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  • Joe Szekeres

(Poster from Theatre Aurora website)


Presented by Theatre Aurora and The One Voice Project

Executive Producers: Sergio Calderone and Neill Kernohan

Production Design: Sergio Calderone

Lighting Design: David Buffham

Technical Design: Neill Kernohan


By Joe Szekeres, Supervisory Toronto Critic for On Stage Blog


What an absolute treat to come across how a local GTA community theatre group is continuing with providing socially distant live theatre through streaming. Theatre Aurora’s ‘The One Voice Project’ uses four one act/monologues by playwright Andrew Biss. These monologues are approximately 20-25 minutes in length.


I’ve always admired the one act play format. In its brevity, a good one act/monologue can always reveal so much in such a shortened time span.


It looked as if this presentation was filmed on the stage at Theatre Aurora. Periodically, I could hear the echo of the actors’ voices reverberating from the walls. This is a nice touch (thanks to technical designer Neill Kernohan) as it allowed me to imagine that I was actually in a theatre watching and hearing the story unfold before me.


‘The One Voice Project’ begins with the hard-real statement that Ontario and Canadian theatres are closed with a devastating impact by the coronavirus, but that isn’t stopping Theatre Aurora. They are promising they will return. Until then, the company is committing to bring art back into their theatre for the present moment.


Hence, ‘The One Voice Project’. There are four of them. I’d like to review each individually.


I must say Episode One, ‘WYWH’ by playwright Andrew Biss, is one fabulously written script that tells the story of a reclusive, middle-aged divorcee who deals with what she calls a ‘BP’ (bad patch) in her life. It is her nephew, Sam, who gets Eileen to discover a new life in the virtual world and all the computer language therein.


Director Judi Cragg and performer Gerri Sefi as Eileen beautifully toy and play with the nuances of the language of the script to present a very plausible middle aged lady who is doing her best to try to move on after so much sadness in her life. David Buffham’s soft lighting design warmly invited me to enter this world if only for a few minutes.


The placement of a rocking chair upstage right and a park bench upstage left were nice effects indeed as they too enhanced the story being told to me. I also really liked the appearance of a softly lit projected window on the back wall because it became an effective reminder that I was looking briefly into the life of this remarkably interesting and ordinary individual.

What also worked nicely in this presentation was the fact ‘WYWH’ doesn’t become schmaltzy and syrupy with a woeful ‘Oh woe is me and my life for what has happened.”


Instead, Ms. Cragg clearly wanted Eileen to be a true and believable person and mission was accomplished. I was on every word spoken by Ms. Sefi as I didn’t want to miss one part of this story being told to me with such grace and class. Clad in a dark sweater with pink top, Ms. Sefi confidently tackles this script and always appears in the moment as Eileen. At times there is a bright twinkle in her eye with a slight grin as she tells us some funny moments in learning how to navigate the virtual world. I laughed out loud at some of computer acronyms Eileen hilariously had to learn from LOL to CYA etc. There were other moments where Ms. Sefi is rather poignant in telling us some of the sad moments Eileen has endured; however, Ms Sefi never resorted to histrionics in her delivery as she allowed the words of the monologue and their intent to resonate clearly.


Appropriately timed pausing along with a natural touching of suitable choice of props from a lap top computer to Ms. Sefi’s dangling glasses from her neck brought an underlying subtext to the script that I though deserve an examination. Ms. Sefi is a natural storyteller in this presentation as I loved listening to her using her voice and its registers in narrating certain events from her life.


A lovely way to begin this project. WYWH to take a look (I didn't know what this computer acronym meant until I watched this one act).


I look forward to the next three episodes.


To access Theatre Aurora’s ‘The One Voice Project’, visit www.theatreaurora.com and click the link. The cost is $4.99 to access each one act for 72 hours.


Episode One is worth the price. The top left hand picture in the poster web design is a picture of Gerri Sefi.

"FOOD FOR THOUGHT" Staged Reading Summer 2020 Company

L-R: Breanne Tice, Michael Williamson, Reid Martin, Sabrina Pye (who narrated the scene changes)


By Joe Szekeres, On Stage Blog


Theatre on the Ridge’s staged reading tonight and tomorrow (August 6) are six pieces selected from the summer company in conjunction with Artistic Director, Carey Nicholson, surrounding a conversation she had with the performers earlier in the season. When Ms. Nicholson and her cast began working at a safe social distance with each other, the entire company discussed what could be done for this summer without really knowing what could be done given the health parameters our world is currently under.


Thus, came this selection of monologues and short one acts entitled ‘Food for Thought’. Each piece presented tonight and tomorrow strongly (and, at times, strangely) holds strong relevance and reflects the strange times in which we currently find ourselves right now.


I will remind readers that I felt completely safe at this performance. Audience members were spaced six feet apart from each others. Performers were spaced six feet apart from each other. Theatre on the Ridge has followed the safety protocols and guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Health.


What really worked well for me at this presentation was the smart handling of language from each of the performers. Oral story telling is the first example of performance, and an excellent storyteller must know how to utilize language, pacing, enunciation, and vocalization to enhance the spoken tale. Even if a story might not appeal to one’s interest, (as one tonight did not), these solid performers adeptly used the language and sounds of their voices that kept me focused the entire time.


These performers handled smartly the language of the various texts. Performer Breanne Tice has written a powerfully moving monologue on body shaming. Nicely performed by Reid Martin, this tale dealt with a young woman at various ages of her life where she felt that her body was not the way it was ‘supposed’ to look at certain stages of life. This is an extremely relevant monologue to share since body shaming is not solely relegated to women as men also fall prey and victim to the taunts of others about body shape and sizing. Apologies here, but it is revealed that this monologue is a work in progress and Ms. Tice invited audience members to give their feedback about the monologue at the end of the performance.


Performer Michael Williamson then read some selections from ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid’ by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. Michael let the audience know before he began that he has read this book before and is fascinated with the way Ondaatje tells the story surrounding certain themes. At this performance, Williamson wanted us to be aware that what he was about to do was showcase Mr. Ondaatje’s work and the power of his word surrounding the theme of Animals. Mr. Williamson’s narration is natural and very realistic. There were moments where I watched him specifically and I received the impression that he spoke to me and to each audience member for a few brief seconds. Williamson has captured the mystery and the intrigue of Ondaatje’s story as I wanted to hear where the tale was headed.


As Port Perry resident Elizabeth Stout, Breanne Tice poignantly told the story of her husband, Samuel Stout, who was born a slave in the United States and travelled the Underground Railroad to freedom here in Canada. This monologue deals with ‘racial injustice’ and half-breeds sometimes in a visceral and raw manner, but Ms. Tice never bordered on tears or hysteria to tell her story. At all times, she was in complete control of creating a believable Elizabeth Stout who was immensely proud of her husband and what he had accomplished. Very well done.


I especially liked the production of ‘Then’ played by Michael Williamson and Reid Martin. Very clever and solidly polished presentation as the performers had to adopt a British accent and maintain consistency throughout, which they did to my ear. Without destroying too much about this piece, the use of paper bags over Mr. Williamson’s and Ms. Martin’s heads becomes an extraordinarily strong parallel metaphor of the masks that we are now required to wear when we leave our homes.


‘Food for Thought’ as part of Theatre on the Ridge’s BIG THEATRE FOR SMALL SPACES continues August 6 at 7:00 pm, at 175B Queen Street, Port Perry. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.theatreontheridge.ca.

PROFILE OF RAPH NOGAL

(Self-portrait by Raph Nogal) https://raphnogal.com


  • Information compiled by Joe Szekeres, On Stage Blog

I wanted to conclude this series by profiling photographer for many community theatres in the Greater Toronto area, Raph Nogal: https://raphnogal.com.


I had the good fortune to have been cast in three shows where Raph was the photographer. I’ve kept two books of his photos from shows in which I was cast because they still bring back many good memories for me. His still photography is exquisitely stunning to see. Some friends have had their headshots taken by Raph, and they rave all the time about the lush quality of the prints that are returned to them as proofs before final choices are made.


Thank you, Raph, for agreeing to be interviewed:


How have you been faring with this never-ending threat of this worldwide pandemic? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?

We have been taking it easy for the most part. It honestly feels like a 6-month unpaid vacation… but not really a vacation that you plan on taking. There have definitely been areas of struggle and adjustment, but I personally am grateful for all the family time, especially with a little dude at a really fun age, so I’m trying to see the silver lining.


What has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally during this time?

The most difficult was the adjustment to the current state. Professionally, the amount of work that ended up being cancelled was a bit overwhelming at first, but allowed for some creative time, a time to reflect, and a bit of a pause to the overall grid.


Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?

I was scheduled to photograph several productions around the GTA, and some have initially been delayed, but eventually cancelled. Time will tell what will happen in 2021/2022. I hope the projects and groups stay around and come out of this.


Besides your day work/job/profession, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?

Lots of lego building, bike rides, and just having fun with our son. I’m keeping active by running and working out. I also found an old BMX that I fixed up and have been reliving my youth a bit. We also purchased a canoe so that’s been a lot of fun too.


At least two Toronto based community/amateur theatres that I know have shuttered their doors on account of this pandemic. I recently saw online that some people are asking, as birthday gifts, donations to help keep their theatre groups afloat. Can you impart any words of wisdom or sage advice to the amateur theatre groups in the GTA about the future as there is a very high possibility they may be closed until at least spring 2021?

This is extremely difficult without a doubt. Theatre groups provide so much to the community, and also to everyone involved. We see talent blossom from these kinds of groups that end up in professional theatre, we see people coming together, it inspires ideas, creativity, and an outlet for so many. Hang in there, the world would be so sad without theatre.


Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19 and the protests? Will this positive light somehow impact community/amateur theatre groups moving forward?

It will definitely impact groups, it already has. The has opened up topics that may need to be further discussed and explored - which is a great opportunity, but I also think it has really put in perspective how much theatre really means to people and how important this is in our culture.


Despite all this fraught tension and confusion of the pandemic along with the protests, what is it about the arts that can never be destroyed for you?

I think art in general is a way of expression and it should be cherished. Like many impactful events throughout our time, this could lead to a new art movement, a new way of. self-expression, and so on. I’m really looking forward to seeing artists take this moment in time to reflect on it, comment on it and learn from it in their art, whatever the medium.


With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:


1. What is your favourite word? Awesome


2. What is your least favourite word? … Cohort


3. What turns you on? A beautiful smile


4. What turns you off? Smokers


5. What sound or noise do you love? Ocean


6. What sound or noise bothers you? Screeching


7. What is your favourite curse word?. FAK! What is your least favourite curse word? Dangit


8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? Trainer/Sales manager


9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Chef


10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You did good, kid!”

Joe's comments:

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