I believe very strongly that everyone has to find their magic. You have to love something. Anything. If you hate Christmas and believe it to be a religious and capitalist brainwashing nightmare, maybe focus on the fact that seeing your family is fun. If your family makes you nuts, maybe relish in the fact that eggnog is available on the shelves. If eggnog gives you stomach aches, maybe the green and red decorations are grin-worthy. And if those make you want to vomit… well, there’s always theatre (if you hate the theatre I give up, you’re just not trying).
Theatre is magic. Even if you don’t love a show, you must admit that you still kinda like it, the ritual of it. I will never hate it because I applaud what it takes and stands for – the work, the energy, the collaboration, the discussion, the emotion, and often very little payoff other than the job itself. You can’t hate on that, it’s really like hating on snowflakes, and why would anyone hate on snowflakes?
It blows my mind when I understand that someone has rehearsed a play countless times and the energy and emotion with which they deliver the lines is as powerful and raw as if it were utterly spontaneous. How can you maintain that intensity night after night? Where does that come from? I met Ben Turner while I was in Brooklyn, I thought he was beautiful and awesome and completely adored him from second one, so I went to see his show, The Jungle. I think my utter ignorance to the fact that this show is a complete phenomenon taking over the theatre world was a plus, otherwise I might have been intimidated by the whole ordeal and not bothered. People were audibly sobbing during the show (my boyfriend nearly being one of them – he left the theatre looking like he was hit by a truck). Ben Turner was absolutely astounding. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Yes, it’s an ensemble cast and very poor form for me to not focus on the fact that everyone was great (which they absolutely were) but he’s undeniably the lead and he carried it like a champ. That’s a powerhouse performer right there, Toronto needs to experience this. I am now obsessed with what it would take for something like this to come to my city (and where? Crowsnest? I need to talk to someone about logistics).
So as happens always when I see something I love, I now am trying to convince everyone I know to see it. And I do have to thank Netflix for bringing theatre to my parents, who can no longer be dragged around by me to wait in rush lines and for whom simply running around downtown is becoming less and less feasible every day. They were able to enjoy, from the comfort of their coziness, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Bruce Springsteen, and several other Broadway goodies.
For my fellow Torontonians looking for a little romance (having already watched The Age of Adaline) in the form of a wee road trip, you really need to look no further than Quebec City. It’s a little bit of old stony heaven that’s a 9 hour drive away, with accommodations way cheaper than you’d think and lots and lots of really good food.
I haven’t been there since I first arrived in Canada when I was 7. Basically all I remember is our car being broken into at a St. Hubert’s (which is like Quebec’s Swiss Chalet) and my mom crying, and as a sensitive little kid if you see your mom crying then you just cry too, and there ya go, that’s my memory of Quebec. Misery. Wailing. Broken windows. So for me it was reason enough to want to go to just rewire my association to it.
In the car I did a rough Google search of the food that we could get in Quebec, and right away adored Buvette Scott. It’s teeny tiny, super non-fussy, packed solid with people, the cutlery is all mismatched and as soon as you open the door it smells like heaven. They’re geeky as can be about the plates that they bring to you, and talk with genuine enthusiasm about blood sausage and deer bacon and all those Quebecois cheeses! and the funk music playing overhead. There’s minimal decor in the room, the majority of the light comes from candles, and there’s that hushed whispery blanket of chatter that exists in places where people are conversational, excited, engaged, but maturely aware that they are sharing a space with others and not screaming SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS at the tops of their lungs and just being annoying. They also insisted that while we’re in town we check out their favourites.
Such as Chez Biceps BBQ. John was absolutely in heaven here (and all the SHOTS folks are here ;)) and said that it was the perfect fusion of his favourite Austin joints, his general adoration of Southern food, and Quebecois hospitality and trademarks – such as maple syrup pork ribs and poutine. Chef Vincent and Jason-Mamoa-look-alike Jean-Simon Pouliot, who are warm and friendly and brawly, constantly chat to their clientele and tease their staff, and everyone seems to be having a genuinely fantastic time. Oh, and the place looks like this.
Then there’s Kraken Cru. Daaaaaaaamn that’s some good seafood.
For the athletic crew, there’s skiing, sledding and tubing all over Quebec, and if you’re into the older sights like the Citadel or the Parliament buildings, there’s that. There’s an amazing little street called Sault-au-Matelot that’s packed with galleries and opens into a square that has tilework on the ground like Rossio Square in Lisbon. I’m boring as dirt so I like to walk around and eat, maybe listen to some live music, go for a whirl on the slide from 1884 just to see if I fall off, gawk at what’s happening at La Bordee, take in the art and architecture. There’s always one artist that blows my mind to absolute smithereens, and this time it was Virginie Schroeder. At first glance looks like just another optical illusion celebrity painting, right? The white space is just done by sgraffito scrape-and-reveal, whatever right? Nope. Look closer. Her technique is crazy. I don’t know if she uses software to plan it out and then dabs plaster on and then paints over the plaster and cuts it and splatters over it or what. Mind blown.
I will definitely be back in the warmer months, I know that buried under all that snow that Quebec has lots of spots for mushroom picking and maple syrup tapping, and you know… girl’s gotta eat.
I’m loving the availability of Hannah Moscovitch plays in Toronto right now. I saw Bunny at the Tarragon last week and enjoyed it – it certainly spurred a heated debate afterwards, so that’s always a sign of an intellectual winner – and have a date with Candace to see Things A Young Wife Ought to Know… since, well, she’s getting married and she OUGHT TO KNOW. Jeffrey, the Patron Services manager at Streetcar Crowsnest, said it was absolutely amazing, his “favourite show so far”, so now I’m doubly intrigued (update: terrific choice, she absolutely loved it, said that she had forgotten how much she enjoys theatre and that this rekindled something in her. Success. One down, a few to go…).
Also made a mental note to check out Bloom at Buddies (update: I loved it, found myself completely absorbed in the lead storyteller, and the set was fantastic with a particularly awesome manhole cover gobo that nailed the ambiance for me).
Near-April showers bring May flowers, and I think spring may have sprung, so we’ll see what the blooms bring.
Factory Theatre commissioned a terrific work by Kat Sandler, great aerobics for the brain, who somehow managed to pull off the near impossible task of making an audience laugh – guffaw, even! – while watching a piece about gun violence. In Canada. In 2018. In downtown Toronto. She’s basically a genius. Take a listen to some of the opening bits here.
Oh!, and I basically danced home after listening to Musica Nuda yesterday. This woman is a rock star. They both are. I hope to see more of this kind of magic. And this kind, too. It’s good shit. Like Farrah Fawcett hair.
You put a horn section in your tracks, you win. ‘Nuff said.
Is there anything as exhilarating as live theatre? My mind is blown each time I experience 2+ hours of flawlessness, devoid of broken ankles, flubbed lines, or coughing fits. John and I took a chance and waited outside the Apollo Theatre to see if any of the sold out run tickets would somehow make their way back to the Box Office and into our hot little [tin roof] hands, and they did indeed. A young student whose friends could not go passed to us absolutely fantastic seats – and John can now die a happy man, having seen the most naturally beautiful woman of our generation – that would be Sienna Miller, of course – in the most seductive performance he’s seen from her to date. There’s this tomboyishness about her mannerisms and her gait that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her, and her acting was superb. Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy I hated with all my soul (which just confirms what an amazing job he did) and the set – ah again, those glorious set designers – was great.
Try to see it, somehow.
What do you do when you love theatre and you have four nights alone in New York City?
You binge. Oh baby, you binge, on theatre and on food (and it’s also partly a trick question, because you’re never really alone in New York City).
Night 1: Grabbed a great last-minute ticket to 1984, and since we’re in a dystopia and times are tight, 99¢ pizza. My interest in seeing this show was mainly to see Tom Sturridge (whom I loved in American Buffalo), Olivia Wilde (whom I’ve met in person at Artists for Peace and Justice events and really like, so I wanted to applaud her in her Broadway debut), and the fact that I loved the book. I quite enjoyed the play, but it was really violent and had tons of strobe effects, which distracted me from the story.
Night 2: Despite everyone telling me I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any kind of rush seats to it, I actually got a fantastic last-minute ticket to see Hamilton, and in the process met the two sweetest Puerto Rican ladies in line that couldn’t have been prouder of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This show truly is everything that everyone says it is – I’ve never seen the public this happy and energetic at the theatre (ok, maybe Book of Mormon was a bit like that). Choreography was mild-blowing. Performances were astounding. There was no weak link. For me, Brian d’Arcy James as King George and Gregory Treco as Burr totally floored me, James for his comedic delivery and Treco for his vocals. Afterwards, starving and singing, I had trainwreck fries at Virgil’s because it’s a medley of everything from everywhere and well… it seemed fitting!
Night 3: Sweeney Todd at Barrow Theatre was fantastic, again, chatted to the box office before showtime and they had “secret seats that they rarely use” that were the only ones not sold, and gave them to me pretty cheap. The play came as a recommendation from the staff at Joseph Leonard, where I popped in for dinner, and darling Drew (who let me sit there way past my welcome and offered tips on great NYC spots) found out for me what the hot ticket in the area was.
Night 4: I thought that perhaps with the luck that I’ve been having grabbing tickets to difficult-to-snag shows that maybe I could see Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theatre in Noho. Alas, it was an invite-only opening night event, and not even with my charm could I schmooze my way in. “Don’t you know who my father is?” I joked to the staff. They smiled that smile where you like someone but you’re not 100% sure that they’re not insane. I did see John Turturro in the lobby, and smiled broadly, hoping that it would translate into “you’re fantastic, I love you” without disturbing him during his private time.
I have much respect for Apple, by the way, for adding a theatre mode to the Apple Watch that minimizes disturbance during performances. I need to talk myself out of a snarky remark whenever I see a theatregoer activating their phone screen when the house lights are dimmed, so this is at least a nice gesture (although fifty bucks says no one ever remembers to actually enable it).
A small lobster meal at Lobster Place at Chelsea Market. Have been eyeing these babies every time I’ve been there, and resisted the urge. This time I treated myself, and as I sucked every last morsel out of every foot, crevice, and antenna, passersby looked at me with genuine amusement.
My flight home was interesting. Trump had shut down the airspace around NYC to fly to a golf game in the afternoon, so flights were completed messed up. Mostly cancelled, though some delayed, but basically no airline could recover afterwards, since once a chunk of day goes, delays just cascade down and it all falls apart. Newark International was complete chaos, filled to the brim with seething, self-important travellers, and in my calmness I did manage to somehow get hooked-up as a standby passenger on the last flight out (at 23:30, landing in Hamilton, which had me home at 3am). In all the screaming and threatening and customer service calls and apologetic service personnel that madly swirled about what I noticed was this: the way people come together and connect in times of disruption can be awesome. Completely overlooking the jerks, the remainder of folks kind of laughed it off, knew there was little that was in their control, sat together at the airport restaurant, had some drinks, met strangers, compared notes on where they were going, where they had been, where they were from. Typically, it’s such a cold, solitary environment – everyone in their world, on their phones, having somewhere to be, in their bubble. In this situation, there was nothing to do but wait and see, so people put their phones down (which contained wholly inaccurate information anyway) and chatted, met each other, commiserated. What stood out to me was people helping each other, comparing notes on what information they had, which flight was cancelled and which wasn’t, where to get some food, where they could charge their phones, where free coffee and water was, what remaining flights still had seats. Years and years ago, I met a man with his wife in a pizzeria in Tuscany, and without my asking for advice on life or anything, he looked at me and said “remember this one thing: always talk to people”.
That’s always stayed with me.
When I was a kid, I was exposed to a lot of music. I had to learn how to speak English with Roxette and Samantha Fox. Mom encouraged me to learn how to play the flute as a teen to train my messed-up lungs, something that only became cool once I was given a recording by Jethro Tull (I remember actually the teacher wanted me to play double bass when we were picking instruments, because of my height. My response? To pick the smallest instrument available). Mom kept her Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin LPs close at hand, all her Jean Jarre cassettes in a shoebox, and my stepdad had his Gordon Lightfoot and his Anne Murray in plain view at all times. I liked this juxtaposition in them, her with her untz untz untz and he with his spling spling spling.
Last night Jean Jarre performed his first Canadian show, at the Sony Centre, and I thought it’d be the perfect Mother’s Day gift. And you know what, it totally was. I watched my mom morph into a teenager during this time – she was feeling kind of crappy and started the evening off a little softly and slowly – and by the end of the night she was jumping near the front of the stage screaming “We Love You” at this energetic 68 year old who waxed poetic about Snowden and privacy laws and the state of the world. We got to chatting with a girl who grew up in South Africa about how popular JMJ was there during the 70’s and 80’s, and how baffled she was when she moved to Canada and realized that no one knew who he was.
The Poles came out last night in abundance, they have a deep affection for JMJ and remember his support during turbulent times, a gesture of goodwill that they are clearly committed to repaying. They even made him an honorary citizen of Gdansk.
Guys. Laser harp. Come on.
Theatre lovers living on a dime take heed – Factory Theatre has launched their Toonie Tuesday preview extravaganza. Now there’s seriously no excuse to not go and enjoy these amazing Canadian productions.
Last night Mom and I saw David Yee’s “Acquiesce”, a play about a young man who must go and bury the father he barely knew in Hong Kong, and all the emotional turmoil that the experience brings up. I really enjoyed the performances, and for Mom and I it was good catharsis, as it deals with issues of abuse (Mom’s father, though a “good man”, was physically and verbally abusive to his family), the anger that comes from abandonment (I know my dad, but I don’t know my dad. I’ve seen him a handful of times in my life. My memories of him include a pizza and ice cream trip when I was a child and him being really angry at me for putting on nail polish before falling asleep and trying to kill everyone in the house with poisonous vapours) and the frictions that arise from straddling two vastly different cultures your entire life.
I have to give a giant thumbs up to the crew, who put together a fantastic modern, functional set, eerie musical interludes and terrific props and effects. Wonderfully done.