Urinetown is coming to the Firehall (with half-price previews starting November 1)

I thought Urinetown was a Broadway musical, and indeed it was. However, thanks to Wikipedia, I found that it started its life in the Fringe circuit in 2001. So yay for Fringe, once again.


The idea of a behemoth corporation that forces people to pay to pee is actually not that hard to believe in this era where economic inequality is increasing. I wondered, in fact, if Urinetown was inspired by the Water War in Bolivia in 2000. In that case, the Bolivian government privatized the public water supply, and prices for water soared, to the extent that for a poor family, the water they needed would take up to 75% of their income. I strongly recommend the film “Tambien La Lluvia (Even the Rain)” which uses a very interesting cinematic form (a quasi-meta-documentary) to tell this story. I have not found any direct link, but I did find a blurb that said this musical is inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

And, of course, for much of the world, safe and available public water supplies just do not exist. Not to mention cases like Detroit, where up to 40% of the population either has or soon will have their water cut off. See: http://detroitwaterbrigade.org/40-detroits-population-water-shut/

So the immediate social relevance of Urinetown is clear. This also looks to be a very promising show technically. Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, lately of “Porno Death Cult”, is doing the choreography, so I’m looking forward to that. This is a revival of a 2006 production. Take a look at the actors and the Firehall’s description here:
http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/urinetown-musical/ .

As is often the case, the Firehall offers some options to help make the show more affordable. There are Wednesday matinees that are pay-what-you-can. The preview shows November 1-4 are half-price. I am really looking forward to having a full-scale musical at the Firehall. I love serious dramas, but I also appreciate the charm of the musical genre.

Review: ‘wag’ explores emotion, music, and dance

Denise Clarke brings an engaging personality, an easy physicality, and great musical taste to ‘wag’, a hybrid work of dance, music, theatre, and even standup.

Two themes or questions I get from this work: How does one go on while suffering commonplace but nonetheless immense loss, and what does it mean to dance boldly and openly, outside in the world?

The sound and the projected images work fantastically well. When Clarke comes on stage in her Alberta-worthy winter coat, a park in the winter is projected behind her. She makes you feel the intense chill as she begins her journey to an empty theatre.

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is central, and what Clarke does with it is lovely. Music is something Clarke has found very healing, and she shares it with us.

It is hard to say too much about the work without revealing what is better experienced than explained. I will say that if you take the opportunity to wear a ball gown to the show, you might be happy you did.

Contemporary dance, or indeed dance in general, is a language. Clarke plays with this idea, and in so doing, makes dance accessible to non-experts (like me). This is a work that focuses on emotions rendered visible; it can readily be appreciated.

At the Firehall Arts Centre until Saturday.


Denise Clarke in ‘wag’ (by Trudie Lee Photography)


Denise Clarke brings ‘wag’ to the Firehall (October 21 – 25)

Buy tickets: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/wag/

Denise Clarke is a popular and acclaimed performer who combines dance and storytelling, and with wag, we are promised a ‘Comedy of Tragic Proportions’.

Denise Clarke in WAG credit Trudie Lee Photography 2

Denise Clarke in WAG (credit Trudie Lee Photography)

Clarke prefers to keep the subject of the tragedy, based on her own personal grief, a secret for the performance, so we’ll have to wait and see what it is. Here is how the Firehall describes this work:

A comedy of tragic proportions by One Yellow Rabbit’s Denise Clarke, who dances her way through this solo performance of tender stories and beautiful music. Loss and cheerful discoveries permeate this blend of monologue and movement, which presents a mosaic of highly personal moments told in Clarke’s signature style. wag is a balm for your heart, a kick in the pants, and essential viewing from this seminal artist.

Created and performed by Denise Clarke.

I am looking forward to seeing and hearing how these dance, theatre,and music elements work together.

The Georgia Straight, a frequent sponsor of numerous Vancouver events, has an interesting write-up about Clarke and this show.


This Order of Canada-winning dancer often sells out the house, so I recommend buying your tickets now.

Review: QUANTUM, Dance Centre (October 16, 2014)

Snap! Sizzle! Crack! Not a Rice Krispies commercial, but the beginning of the score used in QUANTUM. I was amazed at how this score used precise, location-based sound to add more depth to the performance. I was reminded of a Van de Graaf generator in terms of the crackly, somewhat menacing sounds that popped to the surface now and then. In truth, I was tempted, as I typically am when I hear a very engaging piece of music (or perhaps in this case we should say soundscape), to close my eyes and focus just on the sounds. But I did not want to give short shrift to the dancers and the lights, so my eyes stayed open.

The lights, which included what looked like large black heat lamps, were another heavily choreographed aspect of this work. These lamps acted like swinging pendulums. I kept trying to think how to calculate the period of a pendulum (here`s how: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendulum).

Part of the challenge of consuming and reviewing artistic work is knowing whether to include outside contextual information or not. Do you need to know Beethoven’s biography, or Kurt Cobain’s, to appreciate their work, or is that strictly unnecessary?

QUANTUM, as the name hints at, came out of Gilles Jobin’s artistic residency at CERN in Switzerland, a particle accelerator which sends atoms on long journeys at high speeds where they crash into each other and thereby produce interesting information from the mashed-up particles that result from these high-speed collisions. Scientists are well aware of the fantastical nature of their work — the idea that you can learn more about atoms and their constituent parts from studying the results of manufactured collisions is mind-boggling if you think about it.

This sort of particle physics has been seen as a precursor to the current conceptualization of “Big Data”. Physicists, when they do these experiments, gather every bit of data they can, regardless of what hypotheses they might have in mind for their original experiments. The data provides the basis for investigation, rather than investigation providing the basis for data.

The information requirements of such a data-heavy enterprise led to physicist Tim Berners Lee, who worked at CERN, creating the World Wide Web in 1989 (the Internet was invented in embryonic form in 1969). The Web is one of the most obvious examples of how scientific research can have unexpected spinoff benefits.

But back to QUANTUM. Compagnie Gilles Jobin of Switzerland created this piece based on inspiration from CERN. The composer Carla Scaletti created a score that directly uses research data. The costumes were geometric and looked like they could be schematic diagrams.

My friend and I both have some university training in physics, although it’s been a long time now. So watching the dancers, we could see kinetic energy, potential energy, Brownian motion, chemical bonds weakened and re-formed, magnetic attraction and repulsion, and maybe even the creation of the world. Would we have seen these things if we didn`t know about the CERN connection? Who knows – but in the real world, nothing is ever seen or experienced in a context-free void. The observer always affects the observation, a canonical principle of quantum physics.

Contemporary dance is always a challenge for me. As I have mentioned before, it feels like a language that I just slightly know. QUANTUM was one of those pieces where I felt engaged throughout, even if I was unsure of the interpretation. And, as I mentioned before, the soundtrack was stunning. Every aspect of this work was carefully considered and constructed; it was a pleasure just to see and hear and feel how it all comes together.

Portland, Theatre, and “Radical Hospitality”

I recently had a great trip to Portland, which I will summarize like this:

  • Clinton neighborhood – fantastic! I used AirBnB and got to stay in this great neighborhood, which I actually prefer to NW.
  • Chocolate shops – Cacao and Moonstruck Chocolate. Great drinking chocolate and many exquisite options for purchase (although I didn`t).
  • Restaurants – La Panza (New Mexican), Bete-Lukas (Ethiopian), Karam (Lebanese)
  • Conference – LavaCon – Many great insights by lots of smart, engaging people.
  • Theatre – Saw “Sans Merci”, a production by Badass Theatre Company. Wonderfully and sensitively done.
  • Music – Bassouke Kouyaté, a Malian musician playing along with his family (wife, two sons, and brother). He specializes in the traditional ngoni. Just a fantastic show. At the lovely Alberta Rose Theatre too.

Badass Theatre Company’s founder, Antonio Sonera, introduced the theatre before the show began. He explained the theatre`s concept of “Radical Hospitality”`. Essentially, this amounts to finding ways to ensure that people who do not have a lot of money or indeed no money can still see theatre. There are $10 seats for people under 35 and for artists, reserved free seats for those who need them. The ticket price is capped at $20. The guiding principle is that cost should not be a barrier to anyone attending theatre.

In Vancouver, BC (to distinguish from the `Vancouver` right near Portland), no theatre has quite such a generous policy, but various similar options abound. The Firehall Arts Centre has pay-what-you-can options for various Wednesday matinees, many theatre productions have at least one pay-what-you-can night, preview nights are often half-price or even free, discounts are sometimes offered on Facebook or Twitter, Tickets Tonight often offers half-price tickets, and so on. Many theatre productions often need volunteers to do things like ushering, and these volunteers get free tickets. It`s true that it`s not easy to get a cheap ticket to a show like `Wicked`, for example, but you can enjoy any number of locally produced shows for a very reasonable price with some investigation and work. Of course, just about every theatre production company in town just about can greatly benefit from full-paying theatre goers and from donations (my impression is that most productions require a donation or a grant or both to ever get off the ground in the first place), So, if you can, introduce your friends to theatre and consider theatre tickets as a very environmental gift that will not take up precious space in anyone`s cramped apartment.

The Queen of Science – The woman who tamed Laplace.

A belated nod to Ada Lovelace Day, but I am glad to reblog this excellent post by Renaissance Mathematicus.

The Renaissance Mathematicus

In a footnote to my recent post on the mythologizing of Ibn al-Haytham I briefly noted the inadequacy of the terms Arabic science and Islamic science, pointing out that there were scholars included in these categories who were not Muslims and ones who were not Arabic. In the comments Renaissance Mathematicus friend, the blogger theofloinn, asked, Who were the non-muslim “muslim” scientists? And (aside from Persians) who were the non-Arab “arab” scientists? And then in a follow up comment wrote, I knew about Hunayn ibn Ishaq and the House of Wisdom, but I was not thinking of translation as “doing science.” From the standpoint of the historian of science this second comment is very interesting and reflects a common problem in the historiography of science. On the whole most people regard science as being that which scientists do and when describing its history they tend to concentrate on the big…

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Review: “The Mandrake” at Havana Restaurant’s Gallery Theatre

Ends October 11.Tickets: $20 cash at the door.



Niccolo Macchiavelli, like many authors, is talked about more than his works are actually read. We know the adjective “Macchiavellian”, referring to a particularly deep form of cunning when it comes to organizational politics. A few have even read Macchiavelli’s “The Prince”, a work of political philosophy. But many fewer are aware that Macchiavelli was also a playwright, and “The Mandrake” demonstrates in dramatic form, how to scheme in a Macchiavellian fashion.

This production features two actors, a man and a woman. The stage is bare except for a collection of coats and jackets on a couple racks. You are likely familiar with a one-person show where one actor plays numerous characters. This show features two actors playing various characters, but the characters are not matched by gender, and each character does not “belong” to either actor. Thus, for example, the innocent young Lucretia is played, and convincingly, both by the male and female actor, with a white lacy shawl and a particular speech pattern serving to identify her. Vancouver has seen some very interesting gender-bending theatrical productions of Shakespeare lately, and it’s interesting to see how this concept is done with Macchiavelli.

Macchiavelli precedes Shakespeare by more than 50 years, ,and his world was Medici Florence, rather than Elizabethan England. But, no doubt, you will think of Shakespeare when you see the flimsy disguises and the outlandish plot. Yet somehow, these, like in Shakespeare, do not ruin things at all.

The liquidly smooth transitions that the actors make between the characters is what makes this play work so well. And, I couldn’t help think of another Shakespeare aphorism, “Clothes make the man”,

As an aside, the mandrake is a plant with poisonous properties that has been used as a fertility potion since at least the time of the ancient Israelites (it’s mentioned in the Bible).

This is a well-done and originally presented production of a play that we are very unlikely to see for a long while. I recommend it!

Review: “My Rabbi” at the Firehall

Buy tickets: https://tickets.firehallartscentre.ca/TheatreManager/1/login?event=636

The tall, slight Joel Berman, who plays Jake Bernstein, and the short, powerfully built Kayvon Kelly, who plays Arya, provide physical as well as religious contrasts in “My Rabbi”. Based in some respects on the two actors’ real-life friendship, this play, which has recently been at the Edinburgh Fringe, is a tale of friendship and division.

The play opens with a concurrent worship scene by both actors, in their respective religious traditions. I felt a bit uncomfortable here–are these characters who are saying these profound words actually worshipping as they do this, or are the actors acting their worship? What do their religious traditions say about incorporating these scenes into theatre? The scenes are beautiful and atmospheric and moving, if those concerns are kept aside.
Jake and Arya are two friends, from Saskatoon, have lost touch when they spot each other by chance in Toronto. Jake has gone on a path from his secular home to studying in Jerusalem to becoming a rabbi in a suburban Toronto congregation. Arya, of Iranian (make that Persian) and Irish ethnic origins, is struggling, working a bit as a writer, living with his father, helping out at the mosque, but feeling at loose ends.
The play cuts back and forth between vignettes in the two men’s adolescence and young adulthood, with a non-chronological timeline. At one point they bond over objectification of women and beer. Not flattering to the characters, but likely true enough to life.
Aryeh gets pulled into the currents of a force he cannot understand, and struggles. Jake’s humanity and capacity for friendship is tested severely. Yet for both men, normal life keeps happening, in a way that transcends religion. Both struggle with their fathers, and the legacy of their grandfathers. Both have to deal with the death of loved ones.
The play does not feature two symmetrical or parallel characters, but for religion. Some differences between the two characters are outside of religion, and some are because of it.
The play tries hard not to say one person’s beliefs are wrong, and the other’s are right. They want to maintain their friendship, but their principles and perspectives often seem to make that impossible. There’s no final neat resolution to this play, no easy way to embrace plurality and no way to say everyone is right in their own way. Yet, the two want to be friends and want to see each other as human beings.

My Rabbi, Firehall Theatre
October 7th – 18th, 2014
Tues – Sat at 8pm | Sat at 4pm | Sun Matinee 3pm
PWYC Weds at 1pm | Half price Oct 7