Saturday, March 25, 2023

Two for the road this weekend in downtown St. Catharines

 It may be a rainy Saturday in the city but at least it's spring now, so things can only get better...right?!  Ah the early spring, ready to spring a surprise on us all at a moment's notice!

No surprise we have a wealth of entertainment options this weekend in Niagara, but I'll focus on two this weekend in downtown St. Catharines that might interest you, both taking place at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on St. Paul Street.

Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts kicks off their spring season as part of the TD Jazz Series with a performance by Juno and Grammy Award winner Alex Cuba tonight in Robertson Hall.  Cuba is, oddly-enough a Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter performing music that reflects his many and varied Latin and African influences, fused with a mix of funk, jazz and pop.  

This will be an intimate solo concert and will highlight music from his recent Grammy Award winning album "Mendo".  The concert begins at 7 pm tonight and tickets are limited, but you can log on to to see if there are still tickets available if you do not already have them.

Also at the PAC tonight and again tomorrow afternoon in the spacious Partridge Hall the Niagara Symphony Orchestra presents their final POPS! concert of the current season, with a concert entitled "The Music of Phil Collins and Genesis".

The NSO comes by their affinity for the music of Genesis naturally, it seems, as Music Director Bradley Thachuk often performs the music of Genesis with the band's original guitar player, Steve Hackett.  In fact, after the Sunday concert Brad travels to Europe to perform again with Hackett in both England and Germany.

In the recorded world, Bradley and Steve collaborated on the release "Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra:  Live at Royal Festival Hall".  Filmed in London, the concert features Thachuk's own arrangements of many of Phil Collins' solo hits as well as many Genesis classics.

While Hackett will not be in attendance for the performances this weekend at the PAC, Bradley and the NSO welcome and all-star band to join them along with vocalist Jeremy Saje.

Tickets might be hard to come by for this evening's 7:30 performance but for both that and tomorrow afternoon's 2:30 matinee performance you can contact the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office for tickets or if you dare, just turn up at the door prior to the performance.

Music is in the air this weekend in downtown St. Catharines...

Have a great weekend!

March 25th, 2023.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Warm up this week with a couple of arts-related events

 Spring officially arrives on Monday afternoon, but you'd never know it from what I am looking at outside my office window this morning...cold, windy and snow flurries.  Take heart, better weather is coming I'm told, but until it does here are a couple of arts related events coming up this week you might be interested in.

Gallery Players of Niagara present their next concert in the current winter season tomorrow afternoon at 3 pm in the friendly confines of Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines at 366 St. Paul Street.

The concert is entitled "Inside the Music" and will feature the Eybler Quartet and Suzanna Clark, who is Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard University.  Professor Clark will be hosting a conversation with members of the Quartet, exploring essentials such as harmony, phrase structure, and the social significance of the works on the programme including Haydn's String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, and the Mozart "Hunt" Quartet in B-flat major, K. 458.  This latter work was famously dedicated to "my dear friend Haydn" and indeed they were good friends during Mozart's relatively short professional life.

The Eybler Quartet consists of Julia Wedman and Patricia Ahern on violins, Patrick Jordan on viola and Margaret Gay on cello.

The concert is available both in person and online as it will be recorded tomorrow and available online from March 21st to the end of July.  

You can purchase tickets to both in person and online virtual events through the Gallery Players website, or if you are going to the concert, at the door as well.

Later this week when the weather promises to be a little bit warmer, you can journey through a guided tour  of downtown St. Catharines, with a focus on site-specific audio, visual and performance installations that it is hoped will allow you to re-imagine a variety of downtown St. Catharines public spaces.  Offered by our local arts theatre group Suitcase in Point, "Metanoia:  The Experience" is an evolution of "Metanoia: The Mixtape, bringing various artistic interpretations of change to life in the heart of the city.

This is largely an outdoor event, running evenings starting at 8 pm each night from this Thursday, March 23rd to Saturday, March 25th.  There is a limited capacity for each tour, which will be about 40 minutes in length as participants trek to outdoor locations within just one downtown block of St. Catharines City Hall.  Those who attend will also be able to enjoy the after show lounge each evening at Wandering Spirits, located right downtown at 31 James Street.

The evening is produced by Suitcase in Point with contributing artists including Sodienye Waboso Amajor, Roselyn Kelada-Sedra, Shannon Kitchings, Mayumi Lashbrook, Heryka Miranda, Chance Mutuku, Phil Davis, Deanna Jones, Alex Ring and Lauren Garbutt.

Tickets are available in advance by contacting Suitcase in Point.

Have a great weekend and stay warm!

March 18th, 2023.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Niagara Symphony and The Foster Festival are both taking to the stage soon

 After another snowfall in Niagara you may be ready for an arts-related diversion or two, so I'll offer up a couple of ideas for you to consider as you head through your snowy Saturday...

The next Masterworks concert for the Niagara Symphony takes place this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at their home base, Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  There are two large works making up the programme tomorrow, one by a Sri Lankan-born Canadian composer and the other by a Russian composer from the last century.

Dinuk Wijeratne is a Juno and multi-award-winning composer, conductor and pianist who is equally at home working with symphony orchestras such as the NSO as well as string quartets, tabla players and even DJs.  The TorQ Percussion Quartet will be performing along with the NSO in the orchestral world premiere of Wijeratne's Invisible Cities, which is described as being full of bold and invigorating percussive colours.

Mr. Wijeratne will be in attendance for the concert tomorrow afternoon, giving a pre-concert talk in Partridge Hall beginning at 1:45.  The concert itself begins at 2:30 pm.

The second half features one of the most romantic of symphonic works from the last or any other century for that matter, the popular Symphony No. 2.  The work has inspired many performers and other composers over the years, including infamously Eric Carmen back in the mid-70s.

Rachmaninoff was really a throwback to the era of Romanticism in classical music, almost old-fashioned in the first half of the last century when he and his family emigrated to North America and settled first in New York City and then due to declining health relocating to Beverly Hills, California.  He only became a US citizen shortly before his death in 1943.

Tickets for the performance are available through the FirstOntario PAC box office either in advance or at the door prior to the concert tomorrow afternoon at 2:30.

Meantime rehearsals are currently underway for the world premiere of the play Danny & Delilah by Norm Foster, which opens this coming Wednesday evening by the Foster Festival.  The Festival, dedicated to producing mostly plays by Norm Foster, also offers world premieres of most all of his works now, and the Festival has been tremendously successful since it began about a decade ago.

Danny & Delilah tells the story of high school student Delilah who goes to live with 72-year-old Daniel and his guidance counsellor daughter Sherry for a month.  Needless to say there is a generational and cultural clash between the two D's before they forge a solid connection.  The newest Foster play is one of friendship in the unlikeliest of places and is full of Foster's trademark humour.

The play stars Taran Bamrah, Erin MacKinnon, Peter Millard and Karen Wood.  These latter two veterans have done extensive work in theatre for many years, most notably at both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals.  

Marcia Kash is the director of Danny & Delilah and I was pleased to see an old acquaintance of mine, Alexa Fraser, is the costume designer for the production.

Performances begin Wednesday and continue until the 26th of March at the Mandeville Theatre at Ridley College, where parking is free.

Tickets are available by contacting The Foster Festival directly or at the door prior to the performance.

Have a great weekend!

March 11th, 2023.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Two destinations to get out of the house this weekend

 We seem to have weathered the latest blast of Old Man Winter, which arrived late yesterday and finally blew itself out earlier this morning.  Here in my part of North Niagara things are really not bad at all, although the snow we did get is rather wet and heavy.  But it won't last, as we have some milder weather on the way and besides, it is early March, so how much more of this will we get?  Not bothering to consult with the groundhog for obvious reasons.

Other parts of Ontario seem to have been hit harder than most of us here in Niagara, so be careful while venturing outside today.  

If you get a bad case of cabin fever and want to escape for a bit, I have a couple of performances this weekend that might be of interest to you, one here in Niagara and the other in one of my favourite little corners of the world, Elora, by way of Kitchener.

Tomorrow afternoon at 4 the Elora Singers will continue with their winter season with a concert entitled "Baroque Meditations" at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church at 54 Benton Street in Kitchener.

The concert begins with the haunting and rarely-heard "Stabat Mater" by the early baroque Italian composer Agostino Steffani, composed in 1724 for six voices and Orchestra.  It was a later work for the busy composer and was presented along with some madrigals to the Academy of Vocal Music in London on the occasion of his being elected their Honorary President for Life.  It didn't last long though, as Steffani died on a trip to Frankfurt, Germany four years later.

Steffani, who was born in 1654, was an ordained priest as well as a prolific composer, eventually attaining the title of Kapellmeister at the Court of Hanover.  It was in this position he met and befriended a young George Frederic Handel in 1710, helping the younger composer early on in his career.

Speaking of Handel, his familiar "Dixit Dominus" rounds out the Elora Singers concert tomorrow afternoon, and was written while he lived briefly in Rome at the beginning of the 18th Century.

Tickets for the concert can be picked up at the door or in advance by calling the box office at 1-519-846-0331 or online at

Closer to home, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake has already started previews of the World Premiere of a long-awaited South Asian epic in two parts at the Festival Theatre.  The production, in collaboration with Why Not Theatre, gets the 2023 Shaw Festival season underway on an epic journey.

The production, "Mahabharata", is a contemporary adaptation of the four-thousand-year-old Sanskrit epic written and adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes from an original concept developed with Jenny Koons, and uses poetry from Carole Satyamurti's "Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling".  Jain and Fernandes are also directing the production, 

The presentation is in two parts:  "Karma (Part One)" and "Dharma (Part Two)" and there are performances of both parts along with "Khana", a community meal with storytelling, on March 4, 5,9,11,12,16,18,25 and 26.

The World Premiere was commissioned and will be presented by the Shaw Festival through to March 26th.  The production is by Why Not Theatre in association with the Barbican in London.

For tickets and more information go to

Have a great weekend!

March 4th, 2023.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Two more local events to celebrate Black History Month in Niagara

 With Black History Month set to come to a close for another year later this week, just a quick reminder about a couple of local events happening in downtown St. Catharines that are very worthy of your consideration.

The always adventurous Suitcase in Point theatre is partnering with BlackOwned 905, Niagara Artists Centre, Meridian Credit Union and Future Black Female to host a variety show for Black residents to showcase their talents in recognition of Black History Month.

Residents who participate will get paid to do so but the show is free admission if you wish to attend as a spectator.  The deadline to apply to perform is now passed but you can still catch the show later today from 4 to 7 pm,   There will also be a vendor market hosted by BlackOwned 905 in addition to the talent show.

If you're interested in going, stop by the Niagara Artists Centre on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines this afternoon.

Next Saturday, March 4th, although technically after the end of Black History Month, will be the evening you can catch an important film screening at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.

The film is The Scar of Shame, directed by Frank Perugini in 1929 and featuring an all-Black cast.  Produced by Colored Players Film Corporation in Philadelphia, the silent film is a social melodrama about an impoverished young woman who escapes her abusive father and is rescued by an aspiring composer.

This is a co-production with the Film House at the PAC and our local professional chamber ensemble Gallery Players, and the players will actually perform live improvised music during the screening, much as it would have been back in 1929 when the film first premiered.

This is really a lost art form and when you come right down to it, the musical success of such a venture comes from it not actually being noticed, as it is just a seamless package.

Performers for the evening will be Douglas Miller on flute, Eric Mahar on guitars, and Penner Mackay on percussion.  Local film critic and curator of the Movie Night series, Joan Nicks, will provide the introduction to the performance at 6:45 pm next Saturday evening.

For tickets or more information go to either the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre or Gallery Players websites and you should be able to link up from there.

Have a great weekend!

February 25th, 2023.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Black History Month events continue downtown at the PAC

 I know Tuesday is Valentine's Day and all, but it's a manufactured holiday and I will be spending it alone again this year anyways, so why bother writing about it?!

Instead, I thought I would update you on the events still to come this month at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines relating to Black History Month.

There's been plenty to take in already and the next week or so will continue with several events planned, beginning with a couple of Film House presentations this evening.  

At 6 pm there will be a screening of the U.S. film from 2018, "Sorry to Bother You", the debut film for director Boots Riley.  It's an R-rated film starring LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Jermaine Fowle and is presented by The Film House in collaboration with the Brock University Communication, Popular Culture and Film Student Society.

This is part of the Essential Cinema program designed to bring student-led programming to Niagara and basically form part of a list of films deemed to be must-see.  Each film in the series will be preceded by a short presentation by the student programmers.

"Sorry to Bother You" follows Cassius "Cash" Green as he starts a new job at a telemarketing company.  The film comments on race, class division and the dark side of American business, and the role of Green proved to be a breakout role for Lakeith Stanfield.

Reserved seating can be booked by contacting the PAC box office; tickets are general admission and there is a discount for Film House members.

At 9 tonight there is the second of three screenings this month of another Film House presentation, Saint Omer, with the final screening coming up Thursday of this week at 2 pm.  Directed by Alice Diop and rated PG-13, this film came out just last year and is in fact France's official Oscar entry this year.

Starring Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda and Valerie Dreville, Saint Omer follows the novelist Rama, who attends the trial of a mother accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter by abandoning her on a beach in northern France, leaving her to fall victim to the rising tide.  But what comes out at the trial it turns out shakes Rama's convictions and calls into question our own judgment.

Seating is once again reserved with a discount for Film House members, and the film is in French with English subtitles.

Moving over to Partridge Hall for a live music event, the PAC presents the acclaimed Nathaniel Dett Chorale in a programme entitled "Harriet Tubman:  When I Crossed That Line to Freedom".  It's a two-act opera that tells the story of Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor who began life as a slave herself.  The story is told in the context of Tubman's tight-knit family of lively characters, based on recent biographies of Tubman.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale is Canada's first professional choral group dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles and was founded and is still directed by Artistic Director and conductor Brainerd Blyden-Taylor.

Their namesake, of course, had close ties to Niagara.

The performance takes place a week from tonight, February 18th at 7:30 pm and tickets are available through the PAC box office.

Finally on Sunday, February 19th at 2 pm there's another Film House presentation at the PAC, the U.S. film from 2021 entitled "In Our Mothers' Gardens", directed by Shantrelle P. Lewis.  Rated NR, the film celebrates the strength and resiliency of Black women and Black families through the complex and often humorous relationships between mothers and daughters.

The film stars Tarana Burke Tina Farris and Shantrelle P. Lewis.

This is a free screening and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Moderator Sodienye Waboso Amajor, a Dora-nominated Nigerian/Canadian artist living and working here in Ontario.  Panelists are Katwe Henry, Nicola Hasmatali and Chidera.

There is lots to discover this month celebrating Black History Month, both at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines and various other locations around Niagara and indeed Ontario as well.  Take the time if you can to see what you can discover this month and throughout the coming year!

Have a great weekend.

February 11th, 2023.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The case for human interaction at the checkout

 I decided to take a detour from arts reporting again this week since January is a little lighter on events most years, and offer up a minor rant this weekend.  Not quite up to my usual visits to the High Rant District as I call it, but close.

First, let me offer up a bit of history on me.  I hate self checkouts.  Full stop.

For most of my life I have avoided the things, along with bank machines and any other automated replacement for human contact.  Why?  Because I value human contact, and by extension the humans who provide it.

Time was, I paid my bills at the teller at my bank.  I didn't have to of course.  But I got to know my tellers at the local branch and it was more of a social call than anything else, mixed in with a bit official business to make it, well, official.  Then COVID hit and human interaction was not only avoided but most often not allowed.  

I made do and still do by dutifully using the bank machine since my local branch still does not serve customers for ordinary transactions as they once did.  I'm used to it now and will probably just keep going on paying my bills online as I have done the last couple of years or so.  But a small part of the human element is missing and I for one do in fact miss it.

Funnily enough, when I was unceremoniously let go from my radio job after a very long time I still had to work to pay the mortgage and such and decided to put my well-established customer service skills to good use.

I applied for a teller's position at that very bank where I now use the bank machine.  Oh, they call them Members Services Representatives but we all know what that means.  We were tellers.

I may have struggled with the sales aspect of the job which ultimately lost me that position after a year and a half of stress, but I excelled in the customer service department.

Why?  Because I love interacting with people.  I give respect and hopefully receive it back in kind.  I got to know a lot of the people I served by name but also found out about their lives and what made them tick.

Perhaps it was all those years in radio as an interviewer that prepared me for this aspect of the position.

On one memorable occasion a young lady came in rather stressed and as I always did I asked how she was that day.  She teared up as she told me she had just found out her young son was diagnosed with autism.  It just so happened some months before I had done a fascinating interview with a gentleman who lived with not one but two autistic sons and he went on to found an online resource for other parents in the same boat and not knowing where to turn.

I took the time to relay as much of that information to this young lady as I could, thankful there were no other customers waiting in the line to be served at that moment.  Afterwards she heaved a sigh of relief and said she was glad she came in that day and I had served her.

I was lousy at sales but I didn't care.  That moment and her comment made my day.  Heck my entire year!

When I am served at a checkout, be it grocery store, my local pharmacy or wherever, I often try to establish a rapport with the person serving me if I see them on a regular basis, which is often the case.  So I would always make it a practice to address them by first name if I knew it.

For me, it was showing respect and appreciation for that person for services rendered, in a setting where more often than not they are subjected to more vitriol than kindness.

It takes so very little effort and yet, it is becoming an increasingly rare commodity.  Kindness.

I was reminded this morning how my Mom and Dad, when they moved down to St. Catharines from Toronto, made new friends in a new city.  Dad made new friends everywhere he went as he was always out going somewhere.  Mom was more of a homebody but every Thursday morning had to go to the local A&P to do the week's grocery shopping.

It turns out Mom developed a real rapport with one cashier in particular and would see this lady every single week for years, and they became friends.  When Mom passed away this lady attended the visitation.  I was touched, because I knew Mom had touched that lady over the years and she was paying it back in kind.

That's what humans do.  Or at least should do.

Why am I bringing all this up today?  Two reasons really.

This week I had to stop at my local Canadian Tire to pick up a couple of things and when I reached the checkout I was dismayed to find there were no service checkouts open.  NONE.  I was forced to use the self-checkout or not buy what I needed.

I reluctantly opted to use the self checkout but cursed silently whilst doing so.  

Now I know it was a weekday afternoon and retaining staff is harder now and blah, blah, blah.  I get that.  But you are in the business of service customers for heaven's sake!  Can you not afford to have ONE service checkout open?!  

This unfortunately, is becoming the rule rather than the exception and I am very much dismayed by it all.

The second reason I brought this up today is because I heard a report on CBC Radio this morning about a North Edmonton Sobey's that has opened what they call a Slow Checkout Lane.  When opened, the friendly cashier takes the time to actually chat with the customer and get to know them.  They are encouraged to take the time with the customer.

How novel an idea is that?!  The manager says the idea came to him after hearing about a store in the Netherlands that did the same thing and he decided to think outside the checkout lane, as it were, and try it.

Turns out it is becoming a hit.  Not with everyone of course and I can't say if I am in a rush I would go into that lane if there were others to choose from.  But to have the choice to do either is so valuable and I dare say, needed more than ever today.

One of the many sad truths about the pandemic is we have lost a great deal of human contact, initially out of necessity and now perhaps, out of habit.  People need human contact, plain and simple.

We live in an increasingly automated age.  Self-serve gas stations are the norm now, for example.  But you usually still have to go to pay someone unless you opt to pay at the pump, which I never do.

Can we not find the time for a little human interaction now and then?  Take the time if you can and wish that person serving you a pleasant day.  I guarantee you they will appreciate it.

Not all interactions will be like the one I had with the young mother of an autistic child but it doesn't matter.  Human interaction is an increasingly rare commodity in today's society and I think we're all the poorer for it.

The Slow Checkout Lane.  An idea whose time has come...again.

Have a great weekend!

January 28th, 2023.