#scififri: Death

Pastors used to prepare three ceremonies for a person’s life. Naming/baptism and weddings were easy: they’re about the future. But, as I prepare my remarks for another risky cryogenic sleep, I ask: how did they sum up a person’s life just once?




Fringe 2018: Gordon’s Big Bald Head

GordonsPoster_PRINTGordon’s Big Bald Head does a fracking great job of improvising a show from the title and description of a completely unrelated Fringe play.

After the official part of Fringe 2018 closed, Gordon’s show was held over by the Varscona Theatre for two performances, one last night (Wednesday) and one tonight (Thursday).

No one knows what Thursday’s show will be like because the contents won’t be determined until they get some input from the audience. There are a couple of rules, though. They won’t do a show that lacks a proper description, and they won’t do another improv show because, they said, an improv show doing another improv show would disrupt the time-space continuum: “That’s how we lost Mark Meer!” (Actually, Meer is off to another engagement.)

On Wednesday night, Jacob Banigan and Ron Pederson put on a hilarious production of Wellspring. Their version was about a small town beset by secrets, musical theatre, and an out-of-touch oil company whose motto might as well be, “We’re fracking humanity from behind.” The word “fracking” is a true gift to improvisers.

There’s one last chance to catch Gordon’s Big Bald Head this year. Take the improvisers’ lead: think of it as a gift and run with it.

Tickets for the remaining Gordon’s Big Bald Head show and all the other Fringe holdovers at the Varscona Theatre are available here: https://www.varsconatheatre.com/showlist/2018/fringe-holdovers


Et tu, Lotor?

A huge, not-at-all gaudy statue of Prince Lotor in Voltron: Legendary Defender 6.04. (Screencap by KissThemGoodbyeGallery)


After episode 5.01 of Voltron: Legendary Defender, I bought Lotor’s story about being altruistic. Tonight, I saw episode 6.04, “The Colony”, which puts an asterisk next to Lotor’s altruism.

I mean, if I’d known he was the kind of guy to commission a massive, gaudy statue of himself…!

Anyway, as I said yesterday, Lotor promised “prosperity for all”, but failed to mention he was fine with sacrificing people without telling them. In fact, what he did was worse. He tricked them. He created a fictitious glorious mission for them to volunteer for, then he (spoiler text!) imprisoned them and milked them for their quintessence. He could have found ways to encourage them to volunteer freely. Instead, Lotor was in a hurry and decided that the greater good was more important than a few lives. How very like Thanos.





Voltron versus Zero-Sum Villainy

Prince Lotor speaks with Princess Allura in Voltron: Legendary Defender 5.01                    (Screencap by KissThemGoodbyeGallery)

I watched a couple of good shows last night: one was a political satire show; the other was a space opera cartoon.

First up was the August 19, 2018 edition of Last Week. In the episode, host John Oliver mocked the zero-sum guru Peter Navarro, the White House economic advise who was found through a search of book titles on Amazon.com. Zero-sum, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the belief that “a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side“. 

You know who else has a zero-sum outlook? Thanos. (Imagine the president being advised by an MCU villain. Actually, the White House might be more organized.) Thanks doesn’t believe in altruism. He can’t. If other people gain, then he loses. But he thinks he’s doing the universe a favour: if there were fewer people, whoever’s left would thrive. He just leaves out the part where he controls most of the resources and he gets to decide who lives and who dies. So, yeah. A zero-sum attitude plus egotism and seemingly limitless power equals villiany.

Later, I saw the Season 5 opener of Voltron: Legendary Defender. The rebel forces who pilot a mecha called Voltron have captured Lotor, a prince of the evil Galra empire. He briefly ruled the empire when his Thanos-like father was gravely ill. But Lotor was exiled for wanting to ease Galra’s tyrannical rule. Naturally, the Voltron side doesn’t trust him, but Lotor explains wants to return the the old days of peaceful coexistence. “This isn’t a zero-sum game,” he tells them. “Meeting the needs of the Galra Empire means bringing peace to the universe. That is the future enlightenment brings us, one of prosperity for all.”

Lotor may have been a product of idealistic governors who became corrupt over time, but he’s genuinely trying to change the system for the benefit of all, not just the powerful. When it comes to purple-skinned alien analogies, I’d rather the world have more Lotors than Thanoses.


Fringe 2018 Holdovers

Some of the Fringe shows I liked have been held over!

There are also several shows I hope to check out. Liz Nicholls at 12thNight.ca has compliled lists of the main holdover series:

Fringe Theatre Holdover Series at the Arts Barns

Aug. 29: 7 p.m. Whiteface, 9 p.m. Balls of Yarns

Aug. 30: 7 p.m. Flute Loops, 9 p.m. Whiteface

Aug. 31: 7 p.m. Balls of Yarns, 9 p.m. For Science!

Sept. 1: 7 p.m. For Science! 9 p.m. Flute Loops. 

Tickets: https://www.fringetheatre.ca/festival/holdover-series/

Varscona Fringe Holdovers at the Varscona Theatre

Tuesday Aug. 28: 7 p.m. A Lesson in Brio, 9 p.m. The Real Inspector Hound

Wednesday Aug. 29: 7 p.m. A Lesson in Brio, 9 p.m. Gordon’s Big Bald Head

Thursday Aug. 30: 7 p.m. A Lesson in Brio, 9 p.m. Gordon’s Big Bald Head

Friday Aug. 31: 7 p.m. A Lesson in Brio, 9 p.m. The Real Inspector Hound

Saturday, Sept. 1: 2 and 7 p.m. A Lesson in Brio, 9 p.m. Sirens.

Tickets: https://www.varsconatheatre.com/showlist/2018/fringe-holdovers

Fringe on!


Fringe 2018: The Many Loves of Irene Sloane

Fringe-2018-The-Many-Loves-of-Irene-SloaneWhile in line for The Many Loves of Irene Sloane, my Fringe buddy Jenna and I got to talking about being fans of long-running television series. When we love shows the most, we can’t help but speculate on what will happen next. When we love shows the least, we can’t help but speculate on how it could be improved. It’s part of being a fan. Every once in a while, something comes along that we’re willing to invest time, imagination, and emotion into. We essentially have a conversation with the artwork.

It turned out that Jenna and I were talking about a subject that was very relevant to the show we were about to see. We didn’t know what The Many Loves of Irene Sloane was about. We chose it because we’re fans of the playwright, Stewart Lemoine. and the company, Novus Actors.

The Many Loves of Irene Sloane begins at the first meeting of a brand-new book club for residents of a condo building. The trouble is, had read the book, save the meeting organizer and a friend of one of the residents. As luck would have it, the friend brought snacks (yay!) and an unpublished short story written by her grandmother. She had always liked it, but thought it was unfinished, and was interested in the book club members’ opinions.

As the book club characters read the manuscript, a second set of characters appear on stage to enact the story. The readers think Kristen’s grandmother’s story is fascinating, but in need of some refinements. As they make suggestions, the story characters perform the altered scenes. And when the readers begin to suggest the addition of other characters to move the story along, one by one, the readers join the story group. It’s a literal and effective dramatization of the idea of readers inserting themselves into a story.

This production is utterly charming. Besides the fun and clever Stewart Lemoine script, I loved the fact that all the actors (Mark Facundo, Jill Gamez, Stacey Grubb, Don MacCannell, Morgan McClelland, Sarah Rossman, Ed Picard, and Marissa Tordoff) are lawyers who were such big fans of Lemoine, they performed some of his earlier work at the last two Fringe festivals. This year, Lemoine wrote The Many Loves of Irene Sloane especially for them.

Sadly, I saw this show on its last night. I definitely would have recommended it as a fun and witty confection, but it was also about readers’ engagement with a piece of art, and it was performed by fans who have become producers of art. As the last show of my Fringe experience this year, The Many Loves of Irene Sloane was meta-appropriate.

Fringe 2018 show webpage: https://tickets.fringetheatre.ca/performances.php?eventId=601:2069


Fringe 2018: HumanMachine: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation


HumanMachine: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation is perhaps a first: the first Fringe show you could attend while simultaneously participating in a science experiment!

Improvisors Piotr Mirowski and Kory Mathewson are also researchers in the field of artificial intelligence. Mathewson is a familiar face on the Edmonton improv scene. After years of doing improv shows with regular ol’ humans, he tried an improv show with an AI in 2016. It failed so miserably, he spilled his guts about it in a blog post. Watching from London, UK, the Polish-born Mirowski saw the post and contacted Mathewson. Realizing their common improv/AI backgrounds and goals, they got together to create first a long-distance improv/AI show.

(A scheduling error had made their first long-distance simultaneous show a minor disaster, so perhaps it’s ironic that misreading their Fringe schedule has led me to post this entry during the last performance HumanMachine at this year’s Fringe.)

I caught one edition of HumanMachine. I’m not sure how much of it was part of their other performances, but for a show about what we can learn from failure, the performance I began appropriately enough when its small robot puppet, Raspberry, fell off its pedestal (about 8 minutes into a video of the performance on YouTube). Raspberry threw a couple of other curveballs at the technician, Riley, before Mathewson shouted from backstage: “Do you even want to do the show tonight, Raspberry?”

In explaining what we’ll see in the show, Mathewson and Mirowski break down all the elements of this robot improvisor: there is the physical mechanical being the programming that instructs it to move and “speak” (Raspberry doesn’t have a moving mouth; its “voice” came through an external speaker); and the content of its speeches. A human could provide Raspberry’s content, or an AI could pull from a database of lines sourced from, for example, terrible Hollywood movies.

They ran through a number of different permutations, including ones that involved guest improvisor Paul Blinov and an audience volunteer. Some trials were more successful than other. However, each little failure or unexpected success was an opportunity to reflect on all the things that go into a successful improv show, or successful human communications overall.

At the end of the show, audiences were invited to send feedback as part of Mathewson and Mirowski’s research project. Here’s hoping they replicate the experiment soon.

Fringe 2018 page: https://tickets.fringetheatre.ca/performances.php?eventId=601:2104

Artificial Intelligence Improv website: https://humanmachine.live



Fringe 2018: Don’t Frown at the Gown

Fringe-2018-Don't-Frown-at-the-GownThis Fringe, Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt celebrated their 10th anniversary writing plays together by re-mounting 2 Queens and  Joker, and debuting Don’t Frown at the Gown.

Lately, I’ve been extra-fond of Guys in Disguise lately because I met a couple of great people who have become good friends at their sweet play, Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip.

Of their two shows this year, I was able to see Don’t Frown at the Gown. The starts sweetly enough. Set in 1962, Susan Fowler, a frivolous, young bride-to-be (played by Trevor Schmidt) enters a beautifully appointed bridal gown shop for the first time with her best friend and her mother in tow. The friend, Francesca (Jason Hardwick), is a quietly confident, nerdy young woman who has just landed a job presenting the weather on television. Susan’s glamorous but overbearing mother  (Darrin Hagen) expects nothing but the best and most normal for her daughter. What could possibly go wrong?

The clashes between the three characters are hilarious, but it takes the calm presence of the bridal shop owner, Lady Laura Lee (Jake Tkaczyk) to upset their assumptions of how their lives should and will go.

Of all the characters, Lady Laura Lee is the most comfortable in her heels. We learn more about her as the other characters realize that things will never be the same after Susan marries. Mrs, Fowler is eager for her daughter to get on with married life, for good or ill, as she did. Francesca realizes that she’ll miss the Friday night sleepovers she’s had with Susan since they were little. Mrs. Fowler’s plans for Susan’s future leads to revelations about her past, while Francesa’s memories lead to a bittersweet realization about her future.

Don’t Frown at the Gown takes the audience on an emotional journey that includes themes of gender and identity. Hagen, Schmidt, Hardwick, and Tkaczyk skillfully and effortlessly combine comedy, drama, and some very relevant social commentary to create four memorable and sympathetic characters.

There is only one more show during the Fringe, this afternoon at 5 pm. Here’s hoping that Guys in Disguise have an opportunity to present the show again. Don’t Frown at the Gown is a fittingly beautiful anniversary milestone.

Tickets: https://tickets.fringetheatre.ca/performances.php?eventId=601:2112


Fringe 2018: A Lesson in Brio


A Lesson in Brio, playwright and director Stewart Lemoine’s latest for Teatro la Quindicina, opens as a literal lesson. One Dr. Guinevere (played by Jenny McKillop) takes to the stage to give us, theatre-goers cum students, a talk about “brio”, or as the dictionary defines it, “enthusiastic vigour; vivacity; verve.”

To demonstrate the concept, she stages examples of brio in everyday life: enlisting local actors named Rachel Bowron, Patricia Cerra and Mathew Hulshof (played by Bowron, Patricia Cerra and Mathew Hulshof). Among the characters they play are: a man who is dumped for being too dumb, a singer who can barely sing, a nerdy little girl, and a piano mover who always wanted “to bring music into people’s lives.”

As Dr. Guinevere breaks down the role of brio in these vignettes, she also deconstructs the performances and addresses the audience directly. Although they were part of a fictional lesson, it was hard not to feel invested in the fate of these educational avatars.

My observant Fringe buddy Jenna was reminded of Lemoine’s Stump the Panel, a one-act play at the 2016 Fringe, which was staged as a public consultation meeting for a condo development. Jenna said, “He’s taking things that are like performances, but aren’t, and putting them on stage.”

Early in his career, Lemoine was known for setting plays tinged with absurdity in exotic, middle European locales. A Lesson in Brio is a good example of his recent work, plays that highlight the theatricality–and vivacity–of everyday life.

A Lesson in Brio is being held over at the Varscona Theatre.

Holdover Tickets: https://tickets.teatroq.com/f/2018/a-lesson-in-brio


Fringe 2018: Escaped Alone


In this time of political turmoil, it’s been a popular–and wise–bit of advice that we periodicaly take a break from bad news to enjoy simpler pleasures.

Escaped Alone opens with a genial scenario. Four older ladies on a summery patio, sharing small talk and tea.

They keep the conversation light–even after it’s revealed that one of them maybe accidentally killed her husband! (Highlight text to reveal a spoiler.)

Intermittently, one guest, Mrs. Jarret (played by Judy McFerran) stands up to deliver an aside. It may be what she’s actually thinking when the others are going on about TV programs or phobias about cats. Or it may be a description of what will happen to this place in a dark, post-apocalyptic future.

The contrast between the tea party and Mrs. Jarret’s horrifying visions of scarcity and cannibalism (spoiler text!) is shocking (there were audible gasps from the audience during the performance I attended). It also raises questions about what we individually and collectively are doing as the world changes around us.

Escaped Alone is a recent work by UK playwright Caryl Churchill, who is known for interweaving personal and political stories.

The play gives the gift of four meaty, complex, and fun roles for senior women. In this production, McFerran (playing the one with apocalyptic asides), Vivien Bosley (Sally, the catphobe), Holly Turner (Vi, the maybe murderer), and Alison Wells (Lena, who leads a rousing rendition of “Da Doo Ron Ron”), all deliver charming and engrossing performances.

Finally, a note of gratitude to director Amy DeFelice for bringing another Caryl Churchill play to the stage. Felice, who has also directed Fen and A Number, shares Churchill’s talent for using humour and irony to get to the heart of serious subject matters.

As I write this, there is one last opportunity to see THEATRE Blue’s production of Escaped Alone at the 2018 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. It’s worth seeking out, and discussing over tea afterwards.

Tickets: https://tickets.fringetheatre.ca/performances.php?eventId=601:2065