Playfully whimsical, profoundly poignant & sharply candid ruminations in Dawna J. Wightman’s honey be

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Dawna J. Wightman. Photo by Vince Lupo.

 

Montreal-born Dawna J. Wightman is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and writer. Toronto audiences will recognize Wightman from her solo show Life as a Pomegranate, as well as Yellow Birds (Alumnae Theatre’s FireWorks Festival, 2015) and A Mickey Full of Mouse (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 2016 and Toronto Fringe, 2017). She’s currently working on adapting her unpublished dark fantasy novel A Yarn of Bone & Paper, based on her ebook: Faeries Real & Imagined: How to Create Magical Adventures for Very Young Children, into a feature film. She’s also working with director Theresa Kowall-Shipp on her short Kid Gloves, set to shoot November 2018.

As part of the funding process for Kid Gloves, Wightman self-published and sold honey be, “a collection of sweet words and some that sting,” including hand-painted covers and “surprises” stuffed inside. The first 50-volume print run sold out in about a week; and a second run will be available this month, featuring cover art design by Wightman’s daughter Sabine Spare.

Much like Wightman’s theatre work, the stories, poems and snippets in honey be range from playfully whimsical to profoundly poignant to sharply candid—often all in the same story and sometimes autobiographical in nature. While there are no titles, each piece bears an italicized post-script at the end; in some cases, these take on a conversational and even self-deprecating tone, making for a personal, intimate read.

The themes of family, motherhood and friendship come up in several pieces. There’s the story about Mrs. Kay, written from the perspective of a precocious, neglected eight-year-old who finds a home with fellow misfit schoolmate Sandra Kay and her quirky family; and the goofy four-legged family member Bella in just a dog. Reminders that family can sometimes be found in unexpected places—and to never judge a book by its cover.

There’s heart-wrenching nostalgia with an ode to her son in little boy; and remembrances of wearing an itchy baby blue Phentex dress and being her mother’s go-fer at the bingo hall, in pretty little head. And the heartache and fumbling for what to say to a friend living with cancer tumble out in the visceral when we found out you had cancer and in the outpouring of loving, supportive words in the piece that follows.

Ruminations on body image and aging come up as well, from the erotic in late summer, to the sharply candid and calling bullshit on the ridiculous expectations placed on women’s bodies—professionally and personally—in tits and ass and #chubbyprettywoman, and the #MeToo shock of new neighbour.

Quirky, bittersweet, child-like grown-up, all of the stories in honey be are tinged with humour and poignancy, and the everyday acknowledgement of life’s remarkable moments. And one gets the sense that, beyond coming from a place of truth telling—there’s a deep longing to share these words. There’s a line in the movie Shadowlands, from a C.S. Lewis quote: “We read to know we are not alone”—one could easily also say “We write to let others know they are not alone.”

Copies of honey be will be available for $20.00 via emailing wightrabiit@gmail.com; website coming soon. Wightman will be performing a reading from the book at Stratford’s SpringWorks Festival on October 11.

 

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Interview: Blues singer/songwriter & actor Carolyn Fe

Carolyn Fe, Sugat Ko cover. Photo by litratista.com

 

Carolyn Fe is a multi-talented, award-winning actress, blues singer/songwriter and host of the online syndicated radio show Unsung and On the Side. I had the pleasure of getting to know her while she was in Toronto, performing in the Nightwood Theatre/Sulong Theatre co-production of the world premiere of Audrey Dwyer’s Calpurnia, presented at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre back in January/February. Fe won the 2018 Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress for her compelling, poignant and funny portrayal of the family’s housekeeper Precy.

Between 2009 and 2014, she released three award-winning self-produced blues CDs: 100%, Original Sin and Bad Taboo. After taking a hiatus from her music career, she’s back with a deeply personal recording of original songs in Sugat Ko (My Wound in Tagalog)—to be launched on August 1, 2018 on CD Baby. Sugat Ko features the music talents of the Collective: Ivan Garzon (guitar), Brandon Goodwin (drums, percussion, vocals), Jean-Francois Hamel (guitar) and Oisin Little (bass). Guest musicians include Frank Gallant (bass), Sam Robinson (bass) and Gabriel Tremblay (drums).

Full of passion, anger, compassion and candid observations, Sugat Ko is an authentic, moving, evocative collection of original songs—delivered with rich, smooth vocals that shift from mysterious to powerful to tender. I asked Carolyn Fe about the record—and the road that led her to create it.

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk about Sugat Ko. This album is a major milestone for you: It marks your return to music after a four-year hiatus following the sudden loss of your friend and manager Barry Mell just before the release of Bad Taboo. You spoke about how things fell apart during that time, and how there was a significant shift within the band—and things were adrift for a while. Tell us about what brought you back. What was your inspiration to carry on and keep making music?

In all my endeavours, my approach is “do or die”. Making art; whether it be music, theatre, acting, writing, etc. equates to me breathing and feeling alive. There were times when I really wanted to throw in the towel, but I knew I had to keep going. The lyrics I had written meant a lot to me. I was hurting. I needed to keep writing; I needed to keep making music. I was feeling quite lost and alone. All those feelings of loss, pain and struggle kept me writing. Even though I was depressed, I was feeling alive (if you know what I mean). Words kept pouring out of me.

I met a lot of great musicians, but the connection/synergy wasn’t there until I found the ones who are with me right now: Jean-Francois Hamel (guitar), Ivan Garzon (guitar), Brandon Goodwin (drums & percussion), Oisin Little (bass, my muse who has been with me for 3 albums’ worth – Original Sin, Bad Taboo and now, Sugat Ko). When the five of us finally got together, my gut instincts told me that I can breathe with these gentlemen. They created a safe place for me to allow me to say and sing what I needed to say and sing. I also have Angie Arsenault who stuck by me through the tough times, she is a producer (prog rock and metal) – but first and foremost, she’s a friend who endured my whining through the tough times. She played all the instruments on “Prayer”.

This record is also a deeply personal reflection of your life and Philippine roots—a music offering that is profoundly soul-searching and revealing at the same time. And the songs on this record cover a broad emotional range, from pain, to passion, to playful and even prayerful. “Howzat” sounds like a wry Devil’s Advocate response to “Summertime”—a big contrast to the melancholy “Prayer”, the final track. What was the process of writing and recording like for you on this project?

For the longest time, since the creation of the debut EP 100% in 2008-2009, I was looking for a particular sound and it wasn’t a mainstream 12-bar blues sound. But I was also looking at my entrance to the music world from a business point of view. I needed to be careful in “instructing” the audience about what I was going to build (and also maybe I was chicken, insecure and afraid to assert myself, caring too much what “they” may think). So what I did was to “come in” with a standard blues-rock sound to get the auditors’ attention. You can hear the gradual evolution of where I wanted to be in a few songs as the new albums came out. The words/lyrics were true (you’ll note that there are religious connotations in most of my lyrics), but I was still reserved. It took life’s changes to finally find my footing and Sugat Ko is the result. Deep, deep lyrics from my heart, soul and essence of my being – all that, with no holds barred.

“Howzat” was the cacophony that was going on in my head during the four years that I had to keep a good face and smile at the world. I was dying on the inside; it was as if everything I touched went wrong. So yeah, this song talks about murdering and burying that mess, “she runs out into the garden with her Jimmy Choo’s sinking into the grass, cement, that’s all she can think of…cement, what a ride…oh baby hush now, don’t you cry, hush, hush baby, just give it a sigh”. Once buried, I moved on.

“Prayer” was me at my most desperate moments. It’s all about choice. We have choices and although on the surface it sounds like a call for help, it’s actually the complete opposite of asking for help. Prayer is a cry to die. It is also a song that is dedicated to a friend who passed away from cancer. She was in pain and there were moments when she wanted to end it. When I wrote this song, I wasn’t “intimate” enough with my new musicians, at least not yet. My friend, Angie Arsenault, and I were talking a lot of the difficult times. She had padded shoulders that I could lean on when I needed. Then it occurred to me to ask her to collaborate on the song as she knew exactly where my mindset was. She played all the instruments on “Prayer”.

Writing a song in an intimate process for me. There are times when I will already have the lyrics and will sit with only one of my musicians, who I call my Stage Husbands (because of the intimate process of writing). Other times, I would write the lyrics on the spot while they play along and understand the vibe of the tune. But for me, it is always a one on one process to create a song.

Sugat Ko draws on gospel and rock in a beautiful, moving fusion with the blues that complement the lyrics and take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Did you map out these arrangements ahead of time, on a song-by-song basis—or was it more of an organic process as you and the band worked together in the studio?

Actually, no. I treated each song as their own entity and let my gut instinct own the process, as well as organize it. Once the basic skeleton of the song is done after the one-on-one writing sessions with a stage hubby, then we would all get together and make the arrangement of the song. That’s the part where they all get technical while I listen to my gut feelings to make sure the vibe and soundscape is right.

You’ve been working on a 5th album, Cover My Bass, a collection of cover songs. What can you tell us about that record?

A while back, I saw Dalannah Gail Bowen and her bassist, Owen Owen Owen (nope, that’s not a repetitive keystroke error, that is his name) perform. They’re from British Columbia. I was so inspired!!! Here’s a woman pushing towards her 70s with this younger man on bass. It was an odd pair, but just her voice and his bass was music to my ears. Whenever we hear of duos, it’s mostly voice/guitar or voice/piano. I have never heard of voice and bass. I was hooked and inspired. It took me a long time to find a bass player who could jive with me. Frank Gallant was introduced to me by my drummer, Brandon Goodwin. Frank and I hit it off. He understood what I wanted to do.

I am not fond of doing cover songs. There are so many artists out there doing it, so I will leave it to them. BUT this 5th album (an EP actually) is already complete. TADA! I am just waiting for Sugat Ko to mature and establish itself before I take out Cover My Bass, which is a collection of old, old songs unfamiliar songs and we do it as a duet: voice and bass.

Anything else you want to shout out?

I want to talk about how special my stage husbands are. Aside from Oisin Little (bass), we’ve been together for about two and a half years now. I am so grateful for having them with me. They are instrumental in bringing my confidence back. I never considered myself a musician. Yeah, I write the lyrics and I sing the lyrics. When other players would just say, “Let her sing, we’ll do the music part”, these gentlemen, my stage hubbies, brought me to a place where I never knew I belonged. They stopped and asked what my lyrics were about, they played and played until they understood the soundscapes that I was looking for; and once we found it, they pushed it further. They created a safe space for me to explore. This is why Sugat Ko is so important for me because every song on that album is me in the raw. They created the space so I can allow me to be myself. Also, I want to give a shout out to my stage hubbies’ life partners who quietly stood by their side, at times rescheduling vacations and special occasions, so that we can create.

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

What’s your favourite word?

Yes

What’s your least favourite word?

Can’t

What turns you on?

Heart-full people that I resonate with. Pushing my envelope. Thinking, creating and doing things – not out of the box but – without a box. Challenges that make me feel alive. Doing. Pastries and sea food.

What turns you off?

Routine. Folks who don’t get out of their comfort zone and then whine about their regrets (HEY! It’s not too late, you can still do it). Folks who say, “It’s always been done that way”. Racism and discrimination really burns my butt.

What sound or noise do you love?

The inhale/exhale of satisfaction from a job well done.

What sound or noise do you hate?

It’s almost like a cartoon; the sound of screeching brakes in my head when fear overcomes me.

What is your favourite curse word?

I have too many, but the F-bomb usually starts it off, followed by other choice words (e.g., F’ing Toe Crud, F’ing butt cheese, etc.).

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?

I’ve had and have many professions. In no particular order: Ballerina, Contemporary Dancer, Choreographer, Technical Recruiter & Human Resources Generalist, Marketing Specialist, Hair Stylist (which I still do and love – I went to school for it), Singer/Songwriter, Actor, Radio Host, Business owner, Corporate Consultant, Caregiver, etc.

What profession would you not like to do?

I tried, but I am not a good housekeeper.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Ha! The question doesn’t say “…finally arrive at the Pearly Gates”. So I think, this is what God would ask me: “Are you done yet or do you wanna go back again?”

Thanks, Carolyn!

Thank you – and the hugs I am saving in my back pocket for you are gathering compounded interest again.

 

Toronto theatre audiences fell in love with Carolyn Fe and her performance in Calpurnia—and the feeling is mutual. Fe and her husband are looking to move from Montreal to Toronto in the near future, where we’ll have even more chances to see her perform live.

You can keep up with Carolyn Fe on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Keep your eyes and ears out for Sugat Ko on CD Baby on August 1.

 

Taking a trip to the other side of Menopause Mountain & giving no f*cks in the hilarious, frank & inspiring The Big ‘What Now?’

Ever wonder what the view was like on the other side of menopause? Or perhaps you’re already there and you need to hear from someone who gets it. Everything but the Kitchens Inc. invites you to join Sandra Shamas and The Big ‘What Now?’, running at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre.

Through anecdotes, and thoughtful, sharply funny riffs and musings, Shamas takes us on a personal history tour of life after 50. Having made it to the top of Menopause Mountain—and leaving alcohol, caffeine and memory behind—Shamas enjoys and explores the brave new world of post-menopause as she tears down the assumptions and expectations that render invisible women ‘of a certain age.’ There’s a new sense of clarity, relief and release as menopause burnishes and tempers to an authentic self—and the sheer joy of giving no f*cks.

The storytelling is hilariously entertaining, fierce and fiery at times, and empowering. Self-deprecation blends with cockiness as she revels in being able to bypass the feminine protection aisle at the drug store only to notice the adult diapers at the end of that aisle. Thanks to a strength of will, and not taking “No” or “That’s just the way it is” for an answer, Shamas displays pioneering spirit and grit at her farm house home during bathtub shitmageddon and the 2013 ice storm, as she relates of how she had to dig to find the septic tank, and chop wood for heat and cooking. And was reminded of the beauty of everyday things we take for granted like electricity and a shower—and experiences the depths of gratitude when these became available again. Wrapping the first half, she tells us: she may have been without electricity, but she wasn’t without power.

Pondering issues of identity—and what that looks like after 50—Shamas relates a childhood in a conservative, traditional family where, as a girl, the only thing she was expected to be was good; and how a life-changing trip to the theatre to see Lily Tomlin perform her one-woman show set her on this path of sharing and storytelling. Shows that are snapshots of life at each stage, as she is and what she’s experiencing—and not from some brochure at a checkout counter. Covering topics from retirement, to sexuality, to dating on Tinder and OkCupid, Shamas is frank, unapologetic, genuine and laugh out loud funny.

Finishing with a reflection on all the late bloomer moments in her life, she also considers how, as a farmer who grows food for herself and others, she’s come to learn that seeds will only grow under specific conditions. Everything in its good time, under the right circumstances; so there really are no late bloomers. A reminder that we can all be our authentic selves—and we don’t necessarily have to wait for ‘the change’ to get there.

Taking a trip to the other side of Menopause Mountain and giving no f*cks in the hilarious, frank and inspiring The Big ‘What Now?’

The Big ‘What Now?’ continues at the Fleck Dance Theatre—good news, it’s been held over an extra week until February 19; get your advance tix online. This is an extremely popular show and place was packed last night, so advance booking is strongly recommended.

In the meantime, check out Shamas’s CBC Radio Q interview with host Tom Power and give her a follow on the Twitter.

Photo by Mark Jewusiak.

Toronto Fringe: Fun on Stage Left, Patron’s Pick & Best of Fringe

2016_Fringe-Signage_FINALHey again –

Had to take off to co-host today’s Fringe-tastic edition of Stage Left on Radio Regent with host MC Thompson, where we had a blast chatting with Michael Posthumus from Kneel! Diamond Dogs; Melissa Oei from Wild/Society and Stephane Garneau-Monten from The Art of Being Alone.

So now that I’m home briefly to feed the cat and myself, thought I’d take a moment to shout out:

This year’s Patron’s Pick list is out – tickets on sale right now.

Best of the Fringe has been announced as well.

Big shouts to Fringe staff, volunteers and tech folks! We can’t Fringe without you guys.

Off again shortly to see my last two shows: Out (which will also be featured in Best of Fringe) and Echoes – A New Musical. Three days left – and lots to see. Happy Fringing!

Toronto Fringe: The man. The ego. The outsider. Orson Welles meets Shylock in the compelling Orson Welles/Shylock

orson_welles_shylock-mattchiorinidrewgripevincentrandazzolexibedore

The Shylock Project is in town from Syracuse, NY with a Toronto Fringe run of Orson Welles/Shylock, written and directed by Matt Chiorini, in the Factory Theatre studio.

Structured as a docu-fantasy radio play, Orson Welles/Shylock is a multimedia, largely verbatim theatre piece that incorporates quotes, reviews, interviews and text from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, as well as projection effects and film footage of Welles in an impromptu performance of Shylock’s famous soliloquy on a beach at sunrise.

Featuring a cast of four actors, including Chiorini, Brittany Fayle, Drew Gripe and Vincent Randazzo – who each play several characters, including Welles at various ages – we get a brief history of Welles’ career. His mother started reading Shakespeare to him when he was a preschooler, and by the time he was 18, he was starting to produce, direct, write, adapt and star in his own productions, starting with theatre and moving to filmmaking. An outsider in Hollywood, and pretty much anywhere he went, he found a particular resonance with Shylock. He created a large body of work, but much of it was left unfinished due to financing issues, the most notable of which was his 1960 made for TV version of The Merchant of Venice, which stopped production when CBS pulled its financing. Only a small portion of the footage remains, as Welles reported it was later stolen.

The four-person cast does a stellar job portraying Welles throughout his career, from the brash, fearless rookie of an 18-year-old, to middle-aged titan, to the aging veteran forced to take acting jobs to subsidize his own projects (and thankful he didn’t do Love Boat). Encouraged and praised from a very young age, there was nothing he couldn’t do. A workaholic with a huge ego, demanding standards and a razor-sharp wit, he eschewed any editorial hands on his work but his own. But throughout it all, like Shylock was in Venice, but not of Venice – Welles was in the industry but not of the industry. An outsider till his death at 70, we get various portraits of him from a number of review clips, quotes and interviews; and one gets the impression that – like his most famous film character Charles Foster Kane – few, if any, really knew him at all. And his Shylock soliloquy is heartbreaking.

The man. The ego. The outsider. Orson Welles meets Shylock in the compelling Orson Welles/Shylock.

Orson Welles/Shylock continues at the Factory Theatre Studio, with three more performances: today (Thurs, July 7) at 4 p.m.; Sat, July 9 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sun, July 10 at 12:00 p.m. These guys aren’t local, so catch them while they’re still here. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Red Falcon / White Lightning brings it all with tight, fun new EP: INSTANT CLASSICS

rfwl instant classics coverRed Falcon / White Lightning (RF/WL) is Robert Eckert and Jeff D. Elliott. Following up last year’s double CD release Rootsy!!! Rocky!!!! Power!!! Poppy!!!!, the band recently released an EP of new tunes: INSTANT CLASSICS.

I got the scoop behind the evolution of INSTANT CLASSICS from Eckert:

Our latest effort called INSTANT CLASSICS was begun in early January and completed for a soft release at Molly Blooms in Stratford on April 18, 2014. It’s speedy production was recorded with a full band consisting of members Hugh Wilson (guitar, BG vocals), Nelson Sobral (guitar, BG vocals) and Kevin Jagger (drums), as well as Pete Gorman (from Young Doctors In Love) playing keys on every song. Unlike R!!!R!!!!P!!!P!!!!, where Jeff and Rob produced the majority of the sounds, each player’s amazing playing and off-the-cuff creativity lead to so many happy accidents that shaped the attitude and vibe of the EP, solidifying the group as a cohesive band.

And he had this to say about RFWL’s new mission statement:

Red Falcon / White Lightning is like a sparkling cherry-coloured ’67 Cutlass sitting in the garage. People don’t get to see it that often, but the car, with its white racing stripes, stays with them. They talk about the sightings, and listen for the rev of the engine. With a full tank of equal parts Elvis Costello, Josh Homme, AC Newman, Joel Plaskett & James Mercer, RFWL stealthily slips out onto the songwriting superhighway, foot on the gas without plans for pit stops. They’ll be your favourite band you just might never get to see.

First off, I love the radio show device in INSTANT CLASSICS, the band using it as an auditory skeleton of sorts for the record. The first track features a slow contemporary groove and the deep mellow tones of “The Five at 5 with Ollie,” with our host introducing this edition’s feature band RFWL and INSTANT CLASSICS. The tunes kick off with the poppy, optimistic “Out There Somewhere,” then segues into some catchy Brit-pop sounds in “The Worst Thing About Time.” The record then shifts gears into the beautiful, wistful strains of the ballad “Time Has Come (Are We Ready?)” – featuring bittersweet, haunting guitar riffs, a soft drive of percussion and vocal harmonies reflecting the pain of impending transition. Switching over to a more rocky vibe, “Half Shit” becomes trippy and psychedelic towards the end, while “This Day and Age” has a kicky retro vibe and lyrics bemoaning an overwhelming modern-day world. Kicky turns to quirky with the final track “Dark and Deep with Sage Miles,” which starts as a wacky fun interview, with host Sage Miles speaking with cartoonish versions of Rob and Jeff, and ends with the band’s equally whimsical, new keys-driven single “Half Bald.”

With INSTANT CLASSICS, Red Falcon / White Lightning brings tight musicianship, strong vocals and an eclectic range of music – all delivered with a sense of passion and big fun. Catch them live if you can – and check out this record!

In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at INSTANT CLASSICS on the band’s YouTube video on the making of the record.

You can also find Red Falcon / White Lightning on: CBC, Bandcamp and YouTube.

 

 

Loads of laughs in Siobhán Dungan’s radio play The Receptionist – one night only December 6

ReceptionistHey kids! More big fun coming at a one night only reading of Siobhán Dungan’s radio comedy The Receptionist, where eight actors (including the playwright) play approximately 120 different characters – and I’m one of those actors!

Here’s what playwright/actor Siobhán Dungan’ has to say about this big wacky fun time:

It’s a play

It’s a Radio Play

It’s a Comedic Radio Play

It’s a Christmas-themed, Comedic, Radio Play

It’s based on a true story

I have been working on this play since 1999

It’s finally ready.

The time has come.

I have a venue.

I have 7 wonderful actors and one brilliant musician.

Friday, December 6, 2013

PLEASE come to attend the one-night performance (and recording)

 of

The Receptionist

I promise you will laugh at least 44 times.

The Deets:

8pm (Doors open at 7:30 p.m.)

2 Sussex Avenue (south west of St. George & Bloor)

PWYC (Suggested $10)

Bring 2 or 3 friends for 2 hours of laughter.