December 30, 2011

My Happy Place

Every so often, I run across the question

Where would you be if you could be anywhere in the world?

Easy: Stotan Falls on the Puntledge River in British Columbia. I spent the best times of my teenage life there, diving, swimming and lounging with friends. We thought we were young gods who'd never grow old.

Here are some girls doing the same thing at the same place (kudos to you, fearless divers). And they've set their movie to one of the best songs ever (written by other young gods), so I love everything about this.


Where's your happy place?

December 29, 2011

Oreo the Stray

This is Oreo the Stray. I am her patron.

Our neighbourhood, like many in Winnipeg, has a number of stray cats who live pretty wretched lives in the winter (not fantastic lives in the summer either, but a little better). This is what happens when people don't spay and neuter their pets, let their cats wander or dump their unwanted pets.

I feel disproportionately enraged by this; I know there are other, worse things to get upset about. And I really don't believe in corporal punishment. But the deep desire to smack some jerks around rises when I think about strays.

Oreo started hanging around in September '10. She was (and remains) very shy. A number of strays will come up and play beside me when I'm working in the backyard. Oreo kept her distance for a long time. She would sit on the front step and cry for attention. A very human cry like a child (something cats learned millenia ago when they domesticated themselves). I put out a small dish of food for her, which she wolfed down. Then she was gone.

This event repeated over several fall evenings. She wouldn't show up every night; that would be too predictable. And I wasn't allowed to pet her. She would jump back when I tried and look at me as if I were Norman Bates.

One evening, however, I succeeded. I sat on the steps and watched her eat. One of the hypocrisies of my feeding Oreo is refusing to feed her streetmates. Often other cats will come and try to steal food from Oreo (she's an older female and timid). And I chase them off. They're no less deserving than her, but I don't want all the neighbourhood cats hanging around my house. And she was here first.

I reached out very slowly while she worked away at her bowl. She paused. It looked like she might dash. She lowered her head and kept eating. I made contact with her back. And she arched her shoulders up to meet my scratching fingers. She purred deeply, rumbling from her chest.

Since then I've been allowed to pet her. Not for long, but for a few minutes, she'll nuzzle her head against my leg and submit to gentle patting and scratching. I can't pick her up (I tried once, she fled) and she won't come in the house (except once last winter when it was -45 Celsius - she stepped onto the front mat and stayed for an hour of warmth, while our two house cats watched her, mystified). But she has gradually lowered her guard. And I have gradually gained a streetwise friend.

December 28, 2011

Winnipeg at 4AM

Second semester of Creative Communications is starting up soon, so I thought I'd revisit the photo essay that helped get me into the program all those months ago.

On my old commute to work, I walked past Rasoi the Kitchen - an Indian/Pakistani restaurant on Ellice Avenue. Its sign announced that the store was open until 4AM.

"4AM? Who the heck is up at 4AM?"

Needing a theme to tie together the photo essay component of my CreComm application, a late night quest was born.

This is Abdullah, who works the night shift at Rasoi. He said it was a slow night.

Tim Hortons was surprisingly busy. I didn't have the guts to snap a pic of 
the young fellow singing Peking opera behind the counter, so I got this picture
of a guy panhandling outside. A muffin traded for a photo.

I assumed I wouldn't run into anyone I knew. I was wrong (oh Winnipeg,
you're so like that). I hadn't seen Mike in years. He's putting himself through
college these days. And he's awesome. Thanks for the picture, amigo.

The city seems smaller at night, with so few people around. Here's one of the people who empty the
street side garbage cans. I didn't know how this was done. Now I do.

It's rough being a cabbie. I really hope this guy drove himself home
after he eventually woke up, but I doubt it. Also - you can see my creepy reflection. Creepy. I suppose
I don't have consent to use this picture. On the other hand, he's asleep at the wheel. We'll call it even.

December 27, 2011

Say Hello to my Little Friend

A friend introduced me to an online presentation platform I'm now crushing on - Prezi. It's a lean, mean, zooming machine that lets you embed text, YouTube clips, documents and images.

Here's a taste - a personal branding assignment I put together for advertising class.

Prezi - it's like a power point presentation on acid!*

*Do not do acid while viewing a Prezi! To use the old Roman expression - you will upchuck.

December 20, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Leaving the theatre after watching the English reboot of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", my host reminded me that Larsson had intended to name this first installment "Men Who Hate Women."

Do they ever.

Under a thin, Ikea-ish veneer of old European class and modern elegance, is a Scandanavian world full of exploitation, sexual violence and murder. Everyone in this movie has a basement of secrets. In the corner of our eyes, we can see this darkness is humming along in the world, dragging people (frequently women) under the water. You could call it an underworld, but its hardly hiding and the strong suggestion of the film (and the books) is we're complicitly ignoring this evil.

(Watching GWTDT, I couldn't help but think of our own missing and murdered women here in Manitoba)

Enter Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) - hacker and punk anti-hero - wearing a shirt that reads Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck. A ward of the state since she was 12, Salander is emotionally disturbed, antisocial, and wonderful. She's defiantly sexual, despite a history of abuse; uninhibitedly violent in response to attacks; scarred by her upbringing and fearless in revenge. With her omnipotent access to online secrets, she's the avenging demon we know we need (At one point she asks Blomkvist for permission to kill. You nod along with him).

Salander is a gift role for any actor and Mara builds an impressive performance. She inhabits the body of a slouched, stringy outsider who's built layer upon layer upon layer of defense. There's no emotional showboating in her performance, despite the temptation for a weeping display of vulnerability. Only small touches reveal Lisbeth's capacity for warmth; a capacity she'll never get to explore. The other characters - like Daniel Craig's decent Mikael Blomkvist and Stellan Skarsgard's good Martin Vanger - pale beside her (ironically).

David Fincher catches these good performances from his cast, and does an okay job building the story's grim atmosphere. Editing the massive novel is (unsurprisingly) more trouble. The last section of the movie is rushed to reduce time (it's already 158 minutes). And that's a shame, because it's the story of Salander's special gift to Blomkvist. She risks her life and freedom once more for him, taking down an international businessman/criminal to restore her friend's reputation. After which, he promptly forgets her. That's a movie in itself.

The Millenium Trilogy is a zeitgeist phenomenon and Lisbeth Salander a zeitgeist character. As economic, societal and environmental pressures escalate around the world - as it becomes increasingly clear a showdown is coming between the forces who back the status quo and those who don't - the desire to have Lisbeth Salander's potency grows. There's a convicting power in this story to get up and do something.

That's reason enough to see it, even if you haven't read the books.


December 16, 2011

How Do You Spell Aggression?

Yesterday evening, Mel and I stayed in to play board games. And drink tea. That's how we roll. We cracked open a new/old game that hasn't made it into our Board Game Rotation yet (that's also how we roll)

Pick Two is a crossword-scrabble hybrid. Players draw letters and try to construct their own crossword. If you use your letters up, you draw two new letters, forcing all other players to as well by shouting "Pick Two!" (clever!)

Not to brag, but I'm a Wordsmith Master Supreme (level 20, equipped with a +2 thesaurus). I do my weekly crossword; I play my Words with Friends. I rocked this game. And Mel is competitive. Normally she gets to stomp my can when it comes to anything athletic, so I don't think this sat well with her.
As demonstrated by the words she chose.

My words (among others)
  • Aviated
  • Reopened
  • Dew
Her words (among others)
  • Judas
  • Flay
  • Tomb
  • Bleak
  • Lurk

December 12, 2011


I dunno folks; I don't think this vegetarian diet is working out. It's my own poor management, I'm sure, but my energy is just too far down. All I did was write a few radio ads today. Exhausted. Groan.

And now going to yoga. Double groan. Moksha Yoga brought me back into the fold with a two-week unlimited pass for twenty dollars. Which might turn me into this:

If my favourite pose wasn't this:

December 9, 2011

My First Kiss

A new series has recently premiered on TLC, demonstrating how far that network has fallen (as though we needed proof). Virgin Diaries "takes you inside the lives of adult virgins who reveal the challenges, truths, and anticipations of losing their virginity."

A commercial for the series included this (physically) painful kiss:

I get your reasoning, happy couple. You're saving something special for the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with - both your virginity and the intimate embrace of a lip lock. I really do get it.

And I really do think you look like two robins attempting to feed each other. Rehearsal is key, people! I'm in theatre, trust me - you don't tell the choreographer, "Yeah, that duet with the lead lady that's going to be viewed by everyone in the audience? Yeah, let's wing that."

But I'm inclined to be more generous as I remember my own First Kiss. It was in grade seven in the basement of a friend's house in Comox, British Columbia at my first co-ed party, sans adult supervision. I arrived 30 minutes early and walked around the block five times. Inside the house was Aimee. She had short, funky black hair, an athletic physique and a crooked smile. Her friend had told my friend who had told me that she liked me (we didn't have the Facebook back then). My dress shirt was soaking in nervous sweat. I went inside.

The basement was lit by Christmas lights, so it was dark (preferable - no one could see my terror).The host, in courtesy to couples who wanted to kiss in private, had hung a tarp from the ceiling to create a "kissing room." At some point in the evening Aimee dragged me in there.

She was standing very close to me. I think we both said, "hi." Then we went in for The Kiss.

I remember my body being very stiff; I'm sure my back seized. My hands were soaking through her shirt as I held her. At first our lips just mashed together and didn't move. But I had heard that there should be some motion, so I tried. Sort of a cow-chewing-its-cud kind of action. And then... what the hell is that in my mouth??? It's her TONGUE! AHH!

I tried to bite her lower lip at one point (saw it in a movie). Bit down too hard though, and she drew back. We tried again and bashed our teeth.

The party is a hazy memory, so I'm prepared to be corrected on these details. I do remember stumbling home afterwards, the dark woods illuminated by singing angels and optimism. I had kissed a girl.

So to the happy couple above - congratulations. Now... practice some more ;)

December 5, 2011

Everyone Has A Story

Terry Proveda points to a photograph of piled skulls and bones he took in the Parisian catacombs.

"I love this. Someone is going to look at it and go, 'Whoa, that's a pile of bones!' You don't have to read into it - you don't. You can just look at it and be like, this is a nice picture. You don't have to read into it."

He pauses and smiles. "You can."

The photo is just one of hundreds the Charleswood native took on a trip across Europe in 2010. For three months, Proveda lived out of a duffel bag, travelling through Sweden, Denmark, France and a number of other countries. He says his search for spectacular images coincided with a childhood goal.

"I always wanted to go to France and take a picture of the Eiffel Tower. I think it was a symbol for me," he says. "I'm the first one of my immediate family to go overseas."

"Going there meant being on the other side of the world."

Capturing the experience in photos was natural for Proveda; he says he can't remember not having a camera. Through the cheap, disposable versions he got as a child to the point-and-shoot model he won at graduation, Proveda has slowly built his confidence as a photographer. A few years ago, he invested in a professional SLR camera.

"A nice big one - you know what I mean," he laughs.

His European pictures cover a variety of subjects. A riot in Greece. A friend's porch in Montpellier. A colourfully painted Italian fishing village at sunset - a picture Proveda camped a day on the side of a cliff to capture.

"I wanted stunning images. I don't want to go out and just take the same stupid photo that everyone else has taken... You want to tell a story, but there are also times for just a cool picture."

His European trip over, Proveda had difficulty finding inspiration closer to home. He recently accepted an internship at Red River College's student newspaper as photo editor - a position he hopes stimulates his creativity.

"I'd like to get in there and get to the news... Hopefully I can live up to the hype."

November 29, 2011

Them's Judging Words

A theme that's emerged in Creative Communications this term is the power of words to pass judgement.

Journalism class featured a strongly worded instruction on using the word "suffers" to describe anyone coping with an illness (she suffers from cancer, he suffers from parkinson's). The instruction was DON'T YOU DARE. Unless we were going to quote their own words, we weren't ever to use the word 'suffers' for fear of belittling a person - making them a victim instead of a human.

It was a harder mental shift than I expected. Because disease and misfortune are unpleasant, right? You don't enjoy illness - you suffer. These same thoughts occurred when I was a boy growing up in church and the minister preached on Romans 5:3 "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance." My seven year old mind rebelled at the idea.

I realize they're not the same concept, but I think my objection to both was similar. Namely that we don't exist independently of our circumstances. If someone stabs me, I will cry. Everyone cries when they're stabbed.

That was my objection at the time. But over the past four months, I find my thoughts swinging the other way. Not because of increased perseverance; I'm a giant suck of a kitten and always will be. And not because of increased faith; stay tuned for my 'holiday' post to deal with that.

But from the continual stream of examples I've been shown where a "factual" story describing a person's circumstances/misfortune have not captured the full picture of those people.

Example 1: Statistic or Dancer

The first story treats Harry Gegwitch as a stat; the second tries to tell his story. Is there a difference between a 'murdered man' and a 'man who was murdered' ?

CBC Winnipeg - Winnipeg breaks homicide record with 35th death
Global Winnipeg - Powwow dancer is Winnipeg's 35th homicide victim

Example 2: Hooker or Sex Worker

This one I admit I have still wrestle with, in part because I don't think 'Tilly's' experience is the norm. But then again, maybe I'm being judgemental...

Winnipeg Free Press - Cops shut Wolseley brothel
Winnipeg Free Press - A Call for Respect

Example 3: Creep or Samaritan

This is less to do with specific words, so much as the arrangement of some words and the leaving out of others. See what your reaction to the first story is, then read the second.

CTV Winnipeg - Worker charged with assault...
Winnipeg Free Press - This good deed was punished

With those examples in mind, I'm curious about your take on the story linked below. Do you think the story paints the boy as only a victim? Is it all right to say he suffered from anxiety? Thoughts?

Winnipeg Sun - Bullied boy took his own life

(the video linked in this post is from the hilarious Canadian series Slings and Arrows. So funny. One of the funniest Canadian series I've ever watched. Would that all our comedies aimed so high. Check it out)

November 28, 2011

Boy Child

A blog post where I pay it forward. Local actor and footy fan Rod Beilfuss introduced me to Scott Walker. So let me introduce him to you:

Boy Child
You'll lose your way
A boy child rides upon your back
Take him away
Through mirrors dark and blessed with cracks
Through forgotten courtyards
Where you used to search for youth
Old gets a new life
Reach out you can touch it's true
He's not a shadow of shadows
Like you, you see
Hearts hold on holding
If you stay one, you'll stay free
Go seek the lady
Who will give, not take away
Naked with stillness
On the edge of dawn she stays
Nights starts to empty
That's when her song begins
She'll make you happy
She'll take you deep within her
Window lights for wanderers
Hide hard in your swollen eyes
Echoes of laughter
Hide in the cities thighs
Love catch these fragments
Swirling through the winds of night
What can it cost
To give a boy child back his sight
Extensions through dimensions
Leave you feeling cold and lame
Boy child mustn't tremble
'cos he came without a name

November 24, 2011

Chatting with Crazy

I arrive at the Princess Campus Tim Hortons this morning to observe the line for a college project. I sit down at a table; there's one, roughly 50 year old man sitting there, reading his paper.

He starts talking about the upcoming Grey Cup. I assume he's talking to the people at the table behind us, but no, they get up and leave. And he keeps talking and giggling...

The following are highlights of the ensuing (mostly one-sided) conversation I had with Rick the Prick (as he called himself)

"So what are you doing?"
"I'm doing a survey for a project."
"Oh yeah, well I'm going to get you arrested! (walks to officer in line) Hey cop! This guy is doing a survey!"

"I'm just waiting here until 9am. That's when the bar opens. I get my coffee buzz, then I get my beer buzz."

(bringing over young girl who was waiting in line) "This girl will fill out your survey for you."
"No, it's okay, I'm just counting people in line."
(to girl) "You're very pretty." (girl flees)

"Oh, it's gonna be a great Grey Cup. The Lions are so bad, they can't even suck!"

"I'm 25. (giggles) I've been 25 for years."


This post is dedicated to a fellow CreComm first-year (sorry, I don't know your name - you have pink streaks in your hair) who I saw gracefully twist out of Rick's attempt to kiss her hand. Nice move, girl, nice move.

November 20, 2011

Picks of the Litter

Went to see the 2011 Cannes Lions Winners this past week. Here's my favs (you can view all past winners at the Cannes Lions website).

Thank you advertising - you made my life a little bit better.

"Love to Meet You"
Brandhouse - FOXP2 Capetown
South Africa

"Team Hoyt"
TV3 - Bassat Ogilvy Barcelona

"Profile the Governor"
Border Action Network - Y&R New York

November 12, 2011

Remembrance, Children and Optimism

WARNING - This blog post is introspective and sincere. For those who prefer edge, snark and inappropriate humour with their blog post, might I recommend the Professor Brothers' take on Bible History - classic.

I attended the Bruce Park service this past Remembrance Day and watched my father stand at attention with his fellow 402 Squadron members. Memories of services from my childhood - on bases and schools across the country - came back all through the programme. Afterwards, I realized I had never actually thanked my father for his service. That's been fixed now.

In the invocation, Major Brian Slous included these words.

"What we value is preserved by a very thin line. Many standing here have stood on that line. Many have died on that line. Some bear the wounds of having stood on that line. It is a place we are all called to stand. If we fail to stand on that line - to preserve what is good and right - their sacrifice is in vain."

The St. James Cenotaph in Bruce Park

Earlier in the week, Marc Reid from Canada's History Magazine spoke to my CreComm class about Canadian history (shocking, I know). Among other things, he reminded us that in World War I over 600,000 Canadians served and one tenth of that number (over 60,000) died. He painted a picture of trench warfare where, at the sound of a whistle, troops would climb out of the safety of their trenches/holes and make a run at enemy lines - enemy lines defended by machine guns. Seven out of ten soldiers, he said, would be gunned down in the first few seconds. They'd retreat and try again. And again. And again.

Marc spoke about how this sacrifice made Canada a nation: we gained respect from other world powers, took pride in our own fighting forces and found a sense of accomplishment as a people. Which is all very true.

But it doesn't change how stupid, wasteful and monstrous it all was. 60,000 dead, never mind the wounded, the shell shocked. And that was just one country in one war...


Which leads me to the subject of children.

The wife and I have been chatting about future plans - what we'll do when I get out of school, home renovations, etc. And children have come up as a debatable subject. Because she is all for them and I am not. I think they're loud, messy, time-consuming, schedule-wrecking, expensive, disease riddled. (Actually I started a blog with WJT Artistic Producer Michael Nathanson last year, debating the merits back and forth - the blog went kaput due to both of our busy schedules, but you're welcome to read Kids Versus Cats).

The subject came up over tea at Cousin's on Remembrance Day evening. My wife pointed out that all of my 'cons' have equal and opposite 'pros' - kids can be inventive, funny, inspirational, problem-solving, cute, generous wonders.

What finally emerged was a discussion of our attitudes. I am a pessimist. A depressed, artistic pessimist who thinks people are born selfish. I don't have a lot of hope we'll solve global warming or recent economic troubles - not when people in power have an interest in maintaining the status quo. And 60,000 young men died for one country in one war. Why would I want to bring anyone into a world like ours?

My wife asked me to watch the video below for her response. She's clever like that - and very, very patient with me. I've watched it a few times now. It's convincing, though I'm not sure I'm convinced...

Major Slous' words are also weighing on me. Is it my duty to be optimistic?


November 9, 2011

Chatting with Romeo and Juliet

Pam Patel and Marc Bendavid are performing as Romeo and Juliet for the >Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Artistic Director Steven Schipper has chosen to set the play in modern Jerusalem, with the Montagues as Jews, the Capulets as Muslims and the friars, Mercutio and Prince as Christians.

How are rehearsals going?

Marc   It feels right for the two weeks it’s been. The play is starting to take shape. We have lots of work to do but time to do it in.

Pam     The blocking is fluid. It has room to develop, even during the run and I appreciate that. I’m sure everyone does.

How does it feel playing these celebrated roles?

Marc   It doesn’t serve to think of it that way. I haven’t felt like I’m conjuring some ancient actor’s spirit. I try to approach the text thinking about how they would be my words and not think about their history.

Pam     I’m not thinking about other Juliets, although I sometimes use them for reference. Primarily I’m trying to connect with Juliet personally, find what it is in myself that makes me her and be genuine on stage.

How do you connect with your character?

Pam     It didn’t feel I was getting her until we got up on our feet and were blocking the scenes, interacting with other characters. My realizations came based on the way that she moves in the space and the relationships with other characters. Now that I have that, I’m just starting to feel her in my body.

Marc   For me it’s all about the text – the relationships that he has are all in there. They’re in the metre, they’re in the character’s lines. I look for a way that I would say the things that he says and do the things he does – find different meanings for a word, ask someone with more experience for advice. It has to do with my relationship with the text. If there are real mysteries I try to bring in my life to the work and make it as personal as possible, but the basic understanding is in the text.

Do you find the story hopeful?

Marc   As a story it has an enormous amount of hope - I don’t think it necessarily ends on a hopeful note. It’s a director’s choice; there is room for a director to shape the end. Prior to this rehearsal, I would have thought it was a play full of joy that ends terribly. This director has chosen to end hopefully, that’s how the play makes sense to him.

Pam     When I’m in it, I’m not thinking “the audience needs to feel this or that.” This is me being as true to the character as I can be – this is me telling a story. The individual watching it – they’ll feel whatever they feel. I’m not hoping they’ll walk away with this or that, I hope it triggers something, that we are able to trigger some reaction in them. If I was an audience member, I’d think there was a great amount of hope and a great amount of pain.

How has doing this play affected you?

Marc   I never have any idea where I am, what I’m doing, where to be, when to be there. I’ve become some muttering, insane person… which hopefully will go away.

Pam     This experience is a bit wild for me. I never thought I would be doing a Shakespeare play. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate language before, but now – I appreciate so much of the language that I use. It’s something I hope I can bring to my other work.

Marc   I had a teacher at National Theatre School; when he directed our second year Shakespeare play, he became this confused, bumbling, disjointed man. We loved making fun of his befuddlement. Now his behaviour makes perfect sense.

Has the concept (setting the play in Jerusalem) influenced your choices?

Marc   Not really. It’s a basic premise. The themes are there and they happen to fit with a particular part of the world, but they could fit with many places, Rwanda -
Pam     Or here.
Marc   It affords us details, but it doesn’t do anything other than slightly contextualize it for people who might think it’s not a pressing or important play.

Pam     What’s amazing to watch in this process is how these different bodies – with varying backgrounds, ethnicities and histories – how they come into the space and inform one another. It shows that we hold history in our bodies. It’s what I love about this casting – these bodies coming together and informing each other. I think you can see that we bring our own languages, cultures and histories to the stage

Romeo and Juliet runs November 24 through December 17 at RMTC.

November 6, 2011


   n. (merr'meuh ray''sheuhn)
   1. an act or instance of murmuring
   2. a flock of starlings

This past week, a certain politician got me down. His move from supporting green energy to shilling for the Alberta oil sands was depressing; his refusal to directly answer questions regarding that move was depressing; the lack of outrage from our group at being "handled" was depressing.

People suck. Fortunately, this world is filled with more than people. To cheer myself up - and you, should this grey November day be getting you down - a movie shot by two women on the River Shannon.

Mother Nature for the win.

November 4, 2011

Burning Bridges aka Reviewing Theatre

Over the past five years, I've called myself an actor. I've been ridiculously lucky enough to perform with Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Shakespeare in the Ruins, Sarasvati Productions, and Echo Theatre - among others.

More importantly and impressively, I`ve been able to perform with my own company, Theatre by the River. We`ve produced some of the most socially relevant, artistically provocative shows to see the light of day in Winnipeg. I`m immensely proud of what we`ve accomplished and what I`ve been able to do.

But you can`t make a living as an actor in Winnipeg. You really can`t - not unless you`re prepared to travel elsewhere. Or you`re some kind of golden god. Or you have a sugar daddy or momma. The reality is you (hopefully) land a few weeks of work a year, then between shows you work wherever you can get a job. I've poured coffee, been a legislative assistant, built fences, rejigged locks and stacked boxes for eight hours a day (among other things). As I get older - and my financial plans get more ambitious - I can`t live that life anymore.

So I`ve quit. I`m not taking theatre gigs anymore. I`ve enrolled in Red River College`s Creative Communications program to take my `career` in a new direction. But I still want to maintain some connection to theatre.

SO I`ve been tempted to write reviews. Reviewers have an amazing influence over what kind of theatre gets produced (or at least celebrated) in Winnipeg. Reviewing would give me an outlet to not only influence the Winnipeg theatre scene, it would let me do what theatre has always let me do; try to artistically unravel the question "why are we here?"


The problem is that, as a reviewer, I would be in an awesome position of power. Reviews can make or break a show, particularly a small independent show that doesn`t have guaranteed subscribers or operating funds. And the Winnipeg independent theatre scene is populated by my friends - people I love. Sooner or later, as a reviewer I will be required to say what I think about their shows, which isn`t always good things. Mom`s old axiom ``If you can`t say anything nice`` goes out the window when you`re a reviewer.

So I`m hesitant. I really want to stay in touch with theatre while not actually being a performer. And I think there is room for an actor turned reviewer in Winnipeg. But I also don`t want to burn bridges with my friends. I`m putting together an evening of discussion between theatre reviewers and producers - partly because I think a chat would be healthy, but mostly because I want to bounce my thoughts off some qualified minds. Stay tuned for details.

Do you have any thoughts on this? What would you ask a theatre reviewer? What would you ask a local artistic director? Do you even care what reviewers have to say?

November 2, 2011

Selling Booze in Manitoba

This past while, Kenton Larsen has been guiding our advertising class through the stormy waters of liquor advertising in Manitoba. While ads from the States (and even other provinces) are not subject to the MLCC's sometimes bizarre, often confusing rules, locally produced ads are. Some examples of the law:
  • A bar shouldn't speak about the liquor it serves as an "escape" from life's troubles
  • No one can be seen to consume any alcohol
  • A car cannot be heard
  • You cannot use children's music
And so on. I decided to test the limits of these rules (against Kenton's wise warnings) by openly mocking them. If I quote the law that says an ad can't speak to the quality of the booze (I wondered), will I get away with it?

No! Kenton faxed (who does that anymore?) some of our ads over to the MLCC to check if they were on the level. And mine was struck down for implying the very thing I was speaking against. Which... is what I was doing. So I am justly caught. Sigh...

I did get the satisfaction of a good quote though. As relayed to me by Kenton Larsen, the MLCC employee's response to my ad was:

"Your student has broken the law in a very clever way."

Worth the autofail friends, worth the autofail.

October 25, 2011

You Are What You Eat

The first record of this beaten-to-death phrase appeared in Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's treatise on the Physiology of Taste in 1826, where he wrote (in sexy French), "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]."

I've heard various twists. "You are what you read" "Show me your friends and I'll show you who you are." "Don't eat that Matt, that's disgusting." For today's blog, let's broaden the definition of "eat" as far as it will stretch.

"You are what you consume." Which is more or less true. Yes, you can believe you have a soul, that there is a unique bit of you that never changes. But it's pretty undeniable that your upbringing - the combination of what you've seen/heard/experienced - shapes who you are.

Which makes me wonder who I'm becoming. My twitter feed draws from comedians, news sources, friends, family, industry pros, companies; I receive about 40 tweets a minute (and I'm only following 541 feeds). I'm reading newspapers from around the world, watching "tv stations" (that term is so outdated) streamed from nearly every continent (still waiting for PenguinTV... oh no wait, it exists). I played an online game from a company in New Zealand last night. The list goes on.

And I feel anxious that I'm not consuming enough media. In the morning when I wake up, the second thing I reach for (right after whacking my long suffering alarm clock) is my iPod touch, to catch up on the news. The radio is seldom off in my house - silence now makes me twitchy.

It's an anxiety that I think ties back to, "You are what you consume." With individual messages losing any sort of authoritative standing as they get swallowed by the deluge. keeping up-to-speed on what's happening now seems to like the best chance to becoming a complete person. Identity now lies on the Cutting Edge of the Information Age. Which makes me wonder:

  • As we increasingly share the same media streams with the rest of the world, is humanity becoming homogenous?
  • How can I become a complete person when I can't possibly keep up with all the media?
  • Are we losing or gaining by consuming the same information?


Thanks to my classmate Chantal Verrier, who told me that the title to Anthelme's treatise "Meditations de Gastronomie" translates to "Meditations on Transcending Gastronomy." I find that comforting for some reason...

October 20, 2011

A Winnipeg Secret

Winnipeg's larger parks and sites tend to get the glory - Assiniboine Park, The Forks, Kildonan Park - but there's one narrow strip of a park that has won my affection: Stephen Juba Park.

Oh yes, it's just a narrow strip of a thing, squashed between Waterfront Drive and the Red River. But the variety of terrain (open fields, forest, perennial AND annual gardens), the use of native Manitoba plants, the art installations (done by professionals, not fledgling students - looking at YOU Portage Avenue) they all come together to make a great public space.

It's a place that doesn't lose it's appeal during the winter. I jogged through it every weekday last winter to get to work and never found it visually boring. The fact that it's so close to the Exchange, but provides an effective escape from the city (thanks to its treeline combining with its gentle slope down to the river) only makes it that much more precious.

I was biking through last spring and came across one of the city gardeners, deeply tanned with long dreadlocks, working away in one of the garden beds. I called out, "Really love what you've done with this place," or something like that. And got the most enthusiastic thumbs up and "Thanks, man!" I've ever received.

No, no (sideways two-finger point) thank you, man!

October 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

I am going to let two other authors, whose work was printed this past weekend, take the stage for this post. Bartley Kives wrote an article for the Winnipeg Free Press. Kevin Engstrom wrote one for the Winnipeg Sun.

Two very different perspectives, but they agree on one thing: we have to deal with this.

October 4, 2011

Aqua Books: A Winnipeg Institution

Short Version

Right now Aqua Books has a 50% sale going on. All the books. Half off.

Please go and buy armfulls of books. As many as you can carry (you're going to have to race me and everyone else to the Can Lit section).

Long Version

I confess to being an emotional guy. An emotional, artistic guy (let me tell you how I feel THROUGH DANCE!). And weighing heavily on my mind lately is the fate of Aqua Books - Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall.

The bookstore/cultural hub is located at 274 Garry Street - surrounded by seedy hotels, parking lots and corporate buildings whose workers flee to the suburbs at 5pm daily. It's location has been a source of criticism in coverage of the financial trouble prompting it's closure. "Should've chosen a better location." "No one wants to go downtown, it's scary." "Why would anyone put a bookstore there?"

They put a bookstore there because the owners believe in Winnipeg. They have a vision for a thriving, urbane downtown where people live, work and play 24/7. Where the streets are not deserted as soon as the work day ends. Where the rich art scene of the 'Peg is celebrated. Aqua Books was/is willing to be one of the "shock troops" of gentrification in the downtown.

Mayor Sam Katz has gone on air to lament the loss of mom and pop shops in Winnipeg, noting that small business is the economic engine of a city. In the same talk, he lays the burden of action entirely on the owners and the citizens of Winnipeg. As though City Hall had no interest or role to play in supporting small downtown businesses.

If you've never been, please go now. There's a 50% sale on a wider array of books than you can shake a bookmark at. And there's still events going on until at least the end of October.

If you've never been, here's a little sample of the typical atmosphere. Worth having in the downtown, no?

September 30, 2011

A Manitoban Who Loves His Job

In Manitoba we love to slag our crown corporations. Why?

Because they're so slaggable. Large bureaucracies with total control over influential areas of citizen life, populated by union-protected workers - not that unions are necessarily bad, but they can act as protectors to employees who, occupationally, should be taken out behind the woodshed (I tried to think of a 21st century equivalent to "taken out behind the woodshed" and failed. Google it.)

But there's at least one Manitoba crown corporation employee working hard to help serve our needs!

A few posts ago, I spoke about a mini-campaign I was going to launch to bring Picaroon's beer (delicious) to Winnipeg (so good!) for sale in local marts (mmmm). Last time I was out purchasing adult beverages, a helpful salesperson informed me that yes, there was a form I could fill out for said request. Joy!

I fired it off, truly doubtful I would get a response. Oh, me of little faith:

So this post is dedicated to you Steve Moran, Product Ambassador of Manitoba Liquor Marts! Thank you for being on the case. Of beer!

Generous Update - Theatre by the River's political satire is up and running (and getting great reviews). If you need a laugh in the midst of these elections (COUGHsonegativeCOUGH) you can't do better.

September 27, 2011

Page One... is turning over...

Andrew Rossi's love-letter to The New York Times played at Cinematheque this past week. Partly a behind-the-scenes look at the daily workings of The Times, mostly a battle cry in its defence, PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times is an articulate summary of the problems facing traditional papers today - migration of advertising revenue away from traditional media, hijacking of content by aggregate sites and the unwillingness of readers to pay for information they can get somewhere else for free.

The spectre of death hangs over not just a loved paper (whose investigative reports have helped topple administrations), but also it's driven, insightful staff - blogger turned reporter Brian Stelter, former editor Bill Keller and the hilariously inspired media reporter David Carr.

The documentary answers a number of questions: are traditional papers loved (yes), do we need accountable, professional journalists to give context to an increasing flood of information (yes), do we need financially/legally backed reporters to hold the powerful accountable (yes). What PAGE ONE doesn't answer - because right now no one has an answer - is how to help journalistic outlets survive the e-revolution. As The Guardian review of the PAGE ONE puts it "good writing and good journalism don't happen naturally; they have to be nurtured."

A few ideas are floating in the air these days regarding journalism's future. Government funded models (such as CBC and NPR) exist but are consistently the targets of cutbacks (click here for David Carr's take on that model). Private fundraising is being explored by some papers. And a morphing of traditional medium from ink on dead tree to interactive apps offers traditional outlets a chance to compete with their twitter/aggregate/blogger competition.

A great comfort is taken, throughout the film, that media outlets have survived transformations and previously predicted doomsdays (to quote Emerson "Can anyone remember when the times were not hard and money was not scarce?" geddit?). And our love for trusted news sources like The New York Times hasn't gone away - it has only increased as the world wide waters get increasingly murky.

For example: in a true demonstration of impartiality, The Times movie critic panned PAGE ONE.

Yet another reason to love The Times.

September 20, 2011

Edward Bernays; The First Spinner

Who's your daddy PR? Who is it? Edward Bernays! Yeah!
A brief look at one of the key figures who shaped what we know as modern Public Relations - Edward Louis Bernays. Not only will this post give you a bit of knowledge of Bernays, it will link you up with two fantastic CreComm students, Chantal Verrier and Corinne Rikkleman for parts two and three of the history lesson.

Credited as being the father of modern public relations, Austrian-American Edward Louis Bernays was born in 1891. The double nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud, he combined the emerging field of psychology with advertising to create persuasive, targeted “public relations” campaigns on behalf of his clients.

Bernays' father was the brother of Freud's wife. Bernays' mother was Freud's sister.
You can bet that came up in therapy.
Bernays had been engaged by the Woodrow Wilson administration’s Committee on Public Information, tasked with convincing the world that America’s primary goal in World War I was “bringing democracy to all of Europe.” Drawing on the teachings of his famous uncle, as well as the crowd psychology studies of Gustave LeBon and Wilfred Trotter, the “democracy” campaign succeeded beyond Bernays’ expectations. He pondered the application of his technique during peacetime, believing the public to be a “herd” in need of guidance; rather than use the term propaganda, now tainted by its association with the German war effort, Bernays coined the term “public relations.”

Bernays was the originator of the Press Release (staging scripted events for the benefit of free media coverage) and Third Party Advocacy (obtaining unpaid product endorsement from community leaders and professionals). His notable campaigns include convincing magazines to write articles promoting ballet as fun (on behalf of the 1915 Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes American tour), promoting the idea of African-Americans as important community contributors in the deeply racist southern states (for the NAACP’s 1920 Atlanta Convention), holding soap-carving and soap-floating contests (for Ivory Soap), promoting the idea that only disposable cups were sanitary (on behalf of Dixie Cup) and branding democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman a dangerous communist (on behalf of United Fruit Company’s efforts to overthrow that leader).

Part Two - The Torches of Freedom Campaign
Part Three - The Green Ball Campaign

September 16, 2011

MonaRita at Femfest

Looking to take in some great out-of-town theatre?

This week Femfest helps balance out the traditionally male-dominated theatre canon with plays by female playwrights (for everyone!). They have a mix of local acts and out-of-town shows; one of which comes pre-vetted.

I managed to catch MonaRita at this summer's Toronto Fringe festival and it is stellar. Weird, wacky, surreal story of two flawed women who need each other to stay sane. They've picked up ridiculously positive (and deservedly so) reviews from across the country (including "Outstanding Ensemble Award" at the TO Fringe). And they only have two shows in Winnipeg! OMG!

Catch MonaRita. While you can.

University of Winnipeg Theatre Building
Sunday, September 18 at 9pm
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm
Tickets $10

The artists taking in their first Boon Burger.

September 12, 2011


Axe-phyx-i-a-te [aks-fik-see-eyt]
1.   to cause to die or lose consciousness by impairing normal breathing through over application of male cologne

Example: While trying to impress women, John Doe axephyxiated the CreComm student in the elevator.

September 10, 2011

Eating My Words

So last night a few fellows come over for an impromptu beer tasting. And I don't hang with "fellows" much - talk of hockey, football, engine repair, etc is pretty foreign to me (don't you want to talk about dance???) - but I know enough to nod my head when talking about the Jets coming back to Winnipeg. (side note: Picaroon's Irish Red Beer was unbelievably good. Look forward to my upcoming online campaign to get them sold in Manitoba Liquor Marts!)

(faces have been obscured to protect the educators)

Talk switches to discussing areas of the city where it's good to buy a house and I boast about downtown. Oh yes, there are issues - empty lots, crazy neighbours, high traffic. Sometimes the neighbourhood can be a bit "lively." But all in all people are just trying to get by. You're super close to everything, there are lots of new families, lots of immigrant families making a new start. It's an exciting part of the city to live in!

This morning I wake up to:

Dammit Downtown! I'm pulling for you but you've got to meet me halfway! Sigh...

September 9, 2011

Participatory Advertising

A lot of talk this week in class about what the future of advertising is - what the heck is advertising now anyways?

Is "liking" a brand's Facebook page advertising on behalf of the company? (click on this link to have your mind blown. Inception style.) Is an event orchestrated by a branded franchise but devoid of any obvious onsite advertising still considered advertising?

Kenton Larsen (CreComm teacher) drew the distinction thusly (as far as I understand - don't quote me on the test): advertising is paid for and controlled by the Advertiser. Unpaid advertising that is not controlled by the Advertiser falls under the field of "Public Relations" - still marketing a product, but doing it through media events/unpaid endorsements/etc that aren't paid for.

NOW, I think there's a particular type of advertising that straddles these two fields - participatory advertising. Paid for by the advertiser, true, but incomplete unless the viewer participates of their own free will. It's old school advertising meets the YouTube generation.

Perhaps I'm completely out to lunch (the comments section will let you say so) but the following ads are cool nonetheless. Rad, even.


Hot Wheels (Mattel) Roadside Billboards - Mexico
Possibly by Young & Rubicam or Ogilvy & Mather... unsure after brief websearch


International Labour Organization - Magazine Ad


And the pick of the litter...

Radiotjanst (Swedish organization which collects radio/tv license fees)

Sweden was having a problem getting its citizens to voluntarily pay their license fees and turned to DraftFCB to create this commercial, praising those who had paid. During the campaign it was possible to go to Radiotjanst's website and add whatever jpeg image you liked to the movie - you could choose who would be the hero.

The video above is an example of what you could have done - sadly the campaign is now closed.

Participatory advertising. What do you think?

September 8, 2011

Good Ad versus Bad Ad

My advertising class' first assignment was to find an example of a good advertisement and a bad advertisement. Guess what follows?

The M&M’S Pretzel ad, which appeared in the August 22, 2011 edition of People Magazine, is a play on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” – the artist’s depiction of the perfectly proportioned person at the centre of geometric principles.

By sneaking their unpretentious product into a classical depiction of perfection, M&M’S are simultaneously communicating the message that “M&M’S Pretzels are the perfect snack,” and giving their audience a laugh. The ad is an “inside joke” that rewards the viewer for having classical awareness, prompting the elitist response “I get it!” and an emotional tie to the product. Finally, there’s a further layer of cleverness in the ad’s use of Vitruvian Man; positioning the pretzel inside the candy character demonstrates the nature of a new product that M&M’S is still trying to make

familiar to the public. Cleverness within cleverness within cleverness.

Taking an iconic image and giving it a twist is a fantastic way to catch the eye of a viewer, making them pause to discern “what’s not right with this picture?” The graphic is simple and uncluttered; rendered with an artistic “sepia” filter that causes it to stand out among the sharply focused, real-life-photo ads that dominate the rest of the magazine.

This ad is the perfect example of a multilayered idea presented with a simple, yet artistic execution – a thinking person’s candy ad.

This Clarins ad, which appeared in the August edition of Vogue, manages to obey several rules of good design, but still be terrible. Approximately $300,000 of terrible too, based on the going rate of being vogue-ish.

The colours are rich and vibrant; the layout is simple and uncluttered – all hallmarks of a good ad. But the graphic is uninteresting, with no emotionally charged promise of a prettier face or more confident, happy lifestyle by a proud Clarins user. It’s just a bottle of product that conveys no sense of function or brand.

The heavy lifting in the ad is left to the copy, which reads

Dark spots? Lines? Dull skin? NEW Vital Light Serum
Triple Action Anti-Aging Skin Care

Clarins pioneers a new frontier of skin science - a supercharged serum that defies dark spots, dullness and wrinkles in 2 weeks.*

This triple action complex of Hexylresorcinal, a tripeptide and pioneer plant extracts helps correct the appearance of dark spots - while visibly lifting, firming and restoring the deep luminosity of young-looking skin. No worries. No regrets. No doctor's appointment. Consult with your Clarins Skin Care Specialist today. Made in France.

*based on a consumer test.

The copy starts the race already hamstrung by a miles-wide separation from the graphic across a page break and a sharply defined colour border. It leads, not with promises of a prettier viewer, but accusatory questions. “Dark spots? Lines? Dull skin?” This is a fear-based ad, which comes across as deeply negative when laid alongside the magazine’s other positive, “beauty” filled ads. Phrases like “new frontier of skin science,” “pioneer plant extracts,” “deep luminosity of young-looking skin” corrupt the credibility of the ad’s simple layout by venturing into the ridiculous. A Clarinss Skin Care Specialist??? Where did they get their degrees?

An expensive example of how an ad has to be great in order to not be terrible.