Up Next: Spooky Action!

Spooky Action

by Lesley Telford/Inverso Productions

Click the photo to watch the trailer.

Playing from October 16 – 19 at the Firehall Arts Centre! Get your tickets HERE!

“An interdisciplinary dance project inspired by particle entanglement”

Spooky Action is inspired by Einstein’s famous phrase referring to particles that are so closely linked, they share the same existence. A collaboration with poet/performer Barbara Adler, this interdisciplinary work weaves together visual art, contemporary dance, poetic storytelling and original composition to extend the theory to human connections. In the full length work, all mediums are exploring the quantum property of entanglement by turns intricate, mysterious, refined, and dryly witty. Spooky Action brings together thought-provoking dance and engaging narrative to probe the mysterious ways we act on each other’s lives.

Telford has a profound way of tapping into emotional and intellectual landscapes. She’s an exciting voice to watch as we go forward in this next generation of choreographers.” – Emily Molnar, Ballet BC

Lesley Telford and Inverso use quantum physics as their conceptual seed. …The resultant performance was just as intriguing as the premise. The piece was beautifully choreographed and gracefully executed. The ebb and flow of energy from one dancer to another was tantalizing.” – Vancouver Arts Review


Performers: Stéphanie Cyr, Eden Solomon, Brandon Alley, Lucas Wilson-Bilbro
Apprentices: Anya Saugstad, Beth Durnie
Text- Barbara Adler
Composer- James Meger
Lighting- Alan Brodie
Production Manager: Heidi Quicke


Inverso Productions
Founded in Madrid in 2012 by choreographer Lesley Telford, Inverso is now a Vancouver-based company. It is a platform for exchange, creating dance through the lens of other art forms. This platform aims to develop collaborative ventures with the goal of creating and building interdisciplinary works alongside other artists. Inverso focuses on choreography as a method of conversation and exchange; between art forms, between dancers, dancers and the physical environment on stage, words and movement, movement and light, collaborators and technologies – fundamentally with the goal of pushing the artistic practice.

Lesley Telford
Lesley Telford is a Vancouver-based choreographer who has returned to her hometown after a career in Europe spanning 20 years, where she danced and choreographed with Netherlands Dans Theater 1 and Compañia Nacional de Danza. She is the artistic director of Inverso Productions and also leads the Performance Research Project for emerging artists at Arts Umbrella. Lesley has refined a choreographic approach that is sensitive to the minute relationships between performers and between performers and their environment. Her work brings together a technically rigorous vocabulary with devotion to an unforced ‘liveness’ that embraces in-themoment reactivity and attunement to sensation. She has choreographed over 20 dance works internationally, including one full length work that she produced through her company Inverso Productions along with Korzo Productions. She has been commissioned to create works for Ballet BC, Netherlands Dans Theater 1, Hubbard Street Dance Company 2, Compañia Nacional de Danza 2 (Spain), Ballet Vorpommern (Germany), International Project for Dance in Rome-DAF (Italy), Butler Ballet (US) and an upcoming work with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.


Ria Girard by David Cooper



Up Next: The Shipment!

The Shipment

by Young Jean Lee

Photo: Ryan McDonald

Playing from September 24 – October 5 at the Firehall Arts Centre! Get your tickets HERE!

“A provocative comedy to shake the woke”

-The Georgia Straight

The Firehall Arts Centre is thrilled to launch its 37th anniversary season with SpeakEasy Theatre’s powerful and provocative comedy, The Shipment.

Written by Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee, The Shipment is a subversive modern minstrel show about Black identity meant to wake the world to the ridiculous narratives in dominant media. Five Black actors – Andrew Creightney, Chris Francisque, Omari Newton, Adrian Neblett, and Kiomi Pyke – play a roster of characters that reads like a bad b-list of Black iconography: Video Ho, Crackhead John, Bad Cop, Standup Comedian, Drug Dealer Mama, Grandma from Heaven, and Record Company Executive, to name just a few. The brazen mash-up of these stereotypes with clichés, distortions, and brilliant sleights of hand all force us to go beyond the lampoon and shift the lens through which we perceive race in order to confront our own bias.

“Young Jean Lee is one of America’s most fearless and exciting playwrights,” says Firehall Arts Centre’s Artistic Producer, Donna Spencer. “In her writing, she is not afraid to tackle difficult subject matter and does so with humour and intelligence. When SpeakEasy Theatre first produced The Shipment, I was privileged to sit in a sold-out performance and watch the audience shift in their seats, uncomfortably, and then laugh out loud a few moments later. The work engaged them and made them consider. I am proud to share this playwright’s work and this talented company of artists with Firehall audiences.”

Garnering five Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards nominations and a Best Actor win for Omari Newton, The Shipment is biting satire at its very best.

“Bold, honest and hilarious.” – Vancouver Presents!

“…a surrealist collage.” – Colin Thomas


Credits for The Shipment

Written by:  Young Jean Lee

Performances by:  Andrew Creightney, Chris Francisque, Omari Newton, Adrian Neblett, and Kiomi Pyke

Directed by:  Kayvon Khoshkam and Omari Newton

Set & Costume Design by:  Markian Taraskiuk

Lighting Design by:  Itai Erdal

Produced by:  Markian Tarasiuk



Young Jean Lee has been called “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by the New York Times, “one of New York’s smartest, thorniest, and most knockdown hilarious playwrights” by The Guardian, and “one of the best experimental playwrights in America” by Time Out New York. She has written and directed nine shows in New York with Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and toured her work to over thirty cities around the world. Her plays have been published by TCG (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays, The Shipment and Lear) and by Samuel French (Three Plays by Young Jean Lee). She is currently under commission from Plan B/Paramount Pictures, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is a member of New Dramatists and 13P, and has an MFA from Mac Wellman’s playwriting program at Brooklyn College. She has received grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Creative Capital, NYFA, NEA, NYSCA, the Jerome Foundation, The Fox Samuels Foundation, the Greenwall Foundation, and the Rockefeller MAP Foundation. She is also the recipient of two OBIE Awards, the Festival Prize of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel, a 2010 Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2012 Doris Duke Artist Award.


It’s with great urgency our present culture needs the live experience to help connect, question and remember why we are alive. SpeakEasy Theatre is committed to creating an environment where communities come together to celebrate. We are driven to foster stories created by diverse artists who are immediate, honest and unforgiving.

Check out some press and reviews from when The Shipment originally played at the Vancity Culture Lab:

http://vancouversun.com/entertainment/theatre/the-shipment-is-full-of-subversive-skewering-of-black- stereotypes

https://www.vancouverpresents.com/theatre/shipment-modern-day-minstrel-show/ http://outtv.ca/blogs/shipment-coming-soon-vancouver/ 


Colin Thomas Review

The Georgia Straight Review

Vancouver Presents Review

Vancouver Plays Review

Broken Leg Reviews

Photo: Ryan McDonald



2019-2020 Season Announcement

An enthusiastic crowd of Firehall Arts Centre supporters applauded the announcement of the Firehall ’s 2019-2020 season as the Centre wrapped up its 36th season on June 5th.

In making the announcement, Artistic Producer Donna Spencer said,   “We have put together a season jam-packed with performances by diverse talented artists;  plays and dance works that will stimulate discussion, tears and laughter and is built through strong partnerships with many of B.C. ‘s professional arts organizations.  It features the premiere of two new plays; the premiere of one musical and the Vancouver premiere of another; two exciting contemporary dance works; two venue assisted partnerships;  an aural history of our neighborhood; two theatre presentations; the Flying Start program;  B.C. Buds and Solstice Greetings.  The season is rich with entertaining and thought-provoking works.”

Early bird season passes are on sale now with select shows on sale, July 1, 2019.

Firehall’s 2019-2020 Season

The Shipment  by Young Jean Lee.  September 24 – October 5, 2019  SpeakEasy Theatre’s critically acclaimed production is back! Billed as “A provocative comedy to shake the woke”, The Shipment is a subversive modern minstrel show about Black identity meant to wake the world to the ridiculous narratives in dominant media. Vancouver Presents called it “Bold, honest and hilarious” and Colin Thomas said it’s “a surrealist collage.”

Spooky Action   October 16-19, 2019   Inverso Productions’ Lesley Telford creates this interdisciplinary dance project inspired by particle entanglement.  A study of  human connections, inspired by Einstein’s famous phrase referring to particles that are so closely linked, they share the same existence,  Spooky Action brings together thought-provoking dance, cutting edge scenography, original composition and engaging narrative.  A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Opening Doors: The Women    November 6-9, 2019 This work-in-progress dramatization draws on Daphne Marlatt & Carole Itter’s 1979 aural history, “Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End” and takes a look at the stories and history of the neighbourhood surrounding the Firehall.  Women from many different cultural heritages and backgrounds help build this vibrant community and their stories often go untold.  This production may require movement throughout the Firehall.   

FADO – The Saddest Music in the World  November 21-Dec 14, 2019   Written by Elaine Avila, FADO is a tale of love and ghosts told through the saddest music in the world, Portuguese FADO. When Luisa goes to Portugal she discovers her mother’s favorite fado is fascist and when she meets her long lost cousin and discovers he is a fadista and a Drag Queen, she is inspired to sing fados of resistance. Directed by Mercedes Batiz-Benet.   A Firehall Arts Centre and Puente Theatre production.

Solstice Greetings  December 19, 20, 21 2019
Returning for a second season, the sharing of songs, stories and seasonal greetings to celebrate the return of the light.

House and Home  January 11-25, 2020    Jennifer Griffin’s  biting, comic take on Vancouver’s  current real estate crisis. Hilary, a waitress/poet turned social worker, and Henry, a Butoh dancer turned lawyer, didn’t know how lucky they were when they managed to escape bad roommates and buy a house before the real estate market skyrocketed. Finding themselves house rich and cash poor they abandon their values and plunge into the world of short-term rentals.   How far can they go to keep their house? Directed by Donna Spencer   A Firehall Arts Centre premiere production

Talking Sex on Sundays  February 14 – March 8, 2020  On the first Sunday of every month Margot and her friends always host a theme party. What happens when Margot decides to kick it up a notch by having a Sex Toy Party? In this New Musical by Sara-Jeanne Hosie and Nico Rhodes, we witness as these women share fears, reveal dirty secrets, explore new possibilities, and find the power of female friendship. Directed by Donna Spencer  A Firehall Arts Centre premiere production.

Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women   March 13-22, 2020    Zee Zee and the Frank Theatre unite to bring this powerful verbatim piece compiled from over 70 interviews with trans women from around the world to the stage. The play follows 7 characters through a series of monologues using the hero’s journey as the structure for the piece.
A Zee Zee and Frank Theatre production presented in association with the Firehall Arts Centre

Between Breaths by Robert Chafe | March 31 – April 5, 2020
Well known in Newfoundland as the Whale Man, Dr. Jon Lien during the course of his work pioneered techniques for rescuing whales entrapped in fishing nets saving the lives of over 500 animals. Between Breaths jumps time backwards, from the final moments of Lien’s life – in a wheelchair to his very first whale intervention.
An Artistic Fraud production presented by the Firehall Arts Centre

BC Buds   April 9-11, 2020 Join us for new play readings and new choreographies that are in development.

White Noise   April   18 – May 9, 2020    Written by Taran Kootenhayoo .   A comedy about two families who have dinner together for the first time during Truth and Reconciliation week, White Noise explores what it means to live in Canada from two different paradigms. How do we deal with internalized racism? Do we keep pushing it away and pretend to live safely in our day-to-day?  Directed by Renae Morriseau. A Firehall Arts Centre and Savage Society premiere production.

Eunoia    May 13-16, 2020      Denise Fujiwara’s adaptation of Christian Bok’s award-winning book Eunoia is a multi-media experience of dance, video, music and costume that employs similar constraints as to those in the book through inventive movement and ground-breaking performances.   Dance critic Paula Citroen called it “One of the best dance events of the season – clever, witty, enigmatic.   A Firehall Arts Centre presentation of Fujiwara Dance Inventions.

Lights May 29 – June 7, 2020   by Adam Grant Warren   Roy Surette directs this powerful new play about a disabled son visiting his mother who has Alzheimer’s and lives across the country in St John’s.  A Flying Start Touchstone Theatre Production presented in partnership with the Firehall Arts Centre.

Actually  June 17-27, 2020   by Anna Ziegler.  Two college students spend a night together that alters the course of their lives. They agree on the drinking, they agree on the attraction, but consent is foggy, and if unspoken, can it be called consent? With lyricism and wit, ACTUALLY investigates gender and race politics, our crippling desire to fit in, and the three sides to every story. Directed by Michael Scholar Jr.   A  Mitch and Murray Productions presented in association with the Firehall Arts Centre.

Early bird packages available until July 31st at 604-689-0926 or HERE.

Early Bird Full 4 Pack – $79.00 (Regular $109.00)
Early Bird Flex 4 Pack – $100 (Regular $125.00)




Donna Spencer shares some thoughts on Re-Visioning An Enemy of the People in the Firehall’s new production of THE ENEMY.

Question:  Why did you choose to adapt Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People? 

There were many themes within Ibsen’s 1882 play  I felt were important and worthy of exploring in 2018 and in the review of many translations as well as Arthur Miller’s 1950 adaptation, I chose those that I felt would resonate in today’s world.  I did not choose to explore the male Dr. Stockman’s sexism, egotism and arrogance within the script as I felt that those truths have and are being recognized on a daily basis and exhibited by those in politics and in populist media.  Sexism, arrogance and egotism is out there in all aspects of society and frankly, I felt in writing the work that it is old and somewhat tired news that just keeps on and on so why focus on that.  What did intrigue me about the work was the discussion of individual voice, power, majority rights and water contamination.  And, I wanted to look at those elements through the lens of a female Dr. Stockman.

Question:    Why do you call the play The Enemy?

I felt it was important not to call the play An Enemy of the People because I did not want audiences to think they were coming to Ibsen’s play.   I wanted them to understand that I had drawn on Ibsen’s original work as a catalyst to create a new work that would stimulate discussion about the themes of the work.

Question:   Why a female Dr. Stockman?   Why not?

At the time the play was written, women did not have the vote and were considered to be chattels of their husbands and the doors were pretty much closed to women who might have wanted to become doctors. Today, thankfully, we have moved forward and women have moved into the fields of medicine and science.  In the case of the practice of family medicine in smaller communities, a large majority of those in practice are indeed female.  Further, I wanted to explore how a female doctor’s credibility would be put in question, when she did bring forward scientific findings.  And as, many female activists and political leaders have found,   when they speak passionately, or show emotion, they are often called to question.  In The Enemy, Dr. Stockman is reminded to stay calm, referred to as being crazy and high-strung as she argues for the truth of her scientific findings to be taken seriously.

In addition, we have wonderful strong female actors in Vancouver and they do not get the opportunity that often to play really meaty roles.  So I wanted to increase opportunities for female artists while making sure that we do not continue the assumption that all decision makers in small communities would be men.  Four members of the cast of nine are women and in future productions there are certainly other roles that could be played by men.

Question:   You drew on the original names of the characters in Ibsen’s play – did you ever consider changing them?

Yes, I did, indeed consider that and have changed the names slightly.  This work was stimulated by Mr. Ibsen’s original play, and I felt that it was important to honour the characters he created in some manner so we have Mayor Stockman not Mayor Stockmann;   Martin Kell instead of Morten Keil, etc. etc.

The Enemy plays November 10 – December 1. Visit our online box office or call us at 604-689-0926 for tickets today!



2018-2019 Season Announcement

The Firehall is thrilled to announce our coming season!

Save big by purchasing a  Pass! 

Bringing forward themes of multiculturalism and environmental issues, we open our stage to new and exciting productions such as Action at a Distance’s Never Still and THE ENEMY – a contemporary adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

Watch for the return of the critically acclaimed musical CIRCLE GAMEReimagining the music of Joni Mitchell and the always popular BC Buds Festival.

Not to be missed are Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre production of The Good Bride; from Montreal, The Tashme Project; Fringe Festival hit Arosh Irani’s Bombay Black; Ruby Slippers production of Marine Life, The Biting School’s Cain and Abel and Touchstone Theatre’s production of Kill Me Now.

Coming to our stage is also Solstice Greetings, an evening of seasonal stories and songs from many cultures and many experiences celebrating the return of the light. Closing the season, we have Gold Mountain – Turtle Island, a Firehall production telling the love story set in the early fifties between a young First Nation’s woman and a Chinese cafe worker set on the North Coast and in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Check below for all the dates!

Passes are already available through our website and through the phone at 604.689.0926


September 26-29th

Action at a Distance/Vanessa Goodman

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Inspired by the inherent conflicts and dichotomies of water, this graceful and highly physical new dance work explores social, environmental and biological themes.


October 3-6th

The Biting School/ Aryo & Arash Khakpour

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Two artistic brothers explore the themes and conflicts within this legendary story. Brotherly love or?


October 13-27th

Written by Brad Fraser

A Touchstone Theatre Production

Jake is a single dad and cares for his teen son, Joey, who has a severe disability. When Jake develops a serious medical condition he becomes the one to rely on the people around him. Touchstone Artistic Director, Roy Surette directs this frank, fearless and ferociously funny play.


November 10-Dec 1st

Adapted by Donna Spencer

A Firehall Arts Centre Production

In this contemporary interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, a female Dr. Stockman discovers contamination in the community’s water source and is branded an enemy and accused of destroying the local economy. Economic benefits vs. Community health and well-being. Who is the enemy?


Dec 5-15th

By Anosh Irani

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Directed and Produced by Rohit Chokhani

The lives of an Indian exotic dancer and her embittered mother are altered when a blind stranger visits them. Poetic, mythic, funny and brave this searing play is set in the bitter reality of India and wowed audiences at the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival winning a Pick of the Fringe Award.


Dec 20-22nd

A Firehall Arts Centre production

An evening of seasonal stories and songs from many cultures and many experiences celebrating the return of the light.

CIRCLE GAME: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell

January 12-Feb 9th

Co-directed and co-created by Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman

This powerful interpretation of Joni Mitchell music returns to the Firehall stage. “The freshness and artistry of Circle Game completely won me over” Jerry Wasserman, Vancouver Sun.


February 27-March 9th

Written by Rosemary Rowe

An Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre production

Directed by Donna Spencer

Starring: Marisa Emma Smith

Every day from 3pm to midnight, 15 year old Maranatha puts on her wedding dress and hopes that today her 28 year old groom will come to claim her. Winner of Edmonton Sterling Award for “Outstanding New Play”, The Good Bride, is a provocative, funny and strangely unnerving nuanced exploration of faith in the context of religious fundamentalism.


March 15-23rd

Written by Rosa Laborde

A Ruby Slippers Theatre production in association with The Firehall Arts Centre

Directed by Ruby Slippers’ Artistic Director Diane Brown, this play tells the story of an environmental activist who falls in love with her opposite while her co-dependent brother spirals into chaotic self-destruction. Incorporating magic realism, live music and crackling wit, Marine Life is a dark romantic comedy that cleverly links our lack of skills around human intimacy with our inability to care for our plane

THE TASHME PROJECT: The Living Archive

April 3-13th

A verbatim theatre project created by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa

Created from interviews with thirty Nisei or second generation Japanese Canadians this play traces the history of the Nisei through childhood, internment and post-WWII resettlement east of the Rockies. Memories of adventure and play are presented in sharp relief to the common internment narratives of hardship and injustice.

BC Buds – Firehall’s Spring Arts Fair

April 24-27th

Back by popular demand BC Buds will showcase new play readings, choreographies and more from emerging and established theatre and dance artists.


May 1-4th

A Firehall workshop production

A musical love story set in the early fifties between a young First Nation’s woman and a Chinese cafe worker set on the North Coast and in Vancouver’s Chinatown.


Get a pass here!




January 2018 Ovation Awards

The Firehall had a good evening on the 28th of January at the 14th Annual Ovation Awards, where we won Outstanding Production – Professional, and Outstanding Music Direction.  As well, we had nominations for Outstanding New Work, Outstanding Set Design, and Outstanding Lighting Design.  Thank you to our wonderful team and fans for making this possible!

Outstanding Production – Professional
Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell, A Firehall Arts Centre Production

Outstanding Music Direction
Andrew Cohen, Circle Game – A Firehall Arts Centre Production

Outstanding New Work
Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell. Created by Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman Inspired by the songs of Joni Mitchell A Firehall Arts Centre Production.

Outstanding Set Design
Carolyn Rapanos, Circle Game – Firehall Arts Centre

Outstanding Lighting Design
Ian Schimpf, Circle Game – Firehall Arts Centre



BrokenLeg Review of SHIT

SHIT is DTES grit : large & ugly & poetic

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes
& the human voice & people gathered together.
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : It is said that anger stems from fear and fear ultimately leads to hate. If that is the case, then the three principal women prison inmates of Oz playwright Patricia Cornelius’s play SHIT are soul-deep in fear. Because they hate. And hate big. But not only.

With few if any of the occasional soft sidebars offered up by the t.v. magnet-show Orange Is the New Black, Firehall’s pre-show publicity puts what SHIT is about so bluntly I couldn’t improve on it if I tried :

“What about women with foul mouths and weathered faces? What about women who spit, fight, swear, hurt and steal? What do they have to say?…Watch in uncomfortable awe as angry, unrelenting, terrifying, damaged women discuss fist fights, foster care, babies, their moms, crying, and what it’s like to believe in absolutely nothing.”
Samantha (Yoshié Bancroft), Billie (Kayla Deorksen) and Bobbie (Sharon Crandall) are tough uncompromising foster care & group home grads who’ve landed in prison together after committing a vicious assault. As the play title suggests, they give not much of a shit for anyone or anything, except each other perhaps.

How it’s all put together : Meet 20-somethings Billie, Bobbie and Sam. Not only are they from the gender repressive patriarchy that for centuries has wanted to “keep women in their place”. They are also victims of their own parents’ neglect, serial foster care placements and group homes. They have suffered a general banishment into a seething under-underclass realm where personal survival drives them deeper into desperation and despair.

Together they are in prison now after swarming a girl passing by who  “was in the wrong place at the wrong time”, they claim. The parallels with the Reena Virk tragedy in B.C. are immense. In lock-up the women swap their personal verbal “herstories” as victims while kicking about Oz’s foster care system. Like pack dogs that circle and taunt their challengers, they do so in endless attack mode via a stream of abuse, vulgarity, violent outburts and sexual innuendo that screech both in the ear and the heart.

It is not, however, naturalism. It is reality-based but unreal. Imagined. Dramatized. Poeticized. Choral. Choreographed. Starting with Scene 1 that in just 8-10 minutes produced (I attempted to count them) some 79 repetitious shouts of the word “Fuck!” — usually as a verb but also as noun, adjective, adverb and the plain ordinary hoarse and hoary expletive which is how most of us use it.

What the show brings to the stage :  Director Donna Spencer quotes playwright Cornelius : “I never want to write a moment in a play where a woman succumbs to coquettishness or is sexualized in any way, or has to be grateful or apologetic, or is there to serve some male protagonist. For women, being grateful all the time is exhausting.”

No question the sexploitation they’ve suffered is huge. Samantha at 15 was hustling truckers just for kicks but now pines to have a baby : “If you have a baby, you just haveto love them!” she says to taunts from her buddies. For her part Bobbie hates her body and all its “bits”, none of which are “me”, she says. She imagines herself a man in woman’s flesh until her pals disrobe her, lit.-&-fig.

Each of these bitter scared souls cries out to be saved. They conjure an imagined totem — Caitlin they call her — a mother-figure who might, as Billie says, “pick me up and carry me off somewhere, someone who gives a shit, someone who says ‘You mean something to me…’.” Still, she says, she can’t cry. “I don’t feel pain,” she protests in a lie about as big as her phantasy St. Caitlin.

Production values that shine : To appreciate SHIT, I think, viewers have to suppress all urges to literal-ness with this script. Its cadences are what drive it. It must be heard, like a poetry jam or rap or choral duets and choruses sans music. One Oz reviewer pointed to 19th century romantic American poet Walt Whitman’s magnum opus called Song of Myself. Nudged in the direction of Stanza 52, I consulted it.

That reviewer didn’t mention it, but I found Verse 2 compelling. It seems to sum up Cornelius’s script and her characters perfectly: “I too am not a bit tamed — I too am untranslatable / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Billie the most of the three propels her “barbaric yawp” irrepressibly, relentlessly, even when she does push-ups on the jail floor or kisses Samantha and tells her she loves her.

Set designer Conor Moore has produced a series of three side-by-side jailhouse cages that work effectively especially with lighting designer Kyla Gardiner’s consequential shadow spots and overlights. This jail ain’t no SPCA shelter : the cats flurry about hissing relentlessly at the echoing footfalls of the guards, at each other, at what life has dished out for them.

Acting pin-spots : These three as blocked and choreographed and vocally directed by Donna Spencer are utterly in sync with Patricia Cornelius’s script. They are a chorus of solo spirit dancers looking, each one, for that evasive and elusive talisman of hope that will liberate them from their core misery and anger.

Of the three the bitterest and hardest and crudest and toughest was without doubt the character Billie. Kayla Deorksen’s portrayal was completely captivating and compelling. But hard to repress a tear at Yoshie Bancroft’s wanting, wanting, wanting — a duvet, a comfy bedroom, a baby. And Sharon Crandall’s abject pain at her gender, her body, her personal entrapment was wholly engaging.

Who gonna like : All readers by now should probably know, intuitively, if they are one “who gonna like” this intense, in-your-face, profane, challenging, irreverent shout-out of pain & suffering & abuse.

Exiting Firehall we encountered a DTES resident shouting wildly at various demons and threats. The shouting was a man’s but could easily have been one of any gender who’s suffered life’s deprivation and loss and want in our otherwise comfy and smug 1st world. When Billie heard herself referred to as one of life’s Forsaken! by social workers, her reply was simple and straightforward : Fuck them!

If any or all of this strikes an Amen! chord with you, you will go see SHIT and learn some shit, no question. Dramatically. Poetically. Viscerally. I would go again in a heartbeat.

Particulars :  Produced by Firehall Arts Centre.  On until February 10th.  At the Firehall Arts Centre @ Gore and Cordova.  Tickets & schedule information via 604.689.0926 or www.firehallartscentre.ca.

Production crew : Director Donna Spencer (Artistic Producer of Firehall Theatre).  Set Designer Conor Moore.  Lighting Designer Kyla Gardiner.  Stage Manager Susan D. Currie.  Fight Co-Ordinator Sylvie La Riviera.
Performers : Yoshié Bancroft (Sam).  Sharon Crandall (Bobbie).  Kayla Deorksen (Billie).

Link to the review:





Rebel playwright Patricia Cornelius gets into deep SHIT

With this hard-edged work, she’s created the kind of angry, underclass female characters we never see on-stage

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  • In SHIT, Yoshié Bancroft, Kayla Deorksen, and Sharon Crandall (from left) play tough women facing misogyny and maltreatment.

Patricia Cornelius, the grande dame of rebel playwrights in Australia, is on the line from Adelaide, and we’re discussing the word shit.

It’s the name of her play that will make its Canadian debut here at the Firehall Arts Centre. And it’s also a word that’s been flying all over the airwaves. Thanks to President Donald Trump’s infamous “shithole” slur, even television’s most esteemed news anchors are having to say the “S word”.

Cornelius laughs at the thought of that, then recounts a story from the 2015 debut of her play SHIT at Melbourne’s Neon Festival of Independent Theatre.

“People would ring [the box office] and women in particular would say, ‘I would like tickets for S-H-I-T,’ ” she says, spelling it out and then laughing heartily. “I used to say, ‘If they can’t even say the word, how are they going to handle this play?’ ”

Actually, by all accounts it’s the F word, the C word, and several other delightfully colourful terms that show up more often in SHIT, the story of three marginalized, tough-living women who end up in prison together after a particularly brutal incident.

“I’ve grown up with the vernacular,” Cornelius says of swearing. “I find it a powerful tool—as long as I can seduce people with an almost-poetry using it.”

It’s also the language of the working class and underclass, whose members Cornelius is known for putting at centre stage. As the marketing materials for the Firehall’s rendition of the work say, “What about the women with the foul mouths and the weathered faces? What about the women who spit, fight, swear, hurt, and steal? What do they have to say?”

“It’s the voice that’s not heard enough in the theatre,” says Cornelius, a cofounder of Melbourne Workers Theatre. In mainstream work, she explains, the underclass is often sneered at or laughed at. “Well, these women aren’t to be laughed at! They’re too scary.”

The play, she explains, grew out of a workshop she did with other playwrights and actors to try to develop richer, more challenging roles for women—a topic that’s as top-of-mind Down Under as it is in the theatre scene here.

“Where are the plays where a woman can sort of take a space the way a man can?” the affable but unapologetic playwright asks. “We don’t get a chance to do that—to really take the audience by the scruff of the neck.” She delved into developing women who wouldn’t act the way society wants them to; women who were angry and disenfranchised—as she puts it, the kind of woman who makes you bury your head in a book when you see her ranting on a public bus. And then in SHIT, without any sentimentality, she unpacks the misogyny and maltreatment that has brought these people (played here by Yoshié Bancroft, Kayla Deorksen, and Sharon Crandall) to the state they’re in.

The women in SHIT are too scary to be laughed at, says Patricia Cornelius.

“Women aren’t meant to be so tough—so what the fuck did you do to them to make them so tough?” she says.

Cornelius likes middle-class theatregoers to ask themselves hard questions. But with typical honesty, Cornelius cops that tearing down sexism, classism, and institutions didn’t always come so easily for her.

“Much of my life I spent quite timid, and that absolutely has to do with class and gender,” the sexagenarian admits. “Even in theatre, it took so long to claim myself as a young playwright; I was a nervous Nelly and kind of apologetic about the plays.

“Aging is quite a good thing, and you think, ‘Ah, fuck it! I’m gonna say what I want to say.’”

Spoken like a true shit-disturber.

SHIT is at the Firehall Arts Centre from Saturday (January 27) to February 10.

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