The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees!

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Laura Larson (as Anastasia Petrov), Dov Mickelson (as Tracey Doyle) & Aisha Jarvis (as Sally Styles) – photos by Joseph Hammond

Better late to the party than never – I finally got out to see the Hogtown Experience at Campbell House Museum last night. And what a party it was!

Written by Drew Carnwath and Sam Rosenthal, and directed by Rosenthal, assisted by Nicola Pantin, the Hogtown Experience is an immersive, site-specific theatrical event that puts you in the middle of the action, which includes over 30 actors and live music, as you rub elbows with politicians, union muscle, gangsters, speakeasy girls, temperance ladies, party girls, moonshiners, a lady doctor and a baseball star.

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David Rosser as Sam McBride

When you arrive at Campbell House (I’d suggest getting there half an hour before show time), you may wander the grounds and the house. Catch some jazz in the basement speakeasy or get an early introduction to some of the characters on the front lawn, where the Temperance ladies are protesting the evils of drink, and mayoral candidate Sam McBride (David Rosser) and his wife Fanny (Kirstin Rae Hinton) are greeting and glad-handing, and the small-town Busch brothers (Matthew Bradley and Tim Ziegler) are anxiously anticipating a meeting with Delacourt to pitch their moonshine. Or wander towards the back, where the Schwartz brothers (Scott McCulloch and Jorge Molina) talk business and the wily, opportunistic Tracey Doyle (Dov Mickelson) inspects his girls before they start their shift – one of which (Anastasia, played by Laura Harding in last night’s performance) makes an appointment with the friendly, socially aware local doctor Libby Prowse (Lori Nancy Kalamanski) for her friend/co-worker Maddy (Lea Beauvais). And there’s a rambunctious, playful and strange little girl (Claire Frances Muir) running around there too.

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Dana Fradkin (as Ronnie McBride) & Drew Carnwath (as Ben Stein)

Newspaper man Ben Stein (Carnwath), who’s dating the McBride’s daughter Ronnie (Sappho Hansen Smythe,* who has been playing the role this summer), gives us an introduction and some ground rules. We are here for a party at the home of union boss Bob Delacourt (David Keeley) on the night before the 1926 municipal election, where the conservative, tee-totalling, penny-pinching incumbent Mayor Thomas Foster (Jerome Bourgault) is up against the more progressive, alcohol-friendly and forward-thinking McBride. From there, the audience is divided into three groups, and each group is guided to a room in the house to start their rotation of three scenes. You may speak to the characters, but only when spoken to.

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Jerome Bourgault as Thomas Foster

My group was first taken upstairs to the ballroom, to a meeting of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union, led by the imperious President Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale), where we hear anecdotes of personal family tragedy that resulted from intoxication. We were then treated to a lively and intense dining room scene, where the McBrides and their supporters – including Delacourt, who remained eerily silent and stone-faced – toasted their good fortune, and a surprise guest made an appearance, decidedly spoiling the good cheer. Then it was down to the games room, where our cheeky hostess Katie (Siobhan Richardson) took all bets, including one from the jovial Police Chief Draper (Robert Clarke); and over to the speakeasy for drinks (cash bar, where you can order wine in a teacup or a can of beer in a paper bag) and music, overseen and kept running smoothly by the tough, but gentleman-like Donato Granta (Conrad Bergschneider).

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David Keeley as Bob Delacourt

From there, where you go and what you see is up to you. You are encouraged to give rein to curiosity and follow characters, open doors – and see what you may find. Young love. Backroom deals upon backroom deals. Desperate, last-ditch efforts to win a race. One of the speakeasy girls in trouble. You won’t be able to catch everything, and you may want to see the show more than once; to this end, keep your program (handed out as you leave) and that will serve as your discount voucher for your next visit. And with all the election and boozy shenanigans – not to mention the red hot jazz – you may want to take them up on that deal.

An outstanding ensemble and fabulous music, creating a unique, intriguing and engaging theatrical experience, and a colourful taste of 1920s Toronto. This humble scribe had a marvelous time at the pre-election soiree at Campbell House last night. The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees – go see it!

The Hogtown Experience runs until August 28 at Campbell House Museum; performance info and advance tickets here; otherwise, it’s cash only at the gate.

In the meantime, you can keep up with Hogtown on Twitter and Facebook; and check out the show trailer:

* Department of Corrections: The role of Ronnie McBride, previously attributed to Dana Fradkin, was actually played by Sappho Hansen Smythe. Due to the scope of the show and the size of the ensemble, there is a rotating cast, so some characters are played by different actors, depending on when you see the show.


The beauty of books @ Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library – Doors Open Toronto

As I perused the Doors Open Toronto 2014 guide yesterday afternoon, a photograph of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library caught my eye.

Located at 120 St. George Street at the south end of the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto (U of T) campus downtown, this is a book and architecture nerd’s delight. Even if you’re not a nerd, it’s pretty damn impressive. I overheard someone say the oldest book in the collection was an 11th century codex. The current exhibition is Vesalius at 500, recognizing the beauty and science of Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, which features exquisitely rendered anatomical illustrations (woodcuts).

Doors Open Toronto continues on Sunday, May 25 – and it’s just one of the many cities/towns participating in the annual Doors Open Ontario heritage site event, which runs from May to October. Check out the Doors Open Ontario site for locations/dates near you. There are also Doors Open events happening in provinces across Canada, so you can check out events all over the country.

Here’s a slide show tour of my visit to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library:

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Adventures in architecture @ Doors Open Toronto

It’s Doors Open Toronto weekend here in the Big Smoke, so if you’re in Toronto this is the perfect time to get out and see some amazing architectural sights (and sites) in the city. Most sites are open till 5 p.m., but check the Doors Open Toronto website for details:

I ventured out early this afternoon, heading out on the streetcar to New City Hall for the Faces on Places: Gargoyles and Other Architectural Ornament walking tour. I got there early, so took some time to grab a street dog from a vendor just outside in Nathan Philips Square, and have a wander around the City Hall green roof and make a pit stop before making my way to the lobby.

The 1:30 p.m. tour was already full! And the extra tour that guide Terry Murray arranged to do at 3:30 p.m. was already filled with waiting list folks. This meant I was S.O.L. for today (and I won’t be able to make it out tomorrow, so that’s a shame). On the upside, it means that this is an extremely popular tour this year, so if you’re thinking of checking it out tomorrow (Sun, May 27), you’d best get there early and get yourself signed up.

Roof of the stairwell near entrance of rooftop space
Gathering area on rooftop
Rooftop sweat lodge – exterior
Rooftop sweat lodge – interior
Self-care structure near the lobby – interior detail
Waterfall near the lobby
Words of greeting & welcome in various native languages – down the hall from the lobby

The other space I really wanted to see was Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (30 College St.), which the organization moved into in 2008. The building incorporates the four elements in such a way that reflects native culture in a non-stereotypical way – and it is modern architecture at its most gorgeous. The organization hosts suggested starting on the rooftop, then making our way down. This was an excellent idea and I think I’d like to just show instead of tell.

Check them out here:

Doors Open Toronto: May 26-27

So do you like to look at really cool buildings? Architecture and history buffs alike are in for a treat as Doors Open Toronto 2012 offers the public an opportunity to visit some incredible and historical buildings this coming weekend (May 26-27), this year with a focus on commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and highlighting the building of the city.

For details on what buildings are participating, check out the Doors Open page on the City of Toronto website here:

One of the participating buildings this year is Alumnae Theatre, originally Firehall # 4, located at 70 Berkeley St. (Berkeley/Adelaide St. E.).

Alumnae Theatre – 70 Berkeley St., Toronto


Always an interesting and enjoyable time – and a chance to travel back in time to the City’s infancy in some cases, as well.

What looks good to you on the Doors Open Toronto program?