Now that I’m back in Toronto, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon my personal top five favourite productions. By celebrating the breathtaking moments, performances, and emotions I experienced, hopefully my readers that were not able to be in Regina will be transported to the Riddell Centre stage, and those that were in Regina transported back. In no particular order...
THE HOTEL – Hanley School – For the second time in as many years, Hanley School won Best Overall Production for an original play written by Leanne Griffin. Last year they knocked my socks off with the moving drama Dust. This year they tickled those same socks by changing gears entirely and presenting a hysterical comedy. As soon as the spooky green lights came up on a chorus of ghosts dancing to Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-oo,” I knew I was looking at the winner. And the play only got better from there, with a kooky cast of odd-balls causing mayhem in a haunted Saskatchewan hotel. Over-the-top hardly begins to describe the performances because “the-top” in question kept getting higher and higher as one wacky scene after another piled on top of one another. Cast member Lauren Griffin, as the spastic and perpetually unhinged ingénue, was particularly noteworthy. She gleefully flitted about the stage with delirious enthusiasm and double-jointed elasticity, reminiscent of Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman and Kate McKinnon, all rolled up into one. I'm still laughing.
CIRCUS FIRE – Lampman School – Ambitious theatrical endeavour are the three best words I can use to describe this lavish recreation of a Barnum and Bailey circus that was engulfed in flames on July 6, 1944. Written by Janet Munsil and directed by Christine Branyik-Thornton, this was a dazzling production that boldly incorporated every theatrical trick in the book. It was a master class in lighting, sound, pantomime, acrobatics, characterization, set design, staging, and I could go on and on and on. The entire production clearly started with a singular vision, and every choice made was in service of that vision. I found myself giddy as I watched the cheerful opening passages, astonished by the miraculous second act imagery, and trembling during the catastrophic conclusion. I rode a tidal wave of emotions that haunted and delighted me long after the final whiff of smoke rose from the smouldering Big Top.
BEHIND A MICROPHONE – Luther College High School – Written, directed, and performed by the Luther College High School students, and carefully guided by drama teacher Kris Dueck, this extraordinarily ambitious production blew me away as soon as the lights came up on the enormous cast. Seeing such a huge ensemble of actors fill the stage, and remain omnipresent as one vignette after another emerged from among them, was such an overwhelming visual that they hardly needed to speak in order to make an impact. With so many actors, so many scenes, and so many ideas, the production did have a somewhat “messy” quality to it. At times this worked in its favour, while at others it could have used some editing and focus. However, I’m a firm believer in throwing theatrical spaghetti against the wall just to see what sticks, and far more stuck to the stage than did slither away into the pit. I could see there was a truly great play up there somewhere, and yet the writers left it up to each audience member to discover which moments landed, rather than making those decisions for them. In that sense, every single person in the auditorium saw an entirely different play. Whether by design or by accident, that’s what I call an astounding achievement.
MOVING – Kamsack Comprehensive Institute – On its exterior, there is not much to this comedy about five girls getting ready for a date, and yet I was totally smitten with Kamsack’s lovely production. They took a relatively simple play and produced the very best possible version of that play, which is no simple task, and why I fell in love with it at regional festival in Esterhazy. When done correctly, less can be infinitely more. Director Krystal Deveau elevated the play far beyond what’s on the page by incorporating scene changes, special effects, and even a fantasy sequence, all while remaining faithful to the playwright’s intent. I’m not sure if an audience member that had not read the script could fully appreciate all that this company added to the storytelling, but I sure did. Most impressive, however, was the solid connection between the five talented actresses. They seemed to read each other’s minds, rapidly firing off dialogue while tending to inventive physical business that never let up. Their exuberant energy made me smile then, and the memory of all five cavorting around the colourful piñata of a set makes me smile now.
STAGE FOUR – Swift Current Comprehensive High School – This original play, written by director Stefan Rumpel, had such a clever premise that it was able to overcome a few minor technical glitches and clunky scene changes. The high concept idea of a character with stage four Cancer grappling with the stages of grief by playing through the stages of a videogame was expertly embraced by the crew and cast, both visually and emotionally. The realistic world of hospital gowns and IV poles was juxtaposed by an alternate universe of loincloths and laser shields. I was particularly impressed by the awesome costumes and make-up. This production gave the audience two completely distinct worlds in which to lose themselves. I was delighted when they were awarded runner-up to Best Visual Production. By turns hopeful and tragic, through an equal measure of laughter and tears, this production was well played from “Press Start” to “Game Over.”
There are so many other moments and performances that moved and inspired me – among them Karlee Omoth’s astounding portrayal of Holocaust survivor Marianne in Indian Head School’s Goodbye Marianne, the inventive stunts devised by the superheroes in Carpenter High School’s To Be Continued…, the honest and remarkably mature portrayal of teenage sex by Walter Murray Collegiate’s If You Really Love Me..., the visual impact of Vanier Collegiate’s futuristic Match, the super creepy conclusion to LP Miller Comprehensive's Lockdown, the disturbing dream sequence in Kelliher School's The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note, and the exuberant spirit of Pinehouse Lake’s production of my own play Epic Fail.
I could literally keep writing about this for hours, which is why I set a 1,000 word count limit for this blog entry (which I’ve already exceeded). So I will end this here, and start counting down the days to Provincial Festival 2018…