By Shannon Page
The Muse (November 2013)
Engine Productions’ fifth production, You Are Here, promises to be a slight break from the company’s usual eclectic approach to theatre. Though primarily based in theatre, the company describes themselves as “artist-run” and strives to incorporate a wide variety of performance styles and art disciplines into their productions. Past shows have features elements of dance, visual art, and videography.
Written by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, You Are Here centers around a vulnerable, independent, and unconventional woman named Allison as she searches for meaning in her life. The play focuses on themes of love, friendship, redemption, and hope as Allison comes face to face with characters from her past. Featuring Kimberley Drake, an alumni of Grenfell’s theatre program, as Allison and directed by Kevin Woolridge, the play also features performances by Shawn Parsons, Rob Kean, fellow Grenfell theatre alumni Laura Huckle, Ross Moore, Issa Russell, Michael Rhodri Smith, and Evan Mercer.
Jenn Brown, co-founder of Engine Productions and Producer of You Are Here, says that the company was founded when she, Drake, and Huckle found they weren’t able to act and direct as much as they wanted to after graduation because of financial restrictions.
“We decided that instead of feeling restricted, we would pull our mutual resources, skills, and experience and embrace a do-it-yourself mantra for our artwork. We also discovered that there are so many talented artists in this province who want to do the same, and we found our own way of creating art, practicing our craft, and most importantly, sharing stories” said Brown.
“There have been amazing decisions and creations by rehearsing in living rooms, performing in reclaimed art venues, or homes-turned-theatres,” Brown said, referring to the company’s previous productions which have been performed in unique spaces not usually set aside for theatre. You Are Here, by contrast, will be performed in a more typical theatre setting. “It’s a gift to work at the [Arts and Culture Centre] and the gang there is great, but we’re used to reclaiming venues. It is a nice experiment for the company.”
Engine Productions tries to keep their budgets low by being resourceful about the spaces and resources available to them; the larger theater setting allows for the larger cast that You Are Here requires.
“You Are Here focuses solely on the play and we have tried to keep the set design simple for the audience to focus on the story. Our next show will infuse more disciplines but it is important to focus on the words and the story for You Are Here,” said Huckle, noting that the production will not incorporate elements of dance or other art forms that have been featured in their other shows.
Though the play itself is pure theatre, the company has attempted to embrace other artistic disciplines in their marketing of the show. One of the actors, Ross Moore, has created a video trailer for You Are Here that is available online. The company is also furthering their unique approach to theatre by adopting a paperless program. Rather than the traditional, multipage program, audience members will receive a small slip of paper with the show’s basic information and a URL or QR code that can be scanned in order to view the actors’ and production team’s biographies and other information about the show.
Kevin Woolridge, who says he came to direct You Are Here “by chance” after a telephone conversation with Drake, has a deep admiration for Daniel MacIvor and hopes that the play resonates with audiences.
“[MacIvor] has a unique understanding of how people talk in the real world, with all its imperfections in speech, and is able to bring that to life in his dialogue. Coupled with a deep sense of human-ness and emotional sensitivity, it makes [him] one of our country’s most important contemporary playwrights” said Woolridge.
“We’ve assembled a tremendous cast of intelligent, creative and fearless actors, and I couldn’t have asked for any better. Every rehearsal has been a joy. The emotional situations in this play run the full gamut and without their strength it could have easily become muddled and messy.”
“Essentially she’s looking for the things all of us look for,” Woolridge added, referring to You Are Here’s protagonist. “And that’s what makes this play so accessible. It’s full of emotions that we have all felt at one time or another. I hope that our audiences use the show as a springboard for re-examination of their own lives and what is really important.”
Engine Productions’ “You Are Here” runs November 28- 30 at 8pm in the Barbara Barrett Theater. Tickets are $25 at the door and $20 in advance. There will also be $10 show at 2pm on November 30.
By Alyson Samson
The Independent (November 2013)
St. John’s is a city pulsating with creativity; our theatres and bars are consistently populated by locally-produced plays and musical acts.
One local artist-run, DIY theatre company that has been generating some buzz since its inception a couple years ago, Engine Productions, is stepping it up a notch with its latest production. Working on You Are Here has been a learning experience for the all-female group, giving them new perspective in working with a hired director for the first time.
Brown, one Engine’s three co-founders and You Are Here’s producer, says she was very enthusiastic about working with Kevin Woolridge, explaining the producer brings experience to the production which in turn allows them to grow as a company and explore new roles for themselves – two of whom are performing in the production. Accompanying the new faces and changes, says Brown, are a mostly returning cast of actors from previous productions.
Engine Productions is “by no means a traditional theatre company,” she explains, referring to the group as an “artist-run, DIY, theatre company.” Born out of three women’s difficulties in getting involved with other projects, Engine Productions’ Jenn Brown, Laura Huckle and Kim Drake combined their resources, talents and backgrounds to form the company, stripping down to the bare bones of theatre, without the financial obligations and bigger budgets of more established companies.
You Are Here, the company’s sixth production, opened Thursday in St. John’s. The show, which has been a new experience for the nascent company, says Brown, will be Engine’s first directed by someone other than Brown, Huckle or Drake. Instead, they invited Woolridge to assist them in their adaptation of the Daniel McIvor play.
As Drake read McIvor’s book she felt an immediate connection, Brown explains. “We’re very much a collective,” she continues, explaining that choosing the work by McIvor, a Canadian playwright and director, was effortless for the trio. The biggest challenge they face this time around is scheduling for such a large cast and crew. A 12-person cast, all volunteering their time, makes for a challenge to work around day jobs, and other appointments, Brown admits.
“We (agreed to) trust one another completely,” she explains. While Brown is producing this one, they all took a backseat to directing and are exploring and learning different roles, approaches and styles in an effort to figure out how to communicate their methods to an outside director, Brown explains.
Brown says she sought McIvor’s interpretation and inspiration for the play and was pleased to receive a response from the award-winning playwright by email, explaining his inspiration for the plot.
“It could be described as a one-woman play with 11 or 12 characters,” she says. The play takes us through the life of the main character as she is looking for love, forging connections with the people in her life, and trying to find herself.
You Are Here runs Nov. 28-30 at the Barbara Barrett Theatre (formerly the Basement theatre of the Arts and Culture Centre). It features Kimberley Drake, Shawn Parsons, Rob Kean, Laura Huckle, Ross Moore, Issa Russell, Michael Rhodri Smith and Evan Mercer. Directed by Kevin Woolridge, produced by Jenn Brown, with Cindy Stone as stage manager. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Showtime is 8 p.m. each evening with a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 30 ($10).
Queer Theatre Festival celebrates inclusion
By Grant Loveys
Special to The Telegram (July 2013)
Art is communication. It’s simple: the artist conveys his or her message through the medium — be it painting or poetry, song or theatre — and the audience, interpret that message through their own frame of reference.
But what happens when one half of the equation is missing? What happens when the artist and the audience don’t have an opportunity to meet?
According to Jenn Brown, local director, actor, writer and one third of local artist-run theatre company Engine Productions, that’s the situation the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) arts community face in this province. And that disconnect is something she’s trying to change.
“I moved to St. John’s a few years ago and realized that there’s no arts component to Pride Week whatsoever,” Brown says. “I was like, ‘What’s happening? I’m living in a city — Pride Weeks are supposed to be huge and fun.’ But there was just nothing. They had tons of events, but with the arts there was nothing. I was really surprised by that.”
So Brown, along with Kimberley Drake and Laura Huckle, her partners in Engine Productions, decided to do something about it.
They organized Short and Queer, a small pop-up show that took place in the space above The Sprout restaurant on Duckworth Street. Five established local artists and playwrights — Robert Chafe, Amy Anthony, Mark White, Meg Coles and Liz Solo — each wrote a short piece which was then performed in a different room in the space.
“The rules for the pieces were that they had to be written by queer artists or have a theme or relevance to the queer community, so they’d be super inclusive,” Brown says. “It became this moving thing that had a life of its own. It was amazing.”
Now, a year later, Engine Productions is doing it again, only this time its expanding its scope.
Last year’s shorts, which were originally conceived as dramatic readings, will be produced as full shows this year. Then, five new artists will perform in Short and Queer II, featuring a new set of short pieces which will function as a teaser for next year’s full shows. “This way,” Brown says, “we’ll always have this growing life for the pieces.”
In addition, Engine is partnering with Gemma Hickey, executive director of arts-based education charity For The Love of Learning, to bring a second show to the big stage. The charity’s Queer Monologues project, a series of dramatic monologues written and performed by local LGBT youth which will be published and made available as a resource to schools across the province, will kick off the festival on Friday night at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, along with a performance by a Queer Choir and an opening reception.
Though the festival is LGBT-oriented, Engine Productions set out from the beginning to make it inclusive as possible, regardless of gender or orientation. “It’s everyone’s festival,” Brown says. “I want to see what it means to people, what kinds of stories they think should be told and how they want to express them. I want them to have an open dialogue with us, to share with us, and I hope that that then continues on throughout the year. St. John’s is a place full of so many creative people. If they don’t have a project on the go, they want to help out.”
And, indeed, help is coming from everywhere. Engine has acquired some funding from the city, the Arts and Culture Centre is on board and they have the full support of award-winning playwrights like Robert Chafe.
People of all stripes are pitching in, like Sarah Murphy, a Newfoundland-born actress who cut her teeth in the thriving Montreal theatre scene.
“When Jenn asked me if I was interested in (working in the festival) I said yes immediately,” Murphy says. “An arts community means everyone lending what skills they have, what background they have, what training they have, what experience they have to make as successful a production as possible. Nobody owns it. Everyone just wants to make the most successful production they can.”
Both women agree the spirit of the festival is to set aside the things that divide us, and bring people together in a celebration of that which unites them: a love of theatre.
For Brown, her desire stems, in part, from an experience she had as a teenager.
“When I was a kid, maybe 13, the late Mercedes Barry who started Sheila’s Brush Company and the Mummers’ Troupe, came to Bonavista and her and a bunch of us kids did these shows about gender roles. That really opened my eyes. She said that theatre has a power: you share your story, but it doesn’t end there, it’s a living thing. When audience members leave the doors, they’re talking about what they saw.
“She was a very seasoned artist in the theatre, and it was one of the first times I had an adult treat me as an adult as a kid. I thought, wow, theatre’s a place where it doesn’t matter how old I am, or what my viewpoints are.”
“In Montreal, you’d look out in the audience and see people of different backgrounds and genders and orientations all in the same room,” she says. “People who might not necessarily be together under any other circumstance, and they were all there laughing at the same things, being inspired by the same things, enjoying the same things. It really gave you a sense of community.”
As of right now, Engine plans to cap off Pride Week with a full weekend of theatre, but several other events are in the planning stages for next year’s festival.
“My goal is to have a weeklong queer arts festival that coincides with Pride Week. A burlesque show here, readings here, drama here, everything,” Brown says.
Ultimately, she adds, the Queer Theatre Festival is not about simply filling a niche, or setting up a series of events.
It’s about a much deeper, more human, issue.
“At the end of last year’s show,” she says, “there was a woman who came over to me in tears, a middle-aged woman, and said ‘I have a transgendered member of my family and I’ve never been to a pride event. And all these people here think that that’s ok, and are really happy and celebrating everyone.’ ”
Engine Productions stages
“The Shape of Things”
By Justin Brake
The Telegram (2012)
Engine Productions, a local artist-run theatre company, is staging its conception this weekend.
The cast and crew’s interpretation of American author Neil LaBute’s play “The Shape of Things” ventures to explore the themes of love, art and egocentrism in the context of a modern version of Adam’s seduction by Eve.
Newcomer Michael Smith plays Adam, a museum security guard who, one fateful day, meets Evelyn, a passionate artist and imminent vandal, played by Laura Huckle.
Adam becomes the work’s centerpiece as the story unfolds and, through his interactions with Evelyn, we witness “Adam’s transformation … physically, mentally,” says Jenn Brown, the play’s director. “And then there are two other characters, Phillip and Jenny (played by Ross Moore and Kimberley Drake), who are the best friends, and the whole thing is seeing Adam transform completely because of this relationship,” she explains.
“At the end, when it all comes together, it’s (the question of), how far are you willing to go for your art? Where are there lines in art, in relationships, in how you treat one another, how you build yourself as an artist and also how you take more responsibilities for your actions.”
Brown, Huckle and Drake, all graduates of Grenfell College’s theatre arts program, are behind the grassroots theatre company, and they’re eager to continue exploring the ins and outs of life through the art they learned while at university.
“The reality of working as an artist here in St. John’s, or anywhere really, is that you need to have a day job. You need to find a balance between doing what you’ve trained for, what you’ve invested in, what you love, and then also try to pay your bills,” explains Brown.
Rather than succumb to the reality the three saw around them, where artists they know “stopped practising their art because they couldn’t afford to,” says Brown, they pooled their talents, resourcefulness and pitched “70 bucks each into a box,” Brown laughs, and set on their journey to create theatre “regardless of financial support.”
Huckle wrote and choreographed that first production, “Just to Love,” and the play was one of the first shows to run at the LSPU Hall’s new Second Space last March.
“We had a really good turnout, reviews were really great, and two of the members of that cast went on to start in the fall studying theatre in Ontario,” says Brown.
“The Shape of Things” involves mature subject matter and language, but is dear to Brown and her partners “because it was relevant to what all of us went through, especially when we were all studying fine arts in university, and now as living artists, as people who are young and curious and trying to figure out our own lives and outlooks.”
“The Shape of Things” runs at the Ontop/Above ‘alt gallery’ at 362 Duckworth St. in St. John’s, Friday through Sunday at 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.
For more information visit www.engineproductions.ca.“
Just to Love: Engine Driven
By Tara Bradbury
The Telegram (2010)
The ladies of Engine Productions have a simple goal: to take any obstacle in front of them and turn it into an opportunity for creativity.
“We’ll look at it as an incentive and encouragement to challenge ourselves as artists, and also to encourage other people to look at that,” explained Jenn Brown, one of the theatre company’s three founding members.
Brown said she, Kimberley Drake and Laura Huckle, all theatre graduates from MUN’s Grenfell College, established Engine last fall as a way to encourage people to get back to the spirit of creating art in the first place: to share it.
Because of the constant struggle to obtain financial support in the arts, Brown said, the trio took a do-it-yourself approach, creating and sharing the resources they already had, and put together their debut production: “Just to Love,” opening tonight at the LSPU Hall’s Second Space.
“We pooled our resources and decides to make a show,” Brown said. “As emerging artists, we just want to practise our craft and try things and put outselves out there and experiment, especially with other like-minded people. We didn’t want to not be working in theatre just because there weren’t enough roles to go around or because maybe we didn’t get cast in one particular show. We wanted to remain active in the theatre and arts community in St. John’s on our own accord.”
“Just to Love,” written by Huckle, is a dance theatre piece that’s eclectic in every aspect: there’s ballet, hip hop and modern dance choreography; bits of poetry and Shakespeare; and all types of music, from soft ballads to Nina Simone remixes. Some of the show’s performers are classically trained in theatre, while others have more of a background in dance.
You won’t be able to tell who’s who, Brown said.
The production tells the story of a couple, played by a number of different performers.
“It starts from when they first meet to their first sexual encounter, to a later point in the relationship where they’re struggling with monotony and things being dull, to inevitably having to say goodbye to one another,” Brown explained. “It’s all these really complex twists and turns in the lives of this one couple.”
Engine’s lack of financial support was a surmountable problem, since the three women quickly learned how close and generous the local arts community is. People were more than happy to help out, and the show’s cast, and crew are all volunteers.
The goal is not to necessarily keep it this way, however.
“Fair working wages for actors and artists is a must, and we’re were tired of seeing talented people not create due to money. So we are hoping to build up this company to help people move past this barrier via inventive and resourceful approaches,” Brown said.
The members of Engine Productions have another main stage performance in the works for the fall, and hope to develop creative writing circles and other opportunities for writers and artists to share ideas on a regular basis.
New Theatre Company from Newfoundland Mounts First Show
By Steve Thompson
Engine Productions is a brand new grassroots theatre and dance company in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Directors Laura Huckle, Jenn Brown and Kim Drake are mounting their first production. The play is an original dance theatre love story called “Just to Love”
Choreography by Laura Huckle follows a couple through the stages of their life together. This is a piece I did for NTV. It was shot at a rehearsal for the show.