Annual Events

Antony and Cleopatra and the Mosquitoes

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antony and cleopatra shakespeare in the ruinsI’m a huge Shakespeare in the Ruins fans and can still remember almost every play I’ve seen by the talented company.  I’ve been going to their performances for years. I loved their presentation of The Tempest, their Romeo and Juliet in a parking garage and their production of Amid Summer Night’s Dream in a downtown park. Last year’s Comedy of Errors was a complete delight.  We took visitors from Hong Kong and they were so impressed. 

shakespeare in the ruinsI have to say that this year’s Antony and Cleopatra might be my least favorite of all their productions. For me having the characters wear First Nations costumes and setting the play in pre-confederation Canada just didn’t work. The story of how the indigenous people of Canada were robbed of sovereignty of their own land is of vital importance and needs to be told; but aligning that story with the story of Antony and…

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A Small Affair is a Big Success

ticket to a small affairI loved my second Fringe play of the season A Small Affair.  It was funny and fast paced. The story takes place in a rehearsal space where actors in a new television drama are preparing for the filming of their show.  a small affairWe meet the stressed television director, the self-centered female star of the show, and the laconic maintenance man who wanders in and out of the rehearsal space to make comments while fixing an electrical problem in the bathroom.
tiffany and rhonda in a small affairTwo of my colleagues at the Winnipeg Art Gallery were in the play.  Tiffany played a confused newspaper reporter and Rhonda was a feisty and outspoken cleaning lady. They both put on great performances and gave their characters such distinctive personality. I heard someone behind me say as they exited the theatre, “the cleaning lady was the best!”

three ladiesThese three white-haired women stumble into the rehearsal space by mistake and capture the audience’s hearts with their humour. They are potential contestants on another television show called Make A Fool of Yourself. shoestring playersThere are plenty of other off-beat characters who entertain the audience with their  antics – an aging actor struggling with alcohol problems, a no-nonsense stage manager, a jealous co-star and an emotional actress with a difficult husband. a small affair 2

This was a good performance of a well written play. I laughed out loud several times as did many audience members. A good drama needs quirky, interesting characters who change. Plenty of conflict is required as well . And of course humour always helps! This play had them all in my opinion.

A Small Affair is a big success!

The photos in this post are courtesy of the Shoestring Players Facebook page

Other fringe plays I’ve seen this year……


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I Went To Jail

Vaughn Street Jail WinnipegOn Saturday I got a look inside the Vaughn Street Jail on a tour that was part of Winnipeg’s annual Doors Open event. The jail housed its first inmates in 1881.earle nelson gorilla killerAs we waited for our turn to enter the building an actor playing the role of serial killer Earle Nelson told us his shocking and violent life story.  Nelson was hung at the Vaughn Street Jail in 1928.margaret scott winnipeg social worker

We were greeted at the front door by  Margaret Scott a social reformer who dedicated forty-five years of her life to helping the poor and marginalized people of Winnipeg, including nursing sick and dying female inmates of the Vaughn Street Jail. cora hindAt the first stop on our tour journalist Cora Hind told us that women, children and men were all housed together at Vaughn Street in the early years. Abuse and assault were everyday occurrences for the women and children incarcerated there.  Nurses Amelia and Lillian Yeomans who served the people in jail in the last years of the 1800s  invited Cora to visit and she wrote a newspaper story about the deplorable conditions in the prison. child prisoners vaughn street jailCora invited a couple of the children in the audience to try their hand at potato peeling and laundry two of the tasks assigned the kids in the Vaughn Street Jail. thomas dalyManitoba was the first province to implement the Juvenile Delinquents Act passed in 1908 and Thomas Daly the first Juvenile Court Judge in the province told us all about it. prostitute winnipeg early 1900s“I don’t bite unless you want me to and then it’s two dollars,” said the young actress portraying a Winnipeg prostitute who worked for Winnipeg’s notorious Madame Minnie at the turn of the century. Prostitutes seldom spent much time in the Vaughn Street Jail as long as they confined their trade to the special Point Douglas area of the city set aside for brothels. At one time some 250 women did business in 50 brothels in the Red Light District near the CPR railway station.

lunatic level of the Vaughn Street JailSince there was little understanding of mental illness at the turn of the century, people who suffered from it were called lunatics and housed in the basement of the Vaughn Street Jail.  Guards taunted them by shackling them to the floor and placing bread crumbs around their faces and hands to entice the rats to nibble on the lunatics’ skin.  The actress playing a lunatic said the unfortunate people’s screams could be heard throughout the prison as the rats attacked. solitary confinement cell vaughn street jailWe walked by the solitary confinement cells in the basement where those who broke the prison rules were housed in darkness for one or two days without a sleeping cot or toilet. Wrist and leg irons attached them to the wall.executioner arthur englishExecutioner Arthur English was hired to carry out some of the hangings that happened in the courtyard of the Vaughn Street Jail.  The first man he executed was John Krafchenko who stole $4000 from the bank in Plum Coulee, Manitoba and killed the bank manager there. vaughn street jailThe Vaughn Street Jail is 133 years old and a group incorporated in 2004 is attempting to have it designated a provincial heritage destination.  The interesting and informative presentation they gave visitors during the Doors Open event is sure to help them in that quest.

Past Doors Open visits……

A Roof With A View

Haunted by Ghosts

Ancient Objects


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MS Walk 2014- Whoop De Doo

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ms walk team 2014 Yesterday the Whoop De Doo Team got together in memory of my cousin Connie who died due to complications from multiple sclerosis in 1997, to do the Winnipeg MS Walk which raises funds for MS research. caryn at ms walk

Our team of family and friends is organized each year by my cousin Connie’s niece Caryn. She chose the name Whoop De Doo for our group in memory of my cousin Connie’s wry sense of humour which helped her cope with MS. When the doctor would give Connie a diagnosis or medical report that was less than favourable she would respond with a sarcastic “whoop de doo”.marylou and dave at the forksDave and I are both wearing red- the signature colour for the MS Walk. MS walkersThis year the 5km walk started at The Forks and wended its way through St. Boniface whereas in the past we’ve always been at the University of Manitoba. dave and our bikesThis meant Dave and I…

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We visited four pavilions at Folkorama this year, Brazil, Chile, Celtic and India. As always I was impressed by the many volunteers who make the event possible and the enthusiasm and energy of the performers.dancer brazil pavilion folkorama winnipeg 2 The costumes at the Brazil Pavilion were stunning.fiddlers celtic pavilion winnipeg folkorama

The four female fiddlers at the Celtic Pavilion were  talented and entertaining. 

steel drummer brazilThe steel drummer at the Brazil Pavilion had flying fingers and a wicked sense of rhythm. While he entertained us we ate Fejouda (a bean and pork stew) and drank Caipirinha( a sweet fruit and coconut concotion). At the Chile Pavilion we had thousand layer cake and  corn empanadas. river dancers celtic pavilion winnipeg folkorama

The traditional Irish step dancers at the Celtic Pavilion moved their feet so quickly and with so much gusto that they shook the rafters of the venue. We ate Irish stew and potato and leek soup. dancers india pavilion folkorama winnipeg

You could try on a sari or a turban at the India pavilion. Dave and I had a nice chat with one of the volunteers about our trip to India a few years ago. 

ambassador brazil pavilion folkoramaThe ambassadors at the Brazil Pavilion had costumes so bright they nearly blinded you. 

It seemed like everyone in Winnipeg was there. We met the Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis outside one pavilion. Dave said hello and he wished us a good evening.  At another pavilion we saw Winnipeg Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds.  There were long line-ups to get into all four of the pavilions we visited. 

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Belgian Ambassadors Winnipeg Folkorama

Visiting Belgium and Columbia

India Assaults the Senses

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Confessions of A Fairy’s Daughter




The final Winnipeg Fringe Festival show I saw was without a doubt the best. Check out my review on my blog What Next.

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Fringing Times Four

Quilters (Shoestring Players) Two women who are my colleagues at the Winnipeg Art Gallery were acting in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival production of Quilters. Tiffany and Rhonda pictured here were part of an impressive cast that provided a moving and meaningful performance rich with music and story. A woman is making a legacy quilt for her daughters and as she creates each quilt square a story unfolds. The stories are told in different ways. Some are sad. Some are funny. But they give us a window into what life was like for pioneer women. We get a glimpse of church life, school life, family life, community life and the many hardships faced by women trying to raise children and eke out an existence in hard times. In an era before birth control, equality for women and many of the modern conveniences we enjoy, their lot was not an easy one. It made me think about what life must have been like for my grandmothers. I was in tears at the end of the show as the cast sang a hymn. The CBC only gave this show 2 stars but discriminating Fringe goers ignored that. There wasn’t an empty seat in the Warehouse Theatre at the performance I attended.

Threads (Tonya Jone Miller - Photo by Gina Bixby)Tonya Miller, the sole actor in the play Threads wants us to think about how one event in life can change everything. In the case of the heroine of Tonya’s story, who just happens to be her mother,  that event was landing in a course about the history of Asia by default during her first year at college. That leads to a trip to Vietnam where she meets Tonya’s Vietnamese father and becomes involved with a little boy in an orphanage who hides threads from her clothing in his hands. It’s a heart wrenching tale about love and loss and how the war in Vietnam impacted Tonya’s mothers’ family. Staged at  Cinematheque Threads is a sell out most performances. I only got in because I went to a 10:45 pm. show. 

Hot Thespian ActionI attended a show by Hot Thespian Action at last year’s fringe and once again I was impressed by their impeccable timing, amazing mime skills and professional presentation.  They do a series of sketches that pass commentary on modern life.  I enjoyed three especially. One was a spoof on those home decorating reality shows. It depicted a make-over of a bachelor pad. Another was an ad for an agency that Rents a Son to help older parents handle technology. The agency contends that many parent child relationships are ruined by the parents’ constant demand for help with texting, smart phones and television remote controls. Rent a Son will provide a substitute child to help parents with technical difficulties so they can enjoy a normal relationship with their own offspring.  The third sketch that struck a chord with me was about a woman unable to find her phone in a messy purse. She ends up diving into her purse and discovering all kinds of interesting ‘treasures’ inside. The line up was long at the Gas Station Theatre for this show and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. 

stranger next doorThe Stranger Next Door at Alloway Hall was a little strange and over the top when it came to drama.  It’s plot has been translated from a French story and perhaps lost something in translation. A lovely elderly couple just starting out retirement in a the country home of their dreams has their life totally transformed, and not for the better, by the doctor who lives next door with his mentally unstable wife. Some of the events were quite implausible and we lacked enough background knowledge to really care or connect with the doctor or his wife.  The acting was good, but the play dragged a bit in spots. I thought some of the story instead of being told as a narrative by the elderly gentleman who is the main character, might have been more effectively conveyed through dialogue and action. Still it’s thought-provoking to consider how our interactions with one person can completely change the kind of person we become. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – The First Play

Fringe Festival- Second and Third Play

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Fringe Festival – Second and Third Play

till death do us part tara travis winnipeg fringe festivalWhat would happen if Henry VIII’s wives all met in heaven and St. Peter told them they needed to decide amongst themselves which one gets to spend eternity with the famous monarch and husband they all shared? Although there are seven characters in the show Till Death Do We Part– the six wives and the great Henry himself- there is only one actress, the remarkable Tara Travis who plays all the roles. Each wife, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boylen, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr have their own accent, body language and personality and Travis slips effortlessly from one character to another sometimes in an instant, while having conversations, participating in arguments and telling stories. It was always easy to know which of the seven characters she had become. You learn plenty of British history from the play but it’s never boring. The answer to the question of who spends eternity in royal heaven with Henry is answered in an unexpected but satisfying way. The show is at the University of Winnipeg’s Asper Theatre .Crumbs winnipeg fringe festival

I’ve seen the CRUMBS improv team perform before and they can be very funny, but last night was not one of their best nights.  I felt they were struggling to find humour while creating a drama based on what was a very funny suggestion from the audience. A woman told a story about how her parents met while hitchhiking in Scotland. Her Dad picked her Mom up. They were both teachers, he American and she Canadian. They married and raised five kids, three of them a set of triplets. There was lots of potential there but the story veered off into a tale about murdering Scottish sheep and two detectives chasing the American teacher for some unknown crime. The intermittent thunder from the storm outside could have been fodder for some great jokes but again things didn’t click. I guess improv teams all have less than stellar nights. I’m sure tomorrow’s show could be hilarious and I’d go back just in case it was, because I know from the past these guys are talented and can definitely make you laugh. They are playing at the Kings Head Pub. 

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival – The First Play

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Winnipeg Fringe Festival- First Play

A cardboard cutout of the single character in Thom Pain adorned the stage

A cardboard cutout of the single character in Thom Pain adorned the stage

I went to my first Fringe Play last night. It was Thom Pain written by Will Eno and performed by Grant Burr, who just happens to be the editor of The Carillon the regional newspaper I’ve worked for as a weekly columnist for many years.

The play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been performed to great acclaim in cities around the world.  It reminded me of a stream of consciousness poem. The sole character reflects on his childhood, a romance gone awry and life in general. Existence has been tough for Thom as his last name suggests and we are forewarned about the darkness of the play when the lights fail to come on during its first few minutes. The script does have its funny moments and the small audience responded well to the humorous bits.

It must have been quite a feat to memorize this sixty minute reflective and erratic rant on how painful and fearful life can be. Talking to Grant later he said he’d taken holiday time off work to prepare and intimated that he wasn’t always able to deliver the script word for word the way it is written, although I thought he performed admirably without any discernible lapses in memory. 

One question in the play really got me thinking. “When did your childhood end?” A fellow play attendee told me after the show she thought her childhood had ended when her mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was just ten years old.  I think mine ended when I realized my parents weren’t perfect, although I can’t say exactly when that was. My husband told me his childhood has never ended.

Several references in the play reminded me of a poem by Raymond Carver called Fear which I studied with my high school students.  I wonder if the playwright Will Eno had read Carver’s poem. 

I liked the script’s reference to the overuse of the word ‘whatever’ in our modern-day as a way to express our tolerance of things we perhaps shouldn’t tolerate and the general laissez-faire attitude of much of society. This despite the fact a recent poll says ‘whatever’ is the phrase in the English language found to be the most annoying to people. 

Thom Pain can be uncomfortable to listen to because you feel sorry for the protagonist and at times perhaps can identify a little too closely with his story. One reviewer warns that ecstatically happy people shouldn’t attend this play. It is at the Red River College (RRC) Theatre, the alma mater of the play’s sole actor, Grant Burr.  He studied drama at the University of Winnipeg and Creative Communications at RRC. 

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Belgian Ambassadors- Winnipeg’s Folkorama

Thin Air Writer’s Festival- 2012

Winnipeg Fringe Festival-2012

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Learning About the Winnipeg Publishing Scene

vast imaginationsI attended a writing conference at Winnipeg’s Millenium Library where I got some valuable advice from both writers and authors. Read all about it in my post Inside Publishing on Vast Imaginations the blog of my children’s authors’ group. 

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