People suck & also rock

Image: A medical mask. Photo by Ri_ya on Pixabay.

People suck. Not us, the others. (Yes, I stole that last bit from Ellen DeGeneres.) Allow me to explain. Get comfortable, this may take a little while.

I was very excited to win a 10-play pass for Toronto Fringe 2022 after filling out their survey in the Spring—especially as I’m now attending as a “civilian”, which means I have to pay for my pass again. Unfortunately, after my experience at my first show on the opening day of the festival, I decided to bail on Fringe this year.

One of the main reasons I’d chosen to attend was the audience mask mandate (see Toronto Fringe 2022 COVID-19 protocols). When I arrived at my first show, The Sorauren Book Club at Al Green Theatre, everyone was masked in the ticket holder line—but once seated inside the house, a whole bunch of people removed their masks. So, I made a difficult decision and exited before curtain time. I let the venue FOH and box office folks know about the situation. They were kind and understanding, and offered to issue a reminder—but we all knew that there was no guarantee that those audience members would comply for the duration of the performance once the lights went down.

In my heart, I wanted to believe that Fringe audiences would be respectful and mask up—and many did—but a significant number at that performance didn’t, and that’s troubling. It’s sad and disappointing that people would disrespect performers, fellow audience members, Fringe folks and the festival in this way. I appreciate how Toronto Fringe took great care to make arrangements so we could all have a safe and enjoyable festival experience. But it’s up to us to make safety measures work. And, yes, while I based my decision on a single experience, ongoing observations of mask mandate compliance tell me that there will always be folks who choose what’s easy and convenient over what’s right. And with mask mandates no longer applying in most public indoor places, there are those who just won’t bother, even if the space requires a mask—including medical offices! So, after leaving the Al Green without seeing the show, I contacted the festival box office and Patron Services Manager about my experience, and cancelled the remainder of my bookings. And then I reached out to folks who’d invited me to their shows, including Tricia Williams from The Sorauren Book Club (which did very well, including winning Patron’s Pick for Al Green), to send regrets. I was heartbroken.

Yeah, but it’s only Fringe. What’s the big deal? It wasn’t just about missing Fringe; it was what it represented. For many of us who live alone—some unable to join a “bubble” and already working from home—the prolonged periods of isolation, with lockdowns and limited contacts, have made for an excruciatingly long, lonely couple of years. The excitement and anticipation of summer festivals returning after an Omicron winter was cause for cautious optimism, and even celebration. And just as my own personal living room dance party was getting started, the music came to a vinyl-screeching halt as yet another variant brought yet another wave—and public health awareness and practices aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they need to be. Like my GP said when we were discussing boosters during my checkup last week, “There’s a lot of COVID out there.” (As I have no risk factors, and unless public health officials recommend otherwise, I’ve decided to wait till the Fall to get a second booster, aka fourth shot.)

As I didn’t want to risk inadvertently hurting the festival, I chose to hold off on posting this till after Toronto Fringe closed. I recognize that my experience with this one performance may have been an infrequent situation for the entirety of the run, as well as the venue and festival overall. However, I chose to not take any chances, and not spend more time—including travelling on public transit for commutes of 10-60 minutes (one way), where many are unmasked—attending shows with the possibility of a similar outcome. This is not on Toronto Fringe. This is on those audience members who chose to ignore the festival’s mask mandate.

Performers need to be unmasked in order to do their job—and the very least audience members can do is put on a mask so they’ll be safe, and able to continue to entertain and inspire us. Not to mention consideration for fellow audience members, and venue staff and volunteers. Some folks don’t get, or care, that their “personal choices” can have negative—even serious—impacts on others, especially during a global pandemic. And even though spaces, including theatres, have different protocols—just because you don’t have to wear a mask doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t wear one.

Unfortunately, that lack of care and awareness has been exacerbated by government decisions to lift mask mandates, which many of us—including health care and education professionals and organizations—believe was a mistake, especially given the emergence of new, more contagious Omicron variants.

Masks are a good, simple way for us to take good care of ourselves, each other and the health care system. Yeah, they’re uncomfortable and take getting used to. Nobody wants to wear a mask (no disrespect to those who enjoy them—you do you). But they’re one of the best public health tools we have; and the vast majority of us don’t have a legitimate reason not to wear one. However, masks have been politicized by those who want to “get back to normal”. For them, masks are a reminder that all is not well, so removing mask mandates—taking away the predominance of masks—bolsters the illusion that COVID-19 is over and we’re all good to be “open for business” again. Such actions and beliefs are disheartening and dangerous, as they demonstrate greater consideration for corporate and political interests than for people’s health and well-being, especially the more vulnerable among us.

We each have our own levels of risk tolerance, and apply boundaries accordingly. And many of us are doing what we can to take good care, including making decisions about when to get a second booster (see opinion, info and a link to NACI guidance). We may be finished with COVID, but COVID isn’t finished with us.

Big shouts and gratitude to the Toronto Fringe FOH, box office staff and volunteers at Al Green Theatre, and the festival box office folks and Patron Services Manager Lucy McPhee, for their active listening and kindness; and to the audience members who kept their masks on—they’re the “helpers” we need to look for in situations like this.

And a big shout-out to stellar performing artist and fierce theatre etiquette proponent Patti LuPone, for saying what a lot of us are thinking. She’s my fucking hero and I wish I’d had the guts to show even an ounce of her chutzpah that day at Al Green. (Then again, maybe not—you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. And, yes, I stole that one from Dr. David Banner aka The Hulk.) Or better yet, that Ms. LuPone had been in the theatre with me. Put the fear of LuPone into them.

So, yeah, people suck. But they can also rock.

My four ingredients

Image: A tabby cat sleeps, curled up on a pair of blue jeans draped over a chair. Photo by Eu_eugen on Pixabay.

Every Thursday, I read my weekly horoscope in Rob Breszny’s Freewill Astrology column on the NOW Magazine website. While I’m not a hard-core believer in the portents disclosed therein, I find them entertaining, and often insightful and inspiring.

The post for the week of June 30 was particularly cool, and inspired a self-awareness and writing challenge:

Gemini May 21 — Jun 20

Imagine you’re not a person, but a medley of four magical ingredients. What would they be? A Gemini baker named Jasmine says, “ripe persimmons, green hills after a rain, a sparkling new Viking Black Glass Oven and a prize-winning show horse.” A Gemini social worker named Amarantha says she would be made of “Florence and the Machine’s song Sky Full Of Song, a grove of birch trees, a blue cashmere knee-length sweater and three black cats sleeping in the sun.” A Gemini delivery driver named Altoona says, “freshly harvested cannabis buds, a bird-loving wetlands at twilight, Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope In The Darkness, and the Haleakalā shield volcano in Maui.” And now, Gemini, what about you? Identify your medley of four magical ingredients. The time is right to re-imagine the poetry of YOU.

  • Rob Breszny, Freewill Astrology in NOW Magazine, June 30, 2022.

Here’s what I came up with:

A pair of well-loved blue jeans; a purring, contented cat curled up on a warm lap; the shared laughter of chosen family; and two fingers of single malt scotch.

What are your four ingredients?

Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday coming to Hamilton Fringe 2022

Image: A pocket watch disintegrates against a cloudy pastel sky.

Hey all,

ICYMI, I’m pleased to announce that Wonder Jones Productions’ Fringe production of Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday, a digital original from Toronto playwright Erin Jones (and previously streamed during Toronto Fringe and Calgary Fringe 2021), will be featured (online) as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival from July 20 – 31, 2022. Book tickets here.

Synopsis: Four friends from a bereavement group meet virtually for the Easter long weekend. They decide to try an Artificial Intelligence program to animate pictures of their loved ones. To their surprise, delight and horror, they discover more than they bargained for. The experience brings an opportunity to say the things they wanted to say if they had one more chance. This sci-fi thriller with a touch of drama and comedy asked the question: What would you say if you had one more chance?

If you’d like to find out more and get to know the cast, and find out where to follow us, please visit the production website. Follow us and get updates!

The cast and crew (including yours truly) worked creatively and steadily to create this piece with love while maintaining the health and safety of one another. We’re looking forward to seeing Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday available online during the Hamilton Fringe Festival and invite you to join us!

Here’s the trailer:

Little free libraries

I love seeing little free libraries in various neighbourhoods across the city. They provide a great, environmentally friendly opportunity to freecycle books you no longer want/need and maybe even discover some literary gems to take home. And when book shops and libraries were closed during lockdowns, they were an especially great resource—especially for those struggling financially, both during the pandemic and in general.

Some of these mini-library structures are built quite simply, and others are works of art. And, best of all, you can search for/find them in Google Maps. Here are some snaps I’ve taken of some little free libraries I’ve come across , including one that also has a community pantry built next to it.

Slideshow images: A series of little library images; most have front door panels with glass windows. One resembles an old schoolhouse, with a bell tower on top. One has artificial grass on top. One has been adorned with wooden frame and decorative embellishments. One has shingles on the roof and a tree of life on the side. One has wooden shingles and an open front. One is decorated with an abstract evergreen tree, made from wood; it has a little community pantry beside it, painted in various colours that are separated by diagonal white lines. One looks like a cottage from a fairy tale, a crest-like design above the door.

Book blurb for fun: They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore

Image: The cover of Heidi Von Palleske’s They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore. A painting of a woman in an evening gown, who appears to be clawing her own eyes out, a trickle of blood streaming down her right cheek. Ancient architecture in the background, with light and shadow playing across the interior space. Painting by John Nobrega.

I was delighted to win a copy of actor/writer/activist Heidi von Palleske’s novel They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore (Smart House Books) as a virtual door prize during a recent Zoom reading event featuring von Palleske and Heather Babcock, hosted by Queen Books. Thanks to the folks at Queen Books for the book! Here’s my blurb:

Heidi von Palleske conjures up images of love and desire, inspiration and frustration, life and death in her evocative, intimate and intriguing novel They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore.

Set in 1980s Toronto, sculptor Alex navigates life after art school as she tries to make a name for herself—and leave a legacy—as an artist, paying the bills with a day job carving headstones alongside friend/former classmate Jack. Her life driven by intense artistic focus, beauty and passion, Alex yearns for the approval of mentor/former teacher and gallery owner Boris, who believes the only relevant art is that which is overtly political; and fascination turns to obsession when she meets model Premika, who longs for immortality—and becomes Alex’s muse and the inspiration for her most important project to date. All of the senses are aroused in this erotic and philosophical journey of life and art.

Scarborough film adaptation in theatres

Those who’ve been following me on Twitter have seen me shouting out the film adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s acclaimed debut novel Scarborough, screenplay by Hernandez, produced by Compy Films—co-directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson—and distributed by levelFilm. I was happy and honoured to play a small part in this labour of love. And it’s so good to see how much love the film is getting from both audiences and critics (and not just our friends and families!).

Scarborough movie poster, featuring two girls and two boys, surrounded by paper cutouts of stars and birds, with an open classroom door in the background. Below the image are the words: Scarborough based on the award-winning novel by Catherine Hernandez.

Scarborough premiered at TIFF 2021 and has already picked up several nominations and awards, and has been nominated for 11 Canadian Screen Awards (streaming on CBC and CBC Gem on April 10).

Check your local movie theatre listings for screenings. You can also watch Scarborough online from March 25-27, as part of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival; this is a free screening that you need to reserve a spot for, and I encourage you to donate to the fest if you’re able.

The novel Scarborough is on the Canada Reads 2022 shortlist. Look for it at your local bookshop.

Here’s the beautiful trailer:

Book blurb for fun: Hate Story

Image: Hate Story cover, designed by Brett Bakker. The grim reaper rises up between silhouettes of a man and a woman, speech bubbles floating like ghosts. Subtext reads: Online shaming is a myth … or is it?

Above the title, a blurb from Giles Blunt, bestselling author of the John Cardinal mysteries: “From Twitterized mobthink to Facebook fact-bashing to knuckle-dragging attacks on science, our current reality—online or off—presents formidable problems for the satirist. Cottrill takes up that challenge and runs with it, skewering journalists, online vigilantes, and cyberbullies with undisguised glee.”

A little while ago, Jeff Cottrill wrote a guest post for the blog about the inspiration for his first novel, Hate Story, published by Dragonfly Publishing and launched this past weekend. Here’s my blurb:

Social media, cancel culture and mob mentality feature prominently in Jeff Cottrill’s compelling and entertaining debut novel Hate Story—a fascinating and timely tale that combines investigative journalism adventure with biting satire. The storytelling is by turns razor-sharp funny, heartbreakingly poignant and thought-provoking as we follow protagonist Jackie Roberts on her quest to learn what the late Paul Shoreditch did to become so universally reviled. We’re reminded that society both creates and condemns its monsters—real or imagined—and that toxic masculinity isn’t solely the purview of men. And don’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see.

Hate Story is available from a variety of major online booksellers.

Free arts event – Weston: Then & Now (Mar 25-27)

Image: Poster for Shakespeare in Action’s upcoming event Weston: Then & Now, featuring a photograph of Central United Church (1 King St., York, ON). Graphic design by Lizzie Moffatt.

Shakespeare in Action (SIA) has an upcoming free arts event—Weston: Then & Now! at Central United Church. Here are the details…

Weston’s very own Central United Church is turning 200—and you’re all invited!

Join us from March 25th – 27th, 2022 for a free, three-day event all about Weston: Then & Now!

Times: 

Friday, March 25th, 2022 (5-9pm)

Saturday, March 26th, 2022 (10-6pm)

Sunday, March 27th, 2022 (11-3pm)

We will open the doors to Central United Church for guests to roam from room to room, and explore Weston & Central United’s history and current happenings, while artists present installations throughout the building around the theme—Weston: Then & Now.

We promise a weekend filled with music, visual art, storytelling, live performance, history and a reflection on Weston that will be unforgettable. Whether you are a local to Weston wanting to reflect on a history you know well, are new to the area and looking to get to know what makes Weston so wonderful, or a history buff wanting to make some new discoveries through the lens of local artists and their work—this is the event for you!

This event is free and for all ages!

For further details, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Shakespeare in Action, click ‘Attending’ to this event found here: https://fb.me/e/1tehAxMCf, or feel free to contact us at foh@shakespeareinaction.org.

We cannot wait to have you!

Call for submissions: Nightwood Theatre’s Fempocalypse 2022

Image: Fempocalypse 2022 Neo-Stalgia logo, featuring the title “Fempocalypse 2022” in neon pixelated font and the word “Neo-Stalgia” in script font, with a linear globe image to the left of it and a cursor arrow to the right. Graphic design by Natércia Napoleão.

Hey, all—Nightwood Theatre has a call for submissions for this year’s Fempocalypse. Here’s the info, courtesy of the folks in this season’s Innovators Program—deadline is March 4, 2022:

Fempocalypse is an annual fundraiser produced by Nightwood Theatre’s Innovators Program. Traditionally held in honour of International Women’s Day, this year we are thrilled to also celebrate the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which will mark the launch of our event on March 31! All proceeds generated from this event will benefit Water First, a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in Indigenous communities. You can help make an impact!

This year, Fempocalypse will be in the form of a streamed virtual fundraising event which will be available from March 31 – April 8, 2022. The event will include both a cabaret-style show and a virtual visual arts gallery featuring a variety of performers and artists, along with a silent auction. All proceeds of the event will be donated. The Fempocalypse: Neo-Staliga event will be circulated for one week for people to watch, engage with and donate to Water First.

We are looking for performing artists from across Turtle Island who want to engage with this year’s theme of Neo-stalgia: We invite you to think and rethink previous generations and how we can co-curate a new and caring community for future generations. We invite you to dream together with us by mixing past comfort with retrofuturistic ambitions. Works that invite us to pause and re-think the meaning of the past to create a new present and future. Or works that question what was missing in the past in hopes of building it into our future. Create with us a new nostalgia for what will or should come next.

We are interested in a range of disciplines that may include but are not limited to performance, singing, digital theatre, filmmaking, music, dance, poetry/spoken word, prose etc.  We recognize all forms of artist expression and invite artists across Turtle Island from all backgrounds to apply.

If you are interested please fill out this Google Form here. It will ask for your name, contact details, and a description of your piece (either written or audio/video will be accepted). If you are applying as a collective, please provide one main contact’s information on behalf of the group.

The submission deadline is March 4, 2022 Midnight EST. For questions please contact the Artist Liaison Committee at NightwoodInnovators@gmail.com. Please include in the subject line Performing Artists Attn: Your Name.

By submitting your work you are agreeing to: Voluntarily featuring your work virtually in a pre-recorded event for the weeklong charity event. We can link your website or social media account to spread the word about your amazing work.

This opportunity is not paid, we will strive to accommodate any production expenses but given this is a fundraiser there is limited funding available. The Nightwood Innovators will work hard to secure honorariums, but they are not guaranteed. In lieu of payment, we will feature your work during this event and link to your social media/websites.

Facebook links

Fempocalypse 2022 Event

Fempocalypse Page

Instagram: www.instagram.com/fempocalypse2022/

Other key links

Linktr.ee

Calling all Performing Artists for Virtual Fundraiser Show

Calling all Artists for Virtual Art Gallery Show Fundraiser

Life lessons from Scrabble

Image: A pile of Scrabble tiles, with the A, U, Q, R and T tiles on top. Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble. And we’re talking old-school board game Scrabble, not online or via an app—and, since I live alone, it’s Player 1 Me vs. Player 2 Me. I don’t keep score—I do try to use all the tiles. Along the way, Scrabble has offered me some useful life lessons. Here’s what I found:

  • Play by the rules. Although not always easy, in the end it makes for a better experience overall.
  • Do the best you can with what you have. Focusing on or hoping to get something you don’t have may not happen—and this will distract you from what’s right in front of you.
  • When an opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. There is no perfect moment—and waiting for one could leave you with wasted assets.
  • If you’re not sure, ask (or look it up/search it).
  • Don’t spend time and energy regretting the choices you made, or how you could’ve, would’ve, should’ve done things differently. Those moments are in the past. Stay present and let these lessons in paying attention (see above).
  • Sometimes, things go your way and sometimes they don’t. It’s part luck of the draw, part making the best of what you have, and part how much you’re paying attention (see above).

What life lessons have you learned through play?