Friday, October 30, 2009

Nightwood Theatre - 4x4 Festival

Nightwood Theatre Presents
4x4 Festival
An Off Road Event of Women Directors
October 26 - November 22

Nightwood Theatre has been helping to support and develop women in theatre for thirty years now, but you don't have to be a devotee of anything but theatre itself to enjoy its current set of offerings under the title 4x4 Festival. The event showcases four of Canada's top women directors in shows taken from the international reportoire of plays by women. As Artistic Director Kelly Thornton explains, "I wanted to take the emphasis off world premiere and playwright, and to have instead a more focused look at interpretation and the director's oeuvre."

A national study called Equity in Canadian Theatre: The Women's Initiative, launched by Nightwood with the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and the Playwrights' Guild of Canada in 2004-2005 confirmed the suspicion that the result of largely male artistic direction led to significantly fewer female playwrights or directors enjoying the same level of employment in Canadian Theatre as their male colleagues. Without training and opportunitites for women directors, the chances for advancement to positions like Artistic Director remain few and far between - the 4x4 Festival is part of Nightwood's response.

Here's a bit on the Festival's very exciting line up:

That Face
Written by Polly Stenham (U.K.)
Directed by Kelly Thornton
Starring Sonja Smits
October 26 - November 21, Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs

In a stunning debut called ".. fresh, passionate and blackly comic - exhilarating.." by the Daily Telegraph, Stenham wrote That Face at a mere 19 years of age, telling the story of a dysfunctional, substance abusing upper class family's unravelling.

Written by Dael Orlandersmith (USA)
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
November 2 - 15, Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs

This play, a 2002 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and winner of the 2002-3 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, was called "a landmark in theater history.. enthralling.. mind-altering.." in a New York Times Review, and presents an envelope pushing look at racial prejudice through the story of a relationship between a light skinned black man and a dark skinned black woman.

No Exit - a live-cinematic interpretation of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist novel
Conceived and directed by Kim Collier
Translated by Paul Bowles
November 11 - 21, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Main Chamber

The Vancouver Sun called it "jaw-dropping", the Globe and Mail "brilliant", and it won 2 Jessie Awards for Outstanding Production and the Critics' Choice Innovation Award. Sartre's seminal novel gets an innovative treatment as a "live movie" in what amounts to a hybrid film and theatre performance. In Collier’s vision the characters are literally locked up together and the viewer voyeuristically participates in their isolation through cinematic-style live projection, and she has this to say about her production, “In Sartre's world, who we are is inseparable from what we do, and we are forever defined by the morality of those actions, not by God or Devil, but by ourselves and each other. I felt compelled to find out what would happen if we went further. If we turned Sartre's original design inside out.” (that's Jean-Paul himself in the pic btw)

Serious Money
Written by Caryl Churchill (U.K.)
Directed by Eda Holmes
November 20 - 22, Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

In a story that's truly for our times, the New York Times called Serious Money “A breathless, exhilarating crash course in the morality of high finance.” It's a brutally funny satire on the world of high rollers - what could be a better target?

Since the Festival's all about the directors, here's a look at their bios:

Kelly Thornton has been the Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre since 2001 where select credits include The Danish Play (Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, Copenhagen), Mathilde, Wild Dogs, China Doll (Governor General’s Award Finalist), Bear With Me and others. She has also directed at the Canadian Stage Company, Buddies in Bad Times, Yukon Arts Centre/Sour Brides, Theatre Passe Muraille / Planet 88 and others. She is the recipient of the Pauline McGibbon Award and a 2008 YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for her commitment to the mentorship and training of young women.

Weyni Mengesha is a Dora nominated director whose credits include: director & composer for the hit play da kink in my hair (Toronto, NYC & London); director/dramaturge for d’bi.young’s blood.claat (2006 Dora Award for Best New Play), and director for A Raisin in the Sun (Soulpepper/Theatre Calgary). She is the recipient of the 2008 Toronto Arts Council Foundation’s RBC Emerging Artist Award.

Kim Collier is Artistic Producer of the Electric Company Theatre and has been involved with the direction of most Electric Company’s productions, as well as directing for: Studio 58, Western Canada Theatre, Bard on the Beach and Chemainus Theatre Festival. She is the winner of numerous Jessie Awards.

Eda Holmes is the Associate Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival. At the Shaw, she directed The Little Foxes, Tristan, Love Among the Russians, Floyd Collins, Blood Relations, and The Return of the Prodigal. Other credits include: The Optimists and The Pessimist for Tarragon Theatre; and The Fall for Great Canadian Theatre Company.

Along with the plays and performances, the Festival includes a Directors Summit, held from November 13-22 and including Master Directors, Industry Panels and Dialogues (check the link to Nightwood for details). International delegates include Josette Bushell-Mingo (director of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad), Johanna Schall, a formidable German director and grand-daughter of legendary theatre-makers Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel; and Yael Farber, (celebrated South African Director of Molora). Canadian talent includes Kim Collier (Electric Company, B.C.), Jillian Keiley (Artistic Fraud, Newfoundland, Siminovitch Award-winner), Vanessa Porteous (Alberta Theatre Projects, AB), Jackie Maxwell (Shaw Festival, ON), Jennifer Tarver (ON), Nina Lee Aquino (Cahoots, ON), Weyni Mengesha (ON), Alisa Palmer (ON), Yvette Nolan (Native Earth, ON), Brigitte Haentjens (Sibyllines, QC, Siminovitch Awardwinner), and Eda Holmes (Shaw, ON) among others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cabaret in Toronto - CanWest Cabaret Festival (Oct 29-Nov 1)

Canwest Cabaret Festival
The Distillery District
60 concerts. 5 intimate club venues
150 of Canada's greatest performers.
All under 1 roof. October 29 - November 1

What do you know about cabaret in Toronto? Even if you consider yourself a downtown denizen who's up on the latest club openings and closings, you may not realize the city's diverse entertainment scene also includes a healthy dose of good old fashioned glitzy, torchy, funny and fascinating cabaret shows. One of the great things about cabaret, of course, is its intimate atmosphere, along with the great variety of acts you can sample - and also that you can have a drink and nosh while you're enjoying it!

The Festival:
Whether the scene is new to you or old hat, the Canwest Cabaret Festival this coming weekend promises to deliver an incredible potpourri - a slew (60 to be exact) of shows that feature some of the country's most talented performers, including Steven Page, Molly Johnson, Brent Carver and Sarah Slean. Offerings run the gamut from traditional faves like the Rodgers & Hart Songbook to Cuban music, amusing theatrical fare like the Clown Cabaret and sexy crooners like Andrew Craig. The Young Centre in the Distillery District gets a makeover into five intimate concert venues, and best of all, at $20 a pop, (and with food and beverage service in every venue,) you can afford to make it to more than one show. Other notables include Sharron Matthews, Heather Bambrick, Patricia O'Callaghan, Mary-Lou Vetere, John Alcorn; Albert Schultz and Don Francks' Tribute to Danny Kaye.

Shopping Cart of Love:
Patricia Zentilli and Patti Loach will be familiar names if you've sampled the cabaret scene in town at all, and the two dynamic blondes team up again in The Shopping Cart of Love, part of the Canwest Festival (Oct 31, 3:45pm show). Pianist Loach wrote the lighthearted show featuring pop, musical theatre and contemporary cabaret songs by Christine Lavin, Jason Robert Brown, Maltby and Shire, John Bucchino and more in a look at love, life, and retail therapy. Check the Canwest Cabaret website for tickets. (Photos of the show by Tracey Nolan.)

The Scene:
If you're too busy handing out candy and can't make it to Canwest this weekend, here's a (very) brief primer on where to start sampling cabaret Toronto-style. (That's Josephine Baker on the left, by the way, from a Paris show in 1927.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm in a play - Shameless Self Promotion

Sex, Relationships And Sometimes ...Love
October 25, 6pm show
Poor Alex Theatre
772A Dundas St W (upstairs)

So I'm in a play, a monologue show called Sex, Relationships And Sometimes ...Love, written by Joelle Arqueros and enjoying an open ended 6 year run at The Michael Chekov Theatre in NYC. I'm not in that production, (six years' work would be nice!!), but I am in the new Toronto version, at least I will be this Sunday at 6pm.

It's fairly late notice, so I'll forgive you if you don't make it - just barely! We've been in rehearsals forever it seems, and the play has a bit of a floating cast (39 actors over 26 monologues) so even if you've seen it before, it's different every show.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Codetalkers of the Digital Divide (New Media Show)

Codetalkers of the Digital Divide (or why we didn’t become “roadkill on the information superhighway”)
A Space Gallery Toronto - on view to October 24

Featuring: Alanis Obomsawin, Buffy Sainte Marie, Melanie Printup Hope, Ahasiw Maskegon Iskwew, Mike MacDonald, Jimmie Durham, Jackson 2bears, Jennifer Wemigwans, Isuma

A Space Gallery was packed on October 16 to hear the curator and artists from Codetalkers of the Digital Divide talk about their work, lending a festive energy to an event that was part of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. The second half of that equation was well represented in a wide variety of works that took advantage of the possibilities of the digital realm.

Singer/activist and Academy Award winner Buffy Sainte Marie's digital prints gave the show its iconic images, including three large prints from her Painting with Light series. Completed in 1994, Sainte Marie used early versions of digital imaging software like PixelPaint and MacPaint to add shimmering layers to archival and more recent photographs, as in her self portrait pictured here.

Other pieces existed on computer screens, like Jennifer Wemigwans' Four Directions Teachings, or the late Mike Macdonald's award winning Butterfly Garden. Jackson 2bears uses the DIY concept of remix in Ten Little Indians, appropriating what is really a longstanding indigenous tradition of storytelling in a 21st century mode.

Jason Lewis, primarily a "text based artist" as he described himself, created the ingenious What They Speak When They Speak To Me. Of mixed race and with a resulting caramel coloured skin, as Lewis told the story of the work's inspiration, during travels around the world, people from Samoa to South America simply assumed he was native, one of them, and spoke to him in their native tongues. You'll see his piece if you follow the link, and as you move your cursor around, words and lines will begin to follow the movement, pulling text out of the black screen.

Isuma TV (Igloolik Isuma Productions,) being Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, the team behind 2001's groundbreaking Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, (now actually part of a trilogy of Inuit language films,) had the most ambitious plans and scope. Isuma TV is their web presence, dubbed the "Aboriginal youtube", and it does operate basically the same way, currently offering 1,000 films in 30 languages, including 40 Igloolik Isuma Productions. It makes indigenous cinema accessible to the world, and a world that wants to experience it, if millions of hits on the website are any indication - with one irony that Cohn noted. "About 80% of aboriginal people live in isolated communities.. where global warming will come before they get broadband." Their ingenious solution? As Cohn describes it, the plan is to set up a series of local servers with loaded onto the server itself, making it accessible at high speed to those isolated communities.

High tech ingenuity and the eternal appeal of storytelling - those were really the two themes throughout this interesting show.

On view to October 24.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

imagineNATIVE : A trio of Docs

A look at three of the documentary offerings in the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, with many thanks to the NFB - I love you guys!

2009, Canada, 67 min, Digital Beta, World Premiere
Director: Dennis Allen

Community-run CBQM radio station embodies the heart of the Teetl’it Gwitch’in community of Fort McPherson, NWT, and this film takes you right inside the life of the northern community, with its casual and friendly vibe. CBQM is really the intersection of the town, dispensing recipes, idle chitchat, Bingo, spiritual advice and personal messages called in by its listeners, among its many roles. The RCMP constable reports on egging incidents and curfews and such, along with reminders about the upcoming Elder dinner and a wolf sighting on Main Sreet. It's a very real lifeline during the endless winter nights, and all year round.

The documentary uses a classic "show and don't tell" style, all observation with no narrative voice, simply following the people and events of the town through the slow rhythm of the yearly cycle from winter to the bright days of summer, using the beauty of the land, with its wide open skies, as a character in itself. The whole town strolls through, in and out of the lives of the people who work and volunteer at the station, and the documentary echoes their gentle pace. It's a story that truly gives you the feeling you've had a real look at the way of life of the far north through the easygoing and unforced charms of its inhabitants.

Six Miles Deep
2009, Canada, 45 min, Digital Beta, World Premiere
Director: Sara Roque

In 2006, the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee people occupied lands being developed for residential construction near the Grand River in Caledonia, Ontario, part of territories granted to them by the British in recognition of their help against American forces during the War of 1812. The original tract consisted of six miles on either side of the river from the source, to be exact, the Six Miles of the film's title. Roque's documentary takes what turned into a months long occupation of the land and an international news story and gives us a side that was never reported on - that of the Clan Mothers and other women who were at the heart of the Reclamation.

In contrast to the well publicized news reports, this story is one of environmental protection along with the long simmering land claim dispute. The Haudenosaunee are actually a matriarchal society who used a democratic system whereby the people spoke their concerns to the Clan Mothers, and the Clan Mothers then brought these to the Chiefs to act on. The essential part of the Clan Mothers' role, and the reason they were held in such high esteem, is their natural concern for the future of their people, and their own children, and looking after the land is a large part of that concern. What began in early days as a system of leasing the land to farmers led to standard North American style urban development, the leasing system simply forgotten along the way. After watching it get swallowed up parcel by parcel by developers, it was two young women who actually began the Reclamation effort, supported by the Clan Mothers as the natural guardians of the land, and then finally by the Chiefs and the whole Nation.

The film combines present day interviews with news and archival footage, along with lyrical shots of the landscape, the rhythm of the story punctuated by moments of the in-your-face tensions that erupted along the occupation lines. After several months, the provincial government bought up the disputed property, compensating the developers as well as people and businesses in the town. The Aboriginal land claim remains unresolved, but action itself re-energized the Six Nations community with repercussions that echo to this day.

Professor Norman Cornett
"Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?"
2009, Canada, 80 min, Digital Beta
Director: Alanis Obomsawin

Professor Norman Cornett is a most unusual educator, and I mean that in the best way possible. A professor at Montreal's McGill University for 15 years in the Religious Studies programme, his courses had no tests, no midterms, and no exams, in fact 80-90% of the marks were typically for participation. But woe to any unsuspecting undergrad who thought he or she was signing up for a bird course! Cornett exposed the students to ideas, debates, literature, and art up close and personal through visits to art galleries and film screenings, visits from academics, artists and writers who'd discuss their works, and more, demanding only their "reflections", or reams and reams of notes where they recorded their thoughts in stream of consciousness. The reflections were anonymous, and never themselves marked, but he'd often read them aloud to provoke even more discussion. A class might, for example, go see a work of performance art. Then some weeks later, unannounced, the artist in question would show up in class and he'd read from the reactions to their work. Students could go by any name they liked, and quickly found that "participation" was taking more and more of their time. He took full advantage of Montreal's vibrant cultural scene and real multicultural feel (if I can still use that word in our post multicultural society!) to enrich their lives - look around you and participate, his classes taught, and in fact left many with an abiding love of the city. They were constantly challenged - he showed them how to think, observe, analyze, debate - in short, he gave them full license to use their very own natural abilities and to value their own thoughts and opionions. Revolutionary!

The film uses actual class footage shot by students along with interviews with the Professor, several former students and colleagues. He took the trouble to get to know his students, remembering names long after they'd graduated, and leaving them with memories of the joy of learning they took with them into the rest of their lives.

He loved teaching so much he never paid any attention to mundane issues like applying for tenure, and naturally, his unorthodox teaching methods eventually ran afoul of the rather conservative university's administration. (It's suggested that classes that opened a debate on the State of Israel may have been a flash point.) In 2007, after a decade and a half, he was summarily fired, with no reason ever given, his joyous circus of learning simply pulled out from under him and never so much as reconsidered, despite the signatures and testimonials of 742 former students. Where the first part of the film follows his upbeat joy in his work, the latter part wallows in the aftermath. I realize his legal battles with McGill tie into the film's subtitle and premise ("Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?"), however it feels like an overly long coda and lacks the energy of the opening, including a lengthy tangent into his wife's struggle with cancer. Yes, the story does end on a downer, but could use some editing at the end; it's as if its makers kept filming, hoping for a better ending to come about.
You might think of a documentary about a professor as being about as interesting as watching paint dry, but this Professor, despite its second half flaws, is a fascinating story and look at the nature of learning - check out a clip here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Carmen Unzipped

Carmen Unzipped
with Jean Stilwell and Patti Loach
October 17

You can check out the newly renovated Centre for the Performing Arts in Richmond Hill along with an evening of cabaret style entertainment with Mezzo Soprano Jean Stilwell and pianist Patti Loach all at the same time this Saturday, October 17 with Carmen Unzipped. The show will open the Classical Music Series at the gorgeously refurbished venue. (Both images by Ian Brown - Ms Stilwell in red, Ms Loach in black.)

Stilwell's flare for high - and sometimes outrageous - fashion is hidden from view during her "other gig" as half of the morning team at The New Classical 96.3FM, (the other half being Mike Duncan), but will be in full view and full force for the evening, along with her stellar pipes in a show that combines pieces from Kurt Weill and Edith Piaf, Moose Charlap, Maltby and Shire with more contemporary songwriters from New York's cabaret scene such as John Bucchino, and Goldrich and Heisler. Naturally, the performance will also showcase Stilwell's mastery of the role of Bizet's Carmen - she's performed the role of the gypsy in close to 30 productions on three different continents! The two will be joined by trumpeter John Loach as well as David Bourque, who plays clarinet with the Toronto Symphony, and Rex Harrington (Artist-in-Residence for the National Ballet of Canada, and guest judge on "So You Think You Can Dance"). It will be Stilwell's last show in Toronto before leaving for a month of performances in Dominick Argento's opera, "Casanova's Homecoming" with Minnesota Opera, with fellow Canadian John Fanning in the role of Casanova. Diva Stilwell is known for an evocative style that blends strength and vulnerability, along with a formidable range and vocal colour, a great sense of immediacy and, always, a wicked sense of humour, all aided and abetted by Patti Loach at the piano, who wrote the show.

The architects for the Richmond Hill Centre's recent renovation were Diamond Schmitt, the same group who designed Toronto's Four Seasons Opera House. By all early reports, the hall is visually beautiful and the acoustics, spectacular. Add to the equation an excellent concert grand piano, and a state of the art sound and light system, and it all adds up to a great evening out.

Where: Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts
10268 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill (just north of Major Mackenzie Drive)
When: Saturday October 17th, 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $46, available by calling 905-787-881 or online here

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival Opens with a Bang

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
Opening Night October 14

The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival kicked off with a bang last night - a full house at the Bloor Cinema for two fascinating films and a rocking after party at the Century Room later on.

The films were actually a late start as organizers struggled to find seats for everyone in the capacity crowd, but well worth the wait, particularly after a brief live performance by extraordinary throat singer Tanya Tagaq before the screenings. She also stars in Tungijuq, a short directed by Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, and co-starring Zacharias Kunuk, also executive producer, and also the director of Atanarjuat :Fast Runner, the film that caused such a splash at Cannes in 2001. The short looks at the Inuit hunting tradition with spectacular visuals and a poetic sensibility.

The main event was director Neil Diamond's Reel Injun, a documentary that follows Diamond's physical and spiritual journey from his home town, a reservation in the High Arctic, through the Great Plains of the American west, all the way to Hollywood to look at the evolution of Aboriginals in film - all of it in a "rez car" (you know what I mean - see pic above!) Hollywood has been in love with at least the idea of Indians since the dawn of film - over 4,000 movies have been made about Indians, (a word that sounds weird to me - that's people from India, right? - but was used exclusively in the flick), and in fact, when Edison first demonstrated the Kinetoscope, a precursor to motion pictures, what it showed was a native ceremony.

The silent film era was actually rather kind to the image and notion of Indians and their traditional way of life, using actual Indian actors and depicting them in a variety of stories. With the advent of talkies, however, in the early 1930's, for whatever reason the tide of public tastes had turned, and what followed was a long era of misrepresentation and false mythology. The many and varied nations were homogenized into the iconic Plains Indian image we all recognize from cowboy and Indian movies - wearing the feathered headdress and a headband (an inaccuracy in itself). Indian children grew up wanting to be the cowboys because, who wants to be on the side that always loses? John Wayne, and the movies of John Ford, became the symbols of white progress held up by and eventually conquering the red menace. (Hell, there's even a clip of Bugs Bunny gleefully killing off the Injuns!)

It's an eye opening journey from there to the 1960's, when civil rights movements led to a re-examination of the Indian in film, and the evolution in terms of image from bad Indian to the noble Indian, from the Billy Jack movies all the way to 1990's Dances with Wolves - well meaning, but still the white man's version of the story. Kunuk's Atanarjuat is the real watershed, the moment when Aboriginal cinema came into its own on the international scene.

Reel Injun is both funny and thought provoking, and includes a host of interviews with people like John Trudell, a member of AIM (the American Indian Movement) who was at the infamous occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, and Sasheen Littlefeather, the Indian woman who made the speech for Marlon Brando in declining his Oscar win in support of their efforts, along with a slew of celebrities and filmmakers who flesh out the story. It's a film that has, or should have, universal appeal in its examination of the Hollywood image making machine and its effects on us all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

10th Annual
imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
Presented by CTVglobemedia
October 14 – 18, 2009

In its ten year history, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival has come to be a real showcase for innovative work along with yet another chance to schmooze with industry types in Toronto hotspots.

If you're a filmmaker (and an attending Festival Delegate), it offers the chance to connect with distributors and possible sources of funding with a view to fostering future partnerships. As a film and media hound, you'll get your choice of over 125 works from Indigenous artists from around the world, including Nepal, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Germany, the United States, Russia, Finland, and from across Canada. On this, their 10th anniversary, the overall theme is the evolution of Indigenous cinema.

Here are some highlights:
  • Oct 14 Opening Night: the feature documentary Reel Injun, a look at the stereotypes of the cowboy and Indian era, with hilarious clips and interviews with people like Robbie Robertson, Clint Eastwood, Adam Beach, Graham Greene, John Trudell, and indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. (Canadian) Also featured is the Canadian short Tungijuq, with throat singer Tanya Tagaq and Zacharias Kunuk in a visually arresting film that celebrates the Inuit hunting tradition (see image above).
  • The opening night party afterwards, of course, at the Century Room (580 King Street West) FREE to Opening Night Screening Ticket Holders and Festival Pass Holders
Image above of Reel Injun director Neil Diamond and Robbie Robertson
  • Oct 15 New Media Mash Up with internationally acclaimed throat singer Tanya Tagaq and Bear Witness at The Music Gallery (107 John Street) 8pm - Ms Tagaq had her NYC debut earlier this year, and also stars in one of the films (see opening night)
  • Oct 16 New Media Curator/Artist Talk & Reception at A Space Gallery (401 Richmond W, Suite 110) - 5pm - for you new media enthusiasts, the curator and Cheryl L’Hirondelle and attending artists Alanis Obomsawin and Melanie Printup Hope discuss the themes and context of this original exhibition of early and contemporary digital and new media art.
  • Oct 18 Closing Night films include Barking Water, (pictured above) Sterlin Harjo's award winning film in its Canadian premiere, the brutally candid story ex-lovers at the end of their "complicated lives", along with Adam Garnet Jones' short Wave a Red Flag - at the Royal Cinema
  • Closing night party is at The Mod Club Theatre, 722 College Street, Sunday, Oct 18 2009, 9pm, featuring the Closing Awards Celebration with Jennifer Podemski and Plex
    (Presented by Big Soul Productions)

The Films - for an exhaustive list, along with screening locations and times, check out their website, but here are some interesting selections:
  • Oct 15 Art Without Reservations - a series of shorts co-presented by Bravo! and MOCCA
  • Oct 15 from Bolivia, el Regalo de la Pchamama, from Director: Toshifumi Matsushita and Producer Yomar Sanchez Mamadi, the stunning countryside of Bolivia co-stars in the story of a young man's transition to adulthood.
  • Oct 16 two films from the Pacific, including The Strength of Water (New Zealand) in both English and Maori about the arrival of a stranger at a Maori village, and Nia's Melancholy, from Australia, about a young girl struggling to recover from her sister's suicide.
  • Oct 16 vampires, zombies, fantasy worlds and more inhabit the films in The Witching Hour, a late night screening of horror shorts sponsored by Rue Morgue Magazine, including selections from around the world. (Image above from Liminality)
  • Oct 17 Co-presented by Nepalese-Janajati Association-Canada, Nepal Canadian Society, Crossing Communities Art Project, the Spotlight on Nepal features three films, all of them premieres.
  • Oct 18 Pencil Shavings, a programme of animated shorts from Canadian artists

I'll be checking out some of the offerings myself, so stay tuned for reviews to come.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good Hair - a review of Chris Rock's documentary

Good Hair
Directed by Jeff Stilson
Starring Chris Rock
Produced by Chris Rock & Kevin O'Donnell

It's bigger than porn! That's right, one of the people interviewed in Good Hair, the Chris Rock documentary, mentions that the black haircare biz (i.e. the business of "doing" the hair of African Americans) is worth about $9 billion a year, more than the oft quoted $8 billion that the adult video biz supposedly brings in. That figure is just one of many revelations uncovered by this very funny and fascinating flick.

And I should clarify - it's a revelation if you're not of African descent. If you're black, and especially if you're a black woman, the vast amounts of cash poured into this industry will certainly be no revelation to you. One of Chris Rock's adorable little daughters came to him one day to demand "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?". Good Hair the movie is the result of his quest to answer that question, and Rock travels from beauty salons to barber shops, laboratories to beauty schools, and even to India to look at the issue from many angles. Like all good docs, it covers not just the intricacies of black haircare - from toxic relaxers to perms that burn to elaborate weaves that start at a mere $1,000 (with weekly upkeep!) - but looks at how all that high maintenance impacts lifestyles, incomes, the relationships between black men and women and more.

Naturally, it's a race thing. The soft, silky, sleek hair of Euros and Asians is seen as not only the norm, but the only acceptable look. Just try to think of one single African American female celebrity who doesn't have straightened locks! Letting nappy hair be nappy is seen as a loss of credibility, especially in the job market, it's an automatic political statement that you have to explain and justify. If that doesn't make you squirm, then how about this - the industry itself is 80% run by white and Asian interests, and the masses of sleek, straight black hair used in all those weaves comes directly from India. Rock visits a temple where shaving one's head is a religious act of ritual humility, and the temple sells the hair, making them second only to the Vatican in religious revenues. There's even a black market, selling product garnered by cutting it off unsuspecting women at opportune times (like when they're sleeping).

A slew of celebrities dish on their haircare histories, among them Dr. Maya Angelou, Eve, Salt n Pepa and the Reverend Al Sharpton, and he follows the adventures of competitors in Atlanta's Bronner Bros' International Hair Show. It's funny, and it certainly has its bizarre moments as it offers up some truths about race, the sexes, business and more. If you're not black, you'll be amazed, and if you are, you'll undoubtedly chuckle as you identify with the stories being told, and giggle at your non-black friends and their incredulous reactions. A revelation indeed.

Check out the official trailer here. The film opens October 9 in selected cities in the U.S. & October 16 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, then October 23 for national release in the U.S. - check movie listings for details.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nuit Blanche in Parkdale (Oct 4, 2009)

Nuit Blanche in Parkdale
- or, a defense of modernist face painting

Nuit Blanche is a French expression for those occasions when you stay up all night, (of course they'd have an expression for that!), and as an arts event, it had its inception, appropriately enough, in Paris in 2002. Toronto followed suit in 2006, delighting crowds and invading the downtown with contemporary art in all its permutations - performance, video, even the museums were open all night. From its second year on, however, Toronto's version has come under fire for everything from traffic problems to a dearth of "real" well, Art, and with its official moniker now Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, I guess the corporate angle is hard to deny.

Yet, despite the griping, the crowds have continued to come out, crowds that probably aren't hardcore art fans - but isn't that something of the point? Bringing art to the masses and all that? I spent this year's fest, a few hours of it, all in Parkdale, away from the official Zones downtown and in Liberty Village, and in the "independent projects" part of the Nuit, much of it voluteering for the Parkdale BIA, whose booth was giving out green bags and modernist face painting (of which I was one of several practitioners).

I had intended to spend only an hour volunteering as a prelim to my own art crawl, with friends who had things going in Kensington Market and right downtown too, but I ended up staying to face paint more than twice as long, enchanted with the whole process, and then seduced by the Parkdale vibe, wandered in the hood for a while after that. Personally, I have no issues with approximating Piet Mondrian or Frank Stella in soluble watercolour crayons on the faces of passersby - among my favourite canvasses were a girl of about 4 who had an immediate affinity for Jackson Pollack, and another little girl who insisted on Stella in purple, not black. Would you see these people at your average Queen West gallery opening? Perhaps not. But would they go see a Pollack if it was at the AGO? Maybe they would.

So, with apologies to my friends and their projects, I ended up joining the fun in Parkdale, taking in the whimsical videos, the music at the Cadillac Lounge, even checking out the bdsm show a couple of doors down - along with a combination of hipsters, yuppies with kids, and freaks, now that's the Parkdale I know. People were actually talking to each other on the street, and it was definitely cool to spot the modernist efforts of me and the other face painters passing by here and there on the sidewalk.

I never made it to Bay Street, but I hear the highlight was basically a midway with rides run by supposedly unemployed bankers. Is it Art? Does it matter? Surely anything that connects a 4 year old with Jackson Pollack, and a bunch of other creative stuff happening right on the street, can't be all that bad - and Frank Stella did paintings on cars, for that matter. So for me, it was low key and delightful, with many thanks to the Parkdale BIA & Aislinn Thomas for letting me lend a hand.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Theater New York - part deux

Hopefully all the star power on Broadway isn't taking audiences away from the many fine off Broadway shows this season. Here are some interesting picks:

Does happily ever after exist?? That's the question examined in Down the Rabbit Hole, a one woman show written entirely in Def-Jam Poetry, spoken word, verse and music. It's been called shocking yet whimsical.. and sounds like it's worth checking out.
Opened October 1 Limited run to October 17

Experience documentary theatre with Aftermath, a powerful look at the Iraq war from the point of view of Iraqi citizens. New York Theatre Workshop sent Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen to Jordan to interview Iraqis as they fled the chaos of the war, and those stories form the basis for this work.
Extended to October 18

Oscar Wilde's delightful fairytale comes to life in The Selfish Giant, a family friendly show that includes music, dance, storytelling and puppetry. You can add to the experience with a pre-show arts workshop where you meet cast members and the playwright.
Closes October 25

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a collection of vignettes and monologues by Nora and Delia Ephron, based on the best selling book by Ilene Beckerman along with stories from the Ephrons' friends. The production features three different 5 member casts who will perform the piece in 4 week cycles. Cast members include Samantha Bee, Rhea Perlman, Lucy Devito, Kristin Chenoweth, Tyne Daly, Katie Finneran, Rosie O'Donnell, Mary Louise Wilson and Rita Wilson. A portion of the production's proceeds will benefit Dress for Success, a charity that provides work clothing and job support for low-income women. Audience members will be invited to donate their gently-used purses and other accessories in the theatre lobby. (Image of Rosie O'Donnell by Jason Chatting, 2006)
Opened October 1

Fresh from his turn in Von Trier's creepy Antichrist, Willem Dafoe stars in Idiot Savant, a piece from Richard Foreman, a legend of the avant-garde. It's been described as a boundary pushing philosphical comedy - I'd go just to find out what that is! (Image by Daniel Kruse, Berlin 2006)
Opens October 27 Limited run to December 15

And still running (probably forever) :

Naked Boys Singing really says it all. There's comedy, there's guys, and there's no clothes - what could be better? It's a cheerful, cleverly written show that's been playing for about a decade at the New World Theater.

Lasers, lighting effects and bubble artistry combine in the Gazillion Bubble Show a family friendly and magical theatre event that's likely to dazzle parents too as it has been for the last three years.

The Awesome 80's Prom is an interactive show set at Wanaget High in 1989, where the audience gets to decide who becomes Prom King and Queen. Running for five years straight.

Theater Mecca New York - Part I The Big Shows

New York's theatre scene is buzzing despite- or maybe because of ? - all that bad economic news, with a truckload of Hollywood stars hitting the stage. Here are some bits and bites of the Big Shows and what looks hot:

Still running:

You can't talk about Broadway this season without mentioning A Steady Rain, the Hugh Jackman/Daniel Craig hit that's been packing in audiences since it began previews on September 10. Jackman was in the news for stepping out of character to chastise someone whose cell phone was ringing, along with racking up a Broadway record with $1.17 million in sales during the week ending September 20 - while it was still in previews! The drama involves two Chicago policemen and friends with different recollections of a domestic disturbance. (Image of Jackman by Franz Richter, 2009)
Opening Night was September 29
Limited run engagement till December 6

Straight from London's West End, Jude Law takes the role of the melancholy Dane in Hamlet. Law's been getting rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic for an intense performance in what's been described as a very modern production.
In previews since September 12
Opening night : October 6
Limited engagement to December 6

Carrie Fisher's one woman show Wishful Drinking has taken over the Studio 54 theatre till next year. In the show, she dishes on the rollercoaster life of a Hollywood star, including bouts of depression, mental illness and addiction(S), affairs and more in her always entertaining way. (Image of Ms Fisher from the Official Star Wars Blog 2007.)
Till January 3, 2010

In the Heights won 4 Tony Awards, including Best New Musical in 2008 with its infectious salsa and hip hop flavoured story about a 4th of July weekend in Washington Heights. With Javier Muñoz as Usnavi and Justina Machado as Daniela - it's been at the Richard Rodgers Theater since March of 2008.

Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden star in The God of Carnage, a comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza that won 3 Tonys last season. It follows the adventures of two sets of parents out to teach their children right from wrong... (right!) It's been packing in the house since March 2009.

Coming Soon:

Oleanna is probably David Mamet's most controversial play, a drama about the escalating power struggle between a female student (Julia Stiles) and her professor (Bill Pullman). Directed by Tony Award winner Doug Hughes, this new production comes to Broadway for the first time.
Previews from September 29
Opening night: October 11

Fela tells the story of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician, political activist and all around outrageous character, whose extravagant lifestyle included marrying 26 women all at once, (although he developed a system of having only 12 "on duty" at any one time...) The story is definitely the stuff of legends, and the show's winning combination of music, concert, dance and drama was honed during an off Broadway run.
Previews from October 19
Opeining night: November 23

A Little Night Music brings Academy Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones and 5X Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Tony winning show. The story is based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night and is set in a weekend country house in turn of the century Sweden. (The link is from the London version of the show - no NYC website up as this is being posted! Image of Ms Zeta-Jones by John Harrison Feb 2005)
Previews from November 24
Opening night: December 13

Technically, it may be way-off Broadway, but BAM's offerings are really second to none. This season's gem promises to be the Sydney Theatre Company's production of A Streetcar Named Desire - as directed by Liv Ullmann and starring Cate Blanchett, Joel Edgerton and Robin McLeavy. I'm betting Blanchett really lights up the stage as Blanche DuBois.
Opening night: November 27
Limited run to December 20