A one-on-one with The Rap “Guy” From Evolution

Two weeks ago, Baba Brinkman was speaking at the Nelson Arts Festival in New Zealand. Last week, he was a guest speaker at the University of Alabama as part of their ALLELE Lecture Series. The week prior he was busy participating in the 10th Annual World Wilderness Conference in Spain, and last month he performed at Universities all over the UK, as well as at MIT as part of their public science engagement lecture series. Needless to say, Brinkman is a busy man. However, this doesn’t come as a surprise; with 14 lit-hop (literary hip-hop) albums under his belt, Brinkman is one of the only rap-artists who has had their work peer-reviewed by scientists, or who has been commissioned to write an album for the NYU Stern School of Business. Brinkman’s love of words comes from a Masters Degree in Medieval and English Literature from the University of Victoria, where he focused on the relationship
between epic poetry and contemporary hip-hop culture. Since graduating, Brinkman has been touring the world performing his unique blend of theatre and rap, on topics from Beowulf and Gilgamesh to political revolution and evolutionary psychology.

For only a few more days, The Cultch is lucky enough to have Baba home to perform his latest show, The Rap Guide to Evolution. The ground-breaking show was first presented, and awarded for best new theatre writing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. The show is inspired not only by evolutionary scientists and theorists such as Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, but also by the history of hip-hop culture itself and the role that individual selective process, especially with the advent of new technologies, takes in defining the path of a cultural phenomenon.

We were lucky enough to be able to ask Baba a few questions:

I suppose my first question for you is simply how you ended up where you have ended up; rapping about science, economics, psychology , and or ancient literature is not a common career path. Was this something that you have been interested in from a young age, or a skill you accidentally happened upon?

In my teens I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t have a clear idea of what sort, whether journalism, novelist, playwright, etc – I just knew I was good with words and wanted to use that skill. I pictured traveling around the world, composing new work in diverse locations, and making a living from my wits. At nineteen I started writing rap rhymes and was very quickly drawn into the art form. I had been listening to rap since age eleven but hadn’t written any raps of my own. It wasn’t long before I was bringing science and literature references into my rhymes, which seemed natural to me because I was a university student at the time so I was immersed in the world of ideas. Finding an audience for that concept took some time, but I pretty much live like I pictured, traveling, writing, performing, and getting paid to do so.

So would you say you entered hip-hop through academics, or did you find academics through hip-hop?

I was a rap consumer from a young age, but not a participant. Once I started writing and performing I got into the culture more heavily, freestyling at house parties, rapping at open mics, and signing up for freestyle battles. But at the same time I was always academic-minded. I decided my best contribution to hip-hop culture would be to push its boundaries and build bridges to other cultures and art forms, so I focused my English Lit degree on the parallels between hip-hop poetics and traditional English literary poetics. Once my energies were channeled my grades got a lot better, and so did my lyrics, so you could say I found academics and hip-hop independently, but I only got
fully engaged with each by merging them.

What inspires the topics for your productions? You have written about such a variety of themes – where do you begin? Where did the impulse to write The Rap Guide to Evolution come from? Are you ever commissioned to write raps about topics you have no interest in?

People suggest new topics to me all the time, but not all of them take hold. Most of the time I just go “yeah, sounds interesting” and don’t follow up. But with the The Rap Guide to Evolution,  I was very keen as soon as the idea came up. It helps that it was a paid commission of course, because with money on the table you can put other work aside and give a project the time it needs. I have pretty wide interests so no, there isn’t a topic I’ve written about on commission that I’m disinterested in. Then again, I have a lot of creative leeway so I can put an interesting twist on pretty much anything.

The projects either start with an idea, some underlying deep connection or tension I see that I want to explore in the writing, or else it starts with a challenge, someone hiring me or recruiting me to write something, prompting me to hunt for ideas to accomplish the task. I tend to gravitate towards subjects where there’s a disconnect or gap that I think I can bridge, like the perceived inaccessibility of medieval literature vs the actual appeal of the stories, or like the scientific consensus around evolution that is still rejected by major sectors of the population. The surprise and friction that lives in those kinds of spaces is my main attraction.
 
Lastly, you have travelled all over the world presenting your work. What have been some of the most surprising responses to your shows you have received?

I’ve had all kinds of negative responses, from creationists offended on behalf of their religion to feminist social constructivists offended on behalf of women to white liberals offended on behalf of black people. The show brings an evolutionary perspective to all of those subjects: race, religion, gender, and not always in a politically-correct way. Then again, I think everything in the show is scientifically defensible, and it was written to be strategically provocative, not for the sake of being offensive but for the sake of causing people to rethink their assumptions and question the basis of their beliefs and taboos. So in a way none of the negative responses are surprising. The most surprising response was having a New York theatre company offer to produce the show for a major Off-Broadway run, and having it run for five months and get rave reviews. I can’t say I expected that when I started writing the show!

The Rap Guide to Evolution is playing at The Cultch until November 10 in the Historic Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at: https://thecultch.com/tickets/ , or by calling the box office at 604.251.1363

 

VOLUNTEERS WANTED: HOTTEST LIVE ARTS VENUE IN VANCOUVER

Would you like to see shows for free at what the Vancouver Sun has called the ‘hottest live arts venue on the West Coast’?

Located in East Van, The Cultch is looking to recruit new members for its top-notch Usher Team. We are looking for reliable folks that are 16 years or older who are friendly & outgoing, who have a sense of humour, and give great customer service. You should also have good english comprehension.

Our Usher Team is the front line of service Tuesday through Sunday at any of our three theatres. Welcoming guests, ripping tickets & answering questions are just a few of the things you’ll handle on your 3-4 hour long shift. Any customer service or ushering experience you may already have will only enhance the whole experience! We’re looking for members who can commit to 2 shifts per month.

Ushers at The Cultch see some of the best theatre, music & dance performances that Vancouver has to offer plus you get free tea/coffee, ticket discounts and chances to win assorted door prizes.

If this sounds like your kind of team, fill out an application here and Jenn Graham (Volunteer Coordinator) will be in touch to arrange an interview.

The Cultch’s Guide to the Fringe: 6 ways to make the most out of the Vancouver Fringe Festival (Sept 5-15)

The Historic Theatre will be a main stage venue at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival

Here at The Cultch, we’re getting prepared for one of the biggest arts festivals around: the Vancouver Fringe Festival! With over 90 performances, the festival promises to be a crazy, 11 days, jam-packed with titillating performances. And this year, The Cultch is uber excited to be one of the main stages in the festival! In its third year of involvement with the Vancouver Fringe Festival, The Cultch will show eight performances as a main stage plus four additional presentations as a BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue).

With so much to see and experience, it might be a little daunting for a newcomer. So, we’ve put together a little guide for those of you who have always wanted to check it out, but never knew quite how to go about it. We have all the information you need to get the most out of your Fringing experience. Consider the Fringe your oyster…with these 6 easy steps!

1. Pick up your Fringe program guide. (Click here to access an online version) Figure out what shows you want to see. Shows are arranged in the program by time and date, as well as by venue. Find shows that suit your taste, budget, and schedule. Check out pages 50 & 51 to choose from one of the exciting shows playing at the Historic Theatre at The Cultch! Performances range from burlesque dancing, to solo musicals, and, of course, good-old-fashioned theatre!

The Cultch is featured on page 50 & 51 in this year’s Fringe Festival program guide

2. Diversify. Think of the Vancouver Fringe Festival as a tapas menu of theatre. Find some shows you’re naturally drawn to, but also try a couple that may be a little out of your comfort zone. The Fringe Festival is all about stepping into new experiences via the theatre, so why not try something different? If you love musical theatre, The Cultch mainstage performances are sure to be treats for you. Come to see La CravateBleue (a solo musical play about a man who sacrifices stability for his love of music) and Watering Hole (a contemporary dance performance about the community of the local bar). Then try something that you’ve never seen before. Bursting into Flames is a refreshing comedic play about a man who finds himself with the rest of eternity to spend in heaven.

‘Watering Hole’ will be playing at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre

3. Watch the previews. If you have the time and $10 – come to watch quick previews of all 91 shows at Fringe-For-All: a two hour extravaganza in which each show has 2 minutes to captureyour interest. Whether it narrows down your choices, or makes it harder to decide – it’s bound to be entertaining! Thursday, September 5 at 10 pm at Performance Works.

A shot from last year’s Fringe For All | Photo provided by the Vancouver Fringe Festival

4. Talk to the volunteers. While you’re waiting in line, or near any of the Fringe venues, you might see some friendly Fringe volunteers. Don’t be shy – ask them what their favourite shows are! Volunteers get to see many shows for free. Be sure to ask them which shows are selling out (those are the ones to get $3 advance tickets for.)

5. BringYourOwnVenue (BYOV) shows. Don’t just stick to the mainstage shows. There are several shows that are near the main stage shows, and in unorthodox spaces. Often, these can be the most intriguing. Explore theatre outside of the theatre. Check out what sorts of compelling shows we have lined up here at The Cultch this year.

Rodney DeCroo stars in ‘Allegeny, BC’ (BYOV presentation)

 

6. Vote for your favourites! The Fringe Festival is an interactive experience. You’ll receive a ballot after every show. Rate the shows you saw, and cast your ballot! Your favourite play could just be chosen as The Pick of the Fringe (to be announced at The Fringe Awards Night on September 15 at 9:30 pm at Performance Works). Additionally, stay tuned for which performances are chosen for the Cultchivating the Fringe Award. Every year, The Cultch invites its favourite Fringe performance to be a part of the season for the following year. Last year the award was given to Underbelly, and the show is going to run in March 18 to 30 this upcoming season.

Heather Redfern (The Cultch’s Executive Director) presents last year’s Cultchivating the Fringe Award to ‘Underbelly’

 

The Cultch has an eclectic main stage and BYOV line up for the festival – something for everyone! This is also the perfect opportunity for a fun family outing. A couple of the mainstage performances, La Cravate Bleue and Bursting into Flames are to be enjoyed by all ages. Additionally, several of our BYOV shows (including Underneath the Lintel) also allow admission for all ages.

The Vancouver Fringe Festival runs from Sept 5-15 with select shows playing at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre and Vancity Culture Lab. Tickets available online at vancouverfringe.com

Hello my name is Chris MacDonald: Sales Manager of The Cultch

‘Hello My Name Is…’ is a new profile series on The Cultch blog. Each post will feature a staff member, volunteer, subscriber, or community mover and shaker. Stay tuned for upcoming photos and interviews and drop us a line at ricky@thecultch.com if you have a burning question for one of our staff members or volunteers!

(more…)

Celebrating a Season of Queer “Cultch-er!”

Celebrating a season of queer “cultch-er!”

With Vancouver Pride approaching, it seems the appropriate time to take a look back at The Cultch’s colourful 12/13 season.

Many proud representatives of the LGBTQ community took to the stage last year, sharing a myriad of voices and stories. The list includes Miriam Margolyes, sole performer (of 23 characters!) in Dickens’ Women, Evalyn Parry singing tales of bicycle led revolution in SPIN, and of course Cameron Mackenzie and Dave Deveau (or, as you may know them: Isolde N. Barren and ‘The Baddest Bitch Peach’ Cobblah) took us on a wild ride through Vancouver’s Drag Herstory in Tucked and Plucked.

Miriam Margolyes, the 69-year-old British lesbian actress, starred in The Cultch's presentation of Dickens' Women

In addition, one of the best attended gallery events of the year was the opening gala of photo-based artist SD Holman’s show Butch: Not Like the Other Girls. Holman’s images, each a stunning portrait of a different self-identified butch model, decorated The Cultch’s lobby this April.

Opening night of SD Holmon's exhibition 'BUTCH: Not like Other Girls'

Not unique to this year’s IGNITE! Youth Festival was Fruit Basket, a cabaret of performances created by youth around the themes of sex, gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation. This year’s show was comprised of The Magic Spells, Saul Chabot, Dörothy Griffith, Ruby Slickeur, Sahara Hildebrandt and Leroy and The Lovebots. Included in the process was a workshop with Evalyn Parry, as well as the Gender Blender, a youth-led forum on sex and identity…facilitated by all the smoothies you can drink, of course (oh, and a professional facilitator from Out in Schools )!

Brendan Agnew a seasoned member of The Cultch's Youth Panel

We had the chance to talk with seasoned Youth Panel-er Brendan Agnew, to ask him a few questions about his experience on the panel, and his views on queer theatre for youth in Vancouver.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the IGNITE! program and Fruit Basket specifically.

I am going into my grade 12 year at Templeton Secondary and have been very involved in their Theatre program. I also play piano, but really fell in love a few years ago with the backstage side of things, particularly stage management. I hope to do a BFA in theatre.

When I was in grade 9, some of my friends in higher grades were on the Youth Panel, and told me a bit about it and encouraged me to come to the festival. So I dragged some other friends to go see it. It was a good festival, but I left thinking “it would be so much better if I helped organize it.” It also seemed like a fantastic concept, kids organizing their own arts festival. So in Grade 10, I joined the youth panel, and one committee, the one organizing The Olivia Project, which is a multi-disciplinary devised performance created by young artists. We group together youth who do different types of art (say filmmaking, dancing, visual art, etc) and give them three weeks to create an original ten minute piece combining their arts.

In grade 11, I did Youth Panel again, but also added the Fruit Basket committee to my schedule. I’d already attended two Fruit Baskets, and knew it was a great supportive environment for queer and allied youth. I identify as a gay male, so I also felt close to the subject matter that way. What I found cool about Fruit Basket is that it is a queer show geared directly towards youth. There are many queer/sex related shows in Vancouver, but very few, if any of them, are youth focused. A lot of them require you to be over a certain age.

What kinds of shows or programs would you like to see more of in Vancouver to fill this void?

I think it’s important to recognize that queer doesn’t just mean drag, sex doesn’t just mean stripping or burlesque. These are huge topics that can be explored in all kinds of ways, and it can easily be done in a way that’s accessible to youth.

Floyd Cariad Van Beek in 'Fruit Basket' 2013

So specifically, the kinds of shows I’d like to see would be featuring young people of non-straight sexual orientation in cute romances, coming out stories or other plots. It would also be fun to see adaptations of traditional plays (Shakespeare, for instance) to a queer setting.

I saw a fantastic play called The Silicone Diaries by Nina Arsenault (performed at The Cultch in February 2011). It was an autobiographical work telling the story of her transition from man to woman. It was phenomenal, and even though it wasn’t targeted at youth, didn’t feel “adult exclusive.” More programming like that (accessible to all ages) would be great-things kids can drag their parents to, which can then spark discussion. That’s what I think good art does, after all: it makes you think about things a little deeper/differently, and that thinking transforms into conversation.

Nina Arsenault, star of 'The Silicone Diaries,' meets with The Cultch's Youth Panel

It would also be nice to see more young artists use their art as a means of expressing their sexuality. A lot of Fruit Basket performers (we love them dearly) are either queer artists doing thoroughly mainstream art, or people doing sexual dancing/stripping/burlesque/drag performance. While that’s all great, I think there’s a need for content that delves a bit deeper into what it means to be queer.

I heard that part of your involvement in Fruit Basket meant you had the opportunity to take a workshop led by Evalyn Parry. What was that like?

One of the unique things about the IGNITE! Youth Festival is the workshops. We have two types: “external” workshops, which are open to the public, and geared towards youth; and “internal” workshops, which are exclusively for youth panel members. Evalyn Parry was one of our internal workshops, and was centered around writing. The first part was a Q&A discussion about her, her artistic process, and her show SPIN, which most of Youth Panel had been invited to see. The last part was an extremely compressed version of the writing workshop she does. The primary focus was on MC acts, which are for the most part written by the youth panel, although a lot of the discussion and writing exercises applied to all sorts of other things. Evalyn Parry is a very neat person, and learning from her was an amazing experience.

Evalyn Parry ,star of 'SPIN,' meets with the Youth Panel

Queer artists from many backgrounds helped make last season at The Cultch a resounding success. If you are looking for another opportunity to celebrate before next season begins, or you are looking for an event to kick-start your Pride Week, join us in the Vancity Culture Lab for the Genderfest Launch Party on Thursday, July 25 at 8 pm. Head to http://www.genderfest.ca to find information about the event, and how you can participate in the event’s photo collaboration.

Hello my name is… Nena Pierre: (Volunteer) Volunteer Coordinator and Usher

‘Hello My Name Is…’ is a new profile series on The Cultch blog.  Each month we’ll feature a staff member, volunteer, subscriber, or community mover and shaker. Stay tuned for upcoming photos and interviews and drop us a line at ricky@thecultch.com if you have a burning question for one of our staff members or volunteers!

Last year, 114 volunteers contributed over 4492 hours to The Cultch in both our theatres and admin office! Many of these amazing people have been with the theatre for years, including Nena Pierre who’s been volunteering at The Cultch for the past four years.

Nena Pierre (Volunteer Usher and Admin Assistant)

Q: Well hello there. Who are you and what do you do at The Cultch?

Hi, I’m Nena and I volunteer here as an usher and at the reception desk!

Q: What inspires you?

Anyone doing their thing with sincerity and passion.

Q: Why do you volunteer at The Cultch?

It’s part of my neighborhood, and community.  I love the closeness and immediacy of live theatre – what the performers and audience bring to any show.  Volunteering here gives me a chance to witness this all the time.  I’ve seen so many great shows here and I have loved feeling even just a small part of it all.

Nena inside the Historic Theatre

Q: Favourite show you’ve ever seen at The Cultch?

A:  So hard to pick just one… I love puppetry and feel really excited when Old Trout Puppet Workshop or Ronnie Burkett are bringing a show to The Cultch. This year I saw Loon at the Fringe, then Grim and Fischer at The Cultch by WONDERHEADS Theatre and now I’m a big fan of them too.

Q: Favourite place to eat on the Drive?

A:  Once again sooo hard to say just one place – coffee is my sustenance!  I get all my beans from Continental and like to stop in at Turks now and again.  Turks stovetop is heavenly….

Q: What’s a typical day like volunteering at the front desk?

A:  Do I dare say quiet and calm and sometimes fun…?  Jenn G ( Head FOH Manager) and Ricky ( Marketing Coordinator) will make sure I keep busy!

Nena has been volunteering at The Cultch for the past 4 years

Q: What’s a typical night like ushering at The Cultch?

A:  Depending on how many shows are going on that night it can be anywhere from fun to slightly mad!  The other volunteers are great to get to know and work with.  Then there’s always a bit of excitement getting everyone settled into the show.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about the theatre scene in Vancouver?

A:  There are so many great theatre festivals all year long and the Vancouver theatre scene is anything but dull.  There is always something to suit anyone’s tastes or sense of curiosity and adventure!

Looking to gain valuable work experience in a Historic Theatre? We’re always looking for a friendly and organized arts-loving person to manage our front desk! Click here for position details and how to apply.

Cultch Staff Picks: Favourite shows from the 12/13 season (part 1)

 

The Cultch’s 12/13 Season closed on June 2 with a sold-out run of Mump & Smoot in Something, bringing to an end another spectacular season of theatre, dance, and music.

At this time, we would like to extend a huge thank you to our donors, sponsors, and continued subscribers. Your support allows The Cultch to consistently deliver the best the contemporary arts have to offer!

To celebrate the end of our 39th season, we decided to ask a few Cultch staff members to share some of their favourite shows from the past season! Here’s part 1 of our 2 part feature.

 

By far the most memorable show for me this season at The Cultch was Blind Date.  An improvised blind date with Mimi the sexy French clown and a different unsuspecting audience member each night!  Rebecca’s courage, comedic talent, and quick wit were really put to the test and she pulled it off every time.  As the venue technician for the run of this show, I had the special privilege to see it every night for three weeks.  I’ve seen more shows than I can count in my career, and this one truly kept me fully engaged, literally on the edge of my seat, at every moment.  Everyone has eavesdropped on the couple having their first date at the table next to you at a restaurant, but I had the voyeuristic pleasure to see the whole date unfold 18 times.  Many times, Mimi said that her goal was to help the guy be “the romantic hero”, and she always did, even though it sometimes seemed impossible.  The dates were awkward, outgoing, reluctant, charming, shy, funny, quiet, drunk (!), open, nervous, older, younger (his real first kiss on stage at The Cultch!); such a variety of wonderful, real, characters.  It would have been so easy to just make fun of these men, but instead Rebecca (and co-stars Bruce and Jamie and sound improviser Sean) coaxed nervous volunteers into endearing dates, and brought us along for the ride.  I would love to see this show another 18 times!

LEO – It was succinct, entertaining, moving and embraced the digital change (or at least experimentation) in theatre. It incorporated multi media, physicality and music to bring the audience into a different reality. I found it pretty emotional as well, which I’m not sure was the intention, but it spoke to me on the themes of new beginnings, fear, and the excitement of the unknown. 

White Rabbit Red Rabbit – This show had a really weird premise which I thought was going to be self indulgent and boring, but I was totally surprised. I felt incredibly engaged and curious throughout the performance. I still don’t know if I “got it” in the sense of the intellectual ramifications it poses about society and isolation. But I was left with a feeling of empowerment that all barriers to assuage the turmoil of the human experience can be traversed through art.

The 2013/14 season begins this September with Rumble Theatre’s production of Penelope. Don’t forget to subscribe to our 2013/14 season and stay tuned for part 2 of The Cultch staff’s 12/13 season highlights!

Letter from Heather: We need your support!

Dear friend of The Cultch,

We need your support!

This December, The Cultch will open the newly renovated York Theatre. The theatre will be an invaluable community resource that will revitalize the north corridor of Commercial Drive between Venables and Hasting Streets and bring live performance to the Commerical Drive neighbourhood.

A shot from the new York Theatre. Photo taken on May 29, 2013

Following in the tradition of the naming of other heritage buildings such as the “Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage,” The Cultch would like to name the stage of the York Theatre and put signage on the exterior of the building that includes the name of its sponsor. The significant funds raised from this naming are essential in ensuring The York and The Cultch are financially healthy, stable, and sustainable both now and in the future.

About the signage:

  • Low-tech and unobtrusive
  • Will progressively dim as it gets darker; by evening the sign will only be at 30% of its brightness
  • No flash; the projecting sign will scroll and will be text
  • Controlled and monitored by The Cultch
  • On the fascia sign, the lighting will come from below the sign and point upward
  • Both signs will be turned off at 11 pm each day

We’re inviting Cultch supporters, neighbours, and artists to join us in showing your support for The Cultch, the York Theatre, and the sustainability of arts in this community!

COMMUNITY OPEN HOUSE

When: Wednesday, June 19 from 5 pm – 8 pm

Where: The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab (1895 Venables Street)

What: An open house held by the City of Vancouver to review our signage proposal and receive community feedback.There will be pictures of the proposed signs and Cultch representatives and City staff available to answer your questions. There will also be an opportunity to fill out a survey. Please feel free to stop by any time during the course of the open house.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at 604.251.1766 or heather@thecultch.com, if you have any questions or would like to chat further.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support of The Cultch and the new York Theatre!

Heather Redfern

Executive Director

Mump + Smoot: Hstry f Clwng nd Clwn Fobya (Ummonium, translates to History of Clowning and Clown Phobia)

Mump & Smoot live on the planet Ummo, worship the god Ummo and speak Ummonium – their own brand of gibberish. But as cute and cuddly as Mump & Smoot may sound, you’ll want to think twice about hugging these ‘clowns of horror’. Hailed as the ‘Laurel and Hardy from hell’ (Vancouver Sun), the pair of clowns use comedy to address all types of fears, from embarrassment to death to a visit to the doctor’s office. Says Michael Kennard (Mump), “All the horror stuff came from John and I wanting to examine fear and the fear that exists in human nature and the world.” [In ‘Something’,] “we start with a relatively gentle fear—by going to a café—around the issues of etiquette and manners, making a fool of yourself in public and being looked down upon by those who have a different set of decorum,”  John Turner (Smoot) says. “So we start kind of gently.” Which is great news for people who are curious about the show but perhaps a touch afraid of clowns!

If you are afflicted with coulrophobia (phobia of clowns) you’re not alone. Type ‘fear of clowns’ into Google search and you’ll find page after page dedicated to the subject. Before we look at the why, let’s delve a little in to the history of the clown.

The tradition of clowning goes back quite a ways; to ancient Greece even – one could argue that the pantomimes in Greek plays were the basis of the modern day clown. When we think ‘clown’ most of us think of the typical ‘whiteface’ clown – face and neck painted white, eyes, nose and mouth usually painted in black and red, ruffled collar, terrible jumpsuit situation and over-sized shoes. But there are many different types of clowns: jesters and fools often found in Shakespearean plays, the Tramp or Hobo (think Charlie Chaplin), and the character clown (think Rodeo Clown) to name a few.

Mump & Smoot fall into a sub-category of the ever-so-popular, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening and murderous, Whiteface Clown called the ‘Grotesque Whiteface’. Although the word ‘grotesque’ sounds frightful (and is somewhat fitting for a show like Mump & Smoot in Something), the term actually means odd or unnatural in shape, as are the features of this type of clown. The mouth and eyebrows are exaggerated not only with various colors but also shapes and a bulbous red nose is the cherry on top if you will.

So what’s up with coulrophobia? One theory put forth is something called the ‘uncanny valley effect’. This is when, say, a robot or actual person behaves almost human, but not quite, causing people to become extremely uncomfortable or even repulsed. Think of a clown acting sad or in pain but has a huge smile painted on his face. Frightening, no? It also doesn’t help that film and TV has vilified the poor clown like in Stephen King’s ‘It’ featuring the nightmare-inducing Pennywise. But there are also the awesomely hilarious clowns like Homey the Clown from ‘In Living Color’, Krusty the Clown from ‘The Simpsons,’ and our homegrown Canadian duo, Mump + Smoot.

Despite fear being a major component of the show people are coming back in droves and loving it. But don’t take our word for it and check out these rave reviews from Jo Ledingham and Colin Thomas!

Mump & Smoot runs at The Cultch until June 2. Tickets start at $17 and can be purchased at tickets.thecultch.com, by phone at 604.251.1363, or in person at The Cultch Box Office, 1895 Venables St.

IGNITE! Design Mentorship Goes Goth

IGNITE! Youth Mentorship Participant Nina Sky Robertson in 'Garbage Girl'

This week we’d like to spotlight one of the mentees from The Cultch’s

IGNITE! Mentorship Program — Nina Sky Robertson. Robertson was selected for a mentorship in Stage Design and has been learning the ropes from accomplished artist/designer, Alice Mansell. This brand new mentorship program in costume and set design is intended for aspiring young stage designers wishing to pursue a career in the arts. In the inaugural year of this program the assignment was to transform The Cultch lobby into a veritable Victorian gothic funeral parlor,  for the world premiere of Tara Cheyenne Friendenberg’s Highgate (exciting, no?)

With the show opening this week, we managed to do a little Q&A with Robertson and her experience in working on the set of Highgate.

A: Can you tell us a bit about your design background?

N: I am a life long ‘odd’ schooler. I have attended an assortment of public programs and schools ranging from a democratic free-school to an academically driven philosophy and english program. The most relevant educational experience to this mentorship has been a series of apprenticeships with world renowned artists from Vancouver, Toronto, and Mexico. I truly believe in life-long learning.

A sneek peek at The Cultch lobby for Highgate. Photo courtesy of Christine Quintana

A: Why The Cultch Mentorship Program?

N: I came to the mentorship through a conversation with Robert (Youth Program Manager). I had mentioned wanting to expand my textile arts practice into theatre design and two days later an incredibly lovely email arrived from him mentioning the program and asking me to apply.

A: Tell us a little bit about what the mentorship has entailed.

N: It has entailed – at least for Highgate and with Alice – a considerable amount of draping (predominantly Gothic, Victorian objects) some pattern drafting, not to mention the chance to create a relationship with Alice and gain insight into her process and history.

Highgate creator Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Dance/Choreography) and Alice Mansell (Stage Design)

A: What are your plans for the future?

N: I intend to continue to expand my textile arts practice, hopefully moving further into the theatre community in the next few years and continue with a broad smattering of other arts, travel and academic projects.

If you want to see Robertson and Mansell’s creation firsthand, you’ll have to swing by The Cultch and get your tickets to Highgate which runs May 1 –  4 and invites you for ‘a morbid romp through Victorian funerary culture. Let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a good morbid romp?