Month: January 2009

Girl Soldiers

When people think of warfare, images of fatigues, guns, and tanks come to mind. Taken for granted is the gender of the soldiers. But female soldiers do exist. Really.

Colombian director/ playwright Bea Pizano explores this fascinating reality in her new work, La Communion. It’s being read as part of this year’s Groundswell Festival put on by Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre. La Communion portrays the experiences of a young woman who’d been kidnapped by guerillas at the age of twelve. It isn’t just based on imagination, either; Pizano actually met and spoke with several women who’d been kidnapped and forced to be part of Colombian guerilla groups during their childhoods.

Bea Pizano talks about women, drama and warfare, tomorrow on Take 5.

Just after 9amET.

Listen local: 89.5FM
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Community radio.
Worldwide community.

Staging Stranger

The popular Albert Camus novel L’Etranger tells the story of Mersault, who kills an Algerian man and is put on trial. It’s been adapted for film, and has influenced music and pop culture since its publication in 1942.

Toronto‚Äôs Praxis Theatre Company has transferred L’Etranger to the stage, where it’s become Stranger, a collectively-adapted work exploring the themes of Camus’ work with some contemporary touches.

Thursday morning on Take 5, I’ll be speaking with Stranger’s director and Praxis’ co-Artistic Director, Simon Rice, just after 9amET.

Local: 89.5FM
click “listen live” on the top right


Hopes Bud; Get dashed. Sort of.

The Federal Budget was released this afternoon. Every television channel and radio station in Canada was covering the announcement; this is a big one for us, because it could mean the fall of the current Conservative government over a vote of non-confidence by opposition parties, if they don’t like what they see. And the dissolution of Parliament could mean an election within months.

So far, there’s been reaction from two of Canada’s opposition parties: the NDP and the Bloc. Verdict for both? Thumbs down to Jim Flaherty et al. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (leader of the third opposition party) spoke briefly with reporters too; the rise or fall of the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives essentially rests with Ignatieff and the Grits. What did he say? He didn’t. While he likes some elements, he and the party have issues with other things tabled within Flaherty’s report. He’s going to announce the Liberal reaction tomorrow at 11am.

It was with particular interest that I’ve been noting the expectations and hopes centred around the release of today’s budget; in some ways they very much mirror the expectations and hopes surrounding the start of the Obama presidency. Lord knows there are many, many issues at hand right now -the economy being the biggest. But as an arts-lover, I don’t necessarily think art and the economy are at odds. James Bradshaw reported on the connections between the two recently. Arts economy is economy, period. It’s work, it’s money, it’s energy. It seems like Heritage Minister James Moore understands this. There’s been a nice allocation of money ($160 million, in fact) put towards the arts sector. President Obama gets the relationship between the two as well.

But in the same way there’s an inherent connection with arts and economy, there exists the same between the latter and environment. Everything is everything, and it seems like more people are aware of that, even as there are those who cling desperately to the old ways. James Clancy, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, lays out the intimate connections between environment and economy in a convincing piece on Green Nexxus. He says: “This is the opportunity of our lifetime; to lead the transformation to a stronger economy and a cleaner environment.” I’d add, “and a vibrant arts scene” to that.

Binding everything is our access to share and deseminate information. The Globe and Mail created a Wiki on Public Policy in anticipation of the budget, and it was a neat bit of interaction. CBC and Cisco started One Million Acts of Green back in the fall (encouragingly, they’re seven months ahead of schedule in hitting their target, too). The budget announcement this afternoon featured live blogging by various media. Part of President Obama’s stimulus package includes money for technology. Now that’s forward-thinking… make that present-thinking, and present-embracing. Michael Geist has thoughts about the Conservatives’ allocation of money for technology and comparisons to spending in other countries. It all underlines the ways in which the internet have re-shaped our perceptions and understandings around the most vital issues of the day.

Now, let’s wait to hear what Mr. Ignatieff will say tomorrow morning. I’ll be watching online, and wondering who will be adding voices to the discussion.

Surf. Practise. Audition.


Artistic Directors, marketers, musicians, artists, and artsy types, take note: this is the future of cultural connecting and opportunity. Totally inspiring.


I always marvel at the ability to be able to write strictly for voice, building narrative and shaping tone through sonic means alone. The power of sound can’t be underestimated. It’s something I was reminded of lastnight when I received word that a radio documentary I’d made in 2006 is going to made available online.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I made a trip overseas to see my father. I made a documentary about my experience that aired later that year across Canada on CBC Radio One. It was a part of Outfront, which focuses on personal stories.

“Lanyod” (Hungarian for “daughter”) has been chosen as being among the best of Outfront documentaries, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s available for download at the program’s website this week:

The documentary’s taken on a different meaning for me since my father’s passing this past December. The power of sound has taken on a whole new significance, too. I may never write a radio drama -but then, I’m reminded with “Lanyod,” that I was already part of my own real-life one.


Previewing Groundswell

The Next Stage Festival may be wrapped up for another year, but Toronto’s theatre scene is hopping. The Groundswell Festival, celebrating Canada’s incredible female playwrights, kicks off January 26th at the Berkeley Theatre.

Wednesday morning I’ll be speaking with one of the writers featured at this year’s fest: Florence Gibson.

Originally trained as a medical doctor, Gibson is known for her powerful portraits of family and relationships. Her new work, Augury, revolves around the 1879 abortion trial of Emily Stowe, one of Canada’s most important historical figures.

Tune in, just after 9am ET.

Toronto local:


Listen live online:

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them & us & TPM

Now here’s a neat example of the power of online media in the arts world.

Mention this blog to receive a $15 ticket for Tracy Dawson’s Them & Us, on now through January 31st. That’s for any ticket, any night, any time.

Them & Us is made up of a series of vignettes exploring the ins and outs of modern relating. By turns funny, poignant and… well, salty (the skit involving a 16-year-old propositioning her father’s business partner is one you won’t soon forget), Dawson’s work goes way past the boring “relationship drama” cliches. That can only be a good thing. And it features a quartet of awesome Canadian talent; as well as Dawson, there’s Sarah Dodd, Gray Powell, and Michael Healey (A comment about his performance I overheard at the opening: “If he were any more dry, he’d bleed sand…” True story.)

It’s cold and wintery. You’re not in Utah. So go to the theatre already.

Call the Arts Box Office (416.504.7529) or check out the TPM website.
Tell ’em Play Anon sent ya.

Pinter’s Dance


He thought “choreographically.”

I knew it.

Lovely Ladies

With the openings of Them & Us, Bear With Me, and East of Berlin, it could easily be argued that Toronto’s theatre scene is in the throes of an all-out estrogen fit. And that’s not even counting the works in this year’s edition of the Next Stage Festival; Julie Tepperman, Sarah Michelle Brown, and Kate Hewlett all have works being produced there.

Tracy Dawson is the woman behind Them & Us. Opening at Theatre Passe Muraille this week and directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones, it explores the ins and outs of relationships in 30 different vignettes. I can hear the guys (and some gals) yawning: Oh great, another woman writing about relationships. But wait… Dawson’s caustic, funny, and sarcastic. She freely admits she isn’t Dr. Phil. In fact, in a recent interview, she named John Cassavetes as the single-biggest inspiration on Them & Us. She also said her work isn’t shying away from one big aspect of relationships: sex. “Oh yeah, we’re going there,” she told me. Good. About time a woman playwright did -with gusto, passion, ferocity, joy and hilarity. Sex should involve those things, onstage and off.

Over at the Berkeley, Diane Flacks is doing a solo show about her first pregnancy (Flacks is now a proud mum of two). Bear With Me started out life as a series of columns, and then a book. It turned into a play when Nightwood Theatre AD Kelly Thornton approached Flacks about the possibility of adapting Flacks’ work for the stage (Thornton also directs). Will Flacks pull it off? Solo shows can either be great or dreary; as an audience member, you only have one person to guide you through the sometimes-labyrinthine world of the writer. As well as being curious about how the show will be presented, I’m also wondering what the play offers non-moms in the audience, beside an insight into the wonderful worlds of big-belly-sex, flatulence, and epidurals. Hmmm.

The Tarragon Theatre is remmounting East of Berlin, Hannah Moscovitch‘s hugely acclaimed 2007 show, with the same cast and director (the awesome Alisa Palmer). For me, Moscovitch’s writing is a neat mix of classical and contemporary; she freely, easily mixes recognizable elements of modern life with more classical structures and ideas, and the result makes for great, capital-D drama. East of Berlin is the story of Rudi, a young man forced to deal with his Nazi parentage. I’ll be interviewing Moscovitch Friday morning on CIUT‘s Take 5; we’ll discuss the work, and the surprising reaction it received during its first run, particularly from Toronto’s Jewish community. Tune in.

And, among the many goodies at this year’s Next Stage Festival is Kate Hewlett‘s Humans Anonymous, which details what happens when “a businesswoman who prefers lattes to love meets a sexually experimental young genius looking for Ms. Perfect.” First presented as a Fringe show and then in New York City, the work has garnered serious praise. You might know Hewlett from her work on Stargate: Atlantis, or from Don’t Wake Me, which ran at last year’s Next Stage Fest. As mentioned, this year Festival also features Julie Tepperman’s Yichud (Seclusion) and First-Hand Woman, by Sarah Michelle Brown. Reports as I see ’em.

Add the various productions from this past year that featured the incredible talents of Anita Majumdar, Anusree Roy, Brooke Johnson, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Marcia Johnson, Tara Beagan, Oonagh Duncan, and Jennifer Tarver (to name only a few) and I’m left asking the same question I have for a while: when is Toronto getting a Women In Theatre Festival? There is a surfeit of amazing, inspiring talent here, and so many great stories worth sharing -and not just of the “if-my-vagina-could-talk” variety, either. These are stories for men and women alike -for children and parents and families of all kinds, that has a meaning and relevance everyone can dig. Talent is talent, and it’s time the female theatre artists of this city had a proper festival in which to fully, loudly, proudly promote and celebrate theirs. C’mon now. You know both Aphra Behn and Bill the Quill would heartily approve. What are we waiting for?

My Favourite Things

I don’t like lists. It’s the main reason I resist writing hoary old “Top Ten Shows of 2008” sorts of things. Unless a writer/artist experiences a heck of a lot of different things (not just theatre, but music, cinema, telly, & you know, life) they’re going to be creating from inside a navel-gazing bubble. So instead of doing a formal list of shows I liked in 2008, I’m going to provide a few favourite live moments from 2008, along with stuff I’m looking forward to in 2009. Call it the Ghosts of Good Stuff, Past & Future.


Festen / Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me: The Berkeley Street Theatre ended the year with a duo of powerhouse dramas in both its upstairs and downstairs spaces. Both about families of different sorts, the skillfully directed and acted works were punches to the gut, and stayed with me far past my exiting the theatre’s doors.

The Music Man / Moby Dick: The yin and yang of the Stratford Festival this past season. Both seeming-opposites, playing in the largest and smallest festival spaces respectively, and yet both had so much in common. I had to think for hours which one was actually more epic -the story of man vs. whale or man-in-a-small-town (on the surface anyway). Brilliantly directed, with charismatic leading men, the Festival made a brave, brilliant choice to have two such works playing at the same time.

Rachid Taha: The Algerian-French singer’s concert at the Phoenix in July was a mix of Arab, rock, pop, dance, punk, chaabi, and… everything else. In an interview last year, he quoted Frank Zappa in describing his music as couscous. No kidding. A sweaty good time, Taha and his 7-man band played for a riotous, celebratory two-plus hours. Not a word was in English, either. It didn’t matter. Brilliant.

The Williamson Playboys: Opening the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival with a host of other acts, the Playboys (played with ferocious playfulness by Doug Morency and Paul Bates) won over the crowd with their mix of gentle, fierce, silly and profound. I haven’t laughed so hard, for so long, in… too long. Lesson learned: you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog played with just a ukelele and tuba.

Nigella Express / Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen: I know, I know. This isn’t technically a series, so much as it is a chance to ogle the British Domestic Goddess. But the tips are really practical (if you can pay enough attention) and the results are damn good. In this case, it is as easy as it looks. Honest. And Nigella’s love of food is a joyful expression of life -something we all need to remember.

Election night: After the drama of the Democratics, then the even-more-dramatic U.S. election campaign that featured an assortment of interesting players, the whole thing culminated in a huge gathering in Chicago. Jesse Jackson’s tears, chanting masses, Oprah’s runny mascara, and the President-Elect’s confident waves and smiles made for a moving, affecting piece of real, live theatre. I’ve never seen anything like it. Part 2: The Inauguration, coming soon.


Blackbird: Written by David Harrower and directed by Joel Greenburg, Studio 180 is back at the Berkeley after last year’s stunning Stuff Happens, David Hare’s deconstruction of the politics behind the Iraq War. If Blackbird is anywhere near as thrilling and compelling, the Berkeley will have another solid play under its roof.

Antigone: The timely Sophocles tragedy gets the Soulpepper treatment. A favourite play of mine (personal disclosure: I starred in a production in London moons ago), I can’t wait to see powerhouse actor Liisa Repo-Martell in the lead, chewing the scenery a host of other great Canadian actors, including David Storch and Claire Calnan.

Them And Us: Actor/writer Tracy Dawson’s take on modern relating gets a theatrical exploration. I know, I know, I can hear every male friend of mine yawning at the thought of sitting through a play about… relationships. But if Dawson’s energy is anything to go on (I interviewed her recently), the show is sure to be sarcastic, funny, insightful, and have something for both genders.

The Entertainer: John Osbourne’s rarely-performed piece (in Canada, anyway) receives a production at the Shaw Festival, courtesy of Shaw Fest Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell. Exploring notions of “entertainment” and our expectations around it, the piece has a timely relevance, and features some of Canada’s finest performers, including Benedict Campbell in the lead.

The Soloist: Joe Wright’s filmic adaptation of the Steve Lopez book. Lopez is a columnist with the L.A. Times who met the homeless Nathaniel Ayers years ago; the book explores their relationship, and the vitality of music, art, and writing. Featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers, I’m thinking this will be one for the Oscar voters next year.

Jessica Lea Mayfield: The singer/songwriter from Kent, Ohio caught me with her beautiful tune, “Kiss Me Again.” Thoughtful without being pretentious, uncomplicated without being folksy, she’s an interesting combination of Cat Power, Patti Smith, and Joni Mitchell, but definitely brings a style all her own. And she’s only 19. Holy smokes.

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