That’s a Wrap!

FemFest 2015 was #perfect – as if guided by The Stars with A Side of Dreams. It managed to sail past the Middle Pain, avoid Irony and battle Stigma. Although one elevator was Closed, nothing could stop The Club from pumping. Life is a Cabaret, it is too Short so we must Bake-Off while we can. Now we Dance-Off in to the sunset.

The 13th FemFest wrapped up on September 19th and definitely went out with a roar. The closing cabaret featured rock ‘n roll, comedy and a beautiful exchange of art. The unlucky 13 did rear its head a few times as we ramped up to the festival with travel difficulties, elevator issues and of course technology challenges!  Overall, the festival was a huge success with great responses to the shows, dozens of artists being showcased, development of emerging artists and lots of connections being made.

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Of course a highlight was welcoming Afghan artist Monirah Hashemi to Winnipeg, despite last minute visa stress, lost luggage and allergies – she did a great deal of outreach and gave a powerful performance of Sitaraha plus educating a large audience of primarily theatre and film students about art in Afghanistan. We are lucky to be able to create our work without fear of persecution. It was not lost on the audience that when they want to threaten and discredit a female artist, such as Monirah, they attack her morality with accusations of being a whore. Audiences were honoured to hear the stories that she has fought to tell.

A Side of Dreams was a breathtaking display, an acting masterclass and an inspiring call to action for everyone to use their voice. There was barely a dry eye in the house during the reading of Stigma by Cairn Moore. Audiences had an impossible choice when voting for this year’s Bake-Off winner with five very different and strong pieces competing for the title. It was wonderful to see the development of Irony from last year’s Bake-Off and to provide a slot for the world premiere of last year’s winner. The Dance-Off of Conscious Uncoupling or Unconscious Coupling as our production coordinator liked to say, brought a wonderful cast together to present an epic teenage play. In the end inspiring us all not to get stuck but to seek new adventures. #perfect also explored how young people form their identity and led to some great post-show dialogue. There was amazing range with the Shorts!

Thinking back to the first day, we kicked off by hearing Kim Zeglinski roar in Mittelschmerz. Audiences roared in laughter in response. The joy was palpable as people left the elevator plays brought to us by the fabulous Theatre Yes! At our opening cabaret the drummers called us all to action and the artists that night reminded us of the need to speak up for those who have no water in Shoal Lake, for the loss of our natural resources, against racism, in celebration of who we are and in working together towards a better community.

FemFest takes a village and we are so grateful to one and all for their support. To our amazing artists, production team, Board of Directors, volunteers, sponsors, funders, patrons and cheerleaders!

Believe it or not, FemFest 2016 is already in the works with a theme of transformation. For interested artists please check out our call for submissions – FemFest 2016 call for submissions.

Dance-Off Doesn’t Disappoint

We were so pleased to have guest blogger Meg Crane writing responses to FemFest shows this year! She rounds out the series with her thoughts on the world premiere of the Dance-Off of Conscious Uncoupling by Frances Koncan.

Even before the actors speak, memories of high school prom might start flooding in.

Silver balloons floating up towards hanging silver streamers. A bowl of (soon to be spiked) punch. The dress and suit that are too fancy for a school gym. The gym itself that somehow feels like a different place with the spinning disco ball and music.

The characters, played by Montana Lehmann and Solmund MacPherson, awkwardly dance in the way only young people can dance while still being adorable.

Eliza is overpowering and opinionated, like many young feminist women in relationships many of us may have gone to high school with. But there’s a vulnerable, frightened side that comes out if you dig deep enough, in just the right way.

Ezra seems timid in the relationship and maybe too willing to please. He ignores his first instincts and tries to act how he thinks he should to be the man he wants to be. But he’s still a boy and that is all too clear by his idealized vision of his future with Eliza.

The uncoupling couple goes between intelligent, bordering pretentious, conversations and throwing low blows at one another. The audience’s stuttering laughters of pity were evidence that they might be reminiscing on this embarrassing immaturity that comes with youth.

The third speaking role on stage was Mr. K, played by Lyle Morris, the high school teacher many of us may have had who was easy to relate to and sometimes interacted with us more on a friend level, but never forgot that wasn’t his role.

As emotions flew on stage, audiences may have been brought back to the ups and downs of their high school, and prom, experiences.

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There are two final chances to catch the show on September 18th at 9pm and September 19th at 4pm.

Written by Frances Koncan, this play is the result of last year’s Bake Off and it likely fulfilled expectations of those who voted for it.

Sitaraha – Tales and Stories to Wake Us Up

Guest blogger Meg Crane writes about touring show Sitaraha in her latest FemFest 2015 review.

Sitaraha is a simple, yet powerful show about the lives of women throughout history in Afghanistan.

Monirah Hashemi, the solo actor, transitions from the storyteller to the play’s different characters seamlessly. One moment she’s a condemned woman, cowering and crying. The next she is a woman in love, singing to the man who has her heart.

Hashemi uses her layers of skirts to quickly alter her costume between characters right on stage. With the movement of cloth comes dramatic changes in her demeanour. She goes from portraying pain and sorrow to happiness in seconds.

With only a few props on stage, Hashemi’s powerful voice carried the play. She shows the stories of Halima, Gul Begum and Sara. Halima is sentenced to death for adultery after being raped by her step-son. Gul Begum’s family is murdered, including her daughter who is first raped. Sara’s husband dies in the civil war and she is left alone with their baby.

Through spoken words, singing and dancing, Hashemi brings the women’s stories to life with a fierce passion that draws the audience in and leaves an emptiness in the room when she leaves the stage after the show.

“The tales and stories are used to wake us up,” Hashemi says in her introduction. And that’s what they do.

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There are two performances left on September 17th at 9pm and September 18th at 7pm. In addition Monirah Hashemi will be speaking about her life and career as an artist on September 18th at 12:30pm, plus the results of her Afghan dance workshop will be shared at our Closing Cabaret on September 19th at 9pm.

The Power of Dreams

If you missed the amazing production or want to compare notes on your response, check out guest blogger Meg Crane’s review of A Side of Dreams. Due to the festival nature each show only has three performances. Be sure to check out the rest of the FemFest schedule so you don’t miss out and the remaining pieces!

A Side of Dreams is an incredibly powerful and stunning story of reconciling with ancestors and of healing.

Aina, played by Jessica Barrera, is upset that her mother has not spoken since Aina’s father’s death. After she storms to her room, her mother, Haisa, begins her journey.

The multimedia aspects, including video and audio, make the show incredibly stimulating without being overwhelming. The performers acted, sang and danced, incorporating a hanging hoop into the movements in several pieces. Playwright Jani Lauzon said she wrote a list of all the things she had not done on stage before that she wanted to do and incorporated them into her roles as Haisa, Pudlums, Fog Man and Haisa’s mother.

For part of the show, the role of Haisa was performed by a puppet, handled by puppeteer Trish Leeper. Though her facial expressions predictably did not change throughout the performance, it was easy to tell what emotions she was feeling in each scene. Her movements ranged from adorable to eery and always fit the scene.

At one point, the lights go dim and an eery creature takes the stage, mounting the hoop and screeching. When the lights go on, a not very intimidating dragon is perched there.

When asked after how the dragon made it into the show, Lauzon said, “Going inside the body to find intersecting stories is how I work.” She felt the dragon should be involved in the play, so she didn’t fight it.

A Side of Dreams has been evolving for several years. The devotion of the woman working on the show comes through. This is a beautiful piece that should not be missed.

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What Was Cooked Up at the Bake-Off?

Did you miss the excitement at our annual Bake-Off? Guest blogger Meg Crane has summed it up beautifully!

The Bake Off is another unique FemFest experience.

Each year, five playwrights are chosen to participate in the competition, which ends with one winner whose show is performed the following year. The FemFest 2014 Bake Off winner being performed this year is the Dance-Off of Conscious Uncoupling.

For FemFest 2015, the five chosen women had eight hours to write a 10 minute scene that involved three ingredients: red line, yellow submarine and hysterical.

1. Sherry MacDonald
In this girl’s reformatory, the uteri of hysterical girls are removed. A bloody sheet remains in the bed of a girl whose surgery clearly did not go well.

2. Andraea Sartison
Sartison had arguably the best use of the yellow submarine. Pulled by 100 horses, a woman in cowboy boots and goggles rode a submarine to get revenge on the sheriff who banned women from a town in Saskatchewan.

3. Phyllis Heltay
A moudly, yellow submarine sandwich appears on a women’s bed just before aliens abduct her. Or do they? Her mother doesn’t believe, but the matching red lines on their arms tell another story.

4. Terrie Todd
Are they following the red line on the map or the blue line? Mother and daughter argue as the mother’s mother sings a few tunes and the daughter’s daughter complains about her dead cellphone.

5. Kerri Twigg
When her boyfriend leaves a coffee stain on the desk she’s about to sell for $4,000 dollars, she puts a red line on the ground around it to show him where he’s not allowed to be.

These are just a few creative examples of how the playwrights used a couple of their ingredients. Wish you hadn’t missed out? Make sure to catch next year’s Bake Off.

Sherry MacDonald accepts the Janet Taylor Bake-Off Award

Sherry MacDonald accepts the Janet Taylor Bake-Off Award

And watch out for MacDonald’s show at FemFest 2016 where we’ll find out what happens to the characters contemplating escape from the reformatory.

A Speculative Dictionary of Production Terminology with A Side of Dreams

Read the latest from behind the scenes from FemFest guest blogger Davis Plett.

What do a bar stool, dream catchers, an inedible apple pie (though I had to check twice), a bed, a bone, spiders on adjustable wires, and a terrifyingly humanoid doll have in common?

I’m really not sure either.

What I do know is that they are all involved in A Side of Dreams, which opens at FemFest on September 15th at 7:00 pm at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Two more performances will be held on September 16th at 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm. Out of this incomprehensible mass of objects, something will emerge, something that, by all indications, will be extraordinary.

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I encountered these items on Monday afternoon, during the tech for the show. A Side of Dreams not only has its fair share of props, but also extensively incorporates multimedia: I witnessed the techs clambering up ladders to adjust projectors, saw a fog machine lurking behind a scrim, and watched as the light design was painstakingly assembled.  Continue reading

The Club – A Theatre Experience Unlike Any Other by Meg Crane

We are pleased to welcome guest blogger Meg Crane, who will be writing reviews for FemFest throughout the coming week! Check out her take on The Club, which sold out its first run on September 12th.

National Elevator 2 - 3 Shots - 04croppedA play in an elevator may make some cringe, but the loud music, dancing cast and flashing lights in The Club distract from the tight space. And if you’re not expecting all this, the confusion about what’s going on will as well.

The elevator project’s two shows are set in, well, an elevator. An usher leads the small audience of five or six to the doors and in they go for 10 minutes.

In The Club, the acting is so well done, there were moments near the beginning when it was difficult to tell who had been last minute additions to the audience, who had stumbled on the elevator accidentally and who was actually a part of the play.

As it turns out, even audience members were a part of the show, being invited to join in a dance party, conga line and more.

While it starts out like a party, it ends on an intense and emotional note that isn’t expected, but that brings the audience back down before they head out into the real world.

Audience interaction isn’t intense or even necessary, beyond the conga line, so this show shouldn’t turn off the shy who prefer to sit back and watch the show.

The Club is one of two shows being performed in the elevator. Whichever you choose, it’s a theatre experience unlike any other and not one to miss at this year’s FemFest.

There is one more chance to catch The Club on Tuesday, September 15th either at 5:30pm or 8:15pm. The other elevator play, Closed for Urgent and Extraordinary Work runs Sunday, September 13th at 7pm or Monday, September 14th at 5:30pm or 8:15pm.

Conscripted Passenger Seats and Other Production Adventures with Mittelschmerz!

Guest blogger Davis Plett gives us a behind the scenes look at the tour of Mittelschmerz, which launches FemFest with a 2:30pm performance on September 12th and plays again at 7pm on September 19th.

Spire Theatre, located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the humble town of Gimli, has a colossal nest spiked on top of the eponymous spire and a jar of crystalized ginger abiding in the basement.

The University of Winnipeg Asper Center for Theatre has an ETC ION Control Board and a sinister looking letter opener that unexpectedly showed up in the tech booth.

In short, the one is inspiring but to be approached gingerly, and the other is a cutting edge extravaganza of Millennium Falcon proportions that all theatre goers should have their eye on.

However, despite differences in appearance and potential for deplorable puns, these two venues either have been or will soon host local writer/performer Kim Zeglinski’s Mittelschmerz, a solo performance that takes the viewer through the delights and tribulations of motherhood, middle age, and artistic aspiration. And I have borne witness to the technical sides of both productions. Continue reading

Production Coordinator Creates the Magic at FemFest

As FemFest fast approaches, guest blogger Davis Plett caught up with production coordinator Steve Vande Vyvere to talk about what goes on behind the scenes of a theatrical production.

Steven Vande Vyvere

Steven Vande Vyvere

Q: What does your role as production coordinator for FemFest entail?

A: My role as production coordinator for FemFest involves a LOT of organization and communication. It starts in June looking for staff to fill all the positions in the festival. This includes people to design the in-house produced shows (only 1 this year), people to source props & costumes, build & paint set elements, someone to source all of the sound for the shows, not to mention the small army of Stage Managers for all of the festival’s events.

Communication with groups presenting pieces as a part of the festival is another significant facet of the production coordinator job. Some cabaret acts need only some gear for their instruments, while other groups in the past have needed fresh fish for gutting onstage. The specifics vary greatly from group to group, but it all needs to be arranged for.

Q: When we go to see a theatrical production, we see actors performing. We are aware that there’s probably a playwright who created a script, and a director who gave a shape to the production. But there’s also this mostly invisible cast of production people. Generally speaking, what do you feel is the “mission” or significance of production to a performance? If you like, what is your philosophy of production?

A: In my mind, if the production end of a performance is running on point, the audience will never be the wiser about our involvement. We represent the “magic” of the theatre; we exist to ensure the designers’ and directors’ artistic visions are showcased in the best possible way.Steve solo smiling

Q: Take us inside of an opening night: actors are on the stage, audiences are in their seats. Those are the obviously visible people in the theatre. Who are the main players we don’t see, the people behind the scenes, and what are their roles during a performance?

A: The unseen main players in a performance can vary greatly from show to show, but the two you are most likely to never be without are the Stage Management team and technician.  The Stage Manager is not unlike an orchestra’s conductor. Nothing happens without their “Go”. The technician responds to those “Go”s and adjusts the lights, or plays a sound cue as appropriate. There may be Assistant Stage Managers backstage receiving instructions to cue actors for entrances, fire off a fog machine or helping with a quick change.

Q: What’s the FemFest show this year that has you most excited, from a production standpoint?

A: From a production standpoint, A Side of Dreams has me quite excited. They will be bringing with them a large metal rig that will be setup on their first day, and remain setup until after their final performance. Their show will have projection elements, fog, an aerial hoop and mask. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the show will be once it’s ready for performance.

Bake-Off Burn-Out

Ever wonder what it would be like to bake a play in a day? Last Friday our Bake-Off playwrights were given this great challenge. With three ingredients – yellow submarine, hysteria, red line – off they went with a deadline of 7pm and very little guidance. We asked them to give us updates and here’s the series of check-ins we received from our five playwrights!

Bake-Off Meeting

Kerri Twigg
Being a weekday, poor Kerri had to work all day, but that didn’t stop the ideas from percolating:

1:03pm Spent the walk back to work thinking about how to incorporate the ingredients. Stuck on how to use Yellow Submarine without making it a gag. Using my lunch break to get some words on paper.

5:22pm After working all day, just getting to put words down now…oh the pressure, it all sounds great in my head.

6:05pm 5 pages written! Cleaning it up and talking aloud a lot. My family is giving me space, because I ordered them pizza.

7:00pm Voila! Thank you for the challenge and opportunity.

Sherry MacDonald
Being in Vancouver, Sherry had to start her day earlier than the others to Skype in to our initial meeting.

11:15am   Wikipedia is my new best friend.

12:26pm  Should I make a cup of coffee and then try writing a few lines of dialogue? Or should I try writing a few lines and then reward myself with a cup? No, I’ll have the coffee FIRST. And a muffin. Feeling like Nicholas Cage’s character in Adaptation.

12:29pm  Husband ate the last muffin. A pox on him! (does anyone say ‘a pox’ anymore? And more importantly can I work it into the scene?) Getting off track now. Time for (another) break. Definitely Nicholas Cage.

4pm . . . To crack the wine or not to crack the wine. That is the question.

6:29pm One last read through. 2nd glass of wine so who knows what it’ll sound or look like.

6:59pm Okay guys, you asked for it! Attached is my scene titled “The Seduction Theory”. Phew! only minutes to go (actually only one).

Terrie Todd
This was her second Bake-Off, so did she have more of a game plan? She did meet our deadline and managed to also write a blog post about it –

3:58pm First draft done. All three ingredients used. Now for a nap.

5:30pm Nap over. Back to it.

6:20pm I think I’m done too. Hungry for a submarine sandwich for some strange reason. This has been a hoot.

6:51pm Here’s mine.

Phyllis Heltay
She was tweeting updates throughout the day:

11:02pm Hoping the muse arrives NOW!

12:15pm Smoke comin’ out of my ears from the burning brain cells!

6:11pm Stick a fork in me, I think I’m done (or done in!) I’m doing a spell check then sending it in before I do more damage.

7:07pm I crossed the “red line” into “hysteria” about an hour ago. Getting into my “yellow submarine” now.

Andraea Sartison
She was the first to send her piece in, maybe because she didn’t get distracted by sending us updates!

5:37pm I am alive! Here you go! Sorry I was so silent… but I had fun!

With the inaugural Janet Taylor Award incentive we had an amazing number of talented playwrights apply and the five selected have written inventive and imaginative pieces. You will definitely want to join us for the staged readings on September 14 at 7pm to see what they all came up with. Then vote for your favourite one! Admission is pay what you want, but it is a popular evening so get your tickets now!