I’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.
Plants That Talked to Me
Home Grown in Newfoundland
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 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.
Hirsh 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.
After 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. It 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.
Globe 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 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.
The main stage of the Manitoba Theatre Centre is named after John Hirsch.
Trip Down Memory Lane
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.
The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission
Getting to Know Richard II
It was a delight! We saw the musical Bittergirl at the Manitoba Theatre Centre on Saturday. The show was absolutely entertaining from start to finish. Great singing, familiar music, clever staging, a talented band, fast pacing and plenty of humour.
Bittergirl tells the story of three women who have been dumped by the men in their lives. They’ve all had long-term relationships they thought were stable. Then much to their shock and dismay one day their partners just walk out on them. How will they survive? Bittergirl follows the three women as they try to repair their broken hearts.
The show was great but I found out later it isn’t really an accurate reflection of hetrosexual relationship break ups because it is women and not men who initiate the end of relationships about 70 percent of the time. I also found out it is men and not women who suffer the most after a break up.
So maybe they need to make a musical called Bitterboy. I wonder if it would be as popular?
Childbirth and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Inspiration From Billy Elliot
Filed under People, Theatre
Our son is part of a group of performers who will be presenting a musical version of Richard II at Winnipeg’s Westend Cultural Centre this week called Am I Not King? I’ve been trying to learn something about the monarch at the heart of Shakespeare’s play. Here is the basic plot.
- Richard II is a young monarch very trendy and regal but he spends money rashly on Italian fashions and his friends, chooses poor people to advise him and raises taxes to fund his sometimes ill conceived military escapades.
- In need of cash he seizes the land of his dead uncle who was a really popular guy and this makes everyone mad.
- Henry of Bolingbroke is Richard’s cousin and should have inherited the land Richard confiscated. People really like Henry who Richard has sent into exile.
- While Richard is over in Ireland fighting a war cousin Henry gets an army together and invades England. Common folk and nobles alike rally around Henry and by the time Richard gets back from Ireland his cousin has taken over the country.
- Richard is imprisoned in a remote castle where an assassin who may or may not have been hired by King Henry kills Richard.
Here are five interesting things about the play.
- Richard II is the only play Shakespeare wrote completely in verse.
- In the play Richard’s wife Isabela is an adult but in reality she was a child bride who was married to Richard at age 6 in an attempt to create peace between England and France during the Hundred Years War. Also historians believe Richard starved to death in exile. He wasn’t murdered as Shakespeare depicts.
- The play was considered politically dangerous when it was written in the 1590s because at the time a group of rebellious nobles led by the Earl of Essex were attempting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth just as Henry overthrew his cousin Richard in the play.
- A famous quote from the play is…… I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
- I’ve found a novel for young readers called The Gentle Falcon which tells the story of Richard’s wife Isabella and downloaded it on my Kindle to read before I see the play
By the way you can get tickets to the play/musical here.
The Real Richard III
Henry V- Just About Perfect
She stood gravely at centre stage looking simply stunning in her creamy coronation gown surrounded by church officials attired in crimson robes and golden crowns.
I saw The Audience at the Manitoba Theatre Centre on Saturday night and the costumes stole the show as far as I’m concerned. The Audience chronicles decades worth of weekly meetings between the Queen and the British primeministers. The play is not a fast paced or intense drama but what kept me riveted during the show were the marvelous outfits worn by Fiona Reid who played the role of Queen Elizabeth.
Whether dressed in her Scottish tartan skirt and soft sweater, a gorgeous evening gown, a smart suit or a finely tailored dress the Queen always looked just about perfect- her hair coiffed, her jewelery tasteful, her shoes fashionable but serviceable and her handbags handsome. And what is even more amazing is how a trio of attendants managed to help the queen change her hairstyle, outfits and makeup in just moments either right on stage, discreetly tucked behind the queen’s desk or hidden momentarily behind a small dressing room partition.
Almost magically Fiona Reid would reappear dressed for a new scene that often took place during a period in history decades before or after the previous scene. The hasty transformations in style were really quite fascinating. I admit I don’t usually read the program notes about the costume designer but this time I certainly did. Christina Poddubuik was responsible for the costumes and sets for The Audience. I looked her up online and she is a partner in a design firm called Punch and Judy. It was neat checking out her unique work as an illustrator, stylist and artist. Although the costume designer doesn’t usually come on stage to take a bow at the end of a play I think Christina should have. I would have given her a standing ovation. As far as I’m concerned she was the star of the show.
Other posts about theatre…….
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter
John Hirsch Place
I’ve seen another three plays at the Fringe all of them excellent! One made me cry. One made me laugh and one left me puzzled.
Ingrid Garner has adapted an autobiography written by her grandmother, an American teenager trapped in Berlin during World War II. It is a powerful and emotional story staged with appropriate slides in the background, complimentary sound effects and an emotional performance by Ingrid. Just a warning. Ingrid speaks very quickly so you have to be focused and attentive to catch everything, but the story is riveting enough to make that pretty easy. I attended with a friend whose aunt survived the horrors of war-torn Berlin during her teenage years and my friend found the play very poignant. I can whole heartedly recommend it.Penny Ashton is very funny and very talented as she plays a whole host of characters in her unique Jane Austen story Promise and Promiscuity. It contains many lines from Jane’s well- known works.
Penny Ashton is a funny woman
Penny sings original songs and she called up a man from the audience to dance in a lovely humorous scene. I am a Jane Austen fan. I have read most of her books, some more than once, and have watched movie versions of many of her stories. But I think you would enjoy this play even if you don’t know anything about Jane Austen.
Penny greets her fans after the show
The actors in renowned playwright Harold Pinter’s Old Times are superb!! The three are all consummate professionals and deliver a script that will leave you engaged but puzzled. What was REALLY going on? I did a little research when I got home but to my surprise there is no definitive answer even from literary critics and reviewers who all have their own idea about what exactly is transpiring in this play. Go and see it for yourself and let me know what you think.
Fringing Times Three
Jane Austen Overload
The Real Richard III