Interview: Director Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith. Photo by Dahlia Katz.


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra will present the fourth installment of its Haus Musik series on April 26 at the Great Hall, directed by Amanda Smith. Topping Ludwig van Toronto’s 2017 list of breakthrough women in the local classical music scene, Smith is known for her multidisciplinary collaborations with actors, singers, DJs, instrumentalists, visual artists and filmmakers—creating dramatic and remarkable classical music performances that translate the music into the physical world. Smith recently directed Belladonna – a queer techno opera, produced by her company Fawn Chamber Creative.

This upcoming performance of Haus Musik takes us to a post-apocalyptic world, with Tafelmusik performing live in a bunker, where survivor Alex (Ally Smither) has taken shelter. Alex’s only connection to the outside world—and her only source of hope—is the radio and music.

I interviewed Smith, asking her about this upcoming iteration of Haus Musik, as well as her drive to create multidisciplinary classical music experiences.

With this fourth installment of Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik series, you’re exploring political extremes and isolation—timely themes in these turbulent times. In a world on the brink of apocalypse, radio becomes a life line and music a source of comfort. What can you tell us about the genesis of this project?

Truth be told, I thought of it while lying on my bed and listening to CBC Radio. They were talking about tensions between the United States and North Korea, so my thoughts naturally jumped to the worst case scenario. Mostly, I was wondering how it would be possible to maintain mental resiliency in addition to physical safety—they go hand-in-hand, but we so often forget about our psychological needs. I remembered that UK radio stations have a thing called the ‘obit procedure’, which calls for specifically chosen music to be played in the event of a national disaster. This got me thinking about the role of the radio as a primary source of public information during a disaster, and thought about how interesting it is that music is a decided method of keeping the public united and calm. I thought that the music selected for the upcoming Haus Musik had the kind of uplifting, hopeful sound that would be helpful in keeping people going during a moment of darkness.

You’re collaborating with synth artist ACOTE, and including the works of 18th century classical composers (Mozart, Vanhal and Boccherini), as well as James Rolfe’s Oboe Quartet. How did these musical flavours come together for you for this project?

The classical music in the program was selected by the Tafelmusik team. With this program, I’ve created a narrative arc that will be interpreted and driven forward by ACOTE’s electronic music. I have worked with ACOTE fairly regularly over the past couple years and love his musical sensitivity when collaborating with classical music. He manages to always find a cohesion between the different styles of music that also puts us in the dramatic world I’m looking to create.

In addition to including various takes on classical repertoire, you also incorporate acting and dance into your work. What drew you to creating these multidisciplinary pieces?

My relationship with music has always been very visual. This was apparent while studying music in my undergrad, when I began to seek out platforms that allowed me to physicalize music in different ways. This just seems to be the way I connect with music. I like to work with artists from different industries, such as dance, visual art, experimental electronic music, film, etc., because they bring new perspectives and wonderful ideas. I think it’s a lot harder to grow if you remain exclusive to one way of thinking.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the experience of this performance of Haus Musik?

Simply, I would love for audiences to leave with the message that art serves an important role in our society. Not only is it a source of personal and cultural expression, but it’s often used to keep people united, especially music. When there seems so much wrong in the world, it’s easy for artists and the public to doubt the value of creative work—I think about this quite often. It’s good to remember that sometimes singing a song with your community is what keeps people fighting and pushing forward.

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? I don’t have a favourite but the first word that came to mind was cuddle.

What’s your least favourite word? Slut—such poison to hear and say.

What turns you on? Good dancing.

What turns you off? Narcissism.

What sound or noise do you love? My cats purring.

What sound or noise do you hate? Open mouth chewing sounds.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuck.

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Literally, nothing.

What profession would you not like to do? Performer.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Your family and friend are here.”

Before we go, anything you’d like to add or shout out?

Only that I’m looking forward to the show on April 26th. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience.


Haus Musik runs for one night only: April 26 in Longboat Hall at the Great Hall; doors at 8 pm. Get advance tickets online.

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.

Interview: Brooklyn Doran, Jessica Speziale & Iliya Vee talk Rainboots & Rock N’ Roll tour

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Jessica Speziale, Iliya Vee & Brooklyn Doran ready to rawk Rainboots & Rock N’ Roll tour – photo by Darnell Toth

Three artists. Three acts. One car. Toronto indie music artists Jessica Speziale, Brooklyn Doran and Iliya Vee (of Dreadful Starlings) loaned their talents to a successful Christmas album and concert fundraiser for the Humber River Hospital Foundation with Indigal, a Toronto-based indie music collective. The three artists have joined forces to launch Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll, a 10-day tour of Southern Ontario, kicking off in Toronto with a gig at Cameron House on April 1, then travelling from St. Catharines to Montreal.

Here are the Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll tour dates/venues:

April 1 – Cameron House, Toronto

April 3 – Band on a Couch, St. Catharines

April 4 – Private house concert with fans in Burlington

April 5 – The Garnet, Peterborough

April 6 – LIVE On Elgin, Ottawa

April 8 – Le Cagibi, Montreal

April 8 – Le Depanneur, Montreal

LWMC: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time out to talk about your upcoming Rainboots and Rock N’ Roll tour. So whose wacky, wonderful idea was this anyway? How did you come up with the cool tour name?

JS: Ahhhh!!! I love that you love the name!! We were playing around with names that would say something similar to “Spring Tour” without actually calling it that. [laughs] Rainboots are cute and make me think of April. [smooch] Thanks so much! In terms of deciding to hit the road together, Brooklyn and I are part of an eight-woman indie music collective called Indigal which recorded a Christmas album this past Christmas. Iliya was actually playing bass on the record, and so one day after rehearsal, Brooklyn gave us a ride home and we were talking about how much we both wanted to tour. We were like, “let’s do it!!!”

BD: That was definitely Jessica! I’m going to wear my yellow wellies on as many stages as I can.

IV: The tour name was definitely Jessica’s idea. We’re roommates, and I’ve been playing bass in her band for about two years. We had thrown the idea of going on tour around a few times, and then it just made a whole lot of sense once Brooklyn was in the picture. It helps to have someone with a car involved.

LWMC: And how did you come to book these specific venues?

BD: We are so lucky to have a great network of friends across Southern Ontario and in Montreal who were able to hook us up. Josh Spencer from KickDrum Montreal is a great person to contact in the city because not only is he THE guy to contact about booking a great (and well-attended) indie show, he pays so much attention to the curation of his showcases – from the way the music will flow from one act to the next, to the venue, and even down to the poster design. I definitely recommend working with KickDrum to anyone touring to Montreal for the first time.

JS: We’re super excited to be playing all of these amazing places! In some instances, we’re also returning to some of the great venues we’ve played before on past tours. So grateful for our networks.

IV: Both Jess and Brooklyn have a much more developed network of artists and promoters to draw on than I, never really having performed extensively outside of Toronto. My band (The Dreadful Starlings) has played the odd festival way out here and there, and I’m looking at this as an opportunity to learn who’s who and make some lasting connections for future appearances along our tour route.

LWMC: Tell us a bit about the sets you’ll be performing. I hear you’re going to be accompanying each other – and doing solo bits as well?

JS: Yes!! To both. [laughs] We will be playing our own acoustic sets, some parts solo, and others with each other. Tambourines and shakers will be coming out as well!

BD: By the end of the tour, I’m sure we’ll be singing every song from everyone’s set! I love getting the opportunity to contribute to another artists work and hear them sing and play on my songs using creative and exciting arrangements that I haven’t hear before when singing it in my head.

IV: I normally play bass in Jessica’s band, although guitar is my native instrument, so to speak, so I will play along on any songs the girls ask me to. Initially we were planning to have all three of us play all the time, but we found parts of our repertoire were less inclined to this approach. Plus this way, we get a chance to engage the crowd and have a drink or two while one of us holds down the stage.

LWMC: Are any of you trying out new material on this tour? 

BD: I just finished tracking my new album These Paper Wings, which was recorded all at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, so I’ll be singing a few of the songs from that album unplugged (although I’m keeping a few tracks secret until the album release).

I am also premiering my newest song and video “I Found a Home” on April 29 for CBC Searchlight. It was recorded live, in one take, on a rooftop in downtown Toronto and was inspired by a couple I met who’d been married for 40 years.

JS: I’ve been in the recording studio recently to record my next single!! Some of my biggest fans may have heard it, but I’ll definitely be trying it out on this tour! (*whispers* It’s called “Wildfire”!)

IV: Most assuredly. I’ll be playing some selections from The Dreadful Starlings’ latest EP release Shack Up With The Downside, as well as some new tunes that have never seen the light of day and some old songs that never really made it out off the paper.

LWMC: Who’s driving?

BD: Me!

IV: Are you a cop? Because, legally, you have to tell me if you’re a cop.

LWMC: Nope, not a cop. Though I do give off that kinda vibe sometimes. A few road trip trivia questions: Favourite road trip snack?

JS: Coffee!! Lots of coffee.

BD: Dried Mangos and Tim Horton’s coffee.

IV: Trail mix. It makes me feel like I’m doing myself some good and hiking about somewhere rather than sitting still for hours on end.

LWMC: Favourite place to stop for a bite?

BD: Roadside diners with 24/hr. breakfasts are my FAVOURITE!

JS: I’m loving the ON Routes that have Teriyaki Express. The 5th Wheel in, like, Bowmanville is pretty sweet too.

IV: Grocery stores! Love a good bowl of pho, too.

LWMC: Favourite road trip music?

BD: My car only has a CD player, so it wonderfully forces you to listen to entire albums front to back instead of sampling singles. Right now in my stereo, I’m really digging local Montreal artist Greg McEvoy’s newest release “Selfish Love Songs.

JS: Sam Roberts is the ultimate!! For this tour, I’m stoked that Brooklyn’s car has a CD player. I’m bringing all my No Doubt, Lenny Kravitz, Sam Roberts and Silverchair CDs.

IV: Wait, CDs only? Not even a tape deck? I can hook us UP if you have a tape deck, Brooklyn. I’ll have to sift through my collection but I see some Gypsy Kings, The Doors, Robert Johnson and Elvis Costello kicking around. Jessica has the Sam Roberts on lock, which I also love.

LWMC: What’s your road trip jam: Do you like to take your time, with ample pee and snack breaks? Or do you prefer to just give ‘er and get there?

JS: Definitely the former. I like pee breaks. I also gun it between pee breaks, but I’m a fan of not feeling rushed. We’re also hoping to pop into towns along the way to busk and meet people!

BD: As long as I have warm coffee, I could drive for miles and miles.

IV: Well, playing shows can sometimes seem a bit like golf… Hurry up and wait, you know? So somewhere in between I guess… You don’t want to be late and make someone’s night stressful, but you generally don’t want to beat the sound guy/gal to the venue either.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

BD: If you get the chance, please send your votes our way for the CBC Searchlight competition. Your votes contribute to how much our music is programmed on CBC Radio throughout the year and we’d love to be on the airwaves with our original music as much as possible.

You can find us on CBC Music here:
Brooklyn Doran
Jessica Speziale

Iliya Vee

IV: I just gotta have more cowbell!

LWMC: Thanks, guys! Look forward to seeing you at Cameron House on April 1.

JS: Thanks for having us!!


But wait, there’s more! The April 1 gig at Cameron House also includes Jacquelyn Tober & the Rose County Ramblers.

You can also give Speziale, Doran and Vee a listen on their respective music streaming/purchasing sites.

A funny & moving journey that entertains & inspires – Alison Wearing’s Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

Fairy's DaughterPlaywright/actor/author Alison Wearing’s one-woman show Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad, expanded and published as a full-length book last year, is currently running at U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre as part of World Pride 2014 Toronto. And I was so happy to be able to catch it last night!

Co-created by Wearing and director Stuart Cox, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter has been re-imagined for this Pride run, with the assistance of Calvin B. Grant’s multimedia and sound design – together creating a magical experience of memoir and storytelling.

Taking us on a journey through her ‘normal’ childhood in Peterborough, Wearing shares memories and events around her Dad coming out when she was 12 – and the subsequent emotional fall-out, and reorganization of family and home life when her parents divorced. Each scene is accompanied by projected images of family photos, and a soundtrack of both her and father’s favourite music, creating a sense of familiarity as we get to know Wearing and the world and people she grew up with.

Wearing is a highly engaging storyteller, shifting with ease through each vignette, and moving in and out of the various characters in her story, deftly performing childhood variations of herself and her friend Jessica, as well as both her parents. And as she progresses into young adulthood, we get the sense that this journey has been as much about self-discovery for her as it was for her father.

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is a funny, moving journey of revelation and discovery – and ultimately understanding and acceptance – that both entertains and inspires.

You have two more chances to see Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: today (Sat, June 28) at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wearing is available after performances for book signings or just to say “hi.” Go see this.

In the meantime, check out Shelagh Rogers’ interview with Wearing and her dad on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter.

And have a peek at the trailer for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter:


World Pride 2014 Toronto event teaser: Alison Wearing’s Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

Fairy's DaughterPlaywright/actor/author Alison Wearing adapted her memoir Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad into the award-winning one-woman show Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, which will be featured during World Pride 2014 Toronto at U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre (June 25-28).

Written as a comic monologue, Wearing takes us along on her journey of discovery and coming to grips with her father coming out when she was 12.

“Balancing intimacy, history and downright hilarity, this is a story of birthday parties and bath house raids, confusion and closets, scandals and soufflés, disco and opera, and the triumphant music of love.”

This is a show you will not want to miss – so best reserve your tickets for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter now.

In the meantime, check out Shelagh Rogers’ interview with Wearing and her dad on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter.

And have a peek at the trailer for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: