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.

Virtual Toronto Lit Up: Inanna’s Spring Releases — Meet Me at the Soda Fountain

On Thursday, June 18th at 5pm, Toronto Lit Up and Inanna Publications will be hosting a virtual book launch to celebrate Inanna’s Spring 2020 releases! I am so excited to be launching with these fabulous authors! Here are the details: Join us for a virtual celebratory evening of readings and revelry featuring authors Heather Babcock […]

So excited about the upcoming June 18 virtual launch of Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar, published by Inanna Publications!

 

via Virtual Toronto Lit Up: Inanna’s Spring Releases — Meet Me at the Soda Fountain

Stay the Fuck Home Guest Post by Cate McKim Theatre Edition — Lizzie Violet

It’s been heartbreaking to see all the cancellations of live theatre performances—not to mention devastating for theatre companies, festivals and artists—with seasons being cut short or delayed indefinitely, and productions and festivals cancelled during the COVID-19 crisis. But there are still ways you can support companies and artists, and stay connected with theatre while we […]

via Stay the Fuck Home Guest Post by Cate McKim Theatre Edition — Lizzie Violet

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.

 

 

A sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar

Heather Babcock photo by Astrid Monge. Filthy Sugar cover design by Val Fullard.

 

Two years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of getting a sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar after she approached me to give it a read and write a review blurb. Published by Inanna Publications, it’s set to be released on May 26—and was to have its official launch in Toronto at Queen Books the same day; but since brick and mortar book stores have had to move online, and with events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authors and book sellers are now relying on virtual shout-outs and online book sales.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Filthy Sugar (and think it would make a great movie); and hope that Babcock will get to celebrate the launch of the book with colleagues and loved ones soon. Here’s my review blurb:

Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working-class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle’s rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock’s storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry—tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working-class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

You can pre-order Filthy Sugar online at your favourite book store website (I’m a big fan of indie book stores like Queen Books and Glad Day Bookshop) or on Amazon.ca

It will be some time before we’ll be able to attend readings and book launches in person again; in the meantime, you can get your own sneak peek at Filthy Sugar with Babcock’s excerpt reading on YouTube:

And if you’re a fan of 1920s and 1930s film and pop culture, check out Babcock’s blog Meet Me at the Soda Fountain.

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.

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.

A grownup cautionary fairy tale of loyalty, betrayal & love in Shakespeare BASH’d fast-paced, highly entertaining, resonant Cymbeline

Catherine Rainville. Photo by Kyle Purcell.

 

Shakespeare BASH’d invites us to hear a grownup cautionary fairy tale of loyalty, betrayal, ambition, jealousy, love and family. Relationships are put to the test with evil and foolish schemes, and women’s and commoners’ true worth—for better or worse—are grossly underestimated in its fast-paced, highly entertaining, resonant production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus, assisted by Bailey Green, and on for a short run at Junction City Music Hall.

Incensed at his only daughter Innogen’s (Catherine Rainville, bringing fierce strength and gentle vulnerability to the sharp-witted, independent princess) marriage to his ward Posthumus Leonatus (Jesse Nerenberg, giving an earnest, fiery passion to the popular, good young man), Cymbeline, King of Briton (David Mackett, in a chilly and decisive imperious turn) banishes the youth and puts his daughter under house arrest. Strongly influenced by his new Queen (Mairi Babb, deliciously arch as the cunningly manipulative, two-faced Queen), his second wife and Innogen’s step-mother, Cymbeline had intended Innogen for the Queen’s son Cloten (Emilio Vieira, giving a great comic turn as a quarrelsome, entitled idiot).

Having exchanged tokens with Innogen and fled to Rome, and despite pleas to the contrary from his level-headed host Philario (Kiana Woo, who gives a great multitasking performance, notably as the wily doctor and a saucy, irreverent servant), Posthumus agrees to enter into a foolish wager with Philario’s friend Iachimo (Daniel Briere, in a hilariously edgy turn as a sly, lascivious scoundrel of a Roman lord), whereby Iachimo bets he can prove Innogen false. Obtaining his proof through trickery, Iachimo wins the bet—and, out of his mind with anger and grief, Posthumus charges Innogen’s servant Pisanio (Bailey Green, bright-eyed and energetic as Innogen’s unwaveringly faithful right hand) with killing Innogen. Apprising her mistress of Posthumus’s plan for revenge, Pisanio helps Innogen disguise herself as the boy Fidele and flees the palace.

Meanwhile, in the wilds of Briton, banished noble Belarius (James Wallis, bringing a warm, protective sweetness to the rough seasoned warrior) hunts with his daughters Guiderius (Melanie Leon, suffusing the rough and tumble young woman with a mature wisdom) and Arviragus (Déjah Dixon-Green, bringing gentle, poetic tone to the stalwart younger sister)—and come upon a weary, hungry Innogen in disguise when they return to their cave dwelling.

Back at the palace, the proud Cymbeline—egged on by the Queen—incites war with Rome by refusing to pay tribute; and Cloten has learned of Innogen’s whereabouts and is in hot pursuit, intent on having her under any circumstances. Personal and political clashes ensue, secret plots and identities are revealed, and foolish assumptions and conflicts are set to rights.

When you go to a Shakespeare BASH’d show, the audience is treated like family; and Nish-Lapidus, Wallis and company are the gracious hosts—creating an atmosphere of welcome, warmth and inclusion that adds to its signature storytelling; using minimalist but effective set and costumes, focusing on the text and the relationships to deliver a production that is both accessible and resonant for today. This particular production nicely supported by music from Matt Nish-Lapidus.

And with a script that can easily turn to melodrama, the staging, pacing and direction go big with an edgy, dark sense of humour; huge, beautifully poetic declarations of love and fidelity; and impassioned action-packed narratives of conflict. A cautionary tale on a number of levels, what especially speaks to audiences today is the inherent misogyny; society underestimates and undervalues its women, for better or worse—blinding all, especially men, to women’s capacity for both good and evil. The play also speaks to a strict and accepted code of classism, whereby men and women alike are judged by their station in life as opposed to their character and actions—leaving the rich and powerful to do as they wish, often with little or no consequences. This play could have easily been called Innogen—but Cymbeline suits, as it is his actions and ill-conceived decisions that set these events in motion, causing both personal and national distress and loss.

Cymbeline continues at The Junction City Music Hall until February 9. Advance tickets are sold out, but if you get there early, they’ll do their best to squeeze you in. Please note the early curtain time of 7:00 p.m.; box office opens at 6:30 p.m. ($25 cash only at the door).