My Favourite Distractions in 2016

Hey, it’s been a whole year since I wrote a blog! Look at that! And what a year! It was a year where distractions from the grim spectacle of global politics were extremely welcome, and once again I kept track of what my favourites were. Not all of it came out this year, but 2016 is when they made their way into my sphere of existence.

The list this year is a blend of utter despair and fragile hope, which I think reflects 2016 pretty well. Everything is listed in the order that I ingested it. Let’s hop in and think about anything other than the outside world for ten minutes.

Podcasts

podcasts

One swell element to Google Play is the ease of downloading and listening to podcasts, so I did a lot more podcast listening this year– mostly in the spooky tales category. I listened to 8 different podcasts (some entire series, others just a few episodes before getting bored), and this is what caught my attention.

Limetown
This fictional podcast about a journalist’s investigation into the mysterious disappearance of over three hundred people in a small gated town in Tennessee doesn’t have a second season slated for a long time– which sucks. It is extremely good. The story yanked me down into its world with almost terrifying force. The production quality makes it a standout– it seems so real. If you’re like me and like your scares slow and creeping, treat yourself to Limetown.

Alice Isn’t Dead
Another offering from Night Vale Presents, this time by Joseph Fink and narrated by Jasika Nicole, Alice Isn’t Dead is the CB radio narrative of a woman who has taken work as a long-haul trucker to search for her wife, Alice, who just disappeared one day, but who is not dead. Full of love and unsettling details, I started listening to this one on the bus to Montreal, and can highly recommend it for road trips.

Within the Wires
This new podcast from the Night Vale Presents team, written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson (who also narrates), is presented as an instructional cassette series on relaxation. As you listen, however, the narrator lets slip more sinister details of where you are, and why you are where you are, and what to do next. The guided visualization and breathing elements were quite fun to breathe along with, making the listening experience more fully immersive.

99% Invisible
Yeah, I know, I’m super late to this party. I’ve now absorbed dozens of 99% Invisible podcasts, walking through streets across Canada listening to Roman Mars, and I’m still not all caught up. Which is fine. I love learning, and 99PI makes my conversations more interesting.

Runner-Up: The Thrilling Adventure Hour, but only the Beyond Belief episodes. I just can’t get into the other storylines, but drunk society mediums making weird jokes? Absolutely.

Games

games

Video games! Computer games! Tabletop games! I played 29 different games this year. I’ve gradually been getting more into video games as I find ones that emphasize story rather than the ability to shoot the thing or jump over the thing. Here are the five I liked best.

Diablo III
Baby’s first Diablo! This was a wind-down standby for my partner and I. I liked that I could battle monsters with a minimum of precise button skills, but that I got to choose my winning combo of tricks. We’ve made it through story mode, but our Crusader and Demon Hunter are still going, occasionally summoning herds of warrior cows.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
A great cooperative game in which one player has to defuse a bomb, and another player– or several!– gives instructions from a bomb defusal manual. Oh, and only the defuser can look at the screen. So you have to yell instructions and what you see to one another. It’s tense, brain-testing work that requires sharp verbal communication skills. Super nerdy. I first played this in 2014 at the final installation of Gamercamp on a VR headset. Turns out, playing it on a desktop is way less irritating, and you can still create the sensation of isolation by sitting across the room.

Game of Thrones
Telltale is a company that loves to make you make terrible decisions. Game of Thrones is a series that loves to destroy everything regardless of how you feel about it. And lo, Telltale’s Game of Thrones is exactly what you’d expect. You play as multiple characters from House Forrester trying to defend your house and livelihood. More so than any other Telltale game, I felt so doomed by every decision I made– and I usually was. I would have been dead in Westeros in five minutes. Two in Essos.

Tales from the Borderlands
Hey, more Telltale! I’ve never played any Borderlands games proper, but this may get me into them. The story (why, by the way, has WAY fewer life-ruining decision than Game of Thrones) is told from the perspective of two characters: a Hyperion employee gone rogue, and a Pandoran hustler. So, when we played, my partner and I traded off the controller when the characters changed. This is a very fun way to play and I highly recommend it. The writing is unbelievably funny, the humour is dark, and there’s robot friends. What more could you want?

Johannes Sebastian Joust (as part of Sportsfriends)
Pokémon Go may have got people moving this year, but Johannes Sebastian Joust was just more fun to move to. It’s the PS4 version of the egg-on-a-spoon game, where your goal is to knock down your opponents’ eggs while protecting yours. The catch here is, you have to move in accordance to the speed at which Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto is playing. It’s shrieky fun, tricky, and a great way to make friends into enemies at a party– an attempt was made to install a “no ninja kicks” rule and it may have been my fault.

Books

Of the 31 books of assorted lengths I read this year, these ten stood out.

Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
In advance, let me say I don’t know the musical at all but I hear it’s great. The book is extraordinary. A brutally self-deprecating comic/autobiography that explores Bechdel’s difficult relationship with her closeted father and her own queerness. The story as she tells it loops back on itself again and again, and gets richer with every pass.

The Giant’s House (Elizabeth McCracken)
Picked up on a whim from a little free library, it caught me off-guard. A young librarian content to sit with her loneliness falls first in fascination, then later in love with a boy who grows into a giant in their small seaside town. Her quiet pain as she shyly (perhaps misguidedly) weaves herself into his own confusing life is poetic and simple.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
I’m scared about what the world is turning back toward. This dystopian book about women’s roles being built around reproduction illuminates some of those fears. Enough said. BACK TO DISTRACTIONS

This One Summer (Jillian Tamaki/Mariko Tamaki)
Another graphic novel about a girl on the cusp on puberty, spending a cottage vacation with her family. The story catches her family and friendships at an achy pivotal point; and her awkward hormonal urges, internalized misogyny, and frustration were all very relatable.

All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews)
A woman whose life feels perpetually in shambles tries to convince her suicidal “perfect” sister to stay living. I don’t have sisters, but the push and pull between them was fascinating to read. I also enjoyed the matter-of-fact approach to a dark subject from a narrator whose life is steeped in it.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell)
At the end of the 18th century, a clerk with the Dutch East India Company comes to Dejima (then Japan’s only port to the outside world) and finds his morals tested after meeting an intriguing midwife. The details in this novel are so lush; you can sink right in. The characters are just as rich: almost everyone has a backstory, and one way or another, their histories are shared.

The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro)
In post-Arthurian England, an elderly couple set out to visit their son– a difficult task, as a fog that clouds everyone’s memory. It’s a legend, with knights and dragons and monks and warriors, but one that circles its own truth and slowly dusts off layers of itself. Critical details come out in throwaway sentences, and the characters try their best to just take care of each other. Most of all, it’s a love story.

Peace is Every Step (Thich Nhat Hanh)
A good introduction to mindfulness from a respected teacher that falls into three rough sections: introducing mindfulness into your daily life, dealing with difficult emotions through mindfulness to move toward healing, and directing mindfulness outward to take action in the world. This book gave me hope and peace during November when I really needed it.

Downtown Owl (Chuck Klosterman)
A narrative dissection of a few months in the lives of three people, before tragedy strikes, in small-town Owl, North Dakota. I really dug Klosterman’s somewhat unpredictable writing style, and as someone from a small city, I found the descriptions of Owl life familiar and moving. I also laughed out loud while reading more than is probably reasonable.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
A quick and affecting book. A man visits his childhood home and is flooded with unsettling memories of the past. Come for the fantastical realm that is Neil Gaiman’s brain, stay for the deeper story about how we learn to cope as children– and as adults.

TV Shows

tv

I watched a lot more TV this year, and a lot fewer movies. The access to bingeable, really damn good television with the potential for longer, more developed storytelling has shifted my focus a bit. Out of the 14 full seasons and 6 partial seasons, these are my five faves.

Orphan Black
I’ve been told I look like Tatiana Maslany. I don’t think that’s accurate. But if I have even an ounce of the acting talent that she does, I’ll take the compliment. I finally got around to watching the first season of Orphan Black and her work is outstanding. The development of the storyline feels very BBC (though I’m not sure I can explain what that means?) but I’m looking forward to watching the next seasons.

Mr. Robot
When I started watching the show, some of the acting didn’t jive with me. But it’s settled in now. Things that seemed false or overdone (to be clear, there wasn’t a lot of it) now match the ideas of artifice and complicity and humans being “hackable”. Plus, I cannot get over the brilliantly disturbing cinematography on the show, and the small details hiding in the background. We got through season one, and I can’t wait to see where that little cliffhanger picks up.

Stranger Things
I know, I know, we all loved Stranger Things. But what wasn’t to love? It was a campy yet creepy, formulaic yet surprising homage to the brilliant “family” sci-fi/horror films of the 80s. With practical effects! And those kids were all such great actors! They’re so good it makes me mad! May they never grow self-conscious with age.
And, just to be contrarian… The one quibble I had was the constant touting of how great and girl-powery the women’s roles are. Sorry, the women in the roles did great work with them, but they were still stock female characters. I have high hopes for the next season, though.

Rick and Morty
My two favourite TV shows this year were dark, nihilistic cartoons– which, when I think about it, is kind of my whole creative aesthetic goal. Rick and Morty landed solidly in second place. Hilarious, grim sci-fi with off-the-cuff dialogue that makes me guffaw– like if Doctor Who was drunk and belligerent and amoral. The voice performances are so well done, and hysterical. And under it all is a philosophical depth full of ethical quandaries.
Why wasn’t it my favourite? For lack of a better answer… Dan Harmon causes me internal conflict. A few too many rape jokes in season one (which, to their credit, they toned down in season two), a hint of bro-y can’t-you-take-a-joke-ism… I just feel like he’s smarter than that sort of humour. (Then, there’s the union issues… but that’s another thing.)
That said… jazzed as hell for season three. Rick and Morty forever, a hundred years Rick and Mortys and… things! Dot com.

BoJack Horseman
I started BoJack Horseman at the beginning of the year, got a couple episodes in, thought “ehn”, and gave up. Then my friend Andrew yelled at me to watch the rest. So I did. I finished all three seasons in a few days. It’s the best TV I’ve seen in recent years, if not ever. Thanks, Andrew!
Animation has a similar magic to puppetry. The stories we create with drawings, or bits of fabric and wood, exist in their own world, apart from ours. It’s easier, safer for us to dive into them with our whole hearts. Bojack‘s bright, half-human-half-animal world of Hollywoo is a perfect stage for stories that– amid lots of goofy animal puns– get brutally real. Also, we live in a world where satire gets flung up as a defense for lazy humour all the time. BoJack Horseman is proper, whip-smart satire. It has a lot to say, and what it says is often scathing. The “Hank After Dark” episode, a clear parallel to the Cosby allegations, is a masterwork of making (painful, painful) comedy out of the truth.
This isn’t a feel-good cartoon. BoJack hits you hard in the feels after you’ve fallen over laughing. And it’s brilliant. I now rave about it at parties to anyone who will listen.

Runner-up: RuPaul’s Drag Race + Untucked, because Seasons 7 and 8 were like whaaaaaaaaaat. (And I’m sorry, but Violet Chachki won Season 8 too with that finale look.)

Theatre

theatre

It was another Fringe year (possibly the last for a while), so another year of theatre overload. 95 shows in total, and these ten were the ones that stuck with me. Also, I spent too much time talking about BoJack Horseman (as per usual) so I’m gonna try and tighten it up from hereon out.

Germinal (Halory Goerger & Antoine Defoort/World Stage)
Hooray for World Stage! They bring in the neatest work, honestly. This piece cheekily explores the development of human consciousness and communication with four people doing so in real time. Witty dialogue, careful progress, and a destructible stage– delightful.

Kiss & Cry (Kiss & Cry Collective)
Hand puppetry, onstage film magic, live projection, masterful music choices– this reflection on love was an utterly unique theatre event. It was stunning. My date, who is ambivalent about theatre on a good day, said it knocked his socks off. It’s really something special.

Cold Blood (Kiss & Cry Collective)
More live filmmaking magic from the Kiss & Cry team. if Kiss & Cry is a romantic drama, Cold Blood is a series of black comedy vignettes. Different, but still fascinating.

Portraits in Motion (Volker Gerling/World Stage)
Hey look, more World Stage! Volker Gerling takes long walks across Germany– like, over a period of months– and makes animated flipbooks of some of the people he encounters on the way. The show is basically a thoughtful narrated presentation of these flipbooks, but the way they reveal everyone’s quiet humanity is beautiful.

Naked Ladies (Thea Fitz-James)
The first thing Thea does is walk out naked. Then she deconstructs our relationship with the naked female body, hinting throughout at her own trauma. When I reflect on this show, sometimes I really like it and it’s very important, and sometimes it makes me frustrated in a way I can’t articulate. Which I think is good. And regardless, the show is smart as hell and deeply intriguing.

Me, the Queen, and a Coconut (Andrew Bailey)
A storytelling show on here! How dare! But Andrew’s story about his time spent working at Windsor Castle amid a crisis of faith is engaging, funny, inquisitive, and never overwrought. It’s just a darn good story.

Curious Contagious (Mind of a Snail)
I love the Snails. They are always weird and wonderful, and their latest show, about germs within an enterprising corporate unicorn, is (obviously) no exception. Mind-meltingly creative shadow puppets, a cautionary environmental tale, and a killer soundtrack.

Space Hippo (Mochinosha and The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company)
Climate change spells our doom, and to soothe the public, politicians send a hippo into space to “block the sun”. Space Hippo proceeds on many adventures trying to get back to her baby on earth. So, remember what I was saying earlier about puppets reaching people in a different way? I sat in a full house and joined everyone else there in both screaming with laughter and openly crying at this amazingly crafted space odyssey. For a strange, strange story (with thrilling soundtrack by Elliott Loran), it got right to our hearts. Also, LIZARD MAAAAAAAAN.

The Old Woman (John Grady)
Oops, two storytelling shows! But really, it was more of a poetry/dance hybrid. With soft words and a sharp tongue, John Grady drew me deeply into his reflection on his mother’s final months. It was a delicate, almost fragile look at mortality, and his final dance had me in tears.

Mouthpiece (Quote/Unquote Collective/Nightwood Theatre)
What shapes how we as women move through the world? Who are our voices speaking for? In this challenging physical piece with a powerful vocal score, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava tear apart this question in the context of a woman who just lost her mother. It inspired… a lot of reflection.

Runners-up: The Orbweaver: a Dark and Twisted Folktale About a Mildly Far-fetched, Highly Illegal Immigration Across Metaphysical Borders (Once Once Producciones) for being the most thoroughly-realized Fringe show I’ve ever seen, and This is the Point (Ahuri Theatre/The Theatre Centre) for making space to share honest work about disability.

Film

movies

73 movies this year, a mix of features and shorts. There was some really amazing work that seemed to break through what Hollywood has traditionally offered. All of my tops were features that still rattle around in my head.

Room (2015)
The book was one of my favourites in 2015, and the movie certainly lived up to the expectation. Extraordinary performances, and a claustrophobic feel to the cinematography that matches a small human who’s lived in a small box his whole life.

Under the Skin (2013)
Weeks after I watched this slow, unsettling sci-fi, I sent a sudden excited message to my partner after realizing something about the opening sequence where ScarJo takes the clothes from a dead woman. My brain needed that space to unravel it, which I think is pretty cool.

Frank (2014)
A movie that, like Ex Machina last year, falls into the Domhnall Gleeson Ruins Everything category. The Doors-like music is phenomenal, and what the movie says about true, spontaneous creativity and isolation is achy and delicious. And it’s funny.

Mustang (2015)
Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut is a powerful movie in so many ways, but what struck me the most is how genuine the five teenage sisters were: moody, joyful, full of awkward hormones, both silly and trying to act mature as they’re married off one by one.

The Little Prince (2015)
Full disclosure: The Little Prince is one of my all-time favourite books. I read it when I need some inner peace. So I was a bit nervous about the new interpretation. As it turned out, it nailed it: the story itself was animated beautifully, and the outside story about holding onto your young heart is just the right extension.

Anomalisa (2015)
It’s a stop-motion movie by Charlie Kaufman, which almost guarantees I’ll like it. It’s a great story (a man who makes a living telling others to treat customers like they’re special sees everyone in the world as the same boring person), and the care that went into animating the mundane details of a hotel conference is terrific.

Operation: Avalanche (2016)
Seeing this film was sold to me on two points: we knew the cameraman’s girlfriend, and they faked their way into NASA to film segments of the movie. As it turns out, the Zapruder Films gang knew how to work a small stunt for publicity, but also how to build it into a film that goes from goofy to intense in a very short time. (Also, favourite car chase scene ever. It’s like something out of a nightmare.)

Moonlight (2016)
I had the absolute privilege of seeing Moonlight at the TIFF Lightbox and being in the audience for a Skype Q&A with director Barry Jenkins, which gave even more scope to the yearning exploration of a young, queer black man’s identity. It’s a truly vital movie, and every element from makeup to design to the performances falls stunningly into place; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Arrival (2016)
Smart sci-fi with a genuinely good twist, an interesting female protagonist, and the “what if” question built around communication: what’s not to like?.

Hidden Figures (2016)
I saw a sneak preview screening (once again at the Lightbox– those guys!) of this movie at the end of the year, and I flipping loved it. Not only because it’s a fun, inspiring movie that finally gives credit to the black female mathematicians who got NASA into orbit. Also because, to be frank, it’s a feel-good movie featuring women of colour demonstrating black excellence in an super-racist environment (segregated Virginia in 1961) that didn’t seem to be made for a white audience to feel okay about racism. Which is great.

Runners-up: Lemonade (2016) for being a stunning, multi-layered piece of art, Monsters University (2013) for showing that course correction is okay in life, and Whiplash (2014) because it was a great movie that made me SO MAD about how we perpetuate abuse in arts training as “inspiration”.

 

That’s all she wrote! AND IT’S A LOT. Thanks for reading my opinions on things that don’t really matter too much at a time when the world is full of opinions on things that matter a lot. Be great to each other, and let’s try and make 2017 a good place.

Failing that, at least we can darkly say that the art will be great. Ha haaa, right? Who wants a drink?

say-when

 

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How I Amused Myself Last Year

Hey everyone, it’s 2016 and we haven’t yet succumbed to the ravages of climate change! Well, some people have, but if you’re reading this and you aren’t a ghost, we made it! Yay!

Throughout 2015, for kicks, I kept a running list of all the entertainment I took in. The categories included live theatre (including dance), films, books, TV shows, games (tabletop and electronic), and live music. By the end of December, I had a nice snapshot of the year’s diversions to look back on. And man, I saw and read some really great stuff this year. Being that this is the Age of Opinions, I thought it might be fun to share with you my favourites from each of the categories– the works that have continued to resonate, whether that was because they packed a powerful punch, were inspiring/motivating, or were just extremely entertaining. Maybe you’ll find something you dig in them.

Note that this list doesn’t necessarily contain things made in 2015, but rather is just the stuff that I chose to read/watch/play last year. I’m including things I rewatched or reread in my counts, but they’re excluded from the top choices.

Let’s begin with the smallest category:

Live Music

Photo cred clockwise from top left: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco, Mojo Magazine, ptxofficial.com, unknown
This category had a piddling 4 events noted. This doesn’t count live background music in bars or events; this means concerts. This year I admitted to myself that I really just don’t seek out live music that often– usually because my money is spent on movies and plays. (And food, but that’s beside the point.) So, I’ll list them all in the spirit of fairness, because they were all great in different ways.

Pentatonix at Sound Academy
Pentatonix are dynamite live: tight tight harmonies and thoroughly affable stage presence. Didn’t even care that I raised the average age of the crowd, which otherwise hovered in the mid teens.

Cecilia String Quartet Xenia Concert Series: Classical Dance Party
Okay, so admittedly I was a part of a later concert, performing animal-themed puppetry… but the Cecilia String Quartet have a gorgeous sound and great sense of humour, and the crowd of kids on the ASD spectrum and their families loved the music and engaging interludes.

Reimagining the Music of Molly Drake at the Tranzac
An intimate offering of arrangements of Molly Drake tunes, featuring Angela Turone, Mike McCormick, Morgan Gardner, Marc J. Blouin, and Evan Lamberton. My first introduction to Molly Drake’s music, and a lovely simple ensemble with arrangements both sweet and abstract.

Janelle Monáe at Nathan Phillips Square for Panamania
Firmly cemented my enormous crush on Janelle Monáe. Not only was the energetic funky performance damn near flawless, she proudly showed her social justice stripes by invoking the Black Lives Matter movement before launching into Cold War. Mad respect for an utterly unique and powerful musician.

Games

I played about 20 different games this year, on computers, televisions, and tabletops. (I say about because I’m not counting card games after a couple of ciders.) Of those twenty, three in particular (all for Playstation) grabbed my fascination.

Tokyo Jungle

In this game by Crispy’s, set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where all the humans are gone, you play as different animals trying to survive food scarcity, pollution, and other animals for as many generations as possible. Different animals have different strengths/speeds/etc and create different challenges. And it only gets harder to survive. Maybe you made it seven generations, but now you’re suddenly surrounded by crocodiles. It happens. The feedback loop of survival is very addictive. It logs into my animal brain and inputs, “Run run run away hide hide eat plants eat plants eat eat eat hide run ruuuuun make more of me runnnn!!”, or for the carnivores, “Kill thing and eat it kill this thing to assert dominance run run from the big thing make more of me to kill more things!!” Who doesn’t like staying alive? Especially when you’re a pack of Pomeranians trying to kill a zebra.

The Wolf Among Us

When I choose games, I’m not a big fan of shooters, racing games, or pretty much any game where you have to build controller skills (I’m a button-masher). I like brainy, puzzle-y, story-driven games with enough movement to keep things exciting. Based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series, your decisions as Sheriff Bigby Wolf always move the plot ahead, but are often so morally knotted. As someone who agonizes over decisions in daily life, these games put me through the ringer… but I love it. Even more, I love guilting my partner for his choices as he plays. “You killed him and all he wanted was a dog!” Very excited to play Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones next.

Rocket League

So what I was just saying about games requiring controller skillz… yeeeaaahhh, this is my exception. This ludicrous game by Psyonix slipped into at the last minutes on New Year’s Eve and many hours have been clocked since. Sure, I get frustrated by my consistently crappy aim and inability to track the ball while my car into something that isn’t a wall… but the ball explodes when I score a point with my rocket car. How can I not love that.

Runner-Up: Adventure Time Munchkin, mostly for the note that BMO “ignores all gender issues”.

TV Shows

Though technically more hours were spent consuming seasons or single episodes of different shows, the number of series titles this year came to 13. I’m going to choose my three standouts.

Adventure Time
everything's normal
In constant rotation as breakfast viewing, we got through two seasons (4 and 5) of Adventure Time last year. So weird and subversive and delicious. We’re fooling ourselves at this point if we think it’s made with kids in mind… but kids should watch it anyway. More weird darkness for children, always.

Haphead
maxresdefault
I count webseries as TV shows, and this one was a real treat. I saw it in feature film format at the Royal, but I highly recommend checking it out episodically. Great sci-fi by Postopian Pictures with big imagination on a low budget.

RuPaul’s Drag Race + Untucked
more alaska
I don’t do reality TV… except this. I watched seasons 4 to 6 this year, plus the Untucked episodes. Some of the humour and elements of the show are problematic (cough “She-mail” cough), but I dig the creative elements the show brings together– costume, makeup, hair, persona, performance, writing. The contestants cannot coast through on one strength. And the Untucked episodes, despite the coating of catfights and weeping, actually have some pretty inspiring stuff about self-confidence, support, being yourself, and artistic survival. … Okay, and yes, I like the witty reads.

Runner-Up: X-Files, even though I’m only four episodes in, so I don’t think I can comment much, but this feels like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Books

I think this list helped me get more reading done in 2015 than I have in ages. I read 25 books this year, which includes novels, biographies, non-fiction, and plays. Here’s my top five.

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
I love sci-fi and speculative fiction, and I’ve dabbled loosely in cyberpunk, and Stephenson hit all the notes I love– witty, quick, not too mired in technical explanation but rich with world-creation. An ultra-branded future America with the threat of a semi-religious virus being spread through the population, and a villain with a harpoon and a nuke? Yuss.

Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
Better than the movie. And that’s saying something. THERE I SAID IT MOVING ON

Room (Emma Donoghue)
To prepare for watching the new movie about a 5-year-old boy, Jack, born and raised in his kidnapped mother’s one-room prison, and their decision to escape. I mean, the description alone is gripping. Such creative and evocative writing (it’s all told from Jack’s skewed perspective), and so so tense. I finished the book in three days and it haunted me for a week after.

One More Time (Carol Burnett)
What started as a letter from Burnett to her children became this book about growing up sharing a tiny Hollywood apartment with a hypchondriac grandmother, ambitious but alcoholic mother, and loving but absent alcoholic father. It’s heartwrenching, but Burnett doesn’t go for melodrama or pity– she just tells the truth of how it was for her young self, and the early struggles of the biz. The book ends as her success takes off, which I love.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo)
A book that, at many points, made me say aloud, “This lady is nuts.” Well, this lady, who talks to inanimate objects and cries over bathroom sludge, also makes a living helping people tidy their apartments and has an extensive waitlist, so she must know what she’s talking about. Despite having never fully completed my tidying (a key element apparently is completing the tidy in one go, and I never have the time), my former hoarder self has an easier time parting with excess stuff. If something wants to stay, it has to bring me joy. If it doesn’t, I thank it (because okay, I fret over the feelings of inanimate objects too, but I’m a puppeteer, so I have an excuse okay) and let it go. It’s a good first step.

Runners-Up: The Big Thaw (Ed Struzik) about climate change’s numerous effects on the Canadian north; The Gargoyle (Andrew Davidson) about obsession and creativity and love; Burning Daylight (Christine Fellows) poems with northern inspiration that you can feel.

Theatre

Photo credit/sources clockwise from top left: nirbhayatheplay.com, Jeremy Abrahams, Graeme Braidwood, harbourfrontcentre.com, mooneyontheatre.com, theseance.ca, londonfringe.ca, mooneyontheatre.com, Andy Phillipson

My advice to anyone who wants to see a lot of theatre is, write a Fringe show. That way, at Fringes, you can see many many many shows thanks to password systems and performer comps! In 2015 I didn’t quite do as well as in 2014 (I saw 90+ shows from June to September alone). But also, go see live theatre. It’s an active experience that needs your love and can’t be matched anywhere else. This year, since I somehow saw 62 things, I’m going to choose my top 10.

The Cardinals (Stan’s Cafe)
I love love love the programming at World Stage– some of my favourite theatre in the city for innovation and challenge. The Cardinals was a bizarre piece about a group of cardinals (the Catholic kind) putting on a Biblical puppet show with the aid of a young female Muslim stage manager. They struggle mightily in the process– alluding to the exhausting work of maintaining gospel’s relevance. Symbolic, frantic, and hilarious.

The Object Lesson (Geoff Sobelle)
It’s rare to walk into a theatre space that isn’t Cirque du Soleil and immediately feel immersed in another world. Another World Stage offering, The Object Lesson transformed the entire Harbourfront Centre Theatre space into a packrat’s dream of boxes that you were free to dig through and explore pre-show, complete with a card catalogue. I found all sorts of little surprises. Then you sat on boxes as Geoff Sobelle  meandered around pawing through the assorted objects, and shared stories, pulled the audience into vignettes, and– especially with the increasingly unsettling finale– had me really questioning the mountains of stuff we amass. (Thank goodness for Marie Kondo, amirite?)

Beau and Aero (A Little Bit Off)
Wacky aviator clowns who battle and grudgingly cooperate and engage the audience and perform feats of strength and interpretive dance. Beyond the creativity and uniqueness, Beau and Aero are so darn loveable and open and generous with each other and with their audience– you totally want to play along. And, they’re completely family friendly.

Grade 8 (Dwayne Morgan)
Dwayne‘s one-man spoken-word show (which he first performed in 2008) revolves around his daughter’s impending entry to the eighth grade. His words deftly flow from remembrance of his late wife, to fears for his daughter, to reflections on his own impact (and that of other men) on his daughters’ life. His writing is like that of a slam poet, but gentler. It’s a vulnerable and moving show with some solid chuckles to boot.

Spell to Bring Lost Creatures Homes (Shary Boyle and Christine Fellows)
Part of the Luminato Festival, this show about “shared history and common humanity” paired poetry and songs with some stunning overhead projections, done using two separate projectors. Painted images, windows, water, shadows all made appearances. Sweet and dreamy, in that sort of sad way that also feels happy.

pool (no water) (Cue6 Productions)
The sort of script that seems pulled from a pulp novel: the successful one of a group of artist friends is injured in a horrible accident, and they all help out. And by doing so, they help themselves. The searing script drips with bitterness and hypocrisy, but what I loved most of all was the way Cue6’s great cast handled the unusual script (“a text for performers” with no assigned lines or characters) and manifested it as a very cool piece of physical theatre.

The Inventor of All Things (Jem Rolls)
Jem Rolls is Fringe royalty, known for his blustery and eloquent spoken word and poetry performances. His most recent show was a bit of a departure, a semi-biography, semi-ode to Leo Szilard, the little-known Hungarian nuclear physicist who played a key role in the Manhattan Project, cured his own bladder cancer, and had a long-distance marriage. Told in Jem’s own inimitable fashion, with high energy and tasty wordplay, it’s a decidedly weird and wonderful show.

LEO (Y2D Productions, presented by Théâtre français de Toronto)
A textless show based on a simple premise: a projected camera shows a right-side up image of a room built onstage on its side, in which a man clowns– on his side. It played off remarkably well. Anti-gravity gags, dance sequences, and some very clever animated bits overlaying the on-camera, as well as some interesting looped images. Fun, inventive, and great for all ages.

Seance (Nicholas Wallace)
I don’t like being scared. But I liked reading about scary things like ghosts and poltergeists when I was a kid. So I thought this would be fun to do as a spooky Halloween treat. And in retrospect, it was a grand old time. But for the three or four days afterwards where I was afraid of everything and slept with extra lights on, I was super mad at myself because– guess what?– I actually am a huge chicken who really really really doesn’t like being scared. But I couldn’t be mad at Nick Wallace, because through his spooky magic tricks, build of suspense, downright terrifying moments, and somehow choosing the most frightened person in the room (me) for the freakiest audience participation bit, he fully delivered on a wonderfully scary live theatre experience. Which is what I paid for. Like an idiot.

Nirbhaya (Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan, presented by Nightwood Theatre and Amnesty International)
Inspired by the Delhi bus rape of 2012, and the performers’ true stories of gender-based violence, this is a devastating and important show. Never has a piece of theatre affected me so deeply (Magic  Unicorn Island previously held that honour). I cried, and the thoughts and feelings the show brought up in me swirled through me for at least a week after. I saw it again, and cried harder. It is a heavy piece given more weight by its symbolic staging and I would really recommend bringing someone to hug afterward… but it should be seen by everyone.

Runners-Up: Marathon (Aharona Israel) for illuminating how culture affects art’s resonance; Northern Daughter (Donna Creighton), Hanger (Kildare Company) and Unholy (workshop, Nightwood Theatre) for being witty and deep-reaching pieces by female playwrights that I would love to see developed further; Underneath the Lintel (Pat O’Brien) for a thoughtfully magical tale.

Films

movies

Oh jeez guys this is the last category and I’ve been writing this freaking thing for five hours. I thought this would be a light romp down memory lane, but it’s been a dramatic war reenactment of sorts. Oh well, I promised you opinions, and if you made it this far, congratulations: you got to the most socially-relatable part. By incredible coincidence I also saw 62 films this year, and I’m also going to list my favourite ten of those. I’ll keep it short because you’ve probably seen them already. Thanks for sticking around; I hope you enjoyed the list.

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
File under “How Had I Not Seen This Yet?”. Now tied with The Birdcage for my favourite Robin Williams movie– a great balance between rapid-fire comedy and weighty drama.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
Don Hertzfeldt’s work makes me laugh, deeply disturbs me, and makes me love life in a sort of panicked way. He makes the kind of art I want to make. This movie is no exception. I watched it twice this year.

Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner and I have history. I always seemed to sit down to watch it either A) with a boy who is distracting, or B) when I am completely exhausted and fall asleep after an hour. It was my good fortune, then, that TIFF was screening at a reasonable hour. I still had a boy with me, but he did an excellent job of not being distracting. And, as I knew I would, I loved it.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
MOVIE OF THE YEEEEAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!
Seriously. I saw this on my birthday and I cannot say enough good things about it. The kind of movie where I weep a little during the credits because “I just love movies so much”.

Ex Machina (2015)
A creepy close-up look at the implications and ethical considerations of AI and the relationships built with a robot. A super-thinky sci-fi movie with great visuals that, if you took out the helicopter and idyllic mountain estate, one could imagine doing on a fairly small budget– an idea that gets me excited to create.

I Know That Voice (2013)
A great doc about working and playing in the voiceover industry, headed by John DiMaggio and featuring all the animation voiceover glitterati. As a lifelong maker of stupid voices, I too aspire to the voiceover playground, and this was a great no-nonsense (okay, ample-nonsense) look at the biz.

Go Away, Mr Tumor (2015)
“What do you want to go see at the movies?”
“How about this subtitled Chinese movie about a cartoonist with cancer, which I’ve never heard of before but for which the trailer looks ridiculous?”
“… Yes.”
A frenetic, optimistic, fantasy-filled romp. About a young woman with terminal cancer. So yeah, you’re gonna cry too.

Cooper’s Christmas (née Cooper’s Camera, 2008)
Made of “found footage” from the Cooper family’s Christmas gift of a video camera, this raunchy, hysterically funny movie features mannequin love, teenage Wookie angst, and Dave Foley’s penis. It deserves Christmas cult movie status. Go buy it on iTunes.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
So much to like that I still feel like I shouldn’t talk about, but easy ones are this: more diverse casting (FINALLY), the best-acted of the films, BB-8 is my new hero, an entirely appropriate tone, shipping potential (nerds, you know what I mean, yeeeaaaah).

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Another one that snuck in at the end, as I watched it on the plane on New Year’s Eve morn. Wholly believable characters with genuine chemistry, and Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg’s performances are solid and so very likeable.

Runners-Up: Selma (2014) because Ava DuVernay is a powerhouse filmmaker; Akira (1988) because the creepy old-kids’ theme still pops up in my head; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) for stupid fun.

 

Wow, you actually made it to the end! Congrats. Now go see/read/play/create stuff, and tell me about your faves.

The Top Ten Reasons Why It’s Okay That We’re All Going to Die

fringe_kirahall

Photo credit Jeff Leard

First presented at the Circus of the Stars at the London Fringe Festival. The closest thing to standup you’re likely to get from me. Good-naturedly inspired by and dedicated to the folks who told me they weren’t coming to Paleoncology because they didn’t want to be sad in public.

Hi everyone. I’m Kira Hall, of Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s Paleoncology, and I think there’s an idea out there that I’m a big downer, all doom and gloom, because I do a show about death. I don’t think that’s true. I think I am funny. I think I can be very funny. So I thought I would do something funny for you, because everyone likes things that are funny, and by studying David Letterman and the internet I’ve figured out that lists of things can be a very effective route to comedy. So, here’s my top ten list of reasons why it’s okay that we’re all going to die.

Number Ten: You’re making room on the planet for somebody new coming into it. Who knows, they might even live a better life than you. Maybe they’ll be a doctor.

Number Nine: You’ve been meaning to catch up on your sleep anyway. Ha ha! Except you can’t really sleep because your body has ceased to function.

Number Eight: If you get buried in one of those earth pods or biodegradable urns, you’re giving nutrient-rich material back to the earth and your body-compost could help grow a tree or something cool. Unless you get buried in a coffin, because I guess people still do that?

Number Seven: At the last minute, you can turn to someone and say, “There’s something I always wanted to tell you,” and then you can die, and you’ve pranked them with the burden of ignorance for the rest of their life.

Number Six: Did you guys see Underneath the Lintel? It’s partially about a guy who is doomed to live forever, or at least until the second coming of Christ. And he’s forbidden to sit down. I don’t care whether or not you inspire delightful adventures for an obsessive librarian, living forever sounds like it sucks.

Number Five: The brain’s dying synapses and misfires will probably create the illusion of whatever post-death scenario you’ve envisioned for yourself, so that will be nice for you.

Number Four: Somebody else can take your organs so that they can live, and a little bit of you can live on inside them! And if this happens when you’re dead it is so much less weird.

Number Three: With any luck, everyone in this room will die before the weather gets even nastier and deadlier, and not just in Thailand or the Arctic but in the comfy parts of North America, and the sixth mass biological extinction event that we’re tipping into really screws up global biodiversity, and great swaths of human life on the planet start to die really unpleasant deaths. They’ll be so jealous that they didn’t just get hit by a bus while there was still fossil fuel to run buses on. Suckers.

Number Two: You will never have to flyer a Fringe lineup on closing weekend ever again.

Number One: It’s nice to have something in common with other people.

Paleoncology: The Exhaustive Thank You List

Here’s the tl;dr, folks: The 2014 Fringe tour of Paleoncology is done, and I’m absolutely loaded with gratitude.

That’s pretty woefully insufficient. I’m going to put up another post with some of my favourite little Fringe moments, but this post is purely focused on the many many people to whom I am extremely grateful I owe at least one first-born child. (The lab’s got the final tweaks done on them, they just need a little longer in the development tanks and then we have to wean them onto breathing air. Hope y’all like redheads.) Around Yellowknife, I had to start keeping my thank-yous on the back of the program city-centric because so many people contributed time or money or love or emotional support or a vehicle or whatever to making this tour of Paleoncology a reality.

So, find here an exhaustive list of thank-yous. If I miss you, it’s because I am exhausted and my brain doesn’t work anymore. I almost guarantee I will miss a name and add it below in the edits. If you see someone I missed, tell me!

First of all, thank you to the many donors and sponsors of the show. Money makes the world go around, of that we can be sure, and you guys helped us get around the world. Or, well, across the country. But that’s a feat in itself: not counting the workshops in Toronto, the show was performed in five cities across three provinces and one territory this summer.

So let’s do companies first. Our travel sponsor and producer of the show in Yellowknife, BDK Services, got us in the air for the western leg of the tour– we’d be hitchhiking without them. And speaking of Yellowknife, the Coffee Break News provided us with free advertising and postering for our shows there. Amazing.

Then there are the companies in Toronto who donated things to our silent auction fundraiser: Alexander Showcase Theatre, Banjo Puppets (side story: by incredible coincidence, an attendee of our Yellowknife puppet workshop brought their own Banjo bird puppet), and Jimmy’s Coffee. And of course, Black Swan Comedy which hosted the fundraiser. Great event space; make use of it!

Lastly, they strike me as more a community and organization than company, but Bento Miso in Toronto was wonderfully kind to us in providing space to write, get production work done, have a reading of the script, and shoot our production photos. Thanks to Henry Faber and the gang at Bento, and take pride in knowing your whiteboard wall has been featured online and in print across Canada.

Photo by Ryan Couldrey.

Hell, for this one we straight up wrote on the wall. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

Actual human beings donated beautiful things to the silent auction as well! Rebecca Grove-Foster, John Meadows, Matthew Pazzol, and Ryan Couldrey each donated some of their terrific artwork (or, in John’s case, artistry with a B&W shoot). Lynn Elkin donated a variety of northern items like a rabbit fur scarf and a dreamcatcher. Christina Gordon offered up a CD of her tunes and some great Springworks swag. Benjamin Rivers donated special drawing-signed copies of his graphic novel Snow along with download codes for his uber-popular horror game Home. People were only too eager to grab up such awesome treats. Thank you all.

Finally, in donors, there are the folks who straight up threw money at us. The first was Heidi Quicke. I told her about the show over lunch while she was in Toronto, and a couple of weeks later got a letter with cash enclosed for the show. That cash directly paid for the materials to make the dino-onesie that became almost iconic this summer. The next helpful donations came from some of my family like my Granny Hilya Hall, a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and Bobby Arthur. When we launched our Fund What You Can campaign, the response was terrific and ended up being our top fundraising effort for the tour. Big thanks to all of our patrons, in order of time of donation: The Sasquatch, The United Federation of Planets, Brian Collins, Tom and Ann Hall, Jaysen Knight, Kevin Sean O’Connell (hi School Chum!), Moira Borshneck, Alex Dault, Jennifer Burry, Muriel Young, Ingrid Hansen, Benjamin Rivers, Sketchy the Clown (for Mayor!), Eugene Fong Dere, Gord Young, Carrie Young, Kevin Young, Laurinda Gorgulho, Deanna Underwood, Pam Johnson, Mike Petersen, Tony Culverwell, Hillary Thompson, Marc Gorcey, Sean Daly, and all of you folks who wanted to remain anonymous— let me shout your radness to the world, dang it. They were the coal for our engine (sure, we’re steam-powered, why not) and they rock my world, as do all of our monetary donors.

All of these people and businesses helped us take care of the money so we could give more focus to the art, and I honestly think the final product could not have turned out as well without that help. Thank you.

Woo! Money! Now we get into slightly more individual thank-yous, a little more personal, maybe a little weird at times, out of any recognizable order. Let’s ease into it.

We really lucked out on this tour and had brilliant techs at every single venue. Emlyn Van (Der Bruinswaardt, I write anxiously) and Richard saw us safely through at the MAI in Montreal; Nicola Wanles winced at trains with us at Art Point in Calgary; Ian Johnston designed some sexy LX in Yellowknife after hanging it in the space with Martin Emslander; Freya Engman climbed a very tall ladder inside the Downtown Activity Centre to hang our screen every show in Victoria– which Andrew and I appreciated a lot because heights are neither of our favourite things; and Calum Smith added some nice touches at the stunning Cultch Historic Theatre in Vancouver. They are all terrific techs as well as great humans, and I am so glad to have met them.

Sophie Croteau came aboard enthusiastically as stage manager for Vancouver, because Andrew had to hurry back to Toronto for rehearsals. She did an absolutely bangup job, while also stage managing Al LaFrance‘s show The Quitter, which she has been touring with all summer. Total rockstar, and we were lucky to have her. (Thanks also to Al for sharing with us.)

When you’re travelling with a show by plane you need to find certain things in every city that you can’t fly with you. Kathleen Greenfield from SNAFU Dance Theatre (the crew behind the genius Kitt & Jane) was instrumental in helping us find materials in each of our new cities, including loaning us her own table in Victoria. She connected us with overhead projector owners/awesome puppety people in three cities: Tyler Klein Longmire, Katrina Brown by way of Will Weigler, and Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel from Mind of a Snail (whose own overhead projection piece Caws and Effect was outstanding). I can truthfully say the show would have been a lot more boring without those projectors! In Yellowknife, Geri Elkin found us an excellent projector with a Baby Donald Duck sticker on it– extra points for being decidedly adorable. Susan Freedman of Spilling Family Secrets loaned us her projection screen in Vancouver as well, which added a nice level of class. Nancy Kenny from Roller Derby Saved My Soul schlepped a table from Victoria to Vancouver for us, because she is brilliant and wanted us to save $20.

The sexy folding Dukane projector Mind of a Snail loaned us. UMPH.

The screen from Susan Freedman and the sexy folding Dukane projector Mind of a Snail loaned us. UMPH.

We also had terrific billets in every city. Thor Kell, Jessica Roy, Kelsey Miller, Anthony Frattaroli and Léonie Armstrong, and Emily Nadeau and Marty Hallat all opened up their homes to me and/or Andrew and were most hospitable. In Yellowknife, we got to stay in my family home with Mom, Brad, and Ted— that itself is a special kind of treat. Larry and Cappy Elkin (aka Grandma and Grandpa) also loaned us a snazzy minivan to get around in in Yellowknife, which made life very easy.

But the hospitality didn’t just come from our gracious hosts; it came from the festivals themselves. The staff of the Fringe Festivals in Montreal, Calgary, Victoria, and Vancouver all worked their butts off and made us feel so welcome and cared for. I want to give particular shoutouts to Stéphanie Morin-Robert, Michele Gallant, Rose Jang, and Jess Amy Shead for dealing with many many crazy people, aka Fringe artists.

We’re going to dip into the broad thank-yous for a moment, because I have to recognize the hundreds upon hundreds of Fringe volunteers. Those brigades of cheerful, helpful people in their brightly-coloured shirts, answering questions, sorting out comps, herding crowds, soothing people who showed up late by giving them candy, and giving their time and energy and love to independent theatre. Everyone says they’re the heart and soul of the festivals, and I wanted to avoid that cliche but I honestly can’t think of anything better– they truly are. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, and the artists! This summer I got to see over ninety different Fringe shows that made me think, made me guffaw, made me cry, inspired me to write and explore and try new things. And, best of all, I got to meet the people behind those shows. It was so wonderful to meet and make friends with such a hodgepodge group of driven, bold, creative folks, and to experience the care and support we all give to each other. I can’t wait until next summer when I get to see you all again.

A lot of work had to happen before this show was remotely road-worthy. Monday Night of New Works let me hear the third or so draft out loud, and then get some audience feedback. My Living Room, Lemon Tree Studios, the Fringe Creation Lab, and Videofag all provided us with space for rehearsals and workshop performances. When we held our Adven-Tour Time fundraising cabaret, a ton of performer friends came out to perform and bid on auction items. Rebecca Belton, Ren Brockhouse, Tony Culverwell, Morgan Joy, Dave McKay, Vicki Laufer, Esther Vallins, Allan Turner, Jo-Anne Wurster, and the singers of SONUS are all huge talents and I’m so grateful that they gave their time to supporting Paleoncology. Daniel Girard also gets big love for donating some delicious snacks and set-up help to the cabaret. And Michelle Urbano worked the door for both of our workshops and the fundraiser, and read Lea’s part aloud for me at Monday Night of New Works so I could hear it proper. What a machine.

Peggy Plummer took us on a magical fairytale journey.  Credit: Ryan Couldrey

Peggy Plummer took us on a magical fairytale journey during Adven-Tour Time. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

A big important part of making this happen was my family. Thank you to my brother and sister-in-law Devon and Chelsea Hall for spending a fun day out at the Royal Tyrrell Museum with Andrew and I. And thank you to oldest brother Brad Hall for helping out so much in Yellowknife, with advertising and space preparation and front of house. Of all the folks to see my show, I think I’m happiest that I got to share it with my brothers. And of course, my Mom and Dad each in their own way provided some of the most valuable support they can: wholeheartedly encouraging their daughter’s attempts to make a go of it in the arts.

Devon at the show...

Devon at the show…

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I think I’m now at the point where we get down to individual thank-yous… they may get mushier as I go on, so you’ve been warned.

Thanks to Artichoke Heart Collective spreading the word about us to their friends, and doing a promo swap with us. (Go see We Walk Among You at Tarragon now, or at Mainline Theatre in Montreal this November!)

Thank you to Ted Studer for building some sweet risers from pallets for our Yellowknfie performances. They worked like a gem.

Thank you to Nancy Kenny for some great biz/life chats, and for sharing your wit and wisdom with this flaily up-and-comer.

Credit: Vancouver Fringe

I really should also be hugging a beer, but oh well. Credit: Vancouver Fringe

Thank you to Grandpa (aka Larry Elkin) for the archival footage you took of the show in Yellowknife. It’s brilliantly done.

Thank you to Bobby Arthur for bringing many cans of pop to our first snowstormy workshop, and for sacrificing his suitcase to the cause of transporting show materials.

Thank you to everyone in Yellowknife who attended our performance workshops and had some fun with us. Because we love fun.

Thanks to Shayne Monaghan and Chris Murray, two of the early voices for Daniel. Your interpretations had echos down to the final drafts; thank you for bringing dimension to Dan.

Thank you to The Yellowknifer for running a feature on Paleoncology. I will forever get a kick out of being in the local paper back home.

Thank you to Allan Turner for providing professional-level dinosaur consultation and front-of-house help for our Toronto final workshop showings.

And for delivering an underscored talk on extinction events. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

And for delivering an underscored talk on extinction events. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

Thank you to Olga and Ian Parkin at Brick Street Bakery for letting me go away for a summer tour, and being completely okay with me adding two weeks onto that last minute, and for still having a job for me when I got back. Awesome flexible employers are hard to find, and I’m glad I have some.

Thank you to all of my previous teachers from high school and post-secondary who came to see the show. I’m especially touched that you would come see what I’m up to, and I was glad of the chance to catch up with many of you.

Thank you to the gang from Theatre Howl/Neverending Highway and to Andrew Wade for handing out some of our flyers in Vancouver, and to Jeff Leard for doing latecomer program ad tradesies. Framily supporting framily! (The phrase “framily” unapologetically nicked from Tara Travis.)

Thank you for Alastair, aka Jamesy, for teaming up with Andrew to provide hours of clownfight entertainment. It was fun to watch, and cheaper than babysitting.

This was in the lobby of Montreal Improv, before a show.

This was in the lobby of Montreal Improv, before a show.

Thank you to Rory Ledbetter for radiating joy and Fringe spirit out of every pore. I do not understand how you keep that up but I’m glad you do.

Thank you to Claire Hill who tolerated my quiet living-room stress meltdowns in the late stages of preparing the show for tour, and made our apartment look real purdy while I was away. Thanks roomie.

Thank you to the people who I made have velociraptor fights in Victoria and Vancouver. In Van I wanted to say it was Sean and Beth? But seriously, excellent raptor fight skills.

Thank you to Pooria Fard for driving some of our stuff and letting us frequently take over your home during rehearsal.

Thank you to Dan Pollock for being a Fringe hero in Victoria not only for Wood Hall, but for every show you loved and told everyone about.

Thank you to the theatre reviewers in every city, even the ones who didn’t give us glowing reviews. Every review is helpful and gives us new perspective. Plus, let’s be real, you guys have a rough job and everyone hates on you most of the time, so you could use a high-five. Thanks for sticking with it.

Thank you to Plank Magazine and SOlOS Festival who respectively sponsored our awards for Talk of the Fringe in Vancouver and Best Solo Theatre Production in Montreal, and to whoever made the freaking weird Favourite Drama statuette in Victoria.

The inherent drama of a triumphant antelope who has slain a zebra. Duh.

The inherent drama of a triumphant antelope who has slain a zebra. Duh.

Big thanks to Adam Francis Proulx, who was the first person to see anything of this show when we agreed to be writing buddies last summer. He pushed me to keep writing, gave me some excellent feedback, and shared his own writing… and we did a promo swap during Toronto Fringe! We’ve got similar brains, Proulx and I, and it’s always a pleasure working with him.

And one thanks that can’t be read the person to whom it is owed: Thank you to Braz King. A lot of people asked if Paleoncology was based on real experience. It’s a fair question; lots of solo Fringe shows are at least semi autobiographical. But, this one is not. There’s bits of me in there (having brothers, wanting to be a paleontologist when I was a kid), but it’s a fiction. I tell people this, but I always have to mention Braz, because he added more truth to the story than he probably knew. It was an unfortunate coincidence that as I was writing Paleoncology, Braz (who I knew through Lunacy Cabaret– he was a hell of a guitarist) was fighting pleomorphic (undifferentiated) rhabdomyosarcoma. We weren’t close– we were friends in that way that colleagues in weirdness are friends– but he was a big-picture-thinking, kind, saucy, family man for whom I had mountains of respect and fondness. I’ve lost family members to cancer before, but quickly and without hearing much from them. Braz was very open to all of his friends with his thoughts and feelings as he was going through treatment, and it gave a profound and sometimes difficult insight into what it was like to go through that experience. His words had grace, fear, sadness, appreciation. There were hard and eerie moments with the parallel of my writing and his battle. I remember researching the late stages of cancer and having to stop because thinking of Braz was bringing me to tears. Shortly after I wrote in a metastasis of Daniel’s cancer, Braz shared that his own cancer had metastasized. He passed away a little while after the second draft was finished, and Paleoncology is dedicated to him. It’s not about him, or inspired by him, but the small details from his fight are so ingrained in my writing that it would be a disservice not to give credit where it is due. Our last show in Victoria, which would have been our last show of the tour if we hadn’t taken Vancouver, was on the anniversary of his death, and my voice cracked a little as I told the full house that that show was for Braz– every show was, but that one more so. So thank you, Braz, for sharing your experience, and for your big big spirit which still resonates with me. Extra thank you to Rachel Parry for giving me her blessing to dedicate the show to him, and for being willing to share some of the details with me. I still want to do a charity performance of this show in the future…

Rock on, dude. Credit: Edward Eh

Rock on, dude. Credit: Edward Eh

And now, the dream team. The folks behind Moon Dinosaur Theatre, the ones who got bios in the program.

Sarah Grange showed up to record stuff for Snow and was coerced into lending her voice to the show for the smallest part: the doctor who speaks to Daniel right at the beginning, immediately after his diagnosis, and who is never heard again. That credit in the program caused so much confusion– Lea spends most of the show talking to an invisible, silent therapist, and people would read the program and think, “Was there supposed to be a voiceover?” Thank you Sarah for being game to jump in, nail it, and provide that consistent moment of facepalming.

The other voice in the project got a lot more airplay, and boy howdy did it leave an impression. I couldn’t tell you how many people commented afterwards on the depth of character that Matthew Gouveia brought to his voice work while playing Daniel. The care and emotional detail that Matt used with Daniel was beautiful to see in the process of rehearsing and recording, and the final product was deeply moving for the audience and for me, onstage as Lea, every show. Thank you so much, Matt. I’m so honoured that you were willing to bring your talent to Paleoncology.

The master at work. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

The master at work. Credit: Ryan Couldrey

The person who did all this voice recording coincidentally took our promotional photography for Paleoncology– which has now been splashed on blogs and in print across Canada, and deservedly so. Ryan Couldrey, aside from being a photography and audio wizard (he also took archival footage of both our Toronto workshops), was one of the play’s earliest cheerleaders, and continued to be through the entire process. Dude is also directing, cinematographing (is that a word?), writing, editing, producing his film Snow, which is an extraordinary amount of work– I should know, because I’m in it. And still, he offered to help out with Paleoncology, because he believed in the project that much. Lucky us. Thank you, Ryan, for your faith and your artistry.

Gloriously backlit in Bento Miso's upstairs room.

Gloriously backlit in Bento Miso’s upstairs room.

When we got into rehearsals in the spring, Andrew knew we would need someone doing actual stage management stuff for the Toronto performances so he could, you know… be a director. We had worked with Kristina Abbondanza before during We Walk Among You, and I was super keen to have her on board as our stage manager. Andrew did it during the tour, but Kristina gets the title because she is an absolute machine. She coordinated rehearsals, built soundscapes and cues, took LX notes, provided additional script feedback in the cutting stages, ran the show at Videofag, made Andrew a big tour-ready binder, found spare projector bulbs, provided hours of hilarious commentary… oh yeah, and let us rehearse in her condo’s study room so we could save some of our non-existent cash. Amazing. Kristina, I want you to stage manage everything I ever do. Thank you so much for being such a crucial part of our team.

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Okay, it isn’t Kristina, it’s her assistant. Credit: Kristina Abbondanza

And then we get to Andrew Young. Andrew, the dramaturg, director, and tour stage manager, who was always and is still asking, “What’s next?” I’ve never worked this closely with another single human in artistic collaboration before, and I’m so glad to have got Andrew because it just worked. He’s a body person who works from physicality, I’m a brain person who works from words, so we balance each other nicely, coming from different backgrounds but sharing enough vocabulary and theatrical sensibility to connect and create. At work, Andrew asked all the right questions, called me out on my bullshit, pushed me to the edges of my comfort zone, and saved the show from being a talky indulgence. And a straight month on the road with him didn’t drive me insane, so double bonus! (I can’t speak for Andrew, here.) He was a sturdy rock in the maelstrom of my fluttery tour brain and it was a mercy. Doing the show without him in Vancouver was really bizarre, because Paleoncology is our show. I would talk to people in lineups and say “we won this award” or “we’re playing at the Cultch” and they would be confused and say, “We?” Maybe they thought I meant the dinosaur puppets… but I digress. Andrew, thank you for saying “yes” and going wholeheartedly along on this ridiculous adventure when I really had no clue what I was getting us into. Thank you for trading the beer coin, for walking down unfamiliar streets making fart noises, for letting me take the Coleman bed when I had a show the next day, for making your very own dinosaur tail, for talking me down off my many ledges of artistic angst, for letting me give you hugs which I know is not really your jam… I could go on for days, but I won’t, because I’ll see you Monday for a production meeting anyway because IT NEVER ENDS. The Moon Dinos shall ride again, because we’re too rad not to. Thank you, so so so much.

Oh, come on, you know it was fun.

Oh, come on, you know it was fun.

Obviously this list of thank yous will just grow and morph into some monstrous leviathan of gratitude as we keep doing Paleoncology (next stop, Montreal, then…?), but with the 2014 summer tour being done, I figured it was a good time to lay out where all this stands. One last thank-you, though:

Thank you to EVERY person who came out to see the show, whether you came to a workshop or to one of our Fringe performances. Without your bums in the seats, there is no show, and there is no theatre, and there are no festivals. You provide the most precious support to the arts of all: your time, and your attention, and your curiosity and thoughts and feelings. Also, your money for tickets– which sounds silly but in this time when Netflix is the name of the game, it is so wonderful to see people still want to spend their hard-earned dough on live theatre. Thank you for coming out, and for laughing, and for crying, and for applauding, and for talking to me afterward, and for sitting in the dark and letting us make you feel feelings. I’m so happy we got to share with you.

Rawr. Dino out. FOR NOW.

-K.

"No, don't take a picture. It's too sad." Credit: you can probably guess.

“No, don’t take a picture. It’s too sad.” Credit: you can probably guess.

EDIT: OH YES OF COURSE. FORGOT THE EASIEST ONE.
In case it wasn’t obvious, if you ever supported Paleoncology in any way, even if you couldn’t make it to the show, if you loaned emotional support or Facebook likes or retweets (Stacey Slager, I’m looking at you), I LOVE YOU. It’s one thing to have faith in your own project; it’s another to know that other people do, too. Thank you.

Also, I forgot to thank Rebecca Black and Dahlia Katz for loaning me things that lit up so I could play around with shadows and transparencies in the early early days.

Only For Now?

Today I was made aware of a particularly poignant anniversary. It’s not what you might expect. It involves puppets. But stick with me.

Two years ago, the premiere Canadian cast of Avenue Q had their opening night at the Lower Ossington Theatre. By “their”, of course, I mean “our”. By some lucky turn of fate, I was cast as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut.

I had auditioned with my friend’s Kermit the Frog puppet, which inspired some strong reactions when I made him sing “Special”. The musical director asked me to belt, and somehow I did. I had the most fun callback I’ve ever had. And, at the end, I got a dream role.

As I bounced onstage with our rented Kate Monster on my hand that night, I had no idea of what a game-changer Avenue Q would prove to be.

Adam Proulx as Princeton, myself as Kate Monster, Jazz Testolini as Gary Coleman

Adam Proulx as Princeton, myself as Kate Monster, Jazz Testolini as Gary Coleman. Picture by Seanna Kennedy Photography.

It blew up. I’ve never been in a show that successful. Reviews rolled in with exceptionally positive comments. The critics loved it. More importantly, the audiences loved it. That was my favourite part: catching glimpses of the audience, who had expressions of utter joy on their face. The show was extended for a handful of performances. I received my first ever paycheque for acting from Avenue Q. I experienced the trauma of putting away a puppet you’ve imbued with a character for the first time. Lucy was more fun to let loose with than Kate onstage, but when it was time to put Kate away, I realized how much of me was in her. It was really hard to put her in a New York-bound black box.

Also, I cried. Pic by Mike Petersen.

Also, I cried. Pic by Mike Petersen.

But it was far from the end. The LOT wanted to bring the show back in the summer. Obviously I was onboard. We got beautiful new puppets made by the incredible builder and puppeteer Andy Hayward. Forever in my mind, that Kate and that Lucy will be “my” Kate and Lucy.

The adventure continued beautifully. There were some changes to the cast as the show went through not just a second run, but a third as well. People recognized us on the street. One guy stopped on his bike to ask if I was Kate, and a group of guys stopped us at Pride to snap pictures. I had a full summer of acting work. It was thrilling.

My favourite thing was that we got more interactive with the audience. Lucy the Slut started coming out in the second act and flirting with the audience (a compendium of her top sluttery is posted on my other blog, but I am for sure going to move that post over here at some point). Nicky grabbed a few cell phones and credit cards from audience members during “The Money Song”. And the audience still applauded when we sang “Rob Ford! Is only for now!”

The show was so successful, the LOT decided to keep it going. In October 2012, after my third run with the show, I decided it was time to step away from my role and give someone else a shot.

My final Avenue Q cast. Photo by Seanna Kennedy.

My final Avenue Q cast. Clockwise from top left: Michael Donnelly, Shannon Dickens, Evangelia Kambites, Phil Skala, me (Kira Hall), Ryan Kerr, Mark Willett, Amelia Hironaka, Stephen Amon. Photo by Seanna Kennedy.

The show had been an unmatched experience. Through that show, I made so many great friends and colleagues with whom I have continued to work and commiserate on a regular basis. It connected me with the agency that now represents me. It introduced me to the wonderful world of puppetry, which has kept me working more than anything else. It helped me gain new confidence in my voice and acting abilities. Avenue Q got my picture in NOW Magazine, for pete’s sake.

This picture, specifically. By Seanna Kennedy Photography.

This picture, specifically. By Seanna Kennedy Photography.

Avenue Q basically kick-started my theatrical career in Toronto. I’m so grateful for that show.

And it’s still going. Today, it celebrates two years of its run at the Lower Ossington Theatre. I hear the current production is super. You should go.

Congratulations to the LOT, to all members of the cast past and present, to the stellar creative team (insane, INSANE props to Seanna Kennedy, director and swing extraordinaire), for the continued success of this wonderful show. I’m so proud.

And you know, under the felt, the swearing, and the sex, the number one lesson I managed to take away from the show was something simple, explained to a child in a brief Sesame-Street-style video:

What's a purpose?

“A purpose is a direction to your life. It could be a job, a family… it could be the pursuit of knowledge or wealth. Everybody’s purpose is different. The best thing about a purpose is that it gives your life meaning.”
“I want a purpose!”

I think, during my time on Avenue Q, I found my purpose.

My last picture with Kate Monster, October 2012. Til we meet again. Oh, and we will.

My last picture with Kate Monster, October 2012. Til we meet again. Oh, and we will.

Lessons from Paleoncology (Phase 1)

Last night, Paleoncology had its first performance. It was a workshop performance in front of a small crowd of folks who braved a ridiculous amount of snow to come. I was going to write a post about the experience of preparing my first-ever solo show for a performance, and the show, but I’ve decided that is interesting to no one but me. So, instead, here are the top lessons I’m taking away from this experience thus far:

1. Breathe.
Should be simple, right? Nope. Easiest thing in the world to forget, and when your breath does, so does any emotional connection. This might be the single biggest block to creation and performance I know. So breathe.

2. Stop apologizing.
A lot of artists (particularly young Canadian artists) apologize compulsively, and it’s downright destructive. Whether it comes from humility or fear or what have you, I don’t know. I just know that I do it a lot. There was many a moment of “Sorry– No! I lied! Not apologizing!” in rehearsals. The more stress I had and the more worried  was about how “good” my work was, the more I apologized. Apologizing is not believing in your work, and if you don’t, who will?

3. Turn off the bullshit meter.
Christopher Weddell, my acting teacher at CCPA, once told me (okay, often told me) that I have a high bullshit meter– ie, I look at what I’m doing and say to myself, “This is bullshit.” But who does that help? Nobody. Literally no one is aided by that, particularly when you’re doing a run of a show with no one on stage but you and your brain gets in a feedback loop of “you are doing a terrible job” for forty minutes. So turn it off, stop watching yourself, and go.

4. A solo show is a lot of you.You wrote it, it’s your voice, it’s your body. You have to learn it all. You only have yourself to fall back on. And you will feel weird asking people to come and see you for an hour. And that is okay.

5. Why didn’t I just do the TJ Dawe or Sam Mullins thing and just tell a freaking story on a bare stage?
This is not so much a lesson as a question I asked myself as I schlepped a full backpack and rolling suitcase full of costumes and props through six inches of snow last night.

5. A solo show wrings you out in the best way possible.
This is going to be one weird analogy, but in S&M (see, great start), when submissives come out of a scene with a dominant partner they often have some kind of positive cathartic release, like crying or laughing. If me lying in bed after the show last night feeling warm fuzzies and wanting to sob is any indication, there can be some parallels drawn. After the anticipation, excitement, and nerves leading up to this performance, it is gratifying as hell to know that it has been seen, and heard, and hopefully enjoyed. Draining and exhausting, but oh man is it rewarding.

6. A solo show, while a lot of you onstage, is certainly not a one-person endeavour.
Lots of people helped get the show to where it currently is, and they have my thanks. Adam Proulx was my writing buddy from day one and helped keep me motivated and writing, and offered his thoughts and opinions. Michelle Urbano and Shayne Monaghan read the script aloud for me at Monday Night of New Works (if you have a new piece, bring it there!), and Michelle also was front-of-house for the workshop. Allan Turner shared his incomparable knowledge of dinosaurs with me. Lynn Elkin, Tom Hall, and Heidi Quicke all contributed financially (which, trust me, is a huge help). And the people who came last night to watch and share their thoughts are now firmly lodged in my heart.
Chris Murray loaned his voice to the project as Daniel, and Ryan Couldrey did all the prerecorded speech segments for us, and I’m thrilled that I got to spend a day at CBC hanging with these guys and adding a crucial element to the show.
Most of all, though, I’ve been extremely lucky to have Andrew Young with me on this journey. I first asked him to act as the dramaturg for Paleoncology, and he’s since taken on the task of directing this beast. Beyond those huge tasks, he’s helped with the costumes, let us rehearse in his house, helped coordinate time-and-space management, run sound, and more, and overall dedicated so much of his time and energy to this project that it flabbergasts me. He’s been a wonderful collaborator, and as far as I’m concerned, Paleoncology is our show. If one person gets the bulk of my gratitude, it is him. Thank you.

7. When you’re creating, it can always be better.
Paleoncology is still just a baby of a play. It has more growing to do. I’m always aware of that. I certainly don’t want to workshop it to death, but when it head to Fringes in Montreal and Calgary next year, I want to bring something fantastic. I’m ready to dive into the feedback forms from last night and start polishing. And when we coordinate some more performances in Toronto in the new year, I’m hoping that we’ll see you there, and that we’ll blow your mind.

8. Tell the story.
Because underneath everything else– costumes, puppets, sets– that’s all it is. A story waiting to be told.

PALEONCOLOGY: The Adventure Begins

“If you were a kid and you never liked dinosaurs, something was seriously wrong with you.”

This summer, I began writing a one-woman show after the title popped into my head out of the blue. Five months and several drafts later, the show is starting to get up on its feet. It’s a Fringe tour hopeful, but even if it doesn’t make it into Fringe, I want to develop it and share it. Part of the process is getting it in front of others and seeing what happens. And I want you to be a part of that. Because I love you and value your opinion.

Therefore….

dno

Moon Dinosaur Theatre presents
a workshop performance of

PALEONCOLOGY

Written and performed by Kira Hall
Directed by Andrew Young

Leaellyn is going through what you might call a transitional period right now. Her brother Daniel has received some bad news, her career is veering in a new direction (though what direction that is she can’t say), and she hasn’t had a drink in weeks. You want to talk about feelings? Lea doesn’t.
With the help of an overhead projector and a few toys, PALEONCOLOGY is a story about siblings, dinosaurs, and what comes next.

December 14th, 2013
PWYC
lemonTree creations studio, 196 Spadina Ave (lower unit)
Doors at 7:15pm, show at 8pm
Show runs approximately 55 min
God and liquor license willing, there will be drinks for sale after the show, as well as feedback forms.

Hope to see you there!