One of the things I look forward to the most in January, other than complaining about and avoiding the cold, is having a good enough reason to brave it.
The annual Wildside Festival (now in its 18th year) is one of those reasons. This 10-day winter festival, which takes place at the Centaur Theatre, provides the kind of no-holds-barred, edgy, and unusual productions that I absolutely love to experience and are a nice change from the tamer stuff we see throughout the year.
Local playwright and actor, Johanna Nutter, has curated quite an eclectic list this year, and so far, the productions I’ve seen have ranged from the sublime to the “WTF was that?” It’s, I suppose, as it should be for a festival that’s all about going a little crazy and pushing the boundaries.
The first night started off with Saskatoon’s Theatre Owl’s production of Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another. The winner of the Best English Theatre Production at the 2014 Montreal Fringe, this strange and heartwarming Frankenstein-like story about a boy whose brother dies, so he decides to make another from scraps, was both magical and macabre. With absolutely no dialogue, and told entirely through movement, music, and shadow puppets, this 60-min production, created by Nathan Howe and Morgan Murray, moves along seamlessly, thanks to its offbeat humour, talented cast, and beautiful storytelling through the use of props. Danielle Spilchen is an absolute joy as the Frankenstein brother.
It’s shows like this that remind me why I love theatre so much, and how the stories it shares with us connect us as humans. Run to see this.
Coming and Going, presented by For Body and Light with choreographer Stéphanie Morin-Robert (also starring dancers Linnea Gwiazda and Allison Burns) and spoken word artist and musician Ian Ferrier, is an evocative and dreamlike voyage in imagination and dance.
Through the use of light, movement, sound, and moving shapes, they take us to the tides of the Bay of Fundy and attempt to describe the unpredictability and beauty of the sea.
Ferrier’s melodic, calming voice and the barely lit stage were dangerous to some (I heard someone snoring next to me in the beginning of the piece), and I have to admit I found it slow to start, but once it started and water was incorporated into the scenes, I found myself transfixed. There was something quite mesmerizing about three female forms on stage, interacting and playing off the light and the shadows, the water and the edges of the floor. It was trance-like and quite lovely.
The show started with a spoken word performance by local poet Chris Masson, who I found extremely eloquent and humorous. I could have easily listened to him for an hour on his own.
Last night started with a production I’ve been wanting to see since this summer. Johnny Legdick: A Rock Opera, is, you guessed it, a rock opera about a guy named Johnny “who has a leg where his dick supposed to be”. Their line, not mine.
Created by Jonah Carson, Jimmy Caramanis, Elijah Fish, Macleod Truesdale and Tyler Miller, this irreverent, bizarre tale of a young freak who is forced to work at a freak circus by the evil circus ring leader Suckadecocka (yup… you read that right) and while there, falls in love with Hannah and attempts to run away with Steve the Steed, a centaur. Special mention to Travis Martin, who had me howling in the role of Steve. Perfect comedic timing.
This was one of the most entertaining productions I’ve seen in a long time, and I don’t even like musicals or people breaking into song and dance halfway through a conversation. The writing is simply ballsy and original, and there was some serious talent on that stage. I found the acoustics off at times, but, otherwise, I highly recommend this one.
I wish I could say the same for F*ck You, You F*cking Pervert, but it failed to resonate with me. Created by Leslie Baker and text by Joseph Shragge, dealing with sexual predation, and billed as a sensory bombardment of weird imagery, I really wanted to like this production, but I simply didn’t. Many others in the theatre seemed to enjoy it, however. That’s how art works, though, as far as I’m concerned. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it, and you trying to explain to me why I should, won’t work. Ultimately, art is always subjective, and I found it convoluted and strange and disconnected in a way that didn’t speak to me at all. Considering the subject matter was sexual predation and pedophilia, perhaps that’s what I was supposed to feel, but it failed to elicit any emotion from me and I suppose that’s why it didn’t work for me.
Don’t let that stop you from going to see it, though. Many others in the room with me seemed to love it.
Tonight, The Way You Tell Them, by Rachel Mars interrogates the desire and compulsion to be funny. The Guardian called it “electrifying. A love letter to comedy from someone who wants it to mean something.”
Add Delicacy and Playday Mayday, which I haven’t seen yet, and you have quite a lineup this year. Ultimately, what I love about these types of festivals is that they showcase the works of talented, dedicated people who, with a miniscule budget, manage to bring us beauty. That’s always worth celebrating and supporting.
The Wildside Festival continues until January 17. For a complete schedule, go to: www.centaurtheatre.com. It’s well worth the trip to Old Montreal and braving the cold for such a hot ticket. We haven’t turned into weather wimps yet, have we?
Here’s a short video that will give you an idea of most of the productions to be seen this year.