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414

Soul Samurai at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Culture, Events, FRINGE!!, Opinion, Performance, Performance, Reviews

September 11, 2017

Soul Samurai is mad ambitious.

It’s the latest offering from Affair of Honor, a small stage production house that employs fight choreographers and stunt people as actors and reaps the benefits of doing so. They’ve done some incredible fight work in the past and usually put on a visually striking show and this one is no exception.

This play is about a young woman named Dewdrop who is trained as a samurai after a bunch of vampires move into New York and everyone slowly got pseudo-Japanese for reasons that are never adequately explained. The main vampire dude looks Maori maybe? Is he a weeaboo? Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. Nothing else does, either.

Affair of Honor provides their usual high-quality routines, though, and if you haven’t seen a show by them before Soul Samurai is worth checking out for that alone. These people – Nathania Louise Bernabe, Jackie.T. Hanlin, Lou Ticzon, Jordan Svenkeson, Eryka Alanna, and Jarelle De’Von Hepburn – know what they’re doing and know their way around a sword. The fights are fantastic and sometimes breathtaking, and there’s a number of dance routines that are equal parts elegant and terrifying.

The lighting and sound design are also pretty decent, so far as these go. The music selection is driven by high-energy fight music throughout with some slick hip-hop thrown in for good measure. The crew works with what they have and make it work, and the result is something that is hard to look away from.

Every member of the cast also gives it their all and almost manages to make the dialogue and script work, but… well, this is where it begins to fall apart.

If you are looking for good script work you will not find it here.

There’s a movie called My First Mister where one character explains to another that swear words have a place in language, and that is used for emphasis. That’s the proper fucking way to use vulgarity. Most people get this without being told – it’s a learned skill. Most writers, however…

Everyone swears in this show. A lot. To the point where none of the dialogue sounds like anything real people say. It also doesn’t help that the main romance between lesbians was very clearly written by a cis-gender man who was maybe been in the same room as lesbians in the past but has maybe never spoken with them. Spoken at them, maybe?

There is a metric shit-tonne of casual racism, as well. It’s probably meant to be endearing between the romantic leads the same way that the casual swearing is meant to sound tough, but it just comes across as fake and robs the characters of their dignity and believability.

I’ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic stories lately in everything from comics to movies to the news, consuming dystopia after dystopia. Even when the story doesn’t spell out how the world fell into whatever hell it has become in that narrative, there is a sense that the characters know and that you could piece it together in hindsight. Not so, here.

The mythology is all over the fucking map and doesn’t make a lick of sense. The head samurai is not Japanese and people declaring themselves shoguns in New York implies a certain level of, well, something. We need to know what that something is but it doesn’t feel like either the characters or the world or the writer has any idea of what’s going on outside of the immediate now.

A big part of acting is learning what to do between lines – how to convey and live in a world that isn’t real, but feels like it is. Nothing here feels real because nothing happens outside the script, and no part of this makes any sense because of it. Forgettable caricatures prance about on stage and are given more life than they deserve by a talented cast before fading back into nothing.

It’s infuriating because I fucking want to like this.

For fuck’s sake, it’s a story about a lesbian couple torn apart by vampires as they take over New York and the fall out later, when the survivor pulls herself together enough to seek out revenge by becoming a Samurai and going on a rampage. Everything about that sentence is awesome, so where is that awesome in this story?

The vampires lack any real menace or sense of power here, which is also a problem. Unless given supernatural power, humans fighting vampires tend to end with humans becoming snacks unless they can somehow outwit the vampire. A vampire with Samurai hand-to-hand and sword training should be one of the scariest things wherever they happen to be, but they fall by the dozens here without anyone breaking a sweat and the fucking sidekick takes out the big badass vampire shogun.

It’s frustrating.

You have no idea how badly I want to like this.

The cast is limited because you need people that know their way around combat for this to work. The result here is that almost everyone plays multiple characters with a couple of costume changes to mark them, and they cover these changes by using pre-taped segments to tie the story together or to give us background on characters. This is all fine and good and it’s a good idea that is hamstrung because none of these scenes actually explain anything or evolve anyone; they become a weird disconnect where you hope they’re going somewhere because the cast is so good, but ultimately go nowhere because the writer is not.

Soul Samurai is a big unholy mess of a thing, and yet… it is mad fucking ambitious. It has as intense a car chase as you’re ever going to see on stage and, again, that fight choreography is gorgeous and the acting is so much better than this script deserves. Affair of Honor is capable of doing amazing things and you can see brilliance shine through here and there. While the ideas are great and the performances awesome the script fails the production on every level.

If you want to see a talented cast and crew struggle with a script, this is your show.

Soul Samurai tickets run for $14 a pop and it’s playing at the Cultch (1895 Venables Street in Vancouver) at the following times:

Tuesday, Sept 12, 8:50 pm (Half Price Show)

Friday, Sept 15, 7:00 pm

Sunday, Sept 17, 5:35 pm

You can buy tickets by clicking here.

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1083

Slumber Here at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Culture, Events, FRINGE!!, Performance, Why Aren't You Watching This?

September 10, 2017

Do you know what Interactive Theater is? How about the Fringe Festival?

You should. And you will.

Starting in 1985, the Vancouver Fringe Festival is a place for alternative theatrical productions to take center stage and be celebrated. These are professional works of strange content, some of which later spill out into their own projects – it is a locus for emerging talented artists from all along the North American west coast.

It is, therefore, no surprise that Geekenders and the Instant Theater Company would find a presence here, combining their efforts and playing to both their strengths to produce something utterly magical. Geekenders is known for their nerdy burlesque and parodies, while the Instant Theater Company provides some of the best improv and training for actors you could hope to find in this city.

The two groups have put together a rendition of the play within a play from the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the one where players are brought in to perform during a wedding and faeries get involved. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous works and has seen hundreds of iterations over the years, but nothing like this.

Slumber Here is an interactive play that relies on the audience for its narrative and even it’s ending. Multiple outcomes are possible depending upon the choices made and the quests completed, as an audience will come to see one play before finding Pucks that will take them off on one of six different paths. Every path comes with quests and adventure. In the forty or so minutes that it takes to go through the adventure, there are more than six hours of content, encouraging multiple viewing to complete every possible outcome and ending.

The process encourages audience participation and interaction with the actors of the play, but also the wandering faeries that hold court and go about their trickery all along a transformed Ron Basford Park. You can visit the wrathful King Oberon or the enchanted Queen Titiana, among others. There are many choices, many outcomes, many dreams to be had and found and claimed. We sent two people who had very different experiences: 

Aaron’s Experience: 

My experience started with the players beginning their performance when a mischevious voice whispered in my ear: “Would you like to meet the king?” I turned to find a glimmering grinning Puck, teeth gleaming, and how can one say no to such an offer? Two other audience members followed him up a Faerie Mound to meet a fuming Oberon, he lashing out at his entertainment and failing to cow us into silence.

We had to help his poor entertainment, who was banished for our aid and her insolence. She sought solace from the Queen and invited us along with her, where we learned of a fury-borne curse meant to bring a loyal and noble soul low. How could we do other than trying to break the curse, regardless of the cost? We were not knaves, not we; we stood and made our offerings, found the means to break the curse and teach a King his worth should he come to lack a kingdom.

It was an adventure, a slippery gate into a different world where magic is real and faeries still dance and duels are waged with pillows instead of rapiers. It is very much a thing to experience, a show to be had and won and claimed.

Anne’s Experience: 

I am guided by a person in white in a group full of friends and strangers explaining to me that I am a mortal and I shall be entering the fairy world. We are led to place where the Mechanicals are getting ready for their play and surrounding you are people in green who are making direct eye contact and interacting with you on an intimate level but not in a way that makes you feel like you are the same as them, it is obvious they are different than the mortals in front of you. When the Mechanicals are done you are engaged by “The Puck” the people in green who explain to you that you are part of their fairy world now and you are quested to help them with the story that is unfurling. 

I, however, was not going to do that, because I got whisked away by twin fairies Primrose and Abalone to have a fairy makeover and to talk about my secrets and to find my one true love. After the intimate and sweet makeover, I was led to “Look into the eye of an ass” which was my cue to go see Titania proclaim her love for mini-donkey love that was a trick that Oberon had played on Titania.  I gave them my ID because they needed something old (over 30 years). I petted a mini donkey and has beautiful soulful eyes. Because I was Un-Pucked in this, I was able to run around with free will and free reign and experience this as I would most things.

Primrose and Abalone found my one true love for me, we got married eventually. 

I had a sweet and kind hearted encounter with Caliban who played me Greensleeves and I gifted them with a flower as a thank you and I got a hug. 

I was asked to be part of the Mechanical’s play in which I was a Romulan (from Star Trek) but couldn’t get through the script for a full minute of giggling happened because they kept heckling me when I was trying to say my profession. I gave up and said I was a professional human.

After it was over, I wanted to do it again and again and again, because, I only did a very small fraction of what was available to me. I could see this sort of thing is absolutely my type of  “gaming”. I would be the international champion of interactive role playing adventures if I could.  And you should absolutely go to this. It is such a beautiful expression of community and much like an ongoing public ritual that initiates you in the rites of fantasy. 

Slumber Here starts at Granville Island’s Sculpture Garden, which is viewable from the boardwalk behind the tennis courts. Tickets are $14 and include food, though if you have a nut allergy let the faeries know. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the show 45 minutes in advance. Be aware that Slumber Here always start exactly on time and that latecomers are never admitted. The venue is wheelchair-accessible and you can determine the degree with which the Fae interact with you.

Performances are as follows:

Sunday, Sept 10: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm

Monday, Sept 11: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Tuesday, Sept 12: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Friday, Sept 15: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Saturday, Sept 16: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm

Sunday, Sept 17: 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

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432

Geeks versus Nerds Vancouver – Episode 34: Hot Wheels & Shady Deals

Comedy, Events, Reviews, Showcase

May 19, 2017

The last season of Geeks versus Nerds Vancouver is proving to be super entertaining and full of the good stuff.

This episode was Hot Wheels & Shady Deals and it put Team Rocket against Cobra and The Delorean against The Batmobile.

The Opening Debate was Team Rocket vs. Cobra – They just cannot win… but this time, one of them has to! Right? Right?! It’s TEAM ROCKET versus COBRA – “Which is the least effective criminal organization?”

The members of Team Rocket were Adam Duff (a GvN regular), Phil Amore (of The Criticals Comedy) and Neoma Charles-Lundaahl (in her second debate with GvN).

The members of Team Cobra were Keegan Flick-Parker (Producer of GvN Vancouver), Beni Spieler and Nick Drake (both are regular performers for GvN)

This debate was filled with such a great knowledge of the fandoms. I don’t think that I have fully appreciated how crappy both Team Rocket and Cobra both are until I heard these two teams debate.

On one hand, Team Rocket are just the worst at being criminals. They are part of a world where they do not teach basic education but only how to train and fight Pokemon. On the other hand, Cobra is a terrible terrorist organization, they really do not grasp the finer points of espionage. Both teams fought well, but in the end, Team Rocket was THE WORST.

The Headlining Debate was The Delorean vs. The Batmobile – These cars have it all – speed, power, style, and ridiculous special powers! But which is superior? It’s THE DELOREAN versus THE BATMOBILE – “Which is the coolest ride?”

On Team DeLorean was Jo Dworschak (from Fruit Salad and Story, Story, Lie), Zachary Taylor (of The Criticals Comedy) and Graeme Thompson (GvN Regular and actor about town).

The members of Team Batmobile were Brent Hirose (Instant Theatre), Hunter Cochrane, Jess Ode.

One of the great parts of Geeks Versus Nerds Vancouver is that it gives local performers a place to stretch themselves out and grow. I am not going to lie, I love Batman and I was set to cheer for The Batmobile the team for Team DeLorean made the best case possible.

In its essence, this debate is Car vs. Time Machine and who better in our modern popular culture to tout the benefits of owning a Time Machine than Rick Sanchez. The pure amazing that was Graeme Thompson dressed as Rick,  spouting his points mid burp while yelling for that Mulan Szechuan Sauce was possibly the scale tipper on this one.

Team DeLorean despite Team Batmobile’s noble attempt to weave the mythology of John DeLorean advocating for the destruction of his coke induced monster car, won, and they won hard.

 

All in all the show was great and we cannot stress this enough, GO TO THE LAST TWO SHOWS THAT GEEKS VERSUS NERDS VANCOUVER WILL BE HAVING.

May 27th Geeks versus Nerds – Ep35: Absolutely Revolting – Pinky and The Brain Vs. Invader Zim and Gir / Katniss Everdeen vs. Neo

And their final show is on June 24th which will put Black Magic against Super Science and Steve Urkel against Sheldon Cooper.

 

All photo credits belong to Zemekiss Photography

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1203

Vancouver Theater: We Know Nothing

Books & Writing, Culture, Reviews

November 14, 2015

I’m not sure when I got my first copy of Game of Thrones. I think it was in Toronto, a little light reading for the plane ride home to Vancouver. Those of you that’ve read it know that Game of Thrones is not a little light anything; it’s a bloody tome, and the wait between volumes is equal to the weight of each of those books. Both are infuriating, and it’s one of the reasons I’m loving the TV show so much – at least there’s a chance for resolution there. Maybe. Possibly.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and find out.

Madhouse Productions has decided to chime in on this, both in terms of the stories themselves and the wait between books and seasons, with their inaugural production. We Know Nothing is a humorous look at both George R.R. Martin and the series he has inspired, as the Great Bearded Glacier meets and greets us. His plan is to introduce us to five characters that ended up on the editing room floor in a series of monologues by those characters, one from each of the published novels.

There is a secret sixth monologue from a character guaranteed to maybe be in the sixth book, but it is a secret part of the performance and not to be shared with outsiders. Only by going will you learn about this new addition to the cast, and find out what George R.R. Martin has in store for his characters.

We get a simple enough set up; Ruel Morales plays guitar and adds music all the way through the performance, starting with a stirring rendition of the Game of Thrones theme. He’s a simple but impressive addition to the ensemble, providing an audio backdrop to the proceedings. His ability to mimic other instruments when he’s not touching his own is inspiring, and sorcery worth of the Red Witch.

Troll!

Troll!

The whole of the performance is tied together by George R.R. Martin (Michael McIntyre). The performance here has to be strong enough to not only introduce the concept and build the narrative, but tie the diverse characters together and give them a connection to the series. The part is played to perfection, as George seems pleased to troll the audience, his editors, and his characters with a quiet glee that mimics that of the true author perfectly.

What follows are a series of characters and performances that lovingly mock the series as a whole, offering criticism of the narrative and structure and drawn out story, the preponderance of characters, the reliance on food and sex and tragedy to bring people in and keep them hooked. Each character lampoons moments within the books they’re from while hinting at the hilarity to come.

The Seer of Essos (Kenneth Tynan) is a Dothraki witch and soothsayer who gets to talk about dragons and Khaleesis and other things beside, talking about both the series and the monologues to come. Like all good prophets, she comes across as half-crazed and confused, but if you know what she’s talking about her madness becomes a peculiar sort of genius, instead. Her stubborn refusal to die at the end is played for laughs and quite effectively, mingling the tragedy the series is known for with the comedy Madhouse does so well.

For the second book, we’re introduced to the Romeo of Flea Bottom (Ryan Hache). Flea Bottom is where the lowest of the low live in King’s Landing, and the Romeo acts as the poor man’s Little Finger; he knows secrets, yes, but only about who is screwing who, and in what sort of ways he himself has been screwed. The whorishness of Westeros is explored in detail, and mad ways in which the Westerosi get themselves and one another off, mingled with the weird prudishness of high society. It’s good times.

All this takes about forty minutes, and leads us to the climax of the first act: the Red Wedding Singer (Nathanial Gordon). You know there was one, right? Every good wedding has an MC, and George himself admits that this character was the result of too much food and binge watching Adam Sandler movies. We get song and stand up, traditional fool fare that lampoons the various noble houses, hints at the betrayal to come, and plays upon series lore in the best possible way.

You have never seen a more paranoid audience.

You have never seen a more paranoid audience.

The segment ends with Ruel Morales playing the Rains of Castamere to signal the intermission, and the audience reaction was fantastic; primed by the Red Wedding Singer and that haunting melody, we all shuffled around, waiting for an attack that would never come. It’s a tribute to how effective both the season three climax was, and how brilliantly the previous three characters had immersed us in their world.

It also helps that George wandered off stage at this point, a knowing and evil look on his face.

His return was met with relieved smiles, his opening diatribe one that will delight feminists and those of us that enjoy strong characters that happen to be female. The Sand Snakes get a just amount of love from the fanbase, and Oberyn remains one of the most beloved characters we’ve seen on the small screen in some time. So, when Susan the Other Sand Snake (Chelsey Stuyt) takes the stage, there’s a sense of hope that quickly becomes the best sort of tragic comedy.

On a personal note… this segment dips into embarrassment humor, which is generally something I don’t find entertaining in the least, but it’s the concept of embarrassment humor that is being mocked here and the actress puts in such a strong performance that it becomes difficult not to love and feel for Susan, and impossible to keep a straight face throughout this monologue. This was, I think, the strongest performance in the show, though not where the show peaked.

George leaves behind a Feast for Crows and brings us to a Dance of Dragons with a character aptly named the Jackass on the Wall (Al Dales). Jon Snow is a polarizing figure: on one hand, he’s a bland ponce with an overabundance of plot armor and clear author favortism, while on the other hand he’s played by Kit Harrington. The fanbase both loves and hates him, and this character gives us insight into how badly, in-world, people perceive Ned Stark’s Bastard.

As was foretold.

As was foretold.

Which brings us to the Secret Character, whose name and presence I must not spoil. It is a stirring performance from one man, a powerhouse that ties all that came before together while commenting on the changing nature of what it is to be a fan, and how fans interact with the properties that they obsess over. We’ve come a long way from the days when Star Wars fan fiction writers were hunted like rabid dogs, and I have yet to see a performance that captures the insanity of fan created content better than this one.

And that’s it. The show runs two hours long for another two days – November 14-15, 2015, starting at 7pm and running til 9pm. It’s well worth seeing as winter comes, a means of staving off longer nights that are increasingly full of terrors and filling them with thoughtful laughter instead. You can and should be tickets by clicking here.

We know nothing except that we had a good time, and isn’t that a sort of magic in and of itself?

Susan thinks so.

Susan thinks so, but what does she know? Nothing.

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1263

The Fictionals – Five Year Anniversary

Culture, Lifestyle

November 11, 2015

Ladies and Germs… for those of you living in Vancouver who have never been to see Improv Against Humanity, you’re missing out on one of the joys of life.

Improv Against Humanity, or IAH for those in the know, was created by the improv group the Fictionals. The Fictionals started out with Show Us Your Wits, which was an improv and burlesque mashup hosted by the former Mermaid Cafe. Since then they have expanded to a cast of 12 players, and perform regularly at Cafe Deux Soleils and, of course, at the Rio Theatre. IAH is by no means for the faint of heart – if you are easily offended by, well, *anything*, you will definitely want to give this show a pass. But if you’re the type to experience a hearty belly laugh at the idea of watching a scene inspired by two midgets $#!^ing in a bucket, then this is the show for you!

The Fictionals Comedy Co.

And who can believe that the Fictionals have been around for FIVE YEARS? Happy Birthday, Fictionals! To celebrate, you should join us at their 5th Anniversary celebration – they’re bringing cake! Mmmm… cake.

IAH Five Year Anniversary Poster

If you plan to attend, I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance. It is almost always a sell-out show, so those who buy tickets the night of are often left disappointed. And remember that if you arrange for will-call tickets, you MUST be there by 7:30 or else the tickets are released back into the wild.

See you there…

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2612

We Know Nothing – Monologues of Ice & Fire

Books & Writing, Culture, Why Aren't You Watching This?

November 11, 2015

Madhouse Productions – the same people that brought Geeks versus Nerds to the West Coast – is at it again, this time bringing a series of comedic monologues to the stage based upon George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books, which you might know as Game of Thrones.

The We Know Nothing monologues promises to look at some of the lesser known characters and to get a look at their perspectives, ranging from Fabiar Frey, the bard from the Red Wedding, to Susan Sand, the other other Sand Snake.  Some of the Vancouver scene’s best and brightest emerging stars are coming forth to wax poetic and give us some solid laughs, including Michael McIntyre,  Al Dales, Nathan Gordon, Ryan Hache, Chelsey Stuyt, and Kenneth Tynan.

Behind the scenes, Keegan Flick-Parker and Chris Nyarady – the geniuses behind West Coast Geeks versus Nerds – are directing and producing, while Alison Ross and Courtney Shrumm have taken on writing duties. All four of these people are wild powerhouses associated with some of Vancouver’s finest and funniest dinner theater productions, and they’ve got a proven track record that has us deeply looking forward to seeing what they’ve got on tap.

Performances start at 7pm and run from Friday, November 13 to Sunday, November 15, and can be witnessed at the Cultch.  You can buy tickets by clicking here, calling 604 251 1363, or simply by showing up at the door on your evening of choice.

WKN-Poster-Style

We’ll be there Friday night to catch the show, and we urge you to join us.

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598

Vancouver Theater: Off Leash

Culture, Reviews, Showcase

November 9, 2015

Dogs are interesting.

Here’s a wild animal that we decided to co-habitate with – not tame, not really. Dogs are no more tame than we are; social animals looking for acceptance and adopting the behaviors they witness around themselves. They want to be loved as much as we do but are more honest about it, giving so much and asking only for a place to live, the occasional walk, and maybe a cookie.

The Fugue Theater is producing an operetta about that strange relationship. Off Leash, named for an off-leash dog park, is about four dogs and their humans, the lives they all live and the ease with which everyone can get a little lost in what’s expected as opposed to what is.

Every dog's worst nightmare - rain that keeps walks at bay.

Every dog’s worst nightmare – rain that keeps walks at bay.

Starting this theme off are the characters of Buddy, and his human, JB (both played by Kerry van der Griend). JB is a shy dog who spends much of his time at the off-leash park lying under a bench, staying close to his human. JB assumes that this is because his dog is shy, but we learn that this isn’t so much the case – Buddy stays close to his human because his human needs that support and comfort; he’s gone through a messy divorce from an emotionally abusive relationship that now has his questioning everyone he does.

JB runs into an aging dog, Jacques, whose human happens to be his estranged uncle, Danny (both played by Simon Webb). Danny would like to reconnect in his old age, which JB assumes is coming from a place of guilt – so when Danny says that JB’s mother was terrified of her son catching “the gay” from her brother, it’s an admission that shocks JB and allows him to connect with someone he can feel safe around.

That moment comes in the first few minutes, but the entire play is full of those moments, the narratives we give ourselves getting in the way of the lives we can live.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the characters of Sasha and her human, Isola (both played by Laura Di Cicco). Sasha is a pure-bred show dog that has been trained to obey. Isola has gotten her for protection instead of affection, but a dog doesn’t understand that. Dogs love without condition, but accept the conditions put on them – they’re pack animals, like humans, but much more honest about what they need.

Paralleling that sort of control is Isola herself. Grounded in a world of unquestioning obedience, she’s moved herself up a social hierarchy to make that obedience work for her. She’s intelligent enough to recognize that some of what she does is evil, but is not invested in changing a system that works for her. She’s as wound up as Sasha, who, whenever given a free moment will chew the wall or bite her own tail from the stress she lives under.

Lastly, there is Ruby, a pitbull rescue dog that is being cared for by an older woman, Carol (both played by Karen Ydenberg). It amazes me that pitbulls are given such a bad rap when they were literally bred to watch over children – it’s their humans that have failed them, and not they that have failed us. Carol is all too aware of this, but the other humans are too wrapped in sensationalism to question what they’ve heard, and all too willing to believe the worst. That’s why pitbulls are to be muzzled at all times.

Dogs make good people.

Dogs make good people.

The other dogs, of course, have no such trepidation.

Carol is someone who cares for children and lost causes both. We get that right from the start, but it’s confirmed when we learn that she’s looking for people to help her save both the off-leash park itself and, later, her daughter. The off-leash park is in danger as humanity does its level best to develop and pave over the wild places that both dogs and humans need to thrive; there’s no plan for what to do with the park, only a desire to pave over it.

It’s been argued that the wildest parts of our nature have no place in the modern world. We don’t play unless it’s competition, we don’t run unless it’s in gyms, don’t climb unless it’s an organized activity in the proper setting. Dogs, being more honest than humans, are happy to run and play. Ruby is unmuzzled, then all four dogs make a break for the underbrush, and that’s when tragedy strikes.

Jacques is murdered by means of decapitation.

The immediate assumption by the humans is that the pitbull did it. Buddy and Sasha seem fine with Ruby, but Isola hears nothing of it. She knows how pitbulls are; she’s never met one until now but she’s heard about them in the news.

“Your dog is violent” Isola says. “She needs to be put down.”

There’s no evidence of this; Ruby doesn’t have any blood on her mouth. Despite this, the other humans are willing to believe this narrative, and even Carol seems doubtful as to her dog’s innocence. We’re too invested in the way things are supposed to be and doubt our own experiences because of it – and this can sometimes have fatal results.

At the very least, this discord between what is and what we want can cause damage within ourselves. Poor Sasha feels this intently – she remembers that another dog died in those bushes, but she also knows that she’s supposed to get the balls that Isola throws. So, when one gets thrown by accident really far towards and then past those bushes, she runs and reflects that she must have been bad, that maybe Isola is punishing her, but this is what she has to do to be accepted and even loved.

These concepts are the heart and soul of Off-Leash, and explaining the complexity of the play feels like explaining the benefits of having a dog to someone that’s never lived with one. It’s simple and cute and has a lot of funny moments, from human actors doing their best to be dogs, to some of the situations and dialogue. It’s touching, with the monologues and themes that it explores. It trots along the fine line of simple fun and thoughtful discourse, and does it with enough aplomb that anyone should be able to enjoy it, but it is a production that will give you exactly how much you put into it.

And it's worth putting the time into.

And it’s worth putting the time into.

Bill Murray once said “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” The rest of us could learn from that, I think, whether the person in question has two or four legs.

This is the second time we’ve been thrilled and surprised by the maturity and subtext of the Vancouver theater scene, and we’re looking forward to delving a little deeper.

***

Photography provided by Mark Halliday, who you can visit by clicking his name. 

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1272

Proving Grounds

Culture, Lifestyle, Showcase

October 26, 2015

Winter is coming.

I know that’s a tag line of a popular series of novels and a television series on top of that, but the Starks are inevitably right. Winter is coming. It can be hard to get out of bed, hard to go to work, hard to go out and do anything. Hard to go to the gym, to stay limber, to do much of anything but wait for the world to thaw.

The simple reason is that the gym is boring. Admit it – if you force yourself to go, you go out of a sense of obligation. There’s no other way to get your exercise in and be an adult.

… and be an adult.

Huh.

Okay, let’s start there. We’re all adults now, right? We get to decide what that means. And, yes, pumping iron is all well and good. It’s something you should do, but it’s repetitive and dull. If you dig it, cool, but if you’re looking for something to get your blood pumping and your body moving, maybe you should consider something a little more adventurous.

Maybe, if you live in Vancouver, you should step to the Proving Grounds.

Proving Grounds is an unassuming place huddled out among the edges of New Westminister, a secret tucked in along the borderlands of Coquitlam, Burnaby, and Surrey. It’s right beside the Columbia Skytrain Station, maybe a block east of that strange place. And what it offers? Stranger still.

So many cool weapons to try.

So many cool weapons to try.

Full contact melee weapon fighting.

Swords. Warhammers. Daggers and axes and maces. Hard foam weapons that can take your full strength while giving whoever is being struck nothing more serious than a light bruise, and that’s on a very good hit. The weapons are all weighted and cut like their real-life counterparts, too.

Quoth one of the people we brought with us to check Proving Grounds out, “I thought a sword was just a hunk of metal. I didn’t expect them to handle differently.” And yet, a rapier is different from a katana is different from a bastard sword, and Proving Grounds has a host of different blades to try, to say nothing of those aforementioned axes, warhammers, staffs, daggers, and a host of other weapons.

Never used any of those weapons before? That’s not surprising. The modern world has distressingly few moments in which one’s skill with a sword are called upon. Thankfully, techniques honed on a thousand battlefields over the centuries have been preserved, and Proving Grounds offers instruction in quite a few different disciplines in between testing those lessons in a practical setting.

Wanna know what it’s like to engage in a katana duel without the loss of limbs or blood? Proving Grounds is your hook up.

For the horde!

For the horde!

Looking for classes on Kenjutsu – the art of Japanese sword fighting? Knife fighting? How about hand-to-hand self defense – BJJ and MMA? Proving Grounds does all of this. Drop-ins are welcome. The instructors are friendly, professional, and willing to work to enhance what strengths you have naturally.

That last bit is an important tack. Too often, instructors in self defense will demand certain things be done a certain way, whether or not such techniques work with your body or not. Proving Grounds will cater to you, and help you develop a style that works for you while giving you a safe space in which to test and refine it.

All by itself, that one quality puts them in the running for one of Vancouver’s best dojos.

They’ve also got combat archery. Bows and arrows. The writer of this article got an arrow to the face – it was like being attacked by an itinerant pillow. It took me a few moments to understand what had happened, and it didn’t even hurt. I wear glasses and they were fine, too.

Proving Grounds 001

This dude. Hit me in the face.

Archery, as it turns out, is a lot of fun and much more involved when you’re running about, avoiding zombies, while attempting to line up a shot.

Oh, yes, Proving Grounds also does games. You can book sessions for games which run from shurikan tossing to zombie hunting to king-of-the-mountain style challenges. They’ve got full day programs, partial day programs, whatever works for you. They’re accommodating people. You can even set up group rates for your friends and go out in groups of six or more, having a blast and hacking at one another without blood loss.

And you want a work out? There’s nothing quite like maintaining balance while swinging a sword around, trying to keep up your own defenses while hacking through those of your opponent. There’s nothing like the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat – the knowledge that you’re testing your might and skill against someone else in an equal place.

Those muscles you’ve honed? The cardio you’ve done? The iron you’ve pumped? Even the stretches, the running, the everything is put to the test at Proving Grounds.

Safety is a concern, of course. The instructors are first aid certified, but of the eight hours we spent hacking at one another, the only injury we suffered was when one of us tripped – after the game was over. Both instructors present were still quick to jump to the aid of our fallen friend, and we were back up and playing with all due haste.

You can find the Proving Grounds website by clicking here, and find their pricing by clicking here. Clicking here will not physically take you to them, but will show you where they are on Google Maps. That’s nearly as good.

This is a place we would recommend checking out. Come for the novelty of it, but stick around because they’re awesome and one of the best work-outs you’re going to find in all of Vancouver. Boys and girls welcome, the space is friendly and the game intense.

Step on up. Proving Grounds. Tell your friends.

Yeah. How awesome is this?

Yeah. How awesome is this?

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1134

A Modern Fairy Tale

Culture, Reviews, Why Aren't You Watching This?

August 26, 2015

There’s something about fairy tales.

We grow up with them, internalize them. They’re the first stories that many of us experience, whether it be through the auspices of Grimm or Disney. There’s something about them that resonates in the programming of our souls, that helps us make sense of the world. Big bad wolves and strange woodsmen and hunters. Lost princesses, dwarves, and villains. Animals granted the agency and wit of humans.

Modern Fairy Tale 001

Or more wit, in the case of Boots.

As the formation of language and culture, fairy tales inform our norms, give us things to aspire to be or people we can measure ourselves against, for good or ill. It’s easy to dismiss them as simple fables and leave them at that, but there’s a rich tapestry to draw upon. It’s why we’ve seen such a resurgence of the old stories, through the Disney Princess line, Once Upon a Time, and even considerate inversions – like this one.

The Orthos Theater Company has put together a Modern Fairy Tale. It’s a deep look at the tropes that make fairy tales work, while dismissing much of the window dressing that gets in the way of the core underlying themes. Gone are the reliance on gender identity as a forced construct – the good people of this town accept gender and sexual identity on a casual basis, having evolved past discrimination on that front, but they still suffer from an underlying prejudice against anthropomorphized animals.

And that’s where our story begins: There’s a royal ball coming up and everyone is invited, even the animals. One of the royals, Cinder, remembers his roots and how the animals made his cute outfits, and the Prince cannot argue against their impeccable talent for crafting fashion. Wolf is trying to work up the courage to ask Red Riding Hood to go along with them.

There’s problems, though. Red’s parents were eaten by wolves, and she’s now living with her overprotective granny and being stalked by her incredible douche-bro of an ex-boyfriend, both of whom are very anti-animal and so obsessed in the rightness of their causes that they refuse to see the damage they’re doing to everyone else.

Bringing out a whole new kind of despicable.

Bringing out a whole new kind of despicable.

I don’t want to give away the story – you really should go see this – but the villains need to be talked about. Imagine if Dolores Umbridge and Gaston got together and hatched a scheme to strip away the agency of someone they both claimed to love, all the while demanding that it was for that person’s own good. Imagine them dancing on that person’s very identity and memory, trying to strip away from them choice and reason.

They’re loathsome, and played to perfection by Natalie Schreiber and Bradford Pellerin. They’re evil people convinced that they are acting in the best interests of everyone around them, which makes them all the more terrifying for how reflective they are for the worst parts of our society. They are the people who will make decisions on your behalf without consulting you, and scream about you not respecting them if you try to stand up for yourself.

And the people standing against them? They’re not heroes, not in the classical sense. Instead, we’re given people that are vulnerable, characters that are given new purpose under the skill of this pen. Standing out especially is the performance of Sasja Towe, who plays Wolf. Their performance is soulful, haunting, and touching all at once, a high energy hope built on facial expression and body language.

Stand out performances also come from Bev Rapley and Julia Fox, who play Cat in Boots and Red, respectively. Bev’s performance as Cat in Boots was so strong that several members in the audience were entertaining the idea of just watching her improv doing cat things, as there is a moment in the show where this happens and it’s easily one of the funniest moments you’ll see in the whole show. Julia’s Red is full of indignation and a desire to find herself, and her journey into self-mastery is hard fought and earned.

Lovers gotta love.

Lovers gotta love.

Kay Lozada plays a Snow White that has been traumatized, and she gets a musical number towards the end of the first act that is chilling in content and imagery, and her voice takes on an ethereal cast as she walks us through the nightmare she lived through.

The rest of the cast also pours their hearts into this performance. Notably, Chris Lovatt turns in an excellence background performance as a Peter Pan who flits through the background, while James Hussen and Shaun McHale slither through each act as Captain Hook and Scar, shadowing the Hunter and making him a much larger menace than he might otherwise be.

Eventually, of course, the villains get what’s coming to them, and this where I had a few problems – but, upon reflection, I realized the problem lay with me. The villains in this show are reprehensible and vile creatures, perversions of familial and romantic love. They’ve caused so many people so much hurt over the course of this story, and their punishment is to be arrested rather than killed.

My heart demanded vengeance. The script, thankfully, is better than I am. A civil society has laws for a reason, and the villains revealed are brought low before the law, to face justice instead of revenge. They are crass and banal creatures, and the energy that could be spent punishing them is better spent fixing the damage they’ve done. The script gets this right, and the actors sell it.

Better still, the minions that obeyed them abandon them as they fall, and end up taking them to face whatever justice awaits them. Evil does not have friends, and cannot command love or loyalty because it understands neither. This story tells that, sells that, and does it beautifully.

A Modern Fairy Tale was written by Lisa Simon, and is showing at the Metro Theatre until the 30th of August. You can pre-buy tickets by clicking here, or by calling 604-266-7191. They go for $20, and are worth every penny. The photos used in this article were taken by Haley Bouchard of Little Cat Photography.

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Northwest Fan Fest 2015

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Northwest Fan Fest 2015 – We Are Excited

Uncategorized

April 27, 2015

Where were  you last year when the Vancouver Scene changed?  When Northwest Fan Fest brought all the fandoms to one place?  Geek flavored events took center stage across our city and we didn’t have to look very hard for them.  From the Gentlemen Hecklers to Geeks vs Nerds, from Geekenders to the Fictionals. This increasing appreciation of geekery got all nicely packaged up for us as Northwest Fan Fest. The change was so good even the mainstream noticed.

And why not?

It’s not just Vancouver that’s feeling this change, but the world: the biggest movies are superhero-themed. The biggest television series are based on books or comics. The idea of fandom is shaping the world, as the things we like spread, grow, and inform us about what we could be.

That change deserves a party. Celebrating fandom at Northwest Fan Fest brings a place for those that have found this culture to declare their victory, while welcoming anyone looking to come in from the cold. It didn’t take a genius to recognize the necessity of this, but it did take a genius to put it all together – to bring together Vancouver’s hottest acts, to create a space in which the passions we all feel could be shared, experienced, and exalted.

Enter the West Coast Fan Society, a secretive group of heroes with the dedication, drive, and guts to put together something special. They started last year when they launched Northwest Fan Fest, a for-fans-by-fans gathering designed to bring out the best in this growing community while welcoming anyone looking to get in on the fun.

A wild success, celebrating everything from anime to cosplay, from music to movies, from gaming to comics. They had it all,  panels and shows featuring the best and brightest of the local community were put on, a single location that for three days became a temple to the greatest parts of the new culture.

It was awesome – there were dances, rock concerts, contests, events, any and every possible moment offering some new way to celebrate the things we’re all fans of.

So, naturally, this year they’re doing it again.

With a little over four weeks before the launch of Northwest Fan Fest 2015, we’re going to take in depth look at what this community of ours has grown into. We’ll discuss the what was and what is coming, talk to some of the hottest acts and performers, chat with the vendors that will have their wares out for sale, and do everything we can to let you know what’s coming to Vancouver’s greatest Celebration of Fandom.

And, hey, if you’re looking to be an insider and get your tickets sorted early, we can help.

For those of you that need more convincing, well. We’ve got some awesome content coming your way, so keep your eyes peeled and we’ll keep you posted on what’s what – but, trust us, you’re going to want to be there.

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