Sunday, May 10, 2015

SDA Provincial Festival 2015: Day 3

In what seems like the blink of an eye, the 2015 Provincial Festival has come to a close. The last of my playwrighting workshops was with the students from Moosomin and North Battleford. I had great fun with both groups, and another collection of monologues and memories was created. This was followed by the final two productions of the festival...

THE INVISIBLE CIRCLE - St. Pascal Community School - I was really impressed with this short drama, written and directed by the students from Green Lake. The participants from Northern region continue to grow each year, and this was the first time I had seen so much theatricality employed in a production. I was quite taken with a lovely sequence in which the actors silently acted out the entire play in reverse. They took their time, exercising admirable patience and precision. They concluded the play with a warm rendition of "True Colours" that was accompanied by sign language.

THIS IS A PLAY - Sacred Heart High School - This was, hands down, the funniest production of the entire festival. Its three players (Mack Tourand, JilliAnn Sawatsky, Casey Shields) gave the audience a virtual master class in comedy. Tourand in particular gave a virtuoso comedic performance, somehow managing to elicit a dozen laughs per line of dialogue where many other actors would have struggled to find one. He truly is a one-in-a-million original. Hats off to Sacred Heart High for a perfectly executed comedy that made me laugh so hard I nearly went into convulsions. And I was not the only one.

Congratulations to Clavet School for winning Best Overall Production (Shuddersome: Tales of Poe) and Vanier Collegiate for taking runner-up (Romeo Revised). I'd also like to send a special congratulations to Robert Southey School for all the recognition they received for I Don't Want to Talk About It. Cassidy Huber, Aislinn Roske, Alicia Kifferling, Kennedi Harper, and Shawn Nixon were all honoured by the adjudicators.

The last day of festival is always bittersweet. I look forward to Provincials all year long, and then it seems to be over before it even gets started. Yet as quickly as it passes, the memories last a lifetime. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Riding the school bus with the awesome crew from Carrot River Junior Senior High School

Until next year...

Saturday, May 09, 2015

SDA Provincial Festival 2015: Day 2

Day 2 got off to another great start with another great workshop, this time with students from Riverview, A.E. Peacock, Clavet, and Sacred Heart. After that, I was so happy that my aunt drove several hours to have lunch and join me at Southey's performance of my play. My cousins Melissa and Jared were also there, and although I wish I had more than an hour to visit, it meant the world that I got to see them and share this experience with the people I love most.

Now onto the plays, which were all terrific!

I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT - Robert Southey School - It's always special any time I get the opportunity to see one of my plays performed, but this production was special in a way that went above and beyond my wildest expectations. This play features 32 characters played by 11 actors and I was blown away by the cast's ability to portray each of them as a distinct individual. I'm so proud to have had my words brought to life by such an amazing group, and it was abundantly clear that their theatrical achievement had an extremely profound impact on the audience.

A.M.L. - Carrot River Junior Senior High School - Carrot River has delivered, and continues to deliver, the most inventive productions I have ever seen on the provincial stage. They also strive to present a wide variety of styles and genres. A modern comedy one year, nostalgic drama the next. This year they really pushed the envelope and tackled an extremely challenging, abstract script that pushed the actors, designers, and directors into entirely new territory. The result was utterly spectacular. The ensemble of actresses came together like a beautiful symphony of voices and the stunning visual design was second to none.

NO PROBLEM - McNaughton High School - I was really taken with the number of strong actors in this cast. There was not a single weak link in the bunch and they totally attacked the material with confidence. The sound design was equally impressive, with every important moment highlighted by a perfectly chosen effect. I'd also like to send a shout out to the follow spot operator. It's a tough thing to be steady and accurate with a follow spot, but the young man behind the light nailed each and every one of his many, many cues.

ROMEO REVISED - Vanier Collegiate - This has to be one of my favorite one act plays ever written and Vanier knocked it right out of the park. The two leads, Jake Heisler and Abbi Flanagan, left not a single comedic stone unturned. Their physical comedy abilities were nothing short of astounding, and the command they had over the audience meant that every person in that auditorium was glad to spend 20 minutes in the palms of their brilliant and hysterical hands.

PRESSURE - Rosetown Central School - The opening visual was so creepy that practically the entire front row fell out of their seats. That's the sort of visceral reaction that every director dreams about, so to have elicited such an immediate and involuntary audience response must have made each of this production's three directors smile wickedly from wherever they were located in the house. Note to self: pocket flashlights and white masks are all it takes to make a startling visual impact and scare the hell out of an audience.

Friday, May 08, 2015

SDA Provincial Festival 2015: Day 1

Day 1 of the Provincial Festival started off with a bang and never let up! The day began with my playwrighting workshop, Selfie: Using Social Media to Write Scenes and Monologues. I had the great fortune to work with students from Cornerstone Christian School, Robert Southey School, and Rosetown Central School. Believe me when I say that 90 minutes was not enough with these talented young writers. They came up with so many fantastic ideas in a very short amount of time. Some videos of what they created will be posted shortly to the SDA Playwrighting Workshop Facebook Page, just as soon as the wi-fi here at the hotel co-operates and allows me to upload them.

After the workshops were over is when the competition got started. The audience was treated to 4 very different, very creative plays. Here's a little bit about each of them...

MAGNA CARTA - Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School - This was an original play, written by the students from Miller Comprehensive. It was an intriguing mix of 12 Angry Men, Fatal Attraction, and 48 Hours Mystery. There was a particularly creepy scene near the end of the play where we witnessed a murder onstage. I thought the way this scene was handled was spectacular. The actress committing the murder made very choreographed movements to music as she poisoned a cup of tea. It was a very dramatic climax that had the audience on pins and needles.

SHUDDERSOME: TALES OF POE - Clavet School - I was blown away by the extraordinary use of movement, colour, ensemble, light, sound, and voice in this thoroughly inventive staging of a Lindsay Price play that I had never seen before. This stunning production was a wonderful introduction to the piece and I can only imagine that any productions I see in the future will be measured against the very high watermark set by Clavet's ambitious visual and emotional achievement.

THE 9 WORST BREAK-UPS OF ALL TIME - Swift Current Comprehensive High School - When the cast of a play is having fun, so is the audience. Such was the case with this delightfully giddy production. Every single member of the utterly enormous cast of 28 managed to take their small roles and milk them for every laugh possible. I also loved listening to the very vocal audience reaction. Several times I heard people in the crowd respond to what was happening on stage rather loudly, which is a terrific indicator that they were totally invested in the story.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - North Battleford Comprehensive High School - I'm always impressed by the visual design of North Battleford's productions (they've been at Provincials many years in a row now) and this year was no different. The costumes, the set, the lighting, the everything was lovely. They even utilized the fly loft and hung a moon from the rafters. This simple touch, in tandem with a perfectly aimed key light, made a huge dramatic impact that made this midsummer night a dreamy one.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Like My Facebook Page!

Consider this an invitation to like my Facebook page. Just click on the picture below!

SDA Provincial Festival 2015

Today is the day hundreds of students, teachers, and parents have been waiting for: Day 1 at the 2015 Saskatchewan Drama Association Provincial Festival! I've also been looking forward to this weekend of high school theatre ever since last year's festival, and after looking at the list of plays in the program I see that this year just might be one of the best ever. Starting tonight, 11 plays from all corners of Saskatchewan will begin performances on the main stage at the Dr. William Riddell Centre at the University of Regina.

The variety of plays is particularly strong this year; there's drama, comedy, Shakespeare, realism, surrealism, original plays, and even a horror in the mix. I'm also thrilled that I'll get to see one of my own plays, I Don't Want to Talk About It, which is being produced Friday afternoon by Robert Southey School. It's not very often that I get to see one of my plays performed so close to where I grew up, which gives me an opportunity to share what I do with my friends and family from home. For that alone, I'm incredibly grateful to be here.

I invite you follow this blog, as I'll be writing about all of the plays as they happen. I will also be posting pictures and video from the days ahead on my Facebook page, which you can check out by clicking HERE. And by all means, like my page and feel free to share your own pictures and comments. I enjoy hearing what each and every one of you has to say!

The SDA also has a Facebook page which you can check out by clicking HERE. From there you stay updated on all of the latest news about the festival, as well as other arts opportunities for drama students in Saskatchewan. You may also see a few familiar faces, as I'll be posting pictures and video from my playwrighting workshops.

Speaking of workshops, it's almost time to head over to the theatre, so I'll leave it here for now. Following is a complete festival schedule, so please come out and show your support for all of the many talented students who have worked so hard to get here. Making it to Provincials is a huge accomplishment and they deserve as much applause as possible.

Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, 7pm

Friday, 1pm
A.M.L., Carrot River

Friday, 7pm
NO PROBLEM, Moosomin
PRESSURE, Rosetown

Saturday 1pm

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Robert Southey School

Sunday evening I had the amazing opportunity to attend a rehearsal of I Don't Want to Talk About It in Southey, Saskatchewan. Robert Southey School is located in a small rural community about 45 minutes north of Regina, and having grown up in a town about the same size, I was thrilled when I heard that they had decided to produce one of my plays. And, wow, what a production it is!

A couple of weeks ago they won the Saskatchewan Drama Association Region 5 festival, which means they advance to the Provincial festival that begins tomorrow in Regina. I'm so proud of what these students have achieved with the play and I'm honoured that they will be representing my work on the Provincial stage.

I was immediately struck by how deeply they connected with the material (which deals with teen issues) and how seriously they've taken the responsibility of getting its message across. But what impressed me the most was how they've also embraced the comedic aspects of the play in addition to the serious moments. I was deeply moved by the way the actors were able to make me laugh one moment and cry the next. So many productions of this play, as well as many other topical teen plays, are handled far too seriously from beginning to end. This inevitably turns them into the dreaded "problem play" - preachy, didactic, and far too melancholy for an audience to invest in the characters. Such is not the case with Southey's hilarious interpretation. They managed to blend comedy with drama in a beautiful way that invites the audience into the production rather than turning them away. I was truly blown away and can't wait to see the impact they have on an audience of their peers from around the province.

If you happen to be in Regina this weekend, Southey performs I Don't Want to Talk About It Friday afternoon at 1:00pm at the Riddell Centre, located on the University of Regina campus. I will be there, front and center, and hope to see you there! Trust me when I say that this cast and crew is going to leave you with plenty to talk about.