A delightful, insightful evening with Oscar in the witty, thoughtful Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class

Red Sandcastle Theatre A.D. Rosemary Doyle has teamed up with Jennifer Watson and Dorian Hart to launch The Wilde Festival, which opened with its inaugural production of Neil Titley’s one-man show Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class at Red Sandcastle’s storefront space at Queen St. East and Logan, Toronto last week.

Hart sets the tone for Titley’s intimate performance with a pre-show selection of beautiful nocturnes by Irish composer/pianist John Field, who invented the Nocturne. Field’s work served as an inspiration for Frederic Chopin’s compositions—and Chopin was a favourite of Wilde’s.

Introducing Mr. Wilde is performed in three parts. When Titley first appears onstage, it is as himself—in affable, accessible lecturer mode. Engaging and entertaining, he offers up a brief history of the show—which has been performed all over the world and to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival—and a quick timeline overview of Wilde’s life. In particular, we track Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour to Toronto; and Titley found the only venue still standing, not demolished or destroyed by fire, is Niagara Falls. And Wilde was apparently unimpressed by the great wonder of nature. Perhaps he only saw the American side.

Then, something truly remarkable happens. Titley transports us to 1898, to a Paris café where he shifts from himself as 2017 lecturer to Oscar Wilde, a year after he was released from his two-year prison sentence. The transformation is remarkable, both physically and vocally. As Wilde, he regales us with thoughts and anecdotes—with razor sharp wit, charm, unapologetic irreverence, and disdain for the mediocre and disingenuous. It’s not all fun and satire, though. There is an impassioned, deeply moving account of his experience in jail; and combined with that keen observation and ability to poke fun at society, it makes for a lovely nuanced, mercurial and poignant performance. Titley masterfully evokes the energy of Wilde; so much so, you can feel you’re sitting in the room with him.

Through it all, even when times are at their roughest, we see a man intent on pursuing a life of pleasure, art and beauty. Sucking the marrow out of life, even in his final days of penury and failing health, Wilde is the soul of wit to the end—a man who made the most of his life until his death at 46 in a Paris hotel.

We then return to 2017 to a short Q&A with Titley, during which one audience member asked if it was true that Wilde’s final words were “One of us has to go,” referring to the wallpaper in his hotel room. It’s highly likely. However, there is some question about his death bed conversion to Catholicism; it’s possible that his gesture in response to Ross’s query to bring a priest was misinterpreted—and he wasn’t signaling affirmation, but rather reaching for a cigarette. So his conversion could have been entirely accidental.

This is a must for all Oscar Wilde fans—or even if you’re just curious about the man. Whether you know a lot or nothing about him, it’s an entertaining and informative ride. I hear Titley is heading out on a cross-country train trip next week. If VIA Rail is smart, they’ll let him perform the show on the train.

A delightful, insightful evening with Oscar in lecture and first-person musings in the witty, thoughtful Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class.

Introducing Mr. Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class continues at Red Sandcastle until Jan 15; reserve your spot in advance by emailing redsandcastletheatre@gmail.com or by calling 416-845-9411.

Keep an eye out for future Wilde Festival productions; the website is under construction (look out for it at thewildefestival.com). In the meantime, check out this interview with Doyle about the The Wilde Festival in Xtra.

Photo: Neil Titley – by Jennifer Watson.

The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees!

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Laura Larson (as Anastasia Petrov), Dov Mickelson (as Tracey Doyle) & Aisha Jarvis (as Sally Styles) – photos by Joseph Hammond

Better late to the party than never – I finally got out to see the Hogtown Experience at Campbell House Museum last night. And what a party it was!

Written by Drew Carnwath and Sam Rosenthal, and directed by Rosenthal, assisted by Nicola Pantin, the Hogtown Experience is an immersive, site-specific theatrical event that puts you in the middle of the action, which includes over 30 actors and live music, as you rub elbows with politicians, union muscle, gangsters, speakeasy girls, temperance ladies, party girls, moonshiners, a lady doctor and a baseball star.

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David Rosser as Sam McBride

When you arrive at Campbell House (I’d suggest getting there half an hour before show time), you may wander the grounds and the house. Catch some jazz in the basement speakeasy or get an early introduction to some of the characters on the front lawn, where the Temperance ladies are protesting the evils of drink, and mayoral candidate Sam McBride (David Rosser) and his wife Fanny (Kirstin Rae Hinton) are greeting and glad-handing, and the small-town Busch brothers (Matthew Bradley and Tim Ziegler) are anxiously anticipating a meeting with Delacourt to pitch their moonshine. Or wander towards the back, where the Schwartz brothers (Scott McCulloch and Jorge Molina) talk business and the wily, opportunistic Tracey Doyle (Dov Mickelson) inspects his girls before they start their shift – one of which (Anastasia, played by Laura Harding in last night’s performance) makes an appointment with the friendly, socially aware local doctor Libby Prowse (Lori Nancy Kalamanski) for her friend/co-worker Maddy (Lea Beauvais). And there’s a rambunctious, playful and strange little girl (Claire Frances Muir) running around there too.

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Dana Fradkin (as Ronnie McBride) & Drew Carnwath (as Ben Stein)

Newspaper man Ben Stein (Carnwath), who’s dating the McBride’s daughter Ronnie (Sappho Hansen Smythe,* who has been playing the role this summer), gives us an introduction and some ground rules. We are here for a party at the home of union boss Bob Delacourt (David Keeley) on the night before the 1926 municipal election, where the conservative, tee-totalling, penny-pinching incumbent Mayor Thomas Foster (Jerome Bourgault) is up against the more progressive, alcohol-friendly and forward-thinking McBride. From there, the audience is divided into three groups, and each group is guided to a room in the house to start their rotation of three scenes. You may speak to the characters, but only when spoken to.

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Jerome Bourgault as Thomas Foster

My group was first taken upstairs to the ballroom, to a meeting of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union, led by the imperious President Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale), where we hear anecdotes of personal family tragedy that resulted from intoxication. We were then treated to a lively and intense dining room scene, where the McBrides and their supporters – including Delacourt, who remained eerily silent and stone-faced – toasted their good fortune, and a surprise guest made an appearance, decidedly spoiling the good cheer. Then it was down to the games room, where our cheeky hostess Katie (Siobhan Richardson) took all bets, including one from the jovial Police Chief Draper (Robert Clarke); and over to the speakeasy for drinks (cash bar, where you can order wine in a teacup or a can of beer in a paper bag) and music, overseen and kept running smoothly by the tough, but gentleman-like Donato Granta (Conrad Bergschneider).

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David Keeley as Bob Delacourt

From there, where you go and what you see is up to you. You are encouraged to give rein to curiosity and follow characters, open doors – and see what you may find. Young love. Backroom deals upon backroom deals. Desperate, last-ditch efforts to win a race. One of the speakeasy girls in trouble. You won’t be able to catch everything, and you may want to see the show more than once; to this end, keep your program (handed out as you leave) and that will serve as your discount voucher for your next visit. And with all the election and boozy shenanigans – not to mention the red hot jazz – you may want to take them up on that deal.

An outstanding ensemble and fabulous music, creating a unique, intriguing and engaging theatrical experience, and a colourful taste of 1920s Toronto. This humble scribe had a marvelous time at the pre-election soiree at Campbell House last night. The Hogtown Experience is the bee’s knees – go see it!

The Hogtown Experience runs until August 28 at Campbell House Museum; performance info and advance tickets here; otherwise, it’s cash only at the gate.

In the meantime, you can keep up with Hogtown on Twitter and Facebook; and check out the show trailer:

* Department of Corrections: The role of Ronnie McBride, previously attributed to Dana Fradkin, was actually played by Sappho Hansen Smythe. Due to the scope of the show and the size of the ensemble, there is a rotating cast, so some characters are played by different actors, depending on when you see the show.

Interview with Vanessa Smythe on Outside the March collaboration for 100 Outside Voices

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Vanessa Smythe

“Maybe a city is not just a place, but a suggestion of what we place in our hearts.” – Vanessa Smythe, 100 Outside Voices

Outside the March (OtM) asked Toronto actor/poet/spoken word artist Vanessa Smythe to compose a 100-line love letter to Toronto. The resulting piece, 100 Outside Voices, will be performed and recorded by 100 OtM Artists, each reciting one line, and unveiled in the Fall. I last saw Smythe during her very busy – and successful – summer 2015, performing her spoken word piece In Case We Disappear at the Toronto Fringe, which she took to the Edinburgh Fringe later that summer. She recently appeared in the Canadian Stage production of Domesticated back in December. I asked her about 100 Outside Voices and how she came to be involved in the project.

LWMC: Hey busy lady, congrats on this exciting commission from Outside the March. How did you come to be involved in 100 Outside Voices?

VS: Hey thanks! Yeah, Mitchell Cushman approached me and asked if I could write a 100-line poem that could double as a love letter to our city, and a bit of a manifesto for why we tell stories, especially in a site-specific way throughout Toronto. It would celebrate the 100 artists Outside the March has employed, and also be an inventive way to invite fundraisers for the campaign. Much of my poetry is about personal experience, so it was nice to look outward for this one, wonder about something bigger.

LWMC: What can you tell us about the genesis of the piece and your writing process? Any particular inspiration(s) or impetus?

VS: I’ve often come to Mitchell when I’m creating or developing new work. He acted as an ad hoc director to me for my solo show In Case We Disappear, and he’s always been very encouraging of my writing and exploring. For this one, I was intrigued, but had no idea where to start. How could I speak on behalf of everyone who lives in Toronto, who cares about it? How could I capture all of that in one poem? I felt I couldn’t possibly capture everything, and on the day I started writing it, I was actually feeling really down, really uninspired. I ended up wandering around the city, walking my favourite places, riding streetcars with no destination in mind, just getting close to the city – spending time with it, seeing if I could gaze at it, listen to it. I ended up recalling the people and memories that are borne out of the city. The things that animate and give the city its life and its breath. It became about the things we care about – how traces of that care are all over our city, and how if all of it vanished – what we’d lose. It’s not meant to speak on behalf of everyone, but is instead an offering of love to the city and the people who care about it.

LWMC: How and where it will be performed? And can you tell us about any of the actors you have onboard?

VS: 100 artists are each assigned one of the 100 lines. And they’re not just actors. Designers, writers, all of OtM’s artists. They go to their favourite place in the city, and speak the line (recording it with their phone). We stitch them all together so the poem literally becomes this 100-person offering – all of us celebrating our mutual playground.

LWMC: The big, multimedia reveal will be this Fall. When and where will folks be able to see the full piece?

VS: Outside the March tends to operate with an exciting bit of mystery. I’m not sure the details of the reveal yet. My guess is it’ll be some kind of gesture. Something that celebrates the multiple voices of our city.

LWMC: 100 Outside Voices is also a fundraiser for Outside the March – and folks can donate on the project’s Canada Helps site. Anything else we should know about 100 Outside Voices?

VS: 100-voices.com is the website for all the details. It’s funny too, since writing the poem, I’ve had more thoughts about our city, more layers that I wish I could’ve explored in the poem, which – though frustrating at times – is such a nice reminder of the uncountable parts of where we live, and how even our act of celebrating it – though never finished – makes us curious to keep learning about it, keep listening to it.

LWMC: I like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word?

VS: Yes. Home. Please.

LWMC: What’s your least favourite word?

VS: I like a lot of words. Maybe “your,” spelled wrong.

LWMC: What turns you on?

VS: Kindness. Being physically present. People talking about what they love. People not giving a f*ck. Spontaneity.

LWMC: What turns you off?

VS: Rudeness. Piercing, complaining voices.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you love?

VS: Computer keys being tapped really fast. My nephews laughing. Rain falling on the lake. When you’re walking through a forest and you can hear the water nearby before you see it.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you hate?

VS: People filing their nails. The sound of the dance floor on a Saturday night at 2am at a bar I used to work at. The sound would be murderous.

LWMC: What is your favourite curse word?

VS: Fuck.

LWMC: What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?

VS: I’d like to start a company that did something good, helped young people feel free, more themselves.

LWMC: What profession would you not like to do?

VS: Sell used cars. Unless it was just for a day, and I could be really bad at it.

LWMC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

VS: Hello again, my friend. Hello.

Thanks, Vanessa!

Keep an eye out for Outside the March’s production of Vanessa Smythe’s 100 Outside Voices in Fall 2016. In the meantime, take a look at the teaser trailer:

Adventures in arts & culture in Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014

Arts adventures continued last night at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014, as audiences roamed the night to view and engage with various arts and culture exhibits around the city.

A lot of the exhibits I saw (along with pals Lizzie Violet and Zoltan Hawryluk) were part of the Night Circus series. Here’s what we saw last night, followed by a slide show:

All Together Now – Group Exhibition @ Hart House. Video and live performance with choirs, featuring LGBTQ choir Singing Out, among others.

Queen’s Park was rockin’ with a cosplay rave vibe, with a DJ, fire juggling and eating, peeps in animal costumes and clowns. Dancing, music and a fun, energetic atmosphere.

8th Wonder – Michael Oatman and Brian Kane @ Union Station

A very cool interactive light box installation (will see if I can find title/artist).

Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva 2014 – George Bolster

The Melodious Malfeasance Meat-Grinding Machine 2014 – Dana Sherwood

Night Suite – lightsweetcrude

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 – SuttonBeresCuller

Cascade – Ananadam Dance Theatre, Brandy Leary, Eamon MacMahon, James Burton

Impressions – Mina Vedut, Alice Song, Andrea Ng, Alice Chen @ Wychwood Barns

Hive (2.0) – Hopkins Duffield @ Wychwood Barns

Dried Beans Models of the Universe from the Department of Household Sciences and Advanced Proverbs – John Shipman @ St. Matthews United Church (which also included a helping of very tasty vegetarian chili)

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Jessica Speziale’s “Brace Yourself” music video

Jessica Speziale launched her first official music video for her song “Brace Yourself,” one of the featured tracks on her Dear Reverie CD, on Saturday night at Cherry Colas in Toronto, during the Music City North music fest.

Here’s the video, scripted, directed and shot by Bruce Nagy:

I interviewed Speziale about the video on the blog recently. You can check that out here.

You can also find Jessica Speziale on her YouTube and Facebook sites, and follow her on Twitter.

“Brace Yourself” – Interview with singer/songwriter Jessica Speziale

IMG_0101Jessica Speziale is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter whose powerful vocals easily shift between  kick-ass beats and sultry ballads, with R&B-inspired pop/rock sounds. I had the pleasure of attending the launch of her CD Dear Reverie, featuring the rockin’ out, guitar-driven “Brace Yourself,” which has now become Speziale’s first official music video. With some new recordings under her belt, Speziale is now looking ahead to the video launch, happening Saturday, March 22 at Cherry Colas in Toronto, during the Music City North music fest.

I won’t be able to attend the launch, but got a sneak peek at the video got in touch with Jessica Speziale for an interview over email.

LWMC: First off, congrats on the music video for “Brace Yourself”! Its fast-paced editing, and evocative locations, moments and images really illustrate the song well. What made you decide to go with “Brace Yourself” for your first official music video?

JS: Thank you so much! When I met with director/screenwriter/videographer Bruce Nagy, it came down to three songs. We decided on “Brace Yourself” because of the storyline. Bruce felt it was the strongest and came up with the idea right off the bat! I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out.

LWMC: Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting the video together? Who wrote the script for you/envisioned the story, and who shot and edited it?

JS: It was all Bruce Nagy!! (laughs) When we first selected the song, we talked about some of the themes in the song, the origin of the song, and the visual that I see when I play the song. Bruce used that imagery to enhance a jilted love storyline that he came up with. We met for coffee and listened to the song and went through the lyrics piece by piece. He then took all the ideas from that meeting and drafted the storyboard so that I could properly visualize what was in his mind. Once the storyboard was fully discussed and edited and approved by us both, I set out to assemble the cast and the scheduling! When it came to editing, Bruce did all of the technical work, and we went back and forth with ideas and drafts. Bruce is an incredible person to work with. He is incredibly patient and focused, and he made sure that I was part of the entire process.

LWMC: What was your favourite part of that process? And your least favourite part?

JS: I have to say my favourite part was the actual filming!! One day, we shot the full cast and extras in the Distillery District and at Bruce’s place. It was just such a fun day with amazingly talented friends! My least favourite was probably the editing! (laughs) It took so much longer than I imagined it would! And it’s the nit-picky part, so it can be tedious.

LWMC: Without giving too much away (I’m not down with spoilers), I really love the Tarot reading scenes and the Tarot card imagery that was used throughout various points of the woman’s journey in the video. The lyric that hooks me into it is in the chorus reference to April 1st, which brings to mind the Fool. How did you come to use Tarot symbolism in the video?

JS: We really needed something that tied all the scenes together! Some kind of image. The song is written about a thunderstorm and that whole notion of being reminded that we’re small beings on this planet. So, the tarot cards made sense as the, sort of, outside force that communicates with the audience to narrate the story. Fortune telling being a way that the universe communicates with humans, right? So, it was an idea that really struck a chord with us. And we used it!

LWMC: Are you planning on doing any more vids of Dear Reverie songs?

JS: I would really like to! I’m speaking with a couple different directors right now about doing another one off Dear Reverie. While that’s in the works, I am really starting to get focused on the next album, too 🙂

LWMC: Besides the video launch on March 22, any other upcoming gigs you’d like to shout out?

JS: If you’re in Hamilton, I’ll be at the Underground on March 28th!

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

JS: I’d just like to send a huge, huge thank you out to the team that made this video possible – especially Bruce Nagy – and I really hope to see you all at the release party on March 22nd at Cherry Cola’s! 10pm screening!

LWMC: Thanks, Jessica!

JS: Thank you!!! :D:D

As for the “Brace Yourself” video itself, you’ll have to wait until Jessica Speziale makes it public on Saturday, March 22. Head on over to Cherry Colas to see that happen live, along with a live performance of the song – otherwise, drop on back here after the launch and I’ll have it posted.

In the meantime, you can check Jessica Speziale out on her YouTube and Facebook sites, and follow her on Twitter.

Nuit Blanche T.O. amazes & inspires

Had a blast wandering the night and checking out the Nuit Blanche Parade exhibits and others with my good pal Lizzie Violet. I’ve included some highlights of the evening below.

What turned you on at Nuit Blanche this year?

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The Queen of the Parade, by Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart. Multi-media artist/performer Lisa Anita Wegner, as the Queen, waves to the crowd from atop a 20-foot high gown.
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The Queen of the Parade – gown detail.
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Tortoise, by Michel de Broin. One of a series of assemblage sculptures made from picnic tables outside Campbell House. You could smell the cedar on this pleasantly cool fall evening. Warm cider was served there as well.
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Music Box, by John Dickson. A kinetic sculpture of musical instruments, creating eerie, otherworldly sounds all based on parts moving against each other.
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Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles installation at Nathan Phillips Square.
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Forever Bicycles installation with Toronto City Hall in the background.
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Ferris Wheel, by Katharine Harvey.
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Parallax, by Idea Design Collective. A luminous, beehive-like effect – all done with cardboard tubes and light.
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(X)Static Clown Factory, by Ruth Spitzer & Claire Ironside. An interactive performance installation, where folks were invited to come up and do the clowns’ work. I think peeps got paid in balloons.
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Woman in the crowd with neon light hula hoop.
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There is an elephant in the truck, an indie installation by Laurence Vallières. Another impressive piece done with cardboard.
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Hybrid Globe, by Arthur Wrigglesworth, Mohammad Mehdi Ghiyaei & Mojtaba Samimi.
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Ad Astra, one of three indie projects by [R]ed[U]ux Lab at the Bata Shoe Museum.
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RevitaLight – another piece utilizing cardboard – at Bata Shoe Museum.
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Light_Scape, an interactive light installation at Bata Shoe Museum.
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On the way to Artscape Wychwood Barns, we encountered this sculpture artist at work on Bloor Street West. He uses only centre of gravity and balance to build these pieces.
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Yep, that’s a concrete block balancing on top. And set on fire to great effect.
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An assistant moves a piece on Chess Set, by Blandford Gates, an indie installation at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
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Chess players Tomas Krnan (L) and Peter Vavrak (R) play blindfolded, giving verbal instructions to their respective assistants to move pieces on the board. And having to remember where every piece is.