Not Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs

A little while ago, I took up a WordPress writing challenge that my pal Kat Leonard alerted a bunch of us to. It had been some time since I’d written any fiction, and I had a blast working on it. You can read it here.

In the spirit of more cowbell, I thought it would be cool to post the occasional creative writing piece – and make this an ongoing thing for the blog. Here’s a little something that came to me last night:

Not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

My right knee is Crunchy.

My left knee is Cranky.

My eyes are Squinty.

My ass is Squishy.

My arms are Floppy.

My skin is Spotty.

My right pinky is Ouchy.

We’re not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but we manage to get up every day, go off to work, and look after each other.

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Nuit Blanche T.O. amazes & inspires

Had a blast wandering the night and checking out the Nuit Blanche Parade exhibits and others with my good pal Lizzie Violet. I’ve included some highlights of the evening below.

What turned you on at Nuit Blanche this year?

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The Queen of the Parade, by Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart. Multi-media artist/performer Lisa Anita Wegner, as the Queen, waves to the crowd from atop a 20-foot high gown.
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The Queen of the Parade – gown detail.
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Tortoise, by Michel de Broin. One of a series of assemblage sculptures made from picnic tables outside Campbell House. You could smell the cedar on this pleasantly cool fall evening. Warm cider was served there as well.
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Music Box, by John Dickson. A kinetic sculpture of musical instruments, creating eerie, otherworldly sounds all based on parts moving against each other.
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Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles installation at Nathan Phillips Square.
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Forever Bicycles installation with Toronto City Hall in the background.
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Ferris Wheel, by Katharine Harvey.
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Parallax, by Idea Design Collective. A luminous, beehive-like effect – all done with cardboard tubes and light.
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(X)Static Clown Factory, by Ruth Spitzer & Claire Ironside. An interactive performance installation, where folks were invited to come up and do the clowns’ work. I think peeps got paid in balloons.
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Woman in the crowd with neon light hula hoop.
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There is an elephant in the truck, an indie installation by Laurence Vallières. Another impressive piece done with cardboard.
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Hybrid Globe, by Arthur Wrigglesworth, Mohammad Mehdi Ghiyaei & Mojtaba Samimi.
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Ad Astra, one of three indie projects by [R]ed[U]ux Lab at the Bata Shoe Museum.
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RevitaLight – another piece utilizing cardboard – at Bata Shoe Museum.
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Light_Scape, an interactive light installation at Bata Shoe Museum.
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On the way to Artscape Wychwood Barns, we encountered this sculpture artist at work on Bloor Street West. He uses only centre of gravity and balance to build these pieces.
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Yep, that’s a concrete block balancing on top. And set on fire to great effect.
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An assistant moves a piece on Chess Set, by Blandford Gates, an indie installation at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
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Chess players Tomas Krnan (L) and Peter Vavrak (R) play blindfolded, giving verbal instructions to their respective assistants to move pieces on the board. And having to remember where every piece is.

The Queen of the Parade @ Nuit Blanche Toronto – interview with Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart

Artist/filmmaker/performer Lisa Anita Wegner and designer/costumer/fashion artist Vanessa Lee Wishart have joined creative forces to create the Queen of the Parade, one of the featured exhibits of the curated Parade exhibition series for Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013, on this Saturday night (October 5) from 7 p.m. till 7 a.m. on Sunday, October 6.

LWMC: Hi Lisa and Vanessa. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview on your upcoming Queen of the Parade exhibit at Nuit Blanche. How did the two of you connect initially?

VLW: I met Lisa through my boyfriend Dennis Painter, who composed the sound for Lisa’s Pixel Paint the Night installation for Nuit Blanche 2012.

LAW: … He went above and beyond and created a breathtaking interactive soundscape to go with my live art making at The Revue Cinema. His music score tied Pixel Paint the Night together exquisitely. Dennis said, “You should meet” – and, boy, am I glad I did.

LWMC: Did you come to work together with a specific project in mind, or did your collaborative work evolve more organically after your initial meeting?

LAW: I had just met Vanessa when I had the idea of a huge dress with a screen on the front – about a year and a half ago. By then, I knew Vanessa’s fashion artistry, and liked her sensibility and her previous work. She had already taken home multiple Nuit Blanche Fashion awards in previous years. If there was anyone to make this gown, it was Vanessa.

VLW: The installation began as an idea Lisa had, where Disney princesses and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding inspired her. She originally wanted a gown to wear for Nuit Blanche 2013. I changed the design and suggested that we go bigger, and use various fabrics to get the “gypsy” feel.

LWMC: Tell us about the Queen of the Parade installation for Nuit Blanche 2013. What sparked or inspired the concept for the Queen of the Parade?

VLW: We wanted to explore the aspect of the role of females and the femininity within society.

LAW: I had been fascinated by the UK reality series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I was mesmerized by their fashion – I love over the top, huge, bright clothing and genuinely appreciated the sense that nothing was too much. I was horrified by the options for role models behind the clothes: Disney Princess or Pop Star or some combination of the two. I remember having this in my head and walking my dogs one night while listening to Lady Gaga. With the huge dresses dancing in my head and the song “Marry The Night” playing, I remember the moment this idea was born. I came home and did the two sketches that I sent over with the pictures. First working title was the obvious Marry The Night, second was I Fuck Like A Man (after I’d been told that) and the third working title (which we originally submitted to Nuit Blanche) was That Kind Of Woman. At that point, the video content on the skirt was going to be commentary based on my experiences of being told I was not a good example for women because I act like a man. That was the spark.

LWMC: The Parade exhibition for Nuit Blanche subverts the traditional notion of “parade” in that it is the spectators who are moving through the spectacle, as opposed to the parade moving past the crowd – and the audience becomes part of the exhibit instead of passive observers. How, if at all, did/does this curatorial vision for the exhibition influence the work as you’re preparing for Nuit Blanche?

LAW: When we were brought into the vision of Patrick McCauley’s Parade, we simplified the idea. The content on the screen became walking legs to give the illusion of the parade moving. And the dress got bigger. Originally, I thought I would be on the ground with a three-foot screen. The Queen is now 20 feet tall and the screen is 10 feet tall. For [the] look, we researched parade queens from all over the world.

VLW: Through the use of projections, the “Queen” will appear to be moving, even though she is stationary. The viewer will have an impression of a traditional parade, while experiencing something new.

LWMC: The Queen of the Parade explores depictions and perceptions of femininity, in particular, regarding the concept of “the queen,” a traditional/historical position of power across cultures, but often viewed as being a lower status than a king. Since this is your first collaboration together, how did the two of you navigate the process of envisioning, then executing, the work?

LAW: Once we were brought on to the Parade, we both did separate research on Parades, Parade Queens, Queens and wedding gowns from all cultures. We shared research and the same images resounded with both of us, and I was happy with the very first sketches that Vanessa showed me. I felt like we are on the same page and I trust her creatively. We found the same virgin/whore theme in the parade queen research.

VLW: Lisa and I researched the role/history of the Queen within parades. We found that they are the highlight of the parade, the ultimate of feminine ideal. Kings within parades are usually of little or no importance. The Queen is symbol of royalty and power. Within North America, the Queen represents the most beautiful, pure and innocent. In South America, the Queen represents not only the most beautiful, but female fertility and sexuality. The Queen is an ideal many women try to attain.

LWMC: Lisa, when we were initially in touch to book this interview, you mentioned that you have a special part to play in the exhibit. I’ve seen your photos and sketches – and they look amazing – but I’m hesitant to put any spoilers out there. What can you say about it – or do you want folks to be surprised when they see it?

LAW: I kind of like that people – even after seeing process photos – really don’t have a sense of what this is going to be. And let’s keep it like that. The City chose, for PR, only to use a corner of my mock-up image. So as to not spill the beans.

LWMC: Vanessa, did you engage live models for the exhibit – or do you want that to be a surprise on the night? Will visitors have a chance to speak with you at the exhibit?

VLW: There are two live performers for the exhibit. I will be at the installation at various times during the evening. I would love to hear from the public.

LWMC: What do you hope folks will take away with them when they see the Queen of the Parade?

LAW: I hope the experience of the Art Parade will feel as exciting as a parade did for me when I was a kid – I am very interested in experiential art. The absurd proportions and playfulness of the installation, I hope invite the audience in – and from seeing our installation, people might reflect on why in 2013, with all the choices for women, two images offered repeatedly are a princess/bride/virgin and starlet/vamp/whore.

VLW: We want the crowd to feel that they were “in the parade” and involved.

LWMC: Any plans for continuing with this project or remounting it? Any plans for further collaboration on other work?

LAW: We are intending to take this Queen to other Nuit Blanche; we are keeping her afterward. I would love to take her to New York and Vanessa would love Paris. I feel certain that Vanessa and I will continue to work together. An upcoming installation of mine (working title) is Neverwet on White and it requires a white dress, and Vanessa is the one I want to make it. Vanessa also made me a nifty Wonder Woman corset to wear when I did the “Art Saved My Life” talk as part of WonderFest past year.

VLW: I would love to work with Lisa again, and I hope that this exhibit will be remounted in the future.

LWMC: Cool! Any other upcoming events/exhibits that either of you want to shout out?

LAW: Vanessa is opening a show the same night as Nuit Blanche, she can tell you about it. I have a whole array of installations in the works, but the Queen is my current focus.

VLW: I am currently working on Night of the Living Dead: Live! at Theatre Passe Muraille, as well as Evil Dead: The Musical at The Bathurst Street Theatre. Come see it! If you would like to view more of my work, please visit my website. Please contact me at vlwishart@gmail.com

LWMC: Thanks again, ladies! Looking forward to seeing The Queen of the Parade on Saturday night.

You can also check out Lisa Anita Wegner’s work on her blog, MySpace page and YouTube channel.

Be sure to come out and experience The Queen of the Parade at Queen St. West/University this Saturday night. Here’s a sneak peek, images courtesy of Lisa Anita Wegner:

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The Queen of the Parade – Queen adjusting
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The Queen of the Parade – Queen underthings
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The Queen of the Parade – sketch 1
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The Queen of the Parade – sketch 2

A brief & engaging history of Richard Sheridan Willis – Strolling Player

strolling_player-250x274Every work of art tells a story – no matter what the medium – and likely our first experience of a story was having one read or told to us, usually by one person. Put that person onstage and they become part storyteller, part entertainer and even – if we’re actively listening and fully take the words in – part teacher.

Richard Sheridan Willis provides such an experience in his one-man show Strolling Player. Written by Willis and his wife Heidi Reimer, and directed by Robert Richmond, the play took root in Willis’s immigration application (British-born, he wed a Canadian), wherein he was required to account for his whereabouts and goings-on from the age of 18. This process inspired Strolling Player, the blog, highlighting the humanity behind the government forms – and the blog evolved into a theatre piece. Strolling Player, the play, appeared in the Toronto Fringe Festival this past summer and is currently being remounted at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

As he makes his entrance, dressed in a worn and slightly soiled white cotton suit, the sound of waves against the shore in the background, Willis appears as a world-worn wandering player with a hint of shipwreck survivor about him, like a character from Twelfth Night or The Tempest. Summoning the spotlight with a snap of his fingers, off we go.

Willis’s storytelling takes us from his childhood at his father’s theatre in Guernsey, to his life as an actor in England and abroad – including a death scene in Dr. Who, experiences working with the likes of Richard Burton and Daniel Day-Lewis, and learning the art of drag from Harvey Fierstein, and from the not so glamourous tour travelling to performing Shakespeare at the White House in front of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Professional anecdotes are woven with personal moments from life, love and family, aptly bridged with excerpts from Shakespeare and supported with snatches of music, the soundtrack of a life.

Deftly written and performed with masterful style, heart, wit and presence, Strolling Player is a magical, moving and marvelous trip through an actor’s life. Immediately rapt by Willis’s performance, the audience follows along with his shifting tone – from commanding to passionate to vulnerable, his rich voice evoking various people from his past and present, the characters of a life. We are thoroughly engaged from start to finish of this 90-minute piece. And then we hear the waves again. He snaps the spotlight off. And the journey is over. At least for now.

With shouts to composer Dougal Rose and designer Leah Reimer for their contributions to this remarkable play.

Strolling Player continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Originally scheduled to run Thursday through Sunday until September 22, it’s been extended to include performances on Sept 23, 26, 27 and 28.

Go see this play.

Energizing & inspiring: Eclectic – September Group Exhibition @ Fran Hill Gallery

It had been a while since I’d been to the Fran Hill Gallery, so I was very happy to get the heads-up from Fran that the gallery was mounting a group exhibition: Eclectic – September Group Exhibition, which opened last night and runs until September 29.

Located at 285 Rushton Road, Toronto near St. Clair/Christie, Fran Hill Gallery is just around the corner from a lively and diverse stretch of St. Clair. The shops range from the Good Will to the vintage shop Gypsy, from pubs like Dave’s to more upscale eateries like The Rushton, and chain coffee Starbucks to the indie Noir and Pain Perdu. There’s a great neighbourhood feel to the gallery, but you don’t have to be a regular to receive a warm welcome. It’s also a clubhouse of sorts for the artists represented there, to hang out with Fran and other artists, and meet art lovers and prospective collectors.

The participating artists are as distinctive as their work, creating art in a variety of media, and coming from various professional and cultural backgrounds. Pieces done in oil on canvas (Alex Wu’s Untitled lady), pencil or watercolour on paper (Blair Sharpe’s watercolour abstracts), wood (Rosalie Lam’s Canada geese and Lynn Cumine’s nude woman); collage (Steve Rockwell’s thumbnail installation); with digital cameras (Jim Ingram’s NYC photos); sculptures in glass and plaster (Leon Rooke’s “Who’s Your Daddy!); the images ranging from the abstract to portraits and landscapes, to homage to other artists (À la Pablo Picasso’s abstract nudes). “Eclectic” is the perfect title for this exhibition.

The Eclectic – September Group Exhibition artists are, in alphabetical order:

Steve Armstrong

Christopher Arnoldin

Robert Chandler

Tien Chang

Linda Corbett

Lynn Cumine

Michael Warren-Darley

Michael Gerry

Gerald Gladstone

Frederick Hagan

Inez

Jim Ingram

Rosalie Lam

Derek Liddington

Barbara McGivern

Bhashkar Mooljee

Robert Nowacki

À la Pablo Picasso

Leon Rooke

Brian Saby

Robert Schwager

Blair Sharpe

Lanny Shereck (who also has an exhibit opening at loop tomorrow, running September 14 – October 6)

Steve Rockwell

Y.M. Whelan

Alex Wu

Sean Yelland

Standing in the centre of the showroom, immersed in these images, is both an energizing and inspiring experience. And you can feel it too. Eclectic – September Group Exhibition is on at Fran Hill Gallery until September 29. Hours: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11 – 6 or by appointment. Contact: 416-363-1333 or email: franhillgallery@bellnet.ca

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Fran Hill surveys the gallery & exhibit patrons from the doorway
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The Fran Hill Gallery neon sign glows in the window
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Steve Rockwell’s thumbnail installation
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Alex Wu’s untitled lady gazes at us over her shoulder
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The north room of the gallery
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Lynn Cumine’s nude woman, painted on wood
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Leon Rooke’s plaster sculpture “Who’s Your Daddy!”
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Opening night guests enjoying the patio in front of the gallery

With gratitude

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Cowbell series – Gratitude

I’ve been reminded – several times this week – how rich I am in wonderful, creative friends. Whether it’s someone recommending or inviting me to go see a band, a movie, a play, read a book or a poem – or whatever – there is such a wealth of sharing and connection in my life right now that I just had to pause and say thank you. And that goes for you, too, dear reader. Thank you for dropping by. Thank you for your comments, compliments, queries, suggestions.

We are all the richer for sharing thoughts, ideas, feelings and art.

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Wink – photo by Lisa MacIntosh

With thanks to photographer Lisa MacIntosh who went out of her way to go outside to her car, take this photo and send it to me today. She says it reminds her of me. I can see the resemblance. 😉

So long, Q Space

I had the pleasure of attending two arts events at Q Space last week: The Beautiful & the Damned (TB&TD) on Thursday night and Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LV Cabaret Noir) on Sunday; check out Duncan Armstrong’s TOpoet blog posts of these recent editions of TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir. Both events showcase local performing and literary artists, and provide opportunities for established and emerging artists to get up in front of an audience for open mic segments. It was the last time that both events would take place in the intimate storefront space. Q Space will be closing at the end of the month.

In addition to being the home of Quattro Books publishers, a gallery, book shop and licensed café, Q Space has hosted numerous poetry/spoken word events (including the weekly Art Bar poetry series and various poetry slam events) and workshops (the monthly Renaissance Revival), book launches and visual art exhibits, as well as cabaret shows like TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir, which present a variety of literary, music and performing artists. Artists, especially those who are starting out, need a supportive space to showcase their work and try out new material in front of an audience, and have the chance to meet and network with other artists. There aren’t a lot of spaces in the city for such opportunities – and Q Space was one of those spaces. And proprietor Luciano Iacobelli, always the congenial host, would even keep the place open late to accommodate an event.

On a personal note, not being in the mood for a birthday party this year, I decided to celebrate my 50th at the June edition of LV Cabaret Noir, which had just launched its monthly program at Q Space in the spring. It was an amazing evening of friends and artistry – and the atmosphere at Q Space had a lot to do with that. Thanks to Luciano and his staff for staying open late for us that night. LV Cabaret Noir will be moving to the main floor of The Central in September and TB&TD are in the process of finding a new space.

So here’s to Q Space. Here’s to Luciano and his staff, and all the folks who organized and attended events there throughout its history. To the café, book shop and gallery. To the Portuguese custard tarts, which for some reason I never bought at the local bakery when I lived in Little Portugal, but enjoyed at Q Space. You will be missed.

You still have a chance to pay Q Space a visit – they’re open till the end of August.

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TB&TD – Brenda Clews performs her last poem of the evening in mask
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TB&TD – Adam Abbas entertains, reading dirty limericks & other works
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TB&TD – Andrea Matchett gives us sweet sounds in her acoustic set
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TB&TD – Duncan Armstrong, in yet another awesome t-shirt, reads a selection of poems
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LV Cabaret Noir – Our lovely hostess with the mostess, Lizzie Violet
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LV Cabaret Noir – Andraya performs one of three sensual & explosive dance/movement pieces
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LV Cabaret Noir – knot rivals recites some powerful words
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LV Cabaret Noir – Tania Joy brings a heart & soulful acoustic set