Archive for the 'art' Category

01
Apr
13

The theatre saved my life

We had been chatting in animated fashion for almost an hour, my arms no doubt flapping wildly as I described my love for certain productions I had seen over the past year or so. If this had been a date, instead of a marketing discussion about the theatre-going choices of Torontonians (or non-theatre-going choices, as it is for so many), it would have been one of the better ones I had been on lately. I was in theatre-junkie heaven, comparing notes with two like-minded individuals who worked in the industry and who seemed a little perplexed by my unbridled exuberance – I imagine it’s probably rare to meet a middle-aged financial services executive who attends 50+ theatre productions in a single year. To them, I was like a unicorn that had wandered into their midst, requiring careful study.

Non-date #1 shakes his head slightly with humour and disbelief, signalling the question I knew would eventually arise. “But what is it is it that is driving your interest? Did you grow up attending the theatre?”

“No, not really. It still amazes one of my best friends that I only first attended a Stratford show a few years ago. I had never gone until then, not in school, not once.”

I suddenly feel as though I have to provide a more fulsome response to the puzzled looks on the faces around the table, and yet I know the answer I have isn’t one that I feel I should share with people I’ve known only for an hour, and with whom I would like to engage in a professional relationship.

“A few years ago, I decided that I should take advantage of the arts that we have available in the city, and so, I did.”  The words are uncomfortable coming out of my mouth, because although they are technically true, they don’t feel honest. I sip my coffee and smile. Both non-dates smile and I know they are picking up on my discomfort. They nod, murmur, “that’s great” and move on.

As I walk home from the coffee shop, I wonder what would have happened if I had told them that the theatre saved my life.

No, really, it’s true.

The theatre saved my life.

I’ll try to explain.

I went on a blind date a number of years ago, very shortly after I split with The Ex, and although the date* was utterly forgettable and we were a terrible match, I had an epiphany during the date that ultimately changed the course of my life.

I realized that I was a horribly boring and shallow person. Or, that I was actually an interesting person, but leading a horribly boring and shallow life.

“I like to play tennis, ski, draft contracts and count my mountain of gold,” my date said. “What do you like to do?”**

In the harsh light of day (or, rather, the harsh light of the PATH), I discovered that I didn’t have much to say, or much that I wanted to say out loud.

“I have an active social life.”

“I go out and drink wine with my friends. A lot.”

“I like to write.”

“I used to write.  Sometimes, these days, I get ambitious and send regrettable texts after I drink the wine.”

“I like yoga.”

“Everyone says they like yoga, so if I say it, he’ll probably believe it.”

I was sitting and sipping tea with someone who practically had “DUD” stamped directly into his DNA, but at least he was doing something.  Tennis.  Skiing. Stuff that Rich Guys do. All of my energy was being poured (literally sometimes) into treading water on a never-ending sea of regret and bitterness, clinging helplessly to one rapidly deflating rubber dinghy after another.

I said that I would go places I had never been, but I didn’t go anywhere.

I said that I would experience new things that I had always wanted to try, but I didn’t do anything new.

I realized in that moment that all I had to do was stop kicking, open my eyes, and look around. This is why I say that the theatre saved my life. It was the beacon of light that led me out of the dark and turbulent emotional waters and gave me new territory to explore.  Today I know that as I discovered words and characters and performances I loved, I was really re-discovering myself.  One experience led to another, and another, and…well, you get the picture. My world instantly expanded, and I was hooked. I wanted more.

“Everything is new to me,” I tried to explain to a friend. “I was born yesterday, so just assume I haven’t seen it before.”  That’s how I felt, as though I had just been born. Or re-born, perhaps.  And now I want to see it all.

* The “Date” took place at 10:30 a.m. at the Starbucks in the PATH/foodcourt underneath Brookfield Place. Let’s face it, the only good morning dates are the ones that continue from the night before.

** Note: I may be paraphrasing. But he did like to play tennis.

***

Legoland by Atomic Vaudeville starts this week at Theatre Passe Muraille!  Legoland is the prequel to Ride the Cyclone – one of my all-time favourite musicals featuring a dead glee club contemplating the afterlife.  Here’s a little taste of RTC:

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31
Mar
13

What happened to the salon?

Toronto-20130331-00332“The idea was that anybody could come but for form’s sake and in Paris you have to have a formula, everybody was supposed to be able to mention the name of somebody who had told them about it…It was an endless variety.  And everybody came and no one made any difference. Gertrude Stein sat peacefully in a chair and those who could did the same, the rest stood. There were the friends who sat around the stove and talked and there were the endless strangers who came and went.”

Gertrude Stein (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933).

You enter the room, greeted by the sounds of laughter, broken fragments of conversation from distant corners, a Cole Porter tune on the piano. More laughter. Introductions are made. Young writers and painters revealing themselves, shaping and reshaping, coming to blows by midnight, embracing by dawn, commingling ideas and colour and words and thought in one single space, confined by four walls.

A salon. What happened to the salon?

I stumbled upon a copy of Gertrude Stein’s “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, a richly humourous and virtually comma-free account of Stein’s years in Paris in between the First and Second World Wars.  The book, of course, is actually Stein’s autobiography in the third person, told from the point of view of her partner, Alice Toklas. It would still be a wonderful book, full of unforgettable prose (such as a description of a woman as having a “George Washington face”), even if it didn’t concern Stein’s many salon guests, such as Matisse, Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Hemingway. Some of this has been captured in Woody Allen’s beautiful film, Midnight in Paris (great casting of Kathy Bates as Stein, by the way):

I’ve had this conversation with a number of friends, and these are the lofty, cerebral conclusions we’ve made:

1. Salons are cool.

2. Salons are informal. An organized event is not a salon.

3. Salons require direct and personal interaction without editing.  An online community is not a salon.

4. Salons probably require a lot of booze.

5. Salons don’t exist anymore.

Unfortunately, it seems like we’ve become a society of rigid thinkers, so carefully scheduled and planned that we leave virtually no room for the unexpected encounter, for disagreement, for differences of opinion.  We abhore conflict and challenge and critique and colour. We paint our walls beige because if we paint them purple, we might be judged and our condos will lose value and no one will ever love us. We think that art is either a class taken by children or something produced by a select club of BFA-wielding sprites, and opinion is something that is handed to us by television talking heads and professional pollsters. We are lacking the opportunities we once had to take real risks and make real connections with the Other, and because of this enormous gap, we now lack the ability to know ourselves better.

“Then there were quantities of germans, not too popular because they tended always to want to see anything that was put away and they tended to break things and Gertrude Stein has a weakness for breakable objects, she has a horror of people who collect only the unbreakable.”

Next Saturday night, and every Saturday night thereafter, I will display all of my breakable objects, open a bottle of wine, play the piano and see who arrives on my doorstep with a bucket of purple paint.

***

Why create a new space when you can clean up an old space? It took a while to dust off the cobwebs, but perhaps I can write more about that later. I’m hoping to use this space more frequently over the coming year or so.  Welcome back!

03
May
10

And Everything is Going Fine

It occurred to me as I was viewing “And Everything is Going Fine” – a documentary by Steven Soderbergh about his friend Spalding Gray – that Gray may have in fact been the very first blogger.*

The late (great?) Spalding Gray

This is probably not an original thought.  But it was the first time it had occurred to me.

I was not a huge Gray fan, as most of his famous monologues had been delivered while I was still a child.   But in 2004, when he was declared missing and presumed dead, I was intrigued.  Soderbergh thankfully did not venture into this dark territory, although it was hinted at throughout the film. 

Hindsight is always 20/20, but the moments of thoughtful sadness, the shy vulnerability, and the raw fear of slipping into the same suicidal tendencies of his mother were plainly evident behind the witty veil of neurotic humour.

At one point, as Gray described his art as a kind of “reliving” of his life experiences, I found myself almost yelling at the screen.  “That’s not good for you, Spud!  No one should dwell so long on his or her own life.”

“I guess you’re right, it’s good to let things go,” my companion responded when I made this exclamation outside the Bloor Cinema after the film.

But it’s not just about letting things go.  That answer is too simple.

Writing can be cathartic.  It can be a kind of release, a way of spilling forth words and ideas and feelings that cannot stay contained.

As I’ve said in the past, it can also feel as though one is bleeding onto the page.  There is a fine line between the healthy release and the flow of words that once started, cannot be stopped, cannot be staunched, leaving the writer feeling shaky and weak. 

For years, Gray bled his life onto the stage for the audiences.   He was the story, and the story was him.  His life was his source of inspiration, in a blurring of life and art that is likely very familiar to many bloggers (or at least the good ones – you know who you are).   The writer gives a piece of himself to the reader, cuts himself in the process of sharing an intimate, sometimes terrible life experience.  “Look at me,” the writer says.  “I am bleeding.” 

“I have also had that experience,” the reader says.  “I am bleeding, too.  We share these wounds.  We bleed together.”

The moment of connection between writer and the audience is powerful, humbling, sometimes healing, but it takes the toll on the writer who uses himself as a source of material.  In my opinion, it cannot be sustained for any length of time without causing serious damage to the writer.

After Gray’s accident in 2001 left him with terrible neurological trauma, he was unable to tell the story.

“If you knew that you would only degenerate and would never again be able to pursue your life’s passion, would you end it?” I asked my companion. 

That is a question that can’t be answered in the hypothetical.  The answer will only come in the moment of clarity.

***

It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.

Marcel Proust

* There is still time to attend a documentary at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto – running until May 9th.

04
Nov
09

The Price of Catching a Butterfly

After suffering from brain fever and forgetting all about my tickets, I finally saw Madama Butterfly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a young Japanese woman who falls in love with an American, marries him, bears his child*, and then waits three years for him to return to Japan. 

Of course, he does return…with his new wife.  Oh, and he wants to take the child back to America, too.

Everyone in the show knows that Pinkerton will break Butterfly’s heart. 

Everyone, of course, except for her.

The singing of Cio Cio San was exquisitely heartbreaking, but the line that will stay with me from the show belongs to Pinkerton:

 

“I am seized by a wild desire to pursue her, even though I should crush her fragile wings in doing so.”

 

When we are children, we chase innocently after butterflies, blissfully unaware that we are likely doing permanent damage to the object of our desire.

When we are adults, we chase with our eyes wide open, yet wilfully blind to the repercussions of our actions.

The caught butterfly trembles almost as much as the hand that encloses around it.

If you hold onto it, it will die.

If you let it go, it will never fly again, not as it did before.

 

* As if the little guy who played the son (named Sorrow, of course) wasn’t adorable enough, he clearly had the hiccups during last night’s performance.   Watching his little shoulders go up and down while the adults sang on stage was hilarious.

06
Oct
09

Nuit Blech

Every fall, the streets of Toronto fill with urbanites and suburbanites alike, keen to take in the “massive participatory celebration of contemporary art” that is Nuit Blanche.

As someone who is no stranger to putting my thoughts on display for the comment and criticism of others, I can appreciate the effort that the artists put into their projects.

However, I am not among those who believe that anything that evokes an emotional response is art.

Is a giant silver rabbit balloon in the Eaton Centre art?

 

I'm still having nightmares about this.  Photo by the delicious M.

I'm still having nightmares about this. Photo by the delicious M.

 

Is a giant Fun Slide in the middle of Bay Street art?

Ironic, yes.   Spectacle.  Festival, even.

Is a blog a form of art?

Or is it spectacle?  Voyeurism?  Narcissism?

Having said that, there is something brilliant about an opportunity to wander the city at night with good friends to see things that aren’t normally part of the landscape.

And who would ever miss the opportunity to inappropriately touch a large inflatable art installation?

 

My new surreal boyfriend, courtesy of OCAD.  Photo by the lurvely M.

My new surreal boyfriend, courtesy of OCAD. Photo by the lurvely M.