Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 16 2015, Page 35

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 16, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE C12 up town WINNIPEG FREE PRESS œ THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2015 12 ¥ fringe festival “ I’ve had a long run, but that’s just me having zero imagination,” says Ross, who is making Winnipeg his only fringe stop this year. “ I don’t think of myself as original, not at all. I’m basically being an eight- year- old kid playing Star Wars or Lord of the Rings .” The 41- year- old impressionist will give himself credit for the originality of his career trajectory. He was once just another theatre student with dreams of being good enough some day to play the title role in King Lear . But he embarked on a rarely travelled path that required him to pay licensing fees to multinational corporations for the rights to their prized pop- culture franchises. Apparently a Jedi mind trick won’t win over Lucas- Films; it takes money. Most of his fringe brethren tend to present new work, or scripts in the public domain from the likes of Shakespeare or Molière. Dealing with Disney or the notoriously protective estates of famous writers demands more patience and acumen. “ There are a few of us playing with the big boys and we hope we don’t get squashed by doing parodies of their shows,” says Ross. “ I’m a child of “ Weird Al” Yankovic, so I definitely understand wanting to lampoon something. “ I don’t think I’ve done anything original for a number of years. I’d love to do something more original, but it’s never as exciting to people as when you do One Man Star Wars or One Man Lord of the Rings . You create a bit of a monster for yourself. I love the monster.” Ross, the father of a baby girl, won’t directly answer whether the box office of his condensed homages have made him a rich man, other than to say he owns a house in Victoria, so he ain’t suffering. He has performed the hour- long Star Wars in excess of 1,200 times in more than 180 cities across four continents, and appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien , The Today Show and Last Call with Carson Daly . His 75- minute Lord of the Rings has also been a globetrotter and has taken Frodo Baggins and company to the Sydney Opera House. Creating steady work for himself for 15 years is a dream come true in a profession with a low percentage of regular employment. Ross made his Winnipeg fringe festival debut in 1994, as part of a ensemble presenting a forgettable drama called Steam . That’s when he noticed it was the solo acts that were making a living on the circuit. The material he possessed with the most potential for a DIY stage project was his nerd knowledge of the first Star Wars movie, which he watched more than 400 times. Ross had grown up on an isolated farm near Prince George, B. C., where there was no television or radio reception. His family had three videos: Blue Lagoon, Shogun and Star Wars . “ I felt the pangs that Luke Skywalker must have felt on a farm, wanting to be whisked away,” he says. “ Theatre is what broke things open for me.” In 2000, Ross first imagined a Star Wars spoof as a three- hander presented with fringe pals TJ Dawe and Mike Rinaldi. They didn’t understand what he was going for; when he showed them, their reaction was to suggest he do it all himself. He premièred it in Toronto the following year and the show took off like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon. “ I couldn’t imagine a better career,” says Ross, who, on the day of this interview, was celebrating his 17th wedding anniversary. “ I’m going to India in the fall, which is crazy. I’ve been nothing but surprised by what’s happened with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings . Magician vanishes from fringe lineup MAGICIAN Chris Funk was there one minute, and then — abracadabra! — he disappeared from the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The Wonderist, as Funk is known, was scheduled to open his show Redefining Wonder July 15 but had to cancel the run because of an injury that took place at the Toronto Fringe Festival last week. “ Well, Thursday night, as I was about to open the doors for my fifth Toronto fringe show, I heard a pop, and had a horrible pain in my Achilles again,” he said via email this week. “ I found out that I don’t need surgery and it is just a strain. But I am back to not walking for a while while it heals.” Funk tore his Achilles last January and couldn’t walk for three months. And couldn’t work, which he says was more painful than the physical symptoms. And now it’s happened again. “ I am very disappointed that I have to cancel not only the rest of my fringe shows, but many private gigs, too,” he says. “ Just when I thought my career was on the up- and- up this year with TV work, this happens, twice.” Funk was referring to his appearance on the second season of the CW network series Penn & Teller’s Fool Us . He will perform his signature routine, involving his violin- playing skills, with the hope of fooling Penn and Teller for the chance to open for one of their shows in Las Vegas. The series started airing July 6, but no date is set for Funk’s episode. — Kevin Prokosh A tough grind for city troupe Just one Winnipeg troupe toured the eastern fringe circuit this year and the experience was an eye- opener. Peachy Keen Productions, which is presenting The Manic Pixie Dream Girl here, debuted its two- person dramedy in London, Ont., and Montreal. It was an education for playwrights Sydney Hayduk and Justin Otto, who also perform the story of boy meets made- up girl. “ Montreal was kind of crazy,” says Otto. “ We were told it was the party fringe but we didn’t know how much until we got there. The cabaret every night goes from 1 a. m. to 3 a. m., and then there is the dance party. You essentially watch the sun come up every morning.” Then there’s the reality that any unknown out- of- town act is going to have an difficult time drawing an audience. Dream Girl played to an average of 12 to 15 people and drew fewer than 100 in total for its seven- performance run. “ It was super- tough,” says Otto, the University of Winnipeg graduate who enjoyed a busy first season on Winnipeg stages. “ It made us step back as producers and realize this was more of a place to work out any kinks in our show and less about making money, which was a weird setback for us.” The pair applied to six fringe festivals and got into three ( They head to Calgary after Winnipeg, where they’ve arranged a bringyour- own- venue at PTE’s Colin Jackson Studio). Otto says he is looking forward to performing in Winnipeg. He is confident there is an audience in his hometown for Dream Girl . “ We’re taking The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and deconstructing it in order to pose the questions of how we fictionalize women and cast them in a secondary role,” Otto says. “ We do this through Nathan, my character, writing a play which the Dream Girl arrives in. It’s a surreal romantic comedy we’re calling 500 Days of Summer meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind .” — Kevin Prokosh TEACHER IN THE HOUSE Watson Arts Alloway Hall ( Manitoba Museum) ( Venue 4), to July 25 Susan Jeremy of P. S. 69 fame is back with this comedy about a New York teacher whose own cancer propels her to become one of a handful of instructors who race around Manhattan visiting chronically ill students at home. That in itself could be a pretty compelling show, a unique take on what’s now the well- worn cancer story, especially with Jeremy’s eye for detail and skill with voices. Instead, the veteran Fringe performer clutters it up with too many superfluous tangents and occasionally funny impersonations. Some of those are too stock for comfort, like the loud, salsa- dancing mom in Spanish Harlem or the stern Irish nun. There are too many characters, none drawn finely enough and none with a satisfying narrative arc. That includes Jeremy. š š š — Mary Agnes Welch THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS Big Word Performance Poetry King’s Head Pub ( Venue 14), to July 25 This story about a forgotten Hungarian- Jewish nuclear physicist would be a difficult sell at a comedy- centric fringe festival if it wasn’t being told by the dynamic raconteur Jem Rolls. The Scotsman is forgoing his crowdpleasing poetry for one fringe season to perform The Inventor of All Things in the hope of convincing audiences — that better late than never — Leo Szilard ( 1898- 1964) is a true hero. If not for any other reason that he was the first brainiac to conceive how to build an atomic bomb and, more importantly, how to keep it out of Nazi hands during the Second World War. Rolls’ animated lecture, with numerous whoops and dut- dut- dahs to up the drama, will bring back memories of favourite high school history teachers who enlivened the past with unrestrained passion. His enthusiasm for Szilard, whom Rolls says was too preposterous for fiction, is palpable and infectious. š š š š — Kevin Prokosh PULLING PINTS Cagey Productions Tom Hendry Warehouse ( Venue 6), to July 25 At the end of the Thatcher era and the beginning of the first Gulf War, 20- something Winnipegger Gary flies to London and gets a crash course in the difference between British and Canadian culture. He lands a job behind the bar of a pub, learns a little bit about U. K. politics and scratches the surface of the London club scene in a series of late- night crawls. That’s about all that happens in this 75- minute comedic memoir, which sports a couple of decent laughs but lacks a cohesive message about anything other than hey, nostalgia’s awesome. Director Leith Clark gets solid performances out of five out his six cast members; Unfortunately, the opening monologue is wooden and rushed. Bottom line: endearing, but not poignant. š š š — Bartley Kives ME, THE QUEEN, AND A COCONUT Andrew Bailey The Cinematheque ( Venue 7), to July 25 When he was 22 years old, Andrew Bailey had a royal adventure that, at one particularly strange moment, actually did involve the Queen ( as in HRH Elizabeth II) and a coconut. But that’s not really what the Victoria- based performer’s hour- long monologue is about; rather, it’s an eloquent and occasionally funny exploration of family, faith and the odd kind of family- tree luck that can land a young man in the employ of Windsor Castle. Smart and forcefully honest, with a generous helping of humorous asides, it’s an hour well spent. š š š š — Brad Oswald TRAMPOLINE Weeping Spoon Productions The Playhouse Studio ( Venue 3), to July 25 Trampoline is dramedy that centres around Matt, who has dreams that are so vivid and tangible that he has trouble distinguishing them from reality, until he meets the new neighbour, Kelly, who changes everything for him. Matt is an incredibly likable character, whether he’s rambling on about one of his crazy dreams or dancing in the privacy of his own room to Kenny G. He provides much of the comedic relief and does a good job at doing it. The funny moments are very funny, and the dramatic moments are also well done, but at times, the plot becomes a bit muddled. The company from Perth, Australia tries to tackle too many topics ( mentalhealth issues, a burgeoning romance, as well as a case of domestic abuse) in only a 60- minute show. š š š ½ — Erin Lebar Check out winnipegfreepress. com/ fringe for more Fringe Festival reviews Insanely interesting — š š š š š Eccentrically entertaining — š š š š Absurdly average — š š š Maddeningly mediocre — š š Foolishly futile — š Fringe Ratings SUPPLIED PHOTO Weeping Spoon Productions of Perth, Australia, brings the relationship dramedy Trampoline to the Winnipeg Fringe. nerd continued ‘ I don’t think of myself as original, not at all. I’m basically being an eight- year- old kid playing Star Wars or Lord of the Rings’ Chris Funk kevin. prokosh@ freepress. mb. ca C_ 12_ Jul- 16- 15_ FP_ 01. indd C12 7/ 15/ 15 9: 40: 09 PM

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