Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parade - Berkeley Street Theatre

How easy it is to write a good or a bad review. A good review will write itself listing praises and a bad one pointing fault. But when theatre leaves you cold, leaves you feeling nothing, there the challenge comes. And I am so challenged after seeing Studio 180's production of Parade tonight.
Studio 180 is possibly the best small theatre company in Canada right now, with a mandate to produce "socially relevant, provocative theatre".
The problem in telling a story is it quite often helps to have an angle. I was thinking of "To Kill a Mockingbird" another story of a kangaroo court in the deep south, and how that story uses Scout, a small girl, to bring us in. Studio 180's last play, the Overwhelming, the best contemporary play I have seen in five years, also used an English family of outsiders to show the struggle between the Hutus and the Tutsis. So the challenge in tackling this story head on is how do you make it relatable? And staging it as a musical, which lends itself to over-dramatization, how do you make it relatable for an audience of today?
Well, the short answer is you don't. The entire cast, with the exception of the accused, could be called "Redneck #1" and "Redneck #2" and so on. No effort is made to understand these people's motivations. We know from history that fifty years after the civil war it must have been difficult for a Jewish man from the north to get a fair trial, and that's all we're really left with.
I must say here that Michael Therriault as the accused is handsome and sings well and does all he can, but who casts a heroic lead as a mousy Jew with hook-rim glasses?  All problems intrinsic in developing this story for stage.
The songs are overall mediocre with the exception of the rousing "That's What He Said", brilliantly performed by Daren A. Herbert. It's what's needed more of, some exposition, and the song whips the town into a frenzy of bloodlust for the accused. It should also be said that the second last song, "All the Wasted Time" between the accused and his wife, while supposedly presented as one final heart-felt goodbye falls totally flat and had everyone grabbing for their coats.
Finally Jeff Irving, who I last saw as Rolf in The Sound of Music, is very handsome and a great singer but I didn't feel the emotion all the time, for tonight's performance anyway something didn't quite click. Mark Uhre stood out from the Ensemble for his strong singing voice and stage presence.
A note, it is a smaller theatre and the actors are not miked. If you sit on the left hand row of seats you will have the band in front of you and they will COMPLETELY drown out the actors voices, you will end up hearing less than 50% of the dialogue. I've seen musicals at the Berkeley Upstairs before and had the same problem. The band needs to play much quieter, the actors need to be miked, or the venue needs to be changed. Either way, don't sit on the left!
Overall I'm glad I went to support Studio 180 but an average play. It should be noted this was a co-production with Acting Up! Stage Company

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The End of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


Sixty-six years ago, in the dense, snow-covered forests of Western Europe, Allied Forces were beating back a massive assault in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. And in the final days of fighting, a regiment in the 80th Division of Patton’s Third Army came under fire. The men were traveling along a narrow trail. They were exposed and they were vulnerable. Hundreds of soldiers were cut down by the enemy.

And during the firefight, a private named Lloyd Corwin tumbled 40 feet down the deep side of a ravine. And dazed and trapped, he was as good as dead. But one soldier, a friend, turned back. And with shells landing around him, amid smoke and chaos and the screams of wounded men, this soldier, this friend, scaled down the icy slope, risking his own life to bring Private Corwin to safer ground.

For the rest of his years, Lloyd credited this soldier, this friend, named Andy Lee, with saving his life, knowing he would never have made it out alone. It was a full four decades after the war, when the two friends reunited in their golden years, that Lloyd learned that the man who saved his life, his friend Andy, was gay. He had no idea. And he didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what had kept him alive; what made it possible for him to come home and start a family and live the rest of his life. It was his friend.

And Lloyd’s son is with us today. And he knew that valor and sacrifice are no more limited by sexual orientation than they are by race or by gender or by religion or by creed; that what made it possible for him to survive the battlefields of Europe is the reason that we are here today. (Applause.) That's the reason we are here today. (Applause.)

So this morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Applause.) It is a law -- this law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.

No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military -– regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance -– because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love. (Applause.)

As Admiral Mike Mullen has said, “Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.” (Applause.)

That’s why I believe this is the right thing to do for our military. That’s why I believe it is the right thing to do, period.

Finally, I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You’ve been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.

You’re not the first to have carried this burden, for while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making.

There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country; their service has been obscured in history. It’s been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.

There can be little doubt there were gay soldiers who fought for American independence, who consecrated the ground at Gettysburg, who manned the trenches along the Western Front, who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima. Their names are etched into the walls of our memorials. Their headstones dot the grounds at Arlington.

And so, as the first generation to serve openly in our Armed Forces, you will stand for all those who came before you, and you will serve as role models to all who come after. And I know that you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honor, just as you have every other mission with which you’ve been charged.

Some of you remembered I visited Afghanistan just a few weeks ago. And while I was walking along the rope line -- it was a big crowd, about 3,000 -- a young woman in uniform was shaking my hand and other people were grabbing and taking pictures. And she pulled me into a hug and she whispered in my ear, “Get ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ done.” (Laughter and applause.) And I said to her, “I promise you I will.” (Applause.)

For we are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one.” (Applause.) We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. (Applause.) Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law. (Applause.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Carol – Soulpepper

I have always liked Charles Dickens. In addition to great stories, he really wrote for the reader, with a wit very evident today and a gift for hyperbole and exaggeration that matches my own. With this and Oprah recently picking A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations as her book club selections, I couldn’t wait to see a classic version of A Christmas Carol on my birthday.

I had a couple of reservations going in, the seats had been expensive and what newness could be brought to a story I had seen 1,000 times before, performed by The Muppets or Bill Murray. But after the Star’s fantastic 4 star review, I couldn’t wait.

The play was mesmerizing. Performed in the round, with the stage in the middle and the audience on each side, every seat was in the middle of the action. This more traditional re-telling included elements I had never seen, like a lively dance intermission during Christmas past, and fantastic costumes like long flowing velvet robes for the ghosts and short pants with stockings for the young men.

The first hour before intermission went by in 5 minutes. Scrooge looks on with wonder at the forgotten aspects of his life in Christmas past, occasionally instructing his past self with commands made in vain to change, and we watch too, mesmerized. This device of the character watching the events of the past unfold, unable to change them, while we watch too is brilliance, and with Joseph Ziegler as Scrooge, we see every nuance of emotion is his pained face. His performance is amazing, he checks any sense of his self at the door and becomes Scrooge, not the cartoon character, but a fully fleshed out man reflecting on his life.

This was the first time I saw Scrooge as human, not a caricature, and I was able to indentify with him at certain moments. When Scrooge is asked for money to help the poor celebrate the holidays, he protests, saying he already funds the shelters and the work houses, what else do these people want? An echo of words I have used myself.

This play made me re-think the concept of charity. In modern times charity has become such a business, it’s easy to be cynical. You have to read between the lines of every ask. For example, the Canadian Stage Theatre Company called me for money early this week, saying tickets sales only account for 50% of their budget and they need to make up the short fall. But if you look closer, you’ll see tickets sales cover the productions, the other 50% of their budget is outreach, free theatre for schools, book clubs, paid apprenticeships, and other things that are nice to have, but not strictly necessary. If for example 100% of their budget was suddenly covered, they would simply increase the budget, come up with new outreach programs, and call me again to ask for money to support them. There is no end, no enough.

As a consequence of this, it’s hard to know what to support, and easy to lose sight of true priorities when you’re called 3 times a week for donations. The tendency when the phone rings is to say “Humbug!” and quickly hang up, and this play re-affirms the need to keep vigilant, that there is still need out there if you look for it, not just an endless sea of wants.

The other aspect that moved me is how easily Scrooge turned his back on his friends and family, and also how easily they welcomed him back. This also hit close to home, it’s too easy in these busy times to focus on your own game and temporarily forget the benefit gained by social relationships.

I’ve gone a little off topic, but I have to say Matthew Edison as Scrooge’s nephew and also Scrooge as a young man was fantastic as well, and I loved his period dress. I last saw Matthew as the lead in Loot, also at Soulpepper.

As Scrooge’s nephew says in the play, Christmas is “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys”. In the age of adding arsenic to children’s candy to make it shine brighter, and bleach to bread to make it whiter, this sentiment must have seemed radical, and in a great example of how when things change so much, they change so little, it still kind of is.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Citizens concerned about Project Sanctuary

December 13, 2010

Open Letter re: Richard Dyde

York researcher Richard Dyde killed himself on December 9th. It was the day after police named him and 56 others in connection with Project Sanctuary, their child pornography probe.

We have serious grounds for questioning the legitimacy of this probe. In past years, Ontario police departments have launched similar investigations – Project Guardian in London, Project Truth in Cornwall, among others –that were later revealed to be little more than opportunistic sex scandals. Often relying on dubious allegations and perjured evidence, many of the cases related to these investigations collapsed in court. No matter: a witch-hunt mentality prevailed, jobs were lost, families and reputations were destroyed, and several men likewise took their own lives.

Police have admitted to journalists that one of the most inflammatory charges Dyde faced, “making child pornography,” may actually refer to “putting it on a different type of medium.” Does this mean saving a downloaded jpeg as a pdf? This blurring of crucial distinctions seems calculated to foster hysteria, not informed opinion.

We do not know the specifics of Richard Dyde’s case. All we know are the screaming headlines, which presumably drove him to take his life. All we know are sickening feelings of déjà vu as we witness a police force trafficking in maximum sensationalism, a complacent mass media cashing in on the frenzy, and a legal system perpetuating and enforcing questionable laws that equate representation with physical molestation. The public identification and shaming of these men, before any court process, is an intolerable injustice of which Richard Dyde is only the most recent victim.


Mary-Louise Adams, associate professor, Kinesiology and Health, Queens University

Brenda Cossman, professor, Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto

Richard Fung, associate professor, Faculty of Art, OCAD University

John Greyson, associate professor, Film, York University

Gerald Hannon, writer

Peter Kingstone, artist/lecturer

Gary Kinsman, professor, Sociology, Laurentian University

Tim McCaskell, writer/activist

Matt Mills, editorial director, Xtra

Alan Sears, professor, Sociology, Ryerson University

Rinaldo Walcott, professor, SESE OISE University of Toronto

Tom Waugh, professor, Film, Concordia University

For more information, check out the facebook group Citizens concerned about Project Sanctuary.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Things that make me happy

  • Cats
  • Good plays
  • Giving presents
  • A new app for my iPod
  • Planning a vacation
  • Ru Paul's Drag Race
  • The Golden Girls
  • Deliveries from
  • The Sound of Music
  • Laughing with my mom
  • Cooking
  • An old book I haven't seen before
  • A handsome man
  • Saturdays
  • Sewing

The Ways to Make Friends and Influence People

No problem is ever made better by talking about it.  On the contrary, word gets around, and whatever is bothering you gets rehashed.
NOTE TO SELF: Don't talk about problems.

Be flexible in your viewpoints.  No one likes absolutes, no one likes being told they're wrong.  Be agreeable, bend and fold.
NOTE TO SELF: Don't have opinions.

No situation is made better by walking away.  It's taking the easy way out, it's being a quitter.  Learn ways to cope with bad situations.  Turn the frown up-side down.
NOTE TO SELF: Stay in bad situations.

Adapt to situations you are in.  Know your audience.  Don't be disagreeable.  Don't be disliked.  Keep peace.  Get along. Be respectful. 
NOTE TO SELF: Be what other's want.  Don't be yourself.

I can see the past unfolding as the present.  I can see the error of my ways.  I feel the wounds of the people I have treated badly, the things I have done to them, and I see myself falling into patterns, doing the same things to others.  I see the circle closing as a result, less and less people.  And I feel lonely and I want to reach out but I hear, so loud, the wailing of the ones before, and I know I am still the same person, and I see pattern in my behaviour, and I worry about doing the same thing again.

The way I'm feeling now is the way I always feel after.  If only I hadn't.
If only I hadn't spoke.
If only I hadn't shown my feelings.
If only I hadn't have been myself none of this would have happened.

And I feel like King Kong, gone out to the city to say hello and the entire world reacted in terror and ran, and I couldn't understand why.
And I want to lick my wounds,
and go to my cave,
and stroke my cat,
and hide,
in the dark,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Silicone Diaries - Buddies in Bad Times

Didn't know what to except going in. I had sat this play out in last year's lesbian season, but with a SLIGHT shift toward gay friendly programming I bought a subscription to Buddies and went to see "The Silicone Diaries" last night.
The play was fantastic, a detailed story of a desire for beauty and transformation, at it's best exploring the essence of self acceptance.
Nina Arsenault was stunning, moving. At the height of the play she describes a friend and mentor who died from surgery with an urgency that takes your breath away.
The play de-rails a bit after that with a lengthy coda about an exercise bike and the phrase "the next step of my body transformation" being used more than ten times in the space of five minutes. It's jarring as the rest of the play is grounded so much in reality, this abstract ending could work in another form but it needs to be more concise, I got on the journey at the beginning and this ending derails the train a bit.
Afterward a Q & A, which works for most plays but here felt uncomfortable with too many questions about transsexuality as a concept and questions and what is between people's legs. The play suspends this question and moves on to the real story beneath, one would hope the audience was mature enough to do the same.