Interview with writer/poet/cabaret mistress Lizzie Violet

img_1052Lizzie Violet is a Toronto-based writer, editor, poet, blogger, cabaret organizer/host and horror aficionado. She is a huge fan of zombies. She’s also an awesome person and a great friend.

Lizzie hosts Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN), which features music, poetry/spoken word, vaudeville and burlesque performers, as well as open mic artists, at The Central. She recently launched Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic at Amsterdam Bicycle Club, and has ongoing shared organizing and hosting duties for The Beautiful and the Damned poetry and music cabaret at The Central. All this in addition to performing at a variety of other poetry/arts events throughout the City – including WordSpell and Songwriters Circle of Jerks at Free Times Café – and writing (poetry/spoken word, fiction, blogging, music video story and playwriting). I interviewed Lizzie via email about her various projects – and got a peek at what the New Year will bring.

LWMC: So, wow, you’re a very busy gal and I was having a bit of a challenge coming up with what to ask – given your multidisciplined work – so let me first ask about LVCN. You launched it almost a year ago at the former Q Space before moving it to The Central in the fall, and it’s developed quite a following. Tell us a bit about the format and what made you want to launch a cabaret format show.

LV: I certainly do have my fingers in a lot of pies and even with everything I was involved in, I decided to scratch an itch I had for many years. I’ve been obsessed since I was a child, with Vaudeville its history and that entire era (Edwardian/Flappers/1920s). When others find it to be just entertainment, I see the complete beauty in this wonderful art form of performance.

Currently, I only have three features and a true Vaudeville show has anywhere from 12 or more acts per night. Keeping in mind they have an intermission. My dream is to do a full Vaudeville show with a Lizzie Violet twist. There is a lot of preparation that comes with this type of show and I am working to bring that dream to fruition.

LWMC: What’s in store for LVCN in 2014?

LV: In 2013, LVCN grew very quickly into a wonderful night of entertainment. 2014 is about making it bigger and taking it on the road. I absolutely adore our current home at The Central and plan to remain there, but I also want to start taking the event around to other venues in Toronto and eventually other cities in Southern Ontario.

LWMC: This past summer, you wrote the music video script for Toronto band I Hate Todd’s debut single “Zombie Love,” then worked crew for the video shoot. (And I had a blast working crew with you guys that weekend.) Tell us about that experience. What was it like combining your love of writing, zombies and music?

LV: It’s like sitting at a table with all my favourite people, eating all my favourite foods, watching all my favourite movies and laughing till your belly hurts. The whole process from beginning to end, though long hours, was a total blast and I can’t wait to do it again. On top of it all, I got to work with my favourite band and spend three very long and fun filled days with my favourite zombies and friends (both old and new).

LWMC: Your work was published in several poetry/art magazines/collections in 2013 alone, including Carousel, Big Art Book 2, NorthWord and Nest. What can you tell us about the importance of getting published on paper, as opposed to digitally online?

LV: Even in this day and age of digital, publishers and anyone giving out grants to the literary arts, want you published on good ole paper. Plus, there is something about being able to pick up a physical book or magazine and see your words in ink. It’s euphoric. Plus, it’s easier for my Mom to put on her fridge.

LWMC: 🙂 You’ve also been working on a TV pilot script and a stage play. What inspired you to write these? What have been the challenges and delights as you tell stories in these very different formats?

LV: Both the TV pilot and the play have been inspired by real life and the people in it. The most recent project is the play. A really dear friend of mine Nelson Sobral wrote a song called “Arsenic & Turmeric,” and something about this song grabbed at me and this story formed in my head. I wrote the first draft of the play in one evening. I haven’t been this excited about writing something in a long time. At this moment, I have finished the second draft and am hoping to do a reading in the spring.

The TV series is based loosely on the antics of my single life. My dating life has been like a bad sitcom, so I figured, why not turn it into a TV script. It will be true dark comedy. I have changed names to protect the not so innocent.

My current challenges right now are finding the time to sit and be able to write. The bug has bitten me in the ass again, I’ve been writing like I’m on a mission. This all started right before Yule.

LWMC: Writing is a very solitary pursuit, while performing as cabaret host and feature poet is very public. What’s it like being in front of a live audience with your work after spending so much time crafting it in solitude? Does the prospect of performance influence your writing – and, if so, how?

LV: When writing poetry and spoken word, I keep the page and performance pieces separate in my writing process. Though everything can be read to an audience, I have only been performing pieces that I specifically have written to perform. Oddly, those are the pieces that have been published in print.

LWMC: What else is coming up for you in 2014? (See January events here.)

LV: I have a few features coming up. The next one is January 22nd for the Queer Snow Ball, and a few more that will be happening over the next few months. Currently, I am putting a lot of my energy into the Cabaret and Poetry Open mic. I’m hoping to build on the Cabaret and at some point in the near future have a full Vaudeville show.

Other than performing, finish the play and a full season of the TV series and get them produced.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

LV: Well, firstly, a great big thank you for interviewing me. You truly are an inspiration to me. I’m looking forward to 2014. There is a lot of amazing stuff happening and I can’t wait to find out what else is waiting around the corner for me.

LWMC: Thanks, Lizzie!

The January edition of Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir is tomorrow night (Sun, Jan 12) at The Central with featured artists Brock Hessel, David Bateman, and Cap & Kev (who are both also in the band I Hate Todd) 7 p.m. open mic sign-up. PWYC – $5 suggested.

Drama, pathos & hilarity – now with more lesbians @ Gay Play Day

Gay Play Day poster 2 2013The second annual Gay Play Day LGBTTQ Theatre Festival of short plays ran Friday through Saturday in the Alumnae Theatre studio space, featuring works with all the drama, pathos and hilarity I remember from its inaugural fest last year. Now with more lesbians.

A.D./playwright/director Darren Stewart-Jones, wearing several other hats as producer, box office/reservations contact and all round bottle washer, assembled two programs for this year’s fest: six short plays, which ran Friday and Saturday night, and four solo shows on the Saturday matinée (the solo shows are new to the fest this year). I had the pleasure of attending the opening on Friday, then the solo shows on Saturday.

The six short plays:

Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors – written and directed by Darren Stewart-Jones, with set and costumes by Henry Keeler. Holmes and Watson shippers will love this touching, tension-filled two-hander, where we get a look at the more vulnerable side of Holmes (Nathaniel Bacon). Watson (Nick May) has just married and arrives to visit Holmes, who’s been holed up in his Baker Street apartment, steeped in cocaine and attractive young men, invited over for “tea parties.” Watson is concerned for Sherlock’s health – and Sherlock wants Watson back. And not just as a work colleague. It’s a complex, cerebral and physical relationship, and both have choices to make. Lovely, truthful performances from Bacon and May.

Let’s Spend Our Lives Together, Maybe by Tina McCulloch and directed by PJ Hammond – is a sequel to McCulloch’s sweet romcom The Object of Her Attraction, which appeared at Gay Play Day last year. We find Laurie (Mary Joseph) and Suzanne (Julie Burris), and their respective subconscious manifestations (Naomi Priddle Hunter and McCulloch), have just moved in together. And they’ve scheduled a house-warming party a week after moving day, which adds to the tension of getting used this next stage of their relationship. Thankfully, their friend Kai (Pona Tran), who we first met as the barista at the coffee shop in the first play, is there to assist – with the party and some sage advice. Really nice to see the original cast assembled again for the evolution of this partnership.

Couples – written/directed by Bruce Harrott – begins with one man tied to a chair and another interrogating him on a recent infidelity. Jon (Jonathan Lourdes) and Mark (Mark Keller) try to work on their relationship issues while struggling as working artists (playwright and actor). By turns touching and funny, it’s a truthful look at the highs and lows of a relationship, a universal theme no matter what the pairing. Lourdes and Keller do a very nice job of balancing the flippant with the poignant.

Men In Kilts – by Niall O’Reilly and directed by Nicholas Banks – is just as fun as the title suggests. Set in the bar during a wedding party, attractive single gal lawyers Cynthia (Chrissy Carr) and Jasmina (Melissa Chetty) wonder about the sexual orientation of two handsome groomsmen Ron (Michael Sutherland) and Steve (Justin Roy), who are both dressed in kilts for the occasion. Of course, the ladies are also curious about what the men are wearing under the kilts. They pair up into couples – and the women soon learn that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, a man by his kilt. Nice work by the entire ensemble – keeping it fun and also real.

Hush – by Megan Hutton and directed by Katie Messina – is a raw family drama. Sophie (Leigh Elliot), a young lesbian, struggles with her mother’s (Katie Messina) religion-driven homophobia, as well as coming out with family secrets and navigating her relationship with her older lover Pat (Jaime Polatynski), and an intervention meeting of sorts with a nun (Franny McCabe-Bennett) at her mother’s church. The mother/daughter dynamic is heartbreaking to behold, and Pat does her best with supporting her partner while grappling with her own feelings and frustration about the situation. Strong work by the cast with some difficult, sensitive topics.

The Rice Queen of Cabbagetown (excerpt) – written by Charles Hayter and directed by Lise Maher – is a clever gay twist on GB Shaw’s Pygmalion, with even more of a twist. Well-respected ESL school director Henry (Peter Nelson) learns from friend and colleague Pearse (Arthur Hamby) that his job is in jeopardy since his workplace nemesis has come up with a language program that gets even faster results than his own. The two men cook up a scheme to use Henry’s recent trick Lee (Ivan Regalado) as a guineapig student – and teach him perfect English even faster. But there may be a few things that Henry doesn’t know about his accomplices. Delightfully bitchy good fun, with a cast that attacks their parts with relish and style. Look forward to seeing where this one goes.

The four solo shows:

Hossam and Joel – written and performed by Lorenzo Pagnotta, and co-directed by Tony Babcock – takes us through the life and loves of an adorably sexy and smart single gay man as he ponders the pros and cons of playing the field vs. serious monogamy. Waking up next to someone you love is lovely, but so is an anonymous encounter at the baths. Which could end up becoming a serious relationship as well. Telling the story with humour, honesty and heart, Pagnotta manages to touch on what most singles feel as they’re out there looking for love and connection. I’d be interested to see this as a larger piece, with a full cast.

Obscuring Jude – by Dorianne Emmerton and performed by Katie Sly – is a sharply drawn, visceral, cerebral, not to mention both funny and disturbing, journey into a troubled young woman’s mind. Jude appears wearing a name tag and addresses us directly, making the audience part of her group therapy session as she unravels her history, her thoughts and meanderings. An emotional, connected and real performance from Sly.

Why I’m Not A Star – written/performed by Philip Cairns, with direction/dramaturgy by Andraya Smith – is a highly entertaining autobiographical piece of storytelling. An engaging and funny raconteur, Cairns takes us on a journey from his brief tween modelling career at the age of 11 to his experiences as a struggling actor over the years – dealing with negative perceptions of a feminine vibe, sleeping with directors – and his reactions to the loss of mentor Jackie Burroughs, and relationships with agents, casting and fellow actors. Really enjoyed seeing the evolution of this piece from an earlier excerpt I heard Cairns read at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir in August.

Faery Tale Confidential – written, directed and performed by Marcy Rogers – is a hilariously funny, socially apt, take on the world of Fae. Rogers plays a faery with attitude, on the run from Queen Mab and dealing with a blackmailing human ex-lover. She is also a faery who was meant to be an elf. As she confesses her transfae feelings, she spills the beans on the Fae world as she formulates a plan of action to resolve her plight. A big fun twist on some favourite mythological and faery tale creatures – told with frankness, adult language and edge. This is another piece I’d seen Rogers perform an earlier incarnation of – at the monthly The Beautiful and the Damned poetry cabaret – great fun to see how it’s come along.

Both the Friday and Saturday night performances sold out this year, and Stewart-Jones plans on continuing the festival next year. As its popularity continues to grow, Gay Play Day has the potential to expand into an even larger multi-day/multi-program run.

Upcoming music, theatre & spoken word awesomeness

It was some big fun, not to mention a great pleasure, as I worked the door at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN) last night, with feature artists Andrea Thompson, Frenchie Fatale and Hugh Wilson. It was LVCN’s first night at its new home at The Central – and the place was packed, with an incredibly engaged audience.

There’s still all kinds of awesome goodness coming up in T.O. this month, my friends. Here is just a small sample of what’s happening on the small stage and indie scene:

David Hustler & the Trustworthy EP release – Wed, Sept 11 @ Horseshoe Tavern @ 8:30 p.m. – $5 cover

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – Thurs, Sept 12 @ 8:30 p.m. @ Free Times Café, featuring Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona from Big Name Actors (among others), Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot and I Hate Todd, and David Hustler of David Hustler & The Trustworthy, with guest Meghan Morrison – PWYC

Eclectic – September Group Exhibit – opening Thurs, Sept 12 from 6-8 p.m. and running till Sept 29 @ Fran Hill Gallery

Jeff Cottrill’s tour fundraiser show Keep Calm & Get Rid of Jeff – Sun, Sept 15 @ 7:00 p.m. @ Black Swan, with a whole line-up of music & spoken word guests – $10 cover

Studio BLR punk rock production of A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show – Sept 19 – Oct 5 @ 8:00 p.m. – show starts in Dragon Alley at the northwest corner of College/Dufferin

Alumnae Theatre production of The Underpants – Sept 20 – Oct 5 on the Alumnae Theatre main stage

Anglewalk Theatre production of tick, tick… BOOM! – Sept 21 – Oct 6 @ Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio

The Beautiful & the Damned – Thurs, Sept 26 @ 7:00 p.m. @ The Central, hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Heather Babcock, Brock Hessel & Nelson Sobral

Matt Gerber CD release – Sat, Sept 28 @ Tranzac, doors @ 7:00 p.m. – $15 cover

Look out for Big Name Actors and I Hate Todd as the play various dates and venues around the city.

So long, Q Space

I had the pleasure of attending two arts events at Q Space last week: The Beautiful & the Damned (TB&TD) on Thursday night and Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LV Cabaret Noir) on Sunday; check out Duncan Armstrong’s TOpoet blog posts of these recent editions of TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir. Both events showcase local performing and literary artists, and provide opportunities for established and emerging artists to get up in front of an audience for open mic segments. It was the last time that both events would take place in the intimate storefront space. Q Space will be closing at the end of the month.

In addition to being the home of Quattro Books publishers, a gallery, book shop and licensed café, Q Space has hosted numerous poetry/spoken word events (including the weekly Art Bar poetry series and various poetry slam events) and workshops (the monthly Renaissance Revival), book launches and visual art exhibits, as well as cabaret shows like TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir, which present a variety of literary, music and performing artists. Artists, especially those who are starting out, need a supportive space to showcase their work and try out new material in front of an audience, and have the chance to meet and network with other artists. There aren’t a lot of spaces in the city for such opportunities – and Q Space was one of those spaces. And proprietor Luciano Iacobelli, always the congenial host, would even keep the place open late to accommodate an event.

On a personal note, not being in the mood for a birthday party this year, I decided to celebrate my 50th at the June edition of LV Cabaret Noir, which had just launched its monthly program at Q Space in the spring. It was an amazing evening of friends and artistry – and the atmosphere at Q Space had a lot to do with that. Thanks to Luciano and his staff for staying open late for us that night. LV Cabaret Noir will be moving to the main floor of The Central in September and TB&TD are in the process of finding a new space.

So here’s to Q Space. Here’s to Luciano and his staff, and all the folks who organized and attended events there throughout its history. To the café, book shop and gallery. To the Portuguese custard tarts, which for some reason I never bought at the local bakery when I lived in Little Portugal, but enjoyed at Q Space. You will be missed.

You still have a chance to pay Q Space a visit – they’re open till the end of August.

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TB&TD – Brenda Clews performs her last poem of the evening in mask
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TB&TD – Adam Abbas entertains, reading dirty limericks & other works
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TB&TD – Andrea Matchett gives us sweet sounds in her acoustic set
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TB&TD – Duncan Armstrong, in yet another awesome t-shirt, reads a selection of poems
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LV Cabaret Noir – Our lovely hostess with the mostess, Lizzie Violet
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LV Cabaret Noir – Andraya performs one of three sensual & explosive dance/movement pieces
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LV Cabaret Noir – knot rivals recites some powerful words
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LV Cabaret Noir – Tania Joy brings a heart & soulful acoustic set

Upcoming theatre, music, poetry & cabaret happenings this week

Hey kids! For all y’all who are coming back to your regularly scheduled programming after the long weekend: hope you had a good one. Can you believe we’re well into the first week of August already? Holy moly!

Lots coming up, my friends. Here is just a sample of what local artists and performers are up to here in Toronto this week:

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Parade runs Aug 8 – 18 at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

SummerWorks gets up and running Aug 8 – 18 at various venues. I’ve got my eye on: Delicacy, Eating Pomegranates Naked and Utopia.

The August edition of The Beautiful and the Damned on Thurs, Aug 8 at Q Space from 7 – 9:30 p.m., hosted by Lizzie Violet, and featuring Brenda Clews, Adam Abbas and Andrea Matchett, and a whole lotta talented open mic performers. Dead celeb of the month is Janis Joplin. This will be TB&TD’s last show at Q Space – new location TBD.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks is also up on Thurs, Aug 8 at Free Times Café at 8:30 p.m., featuring guest performer blueVenus.

More music at Free Times Café on Sat, Aug 10 at 8:30 p.m. with Craig Robertson, Heather Hill and Tania Joy.

The monthly cabaret/open mic extravaganza Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir says goodbye to Q Space on Sun, Aug 11 7 – 10 p.m., with feature performers sol knots, Andraya and Tania Joy, as well as some amazing open mic talent. Cabaret Noir heads to a new venue in September – new location TBA during Sunday night’s show.

Random thoughts & sage advice in Felicia Guy-Lynch’s Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness

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Felicia Guy-Lynch reading “you should know” at The Beautiful & the Damned.

Felicia Guy-Lynch’s first book, Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness, is a poetry collection of random thoughts and shared wisdom on love, self-worth, trust and living in this world. Political, analytical, with word play, rhymes and rhythms – it sometimes feels like you’re reading a sheet of music with no notes on it, but you can hear the words, feel the beat.

I saw Guy-Lynch perform “you should know,” which appears near the end of Scattered Thoughts, at Glad Day Bookshop back in September at the monthly The Beautiful & the Damned poetry and music cabaret. Having now experienced this piece both live before an audience and read silently to myself in solitude, it’s still one of my favourites. Inspired by The Alchemist, the piece imparts sage advice that strikes home and sticks: “…those who gossip to you will eventually gossip about you. you should know wisdom is avoiding all thoughts that weaken you. those who anger you control you. you should know how your treat and make people feel? that’s all that matters…”

Often served up with a rap rhythm, some of the poems use rhyme, some don’t – and poems like “stylistic” weave a single rhyme throughout the piece. At times, the words flow across the page without punctuation, capital letters signaling the beginning of the next line. And just when you think you’ve got the rhythm down, anticipating the next beat, Guy-Lynch changes it up, playing the words in rhyming couplets in “crossroads,” then floating them in free association phrases in “cosmic sanctuary.”

You can catch Guy-Lynch at her upcoming book signing – including Scattered Thoughts: A Stream of Consciousness and her new book 365 on Saturday, May 11 at Knowledge Bookstore (177 Queen St. W., Brampton) from 12 – 4 p.m. In the meantime, you can pay her a visit at her Twitter and YouTube co-ordinates.

So much fun coming up!

Thought I’d take a moment to post about some ongoing/upcoming arts events.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) continues this week with the Week Two program and reading (March 13-17), with Week Three program/reading running the week after (March 20-24).

Quick note on Saturday’s Week One reading of Falling: We had a packed house, with an audience who responded very positively and had some great feedback for playwright Jamie Johnson. Shouts to Jamie, co-artistic directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf, director Ed Rosing, AD/SM Jake Simpkins, dramaturge Diane Forrest, sound designer Rick Jones, and fellow cast members Carys Lewis, Cora Matheson, Ruth Miller and Kristen Scott! And a big thanks to all the folks who came out to support the play, including friends and family – some of whom trekked in from Ottawa, Burlington and Hamilton. xo

The next edition of The Beautiful and the Damned is Thursday, March 14 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop. Host DM Moore introduces feature performers Greg “Ritallin” Frankson, Gerald Hannon and Andraya Smith, and some amazing open mic folks.

The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks is coming up on Thursday, March 14 – 8:30 p.m. at Free Times Café, featuring Brian Cober, Hugh Wilson, Marcus Walker, Nelson Sobral and Nick Verona.

Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens Friday, March 15 and runs until March 24 at Berkeley Street Theatre – check out the cool promo vid for the fest.  Features a new play by one of my favourite playwrights: Judith Thompson’s Who Killed Snow White? Also check out Nightwood’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration FemCab on Wednesday, March 20.

Speaking of my favourite playwrights, check out ongoing productions of works by Hannah Moscovitch (Double Bill) at Tarragon Theatre (till March 24) and Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Rock at Storefront Theatre (till March 23).

And while you’re at it, check out the March programming and workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Canadian Music Week (CMW) is coming up hard and fast (March 19-24) – so check that out. Just a selection of some artists I know who will be performing: Angela Saini, blueVenus, Meghan Morrison, Jessica Speziale, Tin Star Orphans

But wait – there’s more! Bella’s Burlesque Birthday Bash: DIRTY THIRTY DANCE PARTY is coming up on Thursday, March 28 at Lee’s Palace – 8:30 p.m. Bella Fox hosts a night of burlesque, music (including High Heels Lo Fi), dancing – it’s going to be a blast. Next day is Good Friday, so lots of you will be able to sleep that one off.

All the more reason for me to get over this stupid head cold, which I’ve had since last Thursday.