Hey, It’s Not All Bad! 2016 In Review

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It’s becoming a bit of a tradition, doing a “year in review” post, so here goes one for a year most of us agree has been pretty shit; 2016.

Despite the awful things happening in the world, the ridiculous number of celebrities to pass before their time, 2016 has been good to me in a lot of ways. Here’s the highlights.

Tarragon Theatre

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As I mentioned in my blog from this time last year, in January of 2016 I started working for Tarragon Theatre as the Assistant Producer; this has been my all time favourite job. The people at Tarragon are awesome, and I very quickly got to learn a lot. From doing CAEA contracts with Kesta, the Business Manager; mailings and social media marketing with Lauren, the Director of Communications; foundation & grant research with Leslie, Director of Development; workshops with students lead by Anne, Director of Education; and special projects grant writing with Richard, the Artistic Director, I’ve had a chance to do a little bit of everything and that has helped to confirm that, yes, I love everything about theatre. It’s been a hard year in a lot of ways and the staff have been very supportive, and I’m going to miss the place when my contract ends (soon). But I think I have now a good idea of what sort of training & experience I need to have a position there, and so I’m headed down that path in hopes of working there again someday!

New Apartment

For anyone thinking of moving to a new apartment a week before opening a show, I have one piece of advice; don’t. Despite it being insanely hectic, and taking a very long time to get organize and settled in, I’m very happy with my new home. It’s a lovely old building, built around 1910, and has a ton of vintage charm, which (surprise!) I love. Plus, I’m here with 4 of my favourite people; my bunny, Felicity, my budgies, Felix & Rooney, and my ever-supportive boyfriend, Conor (aka Coogle). Pretty great.

Wait Until Dark

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In April Bygone Theatre mounted a production of Wait Until Dark in the rehearsal hall at Tarragon Theatre. As happens with every show I direct, I got to meet a ton of funny, talented, and all-round awesome people. Also got to reconnect with Anthony Neary who I had worked with on Madeline Robin Known As Roxann a couple years back; he came out from Ottawa to set up some funky LED lights. We got to expand our Youth Outreach with this show by getting several teenage volunteers involved, which not only lessened my workload, but introduced all of us to some up-and-coming Toronto talents.

Directing with Richard Rose

This year I finally had a chance to take a class I have wanted to sign up for for YEARS; Directing with Richard Rose. I don’t have any formal theatre training and so I had wanted to add some things to my resume and get tips from a pro; for anyone looking for the same, I highly recommend this class. I haven’t had a chance to direct a show since taking the course, so we’ll see come His Girl Friday if his words of wisdom will improve my directing skills!

Vaudeville Revue

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Since I started Bygone back in late 2012, I have wanted to do a vaudeville show; in June 2016, I finally got the chance. Vaudeville Revue had a short run but we had an amazing variety of talent, and I’ve got another one planned for this season; hopefully this will grow into a yearly event. Everyone was not only talented but wonderfully positive. Despite not having the usual rehearsal process, I really witnessed bonding among performers backstage. That’s always one of my favourite parts of a show.

Tucked Away Antiques

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In August I decided to try and make some extra cash out of my second biggest passion (next to theatre); antiques. I have a ridiculous number of vintage & antique items at home – from shows, my own collections – and I always want to buy more. So I opened up an Etsy shop, Tucked Away Antiques, to feed my collecting addiction without making me go broke; it worked! It’s growing slowly, but it is growing, and I am making a profit. In the new year I hope to build it more and get it to a place where it can be a regular source of income.

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This is meant to be a positive post, so I won’t go into this here. I’ll just say that the hard part is over, and that you can read more about it here.

Coming Up

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I’m already knee-deep in 2017 in a lot of ways. Work on Bygone’s next show, His Girl Friday, started a few months ago, and rehearsals will start in early January. I’ve signed up for online courses through Lynda, so I can brush up on my Adobe skills & Google Analytics, as well as learn how to use new programs like Quickbooks & Sage, and get some training on HTML & C++. Hopefully these skills will help me not just with Bygone, but any future work as a producer. I’ve got a bunch of things on the back-burner at the moment, and hopefully will have some more updates soon, though I won’t jinx it by mentioning them now.

All for now. Happy New Year!
– E.

REVIEW: Everything Else Is Sold Out

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I was thrilled to see such a full house at a late performance of last night’s Everything Else Is Sold Out, a Dame Judy Dench sketch show currently running as a part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe. The show is flawlessly directed by Paul Bates (Canadian Comedy Awards, Best Male Improvisor – NOW Magazine, 2013, director – Second City’s Click Bait & Switch,  actor – Dan for Mayor, Puppets Who Kill, The Ron James Show) and features the talents of Claire Farmer (Second City, Bad Dog), Jessica Greco (The Animal Project, TIFF 2013, Rookie Blue, Bomb Girls) Shannon Lahaie (Wait Until Dark – Bygone Theatre, Insane – best actress nomination, FilmQuest 2014), Chris Leveille (Second City, Bad Dog), and Gavin Pounds (Barrie North Improv Team).

What really makes Everything Else stand out is how seamlessly the sketches flow from one to another; dynamic transitions keep the energy up and give a place to mini sight gags and jokes that lesser companies would try to drag out into a whole sketch. The technical elements are well executed and everyone’s timing (stage manager included) is perfectly on-point; no one misses a beat. While there isn’t exactly a theme to the show overall, just enough references are made to call back to other scenes and each time this is done it is done so cleverly; lots of laughs, none of the groans you come to expect from most sketch acts.

NOTE: I feel awful that I don’t know the names of most of these people (no pictures in the program), so apologies as I mention some favourite moments without crediting the specific performers;

Some favourite moments include a “Troller’s Support Group” (featuring of course, a literal troll); a new type of app, “Uber Walks”; a rather extravagant hat; a doctor’s visit that reveals a young woman (Lahaie) is suffering from “Montages”; a date that gets side-tracked when the man discovers a room full of jars (I know, sounds odd, but trust me); a guy dancing to bossanova beats who is DEFINITELY not a vampire and the cleverly book-ended scenes that start and finish the show. There are no weak links in this cast. While the scenes I listed were the strongest, I had a grin on my face throughout – this is far better than any sketch show I’ve seen on a Second City stage.

There are only 2 shows left!!! Check out my Fringe Picks Post for show dates & times.

The Verdict: Do not miss it. Go see it now.
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Building Prop Food for Wait Until Dark – Part 1, Research

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I usually try to do posts throughout rehearsals and leading up to a show but this past month has been too busy. On top of my work at Tarragon and rehearsals for Wait Until Dark, I have been prepping for Vaudeville Revue, have run another Retro Radio Hour, and moved into a new apartment only 2 weeks before opening. Now that the dust has settled, I’d like to go back and highlight some of the work that went into the show, starting with one of my favourite things, prop food.

I’ve done a post on vintage labels before, a brief one that highlighted using public domain images and another with the focus on old liquor labels, but what I needed for WUD was a little different.

A key piece to the set was a fridge, and knowing it would have to be open a lot, I wanted it to be stocked full of vintage goodies. As well, there is a point in the show where the characters have emptied everything out searching for something, and I need some things to make a mess with – seeing a kitchen as half of the set, I figured food and cleaning supplies as the way to go.

As often happens I planned more props than I actually had time for, but as these are relatively easy to make I may just make this one of my evening hobbies, maybe build a faux cereal box while the BF is watching football or something. At any rate, here’s a few tips if you’re looking to do some retro prop making of your own.

1. Decide on a decade

I’m a little odd. I often pick an exact date for my show and go to great lengths to make sure that everything in it is VERY period accurate – it goes without saying that this is not necessary, simply narrowing down a decade (or part of a decade) is enough to give the feel of the period, and what’s more important than knowing the EXACT date you’re looking for is knowing what’s characteristic of that time.

See the Rice Krispies packages above, ranging from 1928-1984,  the key change is the introduction of the elves and addition of bolder, brighter colours that would be more attractive to children. The image on the far left is from 1928, and the font-only package existed only a few years, as the elves were created in the early 1930s. However, if you were dressing a set for a play in the 30s, or if you were looking to dress an adult’s kitchen, you may want to use that style box a bit past when it was really used, as it immediately reads as old and has a great no-nonsense, grownup style. In the same vein, if you wanted to create a family kitchen, you would likely look for some “children’s cereal” and source some boxes with a fun cartoon character, like the third one above from 1965.

2. Narrow down a style & colour scheme, OR decide on the types of products your characters would buy

Another important decision in regards to your props is whether they are there to just enhance the look of the set, or if they are meant to add to the story or character. If, for example, you were going for something stylized and wanted a wholly monochromatic set, you could search for period packaging to fit your colour scheme.

Google makes this very easy. Go to images, search tools and you will see a dropdown for colour; the images above show what comes up for “retro packaging” with no search filters, and then with selected colours. Makes for a very easy starting point.

Of course, no one’s cupboards are really all colour-matching, and so if you are going for realism you will want to think more about the products themselves. Does your character buy only the best? Maybe they want a discount brand, or something in bulk. Do they clean with just water and vinegar or do they have all the latest cleaning supplies, one for everything that could possibly need to be disinfected? Give it some thought and you will make for a very authentic and interesting set.

3. Search for hi-res images, or simple designs

If you are looking to print off labels you find online, you want to be sure you have a high quality image, otherwise you will end up with something blurry or pixelated and that will distract from, rather than enhance your set.

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Check out sites like Etsy for hi-res scans of old labels, and browse for Flickr accounts by collectors as well. I have yet to find a really good, comprehensive collection of labels by decade, but I feel like there is one out there, and if not, I think I need to make one. Some companies that have been around a long time, like Hershey’s, have a history on their website, and that can be a good resource as well.

If you are unable to find enough high quality labels, look for a simple design that you can edit easily in photoshop. The labels above use complex design and typography, and would be difficult to replicate without some pretty serious artistic skill. However, many packages use simple colours and fonts, and with a few minutes of editing can be made into something passable, if not something very authentic. That is in part why I chose Dreft as one of my packages; greta retro colour, very simple design.

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4. Source forms

After you’ve decided on the labels you want, you need to find the forms to build them on. Existing cereal or granola boxes are an easy start, and you can always edit your label in photoshop to match the dimensions (like I did). Alternatively, you could build one yourself and finally use your grade-school geometry training, but honestly I think that takes more time than it’s worth. When looking for something like beer bottles remember that the shape used to be different, shorter and wider, and while it’s unlikely audiences will look at a bottle and say, hey! that’s not the right shape for that decade! when it is right, people do tend to notice. I managed to find something called “Vita Malt” (sounds yummy, eh?) that had just the right shape, AND the right dollar store price.

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5. Remember the magic of theatre

While I always aim for film-quality props, the magic of theatre is that you are generally far from the audience and under bright lights, two things that help to blur some details and let you get away with less-than-perfect props onstage. Found a great old label but it’s scanned from a crumpled original? No worries. Throw it in photoshop and paint out the details, fix only the logo and no one will notice if it’s missing some extra info. Want to alter the colours slightly to better match your set? Go for it. Up the saturation & contrast, adjust the hue, go crazy, no one is going to notice the change but they will notice the final effect.

After you’ve found your forms & your labels, you’re ready to build, a fairly simple process but there’s a couple important things to remember if you want to really nail the look – I’ll go over these next time. For now, goodnight.

-E.