They say “time flies when you are having fun”. But still, I find it astonishing to realize, that it has been five years now, since the very first edition of Frost Bites, the winter “site specific” theatre festival, put on by the same folks who bring us the Hamilton Fringe Festival, every summer.
Noted director Peter Brook, famously said, that all one needed for theatre to occur, was an “empty space, and an audience”. In fact, he used that exact term, The Empty Space, as the title of his landmark 1968 book on theatre, which is now a standard text, for anyone studying directing. “An (actor) walks, across an empty space while someone is watching them, and that is all it takes for an act of theatre to be engaged”, is the precise quote, that begins the book. A simple statement perhaps, but it is astonishing the impact that those few words have had on the world theatre community in the past, fifty two years.
Frost Bites then, for the uninitiated, is a festival of short one act plays, that have been created to be performed in a specific location, that is typically, not a traditional theatre. All of the plays are original, and were written specifically by the theatre creators, who are presenting them, to us.
For 2020, there are seven productions, on offer. They run from five minutes, to 25 minutes in length, and they are repeated multiple times each evening. The audience gathers in a common area, with concessions available, and take a multicoloured flag, which is the admission to a specific show. As a group, the audience gathers waving their flags, as a group guide, escorts you to the location of the performance.
The specific location, where the festival is held, defines the productions, as they are staged in various “found spaces” within a building, Over the years, I have seen productions staged, in a park, in an empty apartment, in a board room, in an art gallery, in a boiler room, and in a public washroom. One of the joys of experiencing the event, is jdiscovering, just where an audience might end up.
Your ticket for the evening, gets you into all of the shows, but I suggest that you get there right at 6:30pm, in order to grab your flag, for the first production. If you time it correctly, it is possible to see most, if not all of the productions, in a single evening. I have found it enjoyable to come back, and see a specific show, more than once, as each distinct audience watching, changes the experience of it.
This year’s festival is centred at the Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre, on Discovery Drive, right at the foot of John Street, in a modernist architectural jewel, that was built, almost twenty years ago, by the Federal Government for Parks Canada, back in the era of Sheila Copps, as deputy Prime Minister. When it first opened, back in 2003, the building contained a 75 seat theatre, although it was rarely used for live performances.
The seven productions in the 2020 edition of Frost Bites include: Be(e) Right Back & MIXED Theatre Hamilton, with a co–production helmed by Hamilton theatre veterans, playwright Bryan Boodhoo and director Luis Arrojo, bring us Migrant Stories, a piece that examines the perspectives of refugees in crisis. Boodoo tells me, “The world has been hit by a world–wide epidemic and Hamilton has become a quarantine camp. Two United Nations officers search the camp and find artifacts, from the twentieth century, that tell the stories that one family takes with them on its journey through Hamilton.”
Chasing Shadows Productions, presents Elevator Pitch, a supernatural comedy, set in an actual working elevator, created and performed by Will Gillespie and Susan Robinson, who won the 2019 Hamilton Fringe Audience Choice Award, for their musical, Diamond in the Rough, last summer.
According to Gillespie, it is about, “Greed. Ambition. Fish. Elevator Pitch is a lively little piece of immersive theatre that is sure to “lift your spirits.” Part Twilight Zone episode, part sketch comedy, it’s a short, fun ride. Sometimes you can’t tell up from down. Never mind the corporate ladder. Why not take the elevator?”
Hamilton–based DeVision, a primarily feminist collective of diverse artists, exploring intersectionality in feminism (racially, gender diversity) includes former Frost Bites artists Claudia Spadafora and Jamie Milay Kasiama. Their twenty minute production is called, Key Words Include:, and features a cast of four. It is described as, “a performance installation piece that combines theatre, poetry, sound and visual art”. It examines the consumption and commodification of feminine bodies, and there is a “mature content” warning on this production. I would expect something quite fearless, that provokes thought and much discussion, based upon last year’s production in the festival.
Flint & Steel Productions, led by previous Hamilton Fringe artist and local ALERT alumna Annalee Flint, adds the play, amo, amas, amat, performed by Flint with actor Kyle Guglielmo. “It’s about poetry, so I would say this is a piece for people who are interested in language and words, how they work together, the similarities and differences between languages, and how this influences literature and vice–versa. What is written about more often than love? How many ways have people come up to describe it? We want to take audiences on a journey with us, to have them feel as we feel.”
Open Heart, who has been involved in multiple Frost Bites festivals, is led by established designer/director Kelly Wolf. They are presenting, Conversations Around the Table, a work about homelessness, that features Donna Akrey, Kit Simmons, and Christopher Stanton. “I want the audience to see this and think differently, challenge their judgement of others. It’s the only piece in the festival, where the audience is outside. We will provide you with hot chocolate and mittens if you have forgotten yours. I know, its cold, but that’s the point really. No one is going to make you go outside to see this, but If you really are freezing, you just have to ask yourself, if I can’t stand out there for 15 mins, what would it be like to spend a night outside? What would make someone choose that?”. This I think will be an important production, with something important to say to Hamiltonians.
Jade Forest Productions led by emerging theatre artist Jessica Marshall, based in Cayuga. They give us a short musical presentation called Seasons, featuring musicians Thomas Kember and Ian Cognito, from the band 12CC. “Imagine a world where climate change has destroyed all ecosystems. A future where nature no longer exists and must be manufactured. Through live, original music and elegant sceneries, this piece encourages audiences to reflect on the impending repercussions of the climate crisis.”
Toronto–based Okay Grace Productions, returning Hamilton Fringe artist and Canadian Comedy Award nominee, Grace Smith, has written The Smartest Person in the Room, a comedic two hander about “imposter syndrome”, that is performed by Smith, with Jordan Kuzyk. “The sneaking suspicion that you are an intellectual sham. Paranoia that others will discover you are a pretender. Repeated failure to believe your success is earned. Unless, of course, it isn’t earned. Unless you cheated and lied. That would make you an actual imposter, wouldn’t it?”
Frost Bites, is produced each year by ALERT participants, a group of young people who are being trained in the skills of theatrical production. This year they are, Nathalie Cortes, Olivia Hopen, Matthew Lazaris-Bruner, Micaela Morales, Rachel Offer, and Ryan Percival, and you will see them filling multiple roles during the festival.
So there you have it folks! Everything you need to know to experience, one of the most unique and fulfilling theatrical “happenings”, on the local scene. I confess to being a huge fan of this event, and I look forward to it every year. Which one of these productions will resonate with you, constant reader? There is only one way to find out! V
FROST BITES 2020
A winter festival of
“site specific theatre”
Presented by the
at Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre (57 Discovery Drive)
January 30 to
February 2, 2020
Doors open at 6:30
7:00pm to 10:00pm
No performance is longer than 20 minutes and each show plays multiple times a night
or at the door.