Avocado Toast: Poking Fun At Vancouverites

I have always lived outside of Vancouver (first in Richmond, now in Surrey) but when travelling, I default to the popular cosmopolitan city when asked where I am from. Often, I’ll go beyond and explain that I live in a surrounding area, but the farther I am from B.C., the more likely I am to receive a blank stare if I supply any other city name. It’s not a big stretch for me; over the years I’ve dined in swanky Yaletown, gone club-hopping on Richards St., taken in fireworks and ice cream at English Bay, poorly executed rollerblading the seawall on a first date (a blog post in and of itself), and hung out with my poet friends on Main Street. It may not be the city I live in, but I do love its neighbourhoods with their quirks and undeniable cultures. But Vancouverites and ‘Vancouverites-of-the-surrounding-areas’ have to admit: there’s a lot of room for parody here. So, when I got the chance to poke a little fun at Surrey’s older sister,  thanks to Vancouver Theatre Sports League’s Avocado Toast, I didn’t turn it down. Neither should you!

Avocado Toast Presented By Vancouver Theatre Sports League

From now through September 1 (Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm) at The Improv Centre on Granville Island, you can treat yourself to a very Vancouver evening: sailboats, sunsets and sights that make Vancouver an internationally popular destination. I had such a lovely commute ‘into the City’ (as we say) with my friend; we got to catch up on the drive in and had some laid-back laughs in the theatre. I told you that part of my plan for a more ‘sane’ summer as a mom of 3 is to get out with a girlfriend sans enfants. Avocado Toast was my first planned evening out and it was a great way to kick off the summer! Any time I can laugh with a friend is time I cherish, and at VTSL it’s pretty much impossible to not giggle or guffaw.

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Have you ever been to an improv comedy show? It blows my mind how a group of talented artists can create an entire show out of nothing and have us in stitches over yoga, the Grouse Grind, coffee and bike lanes. There was nothing this crew couldn’t do, it didn’t matter what the audience threw at them. Isn’t that the best part about an improv show? You can be a part of it without having to be on stage? You can just throw your suggestion out there, and if someone grabs it you get to see how it plays out in the minds of some really funny people. I mean, if you’re really brave you can get up there, too. But my friend and I enjoyed being close enough to touch the stage but not actually set foot on it!

You know what else is awesome about attending a show for Vancouverites about Vancouverites? You can literally wear your yoga pants and you’d be on point. I didn’t. I mean, it was my girls’ night out; I dressed up and wore jeans. But maybe the next time I go, I’ll wear something stretchier. Yes, I’d go again! When it’s improv, you NEVER get the same show twice and I am so curious to see how Avocado Toast is served up another time!

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get out and do something different, I highly recommend checking out the shows at The Improv Centre. With so many food destinations close by and unique shops to wander through, you can make quite an evening out of it. For me, it’s a great place to meet a friend or venture out to on a date night when I need a little dose of Vancouver.

You can follow their updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like I do so you don’t miss a show!

Are you from Vancouver or did you grow up around here? What’s your favourite Vancouverite stereotype? Let me know in the comments!

taslim jaffer writer

 

The Release Party | A New Play By Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group

If you’ve never heard of the Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group (RHYTAG), you’re missing out on something amazing happening right here in Vancouver, B.C. RHYTAG is the vision of Director/Playwright Valerie Methot to bring together the worlds of art and social change while engaging youth and the community in which they live. It’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

“I strongly believe that young people have a lot of really important things to say,” Methot emphasized to me when we spoke on the phone about RHYTAG and the upcoming world premiere of the original play, The Release Party. “And it’s really important to me that we give them a forum . . . the utmost respectful environment to do that.” What Methot has done, essentially, is create a safe environment for youth to have their say, to produce a collaborative project while learning skills like script-writing, acting, set-building and everything else that goes into a first-class theatre production.

RHYTAG started strong 17 years ago; in year one, 50 youth showed up to the first workshop, prompting Methot to build Some Assembly Theatre, a company of professional artists, to support this project. “Our company is all about producing these plays to promote awareness and dialogue and wellness with regard to these issues that face young people.”

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Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

The young artists range in age from 13 to 18 and don’t necessarily have prior theatre experience. The only requirement is that they are open to working in a group with mentors (older youth) and under the guidance of professional artists while committing to the schedule necessary to put on the productions. Commitment does not seem to be an issue for these talented and ambitious youth; some of them who started out in their early teens years ago are now hired by Methot.

When asked about RHYTAG’s place in the community, Methot replied, “I always want it to continue to grow and I see it as an important central pivot in the community. It’s a place where community members of all ages need to come together to listen to the young people. We have talkback sessions after every performance and over the 17 years I’ve been doing this, every year there are very moving testimonials from audience members who see themselves in our plays and are moved to tears because they have never felt part of the community before. This project really does bring community together.”

The New Play, The Release Party Runs From May 2-5

Some Assembly Theatre Company is proud to produce and present the world premiere of The Release Party from Wednesday, May 2 to Saturday, May 5 at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. Admission is FREE – your donations are appreciated. ** Seating is limited! For reservations, please contact Ken Lawson: 604-603-5237 | kenlawson@shaw.ca

The Release Party is a play based on real life – a story powerful enough to save lives. It is a celebration of youth expression in a pursuit to manage struggles with mental health, bullying, and suicide prevention. The Release Party inspires with bravery, exhilarating artistry, and hope for the future. Working in collaboration with professional artists, this play is written and performed by youth from diverse backgrounds including Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Greek, French, Russian, Kurdish, and Serbian.

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Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

The story is based on ‘Wind’, a young First Nations artist, who is releasing her new single – and throws a party to celebrate. At the party, attendees are asked to perform their various talents, which leads to a life-changing experience they’ll never forget. The Release Party treats you to comedy, drama and brave dialogue along with entertaining dance, music, spoken word, rap, visual art, film, and parkour.

Watch The Trailer For The Release Party

The Audience Is Well Supported

At the play, you can expect to find many levels of support for audience members who may be triggered by what they see or hear on stage. Resource materials will be available as well as clinicians and counsellors provided by Vancouver Coastal Health, a key partner of Some Assembly Theatre. This truly is a project that follows through on their mission to promote change at the individual and community level; art and healing come together in fine fashion.

The Young Artists Of The Release Party

The Release Party is written and performed by the following youth from Vancouver and Surrey:  Christopher Rahim, Latisha Wadhams, Steven Cao, Cam Adriano, Carly Le, Nikita Gutman, Elodie Doumenc, Haley Christenson, Devana Petrovic, Sian Kilpatrick, Laurel Trueman and Josh Kennedy, who work in collaboration with industry professionals/artists Valerie Methot, Ken Lawson, Flick Harrison, Rup Sidhu, Jeremy Baxter, Anna Talbot, Athena Ivison, Nikki McLaren, and Allen Morrison. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Laurel Trueman about the collaborative movement of RHYTAG and the value of her experience working with this group. “RHYTAG is such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, different opinions and different levels of experience regarding the arts and writing . . . I’ve really learned working with such beautiful people. I’ve learned the value of giving someone space and hearing what they have to say and doing that, I’ve figured out there’s so much that I don’t know and so much that could be coming out in a collaborative project . . . that could make a project beautiful.”

Her articulate response made me think: As long as we have people coming together, offering space and collaboration and friendship, and as long as we continue to have challenging conversations in safe circles, we have hope for our future.

If you’re looking for something unique and meaningful yet engaging and entertaining to do with your teen, I can’t think of anything better.

For more information on Some Assembly Theatre Company, please visit them:

Website:            www.someassembly.ca

Facebook:         www.facebook.com/rhytag

Twitter:              www.twitter.com/rndhousetheatre

Instagram:         www.instagram.com/someassemblytheatre

taslim jaffer writer

 

 

 

 

Onegin: Review Of The Hit Musical At Surrey Civic Theatres

Onegin, first of all, is not what you think. It’s not about gin, one or otherwise. And it took me almost half the show to realize that it is actually the name of one of the characters, pronounced On-YAY-gin. I should have watched this before the show:

But, to be honest, it was fun to have a good laugh at myself and to hear other patrons laughing about the same thing with their companions as we left the theatre. Among the jokes about the mispronunciations were some noteworthy comments about the story, the music, the set, the costumes and more. In two words, the entire production was supremely impressive. In more words, I would see this show several times if given the opportunity.

What Is Onegin?

Onegin is inspired by a poem and opera from the 1800’s. Evgeni Onegin, a handsome man not willing to be tied down by love, visits the Larin family estate to meet his friend’s fiancee. There, Onegin meets Tatyana, a shy bookish girl ready to be swept away into the new and delicious world of romance. Onegin’s visit stirs up more than just passion! Much drama pursues among unforgettable musical numbers and convincing performances that completely immersed me in long-ago Russia.

The press release for this show described this hit musical as a rock concert, back kitchen party and love poem. I couldn’t describe it any other way. Seven cast members and three musicians shared one stage, and created layers and layers of art, beginning with the opening number in which they declare: “We hope to please, we hope to charm, we hope to break you open.” And they most certainly did!

My Favourite Scene

Prior to seeing the show, I read The Georgia Straight’s review which proclaimed, “You’re lucky to be alive right now…because you get to see Onegin.” I thought this was a bit dramatic. Then I saw the show and I really do feel lucky to have seen it. The music alone was well worth it. My favourite song was Let Me Die when Tatyana spends her first night after meeting him pining for him, writing feverishly in her journal about her desires, fighting that voice inside her that begs her to get a grip on herself.

Here’s a taste of that song:

Now imagine sitting just rows away from Tatyana on stage with her voice reaching to the far ends of the theatre, able to see her every facial expression and movement as she wrestles with what she wants and what she isn’t sure she can have. It was breathtaking.
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Photo Credit: David Cooper
Kudos to creators Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille on their incredible success! In an interview with Hille she explained, “When we started writing Onegin, I was ready to dive into grand romance. This show has let me feel things I haven’t in ages. Sprawling, messy feelings that led to soaring melodies and hot dreams and some pretty fervent singing.”
Produced through the Arts Club’s Silver Commissions Project (developing new plays since 2006), Onegin collected ten wins at the 2016 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, making history as the first production to win all but one of the awards in the large theatre category. Now that deserves a standing ovation!

Bravo! And a special shout-out to all the cast and musicians who made this vision come alive.

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Photo Credit: David Cooper

Cast: Lauren Jackson (Tatyana Larin), Jonathan Winsby (Evgeni Onegin), Erik Fraser Gow (Vladimir Lensky), Meaghan Chenosky (Olga Larin and others), Caitriona Murphy (Madame Larin and others), Andrew Wheeler (Prince Gremin and others), and Nadeem Phillip (many others).

Musicians: Barry Mirochnick (percussion and guitar), Jennifer Moersch (cello) and Marguerite Witvoet (piano and keyboards).

My husband and I turned this into a date night and we will definitely do it again. I’m glad that we can stay on this side of the bridge and be entertained by the vibrant arts scene in Surrey.
To check out what’s playing now and in the near future, visit the Surrey Arts Centre’s ticket information site.
I received complimentary tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review. I am proud to partner with Surrey Civic Theatres. Join them on Facebook so you don’t miss a show!

Did you catch my other reviews?

taslim jaffer writer

 

 

 

 

Bergmann Piano Duo: 4 Hands, 2 Pianos, 1 Incredible Performance

On February 15, I was invited to enjoy just over an hour of live piano music at Surrey Civic Theatres, skillfully delivered by Surrey-based pianists Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann. The 129-seat Studio Theatre is intimate and comfortable and exactly the place you want to experience a performance by the Bergmann Piano Duo. I love live music because – other than the exceptional sound quality – watching musicians in their element, doing what they love, has such an impact on my soul.

I love to see live performances at Surrey Civic Theatres. Here's my review of the Bergmann Piano Duo.

Observing Elizabeth and Marcel non-verbally communicate across the bells of the gorgeous grand pianos was fascinating in itself. Pianists play, not just with their hands, but with their faces and whole bodies; being able to witness the nods, facial expressions and synchronized breaths so close up was awesome!

Elizabeth and Marcel are international performers who have played throughout North America and Europe. They are also Artistic Directors of White Rock Concerts and are on faculty at the Langley Community Music School. Marcel arranges the music for their CD collection and live performances, and it’s obvious he and Elizabeth are a dynamic pair when they make those pieces come alive.

This clip gives you a taste of their chemistry as they talk about their musical life together. You don’t even have to be a fan of piano to appreciate how amazing it must be to share a life with someone equally passionate about an art.

At The Movies With The Bergmann Piano Duo

The show I attended was called ‘At The Movies’ and highlighted selections from West Side Story (L. Bernstein, arr. M. Bergmann), The Big Country (J. Moross, arr. M. Bergmann), Oblivion (A. Piazzolla, arr. M. Bergmann), The Mission (E. Morricone, arr. M. Bergmann) and An American in Paris (G. Gershwin). Though I was only familiar with West Side Story, the narration and synopses by David Mann provided enough context to help me understand the mood of the pieces that followed. I noted that The Mission and An American in Paris sound like great films; it would be fun to watch them now that I have a taste of the music that weaves throughout the stories.

The Bergmann Piano Duo is playing again at Surrey Civic Theatres on Thursday April 19, accompanied by vocalist and actress Onalea Gilbertson. In the cabaret-style show, From Berlin to Hollywood, the audience is treated to selections from the Threepenny Opera and other hits. Afterward, there is even a chance to mingle with the Bergmanns!

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Excuse me if I sound a little dreamy, but the curved bells of the piano in an embrace under theatre lights set quite the stage for my brief middle-of-the-work-day escape. I had slipped into my seat in the Studio Theatre after teaching a writing workshop and next on my list was a phone call with a client; the interlude felt like an opening of my creative self. I sailed into my phone meeting feeling invigorated and inspired. And that is the true beauty of art – it reaches into all the other parts of your life, even the tired, empty spaces, and fills them with energy.

Do you like to watch live performances? What was the last show (musical, theatrical) you saw? Tell me in the comments!

Watch this space for more suggestions of what to see and be sure to check out my other reviews.

I received a ticket to the show in exchange for my honest review. I’m proud to partner with Surrey Civic Theatres. You can find them on Facebook here.

taslim jaffer writer 

 

 

 

Bittergirl, The Musical: A Review

I’ve got the Supremes singing Where Did Our Love Go through my laptop’s speakers right now – the perfect girl-group accompaniment to my review of what was a hilarious and touching show. Until I read the program I didn’t realize that the 3 main characters are based on the the writers themselves, one of whom was divorced, another dumped by her long-time live-in boyfriend and the third whose recent romance went up in flames. Knowing the background made the experience even better, more real – though without that information you are still guaranteed to find either yourself or your girlfriends in these characters. We’ve all been her – the girl going through a heartbreak, trying to pick up the pieces and glue them all back together. Sometimes doing ridiculous things to ourselves. Cleaning too much. Maybe a little stalkery. Yeah, they captured it all in Bittergirls: The Musical.

You may have heard of Bittergirls from its previous incarnation as the smash-hit play bittergirl that toured London to New York City and had three sold-out runs in Toronto. The success of the play prompted the writers, Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence and Mary Francis Moore to share their stories in a relationship advice book called BITTERGIRL: Getting Over Getting Dumped, which was published in 2005 and also was wildly successful.

So, what to do after your play and your book soar to the sky? Create a musical, of course! Fitzsimmons, Lawrence and Moore did this spectacularly with a 60’s and 70’s soundtrack that will have you at least humming along. The song lineup included some of my favourites from The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals and so many more. Basically, it was a soundtrack that reminded me I was totally born in the wrong music era. How fun to have it all come together on a beautiful set, with incredible voices and impressive acting.

Let’s talk about the set for a minute. You know what blew me away? How simple it was. How very few props were needed to transform a simple stage to an aerobics class or the bushes outside an ex-lover’s home. (Seriously, you just have to see it to know what I’m talking about). The simplicity of the set really drove home the idea that you don’t need much when the talent is sky-high.

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The three actresses were literally a harmonious match; from the first note of the first song and throughout both acts, they blew me away with how their voices weaved through each other, never one overpowering the other unless it was called for in the song. And their script – there were times when all 3 of them had to say the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same tone…and they did it! I would have loved to watch their rehearsals as they practiced that because I am sure there were some serious bloopers. (Anyone reading this from the creative team? Valerie Easton, the director? I really think you should add a ‘blooper reel’ that is acted out live on stage after the production). Kudos to Lauren Bowler, Katrina Reynolds and Cailin Stadnyk – you gals were amazing! And of course, ‘the guy’ who played 3 guys, Josh Epstein, you did your job well! Thanks for letting us laugh at you.

The musicians who sat in the top corner – Diane Lines on piano, Madeleine Elkins on guitar, NoeLani KeAloha on drums and Linda Kidder on bass – were wonderful.

I had a great time reviewing the touring Arts Club Theatre at Surrey Arts Centre. You can find out when they’ll be in your part of the Lower Mainland as they make their rounds until March 15, 2017.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative

 

 

 

Kinky Boots – Broadway In Vancouver: A Review

Ladies! Gentlemen! And all those who have YET to decide!

On February 9, 2017 I caught my first musical of the year: Broadway hit, Kinky Boots – a flashy, showy delight with entertaining and poignant musical numbers. There couldn’t have been a better show to set the stage for 2017! (It’s definitely set the bar high being the winner of 6 Tony Awards, including BEST MUSICAL!)

This is the story of Charlie Price, son of a shoemaker with no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. He leaves his home in Northampton, lured by the more exciting prospects of London living and, more honestly, by his materialistic fiancee, Nicola. But his father’s death yanks him back and proclaims him the owner of Price & Sons, the last place on earth he feels he belongs.

Enter: Lola. A vibrant drag queen who is absolutely comfortable in her skin – but not in her boots made for female bodies. A chance meeting between Charlie and Lola sets both destinies in motion but the road is bumpy with ignorance, fear, and childhood trauma. Kinky Boots is a timely backdrop for current issues that plague society, but with messages that had the audience clapping, exclaiming, and in the end, on their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.

[Tweet “@KinkyBootsBway: If you can change your mind, you can change the world. #IntermissionTweets”]

It was a pleasure to be swept up in the many sides of Cyndi Lauper through her music and lyrics for this performance. From wild and lively to heartrending and mellow, the score is truly spectacular.

And those BOOTS! To take the name of one of their songs, ‘the sex is in the heel’, and those boots were all that! Wonderful artistry by costume designer Gregg Barnes, hair designer Josh Marquette and make-up designer Randy Houston Mercer. Well done!

Of course, without the enormous talents of the performers the magic of this show would not have been what it was. Hats off to Curt Hansen (Charlie Price), J. Harrison Ghee (Lola), Tami Dahbura (Trish), Katerina Papacostas (Nicola) and the rest of the crew that brought this story to life. They worked together with incredible chemistry and talent; their desire to give their audience the greatest show they could was evident from the first scene.

The young boys who played Young Charlie and Young Lola – Landon Maas and Sebastian Maynard-Palmer, respectively – blew my mind! Learning that this was Landon’s National Tour Debut made my own mama heart burst! And Sebastian already has quite an impressive dance and performance resume in the fourth grade! Truly, the arts are the backbone of any civilization, and the involvement of these young actors indicates that our civilization is alive and well! Congratulations to them and I am sure I’ll see them on stage again!

Thank you, Kinky Boots, for starting my musical year off so well!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative