Andrew Snowdon

Posts Tagged ‘arts’

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).

Since They Can’t Take Grants for Granted…

In Uncategorized on Friday 15 July 2011 at 16:32

The government you helped elect (perhaps not directly, if you’re actually reading this) is doing great things.

By now, you’re well aware of the federal government’s highly questionable decision to withdraw funding from Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival.  While I’m not quite ready to say that I categorically believe this was in direct response to the festival’s production of Homegrown, this is the same government that has a documented history of lying to the public, altering documents in a way that would get a private citizen thrown in jail, castrating organized labour, and blinding itself in both eyes by crippling its own Census.

So, you know, I wouldn’t put it past them.

Then again, there’s only so much grant money to go around, and more and more arts organizations competing for the same pool of cash.  It seems reasonable that established, successful concerns might see their funding fall off as the government tries to spread it around to encourage groups just getting their start.

One way or the other, the arts have to find a way to depend less on the financial support of a small-minded, dishonest government that seems intent on marching us straight back into the 19th century, and more on… well, us.  The general public.

It’s not a begging game.  The arts are more use to society—and individuals—than can be put into words alone.

For instance, there’s no better way to learn good, persuasive English (or any other language) than through the study of literature: poetry, plays, and novels.  Is it important to learn good, persuasive English?  Oh, I should say its rather important.  The number of people boasting communications degrees who can’t compose a single simple coherent sentence… why, I heard just recently on the CBC (what’s left of it) that they’re thinking of taking Shakespeare out of the Grade 9 and 10 curricula.  Yet almost every day I see someone on Twitter swept up in the throes of an epiphany, some new revelation about the human condition, that was eloquently summarized in a heroic couplet about 400 years ago.  It turns out that artists have been distilling human experience for as long as our species has been able to make marks on rocks.  Why ignore all that work?  It may be too late to redo high school, but if you read a little and go catch a little theatre, you might learn something and save time by not reinventing the wheel.

Any person involved in business should certainly experience, if not study, the performance arts.  I’ve been to too many truly awful presentations; the average person could stand to take in some theatre or some spoken word to see how it’s really done.  You’d be surprised what a little stagecraft or attention to cadence will do to your ability to influence a roomful of people.

By the way, have we thought of what we’re doing to the cultural record?  As it stands, if future generations write of us at all (provided they can still write), what will they say?  That our popular symbols included the Guy Fawkes mask, lifted wholesale from history?  That half of our correspondence consisted of repeating the same phrase over and over again with minor variations (I believe you call that a “meme”.  I recommend looking up “memetics”).  That people were willing to pay money to hear already well-known (misogynistic) rap lyrics overlaid on already well-known classic rock guitar riffs?  Will this be known as the Age of Copying?

Or dare we encourage the creation of something new?

How do we go about doing this?

Probably the most obvious way is to choose your favourite sector of the arts (theatre?  dance?  the visual or plastic arts?  music?  literature?  film?) and devote as much of your entertainment dollar as you can stomach to enjoying that art.

Maybe you can spare some of the cash you would normally export to the States by going to see shitty movies, and catch a local theatre production instead.  Or you could divert the forty bucks you drop on alcohol any given week to buy a locally-written book, throw five dollars in the box at an art gallery, catch a local band—and still have cash left over for a pint!  If you’re bound and determined to exchange your pay for a headache at the pub, you could at least buy beer from breweries that sponsor the arts (McAuslan comes to mind).

Speaking of sponsorship: if you own or operate a small or medium business, sponsor an arts organization.  Large businesses do; heck, the banks do, and nobody’s better at making money than the banks.  Follow their lead.  Most arts organizations will be more than happy to put your name on everything they print and the walls too if you help them pay the rent.  Artists are also fiercely loyal customers and clients with very long, accurate memories.

The greatest artistic renaissances in history occurred after periods of great oppression—helping to end them, and lift entire societies out of ignorance and economic depression.

I’d rather prefer we headed it off at the pass this time.

Ottawa–Toronto, one-way, non-refundable

In Ottawa on Thursday 17 March 2011 at 7:30

For her poets and writers are apt to be drawn thither, for the better companionship there and the higher rate of pay. —Rupert Brooke, Letters from America


Emma Godmere is leaving Ottawa, and I can’t say I blame her.

Anywhere two rivers meet, a city will be built. So it is that, at the junction of the Rideau and Ottawa rivers, we find the City of Ottawa, capital of Canada, and its conjoined twin Gatineau.

Ottawa became the capital of Canada simply because of its relatively remote location—not, as the tongue-in-cheek myth goes, because Queen Victoria, in one of her many efforts to amuse herself, closed her eyes and pinned the donkey’s tail here on the map. At the time a logging town, it was subsequently connected to the important military port of Kingston by a canal. Accessible, but safely out of the way.

The city is a lot smaller than municipal amalgamation makes it look on paper. It’s spread out, and without a reliable transit system to link its bedroom communities to its core, much less cohesive than the Katamari Toronto that threatens to absorb Hamilton (if it has not already done so). To make matters worse, Ottawa is barely habitable, or at least inhospitable, due to its wide range of temperature, and high-humidity valley microclimate.

Whenever I hear or read of someone comparing Ottawa to ten-times-bigger Toronto, as I bite my tongue, I recall Rupert Brooke’s Letters from America, written in 1913. Brooke, who died only two years later from an infected mosquito bite whilst serving in World War I, was an educated upper-class young man who took a trip through America—including New York, New England, and much of Canada—and wrote a series of letters detailing his observations to the Winchester Gazette in England. His travel diary thus published is of a style somewhere between a modern travel blog and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, if it were written by Oscar Wilde.

Letters from America is unlikely to find its way into schools, even Canadian ones, due to Brooke’s (appropriate for his time and social class) cheery, unabashed racism (including the chapter blithely titled “Some N—rs”). We are much the less for this, as he has set down the clearest cultural description of each of our major cities, among them Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

Then, as now, “… there is an atmosphere of Civil Servants about Ottawa, an atmosphere of safeness and honour and massive buildings and well-shaded walks.”

Whereas, “Toronto, soul of Canada, is wealthy, busy, commercial, Scotch, absorbent of whisky; but she is duly aware of other things. She has a most modern and efficient interest in education; and here are gathered what faint, faint beginnings or premonitions of such things as Art Canada can boast (except the French-Canadians, who, it is complained, produce disproportionately much literature, and waste their time on their own unprofitable songs).”

Is there any wonder that Ottawa suffers so, culturally? It is like a little flower planted late in the season between two huge trees (Toronto and Montréal) whose vast canopy of leaves blocks the sunlight and whose thirsty, spreading roots draw all the water and nutrients from the soil.

If our creators are leaving for another city (I don’t count Nancy Kenny, who lives and works in a Littlest Hobo eigenstate between Toronto and Ottawa) with its established audiences, what about our Ottawa audiences? I don’t, by the way, think it’s fair to blame Ottawa audiences; we should be taking the non-audiences to task instead.

Here is the thing: Ottawa’s economy is composed (mostly) of government, universities, and a technology sector. Each of these attracts people (workers and students) from outside of the city. A significant portion of the middle-class population, therefore, has no particular roots in Ottawa.

This is not a question of immigration. Immigration, as in Toronto and Montréal, serves rather to catalyze cultural evolution. Ottawa’s nascent live spoken word community, for example, is at least 50% driven by first- or second-generation immigrants.

The Ottawa middle class is culpably resistant to the changes required to develop this city into a metropolis capable of sustaining a local culture. If we want to be urban, we must build buildings; we can’t chisel out Manotick-like villages in the middle of it all. The trade-off has always been, and should remain: if you want to live surrounded by limitless greenspace, commute from the country. The people that can afford and do appreciate cultural enrichment can also afford to travel to Toronto or Montréal to get it, and they are guaranteed an ample, competitive supply.

If any environment is culturally and economically inhospitable, the most promising twentysomething minds will leave it for one that is—thereby decreasing the rate at which local cultural offerings will be improved to the point that they impress people into becoming new audiences.

I’m not convinced, either, that the same folks who have been running the show for decades have earth-shattering “new ideas” that will coax the public from their suburban bunkers. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’ll keep my cow until I see the beanstalk.

Emma Godmere’s imminent departure (JUST when I was getting used to seeing her on stage) is good for her, but also a symptom of the underlying syndrome. We lose our best and brightest to our neighbours, whether due to talent, ambition, or a healthy synergy of both.

And who could blame them for leaving?


The quote preceding this post, by the way, refers to artists at the time leaving Toronto for the States. So there is hope that we can overcome our disadvantage of proximity in due time.