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From the Far East to the Far North

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is going from Bangladesh to Iceland and Greenland in less than 24 hours! Well, not so literally as that, but close. Here’s co-artistic director Sean Devine to tell you about what’s going on:

We just closed  SUIT UP, a collective creation for subDevision that was based on survivor accounts of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh, using those official transcripts in juxtaposition with transcripts from the Loblaws fiscal earnings report from the fiscal quarter in which the tragedy took place (Loblaws product line Joe Fresh was one of the manufacturers implicated in the building collapse).

The driving theme for this piece came from the remarks of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, in an important speech he gace to the Council on Foreign Relations. Addressing the role that technology has had on bridging the awareness gap between rich and poor, Dr. Kim said:

“Everyone knows how everyone else lives. While we in the rich world may be blind to the suffering of the poor, the poor throughout the world are very much aware of how the rich live, and they have shown that they are willing to take action.”

And now I’m sitting in an airport getting ready for a flight to Reykjavik and then Nuuk, for a lighting-quick 5-day trip to the capitals of Iceland and Greenland, as part of a new project I’m developing along with HHG Theatre associate artist Emily Pearlman called HANS ISLAND / TARTUPALUK (Can an unclaimed island help me be happy?)Still very much in its infancy, this new project is about the elusive search for happiness and Utopia, and the many ways in which the State tries to corrupt and corrode even the noblest of human pursuits.

I’ll be posting short field logs about my discoveries and exchanges in Iceland and Greenland, as we set off on a multi-year project that we hope turns into an international collaboration for 2017.

First up – Reykjavik, Iceland. For many years, this small island-nation was the model for social democracy and fair economy. But in 2008, Iceland went through a calamitous financial meltdown on a scale never before seen in history. Essentially bankrupt, the country bucked the trend of corrupt governments imposing austerity measures and decided to get rid of their government instead. Then they took it one step further and launched a citizen-led process in which they set out to rewrite their constitution and re-set the country’s national values. They were well on their way to establishing a new Utopia where the values of honesty and integrity were literally to be inscribed in the constitution as the nation’s top values. But, as so often happens, the deep roots of corruption managed to thwart the entire process, terminating the constitutional process and returning Ice;and to a depressing status quo.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with Thorhildur Thorleifsdottir, an Iceland theatre director who had been selected as one of the 25 diverse Icelanders trusted with rewriting the constitution. As with many of her compatriots, I can only presume that she’s in shock and dismay over what happened to her beloved nation that had nearly discovered Utopia. I’m going to talk to her about what happened, and where the country is headed now.

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Call for Volunteers

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre is looking for 6 volunteers for our production of SUIT UP, which will be part of Ottawa’s fabulous subDevision, 2 per night for March 19 – 21. Preferably those with FOH and/or backstage experience. What’s in it for you? Getting up close and personal with one of the community’s most exciting new arrivals.

Please contact sean@horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca if interested.

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HHG Theatre News – Jan 2015

First: Our Big News

Well, it’s hardly news anymore, but as of July 2014, HHG Theatre has set up operations in Ottawa, while maintaining operations in Vancouver as well. Crazy, but true.

This came about when HHG co-artistic directors Alexa Devine and Sean Devine moved to Ottawa with their family this past summer. Obviously, they wanted to bring HHG’s work with them, just as co-artistic director Mindy Parfitt wanted to continue her work with HHG in Vancouver. And so we came up with the largely unprecedented idea of having HHG Theatre create and produce theatre in both cities, while operating as one “company”. In other words, we take the spirit and practice of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, our mandate and our vision, and expand it into two halves.

The ultimate objective, if we can pull it off, is to create theatre in BOTH cities, engaging artists from BOTH cities, and for the community of BOTH cities. It’s a crazy experiment, but one that we’re excited about. So keep your fingers crossed.

RE:UNION at Magnetic North Theatre Festival

Here’s another secret that we’ve been holding onto for a while! Our 2011 award-winning production of Sean Devine’s Re:Union has been selected for the mainstage program of the 2015 Magnetic North Theatre Festival in June 2015!

Equal parts fact and fiction, Re:Union is the harrowing tale of American Quaker Norman Morrison, who took his life in a political protest in 1965. But the manner in which he did it, and the repercussions of his actions felt around the world, and within his own family, are the stuff of myth. Only it wasn’t myth.

Ottawa actor Brad Long joins original cast members Andrew Wheeler and Alexa Devine in RE:UNION at Mag North 2015

Ottawa actor Brad Long joins original cast members Andrew Wheeler and Alexa Devine in RE:UNION at Mag North 2015

HHG Theatre has always hoped that this painfully relevant tale would have a second life, and to get a second-showing at Canada’s pre-eminent festival for contemporary Canadian theatre is simply amazing. Considering that their theme for 2015 is “Radical lessons for a meaningful life”, we feel that we’re about to fit right in.

And the 2015 Mag North festival is happening in Ottawa! What an opening number for HHG Theatre in the nation’s capitol!

HHG Theatre Associate Artists

Along with the news of expanding HHG Theatre’s operations to both Vancouver and Ottawa comes the parallel news that we’re finally about to formalize an initiative that we’ve long considered, and even practiced, to an extent.

For the last several projects, HHG Theatre has often found itself working with several people over and over again. These aren’t just theatre makers at the top of their game, they’re people who we admire, with generous spirit, professional integrity, amazing talent, great collaborators, and that intagible quality that just makes you want to have them in the room with you.

And so we’ve put together a group of theatre artists that we will soon proudly announce as HHG Theatre’s Associate Artists. Right now there’s about 25 of them, from Vancouver, Ottawa and some other places as well.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we’re working with these people exclusively. The door is always open to new collaborators. But these folks have found a special place in our organization, and we wish to acknowledge them for it.

THIS STAYS IN THE ROOM – The Remount

n Spring 2014 HHG Theatre produced the collective creation THIS STAYS IN THE ROOM, easily one of the most innovative and beautiful projects we’ve ever had the pleasure of creating. It’s only fitting, then, that TSITR is getting a rare remount in Vancouver.

THIS STAYS IN THE ROOM is a bold exploration of what it requires to face ourselves and others as we grapple with shame, forgiveness, vulnerability and hope. A collaborative project, the play recruits from the true life stories of its cast and creative team. It’s an unbelievably touching meditation on the nature of shame and forgiveness.

See the original TSITR in a new setting on Granville Island for this limited run.

See the original TSITR in a new setting on Granville Island for this limited run.

And it made at least 3 lists of the Best Vancouver Theatre Productions of 2014, and was the 2014 Critics Choice Innovations Award Winner at the 2014 Jessies!

Although this remount is being produced independently by the fearless and talented Mindy Parfitt, we are so proud of what these artists have done and want to help ensure that it gets as much visibility as it can.

THIS STAYS IN THE ROOM plays 6 times only from February 4 – 7 at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. Tickets can be purchased here.

 

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Looking forward to 2015

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre wishes all of our community a safe and happy holiday season. We had an amazing year in 2014, and we’re excited about new projects and new directions in 2015.

As we look to the New Year, there’s a number of announcements we’re eager to make (with one of them being the worst kept secret imaginable), including some big news for Re:Union, some even bigger news for the future of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and plenty of other new projects in development. (Here’s a sneak peak: we’re going to Greenland and Iceland.)

But for now, we’ll leave you with an announcement of what’s happening with This Stays in the Room, our award-winning collective creation that we premiered in Spring 2014, and which recently was listed as one of the top 5 theatre experiences by The Vancouver Sun.

This Stays in the Room (or TSITR, as we like to call it), is being remounted independently by HHG’s co-artistic director Mindy Parfitt, and will play a limited number of performances from February 4 – 7, as an off-shoot of PuSh Fest. This ground-breaking piece is being showcased to presenters for a possible tour, but we’re just as excited that our Vancouver community will get to experience it once more.

For info and tickets, please click here.

 Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

 

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Confessions of a Former Republican

UPDATE – March 9, 2016: This post has been getting a lot attention in the last two days since “Confessions of a Republican” has come into new awareness. Please check out our new post on this matter. Our production of Daisy, a new play about the 1964 U.S. Presidential election and its parallels to what’s happening in 2016, will be produced at Seattle’s ACT Theatre this July. Now here’s the original post.

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“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” I said, as I met the actor who I’d only ever seen as he looked 50 years ago.

“I should thank you. It’s not often I get to talk about a gig from 50 years ago.”

So begins my conversation with Bill Bogert, a born-and-bred NYC actor who brilliantly captured the frustration of the majority of Republican voters at the time, in a commercial called “Confessions of a Republican”, made 50 years ago in 1964.  Mr. Bogert himself was a 28 year-old Republican just as fearful of the man his Party put forth to lead the nation as was his semi-fictional character. “No, I certainly did not vote for Barry Goldwater. I voted for Lyndon Johnson. Ask me how long it’s been since I voted for a Republican.” I did. It’s been a long time.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

I’ve always loved this commercial “Confessions of a Republican”, which ran alongside the far more famous “Daisy Girl” commercial that helped elect President Lyndon Johnson over his Republican rival Barry Goldwater. If you watch the commercial you’ll see that it’s a marvelous combination of a powerful script fused with a killer performance. But just as the agency behind this commercial (Doyle Dane Bernbach) made sure that all of the staff who made this campaign were ardent Democrats, I’d always presumed that the actor in the “Confessions of a Republican” commercial was also a Democrat. Why would a Republican actor sign on to do a commercial at the expense of his own Party?

“No, I’m a Republican. I just couldn’t stand Barry Goldwater. I was terrified of him.” It sounds almost like dialogue from my play itself. “My father was disappointed that I did this commercial. He thought my performance was good, but he disagreed with the entire thesis.”

I learned that when Bill Bogert interviewed to get the gig, the first question that the ad agency asked the young actor was whether or not he was a Republican. It was a pre-requisite for the gig.

I also found out that the lighter used in the commercial, where the concerned young man lights a cigarette in a moment of consternation, was in fact his own. “I used my own lighter. It had the theatre masks on it. Tragedy and comedy. I lost it after that.”

He certainly hasn’t lost his sense of political perspective. “The way that Barry Goldwater changed the Republican Party then, it’s the way that the Tea Party has changed the Party now.”

He knows how good the commercial was. He knows that his strong performance part of what made it so good. He’s proud of the work. “It’s not selling toothpaste.” They didn’t rehearse it too much. He came to the studio that day off-book for his single-shot, five-minute monologue. They let him ad-lib a little. When I asked Bill when was the last time he’s watched his now famous commercial, he didn’t know when. The look in his eyes suggested that it’s been several decades. I asked him if he wanted to watch it then and there. His eyes lit up.

Here he is reacquainting himself with some turbulent times.

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RUN-ning between opposites

This post was written by HHG Theatre co-artistic director Mindy Parfitt, discussing a new project called RUN that she’s developing with Amber Funk Barton.

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Amber and I had our first week intensive, starting to uncover our new piece RUN. The focus of the week was really about sharing our practices with each other. Seeing how we will work together and what may be possible. RUN builds upon a collaboration which started during This Stays in the Room. Amber built a choreography that she and I danced in unison. It was added too and finessed each day. Part way through the week we began to play with text and ways of incorporating it into movement. Although this isn’t a new idea, it’s a source or intrigue and exploration that we both are interested in pursuing. We had asked Antoine Bedard (our sound designer) to supply us with a couple minutes of sound that we could use as inspiration. It was wonderful to have him in the room in this kind of way. And it was also great to have our frequent collaborator Heidi Taylor from PTC in the room, both to lend her critical eye and to take some great photos.

RUN-3

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

Our initial thematic jumping off point was gender fluidity. Looking at what lay between our society’s binary approach to gender. Before the intensive I was doing some research which forced me to encounter my own discomfort at discussing this issue. I felt that it wasn’t my story to tell and that I would get lost in all the intricacies and subtleties of people’s gender identification. What I became more interested in was the people surrounding those who are grappling with gender fluidity, specifically how they deal with challenges placed upon. The idea of accepting (or not) something that feels completely unacceptable. I’m interested in those places, not only as they relate to gender fluidity, but in many other facets of our life.

RUN-2

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

So we played with some text, which was predominantly direct address, that dealt with this idea. I’m interested in gathering found text, personal stories, plays, poems or academic writing that looks at this idea of confronting something that feels unsurmountable. If you have anything that you thnk may be of interest, please send my way to mindy@horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca

Amber and I can’t wait to get back in the room in February.

RUN-1

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

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