Category Archives: Theatre

STRIKE- THE MURAL

After seeing STRIKE at Rainbow Stage last week I was reminded of a mural that used to be on the south wall of what is now The Palomino Club on Main Street.  Painted by Tom Andrich in 2006 it told the same story as the musical, its illustrations giving life to one of the most memorable events in Winnipeg history, the strike of 1919.  In May of that year, some 30,000 workers walked off the job because of poor working conditions and a lack of employment opportunities for World War I veterans. Union organizers had been passionately advocating for an eight-hour workday, collective bargaining and the need for employers to pay a living wage. Mural artist Tom Andrich chose to highlight nine of the strike leaders. The woman right in front is Helen Armstrong. Nicknamed Wild Woman of the West she was a union organizer who championed the cause of working women. Born in Toronto and married to a carpenter named George she moved to Winnipeg with him in 1905 where Helen became the leader of the Women’s Labor League. Her leadership helped bring a minimum wage to Manitoba. I was glad to see that Helen was given a major role in the musical Strike and was played in a strong and brilliant fashion by Andrea Del Campo a veteran of the Winnipeg acting scene.  During the Winnipeg Strike Helen organized kitchens to feed female strikers and harassed strikebreakers who were crossing the picket line. She encouraged women to boycott stores where the workers were on strike and challenged them to join the men who were on strike. She was arrested and jailed for inciting people to strike, disorderly conduct and encouraging the abuse of strikebreakers. 

Winnipeg business owners organized a Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand to oppose the strikers. They blamed foreign immigrants for the strike and some were deported. The majority of the strikers, however, were British. In the Rainbow Stage production, A.J. Andrews who was the mayor of Winnipeg during the strike and one of the founders of the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand is played in a properly villainous fashion by actor Kevin McIntyre.toppled street car winnipeg strikeOn June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the arrest of labor leaders. They were also upset at the government edict that the labor movement newspaper could no longer be published. 6,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. When a streetcar, operated by strikebreakers came by the protesters overturned it and set it on fire.  In the Rainbow Stage production, a replica of the streetcar makes an impressive appearance on stage. 

The federal government had sent out the Royal North West Mounted Police to help put an end to the strike. Carrying clubs and firearms the North West Police charged into the crowd after the streetcar was overturned. They began to fire their weapons. 

June 21, 1919, became known as Bloody Saturday because the North West Mounties killed two strikers, wounded thirty-four and made nearly a hundred arrests. Tom Andrich’s mural on Main Street had a portrait of one of the men who died. His name was Mike Sokolowski. Although almost nothing is known of Mike Sokolowiski beyond the few often contradictory details recounted by Winnipeg newspapers reporting on his death, he is the main star in the Rainbow Stage production of Strike and is played by Cory Wojcik.  After Bloody Saturday the strike organizers fearing more violence called the strike to a halt and the strikers went back to work on June 26th. I took these photos of Tom Andrich’s strike mural on September 15, 2012.  I captured the artwork just in time because later that same month a wicked rain and wind storm ripped the vinyl mural from the wall and damaged it beyond repair.  Thankfully in this hundredth anniversary year of the strike, there are plenty of other ways to learn about its events.  Many media stories have been written about the strike, books for young people published and of course, there is still time to see the lavish retelling of the story at Rainbow Stage. 

Note: Tom Andrich the artist of the Winnipeg Strike mural died last year.  You can read more about him on The Murals of Winnipeg site. 

Other posts……….

The Winnipeg Strike- Fact and Fiction

Rubbing Mr. Eaton’s Foot

Celebrating Our Marriage History in a Historical Building

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A Lesson From It’s A Wonderful Life

Yesterday we saw  It’s A Wonderful Life at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  The play based on the movie of the same name, tells the story of George Bailey, the owner of a small town money lending institution who believes his life has been a failure. As a young man he had big plans to get a university degree, be a world-class engineer or architect and travel the globe, but because he put his responsibilities to others first , this never happened. 

george thinks about suicide

George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie version of It’s a Wonderful Life considers suicide on Christmas Eve.

Desperate business circumstances cause him to consider suicide during the Christmas season. 

henry travers as clarence

A guardian angel named Clarence is played by Henry Travers in the movie.

His guardian angel Clarence turns up and shows George what the world would be like if George had never been born. George realizes he has positively impacted his family and community in many more ways than he realized. 

last scene its a wondeful life

George Bailey with his friends and his wife Mary played by Donna Reed in the movie.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a story about how an ordinary person who faithfully fulfills obligations to friends, family and community can make a difference in the world. George isn’t famous or wealthy but at the end of the movie when all George’s neighbors and relatives  rally round to offer help and support, George’s younger brother Harry, proposes a toast to George calling him, “the richest man in town.” 

George isn’t financially wealthy but he is people wealthy. In a world filled with lonely people the richness that is added to our lives by human relationships should never be taken for granted. 

During one scene in It’s  Wonderful Life, a woman named Violet, who has experienced George’s kindness and help says to him, “I’m so glad I know you.” Hopefully there are many people who can say that about us. 

Other posts…………

Three Lessons From the Movie Arrival

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Lessons From Leonard

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Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

At a bar called The Batch discussing Come From Away after the show.

After we saw the musical Come From Away at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto my husband and I went to a nearby pub to talk about it.  We both loved the instrumentalists whose Celtic music accompanied the show. We thought the story telling was superb.  Sometimes in a musical all the singing detracts from the story.  In Come From Away it certainly does not.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the story of Come From Away it is based on the true experiences of the residents of Gander Newfoundland and what happened when some 7000 airplane passengers were stranded in their town during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  

The people of that small community literally opened their homes and hearts and public spaces to all these strangers from around the world feeding them, entertaining them, caring for them and building relationships with them. The musical shows us what a diverse group of people emerged from the 38 planes stranded in Gander.  There were folks from many different countries, who spoke many different languages, followed many different religions and were of different races.  There were people from different social classes and different income levels and different sexual orientations.  Somehow they all managed to become friends and care for one another and support each other in a time of crisis. 

We are at a point in history when the ruling political party in the United States wants to build a wall and shut their doors to people who are in a desperate situation, when racial discrimination and anti-Semitism seem to be rearing their ugly heads once again, when the American president issues edicts to ban Muslims from his country and stop transexual people from serving in the military.  At a time like that it is refreshing and inspiring to see a musical where differences between people are celebrated and seen as strengths, where doors are opened and not closed to those in need.

Waiting for the play to start at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto

There’s a scene near the end of a play when a woman from New York and a woman from Gander who have become friends are talking on the phone.  They like to share jokes.  The woman from Gander says…… “Want to hear a Newfie joke?”  The woman from New York familiar with the routine says,  “Knock, knock” and the woman from Newfoundland says “Come on in. The door’s open.”    

That’s the essence of the play.  All these strangers in need knocked on the door in Gander and the local people there said, “Come on in.”  Wouldn’t it be great if our world worked like that?

The musical Come From Away sells out wherever it is staged in Toronto, New York, Winnipeg and in 2019 its going to be in Dublin, London and Sydney. I bought our tickets four months ago and there were only a few seats still available  that long before the performance.

My husband and I decided a big reason why Come From Away has become so popular is because even though the events in the drama happened nearly two decades ago they provide a message of hope for our time and inspire kindness.  It portrays our world the way so many of us wish it could be. 

Other posts………

A Musical Mural in Toronto

Marc Chagall and Fiddler on the Roof

Jersey Boys

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Filed under Music, Theatre, Toronto

A Dedicated Fringe Volunteer

Dave working hard at the back alley venue at the Manitoba Theatre Centre to tally up ticket sales at this year’s Fringe

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival ended yesterday. If the number of people packing our Exchange District neighborhood has been any indication the 30th annual festival has been a great success despite downtown construction and a couple of nights of pouring rain. The Fringe features some 180 different shows each playing multiple times over a twelve day period. The reason our city can stage this kind of theatre extravaganza is because of a crew of some 800 volunteers who faithfully turn up to sell tickets, usher, do clean up, help performers and entertain kids.  

Dave working at the Fringe in 2015

One of those volunteers is my husband.  Dave is a theatre aficionado who has been a fringe volunteer since the summer of 2012 when we first moved to Winnipeg. This year he was in charge of ticket sales and operations at three different fringe venues.  I love hearing his stories about the interesting people he works with and his encounters with all kinds of unique patrons.

Dave volunteered at the Fringe in 2013 despite having just had hip surgery. He managed to see twenty plays as well. 

Dave’s had a busy time of it the last ten days or so trying to keep up with this commitments to playing baseball, his three different regular golf groups, his part-time job as a professional driver and his fringe volunteering…. never mind trying to fit in seeing some plays himself. 

Dave volunteering at the Cinematheque Venue at the Fringe Festival in 2012

I just love the excitement and fun and positive aura the Fringe Festival brings to my downtown neighborhood.But I realize that only happens because of hundreds of people like Dave invest their time and energy giving back to their community. 

Other posts…….

Oh To Be A Kid At the Fringe Festival

Stories From the Fringe

Fringing Time Four

 

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Fringing Times Four

I’ve made it to four fringe plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.  I decided to look for one or two valuable insights or ideas from each play. 

My husband and I when we had just started dating 

 How My Light Is Spent

Relationships are what keeps us truly alive and visible in this world. Work hard to maintain your current relationships and don’t be afraid to foster new ones. 

With my two brothers at an Easter family gathering in 2010

The Merkle Sisters

Your siblings are a great gift to appreciate. 

Zip Lining in Costa Rica- I was pretty terrified.

Oldish

The quality of the last third of your life is in many ways dependent on your attitude and your willingness to take risks, try new things and deal positively with health problems that come your way. 

Marching in the Pride Parade in Steinbach. Photo credit- Grant Burr

Hot Thespian Action

It is a good idea to clean your purse regularly. Don’t be duped into buying things and services you really don’t need. Think carefully about what social justice issues you will support.  You can’t support them all. 

Other posts…………

Oh To Be A Kid At the Fringe Festival

A Roof With A View

Lessons from Leonard

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I Beg to Differ

Note:  I wrote this review right after we saw the play Morning After Grace on the weekend and had scheduled it to be published this morning but serendipitously Dave called me on his way to the Jets game last night with some additional exciting news.  “Guess who I just met in the elevator of our building?” he asked me. Turns out it was the star of Morning After Grace Fiona Reid .  Dave was able to chat with her and tell her how much we had enjoyed the play!

Free Press reviewer Randall King gave the current Royal Manitoba Theatre production Morning After Grace a less than enthusiastic review.  I enjoyed the play throughly.  And so did the audience.  Many in the Saturday afternoon matinée crowd which I was a part of, gave it a standing ovation. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

King described the set design as ‘chilly’.  I was intrigued by it.  I liked the driftwood pieces on the walls, the lovely backyard you could see through the floor to ceiling windows, the interesting light fixtures and the functional but classic kitchen that was the site of several key scenes. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

King found the comedy ‘calculated.’  I am not sure what he meant by that.  Good comedy has to be ‘calculated’ the timing impeccable to pull it off.  And I thought the cast did just that.  

King seems to think the pot smoking scene wasn’t necessary and served only to showcase actress Fiona Reid’s prowess at using a bong.  Playwright Carey Crim is based in Michigan but here in Canada where marijuana use is about to become legal in just a couple of months the possibilities that raises are being discussed at social gatherings I attend by people of all ages.  They’ve even had a panel discussion about it at my father’s church.  I think it is a surprisingly relevant scene to have included in a play on a Winnipeg stage. 

Photo by Dylan Hewlett

Morning After Grace was perhaps primarily a situation comedy as King suggests but it also gave us things to think about. Is it best to always tell the whole truth or are their times when it is just better to leave things be?  How much do we really know about the people in our lives?   What is the state of our own relationships?  If a family member died suddenly would we have regrets about the way we have treated them? What is a healthy way to grieve? 

Looking at Randall King’s photo in the Free Press he seems to be a baby boomer like me and the many audience members who loved the play.  But King is writing his reviews for a wider aged audience and perhaps as he considered them he chose to give the play only a decided measure of approval. 

I beg to differ with his evaluation. I loved the play!

Other posts……….

The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

Stealing the Play’s A Thing

Why Do We Still Like Dickens A Christmas Carol? 

 

 

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Dysfunctional But Endearing

I’d heard very different reports about the play The Humans at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre before I went to see it last Saturday. One person told me it was depressing and I certainly wouldn’t leave the theater feeling upbeat. Another person wondered whether it had really been worth the price of admission. They said the actors were hard to hear. Another said it had to be a good play because it won four Tony awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 

It’s a sad play, no doubt about that.   As a family gathers for Thanksgiving in the New York apartment of their youngest daughter Brigid and her new boyfriend Richard, we find out Brigid works as a bartender because her hopes of becoming a music composer have been dashed. Her boyfriend struggles with depression.  Brigid’s Dad Erik has just lost his job as a janitor. Deidre, Brigid’s mother has a dead end job and is trying to lose weight for health reasons. Brigid’s older sister Amie, a lawyer, recently broke up with her long time lover and suffers from colitis.   Finally there is Grandma who is in a wheel chair and in the throes of full blown dementia.  Not a very upbeat cast ensemble to be sure but……………as the play progresses you realize despite their many problems these family members care about one another, they love each other, they have traditions they hold dear and they help each other out.  

As I’d been told, sometimes it was hard to hear all the actors’ words.  Of course we don’t understand everything Grandma says because she has dementia and rants and raves often in an unintelligble way. Deidre frequently spouts critical asides, saying things under her breath and we don’t need to know exactly what she is saying just that she has an alternate opinion. I admit sometimes the talking was fast and furious and later reading some reviews I realized there were details I had missed.  But…………. I still think the play was thought provoking and well worth the price of admission. 

And…….. I think I know why the play won so many awards.  It encapsulates in one family dinner all the realities that many Americans are struggling with.  All the main characters are challenged at work, with their health, with their financial situations and as the play progresses we learn the 9/11 tragedy still haunts the family pscyhe. 

I enjoyed The Humans more than I thought I would given what I was told about it ahead of time.  As we walked home I said the family in the play had  been dysfunctional but still endearing.  My husband disagreed.  “Think a bit MaryLou, they weren’t really dysfunctional.”  And my husband was right. In many ways this family was functioning as a family should, supporting, caring and interacting despite having all kinds of challenges and problems and differences, just like most families do.

Other posts……….

Winnipeg’s Palace Theater

Stealing The Play’s A Thing

A Play to Think About

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