Working Spark Theatre

A ‘Bolt from the Blue: Working Spark Goes the Shadbolt Centre

The last few weeks have been busy here at Working Spark.  We are in full pre-production for our forthcoming presentation of I am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck, finding key pieces for the set, gathering lighting plots and floor plans, organizing schedules. As we prepare for our load-in to the theatre, happening in couple weeks, I can’t help but think, It is going to be awesome to get to work in the Shadbolt.

The SCA's Studio Theatre.

The ‘Bolt’s Studio Theatre.

We are lucky to be performing the show in Studio Theatre in the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (or SCA, or affectionately “The ‘Bolt”), one of the best black box studio spaces in the Lower Mainland, as far as I’m concerned.  It has a large stage, ample wing and back-stage space, a fully-equipped lighting grid, and a flexible seating configuration.  This is luxury compared to some of the found and do-it-yourself spaces that exist in Vancouver!  The Studio has served as a space for everything from one-man sketch comedy to film screenings to dance.  It’s going to be a great space in which to perform our show.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the ‘Bolt, the unique arts centre that has become a central player in the thriving arts scene of Vancouver, Burnaby, and really the entire Lower Mainland.  Part of the reason the Studio Theatre (and all the facilities contained in the Shadbolt) are so easy to work in is because the building was specifically built to accommodate the needs of a variety of performing and visual arts.

Jack Shadbolt was a visual artist and teacher, and his wife Doris was a prominent curator and art director.  The couple moved to Burnaby in 1950, and helped to nurture the visual arts in the province and across the country.  Both were named to the Order of Canada, and the SCA is named after them.  The Shadbolt opened in 1995 in Burnaby in Deer Lake Park and is owned and operated by the City of Burnaby.  It boasts not only the Studio Theatre, but the 400-seat James Cowan Theatre, painting studios, extensive ceramic studios, exhibition space, dance studios, and the live outdoor venue in Deer Lake Park, which has hosted internationally known musicians, such as Taj Mahal, Feist, and Bjork.  The mandate of the center focusses on both education and professional exhibition and performance.

I am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck is part of the Shadbolt’s Independents Series in the 2015-16 Theatre & Dance Season.  (Included in the Independents is Inside/Out, Patrick Keating’s one-man show about life in the Canadian Prison System.  See it if you can—very cool, compelling show.)  The season is programmed by Cory Philley, the SCA’s Theatre and Event Services Coordinator.  “I often have a theme for the season and start there to program,” Cory says.  “I try to offer the best in contemporary theatre, dance and music…the Shadbolt runs an artist-in-residency in program for dance and theatre so I am around new work all the time, and companies and artists approach me about projects.  I do offer a more mainstream series for theatre and music but look for opportunities to present new and innovative performance experiences.”  Cory’s eclectic, wide-ranging approach results in a performance season that literally has something for everyone:  from us over at the Independents, to a dance series that includes local favourite Tara Cheyenne, to jazz vocalist Carol Welsman, to touring shows from Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre.

So basically, we can’t wait to move in and put up the show, and are thrilled to bits to be part of this year’s season at The ‘Bolt.  We hope to make Humperdinck proud!

I am the Bastard Daughter Run Gains Steam

We are halfway through the run of I am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and we couldn’t be happier with how things are going!  Our first four shows had wonderful audiences, including a standing ovation on opening night, and at our Sunday matinee.  At our 5:00pm show on Tuesday September 10th, sixty-five people joined us at the Firehall!

We’ve also been garnered two reviews, both praising the show:

“I laughed, I cried!”
– Plank Magazine

“A lot of fun, and with an underlying poignancy that is well-earned. Humperdinck should be proud!”
– Vancouver Sun

Thank you to everyone who’s joined us so far, and for those of you yet to attend, we have four more shows:
Thu Sept 12 @ 7:15pm
Fri Sept 13 @ 10:15pm
Sat Sept 14 @ 12 noon
Sun Sept 15 @ 2:00pm
Hope to see you there!

Engelbert Humperdinck Comes to the Vancouver Fringe

Engelbert Humperdinck Comes to Vancouver Fringe
by Emily Davidson


Kathryn Kirkpatrick in “I am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck.” Photo by Chuck Foto.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick has just come upstairs from writing on her walls.

“I’ve been putting up a map in the basement,” she explains. “A journey of the story on paper.”

The story she’s mapping is that of I Am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck, the one-woman show she and writer Michelle Deines are bringing to this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. Drawn heavily from Kirkpatrick’s childhood, the play tells the story of a family on the verge of collapse, and a group of women who find solace in the music of pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck.

“My mother was the secretary of the Engelbert Humperdinck Fan Club, Montreal Chapter,” recounts Kirkpatrick. “These women would come to my house, and my sister and I would think, ‘Oh my God, here comes all the screaming and yelling.’ They’d have the records playing all the time. There was a very strong bond between those women, to get out of whatever was happening in their real lives.”

Kirkpatrick plays members of her family throughout the course of the production, as well as several women based on those she remembers from 1970’s Montreal. The show paints an off-beat, nuanced family portrait, with a healthy spattering of kooky obsession.

The journey of bringing the production from concept to stage has been, according to Kirkpatrick, one of timely encouragement and lucky breaks.

“I started telling the idea to different people, and they said I should make a play,” she says. “I then did a workshop with Martha Ross at Theatre Columbus, where we improvised all the characters. I got back a bunch of different ideas I didn’t even know I had.”

But it wasn’t until she teamed up with Deines that the play itself began to take shape. The duo met while working behind the scenes in Vancouver theatre, and acted together in Deines’ 2007 production, To the Moon. Kirkpatrick was then brought onboard as Co-Artistic Director of Working Spark Theatre.

The collaboration on the project itself began when Deines prompted Kirkpatrick to apply for the Firehall Arts Centre’s BC Buds Spring Arts Fair—and they were accepted.  They had two weeks to comb through Kathryn’s material and put together a fifteen-minute reading.

“It’s her project; she has been talking about since I invited her to be part of the company,” says Deines. “When she presented the material to me, I started honing in on the arc side of things – trying to suss out what would be the actual story.”

The collaboration process was new to Deines, but both women were keen to solidify the work Kirkpatrick had done so far.

“I’ve written plays before, but I’ve never written a play with somebody,” Deines says. “I didn’t know how Kathryn would react to me saying, ‘I think we should do such and such,’ but it ended up being really cool. I had some suggestions about what might tell the story, and she was willing to go along with pretty much all of them!”

The reading at BC Buds was met with rave reviews.  “We were a hit – we kept getting more and more audience,” says Kirkpatrick. “Donna Spencer, [Artistic Producer of the Firehall], heard about it and invited us to do their 30th Anniversary party and fundraiser. We were so honoured. Then someone mentioned to her that we were interested in doing the Fringe.”


Michelle and Kathryn going over the last minute details for the May 2013 reading at BC Buds. Photo by Nancy Kirkpatrick.

It was the call from Spencer that ultimately decided the future of the production, and its appearance at this year’s festival.

“We had both enjoyed working on it so much together that we knew we wanted to keep going,” says Deines. “But it was down to Donna Spencer – she sent me this e-mail that said ‘Hey, we heard it was great! Why don’t we put you down for the Fringe as a Bring Your Own Venue?’ If that hadn’t happened, I don’t think we would have a show yet at all. It was the deadline and the fear of God, basically.”

The project was left with six weeks to expand the fifteen-minute script to the Festival’s usual forty-five minutes. The show lucked into support from the Union of BC Performers, who gave Deines and Kirkpatrick time in the Union’s rehearsal space.

“We’ve been rehearsing for free,” says Kirkpatrick. “We’d be doing it in the living room if it weren’t for that. Most Fringe shows, let’s face it, are written in a living room.”

As the show nears its opening performance, Kirkpatrick has been feeling the responsibility of holding up an eight-character, one-woman play.

“I keep thinking someone else is going to come in and play one of the other characters, but nobody does!” she says. “Sustaining a one-woman show is much harder than I thought it would be. I’m eating more vegetables and I’m working on a treadmill now. I need to work on my energy – there’s no phoning it in. You’re all in, or get off the stage!”

Deines is confident that Kirkpatrick will be able to convey the story that comes so richly from her own experiences.

“She’s an incredible comedienne. She actually has a kind of stand-up quality about her performance,” says Deines. “In a lot of ways, I don’t really have to direct her acting because these characters already come from her – from her memories and experiences. They’re so much a part of her already.”

Until then, Kirkpatrick is going back to writing on the walls, plotting out the frenzied, funny show she helped to create.

“It moves really quick – I don’t even know when people will have time to laugh,” she jokes. “I guess I’ll find out!”

I am the Bastard Daughter of Engelbert Humpderdinck runs from Thurs. Sept. 5 to Sun. Sept. 15 at the Firehall Arts Centre.  Show times vary; click here for details and tickets.

Prepare Yourself for a Brief Encounter

France Perras, WST’s lovely Associate Artist, will be part of this year’s Brief Encounters, an event which pairs together ten artists of different disciplines, and gives them two weeks to come up with…well, anything.  Call it an original presentation.  A performance piece.  A work of art.  A play.  A concert.  An operetta.  Shadow puppetry of the revolution.  Actually, no one knows what it will be.  But I can guarantee that it will be fascinating.

Brief Encounters began in 2005.  The founders of the Tomorrow Collective (and the company that produces BE), Mara Branscombe, Katy Harris-McLeod, and Jennifer McLeish-Lewis, were all dancers looking for opportunities to create inter-disciplinary work.  Finding little opportunity in Vancouver at the time for this type of thing, they did what many Vancouver artists do:  they created the opportunity themselves.

Brief Encounters 17

Meghan Currie + Jeff Carter in Brief Encounters 17. (Kyra Bailey, photo.)

The first Brief Encounters took place in a small studio in Gastown.  In this “creation under the gun” process, each pair of artists had two weeks to come up with a five to fifteen minute performance or presentation of some kind.  There was no guiding theme, no inspiration package:  just two artists who didn’t know each other, working together, creating something.

Initially thinking it would be just be something that they would simply share with friends, the event became so popular that it quickly outgrew the studio.  After a few years based out of the Anza Club, the event was moved to Performance Works on Granville Island in 2009.

Recently, the Tomorrow Collective has brought in guest programmers to curate the participating artists.  This year’s guest programmer is none other than writer and comedienne Riel Hahn, herself a veteran of two BE’s.  She explains that part of the appeal of BE is that it “creates a fascinating intersection of artists and audience.  Spectators get to experience so many different kinds of art and get to be in on the process.”

An important part of BE is the pairing of the artists—who gets to work with whom.  This is a large part of Riel’s job as Guest Programmer.  When sitting down with TC’s General Manager Kristina Lemieux to create the pairs, they looked to build matches out of artists from very different fields:  “I wanted someone text-based with someone more visual, or someone who might be a bit shy about the process with someone who would have a lot of positive energy about it.”  The hope is that the contrast in disciplines, and hopefully personal chemistry, will create a completely unique experience for both the artists, and for the audiences.  In Riel’s words, BE is “a show, a party, a conversation.”

France, a bilingual actress, has been paired with painter and butoh dancer Thomas Anfield, and describes him as someone “who’s never stopped being creative his whole life.”  I spoke to her when the two were in their first week of the process.  To get started, France said they asked themselves, “What have we always wanted to do?  What are we terrified of doing?”

So far, it sounds like things are going along well for the pair, although not without challenges:  “We vascillate between, ‘Oh, my god, this is really cool,’ to ‘What the fuck am I doing?’  I’m flabbergasted and in awe at the same time.”

Brief Encounters is an unique event in Vancouver—and an unique event to Vancouver.  It’s exciting to have an event here that you can’t find anywhere else.  Brief Encounters runs from Thursday, May 9 to Saturday, May 11 at Performance Works on Granville Island.  Show starts at 8:00pm.

For a complete list of the artists involved and ticket information, visit the Brief Encounters website here, and come join the party.

Brief Encounters 18 Isolde N. Barron (drag queen) + Sam Mullins (humorist) Photographer Kyla Bailey

Isolde N. Barron and Sam Mullins in Brief Encounters 18 (Kyla Bailey, photo.)

*Just so you know, Brief Encounters will also be part of this year’s Revolver Festival.  Two previous (and newly expanded) Encounters will be included in the Festival’s line up, to be presented at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre later this May.  For more information on the Revolver Festival, click here.