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wear a pin but open your wallet

By January 8, 2018 Film, Headlines, Performance

The Golden Globe awards are popcorn and candy floss; bread and circus for the masses still stunned from holiday comas.
It’s just fluff. Or is it?

This year, a seismic shift turned the tables on a creative community reeling from one announcement after another of powerful industry men being rooted out from their plush and seedy man caves.
Instead of rainbow gowns, women—actors and all their peeps—were wearing black for a movement they hope will open the gates to true equality in pay, in production, and so on.

Is it a true shift?

Wearing black is easy. Ditto a lapel pin. Real change comes with money.

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Best of 2017

By December 31, 2017 Books, Film, Headlines, Life, Performance

I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.

Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen.  A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.

On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.

Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.

Favourite moments on the page:

  • In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”

  • from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”

  • from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”

  • from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”

  •  Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page.  I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.

Favourite moments on the stage:

  • Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.

  • The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl

  • The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.

  • Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of  A Wedding Party 

  • In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show).  Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.

  • The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.

  • the kids of the youth programme at Wavestage theatre who truly nailed my favourite Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, in particular the mature performance of young Lucas Guesebroek as Marley

  • Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday. 

Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.

In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:

  • Patti Cake$

  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Dunkirk

  • Bladerunner 2049

  • The Big Sick

  • Step (documentary)

  • I, Daniel Blake

  • Girls Trip

  • Land of Mine

  • The Man who Invented Christmas

Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)

  • Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home and back to university and out of apartments and then to another country and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood and then unpack when it was done and through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff that he surely deserves a medal, my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night, my friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).

  • My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year here in our home to, among other things, recreate our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom way back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back but she still wore it with panache.  Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all.  When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, “weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress?” I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.

  • My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman, We need more like this.

  • I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.

  • Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?

  • Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.

  • Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too? 

  • A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry;  the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.

  • Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”

  • Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.

There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.

-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy

I wish all my readers a magical year ahead. What adventures will it hold? I know one thing. It will be more fun with you along. #WeRallinthistogether

Happy New Year.

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It’s over just in time

By December 23, 2017 Performance

The Great Canadian Baking Show is a wrap. As promised, my thoughts on this inaugural season. Warning: I’m low on sugar content.

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Thoughts from my baking peeps

By December 20, 2017 Performance

We’ve been following The Great Canadian Baking Show, my love and sugar baking peeps and I. Tonight is the Grand Finale. Who will win Canada’s Best Baker? I’ll be back tomorrow in this space with my final thoughts on this first season. First up, a sampling from some very keen Toronto bakers who know a thing or two around the sugar headquarters! Read More

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Singing tweens (ps they’re away from their phones!!!!)

By December 11, 2017 Performance

We sing more in December. The light disappears and we sing to infuse the dark with magic. In the car, spontaneous karaoke erupts frequently and I’m humming at every turn. It’s in my bones. I come by it naturally so I seek out places where singing is celebrated. Earlier this month, I found it in the voices of the youth programme at Wavestage Theatre. Clearly, these kids don’t limit their singing to December.

I felt instant kinship, as I too connected to drama and performance at their age. If there was a show at camp or school, I was all over it.  Yet, compared to these gorgeous talents, I was a geek at their age. These kids are far more savvy and professional about their commitment to the work. They wowed me. How did they arrive here? A wise teacher, that’s how.

My sister Sarah has been singing too all her life. My own television career might never have happened without Sarah’s prompts at the back of our summer camp rehearsal hall.  I CAN”T HEAR YOU!  She taught me to “throw”my voice, to lend it inflection, nuance, and give character to all my solos and speaking lines. A former opera singer, Sarah has run an outstanding theatre and performing arts school for decades, in addition to directing and producing several shows a year with her company, Wavestage Theatre. She has taught in Newmarket and Aurora, and new this year, due to demand, Sarah is also accepting students here in Toronto. Some come for help with Royal Conservatory exams and university prep; most are keen for the opportunity to be directed on stage by a passionate performer who has turned directing into a true vocation.

I asked some of her youth performers what they have learned from Sarah: most told me showbiz tricks like opening your mouth wider for better enunciation, but all of them had picked up something far more profound about being involved in special seasonal productions like a black box production of A Christmas Carol. Here’s a sample of what I discovered when I met a few of them backstage:

 

For singing and performing lessons, contact Sarah at keepsinging.com and sarahlangfordstudios.com

While the Wavestage production was a one-night special, you can catch their upcoming show Big Fish in January. For all you Dickens nerds (you are my peeps, I bless you all), check out the Soulpepper production as it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and of course, the new movie, The Man who Invented Christmas, starring none other than Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.  Other reasons to celebrate this movie? The screenplay was written by Canadian actress/writer Susan Coyne.

As for me, if you pass me on the road, I’ll be bopping to Queen Aretha. Kind of like Bieber does here.

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The Great Canadian Baking Show: a fan report Part 2

By November 29, 2017 Performance

 

Subscribers have the password for this (and the crazy night of the show kick-off!) Want to be part of the hoopla? Subscribe to my monthly buzz sheet. It’s an easy click to join the fun.

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TIFF 2017: the mess

By September 22, 2017 Film, Headlines, Performance

Hats off to the film programmers. You did another stellar job bringing the world to our screens. Kudos for killer curating! And all the volunteers. You make me happy every year. I love seeing fellow movie freaks in those orange shirts, doing their best to shepherd the line-ups.

Still, TIFF lost some lustre this year. In my final TIFF 2017 post, here is the messier side of the festival. My beefs are few:

  • When a director comes out on stage and apologies to his audience for what they are about to see, the audience should just get up and leave. Apologizing is patronizing. TIFF audiences have seen plenty of provocative work over the decades. Fainting is for the fawning mobs pressing for selfies outside. There are some movies you never want to watch again but are still glad you saw once (Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, First There Will Be Blood). Mother! the latest from shock darling Darren Aronofsky, isn’t one of them. It’s just bad torture porn. Did this film need a big splashy gala ticket? Jennifer Lawrence, Aronofsky’s romantic partner and star of this insanity, should have run away too.

  • What’s with the plethora of priority seats? Perhaps Aaron Sorkin papered the audience for his directorial debut, Molly’s Game (indulgent, way way too talky..and I’m a Sorkin fan). But when almost every seat in the first floor of the theatre is reserved, one wonders if TIFF still deserves to be called The People’s Festival.

  • Delays were the worst I’ve ever experienced; line-up chatter echoed my frustration. A delay in the screening means a carefully curated schedule becomes a wash. Missed endings? Check. Missed Q&A’s? Check. Standing in line is expected. Standing in line outside on the pavement as you watch the start time of a movie come and go, and nobody’s in the theatre yet is a good way to lose your core audience.

  • I have resigned myself to ads but why not preface each TIFF screening with a film short*? Open it up to artists across the country? Run the ads instead at the end with the credits, with all those who helped make the film. That’s where sponsorship nods belong. I watched a makeup ad over three dozen times. “Real beauty is colourful” (all the models are wearing black). “Real beauty is unique” (all the models are impossibly thin, leggy, and longhaired). Sigh. I understand sponsorship. These things don’t get made on their own. That’s why I support the festival myself.  Meanwhile, in the multiplexes year round, moviegoers have to sit through ridiculous and utterly mindless gimmicks to play on smartphones to pass the time before the film begins. And distributors and executives wonder why nobody is going to the movies anymore…

Rant over. Go watch a movie and support filmmakers. This is your season.

Weekend  links:

  • I saw this young talented actor on stage earlier this summer in a gorgeous production of Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival and now grieve his passing. Read theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck’s beautiful obit of  Jonah McIntosh

  • So worth it: (and only one hour long!) Before Jerry was Seinfeld.  Streaming now on Netflix.

  • Missed TIFF? *Try the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival happening this weekend at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

  • Get excited for Alias Grace. The six episode miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel (yes, another one!) will air in Canada on CBC this coming Tuesday and will stream November 3rd on Netflix. 

  • Simple yet brilliant answer to all this happiness talk:

HAPPY AUTUMN!

 

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Guest blog: Sing Sing Sing

By August 1, 2017 Performance

GUEST BLOG: As we continue our look at hobbies that become passions: singing in the shower is fine enough…for some.

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Summer movies

By July 26, 2017 Film, Performance

TIFF has just announced some of their 2017 lineup so get excited. Still, there’s enough decent fare before then in commercial theatres to tide this fangirl over until then. Here’s my midsummer list of a surprisingly satisfying summer movie season.

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Long weekend reads

By May 19, 2017 Books, Performance

What happens when you grow up with the Bogeyman narrative playing out large in the culture around you?  Literary darling Emma Cline grew up in California where the Manson drama was the defining event in the zeitgeist of her parent’s adolescence. The story of the charismatic sociopath was too familiar to her as a novel protagonist so she decided to focus on the peripheral players in the story, and conjured up a character who might have been on the sidelines of a dangerous cult. This became the starting point for her critically acclaimed debut, The Girls, which kept me enthralled on my sickbed this week.   Read More

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