I Claudius, I Gertrude, I Polonius, I Hamlet: the humanity and unity of Bhaneja’s Hamlet {solo}

I just returned from a brilliant rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Yukon Arts Centre.  One man, Raoul Bhaneja, did the whole play–or an edited version of the whole play–but he did every part, not just Hamlet’s soliloquies.  He had a box of light and an edge of darkness that he ran around making us believe he was seven or eight or ten people.  It was, in a word, stunning.  You might think that it will become boring–one man doing everything–and yet, every character received the same high quality attention.  I can’t imagine the inner-acting work that went on to understand every character, embody every person.  “I wanted to give everyone their chance,” Bhaneja said during the Q & A after the show.

It is a two hour show, and Bhaneja says about 15,000 words (from his own estimation).  He nuances characters with a gesture–Rosencrantz, his arm in the air; Guildentstern, leaning on one knee; Gertrude with her hand over her chest; Polonius stooped; Horatio a bit rigid and formal; Ophelia shy and uncertain.  His voice takes on multiple voices–a Sybil of sorts–but whose accents define the boundaries of the characters well enough for you to imagine, and I kept doing this, as if there were really six or seven people on stage and they were just being revealed to you one at a time as they spoke, as if they just came through the haze to speak.

Because Bhaneja edited the work, the transitions might be a bit altered, transitions from scene to scene.  But when I watched him end one scene with Hamlet and then start the next scene with Claudius I was struck by the statement it made about their characters.  Having one man portray both Claudius and Hamlet and crossfade into them gives the viewer this chance to see the two men as more similar, more equal, two sides of the same coin.  It’s easy to delineate the characters when they are played by separate actors, but when one man does them, it actually makes you think about how similar they all are.

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Hamlet: The Precipice of Belief and the Validity of Witness

I’m going to see Raoul Bhaneja’s one-man performance of Hamlet on Friday at the Yukon Arts Centre.  I’ve heard good things about it, and saw a good article in the Yukon News, and I love Shakespeare, but I’m going to see it because of the way Hamlet speaks about “belief.”  One of the main questions, arguably, is whether or not Hamlet should believe the ghost of his father.  He tells Hamlet that he was murdered by the King’s brother, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle.  It is also this ghost that asks, begs, persuades Hamlet to avenge his murder.  Without the ghost, no play.  With the ghost, several dilemmas at once, not the least of which is whether you believe a spirit that you’ve seen.

I’m teaching a class this semester at the Whitehorse United Church in Writing about Faith, a nebulous topic, a difficult endeavor.  You neither want to sound as if you were deluded or over-zealous, but neither do you want to play down your experiences until they mean nothing.  The spiritual things that happen to us are a keen part of our lives–sometimes they are the anchor that holds us rooted when the world tosses us around, and other times, they are an anchor dragging behind us, stopping us from moving forward.  Either way, what value we give them determines how we proceed with our life: either our spiritual side is a nice addendum to everything else we have in our lives, or it is something profoundly different that affects our course of action. (Or we just ignore it altogether)

Hamlet is caught in a crisis of belief.  If he believes a ghost—just stop there to see how preposterous that sounds—then he has to believe that his father was murdered, and that his uncle is the villain, and that his mother could have been an accomplice.  Further, if that’s true, then the ghost must also be believed that he, Hamlet, can set it right.  That everything that Hamlet does hinges on the  believability of the words of a ghost means that the play is really about our belief, and how much it informs our real decisions.

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Longest Night features aliens, musicians, wacky fun, and lunar eclipse

Alien love songs, alien films, dances with aliens, UFO sighting highlights over the last fifty years, not to mention the sounds of the Longest Night Ensemble with Peggy Lee, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Daniel Janke (with a couple of Christmas songs in the mix)… I am truly thrilled to be a part of such an eclectic group of artists who have taken “alien” to new heights.  This is fun, light-hearted, and thought-provoking.

I really love it when folks outside the science fiction genre take on the theme artistically—they see things I never thought of, things I’ve never seen anyone else do!  They create ideas of “alien” that are truly alien.  They invigorate the genre.  I’m so honoured to be working with Celia McBride, Moira Sauer and Brian Fidler as they literally re-create the alien.

And as a science fiction writer forced to present only the facts of UFO sightings–without trying to convince–I too am stretching out of my comfort zone: embracing the real, putting on the skeptical hat, being a reporter not a missionary.  Sticking with the facts, ma’am, and leaving the fiction at home.  It made me do as much research as a term paper, and put it in such a way that a listener gets to choose what they want to believe.

At first I fought it, then I embraced it.

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Researching for Longest Night (Dec 20, 21): We Are Not Alone

Researching for Longest Night, I was told that Daniel Janke wanted real reports of UFOs during my segments.  Over the last week of researching,  I’ve become a bit jittery.  There’s a lot more than I really want to think about.  Check out this footage from NASA.


Don’t know about you.  But when I come across video footage from NASA, I start to believe.  Don’t know if you already believe or not.  But we’ll be looking at several high profile cases at the Longest Night performance this year–in between puppetry and music–since their theme is We Are Not Alone.

I’ll post more research here and let you know how it’s coming.  But you can come see the finished product DEC 20th and 21st, 8pm.  Yukon Arts Centre.  Tickets available now.

Aboriginal Playwright Reading Series begins Wed. June 23

Gwaandak Theatre is putting on a reading series this summer in Whitehorse, featuring three plays written by First Nations playwrights, borrowing the skills of some local First Nation actors—some who are brand new to the theatre stage.  I’m excited to see these plays put on as readings.  They’ll really showcase what aboriginal playwrights are doing in Canada.  

The first of the readings (June 23) is Sixty Below, Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather’s play, produced down South.  It  had an extensive run up in the Yukon as they both took the play to the communities in 1999.   It has a Yukon setting and was hugely popular when it toured.  And now gets a special reading this Wednesday night.  

“Sixty Below is the story of Henry, fresh out of jail and ready to straighten out his life. Of course it’s not that easy: his old buddies just want to party, his girlfriend’s moving ahead of him, and then there’s the ghost of Johnnie, everyone’s hero, who just won’t leave the northern lights. And to top it all off – the longest night is just around the corner. Cast features Kevin Barr, Boyd Benjamin, Jared Lutchman, Rae Mombourquette, Sean Smith, and Ciara Stick. Reading is directed by Mary Sloan,” says Sarah Moore, Gwaandak Theatre’s publicist.   

The second (July 7) is a play from Kenneth T. Williams called Bannock Republic, using characters from his earlier play, Thunderstick.

Bannock Republic tells the story of Jacob, a videojournalist for APTN, Isaac, a new chief—both friends in the earlier play– and introduces Destiny, a woman and third party representative, who comes to financially take over the reserve drowning in debt.

The third play (July 14) is Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters featuring “seven of the greatest roles ever written for women,” Flather says.  Highway’s work, probably the best known of the four playwrights, was produced in Toronto, earned several Dora awards for theatre, and featured a hilarious knock-down drag-out fight between all seven women. 

Gwaandak Theatre believes all of the plays capture the strength, resiliency and humor of aboriginal culture despite adversity, the affects of colonization and discrimination.  “And these plays, they don’t hold anything back,” Flather says.  “They celebrate the human spirit.”

Linklater and Flather formed Gwaandak Theatre back in 1999 to remount Sixty Below for a millennial production.  They felt like there was a need for a company that would focus on underrepresented groups—specifically First Nation groups—and give them a professional theatre company to tell, and produce, their stories. 

Williams believes that what Gwaandak Theatre does is extremely important for every community. 

“There are only a few professional Aboriginal theatres in Canada,” he says.   “Yet, there are many exciting young Aboriginal playwrights in Canada like Tara Beagan, Waawaate Anishnaabe Fobister and Kevin Loring who are shaking things up in the theatre world.   Mainstream theatres are paying attention to us, and that’s great, but it would be unfair and unrealistic to ask them to program an entire season to just Aboriginal writers. It’s about showing the diversity of writing within the Aboriginal community, it’s about sharing stories and learning from one another.  The other benefit is to inspire young Aboriginal people to be theatre artists. Theatre is a great profession. And we need more Aboriginal theatre artists.”

The plays are for everyone—both First Nation and non-First Nation.  They do contain mature content so parental discretion is advised.    Come to the Old Firehall downtown at 7:00 (doors open) for a 7:30 start:

June 23:  Sixty Below

July 7:  Bannock Republic

July 14:  The Rez Sisters 

(part of this post comes from an article written for What’s Up Yukon, slated for Wednesday June 30–“pre”-printed here with permission)

The Laramie Project Shows Stunning Ensemble Work

This is my review from What’s Up Yukon.  

5 out of 5 Stars

I gave Justine Davidson, the theatre reviewer for the Whitehorse Star, a long hug at the end of The Laramie Project, the Guild Society/GALA play.

Both of us were near tears.

She said over my shoulder, “Does this mean it’s good when the journalists are crying?”

We weren’t the only ones moved.

But don’t let this make you think the play is a downer. It isn’t.

It’s mostly a fascinating study of 80 people learning to cope with sudden and abrupt change. The tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s murder happens before the play begins — so this is, in effect, the aftermath.

This is a community coming to terms with what they think about it — and finding themselves at the centre of a media tornado. You find yourself rooting for them as they try to make it through. …

(For the rest of the review, click here to go to What’s Up Yukon)

Etiquette: Let Yourself Be Part of the Play

I was able to be a part of Etiquette, the new play by Theatre Rotozaza from the UK now set up at Baked Cafe, at First and Main.  It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  

Yep, you’re sitting down, yep there are actors and a stage, and lines, and things are acted out, but you are the participants and no one in the cafe knows you are doing it.  It’s visceral and you feel as if you are being used, a bit, by the play.  After all, the voice tells you what to say and what to do.  You will be talking about it for awhile.  

You participate with one other person sitting across from you.  You wear headphones and whatever the voice says to you on the headphones to say or do, you say or do.  But it’s not so loud that anyone will ever hear you.  It’s not embarrassing.  It’s a conversation you are having with another person who is also wearing headphones.  

The play is called Etiquette because it seems to want to examine the whole idea of proper things to say.  Here you are, being the actor, being fed lines, much like you go to a Book of Etiquette to know how to say appropriate things at a wedding, funeral, dinner party.  You are handed lines in those situations.  But there are some situations you won’t have words for…

In the course of the play, you are directed to pick up small objects and figurines, place them on the table, do things with them.  The play uses you to get itself acted.  It’s really clever that way.  

It references at one point Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Doll’s House, and you witness the last scene of that play, where Nora does something that no woman in theatre was ever allowed to do, until then.  She leaves her husband.  He is left nearly speechless.  There’s nothing he can say–nothing that makes any sense.  This is the crux of the play Etiquette, not Ibsen’s scene, but the idea that we need words to understand how to act or feel at certain times.  

There will come a moment when you have to read a note while looking through a glass of water.  Hold the note close to the glass and move it sideways.  It will be clearer if you do that.  If you can’t, just flip it over and read the note outloud.  The rest of the directions are pretty easy to follow–you pick things up and place them on the table in front of you, you turn, look around, look at each other.  

I can’t tell you much more about the play—you have to live it to know what it is.  And whichever character you are, you will only know the play from that perspective.  This challenged a lot of what I think about theatre–about the audience’s ability to stay as observers to the play.  Here, you are forced to BE the play, and you don’t know what the other character will say, or what you will say, until you’ve said it.  But all the elements of theatre are there.  They are on the table, in your hands, out of your mouth.  It’s unique and visceral, and if you get a chance to sign up at Baked Cafe to do it, do it.  It takes 30 minutes, and there are only two tables in the room to use (so only four people can participate at a time).  No one really sees you or thinks about what you are doing.  It just looks like you are having a conversation.  But you are really deep inside a play, while the rest of the world drinks coffee around you. 

Etiquette is brought to you through the 2010 Pivot Theatre Festival arranged by Nakai Theatre.  For more information, see their website.  

Etiquette happens Tuesday January 26 to Sunday January 31,

Baked Cafe, every half hour between 1 and 6 pm, $20/pair

Tickets available at Baked Cafe starting Jan. 26 at noon.