People’s Climate March Vancouver: I came, I marched, I blogged

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First we gathered at CBC Plaza

If you’ve at all been paying attention to the news lately you probably know that approximately 400 000 people marched through the streets of New York last Sunday to demand that the world and its leaders (125 of whom were meeting this week for a UN summit on climate change) to take meaningful action against climate change. What you may not have known was that this historical event (the largest climate march in history) partnered with marches in more than 130 cities all across the globe, including here in Vancouver. Though I’d received a phone call from the lovely people at leadnow.ca inviting me to take part in the upcoming march, I was feeling overwhelmed by various urgent and not-so-urgent obligations and wasn’t sure I was actually going to attend until I came across an opinion piece by Dr. Lynne Quarmby in the Vancouver Sun that morning (the piece was actually from the previous Friday; I just didn’t see it until Sunday morning). And that settled it. If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know that there are a lot of issues I care about. To name a few that I’ve written about at least once: I care about women’s rights and gender equality. I care about marriage equality and the rights of LGBT people. I care about the integrity of our democratic institutions. I care about the arts.

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After some speeches, we’re on the move!

Until recently, if you’d asked me if the environment was a top priority of mine I would have said no. Not because I didn’t care about the environment, but because defending it seemed impossible, especially in the face of my own complicity in the causes of climate change (I sure do love using electricity, driving cars, and buying cheap products about whose production I know nothing). I thought, “Why does this have to be my fight? Can’t it be David Suzuki’s fight? I mean, I recycle, don’t I?”. Even though I always knew I was against, for example, the proposed Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, my reasons at first had more to do with not wanting diluted bitumen sloshing around in my backyard than about the planet as a whole.

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Gorgeous sign art by a talented marcher.

But then I realized that the crisis we are facing is so much bigger than my own backyard. It’s not just that we need to find a less controversial and more democratic way to review and approve energy projects, it’s that the oil actually needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just that Canadian ports have no business shipping the U.S.’s coal overseas (we don’t–we really shouldn’t be helping U.S. companies skirt around new American environmental regulations), it’s that the coal needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just the thousands of jobs in agriculture, aquaculture, and the tourism industry that will be lost if a pipeline leaks  or a tanker spills, it’s the thousands of human lives that have already been lost due to extreme weather events caused by climate change over the past few years. Our selfish actions, and our indifferent attitudes, are killing people.

And you know what else? We’re killing ourselves too. Do you think a drought, or a hurricane, or a flood, or an ice storm, gives a crap that you live in Canada, or work really hard at your job, or are rich, or are devout? Nope. Not at all. We’ve messed with a balance that is pretty important to our survival and now this imbalance is messing with us. We can stop it. But we need to act now. We need to stop being defeatist and thinking there’s nothing we can do. And we need to demand that our politicians stop selling the ground we stand on out from under us.

So that is why I marched. That’s why I chanted and cheered and, once or twice, cried a few tears because hope is so heartbreaking, especially hope in the face of such powerful and insidious forces.

There is no room for dismissing me or my fellow marchers around the world as radicals or foreign agents or whatever the hell Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper and Ezra Levant would have you believe. We are regular people from all walks of life who have read the writing on the wall and know that something needs to be done.

It’s not even about our children’s future anymore. It’s about ours. You don’t need to be an environmentalist or a leftist or a Democrat or a hippie to know that you can’t eat money, or drink investments, or live in a city that’s under water or buried in snow. Common sense (and the consensus of the scientific community) tells us that you can’t essentially burn down your house and still live in it.

There are a lot of things I want to achieve and fight for in my life, but none of that will matter if this fight is not won. I’m trying to save my own home. What’s so radical about that? As my favourite sign from Sunday’s march read, “There is no ‘Planet B'”.

Think about it.

P.S. Maclean’s did a great interview with Naomi Klein that is well worth a read.

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Yes, it’s raining, get off your lazy butt

It’s sweater weather! And it’s going to rain/is raining!

Which means, of course, that all you want to do is snuggle up inside with a book, a cup of tea, maybe a pot of chili, and stay there until May. Which is understandable, but doesn’t take advantage of the great cultural and recreational boon the rainy season provides you: the weather sucks so you don’t need to be outside. Which means you can be inside, experiencing the many indoor cultural and recreational amenities Vancouver has to offer. You can enjoy indoor experiences like:

Physical fitness/recreation – Unless you’re pretty hardcore, you will likely be doing a lot less jogging, cycling, Ultimate Frisbee, etc. now that the sky will be pouring rain almost daily. Which means this is the perfect time to try some indoor  fitness/recreation:VCSOnWhite

  • The Vancouver Circus School – Obviously, I’m a bit biased, because I’ve been training there for years, but I will say that hot weather makes sweating it out upside down near the ceiling on a pair of aerial silks a particularly gross experience. Now that the air’s cooled off, I can warm myself up by working up a sweat and I don’t have to worry that I’ll pass out from heat exhaustion 15 feet above the ground. Fall/winter is the best time of year to try out circus, trust me.
  • Hillcrest Aquatic Centre – I go there because they have a sauna, a hot tub, and an amazing feature called a “lazy river”–it’s a circular pool with a current where you grab a couple pool noodles and just float around in a circle. It’s hella relaxing and I could probably bob along like that for hours. Unlike at Wreck Beach, you have to wear a bathing suit, but I think it’s worth it. (For you fitness buffs, there’s actual lane swimming as well, but who needs that when you can float on the lazy river?)

Theatres – The 2013/2014 season is getting underway in Vancouver and, as usual, there is a lot going on. I recommend visiting the Georgia Straight’s arts listings (you can search for “Theatre” under the “Types” tab) for a fairly comprehensive list of what’s playing right now, but in particular there are two shows opening next week that have been on my radar:

  • The Rocky Horror Show – Fighting Chance Productions, playing at the Jericho Arts Centre October 8 – 26, with previews October 4 and 5. I should probably disclose that I’ve been invited by the company to attend, but regardless I’m pretty excited about it because I’ve never seen a production of the Rocky Horror Show and it has such a cult following. If you want to get into the Halloween mood or just into an outrageous one, I have a feeling this will be fun. LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!
  • Corporations in our Heads – Theatre for Living, kicks off October 10 and 11 at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House before going on a BC/Alberta tour, returning for a Vancouver run in December. Again, I was invited by the company to attend, but I won’t be able to until its December run (however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about going next week). Though I haven’t yet seen the show I was so impressed and moved by Theatre for Living’s maladjusted this past spring that I can recommend this event without too many qualms. Whether you like it or not, I guarantee that you’ll have an experience (RSVP’s for the kick-off dates recommended–call 604-871-0508 for more info). If you, like me, can’t make the kick-off dates, you may want to keep Corporations in our Heads in mind for December.

Literature – There’s the obvious, you could stay in with a good book of course (it’s something I plan on doing a lot this winter). But you can also experience literature by leaving your house. Pretty wild, huh?VPLimages

  • The Vancouver Public Library – The downtown location is big, it’s beautiful, the selection is huge and there are lots of nooks and crannies where you can curl up and read a book if you so choose. There are also lots of smaller VPL locations scattered around the city so check them out if there’s a book you don’t own that you’ve been hankering to read.
  • Readings and Discussions at the SFU Libraries – Did you know that the readings and discussions hosted by the Simon Fraser University Libraries are open to the public? They are! And you know what? They’re also kind of fun. I recently attended a reading by SFU Writer in Residence Madeleine Thien (this one hosted by the Department of English) and it was fantastic. These are authors, poets, and academics at the top of their game, and they’re willing to share some of what they’ve got FOR FREE.
  • Jordan Abel launches Place of Scraps and Poetry is Dead Magazine launches their sound poetry issue – Vancouver poet Jordan Abel is launching his new book of erasure poetry, Place of Scraps, at the Western Front on October 10 (303 E 8th Ave., doors open 7:30) but FIRST (shameless plug alert), Poetry is Dead Magazine will be launching their new issue of sound poetry and I will be reading at it (same location/evening/time)! If you’ve never heard sound poetry before, you’re in for a crazy treat.

Museums – For such an outdoor-oriented city, there are actually a lot of museums in town. My recent favourite:UBC_MOA_sign

  • The Museum of Anthropology at UBC – We went there last Sunday when it was pouring buckets outside, and it was such a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. The artifacts and exhibits are so gorgeous, and so lovingly and carefully housed. The showstopper is, of course, the Great Hall – a massive atrium full of mid-19th century totem poles and house posts carved by Northwest Coast nations. Artistically and architecturally, the effect is breathtaking. That’s not to say the other exhibits aren’t interesting–the museum is much larger than it first appears, housing collections of art and artifacts from cultures around the world (hint: pull open the drawers beneath the glass cases, they’re meant to be opened and are full of more neat stuff). My party and I sat in front the beautiful The Raven and the First Men in the Bill Reid Rotunda for a long time. I was so taken with this sculpture I’m only now realizing I forgot to walk all the way around it to see the whole thing. Silly me. Guess I’ll have to go back.

The thing is, the ideas above are just ones from off the top of my head–things I’d done or heard about. You probably know of quite a few cool things too. So between the collective minds of an interesting city, there’s really no excuse to spend the entire winter on your couch.

A Story about a Story about Vancouver

Swing set in the old 'hood.

Swing set in the old ‘hood.

The other night I visited an old friend I hadn’t seen in a little while (no particular reason for this gap in our social calls, just busy summers for the both of us), and after doing that thing where you say “Whelp, time to go” but then you stand and talk in the porch for fifteen more minutes, I stepped out of her house into a warm August evening. I reached the main drag just as my 7 Nanaimo Station bus zipped past the stop on the other side of the street, but the weather was fine and I realized that all was not lost: sure, I could wait half an hour for the bus to come again, or I could take the other bus, the 7 Dunbar, and reach home via a circuitous route that would take me through my old neighbourhood.

I chose the latter, and as I watched the familiar landmarks glide past my window, my little bus trip became a journey (internally at least), and that journey became a story, and that story became about Vancouver, and when I got home I wrote some of it down, and as I did that I discovered the story was more important to me than I had expected, and then it became apparent that I could not write this particular story about Vancouver this week. Probably not next week either. Because I realized that the story I want to write about Vancouver is one that deserves more attention than my mind can give it right now. It deserves more crafting and more subtlety than what I can do in the week between blog posts. At the moment, it exists in my mind purely as potential, with images and lovely turns of phrase gravitating towards it. Careless handling will collapse the whole enterprise, and I don’t want to do that with this one.

So this is not that story. This is a story about the story. Pointless? you ask. No, I answer, because although this is not the story, this is also a story that is important to me. A story about the way that inspiration sometimes finds you. A story about how we leave our mark in every place we go, and how those pieces of ourselves that we sloughed off (thinking we’d grown, thinking we were “past that”)  still loiter in the streets of our old haunts, waiting for a circumstance of municipal transit to carry us back.

It’s a story about realizing the value of something, even if it’s just personal value, and being aware enough to understand that it deserves more than the usual effort, that it requires being patient. It’s a story about how, in a culture in which so much is shared (especially by personal bloggers such as myself), sometimes it is important to keep some things close, if even for a little while, and consider them carefully before shoving them into the world.

It’s a story about how exciting it can feel to have a story you’re itching to write, and how precious and perfect that electric moment before creation can be.

Wreck Beach and the true meaning of “clothing optional”

Wreck Beach No GawkingWreck Beach is, according to official signage, a “clothing optional” beach. What “clothing optional” really means, however, is a subject for heated debate amongst frequenters of the beach, however they choose to clothe themselves.

Semantically, “clothing optional” means that while clothes are an option on the beach, they are not mandatory. Though many people use the phrase “clothing optional beach” synonymously with “nude beach”, the two are not the same thing. Therein lies the problem.

While most people who frequent Wreck Beach embrace the tacit nudity of the locale, an increasing number of visitors (called “textiles” by the regulars) are emphatically putting the “clothing” back in clothing optional. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t matter at all, with nudes and textiles coexisting side by side in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, it does matter, and it’s harshing my mellow.

As the debate rages both on the Wreck Beach Facebook forum and on the beach itself, there are a few factors to keep in mind that make coming to any kind of conclusion rather difficult:

  1. Wreck Beach is the only beach of its kind in Vancouver. Those who wish to clothe themselves while at the beach can do so at any number of beautiful lower mainland beaches. Those who embrace the nudist/naturist lifestyle have only Wreck Beach, and they are beginning to feel crowded out.
  2. That said, Wreck Beach is a public beach. At most public beaches in the city, at least a swim suit is required. For city council and the Parks Board, allowing nude bathing at Wreck is likely considered to be a concession to its vocal supporters (specifically the Wreck Beach Preservation Society). I have a feeling councillors and board members would balk at the idea of making nudity mandatory on public property–the designation “clothing optional” is a means of meeting nude beach supporters half way.
  3. Not everyone is comfortable being naked at the beach, and being forced to strip down on their first visit may ensure they never will be. I know it took me some time before I was used to the “naturist” atmosphere at Wreck, and I imagine for those with more modesty, more time would be needed. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many people who are not even comfortable being seen in a bathing suit, let alone naked, who may be drawn to Wreck because of its attitude of body acceptance. These people are the most likely to benefit from Wreck Beach, and the most likely to need some time and some understanding from others before they are ready to strip down.
  4. That said, not everyone who is naked at the beach is comfortable being seen by clothed people. I would feel pretty silly being naked in public if I were the only one. I do not feel uncomfortable at Wreck Beach because I am NOT the only one. The fact that everyone is naked means that nobody cares–there’s nothing special to see so nothing is sexualized. When you are naked yourself, you behave towards other naked people the way you want them to behave towards you–like a normal person, not a gawking creep. Unfortunately, adding textiles to the mix throws this social contract off-kilter. Because they are not revealing their own bodies, clothed bathers on Wreck Beach are in a position to objectify the bodies of the naked people around them. Most worryingly, many of these clothed beach users have begun pulling boats up to shore (which is illegal given the buoys clearly marking the swimming area), clothed jet-skiers have been trying to pick up topless (female) swimmers in the water, and some textiles have even been taking photographs of nude bathers without their permission. The best way for a textile not to get lumped in with this pervy faction in their ranks is to strip down and embrace the “natural” dress code.

In a lot of ways, arguing about something as superficial as clothing is silly. The concerns of the nude beachers could easily be dismissed in this way, however, I think there is a deeper cultural issue affecting the beach nowadays. The demographic of the beach is changing–during my first summer there, I luxuriated in the quiet of the beach; I could hear nothing but waves, eagles, and the occasional live group of (naked) musicians, playing fun and friendly summer tunes. There was no glass, no garbage, and hardly anyone was clothed. In the past couple of years, new groups of clothed bathers have frequented the beach, and have brought with them boats and engine noise, loud crappy pop music blasting from iPod docks, and glass (super dangerous on a beach my friends!). I am all for new groups of people learning to enjoy the beach, in fact I encourage it, but it is important to me that they learn to appreciate its atmosphere. Wreck Beach is a beach unlike any other, and I want to keep it that way.  I think the more militant nude beachers do too, and for them, it’s easiest to identify those who don’t “get” the beach by their clothing. Thing is, if you’re on Wreck Beach, maybe you shouldn’t have any.

O Canada, O kay

FireworksCanadaDay2013A cursory glance at my blog posts over the last few months may lead one to believe that I don’t like Canada anymore. Maybe it was this post, or maybe it was that one. The truth is, I’ve been so busy being angry at the federal government for their various scandals, shortcomings, and transgressions that I kind of forgot the reason that I care so much about what happens to this country in the first place.

The reason is because Canada is awesome. I know there are problems, and I know there is so much work to be done to build a country that is fair, safe, productive, environmentally sound, and culturally rich. With the multiple shortcomings of federal, provincial, municipal, and corporate leadership in this country, it’s sometimes hard for me to look past the bullshit and be optimistic about the land I call home. Basically, I couldn’t see the forest for the few a-holes who’d dumped their stinky garbage bags in it. That doesn’t mean the forest isn’t lovely.

Case in point: my Canada Day long weekend. TC and I spent two days on Salt Spring Island with good family and good friends. We walked along the rocky seashore. We saw eagles and blood orange sunsets. I met Raffi in the Saturday market, and he gave me a sticker (for those of you not familiar with the musician who brought us “Baby Beluga”, he was pretty much a rock star to me when I was six). We went kayaking and sat in deck chairs drinking summer-y beer. In line for the ferry home, a stranger overhead us whining about the arduous transit journey from the Tsawassen terminal into Vancouver, and offered us a ride (which we accepted–thank you Derek!). Back in Vancouver, I tried pho for the first time and read Can Lit on Wreck Beach. In the evening, we sat in a beautiful park and watched the light fade behind the mountains until the Canada Day fireworks started. Drunk people serenaded us with their renditions of our national anthem, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

I know my posts about Canadian issues can be a bit depressing, a bit pessimistic even. But I am happy that I live in Canada and am a Canadian. I am happy that I can travel the country freely and safely. I am happy that my fellow citizens still do favours for total strangers. I am happy that our famous folk aren’t too big-headed to give their fans stickers (thanks Raffi!). I am happy that I am totally free to bitch about my government all day long, whenever I want, without having to worry for my job or security. I am happy to have had access to education and healthcare. I couldn’t be more happy to be surrounded by gob-smacking natural beauty almost everywhere I go.

I suppose what I am trying to say with my quick and dirty belated Canada Day post is that despite my whinging, despite my worries, despite my indignation at this, that, and the other, I am happy to be making a life in Canada with my TC. This place is a good place. And I’ve got my fingers crossed for a beautiful summer.

Just look at that rugged Canadian charm!

Just look at that rugged Canadian charm!

Drawing it up at the Vancouver Draw Down

_creaturesvdd If you’re having a hankering to unleash your inner visual artist, or to collaborate with others artistically, or just to get out and learn something new, you’d better mark Saturday, June 15 in your calendar so you can be sure to join the 4th Annual Vancouver Draw Down at one of their 35 FREE drawing workshops, hosted at venues across the city.

According to their website:

“Vancouver Draw Down is a celebration of drawing in everyday life that challenges preconceptions about drawing and works to reconnect EVERYONE with the power and creative pleasure of making marks. […] Projects, developed and led by professional artists, offer the opportunity to explore drawing in person and online. This day-long, city wide celebration focuses on the process, pleasure and diversity of drawing, rather than on skill and technical ability.”

Photo: Melissa Baker

Photo: Melissa Baker

At one point or another, I’m sure we’ve all enjoyed doodling, or crafting, or the simple satisfaction of making something. Sometimes we’ve wanted to hone our skills independently. Sometimes we’ve wanted to create a spirit of community by creating something with other people. With focuses ranging from independent creation, to collaborative work, to surprisingly athletic feats of visual artistry, there should be at least one Draw Down workshop that’ll rock your artsy soul.

[Note that the links I’ve provided above represent only THREE of the 35 Draw Down events running on June 15. Please visit the Vancouver Draw Down website to explore all of the events and find your passion and play. I mean, there’s even a workshop where you colour with GIANT CRAYONS for goodness sakes!]

Photo: Josh Hite

Photo: Josh Hite

RELATED EVENT: ONLINE DAILY DRAWING PROJECT

As a lead-up to the June 15 events, Draw Down is also facilitating a 10-day Online Daily Drawing Project (June 4 – 14). Participation in the Daily Drawing Project is a pretty simple affair: just follow Vancouver Draw Down on Facebook (facebook.com/VancouverDrawDown) or Twitter (@VanDrawDown) and be on the look out for your daily drawing instructions. You can either choose the “Challenging” instructions (15-minute drawings) or the “Just For Fun” instructions (5-minute drawings). You draw, share, and spend the rest of the day basking in artistic glory. Voila.

The Troika Collective Presents “Chernobyl: the Opera”

Poster design by Arthur Yee

Poster design by Arthur Yee

From May 14 – 19, the intimate Carousel Studio Space on Granville Island will play host to stories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The Troika Collective‘s Chernobyl: the Opera, conceived and directed by Aliya Griffin and composed by Elliot Vaughan for accordion, cello, and seven voices, weaves physical precision and haunting melodies together with verbatim text taken from interviews with survivors of the disaster. The results are at once poignant and strangely beautiful.

If you’re wondering if you’ve heard of Chernobyl: the Opera before, it’s probably because you have. A shorter iteration of this piece was performed in last year’s Hive: the New Bees 2 to critical praise. The Georgia Straight’s Colin Thomas was impressed by composer Elliot Vaughan’s “sophisticated score” and called the piece’s execution “terrifically precise” (Georgia Straight theatre reviews, May 25, 2012). Following the success of New Bees 2, Griffin and Vaughan have added both to the cast and the music, filling out the sparseness of the New Bees version while maintaining its specificity and non-sentimental quality (I watched a short preview of Chernobyl: the Opera at a Troika Collective fundraiser two weeks ago and was very impressed with the changes I saw).

Troika Collective_BWChernobyl: the Opera will run from May 14 – May 19 in the Carousel Theatre Studio on Granville Island. Tickets for the May 15-19 performances are available online through Brown Paper Tickets.

The May 14 performance will be a pay-what-you-can preview, with all proceeds benefiting the Veronika Children Leukemia Foundation. Following the May 14 performance, Grigori Khaskin, Research Associate in the Biology Department at SFU and a former Chernobyl Liquidator, will be giving a talk.

All in all, Chernobyl: the Opera is an exciting new work from an exciting emerging theatre company. It is not to be missed.

Disclosure: I was a performer in the New Bees iteration of Chernobyl: the Opera. Though I am no longer involved in the project (and not because I was kicked out or anything scandalous, just boring time issues), many members of the Troika Collective are my friends. Friends or not, Chernobyl: the Opera is a damn good show by a company that has earned my respect and support.

Beyond “Raising Awareness”: Theatre for Living presents “maladjusted”

From now until March 24, a much-needed conversation will be taking place at the Firehall Arts Centre. maladjusted, created, workshopped and presented by Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre), explores the challenges facing our mental healthcare system through a “forum theatre” event.

Micheala Hiltergerke and Pierre Leichner. Photo credit: David Cooper

Micheala Hiltergerke and Pierre Leichner. Photo credit: David Cooper

In the wake of recent tragedies, much lip service has been paid to “removing the stigma” of mental illness and ensuring that people suffering from mental illness or emotional distress are able to access the help they need. Unfortunately, with many of us, our involvement stops there. What we don’t realize, and what maladjusted exposes so well, is that getting people into the mental healthcare system is not enough–what do we do with them once they’re there? Is our current system, increasingly mechanized in the name of “efficiency”, sufficient to ensure our most vulnerable citizens receive care that is compassionate, sensitive to their needs, and actually healthy for them?

The answer, according to the many generous patients and mental health caregivers that comprised the show’s workshop participants, is a resounding no. The failure of an overburdened and increasingly impersonal system to properly diagnose and treat people with mental health issues is contributing to the escalation of already urgent situations. The first half hour of maladjusted is a play (in the traditional sense) that provides logical examples of the ways in which these shortcomings play out for patients, families, and caregivers in a system like ours.

But this would be nothing new. We are used to theatre that exposes. We are used to theatre that points a finger and says, “This. This is a problem.” And we are all used to theatre, films, art, and events that “raise awareness”. Theatre for Living takes this process further, beyond the pointing of the finger and the raising of the awareness. They say, “This. This is a problem. Now what would YOU do about it?” And most importantly, they let us answer.

It’s hard for me to describe just how the forum theatre format allowed me to participate in a discussion about mental health and human-centred care (you’ll have to experience it for yourself), except to say that my own understanding of the issues was heightened, my ability to empathize was increased, and I felt that my role in the evening was empowered. Instead of passive audience members, we became actors in our own right (some on the stage, and some within the human transactions and interactions we’ll be having in our own lives).

Central to the empowerment provided by this important conversation is the creation of a Community Action Report. As different issues are addressed during the forum portion of the evening, the audience is asked to suggest specific policy changes that could help patients, caregivers, and families better navigate the mental health system in a way that works for them, rather than for efficiency or budget figures. Each night, the show’s Community Scribe takes down the ideas put forth. According to the company,

“Theatre for Living has written agreements from various mental health organizations including The Mental Health Commission of Canada and The Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health to use the  maladjusted project and the resulting Community Action Report to inform their policy development.”

By attending the show as an audience member, you contribute to this necessary conversation. I left the Firehall that night feeling, somehow, that I had done a good and necessary thing. I didn’t feel powerless against the huge issue I’d been presented, though I had a better appreciation of the challenges and the stakes.

maladjusted runs at the Firehall Arts Centre, Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm, from now until March 24. Tickets can be purchased online through the project webpage.

Disclosure: My ticket to maladjusted was provided by Theatre for Living. The content of my review remains my own.

PuSh 2013: Opening Gala (Crossing the Line)

unnamedOne of the things that I’ve always admired about the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is that, well, they push the arts. They push culture. And Vancouver’s arts community is the better for it. Nowhere is that so obvious than during the PuSh Opening Galas, fun events that incorporate music and interactive performances with libations and dancing. The PuSh 2013 Opening Gala was held this year on Monday night at Club Five Sixty on Seymour.

At this year’s Gala (more than at any other PuSh Gala I think) I actually paid attention to the opening speeches (did it have anything to do with the fact that one of my favourite musicians, Dan Mangan, was an MC? Possibly). From Dan Mangan himself, and Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson, and PuSh Executive Director Norman Armour, the message rang loud and clear: the arts are important and we should protect them, fight for them, and (dare I say?) fund them. With the closure of the Waldorf in East Vancouver on our minds (not to mention other high-profile closures in the past year, including the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company), it seems to be a dark time to celebrate “crossing the line”, as the PuSh Festival is asking us to do over the next two weeks.

So why do they do it? Why spend a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money on a two-week international performing arts festival? Because we need it. Because festivals like PuSh represent a coming together of the very best of the performing arts community, and a commitment to refuse complacency, refuse mere satisfaction with where the Vancouver performing arts scene is today, and to push to the envelope (there’s that word again), and audiences, into new territory, artistically and geographically (with productions from as far away as Taiwan, Argentina, and Belgium). Only by seeing what we’ve never seen can our arts community strengthen and become what we’ve never yet been–safely sustained, more than hand to mouth, more than dependent on the capricious whims of provincial and federal funding.

More than just a seat-warmer for an eventual condo development to move in.

One of the PuSh Gala’s interactive performances this year, Open Book (inspired by Human Library, a production brought to PuSh 2013 by Denmark’s Stop the Violence), is an excellent example of performing art’s capacity to “cross the line”, and to bring its audience with it. In the eerie Club Five Sixty basement, my TC and I had the opportunity to check out a “human book” for a 10-minute conversation. I checked out Patti, a psychic, who explained to me what being psychic means to her life (it makes it calmer, she says) and who believes that all people have the capacity to tap into their intuitive and psychic abilities. TC had a conversation with Bruce, a legally blind painter who uses acrylics to create highly textured works and who paints the irregularities of his limited vision onto his pieces. A performance like Open Book is not traditionally what one would consider theatre–and yet it is live, it is an experience, it is not designed to be therapeutic or necessarily educational but simply to push us, through the power of a simple conversation with a stranger, into a new place (in this case, another person’s, a real person’s, experience).

Of course the Gala got me excited about What To See. What to see, what to see? Every year I have to make tough choices and every year I miss something amazing, simply because most of the festival is amazing and I can’t see even half of it. Every event at the festival (and Club PuSh) seems intriguing, new, virtuosic. Two pieces in particular are calling to me–Ride the Cyclone (Atomic Vaudeville, Victoria BC) and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (National Theatre of Scotland, Glasgow). TC’s top pick: Reich + Rite with pianist Vicky Chow (Music on Main, Vancouver). But there’s so much more, always so much more, and so many ways to cross the line.

To see what the PuSh Festival has to offer this year, and decide how you want to cross the line, visit the PuSh website at www.pushfestival.ca. For more about specific PuSh events (plus the event calendar and program guide), visit the Festival Events page.

Disclosure: My TC and I received comps to the PuSh Gala this year, as I have every year I’ve gone, because I have blogged and tweeted, and continue to blog and tweet, about the Festival.

Relephant’s “Ordinary Days” Packs an Extraordinary Punch

Warren (Stephen Greenfield) and Deb (Jennie Neumann). Photo: Jessie van Rijn

Warren (Stephen Greenfield) and Deb (Jennie Neumann). Photo: Jessie van Rijn

If you have a case of the Januaries (Christmas is over, winter’s still here, it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet, you’re back at work and your New Year’s resolutions are already broken), Relephant Theatre‘s production of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days may be just what you need. A tight and funny chamber musical about life in the Big Apple, Ordinary Days celebrates the very, well, ordinariness that can make city life such a drag sometimes.

A good show starts with a good script, and the folks at Relephant Theatre have picked something special. Gwon’s touching and humourous vignettes could describe life in any North American city, and this is where the script’s strength lies. There is very little in the play that I couldn’t relate to–the search for calm in a busy metropolis, apartment life (and trying to find space for all your junk), being late and stuck in traffic–and I was surprised by the way this relatability managed to tease tears from my eyes again and again (by this I mean I was actually crying a little bit through most of the play. About nothing more extraordinary than ordinary life). I was also laughing a lot–a sung e-mail from a harried grad student (Jennie Neumann) to her thesis supervisor was a particular highlight.

A play so focused on celebrating the mundane needs to work very hard to avoid cliche. Gwon does an terrific job of this right up until the end, where unfortunately an emotionally manipulative plot twist sticks out like a sore thumb. The play already had me by the heartstrings and I really hadn’t needed the extra pull. I felt alienated instead of drawn in, and removed from the ordinariness that had made the script so compelling in the first place. This is, however, a minor and personal quibble in a play that is overall so incredibly enjoyable.

Based on the two Relephant productions I’ve seen (The Exquisite Hour was a delight last spring) and my conversations with co-producer Jessie van Rijn, Relephant Theatre is a company that never bites off more than it can chew. Its productions are thematically whimsical, technically tight (even on a shoestring budget), and lovingly performed. You won’t be pushed into the obscene or completely obscure (if that’s your thing), but you will enjoy your night at the theatre.

What more could you ask for from an ordinary day?

Ordinary Days runs in the Large Studio at Carousel Theatre (1411 Cartwright Street, Granville Island) until January 19. Tickets are available at the door (cash only) or online through Brown Paper Tickets.

Logistical tip: For this production, the Carousel Studio is set up with chairs and stools. The stools provide a more unique view, but if you require back support you should stick the chairs in the risers.

Disclosure: I was asked to review Relephant Theatre’s production of Ordinary Days and provided comps by the company. I also have a friendly professional relationship with Jessie van Rijn through her past work at the Carousel Theatre Company. At no point was I asked for a positive review.