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Through Creative Life and Other Fancies, I seek to inspire and inform people about living as a creative person. Here you will find my successes, failure, and best of all, attempts. Enjoy!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Need A Little Gut-Wrenching: A Review

And really who doesn't every now and then?  Luckily, when I found myself in need of something more thought provoking and visceral than the usual entertainment that abounds at this time of year (tent-pole productions, anyone?), I had You Won't Be Here (Tomorrow) to turn to.  Produced by young theatre company Theater in Spite Of, this play is approximately sixty minutes of an emotional roller coaster ride that grabs the audience by the gut and refuses to let go.  Written by James Fanizza and directed by Carrie Adelstein, this two hander production moves deftly from heartbreaking tragedy to laugh-out-loud humour.  Joss Whedon would be proud.

And that tip of the hat most definitely goes to writer Fanizza.  They say that writing is akin to opening a blood vein and letting it flow onto the page.  While not autobiographical in any specific sense, Fanizza did draw on personal experience to write this play.  It takes courage to write and present anything publicly but the sheer tenacity to showcase such a gritty play that focuses on women is almost unheard of.  And the risk to wade into such tumultuous waters paid off in spades as evidence by the emotional response of audience with very few dry eyes in the house.  

The action revolves around two sisters, Julie (played by Julie Lemieux) and Simone (played by Karen Ivany) and delves as much into their shared history as it does into their present circumstances.  Despite there only being two characters physically present on stage, it feels as though an entire cast of characters is waiting in the wings, full developed and waiting be explored.  This feeling is intentional according to Adelstein.  She wanted to make the worlds of these characters so real that the audience never questions whether or not these two women are related.  It became part of the rehearsal process to really discuss and develop the back story of Julie and Simone. Which in turn allows for the actresses to act like family, being able to communicate an entire lifetime of bitterness, love, and feeling with a single glance at each other.

Which provides an excellent segue into the acting of this play.  As an actress, I can tell you that really wonderful and deep material for women barely exists, either on stage or on film.  These parts are masterfully written by Fanizza and give these actresses something to really immerse themselves in.  And immerse they do.  Lemieux's portrayal of Julie is astonishing.  Tightly wound, distrustful, but with that shred of kinda-maybe-hope that is so evident in so many people in her position.  (Yes, I'm being vague on purpose. Go see it to know what I'm talking about.)  Lemieux's years as a voice actress are fully on display here as I'm sure her natural voice is not the years-of-drinking-I-just-swallowed-an-entire-ashtray-of-cigarette-butts growl I heard on stage.  Let's face it.  We all know a person like this and watching Lemieux bring it to life on stage was both amazing and painful in a wonderful way.

Karen Ivany as Simone is the perfect counterpoint.  Again, she's that neighbour, friend, or family member everybody knows that is so perfect you just want to barf.  Her struggles are so real and so poignant that her shiny gleam of perfection becomes another cross for her to bear.  And if we all know someone like Julie, we've all been Simone; the friend or family member that doggedly picks up the pieces tragedy after tragedy and holds up bitter hope that life will be better for a loved one.  Ivany walks the thin line of supporter and hardliner in this production with ease.  She nails Simone's quickly drying up patience with her sister while still loving her deeply.  And her vulnerability as she reveals more about her own tribulations are some of  the most hard-hitting moments in the play.

Part of the site specific portion of the Toronto Fringe Festival, any mention of this production would not be complete without mentioning the location.  Located in The White House Studio at 277.5 Augusta Ave (yup, slightly out of the traditional Fringe perimeter), the "set" is as much a character here as Julie and Simone.  It's dirty, messy, and derelict, reflecting much of the emotional work these two characters deal with, both on stage and off.  It's intimate and that's just how Adelstein wanted it. With the actresses a mere foot or two away, the audience is forced to experience this play more as passive participants, rather than spectators. Confused by that sentence? Just feel the physical reaction of the audience as a collective whole as the play builds up to its climatic ending and you'll know what I mean.

There are a few chances left to see this locally produced production and I highly recommend you take that chance.  Here are the remaining showtimes as well as ticket information:
  • July 08 08:00 PM
    July 10 08:00 PM
    July 11 08:00 PM
    July 12 08:00 PM
    July 13 08:00 PM
    July 14 08:00 PM
  • All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at the Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W, July 3rd-14th, noon – 10pm (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.
Happy creating!  And Fringe-ing!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Musings from a (formerly) Silent Actress

All right, full disclosure: I've been silent since my last blog post.  And I mean silent.  Right after that long ago post in March, I woke up sans voice.  First thought, laryngitis.  But then it didn't go away after a week, two weeks, a month.  So off I went to the specialist who diagnosed me with a paralyzed left vocal cord. And while the kind doctor assured me that it really wasn't as traumatic as it sounded and up to two thirds of patients recover fully, my natural dramatic tendencies kicked into overdrive.  Paralyzed....PARALYZED!?! As in, nothing-you-can-do-about-it paralyzed?  The cause was unknown which is normal with this condition and treatment options were limited.  Really, the only treatment available in Canada is injecting a substance (it has a long and complicated medical name that I don't even begin to remember) into the affected vocal cord and even that doesn't make the thing move, it just helps eliminate some of the symptoms.  But doing something, anything appealed to my Type A personality.  So while the thought of having a needle put through my throat caused some panic attacks, I had to do something.

I'm not a huge fan of not having control over my life and career.  Yes, that seems to be at odds with my career choice but for all rights and purposes, I believe that actors do control their careers.  There is always something we can do to be working.  But this condition suddenly brought to light that there are some things I don't and never will have control over.  And it terrified me. Beyond the obvious lack of being able to audition well, any parts I was offered through my wonderful film family, I had to turn down. I didn't know from one day to the next whether my voice would be kinda OK or not at all.  In no way did I want to be responsible for possibly lessening the quality of their finished products. I began to question my abilities and inevitably, my thoughts turned to possible career changes.  Which, of course, nearly killed me.  I'm an actor.  I love acting. How could I possibly consider doing anything else?  I had one spectacular breakdown caused by simply booting up Netflix to watch Arrested Development.  Needless to say, I wasn't a happy camper.

Slowly but surely over the course of three months, those close to me kept insisting that my voice was sounding better.  I refused to believe it, figuring that my right vocal cord was just getting used to compensating for the lazy left one.  But then one day, when I was home alone, I was able to sing.  It wasn't great and it was no where near my usual range but music came out of my mouth.  I nearly cried.  That's when I started to hope.  I had already been doing visualizations of energy running through the nerves of my vocal cord (no one told me to do this, I just figured it couldn't hurt) so this spurred me on to do it more.  It's amazing what even a small shred of evidence of progress can do to a person.

Fast forward to the day I was booked to get the dreaded needle through my throat.  Not only was I scared out of mind (I'm OK with needles, I'm just not OK with needles going through my throat) and nervous about the cost (FYI: not everything is free in a universal healthcare system), I was stressed that I would be doing this procedure every three months until I either healed or they would have to do surgery.  The doctor had explained this wouldn't get my voice back, it would merely make it stronger.  But still my voice was sounding better.  I could get through a day without devolving into silence by five.  So imagine what happened to that small glimmer of hope when I opened my mouth to say hello to the doctor and his immediate response was, "Your voice is better"; it erupted into a full-fledged inferno.  One scope look later pronounced me almost 100% better, no injection required.  The left cord is still a little slow and lazy but it moves.  Trust me, I saw it on the nifty video.  I happy danced and high fived my husband all the way out of the hospital.

So things are looking up.  As one of my besties said when I joyous called her with news, no career change needed.  Call it the power of prayer, visualizations, karma, or whatever, I've woken up each day since sending off oodles of gratitude to the universe.  Cuz, really despite of it all, life is just plain fantastic.  And I'm telling everyone!

Happy creating!