Archives for February 2016

Going to the theatre with kids: I highly recommend it

Carousel Theatre, Shizuoka Kai, Go, Dog. Go!

Shizuka Kai’s design creates a stylish, magical world for Carousel Theatre’s Go, Dog. Go!

Yesterday, I took my six-year-old neighbour, Abraham, to see Carousel Theatre’s Go, Dog. Go! It was the first time that Abraham had ever seen a play.

The script is very simple. Based on P.D. Eastman’s book, it’s a lot like the old Dick and Jane readers, or the more basic material on Sesame Street: the author uses repetitive text and simple interactions among a group of dogs to introduce vocabulary and simple concepts that are often related to colour and space: “The red dog is in. The blue dog is out.”

But that description doesn’t begin to capture the fun. Designed by Shizuka Kai, Carousel’s production has a bright, picture-book look, complete with two-dimensional props, including outsized, flat ice-cream cones that the actors goofily pretend to lick. And those actors, especially the playful Allan Zynik—chief ice-cream licker—are having a very good time.

But the kids are the thing, really. A couple of little guys behind me were loudly perplexed by theatrical conventions at first: “That’s not like my book at home!” But they were soon so amused by the dogs’ antics, including their refusal to go to sleep when told, that they were chortling uncontrollably. (In case you haven’t heard it lately, kids’ chortling is the most intoxicating sound in the world.)

And the best thing of all was spending time with Abraham. When we were crossing the street to get to the theatre, I said, “Careful. There are lots of cars”, and he reached up and took my hand. Melt me and make me into a chocolate bar. And, when we were driving home, I said he seems to have a lot of fun playing hockey with his friends in the courtyard of the co-op where we both live. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I like being goalie the best. Yesterday, I probably made 20 unforgettable saves.”

We’ll be going to the theatre again—to enjoy shows, and for the pleasure of one another’s company.

The Motherfucker and other options

At the York, Charlie Demers’s solo Leftovers is also worth seeing. In a stand-up/TED Talk mash-up, Demers places his socialist politics in a touching personal context. Demers is a very smart, very funny guy. And Parjad Sharifi’s design for this show is exquisite.

Coming up next week, I’m looking forward to another couple of shows: at the Firehall, Cliff Cardinal’s Huff takes on gas sniffing; and, at the Arts Club, talented Victoria playwright Janet Munsil will unveil her take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Go Vancouver!

Cats: the pleasures of feline drag

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Cats, Fighting Chance Productions

It’s not that I’ve become a furry or anything, but I’ve begun to understand the appeal of dressing up like a cat.

I never thought I’d live to hear myself say this, but the show to catch this weekend is Cats.

I have never been a fan of Cats, which has always struck me as commercially gimmicky—and mostly tuneless. But seeing Fighting Chance Productions mounting in close quarters at the Jericho Arts Centre has made me reconsider.

With the harmonies rolling over you in waves of sound you can practically feel, and with the talented, exuberant cast having a whole lot of fun right in front of you, the musical becomes much harder to resist.

In fact, I got into that “Everything is beautiful at the ballet” mindset. Yes, Cats is totally weird—a revue with existential feline overtones—but, viewed from the right angle, that oddness is charming. There are a bunch of adults playing dress-up, purring and preening, and coughing up hairballs—essentially for the fun of it. Cool.

You know that screenplay you’ve got kicking around?

story editing, screenplays

You might not be able to tell from this image, but screenplays are REALLY fun to edit.

Recently, I received a testimonial from screenwriter Douglas Ronald Ellis.

Yes, this posting is an ad, of sorts. But, if you want to write a screenplay, or you’ve got one  knocking around, I can help.

Here’s what Doug had to say. (It’s very, very nice): “Colin is a creative collaborator of the highest order – and the answer to a screenwriter’s prayers. He provided the most thorough, insightful, useful, appreciative and encouraging critique I can imagine – or have ever received! He offers detailed feedback on the smallest beats, while keeping the broader strokes foremost via his analysis of the three-act structure. Drawing on key elements from McKee’s Story and Buchbinder’s The Way of the Screenwriter, Colin has synthesized a wonderful diagnostic tool that he employs with scalpel-like accuracy, enthusiastic praise, cogent suggestions (‘Might the character do this?’), keen insight into human behavior, and his own warm sense of humour. The magic elixir for a writer who’s wondering: ‘How bad does this suck?’ or ‘Is this as good as I think it is? The answer: Get Colin to have a read.”

Live—really live—theatre at faerie camp

Radical faeries, Breitenbush, why theatre matters

Helvetica Bold (my pal John) in action


As I listened to the gay trans man read his zombie porn, I realized that I was getting a hard-on under my dress. There is such pleasure in writing that sentence! And there was such delight in the experience.

This past weekend, I attended a radical faerie gathering in the mountains in Oregon. To do so, I had to miss seeing some big shows here in Vancouver—including Robert Lepage’s 887, which I’ll catch this weekend—but, let me tell you, talent night at faerie camp was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. 

To a huge extent, that has to do with the relationship between the performers and the audience. For everybody on that stage, performing was enormously important. And every member of the audience was wired to the nuances of every inflection and every gesture.

The first radical faerie gathering happened in 1979. This is not mainstream gay male culture. The faerie sensibility is too anarchic to define—thank the goddess—but, for me, it is, at least in part, a creative, heartfelt, often celebratory response to gender chaos and paradox. It’s an embrace of sissydom, sensuality, and transformation. It’s about saying, “Yes, I am an outsider! And it’s fuckin’ trippy out here!”

Some of the performers on the stage were very experienced. Others were not. And here’s the thing: every performance mattered in a big way. The delight wasn’t just about the skill level: it was also about the mutual recognition. It was about having company. Playmates!

My pal John does a character called Helvetica Bold, who showed up with some hilarious shtick about Antonin Scalia, the homophobic, misogynistic justice of the US Supreme Court, who died last weekend. Helvetica has blue skin and pink hair. She seems to be part goddess and part club queen. John’s skills as an improviser are through the roof.

And the guy who did the Carol Channing impersonation was to die for. But so was the older guy who lip synced in drag to the 40s double entendre song. That man had never performed before, but fuck me what he did was courageous and entertaining—and important. When I congratulated him afterwards, he beat himself up a bit because there was no monitor so it was hard for him to hear his music. But none of that mattered. In the audience, we saw ourselves in his steppin’ out. We got it. On a real level, we loved him.

The talent show was fantastic because it allowed us, as radical faeries, to express and celebrate sensibilities that are often ignored, derided, or co-opted in mainstream culture. And, beneath that, the talent show delighted and moved me in the same way that all good theatre delights and moves me: theatre sings when it allows us to embrace our complexity—in the company of others.