Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The madness of The Madness of King George III.

A rose of a performance hidden by the vines.

Sunday marked my second visit to Shaw Fest 2017, this time to see the much-anticipated Madness of King George III by Alan Bennett. This is the first season under the artistic direction of Tim Carroll who is on some kind of mission to completely erase any trace of former director, Jackie Maxwell.


We are going through a period of overindulgence.  It starts innocently enough by staging a 19th century costume drama in the present day. I'm good with that. However, let us not discuss the modern staging of Macbeth--Africa at Stratford Festival. We then bring characters on stage to interact with the audience while they take their seats followed by audience participation and before you know it, the house lights are up for 2:45 hours and you're paying more attention to the on-stage audience than to the actors.

In describing the new season's philosophy, Carroll uses the analogy of a garden, giving full license to directors to express this philosophy and continue throughout the season to revisit the play and see how things evolve (grow). As one reviewer noted, very few of us are likely to see a play twice in one season.  And isn't the purpose of previews to iron out the kinks? Isn't that why we have preview pricing?

Sadly, this production has evolved into a panto. Panto is at best ludicrous comedy, frivolous farce, and ramshackle antics.  All descriptions found in the following reviews.

Nestruck at The Globe and Mail

Smith at The Hamilton Spectator

Over-staging detracts from the fine performances given Sunday night in particular McCamus' king. McCamus is good as is Mezon and McManus--three of my favourites. What were they thinking when Mr. Kevin Bennett laid out his ideas for the show?

Alan Bennett's words require minimal staging. A reading of George III was performed at Stratford years ago.  No costumes, no lights, no bloated production.

I do welcome cast and creative introducing the shows this season.  For most of us, the people in black are a mystery; it's nice to see fresh faces and get their perspective.  And it's a good idea to go beyond the playbill although Shaw Fest does produce a comprehensive playbill. How cosy do we want to get, though?

I do not pay for the privilege of seeing actors (and I hear Withnail here) reduced to prancing around the stage having to endure three costume changes in under a minute. I kept coming back to the movie where George's decline was allowed to unfold with grace.

I should be fully engrossed in the performance in front of me. Keeping the house lights on all night merely encourages people to read programs and examine their feet throughout the evening. Just like the people on either side of me. It really messes with the peripherals.

Good rule of thumb: don’t take off your shoes and play with your feet, good people.

More on the rules to come.

Let's see what Shaw Fest does with An Octoroon.  Until September.

**Coming up--The Stratford Cure**

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Workshop--The Art of Blogging

As posted at grtiLIT.ca:

Writing Workshop: The Art of Blogging with Kerry Clare 
Author Kerry Clare draws on her 15+ years of experience blogging to show how to build a blog that works for you. A great workshop for both beginners and people who blog at work. 


Such was my introduction to Kerry Clare, blogger at Pickle Me This--for over 15 years-- and a lecturer at the University of Toronto* where she conducts a class in blogging.  No longer the stuff of church basements or library conference-rooms, institutes of higher learning offer what I hope is a more comprehensive approach to blogging than what was on offer Saturday afternoon.  

My goal was to receive sufficient wisdom and motivation to reinvigorate the 2013 travelogue and provide closure on this little chapter of my life. Is the universe not crying out for it?

Now I know for a lot of people, blogging is still a serious pursuit; it is their livelihood; it is a life-line; it is how they sustain themselves. I write to stretch the grey cells and have always refrained from writer’s workshops for obvious reasons.  As much as I would have loved to have participated in last year’s Michael Winter session, I leave those for the professionals.

I workshopped at griLIT back in 2015 with James Raffan--journal writing that, while not quite meeting expectations, at least made an effort to keep its audience awake with a very hands-on approach. Workshop by definition suggests creation and building and throwing ideas around. With Raffan, we went once around the room with introductions, then once each around with two subsequent hands-on exercises then a fourth with everyone breaking eggs and making paint.  By the time it was done, it had turned more into a therapy session. You'd never make that kind of progress in an hour with a psychiatrist.

Instead of the dynamic presentation I was expecting from a blogger of 17 years, I endured an hour-long lecture from prepared notes. What was everyone feverishly scribbling in their notepads, I wondered. Grocery lists? Honey-do lists? The group was made up of about fifteen person ages 20-60. Some blog for work, some for recreation, some are hoping to have a book published--one day.  I tease about my memoir and posthumous publication, but I am under no illusions about my reach. 

With Clare, we ran through the history of blogging, Arab spring, the evolution of her blog which has morphed from personal to mommy-blogging to books. We started off by writing for five-minutes on whatever subject came to mind. Clare regarded this as a mind-opening exercise but at no point did we refer back to it.  It might have been better used as an entry point and to expand on the notes to essay how we might get this into a blog post, or look at it for structure, or anything really.  It served no purpose as we never moved on to a next phase.

After a lengthy history of the blog, it finally distilled down to write and write often. No consensus reached on length--some of our number won't read long posts or whether you should keep it strictly positive. Surely your fans are reading regardless of what you have to say. And frequency and time of day is obviously specific to each writer. Oh, and make sure to publish drafts. This goes without saying. Apparently spelling and grammar don't count in Clare's world, either.

NB  Please consider The Art of Presentation, next time.

Kerry Clare on The Next Chapter




*As an aside, here's a sampling of what's presently on offer at U of T's Institute of Communication and Culture. If the U of T would like to extend a contract, I would be happy to accept. 

Writing in Social Media: The Impact of Web 2.0

Examines theory and offers practice in writing in Social Media. The course explores the growth of the Web 1.0 model to the Web 2.0 model, from information gathering to interactive and cooperative information/opinion dissemination. Students will critically examine the rhetorical practices of Social Media users and how these practices currently shape communications network. Students will create and maintain blogs. The course draws on a range of theorists and social media experts including Marshall McLuhan, Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo, Ken Wilber, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.


Expressive Writing

Examines theory and offers practice in expressive narrative, the most basic prose mode and the foundation for other prose modes. Students explore ideas about product and process, form and meaning. Students will experiment with syntactic structures to explore how the form of language serves, or fails to serve, intention and the expression of meaning that may be understood and interpreted by others. The course draws on theorists including Aristotle, Chomsky, Elbow, Kinneavy, Britton, Bakhtin.



Friday, 17 March 2017