Leap Day 2012

February 29 everybody, it’s February 29!!!

This is not an amazing blog post really, this is just a post to say HOLY CRAP IT’S FEBRUARY 29, WHICH IS A LEAP DAY, WHICH ONLY HAPPENS EVERY FOUR YEARS!

This year has 366 days in it y’all, and I simply cannot let Leap Day pass me by without posting something for the future me to look back on. Now that Facebook has that snazzy (and embarrassing) timeline thing, I was able to check back to see what, if anything, I had posted to the world the LAST time it was February 29 (2008). Ahem. According to Facebook, I said, “Lauren Kresowaty is feeling flexible.” Huh. Not exactly profound stuff.

And neither is this. But it’s Leap Day. LEAP DAY! Which means that today is the one day in every four years that people who are born on February 29 actually get to celebrate their birthday on the correct date. Some people might complain about this but I think it is pretty freakin’ magical. Like Brigadoon, every four years the birthdays of Leap Day babies rise out of the mist, and then disappear from the face of the calendar, not to be seen again for another four years. In years that are NOT Leap Years, the true birthdays of these Leapies would actually be the stroke of midnight between February 28 and March 1, at the precise moment when February is turning into March and today is turning into tomorrow. At this time, and only this time, Leap Year babies would be able to catch just the smallest moment of their real birthday, caught in the witching hour between evening and morning, between one month and the next.

I am in fact so taken with this idea that I actually bothered to figure out that if I were to conceive a child around May 29, 2015, there is a VERY good chance that my baby would be born on Leap Day in 2016 and an even GREATER chance that they’d be a Pisces, which would be great, because apparently Pisces are psychic. Which is cool, if you’re into astrology and stuff. Which you would be, if you were a magical psychic Leap Day baby.

This is not to say that I would actually do this, as timing is everything, you gotta be ready, “kids are a big responsibility and you shouldn’t have them just because you think Leap Day babies are cool”, blah blah blah. But the thing is, today is the NIFTIEST day of the four years, and though I try not to do things just because they’re cool, it’s hard to avoid giving into that which is nifty. And what day could be niftier than February 29?

Think about it. And enjoy the rest of your Leap Day. It needs to last you four years.

Aesop’s Fables at Carousel Theatre

Mishelle Cutler and Kayvon Kelly, photo by Tim Matheson

By now, anyone who has passed through a Canadian elementary school is familiar with Aesop and his fables. We know by now that slow and steady wins the race (Tortoise and the Hare) that warmth is stronger than force (The Sun and the North Wind) and that sometimes even those who seem weaker than you can prove helpful in a sticky situation (The Lion and the Mouse). What we don’t know, or may have forgotten, is the magic and opportunity for learning that comes with seeing children engage with these tried and true morals for the first time.

It was this spark of brand new engagement that I was able to experience on Saturday, when I attended Carousel Theatre for Young People’s opening of their production of Aesop’s Fables, scripted by Mike Kenny. Joining me at the Waterfront Theatre once again was a friend and former mentor of mine, and her five-year-old daughter, my Little Guest (LG).

Those of you who have read my post inspired by watching Carousel Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz may remember that my LG got a little scared being close to the stage and did need to spend a short time in the lobby while the Witch was onstage. Jessie van Rijn, General Manager of Carousel Theatre, certainly did remember as she confirmed with us at the box office that our tickets this time were farther back and also right on the aisle, for the possibility of a quick exit. I’m grateful to Jessie for providing us with these seats but also delighted to report that LG remained happily in the house through the entire performance and has given her approval for seeing more theatre in the future.

Carousel’s production of Aesop’s Fables is certainly for kids. The humour, music, and “audience participation” moments are directed towards them. Judging by the reactions of the children in the audience, these moments were received with great enthusiasm by the young (and young at heart) who were happy to puff up their cheeks, fluff up their feathers, make silly sounds, and helpfully point out where sneaky animals like wolves and mice may be hiding. I should also point out that the house was almost consistently filled with laughter, which is always a good sign that kids are enjoying themselves.

Melissa Oei, photo by Tim Matheson

Though many of the moments in the production are not geared towards the adult members of the audience, there is much for us to appreciate: great music (much of it played live by members of the cast), strong (and often funny) physical performances by cast members, and (my personal favourite), an absolutely enchanting set designed by Drew Facey. Facey’s set is simple, but somehow elaborate at the same time, and when coupled with Darren Boquist’s elegant but not intrusive lighting, Aesop’s Fables is full of visual whimsy.

After the show, the actors returned to the stage to take questions from the children in the audience. Every question was answered, whether it be a question about how an effect works, where the sound comes from, who made what, how long the actors rehearsed, or even a request to explain the fables themselves. I think this chance to have questions answered is a vital part of the show, removing it from a magical, untouchable “onstage” world and introducing children to the ways in which stories are told, problems are solved, and things are made.

So far, when writing about my experiences with Carousel Theatre, it has been helpful to refer to my large unwieldy copy of the Anthology of Children’s Literature (Ed. Edna Johnson, Evelyn R. Sickels, Frances Clarke Sayers, 1959) which I picked up at the SFU United Way book sale a couple of years ago. About fables, the Anthology has this to say:

…while children shun moralizing they are drawn to morality. The drama of the fable, the animal characters, and the quick flash of its single illustration of a truth–these hold the attention of children. Fables are like small, bright pebbles picked up from the shore, stored in the pocket as reminders of past experience, and held in the mind when needed.

I remember my own introduction to fables very clearly. We had a small picture book of them at home, and although I can’t remember every fable that was in the book, I remember the colours in the illustrations, the image of a thirsty crow drinking the water he earned through his cleverness, and the voice of my dad explaining the stories to us and what the morals meant. Fables are as familiar to us as fairy tales, and oftentimes, a lot more useful. The experience of being introduced to them for the first time can be a very rich memory later on.

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Mike Stack, Mishelle Cuttler, Melissa Oei, and Kayvon Kelly, photo by Tim Matheson

Aesop’s Fables runs at the Waterfront Theatre until February 26. For the times of public performances, please see Carousel’s Public Calendar on their website. Tickets can be purchased online on Carousel’s Box Office page or by calling 604-685-6217.

Carousel’s season this year is based on literary classics, so if you’re interested, I believe the next production is A Year With Frog and Toad.

My ticket, as well as the tickets of my guests, were provided for me by Carousel Theatre. I was not asked to write a review for this performance, and I remain solely responsible for my content, regarding this production or any other.

In Defense of Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day! I made it myself!

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! Whether you have a sweetie to share this particular Valentine’s Day with or not, the point of this non-holiday holiday is to celebrate love (at least, I think it is, though commercials seem to be hinting that it’s about me receiving a jewellery thing called an “Eternity Band” or some such).

While I’m not all that supportive of the idea of FORCING people to be loving on a particular day of the year, or making people feel like dummies if they happen not to have a paramour at the moment, I am very supportive of love. It makes my world go round.

And you know what? I’m sick and tired of Valentine’s Day having a bad rap. Sure, it’s been hijacked by jewellery stores and florists and candy companies and the people who make those shiny heart-shaped balloons. But hey, some people like shiny heart-shaped balloons, and those that don’t do not have to buy them.

When I was in elementary school, everyone had a little paper Valentine box on their desk and it was customary to give a Valentine to everyone in the class (even icky sticky boys…). I thought this was fun, and I also always loved making Valentine cards out of paper (folding paper in half makes PERFECT hearts and paper doilies make great fake lace). When I was in grade 4, our teacher sent pieces of paper around the class, one for each student, that said, for example, “I like Lauren, because…” and everyone else wrote something nice that they liked about the person whose name was at the top of the piece of paper. On Valentine’s Day, in addition to the homemade cards we got from everyone, we also got this sheet of paper. It was lovely, at the tender and impressionable age of nine, to read that I was liked because I was intelligent, or because I could make someone laugh, or because I was cute. I wish we still did that now.

And why don’t we? Sure, a lot of people focus on the romance of Valentine’s Day, but for most of my life I haven’t actually had a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day to be romantic with. What I have always had are friends. Last year I went to my friend’s house to celebrate Valentine’s Day and we ate heart-shaped sugar cookies (with pink icing of course!) and gave our (usually very intellectual) brains a rest by watching “Wedding SOS” and “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta”. And that was perfect.

Another year one of my bosom besties sent me a picture of a whale that said, “Have a WHALE of a Valentine’s Day!”. What’s wrong with that as a celebration of love? NOTHING, that’s what. I love my friends and family. And I’ve been lucky enough to have their love and support as well.

So you don’t have a special someone or a significant other this Valentine’s Day? I know it can suck sometimes, especially since we all do want a little romance once in a while, and since advertisements seem to be force-feeding us “romance” by the bucketful, but there’s no reason to hate an entire day just for that. You may not have a “someone special” this year, but I bet you have special people in your life. You may not have a “significant other” but I bet there are people whose friendship has made a very significant difference over the years. If you don’t have a paramour this year (or even if you do) why not tell THOSE people they’re special and significant on Valentine’s Day?

Stop hating Valentine’s Day. It’s not designed to make you buy things, or feel bad. It’s definitely not about hate. It’s about love, the people you love, and the people who love you, whether it be platonic, familial, or romantic.

I have a lot of special and significant people in my life, and while my TC is certainly one of those (and we will be celebrating today–a rack of ribs has been marinating since last night, woot!), I am also lucky to have my parents, my sisters, my bosom pals, besties, and childhood friends, great coworkers and a good community to fall back on.

So Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! I like you because you are smart, you are kind, you are cute, and you lift my spirits. I hope February 14 is a a smiley and warm kind of day for you, whether you feel like celebrating anything or not.

xoxo,

NiftyNotCool

PuSh 2012: Taylor Mac at Club PuSh

Waiting for Taylor Mac to take the stage at Club PuSh

If you were a very lucky person last Friday or Saturday, you may have had the benefit of spending 90 minutes breathing the same air as performance artist Taylor Mac, as he rocked my world with his latest show, Comparison Is Violence or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook as part of Club PuSh at Performance Works on Granville Island. Often identifiable as a performer by the glitter on his face and the ukulele he plays, Mac has been described by the press many times throughout his career as a “Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim” performer. Annoyed both by the comparisons, and by the obvious lack of originality within the press, Mac decided to battle Comparison (as an action) with a show devoted entirely to the singing of Tiny Tim and Ziggy Stardust songs.

[Side note: I had always imagined Tiny Tim to be some adorable, soft little man. I had no idea he was so creepy-looking. Yikes.]

I fell in love with Taylor Mac three years ago when I watched his Palace of the End on YouTube. The performance was interesting, and provocative. Mac used the tools he uses best, glitter and a ukulele, to tell a complex story and I was very drawn to and inspired by that. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Club PuSh in 2009, the last time he was performing in the city. That is why the minute I saw that Taylor Mac would be returning to Club PuSh for the 2012 PuSh Festival, I rushed to buy tickets to Comparison Is Violence.

I suppose many would describe Mac as a drag artist–he’s certainly sparkly enough, and the Ariel-like mane of his red wig certainly isn’t all that manly. Despite his clear stilettos and red lipstick, however, Mac didn’t actually try to appear to be a woman (no stuffing a bra or referring to himself as a “she”–come to think of it, I’m not sure Mac referred to himself as belonging to any gender). To me, the performer Taylor Mac is simply a creature–a sparkly, gorgeous, who-knows-WHAT’S-going-on-with-that-human creature. He has a powerful singing voice, a slight Southern drawl, and a sense of humour that is by turns incredibly diva-esque in its selfishness or incredibly generous in its intent. Mac owns his stage, and by default, his audience.

For a show that, on the surface, seems to consist primarily of a “gender-bender” covering Ziggy and Tiny Tim songs and saying FABULOUS funny things between-times, I found Comparison Is Violence to have a lot of depth. Mac himself stated that there was what he was saying he was doing in the show, and then there what he was actually doing, and that these things were actually different (although even this sentiment he buried in a discussion about why we shouldn’t get too drunk during the show). This might seem to be an overly-confident, or perhaps pretentious, claim to make about one’s own show, but I found it to be true, at least for me. Yes, I found Taylor Mac to be outrageous and hilarious (his referring to his Christian mother as a “fundy cray-cray” for telling him that “Jesus wouldn’t have a feminine walk” almost made me wet my proverbial pants) but beneath the spontaneity and the almost overwhelming energy zooming from Mac on all sides there was a sense of stillness and quietude, belonging to a person who really does seem to feel the violence inherent in the act of comparison, and really does want us to think before we box in someone by labeling them with someone else’s name. Why is it that we can’t describe something without comparing it to something else? Why do we always have to compare people to pop culture, to our past lovers, to politicians? Whatever happened to comparing ourselves to nature, experiences, and ideas (if compare we must)?

Taylor Mac also shared with us the fact that he finds reviews of shows to just be saying “Buy This” or “Don’t Buy This”. He said a critique is more useful–addressing where this art form is coming from, and where it might be going. Unfortunately, I have never seen a performer like Taylor Mac, so I don’t know where he came from, and I am not sure where it’s all going. But I can rest on review and say, yes, if you get a chance, buy into Taylor Mac, Buy This Buy This Buy This. Even if you don’t like it you’ll have an experience you’ve never quite had before. Which I think is the point? Yes. Probably. Buy This!

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And now a note about the PuSh Festival itself, the festival that brought the electrifying Taylor Mac into my world. Last Thursday, I attended the reception for PuSh sponsors and members of the board at Subeez Cafe. I was one of a handful of bloggers invited partially as a thank you for spreading the word about PuSh in the past, and also I think as encouragement to continue doing so if I so choose. And I do choose to.

As Max Wyman, Board President of the PuSh Festival, put it that night, every year the performances on offer as part of the PuSh will “provoke, sometimes enrage…always engage.” As if to prove this point I also received a complimentary ticket to attend last Thursday’s opening night of El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal) which played on a revolving stage in SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Theatre. The play was entirely in Spanish with English surtitles, unflinchingly narrative, and quietly, terribly sad. Had it not been for the PuSh Festival I highly doubt I would have had much chance to see work by an Argentinian theatre company and this story, though universal in its themes, would never have reached me.

And here is the part where I talk about money (which is no one’s favourite part but which is necessary). An international performing arts festival of this size and scope requires a lot of support and costs a lot of money. Though of course the point of the festival is that people come to PuSh and take in some amazing events, PuSh cannot support itself through ticket sales. As both the provincial and federal governments have made significant cuts to arts funding in recent years, festivals like the PuSh have been forced to rely more and more heavily on private and corporate sponsorship and donations.

I love PuSh. I want it to exist. I know many of you who have been to PuSh events agree. If you are a Vancouverite who wants to continue to experience the spellbinding intrigue of the PuSh Festival each year, or an incredibly altruistic non-Vancouverite who wants to help Vancouverites enjoy the PuSh each year, and you have a bit of money to spare, or work in a company/corporation that may benefit from supporting the PuSh Festival, please consider visiting the festival’s donation page and giving them “a PuSh” (their pun, not mine).

Sadly, the PuSh Festival has finished for another year. Until next time, this is NiftyNotCool, reminding you to keep mid-January to mid-February open on your calendar for 2013, and to remember to PuSh it good.

About Town: Nifty at the Vancouver Club

Grand Ballroom, Vancouver Club

Ever since I discovered that it existed (during a Neworld Theatre Podplay as part of last year’s PuSh Fest), I have been intrigued by the Vancouver Club. I had no idea what it was, except that it was a club, with members (rich members), and that it was fancy schmancy. Call them what you will (the upper crust, the 1%, old money, or rich snobby A-holes), a certain kind of person becomes a member of the Vancouver Club and, economically at the very least, I am not that kind of person. For this reason, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would ever be inside.

Until last weekend. Turns out, my TC’s former employer is a member and he threw a fancy bash at the Vancouver Club to which my TC was invited. I was invited too, as a very excited and curious +1. I was going to a rich person club that would have rich person things and be full of rich person details!

Rich person details like tastefully good-looking coat check girls in tasteful shoes and tastefully fitting aprons. Rich person details like a “Grand Ballroom” for the drinking and the dancing, and a room called the “Georgian Room” for sitting by the fireplace and the chocolate fountain.

Chocolate fountain!!!

In case you missed that last part, there were rich person details like a FIREPLACE and a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN. In fact, TWO chocolate fountains: one dark, one white. With whole strawberries, pieces of pineapple and melon, and square powdered marshmallow (no store-bought Jet Puffs for us) for dipping into the fountains with fancy long sticks. Rich person details like more tastefully good looking people wearing tastefully well-fitting aprons bringing out delicious eats like vegetarian spring rolls, and tiny mini pulled-pork taquitos (in addition to the chocolate fountain and the cheese table). Rich person details like random antiques and pictures of the Queen filling the hallways.

Probably the most exclusive rich person detail in the whole place was the beautiful foyer with the glass doors at the very end that said “Members Only” on them. Even though I have now been inside the Vancouver Club, I very much doubt that I will ever pass through those particular doors.

And to be honest, although I enjoyed my swanky night at the Vancouver Club very much, and it seems to be a very well-run establishment, I very much doubt that I would want to.

Funnily enough, it was not anything I encountered during my night on the premises that turned me off the Club. It wasn’t even the extremely prohibitive cost (I mean, if I was super rich and had time to sit around in posh clubs, maybe I would enjoy the use of the beautiful facilities available). It was the information on the Vancouver Club’s own website, on their Membership page, that soured me on the idea of clubs for fancy folk.

Think even a posh old club in Vancouver would be a little more progressive than posh old clubs back east? It doesn’t seem like it. Instead of simply outlining the many luxurious amenities of the Club, the Vancouver Club has decided to make it a little easier on its potential members by separating certain amenities and activities into “For Women” and “For Men” categories. For the gents, what could be better than a “Black Tie Lobster dinner” followed by a visit to Bar 3, a space which evokes “a more gentlemanly era”, where the guys can pull out “a bottle of single malt”, “shoot some pool”, and “talk shop”? There’s even a barbershop where you can get a shave!

For the women, however, the first amenity mentioned is the fitness studio where the ladies can attend Pilates classes and consult with a personal trainer. Then they have the privilege of moving on to the candlelit Bar Lounge where they can plan “quirky and sophisticated” parties for their friends’ birthdays. And let’s not forget that “Next week is a port and chocolate tasting hosted by colleagues and fellow Run for the Cure volunteers.”

Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with the various elegant (and charitable) activities listed, as a grown woman in the year 2012 I do tend to resent the suggestion that some activities are better suited to me based on my gender, especially when the guys get to eat lobster, shoot pool, and talk shop, when my role appears to be keeping my figure, planning parties, and hosting fancy charity events. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive (and for those membership fees I think I’d have a right to be), but it just seems a little out of touch with the times, doesn’t it?

It also weirds me out when, of an entire website featuring beautiful photographs, only one person pictured is non-white (or maybe two, there are a couple blurrier shots). Even given my own obvious pallor, a club whose promotional material gives the impression that they are mainly trying to appeal to white people does not appeal to me. I am going to give the Vancouver Club the benefit of the doubt in this post and assume that this is not intentional, but in these times of rumored declining memberships for the Club (“rumored” being the operative word here) and ever-increasing multiculturalism and celebration of diversity in Vancouver (obvious to anyone who is paying attention), this is a PR mistake they can’t really afford to make.

So thank you for a wonderful and classy evening, Vancouver Club. You have a beautiful building, on-the-ball employees, and gorgeous facilities. But should I ever become a billionaire and veritable Vancouver VIP, I’m afraid I shall have to give your Club a pass. You see, in my adult years I belong in 21st century Canada. A club where predominately white men sip single malt and talk about their high power jobs and predominately white women look pretty and plan parties does not.