The Kick & Push kicks off

The beginning of Kingston’s first collaborative theatre festival

Katie Swift in Tale of a Town's storymobile.
Photo: 
This July and August, the inaugural The Kick & Push Festival comes to downtown Kingston, bringing six theatre companies together to present their crafts.
 
The festival is a convergence of six independent and professional Kingston theatre companies — Theatre Kingston, Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions, the Cellar Door Project, Single Thread Theatre Company — and Toronto-based companies Fixt Point and Convergence Theatre.
 
Each present their own unique shows, ranging from musical productions to plays to storytelling. The festival will feature panel discussions, skill-development workshops for people interested in professional theatre and weekday theatre camps for kids.
 
Mike Sheppard, the artistic producer and founder of Blue Canoe Productions, said the festival was born out of a collaboration between himself, Brett Christopher of Theatre Kingston and Liam Karry of Single Thread Theatre Company. 
 
He said the three of them have been working for over a year to put on this festival.
 
One of the festival’s main goals is to provide mentorship  to young professionals looking to gain relevant skills and experience in the theatre field, he said. 
 
“We need something to give young professionals, like myself, an opportunity to actually practice in the arts in some capacity,” Sheppard said.
 
“We want young professionals to realize they can stay in Kingston and gain valuable experience in their craft.”
 
Because it’s the first Kick & Push Festival, participating theatre companies will present the audience with a diverse batch of theatre productions.
 
Shows range from the Single Thread Company’s Ambrose, a site-specific show designed for the Grand Theatre space, to Convergence Theatre’s Autoshow, a cycle of seven plays revolving around seven cars parked in Springer Market Square. 
 
Productions will also include a Tony-award winning musical, a historical play held outdoors and the stories collected about Kingston’s main street. 
 
Festival show times, panel discussions and workshops continue into mid-August. Tickets for any of the six shows can be found at the Grand Theatre website or at the Grand Theatre box office downtown. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A schedule of showtimes and workshops for the festival can be found on The Kick & Push website at thekickandpush.com.
 
A Chorus Line takes an interactive twist
A cast member playing Shiela Bryant in A Chorus Line. (Photo supplied by Mark Bergin)
 
Audience members are a part of the show in The Kick and Push Festival’s production of A Chorus Line.
 
The original play has won 10 Tony Awards and had a successful run on Broadway. Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions, a Kingston-based theatre company, presents the critically acclaimed musical A Chorus Line in an entirely new way. 
 
The musical focuses on the stories of 17 hopeful individuals as they audition for a Broadway musical.  The director, who meets each of these people through their auditions, casts an all-chorus musical using an unusual approach to auditioning.
 
The director asks the auditioning actors to reveal their true selves underneath their stage personas. He asks personal questions, such as why they dance and their experiences growing up. As the auditions go on, the show reveals each of the performers’ personal stories.
 
Blue Canoe’s version of the show takes the original play and involves the audience. Alongside regular show tickets, the audience can buy another ticket called Join the Line. 
 
Sheppard, director of the show and artistic director of Blue Canoe, said audience members who buy this ticket meet the stage door at 7 p.m., and learn the dance routine to the opening half an hour before the show begins. 
 
“Usually, there’s a group of 10 to 15 other people who get cut during the audition for a chorus line. We made those people the audience themselves,” he said.
 
The musical deals with several social issues, including sexual orientation, racialized experiences and class difference. But it still remains light and humorous, which balances out its darker moments.
Sheppard said the musical remains grounded in reality, which is something other contemporary musicals rarely do. 
 
“The show’s biggest lesson is how difficult it really is to be yourself,” he said. “People often wear personas to be appealing. This play is about stripping that away entirely.”
 
— Ramna Safeer
 
Ambrose, starring you
 
The audience is the star of The Kick and Push Festival’s opening play, Ambrose. 
 
Single Thread Theatre Company, founded in 2003 by Queen’s students, successfully pushes the boundaries of experimental and innovative theatre in their production for The Kick and Push. 
 
For over 10 years, Single Thread has performed site-specific theatre in unconventional places, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Fort York and now Kingston’s Grand Theatre.
 
Ambrose fits Single Thread’s mandate to create unique experiences for audience members through immersive theatre — a production technique that requires audience members to play an active and central role in the play.
 
Ambrose tells the tale of Ambrose Small, a millionaire who made his earnings by owning Grand Theatres across Ontario in cities such as Toronto, London and Kingston. Small went missing in 1919, which was the same day he sold his theatres for $1.7 million. 
 
His body was never found and the case of his mysterious disappearance was never solved. 
 
The play is set not long after Small’s disappearance. Audience members experience the show one-on-one with a performer. Each scene is in a different spot in the theatre, with a different performer. 
 
Ambrose requires that audience members participate in the show. Throughout the performance, actors ask for your name, converse with you, ask if you know what happened to Small, hug you and hold your hand.
 
The production uses the entire Grand Theatre. Performers lead audience members on-stage, backstage, through dressing rooms, outside the theatre and into unidentifiable dark rooms.
 
“[Ambrose is] really unique. It confronts and challenges the audience,” said Jesse Gazic, an actor in the production. He plays Dr. Peter Kaplin, a therapist in the 1910s. 
 
Gazic said some audience members are hesitant at first about participating in the show, but most eventually open up to the theatrical concept of Ambrose. 
 
“People are initially on guard when they find themselves being confronted,” said Gazic. “But once they realize that it’s all in good faith and we’re just trying to create an experience together, they open up and we have a really good communication.”
 
Liam Karry, producer and co-director of Ambrose and Single Thread’s Artistic Director, said each audience member has a unique experience of Ambrose. 
 
“They often say that art’s main duty is to be a mirror,” Karry said. “And this production is more of a mirror than usual because the play is looking at you. It’s reacting to what you do.”
 
While Karry is confident that people will really like the style of Ambrose, he recognizes that it may not be for everyone. 
 
“[Ambrose] is not necessarily for everyone, especially for people who are expecting a passive experience,” Karry said. “This is theatre that demands something from the audiences, in a literal sense.”
 
However, he said active participation from audience members makes for an unforgettable show. 
 
“It feels really good, as an artist, to create an experience that you know people aren’t going to forget,” said Karry. “And one of the reasons they’re not going to forget is because it’s an experience they helped 
themselves create.”
 
For Karry, communication between audience members and performers creates a sense of community that’s different from conventional theatre. 
 
“You’re in the play. There is no division between performer and audience,” Karry said. “To me, that seems like the most intimate form of community that one can achieve in art.”
 
Greg Jefferys, who was an audience member of the show on June 17, said Karry was right: audience members feel as if they’re part of the play. “It was a very surreal experience,” Jefferys said. “It feels like you get sucked back in time and you have to start acting.”
 
— Lauren Luchenski
 
 
A tale of Princess Street
 
 
Katie Swift in the storymobile. (Photo by Kendra Pierroz)
 
 
Tale of a Town is unraveling the history of Princess Street one story at a time.
 
Since 2014, Tale of a Town, a branch of Toronto’s Fixt Point Theatre Company, has been travelling across Canada. 
 
The branch has been in Kingston since July 13 as part of The Kick & Push festival. They’ll be here until their Community Celebration event on Aug. 1. 
 
The group stops in cities for 3 weeks to collect stories about each city’s main street. They interview community members about the street in their “storymobile” — a small trailer attached to the back of their car with comfortable benches and microphones.
 
J.P. Davidson, one of the story gatherers and producers for Tale of a Town in Kingston, said the group invites anyone to come to the storymobile to share their stories. 
 
“We take our storymobile around town and open it to the public,” Davidson said. The Community Celebration occurs at the end of their three weeks of gathering stories in Kingston. 
 
Davidson said they’ll create and perform an audio-visual and theatrical performance of all the stories they collected.
 
The event will take place in the Just Hi-Fi store front on Princess St. Twenty to thirty people will be invited into the venue at a time to listen to the collected stories and watch the theatrical performances that accompany them.
Tale of a Town is interested in collecting the living memories of Kingston’s main street, Davidson said, including personal memories from community members. 
 
“[It’s about] the stuff that wouldn’t make it into history books or that would disappear if it weren’t for projects like this one,” Davidson said. 
 
Having done 50 interviews so far, Davidson says Kingstonians have provided the group with a variety of perspectives.
 
“Older people definitely bring an amazing perspective because we get to hear about Kingston when it wasn’t filled with restaurants and tourists,” Davidson said. 
 
He said even people who haven’t lived in the city long, such as Queen’s students, have memories to contribute to the history of Kingston. 
 
“Queen’s is such an important part of the city, so we’re definitely interested in hearing [student’s] stories,” Davidson said. 
 
One of Davidson’s favourite stories so far belongs to Brian Lipsin, the owner of Brian’s Record Option on Princess St.
 
Lipsin told Davidson about a man who visited his shop to browse the sheet music. When Lipsin asked him if he belonged to a band, the man pointed to a poster of Blue Rodeo hanging in the store.
 
Davidson said it’s memories like Lipsin’s that may have gone untold, and he feels lucky to have 
heard them.
 
“It’s a privilege to listen to all these stories,” Davidson said. 
 
Tale of a Town is building towards a large theatre event on Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017. The event will present all of the stories collected about the main streets in many of Canada’s cities.
 
— Lauren Luchenski
 

A play within a play

In Shipwrecked!, a Victorian adventure play, Englishman Louis de Rougemont invites his audience to witness his story of adventure and survival. 

Shipwrecked!, presented by Kingston-based professional theatre company Theatre Kingston, promises a combination of fantasy, humour and historic storytelling.

Louis de Rougemont, the play’s central character, speaks to the audience directly throughout the play.  

We learn that de Rougemont went to sea as a teenager in Victorian England and was shipwrecked for nearly 30 years. His story shocked the nation and led to widespread fame. 

The play begins when the English public finds inconsistencies in de Rougemont’s story, which leads him to share his story with the audience and let them choose what to believe. 

De Rougemont stars as himself — creating a play within a play — as he reenacts the adventure that made him famous. 

The show’s directr and artistic producer of Theatre Kingston, Brett Christopher, said the play is a celebration of imagination. 

“It’s about an audience and actors on the stage coming together to create a story out of found objects and remnants of stories,” said Christopher. 

By reenacting his story for the public, Christopher said de Rougemont questions whether it’s right to bend the truth for the sake of a good story. 

“Louis is asking us: why does it have to be true? Why can’t it just be a great story?” said Christopher.

Christopher said the play is perfect for a summer festival celebrating theatre, particularly due of its humour.

“It’s so funny! It’s very accessible in that way. It was made to entertain,” he said.

“I hope people come away realizing the message that imagination is something to cherish. All of us could use some childhood imagination.”

— Ramna Safeer

 

Imaginative take on Kingston’s history

Audrey Sturino (right) and Bridget Gihooly in Tall Ghosts and Bad Weather. (Photo supplied by Akhil Dua)

The Cellar Door Project’s production for The Kick & Push is a tale of colliding centuries. 

Their production for The Kick & Push Festival, Tall Ghosts and Bad Weather, is set in the Lower Burial Ground at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Montreal St. 

The play follows two storylines: one in 1819 and the other in 2013. 

The Cellar Door Project performs site-specific theatre throughout Kingston to remind community members of the city’s history.

Mariah Horner, the show’s director, said the Lower Burial Ground was chosen as the subject for the production because it’s a piece of Kingston’s history that deserves more attention. 

She’s also The Cellar Door Project’s founder and Artistic Director.

The cemetery is located at the corner of Queen and Montreal St. It opened in 1783 and contains the tombs of Kingston’s earliest inhabitants. 

“It’s the oldest cemetery in Ontario,” Horner said. 

“There are so many people who put all their time, effort and research into the people in this cemetery and into conserving the space and then it just sits here silently.”

While most of the characters and the storylines are fictionalized, some aspects of the performance were influenced by historical research. 

The 1819 plot deals with the real-life conflict between Anglican and Presbyterian religious groups during the time period. 

The story set in 2013 centres on the conservation of the cemetery by conservator Alexander Gobav, who owns a Kingston-based conservation company — Conservation of Sculptures, Monuments & Objects. The actual characters and their circumstances are fictionalized.

Horner said the show combines history and fiction to remind the audience that there’s a lot of history that we may not know.

“So much can happen between then and now, a lot of parts of history are ignored,” Horner said. “A big part of the play is about how we can ever actually know about the past.”

There are recognizable names at the Lower Burial Ground, such as Molly Brant — a famous First Nations woman born in Kingston. 

But Horner said it’s important to honour the ordinary people of past generations, including the other 600 people buried in the cemetery. 

“I don’t see myself as the Sir John A. MacDonald of my generation,” Horner said.“We are paying homage to the stories of ordinary people.”

The Cellar Door Project team interviewed Gabov and city historians to gather historical information about the cemetery. 

Horner said that the historians were as interested in making the play dramatic as they were in ensuring historical accuracy. 

To heighten the drama, fictionalized versions of living people appear in the play, including Gabov.

Actor Simon Gagnon plays the historian, who himself appeared to attend the show’s dress rehearsal on July 20. Coincidentally, Gabov wore the same outfit that the actor was set to perform in. 

Gagnon said he tried to find a middle ground between the real-life jolly and kind-hearted Gabov and the theatricalized version of him. 

“I wanted to put my own spin on [the character],” Gagnon said. 

“All I knew, and all I really wanted to know about him, is that he is the nicest guy in the world and no one really 

dislikes him.”Sean Meldrum, the show’s playwright and an actor in the play, said some characters had to be altered to create an entertaining show. He plays historical figure Archdeacon George Stuart. 

“When the people that you’re writing about are actually very nice, it doesn’t make for very good drama,” Meldrum said. 

“So, we actually had to take liberties with our characters and distance them from the real people.”

— Lauren Luchenski

 

 

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