Grit, determination & a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl

Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

 

Tracey Erin Smith and Soulo Theatre celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Soulo Theatre Festival, opening this year’s fest with an Opening Night Gala presentation of Savoy Howe’s Newsgirl. With direction and dramatury by Soulo Theatre A.D. Smith, Newsgirl ran for one night only at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club in front of an enthusiastic, sold out house—and a standing ovation—last night. The fest continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre tonight and throughout the weekend.

When Savoy Howe moved away from her home in New Brunswick in the late 80s to study theatre in Hamilton and later move to Toronto, she had no way of foreseeing what was in store—and the journey that would bring her the sense of strength, determination and empowerment that she would go on to share with women and trans people.

This is the story of Newsgirl, Howe’s autobiographical solo show that takes her from a tomboy growing up on a Canadian Air Force base, to her coming out, to training as a boxer and later passing on her knowledge as a boxing coach, starting the first women’s and trans-friendly boxing gym in Canada: the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. And, while it was a photo of a woman wearing boxing gloves that inspired Howe to take up the sport, it was a speed bag that made her fall in love with boxing.

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Savoy Howe in Newsgirl—photo by Dahlia Katz

Combining the physicality, strategy and philosophy of boxing with considerable stand-up and storytelling chops, Howe is an engaging, energetic and endearing performer. With Howe primarily telling her story from inside the boxing ring, the show is dynamically staged, moving her around the gym as she highlights discovery and work on the heavy bag and speed bag; and her rookie first entry into the ring is hilarious!

Newsgirls is a story of struggle, grit and a ‘don’t give up’ attitude that takes some rough, and sometimes violent, turns. Perseverance, a big heart and a curious, open mind—not to mention a hard-working, helping hand way of looking at life—make the wins and losses equal in value. Always learning, never backing down from a challenge, and enduring the deep-seated sexism and male aggression of this world, Howe is an inspiration. Newsgirl is a classic underdog makes good story. And it definitely packs a punch.

Grit, determination and a love affair with the speed bag in the funny, moving, inspiring Newsgirl.

Check out this great interview in VICE Sports with Savoy Howe on how she got into boxing, opened Newsgirls, and how she and the gym are empowering women and trans people. You can also follow the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club on Facebook.

Howe is in the process of launching a crowdfunding campaign to keep the gym alive and serving the community; stay tuned for details on how you can help.

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Soulo Theatre A.D. Tracey Erin Smith in the ring at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club—photo by Dahlia Katz

Newsgirl was a one-night only performance, but no worries—there are lots more life-changing, life-affirming true stories to come tonight and this weekend at the fest, which includes solo shows and panel discussions. The Soulo Theatre Festival continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre till May 28; check out the full schedule and purchase advance tickets and get your festival pass.

Department of corrections: The original post for the show mentioned that Howe studied theatre in Toronto; it was actually Hamilton. The error has been corrected.

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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.

SummerWorks: A young woman’s journey through confusing, crazy times toward empowerment & love in The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely

TheEmancipationofMs.Lovely-400x580“Today my heart broke,” said the seed, “it itched and ached, I was smashed to pieces.”
“Ahh,” said the burning sun, “you were growing, to blossom you have to break.” – Ngozi Paul

With today’s hand-held devices, and instant news and social media access, bad news travels even faster than before. The nature of the injustices we see – particularly those against marginalized and racialized people, and especially women and children – coupled with the sheer amount of information bombarding us every day, can be overwhelming and exhausting as we try to absorb and make sense of it all. All while we go about our own daily lives in search of growth, healing – and love.

It is this world that the heroine of The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely must navigate as she becomes herself and reaches out into the world for love. Written and performed by Ngozi Paul, directed by d’bi.young anitafrika, choreographed by Roger C. Jeffrey – and featuring music, performed on stage, by musicians/composers Waleed Abdulhamid and DJ L’Oqenz AKA Non – the play is an exciting offering of SummerWorks’ 2015 theatre series, running at the Factory Theatre Studio.

Lovely’s story is told through a series of a present day scenes of a sexual encounter and flashbacks to her youth. Growing up with her mother and grandmother, Lovely danced and sang to Jem and the Holograms, aspired to the strength of TV’s Wonder Woman, and adored Paula Abdul. Then came an interest in boys, and with it the pressure to “be cool,” and to behave and dress for them – something that Lovely struggles with, being the energetic girl that she is, and one who wears her heart on her sleeve. Then, the discovery of sex and intimate relationships – easily hurt with her heart out there like that – and the detachment of casual hook-ups and infidelity. Constantly getting the message – from family, friends, boyfriends and media – that her body and sexuality don’t belong to her, she loses sight of her true self, and judges herself and her body in the reflections of others. Until she has to ask herself: “What are you doing?”

Woven throughout Lovely’s story, in first person voice-over, is the story of Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, a 19th century black woman who was paraded around Europe as a human zoo attraction, her large buttocks used as a selling point – a “specimen” of an exotic black female, hyper-sexualized and exploited. So much so that after her death, her bones and vagina were on display in France for 200 years. Of Baartman’s story and its inclusion in the play, Paul writes: “On a quest to understand how I learned to love, what I understand about my body, my life, a woman’s life and what a black woman’s life means in the 21st century, I was introduced to reflections of myself in the cellular memory of Sarah Baartman.”

Brilliant performance from Paul – and one that includes movement, dance and physical theatre. Her characterizations are engaging and truthful, with a lovely combination of comedy and poignancy – from her watchful and critical grandmother, who doesn’t want shame brought upon the family; to the contagious energy of their church preacher, who blames Eve for man’s falling out with God; to the men who try to seduce her and those who succeed. And the bright-eyed, open-hearted Lovely – excited about growing up, and full of desire and longing. Longing for more than just good sex, but for love. While Paul’s story includes aspects specific to women of colour, it resonates with all women.

The minimalist set is very effective for this production (something that director young anitafrika pushed for as an alternative to Paul’s vision of a more multimedia, high-tech set-up). The nine identical full-length mirrors that cup the playing area serve to reflect the action of Lovely’s story, allowing for viewing at multiple angles. And the way the mirrors are used throughout shifts from child’s fairytale fantasy props to silent reflections of judgment and negative thoughts about body image.

A young woman’s journey through complex, confusing and crazy times toward ownership of her body and sexuality on the way to finding love in the powerful, high-energy and inspirational The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely.

The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely continues at the Factory Theatre Studio until Aug 16 and includes a talkback after the show – check the show page for exact dates/times.

Toronto Fringe NSTF: An intense, startling & thought-provoking look at sexual violence in DINK

DINK-250x250Theatre-a-go-go explores the themes of sexual violence, society’s response and the celebrity of the villain in Caroline Azar’s DINK, on at the Factory Theatre Mainspace for the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Inspired by the real-life case of former Canadian Forces Colonel Russell Williams, as well as incidents of missing/murdered women from marginalized communities/ethnicities, and the societal/social media bullying and shaming of victims and the families of the accused, DINK (the acronym for Double Income No Kids) is part drama/part musical/part social commentary, with songs by Azar, S. Lewis and sound designer Richard Feren.

Over lunch, a workout and shopping at Holt’s, sisters Lolly (Christy Bruce) and Deb (Sharon Heldt) talk about Lolly’s recent home security measures as daughter Bethany (Jasmine Chen) is being stalked, while Deb is up to her eyeballs with home renovation and contractors. Deb’s husband Bill (David Keeley) is a proud military man who’s served in Afghanistan, a sweetheart with his wife, but under investigation by homicide detective Matt De Souza (Kris Siddiqi) over two missing/murdered women who served under him: soldier Danielle (D.T.) Bryce (Andrea Brown) and Tim Hortons server Izzy Melisano (Lise Cormier).

The action shifts between present-day scenes in multiple scenarios and flashbacks from the past, as well as musical numbers featuring various characters, but mainly the two murder victims Danielle and Izzy (where the song breaks work best). The effect is disturbing, distracting and disorienting.

DINK highlights how victimization goes beyond the missing/murdered women to take in their families, the families of the predator (who are often blamed for not seeing what was going on and failing to blow the whistle) and the investigators. The play also sets out to raise up the victims of sexual violence – including moments of empowerment, some imaginary – and put the predator down. The serial killer, while his actions are monstrous, is not a monster – just a man. A very sick man and, in the end, a pathetic man lost in his revolting and dangerous obsessions and desires. The celebrity of the serial killer – and real-life villains in general – is a symptom of social illness.

Excellent work from the cast. Bruce brings a jaded, tired quality to Lolly, a fiercely protective mother with a wry wit, and an ineffective husband (invisible to us, but present in scenes of one-sided conversation). Heldt’s Deb is brash, irreverently funny and creative, an adoring wife throwing her energy into creating the perfect oasis at home. Keeley does a very nice job with Bill’s double life: a sweet and attentive husband at home; a misogynistic, homophobic bully of a commanding officer on the job, covering even darker activities in his personal time. Siddiqi brings a nicely layered quality to Detective De Souza, a good cop struggling with his personal, if not questionable, relationship with Izzy as he conducts the investigation. Brown’s Danielle is strong, cocky and direct, a woman of courage and conviction; and Cormier brings an intelligent, precocious charm to the adventurous Izzy. Chen does a lovely job with Bethany’s conflicted responses to her situation; a smart, imaginative and energetic teen – but, like her mother and aunt, the pressure of pretending that everything is alright becomes too much to bear and boils over.

DINK is an intense, startling and thought-provoking piece that reminds us to put our focus on the victims and their families – and cautions us on how we respond to the perpetrators and their families.

DINK continues its run until Sun, Jan 18 – book advance tix here.

Moving & grooving sounds + positive vibes = WonderFest 2014 concert

SAMSUNGA fabulous, fun time was had by all at WonderFest 2014 and I was so glad to join in the festivities at the concert last night, closing off a day of learning, collaborating and positive interaction at Revival Bar. And after a full day of workshops (A Capella Jam with Niki Andre and a Synergy Session with Madette), the gang was engergized and ready to go.

LMG Productions organizers Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan hosted an amazing line-up of talent (aka Wonder Women & Super Men) from a variety of arts disciplines, including music, spoken word, stand-up comedy and visual arts. Visual artists included paintings – which were featured onstage – by Dorothy Knight, Rohan Moore and Stephanie Payne, and face painting by Lisa Diane.

The stellar roster of concert performers, in order of appearance, included:

In case you missed it the first time around, here’s the cowbell interview with Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan about this event.

And thanks to Kat and Arlene for my fabulous WonderFest coffee mug!

Here are some snaps I took of last night’s celebration of empowerment through art:

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Interview with Kat Leonard & Arlene Paculan on WonderFest 2014 event

POSTERwonder96Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan are both amazing solo artists in their own right. Together, they are Musedy Tag Team and half of the Four Winds Collective (with Heather Hill and Meghan Morrison), performing music with heart and humour, and they are the force behind LMG Productions, spreading empowerment through art through their Wonder Women, Super Men and now WonderFest events. Leonard is also a well-known Johnny Depp fangirl and Paculan, like me, shares his birthday. I interviewed these two lovely and talented ladies over email about their work together and their upcoming WonderFest 2014 event on April 6 at Revival Bar in Toronto.

LWMC: So tell us about how you met and how you came to start working together.

AP: I met Kat at a Valentine’s Show. It was called No Sweetheart Required, so she calls it an anti-Valentine’s Day show. It was so amazing because I immediately was drawn to her and was curious as to what she was all about. We started talking about what we did in the arts world. I found out that we both put shows on and I asked her if she’d like to participate in one that I do in the future – not having heard any of her work, I was trusting my instincts that she was incredibly awesome. After I saw her perform “Jockstrap,” that solidified my assumption! Prior to meeting her, I was in the process of starting Wonder Women and asked her to join the line up and she’s been a part of the event ever since! And now she’s Artistic Director for the company!

KL: … We hit it off and within mere moments decided we should embark upon doing shows together. We were both individually relieved as we stood backstage listening to the other perform their piece, because we had agreed to collaborate before even hearing the other perform. We’re both allergic to eggplant so it must have been fate!

LWMC: And how did LMG Productions, Wonder Women and the evolution to WonderFest come about?

AP: LMG Productions was something I came up with in 2010 – just a little production company that I could use to put on little concerts around the GTA. It was initially called Lene, Mean, and Green because of my name and my favourite colour is green. Kat came on board in 2012 to help out with the growing Wonder Women events. Soon she came up with the idea of changing it to ‘Let’s Make Good’ because of the direction our shows were going.

Wonder Women started to showcase female songwriters with different genres and to grow our audience base. After four Wonder Womens where it was solely music, we teamed up with This Girl Friday, which is run by a talented poet and graphic designer, Lizzie Violet [link]. Lizzie brought on the idea of having music and spoken word in a show. From then, Wonder Women and Super Men (all male showcase) combined creates ‘WonderFest’ which celebrates all types of art forms.

KL: … I was happy to be a performer in that first concert and to become Artistic Director of the series and production company. We worked together to create events that would eventually include Super Men and also workshops to nurture creativity and healthy self-esteem. We really endeavoured to develop a strong community that would encourage and promote the arts and self-empowerment. WonderFest was born. Because we were endorsing positivism we felt it was important to have a production name that reflected the same, so we went about brainstorming something with which we could retain the LMG moniker. Like a flash of enthused lightning, the name Let’s Make Good blasted into my brain as Arlene and I sat there doing just that, making good, and munching on Crispy Minis. 🙂

LWMC: In addition to your individual projects and work with LMG, you play together as Musedy Tag Team and in the Four Winds Collective What can you tell us about the experience and dynamics of performing solo, in a duet and in a group?

KL: Solo: I love it! Performing solo is empowering and freeing, though I tend to engage audience members in my act quite often. 😉 It is freeing that I can go off track and discover new moments without throwing anyone else off, and it’s also liberating to not worry that my behaviour is partly representing a bigger group. Having said that, there is no sweeter pleasure than sharing the stage with others, and sparking a unique and dynamic energy.

Musedy Tag Team: I love it love it!
I feel truly blessed to create and perform with Arlene in Musedy. She is the perfect yin to my yang and the class to my sass. A duet is a special relationship because you’re able to really get to know the other person and create a solid foundation of confidence upon which you can play and take risks. Musedy Tag Team is one of my favourite things to do and it is on my “to do more” list. Stay tuned for our upcoming Musedy Tag Team Mashup Madness show that’s in the works for being in the works! 🙂

Four Winds: I love it love it love it love it!! There is something absolutely enchanting about working in a group that works; it leads to endless discoveries and gifts. I really feel there is something magical about this collection of gals. We are eclectic and complementary, a songstorm of musical forces intertwined for the greater good. 🙂 I completely trust and admire each one of them musically and as best buds. When I play with Heather, Meghan and Arlene I feel safe yet thrilled, and a buzz of love adds to the rhythm of every performance. Incidentally, Four Winds will be performing our first original song at this year’s WonderFest!

AP: It’s SO much fun to do different projects with my best friend, Kat Leonard. Whether it’s LMG events, or duos, or even with more artists, like Four Winds, it’s really easy, extremely fun, hilarious and productive to work with Kat. I feel like we both have the same vision in promoting ourselves through these different projects and I’m really excited to see where it goes!!! We even toured to Halifax together on the VIA Rail, and travelled to LA to get a taste of the film and music scene.

LWMC: On Sunday, April 6, WonderFest takes over Revival Bar. What’s happening at this year’s fest?

KL: So much talent and fun is happening! Along with visual art displays, WonderFest starts this year at 2:00 with an inspiring workshop led by Niki and Madette: A Capella Jam and Synergy Sessions come together to lead us in musical improvisation. All levels of experience wanted! At 4:00 there will be networking and face painting until doors open at 6:00 for the variety show taking place 7:00 to 9:00. Music, comedy, dance, spoken word, art; we are so very excited for this fun-packed day!

AP: This is from our press release (Thanks Jeff Costigan!)
This year’s event promises to build on the popularity and success of previous years – empowering people of all ages and backgrounds to use creativity and art in their everyday lives. The one-day event will take place on Sunday, April 6th at the Revival Bar in Toronto (783 College St.). The art-packed schedule includes a musical workshop, networking, and a culminating concert featuring musicians, poets, visual artists, and comedians (welcome to everyone from all levels, as spectators or participants). Tickets for the concert are $10 in advance, and $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be found at: https://wonderfest2014.eventbrite.ca/

Event Schedule:

2-4pm: Synergy Jam Workshop
A Cappella Jam + Synergy Session team up for a flash mob style jam session. Come sing, play, and leave feeling inspired! All styles, traditions and levels are welcome.

4-5:30pm: Networking

7-9pm: Concert (doors open at 6PM)

LWMC: And what do you hope participants and audience will take away from this year’s event?

AP: I really hope that people leave feeling inspired and empowered by what they learned and what they got to experience by performances and art work. The goal is to encourage people to tap into their creative side again, whether it’s to make an interesting spreadsheet or a lovely homemade dinner.

KL: My hope is that everyone who experiences WonderFest will discover a new artist and friend, will explore something fresh about themselves, and will find the freedom and power in nurturing a community of healthy risk-takers. I hope that every person walks away from WonderFest with a sense of empowerment to pursue the wildest of their dreams and the minutest of everyday miracles.

LWMC: Any other upcoming gigs or projects you’d like to shout out?

AP: Saturday April 12, 2014
with Miquelon Rodriquez, Sarah Giles, and Edward Monzon
The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W., Toronto)
9pm – 11pm * FREE

Sunday April 13th, 2014
Village Vinyl (2925 Lake Shore Blvd West, Toronto)
2pm – 5pm * FREE

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

AP: Life with more cowbell ROCKS!! Thanks Cate for having us on your blog again!

KL: If I may be so bold, I want to thank you for being such an important and loving member of our WonderFest community. We adore you completely!

LWMC: Aw! Thanks, ladies!

You can also check out Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan on their YouTube sites:

Kat on YouTube   Kat on Twitter

Arlene on YouTube   Arlene on Twitter

I highly recommend coming out to experience the inspiration and music talent at this year’s WonderFest! Come on back after April 6 – I’ll be posting a slideshow of the WonderFest concert!

musedy elbows
Arlene Paculan & Kat Leonard

 

 

 

I’m spreading empowerment through art – WonderFest is coming March 4-8

In case you missed my tweets of these pics, I’m posting them here. LMG Productions, the mastermind group behind the Wonder Women concert series and WonderFest, requested that folks take pictures of themselves with words of empowerment and tweet them out. Since I like to maintain some semblance of anonymity – and because the idea just seemed too fun not to do – I chose to put my words on my cowbell.

WonderFest lands next week (March 4-8) – check out the link above for workshop, talks and concert details.

What words of empowerment would you choose? Tweet ’em out to LMG Productions

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