Saturday, October 25, 2014

Winding down the Shaw and Stratford Festivals for another season

On a Saturday evening, some news and notes as our two major theatre festivals in Ontario wind down for another season, but first, a thank you to readers for comments I have received for my posts recently.

I love writing this blog every week and sometimes more often than that.  It all depends on what's on my mind, actually.  If you are a faithful reader of this space, you know my thoughts run the gamut from civic affairs to the arts to fashion to...well just about anything, really.  But having said that, I find sometimes the brain power just isn't there in order to produce the quality content I like to present week in and week out.  So if I miss an occasional week, please forgive me, and check back soon for another post.

I love receiving comments on my posts, either in the comments section of my blog or through my Twitter and Facebook postings of the blog, so feel free to send your comments - good, bad or indifferent - to me at any time.  I read them all and am always grateful for the feedback.

Recent posts that have garnered comments from you include my posting on the 9th Annual Walk a Mile in HER Shoes for Gillian's Place down at The Pen in St. Catharines.  By way of an update on that, I doubled my total pledges raised from last year for which I am extremely grateful to all of you for your support.  More importantly, all of the men who participated in the walk last Saturday collectively raised $88,000 for Gillian's Place, and that is great news.

My choice of shoes, incidentally, were a dressy little set of wedge heals with small bows and a chisel toe which proved quite comfortable, actually.  Quite stylish too, as my far better half said she'd wear them if they were her size!  That made me stop and ponder the gravity of that comment for a moment, by the way.

My most recent post from last weekend on people dropping the ball on presenting themselves in public in a professional way garnered comments too.  I didn't know if anyone else would share my concerns society as a whole is starting to look, well, sloppy these days but apparently I struck a chord with some readers and that's great.

The funny thing is after I ranted last weekend, I pulled out a pair of trusty Kenneth Cole shoes from my closet I often wear with casual outfits and found the upper and sole were starting to separate on one and the heel was falling apart on the other, so the irony of the situation was not lost on me personally this week.

Today I remedied the situation by visiting Kristine at The Boot Shop in downtown St. Catharines (great store with a great staff) and came away with a nice new pair of black Blundstone chisel-toe boots from Tasmania.  They will take some getting used to, but they are a classic and apparently last forever, so that's what I am looking for.

Okay, now on to a couple of notes on the arts this weekend that bear mentioning, as both the Shaw Festival and Stratford Festival wind down their respective seasons this weekend.  It hardly seems possible the openings in the spring are but a distant memory now, but the time has come to drop the final curtain on both Festivals and look towards the next season.

The final performances of the season at Shaw are tomorrow afternoon, as the dark and rather sinister take on Kander & Ebb's musical Cabaret wraps up at the Festival Theatre, and J.B. Priestley's comedy When We Are Married concludes at the Royal George Theatre.  I saw the Priestley play this summer and it is quite a lot of fun, but rather dated frankly.  As long as you head in knowing the era of the play, you'll be just fine.

I didn't get to see Cabaret, unfortunately, but most reports are favourable I have found.  It might not be everyone's cup of tea for a musical, but the Shaw Festival is used to taking risks and this might have been a rather big one that seems to have paid off handsomely for them this season.

If you want tickets to either performance tomorrow, call the Shaw box office at 1-800-511-7429 or go to

Over at the Stratford Festival, their season wrapped up this evening with the final performance at the Festival Theatre of their marquee show, Shakespeare's King Lear starring Colm Feore in the title role.  By all accounts it was a magical performance surrounded by a very strong cast, and again, I am sorry I missed it.

The new reality of my employment situation and working right through the summer this year prevented me from getting down to Stratford as I do most years, so this will be an off year for me.  Hopefully that will change next season, but we'll have to see in the spring.

There was some sad news out of Stratford this week, though, involving the passing of one of their long-time cast members.  Bernard Hopkins, a 24-year veteran of the Festival and an actor whose career spanned half a century passed away on Wednesday of this week.

Bernard was a great comic actor to be sure, but he also provided some memorable moments in many of Shakespeare's greatest plays, including Friar Laurence in the 1992 production of Romeo & Juliet and Gonzalo in the 2005 production of The Tempest.  Hopkins also appeared as Robert Cecil in Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, which received its stage premiere at Stratford in 2000 and was later filmed, again with Hopkins in the cast.

All of those productions and many more I had the pleasure of seeing over the years at Stratford, and I always admired his work as an actor.  I found some of his directing projects to be a little off the mark, but even they had memorable moments to savour.

Bernard Hopkins was born in Liverpool, England in 1937 and made his Stratford debut in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1975.  I understand he retired from the company only within the last few years.

It is always sad to say goodbye to a person you may never have known personally, yet felt you somehow knew through their work on stage over the years.  Hopkins was about as comfortable as a pair of old shoes on stage, and a welcome addition to any cast anywhere he appeared.  He will be sadly missed.

Have a great weekend!

October 25th, 2014.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Have we lost the ability to present ourselves professionally in public?

I'm veering off the arts beat this weekend to address a pet peeve of mine simmering on the back burner for several months now, and prompted by a post I saw on Facebook today.

The newspaper clipping in the illustration quotes a woman as saying she prefers to shop at a popular dollar store in the area, since she doesn't have to "dress up like when you go to Wal-Mart."  Pardon me?

The last time I was at Wal-Mart I was totally unawares people dress up to go there.  Dress down is more like it, like just about everywhere else these days.

I know I will probably paint myself as an old fogie or something worse when I say I miss the days when people actually cared enough about their appearance when out in public rather than care less.  Time was, even flying on an airplane meant you dressed up for the flight rather than look like you are ready to hit the beach at the end of the flight.

That may be considered extreme in this day and age even by me, as I like to be comfortable on a long flight, too, but do you have to try so hard to be casual?  Can't you put even a little effort into looking good when others see you?

Lest you think I have worked in a profession where everyone dressed nicely, I should point out for the first 40 years of my career I worked in radio, where it is assumed so long as you are not in pyjamas you are dressed for work.  More often than not, I was in the minority as I always tried to look my best no matter what the job was.

Even last winter when I led a more bohemian lifestyle working part-time at the Brock radio station CFBU-FM, although I was more often than not in jeans and a casual shirt, I usually dressed more presentably when interviewing guests for my show, even though they often were very casually dressed themselves.

These days, though, I work weekdays at a job where you are in the public eye in a corporate environment where you are expected to present a proper image on behalf of the company.  I welcome this change in my lifestyle, as I rather enjoy wearing a suit or sports jacket and slacks and a shirt and tie.

Both in my work environment and in my off hours, I often see people making poor wardrobe choices that with a little more thought on their part, could easily present them in a better light.  Not everyone needs to nor should dress up to the extent some like myself take pleasure in doing on a daily basis.  But if they could just look at themselves in the mirror before heading out the door, they might see a person staring back at them who isn't well put-together.

Two examples come to mind from the past couple of weeks for me:  the first was a young woman in yoga pants and a bare midriff who should clearly have taken that extra look in the mirror before heading out.  Now I like a young lady in yoga pants as much as they next red-blooded male, but not when said person's midsection overflows like a muffin top.  It was mind boggling to me she could not see this for herself.

The second example was during a recent visit to a local grocery store and I was preparing to pay for my purchases that had just been rung through.  I happen to glance behind me to the cashier working the lane next to me and couldn't help but notice this person, while at work, had her baggy jeans slung below her butt-cheeks, exposing a wide swath of black cotton underwear nobody needs to see.  Where was the work decorum here, and more importantly, where was her boss?

I resisted the temptation to ask my cashier if she was receiving danger-pay for having to look at this sight all day while she was working, but the thought did cross my mind.  The drive home was fraught with images of what this woman might do if she had to make a mad dash to catch someone who had perhaps forgotten an item they had just paid for.

Men, you are not immune, either.  The notion of taking your hat off (more often than not it is a backwards-facing ball cap now anyways) while indoors seems to be lost on most men these days, even if they are in a nice restaurant and their lady companion is making an effort to present herself nicely.  And the number of men who either intentionally or unintentionally let their pants hang far too low on them, exposing more than anyone needs to see, is troubling to say the least.

I imagine one day one of these souls showing digital images to their grandchildren of when they were younger, and the child wonders aloud why they look so darn goofy in the picture.  Better prepare your snappy comeback now, while you have the time...

What it all comes down to is this:  it doesn't take a lot of effort or even money to look good while out in public, just a little common sense.  And it might even make you look more professional if indeed you are out looking for work at the moment.  But whether you are working now or not, looking good in public should not be looked upon as a chore or even a necessary evil.  Take pride in your appearance and you'll find you have a better outlook on life.

If you are at a public event, be it a symphony concert or even a sporting event, it won't hurt to try a little "event" dressing to show you care about your appearance.

And while I would never advocate judging anyone on their dress, good, bad or indifferent, leaving a more favourable impression on those you meet is never a bad thing.  You never know where things can lead.

There, I have gotten that off my chest.  Now a new work week awaits, so let's see how we can change people's outlook on life...

October 19th, 2014.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Random thoughts on good news stories in Niagara this week

If you live here in Niagara, you hear your share of negative stories about the Region far too often, as I often do.  So I thought this evening I would share a couple of good news stories about Niagara in general and St. Catharines in particular, and offer congratulations on a job well done.

This past weekend, the new Meridian Centre opened to the public with a free open house on Saturday, and by all accounts it was very well attended and everyone was suitably impressed.  I waited until the second open house on Tuesday evening, as I was able to include my sister, down from Kenora for a family visit.  They are hockey mad in Northern Ontario as you can imagine, and she expressed sheer delight such a magnificent facility was right here in our own backyards.

Me?  Well, I've not spent too much time in hockey arenas, but I have enough to know this place is very special indeed.  First of all, the name, of course.  What better way to show a commitment to the community than to pay for the naming rights to an exceptional new facility that will benefit all of Niagara?  Meridian, you've done us all proud by showing your support for the new spectator facility.

Touring the new digs on Tuesday, I was pleased to see such wide walkways and good spacing for the seats, and of course those necessary cup holders on the seats.  But more than that, I was pleased to see the smiling faces and approving nods of those who love what they see.

Oh sure, there has been harping since the beginning about the cost, the location, whether we need the thing at all, and so on.  Listen, from my vantage point, things are just fine, thank you very much.  The thing was built on time and on budget, and it possesses enough of a 'wow' factor to silence many of the critics, I suspect.

Putting the Meridian Centre in the centre of town is important and will prove a good choice over time.  It will draw people downtown for many events, not just hockey, and that is significant.  I could quibble about how William Street was not converted to two-way traffic in time for the opening, as I suggested in an earlier post, but I am hoping a new Council after the forthcoming election will see to it that issue is dealt with.  It will make parking a lot easier, I suspect.

Speaking of which, congrats to St. Catharines Transit for coming up with a clever promotion to get people to take the bus to and from events at the Meridian Centre.  If you have a ticket that day, you can ride free up to three hours before and then again after the event.  Not perfect if you just miss a bus and have to wait for the next one, but if you work on your own personal schedule and can make it happen, this is a great way to avoid parking problems at events downtown.

As for the game tonight, the first-ever at the new Meridian Centre, the Niagara Ice Dogs win the game along with the hearts of a sold-out Meridian Centre crowd.  Well done, team, on all levels.

So, the place is up and running and now we can anticipate next year's opening of the new Performing Arts Centre and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts Centre, making downtown St. Catharines an exciting place to be in years to come.  Hold on to your hats, folks, the ride is just beginning!

I ask you:  when was the last time you saw so much optimism on the future of downtown St. Catharines?  It is not perfect of course, but in time we'll find the investments in the downtown core will pay significant dividends both financially and in terms of quality of life in Niagara.

The second good news story comes from an event I attended at the lovely Keefer Mansion Inn up on the hill in Thorold last evening, hosted by Phil Ritchie, the man behind the extensive rebuild of the old place a few years ago.  Phil and his lovely fiancee have hosted a dinner/speaker series at Keefer for a few years now, and last evening was a celebration of the past, present and future of not only the speaker series, but of Niagara itself.

Phil invited back several past speakers as well as the general public to attend an informal discussion on how Niagara has changed since each speaker had last appeared at the Keefer Inn, as well as what they see necessary in the future.  It was a fundraiser for Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold, a local resource near and dear to my heart.

Some of the guests who attended last evening were Brock University President Jack Lightstone; Niagara College President Dan Patterson; Community Care CEO Betty-Lou Souter; Tom Rankin of Rankin Construction; Sun Media Niagara Publisher Mark Cressman; former Niagara Falls Review head honcho Frank Leslie and many others.  Everyone provided enlightening conversation on what they see as the needs to be filled in Niagara as well as what has been done so far.  All in all, it was an inspiring evening.

Look, there is far too much negative news reaching us on a daily basis.  Last evening at the Keefer Inn and this evening at the Meridian Centre provided Niagara with reasons to smile, celebrate, be optimistic for the future, and say collectively:  "This really is a special place we call home!"

What could be better than a week like that?

October 16th, 2014.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Are YOU man (or woman) enough to sponsor me for Walk a Mile in HER Shoes next weekend?

As your Thanksgiving weekend events continue on, I want you to think what you are thankful for this weekend.  Friends?  Family?  A safe home to call your own?  That's great.

Now, consider those who are not thankful this weekend, except perhaps they are still alive in spite of being in an abusive relationship.  Think about that for a moment, because there are more than you think in that very situation right now.

Every year, countless women leave abusive relationships and seek shelter and help from Gillian's Place in St. Catharines.  For over 35 years now, Gillian's Place has protected and served abused women and their children in St. Catharines and North Niagara.  Whether women need the safety of the shelter or access to the many programs offered on an outreach basis, Gillian's Place is there to help.

The agency has grown to provide a range of services for women, including a 24-hour support line, safe shelter, safety planning and counselling, emotional support, legal advice, transitional assistance and public education.  All services are free, completely confidential and available to all women 16 years of age and over.  What's more, they don't actually have to stay in the shelter to access the services of Gillian's Place.

All these services, however, cost money.  Gillian's Place, like many other social agencies, needs public fundraising in order to keep going and provide vital services to the community.  And that is where us guys come in.

For eight years now, the men of Niagara have gathered on one Saturday in October to take a stand against violence towards women and children and participate in a fun event that raises much-needed funds and awareness for Gillian's Place.  Every year it grows bigger and better, and although ideally we wish there were no need for Gillian's Place, the grim reality of the situation indicates otherwise.

For the 9th Annual Walk this year, we're pulling out all the stops and hoping to surpass the $125,000 goal next Saturday, October 18th.  The event takes place again this year at the Pen Centre in the Sears Court.  Registration begins at 10 am and the walk begins at 12 noon.  There will be guest speakers, entertainment, an awards ceremony and lunch afterwards.

Now here's how you can help.  If you are a man who feels as we do violence has no place in society on any level, but in particular in the domestic environment, why don't you consider joining us?  It's still not too late to register to walk and raise funds for Gillian's Place; just go to and click on the Register Now button to get started.

No matter what your gender, you also have a part to play even if you are not walking next Saturday.  You can - and we hope you will - sponsor a walker and show you support an end to violence against women in Niagara specifically and elsewhere as a whole.

For my part, I registered again this year this very weekend, and I am actively looking for pledges for my walk again this year.  This will be my 7th walk; I observed the very first one downtown and a few years ago following an operation in September, I was persuaded not to walk in heels that year.  But every other year I have been there, heels on, showing my support for Gillian's Place.

Last year was also my first year walking as an individual, and although I am registered again this year as an individual, I will be joining my esteemed colleagues at Meridian Credit Union in the walk next Saturday.

My choice of footwear will be determined when I arrive the morning of the walk, and I see what is available on the shoe rack.  Last year I chose a nice strappy number with a rather high heel, and I survived the walk, so who knows how adventurous I'll get this year!  Hey, the more donations, the higher the heel...does that work for you?  Wait a minute, what am I saying?

Anyway, will you support me?  All it takes is an online pledge by going to and click on the Participant button in order to select a particular participate to pledge for.  You can also message or email me directly if you want to make an in-person pledge.  It can be in any amount, by the way, and don't think your donation is too small to matter.  It all matters, and we gratefully accept all donations, big or small.

Next Saturday, several hundred men will strap on heels and join local celebrities and public figures in a walk to end violence against women and children in Niagara.  But we can't do it without you, so make a pledge, and come out to watch us strut our, er, stuff at the Pen Centre next Saturday.  It's fun, and a great cause.

See you next Saturday!

October 12th, 2014.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two great theatrical losses in Niagara

I was saddened to hear of two losses in the local theatrical world in recent weeks, the most recent coming just the other night with news of the passing of actress, director and choreographer Diane Nyland-Proctor.  But before I reminisce a bit about "Di", as everyone called her, a few words on the passing of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, announced last month.

Kelly Daniels, Artistic Director of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, started the local theatrical company nine years ago with her husband, Shaw actor Ric Reid, and together they forged a solid reputation for quality theatre in Niagara during the off-season.

They produced shows for several years at the MainStage space in the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, and although getting audiences to come out to support local theatre in the winter months has always been a challenge, they seemed to have found a niche that needed filling and they appeared to do well enough.

Many of the productions, some of which I wrote about in this space over the years, employed several Shaw Festival actors in key roles.  These Shaw actors added a bit of cache, if you will, to many of the productions, with local actors taking supporting roles in many cases.  Often, Daniels herself would appear on stage and/or direct the productions.

But with the planned move of many artistic endeavours to the new Performing Arts Centre looming on the horizon, most likely increasing production costs in the process, Lyndesfarne decided to abandon their downtown St. Catharines home in favour of a new location at the refurbished and underused Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls a couple of seasons back.

Initially, the move showed promise with Lyndesfarne staging ambitious shows and garnering positive reviews.  Unfortunately, the positive press didn't translate into bums in seats, as they say, and once again Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects faced the proverbial fork in the road.  Should they keep going, or pull the plug if people just won't come out to their shows?

Daniels and her board decided recently to pull the plug and let go of the theatrical dream that kept Kelly and her entourage in business for almost a decade.  That decision came, incidentally, after Lyndesfarne decided earlier this year to vacate their downtown Niagara Falls digs on Queen Street due to low attendance, and just rent the space when they needed it.

I am very saddened by the loss of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects.  They almost consistently produced exceptional local theatre and deserved a better fate.  Why audiences didn't materialize is a bit of a mystery, although the downtown Niagara Falls location didn't help matters much.

There remains a stigma to coming downtown in Niagara Falls, and I am not quite sure what can be done to alleviate that sentiment.  St. Catharines' downtown, on the other hand, is on the upswing with the forthcoming Performing Arts Centre, the Marilyn I.Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and of course this weekend, the first public tours of the new Meridian Centre in the former lower level parking lot.

But in Niagara Falls, in spite of the best efforts of private and public-sector investments, people still stay away.  It's too bad, really, as the space at the Seneca was quite nice, really, and the shows I saw there were very good quality.

This past spring George F. Walker's The Ravine received its premiere there, and although reviews appeared to be good, the audiences still did not materialize.  It proved to be the camel that broke the theatrical back.

I hope Kelly and Ric can find another way in the future to gift us with some quality theatre, but I can't blame them if they wonder to themselves, "Why bother?"  Why indeed if audiences don't come out.  Pity.

Often at Lyndefarne shows in downtown St. Catharines, I would run in to my old colleagues Frank and Di Proctor, showing their support for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects many times over the years.

Diane Nyland Proctor, known simply as "Di" to everyone she worked with, passed away this week at the age of 70 at Toronto Western Hospital of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Di is a local theatre legend for her work for Garden City Productions over the years and earlier, her own theatre company Press Theatre, which performed at The Playhouse at Centre for the Arts at Brock University for many years.  The theatre, now known as the David S. Howes Theatre, was usually full for productions I attended back in the 80s, but again, there was not enough support to carry on, even back then.

I loved Press Theatre, a local company that pushed the boundaries of local, live theatre long before Lyndesfarne came on the scene, but Di and Kelly appeared to be kindred spirits in a way.

Diane, born in Kitchener, began her career as a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada before finding her true calling with musical theatre, producing over 100 shows locally and throughout the country.  Her two biggest claims to fame were as choreographer of Nunsense, for which she won a Dora Award in 1986, and earlier than that creating the role of Josie Pye in the world premiere production of Anne of Green Gables at the Charlettown Festival.

But many Canadians know her as Tracey Young, the hapless young bride in the 70s sitcom The Trouble With Tracy on CTV.  That was at a time when Canadian sitcoms were still rare, and this particular one was produced five days a week for two seasons with practically no budget to speak of.  The show has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but it was a television pioneer in its day.

Di was married for 44 years to Frank Proctor, with whom I worked at CKTB Radio when I first came to St. Catharines in 1981 and Frank was the popular morning man at the station.  While Frank did the morning show, Di handled all sorts of projects locally and beyond, including a short-lived cooking feature on CKTB I think was called Cooking with Di.  It was a fun little feature I remember fondly from those early years in radio in St. Catharines.

Both Di and Frank did more than their share to support local theatre, and Di especially nurtured many a local performer who would go on to bigger and better things on larger stages elsewhere.

She had not been well in recent years but kept as active as possible, working with Garden City Productions as recently as a couple of seasons ago.

A celebration of Di's life will take place at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church at 115 Simpson Avenue on Monday, October 20th.  Many theatres are traditionally dark on Monday evenings, so that is the perfect time to celebrate a woman who gave so much to the theatrical community throughout the country for so long.

Both Diane Nyland-Proctor and Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects will be sorely missed here and beyond.

October 9th, 2014.