It’s been heartbreaking to see all the cancellations of live theatre performances—not to mention devastating for theatre companies, festivals and artists—with seasons being cut short or delayed indefinitely, and productions and festivals cancelled during the COVID-19 crisis. But there are still ways you can support companies and artists, and stay connected with theatre while we […]
Lizzie Violet. Photo by Zoltan Hawryluk.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with today’s new normal of staying home and following physical distancing guidelines—and we’re all finding the need to develop new routines and methods of navigating everyday tasks and errands in a pseudo war-time environment, with standard items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour and yeast becoming hot commodities. And all this while dealing with the emotional, financial and social impacts of living in a world with the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.
Writer, horror afficionado, zombiephile and avid bat watcher (and good friend) Lizzie Violet started a blog series called Stay the Fuck Home; offering practical and inspirational how-to and entertainment info and resources as we all hunker down at home. I asked her about the genesis of the blog series, and her thoughts on DIY and remote personal connection going forward.
Hey, Lizzie. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your Stay the Fuck Home blog series! What inspired you to start this series?
Thank you for interviewing me!
There were a few things that inspired me, to be honest. I was seeing a lot of people struggling with what was happening and the fact that necessities had vanished from our lives. When I say necessities, I don’t just mean food. Many of us, myself included, depend on many different types of resources, activities and interaction. Plus, blogging daily gave me something else to focus on. I also wanted to do something positive, and hopefully give others something else to focus on aside from the bombardment of news and negativity.
What post(s) was/were the most fun to write?
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new wave of DIYers; and folks who didn’t previously make things themselves or bake, etc. have started doing so. (Necessity being the mother of invention and all.) What kinds of projects have you heard people undertaking for the first time? And do you think this experience will inspire rookie DIYers to continue DIYing after physical distancing measures have been lifted?
I hope people who either started DIYing out necessity and are new to it, or those who pulled out their sewing machine or baking tools after not using them for ages, continue to do so. I am fortunate that I was taught all of the skills I have at a very young age and have always used them. I have always said that you should know the basics of how to sew, knit, bake bread, can food and grow your own food. In the state of the world right now, these are necessities. Heck, I’ve even shared my sourdough starter with a few people. I truly hope people keep this going.
The main things I’ve seen being undertaken is sewing (mostly for masks) and bread making. It makes my heart happy, especially the baking of bread. Homemade bread is much healthier for you and really not that hard to do.
Needing to find new ways to conduct professional meetings and stay in touch with loved ones, a lot of folks (myself included) have also been introduced to, and become new users of, various video chat platforms like Facebook and Zoom, as well as performing arts live streams. How do you feel the use of this kind of technology has impacted our sense of personal connection during these unprecedented, uncertain times—and do you see this kind of remote connection as something that organizations, arts companies and folks in general will keep employing as we move past COVID-19 restrictions?
I’m actually really glad we have these resources available to us. Had this happened 10 years ago, this may have not been as possible. I do enjoy being able to see music and other forms of art through video platforms, but I personally would rather see all of it in person. What I am hoping for is once we are able to go out again, I really and truly hope that audiences start going out to live indie events again. I hope that they support artists and also smaller businesses, so they can get back on their feet. It was already hard enough as an artist to survive before the pandemic and they will need all the help they can get.
Anything you want to mention to folks about the blog series?
When I can, I am shouting out performers and artists I know and love. Please go support them! I’ve put links to them when possible. It was also a huge part of why I started doing the Stay the Fuck Home series.
Anything else you want to shout out?
I really want to shout out small businesses. They are doing everything they can to stay alive. They are being creative and innovative and deserve our love! Especially restaurants. They are trying their best, go order some take out from them!
Now, for the fun part. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:
What’s your favourite word? FUCK!
What’s your least favourite word? I have a couple. Umami and bespoke. Because no one uses them correctly!
What turns you on? Kindness.
What turns you off? Any kind of disrespect and that horking noise. Don’t do that.
What sound or noise do you love? Cawing of crows and ravens.
What sound or noise do you hate? The scraping noise the subway or street cars make.
What’s your favourite curse word? FUCK!
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? It changes every once in a while. Currently, Forensic Anthropology.
What profession would you not like to do? Veterinarian. At one point I did want to become one, until I found out you had to euthanize animals.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Oh no! Not this one!
You can find Lizzie Violet on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@lizzieviolet13). She also curates and hosts Killer B Cinema with her partner Zoltan Hawryluk, offering monthly screenings of B movies. Normally hosted upstairs at See Scape in Toronto, they’re working on posting screenings on YouTube as we continue to practise physical distancing—and hope to be back at See Scape soon.
Lizzie posted this piece after we did this interview; it’s one of the most important ones yet: Stay the Fuck Home It’s Okay to Be Kind to Yourself.
Two years ago, I had the honour and pleasure of getting a sneak peek at Heather Babcock’s debut novel Filthy Sugar after she approached me to give it a read and write a review blurb. Published by Inanna Publications, it’s set to be released on May 26—and was to have its official launch in Toronto at Queen Books the same day; but since brick and mortar book stores have had to move online, and with events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authors and book sellers are now relying on virtual shout-outs and online book sales.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Filthy Sugar (and think it would make a great movie); and hope that Babcock will get to celebrate the launch of the book with colleagues and loved ones soon. Here’s my review blurb:
Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working-class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle’s rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock’s storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry—tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working-class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
It will be some time before we’ll be able to attend readings and book launches in person again; in the meantime, you can get your own sneak peek at Filthy Sugar with Babcock’s excerpt reading on YouTube:
And if you’re a fan of 1920s and 1930s film and pop culture, check out Babcock’s blog Meet Me at the Soda Fountain.
Lizzie Violet—photo by Anna Lozyk Romeo
Happy International Women’s Day! Today’s post is an interview with an incredibly talented, hard-working, gutsy and generous woman in the Toronto arts scene.
Lizzie Violet is a writer, spoken word artist and horror aficionado—that “dark little girl with the crooked grin” who took her finely tuned, quirky sense of observation and love of zombie lore, and wrote it down. Evocative, darkly funny and sharply drawn, her writing ranges from hilarious and poignant personal storytelling, to socio-political observation, to chilling tales of the supernatural and deadly creatures from beyond the grave.
LWMC: You first become attracted to horror when you were a kid, staying up late with your dad watching old horror movies on TV. What was it that hooked you?
LV: Apparently, I liked to scare myself. Even as a young introverted kid, I figured out how invigorating an adrenaline rush felt. Even more so than watching the movies, the stories I would make up in my head scared me even more. I had an overactive imagination. I was never afraid of the boogieman or the monsters in the closet. I was all about the bizarre versions of monsters and ghosts my mind would visualize or create and I would wonder if the creak in the stairs was a werewolf coming to gobble me up. I loved every second of it. Recently, my mom dug up some of the stories I wrote as a kid. You can see where it all began.
LWMC: You also became infamous around the school library for your interest in horror literature and biographies of serial killers. When did your love of the genre translate into wanting to writing horror-themed poems and stories?
LV: How that all started, was my Great Grandfather Bill died when I was 10 years old. I was really close to him. They took me to his viewing at the funeral home and to me, the man in the casket looked nothing like him. He had this weird heavy makeup on, including rouge and lipstick. At the viewing, I started asking a lot of ‘inappropriate’ questions about why he looked that way and what was going to happen to him now that he had ‘passed away’ (no one would actually use the word dead). No one would answer me. I had a melt down and then wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral.
After that, I would continually ask the librarians for books about death, eventually progressing to books on serial killers and hauntings. We used to get the Scholastic Book Club magazines and I would get upset when there weren’t books along that theme as an option. They (teachers and the librarian) became concerned about how morbid this young child had become. My parents were not pleased, to say the least. All of this pushed me further into introversion and a way for me to cope was to start writing. To everyone’s dismay… my writing was always horror themed. From that point on in my life I became death-obsessed. Not in a ‘wanting to kill myself way,’ rather needing to seek the knowledge about death. Why it happened, what happened to you and your body when you died. Why we had funerals. Did it hurt? Recently, I discovered a writer and YouTuber called Caitlin Doughty (her channel is ‘Ask A Mortician’); I wish I had known someone like her as a kid. She is open about death and death positivity.
LWMC: Over the years, you’ve written in a number of media, from poetry, to the story for I Hate Todd’s “Zombie Love” music video, to screenwriting, stage and radio playwriting, and blogging, including your new Not Vegan Now Vegan food/recipe blog. Do you have a favourite medium?
LV: Short stories. I am madly in love with short stories. It goes back to that adrenaline rush feeling. You have to get people pulled in and worked up in a short amount of words. The pressure to do that in under 10,000 words is exhilarating for me. If I had to pick a second, it would be screenwriting. I love storytelling in that format as well. When you read a book or a short story, the reader sees the setting or character differently. They create their own visual. When you put it on a screen, they get to see what you want them to see. They get to actually be in your head and that terrifying thought, is appealing to me.
LWMC: Last Fall, you bid farewell to Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and tapered off your event production work. And, most recently, you quit your day job to pursue writing full-time. What led up to that decision and how has it been, adjusting to the new routine?
LV: I realized I had my fingers in too many pies and, because of this, I wasn’t getting enough writing done. When I don’t write, I actually get depressed. I sat back and took a look at what I have accomplished; what I could accomplish and realized I needed to be all in. Life is too short and I don’t want to ever have regrets for not trying. You only fail when you don’t make the effort.
I’ve been adjusting well. I freelanced for almost 10 years prior to my last job, and am able to focus and be productive. There are days when you just can’t be creative, and my mantra for those days is to do something else. Go for a walk. Write a list. Have a dance party in the living room. Dig holes somewhere. Just don’t let frustration take over. Sometimes you need to shake the cobwebs out—then you will be fine.
LWMC: What have been your biggest challenges? Your biggest rewards?
LV: Other than things being tight financially at the moment, I don’t really have any challenges. I do have a lot of rewards. Being able to wake up every day and write is the best feeling in the world. I am also lucky to have a partner who is supportive of my dreams.
LWMC: You’re working on a novel right now. What can you tell us about it?
LV: Without give too much away—it’s semi-autobiographical, yet still fiction, a ghost story and set in small-town Ontario. The two main characters are teenagers who don’t fit into society’s ideals of what a teenager should be and, did I mention, it’s ghost story. The title of the novel is Freaks & Grimm. In the next month or so, I am going to start hitting up open mics and read parts of the novel.
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?
LV: Oh yeah! Going back to your question about shows, though I am no longer producing shows similar to the Cabaret, I am still producing shows that showcase my work. Heather Babcock and I are working on a new format for our RedHead Revue. Hoping to have a date for this spring. I am also working on a YouTube channel called Lizzie Violet’s Lair. The content will be segments on horror, b-horror movies, talks about death and the dead. I will have regular guests to chat about ghoulish things such as hearses, graveyard tours, the paranormal, ghosts, zombies and more. Oh… and don’t worry, we will also talk about horror-based writing. I’m working on the set-up and scripts. I’m hoping to launch it this summer. You should all subscribe so you don’t miss the launch: https://www.youtube.com/user/lizzieviolet1313
The RedHead Revue page is https://www.facebook.com/redheadrevue/.
LWMC: I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:
What’s your favourite word?
All of them! If I had to just pick one, it would be gloomy or serendipity. Can I choose two?
What’s your least favourite word?
Moist. Why does that word even exist?
What turns you on?
When someone gets my weird and morbid sense of humour.
What turns you off?
Phoniness. Say what you mean. Say what you feel. Don’t pretend to be something or someone you aren’t. Being authentic is important. Oh… damn… I sounded like a hipster.
What sound or noise do you love?
The sounds of a thunderstorm rolling in. Nothing more soothing than thunder and lightning.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The sounds of animals in pain. It breaks my heart.
What is your favourite curse word?
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?
There isn’t any other profession. This is what I’ve dreamed of all my life.
What profession would you not like to do?
Veterinarian. When I was a kid, I had a brief moment were I wanted to be a vet, until I found out that they had to euthanize the animals.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
You made a wrong turn. It’s the other gates you want.
Red Falcon / White Lightning (RF/WL) is Robert Eckert and Jeff D. Elliott. Following up last year’s double CD release Rootsy!!! Rocky!!!! Power!!! Poppy!!!!, the band recently released an EP of new tunes: INSTANT CLASSICS.
I got the scoop behind the evolution of INSTANT CLASSICS from Eckert:
Our latest effort called INSTANT CLASSICS was begun in early January and completed for a soft release at Molly Blooms in Stratford on April 18, 2014. It’s speedy production was recorded with a full band consisting of members Hugh Wilson (guitar, BG vocals), Nelson Sobral (guitar, BG vocals) and Kevin Jagger (drums), as well as Pete Gorman (from Young Doctors In Love) playing keys on every song. Unlike R!!!R!!!!P!!!P!!!!, where Jeff and Rob produced the majority of the sounds, each player’s amazing playing and off-the-cuff creativity lead to so many happy accidents that shaped the attitude and vibe of the EP, solidifying the group as a cohesive band.
And he had this to say about RFWL’s new mission statement:
Red Falcon / White Lightning is like a sparkling cherry-coloured ’67 Cutlass sitting in the garage. People don’t get to see it that often, but the car, with its white racing stripes, stays with them. They talk about the sightings, and listen for the rev of the engine. With a full tank of equal parts Elvis Costello, Josh Homme, AC Newman, Joel Plaskett & James Mercer, RFWL stealthily slips out onto the songwriting superhighway, foot on the gas without plans for pit stops. They’ll be your favourite band you just might never get to see.
First off, I love the radio show device in INSTANT CLASSICS, the band using it as an auditory skeleton of sorts for the record. The first track features a slow contemporary groove and the deep mellow tones of “The Five at 5 with Ollie,” with our host introducing this edition’s feature band RFWL and INSTANT CLASSICS. The tunes kick off with the poppy, optimistic “Out There Somewhere,” then segues into some catchy Brit-pop sounds in “The Worst Thing About Time.” The record then shifts gears into the beautiful, wistful strains of the ballad “Time Has Come (Are We Ready?)” – featuring bittersweet, haunting guitar riffs, a soft drive of percussion and vocal harmonies reflecting the pain of impending transition. Switching over to a more rocky vibe, “Half Shit” becomes trippy and psychedelic towards the end, while “This Day and Age” has a kicky retro vibe and lyrics bemoaning an overwhelming modern-day world. Kicky turns to quirky with the final track “Dark and Deep with Sage Miles,” which starts as a wacky fun interview, with host Sage Miles speaking with cartoonish versions of Rob and Jeff, and ends with the band’s equally whimsical, new keys-driven single “Half Bald.”
With INSTANT CLASSICS, Red Falcon / White Lightning brings tight musicianship, strong vocals and an eclectic range of music – all delivered with a sense of passion and big fun. Catch them live if you can – and check out this record!
In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at INSTANT CLASSICS on the band’s YouTube video on the making of the record.
It’s out, folks. I Hate Todd has officially released their YouTube video of their amazing, scary and sexy debut single “Zombie Love.”
Take a look at this rockin’ awesomeness:
Yet another reason to hate Todd. That bloody sexy zombie master.
Last week, I came across an interesting tweet from Toronto actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (recently featured in Soulpepper Theatre’s production of Ins Choi’s play Kim’s Convenience), who posted the question: “Is Theatre Really Dead?” along with a link to this hysterically funny and thought-provoking YouTube video:
And it got me thinking. I know. A dangerous thing. So please bear with me – this is a long post.
Joking aside, the ongoing debate about the state of theatre in Canada has become increasingly urgent in the face of theatre closures, funding cuts, the controversial dismissal of an artistic director by a theatre’s board, a continuing lack of diversity in casting, and the ever-present – and growing – challenge of attracting and retaining an audience.
I think theatre isn’t so much dead as going through the growing pains of transformation. This is a positive evolution. How we create and perceive theatre needs to change. Its survival depends on it.
Competition for audience has always been a big issue in a large city that has so much to offer in terms of live theatre, music and entertainment. Even the smaller theatre companies, which initially filled a void in terms of providing audiences with new, often edgier, more cutting-edge fare from lesser known and/or local playwrights – and at lower costs to the company and audience – have been facing increasing competition from other smaller companies. And all this during an economic climate that has people tightening their purse strings at the expense of things like arts and entertainment in order to pay for essentials. Some companies have attempted to remedy this challenge by partnering up with other companies, sharing infrastructure and saving on production costs.
But beyond this competition for audience is the evolving nature of the audience itself. Demographically, theatre subscribers tend to be older – with season subscriptions traditionally being accessible to those who could afford it and, perhaps more importantly, had a lifestyle that could accommodate fixing theatre attendance well in advance. Subscription packages – and theatre ticket pricing in general – have been revised in an attempt to accommodate and engage younger audiences, especially those under 30 years old, who have less discretionary income and don’t necessarily want to nail down their theatre schedule so far in advance. Still, we’re not seeing a significant increase in younger theatre-goers, so ticket prices and scheduling aren’t the only issues.
It’s no secret that theatre isn’t only in competition with other theatre for audience attention; it is in competition with other entertainment media – and, more than ever, in competition with hi-tech media. Even movie theatres and certainly video stores, which are all but extinct except for some hardy indie locations, are feeling the pinch of cheap or free, convenient access to movies afforded – legally or otherwise – by the web and services like Netflix. And competition with other media is especially strong when it comes to younger audiences, who are more tech-savvy and wired than any audience before – and at a much younger age.
Multi-media theatre productions – featuring onscreen text and/or video, multiple arts disciplines and live music on stage – are going a ways toward engaging new, and younger, audiences. But is the addition of hi-tech audio-visual elements and effects enough to draw in – and sustain – a whole new generation of audience? And how do theatres avoid alienating an existing audience that may prefer its theatre productions done up old-school, without all the “bells and whistles” of extra tech, and who come to the theatre for the comfort of an expected, classic presentation?
The socio-cultural relevance of theatre has been kept alive by women’s and children’s theatres, and companies focusing on the stories and experiences of Black, LGBT and Asian communities, as well as those that seek to produce plays of socio-political significance. In terms of “colour-blind” casting, however, most of the larger mainstream theatres are, by and large, woefully behind walking the talk. What may be an open casting policy encouraging diversity on paper is not being reflected on stage. One could also argue that there is a double standard regarding the casting of straight actors in gay roles and casting out gay actors in straight roles. Here again, it is largely the smaller niche market theatre companies that are championing the presentation of diverse stories and/or walking the walk of diversity policy in their casting process.
The good news is – it’s all storytelling. And in watching and hearing the story, each member of the audience becomes a participant in that story.
This is where theatre can distinguish itself. The experience of seeing live actors performing in a play has something that watching a story unfold on a screen does not: flesh and blood immediacy, and in-your-face emotion. And I’m not talking about live interaction with the actors here. Audience participation can be tricky at the best of times, and it’s hard to say whether an audience that is used to interacting with characters on a computer screen will take well to a live character. In any event, it can be scary to witness live emotion. But it can also be exhilarating and moving. The same intense or funny scene played out onscreen and on stage, with the same actors, differ in the sense of immediacy. In a live performance, you can experience those moments as a direct viewer, with only the audience and the edge of the stage separating you from the characters. In some cases, you can see and hear them breathe, sweat and register change of mood in a flicker. All happening in real time, with live actors right in front of you. Even the way a theatre smells is different – hints of paint, stage make-up, that smell of hot dust on a lighting instrument. Theatre is a living, breathing, organic thing.
The way we create and perceive theatre is changing. But, since theatre is a social beast, change can be slow – and dreadfully so at times. Change can also be scary, and – especially in the case of diversity in casting – that fear can stall action toward doing what is right in favour of doing what is easy. Sometimes the status quo just feels too damn comfy to give up, no matter how detrimental it might be. Isn’t it enough to simply hope that it will all work out in the end?
Experiencing a performance with other people, even in a room full of strangers, the collective energy is palpable, whether in a movie theatre or live theatre. Add to that the give and take of energy between actors during a live theatre performance – and between the actors and the audience – and you have an even more electric hum in the atmosphere. A live performance provides the kind of buzz that you just can’t get from a performance onscreen. It’s a rush unlike any other.
Maybe that’s what theatre needs to promote in order to attract new audiences. Not the cheaper tickets or mini-subscriptions or multi-media presentations. Canadian theatre needs to promote that rush, while remaining socially relevant and reflecting the faces of its people. That electric, living, breathing rush. Theatre can do this.
What do you think?
With thanks to Paul for the Twitter chat that followed his posting of the vid and my response to it.
Haven’t seen last night’s episode of Downton Abbey yet (had to record it while watching the latest ep. of Lost Girl), but had to share this YouTube vid with you – a must-see for all Downton and Maggie Smith fans. Thanks to kerrymuzzy for creating/posting:
Lost Girl SPOILER ahead: The mysterious, handsome man who delivered the gold bracelet to Bo on her birthday is back in episode 14 “Midnight Lamp.” His name is Ryan Lambert (played by Anthony Lemke) and he’s a Loki (apparently the Norse god Loki was just a PR stunt by the Fae Loki folks) – and Bo needs his help to capture a Genie (played by Lauren Holly), who the Ash wants for assistance against the Garuda. Sexy hijinks ensue. And holy Wonder Woman powers with that bracelet! Great fun episode, but I’m wondering how the hard-core Team Lauren fans are responding. No Lauren in this episode and we’re left wondering if Bo has moved on.
Hey kids – before I take off for the holidays, thought I’d leave you with this hysterical satire of a holiday favourite: A Charlie Brown Christmas, as voiced by the cast of Scrubs. Definitely NSFW and not for family viewing. Thanks to ryanalevin for posting on YouTube.
Enjoy. Happy whatever you’re celebrating – even if it’s just celebrating some time off!
Till next year…
Given the gut- and heart-wrenching developments on Lost Girl of late, especially regarding Bo and Lauren, I’ve been reviewing this fan vid of them in happier times. Most of the fan vids about their relationship are quite intense, both in the editing and the soundtrack – and they’re awesome – so it’s nice to see this lighter side. This one has become one of my favourite Bo/Lauren vids, and features the song Everything (Michael Bublé) and back-to-back moments of Lauren’s mad awesome grab ‘n kiss (one from a few episodes ago and one from the finale of season one). So here’s a little something to warm the cockles of your heart on this chilly first day of December. I especially love the ending. Thanks to caroma15 for making this and posting on YouTube:
Okay, all you Team Lauren folks, got a fave vid?