Curatorial Statement: Katrina Dunn on ‘Night’

December 13th, 2013

Photo of Reneltta Arluk by Chris Gallow

Canadian plays should run the gamut of our country’s experience, but so often they are confined to specific cultural groups in a few urban centres.  What I love about Human Cargo’s Night is that it takes us north – FAR north – into Canadian spaces that many of us have little experience of.  The company’s process is extreme – they invest in their subjects by living in, with and for the people they are profiling, and it results in a product with a depth and integrity rarely found in this bio/geo/graphic style of work. Their company vision is unabashedly agit-prop: “The effect of Human Cargo’s theatre is overt. We want to instigate social and political change”, but the style if the work is something more haunting, more deeply human.”

Night tells the story of a Torontonian museum worker who, at the request of an individual in a northern community, has taken it upon herself to return something of value to that community. Her effort is an attempt to reconcile a historical crime, but her naivety results in a series of culture shocks that call into question her entire project and, by extension, the reconciliation efforts of other southerners.  What began as an exploration of life in 24 hour darkness has finished as a complex and penetrating look at our relationship with our North.

Building on the tough questions Night asks, PuSh, Touchstone, Full Circle First Nations Performance and the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance are presenting a Panel Discussion mapping the changing landscape of producing and presenting Aboriginal Performing Arts in Canada. Titled “Into New Territory” the panel will take place at 11am on Saturday January 25th Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. Join leading Aboriginal artists and some of Canada’s key presenters and producers for a consideration of some new inroads for Aboriginal performing artists, and how producing and touring organizations can work together to foster best practices in the face of change.

Katrina Dunn

Find full info about Night including ticket info here.

Peter Boychuk’s Shelter From The Storm Recieves Staged Reading In London

October 30th, 2013

In June of 2012 Touchstone’s Flying Start program, a collaboration with the Firehall Arts Centre and PTC, premiered Shelter from the Storm by Vancouver playwright Peter Boychuk. The play told the story of a Vietnam draft evader who ends up taking in a traumatized young American soldier who is deserting his post in Iraq. The production received critical praise as well as winning a Jessie award (Outstanding Set Design, Small Theatre – Pam Johnson). We are very excited to share that Shelter from the Storm recently received a staged reading London. Here is a write up from playwright Peter Boychuk, who made the trip to attend the reading:

Hello all,

A few of you were asking about the reading of Shelter from the Storm in London, so I thought I’d do one of these lame group emails about it. It was an amazing whirlwind trip, filled with many pints of beers and some bunch of amazing shows, including an incredible stage adaptation of one of my favourite books, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

The reading of Shelter from the Storm was organized by a group that used to be called the North American Actors Association and was recently re-branded as American Actors UK (apparently London theatres don’t want to hire Canadian actors, hence the rebrand). The playreading festival has been happening for many years. It was designed as a way to both showcase their membership of actors, as well as introduce new plays to London. I received a Canada Council travel grant to attend. The letter saying that the grant was approved arrived the morning I was catching my flight.

The venue was the Tristan Bates Theatre, this great little 70-seat theatre in London’s West End. The Mousetrap, the world’s long-running theatre show (sixty-five years and counting!) was playing a few doors down. It was a rehearsed stage reading, which meant that the actors have script in hand, but there was some simple blocking and sound effects. The theatre was packed – I think there were only about five or six empty seats.

The cast were all expats. Ironically, Canadians actors played the two American roles (Rick and Scott) and an American played the Canadian role (Caitlin). Spencer Irwin, who played Scott, is actually from Vancouver Island. Robert S. Glade, from Winnipeg, and Christy Meyer, from Houston, were both fantastic. A woman named Orna Klement read out the stage directions.

The reading went really well. Manchestor-native Paul Blinkhorn was the director and used a bunch of Canadian songs as pre-show and post-show music (“Post-war Blues” by Vancouver’s own Dan Mangan and “Devil’s Got a Gun” by Whitehorse for the music lovers). Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and there is talk of doing the play as a radio play.

I’ve attached photos of the reading and the venue. Wish you all could have been there.




L-R: Paul Blinkhorn, Peter Boychuk, Orna Klement, Robert S. Glade, Christy Meyer, Spencer Irwin

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Tristan Bates Theatre

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Tristan Bates Theatre

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The stage reading inside Tristan Bates Theatre

Flying Start’s aims to give a stage to new plays by BC playwrights and every two years, selects a playwright to receive development resources to take a specific script to production readiness, culminating in a fully professional production. The next Flying Start production is The Concessions by Briana Brown, a haunting piece of Canadian gothic centred around an inexplicable act of violence in a rural community. It opens June 6, 2014 at the Firehall Arts Centre.

Alon Nashman reflects on Hirsch at Edinburgh

October 1st, 2013
Alon Nashman as John Hirsch

Alon Nashman as John Hirsch

This February Touchstone is partnering with the 2014 Chutzpah! and the Firehall Arts Centre to bring Hirsch, a tour de force one man show chronicling the life of Canadian theatre pioneer John Hirsch, to Vancouver. Following its triumphant Stratford premiere, Hirsch traveled to Edinburgh this summer and upon its return performer & co-creator Alon Nashman reflected upon being a part of the largest arts festival in the world.

“Dear Friends of Hirsch,
I have just landed from Edinburgh, and it will take weeks to come down from the excitement and cross-pollination which I experienced there. New friendships were forged, new collaborations are in the works, and my mind is reeling from the new performances I witnessed. Of course, the highlight of my trip was sharing Hirsch with an international audience. We made a significant impact, as you can see from the reviews below. The play engendered many conversations, about national culture, about the role of theatre in healing from trauma, and about the life and influence of John Hirsch.”

Here is a look at some of the reviews from Hirsch‘s run at Edinburgh:

There are moments during a fringe festival that grab you and hold every ounce of your being…. Hirsch’s extraordinary life is presented with unflinching honesty and brutal realism…. There is a powerful effortlessness to Nashman’s performances that is… mesmerizing…. Thompson’s direction is crisp and meticulous in its detail.”
★★★★★ The New Current

Yes We Canada! Hirsch is a fantastic, passionate and informative piece of theatre, well written and brilliantly performed. Nashman had me gripped from start to finish.
★★★★ Broadway Baby

“You’d perhaps expect that a play about a gay, Jewish, Hungarian refugee who winds up in the badlands of Canada might have limited appeal to audiences at the Fringe. In fact, Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson’s Hirsch is a beautifully-written look at the life of one man, brought to life by Nashman’s thrilling performance.
★★★★★ Spoonfed London

Hirsch is intelligent…endearing…impressive. Nashman is fantastically versatile.”
★★★★ No Borders Magazine

Full of wit and humanity this is a touching, honest and revelatory little gem. An absorbing, powerful and touching portrayal of a contradictory character.”
★★★★ TVBomb Culture Magazine

“The performance is energetic, entertaining and yet also full of emotion…. This labour of love is a touching tribute.”
The Stage

Hirsch was also recently profiled in the Times of Israel:
John Hirsch was a colossus whose shadow looms over the culture of Canada. But we forget out heroes,” laments Alon Nashman, whose one-man play about the great theater director has impressed critics and audiences alike in Canada and abroad.
Find the full article here.

Touchstone Celebrates General Manager Louise Bentall’s Retirement

September 30th, 2013
Three generations of Touchstone GM’s celebrate at Louise Bentall’s retirement party.  L-R Camilla Tibbs, Rohit Chokhani, Louise Bentall.

Three generations of Touchstone GM’s celebrate at Louise Bentall’s retirement party. L-R Camilla Tibbs, Rohit Chokhani, Louise Bentall.

Touchstone recently said goodbye to a valued leader and welcomed a rising star into their senior management position.  After four years as General Manager, Louise Bentall retired from Arts Administration at the end of September 2013.  Following a nation-wide search, the company selected Rohit Chokhani as Louise’s successor, and he will be leading the company through their 2013/14 Season.

Louise Bentall’s contribution to Touchstone has been long, varied, and impactful.  Artistic Director Katrina Dunn said, “Louise’s decades of experience in the Arts, her fierce financial acumen, and her dedication to our mandate have helped us establish a strong and healthy infrastructure, and maintain it through some difficult years of provincial funding fluctuations.  We owe her a great debt.” Touchstone’s incoming GM, Rohit Chokhani, grew up in Bombay (Mumbai), the center of the Indian subcontinent’s vibrant performing arts industry. He comes to the company directly from his tenure as General Manager/Producer at urban ink productions.  Prior to urban ink, his producing experience was varied and straddled both live and digital mediums.  Rohit also serves as an Associate Producer at Vancouver’s Diwali Celebration Society.

goPLAY Youth Theatre Club Podcasts #2 & #3 – Including Season Review

September 18th, 2013

This past year Touchstone’s goPLAY Youth Theatre Club finished its second year of offering students from Lower Mainland Secondary Schools the opportunity to attend a broad spectrum of what Vancouver has to offer the theatre goer. Over the course of the 2012-2013 theatre season goPLAY attended 16 productions and sat down with some of the artists behind the productions to discuss the process of creating theatre. Following are our final two goPLAY 2012-2013 season podcasts.

In Podcast #2 goPLAY sits down with Toronto’s award winning songwriter, spokenword poet and theatre creator Evalyn Perry after attending her unique theatrical and musical journey SPIN, her tour-de-force performance celebrating the Bicycle as muse, ¨musical instrument and agent of social change.

In Podcast #3 Artistic Director Katrina Dunn asks members of the program to discuss some of the highlights of the entire goPLAY season.

Here is a list of the shows goPLAY attended in 2012-2013:
- Eternal Hydra by Touchstone Theatre
- Dickens Women at The Cultch
- LEO at The Cultch
- Ride The Cyclone at The Arts Club Theatre
- King Lear at the PuSh Festival
- I, Malvolio at The Cultch (part of the PuSh Festival)
- Spring Awakening at Studio 58
- My Funny Valentine at the Firehall Arts Centre
- Haunted by Touchstone Theatre
- Mother Theresa Is Dead at Pacific Theatre
- SPIN at The Cultch
- 3 Sisters by The Only Child Collective
- God & The Indian at the Firehall Arts Centre
- Mump & Smoot at The Cultch
- Hamlet at Bard on the Beach
- Twelfth Night at Bard on the Beach

You can find Podcast #1, a discussion with Britain’s Tim Crouch here.

Katrina Dunn’s In Tune Notebook

July 11th, 2013

The 2013 In Tune Conference left me with so many resonant images of the incredible new work in musical theatre that is growing here and in other places in Canada. From the beautiful glimpse of Tom Pinkerton we got in our Feature Presentation to the fabulous cross section of talent and ideas on display in the Live Action Case Studies, it is clear that we need to be feeding the new potential growing in this genre from Canadian creators. Our Masterclass leaders found so many ways to articulate the power of the form. Here are just a couple of examples from my notes:

“The book is in every part of the musical – in every note, in every song, in every bit of dialogue.”
- Sybille Pearson

“The whole range of human emotion is available to you in rhythm, pitch and duration.”
- Kelly Robinson

As we wound our way through the nine days’ activities, shifting from intense focus to wonderful chaos, it was clear that there is so much more to be done. As one of the producers of In Tune I walked away wishing for commissioning money, multi-year and multi-partner development arcs, travel money to bring presenters, producers, teachers and important artists, and of course more money to spend on development time for new works. I have a whole two years to make some of that happen! Thank-you to everyone who was involved. Your passion made it a truly special time. I leave you with the moving end of John Gray’s Keynote Speech that he gave on June 23rd:

One way of looking at the world is that it’s made of rock, air or water. If you choose to see the world as rock, you see a series of defined spaces or niches. To survive, you have to fit in, to take on a corresponding shape.  But the world is also made of air, fire and water – which will form themselves around you, create a space that corresponds to your shape – assuming that you have one. (We’ll discuss fire another time.) Put another way, in the effort to produce work that fits the template of the American musical, be careful you don’t loose sight your own shape – the part of yourself that’s capable of something original, something brand new.
- John MacLauchlin Gray [2013 In Tune Keynote Speech]


Why I Want to Write Musical Theatre by Dorothy Dittrich

June 24th, 2013

I spent my childhood summer nights in front of the TV watching old musicals on the CBC late and late late show. Showboat, Annie Get Your Gun, 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls, Sweet Charity, West Side Story – all the Judy Garland movies from the Andy Hardy series to A Star is Born… My sister and I would stay up every night we could get away with and watch them until we dropped. Then we’d perform them the next day – playing all the parts, singing all the songs. My parents had albums we’d listen to as well. South Pacific, Carousel, An American in Paris – we were captivated by the sounds and the voices, the music and the extraordinary poetry of those lyrics written by such masters. At 15, I got my first job as a rehearsal and show pianist for an amateur theatre company and began learning about musical theatre.

I write musical theatre because I love it, because to me, Musical Theatre is an elegant form, a synthesis of language and music and movement, acting, singing, dance all coming together to tell a story. I love the endless possibilities within musical theatre to speak to and express any feeling, tell any kind of tale. I love too that enormous depth and complexity of narrative and emotion can be delivered in a seemingly light and gentle way or with full force. But perhaps the most important reason I write musical theatre is that story telling through music – singing – is such a powerful form of communication. I am amazed and inspired by the incredible talent that is required of the actors and performers in any and all musical theatre. I want to work in that feeling of wonder and magic and inspiration. One voice, two, three, a quartet, a chorus – this is a sound I love. Working with others to bring a musical into being is an amazing experience and once I’d had that experience I just wanted to keep on.

Photo of Dorothy Dittrich

Dorothy Dittrich

Dorothy Dittrich is a writer, composer and musical director and her musical The Two in One Woman Show is receiving dramaturgy and reading at In Tune. The project dramaturg is Paula Danckert and the cast is Linda A. Carson and Cailin Stadnyk. Her musical, When We Were Singing was first produced by Touchstone Theatre, followed by a production in Toronto at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a Belfry Theatre/National Arts Centre co – production and a production in St. Petersburg Florida. It received a workshop at MTC in New York and a staged sing through. Dorothy has had productions of two non-musical plays and is very proud to be working on a new play as part of the Arts Club’s Silver Commissions Project for New Play Development.

Artistic Director Katrina Dunn at the Banff Playwright’s Colony

May 6th, 2013

Katrina recently spent five days at the Banff Playwright’s Colony working with local actor and Touchstone favourite Kerry Sandomirsky (Unity (1918), Life After God, How it Works, Haunted) on her one woman show Wobble. A true theatre community treasure, the Colony selects a number of playwrights from across the country annually to make use of Banff’s spectacular setting to delve into the writing of their piece with great seclusion and support for the artist. As well as writing time, the playwrights avail themselves of dramaturgical support and a fantastic acting ensemble for readings.  Kerry and Katrina were workshopping Kerry’s first draft of Wobble - her first foray into the world of writing plays.

Jovanni Sy and Kerry Sandomirsky in the Painters House at the Colony

Jovanni Sy and Kerry Sandomirsky in the Painters House at the Colony

The Banff Centre

The Banff Centre

goPLAY Youth Theatre Club Podcast – A Discussion with Tim Crouch

March 28th, 2013

Tim Crouch as Malvolio

On Thursday February 7th, 2013, Touchstone’s goPLAY Youth Theatre club attended a performance of I, Malvolio by Tim Crouch in the Historic Theatre at The Cultch. Presented as part of the Push International Performing Arts Festival, I Malvolio is a one-man show in which Tim Crouch re-imagines William Shakespear’s Twelfth Night through the eyes of Malvolio — the pent-up steward who falls victim to a forged love letter, leading to accusations of madness and imprisonment. The piece examines one of dramatic literature’s most misunderstood characters with Crouch embodying Malvolio in equal parts abject clown & theatre-hating disciplinarian – asking his audience to explore the pleasure we take in other people’s suffering. After the performance Crouch sat down with members of our goPLAY program, along with Touchstone’s Artistic Director Katrina Dunn, to answer questions about the play. Click here to listen to an a special goPLAY podcast recording of that conversation.

Our thanks again to Tim for being so generous with his time in sitting down with goPLAY.

Tim Crouch is an internationally renowned UK theatre artist based in Brighton. He’s also a regular at the PuSh Festival: My Arm and An Oak Tree (2007) and ENGLAND (2009). I, Malvolio is the fifth of his solo Shakespeare plays that appeal to both adults and teens (11+), following I, Caliban, I, Peaseblossom, I, Banquo and I, Cinna (The Poet). Crouch writes, “Twelfth Night is a fiendish maze of plot. Rather than trying to explain every twist and turn, I have let Malvolio run a little free. Maybe it’s what he would have wanted.”

Recapping Touchstone’s production of ‘Haunted’ by Daniel Karasik

March 13th, 2013

Touchstone recently dropped the curtain on our world premiere performance of Haunted by Daniel Karasik. Presented as part of the 2013 Chutzpah! Festival Haunted was staged at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre located at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver with 7 performances from Feb 27th to Mar. 3rd. The play was the 2011 winner of the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition and this inaugural production was directed by Touchstone’s Artistic Director Katrina Dunn. Work on the play started in November of 2012 when the cast (Kerry Sandomirsky, Patrick Sabongui,  Carmel Amit & Kayla Deorksen) workshopped the play with playwright Daniel Karasik.
Production on Haunted began in late January 2013 with the design team comprised of Pam Johnson (Set Design), Sydney Cavanagh (Costume Design), Adrian Muir (Lighting Design), Jeff McMahan (Sound Design) and Tim Matheson (Projection Design). Rehearsals began a couple of weeks later in early February. A really exciting day was the 1st read-through of the script which was followed by presentations by the designers. It really helped paint in everyone’s mind what the production was going to look like on the stage. Here is a look at the maquette of the set for Haunted as well as some sketches & clippings from Costume Designer Sydney Cavanagh:


Rehearsals took place at the fantastic PL1422 for the next few weeks and before we know it we came to opening night. Taking place at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre and closing out the 2013 Chutzpah! Festival, the building was abuzz as people poured in from the rainy evening. The opening performance was very well received – check out our newsletter recapping the reviews of the performance. Following the performance there was post-show reception catered by Solly’s Bagelry. Here are a few pics from our opening night reception. Check out the full gallery on Facebook here.

Haunted was the 2011 Winner of the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition and we were very excited to partner with the Miles Nadal JCC & Chutzpah! to present a special staged reading of the 2012 winner of the competition, Shiksa by Winnipeg playwright Cairn Moore. The reading took place at the Rothstein Theatre and featured a cast of local professional actors (Nicola Lipman, Lindsey Angel, Stephen Aberle & Josh Drebit) directed by Touchstone Theatre’s Artistic Director Katrina Dunn. Check out these shots from the event:

We want to thank everyone who came out to see Haunted for their support of Touchstone. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to produce a world premiere of an exciting new work. Our thanks to the Chutzpah! Festival for presenting this production as part of their fantastic 2013 festival. Next up for Touchstone? The return of the In Tune Conference. Here are a couple of production shots from Haunted. Photos by Tim Matheson. Check out a full gallery on our Facebook page.