Saturday, April 30, 2016

Too much of a good thing?

A busy calendar led me to reschedule three Mirvish subscription plays so they all landed in April. Chance had me attending five plays in one month, two of them on consecutive evenings. I love the theatre for the questions it can provoke, but still felt this was a bit of a binge. Overall the question became, "Is this too much of a good thing?"

Judas Kiss /Mirvish

When I read The Profundis last year it gave me a new appreciation for the life of Oscar Wilde, and the heavy penalties he suffered because of some of his life choices. It wasn't his homosexuality but misguided love. Oscar was the one who brought the libel suit to court that would eventually be the ruin to his finances and reputation. He also knew he could have left London for Paris or Italy and escaped a prison sentence, but he chose to stay. He knew he was too old to be chasing young men, and he may also have known in his heart that his lover Bosie wasn't worthy of so many sacrifices. He knew, but still persisted.

In so many stories these days the sex and nudity seems a bit gratuitous, but in The Judas Kiss, they were used with great impact. In the opening scene, two naked bodies in the act of love literally set the stage for the story. Later, a fully naked male struts his stuff to stir admiration and appetite. These scenes were perfectly placed to remind us of how basic instincts so often out-trump reason.

Rupert Everett was 'born to be Wild' as the critics said. All the performances were extraordinary and memorable. Even the smaller walk-ons had profound impact. Excellent!

If/Then /Mirvish

This was the first musical I've been to where I loathed the score, thought the story was cliche, but still left loving the play.

It was due to the premise, that despite your path, life's highs and lows find us all. Events may shift but your true destiny is always underfoot. You're not always missing out on something just because you really can't have everything.

The show depicts how different the life of the heroine would be if smaller choices had been differently made: lingering to listen to a song in the park, ignoring the phone when it rings with an important call. In this play unremarkable choices led to meeting a life partner or meeting a man that would lead to her dream job.  We watch seemingly different lives and realize they aren't that different after all.

I didn't much like the music in this musical. The songs were belted out relentlessly and the lyrics incredibly uninspired. Actually, there was one exception..."What the Fuck," the lyric so incongruous against the wholesome melody.

The potential in the heroine's lives is granted by men, and that didn't really sit well with me, until I looked at it as more of an allegory for how lives and dependencies generally entwine. The choices we make impact other lives. And so on (and so on).

Chimerica /Can Stage 

I went into the theatre with mistaken impressions that the play was Canadian, that it was a debut, and that it was experimental. Wrong on all counts. Chimerica was written by a British dramatist, debuted in London and then traveled to the U.S. and then to Winnipeg before coming to Toronto. The narrative carried the momentum of a strong current. This wasn’t an uplifting story with a saccharine ending but a fascinating one punctuated with insights, touches of humour and tenderness. I didn’t feel futility upon leaving the theatre, but a desire to know more about historical and current events. The performances were all strong, and as actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee was taking his bows, tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Set in the United States and China, and pivoting between the past and present, the set design played an essential role. The entire stage swivelled between continents while projected images quickly oriented the audience to the time and place. Doors led between two worlds, a thin divide, as the modern-day journalist tries to track down Tank Man, the heroic figure that stood in front of a line of advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Don Giovanni /Opera by Request 

Opera by Request performed Mozart's Don Giovanni at College St. United Church. I have only seen one other opera from beginning to end, the Barber of Seville, by the Canadian Opera company, and that one was fully staged. Opera by Request was a humbler production, sans full costumes and sets. Thankfully there were surtitles to help follow along with the story, which is based on the legends of Don Juan. 

At one point, Leporello, the nobleman's servant, warns one love-sick victim Don Juan is keeps a tally of conquests, with 10,000+ names, or 1,003 (uno mil y tres) in Spain alone. This production played the story with a touch of irony in the beginning, but as the plot progressed things seemed less funny. Maybe it was because the opera was staged in a United Church, with stained glass windows in the background, but by the end, when an unrepentant Don Giovanni is escorted by a murdered soul into a fiery hell, the characters and audience are celebrating.

Gaslight /Mirvish

I saw this psychological thriller in February, and it was a perfect "evening out" in a dreary month.

The play premiered on the London stage in 1938 and was adapted to film in 1944. Gaslight tells the story of a housebound wife who believes she is going insane, until a retired detective arrives unannounced to solve a mystery. Even though I already knew the story through the Ingrid Bergman movie, it was still fascinating to watch. 

Overall, a great production. It also starred two actors from the highly popular Game of Thrones TV series, Owen Teale and Ian MacElhinney.

The success of Kinky Boots bumped Gaslight to the Mirvish Theatre, a large venue intended for musical specticals, and actually too large for a production intended for a more intimate stage. The set designer had some work to do:

“Although officially retired, Peter (Smith) has come to our rescue with an ingenious means of creating a 1,384-seat playhouse that can function inside the 2,300-seat Ed Mirvish Theatre.
“Peter has taken the techniques and art of scenic design and transported them from the stage to the audience. He has designed 40-foot-tall decorative walls — essentially scenic flats —  that will make the Ed Mirvish Theatre much narrower and bring the audience closer to the stage. He has also narrowed the width of the stage, from 50 feet to 38 feet.

“We jokingly call it, ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Theatre.” But that’s exactly what Peter has accomplished. 

The Mirvish subscription has been my first theatre subscription. Most of the plays were excellent, and I saw several I wouldn't normally choose, which I think is great for broadening horizons. Even so, as much as I enjoyed the line-up, when the invitation arrived in my mailbox this month, I decided not to renew.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Founders Dinner

My grandfather, John Schlachter, was identified as one of the founding members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Organizers brought descendants together for a special evening to honour the founders' contributions in starting the gallery more than 60 years ago.

Rob, Alex, Penny and I attended the Founders Dinner, along with my mom, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews. Our party made up 20 of the 94 guests, likely a few more than organizers bargained for, but we wanted a place at the table and a chance to learn more about this part of Grandpa's life.

The gallery began in a bicycle shed behind a high school, and the first big show featured a Tom Thomson painting. I can imagine my grandfather working to make the humble shed into something more, into a home for beautiful works of art.

I still often think of his passion for art, of his talent, his work ethic and incredible perseverance. He is one of my heroes, and in second year college I made a film about his work as an artist and artisan. 

His paintings hang on the walls of all the grandchildren's homes. He was an amazing man who helped support us through some very tough times, and worked well past retirement to keep us together. He talked about putting a roof over our heads, but it was so much more than basic shelter. I miss him, and wish he could see the results of his efforts in the lives of his grandchildren, and their children.

Grandpa also worked as a finisher at Baetz Fine Furniture for more than half a century. In my living room, there is a coffee table and two end tables Rob's mom purchased long ago when she was making her home in Winnipeg as a young woman. Now as I'm doing the math I realize this would have been about 60 years ago, right around the time my grandfather was busy helping to found the gallery and the artist association, and heading out on Sundays to paint his landscapes. Marian held on to the tables for decades because they were beautiful, and although they cost a bit more than she could afford at the time, they were made even more valuable by the hope of a gracious home. When I first admired the pieces she mentioned they were Baetz, and I was amazed at the providence. Fine furniture my grandfather had likely crafted, had found its way across the country and into the home of my future husband. Now the tables are in my own living room. I know Grandpa would be pleased.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Full Pink Moon - April

I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all
It's a pink moon
It's a pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon.
- Pink Moon, Nick Drake

April 22, 2016 the moon is full at 1:24 a.m.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Feelin' groovy

Steve told me I should practise with a metronome. So did Manitoba Hal at the workshop he gave at Long and McQuade. Also Brett McQueen with his ukulele strumming tricks.

Timing is everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but if you don't have the beat and pulse you aren't in the groove.

Something Manitoba Hal suggested was just listening to a song, trying to feel the groove, and playing along while muting the strings. Scarboro Jam calls this the 'New York Strum.'

Feelin'' Groovy
Hang On Groovy
Groovy Kind of Love

There are lots of online metronome apps, but I like my old school ticker for its visual cues. Tick talks, and when it slows down I can rewind. No batteries required.

Nearly every music student has been told by their teacher to “Practice with a metronome.”  Metronome practice is arguably the most effective way to improve one’s skills and knowing how to incorporate your metronome into your practice effectively will help you improve your rhythmic and technical skills in the fastest and most efficient way possible... Slow practice is the key to fast playing. Metronome Online 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April garden

We had such a mild winter, and just when we were expecting spring the vernal equinox brought some of the coldest temperatures with lots of snow. Crocuses and snowdrops had already made their appearance, and I admired the tenacity of colourful blooms buried in snow.

Now April 17, I bagged some of the leaves and debris from the garden beds so I could better see the progress of spring. Hellebore blooms, and blood root sprouts. Long awaited. The white blanket lifting.

April 4 

April 5

April 17

April 17

Monday, April 11, 2016

Thinking about thinking

Three of us gathered at Debra's to discuss Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (Bradford Books)by Gary Klein, the selection for the April book club.  It was an interesting pick,
challenging some basic assumptions about the best way to approach difficult decisions.

Not many copies were available through the library (zero electronically), so I turned online to see if Klein had done any Ted Talks on the subject. There was more available about Seeing What Others Don't, his more recent offering. Klein has inspired thought leaders like Malcolm Gladwell, and has been a consultant for the military and tech companies, but he is not a popular choice for non-fiction. As Debra said, it reads pretty much like a textbook, albeit on a fascinating subject.

The assumptions Klein questions are these:

1) Teaching people procedures helps them perform better
2) Biases distort our thinking
3) The best decision making process involves listing all possible options and choosing the best one
4) We can reduce uncertainty by gathering more information
5) It’s bad to jump to conclusions
6) People need feedback to learn
7) Drawing inferences from data helps us make sense of the problem
8) The best starting point for any decision is generating a clear description of the goal
9) We will make better decisions if we identify big risks and eliminate them
10) Leaders can create common ground by setting up ground rules and defining roles before decisions are made.

Changing your perspective can change everything. This book talks about the difference between learner/judger mindsets, and how practising the attitude of a learner can be a powerful tool at work and in relationships. It's an easy read, with a sometimes annoying narrative, but essential message.

I appreciated the easy-to-remember formula about the choice process,
A = Aware. Am I being a judger?  Is this working? 
B = Breathe! Do I need to step back, gain perspective?
C = Curiosity. What is really going on with me, and the situation? What am I missing?
D = Decide. What is my decision? How do I choose to act?

click to enlarge
The author also shared some familiar quotes:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
- Victor Frankl

Creativity is bound up in our ability to find new ways around old problems.
- Martin Seligman

Where you stumble, there your treasure is.
- Joseph Campbell

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Quiz Nite

Every second Friday in the winter months there is a Quiz Nite at BPYC. 

Rob and I have hosted twice this year. Duties are to provide snacks and come up with 50 questions. Ideally the questions are not too hard, but not too easy. Coming up with the questions was actually fun.

I've been wanting to include poetry for awhile. Rob talked me out of it the first tie around, but this time I was obstinate.  I also added questions about the ukulele, cocktails, birds, the golden age of television (now!), and some Scarborough attractions.

Let's just say the poetry questions didn't go over as well as I thought they would, but otherwise our topics were a hit.

I put together some "sniffy cups," visually hiding the contents of small cups filled with aromatics and then asking people to identify what was inside by smell alone. In this case, all the smells were gin related (juniper, cardamom, orange peel and lavender). It was the first time smelly cups were used at a quiz nite, and people liked the challenge.



Question Answer
The next five questions are about poetry. all these famous poems mention the sea. Get a half point for knowing the name of the poem, and another 1/2 point for knowing the name of the poet.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Elliot
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'
The Owl and the Pussycat
Edward Lear
may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
maggy, milly, molly and may
e.e. cummings
'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings.' 
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Lewis Carroll
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, 
And the rocks melt wi' the sun; 
And I will luve thee still, my dear, 
While the sands o' life shall run. 
A Red, Red Rose
Robbie Burns
Some say we are living in a GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION…. The next set of questions are about some critically acclaimed series.
In Breaking Bad what is the name of the actor who played Heisenberg?

Bryan Cranston
What is the name of the new series on HBO with executive producers Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger? Vinyl
Actor/writer Bob Odinkirk appeared in Breaking Bad, and is now starring in his own series. What is the name of the series? Better Call Saul, now in its second season
In Modern Family, three different, but related families face trials and tribulations. The show tied with Frasier for most consecutive Emmy wins for Outstanding Comedy series. How many consecutive Emmy wins would that be? Five
What is the name of the actor who plays Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones? Peter Dinklage 
All of the Beatles played the ukulele. Which one was the most involved with it? George Harrison

He said: "Everybody should play a 'uke' it’s so simple to carry with you and it is one instrument you can't play and not laugh! Its so sweet and also very old - some are made of wood - some are made of armadillo's. I love them - the more the merrier. Everyone I know who is into ukulele is 'crackers' so get yourself a few and enjoy yourselves."
The ukulele, a small four-stringed instrument of Portuguese origin, was patented in Hawaii in 1917, and derives its name from a Hawaiian word that means…. “leaping flea.” 
True or false? Each for a quarter point
Elvis played a ukulele in Blue Hawaii
Marilyn Monroe played a ukulele in the movie Some Like it Hot
Audrey Hepburn played a uke in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Steve Martin played the ukulele in the film The Jerk
Elvis played a ukulele in Blue Hawaii TRUE
Marilyn Monroe played a ukulele in the movie Some Like it Hot TRUE
Audrey Hepburn played a uke in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. FALSE, it was a guitar
Steve Martin played the ukulele in the film The Jerk TRUE
This American musician, singer and songwriter is best known as a member of the rock band Pearl Jam. He released a collection of Ukulele Songs as his second solo album. What is his name? Eddy Vedder

This anise-flavoured spirit is derived from botanicals.  It rose to great popularity in France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. It is also known as “the green fairy.”  What is it?

Where did the Sidecar get its start?  Paris, London or New York

One bonus point for knowing the main ingredients.
The sidecar took off in Paris during the early 1900s. 

A sidecar mixes brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice.
This bourbon cocktail was invented in the mid 1800s in New Orleans. What is its name?  Sazarac.
It was invented in back in 1838 and many experts identify it as the oldest known American cocktail.
Combine three parts of gin, one part of vodka and a half part of Kina Lillet. Shake or stir as you prefer, and garnish with an olive or a lemon twist. What's the name of this cocktail?

a Corpse Reviver
a Vesper
a Ladykiller
A Vesper
By law, in both America and Europe, for gin to be sold as gin, it needs to contain what essential ingredient?  (other than alcohol!) juniper  
The next set of questions are about some Scarborough neighbourhood attractions.
She died in December 1940 and in 1959 her husband offered their property to the city of Toronto as parkland in her memory. What was her name, and what is the attraction?
Rosetta McClain
Rosetta McClain Gardens
The building was first constructed in 1914 as a 33-room Arts and Crafts-style manor for the wealthy military family of Colonel Harold Bickford. The country home changed hands over the years — but was later abandoned. What is the site now called? The Guild Inn
Built in 1867, this relaxed alehouse offers pub fare, happy-hour deals & live music on weekends. Olde Stone Cottage Pub also home to the uke jam every second Monday
This exclusive club was first established in 1843 and is a private club owned exclusively by its members. The Toronto Hunt Club 
The water intake pipes for the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant run through two pipes under the bed of the lake. 

How far are they located from the shore?

2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi)
-  3.6 kilometers (2.2 mi)
The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant has been used in dozens of films and television series as a prison, clinic, or headquarters. 

2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) from shore in 15 metres (49 ft) of water
Sniffy cups! Come smell and guess what these scents are. All are sometimes used in gin.  See you after break. coriander
orange peel
Up to how many scents or smells can the human nose distinguish? 
about 10,000
around one million
at least one trillion
In 2014, scientists at Rockefeller University tested people’s sense of smell by using different odour molecules. The results, published in the journal Science, showed that the nose can smell many distinct least one trillion distinct scents
In the year 2000 Tommy Thompson Park / Leslie Street Spit was declared a Globally Significant Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
How many species of birds have been recorded there, according to its website?
316 species of birds have been recorded at TTP
These next birds have been recorded as residents of Tommy Thompson Park.
Black-crowned night heron
name this bird
great egret
name this bird 
Northern Goshawk
What city is home to the Tivoli Gardens? Copenhagen
1960’s MUSIC  – A 1 Artist only  Dusty Springfield
1970’s Music Trivia A – 1 (Name tune) Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
1970’s MUSIC – A3 (name the tune) Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate
1980’s MUSIC – Title 7 C Name the tune Walk Like an Egyptian - Bangles
What is referred to as chine in ships and boats? Cross section shape of a hull (hard chine, soft chine)
In 1883, this Canadian sports team combined Oxford University blue with Cambridge University blue for their team jersey? Toronto Argonauts
What is the total number of states and provinces bordering a Great Lake? 9 – ILL,IN,MN,MI,NY,OH,PENN,WI,ON
What famous landmark has been the site of 1200 recorded suicides? Golden Gate Bridge
True or False: Dogs see only in black and white False
How many whiskers does the average house cat sport?  6, 12, 16, or 24
What is the official name of the statue at the top of Sugar Loaf mountain? Either language is fine Christ the Redeemer or Christo Redentor 
What is the only name of the only member of the Nazi party to be buried in Jerusalem, Israel? Oskar Schindler
In what musical key does Big Ben chime? E Major
What’s par for the Old Course at St. Andrew’s? 72
Name the 4 sections of a classical orchestra? ¼ point each Woodwind, Brass, Percussion, string
In inches, what is the maximum length an average human scalp hair grows?  Accept any answer +/- 4 inches 40 inches
FILM  audio clip A1 Pulp Fiction
Classical MUSIC 2 A – Opera or Composer Marriage of Figaro - Mozart
Classical MUSIC 3D – Opera or Composer Guiseppe Verdi - Rigoletto

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Public Servant

I'm pretty sure the audience was mostly filled with public servants, and I recognized a few co-workers on my way into the Berkeley Street theatre.

I settled into my seat anticipating satire. A young idealist signs up for a career and hopes to make a difference in public service. We watch her first day on the job, and subsequent years, as she pours energy into a project that go nowhere, producing a report destined for the shredder, and culminating with an invitation to apply for her own job.

Depressing. I'd read a review so I knew what I was in for, but didn't expect to feel such futility when I walked out of the theatre. 

Pretty bleak stuff, well executed.