Tag Archives: acting

Review: Hard Times Hit Parade

Hard Times Hit Parade

It’s too bad I didn’t see this show earlier, to give a review that would have been more timely. The Hard Times Hit Parade is performed by the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret and consists of 25-30 performers. Hard Times Hit Parade This extravaganza is set around a Depression era dance marathon and begins the moment you walk in. In fact there were signs outside the building that I thought were part of the Russian Community Hall’s edifice but turned out to be the theme of the show. Entering the auditorium, we saw bleachers set up with strands of pennons coming out from a large central chandelier. As well, there were signs of the era and advertising around the benches setting the atmosphere.

Behind the bleachers was a little bar with servers dressed in 1930s clothing. Many audience members came dressed, adding to the theme. The show begins with old B&W films and the narrator talking of the times and the dance marathon that has begun. The performers, couples coming out with numbers attached, do an opening swing number to a live band that had at least six people playing saxophone, violin, cello, banjo, etc.

There are different dance numbers, scenarios that go from the emcee and the referee, the anal rulemaker who adds comic moments, to the band and all around. There were even popcorn girls in the aisles selling popcorn, beer and wine. If someone dropped their plastic cup (reusable) under the bleachers, they would incorporate a scold or a scornful look into the show. The emcee or barker was appropriately over the top and the band was excellent, with the main singer/saxophone player also doing a number in drag.

The marathon dancers consisted of about six couples and as the show progresses, various people drop out after having hallucinations or or other events that make them quit. One hallucination is a cabaret style dance sequence. Another is a man being pressured to give his dance partner a ring. He then does a spinning acrobatic maneuver in a giant ring. There is a marionette sequence as well, and when the dancers go backstage for their rest break we see silhouettes on the screen which may include kissing, sleeping. changing, washing. These are accented with shapes on cellophane to represent tears or showering or birds. Another dance number is more the contestants dragging themselves about as the dance marathon moves into its fourth month; it involves a nurse checking the exhausted dancers and focusing a light on them. This projects a large silhouette on a screen that is accented with images such as hearts or lace or fields, representing the inner workings of these people.

It’s actually quite difficult to put into words the full scope of this multimedia performance. At $25 (at the door) and three hours the performance was well worth it. I laughed, I was mesmerized. There was so much to see. There is an intermission where the audience can mingle in a party atmosphere or get more drinks. And after the show, everyone can continue to dance. I loved the creativity, the depth and the energy of this show. It was so inspirational that I think I might see how I can help out at the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret. If you can get in (last day is March 18) go and see Hard Times Hit Parade. Advance tickets are sold out but some are available at the door. This was so fantastic that I’m going to try to stand in line and see it again. Five stars!

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Hive: What’s the Buzz?

Sometimes I live in a cultural wasteland. Not that things don’t happen here in the Shangrila of the West Coast. They do, despite the provincial government thinking that it’s good to support sports but bad to support the arts. But we all know that rant of mine.

One of the events that seems to have happened for the last two years, and this year being it’s third, is Hive 3, a performance extravaganza all under one roof.  Set up at The Centre for Digital Media (and this year part of the cultural Olympiad) it was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland quest, with 14 performances in various little cordoned off spaces and rooms. The rooms might have sliding metal doors, a normal door on hinge, a sheet, or… This event took place from March 11-20.

Each piece was no longer than 15 minutes and ran from 7-10:00 pm each night. It was set up as a bit of a quest. To get into Theatre Conspiracy/Gasheart Theatre’s NAPathy, you just had to line up. To enter “At Home With Dick and Jane” by Electric Company, you put your name in a draw and five people were drawn each hour. For Boca Del Lupo’s “The Interview” you found the man with the clipboard and answered his questions, to be given a piece of a picture as your ticket in. “Skunked” by Felix Culpa had me searching out the woman with a basket of Teddy bears. And “Ana” by November Theatre meant you needed to be holding an LP to get in.

Other venues required a person getting a keychain or a special slip of paper, or a sticker. However finding these people was a bit hard and not having done this before we weren’t sure what the cryptic messages meant for both, such as “Sugar” which said you needed an apron. There wasn’t anyone wandering around with aprons; you just lined up and the first ten received an apron.

Feasibly, if you were organized and moved fast you could do 12 venues in three hours but many of the venues were small and limited and LPs, keychains or other ticket items disappeared very early on. We managed about four in two hours. With tickets at $25, it would mean coming back again to catch everything but you have to pay again. There was a band that started at 11 pm and people could come just to that for $5 but I went on a week night and had to work the next day.

However, I did love the whole quest aspect of it, or as one friend put it, it was like a Fringe Festival under one roof. And even if you didn’t like a piece, it was only fifteen minutes so you could go on to see something else. The shows I mentioned above were the ones I managed to see except for “At Home With Dick and Jane,” which my friend’s name was drawn for but not mine. NAPathy was very intense and well acted, if a bit on the bizarro side, but the more I think about it, the more I liked it. I’m still not sure if I got the nuances of what it was really about but lets say cupcakes feature largely with a strange love and devouring in a Canadian context.

“The Interview” was interesting but I felt it was a little flat and maybe suffered from the shortness of the performance. I couldn’t get into the dram of it but it was competently done and had some interesting out of the room filming techniques. “Skunked” was a kooky little piece that slowly evolved (or devolved) through the psychosis of a 12-year-old into an ad for psychological interventions, I think. It was okay but a bit of a aha joke at the end.

“Ana” involved taking the LP as a ticket and turning it in,then entering a room, with a round carpet and a very old record player in the middle, with one woman standing there. She then talked about records and their making and lifespan and memories tied to her parents and life. She moved around the circle, talking to each of us, having one person hold the album of her parents’ anniversary and then putting the song on, dancing with another participant. Of the four I saw, it had the strongest storyline and was the most moving in its simplicity.

All in all I thought the actors were pretty good to very good. The stories/pastiches to me didn’t seem to quite his their full potential. But I wonder if I’m not used to such a short performance. The show is pricey and next year I’ll get there as soon as it starts and try to organize my venues instead of milling about trying to figure out what to do next. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing though; a quest mixed with acting, and music and audience involvement.

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Writing: Poetry Slams

Poetry slams began some twenty years ago or so and so this site says: http://www.slampapi.com/new_site/background/what_is_poetry_slam.htm they were intended to increase the public’s awareness of poetry and involve the audience.

In Vancouver, I was doing poetry slams in the late 80s I guess. However, now reading what the slams were supposed to be like I can say I probably only did one. The one slam was called something like Poetry Faceoff, and was, I think put on by one of the writers organizations. It was in a bar with a dance floor area that they had roped off like a boxing ring with balloons in the corner. This was some publicity thing and two poets would be given a subject and five minutes to write a poem, then perform it.

The judges were some well-known jock and a writer. They scored a winner from each round and then those two would face off. In the end I won the poetry slam and still have the wall plaque. The judging aspect is supposed to be what a poetry slam should be like.

However those early days here had a bit more of a biased and ruthless variety. Most of my friends ran screaming from the word poetry, believing it to be moribund and incomprehensible. When a few of my friends did come with me to a few readings they found my poetry as well as the other poet’s much more accessible and lively. Of course we were doing performance poetry or spoken word.

The slams, though, were another thing. They’d be held in different bars and I would go with my written poems, like everyone else. Then each poet, or maybe two against each other, would read a poem and the audience would boo or cheer for the one they liked the best. This is different than what traditional slams are, where a few select members would be judges, scoring the pieces and making it somewhat fairer, one poet to the other.

The problem with just the audience cheering to decide the winner was that usually the poet with the most friends present won. It had nothing to do with good or bad poetry or performance. On top of that there was a predilection for certain poets to read every poem in the same impassioned way. Every line would end on an upward inflection, as if you were asking a question. Therefore someone loud using this cadence would outweigh a truly good poem read well but without the dramatics.

I saw good poets get torn down because they didn’t have a large crowd of friends and didn’t read their poems in the popular cadence. After a few of these, I decided they were too brutal. Poetry is hard enough to write and if a person has the guts to stand in front of a crowd and read or perform their work, they should be encouraged, not lambasted. So I stopped going.

The one thing to remember if doing any sort of slam or a spoken word reading, is to put life into a poem. Don’t read it as if you’ve come from the grave, unless the poem is about you coming from the grave. Then it will need to be wry. If there is delicate imagery, read it delicately; if it is harsh and bold, read it that way. The aspects of good acting apply to performing poetry: vary your cadence, don’t speak at the same volume all the way through and emphasize some elements to draw attention. I took a voice and speech class at one point, more for acting but it works equally as well when used with any spoken performance.

Maybe the slams have evolved, if there are any these days. I haven’t heard of many but then it seems I also fell out of doing readings a few years back. It might be time to pick up that thread and do some readings or spoken word again. Other cities have a much more active slam circuit: Toronto, Chicago, New York. Maybe we’re just too West Coast here. I just know that going to a slam the way they used to be here, is not for me. Maybe just maybe I can drag a friend or two with me the next time I read.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry_slam

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