Category Archives: Theatre

Why Do We Still Like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

We saw the sumptuous production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre this week.  As I left the theatre I thought about why people are still so attracted to Dickens’ story in 2017.

One reason may be because it gives us hope the world can change.  Just as the rich man Scrooge in the Dickens play becomes more empathetic we like to think the current wealthy and elite one percent of the population can become less selfish and become more empathetic and generous.  This goes against the body of research that shows wealth reduces compassion.  But in a time when the disparity between the haves and have-nots of this world is widening and when our American neighbours are legislating a tax bill to make the rich even richer, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol gives us hope people can change and realize they might actually feel better and happier if they share their wealth and use it to improve the lives of others. 

In A Christmas Carol a very wealthy man learns that all of his wealth can’t make him happy.  It is relationships that provide well-being.  Scrooge is positively giddy with happiness when he starts reaching out to others. In a time when research shows that loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions in our society A Christmas Carol reminds us we need to build relationships with others, care for others and help others if we want to have happier lives. 

A Christmas Carol may have been written nearly 175 years ago but  it speaks to concerns that are still very relevant in 2017. 

Other posts………

Getting Out of Our Holy Huddles

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

Stealing the Play’s A Thing

The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

 

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Filed under Books, Theatre

Stealing The Play’s a Thing

I just saw Shakespeare in Love at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and can highly recommend it as a smartly staged and beautifully costumed drama that will engage your attention completely.  One thing the play depicts very well is how prevalent manuscript stealing was in Shakespeare’s day.  There is one scene during an attempted heist where the manuscript for Romeo and Juliet is tossed back and forth across the stage in a cleverly choreographed frenzy before the thief takes off with it.  We find out later one of the actors has replaced the real manuscript with a fake one so the play robber didn’t actually get away with the theft.  

I used to do a Shakespeare unit with my grade four classes.  We’d learn about William Shakespeare’s life, study different versions of The Tempest and act out the play together.  I also read my students the book The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood. In the novel a young boy named Widge is sent to The Globe Theatre to steal the manuscript for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Both The Shakespeare Stealer and Shakespeare in Love  describe the problems 16th century playwrights faced as they tried to protect their work. 

Copyright protection is a huge concern in our modern-day. Music lyrics, poetry, artwork, novel excerpts and ideas are shared freely on the internet often without giving credit to the actual person who did the creative work.  

It is interesting to realize that the theft of creative work isn’t just a problem we face in the modern technological age.  It was happening already more than 500 years ago in Shakespeare’s time. 

Other posts…………..

My Movie Debut

A Literary Walk

Are You Speaking English?

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Filed under Media, Theatre

A Play to Think About

“How did you enjoy the play,” I asked someone I had seen in the audience at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange the night before.  “Enjoy isn’t really a word you can use for that play.” he said.  

Last Saturday my cousin Lynne took me to see the play Gracie for my birthday.  It follows a young girl from childhood to her teen years.  She is living with a fundamentalist Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints group in Bountiful British Columbia.  Her mother becomes the 18th wife of the group’s leader and Gracie tells us all about her life in the community.  The play starts when Gracie is eight and ends when she is fifteen and destined to become the wife of a much older man. 

To give the writer Joan MacLeod credit for being balanced we not only learn about the scary and difficult aspects of the community but also discover that Gracie experiences lots of love there and a sense of belonging and security. 

Although Gracie is a fictional character Joan MacLeod visited the Bountiful community to do research and found some normalcy in the young people she encountered. In an interview she said while it might seem unimaginable to us that a mother would  allow her teenaged daughter to become one of the many wives of a much older man it is important to remember that, from the perspective of the fundamentalist mother, such a choice is the only one that will put her daughter on the path of eternal salvation.

According to a Globe and Mail story a man and woman from the Bountiful community were recently sent to jail for taking their thirteen year old daughter to the United States to marry an American man from their sect who is now in prison for assaulting two of his child brides. 

Even though I am a person of faith the play made me wonder as I often do if the world wouldn’t be better off without organized religion. 

Other posts…….

Kill Me Now

Getting to Know Richard II

The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

 

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Filed under Family, Theatre, Winnipeg

Take it Easy But Take It

He had a sign on his guitar that said This Machine Kills Fascists.  He was a writer and a radio personality.  Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and many other great musicians have acknowledged his influence on their music. woody guthrie public domain

Those are some of the new things I learned about Woody Guthrie when I attended the Winnipeg Fringe Festival show Woody Sed. Before hearing the very talented Thomas Jones take on the personas of almost twenty different characters from the music icon’s life I only knew Woody Guthrie was Arlo Guthrie’s father and that he had written the song This Land is Your Land

From the excellent play Woody Sed I learned Woody had a tumultuous life.  He inherited Huntington’s Disease from his mother and passed it on to two of his children.  He lost a sister and a daughter in separate fires and his father was also injured in a fire. Due in part to his disease and his need to wander and try new things none of his three marriages lasted. He fought in World War II. He was often penniless and homeless and spent the last decade of his life in health care institutions. 

woody guthrie albumDespite his troubled personal life Woody is considered one of the most significant figures  in American folk music.  A quote from Woody Guthrie that Thomas Jones repeated numerous times throughout his fringe show was “Take it easy but take it.”  I am not sure in what context Woody said this, perhaps in a song he wrote, but to me it means ‘Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Live life to the fullest.’ 

Other posts………

The Guess Who on the Wall

Connecting With Burton Cummings

All That Jazz in Kansas City

 

 

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Filed under Music, Theatre

There’s More to the Shakespeare in the Ruins Site Than I Thought

Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park St. NorbertI’ve been to the former Trappist Monastery site in St. Norbert many times to watch productions of Shakespeare in the Ruins. But I didn’t know anything about the history of the place. I also didn’t know that behind the area where the theatre productions are held there is a garden and cultural centre.  One of my Winnipeg Art Gallery colleagues helps to maintain the beautiful green space around that cultural centre and she told me about it recently.

Ready for the play to begin

So when we attended the Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Romeo and Juliet on Friday night I made a point at intermission to go and find the cultural centre and its surrounding garden.  

The current St. Norbert Arts Centre was once a guest house for the Our Lady of the Prairies monastery which was established in 1892 for about forty Trappist monks fleeing from religious persecution in France. At the monastery they ran a bakery, greenhouse, sawmill and blacksmith shop.  They had bees and cows and sold meat, milk, cheese and honey. They also devoted themselves to prayer and contemplation. So it is fitting that the garden around the former guest house is called a meditation garden. It is a beautiful place to walk and think. 

The lilac bushes in the garden smelled wonderful

 I was all alone in the garden during intermission on Friday night. It was lovely and quiet. A century ago it was a quiet  garden too, because the Trappist monks only communicated by sign language.

I realized after reading more about the St. Norbert Arts Centre on their website that there is also a vegetable garden, orchard, ceremonial grounds with two sweat lodges and kitchen building which I didn’t see. I’ll have to look for those on my next visit. 

Other posts………

Dorothy’s Garden

Plants That Talked to Me

Home Grown in Newfoundland

 

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Filed under Religion, Theatre, Winnipeg

The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

The street behind Winnipeg’s Ashdown Warehouse where I live, is named after an orphan from Hungary whose father was shot in Germany and whose mother and brother were gassed at Auschwitz.

john hirsch place signJohn Hirsch Place honors one of the  founders of the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  John Hirsch came to Winnipeg in 1947, at age 17 as a war orphan and was taken in by Alex and Pauline Shack . He remained a close member of their family till the day he died of AIDS in 1989. 

john hirsch statue manitoba theatre centreHirsh who is immortalized in this statue outside the Manitoba Theatre Centre was in the drama club at St. John’s High School and directed plays at the University of Manitoba.  John’s adoptive family, the Shacks were skeptical when he said he wanted to have a career in theatre, but he got a grant from the Junior League of Winnipeg and created a puppet show to take to schools and community clubs.  He and a friend convinced the City of Winnipeg to sponsor them to put on three musical comedies at the band stand at Assiniboine Park one summer, and then John landed himself a gig as the first paid artistic director of Winnipeg’s amateur Little Theatre. This led to a job with CBC television when it was launched in 1954. 

tom hendry and john hirsch statueAfter studying in London John came back to Winnipeg in 1957 and founded the Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) with Tom Hendry. Hendry is sitting on the chair in front of Hirsch in an art piece called Imagine created by Ruth Abernathy. manitoba theatre centreIt can be found just outside the present day MTC building. MTC is where well-known Canadian actors like Martha Henry, Len Cariou and Gordon Pinsent had their start.

john hirsch statue ruth abernathyGlobe and Mail writer Keith Garebian quotes Hirsch as saying he was part of four mafias, Jewish, Hungarian, homosexual and Winnipeg.  Garebian says  Hirsch often behaved like a ‘godfather’. He had hot-tempered outbursts, bullied his actors and skillfully manipulated events for his political and financial advantage. Despite this some actors admired him. In an interview for the Theatre Museum of Canada, actress Martha Henry calls Hirsch a genius. 

john hirsch plaque at the manitoba theatre centre winnipegJohn Hirsch eventually went on to jobs at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, The Lincoln Center Theatre in New York and directed plays at the Shaw Festival, and at theatres in many Canadian and American cities.  He was accorded numerous honorary doctorates and was an officer of the Order of Canada. 

john hirsch banner manitoba theatre centreThe main stage of the Manitoba Theatre Centre is named after John Hirsch. 

Other posts……..

Trip Down Memory Lane

Kill Me Now

Chimerica

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Filed under Theatre, Winnipeg

Kill Me Now

On Saturday I saw a play about a father who must consider what will happen to his disabled son when he can no longer care for him.   I was uncomfortable, troubled and sad watching Kill Me Now at Winnipeg’s Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre.  I was uncomfortable with the scene where the father helps his son masturbate. I was troubled by the father’s lack of concern about his teenager smoking marijuana, the aunt who regularly mixed drinking and driving and the separation of sex from love and/or commitment in a number of the relationships.  I was saddened by the multiple tragedies that had been visited upon the family in the play and moved to tears at the end when a character chooses to end their own life.  

Kill Me Now has been criticized for making the life of a family dealing with a disabled child seem way too troubling and terrible.  Dea Birkett, the father of a disabled daughter writes a scathing review of the play in The Guardian.  He list many stereotypes people have about families living with a disabled child and says Kill Me Now reinforces most of them. In response playwright Brad Fraser insists you can’t write a drama without conflict. He had to include lots of problems in order to have an engaging play.  I’m thinking the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between the realities Birkett and Fraser posit. 

Kill Me Now had me wondering how society could provide better support to families trying to meet the needs of their children who live with physical and mental challenges. It made me think about what kind of legislation and assistance might ease the pain of people who are considering difficult end of life decisions.  The play forced me to reflect on what I would do if faced with the same dilemmas and tragedies as its’ characters.  

Kill Me Now made me uncomfortable, troubled and sad but I’m really glad I saw it. 

Other posts……..

The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

Getting to Know Richard II

Chimerica

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Filed under Theatre