Agnes of God, Live in Toronto

My long-time friend Pat Anderson is performing in a local production of Agnes of God over the next two weeks: August 14, 15, 21 and 22 at No One Writes to the Colonel, a bar/cafe at College and Bathurst. Pat recited a few of her lines as Mother Superior to me at dinner last weekend, and I’m really looking forward to this.

Agnes Of God

You can find all the details here, including how to reserve tickets. At $20 per ticket, it’s a deal if you’re in the mood for a bit of culture. Also, it’s a great neighbourhood to dine on Portuguese churrasqueira and Italian gelato before or after the show.

Cloud 9

I was on Cloud 9 on Saturday night…or rather, I was *at* Cloud 9 (A Comedy of Multiple Organisms), Caryl Churchill’s 1978 two-act play dealing with preconceptions of gender and sexuality. Act I and II are 25 years apart based on the characters’ ages, but in a wonderful twist, the first act is set in colonial Africa as an allegory of the repressive attitudes of the 1950s, and the second act is set in the late 1970s, which was current day at the time that the play was written (although the dialog was pretty timeless, and could be today). Furthermore, the same seven actors play different characters in each of the two acts, regardless of gender or race: the character of Betty, for example, is played by Evan Buliung in the first act (he was magnificent in the white dress and garters) and by Ann-Marie MacDonald in the second act. Add to this that two of the actors – Megan Follows and Ann-Marie MacDonald – are well known even to me, a cultural cretin who has to be invited to events like this by my more artsy friends.

The interesting thing about this Toronto production of Cloud 9 is how they’ve made the production transparent through the use of social media. CBC’s Spark podcast had a clip on this (starting at around 40 minutes into the January 24th/26th podcast) featuring the director, Alisa Palmer, discussing how they put information about the play, casting, characters, staging, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes comments online before the play ever opened: something rare in the somewhat secretive world of pre-opening-night theatre. Rose Plotek, the assistant director, wrote many of the blogs posts on the main site (cross-posted to their Facebook page), but there are also very candid contributions from actors Blair Williams and Ann-Marie MacDonald, as well as video clips of rehearsals and interviews:

Cloud 9 is playing at the Panasonic Theatre until February 21st. Great script, excellent actors and fabulous costumes make for a fun night out.

Renegade Nuit Blanche

Are you an artist creating something for Nuit Blanche, but not on the official program? Rannie saw this posting calling for information about unofficial Nuit Blanche participants, with the aim to create a “program for the renegade installations”:

Renagade Nuit Blanche

The contact email, difficult to read on the photo, appears to be stephanievonawesome (at)

HD OTA experiments

An online conversation with a few friends last week got me thinking harder about something that’s been on my mind lately: is it possible to get rid of my Rogers cable subscription, and get TV signals the old-fashioned way: with an antenna? This is now referred to as “OTA” (over the air) for those in the know, and there’s a whole range of digital HD channels that you can pick up in addition to the old familiar analog ones.

We already had pared back to the most basic analog cable plan, with no desire for several hundred channels of additional crap that we wouldn’t watch at additional cost, and when we got the Wii a few weeks ago, our TV watching dropped to less than an hour per day on average. We rent movies a couple times a month, read a lot of books, and, of course, there’s the internet: a vast library of fascinating material in a variety of formats. Although the US networks and Hulu block viewing of full TV episodes from Canada, some of our networks do show full episodes online of a few programs, such as Mad Men on CTV.

So, for the cost of one month of our basic cable, we picked up a Philips indoor DTV/HDTV antenna to see how OTA would work for us. We live near Richmond and Spadina, in a west-facing apartment on a low floor: that means that we face away from the CN Tower, source of most OTA signals in the Toronto area (although within 1km of it) and have a lot of taller buildings in the way.

We plugged in the antenna to the DTV port on our TV, scanned for channels, and wham! There was CBC in beautiful HD, completely without distortion. A few hours of playing around, and we found 6 additional channels, including CTV and Global, which syndicate many of the popular US shows during evening prime time. Here’s the rundown of what we can receive:

Station DTV channel Zap2It channel
CBC (CBLT) 5 5
CTV (CFTO) 9 9
Omni 2 (CJMT) 44 69
City TV 57 57
Omni 1 (CFMT) 64 47
Global (CIII) 65 6
Sun TV (CKXT) 66 45

The Zap2It channel is the corresponding channel if you use Zap2It for TV listings, and select Toronto – Local Broadcast as the source: I set my preferences on that site so that I see a grid of only these stations, in this order, as my TV guide.

Unfortunately, we haven’t found a single position that brings in all channels: CBC, Global and CTV seem to be best when bounced off the top of a taller building to the southwest of us, while SunTV is best reflected from the building directly across the road. CityTV and the two OMNI stations are picked up when the antenna is pointed directly towards the tower, that is, through our building. We’re still experimenting, and need a longer cable so that we can try some other locations within our apartment. If we lived in a higher or south-facing unit, I’m sure that the results would be radically different, and we might even pick up some Buffalo stations across the lake if we were high enough, but this is good enough for our TV-watching habits.


Went to Kooza last night, the Cirque du Soleil’s new show playing in Toronto until October 7th.

Its fabulous and breathtaking. It’s a return to their circus performer roots of acrobats and clowns, with all the polish and glamour that they’ve gained over the years but no pyrotechnics or anything else to distract from the amazing performers.

Go on, get tickets now.

Gardiner Museum of ceramics

I finished my week of culture by visiting the Gardiner Museum on Saturday — Canada’s only museum dedicated to ceramics, from early Mesoamerican through the invention of porcelain in early Chinese dynasties to contemporary ceramics. I’ve visited the Gardiner before, but not since the major renovation that added a third floor, considerably more exhibit space and a Jamie Kennedy restaurant. This is also the first time that I’ve done a guided tour with a docent: Saturday’s visit was compliments of my professional engineering society, and we received the grand tour.

It’s not possible to have a guided tour of the entire collection in 1-1/2 hours any more, but we did see some selections from the early Chinese and Japanese porcelain works, as well as German porcelain, Italian Renaissance ceramics and English pottery, before finishing up with Mayan pottery.

We also had a chance at the end to duck into the special exhibit, “On The Table: 100 Years of Functional Ceramics in Canada”, which closed the following day. It included some amazing older stuff such as the now-defunct Blue Mountain Pottery (whose mother doesn’t have a piece of this kitsch around somewhere?) and a few pieces by Emily Carr (who I always think of as a painter rather than a potter), plus many modern pieces. Teapots, plates, bowls, decorative pieces, and one incredible ashtray from the 60’s shaped like a curling stone. I had the pleasure of seeing works by four ceramic artists whose work I also own, including Bill Reddick and Scott Barnim.

It was around 2 when we finished, and the wonderful smells from the Jamie Kennedy restaurant on the third floor drew us upwards, but unfortunately they were closing early for a private engagement and we didn’t have the chance to try them out. The restaurant is very airy and full of light, with a great view across University Avenue to the ROM — given my experiences at his restaurant down on Church Street, I’ll definitely be back.

An evening of opera and operetta

In stark contrast to the previous night’s Rocky Horror Show, Friday evening I attended an evening of opera and operetta, featuring Geoffrey Butler, a friend of mine who is a professional tenor. Geoff has a powerful voice, and my favourite memory of him is during one rather drunken dinner party at my place years ago when he serenaded us with Italian arias — with the windows open, he would have been heard for blocks around.

Friday’s performance, also featuring the soprano Helena Holl and bass-baritone Jan Vaculik, and accompanied by Mila Pashanova on piano, had two very different parts. The first half was six arias and scenes from Bizet’s Carmen, with two piano intermezzos tossed in. The singers dressed in costume and actually acted out the scenes as opposed to just singing the arias — a bit strange considering that it was performed at Christ Church Deer Park, but entertaining nonetheless. The second half was two songs from musicals, and seven selections of Viennese operetta by Emmerich Kalman (Die Csárdásfürstin, Die Zirkusprinzessin and Countess Maritza), who was actually Hungarian but did his well-known composing in Vienna. Damir, who is from eastern Croatia very close to the Hungarian border, commented afterwards on the use of the Hungarian Csárdás folk dance forms in the operettas.

I was amazed at the number of Russians and eastern Europeans in the audience, although with a Russian soprano, a Russian pianist and a Czech (I think) bass-baritone, it’s not that much of a surprise.

A Tale of Two Musicals

Two rocksI often go months — or years — without seeing a musical stage production, but somehow I’ve managed to see two in the last month.

The first was We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen in the same sort of way that Mamma Mia is based on Abba’s music: the songs and lyrics are woven into a storyline that was never intended by the original songwriters, but it’s a lot of fun. Yvan Pedneault makes an adorable Galileo, with his noticeable (but not in a bad way) Quebecois accent, and there’s a real chemistry between he and Erika Peck, who plays Scaramouche. I love Queen music, and the performances, sets and costumes were all great.

The second musical was The Rocky Horror Show, the second time that I’ve seen the stage production in a year, but very different performances. I have a soft spot for RHS, having first seen the movie version in 1979 during my first term at university while under the influence of some, ahem, mind-altering substances. I’ve seen the movie many times since then, including midnight shows at the now-defunct Roxy Theatre in the early 80’s, but didn’t see the stage production (which preceded the movie) until last year, then again last night. The current performance at CanStage was a great interpretation, although it took me a while to get used to a bald Frank ‘n’ Furter (Adam Brazier). Rocky (Gerrad Everard) could have been a bit beefier, although maybe I’m biased by the film actors.

A couple of things struck me about these two productions. First, how old the audiences were: I saw people at both performances who were well into their 60’s, although both RHS and Queen were started in the early 70’s, which would have made these people 30-ish at the time, so maybe not so odd as I first thought.

The second thing that struck me was that We Will Rock You came across to me as the sort of musical where the actors manipulate the audience into getting into the music — breaking character to face the audience start rhythmic hand-clapping, for example — whereas the Rocky Horror Show was just a force of its own. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy We Will Rock You, just that it’s impossible to get too caught up in the story or music when it’s too obvious that you’re being guided into certain moods along the way. I have the same issue with most musicals, which is why I don’t see them too often. Rocky Horror Show has a whole cult of audience participation around it that has built up over the years, and although that was pretty mild at the production last night (no water spritzing or throwing of rice allowed, for example), the ritualistic shouts and lighting of lighters somehow seemed more spontaneous than the artificially-induced audience reaction at We Will Rock You. Maybe because those of us who did shout, or light, or do the time warp, did so because we chose to do so before we even came to the theatre, not because we were guided to do so by the actors.

Somehow, being manipulated by the original playwright and years of tradition is better than being manipulated by the actors currently on stage. And that’s a little weird, too.

Sex. Death. Siberia.

I had a last-minute invitation to see Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto this week. From their description:

The frustrated and lonely wife of a wealthy man falls into a passionate relationship with one of his workers. Fuelled by lust and a need to escape her bleak existence, Katerina risks all and suffers the horrifying consequences.

Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk scandalized Stalin and the Soviet Union of the 1930s, and was denounced for the naturalism, vulgarity, and overt sexuality in the story, which is mirrored so potently in the music. It remains as relentlessly powerful and extreme today.

Usually when I go to the opera, I don’t see simulated sex on stage. Okay, I admit I haven’t been to the opera in a few years, but the last time is was all zaftig sopranos and portly tenors in elegant costumes singing about love while casting sidelong glances at each other, or clutching hands. This time, it’s an attractive couple, her in a silk slip and him stripped to his boxers, singing about how she shouldn’t be cheating on her husband as she mounts him and gets it on.

The story is a great classic tragedy: Katerina and Zinovy have an unhappy marriage, living with/near his father Boris, who also owns the factory that Zinovy manages. Although it appears that their marriage is unconsummated due to Zinovy’s disinterest, the old man has the hots for her. Meanwhile, she takes up with Sergey, one of the factory workers who was fired from his last job for screwing the boss’ wife, while her husband is out of town, but they are discovered by Boris. She poisons Boris, then is haunted by his ghost. Zinovy arrives home and catches Katerina and Sergey together in bed, so they kill him, and she starts being haunted by both ghosts. On the day of Katerina and Sergey’s wedding, Zinovy’s body is discovered, they’re arrested and sent off to Siberia. Sergey blames Katerina for all of this and rejects her, then gets it on with one of the female prisoners during transport to Siberia. Katerina kills the other woman and herself. See? Sex, death and Siberia.

There are some great anti-Soviet satirical bits as well, such as when all the workers in the chicken-plucking factory sing about how eager they are to go off to work.

Great music, and the sets were really fantastic, including a raised portion representing Katerina’s apartment that moved forward into view when required.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk finishes its run in Toronto tonight.