Monday, July 28, 2008

Fringe-ing in Winnipeg!

Dave and I arrived in Winnipeg last Thursday, and have been living at its famed Fringe Festival ever since. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, the Fringe Festival is a celebration of independent theatre and street performers. Over 10-12 days, plays are performed in improvised venues that are clustered in near proximity to one another, and audiences choose the play they will attend and pay a small fee to be admitted. These festivals happen all over the country, moving from east to west.

Personally, I like The Fringe much better than regular theatre -- not only is it more experimental, interesting, and affordable, but the smaller venue sizes (and thus smaller audiences) makes the performances both intimate and unique. The audience, in a sense, is a whole other character within the play. Performers often interact with their audiences in some direct fashion, such as to stop to say "God bless you!" to someone sneezing, or to flirt, or to encourage a singalong. Dave was included in two shows, once as a dancing man-ho, and another time as the object of affection of a lovelorn German rock queen. (So you know, this can be avoided if you sit farther back than the first few rows... but that takes the fun out of it!) ;-)

As I mentioned before, the Fringe Festival will be hitting other cities. Saskatoon is next, I think, followed by Edmonton and Vancouver. If you live in a city expecting a Fringe this year, do consider going to see a play. I cannot emphasize strongly enough what a great time Fringing is. However, it can be a bit intimidating, to decide from all the available plays... so, to help you out, I will list a few shows that Dave and I enjoyed.
  • "Teaching the Fringe" by Keir Cutler: Based on a letter of scathing criticism Keir received for a former play. He breaks it down in a hysterically funny manner.
  • "Die Roten Punkte: Supermusicante": Musical comedy duo parody German rock stars. Fantastic show, catchy tunes, and I laughed until I hurt!
  • "Totem Figures" by TJ Dawe: Vancouver playwright and established Fringe deity, TJ does a 1.5-hour autobiography about his personal mythology, and its role in his life.
  • "The B-List": Trio of drag starlets performing a hysterically funny post-rehab musical.
  • "Singing at the Edge of the World": Gifted storyteller Randy Rutherford tells his autobiographical story of coping with congenital hearing loss while living the bohemian dream in Alaska. Touching, funny, and utterly spellbinding.
  • "The Further Adventures of Antoine Feval": Chris Gibbs spins an amusing yarn from the perspective of a clueless assistant to a detective.

Other neat shows include Hot Pink's Busty Rhymes, Jem Rolls: How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall, and Killing Kevin Spacey.

Anyhow, for those of you in or near Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, or Victoria, go and see some of these shows! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Something Neat

Whenever Dave is away, I find myself watching a lot of movies. Specifically, I watch the kind of movies Dave doesn't care for much, such as arty flicks or horror movies.

Last nights' choice -- Fast Food Nation -- was a meandering dud with too many characters, no narrative or focus, pointless cameos, and a miasma of smug, self-righteous indignance at the mass-processing meat industry. The movie weilded shock value with all the finesse of installing a light switch with a sledgehammer. While wearing oven mitts.

As for the highlight of the movie, it's a toss-up between Avril Lavignes' cameo as a dippy protester, or the final scenes' brutally honest footage of a packing plant kill floor. Seriously, those are the highlights.

Being so dissatisfied with the movie, I am not certain why I investigated the DVDs' Special Features afterwards. But I'm glad I did. It introduced me to a fascinating web animation called "The Meatrix", in which Leo, a pig, is approached by the enigmatic, black-clad cow "Moopheus", who invites Leo to see past the fiction we perceive the meat industry to be.

While the Matrix parody in itself is amusing, it also hits home how little we really know -- or want to know -- about where most of our meat really comes from. If you want to check it out, then Enter The Meatrix and give it a look.

(Note that while it is an animation, The Meatrix is actually quite explicit, and shouldn't be watched by small children, imho.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer So Far

Summer so far has been a lot of fun. Dave and I just got back from some weeks in Vancouver, where we saw his sister get married. It was a beautiful wedding with a truly inspired theme -- summer camp wedding! Katie and Charlie rented a YMCA summer camp outside of Vancouver, and had a weekend-long extravaganza of campfires, camp activities, and a gorgeous wedding right in the middle. There was even an icebreaker/talent show the first night, in which I handily made an ass of myself singing a blues song I co-wrote. Ah well, it's all for family, right? ;-) Other acts included a recitation of all prime numbers between 1-100, several other original song performances, Highland dancing, and a comedic clarinet/oboe duo. The show finale was two friends of Katies' singing "Business Time," inserting Katie and Charlies' names in various places in the song. It was positively hysterical.

During the weekend there was canoeing, archery, and even a high-ropes course (which my mum mastered! Go mum!!). A highlight for me was actually getting a chance to spend time with Dave's extended family, especially his cousins. The last time we all met, it was my own wedding, and so I was a tad preoccupied and barely got a chance to talk to anyone. It's great to finally get to know them a bit. Another highlight was dad's arrival -- he had been chairing meetings in Ottawa that morning, and flew Ottawa-Toronto, Toronto-Vancouver, Vancouver-seaplane to Seschelt, and despite this long journey, still partied hard until 2am Vancouver time! That's dedication, man.

Also, while in Vancouver, I decided to take the plunge and get laser eye surgery. It's a big change from before; I used to not be able to see anything outside of an arm's-length, but now I see… well, everything. The first time I really noticed the difference was on Canada Day, where I saw the tens of thousands of red-and-white-clad people packed throughout downtown, as far as the eye can see in every direction. It occurred to me I wasn't wearing contacts… and it was both weird and wonderful.

I'd worn glasses and contacts since age 9, so no longer needing these things is a huge adjustment for me. It's even been hard to get rid of my glasses. I went to a local glasses shop, asked if they took donations of old glasses. The clerk pointed to a box for the Lions Club. I looked at my purse, which contained my old glasses… then looked at the box… then smiled, thanked the clerk, and left with my glasses still in my purse. I just couldn't do it yet.

Other than that, Ottawa has been buzzing with activity lately. Canada Day was a blast; we started at a friends' BBQ, then moved on to the concert and fireworks. The main headliner was Blue Rodeo, but as luck would have it, the alternate headliner was Hawksley Workman, who I adore. Being not so crowded, we were able to get some good spots, and Hawksley entertained us with his whimsical stories and unexpected medleys (veering into Destinys' Child hits, for example).

More recently, this past week has been the Ottawa Bluesfest (note, not actually entirely dedicated to blues music). I've been going almost every night, and have seen gems such as The Tragically Hip, The Black Crowes, James Taylor, Les Breastfeeders, Matt Good, and many more. Here are the highlights thus far:

Best Show: Michael Franti and Spearhead with their super-positive political reggae. The crowd was jumping and singing along, and this was by far the most compelling draw of the night… despite this fairly obscure band playing at the exact same timeslot as THREE huge headliners.

Biggest Surprise: Snoop Dogg. Yes, I saw Snoop Dogg, and he was great. Not a lot of songs, but he must have written the textbook on crowd involvement. It was a fantastic time. Even the crowd itself was entertaining -- I was standing next to a youngish mum and her 11-year-old son, the latter of whom was mortified with the former, especially as she enthusiastically sang along with Snoops' vulgar lyrics. (Hee hee, people watching is fun!).

Weirdest Moment: Boz Scaggs. I approach the stage, and see this red-faced, jowl-y man in a collared white shirt and dark pants. His hair is silver in an almost-mullet, whiter on the top, and his moustache is grey. My first thought -- "What the hell is my dad doing there?!?!" The resemblance is truly uncanny, especially at a distance..

Biggest Disappointment: CBC darlings, Winnipeg rock band The Weakerthans. The show itself was great, except for (I think) a poor choice in songs. In their encore, they picked their most controversial song, and had the Ottawan crowd gleefully screaming along, "I HATE WINNIPEG!!" City choice aside, why end a show on a hating note like that?

Biggest Schadenfreude Moment: Fergie's show was late, and her vocals were nearly inaudible over the pre-recorded backing vocals. Even the peripheral stuff (the dancing, the outfits, the stage itself) were not great. Then she even ended early. So generally, the show was terrible, but at least it made me feel better about my own un-stellar talent show performance weeks earlier. ;-)

The Bluesfest will continue until the end of this weekend, and tonight Dave and I will be seeing Metric. This edgy Montreal rock band is known to put on a great show, and I already know a lot of their music, which I love. I can hardly wait!

(Also, note that all of these photos come courtesy of friends, facebook, or flickr... thanks, all!)