Performed live in a backyard of a private home in Barrie, Ont.

Part of The Plural of She Festival offered through Talk is Free Theatre.

The Cure for Everything

Played Oct. 2, 3, 2020.

Created and performed by Maja Ardal

Directed by Mary Francis Moore

This is the continuation of Elsa’s story, begun in You Fancy Yourself. Maya Ardal has created a vibrant, wildly funny play about a precocious 15 year-old-girl who wants to rush through life’s various milestones in the face of a nuclear threat to the world.

The Cure for Everything is a splendid ending to The Plural of She Festival, a wonderful festival of plays that ‘reflect our world through the woman’s and non-binary lens. Kudos to Maja Ardal for curating such a wonderful festival, bristling with ideas and wonderful talent.

It’s 1962, Scotland, and fifteen-year-old Elsa goes through life, desperate for the most popular boy in her class to be charmed by her; to be accepted by the group of popular girls and to be the friend of the most popular girl in the school. But she has to ramp things up to warp speed when her parents hear on the radio there is a threat of a nuclear war between the Russians and the Americans over Cuba.

Elsa has a list of things to do in life: loose her virginity, become famous, have a baby etc. and goes about ticking items off the list before the world blows up. While the details are particular to Elsa in Scotland, the play has a universal appeal and resonance anywhere in the world that there are shy girls trying to fit in.

Maja Ardal is a wonderful writer, gifted in the quirky juxtaposition of words to capture the quick mind of a 15-year-old girl with a vivid imagination. Ardal enters the backyard space wearing a school uniform of a blazer, white shirt and tie, skirt, black tights and black comfortable shoes. She is eager to please and smiling. She flits effortlessly from character to character. There are the snooty members of the ‘in crowd’ to which Elsa longs to belong. There is the sharp voiced, agitated old woman who harps at her when Elsa doesn’t serve her quickly enough—Elsa works in a butcher shop on the weekend, the old woman is a customer. And there is Sheena, the coolest, most popular girl in the school; knowing, aware and sexually knowledgeable who has a terrible secret. Ardal just glides through the line revealing Sheena’s secret, leaving us just enough time to swallow hard and be heartsick.

Under Mary Francis Moore’s careful, fearless direction Ardal skillfully navigates the small space and reveals the many adventures Elsa gets up to. She gets drunk in a pub; is picked up by an older, pushy man; almost gets into trouble, and takes the audience along with her every scary step of the way.

For the purposes of time Ardal had to cut the play The Cure For Everything to just a bit longer than an hour. I saw the show in its entirety several years ago indoors in another theatre. The play is a gem and works beautifully in both the long and shorter version. It’s a look into the trials and tribulations of a teen who just wants to be liked, fit in, and accelerate growing up. We can all identify. One of the play’s many glories.

Because of safety precautions, the last play, E-Transfers (created and performed by Gabe Maharjan and Merlin Simard) had to be cancelled because one of the actors was coming in from out of province. It’s a play centering on the digital trans community of the characters. I would love to see that one, as I was glad to see all the ones I did see.


A Broadway Trio Concert.

Outdoors, on a lawn in Barrie, Ont.

About a half-hour after the end of The Cure For Everything (in one backyard) many of us went around the corner to sit on the front lawn of another private residence to listen to a wonderful concert of Broadway show tunes sung by three gifted singers.

The talented trio are: Heather McGuigan, Billy Lake and Aidan Desalaiz. Individually each is a powerful singer-song stylist. Together they are a winning combination of beautiful singing, easy banter and charm. The concert was impeccably presented and acted with flourishes of humour, good will and generosity. They offered a cross section of songs from the best of Broadway: “Me and the Sky” (Come From Away), “Mr. Cellophane” (Chicago), “Bring Him Home” (Les Misérables), “No One Is Alone” (Into the Woods) etc.  

When the pandemic closed the theatres Billy Lake was in the fourth preview of Kinky Boots for Drayton Entertainment in Cambridge and Heather McGuigan and Aidan Desalaiz were in rehearsals for Wendy and Peter Pan and Spamalot at the Stratford Festival. Through her company, “Heather’s Garden Variety”, Heather McGuigan organized the concert with her two colleagues. The good theatre-going people of Barrie did the rest.  

The concert was given on the lawn of one home with the audience urged to come (it was free to the audience!) and bring chairs, blankets, dress warmly etc. The next door neighbours put chairs along the joint driveway; neighbours across the street and beside them as well placed their chairs near the curb in order to hear better. I reckon about 50 people sat and watched. Those good theatre-going people of Barrie can teach us a thing or two about supporting our local theatre.

I heard whispering behind me. You know how I hate that. Drives me crazy. I turned sharply to get the attention of the offending noise-maker. There behind me was a toddler sprawled on the grass watching and listening, with the child’s father whispering (perhaps telling the child to be quiet? I didn’t see if it was a boy or girl). When I saw it was a toddler I lightened up. That child did not make one sound—the parent was the whisperer and it was unnecessary. A terrific, wonderful way to end a lovely, if nippy, day ‘at’ the theatre.


Playing in a private backyard in Barrie, Ont. Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2020.

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Created and performed by Malindi Ayienga

This was the first performance of a world premiere of Justice for Malindi Ayienga by Malindi Ayienga, a wonderfully talented theatre-maker.

She created and performs  the show.

Malindi Ayienga appears gently holding a wrapped bundle of something to her chest. She carefully kneels and puts the bundle on the floor of the porch and delicately unwraps three vibrant pieces of material, revealing many notebooks and other kinds of books. She straightens out the material and places the books in an ordered way along the surface. We learn these are the diaries she kept/keeps beginning in 2007 when she was 10 and in Grade 5.

Malindi Ayienga says her mother is white and her father is Kenyan. She is therefore of mixed race. She tells her story by referencing the various diaries she kept over time.  She reads from them with youthful joy but with twinges of insight, even subtext.  She talks about the various friends she has and that one of them says that she can’t play with her. Ayienga thinks that perhaps it’s because she’s black. She slides over that line with delicacy and quickness but you are pricked by that stinging information.

She tells us again reading from her diaries of a crush she had on a boy and how he broke her heart, but then he treated her well so she changed her mind. Like any young person she forgave him and yearned for him to like her.

You get a sense that sometimes she didn’t know where she fit in. But her awakening came when she went to Kenya to see her father’s family and learn about those roots. She was considered white in Kenya because her mother was white. In Canada she was considered black because her skin is black. You can imagine how these perceptions could play with a person’s head.

Ayienga learned that in Kenya if a young girl had her period the girl was shamed by having to sit at the back of the classroom, on a bench covered in sand.  A girl would be shamed by her mother as well and told to go to the river to wash her bloody undergarments.  So rather than this being treated as a natural thing, the girl was shamed.

Ayienga heard of one young girl who committed suicide from the humiliation of menstruating because she was not taught about this normal bodily function by their mothers or teachers. In the telling of this segment Ayienga was overcome with emotion.

And Malindi Ayienga’s political awareness, her moral fiber and compassion were developed there in Kenya as well. She decided that she would tell young girls that getting their period was a natural bodily function for young women and nothing to be ashamed of. Her father translated for her into Kiswahili so the girls would understand.  Ayienga said you could see just by someone telling them of this natural function that they didn’t feel shame any more.

She and a group of friends co-founded Diva Day International to fund-raise and send Diva Cups to Kenya for when girls got their periods so they did not have to be ostracised. Ayienga’s tenacity with all the things that could go wrong with such an endeavor makes you shake your head in amazement at the resolve of one so young.  

She talks of being a ‘foreigner’ in Kenya and her efforts to find her place there. She explored  aspects in her life that are similar to that of the women in Kenya.  Because she is so eloquent a theatre creator, so poetic a writer about things that are tough and hard to hear, she embraces the audience and conveys what it must be like to be searching for ways to fit into the worlds she lives in.

She talks about racism without preaching. She notes that we all could and should do better. She says it with grace and generosity. She notes that no one can decide or tell you who you are by the colour of your skin, whether black or white. I loved the writing of the piece and so wished it was published because you want to refer to such wisdom again and again.

It speaks volumes that folks came out for this production they were so hungry for theatre,  because it was raining, rather hard at times. We were protected by the overhang of the porch. While Malindi Ayienga was microphoned, part of the dialogue was pre-recorded and the volume could/should be adjusted because occasionally the sound made the dialogue muddy. I’m sure this will be adjusted because what she has to say is too important to miss.

Malindi Ayienga is a gifted performer—I’ve been mighty impressed with her work in You and I and The Adventure of Pinocchio. She is an impassioned voice for “Black Lives Matter”—her YouTube segment in June on this subject was raw, emotional and shattering. She has something important to say and it’s clear in Justice for Malindi Ayienga. We would be wise to listen.  

I am so glad I saw the very first show of this wonderful piece.

Please check the Talk is Free Website for the schedule of The Plural of She Festival.


I’ve written about Brenda Robins before in this series of articles. When theatres are open Brenda is usually on one of the stages. But she also makes terrific pillows of vintage materials.

She and some friends are organizing a two day ‘festive market’ hosted by Soulpepper and the Young Centre to take place sometime at the end of Nov/early Dec. But they need people with these ‘side gigs’ to participate. If this is you, please contact Brenda Robins at the coordinates below.

The initiative is called Solitary Refinement 2020. (love that). Here are the details:

Solitary Refinement 2020

Artists Market

 Soulpepper and the Young Centre will be hosting an indoor, two-day festive market (dates TBA but sometime at the end of Nov/ early Dec)! 

Spots are limited, for Covid reasons, but if you or someone you know has a side-gig ( baked goods, jewellery, crafts, weaving, painting- the possibilities are endless!!) and would like to sell at this market, please let us know!  We are trying to be mindful of duplicate vendors, so for the moment we are only taking names and what you are creating until we can sort it out. We will try to accommodate as many as safely as possible!

It should be noted that should conditions regarding Covid change for the worse, this market could be pushed till Spring. 

Please contact Brenda Robins at if you are interested in participating.


Here are events you might be interested in:

Tues. Sept. 29. These Are the Songs That I Sing When I’m Sad.

The title says it all. And it’s a joy. Jane Miller leads us from song to song.

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Live in private backyards, in Barrie, Ont.

Wed. Sept. 30-Oct. 1 Justice for Malindi Ayienga

Malindi Ayienga tells us who she is and what she stands for in this totally improvised show. The woman has a huge heart.

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Live in private backyards, in Barrie, Ont.

Fri. Oct. 2-3. The Cure for Everything

Maja Ardal’s creation about Elsa at 15 who has to grow up quickly in the face of a nuclear threat.

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Live in private backyards, in Barrie, Ont.

Oct. 3-4 E-Transfers

What do love and money have in common? Gabe Maharjan and Merlin Simard show us.  

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Live in private backyards, in Barrie, Ont.

Oct. 3-4  Dusk Dances In High Park

A Canadian Stage initiative.


Presented in High Park at the Canadian Stage Amphitheatre, Toronto, Ont.

Dance in High Park

Week 1: Solo in High Park (Sept. 26-27, 2020)

This is an appreciation of the artists who are participating in Dance In High Park. I would not presume to review this artform since dance and its language are not my forte.

Canadian Stage is presenting three different dance programs over three weekends outdoors. It’s listed as pay-what-you-can, but in fact it’s fee. You can make a donation on line to show you appreciation.

This first week was co-curated by Seika Boye and Timea Wharton-Suri. The show was a program that offered a gentle introduction of various dance styles to the audience. House dancer, Raoul Wilke started off the show. House dancing is a particular style of dance started in the 1980s (and yes I looked it up—grateful to this show for making me curious).  The style’s main characteristic is “Jacking” where the torso interprets the variations of the music. Wilke chose music that referred to inner pain. The dance seemed to move through that into finally a joyous finish.

Carmen Romero is an award-winning flamenco dancer who performed Mi Amapola, a dance commemorating life and death. You knew that ever twist of her wrists, the sharp, crisp snaps of her heels on the stage and even the flick of her dress all expressed a thought and had meaning.

Sam Grist, resplendent in an orange top and shorts, performed a whimsical, exuberant send-up of dance that blurred the lines of theatre, dance and comedy. It was choreographed by Alyssa Martin.

Finally Travis Knights blasted onto the stage tap-dancing in routines that challenged each other and also expressed the joy of dancing. It seemed his feet were expressing so many emotions, each clear. No extensive commentary was needed. Just an open-hearted appreciation of the work. He said to the crowd: “I’ve missed you!”  

I loved that there were almost 100 people properly scattered over the terraced hill watching these dancers. I loved that there were many children there as well.

Two more weekends of dance will follow:

Week 2: Dusk Dances in High Park (Oct. 3-4 at 2pm)

Week 3: Red Sky in High Park (Oct. 9 at 5:30 pm, Oct. 9 at 1 and 4 pm, Oct. 11 at 1 pm.

This is a wonderful initiative of Canadian Stage. Be mindful that High Park is closed to cars on the weekend. You can get to the Canadian Stage Amphitheatre, by biking or walking (lovely walk)

These Are the Songs That I Sing When I’m Sad.

Part of the Plural of She Festival (from Talk Is Free Theatre), Barrie, Ont.

Performed in the backyard of a private residence in Barrie, Ont. Sept. 28 and 29 at 6:00 pm.

Created by Jane Miller and Brian Quirt

Directed by Brian Quirt

Performed by Jane Miller

A charming, insightful,  joyful exploration of songs we turn to when we are blue.

This is the perfect show for these times when we are sad about the world, what we can and cannot do because of the pandemic, are missing friends, family and some kind of normalcy.

Jane Miller is a really gifted singer-song-writer-performer-musician. She and her equally gifted director-collaborator, Brian Quirt, created this show about the songs “she turns to when she’s blue, exploring the musical elements that make so many sad songs so addictive.”

Miller begins with Adele’s plaintive song of lost love “Someone Like You.” Miller did a search on many search engines for lists of sad songs and “Someone Like You” was on many of them. Not content with just singing a group of sad songs, Miller explores the minutiae that make the song sad and why we cling to them.  She cites studies from the U.K, McGill University and a study in British Columbia  that explore the emotional, psychological and even physical manifestation of the song. Some songs cause goose-bumps—and Miller is careful to note that the more skin that is exposed, the more the goose-bumps. The questions that Quirt asked Miller in the show’s preparation gives a special look at the creation of a show to which we often aren’t privy.

The Beatles wonderful song, “Let It Be” makes Miller’s list, as does one from Phil Collins. It’s an interesting, eclectic mix. Miller offers moments in her life when the various songs were needed to get her through those emotional times. The songs varied with the occasion. And while the reason for the song is clear in the title, the show is a joyous look at how music gets us through those sad times and why we hold them close to us. She engages the audience as well to offer their go-to song in such moments.

Miller always seems to be questioning and digging deeply into a song. She referenced “Nearer My God To Thee” the hymn sung on the Titanic. She then sang a few chords of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” They are the same. Who knew! One needs to go to Barrie, Ontario to find out such secrets.


Leave it to Arkady Spivak, Artistic Producer of Talk Is Free Theatre, in Barrie, Ont. to come up with yet another initiative to employ, stretch, challenge and help theatre people. This initiative is BIG and it’s brilliant. Read on.

Resistance and Change – A Grant for Theatre Artists      View this email in your browser ARTIST BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE (“BIG”)
PILOT PROJECT Brief Description The TIFT Artist BIG Project is a pilot project designed to offer a number of Artists (approximately 20) a minimum annual income guarantee each year, for a three-year period. The income would be earned through the Artist being engaged on various and separate projects with TIFT throughout the year, as determined by TIFT’s Artistic Producer (“AP”) and the individual Artist together. TIFT would guarantee that the Artist is able to earn enough in fees from the separate independent contracts with TIFT each year to at least equal the minimum annual income guarantee. One of the goals of the BIG Project is the exploration of a new operating system, through action research, that would offer artists and theatre companies a more sustainable and effective paradigm in which to create theatre.
  A more detailed description of the program is available HERE. Please also follow this link to sign up for informational webinars on October 5 and 7, 2020. Call for Proposals Artist BIG is intended for theatre professionals who are currently deriving/seeking the majority of their work as actors, but are interested and excited about diversifying their artistic portfolios and/or professional functions within an artistic organization, with the goal of providing them a more stable, sustainable existence within the world of professional theatre.
  Application Requirements:
  1. Please send a 250-word personal statement that contains: A brief discussion about three artistic opportunities that would scare you the most and why. Please be bold. This could be directing your first play, or creating a piece that is unlike anything the art form has experienced, for example. One way in which you would like your artistic pursuits to change the world. (You will not necessarily be asked to put this into real-life action; this is for inspiration purposes only).  2. Please submit one or more artistic samples of your work that you are most passionate about, for a combined total of no more than 5 minutes. As an example, this can be a combination of contrasting songs, monologues, or even a scene you directed. These samples do not need to be freshly prepared. Please do not forget to include your role/function for the submitted material (For artists who were engaged in three previous TIFT productions, providing support material is optional).

3. Please include your resume.
The Ideal Applicant:
  Wants to see positive change in how the professional theatre industry functions. Is artistically adventurous, ambitious and risk-taking. Has previous work history in Barrie, Ontario (this is a preference, but not a requirement). Please direct any questions to artistbig@tift.caSubmissions are due no later than 5pm (EST) on October 23, 2020.

Late submissions cannot be accepted.

Please submit to

Our goal is to notify all applicants about the results of their submissions by November 30, 2020.  Season Partner Operating Funding generously provided by: Copyright © 2020 TIFT, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you are a media contact of Talk Is Free Theatre.

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TIFTP.O. Box 247Barrie, On L4M 4T2 Canada
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Live in backyards of private homes in Barrie, Ont.

Continuing on with The Plural of She Festival of plays in Barrie, Ont.

Details for the rest of the festival:

In Case We Disappear

Created and performed by Vanessa Smythe

A beautifully crafted, gently heartfelt production of memories and people held dear and eventually disappeared in the life of Vanessa Smythe.

Vanessa Smythe tells us that she and her younger brother (12 years younger than she is)  always had a fear of things disappearing: little gifts, people they loved  “suddenly being gone.” To keep the fear at bay Vanessa Smythe would calm her brother with silly, kooky stories etc. She has developed that idea of disappearing into a wonderful creation of a series of comedic stories, songs and poems. In so doing we also conjure up our own memories of things and loves that has quietly disappeared from our lives.

She tells of meeting a young man, a poet and falling deeply in love with his poetry, his spirit and the essence of him. She beautifully creates that instant intoxicating feeling that leaves one light-headed with euphoria. It’s that special feeling that has two people talking all night about everything, thinking that feeling will last forever, until the quick realization that it doesn’t. Even in the ending of such a beautiful ‘moment’ is said with a sweet wistfulness. At one point she says: “Love is even in good-bye.”

There is her encounter with a customer when she was a waitress. Her patience with him was impressive. The story was compelling because we weren’t sure where it was going or if it would end well. It’s to her credit that it took a twist so small and elegant it left one breathless.

 Vanessa Smythe is a sensitive, perceptive performer, a lyrical poet and a gifted writer. She has such grace and an affinity with her audience it’s as if we were breathing as one.

Ordinarily I would say that this lovely, gentle production is a reminder of what we have lost during this pandemic—going to the theatre and gathering to watch a play. But that is really not the case here since we gathered in a charming backyard to watch the vibrant, engaging Vanessa Smythe tell us stories, poems and songs about things that disappeared in her life. If that isn’t the joy of live theatre, then I don’t know what is.  This show was terrific.

In Case We Disappear played in a backyard of a private home, Sept. 25-26, 2020.

More details:


Adapted and performed by Nicky Guadagni

Script by Rosemary Sullivan and Carolyn Smart

Directed by Edmund Stapleton

With Special thanks to Layne Coleman.

Canadian poet/novelist, Elizabeth Smart (1913-1986) lived a life that was emotionally huge, fraught with incident, passionate and fiercely unconventional.

She was born into privilege in Ottawa, Ontario. She began writing poetry when she was 10 years old. As soon as she could she left Ottawa for England to get away from the restrictive privilege. She discovered the poems of George Barker and fell in love with them and him (even before she actually met him). She was single-minded about meeting him and when she did she and he began a torrid affair. Never mind that he was already married.  Matters got messy. She wrote of the relationship in “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept,” which was described as “One of the most passionate accounts of romantic love in modern English literature.”

In one short hour Nicky Guadagni beautifully reveals what has been described as “A compelling personal exploration of the romantic legend, passionate mother and transcendent Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart.”

Guadagni adapted the script by Rosemary Sullivan and Carolyn Smart. The writing is spare, smart and vivid. At one point Elizabeth Smart is described as “Twenty-three and terrified of missing her life.” Elizabeth Smart’s world is wrapped up in that simple sentence.

Guadagni makes her entrance as Elizabeth Smart and it’s at once quirky and careless: she wears a long baggy cardigan over a skirt. She wears trainers and socks. One sock is pulled up, the other bags around her ankle. I loved that detail.

Over the course of the show Guadagni as Smart putters in one of her seven gardens (she loved gardening), arranging pots, moving driftwood  hunks from one area to another, recalling memories. Guadagni’s delivery as Smart is quiet (although microphoned—we hear every word), confiding and self-contained. When Guadagni offers commentary, we know it’s she who is giving it and not Smart because the tone and body language slips away from Smart, and just as deftly switches back when Smart fills us in with her life. Edmund Stapleton directs this beautifully.

Guadagni offers a characterization of Elizabeth Smart, so full of conviction and loyalty to Barker (even when he didn’t return it in the same way), that we are not quick to be judgemental. It’s a performance full of nuance, sensitivity and detail. It’s a life obsessed with the love of Barker, her children and the compelling need to write and Guadagni reveals it all masterfully. Most important, she makes us want to find out more.

Smart played in the backyard of a private residence Sept. 26-27, 2020 in Barrie, Ont.

 For more details:


The Plural of She Festival

Performed in backyards of private residences in Barrie, Ont. Sept. 23-Oct. 4, 2020.

Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle

Created and performed by Nicole Joy-Fraser

Performed Sept. 23-24, 2020.

Wonderful, inclusive, welcoming. An incredible life journey of the performing artist Nicole Joy-Fraser. An important lesson of hope and tenacity in the life and practice of an Indigenous artist.

The Story and Production. Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle is part of The Plural of She Festival of plays created and performed by women and feminine-identifying artists. It’s curated by Maja Ardal—a terrific performer-writer in her own right—Her show The Cure For Everythingis part of the festival.

She’s taking a cheeky dig towards the English language when she calls the festival The Plural of She.  She reasons there is no distinctive plural of the word “She” in English. In ordinary times we would have used the plural “they.” But these aren’t ordinary times. Ardal frowns on using the word “they” because as she says: “’They’ is only now offered as the pronoun for many individuals on the gender spectrum.”

Sounds good to me.

Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle is written and performed by Nicole Joy-Fraser.

She and the show are terrific. She embraces her audience, welcomes them in what ever diversity is presented. She never assumes. Her story is one of hardship, a feeling of displacement, a seeking of who she is and full of her joy. Her curiosity about her roots and her seeking of her truth are quite astonishing. She is a gifted story-teller and the story squeezes your heart it’s so full of challenges.

She began the show with a drummed song of welcome, that welcomed the audience to the out-door space. She explains the song is sung in Anishinaabemowin. We learn she is Métis, part Cree part European, of the Bear Clan. She was put up for adoption by her birth parents so that she would have a better life. She was adopted by a white couple but her adoptive father introduced her to Indigenous culture by taking her to the art gallery—The McMichael Gallery, the Ontario Art Gallery, etc. She loved the art and thought she might be an artist.

Then she became familiar with other artforms and went to school to be an actress/singer. It’s a life that took her to London, England and then back to Canada. In England she had to explain to people that while she didn’t ‘look Canadian’, she was. Her patience with ignorance is astounding—she was asked if “Indians” still existed in Canada?”

When she was seventeen, she learned the secret of her birth parents and other aspects of her family. This led her to finding out about her Indigenous culture by consulting elders and leaning of their practices.

It’s an incredible story, sometimes harrowing, sometimes wounding. You can hear your heart thumping as more and more stunning detail comes out.

The title—a Hand-Drum Song Cycle– is a bit of a misnomer. There are not as many songs as one expects from something described as a “song cycle.”  There are perhaps four or five songs in the whole show, with her story taking up most of the time. I would call it a woman’s journey to finding her-self first–with songs added—perhaps the songs could be more evenly disbursed in the story.

Each song is meaningful—a song of welcome or good-bye for example—and she sings in a pure soprano voice, full-throated, brimming with emotion.  Nicole Joy-Fraser sang two songs in succession, explaining that the second song is a Veteran Honour Song and definitely is different than the one before it. She said usually with the second song the audience is encouraged to stand and honour the veterans. As she didn’t stop for applause after the first song of this duo, we didn’t really know she had begun to sing the second song, so knowing when to stand was awkward.

I think her idea of standing and honouring Veterans is wise and right but the audience should be given a cue on when to do it easily and without confusion.

First we want to applaud her efforts so perhaps she should just break them up. Then the audience knows the second song is their cue to stand. As this is Nicole Joy-Fraser’s first attempt at her story I will certainly cut her slack.

Comment: Overall, I loved Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle. We don’t often hear stories like this first hand from an Indigenous point of view and it’s important we do. I loved the ceremony of the whole endeavor. I got there early so I saw Nicole Joy-Fraser do a smudging ritual for the whole space—cleansing it. When the audience was seated Nicole Joy-Fraser welcomed all of us.

I loved the open-hearted, inclusive effort to embrace and welcome the audience into the ceremony and the circle. I have been to a few other shows with Indigenous artists and the audience was treated to the same ceremony of inclusion.  In these troubling, divisive times that lesson of welcome without barriers is so important to learn. At the end of her show she thanked us for coming and listening to her story, and she held out her arms and said, “My relatives.”

It was a privilege to see and hear Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle.

Having Hope: A Hand Drum Song Cycle played in Barrie, Ont. in the backyard of a private home Sept. 23-24.

For details about the rest of the “Plural of She Festival” please go to:

Romantics Anonymous

This plays on line until Sat. Sept. 26. For details go to:

Written and directed by Emma Rice

Based on the film: Les Émotifs Anonymes

Based on an original design by Lez Brotherston

Lyrics by Christopher Dimond

Music by Michael Kooman

Choreography by Etta Murfitt

Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth

Sound and Broadcast Design by Simon Baker

Cast: Marc Antolin

Carly Bawden

Me’sha Bryan

Philip Cox

Omari Douglas

Harry Hepple

Sandra Marvin

Laura Jane Matthewson

Gareth Snook

Pure, sweet delight with a touch of tart. Lip-smacking good. And it was about love and chocolate. An unbeatable connection.

NOTE: Romantics Anonymous is a musical that was recorded live on Tuesday at the Bristol Old Vic for broadcast over the week and will end Sat. Sept. 26.

The Story. It’s about Angélique who is a gifted chocolate maker, but is so shy that she gets anxious and when she gets anxious she faints (She attends a support group “Emotions Anonymous”). She makes chocolates for kind Mr. Mercier but he had to promise her he would not tell anyone about this genius who makes his chocolates.

Then he dies and Angélique is bereft. She has no job. She has no prospects. She is too shy to go out and look for work. Her impatient mother keeps harping at her. The mother even calls Angélique ‘a turd.’ Now that’s harsh.

Jean-René is a man who is painfully shy and awkward and runs his family’s failing chocolate factory. His hands sweat when he is in any situation. But he knows his chocolates.  He bought Mr. Mercier’s chocolates not knowing that Angélique made them.

Angélique comes to work for him thinking it’s to make chocolate, but in fact it’s as a salesperson. No one wants the chocolates. They are very traditional and boring. The business is failing.  What can be done? They need a miracle.

Angélique is too shy to tell them she knows a thing or two about chocolate. How they solve the problem is one of the many charms of this musical.

The Production. It starts with a bit of cheek. We are told to lay on some of our own chocolate but not to eat it until we are given a cue. It starts off with characters speaking French with no surtitles. Be patient, there is a method to Emma Rice’s ‘madness.’ She is setting the stage, the place and the space. We see the meticulousness in which Angélique (Carly Bawden)  makes her chocolates and we get the sense of wit and pace in the beginning scenes. And with almost a wink to the audience to eat our chocolates they segue into English.

Is this a saccharin-sweet (sorry) musical? It is not.  It is prickly, irreverent, and even rude (remember Angélique’s mother calling her ‘a turd’).

Jean-René’s  (Marc Antolin) staff is so exasperated with him that they are pretty pointed behind and in front of his back. It’s painfully obvious that Angélique and Jean-René are made for each other but writer Emma Rice is not going to make it easy. It’s a relationship full of regret, insecurity, awkwardness, but also love and acceptance.

When Angélique meets Jean-René she doesn’t faint and his hands don’t sweat. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Christopher Diamond’s lyrics are brilliant in capturing the essence of a taste or the fear of ‘doing something’ or not following your dreams.  When trying to describe some of the chocolate that Angélique has made we have this lyric: “No language can capture that silky, smooth rapture.” Or this: “If you don’t do anything, nothing will go wrong.” Or this one: “Life isn’t life when it’s lived in regret.” Michael Kooman’s music is just as captivating.

Carly Bawden as Angélique is sweet, anxious, feisty and dear.Marc Antolin as Jean-René is stiff, awkward, insecure and eventually charming too. Gareth Snook is kindly as Mercier, hilarious as Mumbler, and over-the-top as Madame Marini.

The whole production is a light swirl of activity thanks to Emma Rice’s direction. It’s like watching as delicate meringues are being made.

Comment. If I can’t be in a theatre watching this wonderful, charming show live, then seeing the live filmed version of it is ok by me. I thought the whole production was a treat, not too sweet, some nuts, some wonderful spicy flavours rounded off with terrific performances. If I can’t be in a theatre, this is the kind of filmed version I want to see in its place. And it’s about chocolate so it’s perfect.

Romantics Anonymous plays on line until Sat. Sept. 26.

Check details from the Shakespeare Theatre Company website at:


On-line until November 5.

Written and directed by Richard Nelson

Cast: Charlotte Bydwell

Stephen Kunkin

Sally Murphy

Maryann Plunkett

Laila Robins

Jay O. Sanders

A theatrical creation for the pandemic that takes place on zoom as siblings meet, eat, drink and talk about the incidental moments of their day.

The Story and production. It’s about the Apple family: three sisters—Jane (Sally Murphy), Barbara (Marianne Plunkett), Marion (Laila Robins), and their brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders), plus the people around them—girlfriends, partners etc.

Jane was a writer, the youngest and had a fragile relationship with her boyfriend Tim  (Stephen Kunkin) who has moved temporarily back to his boyhood home. Barbara was a teacher. Marion was out and about on a date (she was a woman of a certain age I believe it’s called). She went on the date because she wanted to know what her date looked like without the mask. And Richard the brother was a lawyer and was retiring from working for Governor Cuomo.

This is the third in a trilogy of plays written and performed specifically for presentation by Zoom. Playwright/director Nelson has been writing about this family for about 10 years.

The plays have played at the Public Theatre in New York. When it was performed live in a theatre. The family would sit around the dinner table as they got together to eat, talk, share their lives with each other, bicker and love each other.

Then COVID-19 struck and people were isolated from each other. Same with the Apple Family. Each sibling lived separately, sometimes in a different town so they communicated as per the COVID protocol, by Zoom.

Therefore, to illuminate how the siblings coped with COVID-19 playwright Richard Nelson wrote it as if each sibling was in his/her house talking by computer by Zoom.

And for this segment: Incidental Moments of the Day, the siblings pretended that they were all having dinner as they did before COVID, so there were the characters with their glasses of wine and their plates of food, eating and talking about their day, to each other.  

It worked a treat. We get nuance, subtlety and subtext because it’s all so closely observed on our screens. For example, Jane left the screen to get a drink in another room and the other siblings moved closer to their screens as if to whisper to the others, wondering how Jane was doing? Then Jane came back and confided to her siblings that she was suffering from depression. Others wondered about Richard and how he would do with out working for Cuomo. In a previous play I believe they discussed the killing of George Floyd. The Apple Family plays give you an interesting look at liberal America. I get the sense they are well educated, certainly loving and caring for each other.  They are trying to cope as well as they can.

And while they appear fair-minded, there is a sense of privilege with just a hint of superiority in Marion and Richard. They all talk in a reasoned, reasonable way, no tantrums or rages, but there are undercurrents of disappointment, grudges perhaps and lots of unknowables.

Comment. I’d love to watch the trilogy and get a better sense of them. On the basis of this one play, it’s a terrific feat for art to imitate life in the time of zoom.

Incidental Moments of the Day streams for free until November 5 at:


Here is some interesting stuff for the week of Sept. 21 to 27, 2020.

Sept. 22-26.    Romantics Anonymous, on-line directed by Emma Rice and produced by her Wise Children Theatre Company, performed live from the Bristol Old Vic.  Have you ever seen Emma Rice’s work? She’s brilliant.

Presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company (Washington, D.C.) From their blurb: “For one week only, Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic, and Plush Theatricals present a livestream of their acclaimed production of Romantics Anonymous. The production will take place LIVE from the Bristol Old Vic stage from September 22–26. You can watch it as it happens on your TV, phone, laptop, desktop or iPad in glorious (HD) technicolor.

Sept. 22-Oct. 4. The Plural of She Festival. (Barrie, Ont. in private backyards)


A brand new mini-festival created and performed by women and feminine-identifying artists.

The Plural of She includes:


Created and Performed by Nicole Joy-Fraser

I’m seeing this Wed. Sept. 23.


Created and Performed by Vanessa Smythe

I’m seeing this Sat. Sept. 26.


Created and Performed by Nicky Guadagni

I’m seeing this Sat. Sept. 26.

Sept. 26-27. Solo in High Park (September 26-27 at 2 PM) In High Park in Toronto.

Co-curated by Seika Boye & Timea Wharton-Suri

This program introduces audiences to a variety of dance styles from solo artists who reveal the precision, depth and significance of their craft and the importance of the audience to the art they make. Solo in High Park features award-winning flamenco dancer Carmen Romero performing Mi Amapola, a dance commemorating (or paying honour to) life and death; internationally acclaimed tap artist Travis Knights exposing the rich tradition of tap dance while exploring the challenges of interpersonal human connection; world-renowned house dancer Raoul Wilke examining, through movement, how we shield our emotions through art; and award-winning choreographer Alyssa Martin and performer Sam Grist from Rock Bottom Movement taking an unrestrained adventure into the life of a modern dancer with one last shred of hope in the year 3029.

Reserve a place. Pay-what-you-can