2012 Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts

mca2012The 25th annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts took place last night at the Winspear Centre. Being the silver anniversary, Sharon and I just couldn’t miss it! As in years past it was a fun evening of awards and performances, not to mention a great networking opportunity for everyone in attendance. This year the event came very close to selling out, which is great news for the chosen cause for 2012 – the Rock & Roll Society of Edmonton’s Centre for Arts and Music. It was fantastic to see so many people out in support of our amazing arts community here in Edmonton!

Here’s an excerpt of Mayor Mandel’s message in the program:

Arts and culture form the very heart and spirit of our city and for 25 years this event has celebrated the best artistic talents our city has to offer. Every year, some of Edmonton’s most talented artists perform at this event leaving me with renewed appreciation of Edmonton’s immensely talented arts community.

The Mayor seemed to be in a particularly joyful mood last night! His remarks during the show were brief, but he had some fun with MCs Peter Brown and Carrie Doll. At the end of the evening, he even instigated the on-stage dancing, which is something of a tradition for the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.

2012 Mayor's Celebration of the Arts

The full list of nominees is available at the PACE website. Here are the winners:

Mayor’s Award for Sustained Support of the Arts
Realtors Association of Edmonton, Jon Hall, nominated by Azimuth Theatre Association

Mayor’s Award for Innovative Support of the Arts by a Business
ATCO Gas & Electric, nominated by Victoria School of the Arts

John Poole Award for Promotion of the Arts
Arts on the Ave, nominated by Theatre Prospero

Robert Koetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize
Freddy’s War by Judy Schultz, Brindle & Glass Publishing Ltd.

CN Youth Artist Award
Candace Chu, nominated by Alberta College Conservatory of Music

Northlands Award for an Emerging Artist
Jason Carter, nominated by Jessica Aube

DIALOG Award for Excellence in Artistic Direction
Marsh Murphy, nominated by Kyle Armstrong

TELUS Courage to Innovate Award
iDANCE Edmonton, nominated by Alison Neuman

ATCO Gas Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement
Brian Webb, nominated by bottom line productions inc.

The evening’s performances, sponsored by Syncrude, included:

I’m a big Colleen Brown fan, so I really enjoyed her set. I thought Brett Kissel did a fantastic job as the show opener! He’s obviously a talented artist but was funny and personable on stage too. He got the audience clapping along which really set the tone for the show. I also really liked the guys from Caution: May Contain Nuts. They did an Arnold Schwarzenegger segment which was pretty funny. I think lots of people in the audience enjoyed seeing Tommy Banks perform too. Christian Hansen did a wonderful job closing the show – he was very high energy!

2012 Mayor's Celebration of the Arts

Some of the kids from the Rock & Roll Society also performed a song that they themselves composed. The Centre for Arts & Music is a program that helps students learn how to write lyrics, compose music, play instruments, record & produce, engineer video, perform on stage, and many other skills. More than 100 kids have benefitted from the program, which is ten weeks and consists of two sessions of two hours each week. You can learn more here.

2012 Mayor's Celebration of the Arts

Unlike in years past, there was no intermission during last night’s event. That meant that the evening flowed smoothly and quickly, and it meant that everyone got to enjoy the after party! Food was sponsored by Northlands, and it was great to see so many people stick around for the party. It added an excellent social element to the show that I think was mostly missing from previous events. During the after party, a few volunteers walked around with iPod touches preloaded with Touch Metric’s Surveyor to ask attendees to fill out an exit survey. It worked really well!

2012 Mayor's Celebration of the Arts 2012 Mayor's Celebration of the Arts

Congratulations to all of the 2012 nominees and winners! And thank you to all of the sponsors who made the event possible!

This year I joined the event Steering Committee, so it was great to see how it all works from the other side. I joined about halfway through the planning for this year’s event, so I am definitely looking forward to having a bigger impact on next year’s edition!

You can see more photos from the evening here. You can read my previous recaps here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

25th Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts – April 2, 2012

silver anniversaryThis year marks the silver anniversary of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, a fun evening celebrating and showcasing local artists. Tickets are on sale now for the event which takes place on April 2, 2012 at the Winspear Centre.

Join us for our 25th anniversary of celebrating the arts in Edmonton! That’s right, we have been showcasing Edmonton’s artists for a quarter of a century, and we are marking this milestone with the most exciting show yet! Get ready for an evening of awards an an eclectic mix of performances that will awe and inspire you.

Sharon and I have attended for the past four years because we love getting introduced to local artists. The mix of performances also makes attending worthwhile – you get a nice cross-section of the local arts scene. For instance, this year’s performers include Tommy Banks, Christian Hansen and the Autistics, Colleen Brown, Citie Ballet, Sandro Dominelli, and the cast of Caution: May Contain Nuts.

Check out my previous recaps if you’re looking to get a sense of what the evening is all about: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.

This year proceeds from the event will support the Rock and Roll Society of Edmonton’s Centre for Art & Music, which mentors the next generation of musicians in our city, with a special focus on youth at risk.

For updates, follow @PACEEdmonton on Twitter and on Facebook. You can also check out the event on Facebook and at ShareEdmonton.

Get your tickets now! Hope to see you there!

Mercury Opera’s 104 Underground (an operascape)

104 undergroundMercury Opera took over the Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station tonight to stage an operascape featuring the talents of Alicia Woynarski, Lauren Woods, Jill Hoogewoonink, and Nevada Collins. They were accompanied by the Vif String Quartet and wore costumes by local fashion designer Natasha Lazarovic.

Mercury Opera’s presentation features an all-Canadian cast of rising operatic talent singing the sensual Mon coeur s’ouvre from Camille Saint Saens’ Samson et Dalila, The Queen of the Night’s Vengeance Aria, Mozart’s dazzler from The Magic Flute, and the exquisitely sublime Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes. The performance culminates in a  special rendition of one of opera’s favorite chart toppers,Puccini’s Nessun Dorma sung as a quartet.

The event got underway at 6pm with four businesses on 104 Street taking part. Ticket holders were invited to enjoy light refreshments at Coup, 29 Armstrong, deVine Wines & Spirits, and the Eyecare Group. Sharon and I walked over just after 7pm to find Coup full of people! We made our way from one venue to the next before heading down to the LRT station platform for the performance.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Coup filling up!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Ed pouring wine at deVine Wines

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The food mostly consisted of cheese and meat platters

At around 8pm, everyone started moving underground. It was quite a sight with the LRT station platform so full of people! There were dozens of cameras, and not only from patrons hoping to capture the performance – OMNI had a bunch of cameras present to film a documentary about the event.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground 
One of the OMNI cameras

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Waiting for the performance to get underway

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The setup for Vif

To ensure the LRT could still operate, volunteers used police tape to separate the event from transit riders getting on and off the trains. ETS officers also helped to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground 
Transit riders on the left, event attendees on the right

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The performers arrived on the LRT!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
They used the raised, circular benches as stages

There were big cheers when the train carrying the performers arrived. They wasted no time and started right away, eventually making their way to the circular benches in the centre of the platform. At the end of the show, the four performers came together to receive flowers and to perform an encore. The left the same way they came – on the train.

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Two performers were on the east end of the platform and two were on the west end

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
Enjoying the show!

Mercury Opera's 104 Underground
The four performers at the end of the show

It was particularly cool for a transit geek like me to see the trains coming and going in the background as the performance continued. And what a performance it was! The sound quality in the station was much better than I anticipated, and the lighting and reflective surfaces of the station walls and ceiling made for a very unique look. I think everyone really enjoyed it!

Tonight’s operascape is precisely the kind of event that I’d like to see more of in Edmonton. Congratulations to Darcia Parada and her team – I think its safe to say tonight was a big success! It’s so great to have people like Darcia – she had a vision, and she made it happen. Bravo!

You can see the rest of my photos here. Be sure to read Gig City’s preview as well.

Mayor’s Arts Visioning Committee releases recommendations for raising the profile of arts in Edmonton

arts visioningAfter eight months of consultation and hard work, the Mayor’s Arts Visioning Committee has released 12 recommendations that aim to raise Edmonton’s profile as an arts and culture hub. The City’s existing 10-year-plan, The Art of Living, provided the foundation for the committee’s work. From today’s news release:

“The committee has done a tremendous job reaching out to the community, narrowing down a wide range of ideas to come up with this list of recommendations,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “Their efforts show how we can work together as a community to raise the profile of arts in our city. Arts is an economic sector as well as a part of our everyday experience as Edmontonians. These recommendations provide a good place from which to start a dialogue about how we can move forward.”

The committee was co-chaired by Dianne Kipnes and Brian Webb. The first major event was held on June 21, an initial “Think Tank” that brought hundreds of Edmontonians together to brainstorm ideas and opportunities. I was fortunate enough to take part in that event, and was delighted to see so many people with such passion for the arts in Edmonton. Over the summer, a number of smaller consultation events took place. The second “Think Tank” was held on October 28. We were presented with preliminary recommendations and tasked with providing feedback. Since then, the committee has been finalizing the report.

You can download The Art of Living in PDF here, and the Arts Visioning Committee’s final report in PDF here.

Here are the 12 recommendations:

  1. MacEwan Centre for the Arts: The City of Edmonton acquire and convert MacEwan University’s west campus, the Centre for the Arts and Communications, into a multi-use, multicultural and City operated arts incubator.
  2. Rossdale Plant Redevelopment: The City of Edmonton develop the former power plant site into a landmark cultural and commercial complex on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River which must include a premier Aboriginal arts and cultural celebration centre, as well as studio, exhibit and performance space for Edmonton artists.
  3. Downtown Arts District and Performance Centre: The City of Edmonton endorse, in principle, a landmark performing arts centre (PAC) downtown, and designate land for such a development in the city core.
  4. Arts Capital Allocation: The City of Edmonton establish a capital allocation under the civic capital budget in anticipation of future opportunities to establish, enhance or acquire arts space of all types.
  5. Community Centres: The City of Edmonton create and sustain arts spaces within existing and future community recreation centres and other community spaces for creation, classes, exhibits and performance.
  6. Arts Sustainability Fund: Private and government partners establish an Edmonton Arts Sustainability Fund for small and mid-sized arts organizations to help finance business development.
  7. Arts Central: A community-led initiative, modeled after Sports Central, be supported by the City of Edmonton, to supply materials, equipment, and program support for disadavantaged and disconnected Edmontonians to pursue arts experiences.
  8. Arts and Culture Vision in City Administration: The City Manager and Edmonton Arts Council leadership develop a strategy to embed a broad vision of the arts into city planning and decision making.
  9. Multicultural Arts Outreach: The City of Edmonton increase capacity for the Edmonton Arts Council to strengthen proactive outreach programs to ensure diverse communities are engaged in decision-making throughout the city’s arts organizations and increase participation across the city.
  10. Arts in Education: The City of Edmonton takes a leadership role to invite a coalition of business, civic and community groups to strongly advocate for increased funding and emphasis on arts education in Edmonton schools and post-secondary institutions.
  11. Artists in Residence Program: The City of Edmonton and business partners increase support and awareness of the Edmonton Arts Council’s “Artist in Residence” program to enhance in-house opportunities and collaboration for artists with local businesses.
  12. Business and Arts Advisory Council: Corporate and arts community members establish a business and arts advisory committee to work with the Edmonton Arts Council to build on the 2040 arts vision and link the two communities with shared expertise, resources and ideas.

I think it is important to look further ahead, but as we all know, it’s easy to make a plan and much harder to execute on it. There’s a lot of work to do to bring these recommendations forward!

Some of these recommendations should come as no surprise. The Rossdale Plant Redevelopment was going to happen with or without this report, for instance, but specifically including arts and culture in the plans certainly makes sense. I think the Community Centres recommendation is an obvious one, and actually am a little surprised that we don’t already include space for the arts in mega-complexes like the Terwillegar Recreation Centre. I’m less excited about the Arts Capital Allocation, because I think we should leave capital funding decisions up to the Council of the day, to decide on what they think is most important for the city at the time. All the recommendations are worth considering, however.

The next step for these recommendations is for Mayor Mandel to submit them to City Council for consideration. In the meantime, save the date for the 25th Annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts: April 2, 2012. Nominations are now being accepted!

Fringeopolis – The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival’s 30th Anniversary Edition

Fringe Theatre Adventures announced this afternoon the theme for the 30th anniversary edition of the popular summer festival: Fringeopolis.

The theme is a play on the “mini-municipality” that Old Strathcona turns into during the eleven days of the festival. The Fringe is inviting everyone to become a citizen of Fringeopolis for free on its website. You can also upgrade your membership by paying $20 to become a builder of Fringeopolis. Builders get a poster and program in addition to the benefits citizens receive (free transit with ETS, notifications, merchandise discounts, etc). I really love the concept, and I think they’re going to get a lot of traction with this theme. As an urbanite it definitely speaks to me.

From the press release:

“The Fringeopolis theme represents the city within a city that comes alive each August: a metropolis born of the creativity, artistic talent, innovation, and experimentation of our festival was founded on,” says Julian Mayne, Executive Director, Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. “As producers of The Fringe, we believe the evolution of theatre is fundamental to the evolution of community, and Fringeopolis speaks to our past as a creative community, as well as to our future.”

Sam Jenkins and Thomas Scott helped launch the new theme.

Also announced today was a collaboration with the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) of Jacmel, Haiti. Throughout the festival at KidsFringe, 10 young artists from the organization will create and perform folk stories and vignettes. EPL’s Writer-in-Residence Marty Chan is helping to develop the vignettes and Tanzanian author Tololwa Mollel is adapting the folk stories.

The Fringe is looking for more than 1200 volunteers for this year’s festival. Approximately 35,000 hours are dedicated to ensure the festival happens each year. You can learn more and fill out an application here. Be sure to check out Volunteer Edmonton’s 2011 Festival Volunteer Fair on Thursday at City Hall too.

The graphics and visual art for Fringeopolis was done by local artist Gabe Wong. I think it looks amazing!

Gabe Wong in front of his poster.

Last year nearly 160 productions by theatre companies played more than 40 stages across Edmonton. The festival also featured 200 outdoor performances and more than 50 busking acts. The Fringe sold 93,000 tickets last year, and more than 400,000 people visited the festival grounds. More than 1000 tickets sold on the first day of sales last year, and Frequent Fringer and Double Fringer passes were completely sold out in 24 hours. Make sure you get your tickets to this year’s event early!

Here’s a video created by Graphos for Fringeopolis:

Fringeopolis runs August 11 – 21, 2011 at venues throughout Old Strathcona and beyond. Stay tuned to the website or Twitter for more information in the weeks ahead! You can also see what others are saying on Twitter using the hashtag #yegfringe.

@AlbertaTheatre – Social Media and the Artist/Patron Relationship

Late last year, Wil Knoll and I were asked if we’d like to share some thoughts on the evolution of artist-audience interaction for All Stages, a magazine published three times a year by Theatre Alberta. We both agreed, and early this year set about writing it. We ended up having a conversation through email, which Wil turned into the final piece (I think he did a great job of editing it).

No texting during the show!

We discussed why and how we started using social media in connection with the arts, looked at the current situation in our respective cities, and touched on where things are going.

Here’s an excerpt from Wil:

Wil: The resistance seems to be fading away. In Calgary the major theatre companies and all of the top independent theatre companies have joined up on Twitter. How well they use that opportunity varies. Alberta Theatre Projects won a blogging award last year for their efforts to invite people into the process and behind the scenes. It’s hard to find a theatre company that is not taking a stab at social media in Calgary today.

And here’s my closing statement:

Mack: Gone are the days of the passive theatregoer, who takes in a show, perhaps reads a review in the local paper, and moves on. The tools we have now allow for the theatre patron to be engaged at all stages of a production. Gathering feedback, promoting upcoming events, reaching a demographic not normally tuned into theatre, all of this is possible with the tools. Today arts organizations still have the opportunity to lead the way with using these tools—they are relatively new and continually evolving. In the not too distant future however, patrons will demand it, and organizations will have no choice to but to engage.

That more or less sums up how I feel about the topic! What do you think?

You can read the article on page 4 of the Spring 2011 issue (PDF).

2011 Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts

The 24th annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts took place tonight at the Winspear Centre. Sharon and I attended for the fourth year in a row, and were happy to learn that this year our tickets would be supporting the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival’s Comedy Cares Program and the iHuman Youth Society. The evening always brings out an eclectic mix of Edmontonians, and features a broad range of local artists.

Mayor Mandel’s message in the event program thanked local businesses for their support of the arts:

I also offer a special thank you to the many Edmonton businesses and community organizations for their continued and unwavering support of the arts. Their generosity and encouragement have made a lasting difference to our artists, making it possible for them to achieve enormous success.

He echoed those thoughts during his time on stage, but also used the opportunity to call upon new businesses to step up in support of the arts. He noted that we see the same, few organizations year after year, and while they are absolutely appreciated, it would be nice to see some new faces join them. As he wrapped up, Mayor Mandel joked that he was done preaching for the evening, but I thought his comments were appropriate.

Mayor's Celebration of the Arts 2011
The Be Arthurs performed an interesting mix of songs as guests arrived, including Lady Gaga and the Ghostbusters theme!

The full list of tonight’s nominees is available at the PACE website. Here are the winners:

Mayor’s Award for Sustained Support of the Arts
Lexus of Edmonton, nominated by Alberta Ballet

Mayor’s Award for Innovative Support of the Arts by a Business
ATB Financial, nominated by Alberta Music Industry Association

John Poole Award for Promotion of the Arts
Avenue Magazine, nominated by Edmonton Opera

City of Edmonton Book Prize
Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium by Myrna Kostash, University of Alberta Press

ATCO Gas Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement
Charles Thomas Peacocke, nominated by Catalyst Theatre

Stantec Youth Award
Cynthia Hicks, nominated by Philippine Barangay Performing Arts Society

Northlands Award for an Emerging Artist
Arlen Konopaki, nominated by Tessi Flood

The Sutton Place Hotel People’s Choice Award
Ulrike Rossier, nominated by Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts

Molson Coors Award for Excellence in Artistic Direction
Sandro Dominelli, nominated by Nathalie Tait

TELUS Courage to Innovate Award
Geri Actors & Friends, nominated by Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council

Mayor's Celebration of the Arts 2011Mayor's Celebration of the Arts 2011

Tonight’s performances included:

I quite enjoyed the Good Women Dance Collective, it was an interesting way to open the show. Roland Pemberton’s poem was new, for an upcoming public art project. He won the crowd over making reference to Keillor Road and the infamous baseball bat on Alberta Avenue. Kat Danser was great, as always, and the Strathcona High School’s theatre program students did a wonderful job with St. Aggies ‘84. Dave Babcock was an excellent selection to close the show, as his upbeat tunes made it possible for the return of the big closing dance! A few people got up on stage to shake it, but unfortunately it wasn’t as big as years past.

Congratulations to all of tonight’s nominees and winners!

Mayor's Celebration of the Arts 2011

Save the date for next year’s event, the 25th anniversary, set to take place on April 2, 2012.

You can see more photos from the evening here. You can read my previous recaps here: 2008, 2009, 2010.

Recap: artsScene Edmonton’s Summer Party + Behind the Scenes at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald

artsScene Edmonton’s latest sold out event took place tonight at the historic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. The Summer Patio Party + Behind the Scenes was another great opportunity to catch up with old friends and to meet some new ones too! Here’s what the event was all about:

Steeped in history, The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald opened its doors in 1915 and has continued to be the centre of Edmonton’s social life. Join fellow young professionals (ages 18-40) and discover the building’s history and architecture, combined with a summer patio party with DJs, drinks and more overlooking the city’s river valley. It’ll be an artsScene Behind the Scenes event like no other!

Tonight’s event was a unique chance to learn more about Hotel Mac, as it is known here in Edmonton. The smoke outside meant that most people stayed indoors, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and a few of us ventured onto the patio anyway.

Here are some highlights from the tour:

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes
This is the Empire Ballroom, which is where the famous Sunday brunch takes place. During World War II, the space was used to make jeans!

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes
This is the Drawing Room, which used to be for ladies only. It even featured a separate entrance (which now serves only as an emergency exit).

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes
Right next door is the Jasper Room, which was for men. The most striking feature are the windows, which are seem too close to the floor – they’re level when you’re seated.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes
Apparently this mural was “photoshopped” – it features John A. Macdonald at the centre, but not everyone pictured was actually there.

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes
The staircase was my favorite part of the tour. Marble steps and some incredible views on the way down.

We also got to see one of the rooms on the 8th floor. The one we saw was two levels, and goes for about $1000 per night. Apparently the one Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed in is much larger and is more like $3000 per night!

After the tour we checked out the patio, which tonight offered a clear view of the smoke:

artsScene Summer Party + Behind the ScenesartsScene Summer Party + Behind the Scenes

Tonight’s event also featured music from the Jerrold Dubyk Trio, Mindy Cooper (DJ Sweetz), and a really intriguing art project called “Angles of Love” by Sarah Jackson. You can see the rest of my photos here.

If you haven’t checked out an artsScene event yet, what are you waiting for? Stay tuned to their blog and Twitter for updates. See you at the next one!

Why Edmonton’s Teatro La Quindicina and actor Jeff Haslam will never get my business again

With one exception, Sharon and I had a great time at the 29th Edmonton International Fringe Festival this past weekend. Unfortunately, all that sticks out in our minds is that exception. Before I explain, a little background.

Sharon is the person who introduced me to live theatre in Edmonton. Though the first show she took me to wasn’t a Teatro la Quindicina production, it wasn’t long before we were regularly attending their shows. I don’t write about theatre as much as Sharon does, but I do mention it from time to time, such as when we went to see The Talking Turk back in March 2005. Over the years I have come to really enjoy local theatre, and Teatro in particular. I wrote my Edmonton Story about local theatre, and specifically mentioned the company. In fact, Sharon and I found that we were going to so many of Teatro’s shows that we subscribed to the 2009 season, and did so again this year. We thought it was a great way to support the company.

Though she probably started watching Teatro productions in high school, Sharon only started blogging in 2006, so her first related entry was about Eros and the Itchy Ant in November 2006. Since then, she has written about nearly every local production we’ve ever been to, including at least twelve Teatro shows. She says it better than I can:

The best thing about a personal blog, of course, is that I don’t have to limit my content. I do still enjoy commenting about the arts scene, and in particular, the wonderful plays staged by the theatre community. And so, despite the proliferation of food-centric posts, I will continue to think of myself as a blogger who simply happens to write often about food.

Without a doubt, one of our favorite local actors has been Jeff Haslam. A Teatro regular, Jeff took over as the company’s Artistic Director in 2009. Neither Sharon nor I have been shy about calling him our favorite, and one of the reasons we decided to see Edmonton Opera’s H.M.S. Pinafore was because Jeff was in it. Sharon actually reached out to him in November last year to help with her post on Shop Local Month (he did).

All of this made what happened on the weekend even more disappointing, inappropriate, and hurtful.

It started on Saturday while we were in between shows at the Fringe. Sharon was checking her email on her phone, and discovered a comment from Jeff Haslam on her recent post about Teatro’s The Ambassador’s Wives. We were both shocked after we read it:

You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Jeff Haslam

Had our favorite local actor really written that? Needless to say, Sharon was pretty disturbed by the comment. I refused to believe it was actually from Jeff Haslam (though the email and IP address didn’t suggest anything to the contrary). So because we were friends on Facebook, I sent him a message to make sure the comment was actually from him:

Did you actually leave a comment on the Only Here for the Food blog’s review of The Ambassador’s Wives?

Instead of the “no way” I was hoping for, so that we could take the comment down, I received this reply:

Yes. Yes I did. Sorry if I insulted you and Sharon, but you cannot BEGIN to imagine how offended I am, and we all are are, by Sharon’s "reviews". You people are not, I’m sorry to say, invisible. The Internet stretches far and wide. I do not need or want your money, especially if you have the GALL to review us so sarcastically and with such bile. Your review of our work on Dial M was particularly sickening. Actually there isn’t a single thing that Sharon has written that hasn’t made me wonder why you people even go to my shows at all. I’d prefer you never darken our door again. Sincerely, Jeff Haslam

I received that reply just as we were getting ready to line-up for Die-Nasty. Knowing that Jeff was in it, we decided to go home instead, still confused and upset by his comments. When we got home, I went on Facebook to reply, only to find that I could no longer see Jeff’s account. Evidently he had blocked me. So I emailed him instead, asking for clarification and offering to meet for coffee to chat about his issues. Today he replied, calling us “Internet bullies.”

Jeff’s comments are inexcusable, to say the least. Sharon and I have talked it over so many times this weekend, and we still can’t make sense of it. She has never written anything that could be described as “sickening”. What could possibly have compelled Jeff to write what he did?

Our first question was why he chose to share his thoughts publicly? Why leave a comment on Sharon’s blog instead of emailing her directly? Even though I think Jeff’s comments on Sharon’s reviews are completely unfounded, they’d have been better shared privately first.

While there are many differences between a theatre company and, for example, a clothing store, both are businesses when you get right down to it. Both rely on delivering a product to customers. And if you want those customers to return, you need to treat them well. There’s a reason everyone has heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” From a business perspective, what Jeff said is unfathomable: “take your entertainment dollar elsewhere” and “never darken our door again.” In what world does that make any business sense? And why did he decide to say this now, after happily accepting our money as subscribers for the last two years? It certainly sounds like Jeff has been reading our posts for quite some time.

For some reason, Jeff is really offended by what we’ve written in the past. Here are some of the specific posts he mentioned in his email reply: On the Banks of the Nut, East of My Usual Brain, The Big Kahuna: Day 2H.M.S. Pinafore. As I said, I don’t think anything we’ve written has been unfair or overly negative (quite the opposite actually). Read the posts for yourself and tell me if you’re disgusted. You’d think that someone like Jeff, who has been in theatre for so long, would have thicker skin. You can’t please everyone, after all. On the other hand, it seems as though Edmonton’s most visible theatre writer, Liz Nicholls of the Edmonton Journal, has never written anything negative about Jeff or Teatro (seriously, look it up – you can search The Journal’s archives here if you have a library card). Maybe he’s gotten used to that. Here’s what Liz wrote in a 1998 profile of Jeff:

“Audiences at every theatre in town know the Lethbridge-born 34- year-old for his smart, stylish, inspired performances in Lemoine’s comedies, in Citadel musicals like Hello Dolly! and Lady Be Good, in new Canadian plays, in classics. There’s a certain panache la Cary Grant or Warren Beatty about Haslam onstage in a romantic comedy.”

In her review of Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Liz said of Jeff: “Haslam positively cavorts through the intricate footwork of the role…it’s a juicy performance.” She called the production “a marvellous night of theatre.” Sharon (and I) felt somewhat differently. It seems only natural that some people will enjoy a show while others will not.

Theatre, like food, is subjective. You can come up with checklists and guidelines and look for techniques and planning and passion, but none of it really matters. The result will be interpreted differently by different people. Here’s a recent food example. There’s a well-known restaurant in Paris called L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. It has two Michelin stars. In one recent review, a blogger described it as “a totally stunning meal.” In a different review, it was described as “very disappointing.” It’s all about personal opinion.

If Jeff wrote what he did because he feels that Sharon’s reviews as a blogger are somehow less important or relevant than Liz’s reviews as a writer for the paper, he’s in for a rude awakening. It’s 2010, and everyone has the ability to easily publish online. Everyone can share their opinion, and increasingly people turn to the thoughts of other people like them, who paid full price and got the typical experience, rather than the “professional” reviewer who got it for free and likely has an existing relationship with the restaurant or theatre company or whatever it is that they’re reviewing. That’s why sites like RottenTomatoes, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Epinions, blogs, and heck even Twitter, have become such popular destinations for people looking for reviews.

If Sharon’s reviews have done anything, I think they’ve increased awareness about Teatro and its cast members. If you search for Teatro la Quindicina for example, Sharon comes up third. Searches for “Mark Meer” and other Teatro stars regularly appear in her incoming search keywords. People increasingly turn to the web when they want more information about something, and for Edmontonians looking for more on Teatro, Sharon’s blog has been an important destination.

That’ll change after this, no doubt. You can bet that we’ll never give our money to Jeff Haslam or any production he’s involved in ever again, even if that means we miss out some otherwise great theatre. Given that this is how he treats his customers (fans even) I would encourage you to also think twice before you part with your money. When he says he wants you there, he clearly doesn’t mean it, especially not if you’re planning to write about it. We’re saddened and hurt by this turn of events.

So Jeff, while you can take comfort in the fact that we won’t be writing about your shows anymore, sooner or later you’re going to have to wake up to the reality that others will.

You can read Sharon’s post about this here.

UPDATE: Apparently SEE Magazine was banned from attending Stewart Lemoine plays about two years ago. Thanks to Sally for the link.

UPDATE2: Brittney over at iNews880 interviewed Jeff for his side of the story today.

UPDATE3: I’m rather surprised at how many people have written about this. Here’s an article in the Globe and Mail, and here’s Todd’s piece in the Edmonton Journal.

UPDATE (August 26, 2010): Sharon and I received a handwritten apology from Jeff Haslam in the mail today, along with a signed copy of Stewart Lemoine’s At the Zenith of the Empire and a refund for the unused portion of our season subscriptions.

Catalyst Theatre’s Frankenstein

Last night, Sharon and I had the pleasure of attending The Mayor’s Evening (and opening night) for Catalyst Theatre’s award-winning production Frankenstein (thank you Jenifer for the invite). I had never seen Frankenstein before, but I had some idea of what to expect as Sharon and I saw Nevermore last May (Sharon saw Frankenstein back in 2008 too – read her excellent review here). I knew it would be an entertaining, unforgettable show, and it definitely was.

If you’ve never seen one of Catalyst’s productions before, you really must – they are unlike anything else! Thanks in large part to artistic director Jonathan Christenson and production designer Bretta Gerecke, everything just works so well. There’s the mostly dark stage and the effective use of light and shadows, the clever storytelling that manages to touch a range of emotions (including a bit of humor), and the very talented cast. And perhaps the magic element – the music.

I also love that they manage to make the simple things work so effectively. For instance, the way they opened the show, with Nick Green walking on stage in front of the curtains, looking around at the crowd. Eventually he cracked a mysterious smile and announced “fade to black”, and things got underway. So unique and memorable. Or take the props – none of them are particularly complicated (much less so than in Nevermore) but they still helped tell the story. How do you make Victor Frankenstein look like someone interested in science? Give him a giant magnifying glass!

The entire cast was great, but I thought Andrew Kushnir as Victor was superb, and I also really enjoyed Nancy McAlear as Justine Moritz. I felt the most powerful scenes were those between Victor and the Creature, played by George Szilagyi, though my favorite scene was actually the one where the Creature mustered the courage to introduce himself to Old Man DeLacy, played by Tim Machin. It’s the scene I remember most from reading the novel.

After the show I remarked to Sharon that although Frankenstein was great, I still preferred Nevermore. She said that for her, Frankenstein still stood out. We agreed that it’s probably the first Catalyst show you see that becomes your favorite because they make such a great first impression!

Frankenstein runs through Sunday at the Timms Centre for the Arts (on ShareEdmonton). In May it will be in Toronto, at the Bluma Appel Theatre, presented by the Canadian Stage Company. Nevermore will be in London in July, followed by New York in October. Next up for Catalyst Theatre is Hunchback, a commission by The Citadel Theatre, coming to its Mainstage Series in March 2011. As Mayor Mandel and many others said last night, it’s great see Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre achieve such success around the world!