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.

THREE-ACT TEMPLATE

ACT 1

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…]

Seventeen to seventy in seventy minutes

publicity photo for Seventeen

(Photo of Stephen Aberle and Suzanne Ristic by Javier Sotres)

As is so often the case, the acting is better than the writing.

Seventeen is about a group of friends (mostly), who have gathered in a playground to celebrate their last day of high school by getting hammered. As determined by Seventeen’s playwright Matthew Whittet, the teenagers in this show are all played by senior actors.

The potential pitfalls of this set-up are, of course, stereotyping and overacting. On opening night of Western Gold Theatre’s production, which was directed by Michael Fera, the first scene made me fear the worst: there was a lot of boisterous enthusiasm.

But, for the most part, the fault isn’t with the performers. The set-up, with its repeated shouts of “Beer!” begs for this kind of delivery.

I’m going to talk a bit more about problems with the script, then I’ll get into the strengths of the production. [Read more…]

Yaga: Tell me a (better) story

Colleen Wheeler, Aidan Correia, and Genevieve Fleming
(Photo by Pedro Augusto Meza)

Despite the sometimes superlative strengths of this production, the evening doesn’t satisfy — at least it didn’t satisfy me. That’s because, although there’s a lot of plot in Kat Sandler’s twisty script, there isn’t  an engaging story. [Read more…]

Redbone Coonhound: diminishing returns

publicity photo for Redbone Coonhound

Now THAT’S how you design costumes.
Emerjade Simms and Kwesi Ameyaw in costumes by CS Fergusson-Vaux.
(Photo by Moonrider Productions)

This is unusual: a relatively positive review has come back to haunt me — well, to tap me on the shoulder.

When the Arts Club mounted Redbone Coonhound as part of its audio play series, I kind of liked it. Back in February, I said about the play, “It isn’t always subtle or precisely focused, but it’s got force!” Having seen the piece fully staged, I’m less enthusiastic.

The script, which was written by married couple Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton, runs on two tracks. On one, a Vancouver couple named Mike and Marissa encounter a pair of joggers and their dog, a redbone coonhound they’ve had shipped up from Louisiana. Mike, who’s Black, is offended by the apparent racism of the breed name. Marissa is white. Her initial response to Mike’s agitation: “It’s just some old-timey name.” In this relatively naturalistic storyline, the coonhound encounter seeps into and informs a gathering of Mike and Marissa’s friends.

The play’s second track consists of a series of “fever dreams”, broadly satirical fantasies about historical and future framings of race — and, to a far lesser degree, misogyny. [Read more…]

VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Ha Ha Da Vinci

promo image for Ha Ha Da VinciMy bet is that artists are more likely to get away with this kind of nonsense on the fringe circuit, where audiences are more predisposed to giving it a pass as “artsy”. But Ha Ha Da Vinci is just very badly made. Phina Pipia, who wrote and performs this piece, plays a grad student named Luca who happens upon the plans for a time machine invented by Leonardo Da Vinci and his collaborator, magician Luca Pacioli. As soon as present-day Luca opens the plan, she is transported to Renaissance Italy, where the voice of Da Vinci himself — heard over a radio — tells her that the time machine works for going back in time (that’s how Pacioli disappeared), but nobody knows how to make it move forward. I’m going to give away the big reveal: Luca figures out that music allows us to move forward through time, so she plays her tuba and off she goes. That’s it. That’s the end. At the performance I attended, the audience was clearly surprised the show was over. That’s because nothing had happened — at least nothing that makes any narrative or intuitive sense. Pipia dances uninteresting choreography at a proficient level, she plays her guitar and sings forgettable songs, she does one okay magic trick, and she plays the squares on her bedspread as if the bedspread were a musical instrument. (Think Big.) But nothing holds together. There’s no narrative to speak of, no sense of stakes or a meaningful struggle to overcome obstacles. There is no internal logic in Ha Ha Da Vinci and zero sense of accumulation. The idea of the lost Pacioli is raised but never addressed. Why is there a radio in Renaissance Italy? Writer/performer Pipia is showing off — and, charmingly, she seems to be having an excellent time — but there’s very little in it for the rest of us.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Studio 16: September 11, 7:00 pm; September 13, 4:45 pm; September 15, 3:10 pm; September 16, 9:40 pm (ASL); September 18 (8:15 pm). Tickets

VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Every Good Story Ends With One

publicity photo for Every Good Story Ends With OneIn Every Good Story Ends With One, well-loved Fringe performer Martin Dockery tells the story of a humiliatingly bad run he had at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, a run that was miraculously saved by an ardent — and anonymous — fan who sent a series of letters and small gifts to his dressing room. As a performer, Dockery knows what he’s doing. His delivery is so infectiously energetic that resisting it would feel ungenerous. Within this extremity, he uses sudden changes of tone and volume for dramatic — and comedic — effect. He knows how to repeat phrases to get laughs from accumulation: “Not that I’m religious!” And his storytelling is always appealingly affectionate, even when he’s mocking his own eagerness to believe that Erin, the faceless, phone-numberless writer, sees something in him that everybody else in his grumpy nightly audiences has overlooked. For me, Every Good Story goes thematically slack, though. Dockery explores the idea that narratives, including religious and romantic narratives, can be runaway generators of meaning and, all too often, repositories of pure fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, but they aren’t fresh either. I kept thinking, “If you’re going to take me here, show me something new.” And then, after spending too long in the wilderness, he does. The final passage of Every Good Story is transcendentally trippy and packs an excellent narrative punch.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Performance Works: September 10, 4:45 pm; September 13, 7:00 pm.; September 14, 10:30 pm; September 16, 3:00 pm, and September 17, 8:45 pm. Tickets for all performances.

Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid — much like this script

 

publicity photo for Morag, You're a Long Time Deid

(Photo of Claire Love Wilson by Pedro Augusto Meza)

I’m rarely this bored in the theatre.

During Act 1 of Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, I reassured myself by mentally repeating, “You have free will. You can leave at intermission.” My companion didn’t want to leave. Act 2 was a bit better.

My big problem with Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid is that it wants to be poetic, allusive, and deep, but it’s shallow and obvious. [Read more…]

The Ballad of Georges Boivin: subtle and rewarding

production photo for The Ballad of Georges Boivin

John Innes: onstage for the first time in seven years (Photo by Javier Stores)

The premise is a cliché, but the execution is poetic and the insight genuine.

I used to sit on screenwriting juries and I was surprised by how many of the stories dealt with feisty codgers escaping from long-term care facilities. There wasn’t much of a pay-off in those scripts, but Martin Bellemare’s The Ballad of Georges Boivin is smarter.

The title character, who has been a widower for a year, sets off from his care facility in Québec with three pals: grumpy Gérard, tremulous Clement, and Jean Pierre, whom Georges describes as “my lifelong friend, a deaf old man who barely says a word.” But the quest belongs to Georges: he’s in search of his first love, Juliet Chacal, who moved to Vancouver decades earlier. The address he has for her is 50 years old. [Read more…]

Beneath Springhill: excellent performance, dull material

publicity photo for Beneath Springhill, Arts Club Theatre

Jeremiah Sparks is terrific in Beneath Springhill,
but the material doesn’t support him.(Photo by Moonrider Productions)

When does a pile have no depth? When it’s a pile of clichés.

I can understand why programming Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story might have looked like a good idea. This solo musical is based on the real-life experience of Maurice Ruddick, a Black Canadian miner who was trapped underground for nine days in a mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1958. Apparently, his singing helped to keep a small group of fellow survivors alive.

With Covid and climate change, the world is going to hell, so I can understand why the Arts Club’s artistic director Ashlie Corcoran would be attracted to a story of endurance and triumph. And, given the uncertainties of the pandemic and the financial hit that theatres have taken, it makes sense to program a one-person show.

But there are no ideas in Beneath Springhill and there’s virtually no dramatic tension. [Read more…]

yellow objects: an adventure

Poster for Derek Chan's yellow objects

There’s a lot going on here — and a good deal of it is engaging.

Playwright Derek Chan’s yellow objects is about Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which was crushed in 2020 — although its spirit lives on. Artistically, yellow objects is adventuresome. Ten audience members at a time move through an experience that’s staged on the Firehall Arts Centre’s playing area and in its outdoor courtyard.

The event’s loose narrative straddles two timelines: 2019, when demonstrators protesting against the Communist Party of China’s antidemocratic impositions on Hong Kong are being beaten, rounded up, tortured, and sometimes disappeared; and a period about 50 years after that in which a young Canadian woman named Sandra Wong arrives in Hong Kong to find a resting place for her grandmother’s ashes. [Read more…]

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