Saturday, March 23, 2013

Carousel Players & Niagara Symphony this weekend

After a very busy week juggling work responsibilities along with a visit from my sister Kelli and her family from Kenora for a few days, I was looking forward to taking a bit of a break this weekend and enjoying some time off to relax a bit and slow down.  So I was very pleased to receive an email request from Jane Gardner, General Manager of Carousel Players, who perform out of the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

Jane suggested I might want to attend the opening Saturday afternoon of their new play that will be touring area schools starting on Monday:  The Forest in My Room by Thomas Morgan Jones.  It couldn't have come at a better time for me!  After my usual Saturday visit to Market Square, I headed to the theatre and joined a capacity crowd to enjoy a very entertaining and evocative hour of live theatre.  This is the third and final production of Carousel's current season, their 41st in Niagara.

Carousel is the award-winning professional theatre company for young audiences committed to the development of new work and theatre that not only entertains but also challenges young audiences.  Since they began 41 years ago they have played before 2.7 million people, which is a pretty astounding number.  Each time I go to a Carousel Players show I am reminded of the high quality of the work presented and the calibre of the performers, and this new production is no different.

The play, according to Jones, deals with how disease affects families from the perspective of children.  It is written for audiences aged nine and up, and is intended to spark discussions about the importance of family communication between parents and children.  In the play, the mother hides her trips to the doctor from her daughter Ruby, who then draws her own conclusions about the truth behind her mom's secrets.

Young Ruby, who is eight in the play, is now in a new home in a new city, and after moving into a condo with a special mural in her bedroom depicting the forest she has left behind, soon discovers her mother is not acting normally.  What could it be?  She teams up with new-found friend Ella to unravel the mystery and get to the bottom of what is up with her mother.  The results are funny, heartwarming, and come with a moral, of course:  talk to your children, and help them to understand what you are dealing with so they can better handle the anxiety you are going through.

The cast is made up of Alexis Koetting as Momma; Amy Keating as Ruby and Amelia Sargisson as her new friend, Ella and all three are superb in their respective roles.  What I like about Jones' script is it deals with the subject matter in a light yet serious manner, and the actors never talk down to the kids in the audience.  As such, all the young children in the audience this afternoon were engaged from start to finish, and the parents were not bored by the play, either.  Kudos to all involved for such a lovely piece of theatre with a message.

As mentioned, the play now begins a tour of schools in the area for the remainder of March and throughout April.  It would nice to see another staging at the Courthouse as well so more people can catch the show as well.  If nothing else, the quality of the work displayed in the new production provides ample proof Carousel Players is one of the major producers of quality children's theatre in Niagara and beyond, and can only do better still once they take up residence in the new performing arts centre downtown.

Sunday afternoon the Niagara Symphony, themselves large contributors to the education of our young audiences in Niagara, present their fourth Masterworks concert at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, starting at 2:30 pm.  Maestro Bradley Thachuk leads the NSO in a concert that features the Symphony No. 7 in C major by Sibelius, and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor by Rachmaninov, with guest soloist Younggun Kim.  Also on the programme is Light Eternal (In Memoriam Wallace Leung) by Canadian composer John Estacio.

Kim made his professional debut in 2008 with the Toronto Philharmonia; he has been back twice more since then, each time playing a major piano work by Rachmaninov.  The last time it was with Bradley Thachuk conducting the Toronto Philharmonia in a performance of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  So it seemed only natural to invite the young South Korean-born pianist to perform with the NSO, and he will make his debut with our orchestra this weekend.

This should be a great concert, and I am looking forward to hearing it as well as meeting a lot of familiar faces in the lobby again, as I set up shop with a table brimming with great musical gifts available for purchase before, after and at intermission.  If you are there tomorrow be sure to stop by for a look and say hello.

Tickets to the concert can be ordered in advance by calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or picking them up at the box office tomorrow afternoon.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why radio is my life

As most readers know, music is my passion and the arts beat in general is what I cover in this space on a weekly basis.  But my livelihood for forty years now has been radio, and with a little luck, it will continue to be until retirement looms in the next decade sometime.  So not surprisingly, I sometimes deviate from my chosen subject parameters in this column to write about my livelihood and the challenges of radio.  This week will be one of those weeks.

I was prompted to write today about the importance and immediacy of radio given the news of the past week regarding the election of Pope Francis in Rome, an event covered by press the world over with incredible detail.   No matter your chosen religion if indeed you follow one at all; the election of a Pope is a process so shrouded in tradition and secrecy it struck many younger observers this week as rather archaic and out of touch with the times.  But is it?  The fact Cardinals travelled to Rome to sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel and secretly vote amongst themselves, burning the votes afterwards with the colour of the smoke signalling the outcome of the vote to the outside world is so, well, old fashioned to be considered rather more than just quaint.

But consider this:  in a world where social media rules and people feel the need to Tweet the second something happens, plus shoot video of the event with their smartphones, it fell upon more traditional media such as newspapers, television and yes, radio, to tell the story and paint the picture for us in greater detail.  Phone signals were reportedly jammed at the Sistine Chapel in order to maintain secrecy;    if you were there, you really had no real advantage over those outside looking in.  While some might deride the decision to maintain secrecy until the Cardinals were darn well ready to announce the outcome, I rather enjoyed it.

We had to do something we are unaccustomed to doing anymore:  wait for the outcome.  Not all things in life are immediate, and the election of a new Pope proved the point this week.  Sure, CNN had a webcam set up near the chimney to catch the moment the white smoke emanated, but really, who wanted to waste their time watching that?  I for one had things to do, and while going about my day, I did what I always do:  tune in to the radio to catch the events unfolding as my own day unfolded.  It was painless, and for me at least, comforting that at least for now, nothing had changed.

I grew up with music radio and when I finally decided to get into the business in 1973 at CHFI-FM in Toronto, music was my eventual area of expertise.  But along the way I learned many other aspects of the business, both on-air and off, as well as developing a healthy interest in news.  So it was when CKTB RADIO decided in the 90s to gradually move to a Newstalk format, I had to change with it and move with the times.  It wasn't always easy and at times I had difficulty adjusting to my new role.  I had  hosted various music programmes at CKTB since I arrived in 1981 as well as conducting literally hundreds of celebrity and entertainment-related interviews over the years, ranging from talking about breakdancing with Ginger Rogers to discovering what made infamous cross-dressing entertainer Divine tick.  But the hard news I left to the news department.

Now all that has changed and I had changed along with it.  Now, I read voraciously from various news sources both online and in traditional newspaper form, and listen constantly in order to stay on top of the news so the show I produce, the Tim Denis morning show, is always on top of the news day in and day out.  As a result the days are long and I must admit, tiring, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  It is important now as it always has been to get the news right, as well as get it fast.  Research, along with developing a 'nose for news' gets you the story every time.  That is something you don't always get with social media.

When news of Cardinal Bergoglio's election broke shortly after 2 pm on Wednesday, I was listening to CKTB Radio as Larry Fedoruk anchored the coverage in the afternoon, describing events as they were unfolding, painting the picture as it were as it developed.  Informed guests were tapped for their input, and Larry provided the insight gained from years in the business to get the story right.  The following morning when Tim and I were in the studio, we were able to expand on the events of the past 24 hours and bring more information to light through guests and news reports direct from Rome.  This is not rocket science; it is simply what we do.

Providing even more insight into the election of a new Pope and exploring even further the role of religion, faith and its place in today's world, talk-show host Tom McConnell chaired an hour-long Interfaith Panel Thursday morning, welcoming guests Roman Catholic Bishop Gerard Bergie, Muslim scholar Samah Marei and Orthodox Jew Daniel Ventressca, organized by Assistant News Director Stephanie Sabourin.  It was insightful and thought-provoking radio, again something you don't always get when surfing the internet.  I encourage you, if you didn't hear the broadcast, to listen to the podcast on Tom's page at  While there you can read Larry's blog on the Pope's election by going to Larry's page.

There was a time when I worked in radio, the main source of news came from a noisy teletype machine in the newsroom.  In the 70s when I worked briefly in Oshawa, that machine chugged away day and night in a tiny closet, spewing out the news as it developed.  In the morning when we came in, there would be literally miles of teletype paper to wade through to make sense of the news.  Now we source news from several mediums at all hours of the day and night from wherever news develops on computers with everything at our fingertips.  On the music side of things, technology was such that every radio studio had turntables in them to play records - remember those?  The engineering staff would be called when a turntable seized up or heaven forbid, we ran out of our supply of stylus needles to keep going.  Don't laugh, back in those days we kept a secret stash of them hidden in the control room to avert minor emergencies, but when that stash was depleted, well. then the fun began.

Radio has changed and continues to change with the times.  It remains as relevant today as it was back in the days of live in-studio broadcasts of entertainers.  It remains theatre of the mind, and makes you think.  And when handled properly by professionals, it gets the story right, now.  It is simply what we do, and I for one, am proud to be a part of it.

Happy Listening!

March 16th, 2013.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Performing Arts Centre - Take Two

Late Thursday afternoon, many interested individuals including this reporter stopped by Market Square downtown for the unveiling of the new designs for the Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  Some of us, I suspect, went with some measure of trepidation after having our hopes dashed last year when bids for the original design all came in well over budget.  So entertaining those hopeful thoughts these past several months was no easy task.

The original design by Diamond-Schmitt Architects in Toronto was expansive and as it turned out, expensive, too.  So judicious trimming to bring the project in on budget was undertaken the past several months and therein lies our collective trepidation.  After seeing what amounted to a veritable Taj Mahal of performing arts centres, some opined, anything less would be viewed as a come down and a disappointment.

Well, I am happy to report, our worst fears have been allayed.  Lead architect with Diamond-Schmitt on the project, Gary McCluskie, told me at the presentation the overall design has been retained; just modified with some of the more expensive features taken out along with some of the more expensive finishes replaced in order to bring the costs in line with what we can afford.  Essentially, the seating capacity of the main hall, recital hall and dance hall remains unchanged, which is good.  The result, according to most who attended the Open House Thursday was that it basically looked the same as the original design.

Kudos to Gary and the team at Diamond-Schmitt for being able to essentially pull another artistic rabbit out of the hat; while there are fundamental differences between the two designs, the appearance has not been altered significantly and to this reporter, at least, the new more compact design actually seems to work better.  The samples of the finishes to be used on display this week looked fine to me and the acoustic material should be just fine, too.  Don't forget, Diamond-Schmitt knows how to design a decent concert hall.  They have been doing this the world over for years.  So while the initial impression before the Open House was that we'd be 'cheaping out' on the project, Mr. McCluskie and Co. have proven there are more ways to achieve the same goal at a more reasonable cost.  That's what they are paid the big bucks to do, after all.

The overall feeling from those leaving the event was that yes, we can actually have a performing arts centre in the downtown core to be proud of.  Now we wait and see how the next round of tendering goes and how close the bids are to the projected target.  McCluskie told me that now, even if they are not in line this time, the project would be so close to target anyway it would just need some tinkering, if you will, to bring everything into line.  So essentially, they have lobbed their best pitch into the ballpark; it is up to those bidding on the project to hit it out of the park and we celebrate a home run.

Since city council has approved the new design, it goes out to tender in early April, with bids reviewed in May and if all goes well, construction could very well get underway by June.  Think about that for a moment.  In about four months, we could see shovels in the ground and the first stages of our artistic dream finally being realized.  Amazing!  Once again, I am getting excited, but will be keeping my fingers crossed this tendering process goes better than the last one.  Let's hope...

So, with an expected opening in September, 2015, we have to now start getting serious about making the new venue as good a story for those using the space as it will be for those of us attending performances there.  In the last year, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects has left the city to take up residence at the Seneca Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls, so that is one tenant down.  But the rest who use the Sullivan Courthouse theatre downtown as well as Chorus Niagara, Centre for the Arts at Brock University and the NSO will be the primary tenants of the new facility.  The theatres will not all be running at all times, obviously, and there will be nights when one or more and even all will be dark.  It is inevitable.

But consider this:  the task for us now as the project moves forward is twofold.  We have to make sure the facility is affordable to tenants so they can afford to use the space provided, and we also have to start selling the facility to the public at large as well as concert bookers that a new, viable option is available to them.  As nice as the new PAC will be, if the rent is out of reach for those wanting to use the facility, we'll have a problem.  And unless the public embraces the new venue beyond the traditional arts community, we will have more dark nights than we can all afford.  Selling a spectator facility is a no-brainer as hockey is in our collective blood.  This facility, however, will be seen by some members of the public as unnecessary.  That's a wrong opinion, of course, but it is a feeling that is out there.

These are exciting times for our downtown.  We have a spectacular new parking garage, work has started on the new spectator facility in the lower level parking lot, plans are moving forward on the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts complex and of course, the new PAC.  This stretch downtown will be what I like to refer to as our "New Golden Mile" and together will go a long way to revitalizing our downtown core.  More needs to be done, of course, including bringing more residential development if at all possible, but these projects all work together to help create a thriving, vibrant, living downtown core.  It will never again be the retail hub of Niagara, but it can and will be the cultural hub of Niagara, and for me, that works out just fine.

Fears have been erased; optimism has returned.  Now, let's get those tenders out and get going on building our future downtown!

March 9th, 2013.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

News & notes around Niagara this weekend

There have been a lot of news releases and items of interest to cross my desk this week, so I thought I would round them all up and present them in this space this weekend, and hopefully give you lots of opportunities to get out and about on the first weekend of March.

I wrote last week about the neXt Theatre Company presentation of Khalida - A Play for the Arab Spring, written and directed by Co-Artistic Director David Fancy.  I attended the opening performance on Tuesday evening at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, and it is definitely worth seeing before the run ends this weekend.  It is about 90 minutes without intermission, with the lone actor, Toronto's Jason Jazrawy playing Said, a man who has fled a war-torn country in the Middle-East and is living somewhere in the Western world.  The play was written and directed for a friend of Fancy's who was once Saddam Hussein's favourite actor, so you can guess which country is depicted in the play.

Jazrawy is great in the role, and the play moves along at a good pace, but it is not light entertainment, so be prepared for some thought-provoking theatre.  Something else that might provoke your thoughts was the news this week someone broke into the theatre prior to the Wednesday evening and stole one of the computers integral to the show.  It was a cheap laptop, but it contained the lighting program and cues on it, so as a result the performance had to be cancelled.  In all, 70 patrons had to be turned away.  Sad story, for sure, and one wonders if there was a political motivation to the theft given it was the cheapest technology piece in the theatre at the time.  One wonders...

Still, the show must go on and after getting hold of another computer later that evening and programming all the cues and such into that computer, Khalida returned for Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances before the run ends.  So today your last chances to see this intelligent and interesting piece of theatre come at 2 pm and 8 pm.  For tickets, call the Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the door.

The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock presents their 3rd Festival of the Arts starting this weekend and running through to the end of the month.  There are too many events and performances to list here, but highlights this weekend include a couple of Visual Arts events:  the exhibition Renew opens tonight at 7 with a reception and in the afternoon at 3, In the Works - Donna Akrey, Scott Sawtell and Jessica Thompson gets underway.  Both exhibitions are at the Niagara Artists Centre, 354 St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  I have all the events listed on my website at on the Calendar page, or you can contact 905-641-0331 for information on this weekend's exhibitions.

Chorus Niagara presents their third concert of the season, with a world premiere of a new work by Niagara composer Michael Kositsky, commissioned by Chorus Niagara and funded by the Cultural Capital of Canada program.  The new work, A Mighty Cry - An 1812-2012 Celebration, reflects the horrors of war and honours the sincere wish for peace that comes at the end of a conflict.  The new work is paired with Welsh composer Karl Jenkins' popular and thought-provoking The Armed Man:  A Mass for Peace in a concert commemorating the War of 1812.

Chorus Niagara is joined by the Chorus Niagara Players, Chorus Niagara Accompanist Lynne Honsberger and a quartet of emerging young solo artists, featuring St. Catharines natives Jocelyn Fralick, soprano and Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo-soprano, as well as Niagara Falls native David Diston, bass and Toronto-based tenor Antonios Varahidis.  Also joining Chorus Niagara is the Side-By-Side High School Chorale.

Sounds like an interesting concert, and it takes place tonight at 7:30 at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, 67 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines.  For tickets, call the Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the door.

By the way, Chorus Niagara is also looking for singers to perform Verdi with Chorus Niagara as they celebrate their 50th Anniversary Gala Event coming up May 4th at the Lake Street Armoury.  They are looking for 20 skilled singers for this one-time only performance.  For information and to apply, contact Diana McAdorey at 905-934-5575 or by email at cad

One more performance on a busy March weekend in Niagara comes up Sunday afternoon at 2 at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street, when the Gallery Players of Niagara present Let's Tango!, a concert of music by Piazzolla, Jobim, Villa-Lobos and others performed by a trio of local musicians.  Douglas Miller on flute, Timothy Phelan on guitar and Margaret Gay on cello are the trio and it promises to be a nice way to warm up as winter continues to drag on here in Niagara.  For tickets, call the Gallery Players at 905-468-1525 or go to

One final note before I wrap things up this weekend, the next open house to see what the proposed Performing Arts Centre may look like comes up this Thursday evening, March 7th at Market Square downtown.  If it is as well attended as the first open house to view the original design, this will be a busy place so I suggest you go early; it begins at 5 pm and I plan to be there.  Of course, I will report on my findings in this space next weekend.

Enjoy the weekend!