Photo Courtesy Ryerson Theatre

Theatre students spread Funtasia

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By Sil-Anne Kaya

Think outside the box.

An overused term, according to some, but the only way to describe the method behind the madness of Funtasia. The Ryerson Theatre hosts this production, beginning tonight, which showcases the stage debut of our second-year theatre students.

But what we really want to know is … what is Funtasia?

Here’s a hint: it’s far from Walt Disney—although it does contain elements of some disorienting theme park ride. No, Funtasia should not be confused with the popular cartoon that holds a similar name. Susan Cox, director and writer of the unconventional stage show, describes it as a “post-modern ballet opera drama” that defines a new, “alarmingly infectious” disease.
The disease inflicts artists with disillusionment, confusion and a loss of self. It’s kind of vague, which is exactly the point. It’s Funtasia.

“It can apply to you at any point in your life,” says Jennifer Kalinowski, a second-year theatre student who plays ‘Nora’—a prophetic diva—in the show. “I don’t think Funtasia can be explained. It can inflict anybody. It’s our search for—”

Full in the blank.

The show takes its audience on a  trip of deliberately exaggerated cultural expression and theatrical clichés. It’s a surprisingly comedic look at the superficial (“You’re all so very deeply shallow!”) and the stereotypical (“I want to be a ballet dancer!”) of the performance world.
Every performer searches for true meaning as they dance and sing through Russia, Africa, Italy, Spain, the Caribbean, and back home to Toronto again.

The ‘lost performer’ funtasia syndrome is universal—or so it seems.

Cox, who has over 30 years of theatre experience in the U.K., Canada and U.S., wittingly pokes fun at theatrical obstacles: batting the egos of divas, melodramatic over-acting, stuffy opera singers, over-zealous amateurs—and everything in between.

If nothing else, this show will definitely make you laugh. It’s a humorous, indirect parody of every stage show imaginable, from West Side Story to Phantom of the Opera.

The production boasts a completely original script, songs, choreography and orchestral score. There is a focus on diverse dance and song, including flamenco, grand opera, Italian ballads, rap, interpretive dance and street fighting.

“She [Cox] basically put our personalities into the script,” says second-year theatre student Peter Madden, who plays Ralph in the show. “She got to know us while work-shopping earlier on, then threw it onto a page.”

The cast includes the entire second-year theatre student collective. Zainab Musa, a second-year theatre student who plays Sardo in the show, describes Funtasia’s creation as constantly growing and changing. For the African piece, all the girls got together and “jammed,” piercing the drum ensemble together through an improv session. Just one day before the first public performance, there were changes to lighting, stage positions and sounds.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it changed throughout the actual show,” Musa says, still in high spirits after hours of rehearsal. “This whole thing has been an extreme learning experience.”

Underlying the chaotic, but extremely creative, structure of Funtasia lies a fairly simple theme: The secret to finding yourself lies within yourself, not outside in the world—it is found in the heart.

This concluding message is the only part of Funtasia that’s hard to stomach, because—while battling other clichés—Coz inserts her own at the end. Funtasia may have been better suited with an obscure ending to an obscure show, instead of the hurried attempt at closure.

Besides that one part—which is more suited to philosophical debate than theatre—Funtasia is a well-rounded, innovative and entertaining production for the adventurous at heart.

—Funtasia opens March 21 and runs until March 3. For more information, or for tickets, contact the Ryerson Theatre Box Office at (416) 979-5118.

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