Mini Review: Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” at the Ottawa Little Theatre

This is a mini review because I can't remember where I put my keyboard and I'm pecking away at my ipad instead.

In short, what I noticed/remember from Saturday, Jan. 12's show: great play, Ibsenesque (say, +10 for that alone); great performances by Cheryl Jackson (Kate) and Anne van Leeuwen (Ann); decent performance by Patrick McIntyre (Chris); spirited (but maybe nervous? Quite a few flubbed lines and 'off' reactions) performance by Mike Kennedy (Joe); excellent lighting; absolutely lovely set; weird, unnecessary and distracting music during monologues.

Especially impressive for community theatre; better than some “non-community” theatre I've seen, but far from perfect — I never forgot I was watching a play.

Random note about the theatre itself: I was very charmed by them having everyone stand and sing “O Canada” at the beginning.

Worth seeing! Here's their site.

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Some very old passports (Russia, 1911 and 1912)

Something for the history buffs among you…

When I was in Winnipeg over the holidays, my grandmother pulled out her family history photo album and let me have a look through it, and — to my surprise and delight — tucked inside were both of my maternal great-grandparents' passports. So I did what all people of my generation would do: I took out my phone and started taking pictures. Considering I didn't use flash, and considering the pictures were taken with my phone (which is definitely not a top-of-the-line model), the results are surprisingly legible — if you can read Russian, that is.

Russia was and is a very diverse country, so it shouldn't surprise you that much that my mother didn't learn until relatively recently that her grandparents spoke Russian. Growing up, I was always told that my mother's mother's family was German (German-from-Russia, as my mother called it), and I never really gave much thought to the “from-Russia” part of it. It turns out, though, that there was a sizable German population settled around the Volga/Saratov. They had a confusing/tumultuous relationship with the soviets, at one point granted a fair amount of autonomy as the Volga German Republic, and at another banished from the land (and, I believe, sent to Siberia — but who wasn't at some point?). My direct ancestors left before then, but I'm sure that there are relatives of mine who didn't fare so well. And despite their “otherness” from Russia at large, they did hold Russian passports:

Interestingly enough, there is a page in German and a page in French. Lucky me, I can read French! Roughly, it says: “The bearer of this [handwritten-->] the peasant [really?! Can this mean citizen? Because "peasant" is hilarious!] Jean-Jacques Roudolf [note that they francofied his name -- the German on the other side says Johann-Jakob Rudolf] is leaving for foreign lands/overseas, [typed-->] in trust of which this passport, confirmed by the affixing of the seal, is given for freely travelling in foreign countries. [handwritten-->] Russia Saratov 4 March 1911.” But then I have to wonder: where is this seal they refer to? Dun dun dun!!
And for my great-grandmother (who did not know my great-grandfather at the time):
She also is a peasant (ha), but whoever worked on her passport was apparently much more stamp-happy. Also note that hers seems to actually have a seal on it, unlike her future husband's:
 

And there you have it.

 

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The snow in Ottawa and the wind in Winnipeg

Today I fell on my bum when going out to do the laundry (because the basement is only accessible from outside):

If you're curious, you might be interested in knowing that all of that snow is from last night. This is what it looked like recently:

So either way my feet are wet. At least then I wasn't falling down my front stairs as if on a slip-and-slide, though. Anyway it doesn't matter because other than doing the laundry I am safely inside, having stocked up on groceries yesterday. I was prepared! Not exactly the end of the world (ha! are we done with that joke yet?) but still, it's good to be prepared. I'm pleased that although it's messy outside it isn't at all cold out… but it's supposed to be -18° in Winnipeg for Christmas. Yikes! I might end up staying inside huddled in a pile of oranges. Yes, oranges–I've been eating maybe five oranges a day for the past two weeks. I think maybe that isn't healthy? But they are so delicious this time of year and I hate them in the summer. I'm not sure if it's me or the oranges then, but in the middle of July you could not pay me to eat one.

But yes, Winnipeg is cold. I don't remember the last time I was there in the winter. I might have been nine. I still remember the cold, though: leggings and pants and snow pants and I could still feel the wind. Hopefully that was an extreme year or I was a weak child and this year I will not be a wuss. We are hoping to make a day trip to Gimli, Manitoba, which has a large Icelandic population (and they'd better with a name like Gimli!). So it sounds like an interesting place to visit, and would be the furthest north in North America that my husband will have been (take that future perfect passive!), so hopefully the roads will be okay and I will not be a wimp.

 

And soon I will see family! I haven't seen some of them in over a decade, and there are a few that I haven't seen at all! I'm excited to meet my cousin's fiancé and meet my other cousin's son in person! I met the little fellow over skype once, and he seems like the most amusing baby ever–he sat there playing with his shoe. My mother says that he's the cutest baby she's ever seen (and she's had four of her own). This was me:

What a strange creature.

Well, I'll leave you with that because it turns out I forgot that I needed to go to the bank today. So much for being prepared!

 

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Handel’s “Messiah” at the National Arts Centre

The ceiling at the National Arts Centre

Last night I attended my third Messiah, although my first in Ottawa. The first two were put on by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. One year it was advertised as Toronto's favourite Messiah, and the other as Toronto's biggest. Take that how you will; but I will tell you this: Toronto loves Handel's Messiah more than any other city in the world, probably. You can't go anywhere around the holidays without seeing advertisements from all sorts of musical groups inviting you to their rendition. So it was a little disappointing to learn that there would only be two shows put on by the NAC Orchestra in Ottawa–especially as the performance was such a good one.

I was a little sceptical at first–the choir was maybe a fifth the size of the one I remembered seeing in Toronto, and although I know pretty much nothing about music, I could see that the orchestra was quite a bit smaller as well. But then I remembered that I hadn't been overwhelmingly pleased by some of the elements of the second Toronto performance I'd seen (2010, I think), which had included sleigh bells. The audience here gave be a bit of worry, too, as they seemed like they might not really be into the whole thing. Indeed, the people sitting in front of us clearly weren't because they were glued to their phones the entire evening and left right after the Hallelujah chorus (by accident, I thought, assuming they assumed that because everyone stood up that meant it was the end of it, but my husband thinks they planned their “escape” deliberately). Their loss. They missed the best part, the “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Amen” at the end.

Let me be clear: I know pretty much nothing about music. But maybe that's why I like Messiahs so much. I know that I like it, and I like that the music follows the emotion of the text, and I'm familiar with it and thus can enjoy that fulfilling of the anticipated moment that comes with listening to live performances of pieces with which you are familiar. I'm sure there's some kind of music theory term to explain that experience, but I'm afraid that's the best I have. I also dearly love the trumpet music (performed here by Karen Donnelly). Partly it makes me happy simply because I notice that it delights me. “Ah!” I think. “I, too, can appreciate music!” But also it just really is delightful. And this performance was delightful! There were moments when I wished for the vocal power of a massive TSO-esque choir, but then I realised that this was the first Messiah I'd attended where I really found myself paying intent attention to the orchestra and not just the choir (and trumpet). I was able to really appreciate all the strings, for instance, and I think that with a larger, louder choir they might have been lost, or at least overwhelmed. The choir was made up of the Cantata Singers of Ottawa (Michael Zaugg) and Seventeen Voyces (Kevin Reeves). I was obedient and didn't take any pictures during the performance, but this should give you a sense of the size of the thing:

So! It was delightful and subtle where it should be and loud and brash where it should be even though their were far fewer people performing. I was impressed by all the soloists (is that the right term?) but especially so by Diana Moore (who is a mezzo-soprano and sang alto? I told you I know nothing about music), who stood out to me for reasons I could not articulate but did. This should not be taken to mean that I was disappointed in the others (Jacqueline Woodley, Colin Balzer, and Alexander Dobson), of course. As sidenote, I should mention that Jaqueline Woodley was performing in place of Hélène Guilmette, who was out sick.

Also, I'm not sure if you can see that little star in the picture beside “soprano,” but they are attached to each name because apparently singers count as actors and belong to the Canadian Actors' Equity Association:

Who knew? I sure didn't.

Anyway! Paul Goodwin was the conductor, and as my handy programme let me know, he's a bit of a traditionalist, a man after my own heart. He seemed to get more and more excited as the night went on, gathering up energy from the performance rather than expending it, and by the end of it he was literally leaping into the air. It was fascinating to watch: at certain points (such as during the Amen at the end) he seemed to be throwing music into the air, like a magician: not pulling it out of the performers, but casting it on them. And that is the most special thing for someone like me who knows nothing about music: the absurdity that bits of wood and string and metal and people can be guided into making such a coherent thing. Ah! You musicians go ahead and laugh at me; I don't mind.

But not all is good in this story. The fact is that there were only two performances and that even with that there was a visible area of empty seats. This should not be! Why aren't people going to see these things? The National Arts Centre hosts not only the orchestra, but travelling Broadway-type shows, pop concerts, the ballet, and what have you. Are people really so uninterested in the arts here that they can manage to fit it all in one building? That is a real shame.

 

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Light rail for Ottawa!

Good news, everyone! Ottawa is about to move from the awkward adolescence of a transitway bus system to the sleek maturity of light rail.

I am told (but have not looked into the facts) that Winnipeg was once considering light rail (in 2010?) but decided to go for an Ottawa-style rapid transit bus system. TERRIBLE IDEA, WINNIPEG.

But back to Ottawa!

When I first moved here, I'd lived in Montreal and Toronto for six and two years each, and to be perfectly honest I thought of Ottawa as more of a town than a city, mostly because everyone seemed so darn proud of their stupid bus system. I, meanwhile, had come of age (ha!) with the STM and TTC (imperfect systems, yes, but I loved them!). Indeed, I've never bothered to learn how to drive, so adequate were the metro and subway systems for me. So I was a little… disdainful… of Ottawa when I first arrived. I am no longer disdainful (though seriously: would it kill H&M to set up shop here?!), but am quite pleased to live in a city where I can watch things get done and see changes being made for the better (for example: a new footbridge across the canal). It is the first time I've lived in a city where things are rapidly growing and changing for the better with relatively little contention. Montreal, the first city I loved, is quite literally falling apart. Toronto, where I felt the most at home, is dynamic and changing, yes, but it is in the midst of a civil war being fought between the Etobicokian Fordians and the Downtown Atwoodians (to greatly oversimplify everything). It was a civil war I felt welcome to participate in, but it was already underway when I arrived and continues on now that I've left. And really, as great as Toronto is, it is depressing and discouraging to live in a city that removes bike lanes. Here, I've had no trouble getting in touch with the mayor or my city councillor, which amuses me to no end.

Did you know that the Ottawa area is Canada's fourth largest city by population? I've lived here for over a year and I just learned that the other day. It is larger, say, than Calgary, a city that does an excellent job of promoting itself. Ottawa, dominated by parliament as it is, doesn't always feel like a cohesive whole–not helped, I'd imagine, by all those who come here to work for the government in some way and (maybe) don't expect to stay. Plus there is the issue of muddled jurisdiction. Ottawa is a city, but it shares the name National Capital Region with our neighbours across the water (and provincial border), Gatineau, Quebec. It gets a little confusing, sometimes, trying to figure out what is Ottawa and what is the National Capital Commission and what is just… “The Government.” But Ottawa is about to come into its own, and the first step is a grown-up public transit system; and that is how I come back around to light rail.

It would be easy for me to be a curmudgeon about the whole thing–the line will run east-west, for example, and so will not do much to help people like me who are oriented north-south in the city. Or I could complain that it isn't going to go out to the airport. I shall not do that thing, however tempting it is to berate the universe for not aligning things just so for me, because there are times when being a critic just to be a critic doesn't make anything better. Yes, I do hope that everything will be a roaring success and that a second line south down Bank Street and to the airport will be built; but I am just as happy, for now, that there will be easy access to the train station. I love taking the train! If you buy a ticket on sale, you can easily go business class and VIA Rail will wine and dine you all the way to your destination. They will even serve after-dinner drinks and chocolates.

I remember when I told people that I was moving here, 90% of them expressed the opinion that I would now have to learn to drive. Well! No. I do not. Getting around by bike here is relatively safe (though there are always tragedies) and part of the city's plan for light rail includes building additional bike lanes, all without Fordian strife. Plus there seem to be more and more interesting things happening on the food front; even the most basic grocery stores offer local, organic meat; and people are so active and joggy their gazelle-like leaping through all sorts of weather makes me feel grumpy and frumpy. It's not all good, of course, and I've vented my share of complaints about certain Ottawa behaviours (people standing around visiting and taking up the whole sidewalk, anyone?)… but I really do feel like these next few years are going to treat Ottawa well, and that the city will finally, at last, for real, feel like the nation's capital.

Before I forget, I should also mention that I'm quite pleased at the potential for Sparks Street, at present a sad pedestrian mall that shuts down around 5 p.m.: someone came up with the fun idea of building a 3 Brasseurs pub there (but you don't need to wait for it in order to have a nice time on Sparks… I've never had a bad experience at the Centretown Tavern, for example). And of course, this area will be easily accessible via light rail.

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You should watch the Othello webseries, it’s good for you

Do you like Shakespeare?

There’s a lovely project going on right now that is based out of that whimsical neighbourhood, Park Slope of NYC, in which I stayed this weekend (my sister is all legit and lives in a loft with artistic theatre types). So if you like Shakespeare (and Othello especially) then watch…:

I’ve never been all “oooh Shakespeare…! <3″ as I’m more of a Chaucer type, BUT this is

  1. Very well executed. I hate over-acted Shakespeare. I also hate over-acted poetry readings–you know the type. And as Shakespeare is poetry, people tend to over-act it. So I appreciate any Shakespeare that allows the meter to manifest naturally.
  2. A clever use of current technology. All it needs is a twitter account to round it out.
  3. THE great choice for a contemporary take on Shakespeare is undoubtedly Othello.
  4. Also, I know the director, but don’t let that sway you because as my theatrey friends and family all know, I am a curmudgeon and notoriously (exasperatingly) difficult to please when it comes to all that.

Anyway I look forward to the rest of it, and you should too. Indeed, why do more people not use YouTube to showcase work that is in the public domain?! Why do we have people’s cat videos and bad pop covers but not more Shakespeare? Or hiLARious readings of Chaucer? Or adaptations of classic novels? Or somesuch? Is it because people are more interested in consuming content than creating it? Surely not, or we wouldn’t have the bad covers and random pet videos. I guess people just don’t want to undertake larger projects? I’m really not sure, but I do wish that more people would use public domain materials in fun and interesting ways. We are so lucky now with our YouTubes and our Project Gutenbergs and our gif generators… and have you seen the website for the Frick Collection? You can zoom into all the paintings! Hours of fun! We are very lucky but oh! There are so many cat videos.  But I’m no better, readers, because I once downloaded a delightful novel from Project Gutenberg and made illustrations for it and a nice layout, with the intention of getting it printed and giving it as a gift, but I never finished that project. Oh, but you totally should. There are some wonderful finds on PG–books that are hard to find or are out of print, and now I (and you!) can read them on a kindle or other such device. It’s really amazing and we should all be taking advantage of the democratization of literature and art. Et cetera. So yes, please do go watch the webseries, and please do go browse the Frick Collection, and please do go explore materials in the public domain.

On a slightly different note, I’m modestly pleased to announce that a short fictionalized non-fiction piece I wrote is slated to be published, possibly (it’s a smaller publication so if the book (!) does get made, physically, my piece will be in it–oh, you know what I mean!). Truth be told, I’d actually forgotten that I’d submitted something to it, and so the email I received was a delightful surprise. So this is what life is, then: I decide to say “screw you!” to any sort of proper work in editing or writing, and two things fall on my doorstep: editing work and getting published. It’s a little aggravating, actually, because it just confirms to me that there is no point in bewailing anything in life (there goes my hobby) because a) something funny will happen to you anyway and b) you’ll look like an idiot soon after. So I don’t know what this means for my glorious career as a Latin teacher. Bah. I don’t want to get all excited, though, looking for signs and omens about this whole thing, and maybe that’s the point: after all, things take time, and I wouldn’t have heard back from anyone if I hadn’t submitted anything. So I guess I ought to keep submitting to places and eventually end up with paid work for my writing and in the mean time continue with the volunteer tutoring.

Oh, but do you know what is hair-pullingly “hilarious”? I still haven’t heard back from any of those retail jobs I applied to. Not a one. Not even a certain well-known coffee chain will take me back (I did say in the application that I would want to start at the position I left at and only work weekdays before 5, so that’s likely a factor, haha). So, you know, life really is weird. I can’t complain too much: I’m now gaining a lot of non-retail work experience, both paid and unpaid, in fields that I enjoy: editing, writing, education, non-profit… Other than a paycheque, what more could I ask for?

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