Capturing the contrasts in PHOTOG, Review by Mariel Marshall

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But in this day and age is a single photo enough to capture something as small as a moment or as vast as an entire war? Perhaps that is all it takes; one look to discard the complexities of a single still image: a child holding a gun, an orphaned Iraqi woman, or a half buried pile of civilian casualties. Presented by Vancouver based company Boca del Lupo, PHOTOG: an Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith, examines the controversial and provocative worlds of conflict journalism through the fragments of one man’s memory. In 2008 co-creator Jay Dodge interviewed four contemporary conflict photographers on camera in New York City. He weaves together their experiences, memories, and photographs into PHOTOG; a challenging piece that asks us to look closer at our complacent attitudes toward war, conflict and poverty.
Directed by Sherry Yoon and written and performed by Jay Dodge, this dynamic duo brings enormous spirit and connection to their work as they are also co-creators. In addition, the piece is seamlessly stitched together by a creative team composed of Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (choreography), John Webber (lighting), Brae Norwiss (video), Carey Dodge (sound), Pietro Amato (composer) and Mara Gottler (costumes), to name a few.

Although the main character Thomas Smith (Dodge) is fictional, the stories are true, the text verbatim, and the images are unquestionably real. The piece juxtaposes the extreme landscapes of war with the banal and domestic images of home; the two so at odds with one another they prove impossible to reconcile. With intensely precise and imaginative use of technology, computer animation, dynamic physicality and good ol’ theatrics, the piece is able to examine the juxtaposed contrasts of black and white, war and peace, foreign soil and home turf, privilege and suffering, and togetherness and isolation, resulting in an introspective look at our own lives. 

Although Dodge’s performance is strong, the emotional arc of his character falls flat. Smith wears an emotionless mask through the piece which mirrors the isolated complacency of his world. However there needs to be moments where the mask dissolves so we can see the man behind the shell and his emotional depths. If Dodge takes an emotional leap and plunges into the deep end to find the stakes, the audience will too. 

In contrast, the technological integration of the piece is incredibly effective. The use of photography, video, music, animation, and physicality is so seamless it really becomes a character in itself. Amato’s live music composition brings a beautiful layer to the piece and Sean Tyson rigging work adds an explosive physicality. All in all this is a technological masterpiece. My only concern is a few of the video choices, namely the peep-hole characters as seen through the door, which seem too false and contrived in this world of honest story-telling.

Yoon’s direction is also inventive and strong. She masterfully balances the complex technical elements with simplicity on stage. The pacing of the piece is well-timed and the transitions smooth as glass. The energy, however, is a little tentative off the top and it isn’t until around the mid-way point that the audience is really sucked into the world. Nevertheless, by the end the stories are engulfing and the images provocative. The final moment of Smith walking down the hall into vastness resembles something like an asylum, mirroring the disturbed nature of his inner turmoil. 

The end result: a piece that asks us to look deeper at our own lives and the price of our privilege. PHOTOG successfully breaks down society’s disassociation in world affairs, packing an emotional punch stronger than words. Unfortunately even that might not be enough to knock us out of our complacent attitudes. 
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Urbanvessel Deconstructs Gender One Punch at a Time in Voice-Box, Review by Cara Spooner

I thought it very appropriate that the rehearsal space for the boxing opera Voice-Box was a children's ballet studio. I could only imagine that between Nutcracker rehearsals, girls in pink gauze may have peered in to see the fierce women of the urbanvessel collective boxing while singing about “slug fests” or doing push-ups. I wish I could have been there when those young individuals were struck by curiosity. I wish I could have asked them what they thought about seeing women box and if it made them feel tough or cool; if they felt taller or stronger, more empowered, or if it made them feel conflicted or confused or even scared. I would want to ask them why they felt the way they did and what they thought contributed to their reactions.

Originally commissioned through the Fresh Ground new works series, Voice-Box is the latest production by the Toronto-based collective being presented this week as part of World Stage at Harbourfront Centre. Singers/composers/improvisers/boxers Vilma Vitols, Neema Bickersteth, Christine Duncan, and Savoy Howe team up with Juliet Palmer, Julia Aplin, Anna Chatterton, Teresa Przybylski, and Kimberly Purtell to create a show which is part boxing match, part opera. The singers move between choreography, voice work, and boxing within a constructed boxing ring rather than a traditional stage. The piece is broken into four rounds and includes fractured narratives and story lines as well as real boxing.

I knew before arriving at the Voice-Box open rehearsal that the idea of gender portrayal is still something many people struggle with and that the show is an attempt to illustrate some layers of this complex notion. I've thought a lot about “toughness” and what it means to be “feminine” or “not feminine” and subsequently what it then means to be “masculine” or otherwise. In a way, I am amazed that we are still surprised by the supposed roles of men and women. Haven't we moved past classifying gender in such a narrow scope? Can't we forget about focusing on how these are women boxers/singers and just enjoy the extremely physical and emotional nature of these two forms together in space? Can't they exist as a group of highly trained individuals who have set out to explore something within the particular frame of this stage/ring?

But as much as I'd like that to be the case, it’s not possible. We can't ignore the fact that these deeply ingrained gender structures still exist or at the very least are transitioning out of an incredibly long-lived past history (which ultimately shadows the notion of contemporary women today). The entire piece is extremely self-aware of the gendered nature of the performers; in a big way, their gender is the point of the piece. The performers have tea parties, flirt, fight in tutus, skip rope, apply make-up black eyes, and perform slow motion boxing choreography. They sing and smile while portraying stereotypical feminine women as well as butch women or any classification in between. The tongue in cheek tone of the piece seems to slip to the side of humour and stylized suggestions of “real” boxing and “real” women.

But there were also moments when dipped into something deeper. I wanted to see the heartbreak and exhaustion of what I can only imagine would occur at a boxing match or training gym. I wanted to hear them sing and feel their (and my) guts vibrating. I wanted to hear their stories and to be held by the performance, drama, and spectacle that I knew these two forms are able to provide. I felt this urge inside of me to see them fight and sing and live while still being seen as “feminine” because I am under the impression that “feminine” or “masculine” are only things we each construct by simply being who we are and existing in the world. We each get to define what gender means for us.

The elemental similarities of spectacle, drama and skill found in the theatre and the sports ring were closer than I anticipated. We as audience members know our place in the theatre; we know our traditional role. We also know our role as a spectator when attending a sports game. I loved the conflict of these two roles (and their consequential social codes) being butted up against each other in Voice-Box. I loved that fight within myself when considering I know how I should behave.

I've heard about Savoy Howe's gym The Toronto News Girls and the incredible Shape Your Life boxing program for victims of abuse that is affiliated with it. I've heard about how this is one of the only women and trans friendly spaces for people to explore boxing and it makes me proud that this place exists in Toronto. It makes me proud that people like her are doing the work they do.

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Inner-City Elites by Katherine Sanders

Inner-City Elites: This term keeps coming up, and I’m curious exactly who it refers to. I live downtown, near the College and Spadina intersection; a picturesque area which boasts a Burger King, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath, a Christian Mission as well as the infamous Comfort Zone nightclub. So I hear a lot of downtown residents screaming at night under my window. I'm not complaining. It's a remarkably convenient location, close to streetcars and subways. I bike to my job as an arts worker, which pays the bills – just barely. Most of my friends are in a similar situation, many are artists who live gig to gig and never know where their next month’s rent is going to come from. We are people who have chosen a lower income, lower budget lifestyle that involves staying within a small core of the city and helping to create the art, theatre, music and dance that Toronto uses to sell itself to the world.

But who else lives downtown? I also live near the U of T, and there are a lot of people living around me who work there. Some are administrators, some are librarians, some are maintenance workers. And some are professors - the people whom we hope will educate our children. You may think of them as "elitist". You may have a picture in your mind of a grey-haired man in a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, who enjoys wine and cigars. But that’s not exactly the reality. One of my friends from my graduating class in high school teaches at U of T and she lives down the alley from me, just barely scraping by on a junior professor's salary, while also writing a book about the economy. Oh, and I almost forgot! You know who else lives around downtown university campuses? Students. Yes, the lesser known sect of 18 - 24 year old elitists, most of whom work two jobs to afford their apartments, are $20,000 in debt for their tuition, and eat pizza every night. Yep, THOSE elitists.

A lot of people who work and own the stores we shop in live downtown. I’m not talking about Eaton’s Centre here. I’m talking about the people who run the small operations, the restaurants and cafes and clothing stores that everyone takes their out-of-town friends to. The little places that we have “discovered” that have the best sushi in Toronto, or the best selection of beers on tap, or the cutest dress for your cousin’s wedding next month. The people who run these establishments usually live nearby, if not above their stores. Their income is based on how many people pass through their doors on any given month. In December, they’re laughing. In January, they’re fucked.

Those are some of the major demographics who live downtown. I would describe none of them as “elite”. In fact, many of them live below the poverty line. Which brings me back to that first group I mentioned, the group that I hear trumpeting their values under my window at all hours of the day and night. The people who can’t produce, at the polling booth, identification with their photo, address and signature. The people who make use of the shelters and services that our new Mayor-elect won’t have in his backyard. The homeless population of Toronto.

So I’m not sure who exactly the phrase “downtown elite” refers to. Maybe it refers not to a demographic, but to a system of values. People who enjoy living in a multi-cultural society? People who refuse to sit in traffic for three hours a day? People who support small businesses instead of buying all their groceries, clothing and housewares at Wal-Mart?

I don't know what it means, all I know is that tomorrow I have to get up and bike to work. And that the very act of doing that will now make me feel like an outlaw, not an elitist.

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Vote With Your Head by Chris Dupuis

There was a funny feeling in the air of Toronto on June 4, 1999. The Mike Harris Conservatives had just won their second majority government, much to the surprise of the average Progressive Torontonian. People sat in bars and coffee shops across the city shaking their heads. How did this happen?, we asked ourselves. Harris is evil incarnate! He’s cut social services, education, arts funding, and forcibly amalgamated cities against the will of their citizens! We protested his policies, rallied our friends to come out and vote, and even set up a system to let people know whether they should vote Liberal or NDP in their riding in order to prevent a Conservative from taking the seat! How did Mikey end up with a second majority?

While the progressive population’s efforts were admirable in this case, they were also sort of sadly amusing. We succeeded in preventing a single Conservative MP from being elected in the Metro Toronto Area, but in typical Progressive Torontonian fashion, we forgot about the rest of Ontario. We assumed it would be enough to talk to our friends and the people in our neighbourhoods, completely ignoring the fact that, while Toronto holds a lot of seats at Queens Park, it is nowhere near the majority.

We comforted ourselves by saying that even though we hadn’t succeeded in unseating Mikey, we’d sent a strong message to the Conservatives that their particular brand of Common Sense was antithetical to the very nature of Toronto. We were the largest city in the province, its economic engine, and its cultural capital. Surely after seeing our protests, hearing our speeches, and watching his support drop at the ballot box (despite still winning a majority) Mikey would change his tune and start respecting our values.

This was another of those sadly amusing Progressive Torontonian moments. The following four years saw further cuts to those areas and services we valued, more poverty, more tax breaks for corporations, and a tightening of the law and order agenda. Our work against Harris did nothing to change his mandate or attitude. And why would it? Politicians elected to office, even with a minority of voters supporting them, are going to go about implementing the mandate they were elected to enact. The fact that some voters opposed them is not going to change that. In fact, having a percentage of the population in vocal and angry opposition is often helpful to politicians, because they can gesture to them when they are talking to their supporters and say “Look what we are fighting against!”

The morning of October 26, 2010 we Progressive Torontonians might wake up feeling a little like we did on that fateful day in 1999, if Rob Ford becomes mayor of our city. We will say to ourselves “But we posted all the stupid things he’s said on Facebook! We built websites telling people how bad he will be for the city! We talked to all our generally apathetic friends and convinced them to come out and vote! How did Rob Ford become mayor?”

But how many of us donated money to another candidate? How many of us volunteered in another campaign? It seems we Progressive Torontonians have become satisfied with point and click political activism, sitting behind our refurbished MacBooks with our Grande Americanos, trading jokes about the relative fatness of politicians we oppose on Facebook and Twitter, while catching up on downloaded episodes of Dexter.

But if we really want to get things done, we’re going to have to close our laptops, walk out of Starbucks, and get our hands dirty working in the political trenches. This doesn’t necessarily mean working directly for another candidate. It can also mean talking to people we wouldn’t ordinarily talk to; the kind of people who would vote for Ford because they think artists are lazy hedonists who waste taxpayer dollars on parties and that cyclists are Luddites who deserve to die because they can’t afford a car.

There’s been a lot of talk recently, as the reality of a Ford mayoralty has sunk in, about “voting with your heart” in this election; that giving support to a candidate other than Ford will show him that we don’t all share his politics and will help him lean in favour of ours. While it’s a nice sentiment, do you honestly think that would happen? It’s virtually unheard of in our political history for a candidate to change their platform after being elected based on the wishes of people who didn’t vote for them. If anything, it just adds fuel to their fire.

I am not endorsing a particular candidate in this instance, and of course I would love it if sometime over the course of today things tipped in Pantalone’s favour, but we all know that’s not going to happen. So vote however you want. But keep in mind that the decision you make today will affect Toronto, not just for four years, but likely for the next eight, since it’s unusual for a sitting mayor not to be re-elected. Voting with your heart has a nice ring to it, but we’ll all be better off if we vote with our heads.
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Alain Platel’s mapping of “anotherness” in Out of Context - for Pina by Coman Poon

We are animals. Language is wild.

“Us” absorbs “them”, and “another” is in some way like us even while it is different.

Blindness is an essential element of knowledge.

The performer dies in order to give value to that which has been degraded and rendered profane.

The witness gives value to the sacred by co-creating a privileged moment of communal unity.

I was recently reminded of these elements of “anotherness” upon being introduced to Alain Platel’s les ballets C de la B, which launched both the National Arts Centre’s fall dance season in Ottawa and Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage 2010/11 season in Toronto with their ecstatic new work Out of Context - for Pina, aptly dedicated to the late German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch.

In contrast to earlier works by this celebrated Belgian dance theatre troupe, Out of Context - for Pina opens with a minimally adorned stage: two lone microphones on stands and a wash of white light across an empty stage. Like a performance installation, we are left to stare into and contemplate this theatrical stillness in context of our expectations of performance. A lone woman emerges from amidst the audience, climbs up onto and crosses upstage and stands with her back to the audience. She methodically sheds her attire until she is standing in undergarments and, in a choreographic homage to Pina Bausch’s unveiling of the theatrical “fourth wall” in the seminal Kontakthof, turns around and walks downstage to present herself to our gaze. In overlapping sequence, each of the performers repeat this framing ritual, ending by seductively draping and shifting their disrobed bodies beneath the plush of a uni-form red blanket.

Tonight’s dance-theatrical contract is intimated: experiences, and not stories per se, will be staged on these performers’ bodies. Each performer turns around and looks directly out at us, the audience, inviting us to straddle this liminality. What is the experiential fine line between voyeurism ; exhibitionism, passion and pathology, poignancy and indictment, escapism and realism, fiction and biography? Out of Context - for Pina intentionally plays with these considerations by collapsing the boundaries between audience and performer, psyche and body, human nature and culture.

In looking to reveal what is hidden, and to inquire about our connections and differences as human animals, Alain Platel employs dramaturgical strategies to simultaneously implicate our bodies and personas as both object and subject. Through this self-conscious labyrinth of mirrors, we are invited to gaze inwardly and outwardly at the refractions between our individual and collective yearnings.

As individuals as well as part of a collective, we all bring our own experience -our thoughts, imaginations, feelings and responses- to what we see, hear and sense. Through a language of expressionistically vocal, writhing and gesticulating bodies, Out of Context - for Pina suggests that beneath the surface of difference, humans are self-aware animals uniquely united through tears, wounds and the transgression of boundaries. The canvas of our common humanity is sewn with communal experiences of loss, sacrifice, love and ecstasy. As Pina Bausch might say, this is the source of our greatest joy and trepidation.

Coman Poon  is an interdisciplinary artist-activist who integrates a multi-modal live art background, a long-time social and environmental justice activist practice, and training as an arts-informed coach and therapist to create a unique hybrid collaborative practice. With Erica Mott (Chicago, USA), he co-founded re[public] in/decency, an experiential think tank that explores the trans-national intersections between performance, social justice activism and arts-informed pedagogy.
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A Note on New Writers From Harbourfront Centre

Over the next few months there will be some guest writers posting reviews on the site. The writers are members of the Embassy - an artist and audience development initiative offered as part of the World Stage series at Harbourfront Centre. Embassy members are Toronto-based artists and arts makers involved in local performing arts communities. As participants in the programme they have access to World Stage shows, they will be able to host Q&A discussions with visiting artists and the audience, and will also write reviews for the shows they see. The overarching goal of the Embassy is to generate healthy debate and critical discussion on the national and international work presented to audiences at World Stage. As stimulating discussion around performance is also a goal of Time and Space, it seemed a good fit to have the Embassy members post reviews here. From October 2010 to May 2011 you'll see a review for each of the 12 shows in the World Stage season, and we encourage you to jump right in and comment on what you read.

For more information on World Stage click here .

For questions about the Embassy you can write to

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REVIEW: Homegrown, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña


Written by Catherine Frid
Directed by Beatriz Pizano

Presented by The Homegrown Project

Set & Lighting Design: Trevor Schwellnus
Sound Design: Thomas Ryder Payne

Assistant Director: Navneet Rai
Featuring: Keith Barker, Lwam Ghebrehariat, Omar Hady, Shannon Perreault, Nabeel Salameh, Razi Shawah

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

I could chastise Don Peat and the Toronto Sun for the great injustice they paid playwright Catherine Frid by condemning her play Homegrown before it even had a chance to open, but he’s a dingbat and the Sun is a dingbat paper that only dingbats read, and ultimately he was directly responsible for the show’s immense popularity and so far sold out run. He managed to endow Frid, an emerging writer who in her own words is “not well known” with a rebellious mystique that’s made her into a sort of Angela Davis / Bart Simpson type person.

And if it was Frid’s mission to make the story of Shareef Abdelhaleem, the convicted member of the Toronto 18 on whom the play is centred, heard, well then she did, and Don Peat really helped a lot.

Because you know that Shareef’s story is sympathetically rendered, and we as North Americans with a very exciting news media industry (sinkholes) had pretty much forgotten all about the Toronto 18, who did not actually manage to explode anything on their list.

It’s important to revisit the events that lead up to the arrests and subsequent imprisonment of these men. It’s important to ask questions. It’s important to discuss amongst ourselves the actions that our government takes in war and peace. It’s important to speak up against racism when we see it. Ideally, these are privileges afforded to us as Canadians. That’s probably why Frid felt safe writing this play.  

Today during leisure reading time, I absorbed the first chapter of Darren O’Donnell’s Social Acupuncture. He writes about theatre as a forum for discussion and social change; the feelings prompted by watching something with a community of people may lead to discussion within that community. I think that as artists we all hope for audiences engaged enough to carry on the discussion. We all hope that we’re creating something relevant. We want to change what’s wrong and we hope we can miraculously do this through art.

I’m certain that Frid was hoping to facilitate discussion within her community about the subject of her play. Her attention to detail is meticulous; she writes with the precision of a lawyer. It seems that her heart is gum-stuck on the idea of justice and accuracy.

What’s been largely ignored by those swept up in the controversy of the play’s subject matter is the play itself. Though it’s a good spot to start re-educating ourselves about the events that lead up to the conviction and sentencing of the Toronto 18, it’s more than an episode of CSI Toronto. There’s a love story that runs through the basement of this play. It gives the it and the playwright a self-awareness that deserves some credit. There is much tenderness for Abdelhaleem (played by Lwam Ghebrehariat) in Frid’s writing. He’s lonely, he’s brilliant, he loves his cats a lot. He tells Frid’s stage counterpart Cate (played by Shannon Perreault) that he’d like to marry a younger version of her. They touch hands through the bullet-proof plexi-glass that separates them. The play is as much about the relationship between playwright and prisoner as it is about the facts. In the end, Cate comes to the cold conclusion that Abdelhaleem might have known more about the terrorist plot than he’d led her to believe. The realization that she may have been duped is stinging, it’s a shock to the character, though not the audience.

If you sympathize with someone you understand them, or at least attempt to understand them. Frid’s play, now so infamously touted as a sympathetic portrayal, attempts to understand Shareef Abdelhaleem as a man rather than as a mug shot. She approached the enemy unafraid, and after all, if these men are truly our enemies, it’s best to know them.
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REVIEW: Foster Child Play, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña

Foster Child Play

Written by Alex Napier
Directed by Philip McKee

Presented by Island School

Composer: Katie Stelmanis
Featuring: Nika Mistruzzi, Jackie Rowland, Vanessa Dunn

Presented at Hub 14


August 11th 8:00 PM
August 12th 8:00 PM
August 13th 8:00 PM
August 14th 8:00 PM
August 15th 2:00 PM

Of course this play features my beloved lady love Nika Mistruzzi. It was also assembled by treasured acquaintances Alex Napier (writer) and Philip McKee (director). The highly regarded Vanessa Dunn plays opposite the Neek-ster and Exciting New Young Person Jackie Rowland plays opposite everybody.

So I lean on an extreme bias. It’s okay; one of the reasons I’m friends with these people is because I think they’re smart and talented.

Alex Napier has written a play that my mother would say an actor could “lean up against”. It’s strong and layered, funny and sad. Two young room mates living in a stylishly beige world fall in friend-love over the irreparable damage caused to them by their mothers. In an attempt to create a new and functional unit, Alice (played by Mistruzzi in a pink dress) invites a 17 year old foster child named Tallulah (played by Rowland in hightop sneakers) to come and live in their downtown apartment. Sheila (played by Dunn in pleated shorts) is cautious about the whole situation.

Family damage is at the heart of Foster Child Play. It’s something that most of us have. We can generally look up and find cracks in the ceilings of our childhood homes. These days many of us opt to start over, leaving our families and making new ones out of friends, people we choose for ourselves.To overwrite the past and create a shining present is the challenge Napier gives her characters. Alice goes about rearing Tallulah (mostly already reared as a hair swishing 17 year old) in the most loving, graceful and unintentionally absurd way she knows how, idealizing her brokenness while showering her with immature affection.

Alice, as characterized by Mistruzzi, is a haphazard optimist. She is volatile and excitable, but her foil, Dunn’s Sheila, seems to me to be not so much a pessimist as a realist.* Sheila sees that Tallulah, who seethes with animosity for her but glows inwardly for Alice, is not the innocent country girl with invisible flowers in her hair, but is instead a sexually deviant attention seeking teenager in need of a lot more help than either one of them can give.

Under McKee’s direction, Napier’s carefully chosen words are endowed with the complexity and thoughtfulness with which they were written. Indeed, both writer and director are very good listeners. The very specific, halting, think-while-you-talk pattern of Toronto Girl dialect is perfectly captured and honoured, so much so that conversation over drinks afterwards was a bit self conscious. McKee has made a world that’s tense and vibrant, the lives of the characters unravel with a stately and mysterious progress; a crack, and then another crack, and then another, and then the roof caves in. The audience can see it coming, but that makes it all the more gripping.

Watching these women fall apart together, watching them break and then pick themselves up without successfully dusting off is both upsetting and hilarious. What makes Foster Child Play. so engaging to watch is seeing how hard everyone is trying. Though I’ll bet people will think this is absurdist, it’s very relatable. We’re all working through something, sorting through our pasts. Sometimes it’s extreme, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.

*It’s been recently brought to my attention that I might be a nihilistic pessimist.
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Response to Don Peat's Article on Catherine Frid's Homegrown

I’ve never written for the Toronto Sun, but it must be fun coming up with all those flashy covers. Words like “Perv”, “Killer”, and “Terrorist”, (especially when spelled with exclamation points!!!) are great for grabbing people’s attention and keep the paper flying off the stands. Photos of scantily clad women also do the trick. My personal favourite is when they combine a photo of a partially nude woman with some word like “Murder!”, which actually references a completely different story. Way to sell papers! These folks really are geniuses.

In his story in the July 30th issue writer Don Peat took on the Summerworks Festival, and specifically the new play Homegrown by writer Catherine Frid. The piece is an autobiographical work which tells the story of Frid’s experience meeting and interviewing Shareef Abdelhaleem, one of the convicted members of the Toronto 18; the group which hatched an unsuccessful plot to blow up targets in Toronto. Peat tells his readers that the play is a “sympathetic portrayal” of a terrorist and insinuates that Frid is anti-Canadian. He points out (in the headline no less) that taxpayer dollars are supporting the play, and then lists in the body of the article the support that Summerworks gets from various levels of government.

I know that Peat and the rest of the Sun editorial team have a difficult task selling papers in today’s dwindling media market and that putting a photo and headline like this on the front page is a surefire way to get people to pick up the paper. But seriously, don’t you want to have a least a little bit of journalistic integrity?

Peat has written an opinion piece (disguised as a news story) about a play he has not seen or read. He also obviously didn’t do any research into the financial workings of the Summerworks festival if he thinks that the operating funding they get somehow gets passed on to the artists for the purposes of producing their work. A quick phone call to the festival would have told him that artists pay a fee to participate in the festival and then take home the box office. Maybe he should consider becoming a Canadian correspondent for Fox News. They love this kind of under-researched, poorly written, shock journalism.

Is this actually what our cultural discourse is coming to in Toronto? I understand and appreciate freedom of speech and I think Peat is perfectly entitled to his opinion. He is not, however, entitled to his own facts. Journalists have a responsibility to research the subjects they are writing about and regardless of whether or not they want to present an argument designed to swing the reader’s mind one way or another, they absolutely cannot just make things up because they want them to be true, even if it sells papers.

Oh course this article is likely to fuel ticket sales for Frid’s play, as well as the entire festival and we all have Peat to thank for that. But the larger question of whether or not tax dollars should be spent funding the arts has reared its head again and, judging by the comments on the Sun website, there is still a huge amount of work that the arts community needs to do in terms of educating the general public on this issue.

Funding culture in Canada (including all art forms, publishing, television, and radio) is not about lining the pockets of lazy artists who make work that is not successful enough to be financially viable. It is about protecting and promoting Canadian culture. Funding culture in Canada is an act of patriotism. It is about loving our country and wanting to see our stories, our ideas, and our viewpoints both represented and challenged.

Perhaps Mr. Peat thinks that Canadian culture should only be NHL hockey and American television? If so, then I would say that he is one who is anti-Canadian.
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Nina Arsenault goes from Dungeons and Dragons to playing Barbie

Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Nina Arsenault, if you do, make sure you don’t break character.

“I’ve always taken performance very seriously,” laughs Arsenault. “Even during my brief flirtation with DnD in high school, I always insisted people stay in character for the whole game.”

Arsenault always played high-priestess characters.

“The evil priestess was my favourite,” she says. “She was shockingly beautiful, dressed always in black robes and had very powerful spells. But she also had a healing quality and was worthy of redemption in the end.”

Our discussion of the ultimate nerd pastime has come up in talking about Arsenault’s SummerWorks show I W@s B*rbie, which is based on the transsexual writer/performer’s real-life experience of being asked to play Barbie at the Mattel Corporation’s 50th birthday party for the much loved (and hated) doll.

When she talks in the script about arriving at Fashion Week, Arsenault delivers the poignant line, “I am on a pilgrimage into the pink plastic temple of patriarchy, and like it or not, I am its highest priestess,” which has led us to a discussion of her previous roles as “Priestess,” as well as the subject of patriarchy.

Not surprisingly, Arsenault has even more to say about the latter subject.  

Read the rest at
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American Expat Tells Queer Tales Of The American South

If a Canadian and an American get into a conversation that lasts more than five minutes, inevitably the topic of healthcare is going to come up.

I’m having coffee with American ex-pat author Thom Vernon, now a Toronto resident, to talk about his new novel, The Drifts, which was launched by Coach House Books earlier this month. But in predictable fashion, we’ve started our discussion with the differences in how our two nations treat the sick.

“In America, we have this demonization of sickness,” he says. “It’s like if you get sick it’s your fault and you deserve the consequences. Canada’s totally different. Here, there is a social safety net, and the dominant cultural value is that when people get sick, the state should be responsible for helping them.”

Read the rest at
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Bigots Upset About New Ontario Health Curriculum

In September 2010, Ontario children from grades one to eight will have a new physical and health education curriculum. The provincially-mandated program includes comprehensive information on healthy eating habits, maintaining a physically active lifestyle, and reducing the spread of common illness through personal hygiene.

The curriculum also contains detailed anti-bullying information. Children learn that bodies come in different shapes and sizes, that people come from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and that not all families look the same. They also learn that not everyone grows up to be heterosexual or sticks to their birth gender, and that none of these aforementioned characteristics give them the right to hurt or discriminate against anyone.

Children in older grades learn about sexual health, contraception and issues of consent around sexual activity. While the curriculum stresses abstinence as the best option, students are given information about what to do if they decide to have sex as well as the potential consequences of choosing not to follow those practices.

A number of parents, particularly those in the Catholic school system (which is also mandated to teach the curriculum) are upset. The predictably bigoted Life Site News (a Catholic website) states that "the curriculum's revision is the attempt to instill a sense that homosexuality and transgenderism are perfectly normal." It is unclear whether parents in Ontario will be able to withdraw their children from classes where information that violates their religious teachings is presented, as is the case in Alberta after Bill 44 was passed last year. The underlying fear in all this, if I understand the bigots correctly, is that if kids learn that queers exist then they'll turn out to be queer.

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Why Women Choreographers Suck (According to Glenn Sumi)

This past weekend, while I was waiting for my take-out pizza to be heated up, I picked up a copy of the latest issue of NOW Magazine to read the cover story on dance legend Peggy Baker. It seems like every time I read NOW, I’m reminded again and again why I never read NOW. This week’s issue is no exception.

After his article on Baker, Glenn Sumi produces a list of some of the city’s top choreographers (all of whom happen to be women) and talks about why they are not the next Peggy Baker. While I’m all for critics asking hard questions and pushing artists to make the best work possible, lining up a group of female choreographers and then taking stabs at each of them for not being “the next Peggy Baker” shows questionable journalistic judgement.

Even worse perhaps, is the fact that Sumi’s criticisms of these women are woefully inaccurate. He states that Sasha Ivanochko “has yet to find her choreographic voice”. I’m sorry, what? Are you fucking kidding me? Sasha Ivanochko has yet to find her choreographic voice? Is this supposed to be a joke? That’s like saying the dancers of the National Ballet need to pay more attention to their technique.

Making a statement like this would incline me to believe that Sumi has never actually seen any of Ivanochko’s work, except for the fact that I’ve been in the audience with him at some of her performances.

Sumi then goes on to slag Susie Burpee because apparently “her dance is overshadowed by her theatricality”. Again, are you fucking kidding me? The theatricality of Burpee’s work is precisely what makes it distinctive and interesting and I fail to see how this could be considered a bad thing.

He goes a bit easier on Kate Alton. Instead of simply making a blanket statement about why she doesn’t measure up in his eyes, he poses the question of whether “her links to other disciplines [are] detracting from her dance or expanding her audience”. Though I appreciate his ability to at least posit this as a question, I still think it’s a pretty stupid question. Part of the reason why Alton has the success she has is precisely because she works across disciplines and has established connections with audiences outside the traditional dance core.

And while I’ll agree with Sumi that Sarah Chase is high demand around the world, and therefore not able to perform in Toronto as often as I’d like to see her, can a Toronto-based artist achieving international success really be considered a criticism?

It’s hard enough for dance artists to get coverage in mainstream publications, who’d rather dedicate ink to the latest Mirvish musical, than some obscure series of duets at the Winch. Why NOW would take an opportunity to spotlight six female choreographers, only to slag them for not measuring up to some undefined theoretical standard is beyond me. Our community deserves better than this steaming heap of shit passed off as arts journalism.
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Oklahoma's Intrusive Abortion Law Heads to Court

Rogers and Hammerstein's beloved musical Oklahoma! has charmed audiences around the world for almost seventy years. The tale of handsome farmhand Curly MacLain and his courtship of innocent farm girl Laurey Williams, has garnered critical praise, numerous awards, broken records on Broadway, and grossed millions at the box-office. The show is so frequently performed, in professional, community, and high school productions, that there is an average of one performance every day somewhere in the world. While Curly and Laurey wait until after they've tied the knot to consummate their love, things could have turned out differently for them if they'd ended up getting it on before their wedding night. And if they were living in Oklahoma today and had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, things could be pretty bad.

On Feb 19 a hearing will begin in Oklahoma State Court regarding a controversial new abortion law passed last fall but put on hold by a judge until this week. Known as the Statistical Reporting of Abortions Act, the law requires all women who have abortions to complete a form with more than 30 questions including their age, race, level of education, and marital status, as well as detailed questions on their reasons for choosing to terminate the pregnancy. The information is then posted on a website. Women who refuse to complete the form cannot be provided with abortion services and doctors who try to side-step the process would face criminal sanctions and lose their license.

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Keith Cole Announces Toronto Mayoral Bid

On Friday February 12, local performance artist and provocateur Keith Cole announced his plan to run for mayor in the Toronto municipal election next October. Amidst cheers, as well as some shocked faces, he told the crowd that it was time for change.

"For the last six years I have felt that this city has been nothing but a long, dry hack of a cough," he said. "In 2010 we actually have the opportunity to change how the City of Toronto is going to be run and how it is going to be organized. It is up to you."

Since Cole is best known for his outrageous stage antics and unconventional approach to drag performance, many were surprised by his announcement. The most common question that comes up when his candidacy is mentioned is whether he is actually serious about his intentions.

"Yes, I am totally serious about running for mayor," Cole says, on the phone from his Jarvis and Wellesley apartment. "I went down to City Hall on Tuesday, paid my $200, and got the big binder of information and rules they give out to candidates."

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Watch the official announcement on YouTube.
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d'bi.young at the Rhubarb Festival

You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist more prolific and hard-working than d’bi young. The 32-year-old Jamaican-born, Toronto-based, queer dub poet, writer and performer has recorded four albums, published two books, contributed to numerous compilations, written half a dozen plays, won two Dora Awards and performed on stages across the Americas and Europe. She is the founder and artistic director of anitAFRIKA! Dub Theatre, a company that teaches dub poetry to youth, and has taught and lectured internationally.

Currently on a year-long performance tour that is taking her across Canada and to Ecuador, Belize and England, young is doing her best to balance her many projects with life as the single mother of two young children.

So how exactly does she manage to do it all?

“I don’t know!” she laughs, on the phone from Montreal, where she’s currently performing. “Some days I’ll have three or four hours before rehearsal that I plan to use working on lines or something. But you know, I’ll spend the whole time making food and changing diapers.”

Her newest piece, She, which explores a young woman’s obsession with a pop icon, is being presented as part of the second week of Rhubarb at Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times. The piece is the first part of a new trilogy entitled She Raw Now, which examines “the state of affairs of the world today.”

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