July 19, 2014

0 Beats, Breaks, Culture, And More At The 2014 UNITY Festival

The 6th Annual UNITY Festival takes over Toronto from  July 23 to 26, with some of the best hip-hop acts in the biz, with a wide line-up of break dancers, MCs/spoken word artists, beatboxers and bands including Maestro Fresh Wes, Biz Markie, Raz Fresco, Airplane Boys, Ball-Zee and many more.

The festival kicks off on Wednesday, July 23 with UNITY Beatbox at The Mod Club, in partnership with Beatbox Canada. Headlined by Ball-Zee, the 3rd annual beatbox competition will showcase Canada’s best beatboxers of all ages, from youth (aged 13-18) to professionals (19+).  I am always impressed by the skillz in takes in beatboxing. If you have not seen it done live, here is just a sample of Ball-Zee making it look so simple.

On Thursday, July 24, UNITY Break Dance will bring out North America’s top BBoys and BGirls for the 3 vs. 3 Under 19 Breakin’ Battle, headlined by Moy (Havikoro) at Tattoo. Moy has been a BBoy since the mid-90's, so you know he knows what breakin' is all about.

On Friday, July 25, in partnership with RISE, UNITY MC & Spoken Word will unify the two essential elements of hip-hop by bringing together Toronto youth MCs and spoken word artists under one roof at 918 Bathurst, headlined by Shaun Boothe, Amanda Seales, and Rudy Francisco.

The festival will end with a FREE show, presented by Tangerine, at Yonge-Dundas Square on Saturday, July 26, featuring performances by UNITY Youth performers and headlined by some of the most sought-after hip-hop entertainers: Maestro Fresh Wes, Biz Markie, Raz Fresco, and Airplane Boys.
Piecez (Michael Prosserman) getting down...
Photo: Freedom Photography via UNITY Charity
The UNITY Festival is UNITY Charity’s annual showcase event presenting the most dedicated and talented youth performers from across Canada. Youth performers are recruited from UNITY’s school and community programs and open auditions from the community. Founded in 2007 by Michael Prosserman aka Bboy Piecez, one of Toronto’s most preeminent B-boys, UNITY has reached over 100,000 youth across Canada through its after-school program designed to teach positive self-expression through beatboxing, breakdancing, spoken word, poetry, graffiti, and more. You can read more about Prosserman from my interview with him last year.

With such an array of events throughout the four days, UNITY Festival offers a nice taste of hip-hop culture, while also promoting youth involvement and diversity. For full details on the festival, check out its website.

July 18, 2014

0 Poetry Corner: HyeM - Open Letter To My Mother(s)

Open Letter To My Mother(s)

Since childhood I've aimed to please you.
Not always easy to do.
And at times, you've been hard to read.
But I've never lacked your love.

Everyone of your sacrifices has not gone unnoticed.
Your tears are my reasons to persevere.
Your worries are my wishes to make others smile.

Your generosity of spirit exudes through me.
Because of you, I know empathy.
Because of you, I know what I want in life.

In all these years, I've wanted you to know
You have done well by me…
By all of us.
I owe you many "thank yous" and "I love yous".
But we're the quiet type, you and I.
We feel it and we know it.

Please be happy for me today.
Love me for who I am now.
Not the little girl I once was,
nor the woman you wish I were.
You have taught me well, and
I am content.

Photo: HyeM.

July 16, 2014

0 pUNK Film FEMMES LAB Collection Is Complete!

Following a fall festival tour for her latest feature film, The Animal Project, indie filmmaker and femme extraordinaire, Ingrid Veninger returned to Toronto with a desire to see more fiction features written and directed by Canadian women. On November 18th, 2013 she proposed the idea of a Screenwriting Lab, and received 20 submissions. To be eligible, applicants had to be Canadian, women, with at least one completed feature film.

“When I received the EDA Award for The Animal Project at the Whistler Film Festival from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists,” explains Ingrid, “I decided to take a chance at the podium. I offered a first look at the 6 scripts written in the Femmes Lab, to the first person who stepped up with $6000… The room was stone silent, until Melissa Leo stood up and shouted, “I’ll do it!”. Now, here we are! 6 months later. The bursary from Melissa was shared amongst the Lab participants. We met once a month from January – June. Each month was led by a different Femme.

On June 30th, the 6 scripts were delivered to Melissa Leo. On July 31st, the Femmes are driving to New York, to spend the day with Melissa. After that? Anything could happen.

Some of the filmmakers share about their experience with the pUNK FILMS FEMMES Lab process.

"Writing can be very lonely.  For hours you sit by yourself, staring into a computer screen, sculpting stories in your head. You hope that what comes out on the page will resonate with someone, someday.  For me, the Femmes Lab was like an island in the ocean. Each month I found myself back on land with five beautiful, talented, strong women. We offered support and encouragement to each other so that we could dive back into the lonely, ocean of creation and do it all over again.  It was bliss!" Michelle Latimer (ALIAS, CHOKE).

"Over the course of the six months of the lab, I felt myself transform. In my writing, but also in the rest of my life. I was suddenly standing up for myself more, and also standing up for my ideas. There was a communal strength that I felt when we came together as a group. It allowed me to push myself further and not be afraid to trust my sense of story. I have Ingrid’s vision to thank. I never imagined that bringing a group of women together once a month could create such tremendous impact." Mars Horodyski (BEN’S AT HOME).

"I have never experienced such a supportive and inspiring development process. The Femmes Lab has empowered me to reach deeper and to write the best screenplay of my career. I feel that my work has moved to the next level and I feel energized to tackle the film industry with new vigor. Ingrid Veninger and Melissa Leo - that you for making this possible." Danishka Esterhazy (H&G, BLACK FIELD).

With initiatives such as Veninger's Femmes Lab, and with the support of filmmakers like Melissa Leo, there is some reassurance that we can see more projects developed by women. The film industry can certainly show much improvement in this respect. Hooray to the Veninger, Leo, and the other 5 talented members of the Femmes Lab!!
Michelle Latimer (left) and Ingrid Veninger (right) 
*Photos courtesy of GAT PR.

July 15, 2014

0 Fan Expo Canada™ Announces 2014 Celebrity Guests

One of the largest pop culture events’s in the world returns to Toronto from August 28 to 31. FAN EXPO Canada™ will take over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with comics, sci-fi, horror, anime and gaming. As in previous years, this all-ages event will be packed with autographs, photo sessions and Q&A panels with celebrity guests, sketch duels, cosplay, workshops such as special effects/make-up, and retail and exhibitor areas offering rare comics and collectibles, as well as, the latest nerd-wear and tech-gear.

Yaya Han
Photo: Fan Expo Canada™ 
“This year’s celebrity line-up brings the most iconic names in film and TV together under one roof including living legends William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Stan Lee, and Adam West," said FAN EXPO HQ President Steve Menzie. “This year will also add another level of fandom with a new generation of sub-culture royalty Stephen Amell, Ian Somerhalder, and pro-cosplayers and YouTube sensations like Yaya Han.”

For the first time in Canada Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee and Sherilynn Fenn from the critically acclaimed Twin Peaks will be in attendance. Fans can lose sleep over the man who has starred in their nightmares as the infamous Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) returns. He’s also bringing his victims Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Lt. Thompson (John Saxon) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street. And guess what?! The Napoleon Dynamite cast will be there too. How fun does this sound so far?

Matt Smith
Photo: Fan Expo Canada™

Other FAN EXPO CANADA™ Celebrity Guests Include:

Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws)
Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly/Serenity)
Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead)
Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings)
Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohan, Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead)
Dave Bautista – aka “Batista” (WWE, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Ray Park (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, X-Men, G.I. Joe)
Jessica Nigri, Meg Turney (Other Celebrity Cosplayers)
Matt Smith (Doctor Who)
Stephen Amell (Arrow)
Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries)

These are just the 'celebrities'; imagine all the other great guests that will be at Fan Expo Canada™ this year! The wekend-long event is always a treat to fans of all ages. This geekgirl here is super excited to see that Patrick Stewart, and Adam West will be in attendance. With four days to enjoy Fan Expo Canada™, I guarantee you will have a nerdtastic time.

Keep coming back for more updates and to see my picks of whom and what to see at Fan Expo Canada™.

In the meantime, for a complete list of guests, info and tickets, visit: fanexpocanada.com.

Fun At Fan Expo Canada™
Photo: HyeM.

July 14, 2014

0 Toronto Summer Music Festival: The Modern Age

The Toronto Summer Music Festival returns for another year with a theme on The Modern Age. The festival will feature 20 mainstage concerts by renowned Canadian and international artists including the Emerson String Quartet, Sondra Radvanovsky, Milos Karadaglic, and the Toronto Symphony, plus masterclasses, lectures, interviews, workshops and free outreach concerts from July 22 to August 12.

“The 2014 Festival celebrates the music of the early 20th century, a fascinating period of wildly diverging artistic currents,” says Artistic Director Douglas McNabney. “From the late romanticism of Strauss, Rachmaninoff and Vaughan Williams, to the iconoclasms of Prokofiev and Bartok, to the raucous modernism of Schoenberg, this year’s Festival explores the multifaceted musical offerings of the Modern Age. This compelling music was set against a backdrop of great change including the ascension of popular music fuelled by the emergence of a recording industry and new mediums for distribution, namely the radio and the phonograph.”  The 2014 Festival explores many of the influences and ideas of the time through both the concert programs and various Festival Insiders events.

To give you an idea of what this year's festival has to offer, here are a key points.

Festival Insider events are special behind-the-scenes offerings including interviews with artists, guest lectures, and masterclasses with featured guests.  These events take place Tuesdays through Fridays at 2pm in the Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

Back by popular demand, OLG SHUFFLE Concerts take place at 5pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at Heliconian Hall.   Inspired by the Shuffle function on an iPod, these informal, eclectic one-movement performances are Pay What You Can and feature Festival Artists, special guests and next-generation emerging artists. Last year, I attended a couple of these concerts. They are a fabulous way to end a workday; especially, in such a lovely venue.

Free TSM Academy Concerts
These popular free concerts showcase gifted Toronto Summer Music Academy Fellows and guest artists. Performances are at 12pm on July 25, July 31, August 1 and August 7 at Heliconian Hall.

And some concerts that I would personally recommend are:

Opening Night featuring the Emerson String Quartet
Tuesday, July 22nd,  7:30pm, Koerner Hall
One of the greatest quartets of our time! Over the past three decades America’s Emerson Quartet boasts thirty acclaimed recordings, nine Grammys® (including two for “Best Classical Album”), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year”, and collaborations with many of the great artists of our time.  They launch the 2014 Festival with Beethoven’s Serioso Quartet, Britten’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 36 and Schubert’s haunting Death and the Maiden.  The concert will be followed by a champagne reception in the lobby with the artists.

Romanticism to Modernity
Friday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall
A stellar group of musicians – Mark Fewer (violin), Axel Strauss (violin), Steven Dann (viola), Christopher Costanza (cello) and Pedja Muzijevic (piano) – perform richly textured chamber works by Berg, Bridge, Strauss and Schoenberg, from the pivotal period when Romanticism was giving way to modernity.

Tuesday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall
The Modern Age marked the birth of popular new idioms – jazz, calypso, and several dance forms including the tango, which took Europe by storm.  Soledad, protégés of the great Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, is a group of superb chamber musicians (violin, piano, guitar, double bass, accordion) who perform an intriguing mix of traditional and Tango Nuevo styles.

Modigliani String Quartet
Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall
France’s electrifying Modigliani Quartet, featuring Philippe Bernhard (violin), Loïc Rio (violin), Laurent Marfaing (viola) and François Kieffer (cello) have been lauded as one of today’s best quartets in the world for their balance, transparency, and confident style. The Strad magazine praised them for giving “a gripping and persuasive performance, played with awesome individual and communal brilliance.” Their program includes Haydn’s Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17, and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, one of the most widely performed chamber music works in the classical repertoire.

Russia After Revolution
Friday, August 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall
This program features two of Canada’s superlative violinists, Jonathan Crow and Martin Beaver, performing the Prokofiev Duo for Two Violins.  They are joined by Paul Coletti (viola), Marc Coppey (cello) and Angela Cheng (piano) for Shostakovich’s dramatic Piano Quintet in G Minor Op. 57 and Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy Quintet.

Spotlight on the TSO
Thursday, August 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall
TSO principals Jonathan Crow and Etsuko Kimura (violin), Eric Nowlin (viola), David Hetherington (cello), Yao Guang Zhai (clarinet) and special guests baritone Peter McGillivray and pianist David Louie perform a Viennese program featuring Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and Waltzes by Strauss, all in brilliant arrangements by Schoenberg and Berg.

TSM Academy Art of Song Recitals
Friday, August 8 at 12:00 p.m. & 4:00 p.m. at Walter Hall
Each year, outstanding young singers and pianists from around the world audition for 12 coveted scholarships to TSM Academy.  After two weeks of intensive training in Toronto with internationally acclaimed French baritone François Le Roux and iconic pianist Graham Johnson, Alumni of the TSM Academy Art of Song program showcase their freshly honed skills in two recitals at Walter Hall.

The full Toronto Summer Music Festival schedule is available online. Festival, Weekly, Flex passes ($202 -$592), as well as, individual tickets ($20 to $99) are on sale now. To purchase festival passes and single tickets visit torontosummermusic.com, call 416-408-0208 or visit the Weston Family Box Office at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

With so many great concert options, including some free events, there is no reason to miss out on the Toronto Summer Music Festival. I am looking forward to enjoying some music by Schubert, Mahler, Prokofiev, and of course, some Argentinian Tango as well. Summer, music, and good company, sounds like a great way to spend some quality time.

July 11, 2014

0 Poetry Corner: Siv Cedering - Help Me With The Buttons

Help Me With The Buttons
By Siv Cedering

Help me
the buttons

my body
the only clothing
I can possibly

-- from: Letters From The Floating World. Sid Cedering. University of Pittsburg Press. Pittsburg. 1984.

Siv Cedering (February 5, 1939 – November 17, 2007) was an award-winning Swedish-American poet, writer, and artist. She was the author of eighteen books plus four books of translations, she also was an exhibiting sculptor and painter, a book illustrator, and a writer of songs and TV programs for children. She appeared in Harper's, Science, Ms., The New Republic, Paris Review, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Partisan Review, and in approximately 200 anthologies and textbooks.

July 10, 2014

0 Fringe Review: She's Black, He's Jewish, They're Married...Oy vey!

As part of my Top 10 to see at the Toronto Fringe this year, She's Black, He's Jewish, They're Married...Oy vey! absolutely does not disappoint. This interesting take on relationships, of all types, and what makes them long-lasting is not only incredibly funny. It is also incredibly honest.

Epstein and Hassan have been married for 27 years. To our present standards, I'd say this is a lifetime. While taking in their show, which is more like a snippet of their life together, I can see why their relationship is quite successful.

From the moment they step on-stage, one cannot help but notice their chemistry. They are also both very good at engaging with the audience. I, honestly, laughed from beginning to the very end. They discuss some very serious topics, oftentimes in manners that may make some of you blush. Nonetheless, the whole show is as truthful as you may get about some of these issues, while also having a great laugh about them. Here is why.

It is always important to talk about sex. It also just as important to communicate what works and does not work with your partner. What matters is that you both come… wink, wink.

Regardless of etnicity or skin tone, respect must be mutual. Epstein and Hassan's Black/Jew Technology dictates this, and also the importance of forgiveness. You need to know when a conflict is not warranted or unnecessary.

Of course, politics come into play in mixed-culture relationships. Points of view may differ, as they often do. This is not to take away from the notion that you sometimes will have to agree to disagree.

The Three Fs - Food. Fucking. Forgiveness.
The take home message is basically: Nourish each other. Make sure you come. And always have each other's back. In every relationship that matters to you, it is key that you take note of this simple yet important points.

Audience participation.
If you're shy or not interested, you always have a choice to just enjoy and be a voyeur.  Now, if you're a bit of an exhibitionist, you'll enjoy it plenty. The take away point is this is a safe space in which to have fun.

And if you take my word for it, there is plenty to laugh about, as well as, ponder about. The laughs and dialogue will continue way after Epstein and Hassan finish the show. Hence, I tell you, grab your tickets and go check out their show!

She's Black, He's Jewish, They're Married...Oy vey! plays at the Toronto Fringe three more times. From Thursday, July 10 to Saturday, July 12th, at the Annex Theatre. For show times and more info, visit the Fringe's website here.

July 3, 2014

0 Theatre: My Picks For The 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival

The Toronto Fringe Festival has already begun. But it is never too late to add a few more suggestions to the already existing lists of must-see shows at the Fringe this year.

With over 150 shows, narrowing it down to 10 shows is no easy feat. Nonetheless, I have chosen some shows based on description; others based on type/genre; and still others based on themes. In alphabetical order, I give my 10 picks.

A Quest Of Character (Family/Kid-Friendly)
When Princess Celeste and Sir Liam break the songalongamatron, Luminaria sends them on a quest. With the help of a couple of intrepid frogs and other colourful characters, these two will learn how to be better people and better friends.

A new puppetry piece inspired by the tension between biological impulses and the rigidity of the clock. Set in a world where mechanical time appears to govern every breath, the characters struggle between keeping their dreams alive and the inevitability of death.

Classical Guitar Concert
UK Classical Guitarist Jonathan Prag's first time in Toronto; from sell-out concerts at Adelaide Fringe, playing Nikita Koshkin, Bach, Barrios; O’Carolan, Fauré, Cuban rhythms and more ‘…

Memento Mori
What if you gave yourself A Year To Live?
This is Tracey’s last night…and she’s rented a tango band.
It’s a death ritual. It’s a mixer. It’s best last night of anyone’s life ever!

Image: soulo.ca
Only Human
Highbräu presents a comedic exploration of the depths, heights, and square footage of humanity. Life, love, success, death, and omelets all feature in an hour of sketch comedy reserved for the most discerning and attractive of audiences.

Pardon Me Cow
Growing up on a farm is never easy… especially when you’re gay. Luckily, writer/comedian D. Taylor Scott had one true friend – a cow! In this hilarious fast-paced one-man show, Taylor Scott reflects back on his crazy relatives and disdain for farm living while recognizing it (and the cow) shaped how he now interacts with people, technology and the world.
A young emissary from a Canadian mining corporation is sent to a remote country to investigate reports of sexual violence at the mine. As civil war rages, she is taken hostage at gunpoint by a former miner. A psychological game of cat-and-mouse ensues in this darkly funny parable on colonialism, gender, and greed.

Unique love story, raunchy-yet-heartwarming comedy about improving relationships with your partner as well as yourself. Epstein and Hassan developed their brand of comedy by realizing that even when they were failing financially; dealing with racism, aging, their relationship was still a triumphant success
Image: theblackandthejew.com
Think Bigg (Family/Kid-Friendly)
Mime, storytelling and puppetry combine to create hilarious stories and endearing characters.

Celebrating 50 years on Mother Earth, these are the melodies and lyrics that tell the story of life, love and loss for award-winning singer/songwriter Kevin Nelson. 

This short yet carefully curated list should give you a good place to start... or continue, if you are 'fringing' already. Click on each show's title, for full description, times, and venue location.

Something to note: This year, 100% of tickets are available in advance. However, for those who love taking risks and like to hear what the buzz shows are – tickets will still be sold at theatre venues, if available

Ticket prices are $12 (advance), or $10 (at the door, if available). You can purchase tickets online or at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person.

For full festival listings, venue listings, and other relevant information, visit fringetoronto.com.

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