Archives for January 2023

The Three-Act Structure: one way to build better stories

The hero’s journey is about attempting to overcome obstacles. It’s a series of peaks and valleys.



Ordinary World

  • We see hero’s (the protagonist’s) world as it exists before their adventure begins.
  • The Ordinary World may contain an event called the Inciting Incident, which kicks the story into action.

Call to Adventure

  • In the Call to Adventure, someone or something demands that the hero take action. In the Call to Adventure, the Ordinary World is disrupted; the hero is presented with an opportunity to make a necessary change.

[Read more…]

Forgiveness: Why isn’t it more moving?

publicity photo for Forgiveness

Yoshie Bancroft and Kevin Takahide Lee (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Considering the emotional nature of the material — the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and the abuse of prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps — Forgiveness falls surprisingly flat.

Playwright Hiro Kanagawa’s stage adaptation is drawn from Mark Sakamoto’s memoir. The story is about Sakamoto’s grandmother Mitsue, a Vancouverite who was forced to labour with her family on a sugar beet farm in Alberta, and his grandfather Ralph from Québec’s Magdalen Islands, who spent most of the war in ruthlessly cruel POW camps.

According to the GoodReads website, Forgiveness is 272 pages long. Maybe that makes it unadaptable — at least without cutting more material. In his stage version, Kanagawa has crammed in so many plot points that, even with an almost three-hour running time, the play feels frantic, like it’s skittering across the surface of a deeper story. Director Stafford Arima’s loud, busy production exacerbates the problem. [Read more…]

Little Willy is a big hit

publicity photo for Little Willy

Who wouldn’t love Schnitzel
(pictured here with their creator, Ronnie Burkett)?

I had almost forgotten what helpless laughter feels like. It’s good for the soul.

In Little Willy, marionette master Ronnie Burkett is working a new premise, using many of the familiar faces from his “repertory company” of puppets and even doing one of his most … shall we say “time honoured” bits of schtick.

At first, I wasn’t sure how well it was going to work. The premise of Little Willy is that the Daisy Theatre, a traveling group of marionettes, has been booked into a venue that has mistakenly advertised them as a Shakespearean troupe, so they decide to improvise Romeo and Juliet.

The show starts off with Dolly Wiggler doing her familiar striptease. In terms of technique, it’s undeniably virtuosic, but I’ve seen it a bunch of times. And then Burkett trots out a series of beautifully crafted marionette characters — who don’t do much. The major general. The major general in drag. A librarian who’s an unfortunately stereotypical old maid.

The best jokes in this section are metatheatrical. Burkett’s only got two hands so, when he’s dealing with three puppet characters, one of them has to just hang there. This leads to some great gags about diva Esmee Masengill’s extraordinary technique, the discipline of her stillness.

And then Little Willy suddenly gains depth. Schnitzel arrives. Schnitzel is a little fairy with twisty ears and a flower growing out of their bald head. Schnitzel makes the pitch that they should be allowed to perform the balcony scene all by themself: they are, after all, gender fluid. The pitch itself is moving and, when Schnitzel launched into “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Schnitzel/Burkett delivered the speech with such innocence and feeling it was like I’d never heard it before. By the time Schnitzel got to “Romeo, doff thy name,/And for that name, which is no part of thee,/Take all myself”, I was in tears.

[Read more…]

Flowers of the Rarest: More thematic development would make it rarer

publicity photo for Flowers of the Rarest

Gabrielle Rose as Biddy in Flowers of the Rarest

On one level, I was seduced by the understatement of this production and the fine acting it contains. But, about halfway through watching Flowers of the Rarest, I wrote in my notebook, “I’m ready for some plot development” and, a bit later: “Besides plot, what is there to think about?”

Gerrard Plunkett’s new script is set in a Magdalene laundry in Ireland in 1923, the last year of the Irish Civil War. The Magdalen laundries were vicious institutions that imprisoned first prostitutes, then unwed mothers, and even women and girls who had never had sex — under the guise of reforming them. Incarceration could go on for life. These women and girls were abused and exploited for their labour by both Protestant and Catholic churches.

In the small group of women we meet in Flowers of the Rarest, Biddy is determined to help young Rose escape. Mother Anne, the mother superior, is sexually assaulting Rose.

[Read more…]

Instantaneous Blue: The full effect isn’t instantaneous, but it gets there.

Publicity photo for Instantaneous Blue

This is heartbreaking: Patti Allan and Tom McBeath in Instantaneous Blue.
(Image by Shimon Photo)

Aaron Craven’s new script Instantaneous Blue rings with the authority of personal experience. And director David Mackay is working with extraordinary actors. The play is moving. The production works. And, not to be a nerd or anything, but there are things to be learned here about structure.

Mitch and Murray Productions, the producing company, is billing Instantaneous Blue as a semi-autobiographical story. In 2016, both of playwright Craven’s parents were diagnosed with cognitive decline: Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the play, that’s what happens to Edward, who struggles with his new responsibilities to his parents, the shock of their transformations, the demands of his acting career and status as a new dad, and the temptation to take it all out on his wife.

Throughout Act 1, there are quiet moments of truth. As Judith and Bob, Edward’s mom and dad, are getting increasingly addled and anxious, music plays and they suddenly, instinctively gravitate to one another, embrace, and dance: for a moment at least, they’re safe. Edward is auditioning for a film role and he can’t remember his fucking lines: you can feel the floor falling away beneath him. And the look on Edward’s face as he watches paramedics forcibly restrain then sedate his raging mother is pure, silent tragedy. When Edward’s wife Sara finally speaks after being endlessly put down by Edward’s knee-jerk sarcasm, it’s a gut punch: “I want to tell you everything, my love,” she says.

You couldn’t ask for better actors. Charlie Gallant (Edward) has the gift of transparency. Patti Allan fearlessly drives the out-of-control car of Judith’s mood swings. And Tom McBeath brings touching delicacy to Bob’s attempts to make everything okay. The kindness, generosity, and unadorned sense of presence that actor Olivia Hutt brings to Sara grounds the evening.

[Read more…]

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