Alumnae Theatre goes After Mrs. Rochester

It’s that time of the year – and the fall theatre seasons are off.

My pals at Alumnae Theatre open their 2011-12 season with Polly Teale’s After Mrs. Rochester, opening next Friday, September 23 and running till Friday, October 7 on the main stage.

Directed by Laura Roald (who directed Closer for the Alum a few years ago), After Mrs. Rochester follows the troubled life of writer Jean Rhys, who penned Wild Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The production – co-produced by PJ Hammond and Tabitha Keast – features an all-female cast, with two of the women playing various male characters: Kanika Ambrose, Julie Burris (who appeared at Alum in Daughter of the House), Laura Jabalee, Tabitha Keast (Closer, You Are Here), Tina McCulloch (doing triple duty acting, marketing & blogging) and Susan Q Wilson (After Magritte).

PLEASE NOTE: this production will be closing on a Friday night (not the usual Saturday night). Check out the Alumnae website for more info and reservations (I think they still need to revise the closing date there):


Stand up for the arts in Toronto

Hey all – As I’ve mentioned, life with more cowbell is not meant to be a political blog per se, but recent developments at Toronto’s City Hall have inspired me to get this message out there.

I believe that the arts are vital to the cultural and economic well-being of our city. My Toronto includes a vibrant, thriving arts community. If you think so too, please take a moment to sign this online petition. I did.

Petition to Protect Arts Funding to Keep Toronto Vibrant:



St. John’s highlights – places

For my last post on my St. John’s trip, I’d like to feature the various places and spaces I visited throughout the city.

My first full day, I took a boat tour with Iceberg Quest Tours, where I got an excellent view of the harbour, the skyline, the Battery (see photo below) and the Narrows. A bit late in the season, we didn’t see any whales, but we got out to Cape Spear (the furthest east you can get in the Americas), the top of which was covered in a blanket of fog when we got out there, then headed east to take a look at Quidi Vidi through the entrance to that harbour. Being out on the Atlantic ocean was both calming and cooling (the weather was a very uncharacteristic high 20s with a mid-30s humidex that day). Having neglected my sunscreen, I also got a mild sun/wind burn that day.

The next day, I took a cab up to the Botanical Gardens – which was too far for me to walk to, as it’s way up in the northwest part of the city at Memorial University. Another beautiful, peaceful trek into nature, but earth-bound this time, there’s a medicinal herb garden, as well as a garden with flowers, plants and vegetables. My favourite part was the five nature trails, winding around a large pond in the centre; the map provided by the info desk folks was very helpful, not only for navigating around, but for decision-making in terms of how much I was up for walking (the map they provided gave approx. walking times for each trail section). In the end, I decided to do all five trails and ended my visit with a snack in their cosy tea room, where I chatted with another hard-working, hospitable gal (who did everything from cooking, serving, busing and loading the dishwasher). Take a look:

We had only one significant rainfall while I was there – Tuesday night – and it was overcast and cooler Wednesday morning, so I made that museum day. It was a short walk from the B&B to The Rooms, a combination art gallery, natural history museum and archives with a gorgeous panoramic view of St. John’s (it’s on a hill, with big windows on all sides). The exhibit of the North, featuring photographs and sculpture was a particular stand-out for me when I visited. And their gift shop includes Republic of Doyle merch! Check it out:  Close to The Rooms is the (Roman Catholic) Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful piece of architecture with traditional and modern stained glass windows:

With cooler temperatures and a few days of walking up and down hill, I figured I’d had sufficient physical training to walk to – and up – Signal Hill, with a visit to the Johnson Geo Centre on the way up. The stop at the Geo Centre was a very good thing, as it was an uphill trek just to get there – with more uphill to come for the Signal Hill Lookout. It was a grey, drizzly morning, so I took my time with the exhibits (the forecast called for afternoon clearing). Built into the rock of Signal Hill, most of this place is below ground – so the entrance is the tip of the iceberg. The introductory film, as well as geo exhibit film clips, were hosted/narrated by Gordon Pinsent (which was awesome) and, in addition to the large geo exhibit, there was also a comprehensive overview on the Titanic and the perfect storm of greed, corporate competition, and the huge systemic and human errors that lead to its tragic collision with an iceberg. There was also an excellent doc on volcanoes, and their part in forming and sustaining the Earth as we know it. Take a look at their website:

After spending a good three hours at the Geo Centre, I headed out and back uphill, stopping at the Signal Hill Visitor Centre. Gerri had recommended taking the trail up to the lookout (as opposed to just going up the sidewalk along the road), so I asked the info desk gal where I could find the trail. That was another piece of brilliant advice from my B&B host – the trail was uphill, but wound up and around in a gentler way than the sidewalk – and I took the opportunity of stopping at the Queen’s Battery to take a bit of a breather and take in the view of the harbour, the city and the Battery village below. Once up at the lookout, I got some more great views – from both the hilltop and up in the lookout.

Now, for getting down on foot, you have several choices: the trail or the sidewalk back down, or one of two boardwalk trails: one going down into Quidi Vidi and the other down to the Battery. I chose the latter and started down. The path winds down (and up sometimes too) along a series of wooden staircases and gravel paths, out towards the ocean in front of the lookout then back toward the Narrows, the Battery and the Harbour. So winding that you sometimes can’t see where the path is going ahead of you. This was a great exercise in trust: both in the path and in myself. Soon I was on an asphalt road in the centre of the Battery and heading back to downtown St. John’s – and to Moo Moos for a well-deserved ice cream.

My last full day, I took a cab out to Quidi Vidi, to do the brewery tour there – and sample some of the locally brewed beer, of course. A small group of us, including a family of three from Savanna, Georgia, were treated to a tour hosted by the owner himself, Dave Rees, who was accompanied by tour trainee Sydney. We started in the lounge, where we were given an overview of the brewery’s history (it used to be a fish processing plant) and – best of all – samples of six of their brands, the most famous and recent is Iceberg, which is made with water from actual icebergs and marketed in a gorgeous blue glass bottle. This beer is so clear, that when you hold the bottle up to the light, it looks like water. I was also impressed that they used honey in their Honey Brown Ale recipe (apparently, most honey brown beers are only named so for their colour) – and this is the brand I chose for my bottle (they were all sold out of Iceberg beer). Had another nice walk back downtown, past a small lake and along Forest Road – more beautiful, peaceful scenery and some gorgeous houses along the way.

On the way back to the B&B, I stopped at the Devon House Gallery, located in the Craft Council of Newfoundland building: This is where I got one of the few things I purchased for myself on this trip: a Turk’s Head Knot bracelet. This is a knot used on tall ships and is also a Celtic symbol for eternity.

Other great places I visited included some pubs The Duke of Duckworth, The Ship, the Shamrock; coffee houses Hava Java, the Rocket (I have their t-shirt) and Sappho’s Cafe (where I spotted Mary Walsh sitting on the patio with her dog and chatting with a friend); shops like The Living Planet (where I got some awesome t-shirts for my nephews) and restaurants The Gypsy Tea Room, the Bamboo and the Magic Wok. And, of course, I walked along Duckworth and Water Streets pretty much every day.

Two final photos: the house on Gower Street that Republic of Doyle uses for the Doyle house and some classic multi-coloured row houses:

It was a great trip and I’d highly recommend visiting St. John’s. To see the province, though, I’ll either go with someone who drives next time or take a package bus tour.

ELLAmentary, darling

One of the shows I missed during this year’s Toronto Fringe and Best of Fringe was Christine Aziz’s ELLAmentary – A One Person Musical About Filling Out & Fitting In. I finally saw the show last night at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Aziz wrote the script and music, and performs in this touchingly real – and hilariously funny – take on female adolescence.

Aziz is a powerhouse performer – and an excellent voice mimic – as she tells this tale of Ella Salmon, whose unfortunate name and quirky personality make her a prime target for schoolyard mean girls and bullies, who call her “Salmonella.” Ella is a bright and positive force to be reckoned with, though, assisted by her toy cat Chirpy and her poster of Tallulah Bankhead (and Aziz does a mean Bankhead impersonation through the course of their chats).

Stand-out moments for me: Ella’s speedy recitation of the Hail Mary and the trip to the department store lingerie section for her first bra (a AAA) – gave me flashbacks to my grandma reciting the rosary and my trip to Sears for my first bra.

Assisting Aziz through this onstage journey is her intrepid SM/light & sound tech/props wrangler, etc., Hayley Simpson. Before the show, Hayley and I danced to the awesome 90s pre-show music that Aziz programmed while Rosemary chatted with passers-by, tempting them to come see the show.

The other cool thing about seeing the show last night is that Red Sandcastle Theatre is a relatively new space – and run by my pal Rosemary Doyle (who’s appeared in a few Fringe hits herself). With an excellent location in Riverdale (922 Queen St. E., just east of Logan – and right beside Ed’s Real Scoop), in addition to its own programming, Red Sandcastle offers space for rehearsal and show/film shoot rentals, and Rosemary ran theatre camps for kids this past summer, with more to come during March break. Check it out sometime: – it’s also on Facebook.

You have one more chance to see ELLAmentary at Red Sandcastle Theatre – and that’s tonight (Sat, Sept 10) at 8 p.m. Coming up at the theatre: The Underpants and Suddenly Mommy!

St. John’s highlights – people

Instead of doing a day-by-day, chronological description of my time in St. John’s, I thought I’d go with a more thematic approach. And what sticks in my mind first and foremost are the people.

At The Bluestone Inn B&B, there were our hosts: owner/operator Gerri and her daughter Sarah, who in addition to looking after our rooms and daily morning feasts, provided sage advice on getting around St. John’s (on foot, by car or city bus), points of interest to visit, things to do, the weather and even cab fares to/from the airport (flat rate vs. metered – metered came out to be cheaper, but that could depend on traffic issues, I imagine). Gerri arrived every day at the crack of dawn to get breakfast happening (served 8 – 10 a.m.), and also handled laundry, guest check-ins/-outs, etc., while Sarah did up the rooms – and Gerri was generally on site till 9 p.m. every night. And they were both in the process of reno’ing Gerri’s house on Bond Street at the same time! These are two super friendly, hard-working gals – and if you’re looking for a B&B in St. John’s, I highly recommend The Bluestone Inn:

Also at the B&B were an assortment of guests from all over Canada – Saskatchewan, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto – as well as a couple from Germany, so breakfast became an opportunity to chat with about where everyone was from and swap stories about what you’ve seen/done in St. John’s/Newfoundland. Also a good source for travel tips.

One of the good things about travelling alone is that it forces you to get over any shyness about chatting with strangers pretty quickly. This wasn’t my first solo trek, so I’ve gotten a lot better at it – especially eating alone in restaurants (which I always found challenging, even though I have no trouble going to movies and plays alone). I’ve already mentioned Marty and Anthony from Quebec, who I met my first night when I stopped by the Duke for dinner. On my first full day in the city, I chatted with various crew on the Iceberg Quest boat tour: Nathan, Barry, Luke and Steve – and besides offering insight on things nautical, these guys had great advice about St. John’s weather in general (basically, just wait 5 minutes and it will change). I met some singers/musicians: Angele from Moncton, busking on Water Street and in St. John’s to finish recording her CD. Angele told me about an open mic night at The Ship Pub, where I also met bagpipe player/busker David Day (an American expat), and singer/songwriters Michael Banks (who turned out to be from T.O.), R.N. and Leslie Wagner, and R.N.’s pal Derek, who accompanied R.N. on blues guitar for a few tunes. One night, when I was having dinner at the Bamboo, a cosy and very good Chinese Restaurant on Duckworth, I met David Dunn, who was originally from St. John’s, but had been living in Manhattan for some time and working as the personal assistant to a painter there. Throughout the week, I also chatted with store clerks, cafe and restaurant servers, cab drivers and tourist site staff. And, after the brewery tour at Quidi Vidi, a guy named Frank invited me to drink my beer aboard his boat – and I met his friends Mike, Chris and Dave.

I have no photos of the folks I met – but I won’t forget the easy-going conversations (and laughs) I had with them. For me, visiting any place is not so much about the place as it is about the people. So, a big shout out to all those friendly (and interesting) folks I met during my stay.

Back soon with highlights on what I saw in St. John’s. In the meantime, I’ll be heading to my pal Rosemary Doyle’s theatre, Red Sandcastle Theatre, tonight to see ELLAmentary (which I missed during its Toronto Fringe run).

St. John’s highlights – arrival

The morning after Les and Derek’s wedding in Ottawa, I was busy checking my flight status (I checked twice: once when I went down for breakfast and again just before I checked out of the Lord Elgin) to see if Porter was still a go for the afternoon flight St. John’s. Nothing amiss for them online, so I headed to the airport.

The flight was good, with some minor turbulence around Halifax, where we landed for our scheduled half-hour stop to drop off/pick up passengers and do plane maintenance stuff. By the time we arrived in St. John’s, we were just under an hour late and the weather there was fine. I got a cab right away and, in about 20 minutes or so, arrived at The Bluestone Inn, where I met owner/operator Gerri and got settled in to my room.

It had been a long afternoon and I was starved, so I wandered down to Duckworth Street (zigzagging down, as Gerri suggested – such a good idea in that hilly city) and hung a left. A few interesting restaurants, but nothing grabbed me, so I started walking in the opposite direction. Then it dawned on me, The Duke of Duckworth was nearby. If you watch Republic of Doyle, you’ll know this as the pub featured on the show; also, the architecture is gorgeous.

The pub is located off McMurdo’s Lane, one of the several lanes (set of stairs) that links Duckworth and Water Streets. So down I went and, thankfully, managed to get there shortly before the kitchen closed at 8 p.m. As it turns out, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and, while I was able to consume the chicken wings, I couldn’t finish the fries. But I did have room for a second pint. Of course. It was a Sunday night, so not crowded, and I eventually struck up a conversation with the two guys at the table across from me: Marty and Anthony, both from Quebec (though Anthony has been, and lived, all over Canada). The guys invited me to their table as we continued to chat – about where we were from, what we did for a living, politics, St. John’s… and even invited me for another pint – but, by then, I was pooped and needed to walk back up the hill to the B&B.

And this was just the first of several chance meetings with some really cool, interesting folks – St. John’s natives and folks from “away” – during the course of my week there.

After surviving the zigzag back up to the B&B (and Cathedral Street was a killer), I wandered a couple of blocks from the B&B searching for a convenience store, and came upon Moo Moos – a combo ice cream parlour/convenience store – and got some water and gingerale to take back to the bar fridge in my room. I made a mental note to go back there for ice cream.

More on my St. John’s adventures soon…

Getting married in Ottawa

Okay, so now that I’ve more or less recovered from my vacation week/Labour Day weekend – though, to be honest, I could use a week off to recover – thought I’d share some moments from my time away. And, no, it was not me who got married in Ottawa.

The first part of my vacation was a celebration in Ottawa: my friend Lesley’s wedding to her guy Derek, in a cosy, intimate ceremony in the lovely Italian restaurant, Il Vagabondo: I cab-shared with our friend Maria and her husband Brendan (who were also staying at the Lord Elgin), and we were greeted by the restaurant owners with drinks and tasty finger food. And, shortly after we arrived, the bride arrived – on foot! Don’t know how Les managed that walk (though their place is only minutes away) in those fabulous heels she was wearing. Damn! 

The vows were especially nice, chosen by Les and Derek from a selection offered by the presiding Humanist/non-denominational female minister. And then we partied! The food was amazing and our hosts were wonderful. Since it was an early gathering, a bunch of us retired to Les and Derek’s condo for more celebratory beverages (i.e., booze). And when things wound down there, it was only around 9 p.m. or so – so Maria, Brendan and I decided to go out to an Irish pub near the hotel that they’d been to earlier in the week.

So the three of us stopped by the hotel to freshen up (and so Maria could change into pants and flats) and headed out. We heard music playing down the street, so we went to check it out. Turns out, the music was coming from an outdoor stage over at City Hall – set up for Ottawa Pride! After inquiring about the beer situation there, we paid our cover and had a couple of beers. It was great fun – and a nice surprise to stumble upon Pride – and we managed to catch the last few acts (a burlesque troupe, and bands Apocalypstic and The Cliks) before they had to close at 11 p.m. (damn those noise bylaws!). Still up for a pub, we moved on to our original destination and had a couple more beers (with potato skins to soak up the alcohol). And the early wedding festivities turned into a late night of post-celebration for three folks from T.O.

Needless to say, I was a bit hung over the next morning for the next part of my trip. And I was seriously wondering if my flight to St. John’s was going to be grounded or delayed, as Hurricane Irene was heading toward the Maritimes.

More on my vacation adventures soon. In the meantime, here’s one of my favourite pix from the wedding (left to right: Derek, Lesley and Lesley’s son Chris):