Let’s Keep Dancing

There is something hopeful, noble and even magnificent about new theatre companies.   They have the courage and audacity to believe they have something new and worthy to share in a community that is already besot with too many starving artists.

Last evening I had the privilege of seeing the debut production Always on Alert by the spanking new and madly ambitious Iconoclasm Theatre Company also to be known as ITC. http://iconoclasmtheatre.org/index.html .  According to their website, the founding members Sandra Dagovic, David Lichty, Regine Tiu, and Waleed Ansari have made it their goal not only to entertain but also to “challenge audiences to examine culture, religion, and their symbols”.


Co-founder, philosophy student, director and playwright David Lichty was first baptized into the Toronto theatre scene with his 2012 SummerWorks play I Believe in Atheists.  This new script appears to be a continuation of the first with similar themes and questions.  What is the meaning of life?  What is our greater purpose? Does God exist?  What happens to us when we die?

In a nutshell, the play centers round Donald (played by Rob Wierzbicki) a conflicted nihilist living in a isolated government outpost in Alert, Nunavut with three other scientists. Their sole duty is to push the apocalyptic “nuclear button” should politics warrant the need to end the world.  Donald’s moral melancholy has led him to believe that all existence is “inconvenient”, especially those of his fellow scientists.   Throughout the play he spouts his nihilist rhetoric, challenging the other characters to negate his views with their own Christian or existentialist values.  They don’t have a chance against his skepticism and sociopathic righteousness.

There is something anachronistic about this play. It’s vaguely reminiscent of paranoia surrounding the Cold War when the possibility of annihilation was so much more present in our collective psyche.

Lichty’s direction controlled the frenetic energy of Wierzbicki who carried the play as if it is a one-man show.  This young actor has great presence and potential. He mastered huge chunks of diatribe, and gave them shape, substance and believability.  Not an easy task with a character deliberately written to be an unlikeable anti-hero.  At times, Wierzbicki may have indicated too much and consequently threw away some great moments of what could have been both fun and macabre.  For example, there are nuggets of absurdity that lost some of their power because we knew they were coming.  In particular the physical interactions between Donald and his fellow scientists felt somewhat underplayed and rushed.  Otherwise, the pace flowed well and the company played the irony found in the text.

Kudos go out to actors Greg Wilmont, Hayden Finkelshtstain and especially Marc Blanchard for their wonderfully present and controlled performances.  Without giving away too much of the plot, these characters were more than the recipients of Donald’s philosophical ranting. In their states of non-existence, they hugely contradict Lichty’s argument that existence has no meaning.  These three fine actors also reaffirm the adage “There are no small roles.”

The venue is the studio space at the historic Alumnae Theatre on Berkeley Street.  Ironically the oppressive heat in that space last night added to the oppressive isolation of the outpost even though it’s set in Nunavut. The tech team performed miracles in what is a challenging space.   Subtle lighting design and a cluttered and cost-effective re-purposed set design by Waleed Ansari added to that sense of growing madness, alienation and our inherent need to connect to the world and each other regardless of our religious and more beliefs.  Sound, costumes and makeup were also flawless.

There’s something melancholic about Existentialist Nihilism.  I suppose it’s the coming-of-age disappointment in the realization that we’re actually not the center of the universe.  Questioning the meaning of our existence seems to be a universal rite of passage for those on the cusp of adulthood.

Last night, I was reminded of Peggy’s Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?”  There’s no doubt this play and this company deals with questions relevant to all young people.  Always On Alert is both thought-provoking and meets  ITC’s mandate to challenge their audiences.  I left the theatre inspired by the company’s vision and their integrity of purpose. I look forward to watching them evolve over the months and years ahead.

So Where Did November Go?












Here I am at the end of November saying, “Huh?!? Where did all the time go?”

Last week I taught a workshop on  How to Write a 10 Minute Play.  As an experiment, every activity in the workshop lasted exactly ten minutes (and yes, I used my timer on my iPhone 5 to ensure exactly ten minutes).  The students did a 10 minute warm-up, I gave a 10 minute intro,the 24 of them pitched their play ideas 10 times to 10 directors (60 seconds each), followed by a 10 minute writing session of their opening scene, 10 minutes to rehearse, 10 minutes of performances, and finally 10 minutes of debriefing after each activity.  The point was to feel how short and how long 10 minutes can be.  As expected some of these 10 minute segments were far too short, and others were painfully long.

It’s been almost 10 months since I retired.  Since then I trekked through jungles and cloud forests, rappelled down waterfalls, and drank beer while sitting in hot springs in Costa Rica.  I dog-sat three chihuahuas in San Francisco, made friends with tattooed ex-cons at the Delancy Street Project, and did a Thelma and Louise road trip around the rest of the state of California.  Our textbook entitled Rattling the Stage, was published.  I attended four days of intense workshops at Directors Lab North.  I joined a company of transmedia story-tellers via The Mission Business and performed with them in an extended five month theatrical adventure including at the Toronto Fringe, Nuit Blanche and the Evergreen Brickworks.  I was a caretaker-turned-chief-of-a-militia in an end-of-the world-apocalyptic-pandemic-with-interactive-audience-and-online-followers scenario.  That was fun.   I wrote a play.  I met at a speed-dating match up with new playwrights in order to direct a show for the New Ideas Festival next March.  I got my website (www.janetkish.ca) set up.  I started this blog.  I designed and now have my very own business cards and I guess my own freelance business as an independent artist.  I am writing a curriculum support document for our book that will be finished by the next few week (hallelujah for that!)  I got my NEXUS card and drove to Buffalo just to have lunch.  I adjudicated a Canadian play festival and have agreed to adjudicate for Sears Drama Festival in early 2013.  I started teaching master class workshops. I joined Eclat-Arts to be a guest artist next July.   I began privately coaching young actors who plan to audition for post-secondary theatre schools.  I’ve reconnected with many former students who are all grown up, long lost friends and relatives who I hadn’t seen in years. I’m taking pottery classes and went to a firing range with real live zombie hunters to learn how to shoot guns. Huzzah! I’ve applied for multiple opportunities to participate in theatre festivals and labs across North America and have begun to receive my “Thank you, but no thank you letters.” I went to a wedding of the daughter of a good friend of I’ve known since she was a baby and watched proudly as her mother and her father walked her down the aisle.  Last week, I attended a memorial of another friend who died unexpectedly and far too young.

I’m alive. I’m living.  Time is precious.



Gun Clubs, Zombie Hunters, Pandemics, Character Dates and All Those Charming Things

My life is beautiful.

Retirement is an adventure.

Tomorrow, in the middle of the day, a Thursday no less, I will go to a real live shooting range.  I didn’t actually realize this was something on my bucket list until my ZED.TO directors asked me if I was interested in a (live ammo) target practice.  Their method to the madness is that this will be yet another “character date” (our version of rehearsals) for my character Renata to bond with members of the Zombie Squad. http://zombie.wikia.com/wiki/Zombie_Squad  These guys are real live zombie hunters and disaster prep experts and will be Renata’s security detail at Nuit Blanche.  “Yes, yes, YES!” I responded without thinking twice.

HUZZAH!  I get to play with guns and the bad boys.

Nuit Blanche comes this Saturday night (September 29), and ByoLogyc’s Clinic will be handing out free antidotes to the deadly virus that’s now rampant in the streets of Toronto post Toronto Fringe Festival.   Renata has recently been promoted to Chief of the newly formed SCD (Sanitation and Containment Department) and she will be responsible for keeping back the angry occupiers known as the EXE along with the help of the Zombie Squad.   Renata has done her due diligence on some of those protesters, and she knows for a fact they’re a crazy bunch of lefty pinkos!

Ironically, the Clinic will be held at Holy Trinity Church (behind the Eaton Center) so if the antidotes don’t work, hopefully prayers will.  Or maybe, they won’t……

We will find out what happens on November 2nd and 3rd at the “apocalyptic finale” where pandemic survivors, VIP’s and the desperate staff members of ByoLogyc will decide the outcome of the world as we now know it.  ZED.TO has won rave reviews as the most exciting interactive event to ever hit Toronto – but you need to take the plunge and take the free antidote….and become a VIP or an EXE…… and for heaven’s sake, buy tickets for the grand finale – which are now on sale at http://www.zed.to/tickets

P.S. Buy the “Power Tickets” and join Renata’s army.  We will take control!



The Mission Business Creates a Brave New World

I believe if we put our energy out to the universe, gateways to new realms will open up to us.  So it was with this mind I attended four intensive days at the Director’s Lab North http://www.directorslabnorth.com/ in June with over thirty inspiring stage directors from across North America.

Among those people was a dynamic and impressive theatre artist by the name of Elenna Mosoff.  Elenna is the Associate Producer of the award-winning Acting Up Stage Company as well as co-founder of a bold new artistic company, called The Mission Business http://www.themission.biz/

At the Lab, Elenna introduced us to the Mission Biz’s first initiative: ZED.TO.  This was designed to be an “immersive, interactive laboratory-based narrative adventure” about the impending 2012 apocalypse.  It was marrying live event theatre with on-line gaming, media, social media and science.

Elenna explained that this project was spawned because contemporary theatre in Toronto was staid, if not even archaic and in order to thrive, it needed to be bolder, more experimental, more media savvy, and more inclusive. So…. The Mission Biz’s intention was to create the beginning of a narrative about Byologyc – a fictional lifestyle pharmaceutical company.  Then, they would let the narrative unfold itself with the help of the audience and online participants in three phases (the Toronto Fringe, Nuit Blanche and the Grand Finale in November).  I remember thinking that the project was courageous and ambitious, but also perhaps a little mad.  I saw images of role-playing gamers who couldn’t distinguish the game from reality going postal.  It sounded more like a script for Hollywood than actual theatre in Toronto.
A week later I got an invitation to become a member of the cast at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Thankfully, I was intrigued enough to say yes.  The next thing I knew instead of attending traditional rehearsals, I was being sent on “character dates” in order to establish relationships with the other staff members of Byologyc and to develop my own back-story.  It didn’t take long before I began to question what was real and what was fiction (such as, did a stranger really find my iphone on the street or was it set up as part of the mission????).
The Mission Business wanted the story to develop as organically as possible and it has.
Performing at the Fringe turned out to be a blast and much to my delight the “live event” was a huge success. In the production, the pharmaceutical company Byologyc released its newest product – “ByoRenew” but things went terribly wrong before the end of launch. Sirens blasted while audience were swabbed for DNA, and then forcefully evacuated from the club only to be screamed at by a crazy EXE protester on Bathurst St.
The production did extremely well, and was awarded with numerous awards and accolades, including:
My rather staunch and uptight character so far has survived.  Last night, we had our first rehearsal for Nuit Blanche http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/project.html?project_id=1048.  For this event, the performance installation is titled Byologyc: Patient Zero and the narrative will continue.  Much of the story has been developed since the Fringe, through Twitter and live forums, and the plot has indeed thickened. From what I learned about the new director of SCD is that power corrupts. At Nuit Blanche, she will be there, along with a mob of  EXE occupiers and armed security to protect the company and the nasty Chet Getram.
All this leads up to the Grand Finale – ByoRetreat on November 2 and 3rd when the world as we know it will end.  Busloads of VIP members (and perhaps a few saboteurs – wink, wink) will be taken to a secret location for a two and a half hour interactive survival retreat.  Tickets will be available online within the next few days at www.zed.to
Without doubt, this is one of the most original and intelligent artistic projects I’ve ever known and I’m thrilled to be part of it.  Indeed, the universe has opened doors for me.
I invite you to enter our story, either as a volunteer performer or an audience participant.  I’m confident it will be one of the most creative things you will do this fall.  Please join us and I hope to see you at the end of the world as we know it.