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The cast & crew of KSK; Ed Queffelec (fight coordinator), Tea Nguyen (Associate Producer), Aaron Williams (Dagger), Astrid Atherly (Kitty), Thomas Finn (Ronnie), Felicity Adams-Hannigan (Kourtney), Samantha Walkes (Lily), Emily Dix (producer, stage manager), David Backshell (lyricist), front row: Jamieson Child (director, writer), Michael Zahorak (composer, music director), Heather Motut (Teresa). Not pictured: Robert Iannuzziello (Mooky), Drac Child (writer, production designer), Judith Ann Clancy (costume designer).

Every show hits a point where it all suddenly ‘clicks’. Sometimes it’s early in the rehearsal process and sometimes it’s not til closing night, but there’s always that magical moment when all at once, everyone seems to just ‘get it’ and the whole thing picks up speed, emotion, and leaves you sitting there with your mouth hanging open thinking, ‘where in hell did that come from?’.

That’s what happened at last night’s rehearsal for Kill Sister, Kill!

I’ve been working on this show since October and have seen it go through many stages, be touched by many hands, and have the typical highs and lows of anything in theatre. While it was evident from the start that we had a strong cast, yesterday was when I saw emotions hit new peaks, and got to hear all the beautiful nuances of the music by Michael Zahorak and David Backshell finally reach their full potential. By the time we hit “Dagger’s Law” in act 2, I couldn’t stop smiling, even through scenes that were so heart wrenching and beautifully performed that it had me near tears.

We’re headed to NYC tonight on the midnight bus and will open at Theatre 80 in Manhattan on August 26th. I’m so proud of all the hard work, talent & energy the entire cast & crew has thrown into this production over the past few weeks and months, and can’t wait to give you all more updates on our time in NYC and the premiere of our show, Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical.

-E.

Keeping Busy

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Big week ahead.

We start off today with the first round of auditions for Kill Sister, Kill! It’s going to be weird to be sitting in on auditions as something other than director, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that. We’ve got another night of them on Tuesday then callbacks next Sunday then right into rehearsals – things are chugging along. We had a long but very productive music meeting yesterday, pumping out some sounds for the overture and talking about the musical structure of the whole show. While after several hours of that and no real food besides Little Debbie Snack Cakes, we all start to get a bit giddy, but I think we made some good progress and I’m excited to see it pull together.

Tomorrow is the Theatre 20 Season Launch Party. It’s being held at Vagabondo Italian Ristorante + Lounge, which means I need to be dressed up, but since I’m also helping run the event I get to do things like carry risers & set up cords; we’ll see how well I do at that in a cocktail dress & heels. Should be a good night. We have a bunch of preview performances, tons of industry people coming and I’m expecting to see quite a few friendly familiar faces. I’ll update on the party & the season later this week.

I’m busily working on stuff for the next Bygone Theatre fundraiser, another Retro Radio Hour performance that will be used to raise money & give a sneak peak of Kill Sister, Kill! That comes up on July 4th, so I’ve gotta hustle in the next couple days to get the final things in place. Mostly I need to finish the poster design so I can start promoting it, and that’s something that I always take a while with.

Then of course there’s all the trip planning aspects of our trip to NYC. It is expensive to stay there, especially when you’re bringing a large group, so I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time looking things up and trying to find us the best deal. I want to get some of that nailed down this week so I can focus on more show-specific things. It’ll be a good time when we get there, but there’s nothing fun about the planning.

Meanwhile, I keep trying to get out in the evenings to meet new people and maintain my sanity; had a lovely time the other night and it’s always refreshing to meet someone outside of theatre who actually still has a decent understanding of it. Good drinks, good conversation, good time. Hoping to do that again soon, should I ever have another spare minute.

Back to the grind.
-E.

A Trip To The Future (With A Penguin!) – Review of Xavier Toby’s “When We Were Idiots”

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The other day I wrote about Australian comic Xavier Toby’s Fringe NYC show, Mining My Own Businessa stand-out, stand-up routine about his experiences working on a coal mine. Last night I had the pleasure of attending Toby’s other Fringe show; the walking tour, When We Were Idiots.

When I’d asked him about the show before, he told me “I lead people around downtown and yell at people through a megaphone”; I went in expecting some dumb comedy, possibly a few insults, and figured “when we were idiots” would refer to the time spent on the tour. I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The tour takes place in 2114, 100 years in the future. Our host, a penguin descendent of Toby’s, has graciously hired actors to move about downtown so that we can experience what life was like back in 2014. We were fortunate enough to come across vendors, tourists, drug addicts – all “actors”, of course – who all remained in character, almost as though they were just normal people.

While there was the promised yelling at strangers on the street, none of it was inappropriate. In fact, the entire group of us, decked out in high-visibility vests, were often called upon to applaud the every day actions of the New Yorkers we encountered.

The surprising part of the tour was the references to real-world issues, like our deteriorating environment and the concept of money. You wouldn’t expect it from a penguin with a megaphone, but Toby brought up some interesting and intellectual points. All of these were done in a very nonchalant way; references to “tree prisons” and the fact that he, as a penguin, was stuck in NYC because Antarctica had all melted. Turns out 2014 was when we were all “idiots”. Despite his serious points, these statements were surrounded by jokes and odd little historical facts (like the origin of the word “hooker”) so that the entire show still felt like a comedy; it didn’t get preachy.

It’s not that bad a walk, so don’t let the format of the show discourage you from going. It’s highly interactive and thanks to the frequent applause and questions for the audience, you will find yourself leaving with a smile on your face. It’s a nice way to end the day.

If you want to check out When We Were Idiots you have 3 more chances! You can meet Toby in the Fringe Central lot (114 Norfolk St., between Rivington & Delancey) Friday August 22 at 2:30pm or 7:30pm or Saturday August 23 at 7:30pm. Tell your friends!

-E.

 

Lick My Sauce! Review of “King of Kong”

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I’ve always hated people who say women aren’t funny, partly because I have so few examples to prove them wrong. Sure there are some classics like Lucille Ball, and my generation loves Tina Fey, but it’s always easier to list off funny men than funny women. That’s part of the reason why I am so in love with Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Kurin’s NYC Fringe Show, King of Kong.

The subject matter is bizarre, but absolutely wonderful; Billy Mitchell has it all – hot wife, hot hair, hot sauce company. But the jewel in his crown (and he DOES own an actual crown) is his Donkey Kong high score. Steve Weibe, on the other hand, is a total loser. He has a kid who can’t wipe his own ass and a wife who is distant and uninterested. The only thing he is good at is Donkey Kong and so he sets off determined to beat Billy’s high score.

The entire show is performed by the two women who make lightning-fast quick changes and even take turns playing one of the same characters (don’t worry, the referee shirt keeps things clear).Their ability to convincingly play men is to be envied, and the ease with which they change characters reminded me of what I recently saw Jefferson Mays do in Gentleman’s Guide. Even the lighting was strong, and helped to establish settings that were created with absolutely no set and very minimal props. I can’t neglect to mention their singing either, which was quite good, though it is the writing itself that is truly the heart of the show.

Both Ruffin and Van Kurin are equally talented women, and their chemistry onstage can’t be denied. When it comes to favourite characters, however, I’ll have to go with Billy Mitchell – I hope to see him on SNL one day.

While it’s not something usually mentioned in a review, I’ve got to throw this out there; these are really, really nice ladies. We met them a week or so ago after a teaser night and they were so friendly and funny we liked them right away. I’ve met quite a few people out here in NYC and most you talk to once and that’s it, which is fine. But we’ve been lucky enough to keep running into Amber and Lauren and every time they are just as delightful. They even gave us a shout-out at the end of their performance! So if what you’ve heard about the show isn’t enough to make you want to go (you crazy) then go and support some of the nicest, most talented women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. You can still catch their last two performances; Sunday August 17 at 6:00pm and Tuesday August 19 and 9:15pm at the Players Theatre, venue 17, 115 Macdougal St.

I’ll leave you with one of my personal favourites from the show;

“Failure is just a success you failed to succeed at.”

-E.

Review: Xavier Toby’s “Mining My Own Business”

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The other day the NVS team headed out to see Australian comic Xavier Toby perform his show Mining My Own Business at the NYC Fringe. While structured like a stand up routine, the audience interaction is minimal, and Toby performs with well-versed speed, prepared with fun little photos and props to help his story along.

The routine runs about an hour and describes Toby’s experiences working on a coal mine in Australia. There are some anecdotes about other miners, but for the most part the story is very personal and provides an insight into the comic’s goofy, lovable personality. As one of the only men working in administration on a site full of very big, very macho men (Toby refers to himself as an “anorexic midget” next to these brutes) Toby is often ridiculed and dismissed. While self-deprecating humour can get tired and trying, Toby manages to find a balance by allowing others to beat-up on him while he maintains his cheery, optimistic attitude; you will often catch yourself saying “awww” and giving him an encouraging smile!

Australian comedian, Xavier Toby

Australian comedian, Xavier Toby

While there is a fair bit of swearing (and the occasional “smurfing” as well) overall the content is pretty PG. If you are very easily offended (or grossed out) this may be one to pass on, but personally I found it well-suited to a Fringe Festival.

If you haven’t yet caught Xavier Toby’s Mining My Own Business, no fear. He still has two performances left; Tuesday August 19th at 8:00pm and Saturday August 23 at 3:30pm. Catch him at the Underground, Venue #12, 64 East 4th Street (Bowery and 2nd Ave).

-E.

When The Clowns Stop Laughing

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It’s a sad day when the comedians in the world stop laughing, stop telling jokes, and bend to the darker thoughts in their head. I was out with the No Visible Scars crew when we heard that actor/comedian Robin Williams had been found dead in his home, likely from suicide.

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As a kid who grew up in the 1990s, I naturally adored Robin Williams. He was the Genie in the first film I ever saw in theatres; Disney’s Aladdin. I grew up watching Patch Adams,  Mrs. Doubtfire, and when I was a teenager discovered his early classics like Mork and Mindy. He was clever and funny and played the sort of fun-loving dad every kid could look up to.

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This has been a month of a lot of personal loss; two friends have died (one from suicide) and two more are very sick. As I work on a play that centres on depression and suicide I can’t help but feel more affected than I’d like to. That’s probably why William’s death hit me so hard; he had a family, a great career, he was a comedian, one of the ones who is meant to make light out of dark and to inspire all of us to laugh it off and move on. And even he couldn’t manage it.

I’ve been saying it a lot as I work on No Visible Scars; depression effects so many more people than you’d think. It’s not just “emo” kids and poor people. It isn’t exclusive to any age, race, sex, religion – it can take a hold of anyone. His death certainly goes to show that.

“Each and every one of his in this room is one day going to stop breathing, grow cold, and die”

His famous line from Dead Poet’s Society is certainly true, but it’s not a process we need to be rushing along. His death was a waste of talent. A waste of a life. A selfish act that has affected his family, friends, and all who adored him. Don’t let that happen to someone you love. Don’t let that happen to you. Reach out before you lose someone. Reach out before we lose you.

-E.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story, IV

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When this team was put together, we had no idea how connected we all were to the subject matter of the play. I don’t know if we were all subconsciously drawn to it, or if it really is just a testament to how many people go through these sorts of things, but it’s only been through our late-night chats that we’ve come to realize that all of us connect with No Visible Scars on a very personal level. Here’s the fourth installment of our Real Life stories.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. Since the age of 10 there had been a steady decline, and it was around age 14 that I really started to feel I had nothing to live for, and made a few meager attempts at ending my life. There were, of course, ups and downs. And it’s difficult to explain to someone how, literally, one day you can be out with friends, fully functional and full of energy, and the next night be sobbing in your closet with a razor in your hand. It’s easy to get labelled a “drama queen” or “emo”, and so those of us with actual problems, not looking for attention, tend to keep things hidden. We push the pain down.

While I had struggled for a long time, it was about a year ago that I felt I had finally reached my limit. I felt abandoned by everyone who was supposed to love me. Once a straight-A-student, I was now barely passing my classes because I could not get over my anxiety about leaving the house; I spent most days lying in bed, trying to sleep because whenever I was awake I so desperately wanted to go out, but couldn’t. I felt immense guilt about skipping classes, skipping work, and there were the practical fears as well; how was I going to pay rent? Why was I throwing away thousands on classes I couldn’t attend? After a violently emotional breakup, I thought things had finally hit rock bottom.

I don’t remember very clearly what exactly happened. I do recall shoving a handful of various pills into my mouth, and, according to my roommate, I did this again sometime later in the day. The entire thing is a blur and I remember most glimpses of hallucinations, the sound of my roommate’s voice (but being totally unaware of what he was saying), and lying on my back (I later learned, in an ambulance), staring up at a bright light and shivering. When I woke up hours later in the hospital, I was greeted by an IV in my arm and a callous ER doctor who asked, “Are you going to kill yourself?” while shoving a piece of paper in my hand and sending me home. I slept through the next day.

Once I had my senses back, I still felt awful, but the pressure had subsided a bit. It was like a valve, letting off a bit of steam; I knew things would build again quickly. The piece of paper was a referral to a psychiatrist at the hospital. I don’t like psychiatrists. I always thought I’d like to be one but I never had any interest in seeing one, and my few past experiences with them had never yielded any positive results. But my roommate insisted. He saved me again. And so I made an appointment and a week later met with a very young, very understanding doctor who was the first to talk to me like a person, and not a mental patient.

She was ok with the fact that I rejected some forms of therapy (“too wishy washy”). And she was ok with me requesting medication because I knew I needed to get on track, fast. Basically, she was ok with all the (reasonable) things I said, and so I felt like I could talk to her and started actually looking forward to sessions. I left feeling better, which had never happened before. While this was considered a “crisis clinic” and so had a limited number of sessions available, it still helped. Depression can’t be cured in a matter of weeks or months, but with the right person that’s all the time you need to realize that things can get better. I got over some of my major anxiety issues and started putting myself out there again, finding new friends, new jobs and starting a new life. Now I’m writing from New York, where I’m working on a play. I have a fiancé I love, a house, and two baby birds. I am far from ok – I still get depressed, I still have anxiety, and I will likely need my medication for years to come. But I’m here. And things have gotten better. And they will continue to get better for me; they can for you too.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story III

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Tonight was the opening of No Visible Scars  at the Connelly Theatre. It went great and we were thrilled to have a few strangers in the audience! However, we always want more. So here’s our third true story that we hope will help connect the show to some of you. Again, stigmas hurt, and mental illness is closer than you think. Here’s another story from a part of our team:

Hi, I am part of this wonderful team putting on No Visible Scars. This show has a personal connection for me. I was Myranda Otter many years ago; I was a very unhappy 12 year old girl living life day by day. I was consumed by depression and the only option I saw was death. I had no hope, no plan, no friends and I thought, no family.
Growing up was not a particularly happy time for me. I’m not sure what caused it, perhaps it was all of my health problems, which prevented me from being outside and bonding with the other students during the winter months, but since the age of 6, I was ridiculed and bullied. I went through this right up until my graduation day from my elementary school; seven years of torture at the hands of all my classmates. Seven years of feeling worthless and less than a speck on this earth. Seven years of feeling unwanted, completely alone and always unhappy. Not even my sister would play with me. Those four walls were all I knew and they were closing in on me.

I remember one day in grade seven like it was yesterday. The confrontation began in the school yard and ended in the hallways of the school; me being surrounded by a bunch of girls pushing, punching, spitting, kicking and screaming at me. The teachers did nothing, my parents couldn’t do anything, so much was going on in my head and I just shut down. I came home, found the first bottle of pills, ran to my room and just shoved them all into my mouth. There was no future, there was just pain, just so much indescribable pain. I felt broken, not just physically, but mentally as well. There was a dark gloomy cloud over my head and I just wanted it all to end. Tears streaming down my face, I passed out. I woke up the next morning so unhappy. I was pissed that I had to face another day. That all my efforts were in vain and all I had to show for it was a very bad stomach ache. I felt betrayed, but something different happened that day.

At school we started our unit on the “art of speech making”. I poured my heart out in my speech about Martin Luther King Jr. His dream inspired my dream of a new life. From that speech, my teacher took me aside and said ” you should audition for the school musical, Robin Hood”. That was what saved me. God saved me. I was falling and he grabbed my hand and said, ” go on girl, sing!”  I found happiness on stage. Perhaps it’s the idea that I get to be someone else and leave this crappy life I was given for a moment. Or perhaps it’s the fact that once I got the lead in the musical, the bullying decreased. I believe that everything happens for a reason, that God never gives you more then you can handle.

When you feel like you have no hope, when you feel that you have no future, remember there is a new day ahead. You don’t know when it’s coming, but change will happen. You will leave those four walls, and I promise you it will get better. It did for me, and it will for you. Find your Robin Hood the musical. Be your Maid Marion and tomorrow will be a brighter day. Hang in there and remember someone loves you. If you think not, know that I do. God Bless and may the sun come up for you tomorrow.

Another story of hope. To see more, check out No Visible Scars. Remember, you’re not alone.

My Fellow Fringers – My NYC Fringe Picks

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We’ve been in NYC for about a week now, and we’ve already seen a ton of amazing talent. What makes the NYC Fringe different from other ones around the world is that it is a juried festival, meaning all of these plays were selected by a team of judges. As another Fringer pointed out the other night, this basically means we’ve “all already made it”. Some criticize this method as being against the “nature of the fringe”, but it does mean that all the shows here are phenomenal. We’ve been to two teaser/promo nights so far, and so while I have yet to see any of the shows I do already have an idea of what I want to see. So here are my New York International Fringe Festival, 2014 Picks:

1. King of Kong
Starring the lovely and talented Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Kurin, this musical parody tells the story of 2 men on their quest to hold the high score on the classic Donkey Kong game. Their song, “Billy’s Sauce” is absolutely brilliant and we’ve all been watching it on repeat. Check out a version of it here. These ladies are not only funny and talented, but really nice as well. This is top of my list for shows to see.

2. We’re Very Proud And We Love You So Much
Created by the comedy troupe His Majesty, The Baby, this sketch comedy is described as the “funniest bad dream you’ve ever had”. They performed a piece of it at the busking night on Thursday and it was brilliant; a couple finds themselves in a hilarious (and at times very touching) palindromic argument, repeating the same thing over and over changing only their intentions. Very well done. Another one to see for sure.

3. Fatty Fatty No Friends
I was blown away by Jason Sofge’s vocals at the teaser night, and I am very intrigued by a show that is described as, ” A dark spoken-word musical diving into the lunchtime of life, where bullies are delicious.” They sold out their opening night, so hopefully I can find a less packed performance!

4. Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions
Saw a scene from this at the teaser the other night and it was phenomenal. Great voices, looks very funny – I don’t know a ton about it and I haven’t had the chance to chat with any of the cast, but I’m adding this one to my list nonetheless.

5. Absolutely Filthy
I got chatting to actor Curt Bonnem after the teaser night on Thursday and found him to be a very charming and funny man (and one who knows Toronto! woot!). While I don’t know much about this show either, it was one of the first that caught my eye, in part because the postcard boasts having won 3 L.A. Weekly Awards as well as Best of the Hollywood Fringe 2013. Can’t wait to check it out!

While these are at the top of my list, honestly, there wasn’t a show at the teaser night that didn’t look good, and if I had the time and money I’d see them all.If you’re checking out the NYC Fringe, be sure to look up our show, No Visible Scars.

All for now!
-E.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story, II

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The other day I posted Craig A. Nelson’s true story of addiction and hope in an effort to share awareness and help break down some of the stigma’s surrounding these issues. Now I’m going to share one written by our lead actress, Tea Nguyen.
     My name is Tea Nguyen. I want to share a story with you. My good friend called me to come over. He had mental health problems and suffered with depression and attempts of suicide. I came over and there was something not right about the situation. He wasn’t making much sense in what he was saying. I was very worried about his mental state. He would go off on a tangent and not comprehending anything I was saying. I tried to get him to eat and drink water but he physically couldn’t. As the night went by, he seemed like a completely different person. Eventually he ran to the bathroom and started becoming violently ill just from something he had thought about. He decided to go to bed, so I left not too long after that.
     I got a call from his roommates saying the police just showed up and took him away. We realized that he went to his room and was having suicidal thoughts. He called his mother to talk about it and she got him talking to the crisis hotline while police were sent to his home. He was entered into a hospital. He experienced psychosis that night. I visited him in the hospital twice that week to make sure he was doing well. His medication helped him and I stuck right by him.
     Sometimes, we can’t see an illness. Sometimes, it’s not visible to the naked eye. He was so close to suicide that night and he was on the edge. I encourage anyone going through anything related to this to seek professional help. Your friends can only do so much other than be there for you. If you need help, there are resources you can reach out to. My friend and I are still very close and he still calls me when he is unwell or going through anything more than he can handle. Please reach out. I couldn’t imagine life if he had decided to go through with suicide that night. People care about you and will be there for you. Just ask for help.
As Tea said, there is help.
For Ontario, Canada resources, check out this link.
My new, New York friends can look here.
And be sure to check out No Visible Scars, we open Saturday at the Connelly Theatre!