Thursday, September 26, 2013

News and notes on the arts this week in Niagara

There has been some news on the arts front this week in Niagara regarding the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in downtown St. Catharines, so we'll address that in my column this evening as well as weekend events you might very well want to enjoy.

On Monday morning, through the RBC Emerging Artists Project, RBC announced a $ 675,000 donation to Brock University's Campaign for a Bold New Brock.  This will help to make the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts a world-class hub for arts education and community programming.

The announcement was made at the site of the new facility, part of the old Canada Hair Cloth building complex being redeveloped just below St. Paul Street.  Francine Dyksterhuis, the Regional President for Southwestern Ontario for RBC, joined Brock President Jack Lightstone to make the announcement, saying, according to the news release:  "RBC is proud to support Brock University and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts", adding "We believe it is critical to identify, nurture and reward the next generation of Canadian talent, and are excited to help provide students with the space, tools and resources to pursue professional arts careers."

The donation will see $ 500,000 of the gift go towards the new school, with the remaining $ 175,000 used to permanently endow funding for the school's long-running Music@Noon series, which has been running for about ten years now, providing on average, 18 public performances a year.  I often want to go to these but with them presently being up at Brock, the parking situation prevents me and I suspect many others from bothering to attend.

But to have them downtown over the noon-hour once the facility is open means the performances will be open to a whole new audience.  Just imagine walking over to the School of Fine & Performing Arts Centre on your lunch-hour to catch a free performance.  That can't help to make the downtown a more interesting place to be!

The popular lunchtime recital series will be renamed the RBC Foundation Tuesdays@noon music series immediately, and when the new centre opens up downtown, a suite of music performance rooms, labs and classrooms on the first floor will be named the RBC Foundation Music Performance Suite for the lifetime of the building.

President Jack Lightstone praised RBC's contribution as "a bold investment in the future of the fine arts in Niagara, Ontario and Canada."  It is indeed, and I hope other corporate entities will be stepping up to the plate to show their support for not only the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts but also the next-door tenant, the St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre.  There are still plenty of naming opportunities for both facilities, and investing in the arts and culture sector will always pay big dividends for any organization.  Congratulations to RBC for being a trail-blazer in Niagara!

Speaking of RBC and the arts in Niagara, RBC Wealth Management are sponsoring RBC Affiliate Composer Kevin Lau at the season kickoff of the Niagara Symphony (NSO) this weekend at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  The first Masterworks concert of the season will feature a performance of Mr. Lau's composition Artemis by the NSO, conducted by Music Director Bradley Thachuck Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre.

Also on the programme will be the Sibelius Violin Concerto and the ever-popular Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, both featuring special guest artist Andrea Tyniec.  This should be a great kickoff for the new season, which promises to be the next-to-last season for the NSO before moving into the new St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre in the fall of 2015.

This weekend I will also be in the lobby before, after and during intermission, manning the table overflowing with great music available for purchase from A Web of Fine Music.  Of course I can take special orders as well, if I don't happen to have what you want on hand.  You can also go to the website, for a complete selection of Mike's Picks that are always available, by the way.

Tickets for the concert and indeed the full NSO season are available in person at the box office or by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Finally, this weekend marks the start of another season for one of my favourite theatre companies in Niagara, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects at their downtown Niagara Falls home at the Seneca Queen Theatre.  Saturday evening at 7 LTP presents their fundraiser, The Niagara Fallies, featuring some pretty high-powered talent on stage, including Thom Allison, Nora McLellan, Jenny L. Wright, Travis Seetoo, Harveen Sandhu, Kyle Golemba and Karen Wood.

There will also be silent and live auction items and a cash bar, with tickets only $ 20.00, in support of Lyndesfarne's 9th season of theatre in Niagara.  This will be a great opportunity to show your support for this company, consistently providing quality theatre during the winter months when you really need an escape the most.

Tickets are available by calling the box office at 905-374-7469, or emailing  The Seneca Queen Theatre is located at 4624 Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls.

Enjoy your weekend!

September 26th, 2013.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Season updates from the Stratford Festival

Just as I wrapped up the Shaw Festival season on Thursday with news and notes that have crossed my desk lately, I thought I would do the same with the Stratford Festival this weekend, as there is plenty of news to report on the last couple of weeks.

The season has been a very successful one at Stratford; so much so, several productions have been extended beyond the original closing dates, with some more than once.  The latest extensions include:  Mary Stuart, extended a fourth time at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 19th; Measure for Measure, also at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 28th; Waiting for Godot at the same venue until September 26th; Taking Shakespeare at the Studio Theatre until September 27th; and one of the big musicals this season, Fiddler on the Roof starring Scott Wentworth as Tevye, has been extended at the Festival Theatre until October 27th.

Personally, I feel Fiddler on the Roof is a much purer musical experience than the other big musical, The Who's Tommy over the Avon, which actually is described as a rock opera.  As good as Tommy very clearly is, I found myself much more satisfied after Fiddler, actually.  While Tommy is a visual extravaganza that truly caters to an audience accustomed to visual stimulus on a regular basis while watching movies and such, Fiddler caters to those who were brought up on traditional musicals with a message for a longer period of time.  I enjoyed both shows immensely, but Fiddler to me is the better musical this year.

Other productions still open and ready for your late-season enjoyment at Stratford include:  Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Festival Theatre until October 19th; Peter Raby's adaptation of the novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, at the Festival Theatre until October 19th as well; Scott Wentworth as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice until October 18th at the Festival Theatre; the aforementioned rock opera Tommy at the Avon Theatre until October 19th; Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Avon until October 20th; Shakespeare's Othello at the Avon until October 19th; and Judith Thompson's The Thrill starring Lucy Peacock until September 22nd.

I know The Thrill is closing tomorrow, but if you have not seen it already and have the time tomorrow, I would highly recommend it, as it is an exceptional show.  My other recommendations from the several  Stratford shows still running would certainly include Mary Stuart if you can even get a ticket; The Merchant of Venice; Measure for Measure; Taking Shakespeare; Tommy and of course, Fiddler on the Roof.

I was very much impressed with new Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino's maiden season at the helm of the Stratford Festival.  He may not have the star power of some of the earlier Artistic Directors, but he is solidly grounded in the classics and the Stratford Festival culture, so he is very well equipped to raise the Festival to a higher level than we have seen in recent seasons.  His innovations such as the Forum offerings allowed people to make the Festival more than just a theatre outing, thus enriching their overall experience.  I would expect even more of this in coming seasons.

If you have not heard the lineup for 2014, released some time ago, let me recap it here.  Cimolino has chosen a dozen plays that collectively explore the theme of Madness:  Minds Pushed to the Edge.  Highlights include Shakespeare's King Lear, the Gershwin musical Crazy for You, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem all at the Festival Theatre; Noel Coward's Hay Fever, the Darion/Leigh musical Man of La Mancha, and James Reaney's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, all at the Avon Theatre; Brecht's Mother Courage, Shakespeare's King John and Antony and Cleopatra all at the Tom Patterson Theatre; and over at the Studio Theatre will be Bouchard's Christina, The Girl King translated by Linda Gaboriau, and wait for it, another production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, described as a Chamber Play interpretation of the classic Shakespeare text.

The two productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream present an interesting point/counterpoint at next year's Stratford Festival.  As Cimolino noted earlier this season, "For the first time in our history, we will examine a Shakespeare play in two different productions within the same season."  The first at the Festival Theatre will be directed by Chris Abraham who directed this season's Othello;  the second at the Studio Theatre by one of the most highly-regarded, internationally-acclaimed directors of Shakespeare, Peter Sellars.  Cimolino notes each director will "present two very different approaches to Shakespeare's text".

One other note that provides some icing on the theatrical cake for Stratford this season, earlier this month, acclaimed actor Seana McKenna received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Trinity College in the University of Toronto, where she attended on scholarship as an Honours English major before making her Stratford Festival debut as Helena in the 1982 production of, what else?, A Midsummer Night's Dream!

In the citation made by Antoni Cimolino, McKenna was described, quite rightly, as "simply one of the greatest actors Canada has every produced", before she was "hooded" by Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian.  I would agree wholeheartedly with Cimolino's citation, as she proved yet again this season in Mary Stuart, for example, her stage presence commands your attention and respect.  She is indeed one of the Festival's brightest lights and certainly one of the best actors this country can claim as our own.

For my reviews of all Stratford productions this season, just refer to the archived links to the right of my blog posting; for my ratings of all productions this season, log on to my website at and click on the Calendar page.

If you still have time to catch a late-season performance at the Stratford Festival, fall is a wonderful time to visit the city and the Festival.  For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or log on to

See you at the theatre!

September 21st, 2013.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Latest news from the Shaw Festival

I've had a flurry of news releases from both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals cross my desk in the last couple of weeks, so let's get the updates on both Festivals this week in my arts blog:  we'll do Shaw this evening and Stratford on the weekend.

The big news earlier this week from the Shaw Festival is that ticket sales for the current season have already outsold 2012, with seven weeks still to go.  Revenues are exceeding $15-million against last year's $13.8-million, which means they are ahead by $1.2-million.  That's pretty good news in itself.

The icing on the theatrical cake this season is the fact Shaw's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia became the most successful production yet in the five-year history of the Studio Theatre.  The 30-performance run was sold out before it even opened, and unfortunately they could not extend the run beyond September 7th due to other commitments for the Studio Theatre space.  But I hear suggestions it might be brought back again; not next season, but likely in the future.

With seven weeks to go before the end of the 2013 season, Shaw has also announced their popular Niagara Neighbours fall promotion is now underway until September 30th, with Niagara Region and greater Buffalo area residents able to purchase specially-priced tickets at savings up to half off.  The sale is only on until September 30th, but you can buy tickets for the remainder of the season for performances of Guys and Dolls, Enchanted April, Lady Windermere's Fan, Major Barbara, Faith Healer and Peace in our Time:  A Comedy.

The hit musical Guys and Dolls has been extended until November 3rd, and it is certainly one of the runaway best shows of the season at Shaw.  If you have not seen this production yet, do yourself a favour and catch the show.  It is well worth seeing before the extended run comes to a close.

Other shows at Shaw I would recommend this late in the season include:  Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, which receives a spectacular production by director Peter Hinton at the Festival Theatre; Matthew Barber's Enchanted April, also at the Festival Theatre; the musical The Light in the Piazza at the Court House Theatre; W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters at the Royal George Theatre; and Shaw's Major Barbara, also at the Royal George.  All are good bets, especially the ones that are part of the Niagara Neighbours promotion until September 30th.

Looking ahead to next season, the 2014 playbill looks pretty impressive at this early stage.  Here's a quick look at what to expect next season at the Festival Theatre:  the big musical will be the Tony Award-winning Cabaret, to be directed by Peter Hinton; also planned is The Philadelphia Story, the romantic comedy from 1939 by Philip Barry, made famous with the film version starring Katherine Hepburn.  This production will be directed by Dennis Garnhum.  Rounding out the 2014 playbill at the Festival Theatre will be Shaw's The Philanderer, which dates from 1893.  This will mark the first time in a couple of seasons a Shaw play will be staged at the larger Festival Theatre, and I think that should make a lot of people happy who lamented only smaller stages were hosting the Festival's namesake's plays in the recent past.  This production will be directed by two-time Obie Award winner Lisa Peterson, who describes herself as a Bernard Shaw fan.

Full details on the rest of the 2014 playbill and what shows are still available for this season, including the Niagara Neighbours promotions, can be had by logging on to or calling 905-468-2172.  Out of town you can call 1-800-511-SHAW (7429).

Also don't forget my season reviews are all archived on my blog; just go to the index on the right to access previous blog entries.  And my ratings for each show this season appear on the Calendar page on the website at

I think the Shaw Festival should be commended for bouncing back after a couple of lean years when sales were down, and with careful trimming of expenses including reducing the size of the acting company, they have proven they can do more with less.  Their 2013 season has turned out to be a vintage year, and well worth your time here in the heart of Niagara wine country.

Enjoy the theatre!

September 19th, 2013.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Passing of an opera icon; HPO Music Director passes the torch and other news

It has been a busy week or so in the arts world, so I thought I would collect some of the more notable items for this weekend's column to clear my desk for other newsworthy items now that the autumn season is fast approaching.

I read with great disappointment a week or so ago about the passing of the former Canadian Opera Company general director Lotfi Mansouri, who guided the company from 1976 to 1988.  Mansouri was the COC's third general director and as noted in the release the company sent out following his passing, "played a significant role in launching the COC's international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation...growing the company into the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America".

During his tenure, Mansouri implemented a longer performance season and championed more adventurous repertoire and productions.  There was more advance planning of productions undertaken both financially and artistically, now essential elements of the COC's operations to this day.  But perhaps his most lasting achievement for today's opera goers is the fact the company pioneered and introduced the creation of SURTITLES, unveiled at the company's 1983 production of Elektra.  This was the very first time any opera house in the world had projected a simultaneous translation of the opera for the audience; it was revolutionary at the time but now is accepted practice in all major opera houses worldwide.

His biggest disappointment, I suspect, was failing to secure a dedicated opera house for Toronto, which I believe led to his departure in 1988 to become general director of San Francisco Opera.  The new opera house came into being later on, of course, and is considered one of the finest in the world now.  But at the time, Mansouri knew productions for the foreseeable future would continue to be mounted at the inferior O'Keefe Centre in Toronto (now the Sony Centre).

I met Lotfi once during the 80s for a radio interview at the O'Keefe Centre and found him to be gracious, disarmingly frank and totally committed to what he was trying to achieve with the COC within the confines of an inferior performance space.  He knew his stuff and gained the respect of everyone who knew or worked with him, myself included.

Lotfi Mansouri touched a lot of lives both inside and outside of the opera world, and this giant of a man will be greatly missed.

The COC recently announced tickets to the 2013/14 season were on sale, with the big attraction being Puccini's La Boheme, billed as "The Greatest Love Story Ever Sung".  Other productions this season include Britten's Peter Grimes, Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, Handel's Hercules, Donizetti's Roberto Devereux and Massenet's Don Quichotte.  As you can see, some interesting operas coming up this season including some not often seen or heard.

Tickets to the new season are available by calling the box office at 416-363-8231 or going to

Another arts leader will also be greatly missed, this time in Hamilton.  It was announced by the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra yesterday their Music Director James Sommerville will be leaving the HPO at the end of the 2013-14 season.  Somerville came to the HPO with great fanfare seven years ago after an extensive search, and during his tenure grew the HPO artistically, attracting world-class players to important core positions within the orchestra.

I was still attending and selling recordings at the HPO concerts when Sommerville arrived, and I had a chance to experience his creative talents first-hand while in the audience, and his work was always first-rate.  I found the orchestra played not only up to their potential but exceeded it, with a more clearly-defined sound than they displayed in previous seasons.

According to the release issued yesterday by the HPO, he "introduced the Young Performers' Competition in 2009 and has been instrumental in the development of What Next, the HPO's annual new music festival."  He also underwrote commissions by young composers including Jeremy Flower and Kati Agocs that have been presented by the HPO.

A good example of the new direction of the HPO under Sommerville's leadership is the fact this afternoon at 4 pm, the HPO Brass and award-winning beatboxer Hachey the MouthPEACE will be appearing at this year's Supercrawl, with the HPO Brass performing classic quintet repertoire as well as joining forces with Hachey on some new interpretations of familiar works in pop music.

The HPO season will get underway next Saturday, September 21st with maestro Sommerville leading the orchestra in a concert entitled Great Romantics, featuring internationally-acclaimed Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker.  Opening night will feature Brahms' Symphony No. 3, my personal favourite of the Brahms symphonies, as well as Parker's talents on Rachmaninoff's ever-popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  Rounding out the programme will be contemporary Canadian composer Kati Agocs' Shenanigan, making its reprise after its world premiere by the HPO in 2011.

Tickets to Opening Night and indeed the entire HPO season can be had by calling the box office at 905-526-7756 or going to

Enjoy celebrating the arts this autumn!

September 14th, 2013.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Final two shows at the Stratford Festival

We've come to the final two shows of the season at the Stratford Festival, and all in all, a pretty impressive first season for new Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.    So let's get to the final two and then we'll recap the season and look to the future in a later posting this month.

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was one of the late-season openings at the Festival Theatre, and it continues until October 18th.  Brian Bedford was originally scheduled to play the role of Shylock, and in fact he is on the cover of the season brochure to promote it.  But he had to withdraw due to unspecified medical reasons prior to rehearsals and director Cimolino had to call up Stratford Iron Man Scott Wentworth to fill the void on short notice.  All in all it turned out to be an inspired choice.

Wentworth plays two Jews at this season's Festival, Shylock and of course Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, and both he plays with consummate skill; in the case of Shylock, in a rather subdued manner. I like it, and find it works well in the context of what Cimolino is trying to convey as he deals with the rather problematic subject matter of The Merchant of Venice.

Set in Fascist Italy of the 1930s, a period experienced first-hand by Cimolino's parents who came as well from "the Veneto", this Merchant handles the problem of "The Jew" very carefully and thoughtfully.  In his Director's notes, he refers to the considerable contributions Italian Jews had made to society prior to the 1938 introduction of race laws by the Mussolini Fascists.  He decided then to illustrate in this production the similarities between Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and in 1930s Venice.

As a result, we have another modern dress production but it all works very well in the context of the play.  Both sets and costumes are very stylish and illustrate the fact even in Depression-era Italy, there were so-called beautiful people who knew how to live well.

The problem with living as well as they do, in some cases at least, is we sometimes live beyond our means and have to attempt to at least project the image we are doing well in spite of our own personal situation.  That is the case with Bassanio, who asks his friend Antonio, a Venetian merchant, for a loan in order to finance his wooing of the wealthy heiress Portia, who lives in the mythical Belmont.   Antonio is short on cash himself at the moment, so takes out a loan from the Jewish money lender Shylock, whom Antonio and others in his circle despise due to the fact he loans out money to make a profit.

Well, Bassanio succeeds in wooing Portia while Antonio's finances take a hit due to unforeseen circumstances upon the high seas, and he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to repay the debt to Shylock with a pound of his flesh, the cost of defaulting on the loan demanded by Shylock.  This is where Cimolino and Wentworth show the wisdom of setting out the play as it is, as you find you do have sympathy for an unsympathetic soul, namely Shylock.

The rest of the cast is generally very strong, although some, I found, were a little over the top; in particular Rod Pederson's Launcelot Gobbo.  But he is balanced out by Tom McCamus' restrained Antonio and Michelle Giroux' very regal Portia.  Others in the cast worthy of mention include Steven Sutcliffe as Solanio and Tyrell Crews as a very handsome Bassanio.

There is a great deal of attention to detail in this production by Antoni Cimolino and his crew, but I found it rather funny, being a radio person and all, in the second act when they utilize an old radio to provide background music onstage, it starts immediately when they turn it on.  In 1930s-era Italy as well as just about everywhere else back then, radios would have been tube type contraptions which require about 30 seconds of warming up before volume magically appears.  Just a small thing, but I caught that; it is akin to seeing a tour bus tucked away in the back of a movie set for an old western movie!

In the end, this is a worthy Merchant of Venice, and rates a strong three out of four stars.  It continues at the Festival Theatre until October 18th.

The final show of the season for your humble reporter was Judith Thompson's The Thrill, directed by Dean Gabourie at the Studio Theatre.  It continues only until September 22nd, so you will have to get there soon in order to catch this thought-provoking play.

The Thrill deals with some pretty tough subject matter, specifically the care for those with disabilities of just about any sort.  Thompson clearly points out in the play society has to change their perception if we are to make any progress on this issue.  Add to that the issue of assisted suicide and you can see this is not light summer theatre fare.  What it is, in fact, is quite enlightening and revealing.

The Thrill pits two strong protagonists against each other:  Elora, played by Lucy Peacock, and Nigel Bennett's Julian.  Elora is based on the real-life story of Harriet Johnson, who lived and practised law in Charleston, South Carolina and is a very vocal disability activist, herself confined to a wheelchair.  Her adversary is Julian, inspired by Peter Singer, an author and pop-philosopher of the day.  Here, Julian travels the world to promote his book, titled Wheelbarrow, and his views on caring for the disabled.  As you can imagine, his views are diametrically opposed to Elora's.  He does, however, have to cope with his mother Hannah, who is edging towards dementia and eventually is moved to what Elora refers to as "The Gulag", otherwise known as a nursing home.

Initially, Elora seethes with anger whenever Julian's name comes up, and when her care-giver Francis suggests she meet Julian when he is in town she positively bristles at the thought.  She is, after all, fighting a losing battle with a degenerative disease herself, all the while fighting even harder for those in a similar situation as her own.  But they do meet, discuss their opposing views, and then meet again...and again...

Turns out Julian falls in love with Elora, leading him to rethink his views on the subject as so often happens when it really begins to hit home.  She falls for him, too, and this is where I found myself uneasy with the match just a little bit.  After being so opposed to each other for so long, Julian's brief and quick wooing of Elora strikes me as just too quick.  I know, it is done in the context of the play, but it really doesn't ring true with me right away.  I could see it growing over  a longer period of time, but...all's fair in love and war, I suppose.

The cast is uniformly strong here, with Lucy exceptional as Elora, and Nigel Bennett's Julian just that little bit of a huckster in his promoting his book and views.  Patricia Collins is very good as Julian's mother Hannah, confined to bed for the most part, and Robert Persichini is very strong as Elora's care-giver Francis.

The Thrill asks some hard questions, but the payoff is a wonderful play full of exceptional performances.  It is off the beaten track for Stratford, to be sure, but worth the journey if you have the time before it closes.  It rates a very strong three out of four stars, and continues at the Studio Theatre until September 22nd.

September 8th, 2013.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When one door closes, another opens: an update

It was in this very space less than a month ago I related the situation I and several others faced after being told our services were no longer required at CKTB Radio in St. Catharines.  I ended that posting with an optimistic desire to move on, look for my next Big Adventure, and as my sister Kelli told me on the phone from her home in Kenora, when one door closes another opens.

That second door doesn't open without you knocking on it first, of course, and I have been knocking on several digital doors over the past three weeks or so in order to seek a new avenue with which to follow my dreams.  I didn't know where that avenue would lead me, but for the time being at least, it has led me just down the street and around the corner, and oddly enough, the birthplace of CKTB Radio.

This morning I entered the doors of the downtown Student Residence at the corner of King and Ontario Streets, and settled in for my new position as Spoken Word Content Co-ordinator at CFBU-FM 103.7. I entered the lobby knowing full well about 80 years beforehand, talent from CKTB Radio passed through these doors into the ornate lobby of the then Welland House Hotel, which was then home to CKTB Radio before owner E.T. Sandell bought the former William Hamilton Merritt home at 12 Yates Street and moved the station there in the early 1930s.

There is a rich history attached to this venerable building that has been a mainstay of downtown St. Catharines for generations now, from the famous springs people came from all over to experience in the early days to the famous and near-famous people who would have stayed there over the years.  In a future posting in this space I will see what I can discover about the history of the building and share it with you.

For now, I will concentrate on my reasons for now making a little bit of history of my own in this historic building.

The first thing I decided to do when I found myself looking for gainful employment last month was to not rule anything out.  Nothing.  I notified close friends and associates of my situation before I wrote my blog post and then, with the eyes and ears of several of those kind souls, we set about seeing what was out there in the short term I could start to build a second career upon.

That brought be to a Facebook post on the CFBU page outlining a position for a Spoken Word Development Co-ordinator for the station, located just off the lobby of the downtown Student Residence.  Intrigued, I dove in immediately and sent my cover letter and resume in immediately and after an interview last week, I found out this week I had the job.

Relief was my first feeling:  relief I still had talents deemed viable in this day and age and relief those very same talents prevented me from sitting on the shelf for long.  I don't like sitting on the shelf, as you might have gathered.  My transition person I am working with in Hamilton reminded me a first interview within three weeks of being unemployed is a very positive sign; to actually get the job even more so.  I am gratified this new opportunity came my way so soon after the unfortunate situation I and several other talented individuals faced last month.

Now, the position is part-time through to next May, so we are not home-free quite yet.  But it will give me an opportunity to show my talents in a different forum and (hopefully) rise to the challenge of creating fresh, new and creative spoken word programming with a roster of young, hungry and talented students from Brock University.  And who knows where this new opportunity may lead in the future?

In a nutshell, it will be my responsibility to develop more shows in the spoken word format to further fill out the programming schedule at CFBU-FM.  I didn't realize it beforehand, but when I interviewed for the position it was made clear I would, for want of a better expression, lead the way on the station in regards to spoken word programming and that will include me being back on the air hosting a programme of my own.  Good thing I saved my headphones!

Right now the first project we are working on is developing a programme devoted to the interesting research currently being done both by students and faculty at Brock, and explain in layman's terms just what it means and how it can benefit the community at large.  From there we will look at other ideas for  shows, and really, the sky is the limit as to the possibilities we can explore in the adventurous, creative programming CFBU has long been known for.

The studio is compact and reasonably modern, although I noted today when I visited the studio for the first time there are the following pieces of equipment available for use even now:  a VCR, an audio cassette deck and yikes!  Did I see two turntables in there?  Yes I did!  To borrow a favourite term used by my friend and colleague Doug Herod at the St. Catharines Standard...Yowzers!

So tomorrow morning the adventure begins as we begin work on crafting a new spoken word identity to not replace, but complement the existing musical programming on the station.  With my 40 years of experience in the broadcasting industry, this will be a new adventure for your humble scribe, but I think I am up for it.

Now that being said, this being a part-time position occupying mostly mornings, I still need to find other gainful employment, so once again if I can prevail upon you to keep me in mind if you hear of anything, it will help as I continue to knock on those digital doors for the time the afternoon.

Wish me luck...the adventure continues!

September 5th, 2013.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Taking in Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival

My last two trips of the season to Stratford produced four excellent shows, two of which I'll look at this week and the final two in a few days, as we wrap up another season of great theatre at the Stratford Festival.

In the small Studio Theatre space tucked in behind the larger Avon Theatre downtown, John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare continues until September 27th.  If you have not made plans yet to see this show, I strongly suggest you try to beg, borrow or steal tickets (well, maybe not the last one!) to the show, which was extended a week due to popular demand.  I enjoy John Murrell's work; he is well represented at Stratford as well as other major theatres in North America and has been for about thirty-five years now; for me, I came away loving this piece of theatre.

Director Diana Leblanc in her notes explains she wants to make you a Shakespeare lover.  Speaking from personal experience, living with someone who has yet to warm to the charm of The Bard, I know that is a tall order.  But what we have here is a wise, wise-cracking teacher (Prof, played by Martha Henry) trying to enlighten young Murph (played by Luke Humphrey) on the wonders that are indeed Shakespeare.  You see, Murph's mother is concerned about her 24-year-old son who loves nothing more than to play mindless video games; she is also concerned about Prof, who has been sliding at the University it seems far too long.  Murph's mother, who also happens to be the Dean of Humanities, hopes Shakespeare will light a fire under each of them.

Oh, there's fire all right.  Prof dismisses Murph early on as simply not interested; Murph to his credit doesn't immediately walk out completely, but can't get his head around Shakespeare and his plays and that certainly tests Prof's patience.  As they embark on a journey to discover the real meaning behind the play Othello and why Iago is the way he is, they eventually come to terms with their situation and somehow find a way to make it work.

By the second act the two have an abiding respect for each other, although the much younger Murph shows much more respect than the Prof, it seems, who has just been turfed from her teaching position and has to move on.  Murph won't have any of it; he is finally beginning to understand and appreciate the intricacies of Shakespeare in general and Othello in particular and wants to continue the journey with Prof.

The two protagonists here are perfectly matched and in spite of Luke's inexperience compared to Martha Henry, he is up to the task of working with one of our national treasures.  By the end of the play, you can't help but imagine Henry would be great fun at any party with the conversations that ensue.  Here, she is bitchy, snarky, unexpectedly sexy and an absolute joy to watch.

The set looks to be transferred directly from the interior of Book Stage, the iconic bookstore located just across the street from the theatre, with old books piled high and shelves overflowing from top to bottom.  It is a comfortable set, depicting a life well lived; books well loved.

Taking Shakespeare takes me back to Grade 10 English class, where the teacher tried to instill in us a love of Shakespeare as well, but he droned on as he dissected MacBeth day after day, ultimately having the opposite effect for many in the classroom years ago.  It wasn't until we started our annual school field trips to actually see the plays live on stage at Stratford we began to appreciate the works for what they were and Shakespeare as the great playwright he always was and still is.

Hopefully your memories of studying Shakespeare in high school are better than mine were.  Either way, you'll love this generational give-and-take with Othello as the catalyst.  Taking Shakespeare continues at the Studio Theatre until September 27th and rates a solid four out of four stars.

It just so happened my schedule worked out I would see Taking Shakespeare in the afternoon and then in the evening I would move up to the larger Avon Theatre for this season's production of Othello, starring Dion Johnstone in the title role of Graham Abbey as Iago.

As usual with Othello, you wind up with a pile of bodies on stage during a brutal finale, but the route taking us there, courtesy of director Chris Abraham, is an interesting one.

As Othello, Johnstone is good; his accent is a little disconcerting at first, but eventually you warm up to the exotic flavour it adds to the play.  His wife, the lovely Desdemona, is played here by Bethany Jillard who is beautiful, poised and well cast.  She is full of the beautiful innocence needed for the role, thereby making Othello's crazed rationalizations for killing her all the more horrific.  The actual scene of Desdemona's death is particularly effective in this production.

Othello starts out as a reasonable guy, but spurred on by Iago's agenda his world unravels as the play continues, leading us to the unfortunate conclusion with so many deaths at the end.  As Iago, Graham Abbey is evil to be sure, but I found the last production of Othello with Colm Feore as Iago just that much more chilling and heartless.

The rest of the cast is very strong here, with Mike Shara's Roderigo, Brian Tree's Gratiano, Keith Dinicol's Montano and Peter Hutt's Brabantio worthy of mention.  Incidentally, when Brabantio refers to someone being a senator in the first act, a good deal of laughter can be heard in the audience - certainly Canadians to be sure!

Abraham has set the play with period costumes but with a more modern, minimalist set and it somehow works; combined with the industrial music composed and performed by Thomas Ryder Payne, this Othello crosses many boundries, not allowing itself to be pigeon-holed.  I quite like how everything seems at odds yet work together well.

Is it a worthy Othello?  It most certainly is, and rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.  Othello continues at the Avon Theatre until October 19th.

Enjoy the theatre!

September 4th, 2013.