Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Still Here

My review of I'm Still Here is in this week's WE.


Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs
Directed by Casey Affleck

The cat came out of the bag two days prior to I’m Still Here’s Vancouver press screening. Confirming what many suspected after his infamous Late Night with David Letterman appearance two years ago, Joaquin Phoenix’s descent from respected actor to drug-addled wannabe rapper was all a hoax, captured on film by fellow actor (and brother-in-law) Casey Affleck and packaged as a faux-documentary that’s short on charm and long on self-indulgent wankery.

The mockumentary’s opening hints at its potential for clever social commentary: Phoenix making the press rounds, reminding the audience that famous people aren’t just making entertainment or art, but are subject to the relentless monotony of self-promotion. What unfolds from there is two hours of Phoenix fake-pontificating about the meaninglessness of everything (grand, sweeping, incoherent statements are Phoenix’s specialty here), spewing verbal abuse at his “friends,” snorting drugs, cavorting with prostitutes, and waxing fondly about “women’s butt holes.” The film’s central plot, with Phoenix desperately trying to get his terrible rap music heard by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, is sort of amusing thanks to Combs’s performance. (Was he in on it, too? Probably. His bewildered reactions feel genuine, though.)

At best, I’m Still Here is high-octane performance art fueled by ego and self-importance that exposes society’s obsession with unravelling the celebrities we create. At worst, it’s a costly two-year in-joke that derails Phoenix and Affleck’s careers and personal lives, making the movie a mind-numbing, oh-so-meta circle of a self-fulfilling prophecy. —Andrea Warner

Let Me In

My review of Let Me In is in this week's WE.


Starring Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Chloe Moretz
Directed by Matt Reeves

The titular difference between the exquisite 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, and its American remake, Let Me In, is subtle but telling. Where the original tapped into the cruel beauty of vampires as metaphor for the everyday horrors of growing up, writer-director Matt Reeves’s version is Hollywood lite: metaphor-free and bereft of pesky nuance.

On the bright side, Let Me In couldn’t have better source material, which automatically elevates it well above most other unnecessary remakes. It also boasts performances by two powerful preteen leads. Owen (Kodi Smitt-McPhee) is a lonely 12-year-old kid ignored by his parents and bullied at school. When Abby (Kick-Ass’s Chloe Moretz) moves in next door, he thinks maybe he’s finally found a friend — even though she confesses she’s been 12 for “a very long time.” As their relationship progresses through a series of sweetly twee scenes — like their nightly ritual of communicating through their shared bedroom walls using Morse code — a string of unsolved murders leads straight to Abby’s door, and Owen’s bullies escalate their attacks, leading to a bloody climax.

The film starts strong thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser, whose opening scenes are among the most creatively filmed in recent years, and Michael Giacchino’s score is reminiscent of the brilliant tension Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind crafted for horror classic The Shining. There are good things in Let Me In, but fans of the original will resent Reeves’s decision to forsake storytelling in favour of amping up the gore, thereby diluting — but not extinguishing — the film’s power. —Andrea Warner.

Grant Lawrence

My interview with Grant Lawrence, about his debut book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound, is in this week's WE.

Rocker and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence has added writer to his resume with his first book, Adventures in Solitude.
Rocker and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence has added writer to his resume with his first book, Adventures in Solitude.
Credit: Submitted

Finding the Humour in Desolation Sound

Grant Lawrence threw up a lot as a kid. This is one of the first things you learn about the long-time CBC Radio 3 host and former lead singer of defunct Vancouver-based indie-rock band the Smugglers in his debut book, Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound. The no-holds-barred memoir details Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the titular enclave, a wild, secluded area of the Sunshine Coast where his family has spent their summers since his youth. Sitting in the sun at a picnic table in CBC Plaza, Lawrence spoke with WE about his first foray into writing.

WE: I’m a born-and-bred Vancouverite, yet your book is the first insight I’ve ever had into Desolation Sound.

Lawrence: That’s the weird thing about Desolation Sound. Very few people know anything about it, and its name is verboten! People don’t necessarily seek it out. There’s Clayoquot Sound or Nootka Sound or Howe Sound, and then there’s Desolation Sound. It sounds a bit frightening, and as you read in the book, there are frightening elements to it... It’s a bipolar place, which is fitting since it was never diagnosed, but it was possible that Captain Vancouver was bipolar, and a lot of the people up there are kind of bipolar. I swear, it’s like the island in Lost. (laughs)

So, the world’s possibly mentally compromised congregate there and find a home.

Yes, but to varying degrees of success. It could end in fiery suicide or years of summertime bliss.

Have you always written?

No, this is a new adventure. I’ve always wanted to be in the entertainment business, so I was in a band for a long time, and I do the radio thing. I always hoped I’d write a book someday, but I didn’t know what about or when I’d have the time. This one just kinda came out. It was part of the rediscovery of the place when I went back and thought, ‘How could I have ever hated this place? It’s really quite special.’ And once I started going up frequently as an adult, I realized that — I mean, there are characters everywhere in life, but the characters up there were so vibrant and on the edge on so many different levels, mentally and physically. I found all these stories on how everybody got to Desolation Sound, this bottleneck for those looking to escape or start over. I found all of that fascinating, and I just started writing.

That’s a good point about people looking to start fresh. Obviously, they have some pretty great stories to tell.

Yeah, and there’s kind of an outlaw vibe there; there is literally no authority. Every once in a while, a park ranger will come by because it’s a large marine park, the largest on the West Coast of Canada... Maybe once in a blue moon there’ll be a police officer down by the dock, the government wharf, but almost never. It’s interesting up there, where it’s kind of like ‘anything goes,’ and it’s a little bit Lord of the Flies, where there’s a tentative balance and everyone sort of has to behave and live by the rhythm of nature and not mess with each other’s shit.

Are you afraid of getting feedback from people whose stories you put down on paper?

A little bit. This is a fairly private place. I learned a lot about the words “truth” and “legend” and “myth” writing this book. There’s lots of history in the book as well, and I did tireless research. But when it came to writing anecdotes, whether it was the First Nations or just the local scallywag, everybody had a different version of what really happened. So, at a certain point, it just had to be — well, it’s my memoir, my memory. I guess I’m just picking the best version. There are some stories where I changed some elements, because this is an area I hold close to my heart, and as an artist I felt the need to profess my love for it. But I would hate that it [could have] any negative effect on anyone.

A release party for Adventures In Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound happens Thursday, Oct. 7 at the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut), 7pm. This free event features performances by singer-songwriter Jill Barber (Lawrence’s wife) and indie-rock band Said the Whale.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vancouver Film + TV Forum cover story

My cover story for WE on the Film + TV Forum features interviews with Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, Michael Schur, the co-creator of Parks and Recreation, and more.

A scene from the Emmy-winning TV series Breaking Bad. Its creator, Vince Gilligan,  is a panelist at the 25th annual  Vancouver Film + TV Forum.
A scene from the Emmy-winning TV series Breaking Bad. Its creator, Vince Gilligan, is a panelist at the 25th annual Vancouver Film + TV Forum.
Credit: supplied

COVER STORY: Insider Knowledge

Virtually every Vancouverite knows about the Vancouver International Film Festival, which launches its 29th edition Sept. 30. But mention its trade counterpart, the Vancouver Film + TV Forum (Sept. 28-Oct. 2), and the most likely response will be a distracted “Huh?”

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the VFTF may be the best kept secret in town. Every year, a host of industry insiders — from directors to writers to producers — flocks to the four-day symposium, which offers an assortment of panels, workshops, and networking opportunities. Though the event caters primarily to hopefuls peddling a script or a project, it’s open to anyone who might be interested in getting the inside scoop from established Hollywood types and indie auteurs. And the increasingly high calibre of its special guests is just one sign that Vancouver’s position in the industry has evolved from a cheap location for cash-strapped projects to that of a major player on the international scene.

WE rounded up four very different participants to provide a sneak peak of this year’s VFTF: Michael Schur, the Emmy-winning writer and co-creator of Parks and Recreation; Vince Gilligan, the Peabody Award-winning creator of Breaking Bad; VFTF board member Michael Ghent; and writer-director-teacher Michelle Bjornson.

The Executive

Michael Ghent is the Vice President of Factual Entertainment for the Vancouver-based Make Believe Media. If “factual entertainment” sounds like a dressed-up name for reality programming, you’re not far off. “Lifestyle, reality, special events, documentary — any kind of TV that has no script or no actors... even though there are a lot of actors in it,” Ghent says, laughing.

Ghent has been a fixture of the local entertainment business for over 15 years, starting as a production assistant on a locally filmed U.S. TV show, then working his way up to development. He’s weathered the industry’s peaks and valleys, and is a staunch believer that VFTF’s growth reflects the maturity and viability of Vancouver’s film and television industries among their international peers. “Vancouver’s held its stronghold thanks to great unions and crews and proximity to Los Angeles,” he says. “Our shows are taken seriously, and programs like Smallville hold their own.”

The diversity of Vancouver’s entertainment industry is also legend, he says. Ghent credits the city’s reputation as a “gaming mecca,” the numerous special-effects houses, and the recent influx of animation studios (Disney giant Pixar being among the most recent) with expanding the scope of our local industry.

The Director

Michelle Bjornson was fresh out of film school when she volunteered for the very first VFTF. Instantly hooked, the award-winning writer-director of several dramas and documentaries has made it her mission to keep coming back every year.

“I find it absolutely remarkable, the high level of creators they manage to get in. It’s a real who’s who: the writers of the hottest TV show, the producers of the most distinguished feature films,” Bjornson says. “It always stuns me that we get that calibre of people to come to Vancouver, even though Toronto is kind of billed as where it’s at.”

As a teacher in Langara College’s Film Arts program and owner of her own production company, Point of View Film Inc., Bjornson feels the VFTF puts other, similar trade events to shame. “A few years back, I was at the [Toronto International Film Festival’s] Forum, and I was just shocked by the — I won’t say Mickey Mouse, but I just didn’t get as much meat out it,” she says. “I’m always stunned that some of my colleagues don’t go [to VFTF]. I think they think they know everything, but I find that every year I go, even if I only come away with one or two pieces of information, it’s given me the jump on what the trends are going to be in financing or international co-productions or other things.”

The Funny Guy

He spent six years writing for Saturday Night Live before moving over to write for The Office (where he found himself periodically in front of the camera as Dwight’s cousin, Mose), and eventually going on to co-create Parks and Recreation. So, who was the benevolent benefactor that set New York-based Michael Schur’s career in motion?

“My very, very first paid writing gig was when Jon Stewart was writing a book called Naked Pictures of Famous People,” Schur says, laughing. “He paid me a very small amount of money — which to me was a massive amount of money — to pitch him ideas for the book, and I don’t think he even used any of them. But that was a very mensch-y, Jon Stewart-y thing to do.”

Even if you don’t have a Jon Stewart in your life, though, Schur believes there’s never been a better time to be a writer, thanks to the Internet. “There’s this kind of democracy of ideas that exists in the world that didn’t [as little as] five years ago, where anybody who has an idea for a TV show can get a camera, film it, and put it on the Internet and try to use it as a calling card,” Schur explains.

“The Lonely Island guys from SNL, with Andy Samberg — those guys, to me, are the poster children for this new thing that’s happening. They were just three funny guys who hung out together in California and started making shorts and got a bit of a following, got on SNL, and then made [the SNL digital short] ‘Lazy Sunday.’ And then YouTube was sold for a billion dollars... Even 10 years ago, before YouTube, they were still hanging out in California, trying to get network writing jobs. But now, instead, they have their own thing, they make their own movies, they have a mini-fiefdom that they totally created by themselves. That’s really inspiring to me, and it should be inspiring to anyone who’s an aspiring writer.”

The ‘Bad’ Guy

Over the phone, Vince Gilligan is a friendly voice with a smoothly Southern drawl, laughing readily and waxing poetic about a recent trip to Banff. It’s hard to reconcile this voice with the mind behind the critically adored, Emmy-winning TV series Breaking Bad, a darkly funny drama about a mild-mannered chemistry teacher’s descent into making and dealing crystal meth.

The Virginia-born Gilligan is excited about his trip back to Vancouver — eager, finally, to flesh out the on-off relationship he’s had with the city. “We spent a lot of time in dark alleys [making] The X-Files, of course,” Gilligan says, laughingly recalling his lengthy stint as a writer and producer of the popular series. “But from the limited views I had of it, it’s a wonderful city.”

The X-Files is often credited with giving birth to Vancouver’s infamous nickname, Hollywood North, and Gilligan, who also co-created short-lived X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen, has witnessed firsthand how the city led the way in luring film and TV productions away from California. Heck, Vancouver was even briefly considered as the filming location for Breaking Bad. “When we started Breaking Bad, Vancouver was definitely one of the quote-unquote ‘usual suspects’; [it comes up when] your studio says, ‘Where should we shoot this?’” Gilligan says. “Southern California is... sort of Hollywood in name only these days.”

Ultimately, Breaking Bad set up camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, thanks in part, says Gilligan, to Vancouver’s example as a viable second home to the film and TV industries. “Places like Albuquerque, Detroit, northern Louisiana, and Atlanta have learned lessons from the successes of Vancouver, and seen how economic incentives and being hospitable to filmmakers pays dividends down the road,” he says. “I think, unfortunately for Vancouver, its great success has spawned a lot of imitators.”
For more information on the Vancouver Film + TV Forum, visit


Our four Vancouver Film + TV Forum guests share their insights and anecdotes 

Michelle Bjornson: “There’s an expression in the film industry: ‘What’s better than a yes is a quick no,’” Bjornson says, laughing. “I had been pursuing a project on and off for quite a few years, and there was a panel on co-productions. I managed to talk to one of the panelists during a schmooze event, and I found out immediately there was no point in pursuing this project. I didn’t pitch him, but we talked about projects and I alluded to it, and he set me straight.”

Michael Ghent: “Television’s very character-based right now. Whether it’s on HDTV or the History Channel or TLC, they really want strong characters doing interesting things. They either want ordinary people doing extraordinary things, like Deadliest Catch or Ice Pilots, or extraordinary people doing ordinary things, like Gene Simmons and his family [on Family Jewels].”

Vince Gilligan: “I got my start by winning a screenwriting contest. I went to NYU and wrote a movie script for my senior-year thesis project called Home Fries, in 1988, and I entered a contest in my home state of Virginia. I was lucky enough to be one of three winners that year, and the judge of the contest was a producer named Mark Johnson, who became my mentor in the film business. He’s the producer of movies like Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam, and he called me up after the contest ended and he said, ‘I really like that script Home Fries. Do you have any others?’ And I said, ‘Luckily enough, I do.’ I’d been working away the last year and a half writing other movie scripts, and he became my producer of record. We’ve worked together for 20 years now. He’s even my executive producer on Breaking Bad.”

Michael Schur: “Even if you’re really funny and you have a funny script and you’ve sent it to someone who can help you, there’s no guarantee that person’s ever going to read it; or if they read it when they’re in a bad mood and their favourite football team’s just lost their game, they’re not going to respond to it. The difference is, now you can make a short. And people are so much more willing to watch a five-minute short on their computer than they ever were to spend a half hour reading a script. It’s literally show versus tell.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tear the Curtain!

My cover story on Tear the Curtain! appears in this week's WE.

Laura Mennell stars in Tear the Curtain!, a collaboration between Electric Company Theatre and Arts Club Theatre Company.
Laura Mennell stars in Tear the Curtain!, a collaboration between Electric Company Theatre and Arts Club Theatre Company.
Credit: supplied

The Odd Coupling

The gangsters, the guns, the double-crossing dame — Tear the Curtain! has all the makings of an old-fashioned film noir. But don’t be fooled. Just like the classic movies from which this groundbreaking multimedia production takes its inspiration, not everything is what it seems.

A hybrid of cinema and stage, Tear marks the first collaboration between two unlikely bedfellows: indie theatre darling Electric Company Theatre and established stage giant Arts Club Theatre. The result: perhaps the most surreal mindfuck for Vancouver theatre audiences — ever.

“We wanted to shake up the experience of watching theatre — to make it dangerous, even,” says Jonathon Young, Tear star and co-creator, who’s also a co-founder of Electric Company Theatre. But he admits that shaking things up comes with consequences. “One of the great challenges has been to describe just what it is, which is never good to put in the paper,” he says, laughing. “Maybe don’t put that in. But we really wanted to try something new.”

After three “jamming” sessions on stage at the Stanley, Young and the rest of the creative team had something very new on their hands. Tear tells a reimagined history of the Stanley (where the movie-within-the-play was filmed, and where the play itself is staged). At its centre is Alex, played by Young, a theatre critic searching for something new and authentic who begins an ill-fated romance with actress Mila (Laura Mennell) and ends up caught between two warring mob families who use the theatre as a front for illegal activity. Mila has her own haunted past, as a member of a secret society devoted to opposing the all-consuming powers of mainstream media. And if that’s not enough, there are paranormal aspects at work, too.

While the material is definitely in keeping with Electric Company’s innovative evolution, it will likely be viewed by loyal Arts Club subscribers as a departure from the typical season kick-off. Though Young maintains that a collaboration between the two companies was “only a matter of time,” he admits he wasn’t fully expecting the creative leeway afforded to Electric Company. “I was surprised and delighted that Bill [Millerd, Arts Club’s artistic director] has gone on this ride with us. Some of the first drafts we did were really risky, and it’s really risky programming.”

In part, Young is alluding to the production’s fusing of mainstream elements and the avant garde, as well as the story’s not-so-subtle meta references, such as Alex’s quest for something new and authentic, and the questionable nature of what that really means, which mirrors Tear’s own development and the increasingly difficult challenges facing the arts community. “There’s a lot of self-reference, which can be a dangerous thing,” Young admits. “This piece feeds off itself, the new cannibalizing the old. It depends on convention and stereotype while it tries to do something new; it admits that it needs conventions in order to tear them apart.”

Tear also plays with the greater philosophical question: Is anything ever really new? “There’s a real theme running through this play about the cycles of commodification, how radical ideas that are shocking — part of the inspiration was the impact the avant garde would have on an audience in the ’20s, the riots at Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, how those kinds of radical ideas can be absorbed by the mainstream and become commercialized and used to sell a product 50 years later,” says Young. “There’s always a quest for the new, to overturn what’s expected. And I suppose the question is, Is it becoming harder and harder to do that? And what’s the purpose of doing that? We’re here in a time in B.C. where there’s been an attack on the arts by the government, so we really have to, as artists, talk to our audience through our art.”

Those funding cuts may also make some future collaborations a necessity rather than a choice. For now, Young attributes collaborations like the one between Electric Company and the Arts Club to the fact that Vancouver boasts “a happening, thriving theatre scene. And, hopefully, this kind of cross pollination... between large-scale and indie theatre can continue. It strengthens the community and it stirs things up a bit. The only way to get through these times is to be innovative. Strength in numbers.”

Tear the Curtain runs Sept. 9-Oct. 10 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville), 8pm (Wed-Sat), 7:30pm (Tues). Matinees: Wed, Sat-Sun, 2pm. Tickets $29-$63 from 604-687-1644.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bumbershoot review

My review of Bumbershoot is online now at

Seattle Centre, Seattle WA September 4 to 6
By Andrea Warner

With age comes wisdom ― and, it seems, a penchant for nostalgia. Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual three-day festival of music, arts, and culture celebrated its 40th anniversary over Labour Day Weekend, essentially reliving its early 20s with a line-up that included Hole, Weezer, and the legendary Bob Dylan. Held on the sprawling Seattle Center grounds under the looming shadow of the Space Needle, Bumbershoot is easily the largest and most diverse festival of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, with programming offered at 15 venues from 11 a.m, till 11 p,m.

The best thing about Bumbershoot isn't just seeing one's favourite acts, but rather the surprises that knock the wind from your chest they're so unbelievably good. Each day of the fest offered at least one of these "discoveries": Saturday's treat was alt-country-rocker Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, while Sunday offered up the string folk harmonies of Horse Feathers. Monday featured Bobby Bare Jr., a Nashville-throwback with songs both bitingly hilarious and achingly heartfelt, and pop rock harmonies from the dreamy duo Jenny and Johnny, featuring real-life couple Jenny Lewis and Johnathon Rice.

Canada was well-represented by two Vancouver bands who couldn't be more different ― indie-pop group Parlour Steps and garage-rock duo Japandroids ― both of whom proved wildly popular, drawing huge crowds that pushed capacity limits (Parlour Steps) and braved the beginnings of a downpour (Japandroids). And Monday's headliner, Drake, made for a perfect lead in to R&B queen Mary J. Blige.

But ultimately, this year's Bumbershoot was all about Saturday and Sunday headliners, which featured the Decemberists. who debuted three new songs from their upcoming album (more of an alt-country-rock sound with plenty of nature references); Neko Case who was in scrappy, saucy form; and Dylan who played plenty of his signature songs, including opener "Rainy Day Women #12 & #35," while sounding absolutely wretched. It's understood that part of Dylan's charm is his raspy warble, but this was my note by the third song: it's like Cookie Monster after 30 years in prison.

Hole, which was really just a surprisingly competent Courtney Love with a backing band, reminded everyone why Love used to be a force to be reckoned with in her own right, not just what she's become now: A Twitter-spewing basketcase wearing couture. But, ultimately, it seemed the weekend's biggest shock was just how much Weezer can still rock. A stadium full of five generations, minimum, sang along at the top of their lungs to the band's biggest hits, with Cuomo running, jumping, climbing, and trampolining (!) all over the stage and into the stands, fittingly performing the grating "Beverly Hills" atop two port-o-potties. The Weezer front man perfectly summed up the sentiment, shouting, "This is a good night for Generation X!" It was. And a damn good weekend, too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fringe musicals

My feature on Dr. Horrible and Raccoonery, two of the musical offerings at this year's Fringe Festival appears in this week's WE (WestEnder).

Morgan Brayton’s Raccoonery! is one of nine musical offerings at this year’s Fringe Fest.
Morgan Brayton’s Raccoonery! is one of nine musical offerings at this year’s Fringe Fest.
Credit: Supplied

Sing out strong

Past experience with international upheaval has taught us that when times get tough, there are few better escapes than musicals (WWII and Oklahoma, Vietnam and Hair — anyone?). Now, in response to an almost decade-long hell of war and economic strife, musicals have once again found a place on screens both big (Chicago) and small (Glee, the High School Musical franchise).

That momentum is mirrored at the 26th annual Vancouver International Fringe Festival. Nine shows on this year’s schedule are either musicals or make music a major component of the production. Yet although audiences may only be looking for a few blessed minutes of escapism, the reality of mounting a musical production goes well beyond a little song and dance.

Steven Greenfield is the music director, associate director, and producer of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, a live adaptation of TV auteur Joss Whedon’s (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) popular web-based musical serial. Never intended to be performed live, Dr. Horrible had to be reworked virtually from scratch by Broadway West, the Calgary-based company that secured the rights for a production earlier this year and is also co-producing the Vancouver production.

“You don’t want to just put the movie up on stage,” Greenfield says of his version. “You want to make it a theatre piece, but there are some big challenges with that.” The first being that the script had to be transcribed by watching the movie repeatedly and typing out the dialogue verbatim. Without a published score, Greenfield and his team were also tasked with transposing the soundtrack.

Relephant Theatre is bringing Joss Whedon cult web musical series Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog to the Fringe Fest.

If the hype surrounding Dr. Horrible on Facebook and Twitter is any indication, Vancouverites will be anxious to see the live version. Greenfield attributes this in part to a confluence of factors: Whedon’s cult-like following, the musical’s continuing mainstream success, and a reaction to the current social and economic climate. “People bursting into song and knowing all the dance steps — there’s a huge surrealism there, and the audience really has to take a jump with you to make it work,” he says.

That same leap of faith required of an audience can also be demanded of a performer. For Morgan Brayton, the experience of developing her one-woman show, Raccoonery!, has been surreal in its own right. The show finds the local comedian-actress incorporating songs that she herself penned (with music by Laura Lee Schulz) into her character-driven comedy bits. It’s a huge departure for Brayton, who swears that until five years ago she couldn’t even sing karaoke in front of people.

“I have no musical talent,” she insists, laughing, “but I tend to make up silly songs or sing what I’m doing. My wife and I have a lot of songs for our cats — because we’re crazy lesbians — so our cats each have their own song. And there’s the ‘Bare Naked’ song, which is when I get out of the shower and run around the house naked singing, ‘Bare naked, bare bare naked!’ then run back into the bathroom.”

Despite Brayton’s singer-songwriter status being no more than accidental (or charmingly pathological), reaction to Raccoonery!’s early previews exposed an unexpected demand for a soundtrack. She still can’t quite believe that CDs of her singing will be up for sale after the show.

“Music is supposed to be joyful, and for me it got wrapped up in being embarrassed and not good at something,” says Brayton. “But that’s the antithesis to what music’s supposed to be... It’s like comedy: it’s a thing that connects us. When you’re in an audience and sitting with a bunch of other people, it’s like we’re all in this together.”

The Vancouver Fringe Festival runs Sept. 9-19 at various venues. For tickets to Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Raccoonery!, and other musicals (including Happily Ever After?; A Man, A Magic, A Music; 13; Unplugged Cop; Die Roten Punkte; A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup; Ancient Chinese Secrets of the Tao) or any of the other 80-plus shows at the Fringe, visit