Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shaw Festival's The Philanderer hits some highs, and some lows

My final visit for the season to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake earlier this month was at the Festival Theatre for a much-anticipated production of Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer.  Overall, it is great fun, but with some reservations from your humble scribe.

The Shaw Festival has staged this early Shaw play (his second, in fact, dating from 1893) three times previously in Niagara-on-the-Lake, most recently in 2007, directed by Alisa Palmer.  It's easy to see why, as Shaw is still finding his voice, if you will, and the play reflects the fresh approach to live theatre Shaw specialized in for many years.  It still argues points near and dear to the author's heart, to be sure, but this play predates his long-winded and oftentimes tiresome rants of later years.

This new production is directed by New York-based Shaw afficionado Lisa Peterson, making her Shaw Festival directorial debut.  She admits in her Director's Notes to not originally being a big fan of this play, having seen it a few times before, and suggesting she considered it more of a drawing-room comedy than anything else.  But Peterson was tempted to take another look at the play when the option to include Shaw's original third act came into play.  That changes everything, it seems, and for good reason.

Considered rather racy for its time, it was recommended by Shaw's friend, Lady Colin Campbell, the original third act be thrown in the fire and Shaw take another stab at it.  He rewrote the third act, certainly, but never threw the original into the fire, and it is now returned to its rightful place as the fitting conclusion to a fun play about an English dandy who wants to play with the feelings of two society women at the same time.

For many audience-goers this year, this will be their first exposure to the so-called "lost" third act, and it does change the play's dynamics enough to warrant you seeing the play yet again, even if you saw the last edition directed by Palmer in 2007.  Back then as well as in 1995, the original third act was added as a sort of sequel to the rewritten third act; this time the original supersedes the later version and moves the action four years into the future during the play.

For the most part, I like this new production and where it takes the audience.  However, there are some speed bumps along the way I for one find a little annoying.

On the plus side, Peterson keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and gets stellar performances from a great cast of Shaw Festival actors, including Marla McLean and Moya O'Connell as the two women protagonists in the story, as well as Gord Rand as the lover of both of them, Leonard Charteris.  He claims to want to marry Grace Tranfield, played by McLean, all the while entertaining thoughts of his previous paramour, the slightly older Julia Craven, played by O'Connell.  Both women want Leonard, of course, and so the plot thickens...

On the down side, the pace can be a little too light for my tastes, especially in the first two acts when Peterson seems to have created a live stage version of a television situation comedy.  It is not over-the-top, but there are moments a little more restraint and respect for the author and his play might have been in order.  So too at the end of the third act, when a sort of stop-action love-making session concludes the evening's proceedings.

Speaking of love-making, as the curtain goes up on the lavish set designed by Sue LePage, we see Charteris and Tranfield in a most compromising position on the drawing-room floor, which you must admit is not often the case as a Shaw play starts.  But hey, they were just following the author's sketchy directions, after all...

The rest of the cast is strong for the most part, backing up the three main characters with some equally impressive performances:  Michael Ball as Mr. Joseph Cuthbertson; Ric Reid as Colonel Daniel Craven, who suffers from a malady Jeff Meadows as Dr. Percival Paramore thinks he has figured out, but ultimately hasn't.

The only disappointment in the casting for me was Harveen Sandhu as Sylvia Craven, who appears to be a little over the top throughout the first two acts.  I know the role is not supposed to blend into the woodwork, but it was a bit too much, I felt.

So, does Lisa Peterson hit a home run?  Depending on who you ask, yes she did, so much so there is early talk Peterson might be the heir apparent to Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell when her term ends before too long.  That might be a little presumptuous, I think, until we see more of Lisa's handiwork in the future, and make no mistake, she will be directing at the Shaw Festival again in the future.

There is a lot to like in this new production of The Philanderer and it could quite possibly be one of the big box-office winners for the Festival once all is said and done this season, even with a later opening.  But there were times in this production I couldn't help but think too much liberty might have been taken with Shaw's early comedy.  As such, while still considered a winner this season, especially due to the return of the original third act, this won't be my favourite Shaw Festival production of the play.

There is still lots of time to catch the show, as it runs at the Festival Theatre until October 12th, and it rates a solid three out of four stars.

For tickets and more information, go to or call 1-800-511-7429.

See you at the theatre!

August 26th, 2014.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Some thoughts on how to further your job search from someone who's been there.

Last week when I wrote in this space about the one-year anniversary of my unscheduled career change, I closed with a promise this week I would outline some of the strategies that did - and did not -work for me in my job search.  I hope some of these ideas might help someone else who is presently in the same position I was a year ago.

The first thing you need when you head out into that great new frontier known as the job search is a positive attitude.  I know this can be difficult, especially at first when you are still licking your wounds from losing a job.  But trust me, a positive attitude will do more for you in your job search than a lot of other things.  Sure, I had my days when I started to despair; we all do.  But I always kept it to myself and worked through the doubt and before long, I was upbeat with new ideas and plans to carry out.

Tied in with this positive attitude is a desire to put the past behind you and move forward.  No prospective employer wants a sorehead on his or her staff if they can avoid it, and negative things you say about a former employer have a habit of coming back to haunt you later on.  Keep it positive and look forward, not behind.

While I think about it, remember prospective employers will check your social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter and especially LinkedIn, so make sure to keep any axes you might have to grind off all these sites.  Again, think positive!

If your previous employer offers the services of a career counsellor, by all means take advantage of it.  The transition person assigned to my case, Judy, was always there to listen to me on my good days and bad days and offer support and important advice.  Although it meant I had to travel to Hamilton every other week to meet with her, I actually looked forward to the visits, as I always came out energized and renewed, and that is what you need at this point:  an independent third party who has the skills and knowledge to help guide you in new directions in your career.

For me, I can't imagine going through what I went through last year without Judy's help.  You cannot do the job search while living in a vacuum, so don't be afraid to reach out for help.  It is there for the taking, so mine that knowledge base for all it is worth.  You'll receive help designing and writing your resume, for example, which is vital as you embark on your job search.

While writing your resume, be honest and don't embellish the facts.  If you had important and relevant information for a particular employer, by all means include it.  But don't include anything you can't back up during the job interview if the resume gets you through the door.  Be careful about including humour in your resume unless the position you are applying for specifically calls for someone with that type of talent.

My last resume was chiselled on stone tablets it goes back so far, so I really appreciated the input from Judy as we brought it into the 21st century.  I discovered during this process I had far more skills than I realized, and it was a revelation seeing them all down on paper.  Be honest with your resume, but don't sell yourself short.  You likely also have more talents than you realized, too.

I would even go so far as to suggest everyone should have their resume rewritten once every five years or so whether you need to or not, just to see for yourself what additional knowledge you have acquired since the last time you reworked it.  You'd be surprised how things change over time.

Very early on in my job search, I knew one of my most valuable assets was my extensive network of contacts, and in spite of my losing access to my company email programme, I still had all the contacts on my iPhone, so without missing a beat I got to work immediately notifying anyone and everyone who could possibly help me with my job search of the situation, and without sounding needy, just planted the seed in their minds that I was on the market, as it were, and available to work.

In fact, it was while working my contacts I landed the all-important interview that eventually resulted in my present position with Meridian Credit Union.  People know you.  Don't be afraid to reach out to them, as they can be an important ally and resource for you in your job search.

In the old days, you consulted hard copies of newspapers for classified ads, but now you go on the internet to search job sites.  Believe me, this makes your life much easier, although you can almost have too much choice if you're not selective.  I utilized about ten different job search sites as I worked through the process, and that seemed to be the maximum for me without undue duplication.

If there are any job fairs coming up in your area while you are looking for work, by all means go to them.  I went to three such job fairs while I was looking for work, and although ultimately they did not bear fruit for me, I did get two job interviews out of the fairs, and if nothing else, I got my name and resume out there in front of any number of prospective employers.  You will find, as I did, a lot of the jobs being offered are part-time or for students, but you just never know what might happen at one of these events.  Remember, not all jobs are being advertised, so you want to tap into that "underground" job market.

While at job fairs or even while just dropping off resumes to prospective employers on a day-to-day basis, do one thing that people tend to overlook, yet I cannot stress enough:  dress for success.  I don't care if you are applying to be a welder or a business executive, you should put your best foot forward and look professional at all times during your job search.

At the job fairs I attended, I was astounded by the number of people who should know better who turned up in track pants or worse, like they had just dragged themselves up from the couch to take a break from watching television.  I always dressed up for these events and trust me, it got me noticed.  A little effort goes a long way to showing prospective employers you mean business and are ready to go at a moment's notice.

One of the most important things I learned during this process was to think outside the box, as it were, and get outside of your comfort zone.  For me, it became painfully obvious my radio broadcasting days were just about done due to my age, as radio is very much a young person's game now.  So the challenge for me was to come up with other uses for my skill-set.

Over the Christmas holidays I sat down and thought of jobs I could apply my skill-set to and build on that base in order to gain employment, and although it took some time, it worked.  If you think I ever imagined a year ago I would be doing the job I am now doing, you'd be sadly mistaken.  But you have to look beyond what you have already done with your life and look ahead to what I called at the time "my next big adventure."

My next big adventure brought me to a local company with a proven track record for progressive thinking, and I found them through careful research and opening my eyes to the possibilities even I had not considered before.  Will your next big adventure come the same way?

Don't be angry, don't be afraid, and don't sell yourself short.  You have a lot to offer the world and you should be proud of it.  Remain positive, patient and proactive, and good things will come to you.

Good luck!

August 18th, 2014.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A tale of two jazz festivals in Niagara

I wrote back at the beginning of July about the jazz and blues events coming up this summer in Niagara, including the Niagara Jazz Festival launching this month in Niagara-on-the-Lake

The aptly-titled Niagara Jazz Festival comes up August 22nd to 24th at various locations in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ranging from the local library to Stratus Vineyards, The Village, Garrison House, Jackson-Triggs, Oast House Brewery and The Old Winery.

This new event joins a crowded field of summer jazz and blues events, particularly in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but Juliet Dunn, Executive Director of the Festival along with her husband, pianist Peter Shea, are confident they can carve out a nice little niche for themselves in Niagara and grow into a marquee event for music lovers throughout the Region.

They are musicians themselves, of course, so they know the people they are bringing on board for the weekend, having engaged many of them for their popular Twilight Jazz series that showcased local jazz talent since 2011.  Dunn and Shea are also wise enough to know a project like this can easily get out of hand if all the bases are not covered, so they are employing the considerable talents of bassist, composer and arranger Duncan Hopkins as Artistic Director for the event.

The music will range from traditional jazz vocals to dixieland and beyond, drawing talent from the considerable pool of resources right here in Niagara.  On tap to perform at the first festival are such names as the Blue Note Tribute Quintet, John Neudorf, Heather Bambrick, John Sherwood, Ashley St. Pierre, Alistair Robertson, Barbra Lica, Brian Dickinson, Brian O'Kane, Brownman Electryc Trio, Chase Sanborn, Dixie Demons, Don Naduriak, Frank's Bus Brass Band and Graham Lear among others.

While much of the talent is local, both Dunn and Shea hope over time the Festival will grow and in turn draw international artists as well as local musicians.  Why not?  Musicians love to perform, and feed off each other's unique talents.

If you're tempted by the lineup, more information is available at

When I wrote those words in July, I was unawares another local jazz festival was also scheduled for this month in Niagara, as the Niagara Region Jazz Festival kicks off this Friday and runs for ten days at several Niagara locations.

Event co-organizer Tamas Brummer told QMI Niagara Arts & Entertainment guru John Law this week he knows creating a viable jazz scene right here in Niagara will be "an uphill climb" as he puts it.

True enough.  There have been other jazz festivals launched in Niagara over the years, meeting with varied degrees of success.  One of the more notable festivals to fall by the wayside was held at Jaycee Park in north St. Catharines a few summers back, also in August, and it lasted but one season.

Anyway, back to the Niagara Region Jazz Festival.  This festival seems more geared to locals rather than tourists, as evidenced by the locations for the events, scattered throughout Niagara rather than concentrated in Niagara-on-the-Lake over three days next weekend.

This Friday for example, the regional festival kicks off at Canalside Restaurant in Port Colborne, with Lara Solnicki performing.  The Wares perform Saturday night at the Panini Restaurant on Front Street in downtown Thorold, and GinTonic perform at Calamus Estate Winery down in Jordan on Sunday.

The following week, Fonthill's Cafe on Main plays host to Niagara Falls' own Khea Emmanuel August 20th, followed by Storyville Project at The Sanctuary Centre for the Arts in Ridgeway on the 22nd, and Adrean Farrugia teams up with Mary McKay August 24th at Savoury and Sweet in downtown Chippawa.

There will also be an all-day "Jazz in the Park" event at Merritt Park in downtown Welland on August 23rd, featuring a lineup that includes artists such as Karin Viser, the Gypsy Rebels and the Scott Taplay Trio among others.

Most of the concerts are very reasonably priced at between ten and fifteen dollars, although the Savoury and Sweet event includes dinner for $35 and the all-day event in Welland also costs $35.  All in all, prices that should appeal to local music lovers who want to catch more than one event this month.

Although the Niagara Region Jazz Festival does not appear to have a website up, at least not yet, you can follow them on Facebook for updates and more information by searching JazzNiagaraRegion.

Let's hope both these festivals find their audience and prosper while both operating in each other's backyard.  For too long we've have a lack of great jazz music in the Region, so both these local festivals will hopefully address that problem and provide local audiences with an affordable reason to come out and enjoy some great music with friends and family.

Enjoy the month of August...and all that jazz!

August 13th, 2014.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Life after year later

It is hard to believe it has been a year this past Friday since I found myself and several others out of work by our previous employer due to corporate reorganization.  So I thought this weekend I would offer a few thoughts on the past year, what has happened and where I am right at the moment.

When I was let go August 8th, 2013, I had passed 32 years that May at CKTB Radio, and was about three weeks shy of 40 years in radio with continuous employment, which in itself is something of an accomplishment in this day and age.  But the plan was to finish my career at CKTB and retire in a few years, earning I thought was the right to no longer wake up at 3 am every weekday morning for my position as Morning Show Producer.

Alas, as they say, the best-laid plans and all that...not quite.

When I received the news just over a year ago, I was quite literally devastated.  I wavered between fear, anger, resentment and hope that I would indeed work again.  These are probably normal reactions to this sort of situation, but I also knew deep down in my heart I was not ready to finish my career on this note.  Something good must surely come out of all this, I thought.

That good did indeed come, and I didn't have to wait very long for it to arrive, either.  Call it luck or just good timing, but a part-time position opened up with the Brock student radio station right about the time I found myself unemployed, and I was very lucky to be granted an interview just three weeks after I lost my full-time position.

The job at CFBU-FM was a contract position, 20 hours a week for eight months, developing spoken word content for the largely student-run station.  It also involved me hosting my own show on research being done at Brock University, titled Inquisitive Minds.  Although my time hosting Inquisitive Minds ended in late May, the show is in summer re-runs now Saturdays at 12 noon.  Archived shows are also available on the CFBU website at

What the show taught me was that I had not lost my ability to communicate information in an accessible, easy to understand way everyone could enjoy.  It was a challenge every week coming up with interesting topics for the show, but every week I found three topics of interest and in the process learned so much myself about a wide variety of subject matter.  I also forged a great number of important relationships with influential people who could possibly help my career path in the future.

The CFBU job was the best thing that ever happened to me, really.  I grew both as a broadcaster as well as a person, and found creative ways to utilize my communication skills in ways I had not done often enough in the past.  In addition, it proved to me I had a talent that would find a new home when the contract ended, although I had no idea where.

While I applied for many positions in the broadcasting field, both locally and beyond Niagara, there were no offers of employment, due likely to my age, I gathered.  So over the Christmas break I decided to expand my horizons and think outside the broadcast box, if you will.  It was time to strike out in a new direction.

I had some retail experience, so that was a good option, although likely it would be part-time.  I had writing experience, too, but of course, most writers don't make a living at it unless it is corporate publications of some kind.  But I started to do my research and in the process found a new home in what for me at least was a rather unlikely place.

I looked at the financial services sector, although I had no prior experience in the field.  But I felt my communication skills and ability to connect with people and forge new relationships would work well in this new field.

To say I was delighted to have an interview with Meridian Credit Union would be an understatement. I was thrilled!  Everything I heard and read about this progressive local business was positive and rang true for me as I did my research.  It was clear that should an opportunity arise, Meridian was where I wanted to hang my hat for my second career.

And so it was that on March 17th I started training for a position as Member Services Representative at the downtown St. Catharines branch, which I find hard to believe is almost five months ago now.  My probationary period ended June 17th, so I must have shown I had some talent that was transferable.

Now, I don't mind telling you this is not an easy transition for me, nor did I expect it to be.  A new career as opposed to a new job is always more of a challenge, and that is what I wanted.  The learning curve is steep and will be for quite awhile yet, I suspect.  But I am grasping the concept of this new reality and although most days I am exhausted when I arrive home from work, it is a good type of exhaustion as I know many days I have made a difference to many people who come into the branch.

I am blessed to have had this opportunity and hope to grow within this role in the coming years with Meridian, and I am truly grateful for their ability to look beyond the resume and look at the person in order to base their hiring decision.  I know I will do my best to reassure them they made a good decision.

The team I work with is exceptional, and the support from both them and the corporate level is something I have not experienced before in my long career in radio.  It is gratifying to me to know they want me to succeed and are willing to invest in me in order to achieve that.

But what of this period from last year to this year?  What else have I learned?  In a nutshell, I learned to believe in myself and never give up on myself.  I learned finding a new career is a career in itself.  I learned if I remained positive, things would eventually work out, and they did.

The key word here is positive.  You will always have days when you are down on yourself, of course.  Lord knows I had enough of them.  But the more positive feelings you have, the more it radiates out to others, so think positive!  I does help.

The period of self-evaluation you go through during this transition will turn out to be a good thing.  You will discover new skills, new things about yourself you perhaps didn't even know you possessed.  And hopefully, you will grow as an individual as I did during the past year.

It is also a good thing to be forced to update your resume for the job search.  In fact, I would go so far as to say everyone should be forced to update their resumes about every five years even if they are not looking for work.  Once you put on paper all your accumulated skills and achievements, you will be, as I certainly was, surprised how much you actually know and how many things you've accomplished thus far in your career.  It will open your eyes, I can assure you.

Try not to be hard on yourself, although I was guilty of that as much as the next person often over the past year.  There will be setbacks, to be sure.  But there will also be victories, and you have to celebrate those and put the setbacks in the rear-view mirror.

If you, like me, feel you have much to accomplish with your career still, you will find a way to write that next chapter as I have done, and hopefully it will lead to a happy ending to the story that is you.

Next week, I will review some of the ideas I utilized in my job search and offer some thoughts on what worked and didn't work.  But in the meantime, be thankful for what you have, whether you are working now or not.  You have a lot to offer, and good things will come.  They did for me.

Enjoy the weekend!

August 9th, 2014.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Remembering a dark part of Toronto's history from 1918

Every now and again I stray away from my arts reporting to cover other areas of interest to me, and I hope to you, too.  This weekend, I want to write about an unfortunate chapter in Toronto's history we don't hear enough about now, yet should never be forgotten.   And with the 100th anniversary of this event only a few years away now, perhaps the time has come to bring the story to light once again.

A couple of years ago, not long after Toronto made headlines with the G-7 riots that scarred the city, my far better half and I were watching a documentary on TVO that opened our eyes to a story we had heard nothing about up until then:  the 1918 anti-Greek riots in Toronto.  Afterwards, I did some online research and came across the website, which deals with the story and the aftermath of the riots, and provides a short video on the subject, extracted from the documentary produced by Burgeoning Communications.

The story is both frightening and maddening that it could have happened at all.  But it did, and what happened is enough to make you rethink the so-called Canadian experience.

By way of a preamble, the First World War forced many countries to choose sides, or in the case of Greece, to remain neutral.  Neutrality appeared to be the best option at the time, especially since it allowed the 3,000 or so Greeks living in Toronto to move about freely and carry on with their lives.

But with that neutrality came a price.  What if Greece no longer remained neutral, then what?  And while neutral, many Greeks in Canada at the time chose not to enlist and help with the war effort.  Many came to be considered slackers who had dodged the draft.

When the war ended, returning veterans saw a Toronto they were not familiar with.  It had changed, becoming dirtier, busier, and perhaps they started to feel they were being left behind.  The tension and anger many of these returning vets carried with them at the time boiled over while about 10,000 were gathering for a conference in Toronto during the summer of 1918.

On Friday night, August 1st, 96 years ago tonight, about 20,000 soldiers and civilians attacked and destroyed every Greek restaurant they could find, while police and militia, overwhelmed by the violence, were helpless to react and simply stood by and watched.

But it didn't end on that Friday night.  It grew and spilled over into Saturday night, August 2nd, when the police regrouped and fought back.  Using clubs and whips and striking out indiscriminately, the police fought with rioters and civilians for hours in the downtown core of Toronto.  Numbering at the height at about 50,000 participants, the melee resulted in hundreds of injuries, including women and children, and saw damage escalate to more than $1-million in today's dollars.

Although the Greeks in Toronto numbered only about 3,000 at the time, they operated about 35% of the city's cafes and restaurants as well as most of the shoe-shine shops and many of the fruit and vegetable markets at the time.  So they contributed enormously to the city economy in their own way, and don't forget, many of these businesses employed most if not all members of the family.

So by wiping out the family business, rioters were depriving entire families of their livelihoods, and all for what?  To express their anger at Greece not supporting the allied war effort.

The riot was the largest in the city's history and one of the largest ant-Greek riots in the world.  And yet today, many people know nothing about it.  That is a shame and should not be allowed to continue.

This is why I encourage anyone reading my post to go to and read about this tragic event and watch the video trailer.  Better still, invest the $18.95 plus shipping and handling to acquire the video and learn more about the riots that rocked a city almost a hundred years ago and now is all but forgotten.

If the video is not to your liking, you can visit your local library and search for the book The 1918 Anti-Greek Riot in Toronto by Professor Thomas Gallant, George Treheles and Michael Vitopoulos.  It will open your eyes.

This weekend, take a moment as you enjoy your long weekend break and think back 96 years ago to what happened just across the lake on this very Friday and Saturday night.  And then perhaps, we can start moving towards engaging people in developing a proper commemoration of this weekend's events in 1918 when the 100th anniversary comes up in 2018.

I would hate to think history - and us - have forgotten the tragedy entirely 100 years afterwards.  I think we owe it to those who suffered back then to acknowledge their hardships and remember them, as well as pledging never to allow something so mindless as this event to ever happen again.

Enjoy your weekend.

August 1st, 2014.