Signs of hope

Each week since we started our pandemic public health measures of staying home, physical distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and looking out for each other, I’ve posted a marquee message.

Here are the ones I’ve created to date. My aim is to provide hope, inspiration and food for thought.

The list of lasts

The following is my list of lasts from the Before Time (pre-COVID-19)—the last time I ventured outside my neighbourhood on transit and had in-person contact with other people. It really sums up the people, places and things I love—and really miss.

Last time I saw my parents: November 3, 2019 at the Elm Hurst Inn (Ingersoll), for our extended family pre-holiday brunch (they headed to Arizona that week and returned home in March)

Last time I saw my sister, brothers, sisters-in-law and nephews: December 26 at my sister’s house for our annual Boxing Day feast (brother-in-law was in New Zealand; saw him last at Elm Hurst Inn brunch)

Last time I saw a close friend: Dee, on March 11 at Presse Café at Bloor/Yonge

Last hug: March 11 (see last time I saw a close friend—we totally forgot to do the elbow bump)

Last time riding TTC: March 11 (see last time I saw a close friend)

Last reading I saw: March 6, Studio 180 Theatre’s The Cane at Buddies in Bad Times

Last brunch: March 7, with friends Brenda and Kerri at 7 West Café

Last play I saw: March 7, ARC’s OIL at Geary Lane

Last thrift shopping: March 4, with my friend Lizzie in the Bloor/Lansdowne area, finishing at Value Village

Last dinner out: February 27, in the Distillery at Mill St. Brew Pub with my friend Myriam, before seeing Lucid Ludic/Why Not Theatre’s Brain Storm at Dancemakers Studio

Last hair cut: February 25 at Top Cuts, with Rhonda at Avenue/Lawrence

Last art show I saw: February 23, Winter Stations at Woodbine Beach

Last gathering: February 22, friend Zoltan’s birthday party at his/Lizzie’s place

Last movie I saw: February 17, Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the Varsity

When was the last time you saw loved ones in person? The last hug you gave/received? The last movie you saw at a movie theatre?

p.s. Since I wrote this post and scheduled it for publishing, the Government of Ontario announced that Toronto and Peel will be heading into stage 2 today (Wed, June 24). Now, as we’re gradually able to be together again—still following public health measures—we can finally look forward to some firsts.

Reflections of home during COVID-19

When I went on hiatus with the blog in February, it was with the intention of taking some time away, to step back, get some R&R and figure out where the blog was going to go next as I made the move away from reviewing and focusing on my own art. Since then, I’ve posted a few times, with reflections on the early days of COVID-19 stay-at-home and physical distancing measures, and sharing an interview and book launch shout-outs.

Now, I want to share some other reflections and images from my time during the pandemic, starting with these images I took on April 15 (or Week 5, for those who are keeping track), during one of my daily walks. Most of the images are of doors that caught my attention as being both unique and beautiful. Going beyond their appearance, though, I also became mindful that these doors are entrances to multi-million-dollar homes; homes that have at one or more vehicles, ample yards, and lots of living and storage space. Homes that offer the highest level of comfort during these days of staying home and physical distancing; the people in these homes can drive for groceries – with contactless pickup – can afford delivery, and have enough square footage for each resident to take space for themselves, as well as store an abundance of supplies. It is a reminder of the stark differences in circumstance for Toronto residents, where not everyone has the privilege of so much living and storage space or safe, distanced travel – or even a home at all.

There are also a couple of images that give me a sense of hope (the child’s rainbow drawing in the window), whimsy (the Christmas decoration on the leafy tree) and quiet solitude (the open book, left on a bench).

Throughout these weeks of pandemic, early plans for productivity and self-improvement made way for moments of stopping to take a breath and self-care. And that’s okay. There is no “normal” during these uncertain times. The best we can do is take it moment by moment, day by day, week by week. Look after ourselves and each other. Try to be kind and compassionate, to ourselves and others. Reflect on how we can do better as individuals and as a society, as we work toward recovery and reopening. And keep the faith that our collective efforts and sacrifices are working. And that, one day, we’ll be able to see and hug our loved ones again.

Interview: Lizzie Violet & her Stay the Fuck Home blog series

Lizzie Violet. Photo by Zoltan Hawryluk.

 

Everyone has their own way of dealing with today’s new normal of staying home and following physical distancing guidelines—and we’re all finding the need to develop new routines and methods of navigating everyday tasks and errands in a pseudo war-time environment, with standard items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour and yeast becoming hot commodities. And all this while dealing with the emotional, financial and social impacts of living in a world with the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.

Writer, horror afficionado, zombiephile and avid bat watcher (and good friend) Lizzie Violet started a blog series called Stay the Fuck Home; offering practical and inspirational how-to and entertainment info and resources as we all hunker down at home. I asked her about the genesis of the blog series, and her thoughts on DIY and remote personal connection going forward.

Hey, Lizzie. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your Stay the Fuck Home blog series! What inspired you to start this series?

Thank you for interviewing me!

There were a few things that inspired me, to be honest. I was seeing a lot of people struggling with what was happening and the fact that necessities had vanished from our lives. When I say necessities, I don’t just mean food. Many of us, myself included, depend on many different types of resources, activities and interaction. Plus, blogging daily gave me something else to focus on. I also wanted to do something positive, and hopefully give others something else to focus on aside from the bombardment of news and negativity.

What post(s) was/were the most fun to write?

Definitely the bats post, Stay the Fuck Home Bats, Bats, Bats Edition. Because BATS! And the Stay the Fuck Home the Dried Beans Edition was fun to write. I got a little silly with that one.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new wave of DIYers; and folks who didn’t previously make things themselves or bake, etc. have started doing so. (Necessity being the mother of invention and all.) What kinds of projects have you heard people undertaking for the first time? And do you think this experience will inspire rookie DIYers to continue DIYing after physical distancing measures have been lifted?

I hope people who either started DIYing out necessity and are new to it, or those who pulled out their sewing machine or baking tools after not using them for ages, continue to do so. I am fortunate that I was taught all of the skills I have at a very young age and have always used them. I have always said that you should know the basics of how to sew, knit, bake bread, can food and grow your own food. In the state of the world right now, these are necessities. Heck, I’ve even shared my sourdough starter with a few people. I truly hope people keep this going.

The main things I’ve seen being undertaken is sewing (mostly for masks) and bread making. It makes my heart happy, especially the baking of bread. Homemade bread is much healthier for you and really not that hard to do.

Needing to find new ways to conduct professional meetings and stay in touch with loved ones, a lot of folks (myself included) have also been introduced to, and become new users of, various video chat platforms like Facebook and Zoom, as well as performing arts live streams. How do you feel the use of this kind of technology has impacted our sense of personal connection during these unprecedented, uncertain times—and do you see this kind of remote connection as something that organizations, arts companies and folks in general will keep employing as we move past COVID-19 restrictions?

I’m actually really glad we have these resources available to us. Had this happened 10 years ago, this may have not been as possible. I do enjoy being able to see music and other forms of art through video platforms, but I personally would rather see all of it in person. What I am hoping for is once we are able to go out again, I really and truly hope that audiences start going out to live indie events again. I hope that they support artists and also smaller businesses, so they can get back on their feet. It was already hard enough as an artist to survive before the pandemic and they will need all the help they can get.

Anything you want to mention to folks about the blog series?

When I can, I am shouting out performers and artists I know and love. Please go support them! I’ve put links to them when possible. It was also a huge part of why I started doing the Stay the Fuck Home series.

Anything else you want to shout out?

I really want to shout out small businesses. They are doing everything they can to stay alive. They are being creative and innovative and deserve our love! Especially restaurants. They are trying their best, go order some take out from them!

Now, for the fun part. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? FUCK!

What’s your least favourite word? I have a couple. Umami and bespoke. Because no one uses them correctly!

What turns you on? Kindness.

What turns you off? Any kind of disrespect and that horking noise. Don’t do that.

What sound or noise do you love? Cawing of crows and ravens.

What sound or noise do you hate? The scraping noise the subway or street cars make.

What’s your favourite curse word? FUCK!

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? It changes every once in a while. Currently, Forensic Anthropology.

What profession would you not like to do? Veterinarian. At one point I did want to become one, until I found out you had to euthanize animals.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Oh no! Not this one!

Thanks, Lizzie!

You can find Lizzie Violet on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@lizzieviolet13). She also curates and hosts Killer B Cinema with her partner Zoltan Hawryluk, offering monthly screenings of B movies. Normally hosted upstairs at See Scape in Toronto, they’re working on posting screenings on YouTube as we continue to practise physical distancing—and hope to be back at See Scape soon.

Lizzie posted this piece after we did this interview; it’s one of the most important ones yet: Stay the Fuck Home It’s Okay to Be Kind to Yourself.

 

 

Reaching out during COVID-19

In these strange new normal times of physical distancing, we’re reminded how important it is to stay connected—staying in touch with family, friends and colleagues, as well as neighbours who may need company or assistance, is so important for both our mental and physical health.

Even introverts like myself, while generally well-equipped for staying home and keeping our distance, can miss the in-person contact; the hugs, physical presence and closeness of loved ones.

It really reminds us just how much we need each other; and people are coming up with innovative ways to connect: co-worker meetings and even drinks time, and online weddings, via Zoom; people singing from balconies, reading plays and sonnets, recording music and sharing video; coffee chats over Facebook video chat or Google Hangouts; and people are actually using their cellphones to make phone calls!

At first, keeping safe space between us and others was called “social distancing”, but this has since been replaced with “physical distancing”—a more accurate, descriptive term that also recognizes the need for us social animals to reach out and connect with others remotely/electronically.

The two-metre spacing image has also evolved into a two-metre bubble—making sure we have safe distance in three dimensions. It also feels like a more protective space. Thinking about physical distancing in terms of a bubble made me feel a lot easier about going out for a short walk along quiet side streets in my neighbourhood on Sunday (I am well and not a candidate for self-isolation)—a beautiful, unseasonably mild day that I didn’t want to waste by staying indoors.

Being together apart can be challenging—but it’s what we need to do right now. And, together, we’ll get through this.

And just think how joyful those physical reunions will be!

 

For info, check out these websites:

City of Toronto: http://toronto.ca/covid-19

Province of Ontario http://ontario.ca/covid19

Government of Canada: http://canada.ca/covid19

 

A smile during wearying, uncertain times

With COVID-19 in our midst, we’re living in some intense, uncertain, life-altering times right now—and, frankly, we could probably all use a good laugh. Here’s a little smile: a throwback to my first stand-up performance with Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Girl Level One class at Comedy Bar in Toronto. With thanks to my sis Colleen McKim for shooting/editing.

 

 

Wash your hands, practise social distancing, stay home if you’re sick, and keep up-to-date from medical officials and reputable news sources. And be kind to each other. We’re in this together—and we’ll get through this together. xo

ICYMI: cowbell on indefinite hiatus

Camille relaxing with a cowbell.

 

ICYMI: life with more cowbell is now on an indefinite hiatus as I ponder a new direction for the blog; for more info, please see my post from the end of January.

With the exception of a few shows I’d already committed to reviewing before the holiday (I have one more coming up in mid-April: Discord & Din’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt. Again.), I will no longer be booking reviews. I will, however, continue to broadcast boost, shout out and share/RT shows on social media—so if you’d still like to invite me, please do!

Shout-outs and support for the Toronto arts scene continue on cowbell’s Twitter account and Facebook page; and I’m happy to add Facebook events to cowbell’s Facebook Events page.

Enjoy Toronto’s rich and vibrant arts scene—and support your local artists.

Saying goodbye to the youth of Ireland in the lyrical, hopeful, entertaining Many Young Men of Twenty

Foreground: James Phelan, Tina McCulloch, Emmet Leahy and William Laxamana. Background: Martin McGuane. Set design by Tim O’Connell and Sean Treacy. Costume design by Bernadette Hunt. Lighting design by Karlos Griffith. Photo by Gregory Breen.

 

The Toronto Irish Players take us to a time of desperate hope and dreams, leaving and staying behind, with its lyrical, hopeful and entertaining production of John B. Keane’s Many Young Men of Twenty, directed by Gregory Breen and Tim O’Connell, with musical direction by Donna O’Regan and Dan Schaumann—and running at Alumnae Theatre, where it played to a packed house last night.

It’s Southern Ireland in 1961, as we enter a village pub that serves as a microcosm for the comings and goings of local residents—and a point of departure and return for the wave of young people being sent off to England to find work in order to help support their struggling families back home. Opening with vocalists Gemma Healey-Murphy and Orlaith Ní Chaoinleáin, accompanied by Dan Schaumann on acoustic guitar, then performing a cappella, we’re transported to a time and place with evocative music, sung in both English and Irish.

The intimidating Seelie (Donna O’Regan, in an imperious, dominating turn as the boss) owns and runs the pub with her whiskey-loving brother Tom (Martin McGuane, in a complex combination of childish obstinance and adult frustration). Peg (a wistful, but fierce performance from Aoibhinn Finnegan), a young unwed single mother with a talent for making up songs on the spot—including the catchy titular tune—waits tables, plays peacemaker and nurses a broken, distrusting heart.

The large cast of characters that parade through the pub is impressive, entertaining and revealing. There’s Danger Mullaly (a thoroughly entertaining, poignant Thomas O’Neill), the local scoundrel about town; adept at getting others to spot him a pint of porter gold as he peddles miniature holy pictures, he’s a lovable scallywag with his own tale of woe. Then there’s local farm family the Dins, led by patriarch and matriarch Daheen Timineen and Maynan (played with Irish Gothic severity and resolve by James Phelan and Tina McCulloch), sending a new pair of young adult children off to England. Kevin (Emmet Leahy, as the stand-up, protective elder of the two) and Dinny (William Laxamana, as the soft-spoken, anxious younger lad) have a foreman older brother waiting for them with jobs at a London factory. And as he awaits their train departure, Kevin takes a shine to Peg and promises to write.

A year later, the Din boys return for a visit—and one of them has brought a British wife to meet the family: Dot (played with vivacious flare by Sofie Jarvis). Their parents are preparing to send another pair off; this time, daughters Maggie and Mary (shy and anxious twins Healey-Murphy and Emma Darmody). Also bursting onto the scene are local fortune teller Kitty Curley (Anne Harper, with a larger-than-life jocularity and penchant for the mysterious), with her melodeon player colleague Davy in tow (Schaumann); and local member of Irish Parliament J.J. Houlihan (David Eden, in a pompous, entitled politician turn), who’s just procured a plum position for his underqualified son Johnny (Liam Keenan, quiet and unassuming). And there’s the new schoolteacher Maurice Brown (played with affable, awkward charm by Aaron Walsh), one of the few among the younger generation to stay behind—and who also has his eye on Peg.

Weaving lively and wistful songs with snatches of daily life, we’re in a world that has one foot in the past and the other in the future, as generations-old farming families continue to find themselves forced to give over to ever-changing modern times, sending their children off into the strange world and temptations of the big city in a bid to survive. Hopes and dreams of future prosperity blend with the heart of, and longing for, home; with brave faces and humourous antics masking the pain and heartache beneath.

many young men 20 cast & crew
Cast & crew. Set design by Tim O’Connell and Sean Treacy. Costume design by Bernadette Hunt. Lighting design by Karlos Griffith. 

Melancholy and hopeful, spirited and wistful, Many Young Men of Twenty takes us to a period of youthful immigration—coming in waves that stretched well before the 1960s and onward into today—where young people must grow up quickly as they leave home for new countries to make a new life for themselves, often while tasked with supporting their families back home. Brave, heartbroken and anxious—yet hopeful, aspiring and determined. And universal in its portrayal of the choices and sacrifices that are made in the face of a changing world.

With shouts to the design team: Tim O’Connell and Sean Treacy (set), Bernadette Hunt (costumes), Karlos Griffith (lighting) and Dan Schaumann (sound), and the small army worked behind the scenes, for their fine, evocative work on creating this time and place.

Many Young Men of Twenty continues on the Alumnae Theatre Mainstage until February 29; advance tickets available online or by calling 416-440-2888.

Upcoming hiatus & news

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

Hi all – Hope 2020 is being good to everyone so far!

life with more cowbell celebrated its ninth anniversary earlier this month and—counting two years blogging for Alumnae Theatre Company—that means I’ve been blogging about theatre for 11 years now. Time flies! It’s been an amazing 11 years, reviewing remarkable, mind-blowing theatre; shouting out Toronto’s rich and vibrant literary, visual arts and music events; and interviewing and getting to know various artists.

When I first started the blog, I had a permanent full-time office job, so I was able to put in the requisite time and energy on an unpaid after hours/weekend passion project; and, since its inception, life with more cowbell has grown in both readership and inclusion on media lists. Over the years, I’ve considered various ways to ‘monetize’ the blog, but in the end decided to keep it free and without strings attached.

A couple of things have changed since the birth of the blog. First, I was laid off my full-time job almost four years ago; and I’ve since become an accidental freelancer/contract worker (copy editing, proofreading and writing, in addition to working as non-union voice-over talent) as I continue to search for permanent employment. Also, as much as I’ve enjoyed shouting out the Toronto arts scene, especially theatre, I’ve found that I’ve been spending most of my free time writing about other people’s art instead of making my own. For a while, I considered that writing about other people’s creative work was my creative work. But after performing in Andrew Batten’s last play The Sad Blisters and exhibiting in ARTiculations’ 2019 Curio Shadow Box Show last year, and a day on location, acting in an indie film adaptation of a novel couple of weeks ago, I realized I really miss working and playing in that creative space.

So, I’ve decided I need to make a change. And to that end, I’ll be putting life with more cowbell on an indefinite hiatus as of February 1 as I ponder a new direction for myself and the blog. I already have a few review bookings coming up (Shakespeare BASH’d’s Cymbeline and Toronto Irish Players’ Many Young Men of Twenty in February; and Discord and Din’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. in April); I intend to honour those commitments—but, otherwise, I won’t be doing any reviews in the foreseeable future.

I’ve thought long and hard about this. In fact, it’s come to mind every New Year for the past few years. And even though I won’t be reviewing, I’ll continue to broadcast boost shows and performances/events on social media; and tweet, share and post about performances, events and exhibits I attend. When I return to the blog, I’ll provide an update on where we’ll be headed next.

To my readers, thank you so much for your feedback and support throughout the years; and big thanks to all the marketing/PR and production folks for including me on their mailing lists and inviting me to see so many amazing shows. The blog and I aren’t going away—I’m just hitting pause as I prepare for a return with a new direction. And I will keep shouting out Toronto’s rich and vibrant arts scene no matter what.

Cheers, Cate

 

 

 

Mothers, daughters & the nature of power & leadership in the electric, razor-sharp Mother’s Daughter

Shannon Taylor & Fiona Byrne. Set & costume design by Lorenzo Savoini. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Soulpepper brings the Stratford Festival production of the final installment of Kate Hennig’s remarkable trilogy—exploring the Tudor period from the perspectives of its most famous and powerful women—to the Young Centre with the electric, razor-sharp Mother’s Daughter, directed by Alan Dilworth. Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary), who become the first female monarch of England, struggles with both inner and outer conflict—living in the shadow of her formidable, beloved mother Catalina (Catherine of Aragon), and up against her popular, cunning sister Bess (Elizabeth I) and young, naive cousin Lady Jane Grey to gain and maintain the crown during a great period of upheaval and uncertainty following her brother Edward’s death. Exploring mother/daughter relationships, and the nature of leadership and power, it’s an intensely compelling portrait of trust, alliance, betrayal and grit.

mothers-daughter-gallery-03
Shannon Taylor & Andrea Rankin. Set & costume design by Lorenzo Savoini. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Teenaged King Edward VI has died, and has disinherited his sisters Mary (Shannon Taylor) and Bess (Jessica B. Hill), and—guided by John Dudley—named their 16-year-old cousin Lady Jane Grey (Andrea Rankin) as his successor; Jane just happens to be Dudley’s daughter-in-law and claims to have no desire for the crown. Bess and Mary are having none of it, and a three-way battle for the throne ensues, with nobles and common folk alike taking sides and declaring loyalties. Initially refusing to use violent means to get what she wants, Mary chooses to use her voice and the power of reason as a means to appeal to and win over her adversaries.

With early confrontations going her way, Mary wins the crown—and begins the hard work of strategizing her reign with the assistance of personal advisors Bassett (Beryl Bain) and Susan (Maria Vacratsis), with diplomat Simon (Gordon Patrick White) guiding her through protocol and procedure. Also in Mary’s corner is her deceased mother Catalina (Fiona Byrne), who—through Mary’s memory and inner voice—appears, urging a decisive, iron grip approach, particularly when it comes to dealing with adversaries and restoring the Catholic faith to England. Added to the mix in Mary’s deliberations is Catalina’s nemesis Anne Boleyn (Hill), Bess’s mother, who wielded power in her own visceral way, in direct opposition to Catalina (and Mary’s) more cerebral approach. And throughout all the fireworks and debates between her various advisors, Mary grapples with her own sense of self-doubt and confidence as she strives to come to terms with her newly acquired power and responsibility. All the while, dealing with physical pain, Mary clutches her lower abdomen throughout—highlighting the pressures of producing an heir in her late 30s, and foreshadowing the (likely) ovarian or uterine cancer that contributed to her death at 42 during a flu epidemic.

Stunning performances from this largely female cast. Taylor does an outstanding job with Mary’s complexity and inner conflict; gutsy, determined and ambitious, Mary wants to be a moderate ruler, but finds she must steal herself to best confront personal and national threats. Living in the shadow of her mother Catalina, Mary is also both haunted and dogged by an extremely complicated mother/daughter relationship; both longing for love and approval while fighting Catalina’s harsh judgment, and determined to do things her own way even as she navigates her own second guessing and conflicting advice from counsellors. Byrne is an imposing, regal presence as the imperious Catalina; constantly pushing Mary to be the best monarch she can be, Catalina is laser-focused and brutally honest—holding no punches as she advises her daughter.

mothers-daughter-gallery-07
Shannon Taylor & Jessica B. Hill (as Anne). Set & costume design by Lorenzo Savoini. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Hill’s Bess exudes a cock-sure confidence and comfort in her own skin that Mary struggles to possess; exceedingly cunning and at ease with her power, Bess knows without a shadow of a doubt that she was meant to rule. Hill brings a fierce sensuality to the self-possessed Anne, making it easy to see the source of Bess’s passion and fire. Rankin’s sweet, naïve Jane stands in stark contrast to the ambitious Mary and Bess; a seeming innocent who professes no desire for the crown, Jane has been groomed for the throne—by a third mother figure who we don’t see here—and finds she must admit that maybe she does really want it after all.

Bain’s edgy, young spin master Bassett and Vacratsis’ measured, cautious veteran advisor Susan serve as perfect foils for each other—with Bassett representing Mary’s fight response and Susan the flight response. Rounding out Mary’s official council is the prim and proper diplomat Simon, who White infuses with a deadpan, stern schoolteacher-like countenance; the result is sometimes comic, but Simon also stands in for the male perspective here. Downplaying Mary, Bassett and Susan’s debates as “woman’s chatter”, Simon is a most reluctant and skeptical member of Mary’s inner circle. There is no precedent for a female monarch—and, like many men and even some women, Simon highly doubts that a woman is fit to rule.

The action is nicely supported by Lorenzo Savoini’s sharp, minimalistic set and stunning costumes, which combine a sense of the period with that of the 21st century; and complemented by Kimberly Purtell’s startling, edgy lighting design.

Winning hearts and minds, and reconciling the inner struggle between the kind of ruler one wants to be and the kind of ruler one needs to be. Difficult times require difficult decisions—and those in power must also do battle within themselves, even going against their own nature, to be the kind of leader they are required to be.

Mother’s Daughter continues at the Young Centre and must close on February 9; advance tickets available online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188. Get on those advance bookings to avoid disappointment.

In the meantime, check out the trailer: