In early December, with support from The Canadian College of Performing Arts I was able to attend Siobhan Richardson’s Intimacy Intensive at The Banff Centre for the Arts. It was an incredible workshop that gave me insight into pedagogy and practices that IDI (Intimacy Directors International) are trying to share. I gathered practical tools, exercises, and knowledge that I can add onto what I already offer as a director. I would recommend this training for any and all directors, not just those with a movement background or focus.
I am super excited for 2017! For the first time in my career I have a whole year of exciting and diverse projects lined up. My year includes teaching, choreographing, working with cardboard puppets, running around in the badlands, directing 3 shows, premiering two new works and re-mounting an old favourite! Check it out!
January - The Canadian College of Performing Arts
This year at the college I will be doing a variety of exciting things. I will be teaching Musical Theatre Styles twice a week as well as directing/choreographing the title song of Thoroughly Modern Millie and All That Jazz in concert with the Naden Band at The Royal Theatre. I will also be mentoring a young Company C choreographer for their upcoming production of Ruddigore.
February - Elbow Room Café - The Musical
I am happy to announce that I will be choreographing Zee Zee Theatre's Elbow Room Café: The Musical which will be performed at The Cultch from March 1-12, 2017 in Vancouver, BC. It is a candid look inside Vancouver's most iconic eatery: home of raucous service, celebrity sightings and hearts of gold. It's going to be fun fun fun!
March - Tombstone: A Cardboard Western
After three years of wonderful workshops and collective development, I will be directing Ramshackle Theatre's Tombstone: A Cardboard Western at The Yukon Arts Centre from March 30 - April 1, 2017. This is a puppet show made entirely out of cardboard with multiple live feed camera's projecting the action onto a massive screen above the actors. This is an aesthetic that Ramshackle has been developing through multiple shows that have toured nationally. I can't wait!!
May - The Canadian Badlands Passion Play
After a one year hiatus, I will be returning to The Canadian Badlands Passion Play as Co-Director. I was Crowd Director during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but this year Barrett Hileman and I have joined forces as co-directors and will be tackling our new script based on the Gospel of Luke. This show is set in a natural amphitheatre in the heart of the Alberta badlands which seats 3000 and features a cast of 150-200 performers. It is an experience like none other I am excited to be stepping up into a new role this year.
August - Busted Up: A Yukon Story
I am beyond thrilled that my company Open Pit Theatre will be premiering Busted Up: A Yukon Story as part of Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations. This is a verbatim play that we have been developing over the past three years and will be performed as part of The Yukon Art Centre's 2017/18 season. I will be co-directing the show with my company partner Geneviève Doyon and we cannot wait!!
November - A Christmas Carol
This will be the third time I will be choreographing and performing in A Christmas Carol at The Belfry Theatre. This cast feels like family and it will be lovely to bring it life once again. It is always the best possible way to celebrate the holidays.
This was my first time participating as a stage manger, delegate, and performer in the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which was held in Whitehorse this year. For those that are unfamiliar with the festival, it is designed for theatre companies who are programming new works to meet, socialize, see some shows, and discuss current relevant themes in Canadian theatre. At least that is how I saw it.
My company co-creator Geneviève Doyon and I had many hats on during the festival, and as a result we were completely burnt out the entire time. In retrospect, I think it would be wise to just attend the festival and really take in all in, instead of running around like a chicken with it's head cut off.
My first gig was stage managing a show called Map of the Land, Map of the Stars which is a new work being developed by Gwaandak Theatre. It was the first time I worked with Gwaandak, and they were extremely lovely. The show was formed using traditional First Nations story weaving, and the gathering of northern stories. It was also my first time working with director Yvette Nolan from Saskatoon, and she was just a dream to collaborate with! The show plans on touring the Yukon in 2017, and I can't wait to see how it takes shape.
The second gig we had was the opportunity to perform in a show called Theatre in the Bush, which is held in the middle of the woods in the Yukon and is run by my good friend Brian Fidler of Ramshackle Theatre. My company Open Pit Theatre developed a new short ten minute piece that Gen directed, and I performed with two other local actors. I hadn't performed in anything in a loooooooooonng time so I definitely felt out of my element. It was a piece set in a dream and we enclosed our audience in a cocoon of fabric and sound. Hopefully we can develop the piece further in the future.
And finally, Gen and I participated in the pitch session aspect of Mag North where companies can outline shows that they have coming up and pitch to the industry producers who will be programming for their next seasons. It went well and our company got a lot of good feedback from this. We are newbies at the whole pitching environment and so we walked away with some valuable tips for the future.
All in all it felt like a treat to have Mag North in the Yukon, but I also felt that we weren't quite ready to be in that game. We don't have shows that are touring Canada.... yet.....but we will in the next two years. So it was good to see how it all works, and then hopefully when we are ready, we will jump back in!
This had to be one of the most challenging gigs I have done thus far. The stage was small and had many stairs to navigate, and there were only four performers which meant the choreography was very revealed. Over fifty Berlin tunes made up the score and there was no script or continuous plot, which meant that almost every song required choreography.
I prepared for the show by taking some ballroom and partnering classes to refresh myself on the accurate way to do partner work from this time period. With many incredible films by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to refer to, I had a lot of homework. I was very quickly reminded that the dancers of that time were incredible. Their precision, timing, and execution was remarkable...and very hard to capture the essence of in a 2016 production.
I would recommend that anyone who plans on a career in musical theatre should take ballroom classes. It is incredible how many of us find it very challenging even to do a simple waltz with a partner. We are all looking down, bonking our heads into each other, and worrying over our feet. And every musical contains at least one moment where the leads dance together. It is very hard to make it look effortless, when in fact it is quite hard to execute partner work in a way that looks effective.
This exact show was done 20 years ago, and so I had the task of creating movement that was similar to the previous show (we were doing a straight re-mount) but not the same because that would be stealing the original choreography. I often felt that my creativity couldn't be fully realized because I was shaping the movement to fit into tidy boxes that already existed. It also prevented me from utilizing the strengths of my performers because we were trying to re-create and honour what was done twenty years ago instead of creating from scratch as you normally would.
So in the end I learned a lot, and realized that I need to get better at teaching men how to lead and ladies how to follow (it's not an easy position for us strong ladies out there) when doing classical partner work. I wasn't fully happy with my work, but hopefully it paved the way for better choreography in the future. The performers were wonderful to work with, and I was honoured to work with the wonderful Glynis Leyshon.
I guess you can't win em' all folks!
For the first time in my career, my choreography was performed in two major theatres at the same time! I had the pleasure of working on ELF: The Musical at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, and A Christmas Carol at The Belfry Theatre.
Five years ago I did some choreographic consulting for A Countryside Christmas in Chemainus, but other than that I hadn't yet had the opportunity to work at CTF. I was thrilled, and nervous when Mark DuMez (the AD) phoned me two weeks before rehearsals began with the news that his original choreographer had fallen ill and he needed a replacement.
I went to work learning ELF, which turned out to be a massive show! I choreographed ten major dance numbers in two weeks and set off for Chemainus. We had two weeks of rehearsal to put it all together, and I must say that this is one silly show. We were in hysterics almost daily with the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Lucky for us, the show was 90% sold out before we even opened.
Due to my existing contract with The Belfry, I had to duck out tech to head back to Victoria for A Christmas Carol. Thus began the longest week of my career. I was rehearsing all day in Victoria, then driving 1.5hrs on the sketchy/dark/wet Malahat to Chemainus to watch a preview. I would take notes, distribute the notes to the cast, and then drive home to begin it all again. I was happy to be doing both shows, but the driving was intense!
A Christmas Carol was a re-mount that I also choreographed and performed in three years ago. It was a joy and blessing to be involved once again in this beautiful show that was adapted and directed by Michael Shamata. This was the 25th year that this adaptation was being performed, and almost all of the original cast returned to perform in it once again. I don't perform much anymore, but it felt really nice to be onstage for once in this production. I got the chance to dance my own choreography, and spend time with such lovely artists.
All in all it was a great holiday season!
I am currently in Drumheller, AB for my second season working as the Crowd Director for The Canadian Badlands Passion Play. Not many people realize the scale of this show, or my role in it, so I thought I would write a little about it.
The play is staged in a natural outdoor amphitheatre that can seat 3000 people easily. We use real animals (a donkey named Zeke, horses, sheep, pigeons, and doves), and we baptize people in a pool onstage, work with smoke bombs, and dump large amounts of water onstage. We have an actor duct that allows the cast to make their way to their entrances without being seen by the audience, and a full temple with 9 entrances including an upper walkway. We use fake blood, and actually lift three actors up onto 12ft crosses during the crucifixion. Needless to say, it takes a lot of people (and volunteers) to make this show happen.
In the directorial team there is lead director, Barrett Hielman, who is in charge of the lead actors and overall directorial vision. Kevin Robinson, who is our fight director and mainly takes care of the Temple Guards, Romans, whippings, crucifixions, and any other violence. And my job is to plan, stage, and direct the remaining 200 volunteer cast members for each scene of the play. I organize the crowd into "villages" so that I can track their entrances and exits throughout the show. Our youngest cast member is 2 years old, and our oldest is 85, and this year we have 40 children. All of them need to know when/how to enter, where to go in the scene, and how to exit. It is a 3 hour show.
The directorial team meets for about ten hours prior to each rehearsal weekend to plan each scene and talk through the show. In our directors office there is a huge white board with the ground plan of the stage drawn to scale. This helps us immensely. We draw all over the stage with tiny little x's and huge swooping arrows dictating where the masses will be moving. It takes a huge amount of planning, communication, and dedication to make sure that our limited amount of rehearsal time is used effectively.
There are five stage managers who visually cue each group when they enter because you can't hear anything from backstage. There are over 50 speakers built into the hills and camouflaged so that you can't see them. The sound designer is tracking the action onstage and shifting where the sound is coming from so that the audience knows where to find the person that is speaking.
We rehearse Friday nights, all day Saturday (10hrs+), and all day Sunday. We rehearse regardless of rain, hail, or extreme heat. The only time we halt rehearsals is if there is lightning, which has happened a few times this season. For each rehearsal I bring 60+ sunscreen, full rain gear, gumboots, bug spray, my camel back, a huge hat, a wet handkerchief for my neck, and my really good sneakers. I put my maps and pages of the script into clear sleeves to protect them from the rain and attach them to my belt with a loop. We rehearse for 9 weekends, and then the show opens.
It is crazy, surreal, awesome, and life-changing. I wish you all could come and see it. Regardless of your religious beliefs it is a stunning spectacle of a show that I believe is really really good. I am not religious but this contract and this show are one of a kind and I am proud to be involved.
For the past year, Jessica has been developing a new Yukon verbatim show via her company Open Pit Theatre. The first draft of this new work was presented as a staged reading in Whitehorse, YT on March 28 & 29, 2015. The company is now heading into a second round of territorial interviews to visit the rural communities that were missed on the first round. It is a compelling piece that touches on life and land in the Yukon today. Yukonners of all ages, race, and age speak about the issues and beauty that exist in their world up north. Mining, discrimination, land claims, territorial identity, and home are some of the themes they will be touching on in this new play. Stay tuned for a premier of the play scheduled for Spring 2017.
Jessica is currently directing and choreographing Bye Bye Birdie for Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, BC. The cast is ages 14-17, and they have the opportunity to work in a brand new theatre. The show goes up March 4-7, 2015.
The creative team is:
- Brian Fidler - Writer/Director/Puppeteer
- Edward Westerhuis - Director of Photography/Co-Creator/Puppeteer
- Jessica Hickman - Dramaturge/Co-Creator
- Genevieve Doyon - Co-Creator/Puppeteer
- Clair Ness - Co-Creator/Puppeteer
- Jordy Walker - Composer
Ramshackle Theatre is a puppet company based out of Whitehorse, YT. Jessica has worked with Ramshackle's AD Brian Fidler on many projects in the past, and she was delighted to be invited to work with him again on his newest cardboard creation Tombstone: A Sci-Fi Western.
In May, 2014 the project was launched at the Banff Centre of the Arts. Ramshackle was invited to spend a week developing the show in one of the most beautiful studio's. The team worked on character development, script development, and puppet building.
The second phase of development occurred in August, 2014 at the Yukon Arts Centre. The team got together to work for two weeks in the studio. Brian had a solid first draft by this point, so we were manipulating puppets, and establishing our "worlds" onstage. Puppets were continually being created, and we were throwing together scenes and filming them to test it out.
We are looking forward to a third phase of development this February in Victoria, BC. A second draft of the play is ready (with the help of D.D. Kugler), and the crew will be workshopping the material at Intrepid Theatre.