REVIEW | Bone Wars in After the House Lights

Lots to uncover in Bone Wars

jennamarynowskionApril 26, 2017/0 comments

Matthew MacKenzie’s Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists is a little difficult to explain. First, we have four children accompanied by a Palaeontology PHD candidate (Chantelle Han), canoeing down the Red Deer River in search of fossils, until a storm blows in and they’re forced to take shelter in an abandoned mine.

When they take shelter, an argument between Tickailia (Elena Belyea) and Thulasy (Kristen Padayas) triggers a curse from the 1800s, where children (who love dinosaurs the most) must decide who was the greatest bone hunter of them all – Edward Drinker Cope (Davina Stewart) or Othniel Charles Marsh (Leona Brausen). Along the way, the children are guided by Morna (Beth Graham) and her gang of ladies who we discover were taken advantage of by Cope and Marsh in their quest to discover more species of dinosaurs than the other.Throughout it all, there’s a message about the history of the land we live on and what we are doing to the earth through our boundless desire to exploit it for things like fossil fuels.

Throughout it all, there’s a message about the history of the land we live on and what we are doing to the earth through our boundless desire to exploit it for things like fossil fuels.


The cast of Bone Wars by Matthew MacKenzie. Photo credit: Mathew Simpson.

It’s hard to believe but the play Bone Wars is based on an actual, almost comic, rivalry between the two scientists known as the Bone Wars or the Great Dinosaur Rush. In the two scientists’ rush to find as many species of dinosaurs as possible, they resorted to such tactics as bribing people who had fossils on their land, stealing each other’s fossils, and even blowing up dig sites – not to mention public relations tactics they used to try to win public favour. That theme of exploitation of people and natural resources is what resonated most with me in this play.

This was the first play my niece, who attended opening night, has seen, and her verdict was that she liked it. I haven’t seen many Theatre for Young Audiences plays, but what I loved about Bone Wars was that it positioned the children as both the central characters and the heroes of the show.

Matthew MacKenzie and Punctuate! Theatre’s production team did a great job of layering so many different ways to access the show – the script, of course, but also Laura Raboud’s catchy music and Amber Borotsik’s imaginative movement design. The movement design matched the quick pacing of the show and often had the actors moving about the playing space in a way that created a swirling confusion as the script travelled throughout time and geography. But the show also featured these beautiful moments of the actors assembling into and holding a pose that resembled the dinosaur the script was talking about. As Bone Wars is as much about discovery as adventure, Zsofia Opra-Szabo’s imposing held a ton of fun within it, as the actors uncovered various surprises, like fossils, within the set.

PREVIEW | Bone Wars in After the House Lights

Matthew MacKenzie’s family-friendly latest, Bone Wars, digs up universal truths

jennamarynowskionApril 16, 2017/0 comments

Bone Wars by Matthew MacKenzie, a Punctuate! Theatre production at the Backstage Theatre April 19 – 29. Photo credit Mat Simpson.

There is one theatre company that seems to be becoming synonymous with the word ‘epic’ in this city: Punctuate! Theatre.

The company’s style in recent years has been to produce one show a year, putting as much as possible into that show. The independent theatre company’s latest – Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists, by Matthew MacKenzie – continues to fit that M.O.: dinosaurs, a 26-person cast & crew, and a number of interdisciplinary elements that make the show accessible to all ages.

In Bone Wars, we meet a group of four eleven-year-olds and their neighbour who go on a dinosaur bone searching expedition down the Red Deer River. Being overtaken by a storm, the group seeks refuge in an abandoned mine and accidentally activate a curse that will have them experiencing the heyday of fossil discovery by rival palaeontoligists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, meeting a variety of wild west characters who are all trying to keep Cope and Marsh’s mistakes from being repeated.

Director Chris Bullough says, “It’s a very rich 75 minutes of theatre.”

“There really is something for everyone. The dialogue is snappy and fun. The music is absolutely beautiful and so exciting. Laura Raboud’s music is blowing me away. Amber Borotsik is one of my favourite choreographers – she really understands theatre and dance and is able to meld the two… It’s all-access – anyone could come to this. Kids will be coming, but we’re inviting families to come and we’re inviting the general theatre-going public to come. I love that it’s accessible in that way. It’s very funny as well. There’s just a humour and joy even though we’re tackling these pretty big subjects, but that passion is really infectious. There’s a mischievousness to it that’s fun.”

Like other Matthew MacKenzie plays, Bone Wars isn’t afraid to tackle big questions. Chris says Matthew’s reflection of the current economic and political climate is what excites him most about this production. “I find [Matthew has] an incredible sense of what theatre needs to be right now. It needs to be big and brave and eventful. It needs to be truthful and funny and entertaining but also beautiful… He’s very sensitive and passionate about what he does and isn’t afraid to be political and to say what he thinks should happen in the world.”

A major theme of Bone Wars Chris points to is what he calls “truth in a post-truth world.”

The show explores this theme by pointing out the hubris with which we are treating the world around us. “The stars of our show are these kids who are out there with their hands in the dirt digging up bones and discovering evidence of these creatures that shared this earth with us hundreds of millions of years ago and were wiped out by environmental disaster. Even though they were huge and towered hundreds of feet above us – giant 15 metre long birds and giant lizards owned the skies and cerapods roamed in giant herds – they were able to be wiped out by this cloud that covered the atmosphere. There’s hubris in what we’re doing and also a disconnect between what we teach our children and what our politicians do and say. We teach our children about truth and the scientific method and right now we seem to be governed by emotion and conspiracy theories. We should trust in our scientists, these people who have spent so much money and time on research, and instead of muzzling them, we should listen to them.”

The play also tackles capitalism through the characters of palaeontologists Marsh and Cope, who let their greed and desire for fame ultimately destroy their reputations, work and finances as they tried to sabotage each other’s efforts to find dinosaur fossils. Chris adds, “Marsh and Cope treated the West and all these bones like their property. I think it brings up other issues as we’re dealing with our colonialist history. What version of history did we get taught and is there something else there in order for me to truly understand this land that we live on and call my own?”

And while the underlying themes of the play are serious, Chris says this play, like Matthew MacKenzie’s other work, seems to come from a place of love for the world and imagining how we can make it better. “His work soars. It’s not dragged down into the mire of everything. It’s definitely saying something. He can shout in your face, but he also whispers in your ear and tickles your toes. He has ways of communicating with you. He has a lot of tools in his toolbox that he uses to find not only the humanity of his characters but there’s hope and joy and there’s a love of this life, acknowledging its chaos and how confusing and frustrating it can be. But there’s an acknowledgement of how beautiful it can be and how much better it could be if we can find a way to work towards peace and prosperity – whatever that means – if we can get past whatever we’re trying to deal with right now.”

REVIEW | Bone Wars in the St. Albert Gazette

Punctuate! Theatre whips up bony truths

Wednesday, Apr 26, 2017 06:00 am

By: Anna Borowiecki


Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaentologists
Punctate! Theatre
Runs until Saturday, April 29
Backstage Theatre
ATB Financial Arts Barn
10330 – 84 St.
Tickets: $25 visit

It takes a great deal to keep eight-year-old boys still. Yet Bone Wars: the Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists just might do the trick.

Playwright Matthew Mackenzie time-travelling saga is filled with mystical magic, original music, contorting movement, dramatic narration, weird characters, and best of all – a cartoonish dinosaur.

Punctate! Theatre’s production starts gently as four 11-year-old dinosaur geeks head off on a fossil hunting expedition canoeing down the Red Deer River with their guide.

But within a few minutes, what starts off as a fun canoe ride, morphs into a violent storm churning up choppy waters. The group is forced to disembark and seek shelter in an abandoned coalmine.

Creating a fog-filled spooky ambiance, set and lighting designer Zsófia Opra Szabó cleverly uses curved metallic bars to simulate a scrubbed mineshaft or if your imagination runs wild – the ribcage of a dinosaur.

For the wannabe dinosaur hunters there is nothing cooler than a temporary lockdown in an old mine. And as they dart from one end to the other, they come across an old dinosaur fossil magnificently embedded in the rock.

But the two girls, Tickallia and Thulasy, in a competitive frenzy over who can accurately identify the bones, accidentally break off a piece.

With a loud banging snap and crackle, the set magically fills with a slightly macabre collection of women dressed in whimsical saloon girl outfits that look as they were borrowed from Catalyst Theatre’s wardrobe collection of Nevermore.

The audience learns the mysterious figures are trapped in a curse. They are doomed to play out their existence in the mine unless the curse is broken.

Existing with them are Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, two dinosaur bone hunters who, on one hand, dominated science in the 19th century by proving the existence of the extinct dinosaur.

And on the other hand, their real life rivalry led to a sick game of one-up-man-ship that drove them to extremes. The ruinous bone hunters destroyed numerous fossils, lied, cheated and committed bribery to discredit the other scientist.

Mackenzie draws parallels from the Cope-Marsh rivalry to Tickallia and Thulasy’s feuding and leaves it up to the four children to discover a solution that will break the curse.

With over 150 years of scientific bone filching, environmental degradation and climate change to account for, much of the story is told as a narrative.

There are many powerful performances throughout the play. Beth Graham as Morna, leader of the women, sweeps us through history with her crisp, clean diction and authoritative bearing.

And Murray Utas makes an appearance as the fierce looking Sweet William, the buckskin garbed mad trapper who built a house from brontosaurus bones.

St. Albert’s Kristen Padayas as Thulasy is a smart, determined force to be reckoned with in her battle with the feisty Elena Belyea as Tickallia.

Another St. Albert actor Madeleine Knight is in the role of Shimmer, a gal who set off with her family to become rich during the gold rush but only found massive bone beds.

Some of the richest facial expressions of the evening came by way of Leona Brausen (Marsh) and Davina Stewart (Cope). The two duelling comediennes were a delight to watch when even a raised eyebrow, a facial grimace or straight-laced pose spoke volumes.

Ultimately the play encourages people to work collectively to meet their goals – a theme that fits all ages.

Bone Wars runs at the Backstage Theatre until Saturday, April 29.

PREVIEW | Bone Wars in the St. Albert Gazette

Punctuate! Theatre hosts world premiere of Bone Wars

Saturday, Apr 22, 2017 06:00 am

By: Anna Borowiecki


Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists
Punctuate! Theatre
April 22 to 29
Backstage Theatre
ATB Financial Arts Barn
10330 – 84 St.
Tickets: $25 visit

Back in the late 19th century The Bone Wars also nicknamed the “Great Dinosaur Rush” marked a destructive rivalry between two scientists searching for reptilian fossils in rich bone beds throughout Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh were two palaeontologists, who at one time were friends, but increasingly resorted to underhanded methods to outcompete each other.

They stooped to bribery, theft, the destruction of dinosaur bones to ruin the other’s reputation. Ultimately, after exhausting their funds, they were socially and financially ostracized.

Today Edmonton playwright Matthew Mackenzie has borrowed that story and adapted it to a present-day Alberta landscape as a musical.

The result is Punctuate! Theatre’s world premiere of Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists opening tonight at the Backstage Theatre.

From director Chris Bullough’s point of view, Bone Wars “is an epic journey through time and history. There’s a comedic element. There’s a tragic element. It’s really a cautionary tale.”

In Mackenzie’s adaptation, four precocious 11-year-olds and their guide are canoeing down the Red Deer River towards Drumheller when a thunderstorm forces them to portage for safety.

They discover an abandoned coalmine and enter it for shelter. Although different in nature, the four explorers are equally passionate about dinosaurs.

“They decide to go fossil hunting to pass the time. They discover some bones and start to unearth them,” says St. Albert actress Kristen Padayas, who plays Thulasy, a gal who knows her mind and stands up for her beliefs.

Just as the junior palaeontologists unearth bones, Morna (Beth Graham) looking like a Klondiker materializes from out of nowhere. Also magically appearing are Cope (Davina Stewart) and Marsh (Leona Brausen).

Soon everyone is embroiled in a quarrel and the children are tasked with determining which bone hunter is the greatest palaeontologist.

The decision-making challenges the children since they have to decide what matters most.

“In the end when people’s egos become combative and the political nature of the world takes over, everything goes away from the roots of what we should be doing – taking care of each other,” noted Padayas.

Bullough also sees reflections within today’s society that mirror the fated story of Cope and Marsh.

“They were contradictory in nature. They discovered tons and tons of dinosaur bones and basically created the field of palaeontology. But they also ravaged and disrespected the land. It turned into a pretty nasty competition and in the end they didn’t care as much enough about science and fossils as ruining the other’s reputation.”

With a cast of 13 actors playing a series of quirky characters, singing and dancing into pretzel-like positions, he’s hoping that tale resonates with audiences.

“Come see a wonderful group of super talented and dedicated actors bring the story of Marsh and Cope to life and bring the history of this planet to the stage – all with comic panache.”

The 75-minute Bone Wars is all-ages, a family friendly show.

REVIEW | Bone Wars by Mel Priestly

Theatre review: The Bone Wars

The tap-dancing T-Rex is worth the price of admission alone. Because, honestly, how can you not find that delightful?

Delightful is an apt word to describe The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists, the newest show from Punctuate! Theatre, written by Matthew Mackenzie. I’ve long been a fan of MacKenzie’s work, with Sia and Bears ranking among my favourite Edmonton theatre shows in the past few years. Bone Wars is a departure into family-friendly territory, allowing MacKenzie to dispense with the more nuanced, thought-provoking and often disquieting commentary that marked his earlier works.

Instead, Bone Wars goes straight for deadpan announcements/condemnations/judgements about treaty rights, fossil fuels, climate change, women’s rights. But in a funny way: these lines are delivered, bluntly and with no preamble, quite literally out of the mouths of babes – in this case, recited by one of the four young characters on stage.

The plot has these four kids accompanying a PhD candidate (Chantelle Han) on a hunt for dinosaur bones in the Southern Alberta badlands. A freak thunderstorm has them all seek refuge in an abandoned mine, where they soon realize they aren’t alone. A quintet of Klondike-era women quickly bursts on to the scene, in a magical realist flourish akin to some of the twists in MacKenzie’s Bears – not to mention reminiscent of the work of another Alberta writer, Robert Kroetsch, who also wrote about the badlands (albeit in a much different context). They’re like a Canadiana version of Macbeth’s witches, complete with spooky incantatory utterances, effusive arm gesturing and lessons in early Alberta history.

The ladies need to enlist the children’s aid in breaking the curse that has kept them confined in that mine for the past 100 years: the Curse of the Pathological Paleontologists. It’s a reference to the Great Dinosaur Rush: an infamous and heated rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwards Drinker Cope, played here by the uproariously funny Leona Brausen and Davina Stewart (respectively). In their haste to make the most exciting and robust paleontological finds while simultaneously undermining each other’s career, both Marsh and Cope resorted to unscrupulous and even illegal tactics.

The kids are certainly up to the task, as they are each armed with robust paleontological knowledge that would rival that of Timmy from Jurassic Park. (Yes, there’s at least one nod to that film – a logoed t-shirt sported by one of the kids.)

And so the play proceeds from here, at a pace that’s breathless if not quite breakneck. The child characters have endless energy, whooping and cheering and careening around the stage. It’s a clear winner for the younger crowd – every one of the kids present on opening night was spellbound. And following the example set by Pixar, it keeps the adults entertained too, with its lively energy and nuggets of aforementioned socio-political commentary that’ll have you chuckling in between knowing groans.

MacKenzie’s script is peppered with a few lines that are absolute gems, though their delivery is at least half of what makes them so ticklish. “We were just trying to escape climate change!” bursts out one of the kids. “26 Albertosaurus tragically lost their lives 63 million years ago,” deadpans another.

Amber Borotsik’s movement is inventive and interesting, up to her usual calibre. It features spasmodic, jerky dance sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lady Gaga video, along with a number of highly entertaining contortions in which the performers pantomime dinosaurs and dino bones.

There’s a whiff of Catalyst Theatre’s esthetic in Bone Wars, centered chiefly around the five women. Undoubtedly a good chunk of that is due to Brianna Kolybaba’s costume design: gothic-inspired black and white affairs with ruffles, feathers and a few odd flourishes, like a large spiny ruff encircling the neck of the lead Klondike gal, Morna (Beth Graham). Actually, Graham’s presence also might account for why I thought Bone Wars had a Catalyst vibe, since I just saw the latter’s newest work, Fortune Falls – co-written by Graham and Jonathan Christenson – a few months ago.

Live music is always a welcome addition to any show and here it provides the added bonus of well-timed slapstick sound effects. I tip my hat to co-composers Allyson MacIvor and Stefan Kijek, with assistance from Murray Utas – the latter of which also plays a show-stealing cameo as the Mad Trapper.

So, if it isn’t obvious by now: take your kids to Bone Wars. Children’s shows aren’t often as fun for the grown-ups as they are for the kids, even if you’re a parent with a particularly high tolerance for juvenile silliness.

Also: thanks to Punctuate! for the big bowl of Dino-Sours in the lobby. I know they were only there because they are dino-themed, but I am fully in favour of this becoming a permanent tradition in Edmonton theatre.

until Saturday, April 29
Bone Wars
Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns
a production by Punctuate! Theatre in association with Fringe Theatre Adventures
tickets $25

REVIEW | Bone Wars by Liz Nicholls

O those dancing bones and the story of Alberta: The Bone Wars, a review

Posted on April 24, 2017by Liz Nicholls

By Liz Nicholls,

There’s something pretty wacky and exhilarating about catching a musical comedy about warring palaeontologists any time — but especially on Earth Day and the March For Science weekend. Take it as a sign of global heartwarming.

But then, we’re in Alberta. And the brontosauran-size cast (13 strong) of The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists are singing and dancing on the “greatest dinosaur graveyard in the world.”

Science nerds and showbiz come together and kick up their heels to a backdrop of hoodoos in this new Matthew MacKenzie comedy, designed for both kids and grown-ups. The Bone Wars premieres in a startlingly large and appealingly kooky production directed by Chris Bullough for the Edmonton indie company Punctuate! Theatre.

It is, not unexpectedly, a comedy with questions to ask. MacKenzie’s 2015 Bears is, to my knowledge, the repertoire’s only “multi-disciplinary comedy about the Northern Gateway Pipeline.” His macabre black comedy Bust, which debuted at Theatre Network earlier this endless winter, was set in Fort McMurray, against the backdrop of the fire and the declining fortunes of that oil boom town.

This time, the playwright’s muse has been oiled, you might say, by the distinctively weird history of Alberta — and specifically the history that put the fossil into fossil fuel in the first place. Still, the sight of Davina Stewart and Leona Brausen in top hats and tail coats duking it out riotously as the two legendary Victorian dinosaur bone hunters Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, claims new territory in theatrical unexpectedness. And they are very funny; vaudeville comes to palaeontology. Finally.

These Victorian scientists were former friends turned arch-rivals. Their insatiable one-upmanship, pursued to absurd lengths, launched the so-called “bone wars.” Being a destination for rapacious bone pillagers was part of the Wild West of Alberta history, as we learn in a highly entertaining, slightly chaotic way in MacKenzie’s tale of science and friendship gone wrong.

Long before Alberta’s oil rush, and long before we were busy co-opting the Klondike gold rush for promotional purposes, there was a bone rush. Bones were gold, dinosaurs were the rage, and the Badlands were big.

Marsh and Cope figure prominently in a story where time travelling happens the old-fashioned way — by canoe, on the Red Deer River — in a part of the world haunted by the ghosts of gigantic beasts.

A terrible storm drives four kids on a Badlands expedition — one observes mordantly that they’ve been aboard “the good ship Catastrophe” — to take cover in an abandoned mine.  When these junior palaeontologists use their expeditionary skills (“commence dinosaur discovery protocol!”), the past comes to life, dinosaurs, dinosaur-hunters, dinosaur profiteers and all.  As one of Laura Raboud’s jaunty songs has it, “the key to the future is dug up from the past.”

Dinosaurs. There’s something about them. Even more than they love the spectacle of adult palaeontologists behaving in outrageously childish ways, kids love dinosaurs. In the interests of accuracy my 10-year-old companion for the evening carefully amended that to “I like dinosaurs” at the outset.

Unlike yours truly, he was well acquainted with many of the dinosaurs in the poster catalogue on the lobby wall; he had thoughts, for example, about pterodactyl vs. pterodon nomenclature. He discussed with a passing theatre director the latter’s preference for the triceratops over other dinosaurs. He had things to say about the founding of the Tyrrell Museum.

In short, dinosaur enthusiasts who are also kids watching adult actors be kids make for a very discerning theatre audience on both counts. And I can report that my companion was highly entertained by the spirit and theatrical ingenuity of Bullough’s production. 

The kid group dynamic captured by sharp-eared MacKenzie, is amusingly set forth by an A-team of actors. A brave expeditionary force of earnest science aficionados led by their teacher (Chantelle Han), they’re hungry for skeletal signs of the dinosaurs “who tragically lost their lives 63 million years ago.” 

The performances are absolutely convincing: good grief, were these people once children? Elena Belyea and Kristen Padayas are hilariously fierce as competitors. Colin Dingwall is the helpful explanatory one, who remembers everything from the manual. Philip Nozuka plays a beaming kid, invariably a beat behind the rhythm of the exchanges, with his own original looped take on proceedings. “I love that guy!” said my companion.

The kids are torn between anxiety, excitement over a discovery, and righteous disapproval of the bone poaching that has corrupted the record of the past. Particularly timely for #marchonscience weekend is their absolute incredulity that there could be anyone alive, ever, who didn’t believe in evolution. I leave you to ponder, momentarily, the story of modern politics and the vagaries of time-travelling backwards.

Anyhow, the arrival of a mysterious and spirited troupe of ladies in full 19th century dance-hall regalia, a team of Edmonton theatre faves led by Beth Graham, startles the expeditionary force, understandably. “I don’t think they’re from around here,” notes one.   

They sing, they dance, they conjure. Unlike Macbeth’s witches with their eye of newt, etc. they conjure “by the pterodon’s wings.” Their story of exploitation and the difficulty of finding a fair price for dinosaur bones,” the currency of their time, is all new to me. 

I can give you a rough idea of the plot, but it’s a bit of a maze, in truth. The two legendary rivals Marsh and Cope, appear, in person, competing for the secrets of a mad trapper. The latter is played by Fringe director Murray Utas, in a go-for-the-gusto performance of growly eccentricity my companion found particularly amusing. His loony mad trapper’s duds (designer: Brianne Kolybaba) did not go unnoticed.

The kids must lift “the curse of the pathological palaeontologists” by resolving the infamous Marsh/Cope rivalry (it’s a given; don’t ask). What they decide has implications for the here and now, and into the future of the place where dinosaurs once roamed.

Meanwhile, there’s the theatre fun of The Bone Wars and a subject matter normally addressed by big-budget movies. My companion was particularly struck, as was I, by the inventive movement design of Amber Borotsik. Group dances gradually coalesce; the actors come together to conjure spiny-backed dinosaurs. And there’s a song-and-dance tyrannosaurus who does a mean soft-shoe.

He also had kudos for Raboud’s music, and the live soundscape provided by Stefan Kijek and Allyson MacIvor, and pronounced the lighting on the hoodoos (by designer Zsófia Opra Szabó) “just like in Drumheller.” 

The thing about science, we glean, is that it’s a quest, which might be the shorthand for questions. As the scientist Richard Feynman said (cited on #marchforscience) “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

Apparently it’s quite a bit like theatre that way.


The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists

Theatre: Punctuate! in association with Fringe Theatre Adventures

Written by: Matthew MacKenzie

Directed by: Chris Bullough

Starring: Leona Brausen, Davina Stewart, Elena Belyea, Kristen Padayas, Beth Graham, Murray Utas

Where: The Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: through April 29

Tickets: 780-409-1910,

PREVIEW | Bone Wars by Liz Nicholls

Battle of the bone hunters: The Bone Wars is Punctuate!’s biggest show yet

Posted on April 20, 2017by Liz Nicholls

The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists, Punctuate! Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

By Liz Nicholls,

The Bone Wars wasn’t always going to be theatre for grown-ups to take kids to. Far from it.   

Punctuate! Theatre, after all, got its raison d’être, and exclamation point, tackling plays about the conflicted descendants of Nazis (East of Berlin) or Canadian soldiers traumatized in Afghanistan (This Is War) or The Suburban Motel Plays of George F. Walker that look at what the terminally dysfunctional and/or criminal get up to behind the flimsy walls of cheap motels.

But that was before playwright Matthew MacKenzie went on a field trip — to the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. “We knew we wanted it to be ambitious!” he grins. The Bone Wars “was gonna be just for adults…. Originally I had the idea of making something like There Will Be Blood, which seems to me like one of the most Alberta movies ever made — but with dinosaurs! It just seemed like a hilarious thing to do.” 

The playwright and Punctuate!’s can-do young producer Sheiny Satanove sat down last week to explain the change in plans for their dinosaur show. At the centre of The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists is the rivalry between legendary Victorian era dinosaur bone hunters Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, played by Teatro La Quindicina leading ladies Davina Stewart and Leona Brausen. “The rivalry devolved and mutated, into something nutty!, and reached a cartoon-level absurdity by the end,” grins MacKenzie. The escalations of these so-called “bone wars” — bribery, theft, back-stabbing, public smears— bankrupted both wealthy fossil aces, and fuelled a great period of discovery.

There was no end to their competitiveness, MacKenzie discovered. One proposed having his brain officially preserved after death, in order to enable precise measurement of his nemesis’ brain when the time came, so the world would finally see who was smarter. His opposite number apparently didn’t sign off on the idea.

At 13 actors and two musicians, The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists, billed as “a time-travelling musical comedy for all ages,” is the biggest production ever from the enterprising indie theatre. Biggest, and possibly heaviest, pound for pound. Last week MacKenzie and Satanove earned a late-day beer with a day that included the unusual theatrical task of moving a custom-made steel triceratops ribcage through a stage door, thanks to a friend with a moving company. “Who’d build a theatre set out of steel?” Satanove laughs and rolls her eyes.

But then, why dinosaurs? “It’s Alberta!” declares Satanove, who found herself painting giant hoodoos last week.   

Alberta is a veritable hotbed of elite dinosaurs, as MacKenzie had confirmed years ago prowling through the Natural History Museum in New York. There’s an Albertosaurus or two in that august institution (big head, skinny legs, “saw-edged flesh-slicing teeth,” as the museum website has it). And the Edmontosaurus, a relatively modest 7,500-pounder in his previous life, has a New York pied à terre there, too.  

Back to the Tyrrell. MacKenzie and his fellow traveller, one of the cast members of The Bone Wars, were, he says, “the only people there without kids. And it was quite cool to see the dinosaurs through the kids’ eyes.” The attention span of the average four-year-old, taxed to the max by eating one bowl of Cheerios while sitting down, can easily encompass 15 triceratops skeletons, no problem. “We look around. The parents are exhausted; the kids are just going for it!”

Yes, kids love dinosaurs. The affection of kids for dinosaurs, even the homely ones, is one of the great mysterious bonds of modern times. And, as Satanove puts it, “it just seemed mean to do a show about dinosaurs that wasn’t accessible for kids!”

Affirmations are everywhere. When Satanove got picked up for a  Passover dinner last week, her little cousin, in the single-digit age bracket, was glued to The Land Before Time in the car. She took this to be a sign. 

MacKenzie grins. “Not only are kids interested, but they have this bizarre advanced knowledge.” They know their tyrannosauruses from their stegosauruses, their pterosaurs from their iguanodons.

The idea of The Bone Wars, says Satanove, was a show that’s kid-friendly but with a lot of jokes for grown-ups too. Which is the m.o. of the Pixar canon, as she points out. MacKenzie discovered the felicities of that double-optic with Tick, his kids’ play about youthful protest that was his exit project at Montreal’s National Theatre School. “I found out how much fun adults have watching kids laugh, and the reverse.”

Two of the youthful characters of Tick, including its spirited title heroine, find their way into The Bone Wars. And two of the actors in Chris Bullough’s cast, Elena Belyea and Philip Nozuka, are fresh from a Tick run in St. Catharines.

A trio of 11-year-olds on a canoe trip down the Red Deer River to the Badlands — prime dinosaur bone territory — take shelter in an abandoned mine. And they find themselves in the Wild West of Alberta’s bone rush, judging the celebrated palaeontologist rivalry.

Tick has its comic moments, says MacKenzie of his story of a girl who goes up against City Hall, armed with heroes like Che. The Bone Wars “has way more slapstick elements,” he says, reporting that he was inspired by an unstoppably funny cast in rehearsal, and director Bullough’s own “expert sense of physical comedy. “The climax is a big physical theatre number that’s right out of Bugs Bunny.” At a run-through last Saturday, “I laughed myself into a really bad headache.”   

There’s music. Laura Raboud composed the songs. MacKenzie laughs, “it’s totally Bollywood; anything can happen: incantation, rhyming, actual numbers.” There’s a soundscape too, created live by a couple of inventive musicians, new to theatre, who were to be seen in a parking lot a few weeks ago, making a thunder machine out of a bicycle. “The buy-in has been complete with everyone.”

There’s choreography. “No CGI!” says Satanove. “We wanted to use the magic of theatre.” And MacKenzie is a believer in “the power of movement.” In his Bears, for example, choreographer Ainsley Hillyard devised the protagonist’s cross-mountain journey with a sort of dance chorus. This time, the answer to the question “how do we do the dinosaurs?” is choreographer Amber Borotsik.

The scale is rare enough in large theatre companies, and unheard of for indie operations like Punctuate!, as the playwright happily  acknowledges. “Just to have 13 people all onstage pretty much all the time!” he beams. “When you don’t ever write for more than four actors! It’s super-challenging. Amazing!” 

“We like massive,” grins Satanove, who shepherded Punctuate!’s six-play Suburban Motel series into a rep series in 2015. ”We’ve written so many grant applications!” she says permitting herself a sigh.

“It’s about creative art; it’s also about creating jobs in the industry.”


The Bone Wars: The Curse of the Pathological Palaeontologists

Theatre: Punctuate! in association with Fringe Theatre Adventures

Written by: Matthew MacKenzie

Directed by: Chris Bullough

Starring: Davina Stewart, Leona Brausen, Murray Utas, Beth Graham

Where: The Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: through April 29

Tickets: 780-409-1910,



Production name: Bone Wars by Matthew MacKenzie

Date production rehearsal/job starts: 03/24/2017

Deadline to submit: 02/05/2017

Email applications to:

Contact name: Julie Ferguson

Contact phone: 780-996-6023

Engager Website:

Ethno-cultural mandate or ethno-cultural casting statement:

Punctuate! Theatre is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to hiring a diverse representation of artists.

Additional information:

Punctuate! Theatre is searching for a stage manager for their upcoming production of Bone Wars by Matthew MacKenzie.

Rehearsals begin March 27, 2017 with a prep period the week prior. Performances run April 19 - 29, 2017.

This production will be under the INDIE 2.2 agreement. Both Equity and non-Equity members are encouraged to apply.

Stage managers residing in the greater Edmonton area will be given preference.

Essential skills include musicality, working efficiently and communicating effectively with a large team, an understanding of the nature of independent professional theatre is an asset.

Please submit a letter of interest and resumé to Julie Ferguson, Production Manager, at by February 5, 2017.

Equity members hired will be engaged under an Equity form of contract.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS | Collective Artist

Punctuate! Theatre Society is looking to add at least one new artist to our collective. Punctuate! Theatre does not currently have an Artistic Director; therefore, we are looking to fill a leadership role and/or a collective member position. We are not necessarily looking to fill the traditional role of Artistic Director and invite artists of all disciplines under the umbrella of theatre to apply. The right person will get the position. Our aim is to open a dialogue that focuses on the abilities of individuals, tailoring specific strengths to unique roles and responsibilities, and creating a new position that will augment the strength of the collective as a whole. This could be playwrights, actors, directors, technically inclined folks of all walks and denominations. For the leadership role in particular, candidates should be capable of thinking BIG and being able to make it happen, someone with vision and leadership.

We are looking for artists who have incredible vision and an abundance of innovative, trendsetting ideas. Candidates should be able to bring people together to create great work in a variety of contexts including theatre experiences and fundraising settings. Punctuate! is known for making thoughtful artistic choices that are relevant to the Edmonton community. The new team member(s) must be aware of what is being done elsewhere in the industry and be able to strategically plan when to produce the right shows. They must be able to facilitate a season, while recognizing and fostering the abilities and ideas in others. Some background with dramaturgy would be an asset and strong writing skills are a must.

This person should indicate their interest by submitting a letter of intent and résumé to The letter of intent (LOI) must indicate if the applicant is interested in applying for a leadership position OR to join as an artistic associate. The LOI must also give us a sense of why you think you would be a great fit for Punctuate!. Applications will be evaluated on a first come, first serve basis. The process will conclude when the hiring team feels the right individual(s) have been found. Please indicate in the subject line of your emailed application if this is a Leadership or Collective application, and your name.

We value your time and ours, therefore not all applicants will be granted an interview. 

Throw Down with Punctuate! Theatre | January 16, 2016

Saturday, January 16th, 7pm - 2am 

Rosario's Pub (11715 108 Avenue)

Entry by Donation

Join us for a wild night of fun and fundraising,

PLUS the 24th birthday of Punctuate's very own Julie Ferguson!

Activities include:
Dart Tournament | 50/50 Draw | Karaoke | Ping Pong

All proceeds go to This Is War by Hannah Moscovitch, March 3-13 in the PCL Studio Theatre.

3rd ANNUAL FUNDRAISING GALA | November 7, 2015

3rd Annual Fundraising Gala

Presented by The Organic Box

November 7th at  7:30 pm

(11153 Saskatchewan Drive)

Punctuate! Theatre is pleased present its 3rd Annual Fundraising Gala presented by The Organic Box at the historic Rutherford House (11153 Saskatchewan Drive). Guests are invited to join the company and board of Punctuate! Theatre for an evening of locally sourced tapas and wine pairings, as well as circus inspired performances by local Edmonton artists.

The circus themed evening will be full of fresh food and drink pairings expertly prepared by Punctuate!'s own company members and featuring fresh ingredients from The Organic Box and Acme Meat Market

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the public to enjoy great food while supporting one of Edmonton’s most exciting theatre companies,” Miranda Sommerville, President of Punctuate!'s Board of Directors says. “Proceeds from this event will help us continue to produce award-winning theatre, specifically This Is War by Hannah Moscovitch, our next production in March, 2016 at the PCL Theatre.” 

Colin Matty of Edmonton’s only Poet Shop will delight guests with spoken word poetry crafted to order. Other performances include original circus acts by Miranda Allen and Josie Cox, and delightful roving performances by Zoë Glassman and Byron Martin.

Tickets are $50 per person and are available here.  

Thank you to our Sponsors:

The Menu

First Course

Greek Salad Bites 

Fresh feta tossed in homemade Greek dressing, paired with the finest cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives from The Organic BoxVegan & Gluten Free

Paired with

De Angelis Chardonnay Prato Grande

Sponsored by Funds Administrative Service Inc., De Angelis Chardonnay Prato Grande is unoaked and fresh with notes of citrus, mineral, tropical fruit and hazelnuts.

With a performance by

Contortionist Josie Cox 


Second Course

Seared Sirloin Crostini 

Toasted baguette topped with truffle aioli, arugula, parmesan and featuring seared sirloin steak from ACME Meat MarketVegetarian & Gluten Free options available

Paired with

De Angelis Chardonnay Prato Grande

Sponsored by Funds Administrative Service Inc., De Angelis Chardonnay Prato Grande is unoaked and fresh with notes of citrus, mineral, tropical fruit and hazelnuts.

With a performance by

Poet Colin Matty


Third Course

Petite Lemon Meringue

Handcrafted lemon meringue paired with fresh blueberries & raspberries from The Organic BoxVegetarian & Gluten Free.

Paired with

 Savanna Premium Cider

Sponsored by PMA Canada, Savanna Premium Cider will delight your tastebuds with its crisp and dry finish.

With a performance by

Escape Artist Miranda Allen



The evening will also feature roving  performances by Zoë Glassman & Byron Martin.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS | SCIP Internships for Punctuate!s 2015/2016 Season

Punctuate! Theatre is looking for competent, skilled, and creative students to join our team as SCIP Interns for the 2015/2016 Season. SCIP interns learn valuable skills in producing independent theatre, become connected with key partners in the Edmonton theatre community, and become a pivotal part of our season’s success. 

Associate Producer

This intern will work closely with the Artistic Producer to assist in coordinating all of the special events surrounding our productions including opening and closing night receptions, community and artist talk-backs, and fundraising events. The intern should be located in Edmonton.

Skills Required:

·      Working knowledge of Microsoft Word & Excel

·      Experience planning/running events (asset but not mandatory)

·      Experience working with large groups of volunteers

·      Experience making budgets, schedules, and other spreadsheets

Timeslots Available: (Please specify your preferred time slot in your application)

September-October 2015

November-December 2015

January-March 2016

April-July 2016

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.


Development Intern

This intern will work closely with the Artistic Producer to source and approach potential sponsors, donors, and supporters. This position will also include fundraiser event planning with the company, volunteering at special events, and assisting with Silent Auction coordination. 

Skills Required:

·      Working knowledge of Microsoft Word & Excel

·      Experience creating sponsorship packages (asset but not mandatory)

·      Experience with Silent Auctions (asset but not mandatory)

·      Experience planning/managing fundraiser and special events (asset but not mandatory)

This is a full-season, very part-time position based on the student’s availability and class schedule.

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.


Box Office Manager

The student will be responsible for seeking out and scheduling volunteers for box office, training all scheduled volunteers, and creating new tracking documents for ticket sales and inventory. The Box Office Manager will work closely with the Producer to make sure all box office duties are clearly planned out for the volunteers, and that all volunteers are treated with respect.

Skills Required:

·      Working knowledge of Microsoft Word & Excel

·      Experience working with large groups of volunteers

·      Experience making schedules and other spreadsheets

·      Working knowledge of how a theatre box office operates

This position will be part-time throughout January-March, 2016.

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.


Volunteer Coordinator

The student will be responsible for seeking out, scheduling, and training volunteers for special events, fundraisers, concession, and box office. The Volunteer Coordinator will work closely with the Producer and Box Office Manager to make sure all volunteer duties are clearly planned out, and that all volunteers are treated with respect.

Skills Required:

·      Working knowledge of Microsoft Word & Excel

·      Experience working with large groups of volunteers

·      Experience making schedules and other spreadsheets

This is a full-season, very part-time position based on the student’s availability and class schedule. The bulk of the work will be in January-March, 2106.

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.


Associate Designer

The Associate Designer will work closely with our Production Designer in a focused area: lighting, costumes, set, props, or sound design. The Associate Designer will create tracking and requirement paperwork, and will source and shop for design materials. In addition the Associate Designer will assist with set-up and strike of the performance venue, and could potentially assist in building the set.

Skills Required:

·      Working knowledge of theatre lighting and sound equipment working knowledge of how to operate a sound or lighting board

·      Working knowledge of proper safety procedures for light hangs and strikes

·      Working knowledge of theatre design elements

This is a part-time position running throughout December 2015-March 2016.

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.


Associate Production Manager

We are looking for someone to work closely with our Production Manager to help create all of the necessary schedules, and production paperwork. In addition the Associate Production Manager will liaise with all of this season's directors, designers, and stage managers to ensure that the requirements of all shows are met.

Skills required:

·      Basic knowledge of technical theatre

·      Basic knowledge of theatre production

·      Basic knowledge of production paperwork

This is a part-time position running throughout December 2015-March 2016.

Click here to see the full listing and to apply.

REVIEW | Risk Everything & Problem Child | Edmonton Journal

Suburban Motel experiment offers heartfelt black comedy



Problem Child, Risk Everything

Part of: The Suburban Motel Series

Theatre: Punctuate!

Written by: George F. Walker

Directed by: Jeff Page

Starring: Gianna Vacirca, Neil Kuefler, Elliott James, Rebecca Starr, Chris W. Cook

Where: C103, 85329 Gateway Blvd.

Running: through May 11

Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757,

“What’s wrong with you these days? How come the slightest thing can set you off?” says a mother to her daughter in Risk Everything. Yeah, well, Carol, there is this little matter of your bad gambling debts, the murderous thug waiting outside in his car, the human bomb inside, the pornographer in bed with you ... The list goes on.

We’re in a nondescript motel room on the outskirts of chaos, a bunker with a janitor who sobers up once a week to clean the joint. And the people who check in may look tough as hell but really they’re desperate, one logical but crazy plan away from oblivion.

Yes, we’re back in the world of George F. Walker, at the intersection of despair and hilarity where you can never quite figure which way the traffic is coming at you. Welcome back George, we’ve missed you. Canadian theatre hasn’t been exactly a hotbed of hard-edged, tightly wound black comedy of late.

In figuring out how to alternate all six plays of Walker’s ’90s Suburban Motel cycle, with their revolving gallery of feisty and furious low-lifes, Edmonton’s enterprising Punctuate! Theatre does something unprecedented in professional Canuck theatre. Wednesday night, they launched their grand project with Risk Everything and Problem Child, the latter the most-produced of the series, the former perhaps the least.

The two “comedies of anxiety,” both directed by Jeff Page, share a young couple, ex-hooker ex-junkie Denise (Gianna Vacirca) and her ex-con fella RJ (Neil Kuefler), who got addicted to daytime “confrontation” reality TV while in the slammer. In Problem Child, the more satisfying play of the two and the most complex in tone, they’re holed up, desperate to get their baby back from foster care. They’re blocked by a smug, sanctimonious social worker played by Rebecca Starr, whose condescending smile could freeze a Jack Daniels at 100 paces.

The world calls them losers, of course. But what Denise and RJ, along with the sodden motel janitor Phillie (Elliott James), haven’t lost is a sense of outrage. And though the production may be pitched a little uniformly high to be sustainable, the actors certainly commit to their outrage. As Vacirca’s performance vividly conveys, Denise’s outrage is hurled at the certainty that the deck is stacked against “people like us, the scum of the earth.” The outrage mustered by Kuefler’s RJ is directed at the egregious assaults on humane behaviour and fair play in the cheesy talk shows he watches. Which means he actually maintains a shred of hopefulness in a chaotic world.

James has a show-stopping comic presence as the phlegmatic Phillie, reduced to inarticulate fury from time to time by his own sense of injustice. “I’m a drunk; I’m not a kidnapper. There’s a difference,” he explains reasonably to Denise late in Problem Child. But he’ll try again: “It’s something I could take pride in.” You’ve got to love him for his refusal to give up, no matter the odds.

Risk Everything is a thinner, more purely farcical kind of comedy. It adds to the mix Carol (Kristine Nutting), a risk junkie whose appetites and evasions spread risk around her in a way that escalates wildly. Like so many Walker characters, she has put her hooks into the pop-sociology lexicon of self-justification. And she uses it amusingly. Nutting’s performance nails a wheedling kind of improvised grievance in every scene; she isn’t always audible, though, unlike her furious daughter. Chris W. Cook has a droll cameo as the gallant next-door pornographer with the hots for Carol. The play isn’t as bruising in its humour as Problem Child; no play that contains a thug called Steamboat could be, probably. But it’s propelled at a brisk pace.

Nothing is going to be truly OK ever again,” says Denise at the end of Problem Child. The desperation of knowing that makes for a particularly layered kind of black comedy, heartfelt, absurd, and apocalyptic. That’s Walker. And I can’t wait to see more.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Click here to see the full article. 

PREVIEW | The Suburban Motel Series | Vue Weekly

The Suburban Motel Series links six plays through a single motel 

From a rented room

April 29, 2015 Paul Blinov
Issue: #1018: The Suburban Motel Series

There’s something in the neutral nature of a motel that just seems dramatic. Maybe it’s the ease of access—anyone, poor or rich, can find reason to end up in one—or that the pleasant blandness of such a room leaves you with few distractions to hide from your own demons. Or maybe it’s that, despite the neutrality, its walls have witnessed an extremely varied history: there’s the lingering sense that you aren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to call the place home for a night or for much longer.

“The people who have been in that space before you leave their imprint,” Elliott James notes. “We’ve been doing tours a lot with [touring Shakespeare company] Prospero: we stayed in a real dive about a year ago, where every dish that was in the kitchen cabinet was dirty, put away. Cigarette butts burned holes in the little duvet. And everyone who was there when we got there was living there. We were there for a week; they were there for months. There’s no end-date to some of these things, even though everyone wants there to be one.”

James is returning to such a space, but this time in performance: a lone motel room plays home to all six plays in George F Walker’s Suburban Motel Series, which is being presented in full by the indie theatre upstarts of Punctuate! Theatre in a herculean, mind-boggling sort of theatrical feat. More than 40 artists are involved, from production work to the technical side to the performances—here, 15 actors play 20 characters (some of the same characters appear in multiple plays; other actors play different roles in different shows). Three directors helm a pair of the plays each: Jeff Page, on Problem Child and Risk Everything, Geoffry Ewert with The End of Civilization and Adult Entertainment and Liz Hobbs on Featuring Loretta and Criminal Genius.

James is sitting across a conference-sized table from Andréa Jorawsky—who, along with James, is part of that 15-strong cast—and Hobbs, two of Punctuate!’s other core members. Broaching the idea of producing six plays, they note, began when the company lost its home TACOS space last year, but still wanted to produce a season of sorts.

“We really didn’t want to lose that, working with a whole bunch of people and doing something that employed artists,” Hobbs says. “We were trying to come up with something that we could do that we didn’t have to rent theatre space for—which is also, y’know, impossible to actually book in this city.”

The Motel sequence came up in those discussions, but it didn’t find much traction at the time. Until Hobbs found herself unable to sleep one night; as she wondered what her company could do, her mind wandered to the Walker scripts.

“I started flipping through the plays, and making diagrams and flow charts of all the characters and all the requirements,” she recalls. “Is it even possible? A few hours later, I figured out how to rehearse all six of them in rep with the fewest amount of people possible, in a way that made sense.”

Doing the full suite of Suburban Motel plays has made all of Hobbs’s flowcharts into a nimble sequence of many moving parts: all six productions have been rehearsing in proximity, two to a floor, in the Eric Cormack Centre, itself a transient sort of space these days—a former psychiatric-care facility in Grandin, it’s currently finding ample use in theatre and television work.

Staging Walker scripts also marks a return of sorts for Punctuate!: five years ago, the company staged a Fringe production of The End of Civilization, just one the sequence of plays that, produced in full rep or no, have found their way in to the Canadian theatrical canon.

“I remember in theatre school, I feel like every acting class I did, someone did a scene from Problem Child,” Jorawsky says. “I don’t know if zeitgeist would be the right word, but I was familiar with most of the plays.”

The scripts run a gamut of character types, among Walker’s dark, sometimes comic writing: characters from all social strata find themselves among its six scripts, from criminals to the middle-class to white-collar lawyer types.

“You realize [the scripts] all sort of boil down to one of two basic things,” James says. “It’s a lot about justice and a lot about how the meek, lower people in society don’t get their dues.”

“All the characters are trying to get out of this space,” Hobbs notes later, continuing the thought. “None of them are setting up home in this motel; all of them are fighting for a better life, or something outside of it. That alone gives us immediate dramatic action for every single one of them. Because it’s not a permanent space, it’s a transitory space.”

“A waiting cell, almost,” Jorawsky nods.

The plays are being paired two per night, but Punctuate! is offering two marathon days, each Saturday of the show’s run, where you can take in all six in a single go, and have a catered meal and access to a bar thrown in. But if a six-play run of shows seems daunting, ask yourself: how fast do you burn through Netflix shows these days?

“From a fun standpoint, you get to binge watch,” Jorawsky says with a laugh. “You get to go, you get this catered meal, you can drink while you’re watching them, have a day of living in this world, observing these characters doing what they’re doing.”

Adapting the binge-watch cycle of modern TV consumption and applying it to theatre isn’t new to town, either: it’s happened most recently with the acclaimed Maggie-Now play cycle, and, a few years back, for a remount of Ken Brown’s hit Fringe series Spiral Dive.

But unlike those era-spanning shows, the Suburban sequence links itself mostly through location—that single, rented room—its characters all contemporary (the scripts were written in the late ’90s), and in that, it seems to offer curious insight into the extended history of such a transient space, and the people who find themselves occupying it, for better or worse.

“If you come to one play, you may not see yourself on stage,” James says. “But if you come to all of them, I’m guessing you’ll see yourself, in some way … no matter where you are on the spectrum. It’s kind of like being a voyeur for a week in a real dive.”

“We have cops, we have lawyers, we have a young girl trying to figure her life out, we’ve got criminals,” Hobbs notes. “People from everywhere end up in the same position.”

“They all touch the same remote,” James adds.

Click here to see the full article. 

PREVIEW | The Suburban Motel Series | Edmonton Journal

Edmonton’s Punctuate! Theatre tackles all six Suburban Motel plays



The Suburban Motel Series

Theatre: Punctuate!

Written by: George F. Walker

Directed by: Liz Hobbs, Jeff Page, Geoffrey Ewert

Where: C103 Theatre, 8529 Gateway Blvd.

Running: April 29 to May 11

Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757,

Hitchcock, I’m thinking, would have loved this place.

We’re in a brick fortress downtown. Counter-intuitive sunlight glints off the springs of an assortment of skeletal hospital cots. There are skinny coffin-shaped bathtubs draped in ominous tubes, sinister dentist chairs with wheels, and straps. There’s stuff in every cupboard, every closet. In the “pediatric aerosol tent,” as stencilled on the door, framed pictures of dead babies, with pastel wings, are stacked. Whoever left, left in a hurry — or didn’t leave at all.

The people who knock, once, for admittance at a locked orange door at street level aren’t ghosts, though. They’re directors, actors, producers, production and stage managers and their assistants, designers, some 40 in all. As these connoisseurs of irony readily concede, there is something eerily apropos about occupying an abandoned mental hospital, all five floors of the Eric Cormack Centre, to rehearse the black, funny, gritty tragicomedies of Canadian playwright George F. Walker, whose hardscrabble urban characters find themselves marginalized at the edges of civilization.

For the first time in the country (save one fleeting Fringe experiment in Vancouver), all six of Walker’s Suburban Motel plays, set in the same fleabag motel room, will run at C103 theatre, two a night starting Wednesday (through May 11), with full-immersion six-play marathons May 2 and May 9.

This vast and intricate project, which has attracted a stellar array of Edmonton theatre artists, is the work of an adventurous Edmonton indie company, Punctuate! Theatre.

They fully earn their exclamation mark just for figuring out the rehearsal logistics: all but four of the 15 actors are double-cast, and some of the characters show up in more than one piece. Since each of the three directors — Jeff Page, Geoffrey Ewert and Punctuate! artistic director Liz Hobbs — helms two plays, and rehearses one of them all day on alternating days on a different floor, three rehearsal versions of the seedy motel room exist on floors five, four and three: a couple of utilitarian ’50s kitchen chairs and a table, bed frames by Ikea, mattresses by Punctuate! scavengers.

“I wrote the grant applications last June,” grins Punctuate!’ s producer Sheiny Satanove, as we move downward floor by floor from Page’s rehearsal stronghold on the fifth, dubbed “the children’s floor” in honour of its tooth-grittingly cheerful yellow paint. Production manager Julie Ferguson started the rehearsal scheduling last September.

This isn’t their first venture into Walkerland. Punctuate! was born in a 2010 Fringe production of The End of Civilization, one of Walker’s Suburban Motel plays. Hobbs directed; Page appeared memorably as the more menacing of a pair of cops. Satanove, for one, has been suggesting something as crazily massive as Walker’s entire 1990s Suburban Motel cycle ever since.

With the continuing unavailability of the TACOS arts space in Old Strathcona, “we had no venue, but we had the desire to do something so big it couldn’t fail!” smiles Hobbs. “Better to be huge and innovative and employ a lot of artists than small and cautious ... I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘this might actually be do-able!’; I did the math, then slept on it for a couple of days just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.”

Amazingly, it computed.

But why Walker? And why this 1990s cycle by a star Canadian playwright like no other, for his combination of scabrous hilarity and zinging social indignation?

“The plays are about real people, people not often represented in theatre,” says Hobbs, who’s directing Featuring Loretta and Criminal Genius. It’s the downsized, sidelined, furious losers who inhabit Walker’s aggrieved and scrambling demi-monde. “They’re about people who don’t go to theatre,” says Ewert, who is in charge of The End of Civilization and Adult Entertainment. “And they’re funny!”

“All the characters make valid points, thoughtful points,” says Hobbs. “They’re in extreme situations, darkly comic; they’ve ended up in this (motel room), a transitional space, all of them in there fighting for something better for themselves ... You laugh at them because they make sense. You can recognize yourself, things you’ve said, the struggle to not get blamed, to be recognized as valuable. ”

As Ewert says, “we’re all only a few short steps — a couple of bad choices or things beyond your control — from their circumstances. Take Henry, fighting for work day after day in The End of Civilization. I’ve been there! I know what it’s like. All of these characters are trying to get somewhere, to move on, elsewhere, with their lives ... The motel is their purgatory.”

“Will they succeed in making something better for themselves? A lot of the plays end with a question mark.”

Satanove is attracted to the plays because, extreme as their choices might be — arson, violence, murder, porn, prostitution — “the characters are so real. And though the plays are probably set in Toronto, I feel like these could be characters right here in Edmonton.”

For the actors, there’s the rare experience of rehearsing two alternating plays. Andrea Jorawsky, a core Punctuate! artist, loves the “24 hours you get to let whatever you’ve learned in rehearsal sink in. And there’s no time to obsess.”

Amber Bissonette, who plays the title character in Featuring Loretta and the helpful hooker next door in Problem Child, says of her first rep experience that it takes some getting used to, “riding two waves at once.” For Elliott James, the experience is even more intense since he plays the same character, the motel clerk Phillie, in two plays, Problem Child and Criminal Genius, at evolving stages of a dissolution into booze. “In the first play he’s struggling to keep functioning. In the other, he’s off the wagon for the whole show.”

“To me, the plays are, together, about the fallout of capitalism,” says Harley Morison, assistant director to Ewert, and an actor/playwright himself. “There’s a progression in time and lack of success ... It’s pretty fascinating to see these characters. They may be losers; they may end up in the same motel room ... What interests Walker is to see people trying.”

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Click here to see the full article. 

PREVIEW | The Suburban Motel Series | Edmonton Journal

Lives in turmoil in these Suburban Motel plots


“A slightly rundown motel room, on the outskirts of a large city.”

That’s the setting for each of the six full-length one-act black comedies in George F. Walker’s 1997-1998 Suburban Motel cycle: a transitional space, “a drab, camouflaged circle of hell with an ice machine” as one of Walker’s most experienced directors Daniel De Raey puts it. Characters whose lives are in turmoil come and go; they make big, crazy plans; they improvise; they return to regroup. Three of the six premièred in New York at Rattlestick Productions directed by De Raey, three at Factory Theatre in Walker’s home town, Toronto, directed by the playwright.

1. Problem Child: Denise, a former prostitute and junkie, and her boyfriend RJ, out of the slammer and addicted to daytime TV, are holed up in the motel room. They’re battling a purse-lipped and sanctimonious social worker to get their child back from The System.

2. Adult Entertainment: Max and Jayne are having sex in the motel room: one’s a burnt-out cop and the other a public defender and they both have an agenda beyond getting laid. Meanwhile, the cop’s booze-soaked, unravelling partner waits outside in his car. Things go wildly awry.

3. Criminal Genius: A father-son pair of career criminals prove absolutely hopeless at executing anything as complicated as arson, and unleash more chaos by means of their strict policy of non-violence. Violence ensues. So do some hilarious analyses of group dynamics and the apportioning of blame in our society. “When was the last time I did something and got away with it? There’s always some kind of punishment. ... Why is that?”

4. Featuring Loretta: The title character, a server in the hospitality industry, wants to jump-start her life; her husband has been eaten by a bear. Now she’s being pulled apart by a whiny would-be boyfriend, and a slick guy for whom Lorrie figures prominently in his big pornography plans. Figuring in the plot is Lorrie’s friendship with the Russian physics student whose ex-KGB dad owns the motel.

5. The End of Civilization: In the most scathing social satire of the cycle, Henry has been bounced from his job, and his middle-class life, and has ended up in the motel room. While he looks for work, with increasing desperation and outrage about the infinite ruthlessness of corporate greed, he takes up a more available line of work, thanks to the hooker next door. Presiding over the murder case that may or may not implicate Henry are a couple of mismatched cops with issues of their own. “It’s like the Grapes of Wrath out there. People walking around like they’re the victims of some huge cataclysm. All slouched over. Muttering to themselves ...”

6. Risk Everything: In this, the most farcical of the cycle, RJ and Denise from Problem Child are still in the motel room, joined by Denise’s mom, who seems to have been beaten up. It turns out that the “victim” is outrageously brazen about drawing everyone around into her chaotic life, which involves gambling, stealing, and drug deals.

In Punctuate! Theatre’s Suburban Motel project, all six plays alternate in rep at C103

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Click here to see the full article. 

Rehearsing The Suburban Motel Series in The Eric Cormack Centre

We have had the pleasure of rehearsing all six shows of The Suburban Motel Series by George F. Walker at the Eric Cormack Centre, a former psychiatric care facility in Edmonton's Grandin neighbourhood. The building provides endless hours of scavenging through remnants of the old hospital and enough rehearsal furniture to furnish three rehearsal halls. Punctuate! Theatre would like to thank Infrastructure Alberta for making this all possible. The cast and crew of #yegmotel have taken over the entire building, setting up green rooms, lunch facilities, and secluded nooks to run lines in. The moment you enter the building the energy is palpable; Punctuate! Theatre can't wait to show you what we've been working on. 

Floor 2

Production Office, Green Room, & Lunch Room

Artistic Associate Andréa Jorawsky who is playing Amanda and Sophie. 

Artistic Associate Andréa Jorawsky who is playing Amanda and Sophie. 

Floor 2 is where we held our first reads at the start of the rehearsal process. We read three plays a day, and the entire company joined us to hear the scripts. We also host all of our production meeting on Floor 2. Most importantly, people can always stop by Floor 2 to chat with production manager Julie Ferguson, and Producer/Publicist Sheiny Satanove while they toil away in their office. 

Floor 3

Adult Entertainment & The End of Civilization

Director Geoffrey Ewert speaks with actors Troy O'Donnell (Max) and Annette Loiselle (Jayne). 

Director Geoffrey Ewert speaks with actors Troy O'Donnell (Max) and Annette Loiselle (Jayne). 

Floor 3 houses  Adult Entertainment and The End of Civilization directed by Geoffrey Ewert. These shows follow homicide detectives Max and Donny and their work in the seedy underbelly of the city. Along with his team, Jenn Best (SM), Jake Blakely (ASM), and Harley Morison (Asst Director), Geoff is leading a team of veteran actors, Julien Arnold, Troy O'Donnell, Amber Lewis, Annette Loiselle, Amber Bissonnette, and Patrick Howarth.

Floor 4

Featuring Loretta & Criminal Genius

Director Liz Hobbs and Assistant Director Erin Voaklander watch over fight rehearsal led by Fight Director Patrick Howarth. Featuring actors Chris W. Cook (Michael), Oscar Derkx (Dave), and Amber Bissonnette (Loretta). 

Director Liz Hobbs and Assistant Director Erin Voaklander watch over fight rehearsal led by Fight Director Patrick Howarth. Featuring actors Chris W. Cook (Michael), Oscar Derkx (Dave), and Amber Bissonnette (Loretta). 

Floor 4 is home to Featuring Loretta and Criminal Genius directed by Artistic Director Liz Hobbs. These two dark comedies have filled the rehearsal hall with plenty of laughs. Along with her team, Ashley Carter (SM), Andrea Murphy (ASM), and Erin Voaklander (Asst Director), Liz is leading a team of talented local actors, Andréa Jorawsky, Oscar Derkx, Chris W. Cook, Annette Loiselle, Amber Bissonnette, Elliott James, and Mark Stubbings. 

Floor 5

Risk Everything & Problem Child

Elliott James (Phillie) and Neil Kuefler (RJ) rehearse a scene from Problem Child as Brooklyn Ritchie (SM), and Candice Stollery (ASM) watch on. 

Elliott James (Phillie) and Neil Kuefler (RJ) rehearse a scene from Problem Child as Brooklyn Ritchie (SM), and Candice Stollery (ASM) watch on. 

In the penthouse suite are Risk Everything and Problem Child directed by Jeff Page. These two deeply intimate and dark shows follow young couple RJ and Denise and their attempts to make a new life for themselves. Along with his team, Brooklyn Ritchie (SM), Candice Stollery (ASM), and Patrick Lundeen (Asst Director), Jeff is leading a dynamic team of actors, Elliott James, Gianna Vacirca, Rebecca Starr, Neil Kuefler, Chris W. Cook, and Kristine Nutting.

The Suburban Motel Series runs April 29th-May 11 at C103. 

Click here to purchase tickets

You're Invited to Throw Down Punctuate! Style

Join us for a wild night of fun and fundraising 

at Rosario's Pub
11715 108 Avenue

Saturday February 28th
7pm - 2am

Activities include:
"Darts by Dart" 
A dart tournament hosted by Catch the Keys' Beth Dart

50/50 Draw

Drinks will Flow
Pizza-by-the-Slice will be on Sale

Entry by Donation
All proceeds go to
The Suburban Motel Series

Can't attend?
You can still support The Suburban Motel Series by donationg to our Indiegogo campaign. 

Call for Applications | AUDITIONS | Suburban Motel Series


Production name: Suburban Motel plays
Date production rehearsal/job starts: 03/30/2015
Audition date: 10/04/2014
Audition date 2: 10/05/2014
Deadline to submit: 09/29/2014
Email applications to:
Contact name: Liz Hobbs
Contact email:
Contact phone: 780.504.7654
Engager Website:

Ethno-cultural mandate or ethno-cultural casting statement: 
Punctuate! Theatre encourages submissions from artists of all diverse

Additional information: 
Punctuate! Theatre is holding auditions for our 2015 repertory
production of all six of George F. Walker's Suburban Motel plays. Actors
should expect to appear in two different plays and play up to two
different characters in the production. We are auditioning for all
roles, male and female, ages ranging from 21-50 years old.

Rehearsals: March 30, 2015-April 28, 2015 (full time rehearsal,
alternating Day A/B repertory schedule)
Production run: April 29, 2015-May 11, 2015

Successful applicants will be provided with audition sides. Please
submit a resume, headshot and statement of interest (maximum one page)
to Artistic Director Liz Hobbs no later than Monday, September 29th by
5pm MT. Please email submissions to

All three directors (Geoffrey Ewert, Liz Hobbs and Jeff Page) will be
present at auditions.

Both equity and non-equity members are encouraged to submit. All artists
will be engaged under a form of equity contract.

***Please note that preference will be given to local Edmonton actors.
Punctuate! Theatre will not provide lodging or travel expenses for
out-of-town actors.

Equity members will be seen first at all open audition calls. Equity
members cast in this production will be engaged under an Equity form of
contract. CAEA members: please bring your membership card to the