Heads up for the week of Nov. 18-24, 2021.

Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 at 7:00 pm

On Line

Talk is Free Theatre’s series, In Good Company continues with “From the Booth”

Stories from stage managers of the goings on backstage while they try to establish order for a smooth performance. Of all the jobs in the theatre the Stage Manager is the second most mysterious and confusing. This conversation will solve the confusion, I have no doubt. 

(The first most mysterious job of course is the Theatre Critic….I must confess I don’t think many people have a clue what that job involves, but I digress.)

 New Talk Show starts on Monday!

www.tift.ca

Continuing: From the National Arts Centre on-line.

Grand Acts of Theatre

From across the country, some of our best companies offer short videos of their work.

For example, Outside the March offers: Something Bubbled, Something Blue.

Brilliant.

Watch: https://nac-cna.ca/en/video/series/grand-acts-of-theatre?utm_campaign=nac-20-21

Thurs. Jan. 21, 2021 7:00 pm

Streaming From the Stratford Festival

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Also coming up from Jan. 28 on  are Undiscovered Sonnets that will be given the Rebecca Northan treatment along with her band of brilliant improvisors and also Up Close and Musical a series of concerts with Stratford stalwarts directed by Richard Ouzounian.  

http://www.youtube.com/stratfordfestival

Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. 7:30 pm

A Streamed Reading of: 

THE CHINESE LADY
Friday, January 22 @ 7:30 PM EST
By: Lloyd Suh

A Studio 180 Theatre partnership with Fu-Gen Theatre

“Inspired by the true story of Afong Moy, THE CHINESE LADY is a dark, poetic, yet whimsical portrait of America through the eyes of a young Chinese woman in 1834.”
Warning: Audience complicity may also be on display.

To register for this digital presentation, click here.

There will be a post-show talk back with playwright Lloyd Suh and fu-GEN’s Artistic Director David Yee directly following the digital presentation – don’t miss it!

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Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 at 7:00 pm

On Line

Talk is Free Theatre’s series, In Good Company continues with “From the Booth”

Stories from stage managers of the goings on backstage while they try to establish order for a smooth performance. Of all the jobs in the theatre the Stage Manager is the second most mysterious and confusing. This conversation will solve the confusion, I have no doubt.  

(The first most mysterious job of course is the Theatre Critic….I must confess I don’t think many people have a clue what that job involves, but I digress.)

 New Talk Show starts on Monday!

www.tift.ca

Continuing: From the National Arts Centre on-line.

Grand Acts of Theatre

From across the country, some of our best companies offer short videos of their work.

For example, Outside the March offers: Something Bubbled, Something Blue.

Brilliant.

Watch: https://nac-cna.ca/en/video/series/grand-acts-of-theatre?utm_campaign=nac-20-21

Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. 7:30 pm

A Streamed Reading of:  

THE CHINESE LADY
Friday, January 22 @ 7:30 PM EST
By: Lloyd Suh

A Studio 180 Theatre partnership with Fu-Gen Theatre

“Inspired by the true story of Afong Moy, THE CHINESE LADY is a dark, poetic, yet whimsical portrait of America through the eyes of a young Chinese woman in 1834.”
Warning: Audience complicity may also be on display.

To register for this digital presentation, click here.

There will be a post-show talk back with playwright Lloyd Suh and fu-GEN’s Artistic Director David Yee directly following the digital presentation – don’t miss it!

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Streaming until Jan. 16, 2021

The Planet-A Lament

There is a wonderful festival call PROTOTYPE that has various productions from around the world focusing on opera and theatre. The one I’m talking about is the stunning production of The Planet-A Lament which is a song-cycle from Indonesia about climate change and the state of the planet.

From the press information:

“The Planet—A Lament was created by Garin Nugroho, merging film with live dance and a 14 voice choir accompanied by Septin Layan, a celebrated Papuan soloist to impart a moving story of creation set against a backdrop of environmental disaster. Nugroho portrays a destroyed community struggling in the aftermath of a devastating tsunami.  He uses cinematics, haunting song, wild dance and ancient ritual to concoct a new myth that speaks to our complex times.

For this new work, Nugroho collaborates with the outstanding Mazmur Chorale from Kupang in Indonesia and an artistic team from across the Indonesian archipelago of composers, choreographers and Papuan dancers alongside an Australian dramaturg (Michael Kantor) and designer (Anna Tregloan). The work is grounded in lament traditions of Melanesia. The Planet – A Lament is an act of catharsis that mourns a world lost, while offering hope for another world that may be nurtured.”

I call the work ‘stunning’ because the vision and artistry in Garin Nugroho’s production is so evocative and theatrical. The lighting and imagery are striking. A character carries a large egg that is held delicately as if it is a thing that carries life or possibilities and of course, it does. You get a sense of the characters that they represent spirits of birds of hope.

The use of film as a backdrop sets scenes and moods. The delicate drop of a silky curtain evokes waves of water, displaced air, the end of something giving way to a beginning.  The singers are in traditional costumes and there are surtitles that explain what the songs mean.

The production presents a completely different world but it shows the beauty and power of theatre. The production is co-commissioned by Asia TOPA, Arts Centre Melbourne (Australia), Theater der Welt (Germany) and Holland Festival.

In spite of language and cultural differences the wider audience knows exactly what the production is talking about: the earth, climate change, environmental disaster and hoping for a better future.

With all the anger in our world, raging about exclusivity and division , slurs of racism flung through the air, here is a perfect example of how theatre bridges our differences and connects us all because of our similarities.

Loved this piece.

The Planet—A Lament continues on line at the Prototype Festival until tomorrow, Jan. 16.

http://prototypefestival.org/shows/the-planet-a-lament

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side

Streams until February 28, 2021 as part of The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival through Roundhouse Theatre.

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side is the last of four plays which are part of The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival produced in association with McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton and the Roundhouse Theatre. It’s fascinating and a thriller and all sorts of challenging things. And it’s a world premier.

Adrienne Kennedy is a towering presence in American Theatre. She chronicles the Black experience in America. It behooves us all to pronounce her first name correctly: Add-rienne (not ay-drienne).

From the program information: “Etta and Ella Harrison are astoundingly gifted scholars, deeply connected sisters, and dangerously bitter rivals. They frequently write and teach together, and even their separate works are unnervingly similar, often sourced from their own family history. Now, after a lifetime of competition, they are on the verge of destroying each other.

Adrienne Kennedy intricately blends monologue, dialogue, voiceover, and prose to create an experience that is part experimental play, part narrative thriller, and wholly unforgettable. Set against the gothic backdrop of their academic New York world, Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side is a taut, kaleidoscopic tale of ambition and madness—brought to theatrical life for the very first time.”

This one is a corker. We hear a frantic voice on an answering machine. Etta Harrison is calling Harold Troupe, a Black scholar and professor to ask if he wants to know about a coming murder. It’s suggested that Etta is fragile minded. She once called Harold five times in an evening and left five messages. Harold never replied.

We learn of this frantic fury between the sisters in which they steal each other’s stories. One sister is more successful than the other it seems. One almost strangles the other on stage when they both were giving a talk. They both were going to write a separate book on their silent brother who was left mute in an accident. We also get a sense of the brilliance of the sisters, how they copied each other’s dress and hair style.


We are led to believe there is a going to be a murder. There certainly is madness. But then Adrienne Kennedy references a terrible incident that happens in another play: Ohio State Murders and suggests that it in fact happened to one of the sisters.  That made me gasp when I heard that even though the character in that previous play had a different name.  The story-telling is stunning because it seems such a warren of trails and leads and shards of information to find out who is telling the truth? Is there a murder?  Who is insane?

The production is presented as a one person play with Caroline Clay listed as playing Ella, but in fact at various times she takes the voice of both sisters and narrates. She sits at a desk with the outline of a large backdrop behind her and occasionally she drinks from a mug. The performance is full of nuance and subtlety, in which a side-long glance speaks volumes.  The pace is tempered It is beautifully directed by Timothy Douglas.

Occasionally there is writing on the screen to explain where they were or who someone was. These notations are not stage directions. They are more mysterious than that, filmic yet theatrical.  Also occasionally numbers appear on the screen and I thought they might be scene numbers.  But sometimes that didn’t make sense since a number came without a pause from one sentence to another.  So a mystery.

And I did wonder: “Is there a murder?” “Can you stab an apparition”?

But I was held captive by this terrific performance of this wonderful playwright’s words.

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side streams as part of  The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence play festival until February 28, through the Roundhouse Theatre:

https://www.roundhousetheatre.org/On-Stage/Explore/Etta-and-Ella

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There is a lot of potentially wonderful theatre on line coming up in the near future. But first, some gratitude.

As we know theatres are closed and live performances are not taking place in the regular way.

You can tell the companies that are able to adapt to the challenges. I’m not using the word “pivot” because we aren’t talking about basketball. We’re talking about people who are constantly shifting and adapting to whatever challenges get in the way of a smooth result.

This past year we saw innovative productions from Outside the March that involved the audience with The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries.

An audience member created a mystery that was personal to them and in a series of six phone calls over six days with that audience member, various characters tried to solve the mystery. The personal contact was wonderful as was the keen way each character listened for clues that would lead to the next phone call.

Julie Tepperman of Convergence Theatre created and directed The Corona Variations. These were various scenes and vignettes dealing with isolation, loneliness, strained relationships and coping that were delivered in six telephone calls in an evening to an audience member.

I also heard various monologues from past plays of 4th Line Theatre—27 monologues in all. A list of the monologues was provided on the website, then the ‘audience’ member called the box office with the date(s), time(s) and monologues the person wanted to hear. On the appointed day and time an actor would call the person and then deliver the monologue with a little introduction. It brought back fond memories of the plays from which these monologues came.

Canadian Stage delivered A Thousand Ways (Part 1) via a phone call with a stranger with a computer-generated voice asking questions—this was created by the wonderful American ‘company’, 600 Highwaymen. Again, the phone calls tried to create a connection between people.

Nina Lee Aquino, the Artistic Director of Factory Theatre has planned completely digital programming for what she calls the Satellite Season.  Aquino directed two plays specifically for digital technology for the Factory Theatre audience: House by Daniel MacIvor and acts of faith by David Yee.

TO LIVE-Living Rooms—100 artists of created short videos focusing on their art involving dance, theatre, singing, music, art instillations, storytelling etc. A wonderful cross-section of arts, culture, and ethnicity and still available on line.

https://www.tolive.com/livingrooms

All of it was terrific. Other theatres are getting into the act as well.

  • I’m looking forward to Orestes by Rick Roberts, that takes the Greek myth and gives it a modern twist for Tarragon Theatre, in February.

https://www.tarragontheatre.com

  • Factory Theatre will continue with its series of plays in its Satellite Season.

They will begin in March with a series of podcasts and after that will continue with various plays. https://www.factorytheatre.ca

  • The always inventive Talk is Free Theatre will begin a Monday series of talks called In Good Company on line Jan. 11 at 7:00 pm in which various actors, directors etc. will talk about the theatre and gossip.

Artistic Producer Arkady Spivak is a great proponent of gossip and who are we to object since that theatre creates some of the most inventive theatre I see in a year. To sigh up for the webinar https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_UoH99xW_QbC0JD0IIlkQ4Q

And elsewhere…..

Over last year I was able to see glorious theatre on line from various American and British Theatres. I’m looking forward to several productions coming up.

  • The Mint Theatre in New York is dedicated to producing lost plays.

They are streaming Days to Come a little-known play by Lillian Hellman which she wrote before The Little Foxes. It streams on the Mint Theatre Website until Feb. 21.

  • Last year I raved about a production of American Moor by Red Bull Theatre.

On Monday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 it streams The African Company’s Production of Richard III.

It will be available after that as well.

https://www.redbulltheater.com

  • I’ve also praised a four play series of plays by Black American playwright Adrienne Kennedy from the Roundhouse Theatre.

Three of them that I’ve talked about last year were earlier works of hers.  The last in the series will be the world premiere of Etta & Ella On the Upper West Side.

It streams on Saturday, Jan. 9 at 7:00 pm. and will continue to stream into February. https://www.roundhousetheatre.org

  • The Public Theatre in New York has a festival of edgy offerings on line in its UNDER THE RADAR Festival because these are shows, that would normally fall under the radar.

Part of Under the Radar is Capsule which I’m calling a play with music, by Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall who wrote the work and also perform it. It’s a wonderful, sensitive piece about race, loneliness, relationships, acceptance and giving space. Whitney White is a Black woman and Peter Mark Kendall is white.

I’m looking forward to a play called Borders and Crossings that plays today (Friday and other dates). It’s written by Inua Ellams, a wonderful British-Nigerian playwright who wrote Barbershop Chronicles and an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set in Nigeria. Brilliant.

The Festival continues until Jan. 17.

https://publictheater.org/productions/season/2021/utr

Another festival to check out is the Prototype Festival and in particular The Planet—A Lament created and directed by Garin Nugroho. “It merges film with live dance and a 14 voice choir to impart a moving story of creation set against the back drop of environmental disaster. The work is grounded in lament traditions of Melanes Papuan. Beautiful. Moving and exquisitely theatrical.

This on-line stuff, also gives us a glimpse into playwrights and other talent to watch.

  • Ali Joy Richardson is a young playwright who is a firecracker of talent. I saw her play A Bear Awake in Winter a few years ago about bullying in a high school orchestra that was stunning. Recently I saw a reading of her play Dad that is being developed through Studio 180 and again, it’s stunning. It’s about a University Professor whose behaviour towards a student is inappropriate and he just doesn’t get it. It’s not a rehash of other plays that deal with this subject. It’s more nuanced and elegantly written and through out.  It will be streamed beginning Jan. 13 on the INTERMISSION website.  https://www.intermissionmagazine.ca
  • I don’t review these readings because of course the plays are still being developed, but you might be interested in the works coming up from Studio 180.  I’ve really been impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

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Happy New Year.

I don’t think I’m too far off in saying we’ve come through the worst year in forever. And we are facing what can be the best year in forever because we will make it so.

Heads up for the Week of January 4-10, 2021.

Sat. Jan. 9, 2021 at 7:00 pm

Streamed

Etta & Ella On The Upper West Side

The final play of the four-play series of plays of Adrienne Kennedy, and a world premiere at that. About two wrangling sisters. Adrienne Kennedy’s plays have been a wonderful revelation from one of the masters of American theatre,

https://cart.roundhousetheatre.org

Heads up for what’s coming up in the year. …

The pandemic has given us a lot to think about regarding the theatre, as we wait impatiently to get back in a theatre to see a live production.

I’ve certainly been thinking about all sorts of things: thoughts on those who will always find a way to make a difference; thoughts on starting times; thoughts on civility, safety; thoughts on the most maligned, insulted, disrespected, denigrated group in the theatre; thoughts on resilience and tenacity.

And after all that, I’ll be writing a ‘bit’ on reviews and critics and reviewers because that whole area of reviews seems to be such a mystery to so many. Why reviews matter, who writes them; who they are for etc. Fun times.

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I can’t think of a better way of ending this lousy year than with a review requiring the Red Face of Fury. The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit.

All safety precautions were followed as I went into the exhibit entrance at 1 Yonge Street: masked, social distancing and there was a line-up of people waiting to get into the space until other people left the space. While waiting inside we could appreciate the signage that listed the stats on the technology that went into creating the exhibit: 400 images were used; 52 projectors, 90 million pixels, 200 amps of power, 500,000 cubic feet of high-def digital projections, 60,600 frames of video (I don’t quite understand that figure, but that’s what it said). For some humour we could follow the arrows on the floor with an image of a masked Van Gogh and the message: “when you gotta “Gogh” indicating the way to the washrooms. I sighed.

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is housed in the former printing room of the Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street. You wait in a dimly lighted walkway while being bombarded with a soundscape of throbbing music coming from the exhibit room, classical, modern and when I got into the room, Edith Piaf singing “Je ne regrette rien.”

The room is massive: long and wide. Images of portions, sections or aspects of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are projected onto the walls and the floor while viewers stand or wander around the room, experiencing being emersed in all the digital dexterity hoping that your ear drums won’t burst because of the loud soundscape.

There are illuminated spheres on the floor to ensure social distancing. You can ‘watch’ the exhibit from a raised platform you get to by a set of stairs. On one wall fragments of Van Gogh’s paintings slowly travel along the wall. A windmill is manipulated so that the windmill is rotating. A river undulates suggesting the movement of water. I note that the movement of the images does not wrap around the other walls. Other fragments of Van Gogh’s paintings are splattered on the side walls with other images on the other long wall. There is a haystack, there is a sunflower, over there is a chair.

In one dramatic moment there is stirring music, with smashes of cymbals and explosions of colour and light on one wall. The images and music are so in synch and build to such a pitch that I figure this is a logical end to the exhibit. But no. It continues with more images, self-portraits etc. and eventually ends with the name ‘Vincent’ scrawled along the walls. I remain until the loop starts again and Piaf begins singing again (where I came in)  and the image of what that song accompanies blurs into nothingness.

No painting is actually shown in full or identified. It’s almost as if one has to know the names of the paintings. Or perhaps not. After all, if one is ‘immersed’ in the ‘experience’ as if drowning in light, pixels and exaggerated images, one can’t discern detail really that encapsulates the whole. Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps the point is to create an ‘experience’ for people who don’t go to art galleries to pretend that this is another way to appreciate art. It isn’t. Just as taking a picture of a painting in a gallery, never to look at it again, isn’t actually ‘seeing’ the painting.

I hated every wretched moment of this tasteless, vulgar, cheap display trying to give us another way of appreciating the brilliant work of Vincent Van Gogh. The arrogance.

The gift shop was a perfect conclusion. Some posters depicted Van Gogh with the left side of his head bandaged (because of his missing ear), another showed him with the right side of his head bandaged. I said vaguely to a woman working there that they couldn’t decide what ear he cut off. (It was his left said one of the patrons). The woman behind the counter said that I was looking at a mirror image—regarding the poster with the right side bandaged.) I silently sucked air with that. I saw a pair of earrings on display. One earring was of the head of Van Gogh with his ear missing. The other earring was the missing ear. Tasteless. Vulgar. Cheap. I had to get out of there.

I am grateful for the catalogue with the text by Richard Ouzounian because it does what this hideous exhibit didn’t do: it carefully, clearly told us about Van Gogh, his history, poverty, mental illness and demons and it not only showed us some of his paintings, but it also put them in perspective.  

Produced by Lighthouse Immersive

Held over until April 2021.

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As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s winners:

PEOPLE

The Guts of a Bandit Award

Allyson McMackon

Allyson McMackon founded Theatre Rusticle in 1998.  She has been its Artistic Director and moving force since then. The company uses balletic movement to dig deeper into the meaning of classics. McMackon has a keen sense of artistry and daring. She disbanded the company this year but left us with one intoxicating, sensually provocative production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was the first year that the company did not receive funding. That didn’t stop her. She has the guts of a bandit. I will miss her stunning vision in all things theatre and I’m not alone.  

Maja Ardal

Maja Ardal was hired by Arkady Spivak, Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont.  (more on him below), to curate a program of plays. The result was The Plural of She Festival devoted to plays created and performed by feminine-identifying artists. The plays were bracing, funny, bold and revelatory about race, culture, dealing with sadness and trying to fit in to a world that might not be accepting. The plays were done in backyards of private homes in Barrie and each performance was sold-out. Maja Ardal is one terrific spirit.

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Nina Lee Aquino (Factory Theatre)

Artistic director Nina Lee Aquino adapted quickly to having to close her theatre and adjust her season to the digital reality creating the Satellite Season.  She directed a re-imagined production of House by Daniel MacIvor staring Kevin Hanchard, filmed in his house which made us look at that play in a different light. Then she had playwright David Yee re-write his play acts of faith for the digital reality with stunning results. Aquino is offering the whole digital season to her audiences for free. As she has said, “Since we can (offer the season for free) we should.” She then created “The Bedrock Creators’ Initiative” in which playwrights are invited to develop their plays at Factory Theatre and are guaranteed a production of the play—such commitment seems a rarity. Nina Lee Aquino is leading by example.

Kim Blackwell (4th Line Theatre)

Kim Blackwell initiated a farmer’s market every Friday in the summer on the grounds of the Winslow Farm to help various vendors during the time of COVID and to give work to the folks who usually work for 4th Line Theatre. The 4th Line Theatre season was cancelled this summer. Blackwell also organized a series of 27 monologues from past 4th Line Theatre shows that supporters of 4th Line Theatre could arrange to hear by phone. For Free. The actors got paid. The ‘audience’ members were wonderfully entertained and hearing those monologues spoken with such passion by the actors, brought back vivid memories of the plays themselves. She also co-wrote with Lindy Finlan Bedtime Stories and Other Horrifying Tales, a spooky play for Halloween that took place outdoors, at night, in the fields of Winslow Farm. People flocked for the experience. The cast was terrific.

Tim Carroll and Tim Jennings (the Shaw Festival)

They came up with a plan to employ as many actors as they could who were members of the Festival who saw their shows cancelled. They programmed concerts sung by eight singers, played by musicians and employed them for as long as they could. Then they laid them off and immediately re-hired them for outreach and education for the community.

Mitchell Cushman (Outside the March)

In good times Mitchell Cushman and his inventive company, Outside the March, create theatre. In bad times—pandemic, COVID, closed theatres, Mitchell Cushman and his inventive company create theatre. He and his team fashioned The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries in which the ‘audience’ suggested the mystery and the company, in a series of phone calls over six days, solved the mystery. In each call the ‘detectives’ or investigator LISTENED intently to the ‘audience’ for clues and then ran with them in the next calls. The reach of this initiative was international. The New York Times was mighty impressed. And again, actors got paid for their labours.

Then, not sitting on their laurels, the company, in collaboration with Talk Is Free Theatre and the National Arts Centre, produced Something Bubbled, Something Blue, an outdoor wedding in which all the participants were encased in their own huge plastic sphere. The audience watched as they were positioned around a roped circumference. Mitchell Cushman and company adapt, switch, change and continue as usual in a different way. Take a look at the short video and be amazed at the creativity:  

https://nac-cna.ca/en/video/gat-something-bubbled-something-blue

Arkady Spivak (Talk is Free Theatre)

When does this man sleep? As the company’s Artistic Producer, he is either busy applying for grants that will help actors in his company with paying for childcare, or with guaranteeing them a contract for three years with a minimum wage, or with budgeting so cleverly that he can offer audiences free theatre for three years if they pay a $25 deposit that will be returned to them when they see a play. Then there is the theatre he produces for his company. Often the plays are forgotten classics or musicals that were not popular but he finds intriguing and he’s right.

And there are the wild experiments such as The Curious Voyage of a few years ago when he engaged hardy audience members to commit to a scheme to go on a curious voyage of theatre that began in Barrie, Ont. and finished in London, England over three days. And there are the readings he has for actors not open to the public because he wants an excuse to put actors to work and pay them for their efforts. He is a theatre man to his toes who cherishes his ‘babies’ (his actors) while he pushes them to be as good as they can be and then challenges them to do something terrifying to challenge them i.e. Michael Torontow, a wonderful actor, was encouraged to direct his first show and he started with Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, a really difficult piece and the result was wonderful.

And this summer, with COVID closing theatres, Spivak got the idea of a festival of plays done outside in private backyards. Maja Ardal, an extraordinary theatre creator, came up with the name, The Plural of She, and curated the plays.

Spivak has not only produced some of the best theatre I usually see in a year, he does it in Barrie, Ont. and has a fiercely loyal, daring audience who support him. Bravo in every conceivable way.

Julie Tepperman (Convergence Theatre)

Background. Convergence Theatre composed of Co-Artistic Directors Julie Tepperman and Aaron Willis, specializes in site-specific plays. But we have a pandemic that is keeping us isolated at home so we can’t go outside to see theatre. Why should that stop the fearless Convergence Theatre? In this instance Julie Tepperman created The Corona Variations in which she wrote (for the most part) stories and scenarios that one audience member at a time listened to via several phone calls over one evening. Julie Tepperman also directed the actors presenting the stories.

The playlets depicted what one might be going through in a pandemic: loneliness, pining for loved ones or friends, the anxiety of a senior. Julie Tepperman even got the listener to engage in a playlet as well. The stories were poignant and hilarious. Julie Tepperman beautifully captured the whimsy and depth of emotion that the characters were going through, and by extension, the audience.

I loved the complex effort of the whole endeavour and Tepperman’s Herculean effort in scheduling what story was to play at what time. It all seemed effortless. This is such a bold idea—phone plays for quarantine and bravo to all of the participants for engaging with such commitment. Again Tepperman engaged the audience, hired actors who needed the work and they all did and paid them for it.

The One(s) to Watch Award

Malindi Ayienga

A gifted theatre creator. She worked with Maja Ardal to create You and I a show for toddlers for Young People’s Theatre, getting right down on the ground to engage with them at eye-level before the ‘show’ began. Grace, kindness and joy was in that performance and the children responded.

In her show, Justice for Malindi Ayienga for the Plural of She Festival for Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. she wrote and performed her one-person show about being the child of a white mother and a black father (from Kenya) and thought about how she fit into the world. She went to Kenya to investigate her roots. The play was one of the results of her ‘journey.’

Another result was that Ayienga and a group of friends formed Diva Day International to fund-raise to buy and send Diva Cups to girls in Kenya. Ayienga found that when a girl got her period in Kenya, she was ostracized from the class and had to sit at the back on a bench covered in sand.  Ayienga and company felt the Diva Cup would be important in alleviating the embarrassment the girls experienced when they got their periods.  

Ayienga is an artist with compassion, perception, sensitivity and she gives the rest of us a lot to think about as we navigate our own lives.

Tabia Lau

Tabia Lau is a PhD candidate in Theatre & Performance Studies at York University. In her play The Antigone Play she imagines Antigone’s story as one for our time. The production was presented as a showcase for the performance students.

Lau has such a compelling voice and vision in taking this mythic Greek story and applying it to our modern world. She has a dandy sense of dialogue that is gorgeous and vivid and makes her audience feel smart when they can spot her literary references in her work. If The Antigone Play is an example of the quality of the work Lau produces while she is a student I can’t wait to see her next play.  

Xavier Lopez

Xavier Lopez is a talented actor who has distinguished himself in such plays as For Both Resting and Breathing for Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. and No Clowns Allowed at the Grand Canyon. But he was truly blazing as Angel in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train in his Soulpepper Company debut. He played a religious man who was in jail for killing a man by shooting him in the butt. Angel said he was innocent. As Angel, Lopez was full of passion, conviction, righteous indignation and went toe to toe with Daren A. Herbert’s performance as Lucius Jenkins. Electrifying.

Natasha Mumba

Natasha Mumba distinguishes herself in every performance she gives, whether it’s at the Shaw Festival, or in a production for an indie theatre in Toronto, or virtually as she did in acts of faith for Factory Theatre, her work is masterful.

In acts of faith Mumba played Faith, a young woman supposedly with prophetic gifts, and gave a thoughtful, nuanced performance. I saw the sass and resolve of Faith in this bold performance. I also see a delicacy and tenacity that pervades her characters and makes them unforgettable.  

Andrea Scott

Andrea Scott is a compelling playwright. Last year her blazingly intelligent play Every Day She Rose (co-written with Nick Green) challenged our perceptions of race, communication, friendship, respect and how we deal with uncomfortable situations and each other. This played in Toronto at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, produced by Nightwood Theatre.

The play of Andrea Scott that really intrigues me is Controlled Damage that played earlier this year at the Neptune Theatre in Nova Scotia. It’s about Viola Desmond a Black business woman who lived in Nova Scotia and experienced a racist incident that took place in 1946 that had a ripple effect for almost 70 years. Viola Desmond is the face on the Canadian $10.

It’s symbolic that the play had its premier in Nova Scotia. Naturally I am eager to see it here in Toronto. What impresses me about Andrea Scott, besides her fierce abilities as a playwright, is her determination and conviction to have Controlled Damage produced to the point that she was the moving force behind its production. She had a collaborator in the company b current, but it was Andrea Scott’s drive to find the money for the production; pitch the play to the Neptune Theatre, and make sure that the play had presence on social media. The result was that the production sold out its run. The play is now published. I think it’s a matter of time that a smart Toronto producer will produce it here. Andrea Scott is a force of theatre.

Jeremy O. Harris

He’s an exception in my list because he’s American—over the years everyone who’s received a “Tootsie” has been Canadian. And ‘exception’ is the word to describe him in every single way.

When he was a third-year student in the graduate program in playwrighting at Yale University he wrote Slave Play that looked at racism, class, slavery, sex and privilege. It was workshopped and produced Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Slave Play then transferred to Broadway where Mr. Harris was listed as one of the producers. He asked for and got a commitment that tickets would be set aside at a very reasonable price (usually unheard of for Broadway) for people who looked like him: Black, students, young, working two jobs to support themselves, who wanted to see a play but couldn’t usually afford the ticket price.

He asked for and got an evening set aside only for a Black audience so that people who might have been uncomfortable being in an almost all white audience could see a play with people who looked like them on the stage and in the audience. It was a triumph.

He asked for and got, not only talk-back discussions in the theatre after the play, but also more extended talk-back discussions at another location the next day. It’s a complex play. It invites a lot of discussion.

Slave Play was nominated for 12 Tony Award nominations, unprecedented for a play in one season.

During the pandemic Jeremy O. Harris has been busy. With New York Theatre Workshop he funded two $50,000 commissions for new works for Black women playwrights.

Upon sighing a development deal with HBO Jeremy O. Harris also asked for and got a $250,000 annual discretionary theatre production fund which helped produce streamed versions of the Off-Broadway plays, Heroes of the Fourth Turning and Circle Jerk. Each attracted an audience of 10,000 people, many of whom were new to the theatre.

Mr. Harris created “The Golden Collection, named for his grandfather Golden Harris who died two weeks before the playwright learned that Slave Play had been booked at Broadway’s Golden Theatre. “The Golden Collection” was launched in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign. The collection of plays is to go to a library in a Black community in each of the 50 states, plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam.

The plays selected for the collection include: Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, The Colored Museumby George C. Wolfe, An Octoroonby Branden Jacobs JenkinsSweat by Lynn Nottage, A Collection of Plays(Wedding Band and Trouble in Mind) by Alice Childress, Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation by Jackie Sibblies Drury, The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, Is God Is by Aleshea Harris, Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith, Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enufby Ntozake Shange, Bootycandyby Robert O’Hara, Dream on Monkey Mountainby Derek Walcott and Slave Play.

He pledged fees and royalties from Slave Play to fund $500 microgrants administered by the Bushwick Starr Theatre (an award-winning theater in New York) to 152 U.S. based playwrights.

He gave the proceeds from the streamed Heroes of the Fourth Turning production to the Playwrights Horizons relief fund for theatre artists. (Playwrights Horizons is the theatre that first produced Heroes of the Fourth Turning Off-Broadway).

He has sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden urging him to revive the Federal Theater Project (“The Federal Theatre Project (FTP; 1935–1939) was a theatre program established during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal to fund live artistic performances and entertainment programs in the United States.”) He then got Seth Meyers on his show “Late Night with Seth Meyers” to promise he would spread the word to his prodigious, illustrious twitter followers and have them urge Biden to revive the FTP.

And Jeremy O. Harris is a great fan of our own Jordan Tannahill, especially his book “Theatre for the Unimpressed.”

Jeremy O. Harris is 31 years-old. He has and will change the face and the reach of theatre for the better by making it welcoming to a broader, more diverse audience.

PRODUCTIONS

In Person Productions.

The Play That Sums Up Our Lousy Year Award

Sweat

Written by Lynn Nottage.

Co-produced by Canadian Stage and Studio 180

“A group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs, work together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.” 

Yes, there are laughs, but there is anger, rage, racism, disappointment, violence done to an innocent man that left him brain-damaged and friendships and lives in ruins. In the end, a hard-worker in the bar, who many there either ignored or insulted, became the manager of the bar. He took care of the brain-damaged man and gave him a job wiping the tables, because as he said, “that’s how it oughta be.”

In the end, compassion, giving a helping hand and doing it quietly wins, because “that’s how it oughta be.”

The Wet Dream Award

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By William Shakespeare

Re-imagined and directed by Allyson McMackon.

Produced by Theatre Rusticle

This was a sexy, raunchy, dangerous and touching production full of director Allyson McMackon’s signature touches: physically robust movement with sensitive attention to the meaning of the play. It was a production that celebrated: love, marriage, fidelity, confusing emotions, jealousy, nature, super-natural worlds, misguided but sensual fairies and the huge, open heart of the theatre.

This was Allyson McMackon’s swan-song and the end of the company. Damn! What a loss.  

The Well-Earned Ache In Your Heart Award

This Is How We Got Here

Written by Keith Barker

Produced by Native Earth

Keith Barker has written a play about grief that transcends cultures, religions, beliefs and the differences between peoples and brought everyone together to appreciate and experience what his grieving, wounded characters were experiencing. Estranged parents grieve over the loss of their son who took his own life. How do you give comfort with such loss?  Barker writes beautifully and eloquently about how you don’t get over such a loss, but you do get through the grief of it. Cathartic and cleansing.

Is It Real Or Is It Memorex Award

Marjorie Prime.

Written by Jordan Harrison

Produced by Coal Mine Theatre.

Are the characters clones? Are they real? Who’s alive? Who isn’t? The play and production were provocative, complex and unsettling. But the chance to see Martha Henry act in this tiny theatre in Toronto was a gift. The rest of the cast: Sarah Dodd, Beau Dixon and Gordon Hecht was wonderful, as was Stewart Arnott’s sensitive, detailed direction.

The Oil Slick Award

Oil

Written by Ella Hickson

Produced by ARC

Ella Hickson has written a play about the lure, dangers and pervading presence of oil through the ages. Co-directors Aviva Armour-Ostroff and Christopher Stanton created a world that was claustrophobic and accentuated class and position.  Designer Jackie Chau’s design was so inventive with a rusting oil drum in the walkway into the space, oil drips along the top of the set and various appliances in the shape of mini-oil drums, we got the message. The cast was superlative. But the hold that oil has on us was frightening. The land acknowledgement came at the end and melded into an indictment of oil pipelines going through Indigenous land.

I Can’t Stand Not Doing Theatre Award

Alphonse

Written byWajdi Mouawad

Co-produced by Theaturtle and Shakespeare in Action.

Alphonse is a play about isolation and uncertainty and the kind of theatre we have missed for so long. The imaginative direction of the production by Alon Nashman and the multi-layered, vibrant performance by Kaleb Alexander are pure joy giving the audience a wonderful opportunity to applaud. It was the first live play to be done in a park in the summer after the first lockdown.

The play is about Alphonse, a lost boy wandering a road who spins a series of stories, all while various people are looking for him.

I loved the open-hearted aspect of this production and everything surrounding it. Alon Nashman, the artistic director of Theaturtle, says that he so missed creating theatre that he couldn’t stand not doing it any longer so he engaged Kaleb Alexander to play Alphonse and collaborated with Shakespeare in Action to produce it. Bless them.

There is Another Stratford Festival Award

Here for Now Open-Air Theatre Festival

Fiona Mongillo is the fearless Artistic Producer of Here for Now Open-Air Theatre Festival. She has created this six-show summer festival to bring live theatre to the people of Stratford (and those who think nothing of driving from Toronto to Stratford to see live theatre) using local talent. Storytelling is the most important endeavor of the festival.

The plays are eclectic in nature and tone, varying from the true story of an abused wife who got even in Whack!; the wildly inventive Instant Theatre in which the audience provides the suggestions and the cast of four improvises the plays; The Dark Lady is a wonderful work of imagination about who ‘the Dark Lady’ was in Shakespeare’s sonnets; A Hundred Words for Snow is a story of love, devotion, and fulfilling a wish to a parent;  Infinite Possibilities is a bit of whimsy about the truth about Shakespeare and others told by Shakespeare himself and I See The Crimson Wave tells the story of Nat Love, an African-American former slave who was a cowboy at the turn of the last century, who loved words and had vivid adventures. And it was done in haiku.

So Many Variations of She Award:

The Plural of She Festival.

Maja Ardal curated this festival with the following plays: Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle, Smart, In Case We Disappear, These Are The Songs I Sing What I Am Sad, Justice for Malindi Ayienga and The Cure for Everything.

As I said when praising Maja Ardal, the plays were bracing, challenging funny, bold and revelatory about race, culture, dealing with sadness and trying to fit in to a world that might not be accepting.

Digital Productions, streamed, etc.

TO Live—Living Room Series

TO Live has produced a series of 100 short videos involving a cross-section of Toronto’s vibrant artists such as: the music of Quique Escamilla, Njo Kong Kie, the vibrant dance of Esie Mensah, Travis Knight, the poetry of Vanessa Smythe, a compelling scene enacted by Suzanne Roberts Smith, storytelling  and drumming from Yolanda Bonnell, family history and the importance of creations passed down as told by Santee Smith, the buoyant humour of Tita Collective, the marionettes of Ronnie Burkett, the glorious voice of Teiya Kasahara and so many more artists expressing their art during COVID. You can check out all 100 artists:

https://www.tolive.com/livingrooms

Home Alone in the House Award

House

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Produced by Factory Theatre.

A compelling production of a gripping play in this time of isolation.

The production of House by Daniel MacIvor was supposed to be the last production in the 50th anniversary season of Factory Theatre. COVID-19 put a stop to that and the production was cancelled. But the ever-resourceful Daniel MacIvor suggested to Nina Lee Aquino, Factory Theatre’s Artistic Director, and the director of House, that he tweak the play to reflect they are in isolation and that they do a one-off on-line version. And so they did.

The Story. Victor is a disappointed man in work, marriage and in life in general.  The production took place in Kevin Hanchard’s basement (he plays Victor in this one man show). MacIvor gave Nina Lee Aquino and Kevin Hanchard license to add subtle references to the script that reflects that Kevin Hanchard is a Black actor. It added such resonance to the production.

It Grabs You By the Throat Award

Les Blancs

Written by Lorraine Hansberry

Produced by the National Theatre (Great Britain) for NT LIVE

The play and the production are brilliant, timely and gut-wrenching.

The Story. Les Blancs (The Whites) takes place in a fictional South African country at the turn of the 19th  and 20th century and reflects how the white population control and rule the black population, until the blacks  have had enough and take matters into their own hands.

The Production. The production is beautifully directed by Yaël Farber, using traditional music, the Xhosa language in some cases, dance and symbolism.

Hansberry gives the many sides of the story, from the point of view of the well-meaning, to the wilfully ignorant, to the deliberately oppressive and those who are fed up and will not take that treatment anymore. Her perceptions of the politics and mindset of the colonizer are razor sharp and her dialogue in getting that across is astonishing. This is a splendid production of a blistering play that every single person should see.

Not all Black Actors Want to Play Othello Award

American Moor

By Keith Hamilton Cobb.

Produced by Red Bull Theatre (New York City)

American Moor is a stunning, poetic punch in the gut. The play examines the experience and perspective of Black men in America through the metaphor of William Shakespeare’s character, Othello.  The play is a doozy.

An African-American actor named Keith is auditioning for the role of Othello in an American production. The director is young and white.

The play takes the form of Keith quoting speeches from Othello and other Shakespeare plays as part of his audition and to the audience for context. We learn that Keith was confined by a director’s view of him, who confined him only to parts for Black characters.   

It’s a reflection of the world of Black or BIPOC actors.  A well-intentioned but tone-deaf, insensitive director is going to tell them the meaning of something they already know in their bones.

I think playwright Keith Hamilton Cobb has written an exquisitely poetic, bristling play specifically about a Black actor dealing with a blinkered white director. But from a universal perspective it’s about a Black person who has to contend with white privilege and he’s had it up to here with dealing with it.   It’s Keith Hamilton Cobb’s personal eruption of what a Black person or person of colour has to deal with when they are not seen or heard.

Until the Flood

Written and Performed by Dael Orlandersmith

Produced by the Conservatory Rep Theatre of St. Louis.

A shattering piece of verbatim performance theatre about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Dael Orlandersmith is stunning.

In 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri Michael Brown, a black youth allegedly stole a box of cigars. The police were called and Officer Darren Wilson allegedly shot Mr. Brown several times and killed him. The details of what exactly happened were confusing. Officer Wilson said he shot in self-defence. Alleged witnesses disagreed. Officer Wilson was found innocent of any wrongdoing by a Grand Jury and was released.

Dael Orlandersmith, an American playwright, interviewed people in Ferguson, Missouri about their thoughts on the events. She culled the interviews and we hear the words of eight of them, alternating between a Black person and then a white person. Orlandersmith plays all the parts speaking in their voices.

Until the Flood is told with compassion, wit, humour, perception, and wisdom. Orlandersmith is never judgemental. She let’s her characters have their say. It’s a balanced, devastating work.

Until the Flood streams at:

https://www.centertheatregroup.org/digitalstage/digital-stage/until-the-flood-streaming-on-all-arts

The Exquisitely Beautiful Production Award that leads us into a better year.

Something Rich & Strange

Produced by Opera Atelier

Opera Atelier Co-Artistic Directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg had planned to produce Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to celebrate their 35th Anniversary Season this year. A pandemic put a stop to that.

In Something Rich & Strange, their first offering of their 2020/21 Season of Visions and Dreams, they created a program of music and dance  pieces from great composers from the 17th and 18th  centuries  and  fashioned the evening so that it seems a cohesive piece in which each segment focuses on dreams, secrets, desires and visions and seamlessly blends into one another.

While this is a staged production that was filmed in Koerner Hall it does not look like a film. It does look like a beautiful theatrical production come to life through technology. With an Opera Atelier production, the audience gets an exquisite education, in art, dance, music, opera, singing, painting, sculpture and what perfection looks like.

Available for streaming until June 1, 2021.

https://www.rcmusic.com/events-and-performances/opera-atelier-presents-something-rich-and-strange?src=operaatelier

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Anna’s Cards

Anna Treusch is a terrific theater designer. Her sets fit the space of the theatre and perfectly reflect the world of the play.  Even the hellishly difficult Coal Mine Theatre space does not give her pause. She designed the homey set for Between Riverside and Crazy that went down the length of the space and we were never in doubt that the people who lived there, actually lived there.

Her costume designs are equally as fitting. Her costumes for the Canadian Stage production of Sweat were work clothes for factory workers, a bar tender and assorted folks who lived and worked in their casual, unfancy clothes.

For the Canadian Stage production of Much Ado About Nothing in High Park the costumes were vibrant, whimsical, and eye-catching for the folks sitting far back on the hill. The designs never pull focus but always serve the play.

Then the pandemic hit. Theatres were closed. What does a designer do? If you are Anna Treusch you paint every day to be creative. She has always painted. And then she got the idea for the greeting cards.

She has designed a set of “Christmas Cards” that really could be appropriate for any time because they are so clever and funny and certainly in the time of COVID. The graphics are on the ‘cover’ and blank inside for your message. The graphics are hilarious and fitting. One says, “All I want for Christmas is a Vaccine.” Appropriate, or what? Another has a group of carol singers in costume, top hats for the men, simple hats for the women, masked, holding their binders of songs. The whole front of the card is full of these ‘words’: ‘hmmmmmmmm hmmmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.’ I sent it to a friend who is a singer in a choir. She roared with laughter and ordered cards from Anna. Another card depicts a ZOOM call with Santa and the reindeer, each in their own square, doing a thing perhaps appropriate to the name. I dare not tell you what Prancer is doing for fear that you are drinking a hot beverage. The one card that says everything is the one with a person in heavy boots, thick pants, long gloves and protective head gear with a plastic square in the face part of the head covering, the arms are out and the shirt says, “Let’s Hug.” Perfect.  Besides the wit, humour and whimsy of the cards, is Anna’s heart, kindness and love of art, art in the world and art in us all and how it is essential.  

I ordered the cards. Anna can deliver them. I chose to pick them up. I was told to meet at a certain place in mid-town close to her appartment. I was to call her when I was there. I told her I would be wearing wild leggings so she would know that masked person waiting was me. I was there at the appropriate time. I called. Anna was on her way. She arrived carrying two white bags. One was for the woman who got out of her car by the curb. One was for me. Anna approached and I said that this hand-over was like a drug drop (not that I would know about such things, but I saw it in a movie. Or a play. Can’t remember). Anna reminded me that we had met at a theatre. I was grateful for the cards. She will be doing others. They are terrific. Full of art, wit and heart.

647-688-9125  |  www.treuschdesigns.com

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Heads up for clowning treats from Morro and Jasp

Morro and Jasp proudly present:

Send In The Clowns

A new digital cabaret for Canadian clowns.

Toronto’s most beloved clown duo Morro and Jasp (Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee) launch a new project to commission and highlight new work from a great diversity of clowns all across the country.

Join us at Send In The Clowns, a new digital cabaret!

Send In The Clowns aims to break through our communal feeling of isolation, and recreate the magic of festival tours and networking with other clowns – online.

Twice weekly until the end of the year, Morro and Jasp share a new digital short that has been commissioned from, and features, clowns from all across Canada and Turtle Island.

With new work from:

Rebecca Northan (Blind Date) (she shows you how to build a fort in your attic!

The Creepy Boys (Canadian Fringe circuit darlings Sam Kruger & S.E. Grummett)

Derek Kwan (Dora Mavor Moore Award nominee for Outstanding Male Performer)

Doloreze Leonard (Founding member of Cirque du Soleil)

Vanessa Cardoso Whelan (Acclaimed street performer, St. John’s, NL)

Raj Gill and Nayana Fielkov (Vancouver)

Claire Ness (Yukon)

Jacqueline Russell (Calgary)

Charlene Van Buekenhout (Winnipeg)

Bill Yong and Barry Bilinsky (Edmonton/Montreal

“Clown is the most honest form of performance that I have ever participated in. It is full of heart, truth, and vulnerability. I didn’t actually know how to truly LISTEN, until I started clowning. It has made me a better human being.” –Dora Award-winning performer Rebecca Northan

Visit the cabaret at morroandjasp.com for new videos, artist bios and more!

I can’t think of a better way to end this hellish year than clowns doing their thing.

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Ezra Schabas

Much has been written about the many accomplishments of Ezra Schabas since he passed away Oct. 12, 2020 at 96.

He was an educator, a musician, an author and an administrator, among other things. He was head of the Music and Opera Department of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto; the Principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music; an author of several books; a member of the Order of Canada, a devoted husband to his wife Ann and a proud father of his five accomplished children, and a doting grandfather and great grandfather.

I knew Ezra as my boss. I was his administrative assistant in the Performance and Opera Division of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto in the 1970s. I’d always worked in an educational institution to make my living and pay for my theatre tickets.

I knew nothing really about music when I applied for the job. I tried to hide that lapse and make some points when Ezra interviewed me.  I said that Sterling Beckwith (professor, choral master and head of music at York University) and John Beckwith (composer, pianist, administrator and  professor at the University of Toronto) were related. Ezra was aghast. “No, no, no, no.” He was mortified at the blunder. (I made a mental note to try and keep the bluffing to a minimum in future). He got a pained look of disappointment on his face. He shook his head in disbelief.  I’d blown it. He hired me.

Ezra was charming, irascible, efficient, impatient, funny, quick-witted, very, very smart, full of ideas, did not suffer or endure fools gladly or at all, was difficult and often a pain in the butt. I loved him. He made you try to do better than you thought possible. He challenged me and others. It could be frustrating but when you did hit the mark, what a feeling of accomplishment.

I never saw him let anyone leave his office with a problem to which he didn’t offer two solutions. “Alternatively,” seemed to be his favourite word. First he offered one solution then said, “alternatively, you could try this. “He never wanted to leave anyone with just a “no” answer to a request, etc. I have carried that philosophy with me in my own life. You want to help people with ideas and alternatives to solving a problem and not leave them floundering.

Impatient (yes). Irascible (sigh, yes). Short-tempered (sigh). But always full of remorse when he thought he had gone too far. As sometimes happened, he asked me to do something and I acted on it but the outcome was incorrect. He lost his temper. His head shook in disappointment. So did his jowls. His teeth sort of flashed in frustration (hard to explain; you had to be there). I remember the first time I disappointed him. It was in the morning.  His temper flashed momentarily. I got quiet and went about my work in the outer office. He got quiet in his office; the door was always open. I just wanted to keep out of his way—that’s how to handle such situations.  Then he came out and said, “Slotkin (I think he always called me that, perhaps because I referred to myself that way), wanna go with me to lunch? “  (Me): “Sure.” And all was good. Lunch was often at the Park Plaza Hotel roof restaurant. Classy.

Ezra had a terrific sense of humour. His laugh was short throaty sounds like the “put-put” of a car backfiring. The smile was quick. The reaction was wonderful if he found something you said to be funny.  I worked for him for years and then went to another department. He became the Principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music. Eventually I followed him there until he retired.

I would see Ezra and Ann at the theatre but more often at the opera when I started to go. He was always curious about how I was and how was the reviewing. Over time I didn’t keep in touch as often as I should. When I heard he and Ann moved into a retirement residence I called to see how he was. He was so glad to hear from me—loved that. He invited me and my friend Carolyn Spence (who also worked for Ezra for a time) to come to their place for lunch. We would eat in the dining room of the residence. It was terrific. We did that every month. Ezra and Ann were so appreciative of our company. Their children checked on them all the time, but these friendly lunches gave us all joy. Over time Ezra and Ann would be in wheel chairs.  I would call regularly to see how he was. “Ezra, how are you?” (Him): “Terrible!” Then we would laugh. I could imagine his head and jowls shaking. He was a fighter and lived life completely, but to experience old age gripping you harder and harder must have really pissed him off.  Ezra died on Thanksgiving Day; the irony is fitting.  I’m so grateful I knew him, learned from him, appreciated him and loved him to bits.  

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