Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The madness of The Madness of 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

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sausages. Just sausages.

The full Monty will have to wait.  After much anticipation, Brunch was postponed yet again.  Scratchy throat and sneezing have become the norm. After a night of zero sleep, I am even more curmudgeonly than usual.  We are two weeks into the New Year and already looking ahead to the next statutory holiday.  Thankfully, forces conspired to declare Family Day available to all.

But the world has bigger problems.  Sunday was a day of action to counter the coming inauguration--marches on Washington, pink hats, Writers and Readers Resist. Very pleased to hear that Mr. Anka has withdrawn his services.  No one needs to listen to a version of My Way that has been specifically tailored for the event. Stellar performance from Baldwin—and SNL writers—Saturday night. And not to mention a call for Hinckley to give sober though to an encore.  A marathon session of House of Cards II suggests impeachment shouldn’t be all that difficult. We don’t need an assassination attempt.

Streep’s acceptance speech carried me and a lot of people through the week.  Not even the threat of 10 cm of snow could dampen the mood. Some felt she was just as bad as Trump in calling out Kovaleski’s history to get her point across. I have no issues with celebrities using their platform to express their opinion.  

As a counter measure to January 20 and a bleak day for last Sunday’s news—bombings, death by bus—I read Healey’s The Drawer Boy, again.

You carried me—and all that—around all this time?

The snow turned out to be a non-starter and we have endured rain and cloud ever since.  Come back sun, all is forgiven.  Need a sun lamp and brass band to get me up in the morning.  I am better to suited to an equatorial climate.  The rain forecast did not stop the property manager from dumping a truckload of salt on the driveway.  This is why there’s salt shortage; it has nothing to do with snow and ice.

Things do still happen north of the border.  Pleased to see Dion shuffled out as he lacks the social graces and spine for the position of Foreign Minister.  Will the Woman in Red tame the Orange Man? Like her colleagues, Ms. Freeland is equally adept at avoiding answering a direct question.

Not you! Not you! By Wednesday, we were back to the US—the post press-conference blues. More backbone, Press.  Reading that all unsubstantiated claims against Rob Ford’s indiscretions turned out to true.

Three things on the to-do-list:

One, find a way to finally shirk the flushed cheeks, congestion, aches, and sneezing. I took in five minutes of chill, afternoon air to clear the lungs. There is a suggestion of green left in the garden—a robust aquilegia and a spike holding on for dear life. (Also, to convince those around me to wash their hands on a regular basis and encourage them to sneeze not into the hand or the air, but, the armpit.  Germs are no joke.)  

Two, to find the right balance in being engaged with news and avoiding it outright due to rising blood pressure from seeing Trump splashed across the newspaper and screen. But we shouldn’t silo or bubble-wrap ourselves, either.

Three, to find a tastier option than lifeless WASA crisp bread to sustain me through January’s fast. This is critical.

Closed out the week with The Trip—Italy, for respite care. It is pure torture watching beautiful food being hoovered up without any appreciation for the preparation, plating, or mindful eating. Note to self, it is time to return to more adventurous menu planning.  Beautiful pieces of music from Strauss and Mahler (“Wouldn’t you simply die without Mahler?”) throughout the film. Very medicinal movie all round.

Odd to start the Sunday wind-down without a Vinyl CafĂ© story; last year’s weekly double bill made for a good jumping off point; we wish Mr. McLean well.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have several pounds of sausage, black pudding, and ham to dispense with.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Middlemarch, again.

After a less than auspicious start to January 1--dry toast, water, and a nap--the new year finally got going around 15:00 with a gin and tonic and the ubiquitous shrimp ring. Ah, the perennial appeal of soggy shrimp and having to wrestle the meat out from its tail. Commitments were made to cut down not only on shrimp, but pastry and potatoes.  Wine is not on the cut list.  Hauled out a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary and relived Xmas all over. The Full Monty breakfast will have to wait.

January 2 was overcast and we braced for the Tuesday reality check.  This time it was the ubiquitous pan of French toast.  Portion sizes discussed again.  I read Thuet--foie gras, truffles, and sea urchin.  Hauled out a copy of Belly of an Architect--a man obsessed with his digestive tract. Look what happened to him.

Like New Year, the workweek started on a low note--rain, thick fog, grunts of good morning.  There should be a code of conduct for first day--nay, week--back.  Civility in all its forms. I don't expect a "happy new year" but let's start with good morning. It would help if we all drank coffee.  Day two of The Purge.  Where is my copy of Apartment Therapy?

Kippered salmon is a fine way to start a Wednesday.  Enjoying the fact that everywhere but Hamilton was experiencing (-28C). Vancouver chastised for having another kind of meltdown.  Near riots in the street because Winter arrived unannounced.  Excitement in the office space as the radiators were left on overnight and the building was warm for a change.

A relapse was inevitable what with early starts and a bloody freezing Wednesday night. Frustrated that we haven't seen a shift from 7:52 to 7:51 sunrise.  The sun appeared in brief and then darkness descended.  Chicken soup, day four.  Mood further lowered by finding Trump splashed across the centre pages of the Globe and Mail, again.

Sun by week's end--portending a good weekend--and more cold temps.  For the first time in five weeks, there was nothing but housekeeping to do.  Shopped for a winter dress and found exactly what I wanted.  However, it was Ivanka and had to leave it on the rack on principle. Other shoppers pointed to the Ivanka wares in jest; nobody was buying. Hauled out a copy of When Harry Met Sally which I hadn't seen in at least ten years. Was in Grade 12 when this was last in theatres. Much ado about Ms. Fisher.

Sunny today and a motivator to exercise and tackle the housekeeping.  However there is no shame in taking a leisurely Sunday. My Catholic neighbours chastise me for performing any labour on his day. There is no tree to take down this year.  Last year's tree wasn't taken down until mid-March. I'm okay with this.  We shall borrow, once again, from the Orthodox and officially celebrate the New Year with them.  It's not New Year's without a Full Monty.

At time of writing, CBC Sunday was in New Year mode:  mindfulness, no information snacks, and book clubs via the telephone. Positivity in an age of Trump. Middlemarch came up.  Like most of us, I was introduced to Middlemarch via PBS.  Reading the novel was a whole other story. What a labour! And why do we feel we have to read the classics? What of all the other books on the shelves? I agree with the head of libraries for Thunder Bay, John Pateman--let the public decide what stays on the shelves.  Although the snob in me says we should aim higher than Dan Brown. I've read Rebecca Mead's take on Middlemarch and feel it's time to revisit Eliot.  With David MacFarlane always in mind--do one thing at a time(did he ever stick to his plan?)this daunting task may yet be achieved. There are only so many to-be-read-piles one can have laying about the house. Purge the shelves of unread books! Just don't call it a resolution or else it probably won't get done.