Monday, July 28, 2008

Whiskey Bars by Bremner Duthie...suspicious behaviours

As the US border guard held the suspicious device he’d found in my car, I wondered why I had been pulled over. And why I was being treated like a terrorist. When I crossed the border from Canada to perform at the Minneapolis Fringe Festival I didn’t think I fit the usual profiling – I wasn’t trying to be anonymous – after all, I was driving my vintage cherry-red 1964 Buick Skylark. I’m part of that large, bland demographic – white, anglo-saxon, male, and I’m not even a suspicious foreigner – I was born in New York City and proudly carry a well traveled American passport. Perhaps I fell into some random selection process, or perhaps the guard had indigestion. Suffice to say I found myself in a small office while the red faced guard in mirrored sunglasses popped back and forth to show me items he’d pulled from the car. He seemed to be waiting for me to fall to my knees and admit that this flimsy ‘performing in musical theatre’ story was actually a front for the international white slave trade (well… OK, sometimes, at the going rates of pay in theatre, I think I might agree with him…). At one point he wandered in with my top hat from the show. ‘And just where will you be wearing this?’ I drew his attention to the flyer for the show that I’d already given him – ‘On stage, like in the picture’. He left unimpressed.

Finally, he came back in with a triumphant, grim smile. He was brandishing a piece of wood with a hole bored through the middle, and now behind him stood another border guard with his hand hovering close to his gun. ‘I found this in your trunk, what is the purpose of this device’. I paused. He was waving a section of a portable coat rack I’d borrowed from my Mom to use in the show. I had a vision of myself driving to Washington DC in my Skylark to thwack George W. Bush with the piece of wood. It was a very unlikely vision, but hey, I guess you can’t be too careful in the war against terror. He flourished my Mom’s old coat rack in the air, staring at me like I was his prize for the day. My Dad’s words came back to me – ‘never, ever, ever joke with a customs guards, they are not hired for their senses of humour’.

I explained the purpose of the ‘device’. There was a long pause. His armed friend coughed discreetly and drifted tactfully away. ‘Would you like me to show you how it works?’ I asked innocently. He glared. ‘No, I think I’ve seen enough! Please move your car.’ And I drove off thinking I’m glad my government is protecting me from all those coat rack wielding music theatre performers who might be trying to sneak into the US in a 40 year old classic car, yes, indeedy… it makes me feel so, so much safer….

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Whiskey Wars of Whiskey Bars ( a kabarett by Bremner Duthie with the songs of Kurt Weill)

Ouch…when I decided to take Whiskey Bars, a Kabarett by Bremner Duthie with songs by Kurt Weill, to the Edinburgh Fringe, I stumbled into this without any idea of how extremely tender Scottish feelings are on the subject of Whiskey... or is it Whisky. Please calm down, oh annoyed Scottish friends!

I'm bringing my show from Canada to Edinburgh and it's called 'Whiskey Bars'. Yes, with an "e" in the whisky.

The show's based around the songs of Kurt Weill—the guy who wrote Mack the Knife, among other songs. And before the Fringe has even started, I've had too many emails reminding me curtly that the correct spelling of Whiskey is Whisky, and that the Irish stole the word and added an 'E' to indicate their inferior product, and that the ignorant Americans began using the Irish spelling, (probably because there were way more Irish than Scots arriving State-side) and that adding an 'e' to the word is like adding Coca Cola to a single malt, (all right, all right, I've seen folks do that in the States and I agree it's disgusting) and that if I'm going to do a show in Scotland I should be aware of the correct spelling.

Well, normally on matters of cultural heritage I bow down and back off to the aggrieved cultures involved, but for once, I have history on my side. Because Kurt Weill wrote music theatre pieces with the brilliant Bertolt Brecht in the 1920's in Germany, and the 'Alabama Song' was one of his hits, and the title of my show comes from one of the lyrics.

You know the song—it was a huge hit for The Doors and David Bowie ("Oh, show me the way to the next Whiskey Bar…").

So this song comes from a show called the 'Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny'. It's a satire; Mahagonny symbolized the ultimate city of Capitalism, so Weill and Brecht imagined a city on the American frontier—although at that point they'd never been to America (and though the show was really a satire on 1920's Weimar Berlin).

Weill and Brecht decided that gangsters, gold-diggers, hurricanes, the FBI and lumberjacks might all meet up in this mythical Western city. And while the show is in German,Alabama Song is in English, and Weill and Brecht chosen American spelling simply because the song is set in the Wild (Weimar-tinted) West.

So…I know that Scottish Whisky is the best (though a fine single cask Kentucky Bourbon can go down pretty well), but for this one situation, my spelling of Whiskey is right.

To redeem myself, I promise to consume all the Whisky that I can once I get to Edinburgh…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quick Quiz - Bremner Duthie's Whiskey Bars with songs by Kurt Weill at the Edinburgh Fringe at 'The Vault'

Three Weeks Magazine in Britain asked me to fill out a quick quiz about my show Whiskey Bars, with the songs of Kurt Weill that will be going up at the Edinburgh Fringe at The Vault venue. I think this about sums it up...

1. What is your 2008 show all about?

"Whiskey Bars" is a tell-all, behind the scenes, no holds barred, backstage peek at the torrid and neurotic life of a fading cabaret singer teetering between a stunning future and a plunge into obscurity. It takes place as he prepares himself with innumerable shots of cheap vodka in the dressing room before a 'comeback' performance. Casting the audience as his critic, he lies, seduces, threatens, cajoles and bargains to secure a good review for the show he's about to do...all while performing a reverse striptease. He starts in a towel and ends in full tuxedo and whiteface. And best of all - he illustrates his story with the dark and daring songs of Kurt Weill.

2. Why should we come and see it?

Because folks say 'Wow' after hearing Weill's songs in this context--songs like Mack the Knife, September Song and soooooo many others, with lyrics by writers from Bertolt Brecht to Ira Gershwin. Because how often to you get to spend an evening with someone who believes they were captured by aliens? And because everyone can relate to the story of trying to get up and do what most scares them.

3. If your show was an olympic sport, what would it be and why?

Gossima. Whiff-Whaff. Flim-Flam. Ping-Pong – that's right – Table Tennis!!

Why? Because it's a breathless, nonstop, frighteningly precise yet totally nerdy battle of wits and speed where every move counts. Because you need to keep your eyes glued to the show for every tense, thrilling and yet somehow hilarious moment. Because Ping Pong was invented in 1890 in England using cigar box lids for rackets and a carved champagne cork for a ball, and we feel any game that has its roots in nicotine and alcohol has a lot in common with our show.

4. What are you most looking forward to about this year's Festival?

We're looking forward to sharing our own art and work and struggles equally amidst a collective community of the best of international theatre dedicated to artistic, wait...that's the first line from the grant proposal…damn! …OK…we're looking forward to single malts, the fringe club, late night music jams, a distant shot at fame & glory, and a brief sleazy fling with some hot dancer with an amazing physique (we can dream, right?)

5. What are you least looking forward to about this year's Festival?

Now look - before heading for Canada I spent my youth in Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire...not that far from I know...I know ALL ABOUT the friggin' awful weather. None of those carefully selected photos where happy performers busk in warm sunlight fool me. In Canada, August means a chance to soak up some sun, but in the capital city of Scotland I remember those North Sea squalls sweeping through at any time of year! Normally I do the busking in white face, so hopefully drizzled, dripping and streaked makeup will give me that lovely dramatic touch...

6. What advice would you have for someone trying to navigate the Fringe?

Trust your instincts and pick the shows that really appeal to you on some dark and daring level…better to see an exciting flop then a dull success! Don't follow the reviews – ask the person waiting in line in front of you, or eavesdrop on the conversation going on behind you – they'll give you much more exciting advice. Performers LOVE audiences who've been drinking – so don't forget to take advantage of all the great pubs and fine drinking establishments!

7. What advice would you have for someone trying to survive the Fringe?

Just three words – Alcohol, Caffeine, Baked Tatties

8. Describe your show in three words

Terrifyingly pleasurable schmaltz


by Bremner Duthie

at The Vault, 11 Merchant Street

preview Aug 3, 9pm (1hr) £3.00

Aug 4-10, 12-17, 19-25, 8:40pm (1hr) £6.00(£5.00)


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lisa Pasold reading from her book Weave

Lisa Pasold reading from Weave in a June reading at the Art Bar reading series in Toronto at Clinton's on Bloor St.

Lisa did a great reading

Geist Magazine said

"Weave reads as a memoir of the twentieth century in a world bounded by Prague and Peru and the Russian Front and the shores of Lake Ontario. The narrator is a traveler and an exile, and she seems to be perpetually in transit. Her brother Wilhelm serves as mythical interlocutor, and we are led by their sibling love into and out of the darkness of Europe. Weave is quite simply a masterpiece: there is more in these eighty odd pages than in most novels." ~Stephen Osborne, Geist

and you can buy it now, today, immediately at

Thursday, July 03, 2008

when there's so much going on in the news sometimes the really great stories just get lost - I heard this guy on radio and he said that the only moment that scared him was when he thought that the bear might drown and he was scared for it... not for himself! ... extraordinary...