PROUD (political satire/comedy) is coming to Firehall Arts Centre, April 5-26

Is Canadian politics conducive to comedy? It’s definitely conducive to satire.

Michael Healey describes his new play PROUD as being like Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play where Professor Henry Higgins remodels the Cockney girl Eliza into a proper lady (you may be more familiar with the “My Fair Lady” musical version). Can you imagine Stephen Harper (or rather a prime minister character with a shocking similarity to Harper) and an ingénue female MP character playing corresponding roles? (An ingénue to the extent that she is new to Parliament, but definitely not an ingénue when it comes to manipulation and power plays.)

PROUD at the Firehall

Although I find Shaw to sometimes be problematic (he is nothing is not forthright in his opinions), I am always engaged by Shaw’s writing. I am curious to see how Healey makes this play work–I am hoping for the wit and unexpected humour that Shaw often provides. I will endeavour to set aside hyperrealistic tendencies (the ones that might whisper or shout that Harper’s administration is not exactly known for sex scandals, whatever other embarrassing events have taken place).

The reviews from the Toronto production are generally positive (“funny and foul-mouthed, yet surprisingly sweet”). However, it’s fair to point out that at least one reviewer sees the play as misogynistic and stereotypical.

Firehall is generously offering several days of half-price previews, and Wednesday matinees continue to be pay-what-you-can.

Review: This Stays in the Room (until March 30)

Theatre does not necessarily end with a tidy resolution, nor does it straightforwardly set out a story. “This Stays in the Room” is nonlinear theatre, based on lives and experiences that are extremely real. 


Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre: This Stays in the Room

Some stories of the four cast members, and stories of other unseen participants, are used to create a piece which overlaps and weaves these stories in a polyphonic fugue-like fashion (reminding me of TJ Dawe’s recent work, The Fugue Fugue). The use of real, raw stories reminded me of local theatre company Theatre for Living and its adaptation of Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed”. 

I did not find this an easy play to watch and listen to. The tragedies of the stories, coming one after the other and simultaneously, were viscerally difficult to hear. However, there’s no reason theatre should be an easy experience all the time, and the work of the actors in bringing these stories to life was magnificent. And although there were tragedies, there were also happy stories, like the young pregnant mother (and I so appreciated that Horseshoes and Hand Grenades cast a pregnant actor) who gets much-appreciated help from her own mother (although this account was even somewhat hard to hear, as it invoked envy in me). Actor Allan Morgan generously presents a difficult coming-of-age story and a triumph over alcoholism, among others (although I cannot be positive these were his stories–there’s no guarantee of that). 

The recounting of these stories, most of which involved some components of abuse, shame, or forgiveness (or all of these) reminded me somewhat of PostSecret, which is a project that collects postcards from people who anonymously write secrets on them. What does it mean to tell a story that reflects deep, dark secrets and suffering, particularly in an age where secrets seem almost impossible? 

I loved the actors’ intense participation in and enactment of these stories. I expect this play may hit you hard, but it can and should provoke you to think about your own secret stories. 

Vancouver Chamber Choir Sings Mozart at the Orpheum, April 18, Good Friday (TravelZoo deal)

Vancouver Chamber Choir Sings Mozart at the Orpheum, April 18, Good Friday (TravelZoo deal)

Classical music can often seem inaccessible due to price. With this deal, you can enjoy the Vancouver Chamber Choir singing Mozart’s Requiem and Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna at the Orpheum, for a ticket as cheap as $16. The solemn themes are appropriate for Good Friday. 

You can familiarize yourself with the text of Mozart’s Requiem, a work unfinished at Mozart’s death, and the subject of much intrigue and speculation. 

Mozart’s Requiem: Musical notes and translated lyrics

Lauridsen provides a contemporary composition on similar themes. Read more about the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

Theatre Review: Ga Ting 家庭 (Richmond Community Centre until March 30)

Ga Ting (which means “Family” in Cantonese) is a heartwrenching and beautiful play. Playwright Minh Ly has written a story about a young man, with Chinese immigrant parents who have followed the classic model of continuous grinding hard work to obtain a modicum of prosperity, who cannot fit into the mold that his parents want for him. Kevin, a talented artist working a menial service job, is also bipolar, gay, and an experimental drug user. The play begins with flashing lights and sirens, as Kevin has just died of an overdose.



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BIL Unconference March 22-23 (TED Alternative)

BIL Unconference March 22-23 (TED Alternative)

BeyondYVR is attending this unconference this weekend. All manner of interesting topics will be discussed, and you can even give a talk too. I’m looking forward to meeting lots of interesting people.

Read more:



Sign up, and I’ll see you there!

Review: Chelsea Hotel (Firehall, until March 29)

Info: Chelsea Hotel at the Firehall, March 18-29

(2012 production)

I’m a fan of Leonard Cohen’s music. My daughter, a musician, is perhaps even more so, and she knows and plays covers of some of his songs as part of her repertoire. We’ve been to three (or is it four) of his Vancouver concerts. So, how would Chelsea Hotel, which stitches together Cohen’s songs and poetry into a story about a struggling writer who checks into the Chelsea Hotel, fare in our judgment?

We both went in knowing that we often have difficulty with Leonard Cohen covers, because we’ve gotten so attached to how the man himself does them. But, we also knew, as you can see in the documentary “I’m Your Man”, that covers by sensitive musicians can breathe whole new meanings into songs, sort of like how you can see different colors in a prism when you turn it. 

We both agreed that we were stunned by the talent of the team, with their ability to play different instruments (keyboard, violin, cello, double bass, drums, and accordion–but don’t forget the harmonica and the kazoos!), sing, and dance. Three women (Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler, Marlene Ginader) play various roles that populate Cohen’s songs: temptresses, muses, lovers, friends, even the warrior Joan of Arc. Kayvon Kelly plays the lead as the frustrated writer. Ben Elliot plays a character I have seen referred to as the Bellhop. Steve Charles is a musician who floats through various scenes. 

The Bellhop reminded me of the Emcee in Cabaret (made famous by Liza Minnelli, but based on Christopher Isherwood’s stories in the “Goodbye to Berlin” collection). I saw the production last year (with a partially different cast), and, by memory, that aspect seemed stronger last year. This Bellhop has a bit of the Emcee, but he is an alter-ego of the writer, an imp that annoys the writer, and a homoerotic attractor. 

In the “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” number, I definitely had the feeling of the decadent KitKat club. This pre-World-War-II feeling also pervades “Take This Waltz” (I imagine a glittering, but decaying, Vienna in the interwar period) and “Dance Me to the End of Love” (a song that evokes thoughts of Russian pogroms). I recognize that other interpretations are possible, but those songs give that feeling to me. I felt that the actors captured these songs the way I understood them from Cohen.

With the classic song “Suzanne”, I loved the way the scene was set up and the song was acted out. The woman does wear “rags and feathers”, the nautical theme is there, and Suzanne does seem half-crazy. The song is done in a countrified arrangement, with a banjo (and other instruments). But–don’t be horrified. Leonard Cohen is himself a huge fan of country music (you can hear him doing an encore with “Tennessee Waltz” here), and I felt the arrangement did the song justice. ‘Suzanne’ is such a widely covered song that you can hear as many interpretations as you like.

Any concert that Leonard Cohen gives can only include a limited number of songs, so I’m not surprised that he does not seem to do some of his older classics, such as “Famous Blue Raincoat”, which is about the life of a young, struggling artist. It makes sense that other younger musicians might feel a greater resonance to this song. These actors did a wonderful arrangement, with a deep emotional understanding of its meaning–“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better…”.

Some songs I felt I was hearing for the first time, although I ranged from moderately to very familiar with all of them. Perhaps I had never grasped their meaning, such as with “Joan of Arc”. Of course I knew the story. But I had never paid close attention to phrases such as “And then she clearly understood/If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.” Sung by one of the women, sitting partially hidden behind a stack of crumpled paper, in a beautifully melodic voice, it made sense.

The titular song, Chelsea Hotel, was rendered beautifully by Kayvon Kelly. The Chelsea Hotel was the hub of an artistic community that included Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Kris Kristofferson, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and more. 

Perhaps wisely, this production had very few (I think none) of Cohen’s later works. Perhaps his more youthful output is a better fit for the story of a young and anguished writer. But one could imagine a production with a somewhat different set of Cohen songs that would convey a different total message, but be equally valid. Part of artistic direction is paring away, and the songs that made it into this work were all ones that worked very well together.

In some cases, the production cuts between and loops among the lyrics of songs, although most are sung intact. Cohen’s poetry, which I have little familiarity with, fills in narrative gaps.  

Talking with my daughter, she enjoyed the innovative way many songs were portrayed. But she was frustrated that “Lover, lover, lover”, which she said was probably her favorite Cohen song, was one of those that was cut and looped, rather than ever sung in its entirety. On the other hand, “Lover, lover, lover” was the perfect song to keep reappearing at various points in the production. It was another song for which I had a stronger visceral feeling and understanding of hearing it in this context. My daughter also felt the narrative line was lacking somewhat, which is a common problem in musicals. Nevertheless, she was thrilled to see it, and would recommend it.

I went into the production expecting that the narrative line would basically serve as a thin framework for the musical performances, so I was not disappointed. Think of this as a concert, with a bit of a storyline, rather than as a story with some music. 

This is a production that I would happily go see every night, just as I might play Leonard Cohen CDs several nights in a row. 



The Chan Centre presents SamulNori featuring Kim Duk Soo

Imagine a party. You have two gongs of different sizes and two drums, one shaped like an hourglass and the other a barrel. Add a lot of energy and showmanship, sometimes a wind that’s a hybrid flute and recorder. What do you think it sounds like?

If it was my party, you’d call the police and I’d get arrested for disturbing the peace. With SamulNori, you get taken for an amazing ride.

The ensemble takes its name from samul nori, which literally comes from the Korean describing dancers playing the four percussion instruments. Taking its roots from folk music, it combines many of the animist and shamanistic traditions of village culture as well as the regional cultures that comprise Korea, resulting in a mishmash of music, dance and acrobatics that is simply breathtaking. Given that the music originally centered around prayers for good harvests, it follows that the instruments themselves represent various elements. Rain, wind and the clouds are represented in the ensemble, as well as the idea of yin and yang, of the harmony between the heavens and the earth.

Originally a four-man band, SamulNori has grown into a company of thirty artists and students led by Kim Duk Soo. Mr. Kim is a lifelong devotee of the craft otherwise known as a wandering artist, a part of Korea’s troupe of traditional performing arts. Over the past five decades, he has been one of Korea’s most influential figures, helping to bring samul nori back to the forefront of the nation’s cultural consciousness. At the same time, he has also helped SamulNori grow by touring around the world to impart knowledge of traditional Korean arts, collaborating with jazz, pop and classical performers. This has helped to increase the prominence of Korean culture around the world, and has also resulted in commercial success, evidenced by SamulNori having recorded fifteen records to date.

Saturday, they stepped into the Chan Centre. It was the first time at the Centre where I saw the artists literally introduce themselves, as they made their presence known outside the hall and walked through the seating area. Performing a binari, or a prayer song sung at the beginning of a stay at the village, they made their way to the stage where they prayed for a blessing to their audience and the ground. At least, I think that’s what it was – my Korean’s not up to snuff but I could make out “UBC” and “Chan Centre”, and the audience’s good-natured laughter and applause was another hint that what they were saying was something positive. Loud and warm, it felt very much like a greeting, with a large presence of gongs that made me think of lion dances and other joyous celebrations in Chinese culture.

From there, they stepped into an instrumental solo. Using only the changgo (the hourglass-shaped drum), four performers sat on the ground, using a great sense of syncopation and polyrhythm to give us an aural experience. Varying between slow and fast rhythms, light tapping to full out thrumming and banging, the sheer coordination and aerobic skill of the performers was on full display as they effortlessly moved through the patterns of three provinces in South Korea. This was then followed up with a garak, an incantation to the moon for protection. In this case, drums accented the slow, deliberate movements of two auspiciously dressed dancers, who looked to have donned shaman’s garbs in order to give this part of the performance more of a spiritual, naturalistic feel.

The performance was closed out by a pan gut, a play in which thunderous percussion solos was accented with dancing. This impressive display evoked both the gregarious nature of a farming festival and the organized, officious nature of a military march, evidenced by a very strong adherence to a regular beat. Wearing either hats with ribbons or feathers attached, the performers managed to not only beat out a solo but also to dance and perform acrobatics. They moved in time with the beat, their heads jerking in sync so that their headgear moved perfectly in rhythm with the music. Having a somewhat military feel as well as that of a random street party, this one performance drove the audience to their feet not one but six times, recognizing each drummer who beat and danced to his own solo.

SamulNori was more than merely interesting. They absorbed us, as we felt the troupe invite us into their experience, the crowd spontaneously starting to clap in sync at various instances. Led by Mr. Kim, we were riveted not just by the sound, but by the sheer enjoyment on their faces. Typically, when observing a classical performance, we expect the stoic, calm front that is the unspoken norm for Western music. However, these men (the whole SamulNori troup is male) were yelling and smiling as they proceeded through the thunderous rumble. Mr. Kim actually had his eyes closed as he gyrated to the music – his arms flowing sinuously, his whole body acting as a physical conduit for the sound, a rapturous expression with his mouth agape. I’ll never know if it was pure ecstasy or him just needing to take deep breaths while doing the upper body equivalent of tae bo, but through the four drummers on stage we could not only sense, but feel the wave of joy they were riding.

So, what was samul nori? To me, it was a noisy repartee, but the kind that makes up families, villages and community. It is that sense of togetherness which we all seek out, whether we know it or not, and when it beckons us, we respond.

A tip: if they come back to do an encore, just go. It’s absolutely worth doing. You’ll know what I’m talking about if it happens.

The following is an excerpt of Kim Duk Soo performing with SamulNori:

SamulNori’s Facebook page can be found at (you may need to use a translator).