Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 399: I’ve Been Everywhere

A few days ago, a friend planning a European trip asked me to recommend some French hotels and it got me thinking about how much travelling I’ve done.

When I was a kid, there were lots of people “from the old country” who now and then went back to whichever “old country” they were originally from. And they’d come back with amazing stories about people and lifestyles I’d never imagined.

But as much as this sparked my desire to see the world, I also noted that rarely did anybody go someplace they hadn’t already been. It was as if it was preferable to stick the well trodden path.

Around the time my travel bug was hatching, there was a song on the radio by Canadian Country singer Hank Snow entitled “I’ve Been Everywhere” that rattled off place names almost faster than you could hear them.

I loved that song. Partly for how hard it musta been to sing. But also for the suggestion that just about anywhere was worth visiting. The place might be foreign but something about it would still be familiar.

And Hank was right. Wherever you go, a piece of the place stays with you and you leave a piece of yourself behind.

I discovered that Australia, for example, had a spectacular Country Music scene. Instead of songs about pickups and beer, their tunes celebrated Utes and Crownies, but reflected the same story telling spirit of the Country I’d grown up with and in.

I felt at home at the same time that I was about as far away from there as I could be.

While Googling French hotels to make sure they were still around, I came across an Australian version of that song that had first spurred me to travel.

Familiar yet totally different. Although I’ve now been to some of these places too.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

For aged mofo’s, here’s Hank’s original…

And for more of Australia’s Sunny Cowgirls, try this…

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 398: Scrubs

“Scrubs”, a half hour TV comedy ran for 7 seasons on NBC and then two on ABC from 2001 to 2010. I missed the first season or two and then only watched from time to time (although I liked what I saw) but was mostly busy with projects of my own –- and more’s the pity.

Because “Scrubs” was one of the most innovative shows of its time.

Created by Bill Lawrence based on the memoirs of his college roomate Dr. John Dorris, “Scrubs” would earn 117 award nominations including 17 Emmys, 3 Golden Globes and 4 Humanitas Awards winning 31 times.

A few weeks ago, I called up the first season of the series on Netflix and started watching it. That led to binge watching and a realization that, more than any other series I’m familiar with, “Scrubs” reflects what life is really like around the production of a television series.

It’s always been my opinion that a series is never fully formed in development and that no matter where the showrunners and scripts intend it to go, it’s the chemistry of the cast and crew that really dictates the finished products.

Actors have unknown talents and skills that writers begin to incorporate into story lines allowing characters to grow in unintended directions.

Audiences “like” some characters more than expected, shifting bit players into major roles and massaging major players into dimensions of character nobody delineated in the bible.

Producers and directors add bits that become running gags and then structural boilerplate. Everything about “Scrubs” reveals a creative intent less locked to format than dependent on finding something that hadn’t been tried before.

In these and so many other ways “Scrubs” distanced itself from the standard sitcom format. Storylines often skewed dark or into the realm of TV drama. Problems were left unresolved.

The gap between “Scrubs” and other sitcoms was never more stark than a Season Four episode entitled “My Life in Four Cameras” in which a dark storyline about a famous television writer diagnosed with lung cancer transforms mid-show into the way the same story would be told as a sitcom.

Suddenly the lights are brighter, the costumes tailored. All the female characters have cleavage and all the guys have signature shtick, and the “live” studio audience overwhelms everything.

Whether you are new to creating television or have been doing it all your life, “Scrubs” remains a touchstone to the way good television is made.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lazy Sunday #397: Hystereo

I have come to the conclusion that many of us will soon be in need of a stiff drink…

Winter is coming…

We’re days away from an election whose results might not make anybody very happy…

We have a nationally beloved ball team facing elimination…

Families are gathering for that traditional gauntlet of past animosities and current resentments known as the Thanksgiving dinner…

The moment may well come to each of us when we are in need of an antidote to what Life has visted upon us . And the Hystereo was invented to counter just such emotions and events.

Back in the 19th Century, Bacardi, the first distiller to create a clear “white” rum, established itself in a building in Santiago de Cuba that also housed a population of fruit bats in its rafters –- hence the company logo.

There, it prospered for almost a hundred years, even actively supporting Fidel Castro’s 1960 revolution. Unfortunately, when Fidel took over he seized the family assets and expelled Bacardi from Cuba.

Consider that the next time you wear a Che T-shirt into a bar.

The Hystereo was created soon after to both assuage the pain of exile and honor those who had dedicated their lives to the creation of a great rum.

It’s a complicated concoction to combine but well within the skillset of any reputable bartender or drinking establishment.

In the coming days it may be necessary for you to find one.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Thursday, October 08, 2015


David young

David Bolt was the first professional actor I ever met. I was studying theatre at the University of Regina and he was working for the Globe Theatre doing one of their gruelling tours, taking plays to remote gymnasiums and church basements in the dead of Winter.

He undertook that cold and uncomfortable dedication to Canadian theatre wearing a broad brimmed black cowboy hat and gigantic Buffalo robe coat that once belonged to a local Mountie. From the get-go, everything David did was unique.

Living in a boarding house inhabited by a college drama buddy of mine, he became our gateway to what a life in theatre was really all about. And we hung on his every word.

For Dave had actually seen plays at Stratford and on Broadway. He’d performed the classics before paying members of Toronto’s glitterati and had his name mentioned in dispatches by the country’s most famous theatre critic of the day, Nathan Cohen.

Beyond that he opened our eyes to art films and good books and music that didn’t involve screaming guitars or a cute cowgirl.

A year or so later, I was serving my Equity apprenticeship at the Globe, barely more than a glorified Roadie, but doing an only slightly more upscale tour of Saskatchewan’s theatres and prairie opera houses with David playing the lead role in “Charlie’s Aunt”.

charlie's aunt

I’ve seen many productions of that play since, but not an actor as funny and engaging as David in that role. Night after night, the play simply stopped in places to allow audiences rolling in the aisles to get control of themselves.

I longed for the opportunity to work with an actor that good. And Fate smiled upon me, for over the next years I was blessed with the chance to play opposite David in dozens of plays and to be among those he counted as close friends.

As an actor, he was capable of incredible flights of comedy and profoundly moving moments of drama. And through it all he was generous to everyone with whom he shared the stage, making sure you had all you needed to bring your own character to life.

He was never a star, but he was a beloved gentleman of the theatre and dedicated practitioner of his craft. His quiet contribution to Canadian drama is nothing short of immeasurable.

    David Power

Together we did musicals, including his wife Carol’s landmark play “Red Emma” and  Tom Hendry’s astonishingly weird and more astonishingly successful “Gravediggers of 1942”.

I’ll never forget holding a flailing Chapelle Jaffe as David’s crazed Van Helsing drew screams from audiences as he drove a stake through her heart in Bill Lane’s “Brides of Dracula”, nor struggling to keep a straight face as he sat next to me delivering the looniest monologue ever written in George F. Walker’s “Beyond Mozambique”.

We shared unforgettable moments offstage as well. Following an especially rough run of a show that had left us both bruised and bent, David announced he was treating me to a night at a spa where his brother had taken him before his wedding, promising the best sauna and massage Toronto had to offer.

We arrived and checked in to discover that in the intervening years the spa had become a notorious Gay Bathhouse.

Two guys so straight they had trouble getting around corners were suddenly not only strategizing how to play at being a “couple” to stave off potential advances but confronted by fellow theatricals hysterically eager to relay the news that we’d finally come out.

I toured the country and took shows to London a couple of times with David, always impressed by his knowledge of history and culture and the array of famous names he’d worked with who came to our performances and made us part of their social circles.

John Huston, Donald Pleasance, Cyril Cusak, Jeremy Brett and Jamie Lee Curtis all seemed to share my own attraction to not only the man’s talent, but his warmth and gentleness.

As time went on, David expanded his artistic output to writing plays like the timeless “The Stupid Life of The Montagues” and his unproduced but utterly delightful satire on Canadian Theatre “Toronto Star”.

After Carol passed away, he withdrew somewhat from the stage, but  wrote radio plays for CBC and became a familiar voice on commercials.

The last time David and I took the stage together was at a 30th Anniversary benefit for The Factory Theatre, performing the penultimate scene from George F. Walker’s “Theatre of the Film Noir”, a play which might’ve been the best work we ever did.

David Noir

David Bolt passed away unexpectedly last Saturday and it feels as if half of my fondest moments in the theatre departed with him.

I can’t imagine the heartbreak his leaving has visited on his lovely wife Sarah or his wonderful son, Lt. Col Alexander Bolt –- still affectionately remembered as “Lightning” by those of us once tasked with keeping track of him during rehearsals.

Perhaps the void that has descended with David’s final curtain is best addressed not by memory but a rededication how he lived his own life, taking the experience of theatre and culture to places and people who’ve never had the experience of them.

I don’t know that David ever saw himself as the pioneer or ground-breaking artist he certainly was. I think he just accepted that he was a part of something that began long ago and will continue long after we’re gone and that you use the moment you’re given to be the best you can be as both an artist and a man.

So long, buddy. I can’t wait to work with you again.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Burka Revisited


I seldom republish a post from the vault. But over the last week a troubling trend in my social media circles made me decide to do just that.

Recently, the Canadian government opposed a woman who wanted to take her oath of citizenship with her face hidden by a niqab.

Given there’s an election going on, this has been seized upon by so-called “Progressives” to bash Prime Minister Harper and his party as bigots and racists.

Many of those attacking the anti-niqab decision have regularly posted or altered their status photos to show support for a woman’s right to choose, to celebrate Gay pride and otherwise defend the rights of the individual.

And I’m sure they see a woman’s request for her cultural beliefs to be respected as worthy of support –- instead of recognizing what it really is, the right of a male dominated culture to continue the subjugation of their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

There seems no understanding that the culture for which they are advocating also supports the execution of homosexuals, the brutalization of victims of rape and female genital mutilation.

It’s a culture that also sees nothing amiss when a father or brother murders a female member of their household to uphold the family’s “honor”.

This week in Australia a young Muslim woman was murdered by her father for the crime of having condoms in her purse. And Canadians in particular need look no further than the case of Mohammed Safia to know what the Niqab actually represents.

What follows was first posted eight years ago. It would seem to need repeating:


When I was still acting, I was doing a play in London, England. One afternoon, I wandered into Harrods. Their book department included one of the largest magazine displays I’d ever seen and I often dropped by to pick up reading material I'd never encountered before.

This particular afternoon, I stumbled across something far more interesting.

A very wealthy looking Arab guy walked in, followed closely by a woman dressed in the complete burka, veiled and robed so heavily and completely, you could only see her eyes. He said something that I took for “Wait here!” and left her by the magazines as he went off to find a clerk.

He was looking for something apparently hard to find for the clerk had soon taken him deep into the stacks. The woman perused the magazine stand for a moment, looked around to make sure nobody was watching and moved to the Fashion section.

Then, making sure she couldn’t be detected, she took the corner of an issue of "Vogue" between two fingers and peeled it back ever so slightly so she could peek inside.

From where I was standing, I could see the utter amazement in her eyes as she stared at the high fashion models visible inside the barely open pages. Taking another glance to make sure she hadn't been seen by her male companion, she cautiously fingered her way onto another page, staring again at images clearly forbidden to her.

A moment later, the guy and the clerk were back, sorting through a number of books, so she had to turn from the magazine and stand around like she wasn’t looking at anything.

As the two men haggled over something or another, I went over, picked up the copy of "Vogue" and stood near the woman, flipped it wide open and slowly turned page after page as if I was studying each photograph in detail, but making sure she could see the pictures.

This went on for about 20 minutes. He glanced at me a couple of times, probably assuming I was gay or some kind of haute couture perv and finally called her over as he bought his book.

I put the magazine back and went back to browsing. A couple of minutes later, they left, with her once again following a few steps behind him. As the woman passed, she turned her eyes toward me with the warmest look I’ve probably ever had from a woman.

I wonder if any of these guys have any idea what’s really going on the heads of their wives, sisters and daughters -- or how much better their marriages and their lives would be if they did.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 396: Theatre for the Blind

This post is late, I know. But technically, where I am, it’s still Sunday.

And I’m late because I spent a good portion of the day participating in an experiment. An experiment to find and entertain a new audience for Canadian theatre.

Everybody knows that theatre attendance is down across the country. Scan the audience of almost any theatre company and on most nights you could just as well be in church. A lot of grey heads. More affluence than a reflection of the streets outside.

We need new audiences, new blood. But in the Netflix era, with all kinds of entertainment options easily accessible via a computer or Smart TV, live theatre is no longer on everybody’s radar.

So why not offer it to an audience who can’t even see the play?

Those of us who work or have worked in theatre know it’s primarily an audial experience. Yeah, the sets and costumes and lighting and stagecraft contribute enormously. But at its heart the theatre is dialogue enhanced by performance.

But what if technology could supply what a sightless person misses, enriching their experience?

This afternoon, Victoria’s Belfry Theatre played its current hit show, David Mamet’s “Speed The Plow” for an audience that was largely blind.

White canes and sunglasses were a common sight in the crowd. Guide dogs lounged before the front row, pleased to be in a space they’d never experienced and giddy to be among so many of their canine profession.

Prior to the opening curtain, sightless audience members were supplied with an easy to use handheld receiver and headset supplied by Vocaleye, Canada’s first live descriptive arts service for the blind.

Ten minutes before the show, their audio guide began broadcasting to them, describing the set, the actors and the costumes, giving them as much information as possible to enhance their enjoyment of the play.

Once the show had started, they were fed descriptions of the action and, from time to time, brief snippets of physical performance – “she smiles”, “Charlie smacks Bobby on the back of his head”. All unheard by any without a headset.

If the final applause were any measure, the experiment was an enormous success. Afterward, those wishing to participate were given a “touch tour” of the stage, able to handle props, try out the furniture and speak with the cast and crew.

I got the feeling a lot of people who’d never before attended a play were intent on coming back.

You can learn more about Vocaleye here. Consider mentioning the service to a theatre company you know and/or love and…

Enjoy Your Sunday.