Review: A Winter’s Tale, until August 9, PAL Theatre

Shakespeare was part of all-male acting companies, and women were not allowed to appear on stage until 1660 in England. Shakespeare used this situation to his advantage, with a frequent plot device being the use of disguises for women characters who easily transitioned to male.

What Classic Chic Productions, with Lisa Wolpe as director, have done in A Winter’s Tale is to invert Shakespeare’s gender-bending. The cast is all women, including Corina Akeson as King Leontes.

King Leontes(Corina Akeson) with Officer (Donna Soares) - photo Gaelan Beatty

(photo by Gaelan Beatty)

If you look up the synopsis on Wikipedia, or even better read the play in advance, I doubt you will find the play spoiled, and doing so will likely enhance your experience. There may be spoilers after the jump. Continue reading

Review: Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, Lisa Wolpe’s solo show (Orpheum Annex, July 16)

Lisa Wolpe website

It’s taken me a long time to write this review of Lisa Wolpe’s solo show, “Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender”, although I’ve been talking to numerous people about the show. It was unexpectedly gut-wrenching, at the same time fascinating, thought-provoking, and in fact transcendent.

It’s a truism that being an actor involves putting oneself “out there” for public perusal, criticism, and consideration. Wolpe does this to an extreme.

The play opens with Wolpe, dressed in an androgynous outfit of black leggings and black tank top, enacting the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. How is it that Wolpe manages to play a convincing male role, and then immediately switch to a convincing female role? How can she play both sides with no break between them? It’s like magic, truly. I’m sure her techniques can be deconstructed (and I was trying to do so, because I couldn’t help it), but still–magic.

This site hints just slightly at what you can get from the show:

Wolpe interspersed the play with accounts from her childhood and adult life, with discussions of Elizabethan cosmology (alchemy is an important element of that), with her theories of Shakespeare, and more and more and more. I can’t do justice to the stories of her fascinating life, nor especially that of her father who turned out to be such a great influence on her. I’ve spilled out basically the entire show to people in person who want to hear it, but I feel shy to write it down, lest I get some significant details wrong. I just hope Vancouver gets another chance to see this show, and that I do. Here is one writer’s synopsis of the show, though:

To be honest, Shakespeare has never been my favorite playwright. I’d almost always choose Chekhov, or Ibsen, or Shaw, or many other playwrights first, even if I recognize the totality of Shakespeare’s genius. But Wolpe has made me rethink that position.

If it seems a bit unfair that you can’t see this show (and yes, that is unfair!), you can see Lisa Wolpe’s production of an all-female version of “A Winter’s Tale” (PAL Theatre until August 9), which I highly recommend too.

Dancing on the Edge 2014: Diversity, non-narrative, and the enjoyment of movement

For many of us, dance is a foreign language. Although we all learn to move as babies, some of us feel a emotional, physical, and spiritual disconnect between movement and intellect. Whatever the numerous benefits of literacy, a word-oriented culture definitely favours the small spectrum of movements related to reading.

We are also biased to see particular meanings and patterns and narrative in events, although this human tendency predates literacy.

Post-modern dance is like abstract painting, in that you have to give up the idea that there is a 1-1 mapping with a particular constructed reality. You can see a Cezanne still-life, and feel the warmth, the colour, the deliciousness of the fruit. With a Rothko painting, the meanings are not so evident.

Images from Flickr

Thus, how then do we interpret post-modern dance? What I have been learning, and am still learning, is to try to stop over-intellectualizing and demanding a straightforward answer. Enjoy the movement, enjoy the sound, see what feelings and emotions and thoughts are produced.

That being said, I felt I got the most meaning from “NGS” (Native Girl Syndrome) (reviewed in other posts), and from Conversation (by Olivia Davies). In Conversation, Davies provides images and sounds from her grandfather’s radio career (Dave Davies), from a man she never knew, as she describes in this article.

Arash Khakpour was hilarious in “The Melon Project”. The humour, the irony, the physical comedy were all very enjoyable, and there was a lot of serious stuff happening beneath the funny stuff too. Whether it was intentional or not, one main feeling I had going away from it was feeling a bit guilty about the smashed watermelons on stage and the wasted food. Yes, I waste food all the time, and grocery stores throw away a huge percentage of their food, and so on, but seeing food actually be laid to waste was disturbing.

In “Rain Collector”, Caitlin Brown performs as a cloud. But I only knew that from the title and the description. Left to my own devices, I would have seen the piece as a reflection on the topology of folding shapes,like Mobius strips, Klein bottles, and other intriguing mathematical constructions (or the topology of folding proteins). I would also have seen snake-like imagery in the work. So what does it mean that the work is about clouds, instead? I haven’t figured that out.

One difficulty I had is that if I saw one powerful dance performance in a given night, I was still reverberating from that when I saw the next one, and that one may have suffered inattention as a result. I have this problem at music and theatre festivals too–not sure how to resolve it.


Looping and layering melodies in real-time

Just found this interesting.

Atmel | Bits & Pieces

A Maker by the name of Jonathan Sparks has created a musical instrument using color and gesture that will surely change the way producers and artists interact with MIDI boards. Using a combination of Atmel-based Arduino, Max/MSP and Ableton Live, “Nomis” has turned loop-based music into an expressive and visual art form.


“Sounds are selected and displayed through the first light tower, each being represented by a different color. Those sounds are then available to be performed and displayed with the polyphonic octagonal interface in the middle. These performances are stored and looped by spinning the whole octagonal interface. The loops are then displayed through the last tower where they each can individually be turned off and on again to create a dynamic composition from the loops created live,” explains Sparks, who is currently a graduate student at NYU’s Interactive Telecomunications Program.


“Loop based music is a powerful way for…

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A Winter’s Tale, PAL Theatre, July 26 – August 9 (preview, July 25)

As I mentioned in my previous post, Lisa Wolpe is well-known for her interpretations of Shakespeare’s most famous male roles, including Hamlet, Iago, and Richard III. She is directing a production of “A Winter’s Tale” at the PAL Theatre, July 26-August 9 (preview July 25). It will be fascinating to see what she does with it.

In any production, the match between the character and the exact characteristics of the actor is always imperfect. They are two separate people. Anyone who has attended a school production of a play, whether it be Frankenstein, Our Town, or Fiddler on the Roof (all of which I have seen done), knows that the actors will inevitably differ in both age and ethnicity from their characters. Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing that female characters would be played by men. (That said, it can still be annoying to see a 40-year-old actor play the mother to a 35-year-old man in a Hollywood film, but the fact that this is so commonplace should clearly indicate that verisimilitude in casting is not required.)

Here is Wolpe as Iago:


The Winter’s Tale, opening July 26 and presented by Classic Chic Productions (CCP), promises fire and ice aplenty, at the direction of master interpreter of the Bard, Lisa Wolpe. The epic and romantic fairy tale features a large all-female ensemble on this inaugural production for Classic Chic, a newly formed Vancouver women’s theatre collective.

“The Winter’s Tale offers beautifully defined, strong, classic roles for women in Hermione, Paulina, and Perdita,” says Wolpe, an acclaimed actor and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC). “This play features some of the greatest male characters ever written – the tyrant King Leontes, the seductive King Polixenes, the tortured Antigonus, the delightful villain with a deft sleight of hand and a song-and-dance, Autolycus. Classic Chic is opening up fascinating opportunities for women to play everything from Clowns to Kings.”

A punch in the gut, the play delivers the tales of the suffering and rebirth of its women, but ultimately this is a sacred story of a triumphant emergence from darkness into light. Bursting with music, dancing, swordplay, and circus skills, The Winter’s Tale spins an eloquent text ranging in scope from powerful tragedy to vaudevillian light comedy.

PAL Studio Theatre
581 Cardero Street
Vancouver BC

Shakespeare & the Alchemy of Gender, July 16

Trailer of an all-female Hamlet production, co-directed by Lisa Wolpe:

It’s well-known that in Shakespeare’s time, at least in England, men played women’s roles. Acting was considered indecent for women. Shakespeare has fun with gender reversals and disguises throughout his plays.

In recent times, there have been calls for casting that is not bound by naturalistic perceptions of race, ethnicity, and class. Tomson Highway discusses the dilemma for Native playwrights:

Q: What about playwriting?

A: That’s become smaller and smaller in my field of vision. [In getting productions of his work done,] a native writer is seriously hampered by political correctness. There’s this attitude out there that only native actors can play native roles. But acting — the verb “to act” — means to pretend to be who you are not, so I don’t believe in that idea that you have to be a native to play one. Look at [playwright] Morris Panych — and I don’t want to say a word against him, because I adore the man — but what if someone were to come up to him and say, “You’re only allowed to work with Polish actors?” He wouldn’t have much of a career. If someone were to go up to Atom Egoyan and say, “You can work only with Armenian actors,” his career would die tomorrow. There’s a very real danger of that happening with native writers. And the older I get, the less interested I become in immersing myself in that problem.

In response to such concerns, integrated casting has become more prevalent, although it is far from the norm. With integrated casting, talented actors are not held back by skin colour or gender considerations when they are otherwise appropriate for the role.

Lisa Wolpe, perhaps more than any actor, has challenged gender-rigid casting, appearing as Hamlet, Iago, Richard III, and other lead male Shakespearean characters. I’m looking forward to seeing her work on July 16 in Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender.

Railtown Cultural Eclective Trier Series presents

 a cross-gender experience….

Shakespeare & the Alchemy of Gender

with Lisa Wolpe, founder LA Women’s Shakespeare Company

“Wolpe is one of the great stage actors of our generation, who breathes life into Shakespeare’s words as though they were dredged from her own soul.”   SHAKESPEARE IN LA

“Wolpe confirms that she is simply one of the best interpreters of the Bard out there! “   Talking Broadway

 VANCOUVER, BC…Railtown Cultural Eclective brings visionary theatre artist Lisa Wolpe’s new solo show Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender to their Trier Series, July 16 at the Orpheum Annex, offering a unique celebration of the enchanting power of cross-gender Shakespeare.

Wolpe is an actress, director, teacher, producer and artistic director and founder of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC), an award-winning all-female, multi-cultural theater company.

With Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, she both performs and contextualizes her experience of interpreting some of the many Shakespearian roles she has played – including Hamlet, Iago, Richard 111 and many others, while exploring her own life story from childhood to maturity. Her work speaks towards liberation from the “gender box” of expectations, and offers a unique and powerful perspective of courage, resilience and hope against her family’s troubled background of war, sickness, suicide and despair.

Wolpe has played more of the Bard’s male roles than any woman in history, always to superlative reviews. She recently received the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the LA Theater Community and was awarded the Key to Harlem and a Congressional Certificate of Merit for her work with the Harlem Shakespeare Festival in 2013.

 She has taught and directed Shakespeare, all levels of acting, as well as directing courses for many theater companies and universities, including the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, USC, Cal Poly Pomona, Emerson College, Wellesley College, Boston University and MIT, and has lectured widely on cross-gender Shakespeare. She will be offering a cross-gender acting workshop in Port Coquitlam at the Terry Fox Theatre on July 12, details can be found at

 Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender runs July 16 at the Orpheum Annex, 823 Seymour Street in Vancouver.  Tickets are available at  For more information visit or call 604-836-9943.

Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender

with Lisa Wolpe, founder LA Women’s Shakespeare Company

July 16, 2014  @ The Orpheum Annex

823 Seymour Street, Vancouver
8pm Doors 7pm Tickets $20/$15 Students, Seniors & Arts Wor
kers   box office 604-569-1144

Review: NGS (“Native Girl Syndrome”), Firehall, July 9

NGS (“Native Girl Syndrome”):

The screeching sound of high-RPM machinery (planes, motorcycles, drag-racing cars?) grabs your attention immediately as you enter the theatre for “Native Girl Syndrome (NGS)”. The stage is strewn with rubbish. Two Native women stand with their backs to the audience, each holding on to a baby stroller filled with bits of odd junk.

The first few minutes are uncomfortable. The aural assault batters one’s sensibilities. It reminded me of controversies about low-flying military flights in remote areas in Labrador and the North. The people living there have to endure the sounds, and the animals are scared away. This work is based on the experiences of Lara Kramer’s grandmother coming from a remote reserve to Winnipeg. One can imagine that the sounds of an industrialized city would be overwhelming to someone who is accustomed to human-scale, natural sounds, as this is a common complaint I have heard from people who have moved from a rural environment to the city.

Sound is used very effectively in this production. Elvis Presley orients us in the 1950s, Burton Cummings and the Guess Who (Winnipeg-based) in the 1970s. The common industrial sounds are overwhelming and painful.

Are the two women sisters? Are they mother and daughter? I have some theories, but I don’t know. The painful realities of addiction and sex work and racism are incredibly, viscerally real, as the two women move through this piece.

When one woman internalizes and turns the racism she has endured against herself, the searing reality is hard to bear.

One woman wraps herself in a transparent plastic sheet. At first this sheet looks like a bridal veil, almost, shimmering and pellucid. As she first goes under the sheet, I got the sense that it was muffling and protecting her from the world. But she quickly becomes entrapped in this plastic sheet, and struggles mightily. A metaphor for addiction, I think.

On a more banal level, the junk and rubbish is strewn across the stage, and everything becomes a larger and larger mess as the work progresses. I could say this reminds me of my apartment, but what it suggests to me is that as things get worse, it becomes much more difficult to work one’s way out. The hopelessness becomes more engrained. Seeing this work at the Firehall in the Downtown East Side is very challenging. I have talked to some of my neighbours, and have a faint idea of many of their stories.

Guest Review: NGS (“Native Girl Syndrome”), Dancing on the Edge, July 9

Reduced to using plastic sheeting and tin foil as bedding, the ravaging effects of alcoholism and the residential school system are poignantly evident in NGS “Native Girl Syndrome.”

Dancers Karina Iraola and Angie Cheng graphically portray two women whose better days of partying hard are sadly behind them. Stripped of their dignity, they slump through the days mired in their own stupors and wallow in the trash and strewn beer cans of the streets of 1970s Winnipeg. 

Inspired by choreographer Lara Kramer’s own grandmother experiences, NGS “Native Girl Syndrome” pulls few punches when showing the effects of racism, sexism and substance abuse. Whatever dance element there was in the performance – often alcohol inspired – it was the captivatingly slow and methodical drunken crawls and staggers, suffered during the isolation of living in the big city, which were interpreted with haunting precision.

Review: Guzheng workshop, July 8

Gandharva Loka is one of those stores that I just fall in love with. It is located on Granville Island among a bunch of other handicraft-type stores. The setting is lovely. And Gandharva Loka does at least one interesting event every week it seems, whether it is African drumming, or ukuleles, or didgeridoos, or any of many other interesting musical experiences.

On July 8, I attended their Guzheng Workshop and Concert event. Selena Yu is a lovely teacher, and although she said at the end this was her first workshop, she did an excellent job explaining all about the guzheng. Kris accompanied Selena, and he gave a lot of interesting information as well.

There are 5 distinct guzheng playing styles from various regions of China. The differences were explained in detail, but I won’t detail those here. I noticed that one style combines a percussive effect with the melody, which is reminiscent of American blues guitar players (and something I noticed in concert with Raul Midon).

The song styles of different Chinese ethnicities differ as well. China has 56 ethnic groups (we tend to think of the most prevalent group, Han Chinese, the most often). One lovely song told a story, with women waiting anxiously for their husbands to return from night fishing, a very dangerous endeavor. One by one, the boats return, and they are jubilant. The fishing was very successful; the families will have food for a year. Everything quiets down again.

Selena Yu described the scales of the guzheng, although I missed some of those details too. I will just have to study more. She showed us an effect where she makes the guzheng sound like water. Heartstopping! She claims the guzheng is an easy instrument to learn, compared to the violin, for example.

Much as I would like to find an example of Selena’s playing, I could not. So here is a random YouTube video of some nice guzheng playing (this musician has the same surname, but no relation so far as I know):

Review: Cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin & Beyond

On July 7, I attended the Cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin & Beyond lecture by David Andolfatto (who divides his time between being a professor at SFU and working in the research division of the US Federal Reserve Bank), an event sponsored by SFU Public Square. My concerns about Bitcoin remain the same: the loss of a private key is a huge risk given that it means the risk of loss is 100%. All the methods one might do to preserve and protect the private key can be thwarted, particularly by someone motivated to do so. Credit cards and bank accounts typically offer insurance of some sort. So far as I can see, most open-source software projects lack a serious quality assurance effort (thus we get bugs like Heartbleed in OpenSSL). Andolfatto has an earlier blog entry with some of his thoughts on Bitcoin.

The prospect of finding a fairer and cheaper way for people, such as wage-earners who need to send money to their rural, impoverished families who are, as the lecturer said, “unbanked”, is very worthwhile. He quoted a figure of $500 billion USD for worldwide remittances, which seems low to me, but in any event the middleman (e.g., Western Union or a similar organization) takes 10% (up to 20+% in some African countries). But one problem with using Bitcoin in that case is that it’s not currently a great choice for a low-literacy user, so far as I can see (many sophisticated users have been ripped off, after all). The World Bank has an article on that subject, and a project to reduce remittance rates:

I enjoyed the chance to hear about Bitcoin, although the lecture was not that informative on a technical level.