A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Part 2 of 2-part series
Penguin Canada’s 40th Anniversary
Brigantine Room, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Tuesday, October 28; 7:30 p.m.
Left to right: Joseph Boyden (leaning forward), Lee Henderson, Johanna Skibsrud, John Ralston Saul and Jared Bland.
In a packed Brigantine Room with complimentary champagne flute toasts for everyone who attended IFOA’s Penguin Canada’s 40th Anniversary tribute October 28 in marking the British-based publishing company’s presence of their Canadian division was festive with Globe & Mail Arts Editor Jared Bland and Penguin Canada authors Joseph Boyden, John Ralston Saul, Johanna Skibsrud and Lee Henderson – the last-minute replacement for scheduled attendee Jian Ghomeshi in current light of his sex scandal – all talked about the impact of literature and their publisher’s role in their lives and of this country’s literati.
First off, each spoke of others’ books that were published by Penguin: Boyden recounted Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in relating to his punk rocker roadie days and the love of language; Skibsrud reflecting over Don Quixote 400 years since its debut as the first (post-) modern novel, the power of fiction and the dangers of conformity; Henderson talked on Thomas Pynchon’s anti-war satire Gravity’s Rainbow over the chaos of life from a World War II soldier’s view of it; Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls was Saul’s choice on how it saved him as a student at McGill University and the politics of immorality in the Russian classic; Bland and current Penguin Canada publisher/president Nicole Winstanley both threw in their two cents regarding George Orwell’s 1984 and Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project and picture book Peepo! from Janet Ahlburg, respectively.
Each had a say in how Penguin has changed the nation’s literary scene and regarding its publishing traditions, the family-like relationship they’ve maintained in their time with them, being the gold standard of books as an internationally recognized brand and the future of publishing itself in the endless debate of print-versus-digital.
“(The brand) has such a wide reach,” said Henderson, “(to think) that little penguin could mean so much, to so many people. Whether it’s the classics or finding new authors, you can really trust that little bird. That should be their slogan! My theory on writing is that you can’t live in the shadows and not embrace the history of what that really means to you as a writer and its diversity of books old and new.
“We, the readers, exist,” commented Saul and the status of authorship in its ability to move and shape society. “I’ll repeat my standard PEN (International) joke: ‘You look around the world today and who’s in jail? There are about five prime ministers or presidents, there may be six generals, there are maybe six or seven businessmen and bankers, mainly in Russia and China because they buy their way out to the West; no economists and close to nine hundred writers. And about a hundred are killed every week.’ So that’s a tragic story, but it also tells you of what we do still does what it’s supposed to do and risk on doing it right and readers still understand. Those statistics say that the conversation between the writer and the reader is healthy and well, whatever the technology is. We just need to get those (writers) out of prison.”
“I think we’re all believers in print,” stated Henderson, drifting into the topic of the changing format. “I don’t think of us would say, or maybe would like to say, that print is going to disappear or anything like that. But we’re sure moving in that direction in the 21st century and in the publishing world. I kind of wonder of what we would lose, with that sort-of iconic (Penguin logo) image of what a publishing house looks like,” adding a little later, “E-books are bullshit!”
“This is the lingua franca of reading,” Boyden said, holding a copy of a non-descript book, “(to) be able to hold a book in your hand, those beautiful editions of where you can feel the rough paper and…it’s hard to give away. People come up to me as a joke and say ‘I read your book on my e-reader and I wish you could sign it,’ [and] I’m like “I got a knife. I’ll carve it [into your device] for you!’”
“In Europe, [the usage for e-books] is dropping and it’s, like, only junk,” Saul reported and put his perspective on this. “If you analyse in what’s being bought in books, like about three percent or something. It’s a very small amount of literature [being downloaded]. I think people get enthusiastic about some technology, but then they back off of it and are really happy [they did].”
But in the end, its how one audience member who really summed it up at Q&A period about the future of reading regardless of what form it may come in, said it best of the evening and IFOA in general: “The writers will write and the readers will read.”
Crowds, Comments and Community: Understanding Writing in the Digital Age
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Thursday, October 30; 7:30 p.m.
Left to right: Sina Queyras, Emily Linden, Anna Todd and Mark Medley.
One thing about the social media movement is the ability for authors to connect with their readership in full, other than at book signings, fan mail and literary festivals. Discussing the ups and downs on this was Globe & Mail Books Editor Mark Medley and authors Emily Linden, Sina Queyras and Anna Todd October 30 about comment boards and online etiquette on weeding out sincere fans from the abusive trolls to discovering themselves through their writings.
Queyras and Linden started their own online projects as a way in helping others. Queyras wanted to promote Canadian poetry with early blogging pioneer site Lemon Hound and Linden launched The Unslut Project , based on the need to discuss about cyberbullying of sexual violent crimes slammed over their unwarranted circumstances.
“I started it in the spring of 2013 (after) I heard about the suicide of Nova Scotia girl Rehtaeh Parsons who had allegedly been gang-raped by her classmates and instead of getting support from her community, she was bullied because of it and called a slut,” Linden explained. “And it resonated with me because even though, thankfully I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault, when I was younger than her – I was only eleven years old – I’d (too) been labelled the school slut and that reputation stuck with me for the rest of middle school.
“In sharing my diary entries from when I was the ‘school slut,’ I could contribute to this ongoing conversation in way that was unique because it was the voice of a middle-school girl going through it. I used Tumblr at first, because I never had a blog and put some commentary on them from my diaries. You can imagine some of them were rather funny, some of them were embarrassing and some of them were really upsetting. Since I now moved them to (online writing platform) Wattpad, it’s grown into an online community to share their stories, has been made into a documentary (Slut: A Documentary Film) and my diary is upcoming as a book in the fall of 2015.”
Todd turned her fan-fiction reading on Wattpad into an unexpected author’s career with the epic online memoir After. “I started reading silently (then), I wasn’t a writer, just a reader. And I was in between these two stories and was at a place in my life where I have no idea what I’m doing,” she said. “My husband’s in the (U.S.) military, so he knew exactly what he was doing and I was 24 and I was floating around, going to college and I thought, “Hmm, why not? I’ll just write to entertain myself.’ So I wrote this three-hundred chapter series, over a million words in about a year and three or four months. And I didn’t know how much I was writing until we went to edit the series and had to expand it to another book.”
On not reading the comments section, Todd stated further that it helped her become a better writer. “I was learning to write while writing, so I definitely took to what (the readership) said. Like most of it, it’s built like a positive community and (Wattpad) has maintained it very well, making sure that it’s a positive space.”
“They were the most stressful part,” moaned Queyras slightly, based on her experience with moderating the comment board on Lemon Head. “I did a selection book on posts from the blog over the years and there’s one beautiful post that they’ve kept, about three pages of comments, so it’s a really wonderful document. It kind of illuminates the best of what was possible and the best of what that moment in time could achieve. But generally, [most] were unhelpful, like however you like it and ‘who the hell are you to speak about poetry?’ assault. Not a productive part of the conversation.”
Granted, considering this event was presented in part by Wattpad and two of the authors were account users, it crept a bit of shameless plugging of a product. But since it isn’t any different to the publishing houses and media who sponsor and participate at IFOA each year, the new wave of publishing is here whether we like it or not and its online participatory nature it has embraced gives an idea on how our changing habits are reflected.
Women & War
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Friday, October 31; 7:30 p.m.
Left to right: Kate Pullinger, Charlotte Gray, Frances Itani, Anna Hope and Johanna Skibsrud.
Over the closing weekend of IFOA, the lit fest presented a international academia conference regarding the 100th anniversary on the outbreak of World War I as hosted by Humber College’s School of Liberal Arts and Science, “Representing World War I: Perspectives at the Centenary” on its continuing global impact. Part of IFOA’s contribution to the discussion was it programme Remembering the Story, one such event, Women & War on October 31 – and being so close to Remembrance Day – Charlotte Gray chaired the roundtable with Anna Hope, Frances Itani, Kate Pullinger and Johanna Skibsrud on the usually forgotten female viewpoint of the war.
Three of the panellists talked about their literary tomes that touched on the war, however Pullinger took a different approach with British writer Neil Bartlett with a online project this past summer, 14-18 Now, where 50 known British authors were commissioned and the public participated in writing letters to Britain’s Unknown Soldier, based on the memorial statue at London’s Paddington Station.
“Our project asked: ‘If you could say whatever you wanted to say to that soldier now, with everything that we know about war, everything that has happened in the hundred years [since]; what would you say?’. And we had over 27,500 letters that came from children young as four and people old as eighty-three [responded]. And what was moving about (14-18 Now), apart from the phenomenal response; was that Neil and I had this idea that remembrance has become ritualized in some ways in our culture and it certainly in Britain that’s very true. Remembrance Day has become Remembrance Weekend and it’s in danger of becoming Remembrance Week,” Pullinger said, “and it’s become very ritualized, and sometimes (it) feels rather meaningless and sometimes it’s tinged with nostalgic for empire, xenophobia and all those other things, and we wanted to move away from that sort of thing.”
Getting up to the suffragette movement that took a backseat during the war and gained much afterwards by winning the vote for women in Canada by 1918. “(British mother and daughter leaders) Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst became real proselytisers for the war,” commented Hope. “I was really surprised that they weren’t pacifists at all. Whether it was canny strategic move or it was through patriotism they decided they weren’t going to fight (it). By 1913, these women were public enemy number one and they were smashing up buildings. [By the time war came] they decided to cease all violent actions while the war was going on. By 1917, we [finally] got the vote, but only if you were over 30 and didn’t own property.”
The first half-hour seemed to stick with more on the brutal act of war and little about the topic on the female role, despite participation from the nursing sisters and ambulance drivers at the front and field hospitals, including on how much of the pre-psychotherapeutic society that was back then regarding the difficulty of the language of war remains incommunicable.
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, November 1; 7:30 p.m.
Left to right: Claire Holden Rothman, Marc Côté, Catherine Gildner and John McFetridge .
A defining moment of modern Canadian history, the October Crisis in 1970 involving the two kidnappings of government officials by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) still is a polarizing topic between French and English Canada as the November 1 roundtable with Catherine Gildner, John McFetridge and Claire Holden Rothman took stock of what the world was like at that time just prior to the events.
Moderator and book publisher Marc Côté pointed out that the start of the 1970s walked down a dark path as the bitter residue of the Vietnam War took out the taste of the 1960s’ hopeful promise and cynicism set in for the remainder of that decade, as dealt with in the novels centred around that period where FLQ kidnappers took British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Québec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte hostage, either through learned research or personal experience.
“Yeah, I think definitely it was a period of rebellion,” said McFetridge, a native Montréaler who now calls Toronto home. “Things were changing and changing fast. A big part of my understanding of what was going on was the idea of the idea of class that you were born into was changing. It was always the English ran Montréal and the French took orders and that was being turned upside-down.”
As an American expatriate, Gildner recalled hers during her relocation to Toronto after studying at Oxford and getting accidentally caught up in the mêlée as a young University of Toronto graduate student sharing a rooming house in The Annex full of FLQ supporters that she moved into, courtesy of an old friend from Buffalo funk legend Rick James, and being arrested by the police crackdown that came with the War Measures Act under rather unusual circumstances.
“I moved into Huron Street and everyone on my floor was French,” she said. “Being from America and [it] being a Melting Pot, they wouldn’t speak English and I’m like, ‘What is with you guys? Learn English!!’ I didn’t get at the time that I was being the total Ugly American, so I couldn’t stand them. So one night I go to bed and [next] I’m awakened by the police. And they’re interrogating me and these (boarders) were [supposedly] the FLQ! I couldn’t believe it. I thought, how could this possibly be happening in Canada? And also, how could people wake you up in your sleep? And (the police) finally realized that I didn’t know anything about this…and they found all these notes I written to these guys and they thought they were codes on the fridge that I’d write [to them] like “Dear Slugfest; please stop stealing my Canadian cheese. If you think France is so good, steal Camembert’ or “Stop taking my Canada Dry (ginger ale) and back bacon,’ you know. And they were saying “Oh, we know what ‘slices’ mean.” And I [sarcastically] said, ‘Oh, really?’”
In discussing on how language is the defining issue of Canada, Rothman’s book My October took a stab at how those dynamic rules one Québécois family with ties to both the eras of then and now and the two Canadas with the married couple in her story. “(The wife) has this English voice, but in their household is completely French,” she explained. “Then you have (their son) that’s fourteen years old, English and French, in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis, so that’s where the sparks begin flying in the novel.”
The historical narratives from these writers still show how one views history from both vantage points that almost tore the country apart and its lasting effects on Canada-Québec relations that only flare up once in a while on separation that were so strong that by the time the rise of the Parti Québécois by the mid-‘70s and losing power with successive referendums in 1980 and 1992, fizzled out such notions, if only on the surface of things.
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, November 2; 1 p.m.
Left to right: Karen Connelly, Ma Thida, Khim Mya Zin and Nay Phone Latt.
Welcoming peace activist blogger Nay Phone Latt, author Ma Thida and poet Khim Mya Zin on the situation in Burma/Myanmar since its slow transition from a half-century of a repressive military dictatorship to a fragile democracy on the Myanmar @IFOA forum November 2, hosted by author Karen Connelly, a lead authority on the country, checking on how little has changed in regard to censorship despite the dismantling of the government censor board and from the individual that’s locked in the national conscience.
“There is censorship [around] and it is difficult to write and get published in a local magazine or journal,” said Latt, who’d briefly spent time in jail covering the failed 2007 Saffron Revolution. “One of my short stories, there is a word that got censored because of one sentence. This one sentence I wrote was ‘I came in the land of wolves, the holding white glove’ and they didn’t like that,” as a possible reference to the military junta.
“It’s been nearly forty years since I’ve been through the censorship process,” spoke Ma through translation from Zin, “so I’ve come to expect that anything could happen to anyone, so that’s why it’s quite okay and we need to go through [with it]. (The old laws) have already shaped the way of the thinking of writers.”
The online community through social media has remained steady since 2007 and the recent societal changes in 2012 provided some breathing room, but the lack of Burmese translators into English hampers authors trying to reach a wider audience and bribes to government officials, even to operate any kind of blog; makes things difficult in the shaky sense of personal freedoms.
Informative as it was, the forum felt a bit patronizing on Connelly’s part towards the authors with them being away from home for the first time and a touch of culture shock obviously would be surprising for them. But there was no need to descend to that level of dumbing them down in hearing rare voices from a nation looking to rejoin the community of nations. Otherwise, Connelly and the panel was an eye-opener.
IFOA 2014 has a very full and compelling line-up on the varying issues facing writers and readers and trying to be inclusive to all parties. There could have been a little bit more art-wise other than the WWI mural and book showcases seemed kind of average stuff, but the importance in discussing the war didn’t stray too far from its objectives. And it was a nice way to incorporate that for their thirty-fifth year that Artistic Director Geoffrey E. Taylor manages to keep it a successful and accessible fest.
Snaps Around IFOA 2014: Part 2
Selected images from the slideshow projection shown during the October 28 Penguin Canada's 40th Anniversary event.
Evil Dead – The Musical (Starvox Entertainment/Jeffrey Latimer Entertainment)
Randolph Theatre of the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street
Friday, October 31; 10:30 p.m.
AUDIENCE ADVISORY Coarse language, mature subject matter, simulated gory violence
The Toronto-birthed cult smash Evil Dead – The Musical comes back to cover its rabid audiences in fake blood in its limited engagement run at Randolph Theatre for all its heightened camp based on the Sam Raimi film franchise actually provides some chuckles that’s sold out theatres worldwide and this return doesn’t disappoint much.
Five college kids break into a backwoods cabin for a week-long stay that turns into a nightmare when they accidentally unleash an ancient evil force from a scientist’s cassette recordings found there. Next thing you know, Ash (David Sajewich), girlfriend Linda (Julie Baird), his bookworm sister Cheryl (Demi Zaino), horny best buddy Scott (Craig Sclavi) and his ditzy gal pal Shelly (Callie Johnson) are fighting for their lives as they get picked off one by one by the demons.
Their only hope is the scientist’s daughter Annie (also Johnson) with a serious case of wardrobe malfunction, her nerdy boyfriend assistant Ed (Ryan McBride) and hillbilly guide Jake (Andrew Di Rosa) with missing scriptures from the Book of the Dead in their hands to drive the entity back to hell as Ash ends up the one who can save the world from the ensuing apocalypse.
Practically a 21st-century Rocky Horror Picture Show, there’s plenty of groan-worthy puns in abundance as the blood and laughs – even a poke at a particular superhero series – in this campy stage version matching the original films from its purposely low-budget sets by Lindsey Anne Black and Gareth Crew’s colourful lighting design for the nearly two hours of mayhem.
Director/co-creator Christopher Bond seems to allow too much a frenzied and fast pacing, but the casting is down for the duration and George Reinblatt’s book and lyrics keep the fun going on such show tunes “Bit Part Demon,” love ballad parody “Housewares Employee,” What the Fuck Was That,” near show-stealer “Good Old Reliable Jake” to the ridiculously long-titled “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.”
And yes, splatter’s the matter in the first four rows of the Splatter Zone where audience members get doused in fake blood for the battle scenes (even some got on my review notes – and I wasn’t even in the Zone, either) as Evil Dead – The Musical’s entertaining romp, including the groovy highlight “Do the Necronomicon,” a hybrid of Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” with Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" zombie dance is a theatrical moment to dismember (forgive the pun).
Evil Dead – The Musical continues through November 9. Tickets/information: call 1-888-732-1682 or evildeadthemusical.com .
A conceptual illustration of Cirque du Soleil's The 30th Anniversary Concert, A Musical Event to be held exclusively at Saint Jean-Baptiste Church (inset) in Montréal December 13 to 28.
Concert Theatre Preview
To cap off a banner year for Cirque du Soleil’s 30th anniversary, along with their latest show KURIOS – A Cabinet of Curiosities that was in Toronto this past fall, the Québec-based mega-circus presents a gift to their adopted Montréal hometown just for the holiday season The 30th Anniversary Concert, A Musical Event, regarding and celebrating their usually overlooked component of all their productions: the music.
“This idea was born during a creative summit about music,” explained Cirque co-founder, Vice President of Creation and self-appointed anniversary ambassador Gilles Ste-Croix. “It was held at the Saint Jean-Baptiste Church (in Montréal) five years ago [with] an organ and voice performance…and it provoked a strong emotion. Since then, the idea of presenting Cirque du Soleil music (was) in the air. [And] for the thirtieth, we wanted to offer something different (and) this idea naturally came back.”
For the two-week only engagement running from December 13 to 28 at the Saint Jean-Baptiste Church, the 75-minute performance will play one musical excerpt from each of their thirty-five shows over the past three decades, including songs from their celebrity-based productions of LOVE (The Beatles), Viva ELVIS (Elvis Presley) and THE IMMORTAL World Tour/ONE (Michael Jackson); as well as their original music through the years from composers like René Dupéré, Benoît Jutras, Simon Carpentier, Éric Serra, Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard (a.k.a. Bill & Bob) and Danny Elfman, among others.
While the event won’t contain any of their world-famous acrobatics or clownish antics, there will be a 70-voice choir as conducted by the church’s noted artistic choir director Grégory Charles and 28 musicians to accompany the eight soloists involved in the show, which will include Audrey Brisson-Jutras, Dominic Dagenais, Matheiu Lavoie, Anna Liani, Francine Poitras and Roxanne Potvin, who have all at one time or another performed at one of their productions and/or contributed to their songbook.
Clockwise: Anna Liani, Francine Poitras, Audrey Brisson-Jutras, Dominic Dagenais, Mathieu Lavoie and Roxanne Potvin are six of the eight soloists involved with Cirque du Soleil’s Montréal holiday production The 30th Anniversary Concert, A Musical Event.
“It is so nice [to be performing with them again]!” said Poitras, who was the original singer for Saltimbanco. “This is the slice of life [that’s] so important! And then, it is intense, the life of Cirque. (Remembering) of times, me lacking of making music with much of the world, to be in the fire of the beast; but other times, not.”
“It sure takes me back full of memories in my mind,” Liani reminisced, who not only toured with the neo-circus on the first run of 1996’s Quidam but also sang on the 2007-2011 New York seasonal residency show Wintuk soundtrack and wrote “Mio Bella Bella Amore” for their adults-only Las Vegas show Zumanity, now going into its eleventh year at the gambling mecca. “Cirque has marked thirty years of my life and I have had the enormous pleasure to do that.”
“My first contact with the world of entertainment was through music,” said founder/guide Guy Laliberté, himself an accordion player earlier in his busking career that eventually launched Cirque, “which has always had a unique place in my creative adventure. It has always been, for me, a full-fledged artistic adventure in its own right – an experience that spectators could enjoy at shows and beyond. Whether it introduces, emphasizes or accompanies a performance, the music that inspires me inevitably possesses an evocative power all on its own.”
Characters from their universe play a part in the concert by representing the history of the entertainment giant that has performed for 150 million people in 300 cities worldwide in that time, starting off with the child-like Zoë from Quidam. “We chose to illustrate our evolution by comparing (ourselves) with the stage of life,” said Ste-Croix, who will also retire next year after serving the company on-and-off since its beginnings, starting off as a performer. “Our dear Zoë will be the connection during this whole (concert). We will see the child, and then we’ll see (her) grow up gradually, as a metaphor of Cirque becomes the adult,” plus other figures like “ghosts of our past shows.”
By holding it in the venerated Saint Jean-Baptiste Church, which has also hosted other secular events from dance productions to fashion shows, Ste-Croix finds in putting music to the fore for the anniversary event as an opportunity to showcase one aspect of the nucleus that has made them a household name. “Cirque’s music is extremely rich, but is always supporting the acrobatic acts. This time, the music is the star of the evening,” he said. “This will be a totally new way to experience those musical works. The music has a magnitude and an unimaginable dimension to the interior of (the church). It is a retrospective which affects everyone, even if some parts are less well known.”
Tickets are now on sale; performances in Montréal only. A benefit concert for Montréal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital will be held on December 12. Call 1-877-850-6921 or cirquedusoleil.com or 514-345-4931 x 4014/ fondation-sainte-justine.org (Dec. 12 Benefit Concert) .
Flesh and Machine (Red Floor Records/Anti-/Epitaph)
Producer: Daniel Lanois
For his seventh studio album musician/producer Daniel Lanois goes into deeper territory with Flesh and Machine, his first-ever ambient instrumental project based over the years he’s spent under Brian Eno’s tutelage certainly has rubbed off on him and on the eleven tracks of ethereal and dimensional substance through dubbing and sampling to give it a rich, dreamy texture to them.
Given the eclectic nature and flow of the album, Lanois does put in a lot of work on the material and tools he doesn’t waste on such tracks as the kinetic industrial grooves on “The End,” a country-folksy vibe wrapped around “Tamboura Jah” to the fragmented lullabies “Opera” and “Space Love” in all their atmospheric ranges.
Two of its highly accessible tunes, Kate Bushesque “Iceland” and all the doo-wop electronica of “My First Love” are listenable enough through his steel pedal guitar echoes right to the acoustic solo piano haunts around the short track “Rocco.” What it makes up for no lyrical content, Flesh and Machine won’t alienate Lanois' fans in the least.
Daniel Lanois will be at TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West) for A Conversation…session November 5 at 7 p.m. and performs at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Avenue) November 9 at 8 p.m.. Tickets/information: 416-599-8433 or tiff.net (TIFF Lightbox session) and 1-855-985-5000 or ticketmaster.ca (Music Hall concert).
©2014-2017 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.