Monthly Archives: July 2012

Winnipeg Fringe Festival – Part 2

I’ve been to my second trio of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival now. 

I went to see The Tempest because of personal connections. I got to know my husband while working on a group project about the play in my first year English class at university. I saw the play at London’s Globe Theatre in 2005 and went to  Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins production in 2001.  I was especially interested in the Fringe Festival show because it was put on by young people. When I taught grade four in Mitchell, Manitoba I staged The Tempest with my students several years in a row using a simplified script I had written.  When Bev Ridd, who I work with on a Project Peacemakers committee, sent an e-mail saying her grandsons were playing the roles of Caliban and Prospero in the Fringe production I decided to go. I greatly admired the young actors. They had put so much work into learning their parts and performed with passion. The sets and costumes were great! However I thought the production was far too long, running almost 90 minutes. Especially since it was billed as a play for children it should have been no longer than 45 or 50 minutes. Several young families walked out before the end. The advertising does say babes in arms are welcome, but during the show I attended,  a baby started crying and didn’t stop. It took a long time before the parent decided to exit the theatre with their wailing infant and I felt sorry for the young actors who had to soldier on despite the fact the audience was mightily distracted. I thought it was wonderful that the performers had mastered all that Shakespearean language so flawlessly and executed their lines with a dramatic flair that made it evident they knew exactly what they were talking about. However I’m not sure the audience always did. I think some adaptation to a more modern English would have gone a long way to engage the children watching the show. I’d give this production a 2.5 out of 5. 

The actors in Teaching Hamlet are professional and with the exception of a unecessarily long and supposedly  funny  opening scene where Joe, played by Keir Cutler is trying to set up a video camera; the pacing was great and kept the audience’s attention.  The title is misleading, because except for quoting Hamlet several times, the play isn’t about Hamlet at  all. It is about a lonely man named Joe who heads up a society he and his mother founded,  that is trying to promote the idea the Earl of Oxford and not William Shakespeare wrote the bard’s plays. Joe enlists a mercenary actor named Conner Hamilton to help make a video to promote his ideas. The show is really about getting a glimpse into the lives of the two main characters and finding out what kind of people they are. We watch them develop some empathy  for one another.  Ultimately that is why the show is satisfying because it reminds us how many truly lonely people there are in the world and encourages us to reach out to those around us. It prods us to see beyond people’s outer facade and to realize we may have something in common with men and women who appear very different from us. I’d give this play a 4 out of 5. The fact this show is in the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s comfortable venue adds to the viewer’s enjoyment. 

Veryalyn Warkentin’s play Mary and Martha has not received good reviews but I went to see it anyway with my friend Wendy, because I had personal connections with the story. It is about Mennonite young women who came to Winnipeg from rural Manitoba to work as housemaids in the homes of wealthy city folks in order to earn money to pay back their families’ travel debts following their immigration to Canada from Ukraine. This happened all over Canada in the 1930’s and 40’s. My mother-in-law Anne worked for a wealthy family in Leamington, Ontario. The Mennonite Church established homes in several Canadian cities called Maedchenheims (girls homes) as a clearing house and refuge for young Mennonite women working in the city. I once did a feature story on five women who were ‘city girls’ in their youth. This last year I also read Dora Dueck’s book This Hidden Thing which tells the story of one of the Mennonite ‘city girls.’  I enjoyed Mary and Martha because of my personal interest in its story although I thought some of the actors seemed to slip in and out of their accents and they did too much explaining and informing and not enough acting. The lengthy family memory the main character Helen Epp shares at the end of the play had me in tears, because I have heard almost identical stories from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, but audience members without that kind of personal connection probably found it too long and somewhat disconnected from the plot of the play. I’d give Mary and Martha a 3.5 out of 5.

I already have tickets for another trio of plays so look for at least one more blog post about the Fringe Festival. 

If you enjoyed this blog post you might like……….

Winnipeg Fringe Festival Part 1


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Winnipeg Fringe Festival- Part 1

Dave and I have always been Winnipeg Fringe Festival aficionados but this is the first year in a long time we are in Canada for the entire Fringe Festival and…… we’re now living in a condo right downtown just behind the main festival box office. All 30 venues are within walking distance of our home. 

Dave decided to really get in the spirit of things this year by becoming a Fringe Festival volunteer. He will work four shifts selling tickets and ushering. So far we have seen three plays but have already bought tickets to many more. 

Our first play Body Language  was at the Gas Station Theatre.  The performers are Hot Thespian Action, a comedy sketch team from Winnipeg. They have quite the reputation! We were at their first show of the Fringe Festival and it appeared to be SOLD OUT!  It was easy to see why. Their performance consists of a series of vignettes that either make you chuckle because they hit so close to home, make you think, because they deal with relevant topics, or make you admire the versatility and flexibility of the performers. Especially enjoyable was a musical number called Boomerang about young adult children who move back in with their parents because they lose their job, end a relationship, or decide to go back to school. I must admit not all the Hot Thespian Action troupe have strong singing voices but the material engaged the audience despite this. I was throughly entertained by sketches about new mothers having a shouting match over whose life is more difficult, a scene in a computer warranty office and friends trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind the words ‘Wanna have lunch?’ in a text message. A game show sketch called ‘IS HE GAY?’ was staged in such a clever way that rather than be offensive, it actually poked fun at people who like to stereotype others. I learned something new at this show. One vignette was called ‘Ghosting’ and it took place at a party where a guy was creeping up close to women. I had never heard of ghosting before and looked it up on the internet when I got home. I found out ghosting is also known as personal space invasion. Someone who ‘ghosts’ tries to invade another individual’s personal space for the longest period of time without that person noticing. Body Language was thought-provoking and funny. I would definitely recommend it and give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Our second play was The Greatest Guitarist in the World. It wasn’t really a play though. It was a concert. The premise was interesting. Colin Godbout had chosen six famous guitarists and played their music in three ‘matches’ or ’bouts’ pairing off one guitarist against another. Gypsy musician Django Reinhardt against country western’s Chet Atkins; rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix versus Canadian jazz legend Lenny Breau and finally two British rock musicians Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Godbout is a great guitarist and its worth going to the show just to hear him play while enjoying a drink at the tables in the dimly lit basement of the Johnny G’s restaurant. However his attempt to add a little theatre to the show by donning different hats and providing philosophical patter between numbers seemed contrived and was frankly hard to follow. I give this show a 3 out of 5. Go for the music. 

Last night we saw Antigone. I was especially interested in this show because I taught the Greek tragedy by Sophocles in my sophomore English classes for years and know the story well. I have seen several excellent film versions of the play and have written an e-zine article called Antigone An Inspiration . Although it was clear the theatre students performing the drama at the Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre on Albert Street loved the play, the modern garden party setting where they chose to place the drama seemed incongruous with its serious themes, hardly the place for dealing with an act of anarchy. Since they changed the setting to the present day, perhaps they needed to change the language as well to something more colloquial. I liked the way the part of the chorus shifted between different people and especially enjoyed the performances of the messenger and Antigone. Creon seemed too suave and debonair for his stately role, more a playboy than a leader. The audience nearly filled the venue and was enthusiastic. The young performers had lots of friends and family there in support which was great to see. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Our Exchange District location definitely makes fringing easier. We feel like we are at the heart of the theatre action.  What next? Well we have tickets to Medicine, The Holy Land, The Tempest, Choose Your Own Adventure and Guernica. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…………

Winnipeg Fringe Festival Part 2

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It’s Not A Good Idea

The City of Winnipeg is making lots of changes to it’s parking regulations in the downtown area where we live. 

Some of these changes may be necessary but there is one change that isn’t a good idea. The Residential Parking permits are being discontinued.  These permits which can be purchased for an annual fee allow residents of the Exchange District to register a personal vehicle with the city. They are then given a pass which allows them to park that vehicle anywhere in the Exchange without paying parking meter fees or moving their cars after time limits for parking have expired. 

We have used this pass when our children come to visit us from Saskatoon. It is very inconvenient for them to park their car and keep running outside every two hours to plug a parking meter during a four or five day visit. It is also very expensive. So we park our car on the street and let them have our parking spot. Residents of the Exchange pay taxes just like everyone else in Winnipeg and most other Winnipeg residents can have guests park on the streets in front of their home. Why can’t we have the same privilege? We also used the pass on a cold evening when my elderly parents came for a visit. My mother is in a wheelchair so having them park in our indoor condo garage was much more comfortable and convenient than parking outside. We parked on the street using our residential pass and let my parents have our spot. 

The city wants to encourage people to move into the Exchange District. Cancelling the residential parking passes will definitely deter and not encourage more people to move downtown. Right now we pay $25 annually for our residential parking pass. I would be willing to pay more if it meant the program would continue. 

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Winnipeg Folk Festival-It’s Who You Know

It’s not who you listen to, it’s who you know.

Chic Gamine performs on Friday night at the Winnipeg Folk Festival

I was at the Winnipeg Folk Festival on Friday and meeting so many people I knew, was every bit as interesting as listening to the performers.  You can hear some great music at the Folk Festival but it’s clear what keeps people coming back year after year is the chance to see so many folks they know.  I could barely walk anywhere without turning around and seeing someone familiar. After living abroad for six years the Folk Festival was the perfect place to renew old acquaintances, catch up with former colleagues and touch base with friends. 

Young families having fun in the sand pile                                       

I was struck by the intergenerational nature of the festival. We visited with our friends’ children and bumped into our children’s friends, many of them with toddlers of their own in tow.

We discovered all kinds of our relatives were at the Birds Hill site. 

My cousin Carol at her Ladybug Creations booth

My cousin Carol was selling her unique crafts in the Hand-Made Village area. Her brother, my cousin Gerry, was helping her out and so we got to visit with him too.

My cousin Kirsten, her husband J.F. and her daughter Gabrielle at the Green Bean Coffee Imports booth at the Folk Festival

Another cousin and her family were working as serving personnel at one of the food booths. 

My brother and his partner enjoying the main stage at Folk Fest

My brother and his partner offered us a place to sit on their nearly front row tarp in the main stage area. 

Dave visits with Bucky and Alisa

We had refreshments with our younger son and his fiancée who were spending the weekend before their wedding enjoying the Folk Festival.

 We chatted with two retired couples both our former Hanover School Division teaching colleagues. They were working as volunteers at the festival and had earned free admittance and meals in the process.  When you are living on a pension, being a volunteer is a great way to enjoy the Folk Festival and still stay within your budget.

Dave and John enjoying the sun and                            the music at the Folk Festival

Although we hadn’t planned ahead of time to meet anyone at the Folk Festival we spotted our good friend John from Steinbach and ended up having supper and enjoying a concert with him.  

     Just like the Folk Festival experience is all about relationships it was the music about relationships that caught my attention.

Royal Wood introducing the song Lady in Blue

Performer Royal Wood sang a moving song called Lady in Blue about a friend’s grandfather who dies of a broken heart just weeks after his wife of many years passes away.

David Bromberg sings                              I’ll Take You Back

I laughed at David Bromberg’s rendition of I’ll Take You Back. It is about a man jilted by his girlfriend. She leaves him for another guy. When she tires of her new love she wants to go back to her former partner but he will have none it.  Bromberg sings sarcastically…….. “Ill take you back when rattle snakes have knees, and money grows on trees”. “I’ll take you back when preachers on TV start sending cash to me.”  “I’ll take you back when your Mama’s too tired to talk and the dead get up to walk.”  Bromberg went on and on, each line becoming more creative and funny than the next. 

Matt Anderson entertains at the main stage on Friday night

Matt Anderson sang a song about what to do when a friend has a girlfriend nobody likes and Chic Gamine advised us to “put your searchlight on if you are looking for love.”

Martyn Joseph performing on Friday at the Winnipeg Folk Festival

      Welsh performer Martyn Joseph said “The job of any great song is to tell you, you’re not alone in the world.”  I think that same sort of reasoning also explains why the Folk Festival is such a success.  Spending a weekend at Birds Hill Park with a host of other people, many of whom have familiar faces, is a friendly affirmation that you are certainly not alone in the world. 

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River Boat Tour- Red and Assiniboine Winnipeg

When our friends from Hong Kong John and Sandy were visiting last week I took them on a boat tour down the Assiniboine and the Red River here in Winnipeg. 

Our driver Ian was very friendly and shared lots of information about the sites we saw as we drove along. 

A family of Canada geese followed along behind us. Canada geese may seem ordinary to us but they were of great interest to John and Sandy who come from Australia and teach in Hong Kong. Neither Australia or Hong Kong have Canada geese. 

Ian gave a little safety talk before the tour began and told us how to use the provided life jackets. Although the river was flowing quite swiftly it is very low this year. The river walkways are actually open while last year they were under water. 

Ian showed us the colorful marks on the bridge pillars that illustrate the various heights of the river in certain years. The red line was where the river was during the great floods of 1950 and 1997. Much of the city was saved from flooding in 1997 because of the Winnipeg Floodway which was built in the late 1960’s at the insistence of Manitoba’s premier Duff Roblin. 

Ian pointed out many interesting sites as we motored along. I had seen all these landmarks, but it is different to view them from the river.  We saw………….

the Manitoba Legislative Building with the Golden Boy atop its peak 

the uniquely designed Provencher Bridge

the new Human Rights Museum currently under construction

the historic St. Boniface Cathedral

 the statue of Louis Riel the founder of Manitoba

the Alexander Docks 

the old Eatons Warehouse

the toboggan slide used for Winnipeg’s annual Festival du Voyageur and 

many trees whose root system had been eroded by the river water

There was a little girl on board with us and she was thrilled when Ian let her drive the boat for a few minutes. 

Before we knew it we were back at the Johnson Terminal at The Forks.  The boat is a great way to see Winnipeg from a river point of view. I’m glad I took my guests on the trip. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………

Why No Golden Girl

Skating the Red River

The Provencher Bridge

A Controversial Statue


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