REVIEW: Talking Masks, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña

Talking Masks

Written and Directed by Adam Seelig
Presented by One Little Goat

Featuring: Richard Harte, Jane Miller, Andrew Moodie, and Cathy Murphy
November 13th-28th, 8pm

Tickets 416-915-0201

Last February Norman and I saw Adam Selig’s production of Someone’s Going to Come by the mysterious Norwegian Jon Fosse. It was the best thing that either of us had seen in the city in a long, long time, and the reception afterward was really, really fun (cheese platter). We still talk about it, but as we’ve exhausted all of our superlative adjectives all that’s left is:

Norman: Someone’s Going to Come.

Aurora: I know, I know.

Norman: They really nailed that.

Aurora: They really did.

So we’ve been looking and looking forward to Adam Seelig’s next show with One Little Goat, and finally it came.

Talking Masks is about history’s monumentally troubled sons; Oedipus, Isaac and Ishmael. There are certainly more, and certainly other contemporaries, so I gently wonder why this combination of people was chosen by Seelig. Mostly, I don’t care. Make it about whoever you want, this piece was really interesting.

This production was built by a dream team of collaborators. Seelig himself is unfailingly innovative with text (“…Towards a Poetic Theatre…” is One Little Goat’s motto), so the dialogue, at times not dialogue at all but a rapid fire series of words and sounds with tenuous connections, is front and centre. This abandoning the I-Talk-She-Talks model serves the subject: it’s Oedipus, so we all know what’s going on. The narrative experimentation is welcome, and it allows the mind to walk down fascinating, previously unexplored paths.

Jackie Chau is the set designer, and the most unique, specific, beautiful and intelligent things fall from her brain on to the stage. It is always a pleasure to see what she’ll come up with. Her sets could sit onstage by themselves, there is so much to look at, and the negative space is just as interesting as the positive space.

Christopher Stanton’s sound design is an organized mess of crackles, static and echo. It is fortunate because Selig’s complicated picnic of words and sounds may have risked atonality without the layers laid by the loop pedals and amplifiers.

This work is based on stories so universally known they’ve become part of our language, just the very lightest hints of plot are all that is required. Just a touch of Aeschylus in Francis Bacon. Talking Masks, with all of its unconventional components, might seem incomprehensible to some. I think that’s fine. We don’t need to understand everything we see, and we don’t need to hear from the artist about how we should be interpreting what they’ve given us. It’s not interesting. It defeats the purpose of having a brain. In Seelig’s play, some participation is required on the part of the audience. Innovators like this are exactly what we need in Toronto.
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Response to Heritage Minister James Moore's Advice to Arts Organizations by Chris Dupuis

At a recent meeting in Montreal, Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore told arts groups that they need to diversify their sources of funding in order to continue to exist. “It can't be just private sector, it can't be just government. We have to have a multi-pillared approach [so] that we have more economic shock absorbers to help organizations as they plan for the future,” he said.

I know it’s been said a million times already but I’m going to say it again. Giving money to arts and culture is not only about doing something that’s good for society. It makes economic sense. The cultural industry is not only responsible for a large sector of our economy but it is also a place where we could expect to see a huge amount of growth with the right investments, unlike say manufacturing, fisheries, pulp and paper, farming, and oil, all of which already receive massive government subsidies and all of which are industries which are ultimately going to decline for different reasons.

Although I don’t know that much about the internal financial workings of different arts organizations, I know a lot about the lives of individual artists and every artist I know already diversifies their sources of income. They get some money from government grants, some from exhibition and performance fees, and if they are lucky maybe they win the occasional award that comes with a cash prize. There is also an excellent means of diversifying your income that most artists already use that I think the Honourable Minister may be unaware of. It’s called “having a job”.

Every single artist I know works either full-time, part-time, or on a contract basis in order to support their artistic practice. We do this normally, not because we love slinging drinks or answering phones, but because without this extra income it would be impossible to do what we do. In many cases this extra money isn’t just about making ends meet. It is directly invested back into the artist’s work in the form of space and equipment rentals, supplies, self-promotion, fees for other artists and technical people, and artist development. All of it goes back into the economy and when you factor all of that in it’s responsible for a pretty sizable chunk of our GDP.

I would be curious to know if the Honourable Minister would be inclined to suggest that other industries that receive government subsidies should “diversify”. Should the manufacturing sector “diversify” its sources of revenue in order to stay afloat? What fisheries? How about farmers? Better yet, all of these industries could simply cut the wages of their workers and they could keep doing the same amount of work for less money and pick up part-time jobs so that they could afford to live. They government could cut the subsidies that they give to those industries and give the money saved back to taxpayers. Would that be a good idea Honourable Minister?

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Minister’s words are about giving the cultural sector guidance on how to survive challenging economic times. I find it impossible to believe that a government that is so focused on saving every penny possible has no idea of the amount of money that the cultural sector is responsible for contributing to the economy or its massive potential for growth.
This is about the fact that Conservatives (that’s members of the Conservative Party as well as citizens who subscribe to a Conservative ideology) do not generally like the arts because they are often critical of Conservative values and ideas. Cutting money to arts groups is not about saving cash. It’s about restricting freedom of speech, or more specifically restricting freedom of speech that goes against Conservative values.

Nobody has ever told me that it’s be easy to be an artist or that it’s a good way to make money. I took on this career with full knowledge of all of its challenges and complications and despite having periodic fantasies of giving it up and getting a “real job” as my grandfather is inclined to advise me to do, I believe in the importance of what I do and I want to keep doing it as long as I can. To have a Cabinet Minister imply that those working in my profession are somehow not working hard enough to ensure our financial futures as a guise for telling us that he doesn’t share our politics and therefore doesn’t want to give us money to support those politics is beyond insulting. It goes against everything that Canadians, both Liberals and Conservatives stand for.

Chris Dupuis is a Toronto-based artist and writer. Learn more at
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REVIEW: The Silicone Diaries, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña

The Silicone Diaries

Written by Nina Arsenault
Directed by Brendan Healy

Presented by Buddies in Bad Times at Talullah's Cabaret
November 14-22, 8pm
Tickets: 416-975-8555

Photo by David Hawe

Nina Arsenault, I think, is 6 foot 2. She has tumbling red hair that tangles above her shoulders, a perfect waspy ski-jump nose and too-green green eyes. The roundest hips, the longest legs, the smallest waist, the thinnest wrists, the fullest breasts. She has had over 60 cosmetic surgeries.

She looks like Jessica Rabbit and I am a little bit afraid of her.

She discusses, in The Silicone Diaries, how she came to be this way; the passion that drove her to create this perfect, surreal, intimidating woman.

This is not necessarily a piece about making the transition from man to woman. Arsenault did make that transition, but this is nothing so elementary. She instead reveals through her impeccably performed monologues that as long as she has known what she thought was beautiful she has sped toward achieving it with athletic focus. It is her obsession.

Of course I'm obsessed with beauty, too. I'm a woman and I live in North America, and in the darkest parts of my heart where I keep the fear that I may be a bad person and all of the vicious things I've ever thought is the belief that my value is equal to my looks, be they good or bad. My brain and my politics would argue, but I have so many nightmares about disfigurement that it's ridiculous to pretend these things don't matter to me.

A sexist society created the idea that though beauty was a requirement for a woman's success, it was a shallow and frivolous thing to pursue. This is a particularly Western shame, and throughout the course of the show Arsenault compares herself to a Geisha, a type of woman she believes is respected for her dedication to beauty at all costs. Here, the men in charge feel a deep guilt for being aroused by beauty in all of its arresting power and not by puritan-valued wifely qualities like compassion, sweetness or warmth.

If this idea is changing, and I believe it is, Arsenault is at the front line. It was wonderful to discover, throughout the course of this remarkable show, that the woman so initially intimidating to me is open, honest, funny and brilliant.

The Silicone Diaries, based on a series of columns Arsenault wrote in Fab Magazine, contains stories that may seem grotesque or frightening to those uninitiated to the pursuit of beauty through plastic. Though I am an enthusiastic visitor to web sites like, I was shocked to learn that silicone would try to seep out through the injection holes by which it found its way in, or that it remained malleable under the flesh for days. There are clinics in Mexico and San Francisco, there is a lover in the shape of Mr. Burns, there is a living anime doll, and there is Nina at the centre of it all in a see-through dress with nothing to hide. The storytelling is vivid and unique. It makes a community of surgery devotees accessible, and though the feeling of the show is intimate (Talullah's Cabaret is small, packed, and there are drinks being served) it is the opposite of confidential. Arsenault is proud of her surgeries, proud of who she is and how she got there.

I had seen a shorter version of the show some years ago at a revue called Avant Vardeville at the Theatre Centre. It was then a frank discussion of the mechanics of her surgeries. I thought it was fascinating, but Arsenault herself is the real attraction. This new version, with its extreme emotional connect, gives the viewer the gift of the performer's humanity. This gift is why we go to the theatre.
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