Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy, Mar 9-17, 2019

March 9 to 17, 2019. Artword Theatre is bringing back its timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs and produced by Judith Sandiford. Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome plays The Interrogator.

Permission for the use of the poems has been granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, for the Langston Hughes Literary Estate.

LHvsJM_Learie_poem_dance_Harlem

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so.

On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.

Only 8 performances! Runs about 60 mins. All tickets $15.
*Sat March 9 at 7:30 pm, OPENING Special, stay for the Beg To Differ concert at 9 pm  (no extra charge) .
*Tuesday to Friday, March 12-15 at 7:30 pm,
*Three matinees at 3:00 pm Sun Mar 10, Sat Mar 16, Sun Mar 17 mat, final show.


*** Read Gary Smith’s review in The Hamilton Spectator, March 13, 2019:

Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy is a moving and probing drama

Howard Jerome as The Interrogator

“Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy,” playwright Ron Weihs’s probing drama, packs a lot of power into an hour. This short play, interspersed with elegant stage moves, as well as haunting poetry by the iconic Hughes, is a fusion of art forms that sits neatly on the Artword Artbar stage. The room is small. So is the stage. But the ideas are large.

It’s 1953 and we’re immersed in the aggressive rhetoric of a select American committee that hounded intellectuals and artists. The fiefdom of Joe McCarthy and a band of loutish interrogators, these folks ultimately became the genesis of playwright Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” with its comparison of witch hunts in Salem and the persecutions by the infamous McCarthy Committee in the ’50s.

Weihs’s play, based on Congressional records, presents some of the actual language used as McCarthy struggled to nail the elegant black poet Langston Hughes, suggesting his poems had a communist beat.

Witch hunters were behind every wall and tree in those days, seeking out communist sympathizers unfaithful to the U.S.A.’s increasingly tattered red, white and blue mantra that suggested liberty for all.

Weihs’s play goes beyond the documentation of Hughes’ interrogation, however. It suggests the times, depicted clearly and powerfully in the images of pain that set designer Judith Sandiford projects onto a stark white screen. We see hunger, joblessness, fear and desolation. And we see the segregation and denigration of black citizens, particularly in romantic old Dixie, where they were forced to sit at the back of buses, refrain from drinking from whites-only water fountains and barred from most hotels, dining rooms and movie theatres.

These images, along with the always elegant language of Hughes’s poetry, summon a vision of a world of haves and have-nots. That such a world could be defined simply by the colour of someone’s skin remains as ugly and reprehensible today as it was in the times of Hughes’s powerful poetry.

Fearing the face of communism was about to undermine American values, McCarthy frequently picked on artists and the intelligentsia.

As an important leader in the “Harlem Renaissance,” a movement that celebrated the writers, musicians and intellectual black artists who would shape the diversity of American culture, Hughes was a target. Playwrights such as James Baldwin, musicians such as Duke Ellington, and singers Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer were faces of this movement, too. The times were changing. Lovely Lena Horne would no longer have her image cut out of prints of Hollywood musicals playing in the Deep South because she was black. Sammy Davis Jr. would soon become a huge star in films, television and Las Vegas.

In a sense this is the background for Weihs’s moving play. It is the kaleidoscope of change that was about to sweep across America. It’s not just about Langston Hughes and Joe McCarthy. It’s about so much more.

Weihs has wisely refused to make his play a virtual confrontation. He has interpolated movement from actor-dancer Learie McNicolls that suggests such yearning, such illuminating thought that Hughes’s poems sing physically as well as aurally.

You long for McNicolls to go on dancing to the throbbing sounds of “Lady Be Good,” “Sunny Side of the Street” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.”

The play moves gracefully from the probing questions of McCarthy, a gnarled presence with a rumbling rasp of a voice intoned by Howard Jerome, an actor of infinite colours. He makes McCarthy a hard man who finds dark and sinister meaning behind every sweetly constructed phrase of poetry.

McNicolls is a handsome presence with a voice as warm as honey. He makes the confrontations between art and intellect in Weihs’s self-directed play quiver with truth.

Quibbles? Hardly any. The transitions from poetry to dance might be more seamless, and the broad space between the actors to allow for visual projections could be tightened now and then.

Mostly, the play reminds me of the glory days of New York’s Greenwich Village, where poems were read to live jazz and the elegant dance steps of folks like Willy Blok Hansonat the Café Wha? created entertainment that was glorious, yet bizarre.

This one’s for people who like their theatre to be different.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 37 years. gsmith1@cogeco.ca

Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, Fringe 2017 July 20-29

July 20 to 29, 2017. Artword Theatre participates in the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival with a timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs.
Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome performs as The Interrogator.

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so. On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.
Running time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 + one-time Fringe button:
Showtimes: Thu July 20: 6:30pm, Fri July 21: 9:00pm, Sat July 22: 9:00pm, Sun July 23: 8:30pm, Tue July 25: 9:00pm, Wed July 26: 9:00pm, Thu July 27: 9:00pm, Fri July 28: 8:30pm, Sat July 29: 8:30pm

[The poems by Langston Hughes are used by permission granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, as agents for the Estate of Langston Hughes.]

REVIEWS:


REVIEW: ‘LANGSTON HUGHES VS. JOE MCCARTHY’
at the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival

artsallydotcom.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/review-langston-hughes-vs-joe-mccarthy-at-the-2017-hamilton-fringe-festival/

BRIAN MORTON, Contributor, July 28, 2017

Ron Weihs’ play, ‘Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy,’ now gets a full production as part of the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival. This two man play digs deeply into a very dark period of American History that remains shameful to us today, although with the polarization and division in the United States in the era of Donald Trump, its relevancy is clear.

The script itself is based upon actual testimony given when Harlem poet Langston Hughes was called to testify before Congress during the Communist ‘witch hunts’ of the early 1950s.

Back then, anyone who had ties to socialism, communism or even just leftist sympathies were blacklisted, vilified and forced to recant their views. Many of the artists and writers who were called to testify, even some of those who attended and just used their constitutional right to plead according to the Fifth Amendment, were unable to find work in their fields afterwards; many committed suicide, moved abroad or even, worst of all, they named others in order to be exonerated. Uncooperative witnesses were imprisoned. Refusing to testify – to name names of others – created heroes such as the ‘Hollywood Ten’ which included Dalton Trumbo. We revere their courage to this day, as evidenced by the number of films, plays and books that remind us their story.

This is the era in which the play lives.

From the opening moments, tidying up his desk and organizing his thoughts for the session ahead, Howard Jerome as Senator Joe McCarthy drives this production with his articulate and persistent attacks. His voice has a wonderfully raspy quality to it, that got under your skin.

Called to testify is poet Langston Hughes (in this production played by the mercurial Learie McNicolls). He responds to McCarthy’s questioning by relating his experiences grown up in Missouri, and by sharing his poetry, he gives a basic lesson in creative writing and attempts to explain, correctly, that the narrative voice in a poem may not necessarily be the author’s own.

It is often hard to stage poetry. This production presents eighteen of Hughes poems as part of the story; they are presented as dance pieces, and slipped seamlessly into the dialogue of both actors. “A poem is not testimony” Hughes asserts, perhaps not, but it can convey truth and meaning.

We might wax nostalgic for a prosecutor who at least tries to establish actual facts in a legal case; in this our era of Trump’s 140 word ‘covfefe’ tweets, truth can be hard to find. But the agenda here is much the same, to silence those who do not subscribe to the politics of bigotry and hatred of the ‘other’.

An additional character is created in this production, by the use of very cleverly chosen period photographs. In the exact same way that carefully chosen music works to underscore a scene, the images presented behind the onstage action become a powerful commentary. They evoke the time, the place, and the people brilliantly.

A fine play, well staged, with a powerful message that is so important in our ‘here and now.’ What more could one ask for? A cool drink perhaps. This venue is licensed and you can enjoy a beer, or a glass of wine, while you watch.

‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ (Artword Theatre, Hamilton)
Writer/Director: Ronald Weihs, Cast: Learie McNicolls and Howard Jerome


‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ should be touring the country

Doreen Nicoll, July 30, 2017

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/change-gonna-come/2017/07/langston-hughes-vs-joe-mccarthy-should-be-touring-country

There’s no doubt about it, history is cyclical. Those well versed in history see the proverbial writing on the wall. Unfortunately, those who choose to remain ignorant, or perhaps worse, those who believe they are untouchable, can set the world on a path that is well worn, all too familiar, and often dangerous.

July 29th, the curtain went down for the final time on the Hamilton Fringe production Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy: Is Poetry Subversive? Set at the height of McCarthyism when, as director Ronald Weihs writes in his director’s statement, “There was a massive effort underway in the United State to communicate a crude vision of ‘The American Way,’ and to brand ideas ‘Un-American.’ People were taught to be frightened of their own thoughts, to repress them or keep them hidden.”

During the 1920’s and 30’s, Harlem became a beacon of hope for freedom of expression to African American scholars and artists. This newfound voice was demanding civil liberties and political rights. Hughes was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance which gave birth to jazz poetry. It was this poetry that would make Hughes a person of interest.

On March 24, 1953 James Mercer Langston Hughes, African American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And so the play begins.

Republican Senator Everett Dirksen and attorney Roy Cohn originally interrogated Hughes, but Weihs successfully embodies the men in one domineering character. The interrogator, clearly Hughes’s intellectual inferior, tries unsuccessfully to get Hughes to admit his poems contain subversive political messages.

Hughes never denies his writing has political references, but maintains those references “would mean many things to different people.”

Instead, Hughes takes every opportunity to school his interrogator on the true meaning of free speech — a lesson the current U.S. administration desperately needs to hear.

Actor, singer, writer, director producer and activist, Howard Jerome was the embodiment of the hostile, manipulative interrogator berating Hughes throughout the hour long questioning. Learie McNicolls, dancer, choreographer and spoken word artist, elevated Hughes to the intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian stature he deserved.


“…a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.”

2017 HAMILTON FRINGE FESTIVAL MINI REVIEW FROM CENTRE STAGE
WITH LYLA MIKLOS ON 101.5 FM THE HAWK

This Fringe show was a real gem and a pleasant surprise. Writer/Director Ronald Weihs takes us back to 1953 when Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was summoned by infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy to speak to the Senate Committee on Investigations. Combining projected pictures from the era, jazz music, movement and two amazing actors Weihs transports his audience into both a frightening and inspiring time and place. A time and place that reminds us of the fragility of our democracies as we still so easily allow ideological demagogues to take away our collective powers.

What makes this production really sing is when Learie Mc Nicolls brings to life the words of Langston Hughes. More than once the audience would burst into spontaneous applause at the end of one his powerful recitations. Not only did his voice bounce off the walls, but his feet and body were bouncing and moving all over the stage. Mc Nicolls was utterly captivating to experience and witness in this fully realized performance. The counter point to his poignant energy was the brittle intensity that Howard Jerome brought to his role as the nefarious McCarthy.

Seeing how beautifully Weihs brought together his overall vision there was one oversight that kept bringing me out of the trance I was being put under. Neither Mc Nicolls nor Jerome look or sound anything like the real life people they portrayed on stage, but Mc Nicolls was magnificently dressed with trim, polish, spit and shine while Jerome had an ill-fitting suit, frumpy pants, grey beard, pony tail and running shoes on. I just wished that Jerome’s costume and overall look better expressed the evil, uptight, controlling, power hungry, repressed character he was portraying. He looked more like an eccentric hippy professor not the man who coined the term “McCarthyism”. Nevertheless a minor detail in what was a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.

 


“top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure”

Jul 24, 2017, by Lori Littleton,  Hamilton Spectator

Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy
Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St. — July 25-27 at 9 p.m., and July 28-29 at 8:30 p.m.

Writer/ director Ronald Weihs has assembled an acting powerhouse for this 60-minute drama. Dora Award-winner Learie McNicolls is Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and Howard Jerome is Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator known for his pursuit of anyone affiliated with Communism in the 1950s. The play is based on actual transcripts of Hughes’ testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953. But this isn’t a courtroom drama and there’s no thundering climax. Instead, the play features McCarthy asking Hughes questions about his poetry. Seated, Hughes answers but then rises to narrate a poem. A skilled dancer, McNicolls artfully adds to his delivery of these poems, which punctuate issues such as workers’ rights, racism, inequality and religion. Weihs also tackles more philosophical topics such as whether a writer’s views be separated from his work.

“Let America be America again,” Hughes urges. He also admits, “There has never been equality or freedom for me.”

Weihs also uses music and projects photographs of the actual court proceedings plus other images of the era on a screen behind Hughes’ courtroom desk to remind the audience of the societal tensions of the 1950s. Of course, looking at a sign that reads, “We want white tenants in our white community,” forces audience members to consider our current climate on racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Despite top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure, this production’s hindered by its overly ambitious script, which, at times, seems more intent on raising issues than offering any attempts at resolution.


 

Learie Mc Nicolls, Parrot+Box for Roots… Sept 25, 2016

Artword Theatre presents a dance double-bill at Artword Artbar, Sunday, September 25, 2016, 8 pm.
1. The premiere of a new work, The Parrot of Paradise, is a Caribbean tale told in dance and spoken word, written and performed by Learie Mc Nicolls. It tells a story of a individual chosen to tell a short tale of a particular incident on a particular island. The story draws on Learie’s own experience growing up in the Caribbean, and is partly autobiographical, partly historical. Duration 20 mins.
2. A 30-minute excerpt of our Fringe hit  Once I Lived in the Box, choreographed by Learie Mc Nicolls, performed by dancers Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, Tanis Macarthur and Learie Mc Nicolls. “Once I lived in the box/ hated the box/ loved the box/ respected the box/ got angry at the box… ” The piece is a sequence of trios, duets and solos, that reveal different aspects of isolation and connection, vulnerability and trust. The full length version of this stunning work premiered at the Hamilton Fringe Festival 2016, to rave reviews.

Sunday, September 25, 2016, 8 pm, $20 (advance reserve 905-543-8512), $25 door, at Artword Artbar 15 Colbourne Street, Hamilton. The evening is part of the 2016 Roots en Route Festival of World Music, Dance, Spoken Word presented by Matapa, in multiple venues in September 2016.

Learie Mc Nicolls (choreographer, dancer) has been a key figure in contemporary dance in Toronto since the 1980s, with Toronto Dance Theatre, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, Dancemakers, National Ballet of Cuba, and his own company, Mythmakers. As a solo dancer, he has been exploring the combination of dance with spoken word, to create a powerful new form of theatrical presentation. Since moving to Hamilton, his dance projects include: at The Pearl Company Resurrection 2014, and at Artword Transformation 2015, Once I Lived in the Box 2016 and an ongoing series Big Dance Little Stage. In 2015 Learie received the City of Hamilton Arts Award for Performance.

DANCE: Once I Lived in the Box, Fringe, July 19-23, 2016

Artword Theatre presents Once I Lived in the Box, a dance work by Learie Mc Nicolls, for the 2016 Hamilton Fringe Festival. Dancer and choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls has created a full-length dance piece about vulnerability and trust.
The piece is danced by Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, Tanis Macarthur, Jamila Bello and Learie Mc Nicolls, in a sequence of trios, duets and solos that reveal different aspects of isolation and connection. Judith Sandiford is producer and lighting designer.
SIX SHOWS: Tues- Fri July 19-22, 2016, at 9:00 pm; Sat July 23 at 6:00 & 9:00 pm. 60 minutes. Tickets $10, or hamiltonfringe.ca/tickets/


Once I Lived in the Box: Sharon Harvey, Angela Del Franco, Tanis Macarthur, Learie Mc Nicolls

Fringe 2016 Review: Once I Lived in the Box,
by Amos Crawley
“It may be a warning. It may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year.”

July 20, 2016. Raise the Hammer
www.raisethehammer.org/blog/2988/fringe_2016_review:_once_i_lived_in_the_box

“Once I Lived In The Box is a dire warning. It’s a tired and nearly, nearly defeated voice crying out in the middle of a windy, terrifying night. It is by turns haunting, sensual, humorous, distant and visceral. Like the Otis Redding version of A Change Is Gonna Come that scores a marvelous solo, it’s a show that never once apologizes for the pain of being alive.

Once I Lived in the Box, Jamila Bello, Learie Mc Nicolls

It is a shared experience in that way – it’s us who are being warned: STOP! We hold on to our faked generosity, our small ownerships, our secret hate for dear life as if we ourselves are not part of a continuum-as if we do not all break the same way.

The show begins with the razor edge feeling of a situation that can’t possibly end well. Then quickly we are in the hustle and bustle of a life where life is that which gets swept away-hidden.

The show moves for the most part with the undeniable pulse of heartbreak. We are perhaps doomed and our inner turmoil is a result of the lack of faith we put in one another, of a true generosity of spirit. That’s the price we all gotta pay. Isn’t it a pity?

Once I Lived in the Box, Angela Del Franco

Mc Nicolls and his gifted, dedicated performers unselfishly make the political personal so that at the turn of a phrase or a fade in the music (the evening is accompanied by some of the most exquisite music of the 20th century) we have gone from the world at large to the most intimate trials and tribulations of a love affair.

It may be a warning, but it is not a hopeless warning. There is always joy available. We’re gonna end up in a box anyhow — why live in one too?

It may be a warning. It may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year.

Amos Crawley is an actor, director and acting instructor who lives in East Hamilton with his wife, actor and director Cadence Allen, and their young son.”


Once I Lived in the Box, Sharon Harvey

Once I Lived in the Box Review in View Magazine July 21 2016
by Heather Baer

Visceral, raw strength are words which came to mind while watching Once I Lived in the Box, a full-length dance work passionately and creatively written and performed by awarding-winning choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls. Joining him are four beautiful women (Jamila Bello, Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, and Tanis Macarthur) equally talented in their own right and each having a background in various movement forms from hip-hop to yoga and everything in between.

Once I Lived in the Box was inspired by a 10-page poem of the same name written by Mc Nicolls (“…because I have a lot to say”, quips Mc Nicolls when asked at a Q&A session after opening night) and reveals issues of vulnerability and trust as show through a series of solos, duets and quartets interwoven around, in, on and through movable pieces of “the box”.

The passion for and commitment to the piece and to their craft was expressed by the artists in every move from the fluid cadence of limbs to the exact placement of fingers as well as tell-tale glances and nods sometimes working in harmony and other times in opposition. Come and enjoy this unique exposition. The artistry continues for the rest of the weekend at Artword Artbar.


REVIEW of the February 2016 presentation: “Learie Mc Nicolls’ newest creation, Once I Lived in the Box, at Artword Artbar [Feb 3, 4 and 5, 2016], was a powerful, yet intimate, piece of choreography… This piece touched the heart. I hope it will be remounted; it deserves a longer run and a larger audience.” Ellen Jaffe, Ontario Arts Review

 

DANCE: Once I Lived in the Box, by Learie Mc Nicolls, Feb 2016

February 3, 4 & 5, 2016, a new full-length dance work Once I Lived in the Box by choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls, for Black History Month.

Once I lived in the box/ hated the box/
loved the box/
respected the box/
got angry at the box /
raged at the box /
the box was shiny/
the box was misery/
the school of hard knocks/
pulled up mah socks

Performed by dancers
Angela Del Franco,
Sharon Harvey,
Tanis Macarthur
and
Learie Mc Nicolls
with music by Edgardo Moreno.

Learie Mc Nicolls has been a key figure in the contemporary dance scene in Toronto since the 1980s. He has danced with Toronto Dance Theatre, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, Dancemakers, the National Ballet of Cuba, and his own company, Mythmakers. As a solo dancer, he has been exploring the combination of dance with spoken word, to create a powerful new form of theatrical presentation. His Toronto production, Armour, took two Dora awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Performance.

He moved to Hamilton, where he is devoting himself to help build the contemporary dance scene here. In May, 2014, he performed Resurrection at the Pearl Company, and choreographed the dances in Artword Theatre’s second production of James Street. He has created an ongoing series of showcase dance productions at Artword Artbar called Big Dance Little Stage, featuring dancers from Hamilton and Toronto over two nights. He has recently opened a dance rehearsal studio downstairs at Artword Artbar.


Review by Ellen Jaffe, Feb 8, 2016:

Learie Mc Nicolls Dances outside the Box

Review by Ellen S. Jaffe, for Ontario Arts Review
Learie Mc Nicolls’ newest creation, Once I Lived in the Box, at Artword Artbar in Hamilton {Feb 3, 4 and 5, 2016], was a powerful, yet intimate, piece of choreography. The dancer and choreographer left Trinidad, in 1974, worked in Vancouver, spent many years dancing with various companies in Toronto but now lives and works in Hamilton. Mc Nicolls’ powerful dance, combined with music, spoken words, and visuals on a screen, was performed with a trio of women dancers: Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, and Tanis Macarthur. Edgardo Moreno’s audio soundscape set the pace with electronic music and recorded blues with electronic modulation.

Direction and lighting were by Judith Sandiford. Four dark-coloured oblong benches served as a moveable set—upright boxes, benches, coffins or gallows—perhaps suggesting the boxes we live in (or under), love, hate, respect, recognize, and escape to discover who we are—boxes society puts us in, boxes we create ourselves. The work explored many questions, in a form of dance that told an “abstract, three-dimensional, emotional” story, in Mc Nicolls’ words.

Mc Nicolls danced the first number alone, wearing a dark suit and hat. From the time he came onstage, his fluid, supple movements captured the audience’s complete attention. His every step was poetry in motion—measured, exquisite motion—which expressed emotion. And he ended the set speaking to the audience.

Then Del Franco, Harvey, and Macarthur danced together in solos and duets, moving in and out or balancing on the boxes, in costumes geared to their individual styles. Del Franco’s poignant solo, danced to Nina Simone’s “Isn’t It a Pity?” was a clear highlight. So was Harvey’s solo, conveying grief, love, and strength, accompanied by Otis Redding’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The program noted Harvey’s “passion for the internal/external work of the body.”

Macarthur’s dancing was abstract, with inner grace and wit, and her duet with Mc Nicolls was beautifully touching. Their music was vintage slide guitar and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues.” In the finale, to the Staples Singers “I’ll Take You There,” Macarthur and Harvey danced a more spirited duet, while Del Franco and McNicolls enacted a more subtle interplay.
Sandiford’s lighting used LED lights and theatre gels (blue and red) to create changing moods.

Congratulations to ‘Artword Artbar’ for supporting this wonderful work. Created for Black History month, this piece touched the heart. I hope it will be remounted; it deserves a longer run and a larger audience. Judith Sandiford and Ron Weihs, launched Artword Artbar in 2009, and are the producers of Artword Theatre.

Ellen Jaffe, Ontario Arts Review, February 8, 2016.

Transformation, Learie Mc Nicolls, Fringe, July 16-25, 2015

July 16 to 25, 2015. Artword Theatre presents Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing by Learie Mc Nicolls, remounted for the 2015 Hamilton Fringe Festival.
Learie Mc Nicolls confronts the demons of poverty, violence and fear in his powerful new work, Transformation: a Journey of the Soul’s Healing. An Artword Theatre production, directed by Ronald Weihs, Transformation combines dance, spoken word, soundscape and visual images, to present one man’s struggle to come to terms with his troubled Trinidad childhood and redeem the forgotten child inside him. The live musical soundscape is by Dale Morningstar, and live visuals by Judith Sandiford.

Venue: Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St., a Bring-Your-Own-Venue.
Running time: 60 minutes. Eight performances, showtimes:
Thursday July 16 at 9 pm; Friday July 17 at 9 pm;
Saturday July 18 at 9 pm; Sunday July 19 at 8 pm;
Wednesday July 22 at 9 pm; Thursday July 23 at 8 pm;
Friday July 24 at 9 pm; Saturday July 25 at 9 pm  (Final Show)
Tickets $10 at door or online at: http://hamiltonfringe.ca/tickets/
plus a one-time purchase of a Fringe Button ($5), good for all Fringe shows.

Learie Mc Nicolls grew up in Moruga Trinidad.

Learie Mc Nicolls has been a key figure in the contemporary dance scene in Toronto since the 1980s. He has danced with Toronto Dance Theatre, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, Dancemakers, the National Ballet of Cuba, and his own company, Mythmakers. As a solo dancer, he has been exploring the combination of dance with spoken word, to create a powerful new form of theatrical presentation. His Toronto production, Armour, took two Dora awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Performance. He recently moved to Hamilton, where he is devoting himself to helping build the contemporary dance scene here. Recent projects include Resurrection at the Pearl Company in 2014, and an ongoing series of showcase dance productions at Artword Artbar called Big Dance Little Stage, featuring dancers from Hamilton and Toronto.


Review by Robin Pittis of Transformation in View Magazine July 23 2015

Transformation: An avant-garde dancer teams up with a musician and visual artist to create this challenging masterpiece of poetic theatre. Learie Mc Nicolls is an accomplished and award-winning modern dancer, and he draws on richly personal material of growing up in Trinidad for his poems. Themes of innocence, violence, and faith swirl between Judith Sandiford’s imagery, Dale Morningstar’s creative soundscape, Mc Nicolls’ lithe and free movement, and his vocal commitment to the text. This is a feat of mature creative artistry connoisseurs won’t want to miss. [R.P.]


Peter Malysewich: “…the premier performance of this year’s Fringe.” Transformation by Learie Mc Nicolls

The performance was totally awesome. As a Learie fan, I came prepared to enjoy it and was rewarded with even more than I expected. Held my attention from right from the beginning. But I have to give a shout out to Dale Morningstar who at times was so intense he seem to be Learie’s alter ego, with his masterful timing, that movement and sound became one. A terrific venue, a terrific beer, and a fusion of artists for the premier performance of this year’s Fringe. July 23, 2015, Peter Malysewich, audience member, posting on FB, https://www.facebook.com/groups/11108185093/


Gary Smith: “..Theatre that pricks the social conscience, stirs the imagination and releases thought. Go get transformed.”

For goodness sake, go see Learie Mc Nicolls’ dance drama “Transformation.” This piece of theatre-cum-performance art is a highly polished, professional work that finds inspiration in McNicolls’ narrative and Ron Weihs’ inspired direction. Add Judith Sandiford’s powerful visuals with their icy tinge of realism and you have a work of art.
McNicolls moves with easy grace offering a seemingly improvised (it’s not of course) banter that gives the work energy and rhythm. Accompaniment by musician Dale Morningstar on drums, keyboard, whistle and cymbals is always perfectly in tune with what’s going on.
“Transformation” reminded me of heady nights in Greenwich Village’s once famous Café Bizarre where, during the 1960s, art was deliriously performed for audiences who savoured every moment.
This is theatre that pricks the social conscience, stirs the imagination and releases thought. Go get transformed. Performed at Artword Artbar 15 Colbourne St.
Gary Smith in The Hamilton Spectator, July 16, 2015. Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years. He saw these Fringe shows in previews.


Review: Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing

By Dawn Cattapan, published July 17, 2015 in Raise The Hammer

Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing is a multi-disciplinary art piece that encompasses dance, spoken word, live music and image projections. Although initially conceived during 2014 performances, Transformation was first presented earlier this year and incorporates three of Mc Nicolls’ poems in order to bring three distinct characters to life.

Although these characters have other interactions, Learie is able to portray every single character with ease, using his body and voice alone to capture the essence of each; from a small child passing by on a beach to a preacher as he comes to terms with a troubled childhood.

In this sense, the story itself is epic; intense emotions and opinions of family, poverty, war, love, fear, sacrifice and faith are carefully explored as the character gracefully transforms and weaves their way into and out of the changes in their life. Through it all, they continue walking forward, to face each sunrise, and the promise of a new day with unreserved enthusiasm for the promise it may hold.

Mc Nicolls’ strong mastery of dance performance and movement is especially apparent as each transformation takes place with ease and grace that reflect his professional training.

No space or moment is wasted throughout the performance, as Artword Artbar is utilized perfectly in its entirety to capture each transformation, both in music, imagery and movement.

Mc Nicolls and his live collaborators have carefully and consciously thought out each moment, ensuring that they contribute to a powerful and meaningful performance as the music and images move the story forward as seamlessly as its main character.

Although many may feel that contemporary dance is an art form not for them, Learie Mc Nicolls is an apt tour guide for those looking to learn more about it as he conveys his story. This type of performance is reason enough to be excited about the future of the dance and art community in Hamilton.

https://raisethehammer.org/blog/2880/fringe_2015_review:_transformation:_a_journey_of_the_souls_healing

Learie Mc Nicolls “Transformation”, Mar 25-26, 2015

Transformation_poster_Mar_680March 25 & 26, 2015. Artword Theatre presents  “Transformation: A journey of the soul’s healing”, told in spoken word and dance by award-winning choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls,
directed by Ronald Weihs, script by Learie Mc Nicolls, dramaturgy by Ronald Weihs, designed by Judith Sandiford, live music by Dale Morningstar.
Transformation
combines dance, spoken word, soundscape and visual images, to present one man’s struggle to come to terms with his troubled Trinidad childhood and redeem the forgotten child inside him.

Walked I have into the sun’s glare
till my princedom became fear

Wed & Thurs, March 25 & 26, at 9 pm, $10. Call 905-543-8512.


Learie Mc Nicolls in Transformation at Artword Artbar

Learie Mc Nicolls confronts the demons of poverty, violence and fear in his powerful new work, Transformation: a Journey of the Soul’s Healing, at Artword Artbar, March 25 and 26, 2015, at 9:00 pm. An Artword Theatre production, directed by Ronald Weihs, Transformation combines dance, spoken word, soundscape and visual images, to present one man’s struggle to come to terms with his troubled Trinidad childhood and redeem the forgotten child inside him. The live musical soundscape is by Dale Morningstar, founder of the experimental blues-rock band, The Dinner is Ruined. Visual design is by Judith Sandiford.

Learie Mc Nicolls has been a key figure in the contemporary dance scene in Toronto since the 1980s. He has danced with Toronto Dance Theatre, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, Dancemakers, the National Ballet of Cuba, and his own company, Mythmakers. As a solo dancer, he has been exploring the combination of dance with spoken word, to create a powerful new form of theatrical presentation.  His Toronto production, Armour, took two Dora awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Performance.

A year ago, he moved to Hamilton, where he is devoting himself to help build the contemporary dance scene here. In May, 2014, he performed Resurrection at the Pearl Company, and choreographed the dances in Artword Theatre’s second production of James Street. He has created an ongoing series of showcase dance productions at Artword Artbar called Big Dance Little Stage, featuring dancers from Hamilton and Toronto over two nights. There have been four BDLS productions, June, September and November 2014, and February 2015. He has recently opened a dance studio downstairs at Artword Artbar.

Transformation takes the dance/spoken word paradigm to a new level. Ronald Weihs as director, and Judith Sandiford as designer, pushed Learie to incorporate methods based on their approach to theatre. Together, the three of them analyzed Learie’s poems from a theatrical point of view, finding characters and situations that needed to be brought to life. Learie was fine with this, because he is also an actor.

The three collaborators also drew on their experience with Big Dance Little Stage, where Judith Sandiford improvises with projected images and musicians create soundscapes to interact with dancers. It was through BDLS that they became acquainted with Dale Morningstar, who provides improvised music for his wife, dancer Megan English. In addition to his work as a musician, Dale is perhaps best-known as co-founder of The Gas Station Recording Studio, “the hub of the Canadian indie rock sound”, now located at Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. He and Megan now live in Hamilton.


Review by Louise Noel-Ambrose March 25 2015: “Caribbean theatre at its best right here in ‪#‎HamOnt! Learie Mc Nicolls poetry and choreography conjured up childhood memories of amazing theatre I experienced in my country. It was refreshing to once again experience such a journey through your poetry and dance last night. Encore, Encore, Encore.