Jun 29, 2009

Sound + Vision



I spent a busy day conducting interviews, for both radio and video.

First up, interviews related to upcoming Fringe productions. The sheer range of works on offer this year is incredible -everything from Moliere to improv is on offer, taking in topics as vast as school violence and interpersonal relating.

I also spoke with folks from Driftwood and Clay and Paper Theatre Companies, respectively, about their upcoming works. There's so much going on in the city this summer, it's overwhelming. My advice? Go with whatever hits your heart and stirs your curiosity. Just make sure you tune in. ;-}

Radio Interview Schedule:

Between Sea & Sky

--Krista Dalby, Assistant Artistic Director, Clay and Paper Theatre, June 30th

The Sicilian
--Nicolas Billon, adapter + Lee Wilson, director -Fringe Festival, July 1st

Brother, Can You Spare Some Pants?
--The Williamson Playboys (Paul Bates + Doug Morency), performers -Fringe Festival, July 2nd

Lockdown
--Leonie Forbes, performer -Fringe Festival, July 3

Shades in Bloom
--Gemma Wilcox -Fringe Festival, July 6th

King Lear/The Comedy of Errors
--The Bard's Bus Tour -Jeremy Smith, Artistic Director, Driftwood Theatre Company, July 8th.

All radio interviews are broadcast on CIUT's morning show, Take 5, which airs Monday to Friday, 8am to 10amET. As well as arts stuff, the show features really good live music and cool conversations with local newsmakers.

Now, onto the video. There are many more coming up in the next few weeks, but you can find the latest one here.

I really don't understand why Odets isn't performed more. When it's done right (as in this production, by Soulpepper, on now) it's really, really beautiful, and extraordinarily moving.

Also: William Webster was the greatest King Lear I have ever seen. Ever. He was wonderful in Awake & Sing! too -he really broke my heart in the best way. Oh, & is also a truly lovely person. It was a treat to speak with him and Miles Potter, whose work I have admired for so very, very long. The chance to speak with so many people I admire is sometimes... overwhelming. I mean, today I interviewed David French. Gosh, I love my job.

Enjoy the vid. More to come in the next wee while.

Jun 25, 2009

Michael Jackson: My Original Thriller


I can’t say I have a first memory of Michael Jackson; it’s as if he was there all along, a ghost, crooning in his high-pitched wail and spinning through summers filled with popsicles, and too many pratfalls practicing a moonwalk.

I remember the mad hype that greeted Thriller at its release. As a child of the 1980s, Jackson was the entertainer of his day; with his cool white glove and slick dances moves, he made suburban kids like me want to boogie, shimmy, and shake. He was also safe enough for suburban parents to approve of, coming as he did from the squeaky-clean, sanitized pop of The Jackson 5. There was no come-hither dirtyness of James Brown (the crotch-grab had yet to make an appearance) or the spaced-out musings of George Clinton. Jackson was the epitome of America, and Motown especially, his sound pure soul, his countenance pure pop. His leanings to vanilla became physically more manifest as time wore on, but in the late 70s and early 80s, us kids didn’t notice or care. Michael could dance.

Of course, in retrospect, “Billie Jean” was –and remains –a nasty piece of business lyrically, but us kids had no idea what he was talking about. We were more interested in the groovy bass-meets-percussion beat, and that awfully cool video of Jackson making the floor bright with a footstep on the newly-created music video channel. He was cool, he was clean, and there was something we related to. Michael was our man, for our generation. He didn’t just sing for Pepsi. He sang for us.

Michael was also one of the forerunners of the music video generation. When MTV, and then MuchMusic, first came into being, Michael was one of the things we ran to see. As Jackson grooved in his pleather suit and magically lit up the squares onscreen, my friends and I would groove in a mad kind of tribal celebration. Michael lit up our little suburban lives with two shots of groove, one shot of sass –and a handy little white glove, a mark of class and coolness, nobility and untouchability, theatricality and vulnerability we understood on a grooving, unrealized primal level. Feet lead the heart back then. King, Child, Magician, Conjurer, Mr. Bojangles come alive without strings or tricks –and at that point, we knew nothing of Pappa Joe or the backstage tribulations that would come to haunt him. Time seemed endless and the electro-beats of Thriller were our lifeline.

When the fantasmo-zombie kicks of the “Thriller” music video made its debut on Halloween night, we ran to our television sets. Trick-or-treating got put off and we sat, in full make-up and wiggery, waiting, agog and twitchy, mute and shouty, waiting for our man. It was weird, it was creepy, it was a Very Big Event. It scared the crap out of me, but it was weirdly compelling. The video, with its assortment of well-choreographed corpses, captured the imaginations of a million suburban kids surrounded by newly-built malls and homogenous sprawl. Michael lit up the night brighter than any firecracker, crooning for us to "Beat It" -beat the system, beat the boredom, beat the monsters in the closet and lying in wait in shut-down hearts and minds. His feet beat out a morse-code only us kids heard: this isn't the way is has to be. Beat it. Beat like poetry, like fighting, like music, all at once.

He was as ubiquitous in the burbs as Shreddies at breakfast. If you didn't see him live, you could see him on the telly, his natural home, after all. He was everywhere. There were cheers at the Grammys. Squeals at the moonwalk. Big videos. Bigger live concerts. His dance moves were revolutions. Television –and by extension, Western culture –would never be the same.

High school came, and with it, guitars, amps, punk rock, metal, grunge. Michael who? Who cares? Who listens? Didn’t he used to be black? He pleaded for us to believe he was “Bad” but he tried too hard; rebellion makes no such pronouncements, nor has such outright desperation. It was, rather, a rebuke to his father, talking in the mirror, a sad state of affairs: “I’m bad! I’m bad!! I even got Martin Scorcese to direct!” “Martin WHO?” we all said in unison. The child-like wonder was gone, replaced with a harder awareness and more cruel assessment, but Michael was still living like Peter Pan, communing with chimpanzees and marrying the truck driver’s daughter. Boy, Wonder, Wannabe Rock Star singing to his Dirty Diana, with Slash at his side or Liz Taylor on his arm. Invading Heroes Square in Budapest, a relenteless narcissism, creative in-breeding, too many ‘yes’ people and hissing oxygen tanks, ranking himself among the mighty. He was pale and painfully self-unaware, a perenially smooth-faced boy-man, no "Smooth Criminal" and never the badass he so wanted to be. So he stayed young, or tried to. The perpetual innocent going head-to-head with the unabashed egomaniac. We turned our backs.

And then came the charges he’d taken the Peter Pan too far, directing wishes to hands to children. A step too far, and so far removed. I remember being in Copenhagen listening to ZOO-TV live from Dublin on the radio, and hearing Bono say, “you’re not Bad… you've been deemed guilty before being given a chance...” Vulnerability recognized itself and saluted. On a cold, late-summer Copenhagen night, tears welled up and suddenly the dance moves and memories of one-gloved Halloweens and television-squealing came back. The joy, the exhileration, time stopping in the moments between the beats. Concern for being cool, for being angry, for or kicking out... vanished, and was replaced with joy. No ego... just sound and light and wonder. I remembered dancing in my empty garage with the ghetto blaster blaring for hours on end, pointing at cobwebs as if they were sets of eyeballs, staring at me. Michael would go on tiptoe and the world would stop. I remembered those days amidst a starry Scandinavian night.

But time moves on from its heroes. “They want you to be Jesus / you’ll go down on one knee…” Michael never bowed, except to his own image his handlers presented back. What happened to the boy I loved who crooned “I wanna rock with you”… ? He turned his face into something I didn’t recognize. We loved him the way he was -but he didn't, and he posted his heartbreak across his ever-changing mug. His Motown-meets-modern world sound morphed into music for the dental office. He moved on, or tried to. "You're a big smash... you wear it like a rash... " Court dates, threatened bankruptcy, a Neverland that never was, revealing interviews and backstabbing friends. Failed marriages. Children. Baby-dangling. The spotlight became Michael’s cocaine, and we were his rolled-up $100 bill.

I don’t remember when I Michael left my consciousness, but I wrote him off as an eccentric a la Howard Hughes. For his children, I felt grief; for his relatives, I felt contempt. For his die-hard fans, always a sense of wonder. How did they maintain such faith, such commitment? A school acquaintance had seen Michael multiple times, had a trophy case filled with mementoes which she showed off to me during a party, as if it was her own child. She and her sister ran the Canadian MJ fanclub. Even through the scandals, the skin dyes, the sensationalism, they never lost their faith. What was it –is it –about this man, this boy-child, moonwalking between the worlds of black, white, dance, disco, rock, pop, art, image and sound, that captures our heads and hearts?

I’m still trying to work it out. But a piece of my past died today. And along with it, a piece of America and its past –a piece worth celebrating, remembering, and most of all, dancing to. Rumours or not, “Billie Jean” has the greatest bass line in the history of music. Thriller, killer, pumped up and maxed out with a pink bow tie, his beautiful black self commanding the world with a wiggle of the glove –that is the sound of America, the groove of a nation, the rallying call for every suburban kid who saved up to buy a copy of Thriller. Michael’s my generation’s man, and we’ll always remember him this way.

Jun 22, 2009

Random Acts of Play

1. Speaking to an unmanned camera; I was filming an introduction to my latest video interview piece (on Awake and Sing, currently on at the Young Centre) and kept flubbing it. Thinking his presence might be throwing me, my sweet/awesome/brilliant cameraman/editor walked away to look out the window, leaving me to speak one-on-one with the lens. It worked.

2. Going or ice cream at La Paloma, one of Toronto's best places for yummy, homemade gelato. It was a hot day, and it was perfect for a cone. I walked down the street, me and my chocolate hazelnut, enjoying the sights and the sunshine. Oh, simple joys.

3. Overhearing my neighbours' nephews playing in their swimming pool as birds chirped. Remember when pools were such a big deal as a kid? Like, a really big deal? Yeah, me too.

4. Going for a bike ride and calling out to a raccoon perched carefully on a wooden fence, only to be greeted by five little raccoon faces. Now, I know they aren't necessarily the most wanted creatures (especially now that Toronto has a strike involving city workers -who collect trash among other duties -on its hands), but it was just a dear little moment to have five little heads come popping up from the fence at my Doctress Doolittle moment.

5. I'm going to the Shaw Festival tomorrow. Seeing lots of comedies, which I love. Laughter = good.

Also?

My Goran Bregovic interview is posted
.


Zivalo!

Jun 21, 2009

Playing On The Patio


Here's a collection of photos from a recent visit I made to one of my favourite patios in Toronto, The Drake Hotel's Sky Yard Patio.

Situated on the second floor overlooking the buzzy Queen Street West strip, the patio is taking on a 'camp' theme this year (camp as in cabins, not drag queens). I love the Drake generally because it's gotten over being the "hipster" place (at least during the week -weekends it's still invaded by wannabe-hipsters from the 'burbs) and the service is really friendly. So, going with the Camp Drake theme, there's a bear at the downstairs cafe (not real, duh) and they've hung up an old canoe for Sky Yarders sans cottages (like me) to gaze at. Servers wear neat-o "Camp Drake" stylized tees.

While it all sounds hokey, it isn't. And the food -and wine selection -makes it a perfect place to wile away a late Friday afternoon, fooling with the camera, chatting with friends, celebrating wonderful new connections, and... playing. :) Enjoy.

Jun 17, 2009

Carmen Lives!

In putting together my recent feature on Goran Bregovic, I've really re-discovered and re-embraced my own musical heritage; my father was a professional musician who, though trained at the Conservatory in Pecs, had a real love and hunger for the music of the gypsies -a passion not unlike Bregovic's, come to think of it. And in the beginning he suffered the same kind of criticism and harshness too, constantly being raked over the coals for choosing "a gypsy job." But his love for the artform remained undiminished, and it's what drove he and my mother together.

Their shared passion for music translated into my mother taking me to my first opera, Carmen, at the tender age of four. Talk about a whirlwind for my four-year-old eyes. I don't think I understood the story very well but I know I loved the colour and vibrancy of the music. Bizet's work has steadfastly remained a favourite through the years. I've seen at least thirty different productions of it all over the world, and most recently saw a ballet version by the National Ballet for Luminato.

So imagine my surprise -and delight -when I discovered Bregovic had composed something called Karmen (with a happy end). You mean my lovely Spanish lady doesn't get what most men (and women) at the time deemed she deserved? Yay!


While it's strange to see Carmen stripped of the trappings I'm used to -namely guitars, flamenco, and violins -I have to admit that I'm enjoying the re-envisioning of the piece that was my portal into the world of not only culture -but my own personal heritage. With my father's passing last year, hearing and seeing this kind of riotous, joyful, deeply dramatic work has taken on a new importance and meaning. And listening to Bregovic's work -including his Karmen music -is a gorgeous sort of homecoming.

Jun 14, 2009

Viva!



I wish I'd seen Maria Callas] live. She has to be my very-favourite female opera singer -make that female vocalist - ever. Her voice has a real, non-operatic, throaty, real sound, and you get the sense listening to her or seeing her that she lived her parts -and if you know anything about her life and tumultuous relationship with a certain Onassis fellow, you'll know that stabbing scene in Tosca wasn't exactly her faking it... sheesh.

Still very much in the earthy vein, lastnight I attended one of the best concerts I've ever been to, bar none. Obnoxious audience members notwithstanding, seeing Goran Bregovic live rates as one of the best experiences for me, ever. The fact I got to meet and speak with him the day before was a nice bonus too (insert smarmy journalistic smirk ... now). There was a real sense of community (for the most part), and a palpable joy in the air as Bregovic and his 18-piece band (yes, eighteen) tore through his biggest hits from both film scores and rock albums. Again, as with Callas, Bregovic doesn't suit the genre he's ascribed to; "rock" doesn't quite fit him, nor does "folk" or "roots" or "gypsy" or that eponymous (and hipsterish) label "gypsy-punk." I asked him Friday what he thought about the label "world" and he let out a sigh. His basic answer: labels are a waste of time, just do what you love, and enjoy it.

Good advice. While his passion for gypsy culture is undeniable (I was quizzed about my own background at length), I've always been the most taken with artists who take existing artforms and make it entirely their own. It's what brings life, joy, and celebration. At least that's my theory for now.

Jun 11, 2009

Does Dancing Count As Prep?

Amidst Luminato last weekend (and this), a trip to Stratford the past three days (blogs upcoming -stay tuned), upcoming Pride coverage, and much, much more, this:



I'm interviewing Goran Bregovic tomorrow. He's playing two concerts in Toronto as part of Luminato. In the weeks I've spent prepping, a few things have struck me about his particular brand of noisy, raucous, joyful music -mainly, that it's just the kind of music my father played. Being born of a family of Hungarian artists, this is the sort of thing he grew up with and absorbed, even as borders shifted, people vanished and names got changed.

What's so incredible about Bregovic to me is the sense of possibility within his work -for a world without borders, without definition, without restriction. Language, nationality, labels... none of those things actually matter. It's just good clean sound bringing people together for the purpose of celebration. And it beautifully integrates past and present -and future. This is earthy, real, lived-in music. And it rocks.

Jun 8, 2009

This Is What I Mean By "Play"

The key word for the inaugural New Waves Festival (running as part of Luminato) at the Young Centre this past weekend? Playful. Yeah, "play" as in theatre and performing -but "play"also, equally, as in playing-around. Comme un enfant.

Take the Artists in the Closet series. A limited number of people were invited into a weensy little space –okay, a bathroom –to sit and chat with an upcoming Canadian artist for five to ten minutes. My friend and I had the pleasure of being part of Toronto rapper Theo3’s little ‘crib’ –he introduced us to the artists who influenced him growing up (vinyl album covers lined the small perimeter of the loo) and talked about how being in such an intimate environment made him feel both inspired and intimidated. Ha. Says you, I thought, perched on a little makeshift bench (apparently the real "throne" was off limits, with a big 'DON'T SIT HERE' scrawl written across the bowl in red sharpie. Art? You decide.).

The rapper also presented his own unique take on Coldplay’s monster-hit “Clocks.” Love them or loathe them, you have to admit, the tune has a good, catchy intro. Theo used it to full effect, playing a loop of it on a boombox as he launched into a rap about his background and interest in rap. Kind of neat to hear him smoothly integrate the past with the present, even introducing his girlfriend, standing shyly around the corner from the entrance with a big, proud grin. Aw.

Equally affecting was the Bedtime Stories feature, in which a violinist/singer serenaded a roomful of strangers, all of us laid out on cots.

"This is like something out of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort," remarked my friend as the harsh, flourescent-lit room transformed into a dark cave with swirling projections of stars and galaxies overhead.

The scene reminded me of having sleepovers with my childhood buddy, who had a veritable galaxy stuck up on his own bedroom ceiling. We'd hit the lights and walk around with light sabers (okay, empty wrapping paper rolls) as the stars twinkled overhead. Yup, playful, and a direct route back to childhood.

One of the most interesting activities was Seven Singing Structures, featuring, among others, Canadian singer (and YC Resident Artist) Patricia O’Callaghan. The seven entertained onlookers in the Young Centre’s palatial lobby by singing in harmony, with huge, architectural headgear balanced precariously on the performers’ lids. Huh? One singer had the Eiffel Tower balanced atop his head. Talk about your overbearing culture. No matter. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and the singing was damn beautiful.

Once the Towering-Headgear Singers finished, fellow YC Resident Artist David Buchbinder played his trademark mix of klezmer-meets-Cuban sounds with a quartet at the other end of the lobby. To quote Jenny Holzer, contradiction is balance.

Outside the Young Centre, Cellular was being presented by actor/director David Ferry and a troupe of Canadian playwrights and performers including Maja Ardal], Florence Gibson, Catherine Hernandez, Kate Hewlett, and Daniel Karasik. the art machine, one of the works under the Cellular banner, and written by Marjorie Chan, involved dialing a number with a cell phone, before following a series of commandments by a disembodied voice (the "Jump up and down" bit seemed to really amuse passers-by, natch).


The voice also queried participants with questions like, "Have you ever stolen anything?", "Have you ever lied?" and required a public show of hands. You think I'm going to reveal this stuff in public? Ha.

The last question was for the participants to reveal a secret they'd never told anyone before. Ooooh, what a dandy. After a long, awkward pause, one brave participant revealed he’d once … (drumroll)… pinched a baby.

My own mobile unfortunately died midway through (irony, perhaps?) and one of the hosts for the mini-show loaned me his. What my dead-mobile did allow was to note the reactions of participants –glancing at each other for validation, laughing awkwardly, and being generally involved in communicating with a machine, as opposed to one another -which, all told, was (is) probably the point of Cellular itself. It was an interesting juxtaposition of modern communicating and theatre community.

Walking around the Young Centre Saturday, it was hard to believe this was the same building that had housed (and produced, via Soulpepper Theatre) such serious works as Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Marsha Norman’s ‘Night Mother. The Centre’s resident artists have created something that allows for participating as well as communicating, juxtaposing, and –perhaps most importantly –playing. Play, what it means and how it’s perceived, is what’s being examined -an celebrated. Hell yeah. Play on.

Addendum: For more photos from the New Waves Fest, check out my Flickr photostream.

Jun 1, 2009

X & Then Some


I took a much-needed semi-rest yesterday. I write "semi" because I had several interviews to prepare for, so I couldn't entirely ignore my responsibilities. But it was good, once the work was finished, to just float away; there's something about easy Sunday afternoons, with glasses of wine and bare feet, volumes of Yeats and rolled-down sweat pants, that makes for some wonderful mental and spiritual space.

It was in that space that I came across a note an artistic friend had shared on Facebook; this friend, a former journalist, is one of the most non-linear thinkers I've met. Interested in all ideas and eager to take creative tangents previously unseen, many of the notes he writes and shares are related to his keen observations of the world, and are frequently based on the seemingly-mundane things we take for granted. Yesterday's note was about the letter X -as a concept and idea. He included beautiful photos and some insightful ruminations.

Think about it: "X" is rife with possibility, isn't it? The playful-meets-probing style of the note, and its idea, intrigued me greatly. Though I wasn't immediately aware, my friend's mental wandering set off a delicate mental spark, and I tiptoed along the cliff of a response, when I hit "delete" and quickly - as if on auto-typist -opened a Text document, and started my own path of poetic rumination. Having the mental fog cleared, and having made time yesterday to sketch, read, and cook, there came a beautiful kind of clarity and light. And a playfulness.

...X decides everything and names nothing
X is definition non definition sublimation
submersion submission
X began the name of a King
X is Jesus sideways
X finds God in byways and highways in skag lines and bread lines
two lines intersecting
two bodies connecting
X is heaven and earth
angels and dirt...


I love Sunday afternoons. Perfect set-up for a busy week. Having done five interviews and started my next video project today, it's good to know I gave myself permission to clear the clutter yesterday. Going to do that more often.

X marks the spot -and the spot says "play."