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Why you should write a One Man Show

Posters, with cactus underneath.

This is a rebuttal to a prior post I made a few days ago, named “Why Not to Do a One Man Show”, which I wrote as I heading in to the UFV Directors’ Festival. Well, it’s sort of a rebuttal, anyway.

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Why you should write a One Man Show.

This past weekend (well, four days) has been incredible. Inspiring. I have learned so much from these people, not just about theatre, but about life off the coast, about why people are drawn to the stage.

The UFV theatre department is a strange creature. Students can’t get a degree in the subject – which leads to more than a few ‘English’ students (quotation marks highly emphasized by those involved). Even for a major in theatre requires traversing the two UFV campuses in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, as Abbotsford holds the theatre history courses, while Chilliwack attempts to contain the theatre itself. There is so much talent, desire, and drive here.

Erica

From the other schools as well. My second-hand thoughts about SFU’s theatre department must be sorely out of date, because they put on amazing performances. Same with Capilano. Same with the the lone alumni from VIU. Same with the marvelous people from TRU. Everyone put their hearts and souls into these performances.

Me and my doppleganger, Adam Kozlick

It’s amazing the difference between chatting with someone in the lobby before a show, and chatting with them after you’ve seen them act. We see so much of a person’s soul onstage, it seems.

Once I’ve seen you perform, and you’ve seen me perform, there’s no need to work for a connection – it’s already there. A mutual respect. A view into each other. These festivals weave us together far better than simple conversations ever could.

With a one man show, I don’t travel with a blank slate. Well, not after the first performance. Because after that performance, you’ve seen enough of me to feel comfortable saying hello, perhaps establishing a conversation with a compliment.

And once I’ve seen you perform, I’m not that fellow sitting across from the woman with violet hair on the bus – that first step of a connection has already been made. I already have respect for you and the passion you bring to your art.

Tila

I am so… proud… of the connections I have made this weekend, be they the married woman I held deeply enjoyable conversations with, the married couple (Christine and Sharkie) who remind me of all the best elements of PAX, the reflected kudos with countless fellow theatre practitioners (including the somewhat intimidating tall man from the opening ceremony), the possibility of a collaboration with my talented doppleganger (Adam), the producer who is setting up a festival in Nanaimo (Jeremy), the excited blossoming young actor who has just decided this is what he wants to pursue in his life (Ben), and the charming and eager people who promised me they’d get in touch if they happened to be in the same town I was in the future (and vis-versa).

Ali Shewan and I'm-bad-with-names

I don’t regret coming at all – instead, I regret leaving. I want to play with these amazing people for years to come. But I can’t. From rise to (far too little) sleep, for four days, I have lived and breathed theatre in this city. And now I go. There is a twinge of tragedy to it all.

Is this what Fringe is like, in every city? So many beginnings, so quick to die out unless facebook and travel plans feed them?

But I don’t want to mope like Charlie Brown about this experience. (Oh, and by the way? UFV’s Dog Sees God – second best show of the festival, and the capstone of my weekend. I’ll give top marks to UFV’s completely self-created ‘The Play’s The Thing’, which begins as a fake technical rehearsal for an awful Hamlet production, then splits the audience into two separate groups that tour around the whole building, listening in on interweaving subplots between the actors and crew during a ‘break’… subplots that resemble Othello and Romeo and Juliet for one group, and As You Like It (or Twelfth Night?) and Macbeth for the half of the audience (the side I missed, sadly)… brilliant stuff. Even the actors were amazed they pulled it off, with side-characters quietly conversing on cellphones to keep everyone cued up and on target to ‘happen’ to walk past each group at the right moments in time.)

That was far too many words to go into tangential parentheses.

The Lobby!

As for my show? I don’t know if I have ever had to wait on so many laughs in a performance I’ve done. And with so many people asking me where I’m taking this show next… that’s something I should seriously consider.

The Talented Dylan Coulter

Frisbee Golfing between shows

I originally chose to bring William Fights The World here because it was what I had in my back pocket, and it was a show I was excited to put together. Well, I love this show now, more than ever, and I want to perform it again. And again. And again.

And that is why you should create a one man show. Because with most shows, there is a bittersweet closing night when you know you and your cast of a dozen other actors, or perhaps only four… will never be able to put this show on again.

But I don’t need to say goodbye to William. Hell, I could put the show on right now, in this room, if I had a drizzle of coffee and an energy drink (the consumable props). Twelfth Night will never happen again, but William can rant and rave for years to come.

(Hrmm… I said ‘Hell’ there, instead of ‘Heck’. William is causing my language to falter somewhat when it comes to swear words.)

Well, I can’t make exactly the same show. I’ll never have quite this audience (incredibly supportive as they were), and I’ll need to use a new Chuck the cactus.

Sadly, in our third and final performance at the Festival, his shake-fall to the ground became fatal. Rest in peace, Chuck.

R.I.P. Chuck.

Fortunately, I bought an understudy. And epoxy, in case Chuck broke apart every show. I like to be prepared.

Chuck's Understudy, at his post on a chair at my lobby display

So yes, write a one man show, so you can travel to festivals and build mutual respect for all these amazing artists and audience members. Write a one man show so that the show never needs to die due to cast members moving away.

But know that travelling to a city for a few scant days means creating a whole lot of beginnings, and hoping, wishing, praying that perhaps one or two of those beginnings will grow and prosper. It means planting a whole field of seeds in every city, and hoping for one – even just one – tree to emerge. But the soil is rich, and if I could stick around to water those seeds, who knows what would come of all of them.

Graeme Thompson as Hullaboo @ IGNITE! 2009

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I ran into Graeme Thompson at this weekend – he was filling in for an ill actor from Capilano University. Well, he found me. A few years ago, he had performed as Hullaboo, and found it a difficult task, to try and act a show with so much direct address to the audience. Well, he saw my show, and came up to me afterwards, with kind words: “So that’s how it’s supposed to be done. All your words, everything, just flowed so naturally, like you were really just talking with the audience.” I really appreciated that. An old seed, an old beginning that happened to grow into a meeting this weekend.

Someone compared me to my doppleganger by saying we were “both a level above with our talent.”

When I performed tonight, I was sure I had missed something somewhere, because the 45 minutes between me and my audience flew by so fast.

This post is me celebrating my time at this wonderful festival.

But tomorrow morning I have to leave town, and hope God is a good gardener in my absence, hope that some local farmer will take pity on my field and water it in my stead. And there’s always facebook.

I’ll miss you, Chilliwack.

I hope to see you again next year. If Ian lets me back in. 🙂

Cheers,
Andrew Wade

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Welcome to Chilliwack – UFV Directors’ Festival, Friday

April 30, 2011 2 comments

This is not a rebuttal of my prior post, but… take it as another view on my time here at the UFV Directors’ Festival thus far.

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Stuart McLean. Happy, as per usual.

Welcome to Chilliwack!

As someone who has not travelled much myself, and rarely ever been involved in anything that might remotely be considered a road trip, I have often wondered just how CBC Radio‘s Stuart McLean could find such wonderful things to say about every city he visited. Surely some places just aren’t too memorable or interesting, right?

Well, I’m happy to say that Chilliwack is not one of them. Welcome to Chilliwack, where the local pub cheekily advertises “washrooms complimentary with the beer”, where the local university has a parking lot exclusively for female drivers after hours, and where the apparently only surviving club in town (the Echo Room) plays dance-ified Mario Bros and Zelda tunes. Yes, this is a city where every after-hours gathering takes place on the same short stretch of one main road, all of which happen to fortunately be a mere five minutes walk from my hostel.

Then there is my hostel, the delightful Song of Ruth House, so named, I’m sure, because every inch of it certainly sings the soul of the owner, Ruth. It is a house (perhaps acting illegally has a hostel * edit: see Ruth’s comment below) crowded to the brim with an endless assortment of interesting, intriguing, and overwhelming stuff, ranging from a delightful infestation of faeries and dolphins in the bathroom, to a retro CD player, at least a dozen lamps, a half-dozen electric heaters, and false walls cobbled together from spare wood, plastic sheeting, chicken wire, and whatever else was available, to create the different rooms for tenants to stay in. Every room, of course, is given a Hawaiian name. It all fits. And the whole house maintains a strict shoes-on policy, aside from the fenced off ‘private’ rooms, as the half-dozen cats are known to pee around the house – particularly the blind one. (But the floors are mopped every day.)

Poster for the Song of Ruth House

But be it the impressive and wild garden blocking the way to the front door, or the perhaps five dozen mugs in the house, it is a place with soul. While it may cost a mere 30$ a night to rent a room, Ruth – a self-confessed ‘vampire’ when I mentioned not being able to check in, on the first night, until midnight – made this place far superior to the fanciest hotel room I could have booked, when she greeted me with a hug and an assured “Welcome home.”

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The festival itelf today was also a delight. Yesterday, we were given the opportunity in the opening ceremonies for the festival to do a one minute promo of the show. I bounded down to the stage area, and said something like this:

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s running over a puppy with my bike. If there’s a second thing I can’t stand, it’s previews that give away the show.

Seriously, when I go to a movie theatre, when the previews are playing I’m going like this (sticks fingers in ears, closes eyes): LALALALALALALALA. So I’m not going to do that. So here’s something that isn’t in the show.

Ladies and gentlemen, standing in the… erm… green corner (the curtain was green), weighing in at 140 poun- okay, 155 pounds… WILLIAM! YAAAAAAAHHHHH! And in the, erm… other corner with a tall and somewhat intimidating man (one of the opening ceremony hosts, who must be close to seven feet tall), with a gravitational force of 9.83 Gs…. THE WORLD! BOOOOOOOOOO. (the audience joined in.) William Fights The World is a show about a narcissistic jerk of a man who thinks he lives an ideal life… and how that life gets torn apart.”

Okay, so I stumbled on the first line and said “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s running over a puppy with my dog. Bike. Running over a puppy with my bike.” But other than that, it went well.

William ___s the World? (No, not that word.)

Today, I performed William Fights The World (formerly William Vs. The World, as many people still entirely unrelatedly mistakenly called it, and probably soon to be retitled ‘William wrestles the World’ as one festivaler recommended for alliteration) for the first time. My first time carrying a one-man-show, speaking to an audience and holding their attention for 45 minutes, all the while figuring out better blocking on the fly, coming up with new and awesome jokes mid-show (none of which, tragically, I was able to remember, post-show), reacting with the audience, sharing in a story and a character with them, growing, and living, dagnammit, living in the space. The additions (a cactus, a few lines here and there), felt a necessary partof the show (and not just grafted on). The fantastic techies helped me build the lighting and sound cues hours before the first performance, and intelligently covered when I missed one of their cue lines.

And the audience laughed! And they laughed their hardest at the parts I wasn’t sure would be understood, at obscure-ish references and tragic lines, at William’s lack of self-awareness. I’m quickly learning that the more obscure or niche the reference, the more an audience adores you for putting it in a show (if they get it). Builds such a sense of connection with the performer.

I don’t know if the ending was understood, but I hope it sparked a few conversations.

And the other shows in the festival, mostly professionally written, but with a fully student conceived creations, were inspiring, with fantastic performances. In particular, so far, The Russian Play, by Hannah Moscovitch and performed by SFU students, an original piece called ‘What Daggers Before Me’ by Darcy J. Knopp and Tinman Productions at UFV, and ‘Afterglow’, a well-written two-hander by Peter Boychuk whose name I can’t remember about a meteor, a dead mother, and a failed attempt at romance from Thompson Rivers University.

A lot of the plays seem to focus on sex, coarse language, sex, and more sex, but these are university students, after all. It’s a significant subject to approach. (besides, goodness knows my own show features at least two-dozen f-bombs.)

Good day. Good day indeed.

A teacup on a saucer.

Image via Wikipedia

Oh, and I also had a tea party with British accents in the green room (in honour of the royal wedding), played dutch blitz, and last night, in the pub, had an indepth discussion of Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman, and DC superheroes. Sure, these may have been even better times with a fellow UVic compatriot travelling beside me (though I did run into Graeme Thompson here, who performed as Hullaboo in a show I wrote (of the same name) for the IGNITE! Theatre Festival in Vancouver, and, briefly, a UVic first year named Frankie), but even still, even while known by most people here as ‘the only guy from UVic’ (with inflections indicating they are either impressed, worried, or wondering if I’m a control freak), this has been a great day.

Thank you, Chilliwack, and thank you, UFV Directors’ Festival.

Cheers,
Andrew Wade

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