I just dropped $280 US on hats (it was like $350+ in Canadian dollars) in an easy to overlook store in Stratford Ontario. As I’ve said previously, Stratford is town that for the most part you go to for the Theater… that said, BECAUSE the theater draws in a regular stream of affluent well educated tourists from all over the world — the sort most likely to be interested in traveling vast distances for a really good Shakespeare/theater festival — it is able to support much better restaurants and stores than you would normally expect to find in a small Canadian town. The Green room is just such a store.
I had walked into this The Green Room MORE than a few times over the last two years without ever appreciating it. I would walk in, see the shoes and the stocking and such that are displayed up front (making me think it was mostly a shoe store), and then because of how dark and badly laid out it is, I missed most of what it had to offer and just walked back out. (Keep in mind, I taught marketing for many years; and as a former art major, how shops were laid out/curated — so as to to help or hinder the customer experience — is one of the things I would focus on with my students).
In a way the store reminds me of those old fashioned mercantile shops that used to exist back before professional store designers became a thing. It’s badly lit, has way too much stuff so that very little of it can be well displayed, but EVERYTHING you might want or need can be found crammed onto it’s shelves.
One of the things Iris is famous for is she’s not a fan of spending more than she needs to, she’s a notorious negotiator, and she’s as likely to pick up accessories for her legendary collection (MUSEUMS have shown her outfits) at a street market as at Harry Winston’s (a name some of you will only recognize from the Marilyn Monroe’s version of Diamond’s are a girl’s best friend).
I think Iris would love the Green Room precisely because finding anything in it is an act of drive and perseverance, so that when you do find things you feel a real sense of achievement, in that you can honestly say to a friend who has herself been into the store 100 times… “Look what I found in the Green Room!!” and for the most part they only have 1 of everything, so if you got it, your friend can’t run in there and get one for herself
… In part the store has the same problem that the Louvre, which I have often described as the worst curated museum in the world — although I’ve heard that they’ve been working on improving that. The Louvre has reputedly 38,000 objects in their collection, and they insist of displaying ALL of them at once, so that the walls remind me of a game of Tetris… with only very special pieces like the Mona Lisa being hung with enough clear wall around them to allow you really appreciate them.
…. it overwhelm’s the brain. And, it’s not a fashion store so much as it is a bit like British chain Accessorize. It’s a store that sells all the stuff that goes WITH your clothes: ie., scarves, jewelry, shoes, purses, belts, etc. Only it’s MASSIVE store that winds it’s way through a maze of rooms… and …. Downstairs in the basement (I was there 6 times before I found the stairs down, which are way at the back of the main room… they have a massive collection of hats at reasonable prices ($30 – $50 Canadian) many of which look structured when you wear them, but yet can be packed flat — so GREAT for my lifestyle. (Clearly whoever did the buying kept in mind that the ladies who fly into town are much more likely to leave having bought a hat, if they can then shove in a suitcase.) Let’s just say that I went a little bit nuts with the buying.
When I told my friend Dayna, who I’m currently staying with, about my splurge she was like, “Oh yah, I LOVE that store. I call it the jeans and a white T-shirt store” in response to which I looked at her quizzically … “I mean, you go in there wearing just jeans and white t-shirt and then buy all the accessories you need to express yourself from them”
I have once again returned to Stratford Canada for my 2nd season of attending their world famous Shakespeare Festival; this time I bought tickets to MOST, but not ALL, of the shows. Last year I learned that the festival organizers seem to want to make most of their dramas “politically relevant”, and I was SO bored out of my skull by most of them (I found that they tended to be heavy handed and preachy in their politics — I am not a big fan of paying money to get preached at), that I decided to just not buy those tickets this this time around. This year I will be seeing all comedies and musicals.
Happily, I am once again able to stay at the home of a my friend, Dayna Manning, who (as I mentioned previously) is a not only a solo recording artist (since she was a teenager), but is also (for the last few years) a member of the popular Canadian folk band Trent Severn, not to mention a teacher & music producer — which means whenever stay with her I get to hear lots of great music. (As lay in my bed, sipping coffee and writing this blog post, the band is having a rehearsal in her living room for an upcoming fund raising concert of Beatles music; and since Trent Severn will be taking part in the concert, Dayna has been happily focused on arranging their performances — and telling me all about it. Yah, sucks to be me — GRIN)
Yesterday was my first morning at Dayna’s, and we took advantage of fabulous weather and went for a brisk 1 mile walk around the river (see my post from last year). While we were walking, she mentioned to me how the city has started working to curb the size of the local duck population. Apparently, whenever they find a nest, they’ve been putting some sort of oil on the eggs that keeps them from hatching. The poor ducks don’t know this and rather than laying more, as they would had the eggs been stollen by a predator, continue sitting on them, but for naught. That said, when we walked past this, I was much better able to understand the concern of the city council.
While the city nurtures their swan population (see my post from last year where I discuss this), and the Canadian Geese are just passing through… when you add the ducks to those two groups, well, that is a bit much. (The gutsy lady with the walker mowing down the swan gave us both a giggle.)
After that we walked past Stratford’s Art in the Park, a regular venue for local artists to show their goods to the affluent tourists that come into town for the festival (i.e., this is NOT a place to find cheap art, the prices take fully into account the demographics of tourist population — which is mostly affluent retired folks from surrounding major metropolitan areas, that are as far afield as Chicago).
Among the artists was a glass worker, Brad Jesson, who Dayna said was a childhood friend. I have to say I was very impressed with some of his pieces, where he achieved optical illusions I’d not seen before within his glass marbles, paperweights, and pendents (none of the images on his page do them justice). My favorite work however were 2D prints on textured paper by Mathias Muleme where he combines his Ugandan and Canadian influences. Every one of his works captured movement in a way that’s actually very hard to achieve. If I had a home I’d be tempted to buy The Cello and The Soloist to display side by side, or on either side of a doorway.
For dinner I was able to get a 5pm seating at my favorite Stratford farm to table restaurant, Bijou. The food here is ALWAYS good (I became something of a regular last year), and from my perspective it has a massive advantage over the other restaurants in that one of the owners (the woman who works as their mixologist) is also a trained dietitian — I tell her my medical issues and she not only directs me, but goes into the kitchen to discuss it with the chef. If the dish that shows up doesn’t meet those medical requirements, she’ll take issue with it usually before I do.
Tonight I had as my appetizer a dish called: “Textures of cucumber” with smoked trout, goat mousse, puffed rice, and trout roe — where the cucumber was presented four different ways.
And for my main I had Fishermen’s Stew: octopus, scallops, razor clams, ratatouille, couscous. The cook modified it to make it lower fat, because the clams were initially intended to be fried, but for me they steamed them. Also, there was supposed to be more couscous (not great for my diet), so they reduced the amount of that and added more veggies.
I ended up having to get a To-go box and forego dessert, I was too full by the end and at least a third of the stew was leftover.
Finally I had theater tickets. Tonight I saw the Shakespeare classic, Twelfth Night, the play that partially inspired the movie “Shakespearein Love” (which the festival produced last year as a play again, see that posting) a fictional tale about his creation of “Romeo and Juliet” which I have tickets to see tomorrow night.
Initially I was stunned by just how empty the theater was. I had purchased the tickets at the oh so affordable, $30/pop sale rate, where you don’t get to choose your seats… and in spite of the fact that the place was only 40% or less sold, they put me up in the nose bleeds… but the balcony was sooooo empty that pretty much all of us ultimately moved into the first 3 rows center, irrelevant of where we’d been put.
If my mother had been alive she’d have insisted I move downstairs, there was no shortage of empty seats in the most expensive seating areas. Once the show got going I began to understand just WHY the place was so empty… Dayna had warned me earlier in the day that the production was ‘lack luster’ and light on laughs, but I decided she was (per usual) being kind.
It was, at best, ok. I’ve seen the show done numerous times, and better; and, that would include high school performances of it. The first half was so slow I was almost dozing off but it picked up in the 2nd half, with a rousing finish (but for the one horrible performer).
A few of the actors turned in really good performances, but … NOT however the girl who played Viola; and that was kind of the whole problem, since her’s is, essentially, the central character to the whole play; not only was she not believable in the part, but she kind of tripped on her lines so that they lost meaning. That said, The guy who played the duke was very good, and the the actor who played the fool was REALLY good (he’s the one in the picture). Everyone else in the cast turned in decent to respectable performances… but … that said… when your leading actor is turning out a weak performance … well…..
For a while now, since I’m not working and no longer have to conform to “work appropriate” hair, I’ve wanted to experiment with colors and cuts that would have shocked and offended my parents (were they still alive).
Back in Georgia (in March), I’d started the transformation from my old self to my current one, but as my hair when I first walked into the salon back then was still in it’s virgin state (aka, utterly natural, and gray), the colorist, who had only just met me and didn’t seem to quite trust that I could really wanted what I’d asked for — she knows me MUCH better now. (To her credit, let’s face it, I’m odd, and hair stylists have been sued by unhappy customers before.) At the time, I tried to explain to her how my inner soul really was not reflected by my current appearance; that I had needed to appear professional in my old jobs, but that now I was free of that and I could return to being more myself — and that I wanted my hair to reflect a truer version of me… the former art student me more so than the business school professor me.
I remember her saying things like, “if I do what your asking for you won’t be happy with the result,” and instead of what I had initially asked for she produced something that was radical by local standards (from what I’ve seen, middle aged, upper class, well educated women in Dalton, GA just don’t do this sort of thing with their hair) — driving around Dalton I found most women to have almost identical dye jobs and hair cuts, that were usually of the sort that required bi-weekly hair appointments to maintain. And while I’ll grant you that what she created was VERY pretty, it was not quite as ‘fearless’ as I was ready to go … however, that said, I really did like the end result as it was a bit like having a head of full of firey embers still burning in blackened ash — and I have a personal connection to that sort of energetic. Also, it could be argued that this dye job flattered me more than the one I ended up getting in Victoria.
Now… it was a few months later and the hair had to be redone. While walking around Victoria I spotted this dress in a shop window, and knew THIS was the color pallet I wanted to go for — only with more of the orange and red, and less of the yellow — so I snapped a shot of it, posted it to Facebook and asked the friends to chime in on what they thought about it. I decided, based on the comment of my friend who authors the blog, firstname.lastname@example.org to describe it to whomever my colorist turned out to be as a “Caribbean sunset.”
Now granted, between the Georgia hair coloring and when I finally went in to a salon again (almost five months) my hair had grown out (about two inches) and faded out almost completely, from dark hair with fiery highlights, to something which was now brown with the fire faded to mostly orange… although you can still see some red in there.
As I discussed in a later post, on the distinct nature of homelessness in Canada, I had actually gotten the referral to the Aveda Beauty School from a homeless chick I ran into who had wildly colored hair. I’d been wanting to get creative with my hair for a while, and based on my experiences in Georgia, realized I’d have to find a salon that regularly did this sort of thing, or at least do it in a town where it was far more ‘normal’ to request it. The first day I drove around Victoria I knew I was finally in the right place, so it was a question of finding the best salon for it, at the cheapest price. And the Aveda Beauty School turned out to the be the right place.
I will say however, that at first they rejected my request. “We don’t do that sort of thing here” but… let’s just say I when I’ve set my mind to something I rarely take no as an answer. After a while they of negotiating they gave in, and assigned me to Jessica (the girl in the pictures) who was just a few salon hours short of graduating, and who had exhibited a real flair during her training in the use of color. She was both excited, and a bit intimidated, but we talked about it, and there was a full week between my initial consultation and when she would start the job… and she said she had gotten increasingly excited about it as she had time to mull it over in her brain. “I’ve always wanted to do a job like this one but the customers who come into aveda aren’t asking for it.”
With regard to the gray left at my sides, that was my choice. When I had the last coloring done, in Georgia, I had asked the colorist NOT to color over grey at my temples… which she did, but not as MUCH as I had wanted her to, so with Jessica I was much fiercer about it, but it turned out that again what I was asking for wasn’t as radical a notion in Victoria as in Georgia … it is in fact from what I saw it is beginning to be a THING now for older women to NOT completely cover our gray… or even try to. All over Victoria I was elderly women who had embraced their silver and only added dark highlights in creative ways to to compliment their appearance. I saw this one woman who had short curly hair, where her first two inches were kept completely gray, and only had the tips of her curls made dark… it looked amazing, emphasized her curls, and her face… think of it as older women reclaiming pride in their age.
The whole job had to be done in two steps, in large part because it was going to take 8 hours and the students only work in four hour shifts. Fist they needed to cut my hair to remove damage from the previous dye job, and because they refused to do what I wanted on very long hair (to expensive). Historian type that I am, I told her to think 1920’s inverted bob, long in the front (enough so that I can still pin it back on bad hair days, but short and layered in on the back… and then they did a base dye of a an ashy brown in order to obfuscate the transition between new natural hair and the rest of the head.
Nice, but oh so mundane…. I think I look a bit like pictures of my grandmother taken in the late 1920’s. This was done on the Tuesday.
Two days later, Thursday, I came in again, and the first step was to bleach may hair light enough to allow for the other colors…
The result was a sort of bright orange with some red highlights left in it… To be honest, I always wonder why they can’t just leave hair THIS color — which is what happens when you strip brown out of hair, because I think it’s cool, but they won’t. No colorist has ever explained to me the reason why. That and, as I was not used to seeing myself this way it was kind of a shock… still can’t decide if it’s a good color for me.
The 2nd girl is a friend of Jessica’s who came in to help. Jessica applied all the color, but this girl functioned as a 2nd set of hands, holding bits of hair out of the way, and handing Jessica things as she needed them.
Then we entered the coloring stage. Three colors were used, a purple, and orange, and yellow… and rather then applying the colors in vertical stripes, as is normally done, these were applied horizontally, in a technique now known as decoupage.
And this was the final result…
I’m sad to say that the colors only lasted a few weeks, with the purple disappearing almost immediately, so that two months later (when I’m finally writing this) the hair is mostly orange (close to the color of the hair when initially striped) and a yellow that turns almost neon in the sun… So it will soon be time to try something else.
I’ve sort of been considering the Miley Cyrus inspired haircut (Miley had it when she was in the TVshow, Two and a 1/2 men) that Jessica was sporting… but it actually requires MORE upkeep to get the hair to stay up like that, not less…. and I would need to loose a more weight, as right now my face is too fat
Let me preface this by saying that I categorically know diddlysquat about the specific realities of homelessness in Canada, and I take it as a given that the situation is far from perfect; what follows therefore are simply my PERCEPTIONS as a well traveled individual who has had the “privilege” if you can call it that of having seen poverty in many countries over the course of my 51 years.
So let me give an example. A few years ago I was driving around Shanghai China with my dad and his girlfriend. …
Well, let me back up: At that time I had been working as a professor of Marketing in South Korea for about two years, at Kyung Hee University’sSeoul campus. (Yes my PhD was in anthropology, how I got from that to marketing is a long story.) My dad, who had been a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (he passed away just over two years ago now) had been invited to China in order to give some lectures at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, and he had arranged for his girlfriend (a once upon a time professor of Hebrew Literature at Tel Aviv University — who had been working as a successful therapist for many years since) to also give a lecture, so that she could come along with him on the trip. This was right around the Jewish High Holidays, so my father decided that I should fly from Seoul to Shanghai so that we could all attend prayer services together.
….. After we’d been there a few days, we were driving around the town and my dad’s girlfriend started to talk about how impressed she was with the affluence of Shanghai. How all the apartments we had visited (both she and my dad had contacts in town) were so fancy, and our hotel (4 star) was so plush, and how everyone was wearing the latest styles of expensive designer clothing, and the expensive jewelry everyone wore (the Chinese love their bling).
To this I responded… “well that’s interesting, because I’m seeing something entirely different than you are. I see all of what you saw, but I also seem to be seeing things you are not.” She of course took offense, and asked me to explain, so I went on… “What I see are fancy apartment buildings that are surrounded not just by gates, but with 12 ft concrete walls that have barbed wire at the top with limited entrances and exits where there are guards that ‘actually guard’ (not just for show), which tells me not only is crime a major concern, but possibly even riots. And while I see people wearing bling and the latest in designer fashions, what I also see are jobs like garbage collection which in western countries would be done with garbage trucks, but here I see people doing them by hand, many of them elderly with hunched backs dragging behind them carts heavy with trash to the dumps, or recycling plants. What I see is a really horrible discrepancy between the rich and the poor, with many homeless, dirty, and miserable looking people sitting around looking unhappy. So while I saw everything you did, I also saw it not as this wonderful amazing thing, but as a problem … and those concrete walls with barbed wire? What they tell me is that the rich elites of this town are very much aware that they are sitting on a potential powder keg that could, if they are not very very careful, explode at any time.”
So… returning to the issue of Canada a few people have asked me what were my major observations of the differences between Canada and the USA… and while granted there are a few… for instance I used the go-along with that statement that EVERYONE seems to say about the Canadians, namely that ‘they’re the nicest people on the planet’… but having spent three months there I have now revived that to, ‘I wouldn’t say Canadians are Nice, so much as I’ve decided that the Canadians are incredibly polite — a bit like the Japanese’… but I’m not going to go into what I mean by that here… it’s too complicated.
What I want to talk about now is the inherent differences I observed on the streets between homelessness in Canada and the way it looks in the USA.
The poor and homeless in Canada just seem… happy, they seem healthy, they even seem, dare I say it… peppy…
American homeless rarely if ever look any of that, and if they do they usually haven’t been homeless very long. … again, just my perception.
At one point in Victoria, I saw a girl who looked to be in her early 20’s, pretty, but with the sort of ‘dirty’ look of someone who lives on the street, who was sitting on the side of the road in the center of Victoria’s tourist district (between the historic hotel and the bay), with her puppy on her lap, trying to collect funds. So I stopped to talk to her; she started of by telling me that she was actually from Vancouver and had come over as a passenger on the ferry to visit friends (for an adult non student fair it costs just under $18 Canadian, or around $13.50 US for walk on traffic, but I’m guessing her status may have qualified her for some sort of discount). She told me that after having been here (in Victoria) for a few days that she didn’t have enough money left to go back and was just trying to collect enough funds to take the return ferry.
So, like the anthropologist I am, I sat down to ‘interview’ her about being homeless in Canada. I also wanted to bounce my perceptions off of her, to see if I was right about how much happier the homeless seemed here, and my thinking that maybe in Canada dropping out and being homeless was actually a choice people sometimes made, rather than something they were forced into by adversity. She said that she thought that was probably correct, that it was something you could just choose to do and a lot of folks did. She had not been to the US side of the border, but she had heard other kids talking about how being homeless there was categorically different, and a lot scarier. She said that in Canada she gets good health care even though she has no job (and isn’t even looking for one), and that there’s no shortage of homeless shelters that feed her well, and that sleeping in those shelters feels perfectly safe to her…
Another day when I was walking around I passed a what I’m sure was a little group of three homeless girls, one of whom had really radical colored hair. So I talked to her and I asked her who she would suggest as someplace I could go to to get my hair done. She said that she and her friends would do it for themselves, using cheap stuff they got from the pharmacy. I told her I wasn’t into doing that and really wanted someone who could do it for me, and do it well. She pointed me towards the Aveda Beauty school that is only two blocks from my apartment saying one of the girls who they hang with from time to time, who was not in fact homeless would get it done there and was happy with the results… When I think of homeless youth who are doing things like experimenting with hairstyles, I tend to think England or Germany, i.e., other countries that also have a strong social security net (as Canada does)… not the US.
Finally, one day I had an “interesting” conversation with a homeless guy (complete with a shopping cart full of his stuff) who was all pissed off because apparently the night before he had given CPR to a fellow homeless guy who was over dosing on heroin, and he said the cops, rather than thanking him for saving a fellow human being brought charges against him for having done it (I had difficulty following his logic of why that was). Then he went on to talk about how he was also a heroin addict. Now, granted, the guy struck me as being part of that small percentage of folks who are homeless because of mental issues, but for a homeless heroin addict with metal issues, I have got to say he looked to be an amazingly healthy and well fed homeless heroin addict.
A cute enough town with many of its buildings dating back to the 1880’s or 1910, with a lot of top of the line yet affordable resturants; the fact remains that the only real reason to come to Stratford — and MANY people do, is to attend the internationally recognized, Shakespeare festival, which runs yearly from April through October (i.e., not during Canada’s winter).
Normally when I blog, I break up an extended visit like this — 23 days — by the day or by specific things I’ve seen or done, but since Stratford is not that kind of town… people come here for one reason, the theater, I’m going to do it as one extended post …. with the caveate of a day trip I took to Niagra Falls (in part because I had a day off and some business I had to do early the following morning in Toronto, before returning to Stratford that night for another play)
Originally a railway junction (and you can still hear the train as it passes) Stratford’s main industry (which collapsed) had been furniture making. Today the town has a population of around 31,000 and has a new main industry — theater. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began in 1952 as a way to stimulate the local economy, with its first production (Richard III, starring Alec Guinness) being staged the following year, the festival is now held in such high regard that they often attract the best of Canada, the US and Britain to take part in their productions, and their company has nurtured Canadian talent that has gone on to be world famous. While the central theme of the festival is to produce the plays of “The Bard of Avon,” they also produce musicals and plays ranging from the ancient Greeks to modern works. In fact this year only half of the shows were by Shakespeare, although one of the non-Shakespeare plays was about him. And they offer all sorts of deals, which vary based on if you are purchasing well in advance, or during the festival, so that if you plan it strategically you don’t have to pay through the nose to see every play (which is exactly what I did).
I was here for slightly over three weeks, I stayed at the home of a friend Dayna Manning, a local musician (and someone whose been successful enough that she’s been able to support herself fairly comfortably just on her music — which is a hell of an achievement). In fact while I was visiting she and a friend put on a ‘test’ concert at a local venue. They’d only played together once before, at the request of a friend, enjoyed it, and decided to work together to build material for a gig to take on the road. This concert was performed mostly in front of friends and family (and local fans), with the aid of some friends who just joined them to jam.
Granted, most people might not have a local friend but not to worry; the town sports plenty of proper B&B‘s & Airbnb‘s — in fact practically every block seems to have one or the other, as well as various hotels (some chain, some historic) serving the town’s visitors. While here I met a LOT of older (usually retired, or semi-retired) people visiting from Chicago. I also discovered that there is in fact a dedicated bus line (of the air conditioned tour bus sort) that runs from Toronto to Stratford that only costs about $25, saving people a drive back late at night.
Like I said, Stratford’s main industry is the Theater, and as a result the local schools have a very STRONG arts mandate. I’m constantly running into packs of local teenagers who all claim to be theater nerds, and the streets are full of VERY YOUNG musicians (most often found providing entertainment to folks waiting for their plays to begin) whose parents can always be found standing guard just across the street or down the block. According to Dayna, Canadians with musically gifted children will in fact move to Stratford, just to take advantage of the musical programs there. The overall quality of the music these kids were preforming was very high.
I did not discover this until about half way through my visit but apparently Justin Bieber hails from Stratford. (There are t-shirts for any visiting Beliebers) when I mentioned it to my friend Dayna, this is actually her home town, she said that his mom was a year ahead of her in high school and had been the only teen mom in their school, and that she used to bring him to class.
Architecturally the historic downtown of Stratford is very cute; most of the building were built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, spiral out from the central point of the town hall, and sport a strong emphasis of multicolored brick work as their main form of decoration.
Running through the center of Stratford and offering a pretty walk between the Patterson and Festival theaters is a very cute river, with loads of ducks and swans (not to mention a plethora of Pokemon stops).
Locals and visitors both make active use of the river for boating (rowing), picnicking, and just enjoying it.
Right across from the main (largest) theatrical venue for the festival is Tom Patterson Island, which is a pleasant place to hang out, and had the benefit (from my perspective) of being a Pokemon hub — a place where three poke-stops are so close together that assuming you’ve got active lures in place Pokemon emerge rapidly — and the more players there are taking advantage of the spot at one time the even more rapidly they emerge… its not uncommon to find groups of young adults playing the game there at 3:00am
Right along the river along one of my favorite areas — and it was only two blocks from the house where I was staying — was the lawn bowling club.
Currently, the festivals takes place in four venues scattered around the small town: The Festival theater, The Avon theater, The Tom Patterson Theater (named after the guy who had the idea of creating the festival in the first place), and the Studio theater (I will describe each in detail later on). And, if you have the good sense (as I did) to find digs that are centrally located to those, you can quite easily walk to any of them (assuming normal mobility and reasonable weather). There are taxis in the town, but they are few and far between (I’ve rarely seen them), so if you’re going to need one I strongly suggest contacting the companies directly and reserving them in advance (there is no Uber or such in the area, although you think the locals would push for it as a way to earn an extra buck during the festival season). Otherwise, parking at these locations is at a premium, and you will actually have to RESERVE parking in advance if you’re going to need it, or try to find street parking nearby, which won’t be all that easy.
One of the slightly odd things I noticed about the productions here was that extreme ‘Color Blind Casting’ seems to be the rule, to the extent that it can sometimes be disconcerting with absolutely no thought to reality … so that thought of race does not even happen in casting family units, forget about historical likelihood. As such, I saw a Caucasian actress as the mother, with an actress of African decent (who appears to lack any mixed heritage) as her daughter, and then a granddaughter played by an Asian actress (in this case Vietnamese)… whose father was played by a Caucasian actor…. in a play set in the 1850’s in Sweden, a place and time where even brunettes were a rarity. While I appreciate the need and desire for color blind casting, I wish they’d at least integrate some deniable plausibility…. otherwise its much harder for the audience to suspend disbelief and enter into what I refer to as the magical transformation of theater… where you forget it’s a play and stop seeing it as actors on a stage.
I had heard about the Stratford Festival in Canada all my life, but growing up — as much as my family LOVED theater, we never came here. (In fact we never crossed the northern border to Canada… I came once on a business trip as my father’s assistant, and once for an academic conference when I was in grad school, but that was it). We did however go to London almost yearly to visit with relatives (at least until most airlines stopped offering the “kids fly free” deals in the mid 1970’s) and that’s where we would gorge ourselves on government subsidized theater, sometimes seeing as many as three shows a day in our attempt to see EVERY possible production before heading home to Chicago; that, or we’d attend local student productions at Northwestern University (which has always been one of the top ranked drama programs in the country), getting the specially priced for staff tickets (dad was a professor at the business school). So, what drew me to decide to invest almost a full to the Stratford Festival this year? It was a school friend who has been coming here almost yearly with her mother, and listening to her going on and on and on … and on… about how great it was.
As previously stated, four venues make up the festival:
The Avon Theater: Let me admit right now (to my utter embarrassment) that I completely missed the punny nature of this till my cousin by marriage pointed it out… The Avon in Stratford? Get it?
Anyway, it is located in the heart of downtown (which is only about four blocks square), so its very convenient in terms of you go, you eat dinner, and then you wander over to the theater.
This theater seems to get the shows expected to do well, but not SO well that they will require the festival theater; during my stay I saw Shakespeare in Love, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (a musical); and Sondheim’s a Little Night Music.
The Festival Theater is the main venue for the Festival; it is where all of the ‘classic’ Shakespeare plays are performed, as well as any performance expected to bring in the crowds — which this year was A Chorus Line.
It is the venue located farthest from the Historic downtown of Stratford, alongside the Tom Patterson Island (located in the river).
Hidden within the building (by the stairs on the way down to the bathroom) is a real find, a chair that is strongly believed to have belonged to the Bard himself.
Tom Patterson Theater:
The building that this venue is in doubles as the Kiwanis Community Center. It’s one of the smaller theaters, with a full in the round construction. It’s located directly adjacent to the river, and when there are performances (and good weather) musicians will perform on a small dock.
This is where they host the Shakespeare shows they’re not expecting as much interest in — in this case a mashup of four of the historic plays, as well as serious dramas from top play-writes. In this case I saw “All my Sons” and one of the lessor plays by Ibsen.
The studio theater, which is 3/4 in the round, is located directly behind The Avon Theater. It doesn’t even have a proper lounge area, just a little stand which doesn’t even take credit cards. Most of the audience ends up hanging out at a book store located across the street (about where I’m standing when I took this picture).
It is the smallest of the Stratford venues. It’s where they display experimental theater or new plays that have never been seen before. As in, at my high school we had an in the round theater for when we put on Shakespeare plays and the like, which was bigger.
Bijou (midpriced Farm to table, French gourmet):
Located smack in the center of Stratford’s downtown. The food is French/ Farm to Table & prix fixe… and MOST of what’s on the menu I can’t eat. I explained my dietary issues to the waitress, who GOD BLESS turned out to be a dietician. She immediately agreed I could only eat the main and changed the price to adjust for that. I had trout on a bed of grilled veggies, which was delicious.
And then she brought me a little champagne cup full of fresh blueberries for my desert — and didn’t charge me for them.
CrabbyJoes (chain type):
Located outside of the downtown on the main road from Toronto. I came here under the mistaken assumption that it would include crab… it doesn’t. Its sort of like a TGIFridays, or a Chilies, type place… only the wait staff is actually HELPFUL and KIND and CONSIDERATE. First time I came in I explained my medical conditions and asked for a suggestion. The waiter said, “well to be honest most of what we serve you can’t eat… but there’s this one page in the back of the menu you should look at.” (which had healthy options I decided I would try at some later point — the fish dinner was delicious with lots of raw veggies as the salad, not boring lettuce)
But I wasn’t hungry enough for that at the time, just wanted a snack, so I asked if I could have the grilled chicken breast that comes on the salad… but without the salad. The waiter immediately pointed out that they normally brush it was garlic butter, and should they not do that? HALLELUJAH, the man earned his 20% tip.
I later had their Mediterranean Chicken from the skinny menu, sans the dressing on the salad (because it was pretty much oil). That was NOT as good as the fish, for a lot more calories — 500+ instead of 300+
Foster’s Grill (mid-priced Gastropub):
Center of downtown, almost next door to the Avon & Studio theater: I had tried this place before for dinner and was highly unimpressed with their “healthy” options… ended up eating the mussels which (this being the heart of the Midwest) were uninspiring. However, friend Dayna whose house I’m staying at, suggested that they’d be among the best local place for me to get breakfast, so I gave that a try. BINGO…
The dish is normally two pouched eggs on steamed spinach for $9 (Canadian), but I asked if I could only have one egg as I have high cholesterol, and they accommodated me, dropping the price to $6 … add one slice of dry toast which they didn’t charge me for, and a cup of coffee. Now THAT’S a breakfast! … For a grand total of $6.97 in US currency. The DOWNSIDE is that with the exceptions of Sunday Brunch, the breakfast menu goes away at 11am, and that’s about when I’m waking up — that said I found it pretty easy to get other local breakfast diners to make me the same thing (usually sans the avocado which these other diners don’t seem to ever have on hand) for a few dollars less.
Firstly, reservations are a must. The restaurant is in a converted house, on a street off to the side of downtown (with a bunch of other homes also converted into businesses — you get the feeling downtown is bursting it seams, but that the homes are considered historic so they can’t be torn down and replaced with business appropriate buildings).
This place is a fixed price only, two courses minimum restaurant. As I’m on a diet and have gotten used to small portions, $55 for two small portions and no vedge didn’t bother me, but I could see it pissing off a lot of people wanting US sized portions (see Demetre’s below). That said everything was tasty, and they were able to accommodate my dietary needs. The appetizer was smoked trout on a green apple vinaigrette (the assured me almost no oil), with one little bit of crisp bread with trout row on it (forgot to take a picture before I started eating), there was another large piece of fish where the fork is.
The main was Skate wing, which I’ve only had once before as it is most definitively NOT kosher (it’s a form of shark), so my parents never ordered it for us at restaurants. (I discovered it while eating out with a friend in Brighton, UK). You all know what Skate looks like, there’s barely a major aquarium that hasn’t got them in the main tank… they are the fish who look like they are flying through the water, rather than swimming… The wings are tasty.
Everything was tasty, but I think it was a bit overpriced (Skate wing is hard to find more because there is little market demand for it, but it’s actually relatively cheap to purchase — it’s by-catch, stuff that gets caught in the net when they are fishing for other things) … I just wished there had been more vedge served with it (all there was was a bit of shaved cucumber underneath it to prop it up above the broth.
Demetre’s Family Eatery (Greek owned Diner)
And in the best bang for your buck (but not necessarily all that tasty) category: Again, located away from downtown, this is a place that apparently all the elderly folks already know about (based on the average age of the customers) and that locals like (according to the person whose home I’m crashing at). They have smaller “elderly” portions, but on average their portions on MASSIVE. Where normally (for the same price) I’d get one blackboard eraser sized portion of grilled fish, here I got four of them. Also, as they have a predominantly elderly clientele they had NO issue with adjusting the dish so that the fish was almost bone dry when it arrive (barely any oil was used while cooking)
Unfortunately what the restaurant seriously lacks is vegetables. The fish came with baked, mashed or fried potato, or rice… no veggies. They didn’t even have them in the kitchen to make compromises with (the girl told me they’d have to unfreeze them, always a ‘good’ sign, NOT). When I explained my situation they compromised and gave me salad. When it arrived the fish tasted frozen…
Looking around EVERY portion for every dish was massive. Additionally I spotted two deals:
So gourmet food it isn’t… but if you want a family owned place comparable to any of the major ‘diner’ chains… think Perkin’s … with a lot of Greek style dishes, this is the place.
This is converted church is the most architecturally “interesting” restaurant in town, and is also a favorite of my friend Dayna (although I found relatively little that I could eat on their menu).
For myself, I thought the food was OK but nothing to write home about…
Mercer Hall (mid-priced Japanese influenced Gastropub):
HIGHLY overrated in my humble opinion. Yelp had this listed as one of the best places in town… my experience did not support this. First, they had run out of the mussels and it was barely dinner time. Then I asked them if instead of deep frying the fish option could they bake it or grill it or steam it as I have fatty liver and oil is poison to me …they flatly refused (I should add that this is a request no restaurant has EVER before had an issue with unless they also unblushingly admitted that they’d already fried everything up in advance and are just re-frying it to warm it up — mercer made no such admittance) finally I opted for the only low fat item left on the menu (its a VERY unhealthy menu), which was a smoked salmon appetizer platter, and it was unimpressive and massively over priced. In general the wait staff treated me like “how dare you come to a restaurant if you have medical problems, you’re weird.” (And let’s keep in mind that elderly people are the majority of the tourists that come into this town for the yearly festival.)
Annie’s Seafood Restaurant (Diner):
One of the reviewers on YELP had described this as a greasy spoon fish place, and wasn’t kidding. It’s an inexpensive mom and pop looking place outside of the center of town, but on one of the main roads into town — the one you’d take coming from Toronto. I had come in before actually eating there, to check it out, explaining my health issues and telling the waitress I could only eat there if they ALSO served up the fish as a healthy option, not just fried… she assured me they did and pointed to their grilled and steamed options… When I finally went there to eat I specifically told the waitress I had diabetes and liver disease, and that’s why I was getting the grilled haddock, and I couldn’t eat the potatoes, rice, or bread either … So, for $17 what I got was a tiny sliver of fish sitting in a puddle of fat (and I’m not overstating it), and then a mass of steamed carrots (high glycemic-index — lots of natural sugar, and cooking it breaks down the fiber so you don’t even get the benefit of that) with some broccoli… so, I separate out the carrots … I eat the fish, first letting the oil drip off of it as much as possible and when I get to the broccoli I realized that even though it had been steamed, they then DOUSED IN BUTTER!!!! WHY bother to claim you have healthy options only to serve them up swimming in fat? So I couldn’t eat that either cause its impossible to get fat out of broccoli once it’s doused in it. And then… not even an offer to reduce my bill because the mostly served me food I could not eat after I had been more than clear about my medical condition when ordering.
The Shows: All 13 of them — or at least that was the plan
I’m now going to give my take on the shows I saw, as this will only be helpful to anyone showing up in the 2016 season, I’m putting it at the end of the post. The shows I saw were (in order of viewing):
LOVED it! I will admit that the politically correct/racially blind casting threw me for a while, and kept me from turning my brain off and just ‘entering the magic’ created by highly talented and skilled actors. (The grandmother was white, her daughter was pure African Black, and HER daughter.. the granddaughter.. was Vietnamese… and the show was is set in Sweden during the beginning of the industrial revolution, a time and place were even being a brunette was a rarity.) Ultimately however my brain was able to suspend disbelief and I enjoyed this production of the Sondheim classic greatly.
And my $58.50 (achieved by utilizing their half price Tuesday night ticket deal) got me great 4th row/ center orchestra seats…
I think the last time I saw this show I was maybe 14 going on 40, and it was with my mother on the London stage; and, at that time I did NOT enjoy it half as much. I really do think it’s ‘adult’ material, in that you really can’t appreciate the full depth of the humor till you’re a bit older.
It was good. I found the staging of it to be really impressive. They had constructed a stage within a stage where they could move sides back and forth so that sometimes you were looking at the “back stage” events (which were being performed stage front) while the play was being performed (stage back), and visa versa…
Other than the innovative staging however, it was good but not great, and to be honest, I think the movie was better. One major change from the movie is the increased role of Christopher “Kit” Marlow, who is played as much more Gay (many historical scholars suggest that this is anachronistic, as sexuality was a much more fluid thing back then, with bi-ness being almost normative) — and strongly suggesting to the audience that he was in fact responsible for many of Shakespeare’s best lines, plot ideas, etc. (something that historians argue about — one theory being that Shakespeare’s early works were in fact written by Marlow — which is true in the movie as well, but not to the same degree — here Kit plays a ‘Cyrano’ in the garden to William’s ‘Christian’ with Kit even helping William climb the wall by literally “boosting him on his shoulders” … as Will initially woes Viola — in the balcony scene that will… according to this tale.. later ‘inspire’ the one in Romeo & Juliet…. .
My $32.77 ticket ($29 US, achieved by utilizing a deal where you waited till a specific date, and then bought a ticket where you had no choice as to where you’d be seated) got me a ticket in the upper balcony — the nose bleeds if you will — but once the doors had closed and the “please turn off your ring tone” reminder had been issued, the Jewish couple from Chicago seated in front of me – he was a professor from Loyola – and I all picked up our stuff and moved forward about 6 rows, as almost all of the rows before us were empty seats (they tried to stop us but, hey, they were empty!) … and then during the break the couple had even gone down to see if there were better empty seats in the orchestra level but then decided that where we now were was actually much better, especially considering the fact that 1/2 the play took place elevated up on a balcony
As You Like It – by William Shakespeare (Festival Theater, August 11th, 8pm)
This was a ‘modern’ interpretation of the show with a high level of audience participation.
According to the advertising the show was supposed to be set in 1980’s Newfoundland (a part of Canada), a concept that sounded cute in theory but kind of died in execution. To be blunt about it, had I not read the inserts all I could have told you was that the actors seemed a bit confused as to which accents to use, most of them starting off the show as an accent I was unfamiliar with (it sounded garbled, and made it very hard to hear them) but by about 1/2 way through they were all back to their regular accents or something a bit more British sounding. Also, the 1980’s time period was mostly identifiable by the MTV inspired fashions and one character wearing a Walkman. But the whole gender bending aspect of the show, women being able to hide their gender just by wearing pants, kind of dies in a time period where women in men’s clothing is normative. So in my opinion, this switch of location and time period was a bit of a fail.
Other than that, the show was a lot of fun with a lot of physical humor and singing and dancing thrown in. I also enjoyed the interactive elements. As we walked in each of us was given a bag of items. All the people in orchestra seating were given an artificial pine branch, a laundry pin, a poem, and a green party hat; the people in the balcony were given stars instead of branches and some other items but I forget what as I wasn’t sitting there. Any time the scene was set in the forest we were supposed to hold up our branches, and before the scene where the romantic lead Orlando litters the forest with poems to his love we were instructed to pin our poem to our branch, and the actors as they came through plucked various ones off the branches… the fans (where were all blue) were supposed to represent the sea with the audience creating waves… and at one point a massive rabbit was passed around the audience as the characters went shooting for rabbits, etc. And then everyone on the lower level was instructed to put on our green party hats (I noticed only about 1/2 the people were willing to play along with this), and we were bathed in green light… I think we were supposed to be a meadow.
Very cute show; I was expecting it to be a play, but it was a musical and there were some cute songs in it. It is of course an adaptation of Lewis’s children’s book by the same name (while many think of the book as just a harmless piece of fantasy fiction, for those who don’t know, Lewis was lay theologian and story is in fact allegory of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, ‘who died for the sins of man’).
That said, whoever did the set design did a really amazing job; the curved screens altered images as needed, some animated, some not. For the animals they did every thing from hand held puppetry to a massive oversized Aslan the Lion (that looked to be deeply influenced by the oversized puppet-horses that practically breathed, that I saw used in the London production of Warhorse a few years ago), and the little podiums in the photo are constructed of what looks like over sized books — A design touch that I really liked.
… and there were a few more”adult jokes” thrown in — so for instance among the books Lucy spots in fawn’s home in Narnia was “how to train your unicorn” and “50 shades of fun” — followed by, “we don’t have these books in my world”
I was able to snap a few decent images of the show (once I noticed other folks in my row doing the same)
For the White Witch, better known these days as Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, and I think partly to avoid the confusion of one with the other, the same actress who had played the part was same one who had played the actress in A little Night Music (see above), who is most definitely black… as in ebony skinned. (Again, race blind casting, but in this case I think it might have helped distance the character from the Disney version, helping to reduce confusion in little kids.
One thing I found rather odd was while the local candy stores are selling Turkish delight, a confectionery that most American and Canadian kids have probably never tasted… and that is central to the story… it was NOT being sold at the food and drink counter during intermission… MARKETING FAIL!!!
My $32.77 ticket (Again, $29 US, achieved by utilizing a deal where you waited till a specific date, and then bought a ticket where you had no choice as to where you’d be seated) got me a seat in the 2nd row of the balcony, just off center. I overheard a conversation among the folks sitting right next to me. The show was completely sold out and they had been unable to get tickets just a few days before, but had been able to the day before and day of… cancellations I assume. They asked me how much I had paid, and when I told them one of them actually gasped, “we paid three times that amount of our tickets!”
Let’s heard it for planning in advance.
One very cute thing at this show was this couple, I passed them on the stairs before the show started:
“Did you guys just come from a wedding? ”
“Yes ” … light bulb goes on if my head
“Was at your wedding? ”
“You guys are my kind of theater nerds “
All my sons (1947) is an Arthur Miller play(author of such crowd ticklers as: Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955) — or Marilyn Monroe’s ex-husband for those of you who know nothing about the theater). It is set in the aftermath of World War II (and costuming and hairstyles placed the piece in the period as written). The central family has a son who died in war, Only the mother refuses to accept it. The surviving son now wants to marry his brother’s “girl” … That is the initial conflict. Over the course of the play we learn that the girl is actually the daughter of the fathers old business partner and that they were next door neighbors, so the kids had grown up together. Then we learn that both fathers had been initially found guilty of producing faulty airplane parts that resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots, they had both gone to jail but the father central to the show (we never see the other one) had on appeal been found not guilty, while the other father is still in jail.
Like I mentioned before, Stratford likes to play fast and loose with the racially blind casting.But a play is not a TV show, if you’re going to change the racial profile of the characters then you are changing backstory and motivation… And you have to do it without actually changing the script, so it has to be far more strategically done in order to work, especially if it’s set in a certain time and place.
In this show, however, it actually worked powerfully. The casting of the show the main in central family is cast with white actors while most of the neighbors are actors and color. This did not bother me, In fact I think it’s made the story line stronger… In that, firstly, the liberalism (for the day) of the relationship between the father and his black neighbors strengthened the inability of the son to believe his father’s guilt, and it brought in modern-day concerns about how the justice system is not in fact colorblind. The white business partner (who we ultimately learn is the guilty party) gets off Scott free, while his black business partner who had actually tried to do the right thing ends up spending years in jail. That brought a modern relevance to the play. That totally worked.
That said, Stratford has in one aspect of the show done the beyond all reason blind racial casting again. This time there’s a black family with a white son and a white family with a black son. Now I can perfectly understand let’s say replacing one of the white families in the show with a black family or a Asian family or a mixed racial family even, but if you were going to cast two black adults as the parents and you’ve got a black kid in the cast wouldn’t make sense to have the black parents have a black child? There is a point where political correctness becomes absurd.
That said, at least they cast a black actor to play the brother for the black actress– I was seriously worried till he came out that he’d be white, like in a little night music. That said its a very good production. In fact, in this play I think most of the actors of color acted the pants off of the white actors.
The woman sitting next to me was really bothered that there was an interracial relationship going on in the 1940s and nobody said boo about it. I don’t agree with her; as Arthur Miller wrote the script these families have a backstory that goes back years and the deceased brother was involved with his African American Neighbor — if there had been any race issues it stands to reason that these families would’ve already worked all of that shit out years ago, before the son who died had even gone off to war. So that I’m not saying anything about it now is utterly reasonable.
However, the fact that the African-American couple (that had moved into the house that used to be the home of the family whose father is now imprisoned) have a white son…. That’s just lazy casting. You’re casting a kid who basically runs across the stage II or three times and has no lines…. They could’ve picked up anybody to do that.
After I got home I bounced this off my friend Dayna, the local woman whose home I’m staying at, and she laughed and said, “Rebecca, this is the whitest town I’ve ever seen, they probably couldn’t find two black 8-year-olds to play the parts.” So she might be right, it may have just been a practicality issue.
Molière is considered by many to be the creator of modern French comedy. He was successful enough in his day that his troupe performed for the king, but his works didn’t really become popular with the public and the critics until the 19th century. Known for comedies that so scathing in their criticism of social norms (as to border on impossible to not realize that “respected members” of the highly class structured, and patrilineal french society were being made to look like fools), in his day he was often getting into trouble with censors (French media back then was HIGHLY censored — which basically meant the ONLY way you could publicly criticize the status quo was via humor, etc.).
The Hypochondriac, which premiered in 1673, or to use its original French title, “The Imaginary Invalid” is a three-act comédie/ballet by the French playwright Molière with dance sequences and musical interludes (which is NOT an innovation of the festival but rather is true to its original design). The story centers around a very rich, but miserly, merchant who produces all of the carpet pads for King Louise XIV’s carpets, and his hypochondria. Add to the mix a much younger unfaithful wife, who is a professional black-widow, who is constantly conniving to disinherit his daughter while refusing him sex… and is just waiting for him to die, who he none the less loves blindly; a daughter he uses as a tool, who none-the-less loves him dearly, but is also completely in love with one of his apprentices (who is also smitten with her); a maid who treats her boss with a completely disrespectful tough love… so more like a son than her boss; and the father’s obsession with marrying off his daughter to a doctor (no matter how much of an idiot) so he doesn’t have to pay doctors bills (and Molière’s complete disrespect for pre-Enlightenment doctors) and what you have is silly farce whose real objective was probably to function as a revolutionary document intended to upend many of the values of French cultural norms during the reign of Louise XIV (who reigned from 1643 until his death in 1715), otherwise known as the Sun King.
Now to put this in context, I have a post graduate certificate in history and one of the courses I took was on French history, specifically the years leading up to the french revolution (and got an A) … So I’m well versed in the culture of the time and how the Enlightenment reversed a lot of it… which means when I was watching the show my brain, rather than perceiving it based on current social norms (and laughing along with the audience, who were laughing a lot) was busy interpreting it based on what the author was trying to communicate to the audience of his day… and just how radical and sociopolitical a lot of what was happening in the scenes would have been to them (which is why it was fine comedy for the court to see these shows, but not “appropriate” fare for the common man).
When intermission rolled around I started to try to discuss what I was thinking with the British woman seated next to me. At that point, even though she admitted she couldn’t actually hear what the actors had been saying, and had been enjoying it more for the physical comedy than because of any of the ideas hidden in the text… so I got her to follow me (she required a cane and some assistance), and took her to where they passed out the hearing aid devices. Apparently, she and her Hubbie had been coming to the festival for years and didn’t know they were even available, let alone that they were free. She got one for both her and her husband (thanked me repeatedly) and they were both laughing the whole way through the second part and thanked me a lot after the show was done for pointing out the hearing aid option
One of the really CUTE touches was how they reminded the audience to turn off their phones… At all the theaters in Stratford what they do is play this recording of highly annoying ring tones right before the play starts, often followed by a voice saying “thank you.” Here they had some actors dressed in the doctor’s robes of the time, examining this odd thing they had found and trying to identify it… (a smart phone)… and they’re arguing about it in a sort of mini play when suddenly it starts to ring … freaking them out, and they start attacking it and claiming it is a devil item, or demon spawn, or what have you… and stomping on it trying to kill it… The audience all enjoyed this a lot and gave them a round of applause.
Macbeth – by William Shakespeare (Festival theater, Aug. 20th, 8pm — $32.77)
Very well done, very scary and spooky from first special effects of lightning and fog, and very well acted… and I had great seats (2nd row balcony just off center)
I am a bit embarrased to admit this but….
… I left at intermission. I packed up my stuff, returned my heard of hearing headphones and went home.
To be honest, I bought the ticket more as a “any self respecting adult going to see the Bard should of course want see his master work The Scottish Play … it’s expected. It’s adult.” Not, to be honest, because I “wanted” to see it… That and I had decided to see EVERY play, and that included the ones I had not enjoyed as a kid.
I blame this on a certain degree of intellectual pomposity and lack of self awareness on my part … As a kid, my parents took me to ALL the Shakespeare plays (Dad was British, and we went to London every year), and as part of my ‘education’ I got heavy douses of Shakespearean theater; and, at a certain point I began to realize that there were certain plays they just stopped taking me to and I knew it was because I didn’t like them … I just didn’t remember why I didn’t like them (assuming that at that age I would have even been able to understand why I didn’t like them). They did however supplement this with repeated viewings of the shows I did like, “As you like it,” “Midsummer’s night dream,” Etc… There’s even a family story of my being like maybe 7 and attending one of the comedies at a Shakespeare in the park performance in London, my laughing to it… and a stranger commenting to my dad, “she can’t possibly understand it, she’s too young.” So my dad had him quiz me about what was happening and to his amazement I TOTALLY understood it… I had by then been exposed to so much Shakespeare that I had no difficulty following the language.
So … when buying my tickets for the festival I figured, “hey, it’s ONLY $35,”… I’d give it a try. Basically, I’m 51 now and I think the last time I was the Bard’s Play I was maybe 8… So …
Anyway, all through the first half while intellectually appreciating the acting and the staging, and the special effects (of which there are many) I was uncomfortable and uncontrollably yawning through the whole thing… I disliked it for the same reason I don’t go to see horror films and fast forward through the star trek episodes that are all about violence… To be blunt I am quite simply NOT a fan of blood and gore and violence, no matter how well written
— A few days later, watching A Chorus Line, the woman next to me told me that in fact the reviews for Macbeth had NOT been good, and as such, that I shouldn’t based my feelings on this production… we’ll see
I didn’t like Aeneid either, but mostly because they veered away from the original story of the founding of Rome, and made it into a really pompous and self indulgent lecture to the audience on the current refugee crisis. I had known when I bought the tickets (based on the description) that they were going to modernize it and play on it’s parallels to refugee crisis… I just had no comprehension of how heavyhandedly they were going to be about doing it. At half time, while struggling with the decision of should I stick it out or leave (as I had the night before with Macbeth) I walked around looking at the audiences’ dour faces and overheard bits of conversations by multiple folks, each trying to convince their friend or partner that, yes, they really were in fact enjoying it (and sounding like they were really working hard at also convincing themselves). Personally, I think it fell more in the category of they didn’t want to admit they didn’t like it — more than a bit of the Emperor’s New Cloths (only smart and wise people can in fact appreciate how beautiful and fine his clothes were).
At the very end of intermission, and walking around the crowd and hearing the same sorts of comments from multiple directions — I decided I wasn’t enough of a masochist to slog it out till the end, went home and loaded the romantic comedy NottingHill into my Netflix in order to clear my brain of my annoyance before going to sleep. That said, the play was sort of a cross between 1930’s modern theater (the type Hollywood movies love making fun of because of how self indulgent it was – often is more about making actors feel important than about entertaining customers) and traditional Greek theater. I did notice that 90% of the lines were delivered by men, which I found ironic considering how hard they were pushing liberal politics. When I got home, I had decided to pull up reviews of the show (I had purchased my tickets WAY before the season had even started, so I couldn’t check reviews then) and found this inconsistency noted by a few of the reviewers who didn’t like the show either.
**As a side note, one of the things I’ve noticed during my stay north of the US border is that Netflix while your Netflix account works across borders, the options of what is available changes; and in Canada there are fewer TV series available, but a lot more/better movies on streaming, including stuff that in the US you’d actually have to get a DVD shipped to you in order to see).
No one familiar with Ibsen attends one of his plays expecting to do any laughing. Ibsen, sort of by definition is about dysfunctional people behaving dysfunction-ally, hence his designation as “the father of realism” in that he put skeletons onto the stage of the sort of stuff most families kept stuffed firmly in the closet — a tendency that in 1896 (when this play was written) was pretty radical stuff. The fact is without Ibsen you might never have had plays like Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” which I had seen on the same stage back on August 16th — which in a way runs thematic parallels to this show (both have fathers who had been thrown in jail for committing fraud that destroyed the lives of others, both involve adult children breaking free from parents who want to live through them, etc.)
Also, this is pretty much by any standard one of Ibsen’s lessor plays (most folks probably haven’t ever heard of it, unlike A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, or Peer Gynt) and as such you just can’t expect it to be a great play, even if it was by a great playwright…. and this wasn’t. But, that said, it was OK. It dragged a bit in places, and they managed to make the audience laugh in a few others, but to be honest it was bit like going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned, you go because you know it’s good for you rather than because you expect to enjoy it.
The only racially blind casting in this show was the son’s girlfriend was black — in turn of the century Norway (again, a place and time where just having dark hair would make you stand out).
Good thing I went to the bathroom before the show. Apparently, there will be no intermission; that, and they warned us that if we left for any reason we would not be allowed back in.
So here is an admission, I forget who introduced me to a chorus line in high school (1980?), but my girlfriends and I, we all, as a group, memorized ALL the songs and used to walk around singing them. However this is the first time I’ve actually seen the show in its entirety on the stage. I remember there was a movie version (1985) and I saw that, but I’ve never seen it on the stage before this.
That said, I was mouthing along to every song. And felt that this is a great production (although I would have recast about three of the characters). The girl who performed “Tits and Ass” one of my favorite songs stole the show… the only weak point was the girl who played Cassie couldn’t dance.
Both me and the woman sitting next to me bonded over this; we agreed that Cassie had all the grace of a bouncing elephant. — When I got home my friend Dayna (who had already seen the production although she wants to see it again) said it was because they had updated the whole show, but NOT that one dance… so the dance was really outdated, but personally I also think it was also that the girl playing the character lacked grace
Breath of Kings — (part 2 redemption) – adapted by Graham Abbey, based on the Henriad plays by William Shakespeare (Aug., 26th, Tom Patterson Theater, 8pm)
This play is a mashup if you will of Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 and Henry V (think Battle of Agincourt). You’re supposed to see the part 1 ‘Rebellion’ play before you see the part 2 ‘Redemption’ one, but I had set a low priority on seeing this one, and bought the tickets last (at the $35 sale), and had been unable to fit it into my schedule in the correct order — I HAVE to leave here on the 31st of August because I have two friends getting married on the 4th in Chicago, and needed to leave myself spare time (in case) for the drive there.
2 min before show — place is 1/2 empty
Intermission — I slept through most of the first 1/2, just couldn’t keep my eyes open.
Freezing ! I think the Aircon was set to accommodate twice as many people it’s freezing in here — I did not sleep through the second half, battle of Agincourt
During the show last night there was a scene where actors walk through the stands and sit on the lapse of audience members in the far right corner (the part elevated above the doorway); I now realize, looking at the photos, that only four of the five seats had audience members seated in them when the show started, but were full when the actors showed up there; so the staff must’ve moved people into the empty ones right after intermission so that the gag would work.
Dayna, the friend whose home I stayed at, and I discovered we both had tickets to the same show tonight so we decided to do dinner together. Granted we are almost on opposite sides of the theater. That said, according to Dayna our next door neighbor is playing the title character, and is a very nice woman. Apparently that home is rented out by the festival as housing for visiting artists, so that Dayna has met quite a few of the actors that way.
That said, I think bunny was probably the best play I’ve seen so far from all of the plays at Stratford. The title character, Bunny, was an incredibly relatable character, both Dayna and I were like, “we know this woman we would be friends with this woman.” The character seems to be ever so slightly autistic, but cursed with the looks of a model. Women don’t like her and she doesn’t understand why, men drool over her. She is the daughter of two academics, and ultimately becomes a professor of romantic period literature. The story begins with a confused scene that in retrospect is her running an event over in her mind trying to come to grips with it, and then jumps to her childhood, running through the major events of her life (often in soliloquy) so that we can get to know her and understand her when the events happen again at the end of the play.
It was very funny, very well acted, and poignant.
Breath of Kings — (part 1 rebellion) – adapted by Graham Abbey, based on the Henriad plays by William Shakespeare
Yes, I know, I should have seen part 1 before viewing part 2, but I just couldn’t work it out in my schedule. As thing evolved I didn’t actually get to see this one either. Essentially the night started with an illness, and ended with one… mine
Before the show started one of the staff members apparently collapsed, and had to be taken away. What was sort of ‘interesting’ was that most of the people waiting outside were more concerned about getting into the theater, than the guy who collapsed. When they reopened the doors to bring his body out they were more concerned with pushing their way in than allowing the emergency staff to bring him out… it was not a pretty picture.
Finally they let us in, but not long after it started my stomach started to cramp, and I was forced to disturb my neighbors, get up and get out as quickly as possible. Ah the joys of irritable bowl syndrome… spent the next 20 minutes or so in the bathroom, and then staggered home. The staff was all worried about me since I was in there for so long. But this has become one of the downsides of my life, … Growing older, it’s not for wimps.
I know from childhood pictures that my parents had taken us here as little kids, but I had no personal memories of it, but now I do.
I’ve been spending most of August in Stratford, Ontario and I’ve purchased tickets to all 13 productions they are putting on this summer as part of their yearly Shakespeare festival. The one day Trip I really wanted to make was to Niagara Falls. Like I said, I know from old family photos that I’ve been here before, but I think was maybe four or five years old, and have no memory of it. As such, it was a bucket list event.
From Stratford to Niagara is a two hour drive each way, and I was a bit late getting started as I got reminded by an email from the family lawyer that I needed to file some paperwork ASAP, which meant I was going to have to spent the night in Toronto and get to the relevant consulate for a 12:10 appointment. (I’ve actually had to do this for months, but the consulate I needed did not have offices in any of the other places I’ve visited over the last two months, but there was one in Toronto — which is only a one hour drive from Niagra). This of course meant I had to find lodgings for the night there, so between that and printing out the documents he wanted filed, I didn’t get out of the house till noonish.
The first impression of Niagara was that it is NOT an affluent town, at least not in the sections I first drove through. Then as you approach the falls you enter an almost Los Vegas type/Orlando type atmosphere with Casinos and tourist trap attractions from hell (Ripley’s believe it or not, dinner theater, various gardens, a historic battlefield, etc) — but clearly there’s more than enough available in the area to fill three full days of intensive vacation time, and probably enough to justify I devote two full weeks to the place at some future date.
Driving along the parkway the falls were generating SO much spray that I had to keep the windshield wipers going, and then after parking whether or not you were being drenched with the water while walking on the sidewalk depended entirely on which way the wind was blowing (see picture below).
However, if the spray was coming right at you, and you were willing to get right up into it, you got to see some amazing distortions of image, rainbows… (Mind you… great lakes water is so dirty that I usually avoid swimming in it, so one really has to question ones willingness to stand in that spray without goggles.)
Parking at the falls is DisneyWorld expensive, $22, so if you’re going to drive there do so with the intention of staying a while. On the converse side, they don’t charge you anything to walk along the promenades and enjoy the view.
There’s a visitor’s center where you can shop, eat, and buy tickets to various excursions including a boat the goes to the base of the falls, a trek that goes behind and along side the falls (I seriously thought about that one, but then decided against — maybe next time), and various other things… none of which are cheap. I ate at the restaurant and was seriously unimpressed, but it did have a good view:
Edison never really invented much of anything, he hired other people to build things for him. What Edison was, was a CEO type, rather than an engineer. Granted he was brilliant salesman who had vision and understood what the customer really wanted with regards to technology, but he lacked the skills to build much of any of his ideas (think of him as being Steve Jobs); Tesla, on the other hand, was more like Steven Wozniak (affectionately known to geeks as “The Woz”) the guy who actually built and designed the first Apple computers (which Steve Jobs had the good sense to recognize for what it was). Tesla invented a lot of the things that made our world what it is today.
One of my very good friends used to be the head patent attorney at Apple Computer in San Francisco, and to quote her, part of why she made the big bucks was she had a knack for getting engineers to actually do the paperwork necessary to file patents. Engineers like building things, they HATE doing the paperwork necessary to protect their inventions. Edison would come up with ideas and then hire a bunch of engineers to to invent things for him, and then would run to the patent office and file all of their work under his own name…
Tesla was just such a brilliant engineer who had started out working for Edison, and was known for inventing amazing things but never bothering to do the paperwork necessary to protect them, or at least not at first. In fact, as the story goes, early in Tesla’s career Edison offered him a huge sum, about a million dollars in today’s money, to solve the engineering problems Edison was having with the electrical generators (DC or direct current) he needed to build and install before anyone would buy a light bulb. Once Tesla had the thing working, he came to Edison to get paid, and Edison basically laughed in his face claiming the offer wasn’t a serious one (Edison knew a verbal contract is only worth the paper it’s written on) so that it was now Tesla’s word as the young engineer against that of his boss, the famous Edison. (But like I said, it’s one of the stories, hard to know if it was truth.)
So, what did Tesla Do? Firstly, he got into the habit of filing his patents, but equally important, he invented the far more efficient electrical AC system (Alternating Current), which is what the electrical station at Niagara generates. The reason in the US we hear more about Edison than Tesla is Edison played a lot of dirty pool games to discredit Tesla and convince the US government to always listen to Edison rather than to Tesla… hence why the rest of the world is mostly using AC current while the US uses the far less efficient DC variety.
In fact, Marconi, who is credited with having invented radio (and winning the Nobel prize for it) … created that system by utilizing 19 different technologies that Tesla had been the one to invent.
At some point I’d like to go back, spend the night and enjoy it a bit more leisurely; drive across Honeymoon Bridge.
Now you might ask why would I stop to see a smoke stack? Well, a few days before, as I was driving along talking, via my bluetooth hands-free integrated into the car phone system (yes, I love my new car), one of my oldest friends, an UBER Geek (he’s in his 50’s like me, and when he was in highschool he was programming computer systems for the Pentegon — think WarGames). When I told him the route I was taking he asked if I would be stopping in Sudbury… which as luck would have it I had already planned to do, just as a place to spend the night before the last leg of my trip to Stratford.
He said, “Do me a favor and when you are in Sudbury get me some pictures of their superstack while you’re there. I did a factory tour of the place back when I was in my 20’s, but I never took any pictures of it and I would like some.”
“What’s a superstack” I asked
He proceeded to explain to me how when the governments started to imprement clean air acts in order to address problems like acid rain, that they would measure the air pollution at a certain height above ground; superstacks were one of the ways that heavy polluters would circumvent those rules by essentially disposing of their pollution above that eleveation (see, we’re not poisoning the local air). Built in 1972 by the International Nickel Company (INCO), one of the world’s largest producers of nickel, the superstack was therefore a circumeventing regulations; because, by going higher they were effectively dispersing the massive amounts of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants that their plant produced in the higher altetude wind currents, and away from the local area. This, they claimed, was them “addressing” the health concerns of the locals, and the surrounding farmers who had in recent years found themselves unable to grow anything anymore because their lands had become too acidic to sustain life. Was it successful? Sure… if you only local at local impact studies, but the superstack and things like it were part of the problem that lead to our current catastrophy of global climate change.
Driving towards Sudbury, sure enough this thing was impressivly HUGE; you could not but see it from miles away, spewing dirty filthy nasty G-d knows what into the air… and my motel for the night was just down the road from the base of the thing… oh joy.
Since companies can no longer play these sorts of regulatory games under the new global rules intended to help curb global warming, and have been forced to actually reduce how much pollution they dump into the atmosphere… there’s talk of bringing the superstack down. Here are some articles I found on the topic:
Folklorama is a two week long, yearly, citywide event in Winnipeg where all the cultural centers offer up demonstrations of their music, dance, food, and a cultural display.
According to the guy who M.C’d the event (Master of Ceremonies), the event had been yearly since 1970, when it had been a one time event intended to celebrate the Province of Manitoba’s 100 year anniversary, but had been so popular that they decided to make it a city tradition.
It was just a happy accident that I saw this cultural event. I was road-tripping from my last stay in Vancouver Island, British Columbia on my way to Stratford, Ontario via the Trans-Canada Highway, and had stopped in Winnipeg ostensibly to catch up with an old friend whom I haven’t seen since we first met in a summer camp in Israel (sponsored by the IDF) way back when I was 16 years old. My friend, Tamar (who had always been deeply involved in Israeli folk dance) is now the Assistant Executive Director of the Rady JCC (Jewish Community Center), in Winnipeg her home town. I had called her and told her I would be passing through, but the timing was such that she was like, “I’m really overwhelmed this week with work, we’ve got this event going on that will keep me busy all day… but you can stop by and see it if you want.”
So, when I FINALLY arrived in Winnipeg (it was like a 6.5 hour drive from my last stop — I was really mentally exhausted), the event had already started; but, Tamar and I had kept in touch as I drove (YAY for the new integrated blue tooth phone system where the whole thing pops up on a nice easy to navigate screen… I love technology). I negotiated my way to the JCC (again YAY for the car’s GPS system), only to find a small group of pro-Gaza protestors out front, and police guarding the entrance.
After that I had a little chat with the little crowd that had formed across the street in front of the JCC, who seemed to be keeping an eye on the protestors; among them was a woman who looked to be staff. She was, and she texted my friend, and then took my inside to where the performance was happening, and told me to wait there till my friend could come by to see me.
It was a performance by the Chai Folk ensamble, the same group that in her younger days my friend Tamar had performed with, and then went on to be one of the directors of, for a while, before she handed over the batton to the next generation.
And I found this video from the JCC’s 2012 Folklorama performance which includes an interview with my friend Tamar!!
A little bit later my friend finally got some free time and came by to me; at first glace I didn’t recognize her, at least until I heard her voice (while we haven’t seen each other in 35+ years, we have kept in touch by phone). There were in fact THREE performances that day, and between the first and second showing she and I had a little chat, but it was difficult because folks kept coming to her (like I said, she was managing the event).
That said, I was really impressed with Winnipeg’s JCC, I think it’s one of the nicer ones I’ve ever seen. They’ve integrated an old historic building, which Tamar told me used to be part of a military base, with new construction which houses a salt water swimming pool and an impressive looking gym.
Back when I was living in Victoria, British Columbia for a month, Ferris’ Oyster bar (upstairs Grill & downstairs Patio) became my go-to restaurant, and over the course of a month I worked myself through much of their menu. The seafood is amazingly fresh, well prepared, and very reasonably price (and if you factor in the US to Canadian dollar conversion rate, down right cheap).
There are in fact two restaurants with overlapping but distinct menus: The fancier one is up a long flight of steep stairs and the more laid back one is located on the ground floor.
EVERYTHING I had was tasty, but of everything my most favorite meals were firstly the bouillabaisse served at the downstairs restaurant (the version in the upper pictures, the upstairs one has too much fat for my diet), the laksa (although the coconut milk is verboten for me), the halibut and the warm cauliflower salad.
While all the food is amazing, the more I went there (and I’d been there maybe 12 to 15 times) the more I grew to dislike their downstairs wait staff. Don’t get me wrong, they’re highly efficient, and good at their jobs, but I increasingly got the impression they don’t much like their jobs and would be thrilled if they didn’t actually have to interact with customers. Also, it seems like there’s a high turnover in the downstairs staff because I rarely saw the same folks twice, even though I always sat in the same place. And no, I don’t think it’s just me. I have watched and listened to their interactions with other patrons… same deal.
By contrast the upstairs staff was MUCH friendlier, seemed happier, and did their jobs better.
MooseJaw, is located halfway between Calgary and Winnipeg alongside the Trans-Canada Highway (population 33,000), and has enough local history and street art to be worth a two day visit (I really regretted only having a few hours). The Moose is impossible to miss from the highway, and stands adjacent to the city’s tourist information center/ the starting point for a guided tour of the city in an antique looking trolley/bus, a good way to begin your visit.
I had initially wanted to stop in Moosejaw in part because I had remembered hearing about this town (with a name like that it’s hard to forget, although I forgot in what context) … but after having been massively let down by towns like Medicine Hat (really not much to see), I had decided to just drive through… and then I saw THIS along the highway… and of course, I had to stop in order to take pictures, and utilize the facilities
Once I was inside the building I realized that Moosejaw, even though it is a tiny little town has REALLY invested their tax dollars into doing everything they can towards making itself a worthwhile tourist destination. There is a Casino and a geothermal spa, and its the home base for a lot of fight training (both NATO and Canada’s equivalent of the Blue Angles — which quite humorously, are called the Snowbirds — a term that most people associate with something quite different) — none of which I had enough time in my schedule to enjoy. In fact I had totally underestimated how long it would take me to drive cross country and I had theater tickets already for the night of the 9th of August in Stratford, Canada, so in retrospect (once I realized JUST how much there was to do there) I quite simply could not give this town the time I think it deserved.
From inside the information center I learned that Moosejaw HAD been an important railway town, at one point, from which agricultural goods from the surrounding area were shipped to the cities, and that there was museum in town devoted just to that topic, that was in fact part of an area wide network of museums.
And that precisely because of the existence of that train line from Canada to Chicago, MooseJaw had become embroiled in, and received a massive economic boost from, the prohibition era in the U.S.A.
I knew already from my previous reading on the topic (I had in fact only JUST finished a really good book on the topic a few months previous) that while the town “makes plenty of hay” from Capone having been in their town, there’s actually no hard historic evidence to support the claim.
While walking around the tourist information area, the two things that really sparked my interest (in terms of what to do during the few hours I could invest in the place), was the local tour bus and the tunnels that apparently run below the city. Apparently, if I had timed my stay for a weekend, at night the tour bus, which gives only a general tour of the city during the day, on weekend nights will do Ghost and murder tours of the city.
However, there was a ‘treat’ offered to the regular daytime tourists that unfortunately my diet would not allow me to partake of… a local pizza parlor that was a bit off the beaten path was offering free slices to anyone who took the tour (as a way to draw business).
The bus took us all around town, and in particular made a point of showing us all the local street art, of which it was very proud
Although, I will admit now… Pokémon-Go had come out a few months before, and while waiting for the bus I realized that this town had all sorts of RARE Pokémon I had not seen before, so I got a bit obsessive during the ride, putting more attention towards trying to catching the Pokémon than on listening to the tour guide (me bad — but I will note I’ve NOT seen any of these guys, well except the purple one, since this town).
After the tour was over, I drove over to where the tunnels were, only to discover that while the tours of them leave every hour, the fact that I had arrived during a local holiday period meant that they were overwhelmed with tourists, and the wait to get into one of those tours was a good three hours, meaning I didn’t have enough time to be able to do one; and there are two, one about prohibition, one devoted to the Chinese population of town who apparently lived mostly underground (??) … as such I strongly suggest booking these tours in advance.