Friday, August 28, 2015

Touring Niagara, and stopping in Thorold for a visit

Since I have had a bit of unscheduled time off this summer, I have spent some of my time away from my computer conducting job searches to search out some pleasure right here in Niagara.  Now, when I say pleasure, don't worry, I am not heading down that dark road your mother probably never told you about...

A couple of times this summer I landed in one of my favourite parts of Niagara, downtown Thorold.  In fact, I wrote about Thorold back in the spring and how impressive the newly-updated downtown storefronts are looking.  But it was still pretty cold back then and I didn't linger too much, but I have this summer, and there is plenty to linger over all around the city of Thorold.

So here are the results of my meandering through the heart of the city and the outer environs, enjoying the old, the new, the tried and true...

When you head into downtown Thorold, Ground Zero for many of us is Henderson's Pharmasave on Front Street.  John and Cathy Henderson have kept the faith all these years and were probably the first to update the facade of their pharmacy back in the 80s, setting the bar high for the rest of the downtown merchants.  They've kept up with the times on the inside, too, but the staff is just as friendly and welcoming as ever, and yes, they usually remember your name, too.

Not far from Henderson's is a new building going up that will house a medical practice on the main floor, I believe, and modern apartments upstairs.  It is rare to find a new development of this type in a downtown, but this one is nearing completion and looking pretty impressive.  A little further up that side of Front Street you'll find Nevaeh Kids Spa, which appears to be a rather novel idea.

If you take a few steps in the other direction on Front Street, you pass by Gypsy Alley, Elio's Foot Care Centre and Harry's New York Bar, and at the corner notice the equally sharp facade of the Panini Cafe.  This local hangout is getting their share of good press lately, and although I have not been inside yet, I hope to soon.  I've heard plenty of good things about both the food and the service there.

Head further down Front Street and cross to the other side and the first thing you will notice is the nicely updated facade of another favourite local eatery, Cosmo's Diner.  I have been to Cosmo's many times over the years, and it was a favourite of my Dad's when we would go out for lunch on a Saturday afternoon years ago.

Cosmo's specializes in breakfast and lunch, with both sort of merging on the menu.  A long time favourite recommended to me years ago was the Eggs Benedict, and it is still worth the trip for eggs benny done right.

A few steps south of Cosmo's Diner and you are stopped dead in your tracks and your jaw drops at the new transformation of the venerable post office building.  Long empty, the property was purchased a while ago by upscale designer and retailer Shannon Passero, who needed more space for her growing business than the original location in the old firehall provided.  So she and her husband lavished time and money on the building, making sure everything was done just right.

From the custom-designed art-deco iron railing up the stairs to the stylish sign above the door, you know entering this building will be an adventure.  Yes, I did saunter in one Saturday afternoon recently, watching a busy store in full flight, teeming with happy customers.  Shannon has also added art on the walls, including at the moment some fine work by local photographic artist and friend of mine, Robin McPherson.  I viewed the art this weekend, in fact, and it is impressive, and all for sale.

The official grand opening of Shannon Passero's new digs was this week, and although I was not able to attend, it was apparently quite the splashy event in downtown Thorold.

Right next door to Shannon's new digs is a storefront I have long admired, the Front Variety store hiding behind shelves upon shelves of fresh flowers, hanging baskets and more.  I ventured inside and found out the floral display is the handiwork of the shopkeeper's mother and they have always had flowers for sale out front since they opened the shop 14 years ago.  Mums are proliferating out front as we speak.

There are some empty storefronts on this side of the street at the moment, most notably the former Home Hardware location, but I am told plans are in the works for more development along this stretch of Front Street.

Beyond here you come across a stretch of lovingly-restored storefronts, in particular the old Quebec Bank building, now home to Studio 76 Interior Designs.  The sign is an eye-catching combination of blue background and gold lettering.

Next to the old Quebec Bank building you find the small Bridal Lane, and I found myself wondering just how many brides and grooms had their pictures taken in this small area over the years.

Next you find a number of lovely storefronts housing several newer businesses, all of whom chose downtown Thorold for their new home because of the vibe on the street and more affordable rents.  There's On The Front Cafe & Eatery and The Pie Man, for example, the latter where you can pick up sweet and savoury pies of every description.

Two of the newer businesses in this block I found particularly interesting.  One, the Honey Bee Store is the second location for this business, the first still thriving on West Street in Port Colborne.  As I mentioned in March, the Honey Bee Store has a wide selection of honey varieties on display, all of which you can sample.  There's lots more, too, including maple syrup, teas and so on.

I lingered for quite some time in Figg Street Co., a gift store specializing in paper goods and related items.  Here you will find gift wrap paper unlike any you've ever seen before and which I suspect you would never want to fold and tape, let alone rip apart to expose a gift.  This paper almost IS the gift!

Need a card?  Lots of great greeting cards here, including some exquisite hand-made designs you'll never find in your neighbourhood dollar store.

That's the whole idea behind the shop, according to proprietor Antoinette D'Angelo, who showed me around the store recently.  You find special gifts here; more expensive yes, but top quality at fair prices.  I never even knew you could purchase fine lead pencils from England, for example, but Antoinette has them in her shop.

Many items are locally sourced, but others come from all over the globe.  I would venture a guess you won't see many of these items in another local shop in Niagara.

Nearby is the storefront for Knyvettism, another local shop with a lovely look and feel, but unfortunately they have decided to close down the store in the near future, I'm told, and concentrate instead on their burgeoning online business.

Once I left the downtown area proper, I ventured into some of my favourite tried-and-true businesses that in their own way have defined what makes Thorold unique.  I visited my friends Glen and Ann, who run Clarkson Cycle & Sports, a going concern for many years at the corner of Pine and Richmond Streets, and then ventured further down Richmond to the iconic Big Red Markets.  Their local produce is almost as much a draw as their BBQ-ready meats available year-round.  I have never been here when it isn't busy, so they are certainly doing something right.

I can't leave Thorold without visiting the newly-renovated Riganelli's Bakery on Ormond Street.  I have always enjoyed the bread here, including the Calabrese loaves they used to bake but no longer do, but the star attraction now is really the location itself.  That dated storefront is no more; in its place a stylish new facade with tables and chairs out front.

When I visited recently the staff were obviously proud of the new look, and also the fact nothing has changed with their baking.  It is still a great value after all these years.

After Riganelli's I headed down the escarpment into St. Catharines, happy with the new places I have discovered in Thorold, and happier still some of my old favourites are still there and thriving.

Have you visited Thorold lately?  You might be surprised by what you find!

August 28th, 2015.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

News and notes on a summer Saturday in Niagara

There appears to be plenty of opportunity to get out and enjoy a lovely summer weekend in Niagara, and that includes our incredible St. Catharines Farmer's Market, on every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning year-round.

I just returned home with far more than I originally went for, but that is the nice thing about Niagara.  When you grow so much here, you don't have far to go to get the best the world has to offer.  Peaches, corn, eggs, Brazil nuts, early lunch and oh yes, the requisite butter tart...I think I'm done!

Now that I have fed the body, how about feeding the soul?  You can do that today too, as the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre opens up the seating to new members starting now.  The general public can purchase beginning September 12th, but why wait?  In this case, becoming a member certainly does have its privileges.

In addition to advance notice and discounts on tickets to events at the PAC, you will also receive invitations to special events throughout the season and you can also look into having a friend come for free to selected events.  There is lots more available to new members too, including discounts at partnering establishments.

In July, the 2015-16 Inaugural Hot Ticket Season was announced for the PAC, and as was the case at the venue's predecessor, Centre for the Arts at Brock University, there will be a mix of new and old, tried and true and newly-adventurous this season.

The first Hot Ticket performance at the Partridge Hall will be Darlene Love returning to Niagara Saturday evening, November 28th.  Also playing the large hall before the Christmas break will be Louise Pitre December 3rd; Jesse Cook December 4th; Natalie McMaster & Donnell Leahy's Holiday Celebration December 5th; Ballet Jorgen's The Nutcracker December 8th and 9th; Classic Albums Live Led Zeppelin I December 10th; Molly Johnson's The Billie Holiday Project December 16th; John McDermott's Family Christmas December 17th and The Celtic Tenors December 18th.

The Robertson Theatre will host Fixt Point & Suitcase in Point Theatre Company with The Tale of a Town - St. Catharines from October 8th to the 18th; Essential Collective Theatre's production of Gary Kirkham's Falling:  A Wake from November 18th to the 29th; Edge of the Woods Theatre production of Ralph & Lina December 2nd and 3rd; and the return of Suitcase in Point Theatre Company with Gimme! Gimme! A Holiday Cabaret December 11th to the 13th.

The Cairns Recital Hall will host Fortunate Ones on November 7th.  This pop-folk duo hails from opposite sides of Newfoundland and have come together to make some interesting music together.

That's just what's in store for the fall season as the venues come online and begin to host events at the PAC.  In January the film series will be announced for the film theatre, so we'll wait and see what will be coming to that smaller venue early next year.

Of course, there will be other tenants beyond the Hot Ticket series, including performances by Carousel Players, Chorus Niagara, the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, The Encore! Professional Concert Series, The Foster Festival, Gallery Players of Niagara, the In The Soil Arts Festival, Niagara Artists Centre's Strutt event, and of course the Niagara Symphony Orchestra.

All those events will be included on the Calendar page of my website at shortly if they are not already there, so you can see everything on my site as well as on the FirstOntarioPAC site.

You can find out more today by going online to or by calling the box office at 905-688-5601, ext. 3700 or 905-688-0722.  You can also email the box office at

This evening, downtown Thorold will come alive with the 27th annual Thorold Street Dance, hosted by the Protection Hose Company #1 Volunteer Firefighters.  The event begins at 7 pm in the parking lot beside the Thorold firefighters station #1 on Towpath.

Music will be provided by the classic rock group Fifteen Stone, and admission is only $3, with proceeds going to Muscular Dystrophy and the Thorold branch of Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold.  This is an over 19 event, by the way, but should be a fun way to spend a lively and lovely Saturday night in the heart of Niagara.

Finally, this coming Monday evening I will be joining the local arts community attending the Annual General Meeting for Essential Collective Theatre at their present home at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.  The AGM gets underway at 7 pm, by the way.

I was recently asked to join the ECT board, which is something I have never done before, so I am a little nervous at the prospect of being on a Board of Directors.  I long subscribed to the old adage I would not join any club that would have me as a member, but since it is a board for an arts organization on the cusp of entering the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this season, I figured why not?  How much trouble can I get into?

We'll see...

Wish me luck!

August 22nd, 2015.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Looking to have some fun in downtown St. Catharines today?

In spite of the threatening weather, there is ample opportunity to head to downtown St. Catharines and have some fun and support a host of great causes.  I've rounded up three of the big events underway today you might want to make time for.

First of all, throughout the day today until 7 this evening, the Buick Test Drive Event is on in the parking lot at the Meridian Centre.  The Buick Drive For Your Students event is hosted by John Bear Buick GMC and MusiCounts, Canada's music education charity, and connects schools with local Buick dealerships to host interactive community fundraising events.

Today, you can drive a brand spanking-new Buick or GMC vehicle to help local schools in Niagara raise money.  Here in St. Catharines, funds raised from the test-drives will help the DSBN Academy purchase new instruments.  For every test-drive, Buick will donate $ 20 to the DSBN up to $10,000.  That's a real financial shot in the arm for the DSBN, and it's a fun way to make a difference in the community.

Since this is also the day of Rick Dykstra's popular Hockey Night in St. Catharines fundraiser, our local MP and organizer of the event will be on hand along with players from the Niagara Ice Dogs to encourage residents to get behind the wheel for a good cause.  You can park in the lot if you are doing the test-drive, and yes, you can bring your camera.

Speaking of Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the marquee event of the summer for hockey fans in Niagara returns for a sixth straight year at a new venue - the Meridian Centre.  New location, but still the successful mix of former NHL players and Niagara Ice Dogs along with some other celebrity players coming together to raise money for the United Way of St. Catharines & District.

This event has become so successful it has become the top fundraiser for the local United Way for the past five years.  Hockey Night in St. Catharines 6 will benefit both the United Way as well as the Steve Ludzik Parkinson's Disease Rehabilitation Program at the Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre.

Steve, who is co-host of the event with Rick Dykstra, is a former Chicago Blackhawk player and Tampa Bay Lightning coach, and has himself been living with Parkinson's disease for awhile now.  He says "The players have been incredibly generous with their time when it comes to supporting good causes", and this is a very special cause indeed.

The rosters are still coming together, apparently, but it has been confirmed the celebrity referee will be former NHL Hall of Famer Ron Hoggarth, and players include Ludzik, former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive and many more.  I would imagine Rick will be lacing up the skates as well.

General admission tickets are available for $15 each at the Meridian Centre box office, as well as Rick's constituency office at 61 Geneva Street and at the United Way of St. Catharines & District office at 63 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines.

Finally, why not make a full day of fun in downtown St. Catharines by enjoying dinner out at a great downtown establishment during Downtown D'Lish?  Participating restaurants have special lunch and dinner menus through to August 29th, and the fixed-price menus range from $15 to $40, depending on the restaurant.

The list of restaurants participating is long, and includes everything from The Works to Gord's Place to The Blue Mermaid.  Just Google Downtown D'Lish to find a list of participating restaurants and remember to call ahead to make your reservations directly with the restaurant.

So there you go - the whole day planned out for you right in downtown St. Catharines.  Helping out great causes and having a fabulous meal at a super price.  What could be better?

Enjoy the day!

August 20th, 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Light Up the Sky lights up the Shaw Festival

We made our final trip to the Shaw Festival last weekend, and although the evening was fun, it wasn't particularly memorable.  We were at the Festival Theatre for Moss Hart's 1948 comedy, Light Up the Sky, which is essentially a love letter to all that is great - and not-so-great - about live theatre.

Just before I get into the details on the play, there was some other news out of Shaw this week, and it was big news indeed.  After much deliberation, it was announced by Board of Governors Chair Andy Pringle the next Artistic Director will be Tim Carroll, who will replace Jackie Maxwell at the end of the 2016 season.

I will have more on the announcement and the 2016 season details soon in this space, but now, back to the play at hand, which received quite a number of hands - clapping that is - at the performance we attended last weekend.

Light Up the Sky premiered at the Royale Theatre (now the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre) in November of 1948 and ran for over 200 performances.  There have been several revivals both in Canada and the United States since then, including a 1987 production produced by Hart's son Christopher, starring Peter Falk, among others.  Would love to have seen that production!

This is the first time the play has been produced at Shaw, although it made sense to bring Light Up the Sky to Shaw since they have produced a number of Hart's collaborations with George S. Kaufman here over the years, including The Man Who Came to Dinner in 2001, You Can't Take It With You in 1999 and Once in a Lifetime in both 1988 and 1989.

But Moss Hart on his own is not quite the same.  It has been said Hart wanted to prove he could produce hits on his own without the help of Kaufman, "the great collaborator", and while that may have been true in 1948, it is somewhat less so in 2015.

Director Blair Williams takes an all-star cast and collectively they do their level best to make this play funny and relevant for today's audiences, but all too often it comes off as corny and at times even vulgar.

That's not to say the cast is not stellar.  With but few exceptions they are.  It's the play that tends to drag them down.

Oh, there are clever touches, such as how the scene is set at the start of Acts One and Three, with the stage scrim depicting the different rooms at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Boston where the action takes place.  And with several cast members portraying multiple roles the cast appears much larger than it is.

But the play falls flat at times when the action just doesn't seem believable.  Like, who really decides to revise a play at 4 am after opening night anyways?  Just a thought...

The story involves a young aspiring playwright, Peter Sloan, who just finished his very first play and it is being bankrolled by bombastic producer Sidney Black and his abrasive wife Frances to the tune of $300,000 - that's 1948 dollars, by the way.  The opening night in Boston is viewed as the first step towards opening on Broadway, of course, and hopes are high the play will sail through out of town tryouts and take Broadway by storm in short order.

Everyone involved is hugs and kisses and isn't this all grand in Act One.  All agree the play is wonderful and this young former truck driver-turned playwright from Wisconsin has a great future.  Act Two, immediately following the opening night fiasco, shows the same cast members displaying  their true colours as they proceed to dump on the hapless playwright for writing a bomb of a play.

It isn't until Act Three following the intermission the play really hits its stride, taking place at 3:30 the next morning, Shriners Convention in full swing elsewhere in the hotel and cast members still up and wringing their collective hands.  Sloan the playwright has decided to leave town on the next flight and forget about playwriting altogether, while the early reviews pour in praising the new production to the heavens.  The cast realize they have some serious fence-mending to do, but first they have to find Sloan.

The logistics of finding the playwright at the Boston airport and getting him back to the hotel happens pretty darn quick, and is just not realistic.  But then, not much else about this play is, either.

All of the action takes place in the luxurious suite of show star Irene Livingston, played way over the top by one of Shaw's best young actresses, Claire Jullien.  Her husband, a mouse of a man named Tyler Rayburn, is played by Kelly Wong.

The rest of the cast also pretty much present caricatures of what should be believable characters, and the play suffers as a result.  Beyond Jullien, the worst offender has to be Steven Sutcliffe as play director Carleton Fitzgerald, whose tag-line to almost everything is that he wants to cry.  It is barely funny once; several times over it loses its appeal very quickly.

Charlie Gallant's Sloan is okay; Thom Marriott's Sidney Black is suitably bombastic; his wife Frances, played by Kelli Fox, is borderline vulgar.  Fiona Byrne as assistant Miss Lowell is merely okay, and Shawn Wright as the monied and naive Shriner William Gallagher puts in a memorable performance in Act Three.

The real stars are Laurie Paton as Irene Livingston's wise mother Stella, who gets a lot of the best lines of the night, and Graeme Somerville in one of his better roles as the wise elder statesman of playwrights, Owen Turner.  Their roles are far more balanced and come off as real people rather than dated caricatures.

The play presents this cast of characters falling apart and then coming together at the end for the good of the play they are presenting this night in Boston.  It should be funny, uplifting and memorable.  Unfortunately, this play is only sometimes funny, and that thanks to the strength of the cast assembled here.

Just funny enough will be enough for some, as evidenced by those who gave the performance we attended a standing ovation, but for those wanting a more meaningful and memorable night of theatre at Shaw, there are far better examples out there this season.

Light Up the Sky runs at the Festival Theatre until October 11th, and rates only two out of four stars.

Have a great weekend!

August 15th, 2015.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Cowork Niagara!

When I found myself in an unscheduled unemployment situation back in early June, I had several people I know reach out to me with words of encouragement and support, and as always I am deeply grateful for that.

But one group of individuals took the opportunity to reach out and invite me into their fold of self-employed entrepreneurs almost immediately, and it has turned out to be a most gratifying experience for your humble scribe.  So during this International Coworking Week, I wanted to salute my colleagues at Cowork Niagara for being a pretty awesome bunch of people.

Cowork Niagara is primarily made up of freelancers who share a space on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines, working individually on their own projects but in the company of other like-minded individuals in the hopes this sort of transmogrification of ideas will benefit everyone involved.  If you want to put a different spin on it, you could suggest this is democracy in action at its most basic level, with everyone on an even playing field, benefitting everyone in some way through individual and group efforts.

As a paid member of Cowork Niagara, you are allowed use of the shared space in their offices; if not a paid member such as me at the moment, you can still benefit from the camaraderie provided by attending any of the free seminar events that happen with great frequency each month in their downstairs meeting space.

I started going to some of these last month and plan to continue attending as many as I can over the coming months, if for no other reason than to get out of my office and interact with other like-minded individuals.  As one soul explaining the benefits of coworking said recently, "It's better than working alone in your office with your cats!"  Personally, I find nothing wrong with that, which might suggest I have already spent too much time with my two cats, but I digress...

The membership for Cowork Niagara now stands at about 70 for this community owned and managed co-op, and that is after only one year in existence.  The membership will continue to grow in the years to come as more and more people realize the potential of providing community space for independent workers.

In that community space opportunities such as the Secret Coworking Super Freelancer Lab have been developed in order to help their members grow, and as we speak a new podcasting studio is being constructed to aid those who find they want to dive into the brave new world of podcasting to the world but lack the proper facilities in which to do it.

The aforementioned seminars, in which invited speakers discuss their own "tricks and tips" in a variety of areas of expertise, are ongoing monthly, and include BizTricks, PodTricks, WriteTricks and EventTricks, among others.  Last month I was a guest speaker during the WriteTricks event, incidentally.  These happen between 7 and 9 pm and are an informal, friendly give-and-take discussion between speakers and the audience.

It just so happens during this International Coworking Week two of those events are scheduled, BizTricks August 12th and PodTricks on the 13th.  Next week, WriteTricks happens August 18th and EventTricks on the 19th.  The line-up of speakers is usually posted on the Cowork Niagara Facebook page so you can keep up to date on who is coming.  You can also RSVP your attendance to any and all of these events through the page as well.

This Friday, to commemorate both the one year anniversary of Cowork Niagara and International Coworking Week, a potluck social event will be held at their offices in order to introduce the value of coworking to those who want to find out more, as well as celebrate the milestone with people who have been there from the beginning.  Again, details can be found on their Facebook page.

This week, right through until the 15th in fact, the space is available free for coworkers and I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity and perhaps find out more about how they can benefit you.  It certainly has already benefitted me after only a couple of months of attending.

I'm looking forward to attending as many of the events this week as possible, and I congratulate founders Trevor Twining, Adam Daniels, Allison Smith and all the rest of the gang for reaching out to me and drawing me in to what is fast becoming the "In Crowd" in downtown St. Catharines.

Why not come out and see for yourself what they can do for you?  It might surprise you to find what you learn and how beneficial the Cowork Niagara experience can be.

Have a great week!

August 11th, 2015.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A snapshot of our lives in St. Catharines

It has been awhile since I highlighted one of the downtown St. Catharines businesses or entities in this space, so tonight I will do just that with great pleasure.  It involves a project my far better half and I participated in about this time last year, and is organized by our creative neighbour, Sandy Middleton.

Sandy is a local artist and photographer who has had her work on display at several local venues, including City Hall and NAC, among others.  She also has a small photographic and art studio on James Street in the Odd Fellows Hall building.  Her photography in particular is exceptional:  last year she took some truly magnificent promotional pictures of our house and believe me, they prove not everyone can naturally take a great picture.

But on the subject of pictures, what do you do with yours?  If you are like most people today, you take countless pictures of far too many things and life events than you will ever need, and they either sit on your computer drive or mobile device until you delete them to make more space for...more pictures.

I recall several years ago talking to someone who had added several 1TB external hard drives to his system just to store all his photos.  Not everyone is that fanatical, thankfully, but generally speaking we do take a lot of pictures.

Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents all took photographs too, but since they were on actual film you had to get developed, they tended to be a little more careful what they took pictures of.  Let's face it, so-called selfies are a product of the digital age and would be rare in previous generations.  I refuse to subscribe to the usefulness of selfies, by the way, and have yet to take even one.

Okay, so how does all this relate to my neighbour Sandy Middleton?  Sandy is also very aware of the disposable nature of digital images today, and wants to do something about it.  Specifically, she wants to continue the tradition of maintaining a photographic record of our current generation.

To that end, she began what she calls the St. Catharines Legacy Project last year, and on set days would take appointments at her James Street studio to take proper black and white photographs of people who live in the city, at no charge.  The idea is to create a photographic legacy of who lived here in St. Catharines during this 'digital' generation.

The inspiration, Sandy told us, came from American photographer Mike Disarmer, who essentially was a "community photographer" in 1920's Arkansas, recording the lives of those who lived there.  The originals are now worth a lot of money, and provide a glimpse of the history of the area unlike any other.  Sandy figured, "Why not here?"

Why not, indeed.

My wife and I had our photos taken about this time last year and it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes for the photo shoot, wherein you are photographed together and separately and in different poses.  Each person also fills out a survey explaining a little bit about themselves and their family history in the Garden City.

If you think to yourself, "Cool, now I can get this picture and post it to my Facebook page", sorry, that's not going to happen.  Sandy does not print them for the subjects she photographs; rather, she is content to record the lives of individuals in the city in photographs for the future, perhaps even producing an exhibit or book of the collection at some point.

But not now.  Now she just wants to create this legacy project on behalf of all of us who are content to take that quick pic with their phone and not think any more about it until they take another one, likely in a few minutes.

Sandy schedules several sessions a year at her downtown studio, and you can find out more about the project and scheduled photo shoots in the future by going to  She also plans to set up at several community events in the future, so you can find out more at her blog as well.

In the near future, Sandy will be taking part in the annual Open Late event at the St. Catharines Museum at the Lock 3 complex next Tuesday evening, August 11th.  The museum asks that you pre-register for the photo-shoot, and you can do that by calling 905-984-8880.

Just think about it:  our forebears were often not entirely comfortable having their picture taken, and often the results would be rather stiff and solemn.  Nowadays we think nothing about getting a picture of some life moment on the fly, and generally speaking people are not that uncomfortable with the notion of a picture anymore.

But have you considered having a picture taken that will stand the test of time, that people generations from now might look at and admire?  That's what this project is really all about:  creating a photographic record of our generation that otherwise might be forgotten, even with all those digital images we are busy taking with our mobile devices every day.

Thanks, Sandy, for doing this project and showing people the value of a great photograph.

Have a great weekend!

August 7th, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

Shaw Festival wows the crowd with Top Girls

My second visit to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake this season brought us to the cozy confines of the Court House Theatre, often home to some of the Festival's most challenging and interesting productions.

So it was again this season as we caught the highly-anticipated Caryl Churchill play Top Girls.  Set in Thatcher-era 1982 Britain, the play still resonates over thirty years later and packs a powerful punch even now.

First-time Shaw director Vikki Anderson works with some of the finest female talent at the Shaw Festival, and the results are impressive.  Everyone is on their game here, and you feel you're part of something special right from the get-go.

Mind you, that almost surreal opening scene in a restaurant will leave your head spinning as you head out for intermission.  You see, the fantastical cast of characters, be they either real or make-believe, take no prisoners as they tell their stories, often talking over each other as they go.  That can prove problematic for the listener, but it suggests clearly the characters are strong-willed and not to be trifled with.

The opening scene depicts a dinner hosted by Marlene, played by Fiona Byrne, celebrating her new promotion at the Top Girls Employment Agency.  She has clawed her way to the top, been strong when she had to be, and if some toes were stepped on during that ascent, well so be it.

The mythical characters around the table include Lady Nijo (Julia Course); Isabella Bird (Catherine McGregor); Dull Gret (Laurie Paton); Pope Joan (Claire Jullien) and Patient Griselda (Tara Rosling). Each tells their story of how they beat the odds to reach the top and how many sacrifices they each had to make in order to achieve it.

Two of particular note are Jullien's Pope Joan, who fooled the um, masses she was in fact a he, and Laurie Paton's Dull Gret, who led a group of peasant women to invade hell.  Jullian is a standout, and not only because of her elaborate vestments including head-gear that would do The Jetsons proud.

Paton is uncharacteristically quiet for the longest time in that first act, concentrating instead on stashing as much bread and silverware as her canvas bag can hold, just in case she needs it later on.  When she does speak, she explodes with her fantastic tale and the trials and tribulations she endured.

Once you get past that opening scene the play settles down to tell the story of Marlene and how difficult it has been for her to reach the top of her profession.  She is tough, yes, but not without reason.

In the second act, she returns to the office only to find her niece, Angie, played by Julia Course, has left home and wants to stay with Marlene.  The real reason becomes known in the final flashback scene when it appears clear Angie, a mentally-disturbed child, believes Marlene is really her mother rather than her aunt.

Marlene also has a bitter exchange with Laurie Paton's Mrs. Kidd at the office, who has come to request Marlene refuse the promotion because Mrs. Kidd's husband can't handle working for a female superior.  You watch this exchange and you are left shaking your head, but such was life about 30 years ago, at least for some.

As mentioned, the final scene is a flashback to about a year previous, when Marlene visits Angie and her mother Joyce, played by Tara Rosling, and the bitter exchanges over first tea and then liquor lays bare their long-festering family wounds.  But the scene brings everything into relatively clear focus as the play comes to an end.

This is a powerful play with some great acting and directing, although clearly it will not be for everyone.  The key will be to get through that opening scene and give the play time to chart a course towards the searing final scene.

If nothing else, it is reflective of the time in which it was written, with a British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, as tough as nails and not willing to back down from almost any fight she encounters.  Marlene, it could be argued, is an extension of Thatcher herself.

Top Girls plays at the Court House Theatre until September 12th and rates a very strong three out of four stars.

Have a great week!

August 3rd, 2015.