Stanton’s Circle, A Theory On Comedy (aka My Review of “We’re Very Proud & We Love You So Much”)

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This afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing His Majesty The Baby‘s New York Fringe performance of We’re Very Proud & We Love You So Much; I can honestly say it is one of the most cleverly written works of comedy I’ve ever seen and certainly the best fringe festival show I’ve ever watched. The show is a sketch comedy, written and performed by Shon Arieh-Lerer, Nathan Campbell, John Griswold, Andrew Kahn and Max Ritvo. Playing backstage is the band Sister Helen, a rock group that “likes to play terrifying music”; they were the perfect accompaniment to the surreal, darkly funny show.

It’s difficult to give a synopsis of this show; while it is a sketch comedy the scenes are better connected than you’d find on something like SNL or the Second City stage. Some broad, over-arching themes of birth and death, truth and the ability to create it and the purpose and power of an audience all are visited throughout the show, but in-keeping with a sketch comedy style they are all addressed through absurd characters and there is, of course, no linear plot.

I was thrilled to see the scene that first caught my eye at the teaser night played out onstage (the palindromic argument that is caught in what seems to be an endless cycle) along with some brilliant scenes like that with the elderly Pepsi Garbage, “America’s Television”!. The show included a secret, hidden pepper; some “questionable meat”; a disturbing “Womb Song” and a sickly looking, curious baby.

The danger with intelligent comedy is that it can sometimes forget its purpose and become so wrapped up in high-concept ideas that it ceases to be funny, entertaining. This was not an issue for these men. Sketches such as “Adam and Susanna” allude to real-world issues like that of gay marriage and what our concept of marriage should be, however at no time does it come out and say anything directly related to the topic. It doesn’t preach or lecture and simply creates a parallel by exploring the idea of a man named Adam who believes that, according to the bible, the only real marriage is that between a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. Anything else is not only wrong, “it’s not marriage”. When the sketch ends with everyone (audience included) speaking gibberish, we are left to question where the true meaning of words comes from and lead to think about the arbitrary nature of terms such as “marriage”. Clever stuff.

I won’t give away any more sketches but I will say that I was especially impressed by the actors’ ability to perform as both men and women, the physicality of the characters and the melding of live theatre, live music, and video presentations. There was always a lot going on but it never felt confusing or forced. The entire show has clearly been worked out from top to bottom, and I found myself having many “ohhh” moments as a previous sketch’s theme would be revisited, tying the whole show together. I especially liked Stanton’s Circle, a comedy theory that was both funny and accurate; you’ll have to check out their show to see what I mean.

If you have not yet seen We’re Very Proud & We Love You So Much then clear your Friday night; only one performance is left. Check them out at Venue #4, Teatro Latea at the Clemente on Friday August 22, 7:30pm.

One more thing to add, once again something that is not usually found in a review but it’s going in here anyway. One of the troupe’s members, Max Ritvo is suffering from a rare form of cancer; Ewing’s Sarcoma. It is frequently found in the bone or soft tissue of children or young adults and unfortunately, there is very little known about how it forms or how to treat it. His Majesty, The Baby has already raised over $10 000 for Ewing’s Sarcoma research, but as it is a rare type it lacks funding, and so they can always use more. If you cannot make it out to see their show, or if you can but understand the pain of dealing with cancer, please check out the Ewing’s Sarcoma Research Foundation and consider making a donation. Even just sharing the link to the site can be helpful. Let’s support our fellow artists and our fellow man; we can all hope for a future without cancer.

-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.

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.

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!

Suicide: A Global Epidemic

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Working on “No Visible Scars” has got me thinking about mental health issues and in particular, suicide statistics globally and here in Canada. When I started researching them I was shocked at how high some of the numbers were, check it out:

SuicideStatistics

For more information on suicide prevention and awareness, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and be sure to check out the Promise Productions performance of “No Visible Scars” that deals with the subject in an open, honest way.

New York, New York!

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A little over a week ago I received an unexpected email from the head of Promise Productions, saying she had gotten my information off of the production resources contact list, and was looking for someone to stage manager her show that was headed to the New York Fringe. Initially I assumed she had contacted dozens of people, and that I wouldn’t stand much of a chance; how often in this business do we get a call asking us to take on a job, let alone one that will give us the chance to travel to the Big Apple? Yet, here we are! On August 2nd I will be traveling to New York to work on “No Visible Scars”, so expect lots of theatre updates as well as a lot of excited posts about all the stuff we’re seeing and doing in NYC!

Before we head out, we are doing a free preview performance of the show, July 30th, 7:00pm; all the details can be found on our facebook event page. Donations will be accepted should you want to help fund our NY production.

All for now!

-E.