Tuesday, October 16

Moved from Blogger

i’ve moved my blogging from blogger to wordpress. You can now find me at annekenstein.com

Tuesday, September 4

Rob Reviews: Anne & Gilbert the Musical

”Best year ever!”

 “The cast this year is amazing!”

 “New changes really work!”

 That’s the buzz that’s going around for this year’s production of Anne & Gilbert the Musical, playing at The Guild until the fourth horseman arrives.

“But what’s Rob’s buzz about it”, you ask. Read on!

 tl;dr - It’s really great, you should see it.

 It’s really great, you should see it. This is a very strong year for Anne & Gilbert the Musical, bouyed by a very strong cast, and sharp direction.

 That said, I’ve always had “story” issues with A&G. The first act is basically everybody waiting around for Anne to realize she’s in love with Gilbert. Not much else really happens. Second act is a new crop of characters waiting around for Anne to realize she’s in love with Gilbert. A bit of stuff happens. And through it all, anything that does happen seems to be through the veil of “how does this affect Anne’s ability to realize she loves Gilbert”.  Just a bit of an “Oh no, I lopped my hand off at the wrist! I wonder if THIS will make Anne see she loves Gilbert!” going on.

I guess, though, that’s the price of having your name in the title of the show.

 Thankfully, these “waiting around” parts of the show are full of wonderful songs, plenty of dancing, great acting, terrific dialogue and lots of fun.

 Now for the part that the actors skim to, to find their name in the review (assuming anyone bothers to read this at all)

 Rebecca Parent plays Anne to perfection. Willful, assured and in denial. That she finds 150 different ways to lie “I’m not in love with Gilbert Blythe” is a wonder.  And of course, a terrific singer.

 Josh Wiles, as Gilbert, adds a depth to Gil’s conviction of love that I often found lacking in other actors’ portrayals of the character. And it turns out that depth of conviction really adds an emotional investment and empathy, at least from this audience member’s perspective. And of course, a terrific singer.

 Rebecca Griffin wonderfully amps up the playfulness in Diana Barry. She is really good in this role, a pinnacle for future Dianas to attempt to emulate. If I was to have a very minor quibble, I would say I wasn’t quite as much a fan of her non-speaking portrayal of a tertiary collegiate student in Act Two. A bit too much comic face acting for my tastes.

 Like Rebecca, Melissa McKenzie as Josie Pye is phenomenal, a totally captivating presence whenever on stage.  Through her performance, because of the genuineness and believability she brings to the character, I realized, this time watching, that Josie Pye is really the only character who truly changes and grows, from beginning of show to end of show.   Am I wrong to find this sort of problematic, from a theatrical point of view?

 Morgan Wagner as Phillipa Gordon is, quite simply, masterful. Her talents make her a joy to watch.  And I suppose Phillipa is another character who changes in her time on stage, but her change is more an invention and convention of the plot than honest character growth.

 Brandon Howard Roy is a super Royal Gardner. Often played as a villain of the story, this performance was successful in bringing empathy to the character. In all the times I’ve seen the show, it’s the first time I felt bad for Royal when Anne dumps him.

 Shout out to Brennan Smith for his charming portrayal of Paul Irving. And kudos to the whole young company for being engaged and professional after 99 shows under your belts.

 Cathy Grant as Marilla Cuthbert and Margot Sampson as Rachel Lyndeh are both very good. I feel, however, that they don’t strike as much a chord of connection with audiences this year because of the overall heightened comedic choices in direction.

 Overall, Mark Fraser’s direction is on point. As is the choreography from Brittany Banks, and music direction from Aaron Crane. The show moves at a brisk pace, hits all the right notes, never drags.  It is truly a marvel of theatrics that so much happens in such a small, intimate space like The Guild.

I can’t fault Mark’s choice to amp up the comedic moments wherever possible, but a few times I think the comedy lessens the impact of some potentially emotional moments.

 If you’re a fan of this musical, or any musical, or a fan of theatre in general, and quality, professional theatre in particular, you really should go see this year’s production of Anne & Gilber the Musical.

It really is a very strong production and I have no doubt you’ll really, really enjoy it.

Saturday, August 4

Rob Reviews Some Fringe

I’ve been on a theatre-watching binge this week. Anne of Green Gables the Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, and then, Thursday night I dove into an Island Fringe Festival four-show marathon.

These are my thoughts:

First show I saw was Half A Star, written and performed by Justin Shaw and Benton Hartley, playing at the Charlottetown Legion (more on the venue later). Full-disclosure, both have been in Popalopalots Improv Comedy with me, still perform with us sometimes when they’re on the Island, and I even like one of them.

Half A Star is a brisk, quick-paced two-hander about a theatrical best-friendship that goes sour after the duo gets a Half-Star review in the Toronto Star. The show follows the journey as both explain what happened, what went wrong, and asks whether they can ever return to that friendship again.

It’s a smart, fun, snappy, thought-provoking piece of work. Both performers are easily up to task in their roles, and, while the show seems loose (there’s even a segment of improv), the dialogue is tight and quick, the performances effervescent. They are both on top of their roles, and on top of their games.  Some really nice acting moments from both of them, both individually and when together in a couple of more touching moments. And plenty of funny lines and moments too!
I have a couple of small gripes with the production.  Maybe not so small. I did find the blocking to be a bit much. A bit too much frenetic moving around the stage by both actors as they speak to the members of the audience. Often it worked quite well, but for some of it, there didn’t seem to be any motivation behind it, other than “moving for movement’s sake”. I also wasn’t a fan of the choice, when reprising their show that garnered the half a star, of playing themselves as bad, stiff, uninspired actors.  I think it’d have been more impactful if they both went uber-actor, acting the shit out of the dialogue of the play within this play, going way over the top, overplaying emotions rather than ignoring emotions as bad actors would. They went small with the bad acting choice, and I think it’d be much more fun to go big.

Small gripes. And neither took away from what is a really fun and really well-performed fringe show.  You should definitely see it.


Second show I saw was The Satan Show, also at The Charlottetown Legion, written by David Stewart and Laura Chapin, directed by Stewart, and starring Chapin and Nicholas Whelan.  Full-disclosure: Dave is among my closest friends, we’ve created several things together, and he had me do a bit of dramaturgy on this show. Laura is someone I also know, and consider a friend.  I don’t really know Nicholas as a person, but am familiar with his drag persona Whatshername.

The Satan Show is about a woman named Susan who, in an attempt to find out why she’s such a hot mess, visits a psychiatrist who turns out to be Satan.  She blames Satan for all her faults, and Satan spends the rest of this funny play getting her to realize that people have choices and it’s up to us what choices we make.

This is a very funny play. Lots of terrific one-liners and throwaway lines from each character.  It actually has a good message, but isn’t about that message. Laura Chapin is something of a revelation in her role. She plays her wacky, weird, somewhat unhinged woman with balls out, full-steam ahead. She really looks like she’s relishing the freedom to be overtly stupid, smart, sexual, intoxicated, horny, and more. I was struck at how expressive her face is, a wonderful clown-like ability to express the the very apexes of various emotions just with her facial features. She was very funny.  And, when needed, she nailed the smaller moments too. Nicholas Whelan plays Satan much more subdued, as it’s written - the straight-man (so to speak) in this comedy pairing. His character is there very much to facilitate the wild swings of emotion that Susan offers and yet he manages to equal Chapin’s lunacy the couple of times the script calls for it. He does a great job keeping the show grounded, and absolutely nailed the many opportunities he had for funny lines, hilarious asides. The duo really does compliment each other really well.

They did have a couple of line hiccups the night I saw them, but they handled them like real pros, and it didn’t take away from the performances at all.  I whole-heartedly endorse this show and you should definitely see it.


About the Charlottetown Legion as a fringe festival venue: I like the concept of this festival, of putting on plays in unconventional spaces. But they really need to be sure that the spaces want the plays in their space, that they respect what is happening.  This didn’t occur with either Half A Star or The Satan Show at the Legion. It was pretty much business as usual during both performances, with people maybe 30 feet away playing jackpot machines, conversations between patrons and barkeep happening at the bar. Just a real lack of respect (likely out of just not knowing) for the performances that were happening.  During Half A Star there were a couple of minutes where the bartender was counting change or something, which caused a continual clang clang clang of loonies and toonies clinking against each other. During The Satan Show, the karaoke people started to set up their equipment, maybe 20 feet away, dropping heavy equipment on tables, moving tables across the floor, scraping and noisy as they go.  Really, just not acceptable as a proper venue. Fortunately the shows are both very engaging and the disturbances are easier to ignore because of the great things happening on stage. Hopefully the venue improves as the festival goes on.


The third show I saw on Thursday was Cocktails: Olivia Face, written and performed by Olivia Face, a drag personality well-known around our city and beyond.  Playing at The Luxury Market (a lovely Fringe venue), it’s really a story-telling journey through the life of the person who created Olivia - how they became who they are now. (I’m not sure if I’m supposed to share the real-life name of Olivia - if that’s a drag no-no, so I won’t, just in case)
I was not prepared for the seemingly endless stories of this life.  Wildly interesting stories, with many extraordinary mentions merely tossed off as throwaway moments - like the "oh by the way" casualness about living in a trailer at a mini-golf course. I’d love to hear more in depth explorations of some of these asides. The show is full of interesting and surprising revelations, plenty of funny lines and moments and a couple of pretty sober and horrifying stories.  Olivia’s face when she smiles knowingly after she’s said something and then waits for the audience to catch up is eternally charming.
My only criticism of this show is I wish it was shaped a bit better.  While I appreciated the off-the-cuff looseness of “what’ll I talk about next”, I couldn’t help but think how terrific this show could be if the stories were chosen in a structure that created a definite emotional or narrative arc from beginning to end.  I also found some of the stories, while still interesting, were vaguely told and ended without a punch or point. I was also surprised that there was really no insight as to how the personality of Olivia Face came to be. Again, I think if the show was sculpted a bit more, Olivia could find a way to make every moment of the hour very impactful and pointed.
But that’s not what this show is. Olivia stated that each iteration of her show through the festival would likely have different stories, and I really do appreciate that goal. I can easily endorse this show and, like the first two in this review, you really should go see Cocktails: Olivia Face.


The final show of this long night was Realizations, playing at the Charlottetown Yoga Studio. Full-disclosure: My son Cameron is in this play, as are several people I know from, like, living my life.
This show is written by Kandace Hagen and directed by Rory Starkman.  Honestly, I was very wary to see this show. I was nervous about what I might see, based solely on the marketing for this play, which is nicely summed up by this quote: “‘Realizations’ is a transitional story that exposes the politics and negotiation of one’s sexual awakening in a culture controlled by heteronormativity. It explores the blatancies and nuances of rape culture, based on a series of true events.”
I guess I understand the reasons behind the choice to use this kind of language, but, except perhaps to a select group, I would assume for most this description is something of a turn-off.  

It definitely was for me.  It’s a very dry, very carefully crafted statement.  It is not very inviting. There’s no warmth in it. It’s something I’d expect to see in a grant proposal, but not as marketing for a play.  I was afraid I’d see a play full of statistics, long tedious monologues by overly-righteous and angry characters, and more statistics. I also get wary when productions declare themselves “important” - surely that is for others to decide, yes? Based entirely on the marketing, I was expecting to see something a bit tedious and self-important. So, yeah, I was hesitant.

The thing is, for me, the marketing really, really misrepresents what is presented.
Realizations is a terrifically written, excellently performed, expertly directed piece of work.  Despite the difficult and touchy subject matter, it is a warm, moving, touching, well-paced, engaging play that brings you into Molly’s world as they struggle to find out who they are.  Yes, there are plenty of moments of characters acting horrifically to one another, some scenes of simulated violence and sexual agression, but, again, I thought the marketing - which warned of such things - was a bit overstated compared to what actually appears on the stage.  I suppose that’s because I’m a CIS white male, and personally haven’t been in situations depicted on stage. And while I found those scenes very effective and affecting, I was never in danger of needing to flee the room, or seek counselling, as was offered. In that respect, I realize this play wasn’t written for me. And  I understand that there are whole reams of people who have been in those situations, and the scenes would obviously affect them much more. So, yeah, I just talked myself out of that last point I was trying to make. Still, I’m trying to review this show through the critical eye I am stuck with, and feel it needs to be said.

Enough about the questions about how it was marketed. How was the play?  Like I stated above, I thought it was terrific. Smartly written. I was afraid at times early on that I was watching something scripted to be seen by high-school kids at an assembly, but the play quickly wrote itself out of those situations and found a really mature place to exist. Rory Starkman’s direction made sure the play never lapsed, continually and easily kept my rapt attention. Kudos to them for so successfully pointing this show on track and keeping it moving towards its end goal.

The acting from all involved is so very good.  Absolutely everyone nailed their performance. A play like this could easily be torture if not performed by capable actors (and, honestly, a bit of me expected to be tortured by some of the acting, but it was all so very good!)
Marli Trecartin (sorry if that’s not the correct spelling, but I find the font choice in the program hard to read) as Older Molly is very strong. Easy and affable, her very presence forces us to like her, to feel for her. Through many flashback scenes to the Younger Molly she remains on stage, an omni-present figure in this story being told.  She did a superb job of being present in these moments but not directing focus or attention towards her until the story demanded it. Really a great performance.
Hannah McGaughey (sorry, font issues) was amazing. Like, Oh My God good. Seemingly effortless transitions between wildly divergent emotions, in a heartbeat, and always nailing the performance, always right there in the moment. Honest and true, and charming, and despicable and infuriating.  I’m sure some of that is the excellent character created by Hagen, but it takes talent to translate the words into a real human character, and Hannah proved to be beyond capable.
I’m lumping Kate Dempsey (as Toni), Cameron MacDonald (as Ian, Ryan & Tommy), Sophie MacLean (as Izzy, Jessi & Austin), Richard Haines (as Old Man & David), and Rachel MacLeod (as Mom, Lydia) all together, not because they don’t all deserve their own special recognition for the wonderful performances they crafted, but simply because it would take too long to compliment each.  All of them were wonderfully on point with their performances and should each be commended for their good work. I did feel the male characters that Haines and MacDonald played were a bit one-dimensional (not in performance but in purpose), but that’s what their roles were about, so not really a problem. Well done, guys, in less-than-likeable roles. I fell in love with Toni. Found Izzy, Jessi and Austin to be unrepentantly charming. Was a bit underwhelmed by Mom, but absolutely enjoyed roommate Lydia.  All terrific. Kudos to all!
Which leaves Sam MacDonald.  I’ve performed with Sam a couple of times in comedic roles, and I’m sure he’d agree that he is not that experienced when it comes to acting.  Which is why it was such a shock - a wonderful shock - to me to see Sam’s Marcus enter later in the show and almost steal it. I am struggling to remember ever watching a more honest, simple, true, easy performance on a PEI stage.  I am coming up empty. I thought Sam was absolutely marvelous. Maybe part of it was direction and/or writing, but Sam totally nailed every moment as the jilted partner. I couldn’t get over how he took his time at times, to allow the emotion of the moment to affect him (ha, maybe it was just him trying to remember lines!).  His performance was just so nuanced, haunted, well-paced, honest and real. Was it just me, or do others feel like that too?

There is a tradition I hate in PEI theatre of rewarding a Standing Ovation to any old peice of theatre. I am often loathe to sit there, as those around me stand and applaud and cheer wildly something I don’t think deserves The Stand.  So, I take my Standing Ovations very seriously. This week, I gladly stood and ovated twice. The first was at Jesus Christ Superstar, and the second was at Realizations.
So, obviously, I think you absolutely should see this piece of theatre - not because it’s important, but because it’s great.

Friday, August 3

Rob’s 828 Word Review of Jesus Christ Superstar

I had never seen any production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I had heard some music from cast recordings and I didn’t care for it. Too fake-rocky or something. So going into the theatre to see the Confederation Centre of the Arts Charlottetown Festival production of JCS, I was prepared to not be impressed.


From the first note from the orchestra - which was amazing and brilliant and tight (and totally rocked when it was called for) - to the wonderful use of the beautiful set, to the last fade out from the exquisite lighting design, I was absolutely, totally, entirely transfixed and hooked and absorbed. I was surprised by how much I loved this production.
Seriously, it is the most impressive piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen the Star Trek episode snippet from Raised on TV 2!!)

I cannot imagine the cast performing any better than they did. I was wondering whether the Wednesday night performance I saw was one they high-fived themselves for afterwards, or was it simply run of the mill for them. At absolutely every moment, everyone on stage, absolutely everyone, seemed to be one-hundred percent invested in what they were doing, totally committed to what they were doing in each and every moment. I kept watching the players in the ensemble, amazed at how “into it” they constantly were. When performers who are playing characters who may not have names are busting their asses so hard and adding so much to every scene they are in, well I truly appreciated that.

Lee Siegel as Judas was the first to knock my socks off. (At the beginning of the show, I was wearing maybe two dozen pairs of socks in my sandals, and by the end I was barefoot). First of all, his voice is beyond incredible. My words cannot do it justice.  His personality on stage is magnetic, you are drawn to him. He is a fierce performer. So impressed.
Aaron Hastelow as Jesus Christ is terrific. Again, what a voice!  There are a few times when he reaches notes that must be at the extreme end of his upper range, and I got goosebumps. He was great throughout but really shone during the second act. I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but in this performance as Jesus Christ, Aaron Hastelow absolutely nails it.
Greg Gale as Caiaphas has an impressively booming bass voice, perfectly suited for the character, whose domineering presence is supremely enhanced by costuming. He was my wife’s favourite. One of my problems with genres like rock opera is that sometimes people have to sing lines that just don’t sound like they should be sung. Lines of dialogue that don’t scan into any musical rhyme scheme, but nonetheless must be sung. His character, I think, perhaps has the most lines like that, and he does an excellent job with them.
Brendan Wall as Pontius Pilate was great, and every line and movement from him hinted to me at some sort of mischievous backstory for the character. That Pilate guy has a lot going on, I’m guessing, and I appreciate Brendan’s talents to make me wonder more about the character (as portrayed by him).  That he looks a bit like Morrissey only adds to the character’s mystery.
Cameron MacDuffee as King Herod - and his accompanying posse - is wonderful and fun as the show takes a bit of a left turn into burlesque and comedy.  A friend of mine said they wished this portion of the show could be performed twice in a row so they could catch all the wonderful action that is going on, and I agree.
Hailey Gillis has some really lovely moments as Mary Magdalene, especially when alone with JC.  
(The female voice is vastly under-represented in this show, but that’s the problem when history is written by men. Kudos to the casting for finding ways to bring women into more roles than the writers - or history - probably intended.)

I cannot stress enough how wonderful absolutely everyone in the cast were in the performance I saw.  Honestly, I cannot imagine the production being performed any better than what I saw.

Which brings me to its director, Adam Brazier.  This guy! I don’t know how he does it. He seems so casual and relaxed when I speak with him.  Then he turns around and creates another production that blows me away with artistry, beauty, emotion and power. We really do have someone special in our midst here, and I am humbled by his artistry.
This production raises the bar on what we should expect from the Charlottetown Festival going forward.

I know PEI doesn’t have any awards for theatre, but if we did, what Adam Brazier and all the creatives involved in putting this show together would easily win all the awards.
Except for the Top Pop Award for Improv - that would go to someone from the Popalopalots - not me though, I never with Top Pop.

Tuesday, July 31

Anne of Green Gables the Musical 2018 Review

Before last night, I’m not sure when was the last time I saw the Confederation Centre of the Arts Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables the Musical. No doubt it was when you could still play Bill Cosby comedy albums to a room full of people. The notion of a black or female president of the United States was still a fantasy, and the sour smell of Canada Rocks and its stillborn offspring still permeated the acoustic tortilla chips hanging above the Homburg Theatre audience.

In the 15 or so years previous to that, I had seen AoGGtM many, many times. Firstly, because it’s a musical I love. Secondly, there were years where I would watch it specifically to study the characters, the dialogue, the choreography, the minutiae of moments that might make a funny scene or idea for Annekenstein.  To say I was very familiar with every line, every movement, every note of every song, every bit of funny business would be an understatement. I KNEW Anne of Green Gables the Musical.

Which is likely why I stopped going to see it. I don’t know whether I grew tired of it, or that it grew tiresome, but my desire to see each year’s faithful adaption of the previous year’s production waned. Despite the annual claims of exciting new changes to the production, it often turned out to be nothing more than a different shade of umber splashed on a scrim, a light design that tried valiantly to bring a new look to the stage, or a slightly different take on a tertiary character like Mr. Phillips. Not really enough to warrant repeated viewings, I decided.  Anne of Green Gables Never Change, indeed!

So when I began hearing that THIS year’s production was a must-see; that the changes THIS year were actual, real changes; that the show THIS year was fresh and exciting and renewed, I was skeptical. Yet, the curiosity got to me and I became intrigued enough to once again visit the Charlottetown Festival’s version of Avonlea and see what’s what.

Well, holy smokes! How great is this year’s AoGGtM? It’s supremely great, is the answer.  Real, actual, wonderful, exciting changes! I had heard about the new, rotating stage and was thrilled to see it in action, well-utilized in a number of dance numbers, but absolutely revolutionary in bringing the Green Gables home to life.  I had heard the house of Green Gables set was new - and I’d been ready to be disappointed, fooled again by promises from this show that never changes. But it really is a new set design - not just the house scenes (which are exquisite), but all throughout the production. With this design, they’ve found new ways to play with and in and around the stage.

The music is, and was, and always will be a joy.  A criicism of the show is that it’s somewhat dated, the music old-fashioned. Personally, I embrace the style of music and relish every note. Practically every song is supremely catchy, the lyrics smart and clever and affecting. It is terrific music. It is in my bones. (I worry about the year when they add more current sounds to the score, although I am always ready to hit the stage with Annekenstein’s “Ice Cream Rap”, which could easily replace “Ice Cream” at the end of Act One.)

I don’t know dancing from data input so I can’t really comment on that aspect of the show, other than to say I quite enjoyed the dance numbers although I think the show could lose at least one of them from Act Two. This is a problem with the script, though, as I think (and always thought) Act Two is pretty weak in terms of a dramatic push. I always thought it was a weird and strange place/way to end the show, like it was setting up for a third act that never comes.  I suppose, though, the third act is materialized in the two acts of Anne & Gilbert the Musical playing at The Guild.

The cast is strong and sharp.  
AJ Bridel as Anne Shirley is, quite honestly, the best I’ve ever seen. And it’s not even close.  THIS is the Anne Shirley I now realize I’ve been waiting all my life to see. Her honest enthusiasm, joyful exuberance, and depth of emotion the character requires is inspiring to witness. I really appreciated how she subtly had the character mature throughout the production, simply through voice and body stature.
Shawn Wright is very, very good as Matthew Cuthbert (a role I’ve coveted for years) and I quite like the playful business they’ve added to his role.
I’m of the age where I still unfairly compare the current Marilla to Elizabeth Mawson and the current Diana to Glenda Landry. I appreciated Susan Henley’s Marilla for bringing a greater range of emotions to the character, making her more “real”. Mawson played the character’s stoicism to the hilt, which made her rendition of “The Words” always a powerful tear-jerker, when she finally showed emotion. Henley’s Marilla was more free with her emotions throughout the show, and so the impact of her version of The Words wasn’t as potent as I’m used to. However, I have never seen that song acted as well as she performed it, and from now on it will be this performance that I use to unfairly compare to future Marillas.
I wish the universe could work in such a way that every performance of AoGGtM could have Glenda Landry magically appear as Diana Barry just for the line “Anne! Your hair. It’s… green!”.  It will, for me, always be Glenda’s line. So while I was thinking of Glenda’s Diana at the start of that scene in particular, by the end of it, Katie Kerr’s drunken Diana had completely won me over.  She was absolutely pitch perfect in the role throughout the production.
J.J. Gerber was solid as Gilbert Blythe, with a standout voice. I could listen to him sing “Wondrin’” all night long. Tara Jackson superbly filled the puffed sleeves of Miss Stacey - I absolutely love the uptempo jazzy ending of Open the Windows. She makes it absolutely fly!  Brittany Banks is perfect as Josie Pye - sparkly, mischievous eyes that can be seen all the way back in row K.

A huge congratulations, and thank you, to Adam Brazier for directing this exciting new version of Anne of Green Gables the Musical, and to the entire cast, company and crew.  You brought so much that is new to this old stalwart of the Charlottetown Festival, without losing the heart and soul of what makes this show so special. So many new tiny moments and gags, lots of new humour and brand new ways to express and display those many iconic moments we’ve all seen so many times.

This year it really is true! This production of Anne of Green Gables the Musical is absolutely, positively a must-see.

Sunday, April 1

Gong Demon - Popalopathon - An Apology

Below, you will find a link to the video where it all started to go wrong. 
You will also find my apology for taking us to a place (emotionally, mentally) we found not easy to escape. 
In hindsight, I believe (being one who doesn't believe in such things) that a minor demon may have actually been summoned, and it was he who took us to that dark place.

We were, I don't know, 21 hours into our Popalopalots improv marathon for the QEH Foundation.  Presented by The Guild, and title sponsor Coldwell Banker Parker Realty.  Of course we were all very tired.  We were hanging by threads, each of all of us with only one goal - make it to 10pm.  Not even. Make it to 8pm and the last two hours would be a breeze.  Make it to 8pm.

2 or 3 hours, then. And then 2 more. After already improvising for 20+ hours.  We could do it.  We would do it.

And then the Gong Demon showed up.

We had just been wonderfully elevated and energized by a guest appearance by 4 of the members of Side Hustle, an all-female improv troupe here in Charlottetown.  We all played some games in a competitive type of atmosphere, and it seemed to go quite well.  Lots of energy, lots of fun - we could do it.

And then the Gong Demon showed up.

After the wonderfully elevated and energized momentum provided by Side Hustle, came the natural collapse.  It wasn't unexpected, not by me.  I was ready for more of that low-energy, let's-just-survive-until-8pm.  Nobody wanted to go out on that stage and make up any more scenes, but we all knew we had to if we were to get to 8pm. And then 2 more.

It was a state of mind where you were so happy when somebody else took the heroic step onto that stage - completely devoid of the expectation of being entertaining - only to step onto that stage to be the body that was on stage to ensure that something was happening on that stage, that the show was still, technically, happening.  So happy that someone else took that bullet. So happy you would cry.

But we all knew that in order for the group to survive, we'd each be taking many more bullets. Each would be stepping out onto the stage, being that body - that empty vessel, that technicality - that ensured we were fulfilling our self-imposed 26-hour obligation.

And the Gong Demon was waiting for its moment to pounce.

At this particular moment, both Cameron and I were the takers of bullets.  We both had stepped out there onto that stage, allowing the others to be happy it wasn't them.

We got the suggestion "junkyard".  A perfectly wonderful suggestion.  So much potential for something interesting to happen at a junkyard.

And now, before I get to speaking about the video in question - about what transpired in my head - I'd like to make my apologies.

First off, to Cameron, who was the first-hand recipient of my "turn".  I am sorry.  It started off as a bit of "is this real or is this a game?" type of theatre that I adore.  I learned quite quickly that this can be a dangerous type of theatre when the participants are so bloody tired.

Next, to the rest of the Popalopalots. I am sorry. I am sorry that what transpired took us to a dark place that ended up being almost impossible to climb out of.  I always appreciate your willingness to accept my "is this real life" side-tracks.  Or maybe it's not a willingness, but rather an accepting of inevitability.  While still appreciative, I now know how quickly my explorations can change the energy, and how difficult it can be to return from the dark energy that such selfish indulgences can be.

To the audience that experienced it first hand.  I am truly sorry if I caused you to feel any uncomfortableness.  I usually don't mind making an audience uncomfortable - in fact, I often seek it - but this ended up in a too-ugly place.

To the audience that experienced the dull, lifeless, defeated improv scenes that occurred in the couple of hours immediately after the Gong Demon showed, I am sorry you ended up seeing such shitty entertainment.  I place the blame entirely upon myself.

Now, onto an examination of the video, in some attempt to explain how my thought process worked to get us to that ugly situation where I needed to leave the stage and figuratively bath myself in a bottle of demon-exorcising water.

The junkyard.

R: what type of model?
C: Oh a three.

This is where the first seeds of negativity started growing.  Inside my brain, I was a bit disappointed that Cameron said "a three".  "Don't you know any models of cars?", my tired brain thought.  I was surprised at which my brain thought this.  Somewhere deep in there was likely a disappointment in myself for not teaching him more as his father.

R: A French model?
C: Can you do a Belgian French?

Look at my body language right after Cameron asks for Belgian French. My body is speaking this: Why are you making this so difficult for us?  We're in a junkyard, this should be easy. Alright, let's just continue.

Listen to our words.  How slurred they are.  How difficult it seems just to complete simple sentences.  That's how tired we are.  We are both taking multiple bullets, while the others in the group are allowed to disengage and recover enough to be ready to step up next.

C: I thought you were summoning me.

I'll admit this sudden sharp turn threw me for a loop.  It's a turn that Cameron often employs, taking things into more abstract realms. Usually I am all for them, excited to step up to the challenge. But this time, I was not ready for it. In fact, I was shocked that he took this turn at all.  Did he not know how tired I was?  I was so shocked, all I could do was repeat his nonsense:

R: You thought I was summoning you?

I think I was hoping my question and its disbelieving, disapproving tone would elicit the following response from Cameron:  "No, that would be stupid and unnecessary at this point. Really, I'm just looking for hubcaps for a Renault 330."

But that's not what he said next.  What he said next was this:

C: I'm a Gong Demon.

Now, to be fair, this normally should be a perfectly acceptable sharp turn to take in an improv scene.  But I wasn't ready for it, and I certainly didn't want to encourage it.  Not at this point in an improv marathon where my immediate need was to find this character some hubcaps for a Renault 330, finish the scene, and get off the stage, sit down and silently weep while somebody else heroically stepped up to the plate.

A great many things went through my brain in the quarter second of silence that followed his utterance of Gong Demon.  I now believe that one of those things was the summoning of an actual demon.
I don't know if it was my character, or me who said:

R: Oh Jesus Christ.

I'm pretty sure it was the demon who forced me to say it though.  I also know it was the truest line of dialogue I've ever uttered, in that it truly communicated how I (or my character, I don't know) was feeling.
Okay, yes I know. It was me.  It was me who said "Oh Jesus Christ".  My character would never return to that scene.  The rest of it was played by a character named Rob MacDonald.

The next second and a half, I just had to move, had to get away from Cameron.  Was I afraid I was going to punch him for sharp-turning into "gong demon" at this point in the marathon?  Somewhere down deep inside me a character named Rob MacDonald was shouting "well played", a character named Rob MacDonald was moaning loud curled up in a fetal position, a character named Rob MacDonald was stomping around in fury knocking over breakable objects.
I didn't know which of these Rob MacDonalds was going to make the next appearance.

It wasn't until Cameron's next line, where the decision was made.

C: You got a problem with gong demons?

Only Cameron knows for sure, but Rob MacDonald instantly made the assumption that that question wasn't being posed by his character, but it was actually Cameron asking me. Rob MacDonald took it as a challenge.  Inside his brain Rob MacDonald was screaming "I sure do have a problem with gong demons when they show up at this point in an improv marathon, fucker!!" Maybe there was some sort of "can't keep up with me, old man?" psychological aspect happening too?
Whatever it was - me being tired, a demon possessing me or the room or the souls of everyone in that room, the possibility that maybe it was just a shitty improv sharp turn - whatever it was revealed itself in my response:

R: Huh.

Psychologists, scholars and experts could likely debate for years how to interpret that "huh" and my stillness that followed, but there are emotions and feelings and thoughts and avenues of inevitability in those three letters "h" "u" "h" and that stillness- enough to fill volumes of books - as my next decision was made, or thrust upon me.

R: 25 hours into an improv scene, yeah, I have a problem with gong demons.

It got a laugh.  Maybe that was the worst thing.  It got a laugh, and that, of course, propelled me onto the next tirade.
The next tirade was the catalyst for the next few hours of awkward emotions and soul searching by all of us.  I can't be sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if another laugh didn't land in that room for 2 hours.
For that, I apologize.

Was it real? Of course it was real.  Of course I was frustrated and angry tired and wanted to go home and go to bed and needed to lash out.
Was it an act? Of course it was an act.  Of course I needed explore where this would take us, because somewhere at the beginning of it, there was a laugh and of course it wasn't real even though it was because it turned into an art piece.

What I should have realized was that because we were all so tired, all so on edge, so fragile, that I had no right to attempt such an experiment at such a time.

Or maybe I can blame it on the gong demon.

Popalopathon 2018 - The Gong Demon

Monday, February 12

How to Write Comedy for a PEI Audience

I’ve never been good at math. (Insert your own “Not good with math? He must be from PEI” joke here.) But I have managed to calculate that I’ve been poking fun at PEI, in a quasi-professional way, for well over 25 years. (insert your “never heard of him” comment here.) And by "quasi-professional" I mean "amateur" as in "never getting paid".

Over those years I have learned a few things on how to create comedy for the PEI audience. I thought it might be worthwhile to share my knowledge with you.

Lesson One: Localized Layering

The first rule of comedy for a PEI audience is to get on their good side.  But don't make it obvious.  For example, what I’ve cleverly done in that first paragraph, unbeknownst to you, the typical Islander, is I’ve endeared myself to you. By parenthetically indicating that I, like you, have a sub-par education because of our Island’s educational system (always good for a laugh), I’ve quashed any suspicions of my own grandeur.  In short, what I've done is I've inferred that I, like you, am nobody special (nobody likes a hoity-toity Islander).

Aha! But YOU, the person reading this, you are different. And so I am now massaging YOUR ego, because I, of course, never meant to imply that YOU are in any way a “typical” Islander.  YOU are more than that.  YOU are the kind of Islander who isn't afraid of your own brain. It’s for YOU that I used words like “unbeknownst” “quashed” and “grandeur”, because YOU get it. YOU get the comedy behind the comedy.

To perfectly illustrate one of the many challenges of creating comedy for a PEI audience, and, at the same time, appease all the varied layers of culture this Island contains, I offer the following:

We all know it’s easy enough to make a fart joke.  Everyone in the world laughs at those, right?  But what would make that fart joke special is to let them know that the fart is the result of consuming a potato.  That's instant Island relatability.  And then to really cap it off, to really hit it home to the PEI elite, reveal that the potato is actually a Russet Burbank.  (If  you want to go dark with your comedy, you could try throwing in a PVY-N reference.)

Here is a sure-fire joke to prove my example of localized layering:  

My PEI buddy, who was still laughing at the funny things Boomer used to say on The Compass, went to visit his old mother, who, after living most of her life on Cumberland Street, had just moved into a nursing home in Moncton. Even though he was on pogey, he brought her a house-warming gift of a two-four of beer.
It was his first time visiting this home, and so he went up to the nurses desk and asked what room his mother was staying in.After she told him, she asked him if he needed directions to find the room.  Breathing deeply, he said "No, I'll just follow that gassy stench of Russet Burbank potato flatulence."

This joke is 100% guaranteed to get laughs from every Islander.  The typical will guffaw at the very essence of the fart joke (ha ha, a fart joke!!); a great many more will laugh extra hard at the local familiarity the potato offers (PEI Potato farts are The Best!!); and the intellectually superior Islanders will nod in appreciation (well done!! The research that must have gone into discovering that Russet Burbank is a type of potato!!)

And that’s pretty much it for Lesson One.  Don’t always strive for the easy universal joke. Just remember to layer your comedy for all Island ears. Keep it Local.


While contemplating how to teach Islanders how to create their own comedy, I began to wonder what the first Island joke would have been. No doubt it would have come from the oral traditions of its first inhabitants. Imagine a Mi’kmaq humourist, generations ago, family all gathered around the fire, as he lets a long, loud one go, causing the flame to turn blue and purple.  Oh how they would have laughed.  A few would even nod, knowing that this fart could only be the result of the consumption of local seal meat.

I also dream that the 1534 Jacques Cartier quote, “the fairest land ‘tis possible to see” was actually said in sarcasm about the island. But I know it wasn’t.  I can believe, however, that the end portion of that quote has gone missing over the years, and the full statement that Jacques Cartier uttered was “The fairest land ‘tis possible to see. Except in winter, which seems 10 months long   Pfffffffffttttttt.”


Next Lesson: Essential words and concepts that will make your comedy relevant to all Islanders: like  “pogey”, "Boomer", “Moncton”, "two-four" and “Cumberland Street”.