Andrew Snowdon

Postmedia Style Guide

In advice, Canada, media, Ottawa on Tuesday 19 January 2016 at 23:59

[TRIGGER WARNING: I don’t even know how to do one of these, but in this post I use language related to sexual violence and gender identity that may offend or trigger some people.  I have made the conscious, considered decision to do so to further my point, not merely for “comedic” effect.]

As you have no doubt already heard, Postmedia, having purchased SUN Media some time ago, has taken the not entirely unexpected step of merging newsrooms in several cities where it operates more than one print daily. We saw this coming when they moved, for example, the Ottawa SUN into the same building as the Ottawa Citizen (or maybe we saw it coming when the internet rendered print media all but obsolete?). Instead of folding papers, Postmedia has assured us that the same stories will just be re-edited for the respective audiences of the respective papers, saving an immense amount of money.  I am sure someone somewhere has prepared a spreadsheet showing how much money is saved cutting people (still the only resource that can produce content) but not, you know, ceasing to print tons of paper editions that are good for a day before they go straight into the recycling, garbage, or bird cage.  I am also sure this person prepared it on parchment with a quill pen.

I’m not sure, however, that there are enough people left at Postmedia to put together a style guide that will help their remaining editor(s?) gear generically-written articles to each of the three audiences they must address.  So I thought I’d take some of the pressure off!  Here are some common terms and phrases and how they should be modified to reach SUN readers, Citizen (or whatever the not-SUN paper is in any given city; as Paul Godfrey would probably tell you, all newspapers are pretty much the same anyways) readers, and National Post readers.

Term Citizen, etc. SUN National Post
Mayor of Toronto Mayor John Tory ex-CIBC bigwig John “Sorry” Tory Mayor John Tory, but if it’s a slow news day go with Mayor Rob Ford
Mayor of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi Naveed, Benji recast article so it is about Toronto
Mayor of Ottawa Mayor Jim Waterson Jimbo recast article so it is about Toronto
Mayor of Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre how do you do that little hat thing over the e? anyway, uh, Derriere I guess seriously, next you’re going to want to write about Vancouver
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Justin Trudeau Justy, That Upstart recast the article so it is about Sophie Grégoire
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper Harper The Once And Future King Harper
Thomas Mulcair Tom Mulcair more like Tom MulDON’Tcare yeah, where is that guy? Curling in Montebello?
Former Senator Patrick Brazeau Senator Brazeau The Brazzer nice try, killing this
President Barack Obama President Obama President Osama President Obama
Donald Trump Donald Trump The Donald Former Mayor Rob Ford
The Arts The Arts? you mean the SUNshine Girl? you mean the Mirvish insert?
statutory rape sexual assault of a minor tryst on first reference, regular everyday sex on subsequent references sexual assault of a minor, but bury it as far as you can
rape sexual assault it’s really a tough call, so ask the guy what he called it bury it and set it in Dingbats
gay gay homo, deviant, prevert, not that there’s anything wrong with that oh honey, we know
transgender person transgender person? I think? tranny, unless the article is close to the automotive section, in which case he-she transgender person, I think, but just in case, bury it
The Ottawa Senators The Ottawa Senators The Sens can you not read red pen? and we don’t even have a sports section anymore. You’re fired.


The Ottawa Stage Manager Battle

In Uncategorized on Tuesday 16 October 2012 at 12:32

Theatre is both collaborative and live, making it a unique medium.  While it’s true that a playwright, like a poet or novelist, may—though not often these days—craft a text in blissful isolation, by the time it reaches the stage that text has passed through many hands to bring it to life.  This is also the case in film and television, yet unlike these recorded media, there’s only one chance (per performance) for everyone to get everything right, and they all have to get it right at the same time.

This takes, as one might imagine, a great deal of co-ordination.

This daunting task—of making sure actors are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be, that a light is on them (so that everyone can see that they are, indeed, where they are supposed to be), and that their entrance is accompanied by the appropriate swell of music and requisite burst of kerosene fog—is overseen by the shadowy figure known as the stage manager.

There aren’t that many stage managers to go around, compared to the other, more visible, theatre disciplines.  Anyone with a pen, paper, and sufficient self-confidence not to burn their first draft can claim to be a playwright.  Actors, too, are rarely in short supply; everyone who wants to be seen on stage is an actor until someone informs them otherwise, and even that doesn’t stop some people.  All a director really needs to do is communicate their vision, however nebulous it might be, to the cast, a set designer, lighting designer, sound designer, costume designer—and the stage manager will take care of the rest.

A stage manager needs to know a little of every job, and be a master of most of them.  It takes a particular personality (organized, calm, firm, agreeable) to be a stage manager.  You may never discover that you are not an actor, but you will find out in short order if you are not a stage manager.

The oft-invisible crew is the AV club of the theatre community, which means that nobody’s going to throw them a party unless they do it themselves.  Otherwise, who would even be able to organize it?

Thus, the Ottawa Stage Manager Battle, conceived and organized by (stage manager, naturally) Christine Hecker.  Three local theatre companies were each invited to create a short (twenty-minute) play with heavy technical requirements.  After a brief rehearsal period, they handed over their prompt book—the script marked up with all the technical cues for lighting and sound—prepared by their rehearsal stage manager (if indeed they had a rehearsal stage manager) to one of each of three competing stage managers (Anna Lindgren, Ashley Proulx, and Jessica Preece), an hour before the competition.  The shows were then staged one after the other, each with its appointed stage manager in the tech booth calling the shots.  Their performances were scrutinized by an intimidating panel of veteran theatre professionals—Natalie Joy Quesnel, Tania Levy, and Kevin Waghorn.

The three shows (Guard Duty by Glassiano Productions, Strips by Slattery Theatre, and Les Animaux by May Can Theatre) were obviously designed primarily to test the stage managers, with a borderline ridiculous number of technical cues.  They were entertaining for just this reason, and although Guard Duty won its share of laughs and Strips was pleasantly campy and visually interesting, only Les Animaux would be a complete, coherent play outside of the context of the event.  But that wasn’t the point.  These weren’t meant to be plays for a general audience (although with one or two modifications the Ottawa Stage Manager Battle could definitely be made to appeal to the public).  The point—with convoluted cues, hieroglyphic prompt books, and performer/creators liable to improvise liberally—was to give the stage managers a real challenge.

The trouble is, almost anyone can spt a typo, but it’s much harder to pick up on a missed cue.  Although it was quite obvious when certain cues were missed, even seasoned theatre professionals in the audience had a hard time catching all of them.  The judges were in a better position to, well, judge: Kevin Waghorn got to sit in the booth (arguably the best seat in the house) throughout the competition, and the entire panel was provided with the prompt books—freshly decorated with highlighter and Post-It notes—for their deliberations.

How serious was this competition?  Each of the plays presented significant challenges, but the specific challenges were so different that I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to compare one to the other.  In any case it was fun, and put the contestants through their paces.

There are, again, not that many stage managers to go around.  It may not, then, come as a surprise that the trophy—a hand grasping an assortment of writing utensils rising out of a base of rolls of tape—Jess Preece took home was one she had crafted herself.

Clearing the Backlog

In theatre on Wednesday 22 August 2012 at 16:52

I seem to have accumulated quite the backlog of things I really should be talking about.*  Let’s see how much I can cover at once:

  • I’m not the biggest fan of outdoor theatre, mainly because my lumbar region likes a seat with a back, and I’m not fond of bees, wasps, or falling leaves that might be bees or wasps.  However, in Ottawa we’re blessed with two theatre companies that produce such perennially good work that it’s worth a bit of private discomfort to always catch their productions.  A Company of Fools toured their production of Shakespeare’s Henry V through parks in the region this summer, complete with tennis balls and a fabulous cast (including, but certainly not limited to, Margo MacDonald in the title role).  I was impressed with their ability to make a historical play—it may contain one of Shakespeare’s most moving speeches, but it’s a historical play—engaging not only for the regular theatregoer but for everyone, and especially for children.  I caught the production one of the evenings it was in Hintonburg Park, the former monastery site behind the exquisite St. Françoise D’Assise church, which was an excellent setting.  Speaking of excellent settings, Odyssey Theatre‘s permanent location on the banks of the Rideau River in Stratchona Park is one of the most breathtaking spots in Ottawa, especially at night.  I quite enjoyed this year’s production, A Game of Love and Chance; there are still a few opportunities to take it in (until the 26th) and if you are in the mood for some light entertainment I highly recommend it.  Masque is very liberating; even those performers whose styles I’m not familiar with seemed particularly uninhibited.  The performances dwarf the text, but who wants a heavy, ponderous, complicated story in the middle of the summer?
  • Nancy Kenny wrote and performed a great (Prix Rideau Award–winning) one-person show called Roller Derby Saved My Soul a couple of years ago, under the direction of Tania Levy.  If you’ve seen the show, or if you’d like to see the show, Ms. Kenny has an Indiegogo campaign to finance a 2013 cross-country tour of the show that is in its final week.  I consider both Nancy and Tania my friends (I hope it’s mutual!), but I wouldn’t be letting you know you could bankroll their project unless I thought it had artistic and entertainment merit, which this does.
  • Speaking of Tania Levy, I hear the latest Fringe show she directed, Vernus Says SURPRISE! (written and performed by Ken Godmere) is doing quite well out west.  I’m not, er, surprised.  It’s a simple yet intricate piece of mime—although it’s”just” Ken on stage, there are about two dozen Ottawa voice actors credited in the program—that’s heartwarming and family-appropriate.
  • Each year for the past couple of years, thanks to the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation and the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area, we’ve been treated to remounts of local Fringe favourites as part of the Summer Fling festival.  I had a feeling (and I’m sure I said or tweeted it somewhere) that one of these two shows would be it this year: Alien Predator: The Musical or Space Mystery… From Outer Space!  I was wrong.  Instead, it’s both.  It is an honest-to-goodness science fiction double feature: a zany musical take-off on 80s science-fiction action thrillers, and an equally (yet differently) zany take-off on 50s science-fiction with a film-noir flavour.  Is it “high art”?  Hell, no.  But it’s entertaining, and you get to see both shows for only $12, which is more than worth it.  This will be a short run, from August 30th to September 2nd, at Arts Court; shows start at 8:00 and run for 60 minutes each with a half-hour intermission between them (not indicated on the press release, but I asked).
  • September 2nd is, coincidentally, the day the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation’s operation of the performance spaces in Arts Court ends.  What happens next?  Apartment 613 will be covering the latest developments in that story over the next couple of weeks.
  • The Gladstone Theatre just officially launched its 2012–13 season (although the lineup’s been public for some time now).  I’ll tackle the launch and the season itself in greater detail elsewhere (i.e. Apartment 613) but I want to let you know about a party.  John P. Kelly, the Artistic Director of SevenThirty Productions, is best-known in Ottawa as a director who specializes in Irish theatre (although that’s not all he does; I’m especially looking forward to seeing how he tackles Mamet this year).  This season he’s directing Stones in His Pockets at the Gladstone, which will feature Richard Gélinas and Zach Counsil (who were a dream duo in The 39 Steps last season).  He’s also directing Fly Me To The Moon later this autumn at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, which will feature Margo MacDonald and Mary Ellis (that’s a pair that promises to be at least as entertaining).  Both of these plays were written by Irish playwright Marie Jones.  Not only, therefore, are the GCTC and Gladstone/SevenThirty offering a special price for a package to both shows, but there will be a party at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (at Wellington and Holland in historic Hintonburg) on Tuesday, August 28th from 5 to 7pm (5-à-7s are the most wonderful kind of party) featuring a “script-off” between the members of both casts.  There will, of course, be Irish beer, food, and music to go with the Irish theatre.

That about brings me up to date.  If you think I’ve missed something, feel free to leave a comment.

*This is partly due to my having been finishing up the contract I’ve been working on for the past year.  If you’re interested in education and literacy, especially as a parent or an educator, have a look at Wordly Wise 3000, the product I was working on, and the other excellent educational software put out by School Specialty.  No, I’m not being paid to say that; I just really liked the software (and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s effective).