We made it! Not only is it the end of another year but it's the end of another decade! For the last three years I've been aiming to see over 52 plays per year and this year I really outdid myself. In 2019 I saw a whopping one hundred fifty-six plays over fifty two weeks! Most of these plays came from my time in the spring and summer spent at theatre festivals across Western Canada. This included six shows at the Festival of Animated Objects, nine at the 2019 Hydra Performing Arts Festival, eleven plays at Sage Theatre's annual IGNITE! Festival of Emerging Artists, and a whopping one hundred between the five fringes I attended in Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria, and Vancouver during my summer tour with Chimera Theatre. You can read more about my experience at some of the other festivals in Calgary in my blog post about it.
I love doing this blog post every year because it lets me look back at all the amazing work I've taken in and that fills me with so much gratitude. I'm inspired by the amazing theatre I watch and it gives me so many ideas on things I want to create myself next year. Every year I choose shows that jump out at me, that surprise me, and that make me love theatre. If you're interested in reading a bit about my tastes in theatre and what I've seen in the past two years, you can read my top ten lists from 2018 and 2017.
This year was incredibly competitive due to the immense volume of plays I saw alone. There are many plays that, on any other year, would have made this list but didn't quite make the cut. With that in mind, I wanted to include one quick honourable mention. Citadel Theatre's production of Matilda the Musical (with book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, based on the book by Raold Dahl) really should be on this list. It was a fantastic production of an absolutely beautiful show. The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the show in the West End was my #1 show from last year however, so I decided to not put this musical on my list again.
So, without further ado, here's my top ten list for 2019 in ascending order.
10. GIANT by David van Belle and Eric Rose (Ghost River Theatre)
This show was basically everything I like about theatre all mixed up into one great production. The masks, puppetry, dance, and stage combat were thrilling to watch and were excellently performed by the female ensemble. The show used the thrust theatre configuration very well and, through the puppetry played, with space and size in incredibly creative ways. It was a compelling story and delivered creatively on stage.
9. Smoke by Elena Eli Belyea (Downstage Theatre)
This play really left me thinking. The script presented so many questions about consent, trauma, and attraction. It was highly charged, relatable, and fun. The script was a nice mix of gritty realism and poetry. Plus, it included things you don't always see on stage like real fire, a haircut, and nudity. It was exciting, fresh, and I loved it. My only regret was that I only got to see one version of the show (the male/female version).
8. Iceland by Nicolas Billon (Theatre: Calgary)
This was a great script and the performances and direction were top notch. Nicolas Billon takes the audience on a wild ride from beginning to end and the production made me emotional in unexpected ways. On top of that, I loved the movement and sound design. The issues around the economy and capitalism are so important today, especially where I live in Alberta.
7. The After After Party by Katey Hoffman & Cheyenne Mabberley (After Party Theatre)
This was a WILD ride. It's definitely one of the most funny shows I've seen onstage. The super ridiculous and raunchy style of humour isn't usually my cup of tea, but it made me laugh so hard and it was so over the top and crazy that I couldn't help loving it. There was intense stage combat, nostalgic 90s music, time travel, plenty of meta-theatrical references, and so much drugs and alcohol. They performers were fabulous and they and their director constructed a tight and highly entertaining sixty minutes. Brava!
6. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (Bard on the Beach)
This was my first time seeing Coriolanus on stage, but since studying it in university it's been a favourite of mine. It was also my first time seeing a Bard on the Beach show and neither of these let me down. The show was worth it alone for Moya O'Connel's performance in the titular role. She brought so much strength, rage, and vulnerability to this great Shakespearean character. The fight choreography was incredibly done and the lights and sound were superb. All around, it was an intense and imaginative production.
5. Tria Fata (Compagnie La Pendue)
What an experience! It was full of surprises and both of the performers were very talented. The show was messy and theatrical in the best way possible and had delightful moments like breaking through a shadow screen, the cutting of an ambilical cord, puppets flying on a trapeze, a wheel chair moving itself, and excellently used flash paper. Their use of music, puppetry, mask, projectors, and dance was beautiful and poignant. It was a stunning show.
4. Schemas, 1 - 5 choreographyed by Jolene Bailie (Gearshifting Performance Works)
So powerful and, once again, so many surprises. These dancers were incredibly technical and very connected to their craft, their music, and each other. It was so interesting and refreshing to see contemporary dance on a big stage like this. The blood and flower petals were highly evocative and the show as a whole was creepy, weird, and very cool. As the New York theatre critic Elisabeth Vincentelli says on the Three On the Aisle Podcast, "I don't know if I liked it, but I sort of loved it."
3. Strangers on a Train by Craig Warner, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (Vertigo Theatre)
Everything about this show was thrilling and chilling and shocking and I couldn't get enough. Vertigo Theatre just keeps delivering (their production this year of Sherlock Holmes and the Raven's Curse would have been number eleven on the list this year, but alas, there's only room for ten). I've never seen the movie or read the novel, so this production was high-voltage for me all the way through. At the end of the first act, I was left thinking, "Where is this show going to go after THAT?!" and this was wonderful. The performers were all marvelous and the tech for the production (especially the set and the sound design) were outstanding.
2. Ink by Alastair Knowles & Stephanie Morin-Robert (Winnipeg Fringe Festival)
This story, told through clowning and physical theatre and with nothing more than a marker, a 10,000 foot roll of paper, a fan, and a lot of creativity, was so beautiful. What a concept for a show! And so well executed. Very original, very theatrical, and it left me thinking as well as feeling. You can't ask for much more than that. I should also mention that the director and co-creator, Stephanie Morin-Robert, had her own stunning piece of theatre titled Eye Candy at the same Fringe Festival and it was nearly as fantastic. She puppetted things in ways I've never seen before and likely never will again (including her empty eye socket and one of her lactating nipples). The pair are incredibly talented.
1. O created by Franco Dragone (Cirque du Soliel)
This show was astounding. The sheer scale of it was literally awing. I can hardly believe this production is 20 years old now (and I can hardly believe this is my first time seeing a Cirque du Soliel show live)! There were so many impressive, almost superhuman feats and they really explored how water can be used onstage in ingenious ways. All told, I was blown away. I'm definitely going to see more Cirque du Soliel in the future.
And that's it for 2019! I think it's fair to say it will likely be a few years before I break the record of how many shows I've seen this year, but I'll keep aiming for at least fifty-two in 2020! I can hardly wait for what next year has in store!
For those of you interested, here's a full list of the shows I saw (in chronological order):
My Time • Dispatch • Phobia • Search Me • Why • Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical • We Are Not Alone • Smoke • Bare: A Pop Opera • Blood of the Red Queen: Citizen Smee • Essay • The Scarlet Letter • The New Canadian Curling Club • [title of show] • The GiverThe Bench • GIANT • Tria Fata •Milo the Magnificent • Dorothy: a Mother Daughter Memoir Project • By Jo-Lee • Might As Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery • Coriolanus • The Candidate • 13 Encounters at the Bottom of the Sea • O • Zoo • Candlelight • A Drama in Three Acts • Arron Butowski Bodybreak • Backstage Bargain • A Slip in Time • The Transoulition Institution • PULSE • Brothers • Tonight's the Night with Zorblax Destroyer of Worlds • Hits Like a Girl • Infomercial: The Stripsical • Moby Dick • Ghost Opera • Tunnel Vision • Stripped • Push Button • Ya Burnt • We Will Tune It To A Whisper • Surface Tension • Byword • The Donut Diaries • Imperfect Perfection • Because • Remaining Anonymous • Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life • Erik de Waal's TROLLS, BULLIES & ROCK STARS or A Kerfuffle in a Doodlesack • Slow Dancing With Mediocre Boys • Carnegie, Chocolate Milk • Bushtits, Shih Tzus and Private Dicks: All's Fur in Love and Noir • My (Good) Buddy Depression • Artisanal Intelligence • The Obligatory Scene • MIND GAMES: Brain-Bending Magic • Seascape with Sharks and Dancer • Outside Joke: The Improvised Musical • The DnD Improv Show 12 • Schemas, 1-5 • Six Chick Flicks • The Day the Earth Stood Stoned • 13 Dead Dreams of "Eugene" • Hits Like a Girl • Heart of Stone • The After After Party • Sansei: The Storyteller • Silence! The Musical • Moonlight After Midnight • Carey-Ok! : Timeless Timely Tunes • The Fever • Lip Service • Water • Alabama Monster • The War of 1812 • Musicals are Stupid: A Stupid Musical • No Tweed Too Tight: Another Grant Canyon Mystery • ImproVision: Meow Chicka Meow Meow • Orbituary • Is That How Clowns Have Sex? • Art of Astonishment • Am I Blue • Palabra Flamenco: Fox Woman • The Container • Jellyfish Are Immortal Returns • (Art)ist • Pack Animals • FOR SCIENCE! • A Confederate Widow in Hell • Barney Morin's Canadian Guide to La Vie • Eye Candy • SpinS • Wakey, Wakey • Aaron Malkin: Dandelion • Ink • A Girl in the Fridge • The Purge • The Headliners • Lub Dub • Jack and the Beanstalk • Cinderella • Kohkum & Me • I Am Not The Patient • Death - A Romantic Comedy • If Love Were Enough? • Disparate Worlds at the End of the World • Mothership • A Midsummer Night's Dream • Into The Tango • Antigones • GRL PWR: A Musical History of 90s Girl Group Feminism • how to pull your heart out through your throat • Nevermore • Let's Prank Call Each Other • Broadway Bash • Trophy Hunt • TravelTheatrics • Summer Bucket List • Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum's Rush • Diagnose This! Tales of a Medical Actor • Battery Operated Boyfriend • Fool Muun Komming! • The Ballad of Frank Allen • Disections of a Mixed Heritage Woman • Tuesdays with Morrie • Atrocities 'R' US • False Profits • Josephine • R'n'J: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Roz and Jules •Mx • How to Confront a Rhinoceros • Alice in Glitterland • Destiny, USA • Kevin, King of Egypt • Perv Hunters • AI Love You • Bedwetter • Didn't Hurt • Red Glimmer • 4.48 Psychosis • The Most Massive Woman Wins • Coriolanus • The Legend of White Woman Creek • The Pink Unicorn • Strangers on a Train • In Flanders Fields • Iceland • Sherlock Holmes and the Raven's Curse • Last Christmas • A Christmas Carol • Much Ado About Nothing • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe • Babette's Feast