Monday, November 30, 2009

Playing in the sandbox

A few shots of the wonderful production of Hamlet with Forward Theatre. I had the pleasure of playing Hamlet's Father (aka 'the ghost') and the Player King.

It was a great production. Sometimes, when you're doing a show, you just have to put your head down and ignore some choices that the production team are making and just do your best job with your part.

Chris Legacy (the director) managed to pull off a great looking production that was an amazing present for the actors and for the audience. It was smart, challenging, inventive and tragic. A huge sandbox surrounded by tiers of risers with chairs and cushions, and the whole scattered with piles of lovely red and gold autumn leaves that Chris must have been collecting for weeks.

In behind Chris hung a huge curtain that served a dozen purposes - a backdrop to anchor the set, the closet in which Polonius hangs, a ghostly shade in which the Ghost appears, a red river of blood when Hamlet kills Polonius, the shroud for his body after it falls.... etc etc The Fight Choreographer for the show was remarkable - the various kinds of violence that are so necessary to this piece looked extraordinary.

Jeremy Trite, our technician, took a pic of the end of the Player King's speech... you can recognize me by the top of my head...

I'm not in the final scene of slaughter at the court so I was able to race into the balcony and snap a quick pic of the final scene before racing back down for the bows. Here's a blurry shot of the final kill of Claudius. (Dagger to the throat... ouch!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The most amazing scat

I think I've posted this before. But couldn't resist again. The scintillating young Louis Armstrong in the prime of his invention...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

hacking at the brazilians

Sick like a dog this weekend, had tickets for the amazing Brazilian singer Gal Costa, so took at taxi down and sat huddled up with a huge smile on my face in the back of the amazing Massey hall. Sadly she didn`t do my favourite, `Baby`written with Caetano Vaeloso, but she was simply wonderful.

now I`m heading to bed with a hot toddy and whole bunch of aspirin and some beautiful bossa nova rhythms dancing in my befuddled brain...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Giving up on the post

Sick at home in bed today. Lisa brings both papers home. The national papers. Not sure why they get that name... An easy read of forgettable articles about... well, I can't really remember. A self serving article by Conrad Black which was supposed to be about how he finds redemption in teaching, but is really about his love of long, pretentious sentences about himself. I go back to Ruskin.

Couple of years ago I wrote a show that I took across Canada that featured the National Post and the Globe and Mail as active participants. I spent the two months on tour cutting up the arts sections. I divided articles written about Canada from articles about (mostly) crap pop culture from the States. Movies, books, computer games. By the end of the run I had an immense clear garbage bag with articles that were advertising for American products that needed to be sold to Canadians, and a small clear kitchen bag of stories that were actually about Canadian culture. I carried those on stage and tried to talk about how strange it was to come from living abroad to a country that seemed to have no offical outlet for its own worldview. A culture that for an outsider would seem to have no interest or respect for itself.

They scream about how terrible the decline in readers is, but will they cure that by creating more empty and uncontroversial articles about ... well, mostly about nothing. I think we're desperate for information that actually connects to the life we are living. And I think on some level we're clear when we're being offered smoke and mirrors, bait and switch. Culture sections that are ads for celebrity movies. Lifestyle sections that are twelve pages of product placement.

I've had the good luck to live in countries where papers were filled with articles that took hours to read. Articles that were challenging and maybe even ( shock, horror!) made me work to understand. Info that made me want to talk about the issues over dinner.... that made me, well, at least remember what they had been about.

I go back to Ruskin. The Nature of Gothic. How to tell good architecture from bad. He says, "First, see if it looks like it had been built by strong men; if it has the sort of toughness, and largeness, and nonchalence, mixed in places with the exquisite tenderness which seems always to be the sign-manual of the broad vision, and massy power of men who can see past the work they are doing, and betray here and there something like disdain for it. If the building has this character it is much in its favour.'

there's some truths to talk about over dinner.

I wish the culture mavens of Can-culture would dare to confront work that has this sort of complexity. The country is full of it. It just seems to scare the shit out of the self proclaimed national reporters and editors of Canadian culture.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Memories of Bonnie Scotland

It rained in Edinburgh. A lot. In fact, it was the rainiest year in over 100 years. Scotland is renowned for its soggy climate, so imagine how wet was. Rain on the castle, rain on the cobblestone streets and rain on the umbrellas of folk waiting in line to buy tickets for my show Whiskey Bars.

It was wet, soggy theatre madness. You think the Canadian Fringes are crazy – they have nothing on this elephant of a festival - over 2000 different theatre shows were performing. Which adds up to 19 000 (that's right - nineteen thousand!) performers wandering the streets trying to get audiences to come to their shows. Over the course of the three week festival around 1.7 million tickets were sold. And for our whole last week I watched the rain fall on my glorious sold-out line-ups… The average size for an audience at a show in Edinburgh is 8 people (that’s right, just Eight warm bodies), so a full house is a dream come true.

We arrived here on August 1st as an unknown Canadian one-man show. When we walked into our tiny venue we didn't expect much – it was seedy, to put it politely. A crumbling door at the end of a dank alleyway beside a gloomy ancient cemetery. The theatre is a 500-year-old vaulted church basement. Right next door is one of Edinburgh's least glamorous massage parlours, and on the other side armored cars bring in criminals to the Law Courts that sit high above. Reviewers have said complimentary things like "the seedy, dank atmosphere of the Vault creeps into every sinew of this performance".

I can't argue...but the locale was perfect for a one-man exploration of the music of Kurt Weill--composer of Mack the Knife. Weill basically invented a whole new style of music theatre in the 1920's, working with Bertold Brecht. I've been obsessed with Weill's music for years - I first heard his songs in a cabaret in East Berlin in the 1980's while living in a squat in West Berlin. How could I not fall in love after the glamour of squeaking through Checkpoint Charlie, sitting in a dank bar watching a cabaret show while drinking harsh Eastern Bloc vodka.

I first performed Whiskey Bars at the 2000 Toronto Fringe Festival. It took me years of touring, reworking the show and tweaking the script before I felt like it was good enough to bring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. At the beginning in Edinburgh we played to audiences of three and four enthusiastic friends. We begged the folk who work in the theatres to come and check out the show, hoping to start some buzz. And amazingly, it worked. Britain's prestigious theatre mag, The Stage, dropped by & gave us a double thumbs-up: "Like Hedwig with far better melodies" they said. We got Five Stars from The Edinburgh Fringe Review, and Five Stars from Edinburgh's Broadway Baby Review. (you can read all the reviews here)

So, amazingly, for once, it worked. A little show wandered into town on a wing and a prayer, our whole gamble paid off (we even covered the cost of getting over there) the glowing reviews kept stacking up. The only question for the summer was, of course, could we handle any more British weather?

Whiskey Bars at Bread and Circus in Kensington Market every Tuesday at 8pm. Tickets $10.00 at the door, or through

yes, that is a tea cozy....