Sleeping Beauty director Courtenay Dobbie.

Adapted by artistic director Ruth Smillie from the Brothers Grimm fairytale and staged by Courtenay Dobbie, this particular Sleeping Beauty is unlike any other Sleeping Beauty you’ve seen or read or heard. There is a spinning wheel, a pricked finger, and a deep, deep sleep, but those are the only elements that have been retained in this inspired, imaginative retelling of the popular story.

“It’s not the story we all know from Disney,” Dobbie said. “We have opened our eyes to a different version, a different vision.” This version takes place in its own distinct world. It features a puppet dragon and there are fairies. “Lots and lots of fairies,” Dobbie said with emphasis.

This show was dramaturged by Andrew North, the Globe’s executive director, and workshopped last June by Smillie, North, and Dobbie. The fact that she has been involved since the early phases of development is paying dividends because she is also directing. “It was really great to be there in the beginning,” Dobbie said. “That’s very helpful now.”

Over that period there have been some changes, of course, but Dobbie seems satisfied they represented “changes for the better” and by changes she means changes in terms of character dynamics, such things as relationships and motivation. “It’s been growing. It has become more fluid. It is now fully realized,” she said.

It also helps that Dobbie is a choreographer as well as director, not that there’s a lot of song-and-dance in this show, but certainly in the sense that there is a cast of 10 actors who are performing in the round. “The spatial knowledge helps with the blocking and with getting people on and off the stage,” Dobbie said.

 We have opened our eyes to a different version, a different vision.” – Courtenay Dobbie, Sleeping Beauty director

The underlying theme of the show is that of a girl growing up to become a woman, and in keeping with the season, Sleeping Beauty is a celebration of family. “The greatest challenge,” Dobbie said, “is that all we have to work with is lights, set, and costumes.”

Fortunately, Courtenay Dobbie is no stranger to challenges. For the past three years, she has been artistic director of Caravan Farm Theatre, a company she first joined as an actor in 2003. Indeed, immediately after Sleeping Beauty opens at the Globe, Dobbie will hasten back to British Columbia to prepare Caravan’s winter show.

Ironically, and this is strictly a coincidence, that show is also a Brothers Grimm fairytale, the lesser known Little Brother and Little Sister. And if you think theatre in-the-round presents an interesting perspective, you should know that the Caravan production (offered three times a day to audiences of 160 per show) is performed at several locations as befits the promenade style. Spectators are taken from scene to scene by eight horse-drawn sleighs with a ninth sleigh transporting the actors.

It’s interesting that the Globe is doing Sleeping Beauty and Caravan is following up with Little Brother and Little Sister because the Brothers Grimm seem to be enjoying a renewed popularity these days on stage and on screen. “I guess there is something in the air about fairytales,” said Dobbie, who is certainly doing her part.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

Sleeping Beauty runs Nov. 20-Dec. 29. For tickets, visit http://globetheatrelive.com/box-office/tickets.

Shumiatcher Sandbox Series Review – Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul

October 25, 2013
Norman, a merman, is the main character in the show. A washed-up musician, he spends his day cleaning up the ocean/Photo courtesy of Bruce Vasselin of Designer Photo

Norman, a merman, is the main character in the show. A washed-up musician, he spends his day cleaning up the ocean/Photo courtesy of Bruce Vasselin of Designer Photo

Do yourself a favour. When you go to the Templeton Studio Cabaret to see Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul, be sure to arrive at the theatre even earlier than usual. Take a few moments to sit back and relax and view the gorgeous set. Trust me. It will be time well spent.

I say this because the set is more than a set in the conventional sense. It is actually an art installation that was created a short while back by Tamara Unroe and Mariann Taubensee for a gallery in Saskatoon, specifically a number of sculptures that were constructed from found objects – in other words: trash. These items consist of metal, plastic, fabric, paper and so on.

For the purpose of the play, written by Unroe and performed as a one-woman puppet show, the sculptures combine to form a colourful underwater world of plant life, rocks and fish. There’s even a coral reef. This is where the story unfolds, and it’s a story told to us by an elderly merman musician named Norman.

In his prime, Norman was a highly regarded entertainer in a cabaret. His popularity waned, and eventually vanished entirely, with appearance of a beautiful young mermaid. Now he is left to travel the seven seas in a rowboat, casting his nets and cleansing the ocean of garbage.

One day, Norman draws aboard a disposable cardboard coffee cup. But it is no ordinary coffee cup. It is a coffee cup personified as a female. The two fall in love. I won’t ruin it for you by revealing anything else. Suffice it to say the storyline takes the shape of a fable that explores the theme of renewal. It is a fairy tale with a happy ending.

The set is more than a set in the conventional sense… The sculptures combine to form a colourful underwater world of plant life, rocks and fish. There’s even a coral reef.”

As protagonists, Norman and his companion are joined by a supporting cast of shadow puppets that come to life through the magic of projection. Indeed, there is a cinematic quality to this presentation that is evocative of the Nickelodeon. Unroe moves back and forth from stage to screen, and although the segues might easily have been disruptive and distracting, to her credit she makes the transitions with a silky smoothness that allows the story to flow like a current, rippling like a wave, reliable as the tide.

Musical accompaniment is provided in plain sight of the audience by Birger M. Huber on a slide guitar that he constructed himself. The score, if you will, is an original composition, a blend of jazz, blues and country that fits the script like hand in glove because of a quality I can best describe as cerebral and meditative.

Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul, a world-premiere production, is directed by Deborah Neville and I urge you to see it. Come early. Stay late.

LIPSTICK SMEARS SCHEDULE

Friday, Oct. 25th, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 26th, 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 30th, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 31st, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 1st, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 2nd, 8 p.m.

All shows are at the Templeton Studio Cabaret in the Globe Theatre (1801 Scarth Street). Tickets are available for all shows. Parking information can be found here.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

Shumiatcher Sandbox Series Preview – Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul

October 23, 2013
A shot from Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul/Courtesy Tamara Unroe.

A shot from Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul/Courtesy Tamara Unroe. Check out more photos in our Flickr gallery.

You know what they say: one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

When that person is Tamara Unroe, the treasure in due course becomes sculpture. Add puppets and songs and what you have is a piece of theatre called Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul.

The premiere production is part of the Shumiatcher Sandbox Series and for this Unroe is grateful to the Globe Theatre for the opportunity and the Saskatchewan Arts Board for financial assistance. The show runs 45-minutes and features puppets (hand-held and shadow) and live music. It is scripted, but there is breathing room for improv and maybe a bit of audience participation.

Our hero is an elderly merman named Norman, who reflects on his life and times as an entertainer in a cabaret. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the storyline. You can discover the rest for yourself by catching a performance in the Templeton Studio.

“It’s a world made of garbage that people enter,” Unroe said, indicating a set comprised of sculptures created from discarded items that are supported by metal frameworks and range in size from milk jugs to nails and screws and pins.

“I just make stuff and the stuff I make are things I like to bring to life,” she explained. “I always begin with objects. Building objects. Playing with objects. That’s what I do.”

Unroe was born and raised in Halifax where she became fascinated with puppets as a child. The epiphany was a workshop she attended at the age of seven. The creature she designed there was a “Medusa-type dark princess,” as she now describes it. “I was a happy kid, but whenever I drew stuff it looked kind of scary.”

Many years later, as a student studying sculpture at the Emily Carr School of Art in Vancouver, she was required to write a term paper for a history course and chose shadow puppets as her topic.

It’s a world made of garbage that people enter. I just make stuff and the stuff I make are things I like to bring to life.” — Tamara Unroe

Unroe is now a resident of Saskatchewan. She lives in the village of Tugaske in a century-old farm house she purchased for $100. “No electricity. No running water,” she said. The two-storey home has been renovated over time.

The move from Vancouver was prompted by burnout. As a sculptor, Unroe soon discovered that in order to make ends meet she had to work steadily. “No breaks,” she said. “I couldn’t afford down time.”

Unroe’s partner in life and in art is Birger M. Huber, who constructs his own guitars and who contributes to this show as a musician performing original compositions. Multi-media artist Mariann Taubensee collaborated in the creation of the sculptures and Deborah Neville served as director.

Lipstick Smears opens Thursday, Oct. 24th, at 7:30 p.m. in the Templeton Studio Cabaret. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by visiting the Globe’s ticket section or calling the box office: 306.525.6400 or 1.866.954.5623.

LIPSTICK SMEARS SCHEDULE

Thursday, Oct. 24th, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 25th, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 26th, 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 30th, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 31st, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 1st, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 2nd, 8 p.m.

All shows are at the Templeton Studio Cabaret in the Globe Theatre (1801 Scarth Street). Tickets are available for all shows. Parking information can be found here.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

Ruth Smillie’s “Sleeping Beauty”

October 9, 2013

There was a time early in her career when Ruth Smillie thought of herself as a director-playwright-actor. “Then I had two kids,” she says. Something had to give and sure enough it did. “I just needed to not be a playwright anymore,” she says. ” I had to take that off the table.”

It stayed off the table for about 20 years, but now it  has been restored to its former, proper place. “I’m not directing much these days,” says Smillie, who oversees the Globe Theatre as artistic director. “This place has become more complicated. So I’m back to doing some writing again.”

Two seasons ago Smillie wrote an adaptation of Robin Hood for the Main Stage Series. Now she is following up with Sleeping Beauty. “There are many versions of the story,” she says. “I wanted to tell my own version. That’s what I love about theatre. It’s creative. It’s dynamic. It’s a chance to do it your own way.”

As always, the writing begins with a question or three. “Where do I start? Where do I end? What’s the pivotal moment,” Smillie says. “Once I reassured myself on those things, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Once I figured out the basic arc of the story, then I could start playing around with all the other stuff.”

Smillie has long been fascinated by fairy tales, particularly those that actually include fairies. “Probably because I’m Irish on both sides,” she says. There’s much about the genre Smillie finds irresistible. Its epic nature. The enchantment. The magic. Things she describes as “iconic echos in the imagination.”

In this case the clincher was that Sleeping Beauty has to do with a stolen child. That and the strong element of the “unredeemably evil and the possibility of people being born into evil  and making a different choice,” Smillie says. “I thought about character a lot and in theatre you want your characters to go on a journey, you’re writing characters that need to live and breathe. I kept not pushing the send button because there was always something else, something more I wanted to write.”

Sleeping Beauty is directed by Courtenay Dobbie and was dramaturged by Globe Theatre executive director Andrew North, who repeatedly reminded Smillie to concentrate on writing and not get distracted by concerns about the actual production.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do fireballs,” Smillie says with a laugh. “Certainly, the logistical side is always there and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with the creative process. I have a great respect for the capacity of theatre to transcend and not get stuck on what is or isn’t possible.”

Etiquette Matters

October 3, 2013

As a long-time patron of the Globe, I know better than to arrive on opening night wearing caustic cologne or a pungent after shave. I have a sweet tooth, but I avoid candy that comes in crinkly wrappers. If I must leave the theatre during the performance, I go up the stairs, not down. And the cellphone is off at all times.

I raise this because etiquette matters and a recent survey in the United Kingdom reveals that things are taking a turn for the worse.

According to a report titled State of Play: Theatre UK, 13 per cent of respondents said it is acceptable to whisper, and 80 per cent admit to having done so. Ten per cent would not have a problem with people snapping photographs, 17 per cent believe if drinking is allowed, eating should be as well, and among those aged 16 to 19, an alarming 47 per cent think it’s OK to tweet about a show while the show is still in progress.

Yikes!

Judy Wensel: The Story Behind Shangri-La

October 2, 2013

During the summer of 2012, Judy Wensel paid a visit to Calgary to attend a theatre lab conducted by One Yellow Rabbit. The program included a lecture by Blake Brooker, a founding member of the group, whose bottom-line message to the audience was that we all have obsessions and we can choose to ignore them or pursue them.

“All of a sudden, I had permission to investigate that obsession,” Wensel says, and in that moment, her fascination with nostalgia, specifically the 1960s, morphed from a short monologue about a teenager named Jeanne McCate into a full-length one-woman show called Shangri-La.

“That lecture was the catalyst,” Wensel says. “I think I needed to hear that. That was what put me into high gear.”

 As somebody who hadn’t performed a solo show before, never mind written one, or even given it a serious thought, Wensel has found “the exercise really, really valuable.” What she previously dismissed as something other people did, she now considers a significant part of her development as a theatre artist. 

“It’s a very personal experience, and almost a lonely one,” says Wensel, who prepared the show under the mentorship of Denise Clarke and Michelle Kennedy. “Being both creator and performer taught me to be more disciplined. You can’t concentrate on all of it at once. Sometimes I was an actor, other times I was a writer. From the start of rehearsals, right up until opening, I was wearing two hats.”

At this point, not even Wensel can say with any certainty what will happen to Shangri-La once it closes its run in the Shumiatcher Sandbox series, but she’s hoping, of course, the show has a life beyond Globe Theatre.

“It was great to start doing it for an audience. It had been inside my head for such a long time. It’s nice to finally be able to share it,” Wensel says. “But, somehow, it doesn’t feel like this is the end of it. With this show, I’m finding it hard to let go, which is something I’m usually good at.”

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