THE MIRROR: Letting loose - The Centaur puts indie talent on the main stage at the 15th annual Wildside Festival

Publish date: 
15 December 2011
The Mirror
Neil Boyce
News body: 

Centaur’s post-Xmas Wildside Festival is upon us in a few weeks (January 3–14), with new works and recent award winners tossed into the 15th edition of this grab bag of indie theatre. Most shows come from tiny black box and alternative venues—and it’s interesting to see how these often terrific, smaller works survive in the cavernous space of a big-stage pro theatre.

The centrepiece of the 2012 Wildside has got to be Kirsten Rasmussen’s Blink Blink Blink. We in the audience are the glassy-eyed followers of motivational speaker Sara Tonin, on tour to promote her latest self-help sizzler, Skin the Bunny: An Aggressive Approach to Claiming Back Your Life. It nabbed Centaur’s Best of the Fringe Award a this year’s fest, securing a spot at Wildside and a guaranteed revenue (Centaur kicks in $1,000 per Wildside company and gives them 75 per cent of the gate).

Rasmussen’s vivid portrayal has people telling her after shows she could have a second career in motivational speaking. But who does she personally find most annoying among the self-help set?

“I think it’s probably Eckhart Tolle, because when I originally read The Power of Now, I thought, ‘Oh, wow, that’s amazing…’ then years later realized it’s such crap. He talks about how he found his enlightenment: ‘I just gave away my worldly goods and lived on a bench for a year.’ That really got to me. You lived on a bench? That’s your advice for everyone? Some people have kids! Some people have responsibilities! They can’t just live on a bench!”

Like the Fringe Festival, from which several Wildside entries are drawn, productions are always a mixed bag of styles and quality. Olivier Choinière’s Bliss won a CanStage Award for Best Direc­tion at Toronto’s SummerWorks festival. Steven McCarthy directs a cast that includes Trent Pardy and France Rolland in a story about our obsession with celebrity (Celine Dion speaks through an oracle to cashiers at Wal-Mart). The work, via British playwright Caryl Churchill’s translation, has already played to audiences in London and Glasgow but until now hasn’t been seen in Montreal in English.

For Dick Powell’s “In the Mood for Jazz,” SideMart Theatrical Grocery has the Buck Wheaton Trio (who underpinned a great show in SideMart’s recent One of Everthing for the Boys!) backing some love­ly crooning by Angela Galuppo, and less-lovely crooning by co-author Graham Cuthbertson. This one, SideMart artistic director Andrew Shaver says, is “straight ahead jazz songs” from the Whiteman’s Whiskey alternate universe that the group’s been exploring as a side project to their theatrical productions.

Greg Kramer and Alex Johnson co-direct Edgar Allan Poe’s: The Pit and the Pendulum. It’s the second Poe show in a few months (A fad? Interesting theatre fact: the author’s been dead so long you don’t have to pay royalties). The two-hander is adapted by Alex McCooeye, who also acts alongside Leni Parker. Altogether a great collection of talents, both on and off stage.

Also at Wildside: Bifurcate Me (the first ever bilingual entry in the fest) is a physical, pratfall-filled comedy set in the Douglas Hospital looney bin. Emily Pearlman and Nicolas Di Gaetano show­case their production Countries Shaped Like Stars (winner of the Ottawa-Gatineau Prix Rideau Award for Outstanding New Creation). Keir Cutler’s popular Fringe show Teaching Hamlet is on, along with Micheline Chevrier and Paula Wing’s bio drama on Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki, A Thousand Paper Cranes: The Weapons of Peace and Manon Beaudoin’s Queen of Hearts. ■